“You won’t be a monster.”
I wanted to laugh, but didn’t have the air. “I’m already a monster. Look at me.”
CJ stepped away from the window and shrugged. “You won’t need a walker or oxygen generator after the procedure. You’ll be a man again.”
“Right. A fusion-powered metal and plastic man with a block of cheese for a brain. Vidcam eyes, electronic ears, no sense of smell, and no — no external evidence of manhood.” I sank back in the chair, breathing hard.
“That’s not what makes you a man, Vic.” CJ walked back to his desk and sat down.
“Maybe not, but it’s a powerful reminder. What about my humanity? The technicians will carve my brain like a Thanksgiving turkey, liquefy the pieces, and spray them into a silicon lattice. How much of me will be left?”
“The procedure is nothing like that. The scanning device will map areas of your organic brain down to the molecular level. That map is used to configure the android quasi-brain.” He moved papers on his desk aimlessly. “You know all this. The essential parts of the man known as Victor Dailey will reside in a new brain in a new body. That man will still be Victor Dailey.”
I lifted one hand. A blue-veined, porcelain-pale, shrunken hand. “This is what I’m reduced to, my friend. Yet I can still feel the leather and wood of this chair. I can smell the fire burning in the other room. Outside, I felt snowflakes melting on my face and hands.”
“There is some loss in sensory input,” admitted CJ. “Vision and hearing are very good. The other senses — get better all the time. The initial quality of your experience will depend on the state of technology when — ”
“When I die.”
“You don’t have to wait for that.”
“Spare me the sales pitch. I know the transfer process is best done prior to the damage that can be inflicted during clinical death.”
“It’s practical immortality.” He folded his hands and looked away. “My plans are made. When the time comes, I’ll willingly become a droid. I wanted — that is, I expected to have my best friend around — in the next life.”
“Immortality? I wonder. Twenty percent of all new droids die within the first few months. A like amount die within five years.”
“Some fail to adjust to the transfer. Some cannot adapt over the long term.” CJ touched his desk calendar. “You will be dead within the year. I will die, in all probability, in ten to fifteen years. Then what?”
“Then we find out if there really is a God, I suppose.” I met his gaze. “Droids don’t get that chance — unless they ‘fail to adapt’.”
Mentioning the possible existence of a Creator was probably a mistake. CJ had been antagonistic toward religion ever since we were in grade school.
“So you’ve decided not to make the transfer? To die and cease? There is no life after — no life after death.” His eyes glittered in the evening light.
I gripped the rail of my walker and studied the back of my hand. The skin was translucent. Cords and veins stood out. I felt and looked frail. Claws of ice stroked the tethers of my soul.
My voice cracked, grew hoarse. “No. I didn’t — ” CJ waited silently.
“I will make — or attempt to make — the transition to android. My mind — deciding took a long time. I spoke with droids. Fifty or sixty, I suppose.” I fell silent, thinking of those fruitless discussions with men and women endeavoring to make new lives from within the confines of metallic bodies.
“You don’t know how glad I am to hear that.” CJ stood up and began pacing. “Barring accidents, we have forever ahead of us.”
“Human beings with no constraints on their lives. Can you imagine it?”
“I can. But we will not be human.”
He stopped in front of the window and stared at me. “Of course we will. What makes you think — why do you say that?”
“Android brains do not have and likely never will have the billions of cross-connections of human brains. Droid brains are designed to use more of what they have, so we will be intelligent, capable of extensive learning, suitable for any reasonable task. But we will no longer know the flash of intuitive understanding, the insights granted by a slower, superior mind.”
CJ laughed aloud, but his mirth did not reach his eyes. “You speak as if we will be humanity’s stupid brother.”
I stood up and worked my way across the room to stand with him.
“We won’t be brother to anyone but our fellow droids. This melding of organic mind and metal body heralds the creation of a new race. A younger race, stronger in some ways, but duller in promise. The men creating androids are like gods, playing with unimaginable consequences.”
“You’re wrong. Androids are humanity’s next step, not a separate creation. Men are not gods. There are no gods.”
I touched the window. Windblown snowflakes melted on the glass, sliding down the pane in icy streaks. The surface under my hand felt cool and dry, like a coffin handle. Fear gripped my heart. I turned away — away from the memory of snow melting on my tongue, the taste of hot chocolate on a winter day, the touch of a woman’s hand on my skin.
CJ stared out at the darkening sky. “We will live and never die.”
JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.