The 14th of Tomorrow
FORE!! FORE RIGHT!!
Aw, Geez Louise… I was doing so well
Yep, five fairways, one green, you made it all the way to the seventh hole this time. You’re getting better, Lee
Thanks, Don. Another hundred years or so and I may get through all eighteen holes without trekking through the trees. On the other hand, I need to take a wicked leak.
You gonna need help? And I mean looking for your ball!!
No thanks, Ethan, I’ve got it covered.
No up-clocking, five minutes means real time!
Yes Larry, I know the rules too.
You know if you’d stop coming over the top…
LARRY!! Knock it off, rang out three voices in practiced unison.
So went the pleasant banter of four old friends. Well three friends and the world’s most consistent curmudgeon, Larry! Engaged in a round of golf on a beautiful course just south of Valencia. El Saler was eighteen holes of seaside spectacle, immaculately manicured with a sweeping view of the nearby Mediterranean Sea. All was well with my world even if I was picking my way through a stand of pine trees looking for my errant ball. As I looked down and spotted the little orange dickens, in a bit of strange coincidence an alert chime rang out.
"Incoming message, priority high, please open immediately!”
There were only two possible messages that would arrive with high priority while I’m on the golf course. One good, the other bad, I had a feeling I knew which one this was…
Priority message from Eastern Shore Hospice:
Sir, we regret to inform you of the passing of our resident, G. L. Ottman who expired peacefully this morning at 5:47 AM EST. The remains have been collected for final disposition as per your standing instructions. Please accept our condolences to you and your family on the loss of your loved one and be assured that we stand ready to assist you with any future needs your family may have. Billing for final cost to be sent under separate cover, please remit in 30 days.
Sincerely, Eastern Shore Hospice Home
Proud member of the Final Care Services Family.
There wasn't much else I could do but punch a low 7 iron back into the fairway and move on.
What’s wrong with you, Larry asked? You look like somebody died. I guess I’m not as good as I thought at hiding my emotions. I looked up and as I met his gaze, he softened for just a moment into a rare instant of humanity. Oh! I’m sorry, who was it?
It’s me, I said. The moment passed, Larry’s laugh echoed out over the course and four men on the adjacent tee box scowled at us. I died thirty years ago, you’ll get over it. Get back in the game, we’re down two holes as it is and this one isn't looking very good so far either. You’re in for half a hundred, so suck it up!
My next shot ended up on the collar of the green. I sunk a twenty footer straight uphill for par and we halved the hole. Perhaps knowing you can never go back is a liberating thing. It seemed to be for me at least, I felt very peaceful and somehow focused. I think looking back the steadily deteriorating condition of my physical body had been weighing on my mind more than I wanted to admit.
Things went pretty much my way from there. We were even up at the turn on the strength of my back to back birdies on eight and nine. Larry’s unrelenting, acerbic chatter got in Ethan’s head (again) and he missed a three foot birdie putt on 12, but did collect twenty for closest to the pin. It all evened out on side bets though, Don had long drive and Larry as always took the fairway count. I was already happy with the two skins I had from the birdies, the combination sandy/greenie/EAGLE!! on 15 closed the door on Don and Ethan’s chance for a comeback and gave Larry and I the match with three holes to go. And another 20 for a third skin to boot!
Taken as a whole, an enjoyable and very profitable day! You know, aside from the dying part. Even Larry seemed happy! I was hopeful that was from the winnings and not, you know, the other thing… "So, do we get a chance to get some of this back next week?” Don asked. "Umm, I don’t think so” I replied. I mean there’s the whole funeral thing on Tuesday, You’re all welcome if you can make it. It’s going to be pretty informal. The wife and I have a lot in Maryland, she’s been there for a few years now. One of my Grandsons is going to plant a tree. It would be good to see you guys again before I leave if don’t have other plans.
"Why, where are you going?” asked Ethan. "He’s off on his space cowboy thing again” chimed in Don. "Space garbage man you mean.” added Larry. Hey, I said, we left all that junk up there, somebody has to clean it up. Besides six months alone is just what I need right now, give me a little time to think and recharge. I fly out to the big island Thursday, promised the wife we’d spend the whole day at the beach. No golf this time, sorry Ethan. Launch is set for 0300’ish Saturday morning. Don’t worry you’ll get a chance to get some of your money back soon enough. Never know, I might snag a Sputnik this trip, I’ll have a lot more to lose.
The field of prosthetics can probably be traced back to before the Egyptians. Crude artificial limbs and later dental replacements, as civilization progressed so did the sophistication of artificial devices. The dawn of the electronic age brought the first servo-motors, at first also crude and awkward. Later, compact and clever enough to be controlled by subtle eye movements and finally directly by wires actually implanted in the brain.
When the emergence of quantum data control met the development of integrated protein-crystal processors, the remarkably short, yet still winding road to my 180 year old body being lowered into the mother earth, while my appalled and sobbing consciousness watched was paved. No longer did the computer exist as a machine in a box. Computers today are just a few molecules thick, installed by nano-machines directly into structure of a living brain. Instant access to tera-bits of data coupled with the ability to calculate the value of Pi to 10^7 places in less time than it takes you to scan the period at end of this sentence. All due to a little thing known as the Quantum Integrated Protein-crystal Processor or QUIPP for short.
The term "Virtual World” suddenly took on a whole new meaning. While the chance of my physical body being allowed to ever set foot on the first tee box at Augusta were beyond remote, my virtual self was able to play Amen Corner at any time the urge struck me. The experience lacked for not the slightest bit of sensation. The breeze on my face, sunshine on my arms, the crunch of pine straw under my shoes as I tried to coax another errant drive back into the fairway. Every detail exquisite and indistinguishable from what had until then been called "reality”!
The genetic code had been cracked when I was in my late 40’s, but the time I had reached 70 the first longevity treatments came on-line. The aging process, at that time could be slowed almost to a halt, almost, but not completely halted. As good luck would have it however a man named Aaron Whitestone was struck by a falling tree branch during a sudden windstorm. His neck was broken and although immediately transported to a local hospital, he died an hour or so later in the ER.
The doctors and nurses attending Mr. Whitestone had been virtually linked not only to each other through the hospital network, but through that network to every other hospital’s database on the planet. In order to monitor Mr. Whitestone’s condition, he too had been linked to that same network. One can only imagine their surprise when shortly after declaring him dead, Mr. Whitestone asked if he could go home now, as he was feeling much better and did not want to fight afternoon traffic.
Thus was born the ultimate prosthetic. The virtual prosthetic human being had been discovered quite by accident, as it were. By the time I died there were just a few millions of us. Almost four thousand years later we now outnumber "Physicals” by a wide margin. So here I sit, almost 300 light years from Earth, on a ship moving better than 7% of light speed, looking for the "Goldilocks World”. Not too hot, or too cold, not too much radiation, some liquid water if you please, just right!
What is it to be alive, conscious, to be human, real? What is existence? The answers to these questions have for many centuries been alternately taken for granted as self-evident or debated endlessly as abstract philosophy. It was only in the middle of the 21st century that both the self-evident and the abstract camps ran out of comfort zone. I assure you, I am all of the above. Alive, conscious, human, and very real! Yet by the standards which existed in the late 20th century, I am none of the above. My corporal body, brain and consciousness, my physical existence passed from this universe many centuries ago. "Memento, homo ... quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris" (cf. Gn 3:19). "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return."
Self-awareness, to be aware of who I am, where I am, when I am. This gives me existence. Human emotions, to love or hate, fear or hope. To dream, especially to dream! Do androids dream of electric sheep? It turns out, they do not. Processors don’t sleep or dream, people however do. I still dream vividly and sleep deeply.
Alive, the ability to sense my surroundings and respond to sensory input, to see and feel and taste, to know physical pleasure or pain, these sensations were once hard wired via neurons and electro-chemical synapses. The sensations are still there, the pathways have been changed somewhat, but the end result is the same. The real test, the real proof that I am who and what I say I am is my uniqueness! My ability to exist in one and only one place and time defines me as me. If I were a program, a hologram, or simulation, I could be copied and exist in many places at many times. I could in fact be simulated, but the simulation would be no more the real me than an old fashioned photo or video recording. Today’s simulation would be much more sophisticated and interactive to be sure, but still not real at all. I exist in the here and now, just as I always have.
The more interesting question it turns out is, what is it to be dead? Adam Weinstein had inherited a small but not insignificant sum upon the passing of his father Julius. He invested shrewdly in the early 1980’s tech revolution and wisely got out just before what came to be known as the dot com bust. His son Aaron in turn had invested in the early virtual reality boom. His biggest coup had been being the primary investor in what was known as the "Simul-Suit”. Picture a scuba wetsuit lined with temperature and pressure transducers. The wearer can now experience the sensation of being wet when diving into a virtual shark filled pool, the roasting heat of hiking along the rim of an active volcano, and an icy chill while clinging to the north face of the Eiger. All while remaining in the perfect safety of his living room.
They cost a small fortune, and they sold like water ice in a Texas heat wave. Aaron changed his last name from Weinstein to Whitestone and when the first QUIPP’s were being developed at Princeton Labs, Mr. Whitestone’s money was right there in spades. Which is how it came to pass on a fateful windy day that Aaron’s brain was equipped with the most advanced QUIPP-VRmk7 interface yet developed. As Aaron’s brain waves got very calm and flat, that is as his primary processor failed, his backup processor took over. Aaron woke up in a whole new world. A world contained in a QUIPP-VRmk7 to be exact.
Aaron however returned home that evening to a very old world. One in which his wife Judith was dressed in black and was busy draping black covers over all the mirrors in his home. And in this perhaps, we glimpse the final frontier of what it means to be human, to be real...