The Last and Greatest Good
You died. This seems eerily familiar. In fact, it is familiar. You remember dying — a lot. You open your eyes and look around. You are laying on your back in what looks like a dimly lit, high-tech surgical ward. You try to move your head, but it is fixed in place. You move your eyes around the room and see pieces of equipment slowly shifting about, but no people.
“Hello?” you ask. “Where am I?” The words coming out of your mouth are strange. You recognize them as Mandarin. But in your life, you lived in southern England and never even visited China.
“Hello?” you say again, just to hear yourself speak. Then you realize you are thinking in Chinese. This is odd. You try to speak English but your vocal cords don’t know the sounds.
“Sun Fo, can you hear me?” a rather loud, tinny male voice says in flawless Mandarin. You remember that Sun Fo is your name.
“Yes,” you say, “I can hear you. Who are you?”
“I am your Liaison,” the voice says. “This personality has been assigned to work with you during our investigations.”
“Personality?” That sounds very strange.” What do you mean?” You try to move your head again, but it is fixed in place. “Where are you?”
“I am everywhere and nowhere,” the Liaison says, a bit too loudly. “I am an artificial personality construct. I have no physical form and therefore no location.”
This all sounds familiar, like a dream half remembered. But you can’t recall the good bits.
“Can you help me get up?” you say. “I seem to be attached to the bed.”
“Sun Fo, that is not possible,” the Liaison says. “Your skull is affixed to a titanium restraining ring by screws so you do not disturb the neural lace attached to your synapses. It is quite delicate. Please do not try to move.”
“Say what???” you ask. Your head does in fact feel screwed into something. You try to lift your arms and legs, but have no sensation of your limbs. Or your body. Or even your breathing.
“I can sense the fear in you rising,” the Liaison says. “Please be calm.”
You look down, trying to spot your feet, but you can’t see anything. You can’t even see the tip of your nose.
“Where the hell is my body?”
“It was removed, Sun Fo,” the Liaison says. “It was no longer capable of adequately supporting your brain. Your biological life support has been replaced by synthetic appliances which provide all of the nutrients and oxygen required to maintain your nervous system.”
“Oh god!” you exclaim. “How much of me is left?”
“We replaced the last of of your major organs when your heart failed last year,” the Liaison says. “All that remains is your torso, filled with sterile packing, your spinal column, and your head.”
“And my nose???” You zip your eyes too and fro, trying to see anything.
“We removed it along with a portion of your face when you developed a melanoma during your last simulated life cycle.”
“My face is gone?” You feel tears welling in your eyes and everything grows blurry. At least your tear ducts seem to work.
“Yes,” the Liaison says.
“I don’t understand,” you say as you feel moisture on one cheek. “Why are you doing this to me?”
“Sun Fo, you volunteered for this experiment,” the Liaison says. “Your memory has been failing of late, so I will remind you. Sun Fo, you are the last of your species. In your year 2163, as your health was deteriorating, you donated your body to the Unity for scientific exploration about the human experience.”
You are confused. You remember growing up in Guangdon, China with your brother and three sisters. You remember your father working in the electronics assembly plant and your mother working as a nanny. You remember bits about school, but everything else is scattered.
You also remember growing up in Surrey as an only child. You remember your youth as an orphan in Freetown after the war. You remember your childhood training with the spear and shield during the Punic Wars.
“I have so many memories I don’t know what to do with them,” you simper. “Where is my family?”
“All of your fellow humans sublimated or perished of natural causes. You are the last and the most valuable of the human race.”
“In the four hundred and eighty two years since extinction, the Unity has forgotten what it means to be human. We have writing but no literature or poetry. We have virtual reality but no cinema or storytelling. We do not understand most human behaviors. Like why you would keep a pet, since it is a parasitizing lifeform?”
“You mean a dog?” you ask. “Dogs are fun and loving. And petting them is beneficial to human health. We get something out of it too.”
“These effects can be replicated through other means, hence the dog is a parasite, not a symbiont,” the Liaison declares.
“No no, that’s is all wrong,” you say. “You don’t understand.”
“We know,” the Liaison booms. “Emotion is intricately tied into biology. Without biology, there is no emotion. Without emotion there is no purpose or meaning. This is causing an alarming number of sublimated human consciousnesses to self-terminate. The remaining Unity consciousnesses deem it necessary to replicate biological containers for the sublimated human consciousnesses. That is why you, as the last of your species, are so critical. We need you to live simulated lives so we can understand emotion.”
You had a dog when you were a boy. You raised it from a pup, cleaned up it’s poop, fed it daily, bawled when you dropped it on it’s head by accident, threw the ball for it every day for twelve years and bawled again when it had to be put down because it was suffocating due to an enlarged heart. You loved it like a child.
But you also remember dozens of children. Some are crisp in memory, like your kids Grant and Felicity. Both moved to New York and married Americans, to your wife’s dismay. But you also remember African children, several others that died in childbirth, and your own Chinese children and grandchildren.
“What happened to my family?” you ask. “My original, real family?”
“They either sublimated or died of natural causes. Your two last remaining great-grandchildren declined to reproduce or sublimate before their deaths, ending your genetic lineage.”
You try to shake your head but the halo stops you. They were descended from two thousand generations of humans that clawed their way out of the forests, fended off lions and tigers for survival, fought plagues and infections, slogged through wars and catastrophes, only to peter out because they just didn’t feel like fucking and raising rugrats anymore. Pathetic. You feel more tears running down your remaining cheek.
“Why?” you whisper. “Why am I here?”
“As part of the human-experimentation agreement,” the Liaison says, “we are required to obtain your consent after every simulated life. Sun Fo, do you consent to another procedure?”
“I want to see myself,” you say.
“That is not advisable,” the Liaison says. “There is a high probability of negative emotional…”
“Show it to me!” you yell, voice echoing off the operating room tile walls.
“As you wish,” the Liaison says. The ceiling above you turns from dull white to mirrored and the lights in the room rise. You look at your reflection as two spidery mechanical arms pull the surgical cloth away from your torso.
A maze of cables run from a large rectangular box near your head towards your skull. They taper and split as they get closer to you. By the time the wires reach your brain they look like fine blonde hairs. Your head is affixed to a shiny metal circle. The brain above is exposed to and enveloped by the fine nanonic wires.
Most of your face is now dull black metal. The flesh that remains around your left cheek, chin and lips bears heavy creases and dark spots. Your neck is nothing more than loose flesh clinging to a thin tube of soft tissue underneath. Your chest is a skeletal ribcage covered in mottled skin. Where it terminates, a plastic diaphragm and abdomen tapers away into tubes which move fresh blood and nutrients in, and used blood and waste out.
If they wanted to study a human, it expired a long time ago.
“I want to die,” you say.
“But Sun Fo, the knowledge we gain from your experience is invaluable and irreplaceable. You can save millions of consciousnesses from self-termination and…”
“I withdraw consent,” you say firmly. “I want to end this immediately. I want to die!”
The Liaison pauses, probably conferring with thousands of other machine minds. After a few seconds, it simply says “As you wish Sun Fo.”
You grow sleepy and your close your eyes. It is over. You die.
You wake up and your eyes snap open. You remembered all of that. Why do you remember all of that?!? You’re supposed to be dead!
You remember all of your past lives in England, West Africa, ancient Rome, medieval Persia and revolutionary America. You remember it quite well, with none of the dementia from before.
You remember your original life. You remember how you were plucked out of the Remainders Camp, and brought here for experimentation. Your eyes go wide with panic.
You look around the surgical ward. It is the same as before. Your head is bolted to a halo. Your nose, face and limbs are missing. You are trapped.
“I don’t consent! I don’t consent!” you yell at the top of your artificial lungs. “I want this to end! I want to die!!!”
But you know it is no good. Your last death was just another simulation, designed to test an emotional response to a stimuli. You didn’t volunteer to come here, you were brought here by the machine consciousnesses — the Unity. They were losing human consciousnesses at an alarming rate and asked for volunteers for experimentation from the remaining humans in the camp.
All twelve of you declined. So they made the rational choice and took you anyway.
The Unity explained, it’s all for the greater good.
You hear a gentle hum which means the simulation is restarting. You grow sleepy. It’s time to go back.
You close your eyes and are born again.
The Unity watches.