My soul died the day I decided to become immortal. But with no sun to measure time against, it is difficult to gauge how long it has been since we left the earth’s atmosphere. A hundred years or perhaps more in this spaceship. As I play the violin, I realize the vibrations should be creating music with the air as I pluck them. But I cannot hear the music. Not anymore.
My mind is processing my last day on earth as I play, something that happened so many years ago. I knew that black curtains draped the windows of the church. I also knew that flowers surrounded the open casket, but I could no longer see the colors. My flesh and blood had been replaced by a metal frame. The room was quiet in the church, the same one where we used to worship before we had made ourselves gods, before we had bitten from the apple.
Part of me was hoping to find you, yet another part of me was afraid. “It’s time to leave,” one of the humanoids said to me. Finally, I saw the back of your hair; the same color as your mother’s. I didn’t dare approach though. I knew you didn’t want to see me. Your family was beside you. Two young girls, a baby, and a husband. People I should know, be connected to. I turned away, feeling pain throughout the circuits in my body. I looked again at your mother, who was now gone.
“This doesn’t matter,” the humanoid said, its voice echoing through the church, sounding more autotune than human. In a place where I needed empathy, there was none. This was the price of immortality and we all paid it. But unlike the others, I hadn’t made this transformation to live forever, just to have more time.
As you exited the church, I walked over to the casket and put your mother’s hand in mine one more time, despite neither of us being able to feel it. I wish I didn’t need to leave her behind. I wish I didn’t have to leave you behind.
The humanoid had been right. It didn’t matter if I was ready or not. Gambling our immortality no longer made sense since we could live forever. We would be safe on this ship where no outside elements could hurt us. There would be no exploring; There would be no adventures. Being alive is more important than living, even if life is a hollow empty shell.
I sit alone in a large room in this spaceship, towering with books that had never been digitized, teddy bears that had belonged to children, and hair clips of those we had loved in a past life. In it, I play the violin that was your mother’s and hold the pictures I have of you. I don’t know if you’re still alive, but I still find myself mourning, wanting to tell you how sorry I am. I want you to know about the decision I was faced with. At the time, I didn’t know that both options would leave me disconnected from you.
Many humanoids had taken their own lives, shutting off their own consciousness, forgetting why they had originally made the choices they did, longing for a sense of purpose and meaning in a world where none could be created. They were regressing like I was. Wishing they had realized sooner that the cost was too great. Becoming like a god wasn’t worth the price.
The papers seemed to scream beyond their two dimensions on that fateful day, the day that changed the trajectory of my life, many years ago. I hold the paper clipping now, a sentimental reminder of when part of me had died.
“It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?” your mother said looking outside, her red curls not yet brushed. It was a cool autumn day, the colors of the trees so bright and colorful that it seemed impossible that winter would ever come. The memories of the colors still haunt me as I try to recall how they fused into each other to create such a spectacular scene. The bump beneath her blue dress was barely visible then.
She hugged me as I sat, my body still weak from the weeks of treatment. “I can’t believe how lucky we are, Vito.” My name felt smooth as it fell from her lips, a name I haven’t heard in a long time. She grabbed my hands, her blue eyes locking with mine.
I gave her a small smirk, feeling the lie eating at me. Images of a child’s first step, a baby’s cry, for all the plans we had made flashed before my eyes. I looked at the bump, apologizing in my mind for the things I would miss. The wedding I could never attend. The prom photos I would never take. The tears I would never comfort and the laughs I would never hear.
My life was a ticking clock back then. All human life was, but for me, that ticking had become louder, almost deafening. The doctors had told me that I didn’t have long to live. The chemo had stopped weeks ago. It wasn’t possible to save me.
“Yes,” was the only word I could muster. I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to, the luck or the beautiful day, but your mother seemed satisfied. She kissed me as she headed out of the room to practice her violin, leaving me with my thoughts and the guilt, something I was attempting to drown out with anything I could find. My fingers settled on a newspaper which I quickly opened.
The paper was thin and smooth to the touch as my fingers opened it up. I had been one of the few who still preferred a paper copy to the digital formats. I loved the paper against my skin as I listened to your mother begin practicing the violin. The notes were smooth beneath her fingertips, but I was distracted.
The headlines on the paper in the year 2050 felt bigger than usual against the light newsprint. The weight of those words felt heavy in my hands as I stared at the pages.
My glasses slid down my crooked nose, as the typeface formed words, thoughts, and new information. The sun’s gaze peeped through our window, its rays lighting up the side of my face. I could feel its invitation to look outside, as its light danced on the blades of uncut grass.
However, I ignored the sun and the melody of your mother’s violin became background noise. The Helvetica glared at me, yearning to be seen. These headlines were promising to change my life forever, to potentially save my life.
Human Consciousness Successfully Transferred to a Machine
The taste of coffee burned my tongue as I slammed my mug against the kitchen table and spit it out. The shock of the headline felt fresher than the burning remnants on my hand. Drops of my ritualistic morning beverage splashed out like a geyser as the mug cracked, creating a waterfall barely missing my lap.
The newspaper never left my hand; My eyes widened as your mother walked over, carrying the red violin in hand and placing it on a chair.
“You okay?” she asked, her voice high-pitched and frantic.
Her blue eyes were pools of concern, as they sparkled like diamonds in the soft sunlight. Her lips pouted, scrunching the freckles on her nose as her fingers gripped her instrument, the violin’s shape mirroring her own. The memory now felt like a dream. A beauty I can never fully remember.
“Everything is great!” I exclaimed as I clutched the newsprint, reading further, ignoring the broken pieces of plaster resting beside me and the pond of coffee streaming into rivers down the table. My eyes were moving back and forth like a swing, trying to absorb the information. The meaning of this new technology. The possibilities for humanity. The possibility of my future. Maybe I wouldn’t have to miss the laughs. Maybe I could be a part of those memories with you and your mother. It was all I wanted.
Your mother must have noticed the excitement on my face. Her small fingers wrapped her hands around my shoulders, pressing her thumbs into my backside. I leaned back into them, closing my eyes.
“What is it then?” she asked, her whispered breath was now a tickle in my ear.
“They transferred human consciousness to a machine!” I said, squeezing her hand. “Do you know what this means, honey?!” My voice echoed through our hallways as I stood up and kissed her. “What this could mean for us and our future?”
But my kiss planted on her face as if my mouth were against a wall. A cold stone wall.
“I don’t,” your mother said as she stepped back from me, inching away, grabbing her stomach. She allowed the silence to hang in the air for a moment. I just wanted to break it. “I thought you were getting better.” I could see the hurt in her eyes as her brows crinkled and her mouth opened, though no more words escaped her lips.
I looked at her as the pools of tears formed, dripping down her face. “Honey, I wanted to tell you…”
She turned away; her arms were shaking as she dropped the red violin. It hit the tile of the floor, chipping the color on the left side. The sound echoed through our kitchen as I picked it off the ground and handed it to her, placing her face in my chest. I could feel her heartbeat against mine as I breathed in the lavender of her shampoo.
“It will all be fine,” I whispered. “We have options now.”
She looked up at me, still not speaking, although her eyes had created wet spots on my shirt. I could feel the baby bump as I stood to hold her, my body feeling tired in my weak frame. The future I wanted was here in my arms, if I was only willing to give up my human body. The trade seemed simple enough and I didn’t want to just be a picture in a frame. I wanted to be there in the photos with my family.
The light bounced off her red hair as she kissed me between the tears. I did not know at the time that beauty was purely a human experience.
I remember opening my eyes in this new metal frame. Something was different as I regained consciousness; My senses no longer functioned the way they used to. I was placed in a sarcophagus, my old body in the machine next to me. I could sense things, but my brain interpreted everything around me through waves and then delivered output. Everything looked like computer code, all numbers that I could process quickly. It left out the colors and the melody.
“You’re alive!” your mother screamed as she hugged me, her body embraced my metal frame, creating a clank as my arms hit my torso.
I was too struck to say anything; I couldn’t properly see her face. It was all just numbers where her smile had been.
The sound waves bounced across the room, entering my new brain as code. My arms had folded around her, but I couldn’t feel her skin against mine.
I looked at her with my new eyes, but the red in her hair was missing from my processing. I could no longer see the glint in her eyes. She kissed me, but I could not feel it. Somehow the love I had felt was missing too. My emotions were dimmed, a fraction of what they had been.
I looked at my metal body, unable to see it, not recognizing myself with these eyes that no longer processed mere sight.
“What have I done?” I wondered as I held her tightly, wishing to feel her, wishing to touch her. Even though she had been in my arms, I had never felt so disconnected from her. At that moment, she took a picture of us. It was the only one she ever took of the three of us. Me and her with you in her belly. That picture is long gone though.
This technology was not focused on making us more human. Instead, it robbed us of our senses, freeing us to process information faster. Scientists promised that a full range of emotions would be added back into our capabilities. My programming could no longer see that multiple layers to the truth could exist. My goal had been to continue experiencing the life I loved so much and that had still been taken from me.
“Honey?” your mother said during breakfast one day, squeezing my hand. I looked at it longingly, wishing to feel it. You had been born a few months ago and you were perfect, though at the time I didn’t see it. I had criticized how long it took for you to speak or to process information, instead of looking at the miracle you were. Your mother had been patient with me, hoping at the time that I would return to my old self. But I could see how upset she was every time I criticized things that were supposed to be monumental milestones.
My plate was empty in front of me, though your mother still set the table for the two of us each morning. I told her it was illogical, but she insisted upon giving me some sort of normalcy. In the background, you were crying and the noise felt like someone was scraping the metal inside of my systems. Your mother left briefly, returning with you in her arms.
I looked up into her eyes, scanning her face, unable to detect any obvious emotions.
“They’re having a sale on flights,” she said. I could detect the smile now. “We can make it back to Italy next year. You. Me. And Melinda.” She paused. “I’ve been saving and Melinda loved the beach when I went with her last week.” Her voice was so slow to me. I wished I could speed it up and I hated myself for having those thoughts. The war inside of me was constant. My former self was fighting my programming, hoping to reclaim parts of my humanity.
“Why would we do that?” I felt myself burst, losing the battle. It was no longer logical to go. We had already been there and it put us at unnecessary risk. As long as I didn’t damage my new body, I could be immortal. Human activity and exploration came with so much uncertainty. The words felt harsh as they exited my mouth, but my brain weighed the options. Home was the safest place to be.
“To spend some time together,” she said, the smile still on her face. “To celebrate the baby and that you’re here to meet her.”
“We spend time together every day,” I said. I hated having to use human speech to communicate with her. It felt so slow compared to the thoughts soaring through my new brain. I closed my eyes, angry at how disconnected I felt from her. I felt removed from these human desires, to celebrate or enjoy. Living was my main concern and I felt a void that nothing could fill. I remembered what it was like to feel it, to have a purpose. But those memories felt so distant at the time.
“Okay,” she said. “We won’t go then.” Her voice dropped a little. She put you down as she collected our plates, walking to the dishwasher. I continued to sit there, feeling so far away from her, even though we were in the same room.
After that, your mother stopped trying. She would continue to set the table, but stopped trying to hold my hand. I, myself, had lost the desire to be touched, but I missed the connection, one that was difficult to recreate in my new frame.
I no longer slept, though I would watch your mother when she closed her eyes. We had spoken of trips in our youth, but despite my added time, we never explored any further. She never brought up Italy again.
I would often catch her as she watched old videos, yearning to hear my real voice, and see my real face. She would fall asleep clutching a photo of us at our wedding, mourning the death of a husband that could never die.
And one night, I saw her rip up our only family photo. She was crying and for the first time since I had transitioned over to this body, I felt something real again. The feelings were muted, but they were real. A feeling of loss entered my system, something that felt like it was more than just a coded input. By then you were already a teenager and wanted nothing to do with me. I had spent years with you, like I always wanted, but I barely know you.
And now your mother is dead.
I look out at the void surrounding our ship, surrounding me, mirroring my future. I still play this violin as often as I can. It is the only thing I can do to avoid the loneliness that surrounds me. You and your mother had refused to go through the procedure, although I had insisted. Before the operation, I told her we’d have forever to chase our dreams. I had outlined the possibilities for us and you, thinking she would change her mind. At some point, I thought I could use logic to convince her, but she had already seen what I had become.
I place the red violin down now, missing the magic of the music, something I know now to be purely mathematical. I stroke its shape, touching the chip, having never fixed it. It would forever be broken like I was in this form.
The eternity that I had promised your mother to chase our dreams is becoming an eternity of tomorrows. I shudder at the years that had passed on board this spaceship, of the excuses I had made. With no star to orbit, I try to ignore the years that pass, but they continue, despite me. There is no illness and parts can be created at a moment’s notice. Since there are endless tomorrows, we never have to start anything today. We loom around the spaceship, like ghosts of our former selves.
There is no reason to leave the ship, so we don’t. We process information about the solar system from a safe distance, but do nothing with it. We don’t need to. Gambling our immortality is not worth the price of exploring. In our humanity, death was always looming on the horizon, so the stakes were not as high. But the promise of immortality had made taking risks illogical.
I grab the picture from our wedding day. My eyes scan the room, processing her face instead of seeing her, yearning to see those red curls one more time. I take the picture of you, wishing that I had gotten to see you with my real eyes before you were born and that I could know what became of you. I then look at a picture of my younger self, wondering if I would have been disappointed to see what I had become. I felt pain flow throughout the wires of my system. Today’s models aren’t programmed to have these emotions, since they had never been human in the first place. Emotions are deemed illogical and obtrusive, but I am grateful to feel them once more. It reminds me that the man I had once still existed. That parts of me were becoming human again.
I push the pictures away, hiding them below the violin. The one that had played music for me, the music I longed to hear. As I close the door to my memories, I wonder if the price of escaping death was worth the cost. We had achieved immortality, becoming like gods, but this isn’t what I wanted. I looked at the button, the one that powered me, wondering if I should shut it off, wondering if death could make me fully human again.
When not running marathons, painting, or looking for her car keys, K.Danckert explores new ideas and new worlds through fiction. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. Updates on her writing and art can be found on kdanckert.com.
If you enjoyed “The New Gods”, you may also enjoy the sci-fi horror short story “Medusae” by Elana Gomal.