Opia

I didn’t believe in teleportation. I didn’t believe in it so much I had to stop before the teleporter door and vomit loudly into a nearby bin, my hands pressed up against the cold wall, my back vacillating temperature. I watched the last bit of spit yoyo from my lips, swallowed away the taste, and listened for any footsteps, any alerted yells.

The building was empty except for me and the 25/7 autosecretary who was probably dozing off somewhere in the library. The emptiness made the transporter warehouse eerie, lit by red emergency lights and moonbeams through the glass ceiling. The guiding ropes for queuing had been pushed aside by the cleaning crew, the customs booths were quiet, the observation windows on the second floor dark. A lot of money had been poured here, but all of it into the practical function and technology; every corner glinted with touchpads not yet available to the public – but the walkways were grated, the railings metal, the bolts visible. Without the well-dressed people and ad screens and noise it felt a lot more like a factory, stripped of its soul and built for purpose.

I knew no one was here, but I was still reassured when the only response to my retching was silence. I wiped my mouth and pressed the touchscreen on the side of the beastly metal construction. It thrummed to life, all ugly steel and bolts except for the front, the entrance, which glowed white.

I eyed the death machine with revulsion. It ate people – people who had been brainwashed with the belief that they would somehow come out the same on the other side. Portercorp, the company with an effective monopoly on this technology and its name printed above the entrance of this building, had put out an effective message. “Total control at the atomic level!” it claimed (which wasn’t exactly true, but good enough for the media). “We zap you here and zop you there! Let the solar system be your playground!”

I had talked to many people who’d been teleported. I was a regular contract tech for Portercorp and thus had plenty of access to the wealthy – the only ones who could afford regular teleportation – or porting, as people were calling it now. I’d ask them when called upstairs to fix their abused autoassists. I’d slip it into conversation casually, like I didn’t care. They all insisted, over and over, that it was just a full body tingle and suddenly they were elsewhere. It was comfortable, convenient. No side effects. It was revolutionary. They didn’t know how they had lived without it.

I’d ask them the last time they’d been ported, and they’d say “Just this morning, straight from Florida!” And then the nascent businessman with his linen suit and full set of memories would smile perfectly and thank me for fixing their stupid autoassist and then I’d be on my way.

It was chilling. How could the deconstruction of an entire body lead to anything but death? And the person on the other side, these people I was talking to, working for – they were just a clone, an imposter, down to the atomic level, carrying the same memories. Everyone who was teleported was happily and regularly walking to their deaths and they had no idea. I didn’t care how cutely they phrased “zapping” and “zopping” – it was murder.

And I was going to prove it.

“Activate logging,” I said, and a blue light flashed a reply on the touchpad. A camera, built invisibly into the ceiling of the teleporter room, would now be recording.

“Configuration mode,” I said, the words followed by another blue light. This shifted the teleporter into the mode used for testing and calibration, where items were teleported from one space to another within the teleporter room.

A few more button presses – height, weight, liability waiver – and I was ready.

What I was about to do was illegal. Very, very illegal. It had been done in China maybe, and supposedly here too at the beginning of teleporter development, but had been outlawed due to Portercorp lobbying. This was sensible. Experiments proving murder would be bad for business.

The only reason I’d managed to surpass the safeguards at all was due to long months of slow backend modifications. Considering how strict the laws were, there had been less security than I expected – maybe because nobody thought one of us anti-porter crazies would also willingly work for Portercorp. Maybe nobody had tried this.

Maybe they had tried but gotten too nervous. I wouldn’t blame them.

I inhaled through my nose, suppressing the desire to turn and flee and become another one of those invisible cowards.

This wasn’t death. I wouldn’t be deconstructing myself.

I stepped inside.

It was a small seamless white room with rounded corners, lit evenly and ambiently. The walls weren’t reflective, so it felt nearly like I was standing in an infinite white field, sort of what I’d imagined heaven would be like right before I met God. A gentle blue line glowed in the middle of the floor, dividing the room in two. I stepped to the right of it and watched the door vanish into the wall to my left, flush and completely invisible. I knew the door was there, ready to be activated by my touch, but watching it disappear into nothing was unsettling. I slowed my breathing, felt my chest rise and fall.

Somewhere in the ceiling was the hidden camera, recording everything that was happening. I was going to show this to everyone. I had to stay calm.

The beeps started. Ten of them, warning the incoming test. I counted down under my breath.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

I closed my eyes and a tingle shot through my body – not like a surface chill, or goosebumps, but to my core; I could feel it in every muscle, in my organs, in my brain, like cold metal in my blood.

Zero.

I opened my eyes, and my own face stared back at me.

It was wide-eyed, nervous. It had hair imperfectly tucked into a ponytail, brown eyes, flushed cheeks, wrinkles forming against the eyes. It was so lifelike – I thought I was looking into a mirror for a moment, except there was no glass between us.

It was hard to think. I took a breath and said, “Hello, Opia.”

The clone said “Hello, Opia” at exactly the same time.

I stopped. I raised my right hand; so did my clone. We touched palms in the center in perfect symmetry. She was warm and damp and solid and surreal.

This wasn’t what I’d expected. I had imagined her to be sort of like a twin sister; something other – but those eyes were the ones I had spent my life looking out of. I felt cold-welded to her.

It was so obvious now. I was ashamed I hadn’t predicted this. She wasn’t mimicking me, there was no delay in her greeting or movement. She was acting as I was acting, spurred on by the same thoughts, the same experience. The teleporter had taken the exact arrangement of matter in my brain and replicated it perfectly in this second body. All the neurons, the synapses, would be operating in the same way. Of course she would say “Hello, Opia” at the same time.

And I realized that, at this moment, my clone would be thinking the same thing. And that my clone would have realized this realization. And that my clone would have realized this too…

I stepped back – so did my clone. “This is fucked up,” I said, and those horrible perfect electrical impulses in the clone’s brain meant that she mirrored me with no delay.

I turned around and paced – and so did the clone. I wanted to talk to her – but everything I thought was no longer original. Every time I thought of something to say, I would glance over and the clone was glancing back, obviously thinking the same thing. It felt like telepathy. “Can you hear me?” I thought at her. No, she couldn’t hear me, but the same words were echoing in her brain. The entirety of my own mind was currently being experienced by another, simultaneously, and it was absolutely overwhelming.

The issue of teleportation-death seemed pale compared to this.

I had to break the symmetry. Maybe if I didn’t think? Maybe if I just acted?

On quick intuition, as primally as I could muster, I dropped to my knees and shouted nonsense noises.

So did the clone.

I stood and pulled on my hair and stomped my foot and said “You stupid cunt.”

So did the clone.

I slapped her, she slapped me. It would have been funny if it weren’t so existentially terrifying.

A feeling of cold powerlessness came over me – had been creeping over me since the second I opened my eyes to that terrible familiar face. Before this, I had always felt as though I were making choices, unpredictable ones, as though I had control over my actions.

But, faced with myself, the control seemed shallow, built into the brain in an easily predictive fashion. My thoughts were not my own. And even as I felt this, I knew the sense of powerlessness was not my own, because I knew the clone was feeling it too – as the structure of my brain had destined her to. Every thought I had, even the thoughts about thoughts – were predetermined, predictable, because they were happening within her own mind, too. No matter how many layers deep I went, I was still there, waiting for me.

My clone was sweating, and I realized my own face was wet too.

“You aren’t real,” I whispered.

So did she, at the same time.

“You were duplicated from my body,” I said.

So did she, at the same time.

I knew if I vomited again now, so would the clone, and I didn’t want to see that, so I suppressed it.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, as my clone did the same, from the same brain, from the same emotions.

And I was sorry. Nevermind that my theory had basically been proven right, nevermind that teleportation without deconstruction of the original led to two conscious entities, so that following through with the deconstruction would be murder.

I was sorry that I had done this to myself. This was a mistake. This was a light too bright on inevitability, on the illusion of my own agency. I didn’t really believe in wrongness, but this triggered a feeling of perverseness so deep it was almost primal. In her presence I wasn’t acting, I was watching myself act. I didn’t know where it came from. In her presence I wasn’t human.

I couldn’t let her live.

The invisible door was to my left. Slowly I backed towards it. The teleporter had created her flipped around and facing me, and so she backed towards the opposite wall where she thought the door was. I felt such sorrow for her, this unintentional creation who I knew didn’t want to die. But even the sorrow was not my own, and that only drove me further.

I pressed my hand on the door, as she pressed her hand on the wall-

and the wall on her side slid away, as the wall on my side stood still.

The symmetry of our environment was broken, and thus its dictates on our behavior diverged. I stood there stunned. She slipped through the door. She met my eyes as it closed, and I understood in fullness what she was feeling, what she was, because she was me.

And then I was alone.

The teleporter started humming the tune of my execution, as I knew the original Opia was pressing the combination of buttons set to undo the monster she had created. I began shaking, with anger, but I couldn’t be angry, not really – it was all me. I knew myself too well to have any hope that she would change her mind.

The anger became fear, and the fear was so great that it turned me numb, and the shaking became crying, and somewhere in this I was struck by the absurdity that for a brief moment I had known and been known perfectly. In the face of the inevitability of my own experience there had been powerlessness and terror – but past that, and maybe because of it, there followed an awe and reflection so recursive it was almost religious, and I knew I loved her.

Of course only one of us could live. How could we go on after that!

I cried until I laughed, and I laughed until everything went away.

You Wake Up On A Table

You wake up on a table, blinking out the haze under bright lights. Your skin is goosebumping against a sheet draped over your body. Your breathing is slow and…. clear. Deep. As you inhale greedily, you become aware of a strange lightness, and with the exhale you realize that it is an absence of pain, which had lived for so long in your joints that you’d forgotten what it meant to be without it.

You sit up, a little faster than you meant to. The room is a strange cross between a hospital and a hotel lobby; there’s wires hanging out of the ceiling and a large machine covered in screens by your bed, but the ground is carpeted and the walls are draped in heavy salmon curtains patterned with pineapples.

This isn’t your room, the little converted closet your family had put you, waiting for you to finally die, with the blue peeling wallpaper and the drone of that old fan in the summer heat.

A man enters with a whiff of cologne. He is holding a clipboard and is wearing little round glasses.

“This is the year 2442,” he says before you can think to ask any questions. His tone is abrupt, procedural. “You died four hundred and three years ago at the age of….” he glanced at his chart.

“Ninety-two,” you say. You turned ninety-two last month, but you certainly don’t feel dead.

“Correct,” he says. “Your body was selected as part of a program by a startup company which would later become the corporate governance known as Jericho. Your brain was scanned and saved in its exact configuration – your memories, personality, subconscious, instincts, your entire brain structure. All of it was compressed and put into a file. Over time Jericho amassed hundreds of thousands of these scans, and recently has begun an initiative to boot them back up in artificial bodies.”

Artificial bodies. You look down and see what you already knew – a smooth, taut skin surface, poreless, with texture lightly imprinted for realism. There are tiny bolts in the back of your elbows. You can’t find the outline of any veins in the back of your hands.

The man continues. “We’ve constructed an artificial body that nearly perfectly resembles a human body, with a few improvements. It will not age, it will not get ill. It can eat, dance, and enjoy sexual intercourse. It cannot reproduce, but we have new methods for that now, which we can address later. It must recharge every night, but sleeping is no longer necessary.”

This is absurd and you are somehow accepting it, numbly. 2442. This means everyone you knew has died. They should have brought in a counselor, or someone who at least started out with “my condolences.” You were alone. But then-

“Did you download the personalities of everyone, when they died?” you ask.

“No.” His voice remains even, but he glances at you from beneath his spectacles. “Only corpses within a certain elligibility were saved at first. Later on we expanded our reach to 85% of the world, with 100% coverage in developed nations. We have a few thousand prior to your time as well.”

“Wait,” you say. “How do you save the personalities of people before 2042?”

“We reconstruct them,” the man says. “We place bits together from memories of loved ones, of writings, of records. It is a long, painstaking process.”

These questions are something to hold onto, some sort of anchor that gives your mind grounds to think. “How do you know it is accurate?” You ask. “What if you make a mistake?”

“There is a variance in every replica,” he answers, with a bit more spark this time. Maybe he isn’t used to these sorts of questions from…. new bodies. “It’s around 0.02, even in yourself. The variance in personalities recorded prior to 2042 can reach up to 0.09, but it is a negligible difference. All the presidents of the United States are currently living, as well as many major historical figures. A version of Shakespeare is currently living in New Jersey.”

“A version?”

“Historical records were not comprehensive enough for high levels of accuracy.”

“So is it him?”

“More or less. We have philosophers to argue over the petty details now, but if it means anything, he’s been writing some additional great literature. You should read his newest play By the Shore if you’ve got the time.”

You run your fingers over your skin and have an eerie sense of being sixteen. Sixteen with the mind of an ancient.

“Will I ever die?”

“Your body will eventually fail,” he says pointedly. “Artificial macrocells last for approximately 240 years before they must be replaced. Don’t worry, we have a financing option.”

“And then I’ll be put into another one?”

“Yes, unless you specifically request a non-continuation of your memory.”

You stand from the table and test your walk. Your legs take a moment to respond to your will, but your new brain picks learns fast, and within a minute you are spinning around on one leg with absurd balance. It is a good distraction.

“So if you can reconstruct memories, can you change them? If I ask, can you erase shame, or the memory of death of loved ones? What if I were a murderer? Can you erase sadistic tendencies in people?”

“Yes,” he says. “There are extensive modification forms you can submit for change upon your next body shift if you wish to improve yourself. We refuse to reawaken criminals unless they agree to positive modification.”

Your mind immediately flies to the extremes. “Do people change so much they become someone else? Wait, no – can they choose to forget who they were, entirely? Are there people who want to be someone else upon their next… wake-up? Like a reincarnation?”

“Transferral into another body is something we call a birth. This is your second birth. And yes. There are many people who choose an identity and remove memory of their prior lives. Most of those are not aware that they are on their second birth; they believe they have simply been born. Some opt to put in false memories from a life that didn’t exist, just for the fun of it.”

“Then how are they even the same person?” Your brain may be fast, but it is still yours, and it has limits. “How is this any different than booting up any arbitrary consciousness with random specifications you feel like making? How is it them?”

The man shifts, and you don’t remember at what point his enthusiasm had become discomfort. “It isn’t.”

You realize you are naked. He doesn’t seem to care. You can feel the ligaments within you moving… differently. More precisely. Cleanly. It is hard to focus on your body with your mind whirling. There are a thousand questions to ask at once.

“Are my children alive?”

He consults his clipboard, obviously relieved to have an easier question. “You have four children alive.”

“I only had three children.”

“One elected to be birthed twice.”

“What?”

The man talks calmly. He looks pleasant now. You wonder if his body is organic or artificial. “Your child Miranda lives in Texas. She also lives in New Canada.”

“What are you saying?”

“Canada had sort of an identity crisis last centu-”

“No, about Miranda. Are you saying I have two Mirandas?”

“Yes. There are two bodies that carry her consciousness.”

“But – which one is her?”

“Both are her.”

“Both? How do you have two of the same person?”

“We booted the file into two different bodies.”

“You what? You can do that? Could you do that to me?”

“Of course.”

You stand there dumbfounded, and stare at the man with his stupid little glasses. He’s shorter than you. You have an urge to push him over, but suppress it. “So if you booted me twice, would the other one be a clone?”

“Not any more than you’re a clone right now, I think. That’s actually the subject of the presidential debate’s new platform right now, outlawing of multiple copies. But I personally think it’s just the same thing, there would just be two of you.”

“And this other me – over time it would be subjected to different experiences. It would be me for a little while, but then it would change. How could it really be me, then?”

“You think because it has gone through different things, that it is not you?”

“Then how do you draw the boundary between what is and is not me? Could anyone be me?”

“Some say everyone already is you.”

“But how? I can see and touch them!”

“You can see and touch another instance of your brain booted up into another body, too. Just because you’re looking at another body you’re not in doesn’t mean it’s not you.”

You grab your head – full of thick hair – and run your hands down your face. It feels like your own face, except without wrinkles.

“What am I?”

“That is a very good question.”

“Is this me? You’ve taken something that remembers some life of mine, some collection of ideas – hell, they might not even be real, maybe I elected to have them imprinted inside of me because of some some twisted idea that it would be fun – and now I’m something that can be replicated? What is this? I died! I was gone, and now I’m awake again and I remember being me. I remember my children.”

“We don’t use the term death anymore,” he says, gently now. “We call it sleeping.”

“Don’t try to soften the truth. People do die. I died.”

“And when you’ve gone to bed to sleep at night? You closed your eyes, fell unconscious, and then hours later you opened your eyes again and remembered being you. We could have replaced your body when you slept every night and you would feel no different. And just now – you’ve closed your eyes and opened them four hundred years later. Sleeping is no different from death, except with sleeping, you just remember who you were last time. With death, the memory leaves. If you remember who you were, then you haven’t died, you’ve only slept.”

You have no words. The man continues. “You will meet many people who are on maybe their tenth births who will not remember their past births.”

“What about me? Have I lived in the span before this time and chosen not to remember?”

“If you had, I would not be at liberty to tell you.”

“Why do people choose not to remember?”

“Most will say they got bored. Immortality seems to be quite the fad lately, but it seems a lot of people get tired of it. They say it’s not really fun to be a kid again if you already remember being an adult. You’re just smaller and nobody really takes you seriously. So you can’t really be a kid if you don’t die first.”

“I thought you said you didn’t use the word death.”

“We do in cases of non-remembrance – if you elect to be rebirthed and not remember it. I don’t really think that’s any different from regular humans being born and dying though, but that’s just me.”

“How many times have you been born?”

“I don’t know,” he says.

“Does anyone know, for sure?”

“No,” he says. He reaches into a drawer built into the wall and hands you a simple robe. “My shift is up, though. Take this. Are you finished with your questions?”

“No,” you say.

He smiles, his first real expression, and you catch an artificial green reflection in his pupil. “You can come back whenever you wish. There is food waiting for you. You will also find a full manual and a trained Birth Specialist just down the hall. Two of your children will meet you outside.”

You thank him, your head still spinning, and with your new legs you step through the door.

The Three Oughts

TV Repair

Jerry worked at a tech help center. He got a call from an irate Bob, who had bought a television and was upset that the television wasn’t showing colors.

Jerry went over to look at the television and found that it was a very old television. He said, “this is a black and white television. It’s not built to show color.”

“That isn’t right,” Bob said. “I think this television ought to show color.”

“That’s nonsense,” said Jerry. “This television is in perfect working order, and probably a worthwhile antique too. I can show you the internal workings of the television. There is no possible way for this to display color.”

“But I am very upset by the television,” Bob said. “I want to see color and I think the television ought to show it to me.”

“Isn’t that more about yourself than the television?” Jerry said. “If you say the television ought to be different, you’re really saying that you want something the television isn’t giving you. The television is operating perfectly well according to the laws of physics and causality, I don’t know what more you want out of it. You can rebuild it if you want, or buy a new television.”

“But you want me to accept the fact this television ought to be black and white, not color! If I do that, just accept, then I would do nothing, I wouldn’t rebuild it or buy a new television. I have to believe that this television is wrong if I’m going to do anything about it.”

Jerry sighed as he started to pack up his things. “We are capable of taking action without feeling like we must correct some offense with the world. Buying a new television doesn’t have to be any different.”

Alice and Carl

Alice loved Carl. Carl was wonderful, but not perfect. He got upset whenever he was interrupted in conversation. Sometimes he would insult people for the sake of laughs. Sometimes he would leave the toilet seat up.

Alice, while she got along with Carl well otherwise, was very upset by the things he did. She believed he ought not do them, and that he was behaving unethically, and she told him so.
Alice married Carl, and after many decades, she began to understand – not just in a rote psychological way, but in a deep, empathetic way – why he behaved like this. Carl had a poor upbringing which had convinced him, at a young age, that he was worthless. Fear of abandonment underwrote everything he said. He wanted love, but didn’t know how to receive it.

Eventually, when Carl insulted Alice, Alice saw not just the insult, but also the vast submerged network of motivations that pushed the insult to the surface.

And after this, she did not tell Carl that he was being unethical. She did not tell him that he ought not to insult her. Carl was doing exactly what he was built to be doing. The way she felt had nothing to do with it. Telling him he ‘ought not insult her’ was more about herself than him, really. She just wanted something he wasn’t giving her – affirmation and love. Carl was operating perfectly well according to the laws of physics and causality. What more could she expect from someone?

She told this to her friend Ethel over dinner, and Ethel was skeptical.

“You’re accepting the fact that your husband is an asshole – even that he ought to be an asshole, and not a good kind man!” Ethel said. “If you do that, just accept, then you won’t do anything about it, like going to therapy or leaving him. You have to believe that he’s a dick if you’re going to do anything about him.”

Alice sighed as she stirred her coffee. “We are capable of taking action without feeling like we must correct some offense with the world.  Dealing with Carl doesn’t have to be any different.”

Alice ended up divorcing Carl once she felt he caused her more unhappiness than happiness, and she wasn’t angry with him at all.

The Genie

Dan wasn’t who he wanted to be, and he hated it.

He wasn’t handsome enough or witty enough. He was too insecure. He said the wrong thing too much. He wasn’t attractive to women. He drank too much and couldn’t stop. He ran away from his problems instead of facing them. He was lazy and unmotivated. He wasn’t sure how anyone could love him if they got to know who he was, deep down.

Sure, he was functional. He had a social group and made jokes people laughed at and was respected at his job. But at the core, he was dissatisfied with himself, and it manifested in a constant, low-key anxiety that he was doing the wrong thing.

Dan was not who he thought he ought to be. There was a vision in his mind of the “correct Dan,” and he was not it. The discrepancy ate at him.

One day Dan found a genie.

“You can have one wish,” said the genie.

Dan, not being too bright, immediately wished for a million dollars.

The genie shook his head. “No, I don’t give you what you think you want, I give you what you really want.”

The genie reached forward and touched Dan’s head, and in a single glorious second, Dan was granted total self-awareness of every facet of his own mind. When a thought arose, he felt where it had come from, could trace it all the way back to its origin. He was laid bare before himself. It was terrifying and painful and beautiful and peaceful all at once.

And Dan understood exactly why he sometimes said the wrong thing, why he thought he wasn’t witty enough, why he was unmotivated, why he drank, why he ran away. It was like he was looking at the inner workings of a television that were firing away in exactly the way they had been programmed to, or like he was looking at someone he had loved for dozens of years.

He watched his own discontent with his life with interest. It didn’t leave – the desires he had were still there – but his anxiety over not being ‘ideal Dan’ dissolved away before the face of Real Dan.

“Huh,” said Dan.

“Do you have the fear,” rumbled the genie, “that if you accept that you ought to be the way you are now, that you will do nothing? That you will cease trying to improve yourself or rid yourself of fault?”

Dan hadn’t really thought of the question because his mind was so flooded with the answer. “No,” he said. “I am capable of taking action without feeling like I must correct some offense in the world. Improving myself doesn’t have to be any different.”

“So if not obligation, why do you seek to improve yourself?”

“Well… what else is there to do?” Dan said.