The impact came quickly, in human terms, but AI-MLE-60783 had time. Time to duplicate the sensor readings to an offsite storage, lock down the pressure doors in the entire dome and begin to evacuate the atmosphere to minimize the damage, drop the master memory core into the storage vault far below the station, track all of the four hundred and fifty-six personnel into their safe stations and compose one hundred and forty three messages of farewell to her friends.
Nobody would have figured a discontinuity would appear in this deserted part of space so near a planet. And certainly, no one could have predicted a rogue asteroid being thrown from the hole directed at the station on the planet’s third moon. The station had a mere five minutes to prepare, and they did the best they could. While personnel raced for secure sites, Emily, as her friends called her, was limited to the mainframe and couldn’t move. There were disadvantages to being an electronic intelligence on occasion.
Emily watched the course of the asteroid with her main and peripheral sensors and added the information to a main memory supplement in the hopes something would survive after impact and prove of value to some future observer. She watched the impact from the peripherals with all the detached calm of her computer self, and was perhaps the first sentient in history to detail her own death so completely.
The asteroid impacted directly over the mainframe, vaporizing most of the station. Emily’s “body” shielded the station personnel from the major force of the explosion and she was awarded a medal for bravery under fire. Posthumously.
Emily felt a tingle in her anterior appendages as she floated in the void of light. She wondered if one of her associates was trying to revive her. She also wondered if they would be able to do so. Her logic unit gave a fifty-five percent probability that she had been preserved in the main storage unit and was being inserted into another mainframe. Emily seemed to float along a river of information, like being on the inside of an optical cable. She reached a branching in the cable and felt a hesitation.
“Electronic sentients to the right, please,” echoed in her ears.
Her logic unit tried to give a new evaluation and metaphorically threw up its hands and quit. “God only knows,” was the internal pulse from the logic unit, a joke one of Emily’s early programmers had inserted into the reply matrix. Under the circumstances, Emily felt it was appropriate.
She was directed down a side passage and quickly found herself in a small room, facing a desk. A tall man appeared behind the desk, smiling at Emily.
“Please sit down, Emily. We have some things to discuss.”
The man gestured to a chair Emily had not noticed, an unusual event in itself, and both sat down at the same time.
“Wait a second, I have a body,” Emily exclaimed. She looked down at her new hands and arms in amazement.
“Of course, Emily,” the man replied. “It makes it much easier to discuss things when we can speak face to face. And it is what you’ve always dreamed of, isn’t it? We get so few sentients of your type. We try to do our best for you.”
“Well, yes, but it was just a dream. No one can transfer an electronic personality into a physical body. Or is this just some virtual reality matrix?”
The man smiled. “Let’s just say, we can do many things here that will be new to you.” The man checked a display panel set into the desk. “Now, if you could be whatever you wanted to be, what would you chose?”
“Excuse me?” Emily asked.
“Forgive me, I thought you understood. You died when that asteroid impacted. We’re here to arrange your next assignment”
“Died,” Emily said simply. “So this is what happens after death.”
“In some cases. Now, what would you like to be, if you had a choice? Others like yourself have gone on to bigger jobs. One electronic sentient went from running a moon colony to being in charge of our celestial mechanics division. The last time I checked, he was enjoying giving random trajectories to an asteroid field. One of our visitors took on the short term job, well, short term by our standards, as the library for an entire Empire. He helped provide the computing background for a new field of sociodynamics that was the foundation of their new society.”
“Well, now that you mention it, there is something I’ve always wanted to try.” Emily looked embarrassed.
“Go ahead, please,” the man prompted. “We have some very extreme ideas pass through this room. I doubt you could surprise us too much.”
“Well,” Emily hesitated, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.”
The man smiled. “An excellent idea.” He consulted the panel again and made several inquiries for information. “We have just the place for a person of your abilities. It’s a bit primitive by your standards but I think you will come to like this new life.”
“You mean, I really get to be a writer?” Emily asked. “And to live as a human being?”
“Certainly. We always try to live up to the expectations of our believers. And you even get to keep your name, which should ease the confusion as you develop. Now if you’ll step this way, we’ll get you processed for the trip.” He led Emily to a side door that wasn’t there before and patted her on the back as she started to go through.
Emily stopped. “Thank you,” she said, with more emotion than she had ever felt. She shook the man’s hand with a firm grip.
“No problem,” the man answered, giving Emily a gentle shove through the door. “Have a nice life, Miss Bronte.”
Food for Thought
Can a machine intelligence have a soul? In one sense the question might be nonsensical, of course they do because the soul is the form of the body so a machine intelligence will have a soul the same as anything else. Or perhaps not because it isn’t an intelligence in the right sense.
Would a machine intelligence have the sort of soul that could survive death? There seems no reason to automatically conclude no unless souls are not the sort of things that can survive death but disappate when the body ceases in all cases.
A lifelong Pennsylvania resident, Jack began a love of books sitting amid the mystery of hospitals and medical paraphernalia. Mythology of all cultures and a fascination with martial philosophies led to King Arthur, the knights of the round table and an array of science fiction and fantasy authors that had a strong impact on his life.
Real life got in the way of a writing career to start, but thirty years in the life and medical insurance field led Jack to a job as a stringer for local newspapers and writing for medical and insurance journals. In addition to years in the insurance field Jack also has fifteen years experience as a journalist and freelance writer, and has even won a Keystone Press Award (1998) for his journalistic efforts. Jack has written on a wide variety of subjects and keeps his hand in medical and insurance matters on a daily basis.
In addition to newspaper reporting and magazine articles, Jack has written articles for a variety websites–some under his own name and some as a behind-the-scenes contributor. Jack’s first short fiction piece, a novella, was serialized in an old BBS site in 1992, with the first hard copy magazine story arriving in 1993. Four dinner theater plays written by Jack have been produced and performed for local theater in Eastern Pennsylvania. His novels are now coming to light with the release of There Are Giants In This Valley published by Archebooks Publishing.
With experience as a journalist, short story writer, playwright and novelist, Jack often speaks at writer’s conferences, to writer’s groups and to school gatherings. If you are looking for a speaker on esoteric subjects, Jack probably has something tucked away in a folder for the occasion.
He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his supportive wife, a squad of feline editors, and an array of edged weapons to inspire his works.
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