“So you think you’ve got immortality wired,” said Sasha, always the skeptic except when she was in bed. “And you don’t even believe in souls.”
“Not that kind,” said Justin. “I’ve got more practical ideas, more ambitious. I just wish I’d figured it out sooner, how to capture me for eternity before now. I mean, my soul will be missing its first 24 years.”
This wasn’t the first time Justin had sounded grandiose, thought Sasha, and she let it slide. After four tempestuous months together, she grudgingly admitted to herself that one of the attractions of this relationship was Justin’s techno-mysticism; his detailed plan slightly aroused her.
“The gear’s all there—the temple-mounted Minicams, the micro audio samplers, the giga storage that’ll fit on my thumbnail,” said Justin. “And of course you can edit the hell out of it over beers, and we’ll even shoot that too, the editing.”
“We? Who is we?”
“I can’t run the cameras only by myself. I mean, like, my arm’s only so long. So I gotta have a technician, a handy-grip, otherwise eternity won’t see me, my face, my expressions, my mannerisms…my soul. Got it, princess?”
She got it, but her mind was spinning forward. Sasha didn’t want to share him. She had developed a mild jealousy on their second night together, when she’d named him Just-in-Time Justin because of the synchrony of their lovemaking. “So, maybe you want me to be your handy-grip.”
“Whoa. What about when we’re locked in mouth-to-mouth and going for it? There’s gotta be a third party, otherwise we lose that vignette privée—that tender piece of my propagated soul.” Justin grinned.
“You mean you want someone else to tape us in the sack?” The thought intrigued her.
“Yep, gotta get it all, minute by minute. That’s the point. For eternity’s sake. But you and me in bed is such a small part of it. There’s my thoughts too. I’ll talk about them into the mike as I navigate,” said Justin.
Sasha raised her brown caterpillar eyebrows. “Navigate what?”
“Navigate life—my life. And then outload it all. It’s gotta be formatted in every digital standard out there. We might even backtrack to analog, in case extraterrestrials are still fudging with that. It’s gotta be fully dispersible, and the archival’s gotta be durable as gold. Do you know if there’s anything other than analog and digital? I’ve gotta cover all the bases. It’s immortality we’re talking about. You don’t want to mess it up.”
“But you can’t capture all of it,” said Sasha.
“Come on. The technology’s here! I’ll get every second. I’m even going to record my dreams when I wake up in the morning.”
“And who’s going to bother to look at the minutiae of your life? I mean, it could be worse than reading an encyclopedia…or a dictionary…or the yellow pages…or Proust.” Justin liked Sasha’s piercing comments, but he generally tried to ignore them.
“I’ve gotta find someone to help with the editing too,” he continued. “Then I’ll send it all out—I mean various edited versions of it—on commercial multi-spectrum transmitters to the far reaches of the universe, maybe beyond. And once those deep-space radio signals go out, it’s forever, baby; it just keeps going. Light years and light years of immortality. Do you know you can rent satellite channel time to far space for a pittance now?”
“For you it’s a pittance, thanks to your parents.”
“But that’s the natural generational result, for the far-minded,” said Justin. “Take John Adams—he dedicated himself to politics and war so his sons could learn navigation and commerce so their sons could dibble-dabble in poetry and music. He left out the next phase—the sons who would transmit their souls to the universe. Daughters too. And about your yellow pages complaint: hell, way out there they’ll be starved for this kind of stuff. First contact—they’ll lap it up, like those home confinement shows on TV down here. But, baby, this is between you and me. If word gets out, there’ll be a race, and then all the clutter would…”
“Drown out your immortality?” Sasha’s expression seemed slightly wicked.
“It’s not like that exactly. There’s space for everybody. But first carries a premium. Like Plato—now there’s a guy who knew how to transmit over time and space. Get the message recorded and get it out. And besides, some souls are more immortal than others. It’s like those plant species imported to foreign continents where they have no natural competitors and take over. That’s why I’ve gotta send it out in as many formats as possible—you never know the niche in which your soul will best propagate. I want pollen, spores, seeds of me spread everywhere.”
“Well, Plato, if it doesn’t have any big ideas attached, won’t the at-home series fizzle out after a while, like all one-shot wonders do?” She arched her eyebrows. Checkmate.
“I’m ahead of you, my smooch.” Justin winked. “Here’s the fix: The digital composites of my soul will have subprograms attached, like viruses. Call them my gifted replicons. You’ve seen those programs that generate poems or plots with a few keystrokes? The replicons will generate new permutations based upon my soul data set. As for big new ideas—that’s just a matter of semi-random associations subjected to selective pressures. The viruses will spew their stuff out and some will stick, with my name and personality attached. Haven’t you heard about all the garbage even the greatest thinkers have pumped out? Dustbin ideas. Only the precious leftovers made them great minds in retrospect. So yeah, a lot of the ether spume fails, but the good little leftover soul-frags survive and propagate. Call it soulful universal evolution.” Justin was pleased with his phraseology, and it showed.
“Why not just concentrate on earth, where at least you know you have listeners? Like in places without media saturation?”
“Oh gawd, Sasha. I could focus on all those humans in no-man’s-land with nothing to watch except a satellite feed, and send my soul data train out to them, which of course I’d have translated into the native tongue—that’s a super-trivial software deal now: Greek in, Pashto out, any combination. Yeah, I could do all that. The problem, my little sushi Sasha, is that the earth is not the future. The future is out there! In Sagittarius or Scorpio or Orion or…you pick your favorite patch of sky. My soul is for them! I live for them, out there!”
“I suppose having children doesn’t get you your immortality? Earth children?” Sasha was on firm, unbiased ground here, since she’d said innumerable times that she had no interest in having any kids herself.
“Children, nah. Not that kind of seed. I’m not a control freak. Children fly away and they should. Even the genetics argument is a waste—after two generations, the DNA mixing dilutes me to nothing. I know where you’re headed, Sasha.” Justin rocked on the rear legs of his chair, catching himself as he almost tumbled backwards. “Of course I’ve thought about clones. And I’m sure you’ve seen those stories about identical twins separated at birth who are shocked when they reunite at age fifty, and they have the same beer bellies, and are both firemen. The press selects for those examples; the fact is, even with the same DNA, my clones would grow up different from me. For all I know, my clones would become con artists or chemical engineers, and where would that leave my soul? Clones are too dicey. I’d rather bet on several eager viruses that have my data strapped on like jetpacks, ready to permutate my posterity.”
Sasha wouldn’t acknowledge to herself that she was, in fact, attracted to his pomposity. But immortality…that she could admit was alluring, though she had her doubts about intelligent beings way out there.
“And what happens to the other…factors…in what gets transmitted?” she asked.
“You mean the people I meet? You mean you? Yeah, you mean you.” Justin started to roll his eyes.
“For example,” said Sasha.
“Look, you’re part of me. You’re in there—in my soul for the ether. And gawd, we spend a lot of time together.”
“And all that editing you talked about?” Sasha tried to keep her voice detached and clinical, but it was beginning to buckle.
“There’ll be zillions of bytes of you in there. The universe will know me and so it will know you. You’re in there. You will be in there.”
“And the replicons? Will they take me along…”
“For the ride? Wow! I hadn’t thought about that. Huh. Hmm.”
There was a long silence between them. Justin looked up toward the ceiling. Sasha examined his face.
“I guess it’s like a will,” he said. “You can change it up to the end.”
“You mean you’re going to start transmitting only at the end, when you’re dying?”
“Sasha, you’re ahead of me here, you wizard. I’m not a control freak, you know. But I guess, hmm…I guess I’d want revision rights up to the end.”
“And so we…you…you lose all that lead time the longer you live. Time for the clutter to spread across the universe, time for someone else to be first. You’re young. That’s a lot of lead time to give up,” said Sasha.
“Um, yeah, the lead time. Tick tock. I’d better gear up quick and start beaming. You never know when a bus will flatten me or some jerk will beat me to the punch. So I…I suppose your soul is along for the ride, too.” He kissed her, Sasha kissed him back, and the two grappled their way to the couch where they joined themselves amid tender thoughts a thousand years in the future, when they would long be dead, maybe.
In the morning Justin groaned and pulled a pillow over his face to block out the light. He had a hard-on and groped his hand across the bed. The other side was empty.
“Sasha. Sasha! Are you in the toilet?”
There was no answer. He lugged himself out of bed and walked to the living room, his organ pointing the way. He barely saw her silhouette against the glaring sunshine streaming through the unwashed windows. “What are you doing?” Justin wanted to sound imperious, but it came out as a whimpering complaint. He rubbed the night’s mucous from his eyes and blinked.
Sasha was seated at the foldout table, wearing a Japanese robe. She was writing in a leather-bound book.
“I’m busy. Why don’t you make us some tea? Pear and vanilla would be fine.” Her pen kept moving and she didn’t look up.
“What are you doing?” Justin tumbled onto the couch and buried his face between the cushions.
“Waiting for tea.”
He raised his head and looked over the arm of the couch. Sasha’s long brown hair was draped across her cheek and swayed with the motion of her hand. “Alright, alright.” Justin cracked his knee against the coffee table on his way to the kitchen but refused to yelp. As he heated the water his aggravation rose in proportion to the retreat of his organ.
“Here’s the tea, for thee, my queen. Now what is that?” The cup clicked against the table top and spilled a little next to the book. Sasha snapped it shut and pulled it away from the puddle.
“It’s my journal. Sort of a diary, sort of not.” Sasha smiled. Justin thought she looked like a Cheshire cat as he hovered over her. He pulled up a chair and sat down.
“And, and, what’s in there?”
“This and that. And whatsits and whosits.”
“I’ve never seen it before,” said Justin.
“No need to wave it in your face.”
“So…do you write in it a lot?”
“Rain or shine?”
“Rain or shine.”
“Since I was twelve.”
“All the details?”
“All the important ones.”
“Since you were twelve?”
“Since I was twelve.”
“You’ve been keeping a journal since you were a little girl and you never told me?” Justin felt completely naked; and he was, except for the pen, which had rolled strategically onto his lap when his agitated legs bumped the table. “And what do you do with it, or with them? You must have a bookcase full.”
“I read them. Add a few details now and then.” Sasha tugged the book toward her as Justin eyed it. “And edit.”
“Everything that happens to you is in there?”
“Yup. Thoughts too.”
Justin put the pen back on the table and slowly rubbed his face. “Am I in there?”
“Maybe. A little bit.”
Justin scratched his thighs and reached for the shirt he had shed on the floor the night before. He put it on. “Can I read it?”
“No.” Sasha planted her elbow on the book.
“So who’s read them? Who’s going to read them?”
“No one. No one but me.”
She resumed her writing and purred. At least it sounded like a purr to Justin. He kissed her on the neck. “Please, Sasha. I promise—yours can ride along.”
“Okay, maybe, sometime. Just a peek.”
* * *
First published in Fiction Fix Literary Journal