This is an excerpt from today’s issue of my weekly newsletter.
Sometimes when I look at the window, I can almost imagine that there is still a sky behind it. Even in the nicer rooms in this side of the hospital, the windows don’t quite get the sky brightness right all the time, and most of the time, the screen is a little too dim, and the clouds are a little too bright. But a few times a day, if I look up at the right angle and let my eyes pull focus out into the distance, I can let myself believe that I’m looking through the wall into the atmosphere, where the clouds are pushed along by hurried airfronts rather than calculated from my patient records to match the doctors’ recommendations for my preferred climate in the room.
A soft knock on the door interrupts my trail of thought, and I turn away from the window to find a nurse pushing the door ajar and shuffling in, laptop in hand.
“Hi Mr. Yu, I’m here for your scheduled transfer,” he says.
He pulls up a small stool from the back wall and sits down next to my bed. I don’t have much to say, so I just smile and nod to let him know he can go on.
“Before we start with the transfer, we’ll have to go through the standard consent procedure. You’re probably familiar with most of it, but if you have any questions, please stop me at anytime.”
I nod again, and sit up a little to show I’m listening. He pulls out some paperwork from his bag, and starts reading.
“Mr. Owen Yu, I’m Mike Whitman from the Seattle Medical Center’s transfers and end-of-life department, and I’m here for your transfer scheduled for 3PM on March 1, 2221. We’ve got on file that you’ve already reviewed all your preferences ahead of time, so we’ll just do some final checks and flip the switch… so to speak.”
He turns the page over to what looks like more standard legal copy, and continues.
“The Voluntary End-of-Life Image Transfer procedure will make a computerized scan of your brain and re-flash your PCS device with the new image. The procedure will require you to be placed into a state of medically induced coma for a few hours, after which you’ll find yourself awake again in the virtual environment. To you, the gap will feel like a few seconds of lapsed memory.
“I will be overseeing the transfer procedure on your behalf, as governed by the Right to Live Act, and authorized by your signature last week. After the procedure, the PCS hardware will be removed from your person and moved to long-term operations in our center. Of course, once you’re back up in the system post-transfer, we’ll be able to chat more about your plans going forward. Any questions so far?”
These conversations always seemed such a strange blend of melancholy and nonchalant. Like bidding farewell to an old friend before moving away, knowing they’ll be right behind you. It all feels quite calm.
“I actually do have one question,” I say. “So, the data in my PCS – I mean, I’ve been carrying it all my life. it’s got all my photos and videos in it. If you put me in it, I guess… what happens to all that data? Do I… do I remember it?”
“Ah, your data in your personal devices will be securely backed up to the cloud and available to you in your next life. You’ll access it through a PCS, but obviously, it’s a virtual PCS you’ll be using as a virtual person. It’s all quite meta, really.” He chuckles, and then returns to the script. “But yes, you’ll keep your data. But you will be yourself. You don’t get new memories. Anything else?”
“No, I think that makes sense.” I thank him for the explanation.
“In that case, Mr. Yu, in sixty seconds, I’ll initiate the transfer. Your time of biological death will be recorded as 3:01:23PM on March 1, 2221, and your age of death as 218 years and 4 months. Any objections?”
“No, that all sounds good with me, thanks.”
Some people have been known to code their biological death dates to mean things. Some make them passwords, some make them match their birthday, a recently transferred mathematician was in the news for aligning them with the digits of e. I didn’t much care, frankly. Numbers are numbers.
“In that case, I’ll ask you to lean back and close your eyes. This’ll feel like light anesthesia.” says the nurse.
I lean back and close my eyes, my head sinking back into the pillow. I hear a scribble of a pen next to me, and then some typing on the keyboard.
“Goodnight sir, happy transfer,” I hear through the silence.
And then click.
Pause, and then the familiar voice again,
“Welcome to Seattle Long-term Care Mr. Yu. Congratulations on your arrival. The year here is 2019. We’ve got a cab waiting for you outside.”
I open my eyes and find myself in a hotel lobby, bustling with people who seem to be no less confused than I, all standing around next to their own patrons in the lobby. No doubt other rookie transfer-ees. Beyond the small crowd is a doorway leading out to the driveway, and above that, a clear sky, clouds and birds and all.
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