Tag Archives: death

It’s About Time: Bud, Beon, and the Bots

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Sunday, July 2, 2017—This is a scene from my novel, a decades-old perpetual work in progress.  Superficially sci-fi, it is based on a philosophy that life is immortal, everything has consciousness, and everything runs its course then evolves into something else.  Time and space are illusions within a “spacious present.”  Death is like a phase change–like water converting to steam–while retaining the essential qualities of water.  From this perspective, there is no end point, and the process is the goal.

The purpose of the novel is to make you smile.  Let me know if you want more.

CHAPTER 4

CAUSE AND EFFECT

The sun, shining through dingy, crocheted curtains, cast a mosaic of light and shadow across the worn rug. By the angle of the light and content of the shadows, Joe knew it was at least 11 AM.

His head throbbed with an intensity of 200 on a one-to-ten scale.  The light hurt his eyes, but he didn’t have the courage to move.  He remained curled stiff, eyes clenched shut, until his bladder forced him to attempt the impossible and get out of bed.

He moaned, then winced.  He eased to a slouching position at the edge of the bed, resting his aching forehead between tender hands.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he stood and staggered to the bathroom, carefully shielding his eyes from the light.  He downed two aspirin and then a third, to abort the stroke he must be having.  It was at least a stroke. Maybe an aneurysm had burst.  He stared into the mirror.  Images of his certain, agonizing, and imminent death spread like acrid black goo across his quivering brain.

“I’m dying,” he told his haggard face. It stared back at him—coldly critical, his appearance substandard today, even for him.  He and his reflection eyed each other.  He noted the dark eye sockets, red eyes, fuzzy vision, chin stubble, wrinkles, and greasy hair.  He didn’t smell too good, either.  Let the embalmer handle it, he decided.  That’s what he’s paid for.

He trod a wobbly path through the living room to the kitchen, where the percolator was full of yesterday’s grounds.  His stomach wasn’t feeling much like coffee, but his head told him he was in caffeine withdrawal.  He cursed Marian for getting him so drunk that he forgot to prepare the coffee pot.  He imagined her boiling in a vat of coffee, begging for mercy.

Suddenly, Beon’s face loomed across Joe’s inner screens.  The balding, round visage grinned like the Buddha, his eyes innocuous, his portent ominous.  Joe’s head pounded harder, and his knees felt weak.  An image of lab rats, pinned to boards and randomly shocked, blotted out Beon’s face.  Then, the lab rats became little Joes, with Beon delivering the shocks.

Joe listed the objective, measurable reasons for his agony.  Unendurable pain. Undetectable caffeine levels. Betrayal by his only friend.  Violation of sacred coffee ritual, and death without absolution.  Beon.  He threw fresh coffee in the pot, spilling half the grounds on the counter, creating yet another reason to feel miserable.

Percolator finally started, Joe turned to face new trouble.  He opened the freezer and scowled at empty ice trays.  The little Joes in his head jumped and slumped.

He dragged his failing carcass to the couch. He imagined the pain in his head could power a small city, if he could figure out how to harness the energy.  Not today, though.  And tomorrow wasn’t looking too good, either.

Beon’s face returned, and with it, thoughts of the healing machine.  Joe wondered if it could cure his headache.  “Yes,” said Beon’s image.

“Who asked you?”  Joe demanded, not realizing he spoke out loud.

“You did.”  Joe decided he was going crazy, too.  “DALE,” said the face.  “Diet-Associated Life Enhancer.”

Joe covered his ears, but it did no good.  Beon’s image swelled in his head, and dream pictures bombarded his brain, rocking his scientific foundations.  The throbbing and pounding got louder, clanging against his skull.  Joe closed his eyes and waited to die.  Through it all, Beon’s face smirked, as if he enjoyed Joe’s suffering.

But death defied him, and Beon continued to grin.  Joe glanced around the room.  A single picture, hung askew, showed a listing clipper ship, an artifact left by the previous tenant.  George White left a few pieces of tired furniture, too, good enough for Joe.  His mailbox in the foyer downstairs still bore White’s name.  When neighbors called him “George,” Joe didn’t bother to correct them.  It was as good a name as “Joe.”

Now Joe wondered for the first time what happened to George White.  His couch may not look great, but it had personality.  It was warm, comfortable, inviting.  It was friendly.  It was taking care of him, helping him feel better, as a friend would do.

“I have tangible evidence that you existed,” he told the former tenant, “even if we’ve never met.  I still get your mail.  Beon is only imaginary, but he’s torturing me, and I can’t get away from him.”

Joe’s eyes began to blur.  His stomach felt queasy.  Vague terrors swept over him, and sweat poured from his upper body.  He wiped his face with a dirty napkin and dropped it on the floor.  “This is only a hangover.  It clouds my perspective, makes me think crazy thoughts.  It was only a dream.  A machine like that is impossible, and Beon doesn’t exist.”

The Problem with Immortality

Several people have stated over the years that man’s biggest problem is overpopulation.  These are usually people who have propagated and have adult progeny who have also propagated.  I don’t believe they were volunteering to be euthanized themselves, so the obvious question becomes one of who gets chosen to solve the overpopulation problem.

As I move through time and reach official “retirement” age, my perspective has changed.  I see the uncomfortable dilemma of feeling superfluous on the planet, reinforced by a youth culture that obviously or covertly resents the Baby Boomers for having robbed the universal till to secure comfortable retirements for themselves.

If the world is overpopulated, then war, disease, and famine work to right the scales.  If the mystics and other seers are right, there are many dimensions beyond the physical one, and many worlds being created all the time.  Even the astrophysicists say the universe is expanding.  Isaac Asimov anticipated overpopulation in his first sci-fi novel, Pebble in the Sky.  In that futuristic book, entire galaxies had been colonized, and there was mandatory euthanasia on Earth at age 60.  Other sci-fi novels present similar scenarios

It appears death is necessary in physical reality, to make room for new life.  If everyone were physically immortal, and lacking room to expand, the Earth would become crowded with humanity, as some claim has already happened.  Longevity is blamed, along with other factors.

The dilemma of immortality—or longevity—becomes one of what to do about overcrowding?  Presuming people continue to be born, a race of immortal beings that requires physical space must live somewhere.  Thus do the sci-fi novels delve into colonizing other places or, as in Pebble, making euthanasia mandatory.

When animal populations grow too large for their habitats, and if they can’t move, self-correcting mechanisms serve to reduce the population.  In human history, wars, disease, famine, infertility, homosexuality, abortion, infanticide, human sacrifice, expulsion, and even cannibalism have served that purpose.

Few would deny that Americans are the most wasteful people on the planet.  Not only is “consumerism” encouraged, but it is a source of pride for many.  It comes at a huge cost, though, as we must live in the garbage dump we are creating.  If overpopulation is the source of our problems–leading to war, pestilence, and all the other natural and unnatural mechanisms used to lighten the planet’s human load—then it makes social and personal sense to curb excess and waste.

My minimalist lifestyle represents a symbolic effort to curb my own excesses.  I chose not to have children, for instance.  I didn’t want children dependent on me, but I also recognized there are plenty of other people propagating, so my contribution in that sphere was unnecessary.

As I move through time, towards the age of superfluousness, and even towards a time of consuming more than I produce–along with my Baby Boomer cohort–I have to wonder if it becomes my social responsibility to get out of the way.  The growing support for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia seems motivated in part by the perceived burdensomeness of the elderly.  The alternative, for those who still have some living to do, would naturally be to remain “productive,” useful, and to continue contributing in some way to society.

There is no cure for death, in the time-space construct we have chosen.  There is hope for healthy and happy longevity, one in which age does bring wisdom, grace, depth, and understanding—valuable commodities that money can’t buy.