It’s been a week since you’ve last seen them. You’re brand new baby wriggles aimlessly in your arms, just as unsure as you are in the bland yet mildly comforting room. Your foot taps in a fast rhythm against the tiled floor, half out of want to quiet and comfort the infant, and half to quiet and comfort yourself. You were never meant to be without her, nor was your child. If you had just been more attentive in your youth and registered your genetic make up at twenty five like you were supposed to, she’d still be here. But who could’ve known natural birth would be so difficult? Who could’ve predicted that the happiest day in your life, would be forever tainted with the saddest moment you’d ever live to see?
Not her, and definitely not you. The death of your wife’s body has haunted every second of your life and Shangri-La or not, you need her. Is it fair to call her back from the digital paradise you’ve all been taught from infancy to look forward to after the death of the physical body? But, is it also fair for an innocent life who came into the world expecting two loving parents, to only have one? Grief didn’t let you contemplate either of these things too long. Ultimately, you scrounged together every credit you had to buy a Frame. You need her and hopefully once her consciousness is transferred to a Frame, she’ll understand and not hate you for pulling her back from paradise. Hopefully.
A door at the far end of the room opens and a plain clothed doctor walks in. There are no body fluids or chemicals here, so why should he wear a lab coat or anything else protective. He smiles at the baby in your arms and you smile nervously back. It’s been a mere seven days since your wife’s body died during childbirth and despite bringing a stroller, you can’t bear to put the last organic trace of your beloved down. The doctor seems to sense this and forgoes giving the obligatory lecture on how coddling children spoils them. You’ve received that talk one too many times from strangers and right now, you’re too emotionally raw to have it again. The doctor steps aside to reveal the shiny android called a Frame, standing in the doorway. It’s naked body reflects the light in the room like polished chrome and you bite your lip as you stare at it expectantly. You began to gnaw as your nerves start to get the best of you.
“Babe,” you say hesitantly, shifting the baby in your arms. The Frame begins to walk towards you, the swing of its hips and the sound of its foot falls familiar. Before it speaks, it reaches for the baby in your arms and you don’t fight it. Nestling the infant gently against it’s bosom, it inclines its eyeless face towards your child. Using it’s metallic digits to count the infants fingers and toes, it makes a sound of satisfaction once all are accounted for. Then, it lifts its head back up to face you, and although it has no mouth, you can hear the warm smile in its voice when it speaks. The inflections are undeniable.
“What took you so long?”
Welcome to the world of Versatile Layer, where the good never die and paradise is digital. Working under the premise that the whole of one’s existence is contained within their memories, immortality is achieved by deserving citizens saving their consciousness so that it can be uploaded onto the Shangri-La server at their time of death. There is a social equalizing to this due to the fact that one cannot buy immortality. Every citizen has the right and ability to be transferred to the Shangri-La server once brain death occurs. But, not everyone is entitled to a Frame and Frames are expensive. Once purchased by a well-meaning loved one, the consciousness of the lost can then be downloaded into the Frame by a medical professional. The process seems seamless enough, but the question of ethics does arise.
After brain or body death, a person’s consciousness is presumably automatically transferred or activated on the Shagri-La server. This server is described as a paradise, inhabited by the digital memories of all the good people deemed worthy to be saved there. But, what if someone doesn’t want to come back into the physical world? Would the closest next-to-kin with a fleshly body have the authority to download them into a Frame, or would the person’s consciousness be consulted? And who would have the final say?
Speaking of consciousness, the manifestation of thought is a concept of mental construction. That melded together with one’s memories, makes up the human definition of consciousness and becomes our individual experience. And what is life if not the culmination of our experiences over the course of our existence? That being said, memory without thought does not equal consciousness. Why is this important? Well, how the humans in the series prepare themselves for Shangri-La is by periodically uploading memories onto the server as they are made. This is as easy as sharing or saving a photo. But a photo isn’t a person’s consciousness. If someone were to show an unconscious person a picture of themselves during happier times, that would not suddenly make them conscious. Why? Because if the brain cannot be stimulated, thought will not be initiated, and consciousness will not be formed.
So, can taking the culmination of one’s memories and downloading them onto a server, really constitute giving the recipient immortality? In the Versatile Layer series, this practice is done all the time. In fact, the main character’s mother is a Frame, having lost her physical body during his birth. She has personality coupled with wants and needs, so to the naked eye, she appears alive. But, if a Frame is nothing more than the sum of a person’s memories downloaded onto the hard drive of an android, can that really be considered alive? The answer to that is yet to be seen, but what is evident is that no matter where mankind finds itself in the future, or the universe, our quest for immortality (or at least the illusion of it) will live on forever.