Friday, February 15, 2019

States of Change: Chapter 20: Magnolia (Mississippi)

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.

Mississippi's State Flag (reinstated 2038)

"You may enter the realm beyond if you can answer my riddle. What runs on two legs during the day, two wheels in the evening and two exabytes in the night time?" asked the Special Hybrid Intelligent Nexus.

Oeddie rolls his eyes at the guardian cyborg. Then in sing-song tones, he answers, "Per-son-hood, well duhh."

--exerpt from SpHINx and Oeddie Go To Market

Solitude. That is where I am going, thought Lance.

"Welcome everyone to my funeral." A chuckle snuck into the greeting. "I understand you all have your doubts about me ending my life, which is why I've invoked the Magnolia Protocol."

"But Lance..." his mom faltered for words.

"Mother." Lance managed a smile. "Please sit. The point of this gathering is to address your questions and to deal with the feelings involved. The death with dignity process is designed to help us through this moment."

Victoria Benjamin lowered her head with a grimace, then she lowered her torso to the cushioned chair. As if the gesture were magic, the buzz of whispers softened between family members and friends, fading like a gentle breeze finding its way through a field of amber sorghum.

"Thank you. Again I welcome you all to this discussion. Celebrant Gold is here in the circle to serve as witness for the state of Mississippi, and I also like to count her as a friend. If you have any questions about the legal nature of exercising of my rights, she can address them. Ms. Cody, if you could bring this funeral session officially to order."

"Yes, Mr. Benjamin. Per Mississippi Civil Code Article Five, each citizen of the state has the right to call for a dignified end to his life. Mr. Lance Ryan Benjamin's request as such has been approved after assessment by the appropriate state authorities. The living funeral here today provides an opportunity to assuage those close to the citizen and to affirm positively the cycle of life. Per Section 3 a funeral must occur on the final day of..."

The circle of eighteen was more than I expected to attend. My mother, two sisters and a few close friends who had been patient companions over the last two years of treatments...that's all I expected. The array of estranged friends, in-laws, nephews, nieces, an ex-girlfriend from twenty-years ago and even a couple childhood friends was enough of a surprise to be unsettling.

The Celebrant finished the required statement. She had given the official rhetoric a touch of warmth as Lance had hoped. 

"All parties are encouraged to voice their feelings' however, please recognize Mr. Benjamin's election is his own. I personally have known Lance prior to the collapse of Oosa. As fellow non-theists we share the belief that life is of natural origin, is finite and is both amazing and painful in part for those facts. That our very being will indeed perish is scary, still with courage the transition to not being has value if only to celebrate the mortal life lived prior to returning to that nowhere place we occupied prior to birth. With joy and compassion as your state representative, I wish you well Lance."

"Thank you Martha. Let me add that this life has indeed been amazing, albeit one filled with moments of sadness to contrast with the joys, alongside many moments of neutral quality that I am unable to recount. A long time ago I believed in an afterlife. I am proud that I found my way to a more secular path, but mostly I am glad I spent my during-life connecting with all of you here and many not here, as well as with the world and the many experiences it has had on offer."

Lance sighed. "Okay, great, I've said my piece. Please share as you will."

"This is so very Quaker of you, dear brother," interjected his older sister and professional mid-wife Friday. "I thought you had disavowed your Christianity entirely. Most atheists would just off themselves without any call to family and friends. For that, I thank you; a quick exit would have brought more pain to those who love you. I do support your choice, though it pains me. I know your rollercoaster ride with Lyme IX was not pleasant and I would not wish anyone to take a path they do not want."

Friday walked to Lance and gave him a warm hug.

"Thanks sis. Yeah, I guess this has a Quaker circle up aspect to it, but though I see no evidence for gods and goddesses, I can see the loving meaningfulness of community."

"Oh Lance," his mother's voice quavered, "the doctors continue to recommend at least another six weeks of treatment are needed to be sure that your long-term mental acuity is indeed unstable. I know that the transition after your brain death has been more challenging than most, but trust me, if the final upload takes, your quality of life will soar. Son, I love you and I know that's affecting my judgment, but bring your logic to bear, Lance; continuing with the neural network therapy is a path worth pursuing."

"Ma, I understand your frustration. Sure I believe this life is all there is, still the upload path is not for me. I gave the past six months over to it, and it's just not gelling. The wikis are in agreement...eighty percent of uploads after neurological trauma experience critical degradation eventually requiring termination. All the signs are I am headed that way. I'm choosing to end it before I turn into a similar statistic. Sure there is something scary, but also something beautiful about death. I've reached a point of melancholy where I feel good about letting go, It's like grandpa used to say. It's the next generation's turn, and I find I have little to add to the world after upload. Just know I thank you for your encouragement, and I appreciate all the joy and persnickety love you've given me along the way."

His mother smiled, tears trickling, and bowed her head with a nod. The faint circuitry tracings below her ears were the only suggestion of the cyborg life extension she embraced eleven years ago.

"Lance," my teenage buddy Jopha began, "I know we had a falling out many years ago over I don't even remember. In truth you were a jerk, but I suspect I was too. I'm sorry it took so many years for..."

And so the circle of sharing continued. I paid attention as well as I could, once analog memories floating in and out of digital view. In the end the therapy was like any modern funeral, geared to the needs of the living, and successfully uploaded to the static cloud. In all honesty I just didn't have the spark in me anymore to even distantly care. Reason alone kept me in the circle for the good of my friends and family. And yes I was tempted to wait for the neuro-upload patterns to fragment in their own time, still it was satisfying to engage in a final round of freewill, closing the doors of experience on my own terms. 


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