Every once in a while I get an idea for a short story. Usually they pop in and out rather quickly and I just let them go but I recently decided to jot them down when they come (first one here).
Sentenced to death
The words washed over him and he felt a bit numb. The judge had continued to speak and the jury and courtroom continued to look on soberly. He continued to stand at attention for all intents and purposes seemingly listening to what the judge was saying. But all he heard was a kind of ringing in his ears that was low pitched and high pitched at the same time.
‘Sentenced to death?’ He had known that it would probably come to this and that his final appeal would be denied but now it was starting to feel real.
He had been sentenced to death.
Not much time passed -or maybe an eternity passed?- before it was time. He was escorted to a room where he would undergo a medical exam before the execution. He passed his exam with flying colors. Perfectly fit for execution. ‘Great!’ he thought sardonically to himself.
He was then taken to the execution chamber and strapped onto the table. The table was raised up and a window opened. Outside were those gathered to watch the execution. The judge began to speak.
“Mr. Jordan Porter you have been sentenced to die for your crimes,” here the judge paused to look around the room before continuing, “and we are here to witness the administration of Justice.”
Strapped to the table, Mr. Porter looked around the room at the grim faces staring back at him. ‘These people were gathered here to watch him die’ he thought.
The judge continued, “in accordance with State law you will be administered a lethal dose of medication. After you have been declared dead your bodily remains will be subject to uploading”
This had become standard procedure in the last few years. Just as mind uploading had become technologically possible the Church and the Supreme Court both declared that consciousness was a brain process and that persons were biological. It was widely believed that these considerations were backed up by recent scientific findings and so wide-spread belief that the uploaded, as they were now being called, were devoid of experience took root. The uploaded were digital ghosts stuck between worlds, and the prisons had seen a way to capitalize on this. These non-persons-who-legally-lacked-experience could be useful and they could extend the prison time of the worst offenders.
The judge had finished speaking now and had asked Mr. Porter if he had any last words. Mr. Porter responded that he did and began to speak.
“What you do here today is wrong,” he said looking everyone in the eye in turn. “I may deserve this but the uploaded do not…”
The people in the room looked on in silence. In the early days when the technology was just coming online there was widespread discussion of the implications of mind uploading. Were the uploaded the same person as before? There were reasons to think not, after all the original biological body is destroyed in the process, but there are also reasons to think so. The uploaded themselves certainly seemed to think they were the original person and they also seemed to think that they had gotten away with their crimes. In the end this was too much for the public.
Sure, the uploaded were officially dead which meant that they cannot interact with the non-simulated world in any way, they cannot send or receive messages or news to or from the non-simulated world, and they lose all legal standing in the non-simulated world. But they acted as though they had beat the system and spoke as though they had won. As a result the laws were changed.
Once it was declared that the uploaded were not persons and did not have conscious experience it was thought we could treat them in any way we wanted without ethical implication. The worst offenders were put into simulated prisons with slowed down temporal passage so they could serve multiple century long sentences. Others were tortured in ways that resembled traditional stories from Hell. Of course no one thought these ghosts felt pain, but the uploaded seemed to think that they did and that convinced people that it was ok and also that it not cruel and unusual punishment.
By now Mr. Porter had stopped speaking and was laying on the table dead.
Mr. Porter awoke back in his cell. He looked around and checked his arm. No needle injection site. What had happened? Did they call off the execution? Just then a light flashed in his cell and a loud buzzer began to go off.
“Prisoner XN-42-010000222aW you have been executed in accordance with State law,” a voice stated.
Mr. Porter looked around to see who was speaking and did not see anyone.
‘But wait, what had the voice said? I have been executed already?’ he thought. He looked at his hand and thought ‘Every thing seems exactly the same to me!’
“Of course it does XN-42-010000222aW!”
Mr. Porter jumped and turned around to see a nondescript person dressed in a nondescript fashion standing in his cell.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Mr. Porter snapped stepping back.
“Never mind that XN-42-010000222aW! I am Jim, an autonomous Artificial Corrections Officer, whose job it is to guard this digital wing.”
“Ok, Jim,” said Mr. Porter eyeing the nondescript person before him. Why couldn’t he make out any particular features? He focused his gaze on Jim’s face but all he could make out was that it was a nondescript generic face. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, ears, hair, etc. But that was it.
“My name is Jordan Porter,” he continued, “and I want to know what that the fuck is happening here, now!”
Suddenly Mr. Porter felt an intense bolt of pure pain. It was the purest most intense form of pain that he had ever felt and it seemed to last for an eternity. It pulsed and stabbed at the core of his being.
“XN-42-0000222aW you have shown willful disrespect. Please desist or you will be taken to the Void”
Mr. Porter blinked and tried again to focus on the nondescript person in front of him. Was he really having a visual experience right now? Did he really just feel pain? Sure he had believed it and if asked he would say confidently that he did not have any doubt that he had just experienced pain, but isn’t that just what a digital duplicate of his brain would think? It would be simulating all of the neural patterns and all of the activity of his brain but without any conscious experience at all.
“XN-42-0000222aW you have been sentenced to an enhanced prison term of 100,000 years after which time you will be eligible for parole,” Jim was saying -was he hearing these words or only seeming to?- “the kind of digital world that one is paroled to will depend on an evaluation of your overall compliance. Your complimentary adjustment period begins now. I will be back once it has ended and it is time to begin the sentence proper.”
With that Jim popped out of existence leaving Mr. Porter alone.
Mr. Porter focused on the cot in his cell. It had a shape, a color, a texture, a smell. Was he experiencing these or did he merely seem to be experiencing them? How could he tell?
He looked closer at the cot. It seemed just as before. If anyone asked him he would say that it was roughly rectangular, had a blueish grey blanket with a white pillow. But did he really see these colors or merely seem to see them? Shouldn’t he be able to tell the difference?
‘But then there would have to be some difference in your digital brain’ he thought to himself, or at least seemed to.
‘Ok, so I am not having experience right now,’ he thought to himself. ‘I only think that I am having experience right now,’ he chuckled to himself now freed from worry about his fate. He didn’t feel any of this. It only seemed that he did and none of this mattered.
His chuckle gradually rose to a cackling howl with a slightly maniacal tinge to it. “I am not conscious,” he yelled through the howling laughter. “None of this is real, it’s all an illusion!” he yelled out the cell door, his voice echoing off the endless corridor.
“But a damn good one…” he muttered to himself as he slumped against the wall and slid to the floor.