The Remnant

by Cathy Smith


This was the second funeral I’d planned out and attended. My fellow transhumans wanted to make them a relic of the analog past. Everyone wanted to move into digital formats and most of the ones who didn’t refused to do so for religious reasons. My mother had been a proud member of this “remnant,” and now there was one less of their number.

I reviewed the program for the funeral. My first task would be to pick up Millie, the last survivor of my mother’s generation. I called her late friend Virg my mother for her convenience. Her mind couldn’t cope with the fact that I’m a transhuman based on a mindmap of Virginia Madison. But humans had children who took after them, so Virg’s church had accepted me in the last twenty years as the middle-aged daughter of an elderly mother.

The funeral was for David Madison. David was Virg’s flesh and blood son, though his flesh had congenital defects that meant he needed constant care. Virg wouldn’t transmigrate her mind for herself, yet she needed an able-bodied caretaker for David when her flesh failed.

Virg died. David was now dead. I’d fulfilled my role, and my life from now on would be my own. I didn’t have the glands needed to be prostrate with grief, but I wouldn’t make plans until after this funeral was over.

My friend Rodger gave me suggestions. He wasn’t as supportive as the church members, but he stimulated my mind in ways their piety didn’t.

Virg stayed firm in her faith to the end. I had her convictions at first, but my experience as a transhuman forked my knowledge base.

“More like broadened it,” Rodger said.

He didn’t know how Virg surprised me with her opinions and insights. Neither of us stayed static after the original mindmap.

Rodger thought anyone who was anyone should migrate to a more durable format. “Employers subsidize an essential worker’s migration.”

They based my personality on a middle-aged woman, and his came from a young man. This created differences in our programming.

Rodger was a beta tester for groundbreaking tech. He was among the first to migrate from analog to digital when it became possible.

Virg adapted the tech to her needs but didn’t use it in ways people expected her to. Yet, her life decisions affected mine, even if I was an agnostic in matters of faith.

I insisted on using phone texts instead of the transhuman instant messaging system, for one. “Why do you insist on these texts? It’s so old fashioned. Transhumans can process and assimilate data faster than a human can,” Rodger texted me when I reached out to him during David’s last days.

“That’s not a benefit when it comes to a poisonous meme,” I texted back. My agnosticism was for more than matters of faith. “Using content filters helps my critical thinking abilities.”

“That’s what reader reviews are for.”

“Yet you tell me not to be a Christian sheep.”

He ghosted me for a week after that and didn’t contact me until he saw David’s obituary on my wall. “My congratulations.”

“Congratulations?”

“Sorry that was a spellcheck error, my condolences.”

I believed him, though Virg wouldn’t have.

***

The funeral was the last time I’d see David. He looked like he was asleep and could wake up any moment. Which some might find creepy, but the church members found reassuring.

I sent him to his maker in his Sunday best. It was his last request. “Put me in that new suit I didn’t have time to wear yet, Ginny. I’ll shine my dress shoes too. You can donate the rest of my clothes to the Salvation Army thrift store.”

I dressed him and the mortician laid him out. We both did a good job.

***

At the funeral, I played a recording of him singing “Amazing Grace”. His voice had the purity you’d expect to hear in a boys’ choir.

It reminded me of the comment Rodger had made when I posted a recording of David’s singing online. “He’s a prime candidate for the neural chip.”

I already knew Virginia refused to consider that. Someone had been tasteless enough to send spam advertising it.

“It’s ghastly,” she told me. “I said I didn’t want to risk lobotomizing David. They grossed me out by offering to replace David’s brain mass with a neurochip. They said they recommended it in cases of neurological dysfunction.”

Rodger thought she was a fool to pass up the offer. “It’s too bad she refused to terminate her meat body. She’d make more rational decisions.”

Most people disposed of their “meat bodies” when they mindmapped themselves. They considered it a mere change of format and weren’t so attached to their flesh. Virg saw such a thing as “self murder” and refused.

Millie wiped away her tears with her facial tissue when the song finished. “He sings like an angel.”

I was the only one with dry eyes, but I didn’t come with tear ducts. Perhaps I should have had them installed, even if Rodger told me they were a waste of money.

The priest began the ceremony. “David was fortunate to have the faith of a child.”

Of course, David had the mind of a child all his life. Did that make him any worse than people who are just immature?

Rodger arrested his mental development when he transmigrated, and was bad at money management and impulse control. I wondered why anyone would want to be a perpetual adolescent.

“He used the tuition money you loaned him to buy a coding kit instead of paying the tuition for the coding class?” Virg asked me when she saw the debit in my cryptowallet.

“He said the class had fees he didn’t expect, so he bought the kit instead,” I told her.

“So the kit was cheaper than the class? Did he pay back the difference, at least?”

At least my mechanics made it easy to keep a straight face, or I would’ve flushed over this grilling. However, I was silent for too long, and she tsked.

“What do you see in Rodger? A teenage girl might find a ‘bad boy’ exciting, but he isn’t even that. He’s just a loser.”

“He keeps me up-to-date on the newest developments in transhumanism.”

She snorted. “I’d respect him more if he had a set rate for the tech support he gives you. I don’t like how he uses your gratitude to keep squeezing more money out of you.”

She forwarded me a directory of transhuman tech support specialists and their rates. I compared the cost between trading favors with Rodger and paying for tech support. Rodger didn’t come out looking good when I did that.

However, I accounted for the cost of Virg’s church donations in retaliation. “You don’t run an ROI benefit analysis, because you consider Christian fellowship priceless. Rodger is like that for me. I need fellowship with my kind, not for a remnant that’s becoming obsolete. The transhuman social networking and support systems are in beta. They’ll stabilize in time.”

“It’s at an adolescent stage,” Virg retorted. “Adult parents pay all the boring bills while the kids hang out with their friends.”

It devastated Rodger when his parents died and he had to manage his own affairs. I taught him how to do so, and there were times I had to help him out.

Though he helped me in return. In fact, he offered to clean out David’s things for me after the funeral. I could well imagine Virg’s response to this:

“David’s gone and Rodger wants to pick over his effects ASAP? What can you see in someone so insensitive?”

“Rodger’s emotional IQ is low. I don’t have tear ducts and his socialization programming is off. It’s bugs in our design, not a personality defect,” I told the lecturing chatbot that served as my memory of Virg.

***

The choice of pallbearers for David’s funeral took care. There weren’t many young and able-bodied men in the congregation to carry the casket. My attempts to calm Millie’s concerns about this issue had only made her more upset.

“I can carry the casket myself,” I told her. “This android body has a lot of torque capacity.”

“You can be one of the pall bearers, but not the only one,” Millie said.

I was lucky feminism had made an inroad on this church. No one considered my decision “unladylike.”

I had strength that a human strongman would envy, but it was discreet. I looked like a middle-aged woman with a robust frame, not a bodybuilder. The church members counted on me to do heavy lifting for them all the time. Why should lifting a casket be any different?

As it is, I was the one who had to set up the podium and chairs for the service. Millie was out of breath at the least exertion. We’ve had turkey suppers where I’ve done all the cleaning. I accepted it because the aged volunteers don’t have the energy to clean up after the dinners.

***

I could’ve made the arrangements more efficiently by myself. Yet Millie insisted on helping.

At least she had better suggestions than Rodger did. “You could save money and cremate David. That way you can bury the ashes in a hand-carved box as a concession to the sentimentalists.”

Of course, I put this suggestion forward with more finesse to Millie.

“It’d be more environmentally friendly to cremate David. We can bury him in a tasteful biodegradable wooden box.”

“I don’t care what the environmentalists say. Now they complain that cremation releases too much carbon in the atmosphere. They say we should mulch bodies.” Millie shuddered. “Besides that, Virg prepaid his funeral expenses, so you can’t change the arrangements.”

This surprised me. “She didn’t inform me of this.”

“She worried when you started to see Rodger, but I thought she would’ve told you when you two reconciled.”

Virg and I had argued when I refused to drive them to church once. “You should let David decide for himself,” I said.

“He’s incapable of doing so and will always remain under the age of accountability, but I wonder about you,” she told me.

“I don’t want to go to church anymore,” I told her the next day. “There’s no use going if I get nothing out of it and I’d rather use my time more productively.”

“I’ll find someone else to drive us,” Virg said.

An SUV showed up the next Sunday, and I waved Virg and David off. “Aren’t you coming, Ginny?” David asked.

“No, I’ve got other plans for the day,” I said with a smile.

“Oh, we’ll miss you, Ginny,” he said.

It’s too bad I had no plan for the day. It’s not as if I were a human that could use a sleep-in after a week of long hours. I wound up mowing the lawn to pass the time.

I didn’t feel fatigue, but I felt boredom and cued my audio sensor to a podcast frequency.

The Virtual Assistant was used to an ecclesiastical selection and choir music got piped into my audio sensors.

Of course, I could’ve ordered a change to the selection. However, I liked the beat of the children’s choir singing “This Little Light of Mine” so much I put it into a loop. There was a secular version I could’ve chosen but I let the one with Christian lyrics play instead.

I put on a Sunday evening roast dinner for Virg and David. I even made homemade biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy with it.

“You’ve got to reprogram yourself. Virg’s got you conditioned to be a robotic sheep,” Rodger told me when I described my day at our next online chat.

***

Rodger gave up on the humans a long time ago and considered them “meat puppets.” Yet Virg refused to return me to the vendor after the manufacturer recalled my model.

Rodger was the one to cue me in on the recall. “FYI, Rebirthers is recalling first generation transhuman android bodies.”

Ginny: How is that even possible?

Rodger: I don’t know what their reasoning is, but be on the lookout for it. They should send something to Virg.

Indeed, I heard Virg snort over her coffee. I looked up from my smartphone and luckily could coach my face to be neutral.

She projected the email onto a wall panel in the kitchen. It was full of fine print but my optics and cerebral matrix could process it quickly.

She took a sip of her tea. “I leave this up to you, Ginny. It’s your life on the line. Do you want to go in for support or not?”

“Support is a complete reset of my programming to factory default. It’ll have a less active natural learning algorithm. This’ll make me less curious and questioning. How is that an upgrade? I’d lose what I’ve learned so far. No.”

She nodded and glanced at David, who was eating his breakfast like a joyous toddler. “You didn’t come out as I expected or hoped, Ginny, but that happens to all parents.”

At least this incident helped bond me with David. There were some who thought David should never have been born if his brain was “deficient.” I was more functional than him, but my freethinking made me deficient to the Rebirthers.

Society wanted to reset both of us, and there were times I feared the elements that wanted to delete us outright. At least David lived out his life without being culled.

***

My strength disconcerted the mourners as they shook my hand at the end of the funeral. They broke contact and rubbed their hands. I loosened the pressure of my handshakes. An update had messed up my ability to estimate how much pressure I should use. My grip could break their finger bones if I cared to.

I feared that my dry eyes would be disconcerting to them. Almost everyone else’s eyes were moist from weeping, but I came without tear ducts. Rodger said I shouldn’t bother installing them unless I was in the health care profession. That was the only time I’d need to mimic humans’ body language.

Virginia wanted to be a nurse and I considered entering the field. I gave her and David personal support and palliative care in their last days. I also acted as a professional caregiver to members of Virg’s church. When Virg couldn’t support herself anymore, I became her and David’s provider. Now I only had to support myself, and each year there were fewer surviving church members to need assistance. Humans mourn when they lack purpose, and transhumans like to have a well-defined function. I had neither now.

***

We headed to the gravesite and I evaluated the day’s events in my feed to see if I had achieved the outcomes I wanted.

I respected Virg’s last request to give David a “proper burial,” though there were people who resented his carbon imprint. I hoped he was with her now, like Virg believed would happen. He died with a smile on his face, so he wasn’t in pain at least.

My memories played like a homemade PowerPoint presentation.

There was a shot of the first sonogram when the OB/GYN told Virg David had the markers for Down Syndrome. He recommended she end the pregnancy. “All children are a gift from God,” she said, “and I won’t send this baby back to him before his appointed time.”

There was his christening. His slanted eyes were bright, and he smiled at all the attention he got.

There were no pictures of his father. Jeff left because he didn’t agree with her decision to raise David. “We’re better off trying again.”

“We can have other children, but David will always be our firstborn.”

His response was to ghost her and the baby. She didn’t object when he sent her divorce papers.

“I won’t leave or force him to stay, but it’s best not to be unequally yoked,” she told Millie, who dared to ask her about it. She had feared she’d have to find another church, but they didn’t hold the circumstances of her divorce against her.

I marveled at Virg’s strength. She was frail flesh and I had a reinforced steel skeleton, but she was firmer in her convictions than I was.

One time I asked her about it. Her response was, “My weakness makes his strength visible.”

I remembered being strong in faith, but I didn’t access the memory much anymore. Perhaps I had less need of it since I became a transhuman. Maybe her God only made his presence known to the bearers of flesh.

There were many transhumans who called Christians hypocrites for using transhuman technology instead of waiting for their God’s promised resurrection. Virg’s case gave them a wrinkle they didn’t expect.

“I refused to murder my baby and I refuse to commit self murder. I’ll purchase the mindmap service to make sure my son has a caregiver when I’m gone, but I won’t terminate my ‘meat body,’” she told the transhuman vendor when he tried to get her to sign the original contract.

“This is very irregular.” He was not only a vendor but a user of the company’s products. He was so used to running a script he didn’t know how to respond. This made him little better than an AI chatbot.

“Those are my terms. You won’t make a sale until you meet my terms,” Virg said.

“I don’t have administration rights.”

“Then find someone who does.” She shrugged.

Virg got what she wanted, and they manufactured me to be her son’s caregiver when she was no longer able to do so.

“She might as well have bought a medbot if that was what she wanted,” Rodger told me.

A medbot couldn’t be a guardian for an incapacitated human, though. Virg registered me as her daughter and gave me power of attorney.

***

My phone went off while the priest intoned, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

It was a call from my home security notifying me of a break-in in progress. It sent me a stream from the front door’s security cam. Rodger was at the door cussing over the fact that the door wouldn’t accept his override code. I had given him a temporary code once to accept a parcel for me.

Did he think I was naïve enough to give anyone a permanent pass code?

A stream of code flashed on my screen, attempting to bypass the smartphone’s key and use my neurolink. Except that the new passkey system Rodger had tried to get me to use for the front door was in beta and I had tried it in a virtual simulator first.

Rodger considered Virg backward, but she came up with an ingenious idea for best practices for me. She read an article about digital clones and forwarded it to me with an annotation.

“This tech may work as a virtual simulator for you. You can test out memes, updates and new programs first before you download them to your main O/S.”

So I backed myself up for the sake of running a virtual simulator of my cerebral matrix. So far, the digital clone I used was little more than a chatbot. I couldn’t stand the thought of using a sentient being as my guinea pig. Yet, the Ginny Bot had saved me from grief yet again.

Rodger didn’t realize this when he sent me that malware with a backdoor. It was humbling to think our friendship was nothing more than a long con phishing scheme, but I shut down my emotional response to the realization. This was David’s time, and I could process my feelings later.

I didn’t know if any flesh would survive the trend towards transhumanism. However, I swore to God I’d minister to the Remnant while they were still around. This would be my new function. They’d have my loyalty while they existed, and should they become extinct, I’d see if I was called to a new ministry.



Cathy Smith is an indigenous writer who lives on an Indian Reservation in Canada. She has twenty publication credits. She has also won an honorable mention from L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and is a co-winner of the 2016 Imagining Indigenous Futurism Contest. You can follow her latest projects at Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter:@khiatons, Instagram, and Tumblr.

The inspiration for this tale is somewhat prosaic. Cathy came across articles on transhumanism and meditated on under what circumstances a Christian would use this technology.

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Comments

  1. Oh, very intriguing. I like how you were able to fit in so much detail in a short story.

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