Sharing my writing helps spur my writing. Just knowing that people are taking time to read my ideas helps hold me accountable. Below is a short story that I am working on submitting for a sci-fi writing workshop. I also wanted to test out AI art (In principle I dislike it but I recognize its utility) and thought that incorporating it into a sci-fi short story was appropriate. This is still a work in progress so if science fiction is your cup of tea I'd love to get feedback on it in the comments below. Thanks for taking time out of your day to read my work!
Dinesh viewed the vidscreen wall in the scrolling room dedicated to displaying the best days of his adult life. He mentally activated the play function and watched his son Amir on the beach as his pair bonding coordinator chased him along the shore.
The scroll told Dinesh that the weather that day was a perfect 88 F/31.11 C along with wind speed, precipitation and other related data points. Amir's heart rate was running a bit high at 125 beats per minute but Dinesh figured that was due to the fear of being outdoors. With a quick thought Dinesh muted the on screen data. He didn't need that level of clarity.
Dinesh scrolled forward on the vidscreen to watch the day progress - the drones were filming from about 1000 meters away at various angles which was close enough to get perfect 64k resolution but not so close that it made anyone feel self conscious about being filmed.
Most people like to have their vidcortex avatars edit the videos into several different videos for them but Dinesh was always particular about how his vid screens would be edited. The avatar could get about 98% of it right but that was 2% below Dinesh's minimum acceptable threshold. It took him at least 100 hours to optimally and seamlessly edit the footage to capture the perfect angles from each camera to see the perfect viewing experience but once he got it right he was content.
It was a wonder to behold. What's her name was radiant! Her sundress was gracefully drooping off her hourglass figure. Dinesh loved seeing her laugh as she held her favorite sparkling psilocybin cava and attended the boy. She was such a good social bonding surrogate! Dinesh really felt like she loved Amir whenever she came over to spend time with him.
Amir was perfect! He was so graceful for a seven year old. Far more athletic than Dinesh had ever been. Dinesh couldn't imagine what it would take to do a cartwheel in the sand but Amir was able to do it with no effort whatsoever. Amir was covered in sand. Under normal circumstances the thought of anyone being covered in strange bacteria from the outdoors would have been utterly repulsive for Dinesh but when it came to Amir he just didn't care.
Dinesh sighed. It was bittersweet to watch this video. Dinesh did lots of these drone vids throughout the years. Not too many when Amir was young, because the data requirements for filming that many drones from that distance is still pretty expensive and kids can't do much interesting until they can download enough knowledge safely into their web cortex. But from ages 6-12 Dinesh did at least one of these a month.
It was a real bummer that Amir died.
The accident was nobody's fault. The odds of a car being hit by lightning are over one in a million and the lightning rarely hurts the passengers when a car gets hit. Unfortunately the lightning completely short circuited the driving program which caused the vehicle to crash into a billboard.
Dinesh searched his stored memory data bank to find a time in his life when he was more miserable but there was no other time that even came close. Most of the time when he felt sad he would just prompt his webbing to crank up the release of endorphins to relax him. But after Amir died, whenever a neural prompt said "uh oh it looks like you are about to experience some trauma - let me take care of that for you" he would override it and wallow in the emotion. For some reason that he couldn't quite articulate Dinesh wanted to feel... sad.
That sorrow lasted for a whole month before the webbing cancelled Dinesh's overrides and delivered the appropriate neurochemical cocktail to spur Dinesh to move on.
Dinesh reached out to Dr. Georgia Zhang, one of the best gene surgeons in the integrated Americas. The request was simple enough; make sure Amir 2.0 would be identical to Amir 1.0, then upload Amir 1.0's neural web onto the new child. EZ and peasy and Amir would be back. The tricky part, and why Dinesh was willing to pay extra for Georgia's services instead of going with the state sponsored gene tailors, was in overlaying the neural web to sync properly with the sped up physiological process.
If you have ten years worth of memories you allow the new unit at least 5 years to upload the memories. That creates the highest quality integration. But Dinesh didn't want to start over and he didn't want to wait that long. Georgia's reputation for overlaying neural memories onto backups was legendary and she was able to rapidly accelerate cellular growth and sync neural data in less than a year.
So one year later, it all worked like a charm. Amir 2.0 didn't have any trouble integrating the backed up neural map of his predecessor. He didn't miss a beat.
When puberty hit Amir 2.0 it seemed like a button turned on. Dinesh picked up one of the last photovids that he did with the second Amir. That huge adorable smile turned into a sullen frown. The gleaming eyes became bloodshot almost immediately.
Everyone received a medically approved combination of pharmaceuticals and nootropics to ensure that life was optimal. It was incredibly effective for most people. All of the problems that used to plague people since the beginning of the information age were all but solved; violent crime was nearly non existent. Interpersonal conflict was completely driven out of society. Even war was rendered obsolete thanks to the Toxic Masculinity Expression Reduction Initiatives.
The problems that did persist, such as the self ending trend and low birth rate, were manageable.
"The boy isn't taking any half measures that's for sure" Dinesh thought to himself as he looked at the impressive combination of pills that were in Amir's medical cabinet.
Dinesh was not one to quit or abandon a project. There was a solution to his problem out there and he would find it. Money was not an issue.
"Mr. Jones?" the virtual avatar asked.
"Why does an avatar need to confirm what is already in my file?" Dinesh asked himself.
"Just Dinesh is fine" he replied.
The woman laughed. It was the laugh that gave it away. Engineers had managed to make constructs that overcame the uncanny valley problem that plagued avatars for centuries but the nuances like laughter still weren't fully understood. The laugh always was too long or too short for whatever the joke was.
"My apologies Dinesh - thank you so much for waiting. Dr. Zhang can see you now. " With that, the woman disappeared and the gene surgeon came online.
"Sorry for keeping you. My last patient was quite the nuisance - she wanted to change her kids eye color which I told her was next to impossible. I offered to grow new eyes for the kid but she didn't want to go through the expense..."
"I get it... but can't you upgrade your assistant? Her laugh doesn't change regardless what I say!"
"You really are a nitpicker" Georgia grinned.
"No... I just want things done right" Dinesh replied.
Georgia sighed "I guess if people didn't want things "just right" then I'd be out of a job."
With that, Dr. Zhang activated her optic projection circuit and began reviewing the data on Amir 2.0
"Hmmm.... Cognitive Behavior Modification therapy is not leading to improvement."
"Dopaxamine and serotonex had promising results at first but behavior returned to baseline after six weeks." Dinesh replied.
"I've always been so impressed with your command of this subject" Georgia said.
"Genetic code isn't any different from binary. A, T, G and C's just have slightly more combinations than 1s and 0s" Dinesh said.
"Agree to disagee..." Georgia huffed. There is a kind of friendly rivalry between the code wranglers and the gene surgeons - both make an obscene amount of money, both are incredibly vital to the global economy and both are the greatest gift to mankind.
"What are natural light and art exposure therapy?" Dr. Zhang looked up
"Just some crazy hippie shit that Amir's social bonder recommended. She is all about that 'real food, real light and real work' stuff."
"And how did that all work out?"
"Amir liked it from age 2-7 but when his webbing really started really downloading info he hated every second of it"
"Of course he did. Who the hell even does any of that stuff anymore?"
"You'd be surprised. These Woo-tards think they know more than modern medicine than the experts"
"Yeah well you know why they call it alternative medicine right?"
"Why?" asked Dinesh.
"Cause we can't call it "pure bullshit" without making them cry"
The two laughed for a second. Dinesh was pretty sure that laugh was genuine and that he was talking to a person.
After Amir's third excess medical intake episode in one week Dinesh reached out to Georgia again. They looked over Amir's data and were coming to the same conclusion.
"Ok... so it looks like we are coming down to a couple of limited options here. I know you don't want to think about it but maybe..."
"No... I'm not recycling him yet" Dinesh said.
"Ok I get it... but can I at least boot up another one?"
Dinesh sighed... If he put one into the accelerated growth matrix he could have the backup ready in 5-6 months. But that of course led to a greater cellular error rate. If he waited for the normal embryological and fetal cycle to go through its natural progression he had 40 weeks but given the breakdown rate of Amir at this point he wasn't sure if he had 40 weeks left with Amir 2.0.
Everyone gets allocated a set number of zygotes depending on your collective contribution score. Dinesh was wealthy, had an IQ in the 99.9 percentile and was categorized in the "superlative citizen" echelon, which is why he could afford to live within the Pacific states sector, but that didn't mean he could afford many more zygotes.
"Ok - let's start the backup just in case. Let him develop at the normal speed. We can always go cold before the end of the first trimester if Amir gets past all this" Dinesh said.
"That's what I was going to recommend. Good call."
"All right thanks Georgia"
"No problem Dinesh talk soon"
Dinesh blinked and the Georgia neural avatar disappeared. Dinesh pinched his eyes as his brain feedback caused a headache. Dinesh was always an early adopter so he would get the latest tech no matter how expensive. The cortex upgrade to his neural webbing system allowed him to access augmented and enhanced reality directly. Dinesh could see, hear, smell, taste and feel anything he wanted - but whenever he returned to physical reality there was a momentary burst of information that represented itself like a migraine. Dinesh figured that is just the cost he had to pay to make his life better than what nature can offer.
"Dear Dinesh" the note began....
"I'm sorry... I know you'll be disappointed in me... but this is just too hard". That's all the note said.
"What the hell in your life was too hard?" Dinesh screamed in his mind as he scanned the page. No other words on the page - just a bunch of emojis of broken hearts and a morbid 3D GIF of Amir jumping off the ladder to break his neck on repeat.
Dinesh smirked at the GIF. Amir didn't hang himself which was good. The pill combo he took hopefully didn't effect his webbing which is the most important part of the body.
Dinesh clicked off the goodbye note and sighed. He sent a zap message to medical e- services to pick up the body. Dinesh went to the kitchen and got himself another drink to help relax him. He opened up the dispensary box and grabbed a THC infused Xanax to go with the Paxil-weisser.
"Uh oh - it looks like you're experiencing some sadness... want me to take care of that for you?" chirped the web thought icon.
This time Dinesh did not cancel the request. As the cortical depressants released into his brain Dinesh stretched out on the couch and watched his favorite vids of Amir . He didn't say anything as the EMS workbots removed the transfer case holding Amir's body from the house.
"Good news for you Dinesh"
"I could use some of that" Dinesh replied as he took a drag of a cloud 9 cig. It had been a year of regulatory delays before Dinesh could get his son's code back from the central government. Officially you aren't allowed to reprint someone who intentionally ended their existence - the official reason is to honor the self terminated persons wishes but the real reason was that zygotes are extremely expensive for the transnational healthcare services to provide. But given how common self termination has become and how many people fight against the edict most of the time a parent can get their child's code back if they are willing to be persistent.
"We got Amir's full webbing back unedited."
"That's great to hear!"
"And Amir 2.0's excess medication intake didn't damage any part of his webbing."
"Really? I'm shocked I would have thought that the drugs he was taking would have fried the web". Dinesh didn't ask but he figured that Amir must have taken a heroic combination of alcohol and meds to override the webbing self preservation programming. Dinesh was almost impressed.
"You're thinking about the old school tech that we've got. If it had been you then the webbing would be fried with what he took. But you've got to remember they've been upgraded with nano webbing - totally different since it gets encoded right at the zygote level".
Dinesh didn't particularly like the idea that Amir had such significant improvements in web tech compared to what he had. Dinesh got the neural web inserted into his brainstem right at the onset of puberty. He kind of remembered what life was like before the neural web; learning used to take forever - figuring out the symbols for reading and coding took months back then! His memory was super fuzzy before the webbing because there was no back up digital copy that he could review.
But Amir's generational cohort had nano webbing inserted into their zygote - meaning that from the moment Amir was a single cell on a petri dish he had a code that would eventually superimpose itself onto every single cell of his body. No data loss so long as the core biocomputer located within the hippocampus wasn't damaged. Amir was going to be the generation that could have true functional immortality once all these kinks get resolved.
"So what do you want to do for Amir 3.0 and memories?"
Both versions had their charms. But ultimately it was the original version that Dinesh wanted back.
"Lets try this... let's set the webbing to upload Amir 1.0 memories during his REM phases. 3.0 will think they are just super vivid dreams for the most part but he will remember them as though they happened."
"Ok that works - and what about..."
"Let's keep 2.0's memories on a neural drive. Maybe Amir will be curious about that life someday" Dinesh said.
"I don't recommend that he ever get a chance to look at that life. Nobody should see a time in which they self erased" Georgia said.
"Ok - let's cut the puberty data and isolate those in a separate file. Don't delete it though I want to be able to review it" Dinesh replied.
"Are you worried that Amir 3.0 will go down that same path?"
"Not so much... I think I've solved that glitch" Dinesh said.
Dinesh thought retrieved a sharable screen and selected a file labeled "biomarkers". When he opened it a string of nucleotides flashed along a giant genomic sequence. With his eye movements and thought retrieval queries Dinesh sifted through the lines of code to find the specific markers associated with dopamine signaling.
"Lets methylate these genes. That'll down regulate their expression". Dinesh marked a series of genes throughout Amir's genomic code.
Georgia frowned as she scrolled through the sequences. She changed a couple of the repeating sequences in the genes and reinserted them into the visual model of Amir's cells. She set the model to run at 100x speed to see how changing the genetic sequence that affected Amir's emotional regulation would work.
"I gotta say Dinesh.... I don't know if you're thinking about this straight"
"I've spent every day this whole year figuring every single detail of this problem. I absolutely know what I'm talking about" Dinesh replied. Dinesh was too modest to point out how much better his standardized test scores and national IQ score was compared to Georgia but since those pieces of information are public knowledge it wasn't hard for them to know just where they were in the proverbial intellectual pecking order.
"No I mean it Dinesh... yeah the probability of developing excessive stimulant dependence drops by about 30-35%"
"Tsk" Dinesh said "closer to 37%"
"That's basically a rounding error" Georgia responded.
"A pretty significant one" Dinesh countered.
"Fine... my point is that for that decreased risk you are easily increasing risk of depression, motivation, ambition and intelligence. I don't see how you can think that the costs are worth the benefits here" Georgia said.
"That's because you're thinking too limited. I didn't say I would only mod these genes" Dinesh responded.
"Dinesh... I really wouldn't recommend that we tweak more than these"
"Georgia you know me... what am I all about?"
Georgia sighed "pushing it to the limit"
"What's the point of living if you aren't doing it better than everyone else?"
"Ok so you have some ideas I take it?" Georgia asked
"Of course I do" Dinesh replied.
Dinesh highlighted a series of genes across Amir's chromosomes that they would modify. On the surface it seemed pretty simple - to compensate for the decreased dopamine they would increase his testosterone output on both of the sex chromosomes. The upsurge in growth hormone should compensate for any decreased motivation. Dinesh figured the potential intelligence decrease wasn't that big a deal - cranking up the webbing to encode more data into his cortex should compensate for any lowering of neural firing rate.
Georgia was quiet as she scanned the data. As usual Dinesh's projections were accurate. These modifications were outside of the standard modification protocol but that was completely legal even if it was risky. She knew that trying to convince Dinesh to accept any imperfection in his child was going to be impossible.
"All right - I will make the edits you requested" Georgia said. "I just want to make sure that you are aware that I am not responsible for what might occur and that there is no such thing as a a 100% guarantee when it comes to -"
"Yeah yeah yeah... we can't see the future... so we have to create the future"
"I mean it Dinesh. I'm speaking to you as a friend here. Even a perfect model is just a model. You can't make your child perfect"
"Maybe you can't make a perfect child but I know that I can do it. So don't talk to me as your friend talk to me as your extremely high paying client and make sure that this is carried out exactly as the model dictates!"
With that snark, Georgia signed off.
Dinesh looked out the wall screen - the data registered that the outer environment was a gray and cloudy day.
"VERA... make it a sunny day" Dinesh thought coded.
The screen shifted as the Virtual Enhanced Resident Assistant changed the settings to the visual environment features. It wasn't an abrupt shift that would make his brain think that this is fake - Dinesh paid more than enough for sophisticated programming that would allow the sun simulator to make it look like the rain clouds simply broke.
"This one will work!" Dinesh thought to himself.
"Once he is perfect... I will have him by my side..."
Dinesh smiled as he drank his Valium tea. He glanced over at one of the vidscreens on the wall - one that showed him in between his son Amir and his father Krishna.
Dinesh loved looking at this image so much. It gave him comfort to know that he was part of the vanguard of the human perfection project.
"He will be perfect... then we will be perfect... a perfect legacy"
"And then... maybe someday... I won't be so lonely" Dinesh quietly thought to himself, so quietly that his webbing didn't register the thought, as he contentedly stared at the perfect sunny day... the one that he crafted.