…Only to Find Gideon’s Bible
A Short Story by
Inspired by Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by
I will never forget the look on the first guy to realize what a mistake had been made. And when I say “never,” I really mean never. When you have all of eternity to look forward to, you don’t throw words like that around lightly.
“But I don’t understand,” he sputtered in disbelief, “we cured death!”
* * *
I was running intake that day at the Gates. In the early days, the traffic was light enough that one guy alone could do the job, so Peter took it upon himself to greet every newcomer. But the humans felt the need to take “be fruitful and multiply” a bit too literally, so we ended up needing a team to process everyone who had shuffled off their mortal coil so to speak. That day it was my job to oversee the operation, and within seconds of starting this one’s entrance interview, I knew we were in for big trouble.
“You can’t cure death,” I explained with a sigh. “Everything dies. It’s the nature of being.”
“Yeah, but our scientists took care of that. Backup and restore, you know? Retire the body, and restore the mind from its backup.”
I vaguely remembered seeing a memo about this. “The Bitchun Society,” the humans called it. It seemed that over the previous few decades they’d been busy dirtside. They’d discovered the secrets of free energy (or at least something they called that). They’d managed to do away with scarcity. They’d replaced money with some abstract concept they called “Whuffie” which no one up here had managed to figure out; heck, most of us had barely come to understand money! Finally some particularly bright human had come up with the idea of copying all the data stored in a human brain into electronic data, then implanting it into another brain.
“The cure for death” they called it. They were so, so wrong.
“Let me see if I can explain.” I motioned to a chair. I didn’t really need to sit, since I don’t get tired, and neither do the spirits of dead humans for that matter. Still, we had been told that it was a good idea to get them to sit when we delivered bad news, since it tended to make them calm. “Your scientists really didn’t understand the true nature of human life. You were concentrating on the biotech side and didn’t think much about the supernatural side, so to speak.”
The guy looked back at me like I’d told him that he was secretly born a giraffe. I knew I would have to take a different tack. “I’m sorry,” I said in an attempt to rewind the conversation, “what did you say your name was?”
“Nice name.” I didn’t tell him it was mine, too. Didn’t want to get too connected to the clients. “What was it you did while you were alive?”
“I was a computer engineer.”
Perfect. I had just the metaphor I needed. “Then you know how a computer is really the sum of a number of component parts. Hardware, firmware, software?”
“That’s a little simplistic isn’t it?”
“Oh, what I’m comparing computers to is even more complicated, but it’s still the best way for you to see where I’m coming from. Stay with me now.”
“Now let’s say that a human being is like a computer. Humans have hardware, which they call bodies, and they have software, which they call the mind. Do you understand so far?”
“I think so.”
“Good. What you call the ‘cure for death’ is roughly equivalent to backing up all of the software from one computer, and installing it onto a different computer.”
“But the same computer! An identical one! And we dispose of the old computer afterward.”
“That doesn’t matter. The two aren’t completely identical. Your motherboard, processor, all that sort of thing, are they going to have the same serial numbers?”
“Of course not. How else are we going to tell parts apart?”
“Precisely. Every piece of computer hardware has a Globally Unique Identifier, or GUID. Correct?”
“Well, so do humans.”
The giraffe look came back so I tried to sum up. “What do you know about the soul?”
“You mean like Stevie Wonder?”
I shook my head. What were they teaching these creatures dirtside? “No. Every human being has a unique bit of firmware, I guess you would call it. This is that human’s soul. It’s eternal, indestructible, and sorry to say non-transferrable. When you copy a person’s mind into a force-grown clone, what you are doing is creating a brand-new human being with their own individual soul. You are giving that new person all the memories and personality of the first person, so they think that they’re the same, but they’re not. The soul is different. And when the old body is ‘retired,’ its soul is released and comes here.”
“So, I’m dead, and there’s a new guy down on Earth who thinks he’s me?”
“As far as everyone on Earth is concerned, he is you. Up here, however, it’s a different story.”
Gideon still didn’t seem to have a handle on the matter, so I kept trying to find some metaphor that would make sense to him. I had no idea how long I’d actually been trying to shed light on the subject until I heard a knock on the door.
“Uh, boss?” One of the lesser angels was standing there with a look I hadn’t seen since shortly after the Crusades. “I think you’d better take a look at this.”
He gestured behind him and opened the doorway wide enough for another dead human to enter.
It was Gideon. Or, at least, another Gideon. They looked nearly identical both in body and in spirit. It was a toss-up as to which of them had a goofier look on their face upon learning their fate.
“I was out skydiving. Celebrating my recovery from my first death, and….” The newcomer Gideon looked at the first Gideon.
“Who are you?”
“Who am I? Who are you?”
“Or should I say ‘who am me?”’”
“I am me, and you are me, and we are me.”
“And we are all together,” I sighed. “Goo goo ga joob.”
* * *
Things did not get much better over the next few years. More and more people showing up at the entrance were so confused at the thought that they had actually died that we had to triple our intake staff to handle the processing delays caused by talks like I’d suffered through with Gideon.
Eventually, someone came up with the idea of creating a new orientation film of sorts, which would be presented to new arrivals from the Bitchun Society, outlining their misconceptions and how things really worked. I tried to get the Gideons (there were twelve of him by that point) to help me put one together, but it proved to be more trouble than it was worth.
“I don’t understand why we have to show it to everyone,” one of the Gideons said. “We could flash-bake this whole thing as they come through the doors, and….”
“Wait,” another one piped up, “’flash-bake?’ What are you talking about?”
“You know,” a third offered, “direct mental implantation of memories and experiences.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Come on,” yelled a fourth. “Iwe invented flash-baking when iwe worked at Disneyland Beijing!”
“I’ve never been to Beijing!” protested a fifth.
“Yes, iwe have!”
I was truly frightened by this point. It had gotten so bad that they were inventing their own grammar. I quietly snuck out while they were arguing about which of he had done what and decided to offer the task to a half-dozen author who might do a better job of getting the idea across.
* * *
Before long, the situation had gotten completely out of control. The overcrowding situation on this plane of existence was threatening to become as dire as it had been dirtside. Eventually it would probably be worse since the birth rate on Earth had slowed to a trickle, but the manufacture of unique souls through the restore-from-backup process was actually accelerating as humans became more and more irresponsible as death became little more than an inconvenience as far as they were concerned.
Before long, we had to expand our operation. We briefly considered a merger with Hell, but it turned out that conditions were even worse for them. We tried to purchase room from a number of different planes that hadn’t seen as much of an increase in traffic as we had (practically no one had gone to Valhalla or Hades for centuries, for example). Finally, after a land-for-peace swap with the Islamic Paradise and a hostile takeover of the Planet Kolob, we managed to stabilize our expansion at a sustainable rate.
I breathed a sigh of relief as room was finally located for the last of our overcrowded souls and space was anticipated for what had become the new normal arrival rate. I had hoped to settle down for a couple of centuries, maybe enjoy a cup of tea or two, when a new knock came at the door.
“A new problem, Boss,” the minor angel moaned as he came in. He was holding an object in his hand which he laid on my deak. It resembled an old computer floppy disk.
“Deleted backups have started to arrive.”
I folded my head into my wings. The heat death of the Universe couldn’t come soon enough.