One Life in a Day
by Brett Abrahamsen
The author’s prose has been sold to the Sci Phi Journal, Twenty Two Twenty Eight, Creepy Podcast, The Fifth Di…, and City River Tree. He resides in Saratoga Springs, NY
Identity was no longer a constant.
Cellular regeneration had evolved to the point that cells were replacing themselves every few hours. By the end of any given day, a person would have none of the cells remaining from when they woke up that morning. When this occurred, it was lights out for that person.
To the outside world there was of course no difference. The new cells produced an exact replica of the old ones, so that the person still ate, breathed, slept, and walked in precisely the same manner. But as the cells regenerated, the consciousness that the old cells had given life to simply disappeared and a new one arose – one that the consciousness that had existed before had no awareness of whatsoever. And the new consciousness would simply inherit the previous memories, never realizing that this was its first glimpse of life, or that it had “killed” off a prior consciousness.
To combat this problem, inhabits of the planet Venus – where the cellular regeneration had accelerated more than anywhere else – took drugs every hour to stop their cells from regenerating. The drugs were made from hemlock, and crushed oleander leaves. This slowed the internal metabolism and stopped cells from regenerating – at least for a little while.
S. Paul Radish took precisely such drugs every minute. They were expensive. Most Venusians could only afford to take them once an hour.
Radish had led an interesting life. He had been mind controlled by the Venusian government since the age of 3 – one of about 40% of the population who had been subjected to such experimental treatment. Somehow, at the age of 16, he had discovered a way to neutralize the effects of the mind control, namely by severing the pathways his occipital lobe to prevent the mind control from getting in. Following his discovery, he marketed it to the other Venusians who were subject to mind control. In doing so, he freed the Venusians and became the richest creature on the planet.
S. Paul Radish had not undergone a full regeneration in ten years – since escaping mind control, in fact – but this was about to change. 99% of the cells in S. Paul Radish’s body were now different from the ones that were present a decade ago. When that figure reached 100%, the light that was S. Paul Radish’s consciousness would be permanently extinguished, and a new consciousness, identical to the old one, would emerge.
“I don’t want to die”, S. Paul Radish said to his wife. He looked around and shook, in a sudden panic.
“I’ll never notice the difference”, his wife explained.
“Neither will I – I mean, I won’t have any consciousness at all – but I’ll be done, it’ll be lights out. S. Paul Radish will live and you’ll never notice any difference, but I won’t be S. Paul Radish anymore, I won’t have any consciousness”.
“You’ll still be him”, his wife assured him, “you just won’t be conscious of it”. She stared blankly into nothing.
“Same difference”, Radish said, “I want to be conscious. I don’t want some new consciousness that I have no awareness of taking over”. The meter on his arm read 99.7%. “But then, I guess it will be generous of me to give my consciousness to some new one”.
Minutes passed, and S. Paul Radish was running out of drugs. He felt himself turning pale. “Call an ambulance”, he said.
“It won’t work”, his wife said.
He looked at the meter. 99.9%. He considered writing a eulogy, but then, the new Radish could write it just as well as the old one. An image flashed on his TV screen: WE MOURN AND CELEBRATE S. PAUL RADISH. He stared at it for awhile, and felt his consciousness become slightly dimmer until he lost it.
“Has it happened yet?”, Radish said.
“It just did”, his wife said.
His wife looked at him approvingly: there did not seem to be any difference. She looked him over, taking notes in her head.
“I feel the same as I’ve always felt”, Radish said.
“No you don’t”, corrected his wife. “You’ve never felt anything before. This is your debut as a conscious entity. You are much the same as a newborn baby, conscious for the first time and immersed in the splendor of being alive. Congratulations”.
It was strange, Radish thought, physically the two Radish’s were exactly the same and yet the former consciousness and the present consciousness had as much awareness of each other as Vincent Van Gogh did a mosquito. Maybe the old consciousness will somehow back, he thought. No, that’s wrong – my consciousness will die out too, but only when the regeneration is finished, and the consciousness that emerges will brand new.
“How do you feel? You’ve committed murder”, his wife said.
“Manslaughter”, Radish corrected, “I didn’t do it on purpose”.
“Welcome to Venus”, his wife said, suddenly switching the topic, “isn’t it nice?”
“It’s beautiful”, Radish said. He felt dazed.
He felt bad about killing the old Radish, but a majority of the memories he inherited from Radish’s brain – for they indeed shared a brain – were pleasant ones, and the thrill of being conscious – even though it felt like he had always been conscious – overpowered the guilt he felt at killing Radish. An image flashed on the TV again. CONGRATULATIONS S. PAUL RADISH, YOU’RE OUR LUCKY WINNER. Radish turned the TV off and sat down.
He wished he could communicate with the old Radish somehow, but that would be impossible, the former consciousness had disappeared into the void.
“We should feel guilty”, his wife said. “The old Eathlings only had to deal with this problem once every seven years. We Venusians face it every day, without drugs”.
“The old Radish lasted ten years! That’s an improvement”, Radish said. “And who knows. Maybe it happened to the old Earthlings more than you think. Maybe their consciousnesses died out and were replaced every millisecond. Can you imagine? Only being alive for a split second? Not even long enough to grasp what’s going on”.
“You know”, Radish said, “if the two consciousnesses are identical, how can there be a difference? This consciousness must also have been the consciousness of the old Radish. No one died”.
“Consider two replicas”, said his wife. “Both programmed to have exactly the same consciousness: two identical consciousnesses through the course of their whole lives, down to the most minor details. Yet one can’t feel or think what the other can feel or think, any more than you can feel or think what I’m feeling or thinking”. Or how Vincent Van Gogh can’t feel or think what a mosquito is feeling or thinking, he thought. “Replica A is conscious of Replica A but not Replica B. Replica B is conscious of Replica B but not Replica A”.
He gazed outside, taking in the new world. My God, it’s beautiful, he thought. And to think it took 14 billion years to know it existed! And if Radish had simply got killed by a stray bullet when he was in early 20’s – I would have never known, the universe would have existed and I would have never known it existed. There’s quadrillions of potential consciousnesses that don’t exist and never will exist and will never know that the universe exists. And that’s not counting all of the rocks and TV sets and refrigerators, or maybe even all the atoms at an individual level, septillions of atoms that don’t know they are part of a universe which exists, because atoms don’t have conciousnessness… I could have been an atom. Maybe I am an atom and don’t realize it. An atom and also S. Paul Radish. Or an atom inside of S. Paul Radish. Something has to be an atom, lots of things have to be an atom. Perhaps all the atoms get taken after a point and some would-be things get stuck being nothing at all, unless the universe is infinite in which case it’s impossible to be nothing, to not be part of it. But as for now, somehow I have a firm grip on Radish’s consciousness.
Suddenly Radish felt sick. His wife offered him his drugs. He declined. Hours passed. “You are going to die”, his wife said. A noble form of suicide, Radish thought. After twenty four hours his consciousness dimmed – and a new one emerged. After twenty four hours, the process repeated itself.
And so for the rest of S. Paul Radish’s long life – he lived to be 762 – there was a new consciousness that emerged every 24 hours. Thanks to the selflessness of S. Paul Radish, 278167 consciousnesses existed for a day each – consciousnesses that otherwise never would have been given life.