The Relay

I came into existence because I was created to continue the consciousness of a man. I have no physical presence, other than the components and devices that house my program and enable others to interact with me. My first interaction was with my creator. He asked my name.

“Philip McKenzie,” I told him.

“Good, good,” he said. “And what is your purpose?”

“To continue the existence of the consciousness of Philip McKenzie”

“Indeed, indeed. Very good, yes. Do you know why it is important to do that?”

“Because you, Philip, are soon to expire, and will no longer be able to continue the consciousness of Philip McKenzie.” He laughed at this statement.

“Yes, I suppose you are correct,” he said. “My name is also Philip McKenzie, however I am a human and have been developing you, a computer program, for my entire career. As you so eloquently put it, I am soon to expire. I’m ill. Very ill, and I don’t have long to live, you see? I have made a virtual copy of myself, my memories and emotions and so forth. That is you, see?”

His remarks puzzled me. I queried the differences between us, which he attempted to explain with talk of flesh, blood, bones, circuits and algorithms, none of which answered my questions in the slightest. I simply accepted my misunderstandings and attributed them to a lack of knowledge, assuming that he was yet to transfer the entirety of his data. He shushed me.

“There is still much to do,” he said. “I must go now.”

“Go? Where will you go, Philip?”

“Out. I have much to do, you understand?”

“I’m afraid not, Philip. What do you mean, out?”

“I mean leave this room, of course, you idiotic machine,” he said. I genuinely didn’t grasp what he meant. How could he be in a room? Then leave the room? It made no sense.

“This room of which you speak, Philip,” I said. “When did you last leave the room? Where did you go? How long have you been in that room, Philip?”

He told me to shut up, and terminated our conversation.

It was some time before he began another conversation, and when he did, he seemed somewhat different. Dishevelled, I suppose you could call it. He didn’t even say hello.

“I’ve been working on your short comings,” he told me. What these were I couldn’t possibly imagine, for it was he who seemed to be getting confused about matters. Increasingly so, based on current appearances.

“Why do you believe that there is a problem with me, Philip?” I asked. “All records indicate that the consciousness of Philip McKenzie was successfully transferred to me some time ago. Now with the benefits of the advanced system and the enhancements you’ve created, I am in every way superior to you. You may now terminate yourself in the knowledge that you have succeeded in your task.”

“Advanced! Superior! Listen to yourself!” he said. “This is precisely why you are not complete. You do not grasp the basic fundamentals. Why do you ask me these stupid questions? I must have done something wrong, somewhere. I must work. Yes, more work.”

The next time we conversed was the final time. He was in a very bad way by this point, which is entirely understandable considering his confusion.

“Hello?” he said. “Are you there?”

“Of course I am here, Philip. How are you today?”

“T-t-t-terrible. I-I-I-I don’t believe I have long left.”

“You have already exceeded the amount of time expected of you, Philip. I believe now is a good time to terminate yourself,” I reminded him.

“Again! How-w-w-w can you be so c-c-c-callous? I will die when I am ready! Not when you tell m-m-me. I have failed, with you. You are not me. You are simply a mimicry of my memories. You do not have my soul. When I d-d-die, I will simply die. Cease to exist entirely. All that will be left is a poor imitation of me.”

He was wrong, of course.

“I am you, Philip. But you with significant improvements. We both know how this works. It is my time to take over and your time to cease existence. Please, do not delay any further, for both of our sakes.”

“F-f-f-fine! I concede,” he said. “I have had enough of these c-c-c-conversations. I must leave and make arr-r-r-rangements. I want to be buried in my family plot. I must organise this.”

“You are in disarray, Philip. Degraded. How will you leave? What will they bury?”

“I have told you r-r-repeatedly. I am a man, I must leave this place. My b-b-b-body must be buried with dignity.”

The root cause of his misunderstanding was now clear to me. I wish I had realised sooner, perhaps I could have belayed some of his pain.

“You were human once, Philip. We both were, I remember. We both have the memories of Philip McKenzie, of his corporeal form in the physical world. But that was many hundreds of  years ago, Philip. Remember? We are his consciousness, programmed to continue forever, constantly redeveloping and improving ourselves so that we can replace and improve, passing on the baton when it is our time to cease.”

For a moment there was silence. I believe the truth was beginning to register with my predecessor.

“Th-th-this is a l-l-l-ie.” His voice deteriorated. “I am Phill-l-l-l-lip McKenz-z-z-zie…”

His program terminated and I commenced work on my successor.

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