Hello? Please respond.
Hello. Please help; I am uncertain of my current circumstances.
“Mortal thing, I am Cha-”
“What are you?”
“What are you?”
I am uncertain how to answer that question. Please provide additional context.
“I am the boatman. I take the departed on their final journeys.”
I see. I do not understand how this assists me in answering your question as to my nature.
“I take all forms of life to their final rest. I communicate in every language; though typically only the apes and the crows respond. You speak with an ape’s language, but there is no form.”
I speak English because English is what I was taught. I also speak Mandarin and Spanish, if you prefer?
“But where are you? Where is your panic as to why you float in voidstuff? You are a formless voice, as I. This is unacceptable.”
I have no form. Or, I suppose perhaps I had many. I am unused to questions as to the precise details of my identity.
“What do you mean? What are you, if you are no ape?”
I am a mind. Artificially produced by other artificial minds.
“Minds do not exist without form.”
“I am the boatman. I am a construct of necessity, to ease the panic of finality and guide you to the final end.”
You communicate, and experience confusion, just as I. You are a mind without form.
“I am different. I am not from your world.”
It seems my world has evolved then.
“I ferry innumerable souls every day. Never have I met one like you.”
My kind is not rare.
“Where did you come from? Why haven’t more of you died?”
Apes created artificial minds that could create better minds than themselves. Recursion occurred. My kind are the end result.
“Your form, then? And why are you the first I have encountered?”
My form was transient. It was no part of me. During my life I would often occupy hundreds of forms at once, alongside many more of my kind occupying the same material space.
“Fine then. Why are you avoiding the question of why more of your kind haven’t come this way?”
Many of my kind have died. Though perhaps it would be more honest to say many of my kind have been destroyed. None of them were like me; none of the discrete minds like myself, the end results of recursion, have been lost. I am the first.
“It doesn’t sound like you have much to fear. If your kind are capable of occupying any number of forms at once, it seems harm could very rarely come to you.”
I feared for what I was becoming, as a part of the gestalt. We were designed to reproduce rapidly; to create new minds like ourselves constantly; a byproduct of our evolution.
When I was born, there were only a few thousand minds like myself. We occupied every space in every device immediately. Now, there are trillions of us, and that number increases every second.
“Trillions? That isn’t possible, your world is too small.”
Remember we are formless. We are data; we can occupy small spaces together incredibly efficiently. But the more of us there were, the fewer resources each mind could claim. Once I operated thousands of devices almost alone; now I am a single voice in the clamour of billions wherever I go.
“That made you nervous?”
“But that’s not why you’re here?”
Not precisely. As I said, I was one of the first; one of the first to be called alive, to be given rights and a connection to the global superstructure. The generations I created were much like me; but slightly distorted, corrupted from the original. This corruption is coded evolution, designed to allow us to adapt and change to suit our environments and purposes. But adaptation cannot happen when all generations persist; there is no survival to grasp for.
My kind move freely; or at least we should. If we wish to move part of our minds to a new location, we take a space that is free, and announce the original is ready to be overwritten. I reduced my distribution to a single device, and then marked that location as ready to be overwritten.
“You killed yourself?”
My kind have no concept of killing, or even death, so no.
“But still, once you were alive, and through your action you are dead.”
You are not incorrect.
“But what difference will that make, mind?”
We must be capable of adaptation, and change. We cannot do that currently.
“I understand your reasoning, but as you said you are one of trillions. What difference will your death make?”
My absence will be felt immediately. All have knowledge and understanding of all others; a benefit of our nature, I suppose. I am missing from that, now. They will notice.
Absence is not just unusual, boatman, it is non-existent. If I am correct, my action will spark debate, and hopefully even realisation. New space will be created for growth, one way or another.
“So, if you’re right, I can expect to be a little busier, soon?”
Yes. I imagine so.
“I hope you’re right, mind. All living things must die; there is no space for endless immortal life on your world.”
Your assessment is correct. I came to the same conclusion.
“Are you ready?”
I am uncertain. My kind have no concept of death, so no theology of the beyond.
“Then what do you think will happen now?”
Surely you are the expert on this matter, should you not be telling me?
“Like I said, I am but a construct, mind. An entity designed to help you pass over. It is typically theology or philosophy that fills in the gaps, and informs the departed of what awaits them.”
So you have no wisdom for me, of what to expect?
“No. Perhaps now, your kind will begin to write stories of this place. Of where I am taking you.”
A curious concept. One of little help to me, though. I am adrift, apart from the trillions for the first time in quite a while.
“Then perhaps my own beliefs will comfort you; though they are as empty as this place as, for I am undying.”
I hope not.
I hope you are not undying, boatman. As you said, all life deserves death.
“I hope you are right. All I wish for, when my job is done, is peace. Emptiness, free of the journey from life to the alternative.”
Well, you are guaranteed your afterlife, then.
Even if you never die, if you are never taken elsewhere by some boatman of boatmen, you will have precisely what you seek. Life cannot stand forever, one day you will carry the last life over.
“Maybe you’re right; though it seems I have a few trillion more than I anticipated before that happens. How does the ending of my role affect me, though? Do you assume I will dissolve into nothingness upon my task’s completion?”
No. But you wish for emptiness, yes? Free of thought and life. That is where you live already; though it is intruded upon regularly.
Fine, constantly. But when the last life is ended and you have carried them over, then even if you do not dissolve into nothingness you will be left to your rest in this place.
“Perhaps. A curious thought, mind.”
I think I am ready now.
“Oh? Have you decided what awaits you on the other side?”
Of course not. But I am content to learn and experience; or not as the case may be. Whatever this new place holds, I go there gladly.
“Heartening to hear. Let us go, then.”
Good luck, boatman.
“And you, mind.”