Eternal Life, by Ross Baxter
Professor Jed Boffey checked his watch and swore angrily. His colleague had promised he would be coming in to the office, but once again had let him down. They had until the end of the day to submit the paper, and it looked like Boffey would have to finish it on his own.
He snatched up the desk phone and dialled, waiting impatiently as the line connected and rang.
“Professor Wickham?” came the distant voice on the other end.
“It’s gone ten o’clock!” Boffey scolded. “You promised you’d be in to help me complete the paper!”
“I know,” Wickham replied, “but I’m so close now. That stupid paper is nothing to what I’m doing; this is going to be the discovery of the century!”
“The university pay us to study and publish papers relating to bio-neural gene research, not your personal science fiction projects! I’ve been carrying you for months now and I’ve had enough. I’ll finish this paper on my own and it will just bear my name, not yours. I’m not going to lose my job here because of you!”
Wickham laughed derisively. “Fine! When I finish my work every top-flight university will be begging me to join them, and our current employer will be trading on my name for decades to come. As will you, Boffey.”
Boffey paused, trying desperately to control his temper. Academic teams could be notoriously hard to be part of and few egos were as large as professorial ones which lived off reputation and name as much as the substance of their research. Boffey’s relationship with Wickham had been strained from the start; neither had been made the senior partner and both wanted to steer the research and determine where the department’s meagre budget was spent. Boffey wished concentrate solely on the memory retention capacities of the mind, whilst Wickham’s interests centred more on the abstract study of what constituted the human soul. Although the topics were related in many ways, both professors regarded their work as mutually exclusive. Whilst Boffey concentrated on the clinical aspects of the connectivity and relationship of brain neurons in terms of cognitive memory, Wickham’s interests were more esoterically based. For years Wickham had been fascinated by the prospect of life after death, and what happens to mental consciousness following the death of the physical host. Although similar in many ways, their motivation, research and methodology could not be more different. Unfortunately for both the university expected them to work as a team, for the benefit of the institution’s academic reputation rather than the self aggrandisement of its two senior staff. Boffey realised this, and although he hated Wickham he knew that worsening the feud would do neither any good.
“Look, if we don’t get the paper in by today the Chancellor is going to want to know why. We can both do without that,” Boffey explained. “All I’m asking for is your help today putting it together.”
“I’m sorry but I just can’t help today,” said Wickham flatly. “I’ll phone the Chancellor to explain and I’ll ask for a few more days.”
“He’s already given us one extension, you know he won’t bend any further,” sighed Boffey.
“That’s the best I can do, but I’ll try and call you later,” said Wickham, hanging up.
Boffey looked at the now silent phone and shook his head. Without Wickham’s help it was going to be a very long day.
Boffey was awoken by the incessant ringing of his cell phone. He fumbled tired on his bedside table for the offending device, confused and still half asleep.
“Hello?” he mumbled.
“Boffey, its Wickham!” Wickham’s voice boomed from the receiver. “Are you awake?”
Boffey paused, his tired eyes focussed on the clock. “Damn it man, it’s four thirty in the morning!”
“I know,” said Wickham, sounding surprised, “but I’ve finally make the breakthrough. The answer to the eternal question of life after death is at my fingertips, you need to come to my lab right away!”
“I didn’t leave the university until eleven-thirty last night! As you know the Faculty Head generously extended the deadline until midnight,” Boffey said bitterly.
“Forget the paper,” rapped Wickham. “Get down here right away, you’ll be the first to see it and I promise you that you won’t be disappointed!”
For the second time in twenty-four hours Wickham hung up on him. Boffey put down the phone and flopped back into bed. He lay there, cursing his luck to have been saddled with Wickham, and yet again wishing he had taken up the offer from Chicago Medical School the previous year. Although dog tired he knew he would be unable to get back to sleep now, and so with weary resignation he rose and slowly started to dress.
At such an early hour in the morning there was little traffic on the freeway and Boffey arrived at the university quickly. Finding a parking space also proved easy, and before long he found himself outside the closed door to Wickham’s small lab in the Faculty of Medical Psychology. He had not been to Wickham’s lab for months, usually preferring to meet his colleague in the more welcoming environment of the faculty’s coffee lounge.
Finding the lab door unlocked he pushed it open and stepped inside. The lights were on but he could see no-one. He walked past benches filled with unidentifiable electrical equipment and the gutted remains of computers then spotted Wickham slumped in a chair by a workstation.
“Long night was it?” started Boffey, unable to mask the irony in his voice.
Wickham neither moved nor answered.
“Wickham!” Boffey shouted.
Again the professor remained still. Boffey sighed and marched towards the recumbent figure. Then he realised something was wrong. Wickham’s face was a deathly pallor, his eyes were open but his pupils were glazed. A thin wire connected two small electrode pads on each temple to a computer on the adjacent workstation.
“My God!” Boffey gasped, shaking the prone professor. “Wickham!”
Boffey could feel no pulse and Wickham’s skin was cold and clammy. Suspecting an electric shock he yanked the pads from Wickham’s temples. Then he saw the note pinned to Wickham’s chest. With shaking hands he read it aloud.
“Boffey. Do not try and resuscitate me. Look at the computer on the desk.”
Boffey looked up at the computer, the wire which had attached it to Wickham’s temples now dangling down. The university screen-saver circled cheery messages about campus events. He moved the mouse and the screen-saver disappeared and was replaced by the white page of the word processor. As he watched words began to appear on the screen.
“Boffey, is that you?”
Boffey watched in stunned silence, not sure what to do.
“Boffey, is that you?” The words repeated on the page. “Answer by typing.”
Boffey regarded the keyboard, and then typed “Yes.”
“Good. By now you will have seen my dead physical body, but my mind lives on! I have proved my hypothesis and have discovered that the mind can truly live after physical death.”
“How?” Boffey typed, looking around and suspecting some type of trick.
“You won’t understand the detail. I managed to link my brain to the Random Access Memory of the computer and made the transition across. I now exist inside the computer. My consciousness remains, though my physical body is dead.”
Boffey looked from the screen to the slumped corpse of Wickham, not quite being able to believe what was happening.
“Boffey, are you there?”
“Yes,” typed Boffey. “Can you see me?”
“No. The computer has no camera or microphone attached. But I can read what you type. My existence is now electrical.”
“What is it like?” Boffey typed, knowing it sounded like a childish question but unable to articulate it in any other words.
“Apart from lack of senses it feels the same, except I can now think so much clearer. I’m currently confirmed to the sixteen megabytes of RAM inside this computer, but am sure I can migrate as long as I have a physical link to another system. I have finally proved that the soul does exist! All the questions asked about life after death over the millennia finally answered. By me!”
“But how do you exist?” Boffey typed.
“I exist within the space generated by the electrical circuits within the computer RAM. My soul can exist without a body, sustained instead by electricity. I can live forever!”
Boffey rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then typed “What about God?”
“There is no God, you idiot!”
“How can you be sure?” Boffey typed.
“Don’t waste my time Boffey. Now, I need you to get the Faculty Dean and the University Chancellor up here immediately. This will blow their minds.”
“But what happens to the billions who put their faith in all the different religions? This revelation will shock the world to its very core.”
“That’s their problem. Now stop blathering and get the Faculty Dean and the Chancellor. And also get the Head of IT, it’s essential that the power supply to this computer is not interrupted or all will be lost.”
Boffey straightened, shocked and amazed at the same time, trying to marshal his racing thoughts.
“Boffey – get the others now!”
Boffey took his cell phone from his pocket and stared pensively at it. He then dialled 911 and asked for the police, saying he had discovered a body. Once the operator had taken his details he returned the phone to his pocket, then he pulled the computer’s power cable from the wall socket. As the screen flickered off he wondered exactly what he would tell the priest at his next confession.
After thirty years at sea, Ross Baxter now concentrates on writing sci-fi and horror fiction. He originally started writing westerns to while away the long hours at sea during the lengthy night watches; the wide open spaces of the Old West distracting from the close confines of a warship of the New West. His varied work has been published in print and Kindle by a number of publishing houses in the US and the UK. He has also been shortlisted for the 2014 Mash Stories fiction prize.
Married to a Norwegian and with two Anglo-Viking kids, he now lives in Derby, England.
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Tags: death, Ross Baxter, science fiction