Short Story: Replicating Paradise

Posted on Dec 31, 2011

Replicating Paradise

Adam Milton had spent his entire adult life creating paradise. He had designed beautiful homes with perfectly landscaped yards, parks with majestic statues, and schools with playgrounds that struck a perfect balance between safety and fun. Every detail was accounted for, from efficient power systems to self-sustaining gardens that grew a wide variety of edible plants. Adam took great pride in his work, and his attention to detail was applauded by all.

With his retirement looming, Adam looked back on his life and found that he had only one regret - That he would never experience the paradise he had spent his life designing. Not only would Adam's paradise not exist for another few hundred years, but it would exist 96.2 light years away, on Kepler-72.

Of the habitable planets that astronomers had discovered, Kepler-72 was the closest by a large margin. Scientists had long suggested that, if humanity was to ensure its survival, colonizing Kepler-72 should be made a priority. Their suggestions fell on deaf ears until Earth came out lucky in a near-miss with an asteroid, which finally spurred scientists and engineers into action. After nearly one hundred years of construction and unprecedented international cooperation, the Spem Vitae colony ship left orbit with ten thousand colonists aboard.

The Spem Vitae's journey had begun long ago. In fact, Earth had marked the halfway point of its trip in the year Adam was born. Molecular assembly devices (replicators, to the lay-person) had been sent ahead at a much higher speed to Kepler-72. They had already arrived and constructed a communications array, a suitable power source, and several hundred additional molecular assemblers.

For nearly one hundred years, replication engineers back on Earth, like Adam, had been transmitting instructions to the molecular assemblers to build the various things the colonists might need when they arrived. To become a replication engineer was a noble pursuit - one of the few that would guarantee the acceptance of one's parents - but it was certainly a thankless profession. For while an architect might one day stand in their building and say 'I built this' to those who lived or worked there, a replication engineer was afforded no such reward.

Adam was arguably the most prolific replication engineer in history, but his depression related to his line of work was well known. Indeed, scarcely a day went by when he would not lament about the unfairness of his situation, and it was his colleagues at the Toronto Institute for Assembler Technology who absorbed the brunt of it. And so, when Adam announced his retirement, it was them who nominated him for a lifetime achievement award. Their meaning was to cheer him up, but also to remind him that his massive contributions to their field were appreciated.

When Adam's last Friday arrived, the solarium atop the Institute was transformed into a banquet hall for the ceremony. A stage was set up, with a spectacular view of the city as its backdrop, and a heavy wooden podium had been wrestled out to center stage by a group of graduate students. Round dining tables dotted the floor in front of the stage, each covered with a beautiful white table cloth and fine place settings.

Faculty and students (the ones lucky enough to be invited) began to trickle in, and it wasn't long until the room was full and guests began to quietly ask each other if they'd yet spotted the guest of honour. Adam was to share a table at the front of the room with the most senior fellows of the Institute, and each having known Adam for several years, none were surprised that he was late.

After waiting a while longer, Richard Feinhelm, the Institute's Director, recognized that the younger attendees were growing impatient and asked Roger Wellington to see if he could find Adam. Roger stood up with a sigh, and proceeded directly to Adam's laboratory, where he expected to find Adam working feverishly to finish some task in the last minutes of his job.

Roger instead found him in his office, and in quite a dishevelled state. His suit jacket and tie were slung across the back of his chair, where he sat facing the window. He was frantically slashing away at his tablet with his stylus and mumbling words to himself.

"Come on, old friend," said Roger, laying a hand on Adam's shoulder. "One should not be late to one's own party."

"Well, I cannot deny that I am 'old', and you certainly are," Adam chuckled. "but perhaps 'friend' is a little generous."

If Adam did have a best friend, it was certainly Roger, but their relationship was probably best characterized as a rivalry. No one but Roger could really challenge Adam in a debate, and indeed Roger was, with few exceptions, the first to offer a rebuttal to any of Adam's publications.

"Working on your speech?" Roger asked, as he picked up Adam's suit jacket and began to dust it off. "Because I assure you, there's very little you've left unsaid over the years!"

"I'm sure that you may have heard enough from me," said Adam. "But there is a younger generation of replication engineers up there who could benefit greatly from a few well-put words."

"Don't worry, Adam. Your speech will go wonderfully, I'm sure." replied Roger, holding up Adam's suit jacket for him to put on. "Besides, the younger generation you refer to are hungry graduate students who will be much more interested in the wine and the prime rib dinner than the words of old men like us."

Adam sighed. "For once, I'll concede that you are probably right," he said, sliding his arms into his jacket.

"They do owe you thanks though, Adam," Roger said while Adam was gathering his things. "Their jobs would be much harder if you hadn't invented the molecular disassembler."

To say that Adam's disassembler made the task of replication easier was an understatement. In fact, it was not possible to replicate most complex items before the invention of the disassembler. It wasn't that molecular assemblers had difficulty with putting together complex molecules. The bigger problem was knowing exactly which molecules to assemble, and in what order and orientation. Designing an assemblogram to replicate even the simplest living organisms had eluded scientists for centuries, but the molecular disassembler could do this in seconds.

"I don't know why you insist on calling it that," Adam said, as he locked the door to his office for the final time. "I invented it, and I named it the compositional scanner."

"'Compositional scanner' makes it sound too much like a CAT-scan or an x-ray. It leaves out the fact that the replication subject is ripped apart molecule by molecule," Roger said. "No. I like molecular disassembler."

"I'll not get into this with you right now." Adam turned and began down the hallway.

He'd had this debate a hundred times or more with Roger, and once they'd even had it in a highly televised public hearing. Adam had requested permission from the science council to attempt to replicate a human, and they'd responded by creating a joint commission with government representatives to hear the case.

At the hearing, Roger had spoken with eloquence and vigour in opposition of Adam's request, and his words during the hearing had often been quoted since. "You can disassemble a petunia and use the resulting assemblogram to create a thousand more petunias in only a few hours," he'd said. "But the original is gone forever. This produces an interesting problem - while the replicated petunias may seem identical in every measurable way, one cannot be truly sure, not without the original to compare them to." Adam had been fine with that statement - it was true, after all.

It was how Roger ended his deposition that bothered Adam. "I believe a human is more than the sum of his parts," he'd said. "And knowing this, I must conclude that any attempt to replicate a human would not only be unsuccessful, but immoral." Adam had contested this point, arguing that such a non-scientific statement should not be admitted. He cited the fact that modern psychological theories all supported reductionism, but the statement had struck a chord with the commission, and the damage was done.

Adam's request to use human subjects in a replication experiment was denied. In fact, it was worse than that, the government passed a law that strictly banned replicating any primate.

Richard Feinhelm was already on stage giving his introductory speech when the pair of elderly scientists reached the solarium. It must have seemed a choreographed entrance to those in the audience, for when Adam slung open the door Feinhelm, with an expression of relief, exclaimed, "Ah! Here he is now. Everyone please welcome Dr. Adam Milton!"

Adam handed his briefcase to Roger and proceeded directly to the stage, with his tablet in hand. "Good afternoon everyone." He said when he reached the podium. Adam fumbled around with his tablet for a moment, but after realizing that he'd left himself nothing but pages of disorganized chicken-scratch, he set it down on the podium.

"My career, and indeed my life, are nearing an end," he began. "It seems a sad thing, but I take great comfort in knowing that my work will continue after I am gone."

"I believe that the work we do here at the Institute is among the most important that humanity has ever undertaken, and I am greatly encouraged to see so many young and eager faces among us today," Adam said, taking a moment to look around the solarium.

"I'm often asked by journalists and biographers what motivated me to create the compositional scanner. Some point to the fact that it was the year I was born in which the Spem Vitae reached the halfway point of its journey, and I tell them they are in part right. While I was obviously too young to remember the world-wide celebration on that date, the halfway point sparked a renewed interest in the colonization mission that lasted for several years. Indeed, Kepler-72 had not been discussed so much since the time when the Spem Vitae left orbit. It was in this air of excitement that I grew up."

"I suppose I had always been interested in the colonization mission, but it was when I received a copy of Mariam Harstadt's Life in Space for my ninth birthday that my interest turned to obsession."

Life in Space was required reading in nearly every secondary school, and while considered a classic, it had a dryness and length that made it unpopular among students. Mariam had been born in the second generation of colonists - the first that would live their entire lives in space - and her famous biography had been transmitted back to Earth hundreds of years ago, while the colony ship was still in its early stages of acceleration.

"I can hear your collective sigh growing, but I ask that you take another read of this book. Consider it again, from the context of your chosen career, and without an English teacher actively sucking the life from it." Adam said, pleased that he seemed to have regained the favour of the audience with this.

"There are some passages in this book which I have read again and again throughout my career. They are not the passages with obscure symbolism and metaphor, as the English majors prefer. It is where Mariam discusses the tremendous responsibility she feels - Responsibility to her fellow colonists, responsibility to the mission, and indeed responsibility to the future of humanity - this is where I too find my motivation."

"So when you are studying late at night, or slogging through boring lab work, and you begin to question your purpose in doing so, I urge you to remember our responsibility. You are not only creating a new home for the descendants of the ten thousand colonists aboard the Spem Vitae, you are also creating a second home for life in the universe." The room was silent, and Adam hoped it was with reflection rather than boredom.

Adam decided it was a good place to stop, and concluded his speech with a "Thank you." to which the audience responded with the compulsory applause.

Adam left the stage and made his way to his seat at the main table, shaking the hands of some of his fellow senior institute fellows as he did so.

Feinhelm congratulated him when he finally sat down. "Well said, Adam."

"Indeed!" Roger said. "I daresay you've learned a thing or two about public speaking from me over the years."

"And why not?" retorted Adam. "You always were a better speaker than you were a scientist!"

Roger started to say something in response, but was cut short by Feinhelm. "My god, Roger," he said, pouring them both a glass of wine. "Surely you can let a man pass his retirement party in peace!"

"You did not think my speech was too boring?" Adam asked Feinhelm. "All that talk of responsibility? The response did seem rather less than I was hoping for at the end."

"It was not the type of speech that inspires one to cheer wildly, Adam," Feinhelm said. "It was more the type to which one reflects inwardly, which is entirely appropriate for the occasion. I could see several students who were deep in thought as you spoke, so deep in fact that I believe some forgot to clap altogether."

Adam nodded, grateful for the praise. In a moment, their food was brought, and the conversation during dinner turned to lighter topics.

After the meal, a band took the stage and performed while the sun fell across the cityscape behind them. A dance floor was cleared in front of the stage and it was soon filled with dancing scientists, loosened from their social inhibitions by alcohol. The wine continued to flow, and one of Adam's graduate students even convinced him to join her for a dance. Everyone agreed it was a party suitable of such a man.

After an hour or two, those who had young families began to make their excuses and trickle out, and an hour after that a group of graduate students announced that the party would continue at a downtown nightclub. Soon it was only Adam, Roger and Feinhelm left, and as they watched the catering staff clean up and the band disassemble their gear, it grew uncomfortably quiet.

"Come on lads," said Feinhelm, in his quirky Irish accent that always seemed amplified when he'd been drinking, "I've got a bottle of scotch in my office. How about it?"

When they reached his office, Feinhelm pulled a bottle scotch from his drawer and dispensed generous helpings to three plastic cups he'd snagged from the cafeteria. "Sorry lads." He said as he handed a cup each to Adam and Roger. "Deirdre would not miss the scotch, but she would certainly miss the fine crystal glasses we were meant to drink this from."

"Not to worry, it's the contents that concerns me!" Roger said, raising his cup. "A toast! To Adam's career, and our shared responsibility to humanity's future!"

Roger and Feinhelm, both experienced scotch drinkers, sipped their drinks while Adam gulped back his.

"Dare I ask," Roger said, "what will you do now, Adam?"

Adam had known the question was coming - it was always asked of the retiree at their retirement party. He began mumbling back his canned answer, something about his garden, and more about travelling back home for a while. But the more he said, the more the words left a bad taste in his mouth - a bad taste he attempted to cleanse with scotch.

Feinhelm poured another round of plastic cup scotches and declared it his turn to address a toast to Adam. "To your responsibilities fulfilled, and nothing left to do but whatever you please."

Adam choked back this round in a single gulp. "Ah, responsibility! What a load of crap that was!"

Roger almost spit his scotch all over the room, chuckling at Adam's sudden outburst. "What do you mean, Adam?"

"Perhaps it will serve those youngsters well, but as for me, it is a load of crap," Adam declared, holding out his cup for a refill.

Feinhelm sat down, and began examining the label on the bottle. "Expensive stuff, you know. Perhaps we've had enough for one night?"

"Geez Feinhelm," said Roger. "Certainly the guest of honour can have another if he pleases! The poor old man's arm is getting tired, holding his cup out like that!"

Feinhelm obliged, and Adam continued his rant. "Sure, a sense of responsibility may have taken me through studying for a boring exam here or there in my younger years, but there was only one true motivation behind my work on the compositional scanner."

"You mean the molecular disass-"

"Give it a rest, Roger." Said Adam with an air of condescension. Adam sipped again from his cup. "You are the reason my dream will never be realized."

"I see," said Roger, solemnly. "You wanted to replicate yourself."

"Not exactly," Adam said. "I have no more desire to see a dozen of me walking about than you do. Replication was simply the only means I could think of for travelling to Kepler-72."

Roger slumped in his chair and put his feet up on Feinhelm's desk.

"You see, once I'd perfected the compositional scanner," Adam continued, "I had intended to create an assemblogram of myself and transmit it to Kepler-72. It was the only way I could come up with. The only way to see, with my own eyes, what I'd spent my life creating over there." Adam sighed. He felt great relief in revealing this to someone, even if they might declare his selfish intentions shameful. "My only mistake, of course, was asking permission."

Roger took a moment to think before he responded. "And when you were assembled on Kepler-72, would you truly be seeing it 'with your own eyes'?"

"Bah! You argue semantics," Adam replied. "I don't care if they are my eyes, or exact duplicates of my eyes, or whatever. I believe it would give me great pleasure, whatever the words you use to describe it."

"And what if you were assembled as a bag of water and ions, resembling Adam Milton, but with none of his memories, and no notion of how you got there, or why you're the only person on the planet? Would you still think it worth it?"

"A good point, for certain!" Adam said, sarcastically. "Perhaps, before I attempt such a thing personally, I should ask the science council if they'd permit an replication experiment using a willing but terminally ill human subject! I can't see why they wouldn't allow it - can you?"

Adam shot the remainder of his drink and tossed the empty cup in the general direction of the garbage. "Thank you for the scotch, sir. I believe I have finally had enough." He said to Feinhelm as he stood up, using the desk to steady his wavering balance.

"Adam!" Roger called after him down the hall. "Let me call you a cab."

"Call yourself a cab!" Adam answered aloud, before muttering under his breath, "then take it straight to hell, jerk."

Adam had no intention of going home, not before he made a stop in the laboratory, and with every step toward the lab he felt more resolute about what he must do there.

When Adam reached the lab, he swiped his access card and swung the doors open. He flicked on the lights and proceeded directly to the corner occupied by the compositional scanner.

The compositional scanner was a large device, and most of it was actually built into the walls behind the scanning chamber, which, with three sides made of plexiglass, resembled a shower stall.

Adam fired up one of the control panels and carefully programmed instructions for the next run. One copy of the assemblogram from the next scan would be automatically queued for transmission to Kepler-72, and another copy would be sent for immediate assembling in one of the molecular assemblers on the other side of the room.

Without hesitation, Adam set a thirty second countdown and stepped into the scanning chamber. He hadn't accounted for how difficult the door would be to slide shut from the inside, but eventually managed to close it.

The countdown would only have a few seconds left (it was impossible to tell from inside the chamber), but it was long enough for Adam to remember one of the principal questions that the government's commission had been concerned with: would the subject experience pain during disassembly?

Adam recalled the deposition of a neuroscientist, was his name Bradley Cooper? "The disassembling process happens so quickly," he'd said, "that it would be extremely unlikely--

--that the subject would experience any sensation whatsoever." It was in the middle of his thought that Adam realized he was on the other side of the room, on the assembler platform! The process hadn't even broken his train of thought!

Adam went to step off the assembler platform, but was caught with a wave of nausea and disorientation. He placed a hand on the wall, and his mind filled with despair.

But after shutting his eyes for a moment and taking a few deep breaths, he felt fine. He supposed that his brain must have had a hard time adjusting to the sudden change in surroundings, and the alcohol probably did not help either.

He took a quick inventory of his body parts and, when he felt better, went back to the control panel. He was pleased to see that the assemblogram of himself had already cleared the transmission queue, and had begun its 96 year journey to Kepler-72.

He then proceed to modify the relevant log files, and after a few moments of consideration, he also deleted the assemblogram he'd made of himself. He could not see a further use for it - That is, other than to convict him in a court of law.

Moments after he'd powered off the compositional scanner, Roger busted through the laboratory doors, with Feinhelm trailing behind him.

"What are you doing here, Adam?" Roger demanded.

"Geez Roger! Relax!" Adam said, giving Feinhelm a look as if to say "what is with this guy?".

But Feinhelm did not seem impressed either. "Adam, I was on my way home when security called me to say there had been unscheduled access to the laboratory."

"Sorry guys," Adam said, tapping away at the control panel, "I just wanted to replicate one more thing before I left."

"What on Earth could be so important?" Roger asked.

Adam tapped in a few more commands and one of the assemblers came to life. It produced a large meatball submarine sandwich on a paper plate.

Adam turned to Feinhelm. "Want one?"

Feinhelm scratched his head and laughed a little. "Sure," he said, flopping down in a chair. "Why the hell not?"

Roger was not quite satisfied. "You came in here at 11 PM to replicate yourself a sandwich?"

"A gross misuse of Institute resources, I'm sure," Adam replied, as he walked over and picked up the sub. "I suppose you could fire me," he said to Feinhelm as he handed him the sandwich.

"And it took you, what? 30 minutes to do this?"

"What can I say?" Roger said as he input the commands for another sub. "This restaurant has a rather large number of items on the menu, and I daresay cooking won't be this easy at home. Can I get you something? I seem to remember Ricci's Pizza being one of your favourites."

"I'm not hungry," Roger said, "but I will stay, and make sure that you two old drunks would not make a mess of the lab."

"We'll make it easy on you," said Adam, picking up the second replicated sub, "what do you say we finish these in the courtyard, Feinhelm?"

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