This is "Crowd Control: Heaven Makes a Killing," CNET's crowdsourced science fiction novel written and edited by readers from around the world. New to the story? Click here to start. To read other past installments, visit our table of contents.
Chapter 1, continued
Excerpted from "Meta: The Life of a Diplomat," Tenochtitlan Digital, 2077.
Tenochtitlan District, Terra Superioris - December 10, 2050
As usual, the only person who greeted Meta as he entered his family's apartment was Charles.
While the legends of Sassamon had helped motivate Meta toward a career in diplomacy focused on ensuring a smooth transition and integration for migrants, it was his relationship with the family migrant, Charles Danish, that forged his determination into something far stronger. Even as Meta's outlook had grown darker, Charles remained one of few bright lights of trust in his life that Meta avoided exploiting, at least as much as a young person can avoid exploiting the hired help.
Perhaps the simpler truth was that Meta felt sorry for Charles and saw no benefit from tormenting or manipulating him. Charles had proven himself to be far more beneficial when treated with actual, earnest respect. Meta had so far failed to apply this lesson to most of his other relationships.
"What's up today, boy?"
Charles shouted at Meta with a slight chuckle as he entered. Meta responded with a hearty slap on the back.
Charles' skin was more weathered than most migrants', a fact that betrayed how much he had worked with his hands since arriving on T.S. more than the age his body had been bioengineered to reflect upon his arrival. All tasks involving any sort of physical labor or other nonrecreational musculoskeletal exertion had long ago been turned over to Migrant Earth humans, the only workforce that could perform more reliably and at a lower maintenance cost than automation.
As Charles moved around the dining area getting a meal ready for the family whose members all had yet to appear, he asked Meta about the day's lessons at the academy and Meta opened up one of the pair's unending debates once again. The flaws in Superioran society were so clear to cynical Meta, but Charles remained steadfast in his belief that his soul had been transported to some magical wonderland.
"All I know is, I've gone to the other side and I'm obviously on the top side rather than below because you are all such fine people," Charles replied as he had dozens of times before.
"Clearly you all belong here and I just hope no one will try to send me somewhere else. It could be worse!" Charles smiled dryly after he delivered this favorite line.
A smile was nearly as characteristic on Charles' face as the mustache that had always capped it off just below his round nose.
"Charles, you didn't die. Nobody dies, they just... trans... well... it's like... OK, you know how a Narragansett shouter works, right? No, of course you don't. That's 19th-century string tech... Uh, OK, how about this...what year did you pass through the white... I mean, what year did you..." Meta paused and let out a long sigh of frustration and resignation. "Charles, what year did you die again?"
"That's a rather personal question to be asking an old man, Em."
"Is it? Oh right. Sorry, I, uh..."
"I'm just teasing," Charles laughed, unleashing a particularly rough elbow jab to Meta's side. "You know I came here in 2018!"
"Right, OK, 20-teens Earth tech. Damn, we never really covered that era because all your most interesting stuff started happening in the 2020s."
"I can't believe nobody ever talks to you about this stuff; it's fascinating, and you actually lived it."
"Look, explain it however you want, it don't really matter. You've never lived with death, kid, you can't understand this stuff. Fearing death is an instinct."
There was silence in the room as the somber face of a woman swam through Charles' mind. She was standing next to a desk covered in cell cultures, circuit boards and jumbled wires. She was explaining something intently to Charles, but he couldn't hear her.
Most migrants were unable to decipher the world they came to occupy through the advanced string mechanics and heptadimensional engineering that allowed their passage. Instead, they attributed their orchestrated rescue from the back end of a white hole to afterlife myths that had died out on Superioris before the dawn of the 21st century.
Editor's note: I promise I'm on top of my editorial duties, and that "white hole" is the correct term here. You should be familiar with the concept of a black hole, but not all universes have yet observed what comes out the other end of those powerful voids. Presumably even your universe will eventually become connected to the multiversal transport system that is powered by information transfer through the point where black and white holes meet, back-to-back. You probably call them singularities.
Please, resist the urge to click or tap or swipe or whatever for just another second while I figure out how to make this easier to understand for a reader on the Einstein-Beyonce level...
OK, so your understanding is probably that going near a black hole is a bad idea because its intense gravity will stretch and rip you to gory bits, which is true of your physical body, of course. However, I've never understood why anyone even talks about physically going near a black hole. Really, who does that?
What your society is probably just beginning to grasp is that information, including what some call human consciousness, or "a soul," can travel through a black hole, come out the other end in another universe and be reassembled into something coherent there.
That combination of energy and information that you call consciousness or a soul works like water. You can use it and control it when it is contained within a vessel like your body or a pitcher, but when your body fails or that pitcher breaks, it spills forth into your universe, following the path of least resistance until it can be reconstituted into something useful.
In the case of the Einstein-Beyonce Earth, the path of least resistance is a trip around Jupiter, but the gravity of the dark Planet 9, as your planet is just now beginning to recognize, prevents your souls from taking an eternal trip into that gas giant's Great Red Spot. Instead they flow toward the nearest black hole, which is fortunately right before the really big Black Hole at the center of the Milky Way, because that one sends you to an irregular universe with more acid and fire than gravity. It's really quite messy.
Anyway, all that Einstein-Beyonce-2 consciousness flows through that happy black hole and out the white hole on the other side into the universe that's home to Earth MC-2, aka Terra Superioris. There, science and technology are advanced to a degree that the energetic data that makes up a soul can be captured, translated and used to animate a new body. This body is created to match your old one, or at least your perception of your old body based on what can be extracted from your unique energetic data and constructed using the latest in transhuman biotechnology.
Now, as for death on Terra Superioris, the same technologies just beginning to forestall the physical body's decline on Earth EB-2 have been perfected on T.S., making the failure of a physical body a rarity. But unrepairable accidents do still happen.
The unfortunate few who leave T.S. have no illusions that they're going to "die." Rather, it's well understood that the unlucky, self-destructive or unusually adventurous few Superiorans who take their chances casting their consciousness to the solar wind will reconstitute in a physical form somewhere, with most of the lost believed to have wound up on an Earth-like Kepler 186 planet in a universe where slightly weaker gravity tends to make most activities either far more enjoyable or totally frustrating, depending on who you ask.
While Meta's family treated Charles with respect and graciousness, almost like one of their own, his parents saw him as a sort of foolish old man filled with superstitious notions of life and death. Belief in the concept of death on Superioris had been expunged for centuries and yet Charles and other new immigrants were convinced they had hit an afterlife jackpot there, getting to live in a land where death, itself, was dead.
Meta's parents had long ago tired of explaining the truth of Charles' interversal journey to their domestic manager, who would always pretend to understand their explanations to humor them, despite the fact that the scientific and technological breakthroughs they referenced had yet to take place on Earth. No matter how many different ways they tried, he always understood the complex science, math and engineering involved in his journey as a metaphor for his ascension to an anachronistic, metaphysical paradise that most migrants referred to as "heaven" or something similar.
How do you picture Meta and Charles? Contribute your visual interpretations.
"Look, Meta. This isn't the heaven I expected, the one I prayed for all my life. I haven't met God yet, for one thing. It looks a lot more like Earth than it does the clouds and angels I saw in church. No one plays the trumpet to announce things," he laughed, then paused, lowering his unusually deep hazel eyes. "But faith is all I have now, and heaven is the only explanation I can live with. Or, I guess, die with."
He bared his teeth in an attempted grin, but Meta didn't feel it lifted the mood. He was reminded of an image of an ancient skull he'd seen in class. Was that what Earth life was like, brittle and fearful? He felt a new uncomfortable pity for Charles, stuck in a disappointing paradise.
Meta picked up a screen and took it into his room, closing the door behind him. He sat down on his lounger and called up a mini-holo of the same scene of Sassamon's death from earlier in the day. He set it to replay the moment Sassamon fell through the ice on a loop, repeating the crunching sound of the man's neck colliding against the edge of the ice until it no longer made him want to turn away.