Sep 13, 2023

For such a modern organisation, the Amethyst Project was housed in a decidedly old building.

I moved my head as far as I could over my shoulder. “It looks as if it was built back in the 2020s,” I muttered.

“Shh now, dad,” my daughter replied. “You’ll love it.”

“So you keep telling me,” I said. “But I remain to be convinced.”

“Anya says her father thinks it’s the best thing he ever did. He calls it ‘Heaven’.”

“The concept of Heaven is a load of old tosh,” I said. “Outdated religious nonsense.”

“Some people still believe in it.”

“Gullible fools, then, clinging to the past.”

Petal didn’t answer; we’d had this conversation too many times before.

She wheeled me up to the front door, which was one of those early 21st century sliding glass affairs.

“It doesn’t even have a laser door,” I muttered, as she pushed me in. A shiny white bot slid over, its backlit eyes gleaming. It paused a moment as it made a retinal scan of us both.

“Mr Jayden Smith and Mrs Petal Singh,” it announced, in the slightly soft tone they build into these things. The sort of tone that’s so bloody soothing it sets your teeth on edge.

“Yes, my father is here to sign in,” Petal said. She put on her most cheerful voice, which I think was more for my benefit than the bot’s.

“Excellent,” it cooed.

“He’s very excited about this,” she added.

I was going to call this out for the bollocks it was, when the bot emitted a low-pitched rumble that made me momentarily forget what I was about to say.

“Of course,” it exclaimed to Petal, seeming to dial up its own excitement to the same level as hers. Someone must have added a Neuro Linguistic programme to its chip. “Our clients are always most satisfied with our service.” It slid silently across the shiny floor. “Please follow me. It will be my pleasure to give you a detailed introduction to our facility.”

Petal pushed me after it, and we went through an arch into what seemed to be a sensory room. There was a large lava lamp display set into the flock paper wall, ambient purple lighting and more cushions than an Amazon-Wayfair Homeware store.

“Please enter this short presentation,” it said, as two VR headsets descended from the ceiling. “We find it easier to explain in VR, but please be assured, it reflects the reality of our service.” Once Petal had plugged the lead into my neck port and settled the visor over my head, I sat back with a sigh.

“Let’s see what this is all about, then,” I muttered.

The screens flickered and suddenly I was in a brightly-lit white corridor, floating silently towards a pair of old-fashioned double doors. A young woman in a flowery dress appeared, smiling. The kind of dress Flora used to wear when we first met. I gave a small gasp; it was Flora; the very image of her in her early twenties. The machine must have been reading my memories via my implant chip. A lump came into my throat; it was difficult to see her like that, not as the 90 year-old I had held in my arms as she slipped away over thirty years ago.

“Hello Jayden,” Flora said. “How nice to see you. I am so excited to show you how Amethyst can ease you into your eternal life.” She held open the doors and I floated into what seemed to be a longer, wider corridor, with thousands of recessed shelves set at all levels on both sides.

As I entered, I eased myself round to check that Petal was with me. She was there, giving me the sickly indulgent look that she reserved only for me and her great great grand-children when they were being particularly mischievous.

I turned back to Flora, who was waiting by the first of the shelves. I drifted over, and she gave me a beaming smile; the one that used to have my belly doing somersaults. I had never stopped missing her every day for the last thirty years. Seeing her as she was when we first met did nothing to help.

If anything it made it worse.

“This is how you will be able to enjoy eternity at the Amethyst Project.” She gestured at the shelf and I looked in. There was a glass jar inside, with something pink and bulbous floating in a cloudy liquid. Tubes fed in and out of the jar and lots of wires were attached to the outside. “In the last two years,” Flora said, becoming more serious, “we have perfected the ability to remove a healthy brain from a body that has been overtaken by advanced age, and keep it permanently alive in this solution. We can then stimulate all the centres that process the senses – those of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste, with an AI programme that gives it the complete perception that it is in a young, healthy body. It retains all its memories – aided by its chip, of course – and as it is the actual brain, it retains its full personality as well.” She smiled again. “Many years ago, when men held on to the belief systems they called religions, this included the quaint concept of the ‘soul’. We know now this was just a combination of the personality, memory and the sense of self that derives from consciousness.” She paused, looking as if she was checking we were still with her. I nodded. “But here it is the actual brain processing this information.” She gestured at the jar. “So it retains its soul.”

“As against if you simply downloaded all its memories onto a chip?” Petal asked. “The chip would know everything you know, but it wouldn’t be you. It would have no consciousness or sense of self?”

“Precisely,” Flora answered.

Petal turned to me. “She’s right,” she observed. “That makes sense.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said to Flora. “You will take my brain out of this failed old body and plug it in to your machine. I will then think, feel and experience life as I was a hundred years ago?”

Flora nodded with her head slightly on one side, just like she used to. “Correct. And the AI programme will do whatever you want it to – all the things that perhaps you longed to achieve, but never managed. Go into space? No problem. Star in a bestselling feature reel? It can happen.”

“And me and the family?” Petal asked. “Will we still be able to see Dad?”

“Of course, you can log into his AI world any time you want, and be a part of his life. Your father will never die; you can talk to him in real time whenever you want, and the person you will be talking to will actually be him.” She gestured at the brain in the jar behind her. “Just as you are talking to him now, except that his brain is still in his head. All we’ll be doing is preserving it while the old body is discarded.”

Petal turned to me with a triumphant look. “I told you this was a good thing, Dad,” she said.

“And will you be there, Flora?” I asked.

“Yes. But the Flora of your memories.” She hesitated a moment. “The real one died before memory chips were first used, so we don’t have her data; only yours.”

I thought this through. In my memory she was always smiling; always happy. All the bad stuff – like the arguments, the folded-arm huffs or the inexplicable mood swings – those had faded into a vague, easily forgotten blur.

“So you and Mum can be together forever, Dad,” Petal said. I felt her hand grasp mine. “And you’ll both be young, fit and active again, like you were in the 21st century.”  She squeezed my hand. “I told you it was heaven,” she said.

Young Flora in her pretty dress came round to stand in front of me.

“Forever?” I asked. “You mean that?”

She nodded.

Then there was only one more thing to say.

“Where do I sign?”