I was planning on getting back to science this time around: an opinion piece on gengineered non-suffering livestock, perhaps, or a review of recent progress in telematter technology. But someone died last night, a distant member of my immediate family: someone I ended contact with years ago, save for one brief shining moment back in ’08 when I appeared like the Ghost of Christmas Past in the nursing home hallway, spelled out the facts of life, and vanished forever.
The physical death of that organism, all this time later, is purely theoretical to me. It has no mass or inertia, no charge positive or negative. Everything’s already cancelled out. Sow; Reap; Finis. And yet by all accounts this should be a momentous occasion, should provoke some kind of spontaneous visceral or emotional response. It doesn’t. So I’ve experimented with alternate perspectives to see if I can stir something up — and I think I’ve found a viewpoint I can sort of get behind.
If you can’t respect the government, respect the people. If the Queen is corrupt, at least find something to admire in her soldiers.
The heart, for example. A muscle that beat nonstop every second of every day since 1920, almost a century’s relentless rearguard against entropy itself. Three billion beats in that time; four supertankers filled to the brim; two battleships lifted clear of the ocean. Or the eyes: miracles of incompetent design, photoreceptors straining for light through a tangle of cabling laid on top of them, not tucked away behind as any more-than-half-witted designer would have done. Sight is mechanical, did you know that? No digital electronics: pure clockwork, that far down. The visual pigment is a kind of spring-lever affair; the photon hits it and the pigment passes that impact upstream with all the elegance of a game of whack-a-mole.
Nine decades of parsing the world through those haphazard bits and pieces is nothing to sneeze at either.
The GI tract. The skeletal muscles. The pulmonary and lymphatic systems, the bone marrow, the semiautonomous mitochondria renting out space by their thousands in each individual cell. Forget about that thinking neuronal mass festering up in the skull. It can’t even decide what persona to run, a few million synapses corrode and it turns from black to white. Whatever lived up there originally has been dead for longer than Andrew Ryan; the splicers have been running things for years. But down here in the gut, in the kidneys and capillaries; these are the rank and file, the actual citizens of this close-knit colony we call a person. And when the brain finally shuts down completely — when the chest stops moving and the pacemaker gives out and the telemetry clip comes off the finger — all those citizens keep plugging away, filtering blood or transporting nutrients in a world gone suddenly stagnant, still doing their best even starving for oxygen, even drowning in acid. Some of those valiant colonists keep going for hours, until the suffocating cold finally kills them off.
Good soldiers, our cells. Good citizens.
When you think of it that way, perhaps even this death is something to be mourned.