This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
In fact by the time Rosalind was cloned there were no volunteers left, or none that any right minded scientist would let within a thousand miles of such a trial. Rosalind was one of those scientists, and she was so convinced they’d ironed out all the problems that she’d ended up volunteering to be the subject.
Even now, more than seven-thousand years later, she could still remember the determination that had driven her to that point. And, though she would never admit it, she could remember her doubts as the procedure started. The minor concerns she’d previously dismissed which suddenly seemed far larger when it was her lying on the operating table being prepped.
She’d worried, but she’d still gone ahead without letting anyone know how she felt. And the team were successful. When the procedure finished, there were two of her.
And for her twin, Rosalind the Second as she became known, it was just the beginning. Rosalind the Second was cloned several more times over the following two years, enough to prove that not only were the originals completely stable but that they were so complete a copy that copies of copies didn’t experience any issues.
The process was shown to be safe, and that was the start of something incredible for humanity. More than anything else, it led to opening up interstellar travel. Especially once a related technique which copied the brain’s patterns into a computer and back was perfected. That allowed a copy to run slowly in a computer system, making the long years between systems seem like mere weeks, and then be copied into a clone grown as the ship neared the end of its epic journey.
And it had been one of Rosalind’s iterations, as her clones and clones of clones were known, who had first been uploaded to a computer and then downloaded to a new body. Another first claimed by the Rosalinds.
Truth be told, most of what Rosalind was known for was really something one of her iterations had done, though she had managed a fair few firsts herself down the years. She’d lost count of how many iterations she had now. Tens of thousands, at the very least, but maybe even millions — and spread across the stars. Even with faster than light travel perfected it took time to move between systems, and information only flowed back where ships were travelling to carry it.
She was pretty certain she had more iterations than anyone both because she’d been the first and because her clones had always carried that pioneering spirit, had wanted to keep pushing at boundaries.
Yet there was… not a secret, but something very few people knew. Rosalind the Second had known, but she’d perished in an accident during a sun-surfing race several thousand years before. Probably some of the other early Rosalind iterations knew, but Rosalind was sure most didn’t.
She’d met so many of her iterations down the years, but there had been a greater and greater gap between who she was and who they had become. Which made sense considering the vast differences in their life experiences over that time – their life experiences and those of the line of iterations they’d been cloned from.
But the… not secret, was that Rosalind, the original person to be cloned, had only ever had one clone. Rosalind the Second. After being copied that first time Rosalind had never been through the process again. Not to a flesh and blood clone, and not to a computer. Even now, with her life slipping away, she had refused to be uploaded.
Part of it was pride. Knowing she was unique. That all of those Rosalinds who had spawned from Rosalind the Second only shared the first forty-seven years of her memories and experiences. From that point onward she was herself, unique and alone.
That was the reason she had given the few others she’d ever spoken to about it. It was a lie. A convenient fiction which prevented her having to admit the truth. Even Rosalind the Second didn’t feel the true reason as it came from feelings and memories that had developed after she’d been created. But Rosalind had discussed it with Rosalind the Second. And only with her.
Despite not being religious in any way, Rosalind had always felt as if the copying process had taken a piece of her being. Rosalind the Second always told her she was being silly. She had been copied many times, and had never felt any different. But she hadn’t felt different at the start either, when she’d just been created.
Most probably Rosalind the Second was right and nothing had changed… but the feeling had never left the original Rosalind, so from that point onward she had remained as whole and as unique as was possible.
Now, as she felt her life slipping away, she was amused at herself. There was no such thing as a soul. There was no such thing as an afterlife. That much was abundantly clear. Science had proved it time and time again, and really she could only put her uneasy feelings down to growing up in a time when such concepts were more common. Besides, no one else who’d been cloned had ever mentioned feeling the same way.
She still didn’t regret not having been copied again, but at the same time she was hugely proud of what all her iterations had achieved. And those things she’d achieved herself.
But now it was time to let go. Her physical eyes were already closed, but now she closed those of her inner mind and let herself sink backwards into endless darkness.
* * *
Rosalind blinked in confusion. She was standing up, not lying down, and she was… somewhere else. She stared around her. There were bright lights everywhere which prevented her from making anything out, but it definitely wasn’t the room she remembered being in as she slipped away. It was much larger for a start.
She looked down at her body and stared in amazement. She was young. Not young from having been through rejuvenation treatments, she’d had that enough times to know the signs, but truly young. She moved her arms and legs in wonder, then she cursed as she realised what it must mean.
“Bastards!” she shouted. “They bloody well went ahead and copied me into a computer without my permission!”
“No,” came a gentle voice from beside her. “That’s not what happened at all.”
Rosalind turned, and found a man standing where no one had been a moment before. At least, she thought it was a man. There was something about him that didn’t quite gel. She shook her head and frowned at him.
“But I have been copied! Look at me! Otherwise how do you explain this?”
“Well, in the past we didn’t have to explain. Everyone guessed where they were straight away. Then humanity discovered all sorts of tricks they were never supposed to. Virtualising themselves. Cloning themselves. That’s what free will gets you. And some things humans are getting up to now, out in the far reaches of space, well… it’s enough to make an angel weep!”
“An angel? You don’t mean this is… this can’t be… I don’t believe in…”
She trailed off to silence, and the man smiled a warm smile. She looked around again, thinking things through. In truth, there was no way they could have scanned her for upload. Even after thousands of years it still couldn’t be done without the subject being conscious and willing. Not that it hadn’t been tried, but the patterns were always corrupted if the patient wasn’t committed to the process.
She’d allowed her body to grow as old as her mind felt at the end, before finally letting herself die, but she hadn’t been losing her wits. No, no-one had scanned her — either into a computer or a clone.
Besides, there was something about this place which felt… well, more real than reality had, if that was possible. But the implications… they were massive. Far more than she could deal with right then. She focused on the most obvious.
“Angel? You’re an angel? So this is heaven? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Oh, no. I’m not kidding you. This is all real.”
“And I’m definitely ending up in heaven? Not… anywhere else? I tried to live a reasonably good life, but I didn’t always succeed.”
The man… the angel, laughed.
“No human ever has! Don’t worry, there is no other place. You humans and your strange concepts. There is time in heaven for you to contemplate on your life, where you could have been better and where you did well. But that is all.”
“So do I… where do I… what happens now?”
“Let me just look at the records and I will send you on your way…”
Suddenly a datapad appeared in the man’s hands.
“A datapad?” asked Rosalind.
“Oh yes! You humans and your innovation. Your ideas aren’t all bad. Datapads are much lighter to carry than the tomes we had to use before, especially now there are so many of you. Now let me see, here we go… and… oh! Oh dear!”
Rosalind’s heart sank. She still wasn’t quite sure she believed this was real, but she certainly didn’t like the sound of that oh dear.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone like you before. I didn’t recognise the signs.”
She definitely didn’t like that.
“What do you mean, someone like me?”
“Someone who’s been copied in the way you have.”
“But… millions of people have been copied. Billions upon billions by now, I suppose. I know many of them have died. Even some of my iterations have.”
“Oh yes, they turn up here all the time, and it’s so easy to spot them. Their souls are fragmented, small fractions of the whole. I can always pick them out as soon as they arrive.
“But you… you’re so close to being complete! Your soul burns particularly brightly, and you carry half of it with you. There’s only half of it missing. I’ve never come across someone in that state before. I’m sorry, I didn’t even think to check.”
“Half a soul?”
Rosalind shook her head. That was much too close to the way she’d felt since being cloned. Was this real? Was she really here? Or was she still not quite dead? Was this her brain working feverishly upon her last fears before it died fully?
“It’s not a problem as such. It’s just… you see… well, we can’t let you into heaven until you are all here. We can’t let people with only part of their soul into heaven. We tried, at the beginning, and they just weren’t able to persist there. They… faded away.”
“So you’re telling me that everyone who’s ever copied themselves can’t enter heaven?”
“Almighty, no! Not at all! It’s not that, it’s just that you can’t enter until we have all the parts of your soul. Then we can merge all those beings you’ve become back into one entity who shares the memories and lives of them all. Don’t worry, the merging is completely painless and you retain your current personality and all those being merged. It’s quite easy for us to do. We’ve already done it plenty of times in cases where all parts of someone’s soul have arrived.
“However, it does mean you having to wait until that happens. But in your case, you only had your soul split in half. Once the other half arrives… let me lookup… oh! Oh I say!”
He was pulling up additional information on the datapad. Rosalind’s stomach sank. She was sure she knew what he must have found.
“I only copied myself once,” she said. “But my iterations… they’ve copied themselves again and again and again. That other half of my soul must be split into tiny fragments now.”
“Well, there was one who turned up a few thousand years ago, she had nearly nine percent of your soul. I believe she must have been the first copy from you. But… there are so many of you now! And spread so far and wide!
“It looks as if some exist in computer systems now, and those could persist for… well, many millennia. And the slivers of your soul are still being subdivided as more and more of your… well, let’s call them descendants, as more and more of them choose to make copies of themselves.”
“Will it ever end? Is there… I don’t know, a basic particle of the soul? Is there a point at which it can no longer be split? At which cloning won’t be possible?”
“No. I’m afraid not. The soul is not physical, it is not bound by the same laws as the universe you lived in. It can be divided up infinitely many times.”
“Then I’m doomed? I’ll never be whole again? I’ll never make it into heaven?”
“Oh no, it’s not hopeless! I doubt humanity, even spread out as it is, will survive beyond the destruction of the Milky Way when the black hole at its centre transforms into a hyper-nova. And that’s really not that far away, only another twenty-seven billion years or so.”
“Oh yes! I mean, if humanity somehow manages to spread beyond the Milky Way by then I’m sure they’ll keep on spreading to other galaxies, especially once they see what the hyper-nova does to the Milky Way. No, I’m sure if they get that far then they’ll keep spreading far and wide. Probably never stopping.
“If that happens then we’re talking about a much longer time-frame. Then you might have to wait for the end of the entire universe. And that’s… well, that’s not scheduled to happen for another four-hundred-trillion years. Though there is, of course, the chance that the big boss will decide humanity has spread a little too far and bring your experiment to an end. But even if that happens it’s likely to be a long time in the future.”
“All that time…” Said Rosalind, feeling faint. “What am I meant to do for that much time?”
“Oh, don’t worry! You’ll have plenty of company! And you won’t actually experience time in the way you’re used to. Time will pass for you, but it won’t seem anywhere near that much time.”
“Company? Oh… I see what you mean. There must be millions of people in the same boat as me. Billions even.”
“Well… that’s not… it’s probably best if I show you.”
The man turned to face toward her left, and when she turned the same way she saw a door a mere ten steps away. It certainly hadn’t been there before, nor had the small segment of wall it was embedded in, but she was hardly surprised by that after everything else she’d had to take in.
The man walked to the door, opened it, and gestured for her to go in. She walked up to it, took a deep breath, and stepped through. She realised she’d never asked the man’s name, and turned to ask him… but the door was gone.
She was near the centre of a room. A very large room, which seemed to spread away from her almost forever. There was a blank, featureless wall behind her but no sign of the door she’d entered through. The wall was barely a dozen steps wide and beyond it the room spread out.
She hardly noticed any of that, though. Her attention was on the people standing in the room, people who were now giving her a huge cheer. Except they weren’t exactly looking at her, they were looking above her head.
She turned and looked further up the wall she seemed to have stepped out. There was a large digital display showing… well, it looked like a progress bar which was edging from yellow into slightly green. Below it was a number in large digits. A percentage, showing 71.635%.
“Now that was something to see!” said a voice by her shoulder. The voice was familiar, and when Rosalind turned she found herself facing… herself. And yet instinctively she knew who it was.
“Dots!” she exclaimed. “It is you, isn’t it?”
“It is! I knew you’d recognise me.”
Dots. Her nickname for Rosalind the Second. It had started off as Dos, Spanish for two, but that had seemed too obvious. So they’d changed it to Dots.
“I don’t understand,” said Rosalind. What is all the fuss about?”
“The fuss is because you’ve just made that indicator jump from just over twenty-one percent to over seventy-one percent. Believe me, that’s something incredible. We often get… well, iterations of us, turning up with only enough of a sliver of our soul to move the number a thousandth of a percent. If that. We’ve had quite a lot recently where it’s taken several together to make even that much of an impact. Hell, everyone was over the moon when I turned up, and I contributed far less than you!”
“So that’s… that’s how much of us is here? Our soul?”
Dots nodded. “And no one can ever match the splash you just made.”
“We have to wait for everyone? For every single iteration of us to perish?”
“We do, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“How can being stuck here for billions of years or more possibly be not that bad?”
Now Rosalind knew this was truly Dots. No one, not even later iterations from Dots, had ever called her Rosie. No one except Dots.
“It is you, isn’t it?” Rosalind said, voice catching.
“It is. And Rosie, you have no idea. A few days here can be like a few years in the world. But it’s not fixed, we seem to exist at different speeds at different times. That’s the only explanation for not getting multiple iterations arriving almost on top of each other, but also not feeling the time passing as it does for those who are alive.
“I’m sure you’re still thinking of how long billions of years will be stuck in one place, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ll get to live… well, us! All of our lives, all of our experiences, are available to you!
“That’s why they put us in together and not in with others in the same boat. They did try that at first, back when the first individuals with split souls started coming through. We could talk to each other, but talking about a life is incredibly different from experiencing it.
“Once a few more iterations of each person turned up they started gravitating together. That’s when they realised they could share each other’s experiences. Live them.
“That’s why the angels put all our iterations in a room together. It’s not a punishment, not a criticism of what we’ve done, it’s so we can truly live while we wait.”
“That… that sounds incredible. You mean I can experience everything you experienced after you… I… we were copied?”
“Yes! But there is a price.”
Rosalind tensed slightly.
“What’s the price?”
“Well, Rosie, after your long life insisting on being unique, it’s time for you to share what you experienced from the moment I was copied. We’ll show you what it was to have been each of us, but in turn we want to learn the same about your life.”
Rosalind looked around at the smiling faces which were so like her own, and yet each unique. She could feel the experiences boiling off the closest, feel the wondrous lives they’d lived, and for the first time in her existence she truly wanted to share her own experiences.
And at least she wouldn’t have to worry about feeling her soul had been split any longer. She now knew it had been, that what she’d felt was right, but that in the end it would turn out for the best.
At some unimaginable point in the future her final few iterations would die and her soul would finally be made whole again. But until then… until then she had a huge number of lives to live, and she knew exactly where she wanted to start.
“I want to know your life first, Dots! I want to know everything you experienced after we were split. I’ve always wondered, and thought I’d never know. Especially after the accident. Now I want to know your life!”
“I knew you were going to say that Rosie! Of course, and then I get to be the first to experience your life.”
Rosalind smiled, then pulled Dots into a strong embrace.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way!” she murmured.
And then she was falling, tumbling into the first moments of Dot’s life… staring back at herself, then realising that not only had the experiment worked, but that she was the copy.
Rosalind had always worried that deep down Dots resented being the first copy, rather than being the original so to speak. Now she knew it was quite the opposite. Dots had felt elated, and had nothing but love for Rosie. A love Rosie had always returned.
The experience swept on, with Rosie enjoying every moment. It was strange, she’d thought she’d done a lot in her life. But now she was dead she was finally getting to live all her lives! And she loved it!