Author : Hannah Jenkins
What is the nature of the human soul? That old favourite after-dinner topic of philosophers and theologians has suddenly become much more important, as it is dragged out of the hypothetical realm into cold, hard reality.
What is the soul made of? Where does it go after death? Where is it now? Does it sit in the stomach, undetectable until it leaps with excitement or sinks with despair? Is it in the heart, providing the energy and inspiration behind every beat? Is it in the brain, held in a net of glittering neurons? Or does it roam the body freely, flowing in our blood and dancing along our nerves? Can it break free of the flesh altogether, travelling beyond us into our dreams and imaginings?
So why am I asking all this? Because it is a matter of life and death. Literally. The question I ask is simply this; am I alive, or am I dead? And, despite what else you may have been told, this is the question you are here to answer.
If the soul is contained within the body, before moving on to your choice of afterlife, then my soul fled the shell of my body as it burnt on board the Caracal. It is gone, I am dead, and the person speaking to you now is little more than an imitation, an echo, a literal “ghost in the machine”.
But what if the soul is capable of more than that? What if life is far more fantastic, wild and strange than we ever thought possible? What if my soul remained when my body died? What if…I am alive?
What if, when my mind was uploaded into the computer of the Caracal, my soul went with it?
What if – when the ship was attacked at the edge of the Empire’s territory, when it exploded and the crew died in screaming agony – what if my soul remained, protected deep in the computer core?
You all know what happened next. Twenty-three ships were lost that day. One thousand, two hundred and eighty-eight names were added to the monument on Capitol Hill. The relief ships trawled the debris field for the bodies of the fallen, and anything else that could be saved. The Pallas found a computer core, drifting in the remains of the Caracal. They linked it up to a power source and reactivated it, hoping to retrieve some useful data on the battle. Instead, they found me. The intact consciousness of the pilot, held in a net of circuitry. Nobody thought it was possible. Some people maintain that it still isn’t. I died, they say. My name is on the monument. My next of kin have been informed. End of story.
Of course, if it was that simple, you wouldn’t be here.
The Pilots’ Union has fought for over a year to bring about this hearing, and for that they have my immense gratitude. They believe that I am alive, which means that I have kept my rights as a citizen of the Empire. These include the right to speak freely, the right to a fair trial, and, of course, the right to life.
For this hearing the computer containing me has been connected to a portable generator. That’s the grey box next to the platform. You can see that on the front is an on/off switch. Ladies and gentlemen and uncategorised, I invite you to make your decision. Is pressing that switch no different from turning off an interactive entertainment vid, or is it murder? Your choice.