"SOMETHING," THE VOICE SAID, "like the 'God' thing, you see. Not really 'God'... Not so a theologian would recognize me... Same thing with 'souls'. Only the other way round. Most of the 'God' thing is fantasy, only the germ has some truth. Opposite with souls—mostly true, only the germ's false."
"I still don't quite understand..."
"Most of what you know about souls you get from other people... Observing... Relating... 'soul' mostly means 'person', yes?"
"I guess it does, really..."
"All but the germ. Idea they exist without the body, without all that finiteness, specificity... Immaterial, all that..."
"Soul, what you call soul... pattern of behavior of a specific body..."
"But what about consciousness ? What about feeling, seeing, hearing, pain, joy...?"
"One of those questions, you see. Don't know why I keep doing this. Curiosity, really. Can't resist it..."
"Look. I have feelings. I experience life. I exist! "
"Didn't mean to be rude. Of course you exist. Just wasn't clear. Germ within the germ, really. And true, as well. Odd, that. You experience... consciousness. So does a rock, or an atom. Photons experience like crazy."
"How can a rock experience anything, it doesn't have a brain, or eyes to see with, or ears or..."
"Couldn't have said it better. You see? Most of what you call 'consciousness'... just structure. Mostly behavior. The brain. The eyes. But the germ... Same for an atom, an electron, a rock or a carrot. Don't experience what you experience—no eyes, no pain sensors. Different structure. But the germ is the same. There's your "creator's" hand... Part of the original idea. Two sides to everything... Inside and outside... Brilliant really... Take some credit for that..."
"But I'm here, now, without a body."
"Not really. Don't mean to be indelicate. Duplicated it, you see... Not everything... Just enough so we could..."
"Told you before. Curiosity. Can't resist it..."
"What are you so curious about?"
"Not mine. Yours. Your curiosity. So strong. Always feel... obligated... when it's that strong, you see. Feel it deserves an explanation. All those years you spent in philosophy classes, in seminary..."
"What happens now?"
"Already happening. Consciousness breaking down into smaller parts: organs, tissues, cells. Eventually atoms or smaller. Each piece goes its own way. Some merge eventually, become part of something, maybe someone , bigger, more complex."
"Can't I stay here? In this duplicate?"
"Already thought of that, you know. Always do. Ought to learn. Always think there has to be a way... Just for a second. There isn't. You're alive, you see. Belong to your world, to the process of change... Part of it, really. Duplicate isn't part of anything. Part without a whole... Can't survive here... Can't last... No pain though... See to that... Least I can do..."
"So this is it."
"Afraid so... There is, well... Something..."
"Something you'd like to ask me?"
"Can't judge, you see. Curiosity's so compelling. Might be just me... You might not... From your point of view..."
"Are you asking me if it was worth it—this debriefing? You want to know whether I'd rather have simply gone out when I hit the tree? You want to know whether I'm glad you pulled me out here for this little talk?"
"Are you? Glad?"
Phil thought about it, before replying, slightly surprised.
"Yes. I think, on the whole, I am ."