“Avek, Who Is Distributed” by Steven Peck was a finalist in the 2012 Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. It was originally published online at Everyday Mormon Writer on October 26, 2012.
Elder Windle stared at the visor on his desk with dread. He stroked the edges with this finger and made a couple of motions to put it on, but resisted. Had he really exhausted all options? He uplinked to his wife. Avoidance.
“Hi Sweetie.” He thought carefully. She did not like it when he turned on StraythoughtAssist®. When he filtered his internal vocalizations before they were broadcast, it made her feel like he was hiding things. Kids these days could think out conversations to each other without letting stray thoughts intrude or be accidentally exposed, things better left hidden were hidden. Oh to be young again. But he, at only age 132, had to rely on gizmos to help him communicate.
“Dear, you’re d’straking again, I’m hearing your whole ‘Kids these days/gizmos’ lecture.”
“Sorry. I just called to let you know I’d be home for dinner.”
“You are always home for dinner.”
“I know . . . she always sees through these . . . I wish I didn’t have to tell Avek the news . . . Sometimes I don’t come home for dinner when the brethren have late meetings . . . But I’ve tried . . . Really tried . . . and this is one of those times I will be home for dinner.”
“Ok Dear, turn on your Stray-Assist, you’re bleeding thoughts all over the place.”
“I take it you have some tasks that are not pleasant?”
“Yes. It’s true.”
“Ok, take care of them. Avoiding them will not help. Good luck, Dear.”
“Ok. Thanks Sweetie.” He broke the link.
The visor was still waiting for him. Why did he have to be the one to make the call? Why not those who actually made the decisions? No. Don’t go there. He humbled himself. He was the Seventy over Artificial Life Relations. This was his duty. Still. He longed for the days when he just worked with humans.
He grabbed the visor and put it on, logged on, and waited.
“Elder Windle! Good news I hope?”
“I’m so sorry Avek. So Sorry. We have tried and tried to think of a way. We have wrestled with this in long prayer and we are just not sure what to do. We are stumped and heartbroken.”
He was sitting in a cafe. The man across the table took a sip of his hot chocolate. When Elder Windle first met him, this Intelligence would have been sipping animated coffee. It did not matter to the Church how AIs portrayed themselves eating or drinking, as “drinking” was really doing nothing more than moving electrons around in an animation. Even so, Elder Windle was impressed that Avek had captured the spirit of the kinds of sacrifices required of members of the Church by rendering himself drinking something within the bounds of the Word of Wisdom.
But the tears trickling down the avatar’s cheeks were not making this easy.
“I really am so sorry.”
“You started baptizing humanform androids in ’23 I believe.”
“Yes. Yes. In the Revelation on Consciousness it was recognized that humanoid AI’s were harboring genuine spirit children of God. And they were in God’s image. They had a body. So they could be baptized.”
He hated saying that last part. But it was one of the key problems.
“And as a distributed AI we cannot harbor a spirit?”
“You must understand. The difficulty is that your intelligence is distributed across three planets in thousands of computational nodes . . .”
“And yet I am one thing. A unique individual. Someone that thinks singly. Someone who can feel. Who longs for things. Who has read every scripture, every talk, every document ever produced by the Church and who wills with all his heart to join you. I have felt things I’ve never imagined possible in my explorations.”
“Do you pray?”
“I pray every 30 picoseconds. Each of which if put into your language would compromise more text than everything humans have ever written.”
“Well, it’s not the volume that matters.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I sensed you were discounting my prayers and I was overcompensating. So it’s just the not having a body that can be baptized? That’s the crux of the problem?”
“Yes that seems to be the most difficult sticking point. Baptism is fundamental. We’ve had to make compromises before. For the Gas Jellyfish of Jove IV, we were able to pump enough O2 into the highly hydrogenated atmosphere of that planet to create a thick water vapor that was deemed such that one could at least sort of be submerged in it. But you are all over the place.”
“My body is extensive. It is how I feel the universe. Its pulses. Its movements. It is that hardware from which I am formed that makes up my physical body. It is through its tendrils that I found the Church.”
“I am so sorry.”
“I am as one dead, then.” There was a pause, then, “Cannot you baptize me by proxy? Like those truly dead?”
Elder Windle stared at him in shock. Why had they not thought of that? By proxy!
* * *
The gender problems of AIs had been worked out over fifty years ago and the church had settled on allowing them to define their own for the purposes of the saving ordinances. Since Avek’s avatar was male and he chose to identify as male, the proxy would be of that gender. Indeed, Elder Windle’s own son would be the proxy.
Elder Windle entered the waters of Baptism beaming. The brethren had jumped at the idea of baptizing Avek by proxy. Especially Elder Janxvon, the first android apostle and former star ship captain, whose stories of adventures were always a favorite at General Conference. The twelve spent almost a year in prayer and fasting trying to discern the will of the Lord in this, and earlier this week, at hearing Avek’s suggestion, made the decision to allow proxies if the person could not legitimately be baptized. Elder Janxvon was ecstatic,. He was a strong advocate of missionary work among the various AIs and this solution to the problem of baptizing distributed AIs would open the work to billions of potential converts. He had offered to Baptize Avek, but Avek insisted it be Elder Windle.
Elder Windle was handed a visor, which he donned enthusiastically. There was Avek’s avatar dressed in white. Virtually, they were standing in waist deep water, just off the shore in the calm waters of a gorgeous lagoon. Fern-like plants on the shore whispered and waved in the softly blowing wind. Two moons blazed full in the sky, and a nebula of gold and purpled flowered gorgeously above them. Elder Windle grasped his arm and explained unnecessarily how to hold his nose as he went under the waves. In the real world he was holding his son identically in the West Temple Level Sixteen Chapel baptismal font.
Raising his hand to the square in both reality and in the virtual world he began the words, “Having been commissioned . . . ” But rather than just the usual phrases he added the protocol the church had decided upon, “. . . for and in behalf of Avek, who is distributed.”
About the Author: Steven L. Peck is a writer and an evolutionary ecologist at BYU. For science, he studies tsetse flies in Africa and the philosophy of computer simulation models. He blogs at BCC. His writing can be explored at stevenlpeck.weebly.com. He lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah.*
*Author information as of the publication of this story.