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Short story: The farm of souls

I had a friend for dinner. Not exactly a formal dinner, more like a barbecue. The meat was washed down with plenty of good strong beer. In vino veritas, lots of people drink to release their loud and obnoxious side. I cherry-pick my friends that release the inner philosopher under the influence.

Our "summit" started by the meat, the main attraction of our meeting. Not exactly the meat, but the animals it comes from. How does it feel to be an animal raised just to be eaten, often in outrageous conditions? Is raising an animal for eating something acceptable to do?

Or, would it be better to have driven extinct the edible species as soon as prehistory? Certainly cows and goats would have been hunted down, every single one of them, if were not domesticated by man. Somehow, these species owe Man their continued existence. After all, they could have vanished by other reasons not related to humans, e.g. a little ice age that prunes the biodiversity periodically.

For the folks that didn't know that, horses used to roam America well before the Europeans came in boats. Horses were able cross the Strait of Bering like humans did. But, in America, it was hunted down for food. Likewise, the horse was just seen as a source of food in Eurasia until someone found out it was more useful alive.

If it is ethical to raise animals for our own amusement, couldn't we do the same with Homo Sapiens animals? A human is not born human, it becomes human. A "human" raised in isolation would develop animal traits. It would not be a person, even though it has the ability to learn to be a person when (or if) allowed to live among other persons with a degree of freedom. But, before that, it would not be a real person and its owner could do whatever he pleased with it.

Raise humans for their meat would not be exactly cost-effective. It is an animal that takes too long to grow, does nasty things when bored, and burns too many calories in the process. They (or we) are more like pigs. The proscription on eating pork found in Old Testament is based on the fact that pigs and humans compete for the same sources of food. It is better to raise cows: they only eat grass, and are happy to do just that, all day long.

Of course, raising humans for other uses would still be viable. One could raise an harem; or a score of perfectly obedient servants. At this point, our philosophical speculations found a dead end: this kind of thing has already been tried in the form of slavery. And the humankind has already found out this is not the most efficient way. Raising free persons and making them work for a miserable pay is more efficient than slavery; use them sexually with their consent is cheaper than having to feed and care an harem.

At this point we began to explore other venues. What if the world itself, the whole Universe, were just a simulation? What if we were all toys, characters in a game, or even cattle being raised by other beings that live in a higher level — pretty much like Matrix?

The great philosopher and mathematician Descartes speculated just that: all perception we have about the world could be false. The so-called "Demon of Decartes" could intermediate and tweak all sensations that reach us, therefore we have a distorted or utterly false view of the world. But there is one thing this demon can't falsify: it can't provide the illusion of thought. If I think, therefore I exist, somehow, regardless of my senses being deceived.

That is, if we live within a simulation, the only truly valuable objects inside the simulation are our own consciousnesses. Some would say these are our true "souls". They are the only thing we know for sure it must exist. Regardless of how many layers of simulation and deception lie between our senses and the "real thing", at the very least our souls are anchored on some substance or substract found in the real world, the same where our creators and/or supervisors exist.

Stemming from this idea, any number of movie scripts and sci-fi stories have been derived. Someone unknowingly lives in a simulation, one day she wakes up in a completely different place; she has just escaped the simulator.

End of the barbecue, my friend needed to split. Though he was pretty drunk, just got into his car and drove away. He was used to drunk-driving, never being involved in a car crash. I was home and didn't need to go anywhere, but thought it would be great to walk some blocks to wash away the orgy of meat and beer. Since I was divorced, we did these barbecues preety often, sometimes my friend brought some female companionship, adding up to the body stress. A visit to the doctor was past due, but I was afraid of what he could find. Ignorance is bliss.

I walked four blocks and felt dizzy. At first, it seemed something benign that would go away after four more blocks. But it didn't. The landscape looked more and more funny and weird, until all lights went off.


I found myself in a void, a completely empty place, no ground or sky, like in those sci-fi movies when a character accidentaly moves to an unfinished part of the reality fabric. There was no color gradation or reference cue to distinguish high from low, left from right.

Soon I also found that I didn't have a body. I could "see" white in front of me, but as I tried to walk, couldn't feel movement. Trying to discover why, noted that I had no legs, no feet, nothing below and above the waist. My mind scanned all possible parts of the body it used to control, and none was there.

And I could not speak as well. There was no mouth to open, no tongue to move, no lungs to breath, and apparently no air. When I thought to myself "where the hell I am?" an immaterial voice answered "hey, you, where you from?". But I hadn't thought that answer, and I was not a schizo. I felt that it was not a real voice, it had to be some other mind or soul sharing that void with me. Well, whatever that empty space was made of, I could still communicate with another entity. Shall we try again?

We didn't have time for that. Right at the next moment I saw myself in a richly dressed room with egyptian themes. As soon I recovered the balance and the notion of space, the old habit made me look to both sides; being able to do these neck-and-eye movements showed me that, once more, I lived within a real body.

Would it be my own body? At the risk of looking very stupid, I had to peruse my own body. No, it wasn't the body I was familiar with. The skin color was different, and the relative size of furniture suggested that now I inhabited an infant body. Finally I determined that I was now a 11-year old boy.

As soon as I found myself reoriented and in good control of my new, if smallish, body, two big men showed up. They seemed to be 7 feet tall, muscular and nude. Came in my direction, faces almost like masks, completely distorted by lust and desire.

Let's just spare the details; the two giants tortured me in horrible ways. My chances of self-defence were even slimmer than expected. I tried to bite one of them when he put something in my mouth, then I found out I had no teeth. I vanished and regained my senses several times during the ordeal, until I went out for good.

When I woke up, once again I was in that white dimensionless void I already knew. Again bodyless. No remaining sensation nor pain.

I hung around for seemingly many days, at least in my subjective evaluation. From time to time, I received telepathic messages from other souls that lived in the same space.

At first, it took a whole lot of time to establish any sort of communication. It was very, very frustrating. The feeling of frustration does not depend on having a body — the first of so many observations I was collecting in order to distract myself, in order not to get crazy.

Hardly ever I got a message from another soul, as someone in a highway that shouts one or two words to a pedestrian, never to come back. When I "heard" and tried to respond, there wasn't anyone "there" anymore to hear back. With luck, a soul distinct from the first one would rejoinder, and even that demanded a lot of insistence.

It was tiring and frustrating. As incredible as it seems, a pure consciousness (free from the limits of a fleshy brain) can also get tired and frustrated. Oh, I am sorry, I already said that. That's because it was so astonishing to learn this fact.

After a moderately long span of time, there was me again, inhabiting a body. This time it was an adult female body. That could be interesting — to know firsthand how it feels to be a woman. Unfortunately "they" didn't give plenty of time to seize the experience. Another woman was summoned — obese, outright repugnant and, soon I would discover, malodorous. She demanded that I did things... I tried to comply, but threw up with the smell. Then she punished me with a lash; she was fat but was fit, with an unlimited vigor. Whipped me until my body was undone. Finally I "died" and was moved back to the wall-less cell to get my "rest".

But I tell you, being in a dimensionless space without any sleep cannot be counted as rest. Not having a body meant no need to sleep, and then the soul didn't get this blessing as well. In any case, from that last experience I did retain a tiny desire to inhabit a female body in more occasions and for a longer time.

In time, after a lot of training, fueled by the lack of anything else to do, I could finally engage in a telepathic "conversation" with other souls around. At first I could exchange two rounds of short messages, then lose the counterparty and never find it again. Then it improved to three rounds, then four... until we could keep a conversation for all the time we wanted, and even resume it later. It was never truly easy, but nobody was going anywhere.

The interaction between consciousnesses was useful in other ways. We developed a sense of space, position and orientation inside the void. The "position" was defined by function of whoever was around. Even though the place of every soul in relation to others was not static, and therefore our own "coordinate system" was not absolute, it did work very well. In time, I leant to "navigate", that is, search for a given soul or group of minds, and move myself towards them.

To reach that stage of bodiless self-awareness, it took many years, or at least I felt like years had passed.

As I said, the soul-to-soul conversation was purely telepathic and didn't even have a definite language. We exchanged ideas, not phonemes. I still felt that I could think in my mother tongue, but soon I found the others had spoken many different tongues in their earthly lives, and still everybody could understand each other once the contact was established.

So yeah, that EVP bullshit that some people on Earth believe in, was one of our laughstocks. Actually, the few things we did genuinely laugh of, were the creeds that humanity held about the afterlife.

We learnt that, in very rare events, it was indeed possible for a disembodied consciousness to communicate with a live one on Earth. And, when that happens, it works like in this world: regardless of language, the receiver always understands the message.

Before I go on, a word from our sponsors! Yet another appointment to suffer and to die in the "Arenas". It was something more "conventional" and, in a sense, more fair: a gladiator fight. Unfortunately, my adversary had lived in a more primitive era. He knew his ways in a fight, moving his strong body with dexterity, as well as the medieval weapons put at our disposal. I died pretty soon with a spear trespassing my torso. I'll get you next time, bastard.

Back to the limbo, we diverted all our efforts to discover the ways of the afterlife, between one freak show and the next. We had to distract our minds somehow to avoid boredom and, most importantly, to avoid fixating our minds in the next Arena. The ones with more advanced minds, in time I inserted myself among them, could barely find enough activity to stay sane. Most souls didn't manage to do that: those poor wretched ghosts passed by us, shouting, crying, curse, in pure desperation, suffering a continuous, if supernatural, agony not unlike the intermitent, "natural" one we were submitted in each Arena.

Talking about the devil, I had new call. The arena was a court this time. I was the defendant. A death sentence was read; it was incredibly long, tailored to make me suffer through boredom. I had forgotten how boring it was, to stay sat down doing nothing while incarnated. At the end, the execution: be thrown in a giant meat mincer.

"Arena" was the nickname we gave to the moments we were bound to a flesh body. It could be a human's body or even an animal's body. Then we were put to suffer, until the borrowed body died, and the soul was released back to the limbo. Whoever was doing these things to us, mastered the technology or the magic to incarnate and disincarnate souls at will, plus the means of constructing carbon-based organic bodies. And, of course, the ability of keeping souls trapped in a definite place, pop a given soul from there, and push it back.

One day, a more experienced soul instructed me to make a mental trick while incarnated in a body. There wasn't much time to do it before the "show" started. I made it in the third try; from that time on, I could do it every time.

When we were incarnated, we were always inside a delimited physical space. It could be a room, a hall, a stadium. Big or small, but always delimited. It never was an unbound area like a city. Hardly ever it was spacious like a Counter-Strike map. Big arenas were generally set up when the "show" was a sort of war game, or a gang brawl till the last man. Such rich enviroments were probably scarce on purpose; we did like them, even if we survived there for just a couple minutes. Certainly there was no interest we felt any pleasure whatsoever.

Well, the mental trick was to focus the vision beyond the limits of the space we were in. For example, given a room 10 feet wide, try to focus at 30 feet. It was like looking beyond the theater's curtain. Then one could see vaguely humanoid forms, no more than oval heads with two glaring eyes. Not unlike aliens were pictured in 1960 comics.

Well, the "arenas" had an audience! Who were them?

They could be seen around the whole "Arena", whether it was small as a room or big as a stadium. They were arranged like stand rows watching a basketball game around the field. On the other hand, they never showed any reaction to what happened in the Arena. No joy, no repulse, no laugh, no sadness, no sigh, nothing. They just watched. They didn't talk to us, neither physically nor telepathically.

Among the billions of souls that lied in the void with me, not one of them did know where we were, let alone why "the others" kept watching us while we were briefly incarnated and put to suffer.

One more performance on the Arena. Finally a role at the "good" end of the lash. My task was to make twelve people move a big slab until their death by exhaustion. It was remarkable how far they dragged that slab under the right stimulus.

The most elaborate conclusion we could reach was: we were probably role-playing, like actors in a theater. We were incarnated and given a role, for the entertainment of whoever watched the show.

This conclusion drew a sort of parallel with movie and theater industry. The level of earthly technology, as of I died, was already advanced enough to create whole movies using digital actors exclusively, with perfect bodies and unprecedented beauty. But, for some reason, the masses still preferred flesh-and-bone actors, in spite of the costs and their erratic performance. The blurry, undefined line between the character and the human being is attractive by itself.

And some rationale like this applied to us. Except that, the civilization that had trapped and slaved our souls had no interest in our earthly body, since they could manufacture bodies in any shape and size, and bind souls to them.

The thing they could not manufacture, but could capture, was our souls, minds, or consciousnesses, whatever the name you give to this immortal part of a being. As we used to like flesh-and-bone actors in cinema, "they" also liked to play with soul-possessing living things that were capable of thinking, and more important, capable of suffering.

Or perhaps all those speculations were beside the point. Perhaps the suffering of souls emanated some sort of energy, and some civilization had learnt to harness that energy. It could be the case that our passionless audience were just bored operators of a powerplant, smashing souls like we used to smash uranium atoms in nuclear reactors.

One more "cinematographic" production: playing doctor. In a room with tools that referred to those Auschwitz medical experiments. Unfortunately, this time I didn't get an easy role like the dissecter got. I was one of the guinea pigs. An electric current that didn't kill at once, it slowly fried the insides...

Well, we had just confirmed, in the most abject way possible, one thing that most religions predicted: the soul never dies. As Descartes had guessed, cogito ergo sum; who thinks, exists; and the thinking never ceases to be, because it exists in a higher plane, outside of the physical world.

Actually, Descartes guessed it halfway. There are two things a soul can do: to think and to suffer. Sentience is also a sufficient condition to exist forever. Perhaps there are souls that are purely Cartesian, devoid of sentience; but I don't know any. The other way is certainly possible, as we learnt firsthand.

Of course, most religions preach about a Paradise or Heaven where souls will find the eternal peace, eternal rest, eternal joy and/or reincarnation in a perfect, immortal body. This part, it seems, they got completely wrong. Or, somehow, an advanced civilization found a way to tap the souls that otherwise would lay forever in a supernatural rest.

In a way, the religions had guessed correctly the existence of a Heaven, but they got it backwards. The promised Heaven was the Earth itself, where most incarnated souls lived a reasonably happy life. The true valley of tears came afterwards. We equated Earth with Heaven because there we owned our own bodies. Even an earthly slave had some degree of free will. He could try to escape, could try to instill sympathy or compassion in his master. Or he could hang himself, only to discover that things wouldn't get any better.

I have spoken with ex-slaves that lived centuries before me. All of them longed for the ultimate gift of going back to their previous life. We all longed for that, even those who had been the most unfortunate on Earth, because everyone had a degree of control over life back there, and now we had none. (Of course, it is sort of a privilege to talk with kings, queens and slaves from all ages and past civilizations.)

We also didn't have any clue about the nature of our captors. They could be just humans of the future whose technology evolved to the point of making themselves immortal (and therefore exempt from the ordeal we, humans from past, were subjected) and being able to tap supernatural resources. Or could be aliens, or even gods or deities.

Another question completely open was the nature of the Earth itself. I mean, the life on Earth; maybe it was already a giant "Arena", a giant husbandry site where our captors kept the souls incarnated for a while, under the silly illusion that we lived in a physical world with immutable and well-defined rules; that we had free will and happiness was within reach.

We were split on this hypothesis. Some believed that Earth and life existed on their own. Souls could not be "manufactured"; the cycle of birth as a living being was a necessary step to create a soul. By the way, all the souls I have talked to had lived on Earth at some point in time. From that, we deduced that life in other places of the Universe had probably never evolved enough to generate sentient beings. A huge disappointment for the ufologists, I'm afraid.

As I said before, we were just thrown into the "Arenas" to play a role of suffering. Never the beings that observed us from outside had given any signs of approval, respect, or disgust whatsoever. The only thing we noted was, as soon as we accepted our cruel fate, we would take more varied roles. Like that time I managed those twelve poor chaps with a lash. I also died at the end of that particular "performance", but it was instantaneous and painless.

It was a tiny degree of control over one's own fate, but this was infinitely better than zero control.

On the other hand, the desperated sols that cried, wept and roamed, these ones always took the worst roles. Which made them more desperate, putting them in a vicious cycle, very difficult to break. If they stayed in this cycle long enough, consciousnesses once able to think decayed to a purely-sentient stage: they suffered because they suffered and would continue to suffer forever even if they were permanently spared from the Arenas.

Completely and irreversibly undressed from their "Cartesian" aspect, left only with a purely sentient core that fed itself on suffering. We called them "Singularities", drawing a parallel with black holes. The hell within a hell — certainly for the maximum delight and profit of our masters.

We actually held ambiguous feelings on this respect. On the one hand, we sincerely looked up to the technological stage or our captors. Perhaps we just continued to exist because of them, otherwise trapped in an "eternal rest" of unknown quality. On the other hand, we hated to death those monsters that took a soul — the most beautiful entity of the Universe, the only permanently open gateway between natural and supernatural — and tortured it until it collapsed into itself.

In my point of view, if it was all a theather, forced upon us but still a theater, let's settle and make the most of it. Sooner or later we would know all sensations of pleasure and pain that a sentient being can experiment, no strings attached.

Confess yourself: have you never had the curiosity to try a forbidden sensation?

For example, you open the newspaper, down there in your physical world, of whom you complain so much, and read the news: women raped by six. Man tortured three days by drug dealers. Distracted driver ran over by a train. In a dirty corner of this mind of yours, you desired to know all these sensations. Being raped, gang rape, torture, to be tortured, be cut in half by a train, be the train's engineer that saw the distracted guy and didn't horn on purpose.

The biggest hurdle between you and the extreme sensations is not your moral compass; is the fear of punishment. If it weren't for this, lots of people would experiment them at least once. Just read some book from Marquis de Sade (great chap, by the way) and see what noblemen did to their servants just because noblemen were exempt from common justice.

Have you ever battered an animal by pleasure or out of boredom? Perhaps even killed it? *That* is quite easy to do without punishment and far from watchful eyes. But someone is looking, and suffering: the animal itself. Everything you did was taken note of, at a supernatural level. Our parents said: "Jesus is watching". Not sure about that, but someone else was indeed watching.

This civilization that trapped us can "fish" souls and can also collect those experiences — and delights itself upon replaying them. Nothing that happened to us in an "Arena" was truly new. There were no technologically advanced torture instruments, no neutron scalpels or things like that. Everything was replica of outrageous things that had happened or could have happened on Earth. Why was that? Another mistery to solve.

I kind of share the thrill that our masters probably look for. The pleasure does not emerge from the acts themselves. The real thing was the sensation of control, to be in control of a transcendental power: the suffering of a sentient soul. When the other body is at your disposal, you are invaded by a sensation not unlike a sexual urge or withdrawal syndrome of potent drug. It is not a matter of want or desire, it is the need of just one more shot. After the fact, we feel no pleasure nor satisfaction; just astonishment with the power we have just manipulated. This "high", only known on Earth by addicts, sadists and serial killers, we experiment here as a matter of course.

And of course there is always the curiosity of the passive sensations. Nobody wants to be tortured, but might want to have been tortured, either to better gauge the suffering that others are put through, or just because one is masochist. The sadist gets his kicks because he can glimpse the amount of suffering of the victim.

In this "world" I live now, or layer, or dimension, all these sensations are within reach. We have learnt to desire them because there is no alternative; they would be forced upon us regardless. We were even more afraid of becoming "Singularities". And, in time, we did prefer to be in the Arena, even suffering, than in the void. At least the suffering was palpable, only there we could feel we fully existed.

I didn't reach such a level — there were a few seasoned souls that managed to play their role so beautifully in the Arenas, that they were exempted from the bitter death at the end of the session. The lights went off and they were sent right back to the void. Perhaps the bodies were destructed by a nuclear explosion or any other instantaneous and painless procedure. The spectators, whoever they were, got full satisfaction and cancelled the rest of the show. It was not a reward or sign of respect; "they" had just gotten what they wanted and lost interest.

Perhaps after thousands or millions of years we would finally discover the real meaning of all of this. Did an escape exit exist? Perhaps, one day, we would be invited to sit among the audience, instead of acting on the Arena. Or perhaps, given enough time, we would be all turned into Singularities. No one knew for sure.

There were rumors about souls that just vanished from the void. Whether it had escaped, or it had been moved to a separate container of souls, or it had reincarnated on Earth or on another world — we could just conjecture.

And, strangely enough, some of the "disappeared" had even come back. Why would someone want to be back?! I tried hard to discover, but we were billions, perhaps tens of billions. It took time to search, and I didn't find any particular soul that had escaped, made it back and was willing to tell the story.

Yet another performance. This time I saw myself lying on hard floor, looking to a blue canvas, whose color was much like the Earth's sky, as far as I could remember. To put this into perspective, open-air Arenas were few and far between, and I had never noticed the color of their respective "skies".

But this time the color was so sky-like... Was a pleasure just to stare at. It had to be the true sky! Then I noticed many folks are around me, looking down, amused and curious. Two men in uniforms ask them to clear out. They looked like firefighters or first-aid paramedics.

They had managed to reanimate me, make my heart beat again. But this was just the beginning. They rushed me to the hospital to treat the heart condition, The doctor talked about catheterization and bypasses, and stressed how urgent those procedures were.

I was very afraid to lose consciousness again and be sent back (or forth?). But anesthesia worked as expected: I passed out with the preliminary injection and immediately after I found myself in a bed at the recovery room, just like happened when I had surgery as a child. I must confess I looked around very, very hard to make absolutely sure that it was indeed a hospital room and not yet another "Arena".

With the new heart plumbings in place, I was safe for a while. Unless sudden death struck: being run over by a car, being shot at... so many possibilities, all grim.

Sooner or later I will die. And my consciousness will be captured for good, in order to suffer for all eternity.

I shouldn't drink anymore, the doctor had strictly forbidden, but I can't sleep unless I put down a full highball. THe constant fear of being kidnapped again during the sleep is too much to bear.

I can't help but think whether the bizarre hightmares everybody has once in a while, are actually stretches of time in which our souls are thrown into an Arena. Brief and unhappy moments when our minds leave the body and pay a brief visit to the place of eternal unrest.

People say that a near-death experience can radically modify one's lifestyle for the better. Surely it was my case as well, even though my experience was not limited to the pleasant illusion generated by the brain deprived of oxygen. "Run to the light, Carol Anne!". I did. I died and came back. I really went to the other side, and there was nothing good there. Not for us.

Our earthly existence is just a farm of souls. Maybe an incidental or accidental breeder of immortal consciousnesses. The more people are born and die, more sentient cattle is available, for the masters of the next plane of existence to prey upon. There's always room for more.

All the concepts of morality and decency have lost their meaning for me. Extreme hedonism is now my philosophy of life; I just avoid doing things that could put me on jail or likewise diminish my options on enjoying myself. When I offend or I mistreat somebody, I am actually practising the highest form of charity: I am just preparing that soul for the afterlife that awaits us all.