The chair I'm sitting on is cold but I'm sweating. Much more than I should, If I'm being honest. I can see and feel the sweat patches growing underneath my shirt but I ignore it. My attention is primarily directed to the panel of questioners sitting on a raised platform, all looking down on me. Raised heads, flared nostrils and contempt in their eyes. One would think I personally offended them. I dab my forehead to dry the sweat forming on it. My hands are shaking. I guess it is warranted. No one ever delivers devastating news without shaking.
The world government have chosen five questioners to interview me and see if I am jail-worthy. I hope not. I recognize the familiar faces of Questioner Judy, Sir Mark Bradford and Questioner Mara. I have watched them on the holodeck a few times during my breaks at the office when I was still there. There is someone who looks like Questioner Leyton but I can't be too sure. I don't recognize the last questioner, though they looked remarkably young to be sitting there.
Behind me, there are rows and rows of journalists and reporters, with their cameras trained on me. I can't help but think about their headlines tomorrow. Some of them will most likely mock me, with my profuse sweating and my damp clothes. Regardless, that is inconsequential. I glance at the glass of water in front of me, resting on the table along with some of the files I have been working on. I inhale and then exhale heavily.
"For the record, I am going to confirm that you have consented to be recorded for the entirety of this questioning as well as retention of said recording for a minimum duration of five years. Is that correct?" one of the aides of the Questioners say to me, standing just underneath the platform of her bosses. There's a chair behind her, as well as a table with a computer on it.
"Please say it out loud, Mr Devram," the woman repeats.
"It is right. I agree to the conditions," I reply. There’s a mistake in my title but it is not important at the moment. It does irk me, however.
"Thank you. Recording has now begun and I shall leave it to the Questioners to take it from here," she says before taking her seat.
"Mr Devram. You have been called in today to answer to the incident that occurred in the Saint Matthew Institute, three months ago, for which you have been charged with inciting genocide. This is a grave offense for which you will be sentenced if we decide you are dangerous to society. The record I have here says you released a missive or thesis, as you may believe it is called regarding the extermination of everyone born post 2155. You were subsequently fired from your job as a Bio-Etherialist. Am I right so far?" one of the questioners, Sir Mark Bradford, asked, sitting slightly to the right in front me.
"It is true," I reply.
"After that, as the news cycle began to record some deaths, you began to preach your thesis more and more to any available ear, claiming that it is proof for the deaths?" the questioner continues.
"Can you explain why?"
"To explain, I will have to go into my field as a Bio-Etherialist. Is… Is that okay?" I stammer a question towards the questioners and they all nod.
I clear my throat and calm my nerves before continuing.
"Bio-Etherialism is the field of study that got born out of the spiritual boom of 2099, where some scientists found quantifiable evidence of the soul, or soul property that exists within all humans. While it is still not a popularly held position, all living beings possess some sort of soul identity which is given to it at the moment of the being's awareness."
"Awareness meaning birth," another questioner says. She was directly in front of me.
"Negative. Awareness meaning awareness, Questioner Judy. A fetus gets aware a dozen or so weeks into pregnancy and while it might not have opened its eyes yet or cried yet, it has some form of awareness. We go by the stimuli rule. If it can respond, it is aware."
"Understood. Continue," she says with a nod.
"Among my field of studies and within my group, we held the majority belief that beings without a soul property are not alive, and we had some evidence to corroborate this," I continue my explanation before seeing one of the male questioners raise their hand. I believe that is Questioner Leyton but I am unsure.
"What kind of evidence did you have?" the questioner asks.
"Stillbirths, mostly. Miscarriages. The research a colleague of mine did made claims to the latter being a result of a soul rich body denying the soulless body from developing any further and thus, forcing a termination of the pregnancy."
"And what is the name of your colleague?" the questioner asks again.
I extend my hand towards the glass of water on the table in front of me and I take a small sip to wet my throat. The woman sitting in front of me seems to be taking notes. There is a sense of calm I'm feeling, but I'm unsure if it's because I am finally explaining my thesis or if I have just given up in the face of everything.
"My thesis is based on a research I began with another colleague of mine, Anna Dryar. We sought to see if there was any case of people being born without a soul property, if it was possible and what it could mean. We, of course, strove to ensure all ethical practices were held in the process. We couldn't test with pregnant women as there would be no way to have a controlled test. So we instead built fetuses in the lab and then utilized an incubator for the final processes. At awareness level, for the twenty case we began, nothing happened. Whatever stimuli they had been exhibiting before then ceased."
"Meaning?" Questioner Catherine asks.
"They all died," I respond.
There’s a silence that fills the room in that moment. Death usually does such, especially if the subjects are young. Anna was disheartened by it, while I lamented all the time lost. She said I was far too practical for my own good. I didn’t disagree. I did feel some sadness for them after that statement though. I lick my lips and continue.
"We were beginning to feel pretty discouraged by this point because, as you can tell, 20 fetuses is more or less 20 years of study with no payoff. I had opted to call it on the research but Anna Dryar decided to take a different angle. Without my knowledge, she began a research into the fundamentals of Bio-Etherialism and proposed a theory that I increasingly believe is now true. She sought to understand what happened to a person's soul property at the point of their death. And that led to her theorizing that at the time of any person's death, the property is released back into an ethereal plane of sorts. And at the awareness level of the birth cycle, a soul property gets pulled from the ethereal plane," I say.
"In other words, if I'm following this correctly, when a person dies, they release the soul that has been in them and that same soul gets put into a new body," Questioner Judy asks.
"How does all this relate to your thesis? You've spent a fair few moments giving us a lesson we could have skipped," Questioner Judy says, waving her hand dismissively.
"Apologies, ma'am. It is so that I can explain the next bit. My... No. Our thesis, because Anna helped me with it, suggested something dire instead. The economic and social records, as well as the health system of our world has only gotten better and more efficient over the years, but as a result, we are quite frankly overpopulating our world. We have more people being born than they are dying."
"Still waiting for the punchline, Mr Devram. I have gym in an hour," Questioner Mara says, a smug smile on her lips.
The crowd of journalists and some of her colleagues chuckle at the joke and I laugh nervously.
The punchline is coming, you pompous dimwit.
"We were worried that, with our planet being overrun by too much of us, that we will suffer an abundance of stillbirth once the ethereal plane is emptied. We were naive, albeit by our limited knowledge."
"So your thesis was wrong?" She asks.
"It suffered from lack of new information."
"Levels to the ethereal plane," I pause as I drink again, readying myself for what I am about to suggest,"Our belief in the soul property, made us understand that there had to be an ethereal plane where the soul would be until needed. We believed it would just be one location. One pot. We failed to take in the research of our religious counterparts who theorised that the plane was not singular. That there were more than just one levels to the plane."
"What does this all mean, Mr Devram?" Questioner Judy asks impatiently.
"If we say that the ethereal plane holds all human souls, and that plane is emptied. What would happen next, is the natural law of things. The body, in awareness, will strive to pull from the empty plane until it gives up. In 2154, we had a record number of stillbirths and for a while, we believed it was a plague or a virus running through the world, but by 2155, babies are being born in record numbers. It is my believe, as well as that of my thesis, that we have broken into a new ethereal plane that we should not have access to."
The hall goes silent for a few minutes as everyone tries to take in what I have said. I can see them working it in their minds. If they are smart, they should be able to see what I'm trying to insinuate here.
"And what plane will this be?" Sir Bradford asks quietly.
"If I'm to theorize, I would say," I say with a swallow. I slowly dab my forehead with my handkerchief and reply, "Hell."