One of the projects I’ve got on the burner is Singular Sensation, a collection of short stories about life after the advent of a Kurzwellian type technological singularity. One of the stories, “10ve”, follows a married couple and their struggle to honor the marital oath of ’til death do us part now that they live forever as simulated brains, neurons mapped as a series of ones and zeroes in a server cluster. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s an excerpt. Please keep in mind that it is still very much a work in progress.
I died early this morning. I’m not quite sure what to think, as it’s affecting me in much the same way the death of any other public figure affects me: a detached sort of longing and a brief pang of sadness that ebbed almost immediately.
I’ve thought about this day for years, always expecting to feel a deep sense of remorse, like something of untold value is now lost and gone forever. Several of the networks gave moving tributes, and I watched the kind words spoken by strangers in an attempt to stir some long forgotten feeling I’m sure remains hidden in the fringes of my mind. My emotion code is active but still nothing comes, not even a lump in my throat.
My corporeal form was 159 years old at the time of her death, a near record even in this modern age. Though brain digitization has existed for over 130 years, progress in medical science still marches on–a stopgap measure to assuage the bitterness felt by the vassals who can’t afford the Upload, and a peace offering to the luddites and their inherent distrust of all things technological. The skins that remain now live longer and longer, though some choose physical death after Upload, while others choose to remain until their days come to a natural end. In my past life, I made my name as a fitness guru, and the clean living and hard work gained my skin an extra decade or two beyond the average before she reached the same inevitable demise.
For nearly 120 years I’ve lived as an image, a small but ever growing group of people who choose immortality through technology. I was 42 years old when I initiated the Upload, my last memory of true flesh being the cold leather and poorly padded arms of the machine that would make me live forever, followed by a flash of white, blinding light and the appearance of the most idyllic view I’d ever seen, a house set into rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains far off in the distance. It reminded me of a scene from The Sound Of Music. This marked the beginning of my new life as a series of ones and zeroes, flesh and blood traded for exabytes of data in some far off holocube.
I get up and turn off the wall screen, interrupting the immaculate announcer mid-sentence during yet another eulogy for my recently deceased skin. Instead of grief and pain, each additional piece of news coverage makes me increasingly annoyed and uneasy, until I can’t stand it for another moment. In death, only my good deeds are remembered. The problem is that I still carry the memories of my ill acts. The death of my skin does nothing to atone for past mistakes.
A still silence settles over the room as I look past the window into the woods beyond the terrace. My husband and I live in a faithful replica of Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright home. I’ve loved the architecture of Wright since my youth, this home in particular. My husband completed The Upload seven years before me, and paid an absurd amount of credits to have Fallingwater recreated as a way of convincing me to join him. It worked, and I joined him without reservation, ready to turn our vows of ’til death do us part into an eternity of marital bliss.
Even as I examine the landscape I feel no joy granted from the scenery, no sense of connection with nature or an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder. The waterfall and trees–even the blinding sun in the sky–are, like me, nothing more than a complex combination of fired electrons in the ThinkTank, a climate controlled server room located along the equator. I close my eyes and try to imagine that the heat I feel from this digital sun emanates from Sol, whose angry rays must surely be beating down upon the solar panels dotting the equatorial line, unbroken like a belt around the planet Earth, but the warmth vanishes as soon as I close my eyes.
My eyelids flutter open, bringing me face to face with my own pale reflection, a ghost in the glass floor-to-ceiling window separating me from the virtual wilderness. Even after more than a century as an image, I’m still sometimes surprised to see the smooth face of my twenty-year-old self looking back in the mirror. I expect to see the early forties version of myself, as I was on the day I Uploaded, the beginnings of crow’s feet drawn against the corners of my eyes and laugh lines extending parenthetically beside my mouth. Instead I see a blemish free, perfectly symmetrical reproduction of my youth, long before the world left its mark upon my countenance. Immediately prior to the Upload, I helped design my image. Most went with a near-perfect version of their youthful bodies, removing all asymmetry and imperfection. I was no exception.
There were rules, of course, many of which had been lifted from reality. Most of the laws of physics still applied to those who lived in the Tank, for instance. Up was always up, down was always down, the speed of light remained c, and gravity was still 9.8m/s2. There were, however, some intrinsic differences to account for the immortal nature of the images. You could leap from the tallest building in the Tank were you so inclined, but upon landing you would find that all your bones remained intact, the ground unbroken, the greatest danger being the moment of panic you may cause among unsuspecting bystanders. One could stab or shoot oneself, but there would be no pain and the wound would heal immediately.
In earlier iterations of the Tank, upgrades were available for things like magic and flight, but this caused tension among the images. It turns out living forever isn’t enough, at least not when your neighbor is also immortal and can afford to purchase the ability to fly or shoot lightning. To reduce envy and discord, these options were discontinued, the current Tank rules were put in place, and the VirtualNet was created to give interested parties an outlet for their more fantastic bouts of fancy. In the VNet, the laws of physics were mere suggestions, malleable and even nonexistent depending on which server you used.
I know my husband, Trevin, is at work in his office on the top floor of the ThinkTank headquarters overlooking Puget Sound in downtown Seattle. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so instead of situating the recreation of Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, where it existed in reality, he had it built into a secluded hillside near the digital recreation of Redmond, WA. As my thoughts turn to him, I’m struck with a sense of loneliness and a desire to hear his voice. I message him. He answers after one ring, his face appearing on the wall screen in front of me.
“Hello, Trevin. Do you have a minute?”
“For you? Always.” His smile is identical to the day we met.
“I died this morning.”
“I heard. Are you all right? Do you need me to come home?”
“No, oddly I’m fine. I expected to be more . . . sad? I don’t know,” I say with a sigh.
“Don’t worry about it. I barely paused when my skin died. It’s not a big deal, it’s just a copy of you, not actually you,” he says dismissively.
“Aren’t we the copies?” I ask. “The original, actual me died today, and you don’t even care. I am just a reproduction.”
“No,” he replies, a hint of annoyance edging through his metered tone, “you are the perfected version. Even though she was the original, she was imperfect, flawed. You are the ideal specimen of everything that Cara Thacker had the potential to be.”
“Thanks. So sweet of you to say,” I say flatly. I can tell by his expression my sarcasm is lost on him.
“No problem, babe.” His smile beams. “I’ll see you tonight when I get home and we can talk about it more if you’d like. Have to run, time for a meeting.”
With that, he’s gone. I turn again to look at the rolling hills beyond my window. I’ve never felt this alone, helpless, and empty. Not even Trevin stirs in me the emotions I hoped to feel. For the first time in over a century, I feel nothing but despair and heartache, and know that there is only one solution, one way to find true peace and solitude.
I must find a way to erase an image.
I must find a way to die.