Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Eternity, Inc

Yesterday, I was running errands, listening to NPR when I heard them make an announcement for a sci-fi flash-fiction contest. I thought up this story and wrote it up when I got home. It's over the 600 word limit, but I like it better this way.

Eternity Inc


“It’s not like I want to live forever, you know,” I said to the man connecting electrodes to my shaven skull, “it’s just that I wasn’t ready to sleep the final sleep quite yet. After all, death is quite a big commitment.”

The man nodded as he worked, preparing me for what could quite possibly be life after death. I wasn’t convinced that downloading my consciousness to a computer was going to work, but it least it took the edge off the whole inevitability of death thing. There was still hope. That is why I volunteered for the project, and when I say volunteer, I mean to say I paid a considerable percentage of my family’s inheritance to Eternity Incorporated in order to be their guinea pig. Everybody I spoke to seemed to believe the project was legitimate, the idea for continuing my existence until some other arrangement could be found a viable one. At least, as far as something as radical as this could be. In fact, the backers of the project seemed to be even more invested than I was, if such a thing was possible. Apparently, there was a good deal of money riding on my success. I was to be a pioneer (though, I learned later, not the first).

As my death approached, the attention increased, until as I breathed my last, there was a crowd of workers and observers that surrounded my bed. The last thing I remembered was the sound of a saw and a dim awareness of what they were going to do with it. Technically, I suppose, they prematurely put an end to my life, but you really couldn’t call it murder since I’m still around to testify to the contrary. You see, they managed to maintain my consciousness, enabled me to beat death in a way no one else has before. My awareness was dropped into an awaiting CPU the way a guppy is dropped into a new fishbowl and, plop, I was soon swimming in an unfamiliar habitat, with people tapping on the glass and staring inside. Not only was I alive, for the first time in my life I had no fear of dying. The entire resources of Eternity Inc. were vested in my continued existence. I was their cyber astronaut, the first ever to explore cyberspace. But while that may sound important to you, in fact I felt little different than that guppy bouncing its head into walls of glass.

But to Eternity Inc., I was a celebrity, like the first man with a Jarvik heart. While I couldn’t see them, I imagined a crowd of executives, technicians and investors gathered around a monitor high-fiving each other and opening champagne. They were able to communicate with me, just not in a way I really recognized as human contact. But all of us took joy in the fact that I was alive.

Of course, this was only step one in the process. I was now in a sort of holding pattern. To retain my consciousness was one thing, but to give it some kind of physical life afterwards was another. We had discussed it earlier, the potential for a body donor, the hushed conversation of a clone body, a robotic body superior to any human one. You see, we potentially had forever to come up with a solution. My consciousness was stored in one of the most complex computer systems ever designed, backed up by generators and storage that guaranteed that no catastrophe would interrupt my existence. I was protected in a way normal human life never could be.

They treated me like royalty, if such a thing can be said regarding an incorporeal being. They were very careful to visit me often, keep me amused. You see, as a consciousness living in a computer, they were unable to shut me off. Perhaps they could have, I believed they could, but they were afraid of losing their investment. And so I was left on twenty four hours a day, adrift with only my thoughts and whatever companionship they provided. They tried to keep my mind—which is to say me—as busy as possible, so that I might not think too much on the fact of what I was or what my fate might be. And in this way, I found my constant awareness endurable.

But one day, they did not come. I was left alone drifting lost for a long enough time to worry, enough time to be terrified, enough time to realize they were never coming back. Perhaps it was war, perhaps it was a plague, I could only guess. For all eternity, I can only guess.

Once I feared the finality of death. But I never wanted to live forever.




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