Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
A second life
A second life.
They took what was left of her body and reconstructed her digitally. A full simulation that simulated the chemical reactions of every cell and synapse in her body down to a molecular level. In theory, a perfect recreation. But the technology had flaws. And if anyone knew that, it was her.
She was a sci-fi writer, and in one of her novels (a critical success that failed to pay the bills) she had detailed a digital afterlife. She had done her research, and as a result there were certain excerpts from the book that turned heads in several offices and penthouses. In her will she had jokingly left an instruction to upload her to an Emulator, but the technology was catching up now and an interviewer would point out that soon she could actually get uploaded just like in her book. Wouldn’t that be something? This was all by design, of course. She, like many of her peers, was afraid to die. And when she shook hands with business partners and investors her first joke would always be about her will. She would encourage her rich friends to invest in the right tech companies. This was her contingency plan.
And one day her plan paid off. While the paramedics scraped her off the asphalt, her friends made phone calls. Then they wheeled her hospital bed to the only company that had the technology, signed the contracts, and then they never saw her again. Trade secrets, they would say, before hanging up. The blinds were always closed.
When she opened her eyes she saw darkness. Her eyes, having looked up at the California sun only moments before, took time to adjust. They were intact, but she had nothing to look at but herself. That’s how she knew. She always had the worst timing.
“...by the way, could you tell more about this machine I’m in?”
“The emulator,” the voice boomed. A forgettable voice, one of the researchers. The pitch wavered ever so slightly. Most likely a recording that was played back at simulation speed, failing to match the constantly changing framerate of the simulation. Something about the acoustics in the voice felt artificial, unlike her breath and the ruffles of her clothes. The fictional company in her book had transmitted system sounds like this by manipulating the eardrums directly. Did they lift that too?
“Yes… please tell me more about the emulator” she sighed.
“The emulator simulates the entire human body down to the molecular level, creating a 99% accurate simulation of the human body, gut flora, and brain activity. This is the most accurate simulation model on the market, but due to the processing costs of such a large-scale simulation each step takes… several cycles to complete.”
“How many cycles?”
Whatever. She already knew. She knew everything they’d told her. She had practically invented it. Their description of the emulator sounded like a press release, and it irked her. She didn’t want her life to be in the hands of another wannabe start-up stuck cutting corners to impress investors with half-baked technology. She was supposed to be a pilot project, not a prototype! But then, she didn’t have much of a choice. The important thing was that she was alive. Again.
“I’m happy to be alive and all, but I’m in a completely empty room. And I do mean empty. It’s a void. Any chance you’ll set up some, uh, enrichment items for me?”
“We’re working on it. But simulating the body takes enough processing power as is. We’ll let you know.”
“All right, sure.” She ground her teeth. Enrichment items. God, what was she, a fucking hamster?
That reminded her.
“I get food, right? By the way?”
No response. Yeah, she’d get food. Probably. Eventually. Just had to get hungry first.
So she paced around in the void again. No footsteps because there was nothing for her feet to step onto. Only hard air. She could smell her own sweat, and her thighs were chafing. Judging by her current state; sweaty, slight acid reflux, two bad emails away from a panic attack, she would estimate her image to be constructed from about 40 minutes before death, around the time she left the office to go home. Makes sense. You don’t win any awards for simulating a bucket of meat. If only they’d gone another 40 minutes back so she wouldn’t be itching for a smoke right now. But oh well. There are worse times to be. Worse hers. She’d had cramps just the day before, for instance.
But she shouldn’t worry. It was in their best interest that she was happy and stable. And therefore, it was in her interest too. She didn’t want them to consider this project a failure and pull the plug early. So she had to not worry. Not even think about not worrying, because her thoughts didn’t just belong to her now. She had to calm down.
She recalled the meditation techniques she’d learned at one of the workshops. The only reason she had gone to the workshop was to chase down a potential business partner, casually bump into her on her way out, grab a coffee, get her to sign a contract. She had paid just enough attention to remember the basics. She needed them now.
Breathing exercise, a single half-hearted yoga stretch, embarrassment, more pacing.
Suddenly, another voice. Nasal, hurried. A monotone.
“Could you lift your right arm? Quick synchronization test.”
“What? Sure. Is this goo-”
Pacing pacing. Biting her nails. Taste: as to be expected, if a little clean. Stretch. Try not to think about her death. Pace back to the hairband she’d left to signal the spawn location. New voice, feminine.
“We noticed you’re hungry, so we, uh, got you some food.”
“Great! Where, though?”
“It’s already being digested, actually.”
She patted her stomach. She hadn’t really noticed, but she wasn’t hungry anymore. Great.
Pacing, standing still, digging through her clothes, lying down on the floor. The nasal voice was back. But it was no longer a monotone.
“Hey! It's… it’s John.”
“You don’t know me, sorry. I’m one of the researchers, I was assigned to monitoring your vitals. I just… I just wanted to tell you how much you mean to me. I’m retiring, and keeping you alive has been… all this time I’ve been...“ he stammered while she just laid there.
“This job is the best thing that has happened to me. I just had to tell you. I had to say goodbye. And, well, goodbye. Thank you.”
When she was 15 she had gone in for stomach surgery. A birth complication that they hadn’t caught until it nearly killed her, something wrong with her intestines. She did not remember what it was exactly. What she did remember was waking up early, the anaesthetics failing. Two masked surgeons looming over her, the light illuminating them just enough for her to see shadows of smiles behind their masks. One scalpel had perforated a piece of misshaped intestine. He was waving it back and forth, and then flicked one end with his finger. He cracked a joke, and they both laughed. They were laughing at it. She stared in horror at the guts splayed out of her stomach, and she tried to scream. Her mouth opened, but there was no sound. They looked over at her. The man with the scalpel frowned and rolled his eyes at her as he lobbed the wet chunk into the trash without even looking.
She had told the story at interviews a dozen times, and every time she looked into the cameras she would angle it a little differently. The body horror. The unprofessionalism. The humour. But what she had relived every time was the desperation. Not being able to move. Being heard, but not being listened to. Being trapped. She was a rat and this was her box and above her were scientists in lab coats scribbling notes into their clipboards while she sniffed around her cell. There was no maze, no levers to pull. She was an experiment. All this time they had monitored her every thought, every bodily impulse, every anxiety. But when John had spoken to her, there was no sympathy in his voice. Only attachment. Like falling in love with a patient journal. Infatuated enough to break protocol and dump his inner thoughts on her. But not enough to help her in any way.
She had to keep walking, keep herself distracted. Maybe they would upgrade the servers and grant her a more liveable space soon. Maybe the void fog would lift. She walks in silence for a couple minutes, waiting for something to happen. She attunes her mind to the rhythm of her footsteps, footsteps she can’t hear, only feel. As she does, funding runs out and the research complex surrounding her virtual body begins to bleed out. There are lay-offs. An administrator throws a pitcher of water at the wall in the middle of a meeting, frustrated that the investors want to pull the plug. They can’t just take a life. But the emulator has not seen any breakthroughs in years, it has long since been considered an outdated form of brain uploading. Researchers move on to better jobs and the power is cut. Her second life ends as abruptly as it began. She was still walking.