The new Schrodinger's cat. A cat signed up to an automated feeding system on a remote network connection that goes down. Who knows whether the cat is alive or not? Who is responsible?
What should or should not be automated? A gallery show at Science Gallery Dublin.
It was getting near my time to go. I'd saved up 5 million dollars. Enough to pay for my afterlife from the interest for a long time into the futre.
I was given options. I chose the retirement on my own island away from everyone. Long sunsets, perfect temperatures. Lots and lots of books. Dophin watching. The ability to fish and boat and yacht anytime I wanted. The plan cost 50,000 a year. Lots of servers, lots of electricity. Most of it went to the insurance. The insurnace that made sure I didn't get disconnected, or my memory corrupted. The insurance that had me interviewed by a psychologist in case I ever wanted to unplug. There were higher support plans. 100k a year would get you better support and the ability to add on more featurs over time. I didn't want a bunch of features. I just wanted a simple life on the ocean with my boat and my hut and my books.
I signed up for the payment sat in the waiting room for my number to be called.
"What'd you choose?"
I looked up to see a man sitting next to me.
"The afterlife package. What'd you choose?"
"Oh. I chose the beach option."
"Bor-ING" I chose the wild west theme. Lots of shoot-outs, and lots of lucky starlets! I think you're missing out, dude."
I bristled, but I wasn't going to let hiim see that. "To each his own."
The man got called up before me. He hopped to action, then wilted a little on his cane. He shot me a look and a wink as he entered the retirement hall.
I thumbed through magazines that talked about soft war and global trade, deals on in-vitiro meat and bugs. There were little brochures on how to tell your family that you were going, and how to deal with them in case they wanted to contact you all the time. I didn't have that problem. I didn't want to be contacted, and my family didn't want to contact me. They were all too busy.
I was happy that I wouldn't have to deal with the news anymore. I'd be uploaded and safe off in some server warehouse somewhere, and my brain would hallucinate the ocean for eternity - or as long as my account gained interst. I gave a little to my daughter, a bit to my son, and I made up my will. It was easy to give everything away when I knew I could have anything I wanted in a simulation. No more back pains, legs pains or eye sores. Perfect vision, bustling muscles, excellent health. I could do anything. Why stay living in a decaying body when I could have so much more?
My number was up. I walked to the counter to find a single nurse waiting for me. He led me down a bright hallway and into the procedure room.
"First we'll numb you, then we'll inject your spinal cord with fluid. Then we'll place you intoa state of suspended animation while we extrat your memories and transfer them over to our servers. This can take several hours, during which you'll simply feel like you're aslep. When you wake up, you should be 100% transferred over. We'll communicate with you and do many checks inside the system before we turn your body off. "
he checked his tablet.
"I see you didn't decide to donate your organs?"
"Is this going to affect my brain transfer?"
Oh no. It's just. I'm sorry, sir. I'm just surprised. Usully everyone donates their organs during this procedure.
"I want my body to be cremated. I don't want a trace of it to be left."
"Sir, i'm sorry. I don't want to seem like I'm judging your choice, but once your memories are extracted, your body isn't really you anymore."
"it is too. I've lived in it, and it's mine. I'll do what i want with it. There are plenty of vat grown organs that are better and cheaper than mine. It's my choice, and it's not going to hurt anyone."
"Got it. Okay."
It was my family's stipulatin not to donate my organs. They didn't like my afterlife ideas and they wanted me to remove them. They wanted me to stop woring on them. Telling them I wouldn't donate my organs was the one negotation strategy I had.
I was put out.
I came to again.
i waited until all systems were checked. Everything was okay.
I checked out my hut. I surfed. I sailed. I swam. I enjoyed the perfect temperature. I passed the years reading all ofhte books I wanted to.
One night I was finishing up a slog of Ware and Peace when I heard the sound.
The sound was outside my hut. I hadn't heard it before.
I looked outside and couldn't see anything. I put on my loafers and stepped onto the Lanai, looking around. The sound grew stronger.
I looked up. It was coming from above.
I went inside the grab the remote for the climate change contorls and turned the sun up. The sun rose quickly and suddenly. Startled birds flew across the sky. The island woke and I massaged my eyes.
It ws the palm tree. It was the palm tree above my hut. It was glitching. Tearing into itself. Blocking shapes into itself. And each time it did it there was a chemical-sounding screech.
I covered my ears. The sound continued.
I went inside to find my tech support book. I had to report this right away. I dialed the number.
"Afterlife services, INc. We're happy you called us. We're busy supporting others right now. If you'd like, we can call you back when we're ready".
I set the service to call me back.
I went back to the palm tree. It was still glitching. I took my boat out for a bit and didn't return until I forgot about the tree.
I came back hours later with fish and net covered with seaweed.
The tree was still glitching. I needed to get to my stove to cook the fish. I couldn't hadnle the noise. I went to another part of the island out of range of the tree and lit a fire and put my fish on sticks. I didn't need to cook, didn't need to eat, but when I ddid, the system conjured memories of tastes I'd had of my best meals.
I went back to the hut for the night, but I coduln't sleep. I shoved palm grass in my ears to blot the sound out, but it didn't work. I could "feel" the sound, not just hear it. It was ripping at the fabric of my experience.
I gathered up my items and left for the same remote part of the island. I put some soft layers down and went to sleep for the night.
The next morning I calle dsupport again.
"Afterlife services, INc. We're happy you called us. We're busy supporting others right now. If you'd like, we can call you back when we're ready".
I pressed zero so many times that hte system finally broke down.
"Yes, I'd just like to ask what my wait time is".
"It is approximately three-hundred-fifty days".
"Three hundred fify days bdefore I can talk to a spokesperson? to fix my issue? Before I can file a BUG? Fuck."
I got up and threw a tree branch at it. The tree branch stuck into the glitch and made it larger.
That wasn;tthe right idea. What if it spread? Oh no. Oh shit.
I sat down on the beach next to the tree. I'd have to live with this thing for a year before I could be fixed.
I dealt with it. I moved my home to the other side of the island, piece by peice. I moved my boat over there too.
I got a call back 350 days later. I'd almost forgotten.
"Yes, I'm here. What is your issue? We can file a report on tour behalf."
"yes, I have a glitching palm tree. I moved myself to another part of myisland to avoice it, bt I need it to be fixed. I think it's spreading".
"I understand sir. We'll file a bug report right away"
And may I ask how long it will take to fix?
"TYes, of course! he responsse time for bugs is approximately three hundred years. We are runninbg on minimal support capabilities. There are approximately 3 million people ahead ofyou in the queue."
Jsut then, I heard the sound again. A tree above me started to glitch, too.
Original story prompt: THere I could The guy who signs up for universal endless life support. The digital afterlife. the cranky glitched palm tree on his island and the 300 year support ticket wait time.
The two professors: one angry and left in a corner with an external brain. one very nice who gets all of the upgrades as students like working with him.
One of the memorial chat bots that works on behalf of the person well into the afterlife. journalist asks a question in the database during an interview and the bot responds from the user database. ask a question the bot doesn't have in its repository and it texts the person, the person responds back in real time and then the response and keywords are added to the database. Memorial chat bot lives on
It's been a month since I first crash-landed on this dusty planet. I brought only essentials - a small thermally insulated hut, a propane heater, folded protein bars, and something to keep my face clean.
The locals are varied: some highly decorated, "elders" of the tribe and other dully colored unremarkable non-participants who gawk wildly at those adorned.
I write on paper with dusty edges, supplies I get endlessly here from various tents.
I am weak with thirst. I am offered liquid beverages on every street corner, but they are not water. They are something else. Something that makes me walk bleary-eyed and with a wobble. I suspect they may be slightly poisonous, but it is better than nothing.
Someone provides me what what they call a bicycle, so that I might have faster ground transport. It is nothing compared to my shuttle vessel, and it is difficult to raise my extra pair of legs to keep them out of the rotating spokes, but I manage. I get used to it, and I used what I learned in academy to quickly adapt to the society.
Within a couple of days I feel like I understand a bit more. It is an optimistic utopian society rich with smiles and happy citizens. Laws are adjustable here, but I notice some hard and fast rules. Water and ice trucks move in and out, and everyone makes room for them. There are also fenced barriers, which leads me to conclude that this might be an asylum for the insane.
One night, things start to catch fire. I am worried. Why are people lighting structures on fire? I realize this might be a tribal ritual to mark the transition of one season to the next. I look around - this seems like no seasonal transition I've ever seen. I notice no upcoming change in the weather. I watch the citizens of this city dance around the burning structures with hoots and hollers. This starts to happen every night.
A particularly large structure of a man is burned one night, and then I notice many ground ships springing to life afterwards. Where are they all going? I guess it is the signal for their freedom. I watch them go with longing, but I can't leave yet. I am still gathering materials supplies to fix my ship.
The next night a very large structure burns. This celebration is different. It is a tomb filled with pictures of the citizens. It seems like their dead. They are mourning and celebrating, eyes filled with tears. I think of my family back home and how soon I wish to be back with them. How soon I wish to fix my ship.
After this temple comes a larger exodus beyond the barrier. Now everyone squishes camps and tents into the ground ships. They all begin to disappear. I am quickly getting left behind. I huddle inside my spaceship for the night, worried for tomorrow.
Early in the morning I get a knock on my door. An alien voice calls out to me through my ship's hull. I switch on my hearing device.
"Hey Dude," it shouts, "you still in there? You need some help getting your vehicle away from here?"
I stretch my pairs of legs and open the hatch to peer at the citizen.
"Greetings, human", I say. "I have to stay here until my spaceship is fixed. It crash landed here and needs repairs."
"Oh dude, why didn't you tell me?" came the response, "Broken art cars suck! I can't believe your camp left you here alone to try to fix it. Do you need a ride?"
I try to click on my invisibility shield to spare the embarrassment of having to explain my situation. Of course it doesn't work. I sigh.
"Ah yes. I don't have a camp, or teammates. This is my responsibility. I messed up upon coming to earth's atmosphere. So yes, I need a ride. If you could take me somewhere with tools and space I can fix this car."
"Woah, dude! You want new teammates for your art car? Because that would be awesome. We've got a warehouse in Oakland we can host you at. We can do a fundraiser to make this car even better for the next Burn! You in?"
I considered the request. The words and places were unfamiliar, but the alien citizen seemed genuine enough. I nodded in reply.
"Okay man, I 'll be right back with my crew and we'll hook you up!"
An hour later we were on a paved alien road to get to a storage location for my spacecraft. I was relieved to find a large space at the destination filed with plenty of tools.
The citizens made plans to "start a fundraiser" and they fed me. At times they tried to question my legs, sometimes mentioning my "crazy commitment to cosplay, dude!" but I didn't entreat them further. Instead I found an old coat to cover myself when I was working or went out looking for supplies.
Every few months the warehouse turns into a version of the desert I crash-landed onto. Flamethrowers, heavy music and costumes abound. Citizens always ask for rides on my spaceship. I tell them it's is not working yet and they always ask how they can help. I tell them I want to bring it back to the desert so I can get home again. "I feel you", one says, "We all want to go home again too, dude."
My warehouse mates help me with the progress on the ship. I ask them to help me make tools I am used to using, and they get excited to make new things. One day, we get the lights on the spaceship working. They want more lights. They try to get me to accept additional lights soldered all over the surface of the craft. I refuse.
"There's no point." I say. "They won't stay on when the spacecraft flies". They laugh at me and roll their eyes.
Weeks later I find the entire spacecraft covered in more lights. They're stuck into the main power supply of the ship. I relent. They're helping me out. I let them have their tribal lights they might get over it and help me with the engine again.
I shrug my shoulders and shake my pairs of legs. "Okay, we can have lights," I start. Cheers emerge from the mouths of my collaborators.
"But," I interrupt, "they can't be connected to the main engine. They need to be on their own electrical circuit."
I hear groans from the team.
"Dude, would you just leave it alone? You've got so much power in that engine you could go to Mars!"
"Alpha Centauri, actually"
"Whatever, dude. What I'm saying is that it's overkill! You need less power and more lights. How much gasoline is this thing gonna take, huh? We only have enough money raised to fix it up, not to bring a semi-truck full of gasoline!"
"It doesn't run on gasoline. We won't need any of that." I try to distract the conversation, but their eyes grow wide.
"What the fuck does it run on then, Plutonium? Seriously, dude. I don't think you've ever gotten this thing to work, have you? This thing is really awesome, but it needs to roll across the ground so we can fulfill our promise to the people that helped us fix this thing up!"
I raise my hands up in the air. "Okay, we can keep the lights on the main circuit, but they'll fall off when the spaceship takes off."
Everyone laughs, "okay, we're gonna weld them on then."
We work into the rest of the year, and the excitement grows as the spaceship begins to run just a little bit. I make it so the spacecraft can be driven around, but I don't have enough runway to test the flightpath. My collaborators organize another large party for the spacecraft, and I realize that it is almost time to go back to the desert asylum. By this time I realize that the event is a ritual for stressed out people that enjoy alternative societies. I am simply happy to have a place to launch my spacecraft from.
We shove the spacecraft onto a semi-trailer and drive it out to the dust.
The event begins and I unload the spacecraft out into the desert. Before long my craft is filled with people, they ride on top of it and inside the cabin. They marvel at the interior, try to press the buttons. I have to disable everything so that the ship doesn't damage the locals with their button pressing. Most have consumed the strange liquid substance I was offered incessantly last year. Others inhale smoke from pipes and pass out on the floor.
I decide to lift off the night before the burn, but my launch schedule is delayed by the excitement around the craft. I can't get people to stop sitting all over the vehicle and bugging me for a ride inside. I decide to take it out to the large man that will be burned the next night. I will explain to people that I am going into outer space after the man is done burning. If they don't believe me it will be their problem. I get a few people to agree to bring the items they needed with them if they plan to go with me to space that night.
A few people sign up. I see them lug bags onto my ship. They want to sit on top of the spacecraft, but I usher them inside. One of them is a collaborator of mine, and another is an older woman who tells me that she loves adventure and always wanted to go to space.
We watch the man burn from the vehicle. Afterwards I seal the door shut, disengage the lights covering the hull of the ship, and re-engage the control panel.
"Dude!" my collaborator shouts when he sees the buttons light up, "why didn't you tell me you finally got the control panel to work?"
The woman's eyes get misty. "Yes!" she shouts, "we're really going to space! I can finally see the Whole Earth."
My collaborator looks at her with a crooked smile. "Yeah, lady! We're going to have a good night!!! I've never slept on a spaceship before!"
I navigate to an empty section of the desert. Behind me I see bikes and cars follow suit. They want to see what's going on. I keep ahead of them going faster. A larger crowd shows. Flashing cameras and lights try to capture us as we speed away.
"Dude, you're going to get us in trouble! It's 5mph only on the Playa! DPW is going to give us a ticket!"
I realize I know enough of their slang to respond in a way they will better understand.
"It takes a certain velocity to get into space," I say. "DPW can SUCK IT."
The older woman laughs. "My husband is on the DPW team! If we go to the right we'll be more likely to miss them!"
I make a hard turn away from DWP. My guests slam into the wall. I hand them both restraints. "Wear these. They're G-Force belts. It's going to get pretty uncomfortable as we leave the planet's atmosphere". They both get up, rub their heads and quickly strap themselves in.
We're racing now. Playa art is rushing past us. I detect a boundary fence a mile up ahead. I increase our velocity.
"Holy shit, Dude" my collaborator shouts, "this thing SINGS!" He clutches the G-Force belt as we accelerate further.
"Yes, Dude," I say, "it does make a melodious tone as it accelerates. I've been waiting for this for an entire rotation around your measly sun."
We break through the boundary fence and blast through the sound barrier. Both of my passengers catch their breath in their lungs. They clutch each other now, unsure what to do next.
We lift off.
The horizon blows past us. Out the window we can see glowing cities blast into the background. The couple begins shouting. The older woman is cheering. My collaborator is telling me to stop.
"Oh FUCK!" he's trying to undo his G-Force belt. "Fuck, this is TOO FAR, DUDE! I didn't mean actual space. I didn't mean..."
His belt un-clicks and he slams into the back of the ship. He's out. I'm still piloting the ship and can't go for him right now. He's going to have quite the headache when he wakes up... if he wakes up.
"Urgh," I mumble under my breath, "I told him not to do that..."
The older woman laughs and peers out the window. "Oh LOOK!" she shouts, "It's the Whole Earth! Just like Stuart Brand showed us all those years. If only he could see this now. If only we could all see this now."
I smile at the woman as we leave her planet behind. "I think you'll like where we're going."
"Yes, I think so too. I always knew my real home was out there somewhere."