Monday, October 14, 2019

Subscribe or Die

As she stood in line, waiting for the customer service representative, Reborna scanned her eyes across a brochure that had been handed to her right upon her entrance into the building. Presently, she saw a red box in the brochure that filled an entire page; centered within it were the bold black words SUBSCRIBE OR DIE.  
“Next please,” said a tall man in an exquisite suit, standing behind his desk. He gestured with a hand wave after Reborna took her planted eyes from the page and looked up. She quickly walked to the desk. “Welcome to Posthumous Digital.” His broad smile nearly contained his molars. 
“I – I was told that you do immortality here?” Reborna glanced at the brochure, unsure of herself, lacking a full understanding of the process she was about to get into. 
“And you’ve heard correct! What package did you have in mind, dear – I should say right off, we’re doing a promotion, a two-for-one for any family members who share at least a 25 percent chromosomal equivalence.” 
“Just me, today.” Reborna didn’t have a family member who would meet that criterion. 
“Well, not a problem all. If you’ve chanced to look in the brochure, then you know we’ve got you covered 200, 300, and even 500 years after your biological death. But it gets better: if you get the 500 Year Posthumous Package, you’ll qualify immediately for 50 percent off – should you die within the decade… Limited time only, you see.” 
Reborna didn’t have plans to die within the decade. “May I ask some questions, first, sir?” 
“Certainly, you may. In fact, we encourage it here.” Another massive smile split his face. 
Reborna had endured sales pitches before; even so, her confidence grew out of her frustration, for the man spoke so flippantly of biological death. He embodied the ‘salesman’ attitude. After all, not everybody could afford this service she was enquiring after. Was this not a solemn fact?  She smiled back anyway, “Do you offer anything beyond 500 years?” 
He studied her for a moment. “Our clinical trials have had little success in indicating the mental and material stability of our clients’ code any time greater than about 550 years… With such inherent risks involved thereafter, it requires a bit of a lengthy application process and its subsequent approval—BUT, there are options.” He began scribbling onto his terminal screen before she said a word. “Would you be interested in seeing them?” 
“No, that’s quite alright. I was simply curious, and sort of asking for someone else,” She wasn't asking for anyone else. She placed the brochure on the man’s desk, pointing her finger at another garish advertisement, which read, STATE OF THE ART CLOUD SERVICES. “But I was curious about this. I’m wondering about the cloud you offer. Don’t I pay taxes to have my digital information backed up into the government’s central system anyway?” 
“Yes, you do,” He paused, reached into his desk, and put a piece of blue paper in front of him. As if reading from a makeshift cue card, he continued, “You see, the problem with centrality as seen by the current state of governmental affairs is that risk of data loss or data corruption is 37 times more likely in the State’s hands, than the hands of PD. If you’re interested, I’ll zap on over to you our studies proving this and the other documented statistical evidence regarding our safety as compared to the state—as well as to our competitors.” 
Reborna was impressed by the man’s thorough presentation and pitch. Yet the representative resumed before she could reply. “Because of the recent breaches into the State’s tax-funded cloud, of which there have been many, we’re providing this service as a failsafe and, hopefully, as an alternative to the citizens’ cloud-based backup of their digital information previously offered only by the State. You can be rest assured that our state-of-the-art digital cloud will contain every bit of conscious information, as well as the fully digitized replication of your genome, to make your reconstruction as accurate and precise as the physical limits of our universe so far allow. Your deceased body is safer in the corporate body. 
“Wait,” Reborna turned to the back of the brochure. “I’ve noticed that some of your subsidiaries have also been breached by other corporate giants. Wouldn’t this suggest that your data structure is not as robust as you claim?” 
The man didn’t so much as blink at her words. “Our signature Posthumous Paradise is so rendered as to provide our clients with the most rigid and impregnable data structure to date, reinforced and protected to the picosecond. Our code was designed by the brightest human minds and most advanced artificial intelligencecombined of course. If you’ve not heard of Posthumous Python, then you’ve not heard of any digital device so far manufactured, as they all involve some aspect of the framework we’ve devised: it is without a doubt the most reliable software language the AI-symbiont-human mind has created yet.”  
Reborna was intrigued, and dare she say, sold. But before she could get on board with this program she had to know: “My son, he’s only 127 years old, and I worry about him. He was adopted, and so our genetic information prevents me from using some of your family services—”  
“Your worry can stop right there, dear. We at Posthumous Digital understand the bonds of human connection are deeper than and without biological warrant. We have contrived of a contract, after much bustle with the State, to allow the consent of another human consciousness should it wish to be tethered to our client's. In this case, your son, with his complete informed consent and participation in the approval process, can join you in up to five of our standard cloud paradises. How does that sound? Plus, we can always send you two of our simulated clouds as part of our trial period. You need only plug it in to the PD Hub, but we can talk about that later.” 
She could barely contain her excitement. “Oh, that’s wonderful, truly,” Reborna then put her hand over her chest. The biological beating of her heart pulsed through her palms, which began palpitating in the problematic manner she had become accustomed to. Perhaps she would die within the decade. Her doctors didn’t think so. 
Reborna’s mortality had never been more salient. It was not because of the palpitations. It was because her hope was rekindled by the man and the words that flowed from his huge smile. The thump-thump of her heart took on a new pattern as she imagined the newfound possibility to be with her son for longer—maybe forever. She saw it on the brochure, again and again. She smiled. 
He had been looking down and scribbling more on his terminal screen. “So, dear, what will you be doing?” 
“I’m choosing to subscribe… right now, and I want to consider the application process for my son. But before I do, I wanted to look into your options for eternity.” 
“You know we don’t have time for that.” 
“No, I mean your Posthumous Eternity Package, here.” She pointed again to the brochure, at a smaller box on the bottom of the final page. 
He chuckled to himself. “Excuse me for that, dear. I can absolutely make you a member now, but as for our Posthumous Eternity Package…” He leaned in as if to tell Reborna a secret. She did the same. “That’s in another department.” 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Old Jane

I walked down a nondescript road, long and narrow. The sun was cast against my back, so that my shadow, projected in front of me, stood nearly three times as tall as my actual person. It mimicked my every move. 
I remember the cold air that nipped at my face. I was propelled forward by the sun’s warmth on my back. But the icy breeze from the front autumnal wind pushed me back. 
Yet I was on the sun’s side, so I kept moving forward without fear and without hesitation but with great purpose. I was on my way to see an old friend, afterall. A very good one. She waited for me at WW Assisted Living, a community where old people gather to socialize with similarly aged tenants and intermittent visitors generations younger. This is what I was told. 
I was also told that they loved having visitors, and that they would tell stories for hours, filled with content from years of walking the earth. No history is richer than that held in the minds of the elderly. Jane proved this true to me; she and I talked for long periods of time, which mostly consisted of my questions and her long-winded answers... But she longed to share it all, I could tell.  
Her name was Jane. And I was once told that she was in a place where people go to die. I understood this to be a metaphor, one meant to convey just how wonderful it was to live in these communities of old in congregate. The arrivals would stay at these places until death did them part - because such places were so damn great to live in. How naive I was, then. 
The passion for living was sewn through each of Jane’s words. As if reading directly from her memoir, Jane could string together sentences describing her past that entranced my young mind. 
She spoke about her first marriage with the man she loved since highschool. She had one child with him - Grant was his name - but they divorced soon after that child’s death tore their emotional lives apart. She remarried a woman named Sue - NOT a boy, she insisted. This was during the Vietnam war, and she supposed it was the lack of national identity that made her question her very own… And her sexuality. They were her “experimental years” she said. She did remarry a man but never had a child again. He passed away years ago.  
Jane further explained, “I was always thinkin’ this and that woman were so pretty - I thought I preferred them… In some ways I still do. But I can’t shake the sexual power bending my soul every time I see a man, so I know better now, I suppose. Lord knows even this old body gets a hankering from time to time.”  
I admired her candid honesty and free spirited way in which she reminisced. Young as I was, it would be a lie if I said I didn’t blush a time or two at some of the things she shared. But I’ve never respected someone so much for the very same reason. 
She once took my hand in the soft wrinkles of her own, and looking me right in the eyes, said, “I’ve seen the worst of what men do - I’ve lived through times of war and perpetual worry. I’ve seen hatred fester in the breasts of men and women alike. I’ve seen technological progress shake, break, and shift many paradigms, including my own… I’ve seen social regress rife with strife and national suffering. I’ve seen social progress reclaim its hold, only to give way to a newer social reform. I’ve seen a nation’s identity compromised by dissent and generations of sadness,” She paused, stared at my hand, and continued, “Yet I never could have known that a new world would be built by hands so youthful. An age of immaterial reality, where digital constructs dictate the life and death of the person, where technological progress bears the fallen fruit of social regress… You and me are not different. We are both social animals trying to navigate a world created in code, where the preservation of information means everything. The only difference is that I’m old information, less cryptic and secure, because the information of ‘me’ is soon to cease, and all the memories it contains...” 
I gently pulled my hand away and made sure she saw the frustration on my face. “Why would you say that? Your vitality might actually be greater than my own!” 
She took my hand back. “I’m old. Very old, and I’m dying, Dalton.” Before I could detest she squeezed my hand and kept talking. “The future is in your hands, and the millions of youth born and being born as we speak. I’m no fool, and we both know I’ve got little time left - it’s not my age, Dalton, it’s my heart: it’s failing, and failing faster each day. I tell you this so that you may preserve some part of me that does not exist in the new world. My soul will soon be high in the clouds, but my information will not.” 
“Jane--” I began protesting. 
“No. Stop. Just do an old lady a favor and remember me. Remember me and preserve some part of me, my history, my life, so that the generations now and to come don’t forget the ones who built the world before you - the one that now stands before you.” Her expression was grave, but sweet, motherly.  
We shared tears together, for a moment. Then I left.  
After some time walking, I arrived at the big house, went past the sign in the lawn that read WW ASSISTED LIVING, then stood at the door. The sun was going down, and the chills from the cold winds were mounting. I entered.  
I spoke with the first nurse I saw. “I’m headed to Jane’s room, can I take her anything?”  
The nurse’s eyelids raised up, then dropped with an adjoining frown. “She’s not with us anymore.” 
“What do you mean? She loved this place!” 
“She’s gone.” She said with hesitation. 
“Well, where to?” Almost immediately after this question came from my face, I saw the increasingly dour face of the nurse. My quesiton was stupid - innapproapriate, even… And my refusal to believe her vanished, replaced by a twisted stomach and light head. I sat down on a chair nearby. 
The nurse walked over to me, rested a hand on my shoulder, and asked, “Are you Dalton?” 
“Look, I’m very sorry for your loss. Jane left something for you… Wait here, I’ll be right back.” After walking out of sight, I felt tears well up. I thought to myself: this is the place where people go to die. I was a fool for not accepting this sooner, for not expecting what Jane knew was the inevitable outcome of her stay at this place.  
The nurse returned. I shot up from the seat, sniffling and trying to suppress my emotional display.  
“Here you go,” She handed me a notebook. “She wanted you to have this.” I took a sticky note off the cover, which read: FOR DALTON: JANE’S DIARY - NOT THE DIARY OF JANE.  
I single tear landed on the “J,” and I smiled a sniffling smile. “You will be remembered.” 

Subscribe or Die

As she stood in line, waiting for the customer service representative,  Reborna  scanned her eyes across a brochure that had been handed t...