translated by Sven Klöpping
Where are you?
Where is my computer? And … where the hell am I?
“Welcome on server miller03 at eDead.com. We wish you a happy death.”
Oh … shit!
You know, usually all the heros in those B rated movies are given time to remember what has occured to them. For me it’s like a punch in my belly. I’d like to vomit, but my avatar doesn’t support this option.
Stay cool, Paul, just cool down!
Looking on the system clock tells that it’s Wednesday. Hm … let’s see. Monday I copied my brain to the server like every night, so I must have died on Tuesday. If this is the case, my body is just about to be brought to the crematory, and me …
I am sitting in my digital living room at a desk that’s 1800 pixels wide. On the surface I see a booklet, directly in front of me. I leaf through it. The first pages are full of licence agreements, followed by short instructions, then a detailed manual. The whole thing concludes with detailed personal data of myself including my death report which reminds me at the story lining of narrow minded sitcoms: I fell from the balcony, just before the eyes of my loved one. What a wretched fool I am!
The booklet gives information as the following that I know too well: As a “vex” – that means virtual ex-human – I am not allowed to own any money, furthermore I have no civil rights and if I ever write my memoires and they become a bestseller (I really don’t expect that), all my income would be transferred to eDead.com. This oh-so enlightening information is followed by a just-as-enlightening advisory note: If any trouble occurs I may enlist to one of the numerous self-help groups. Finally I find a page titled: “Personal organ donor certificate”. Every little piece of myself is listed there accurately, with cross-references to the corresponding recipient’s data. My kidney went to a 24 year old model (hey, not bad!), my liver to a person called Mr. Newman. I hope he is not a drunkard who just destroys it with his booze!
I stand up, examining my room. So this is my final resting place! A small living room completed by an even smaller kitchen for singles, cheapest design – striped, acrylic textures dismantling their pixely structure at a second glance. Evidently there was not enough cash on my account to afford those giga pixeled images which can be divided from reality only by a very good microscope tool. But better be off with cheapest immortality than with everlasting death!
In the fridge I discover junk food and some booze – for me as a dead one it isn’t even unhealthy! Indeed, all kind of nutrification is useless, since us “vex” get our energy simply out of a power point. On the other hand, alcohol has – thanks to a special software – the same effect on my condition as it has for the living ones, so it is strictly rationed. Hell yeah. As if we could sip ourselves to death in this digital realm!
At the opposite wall I discover a nice bed with blue cushions and a small reading-lamp. The window on the opposite displays a screen saver with fishes.
Mia liked fish. Me not. But I liked Mia.
My apartment has no exit door, and that’s just logic in here, for us vex don’t need any doors at all – but entertainment! I reach for the window, moving my arm with a soft motion. The fishes disappear into the unsureness below the windowsill. The main menu appears. Now I’m able to surf the web, to write and to receive e-mails (firstname.lastname@example.org), to visit chat rooms and to play online adventures. Why not write Mia an e-mail? Telling her that I’m fine and do still love her …
My avatar’s face becomes a smiley. Everything is nearly as cute as in my pre-dead phase.
I grasp between my legs and my smiley blushes.
Hell-damned are those puritanical bosses who established eDead.com!
“Death is just another victim in the never ending war of mankind against nature”, Stev-o lectures. The other members of our death self-help group just nod and stay silent. I sigh.
“The world is poorer without death” he adds. Again nodding is the consequence. “If not me who could know it better? I’ve deleted myself twice and have been reinstalled both times! This experience of multiple resurrection is very burdening, you know.”
Poor Stev-o. Has ignored his licence agreements according to which our left-overs can insist on our further existence on eDead’s servers. At least it’s them who are paying the monthly rates. Even those depressed dead souls who are downloading worms and virusses out of some dark channels of the web, trying to delete themselves, get backuped quite easily by the system.
It’s the fourth week that I visit this self-help group – and Stev-o is one of the digital personalities with the most suicidal tendencies. What an idiot!
“Something occurs to me”, Wesley says. I remember he told us about his death. He rode his motorcycle without his body shield and thus has been crushed by a robot truck so that his body looked like an apple pie in the very end.
“What’s up?” Stev-o questions and shows an innocent smiley face.
After a while Wesley shrugs his shoulders. “You’ve mentioned something that’s on the no-go list. For example the phenomenon that many people destroy themselves just because some other think it’s a good idea.”
“War?”, Stev-o asks. As if trapped by his own words, he looks from one to another, clears his throat and vanishes.
“Coward”, Wesley hisses.
“He has found a way to manipulate the no-go list”, I conclude.
“I will clear this up”, Wesley promises. “Maybe we can utter some remarks concerning aspects of physical interaction after that.”
Cybersex! I’d like to scream out this word, but I cannot, just because it’s on the no-go list. If this would not have been the case … there were whole new possibilities for me!
With cybersex, my relationship to Mia could possibly become more like it was before my death.
In such high spirits I leave the self-help group, wishing everyone a happy death, less worms and finally I press the option “location” which brings me back to my home.
Again I’m sitting at my desk, searching the web for hidden sites explaining how to manipulate the no-go lists. It’s no surprise that eDead.com has blocked access to the most hacker blogs, but at last I discover some hints that may help. After downloading and installing a very promising crypto patch, I try to utter the words used by Stev-o.
“War!” I shout at the table. “Poverty! Murderer!” Yeah, the patch works!
But as soon as I am trying out some expressions that have something to do with aspects of physical interaction, the patch doesn’t work.
My anticipation of cybersex vanishes. I am not even missing the sex, which hurts me the most. I am motivated by pure defiance. Opportunism, fixed on some programmers over there in the Holy Capitalistic States of America.
Maybe I am dead, but this doesn’t mean that I would let them do anything they want. Maybe I have no body – not to speak of genitals –, but still I look like a human being. Still I can gamble, watch TV and drink my beer, although the latter is just an algorithm distressing my artificial intelligence.
Some sounds reminding me of a doorbell announce a connection query coming from “The Beyond” – it’s a “realo”, a living human being, who wants to get in virtual touch with me. I activate the channel and give permission.
“Hey Paul, hm”, the realo says. His name is Zanu. He is grinning at me from behind the window. Lazy guy. Hasn’t contacted me since I am dead.
“What’s up with you out there?” I ask.
Zanu leans on the windowsill. “You’re looking very queer, you know …”
I look down at myself. Over my stomach runs an ad for a new film starring Johnny Depp. Seeing that, I have no chance but to roll with my eyes. It’s just another movie starring a long dead actor still making the round.
“Ad supported, hm …”, Zanu murmurs and shakes his head. “That’s too evident.”
His hairs form little strands so that I assume he has gambled all day and night as it is one of his favourite activities.
“There’s no other option for us cheap vex, man. Can’t afford a free existence in here. You know, I’m not a virtual star like Erok”, I respond.
“Yeah, hm, sure.” Erok Tnaonu, a Romanian Elvis Presley clone who has been victim to a racist attack three months ago, is sort of a trade mark of eDead.com. People can watch him 24/7 strutting in his villa, giving parties for everyone – for money, of course.
“Hm, Paul …”
“Yes?” The advertisement on my front updates itself, now proclaiming a shaver. Maybe the software has recognised Zanu’s unshaved cheeks …
“Don’t know if you’re, hm, interested at all, I mean …” Zanu is great in humming and hawing. Oh, I hate him for this!
“Talk or let me rest in peace you crazy fool.”
“Mia’s new lover, Tikko …”
“What’s up with this … you know!”
“He works for eDead.”
“Yeah, sure. Ahm … kidding the dead. I’m not doing anything else in my free time, you know. Really, I mean it. This guy is very smart. Hey, listen. I’m sorry, but … I’m not very eager to chat with a … geeky corpse.”
I quit the chat. The shaver on my avatar disappears in the same moment.
So it’s Tikko, my successor, working for eDead, having all the codes to access my personal data, spying out all my habits, knowing what I’m chatting with Mia, what I am writing in my electronic diary!
I want to scream out loud, but I manage to behave. I check if Mia is online. She is. I click her name.
“Hey, honey!” I welcome her.
Mia’s webcam is not on, so it takes a while until she begins to speak: “Hi, Paul.”
I wait for the rest of the message, but nothing happens.
“Hey, hun, you’re allowed to chat with me”, I invite her to write back.
Her answer: “You’re not fine, Paul?”
Ridiculous! If I’m fine?
“eDead is full of digital zombies, philosophing about transcendence, esoteric theories and self-deleting. Whenever I read this nonsense, there is no way of holding me from programming a new kind of an all-destroying computer virus!”
“Don’t be so depressed, just because you’re dead. At last it’s me having real problems.”
“What? What’s it?”
She explains that her new boy friend is jealous because she clings to a ghost instead of confronting reality. Tikko even tried to get her to a psychiatrist, but in the very last moment she got what was going on and so hasn’t spoken to him for three days by now. I say, he hasn’t deserved it any other way and point out that I am still there to help her out, dead or alive.
She exits the chat after mentioning a therapy where she has to go now.
What a bastard!
With a glimpse to the digital clock I discover that it’s time for a new ration of algorithmic alcohol.
Cybersex is no fun when you can’t jerk off. I try it nevertheless, in a chat somewhere on a dot.sex site.
I visit a chatroom named “Sweet Secrets”. Someone called Rebecca tells me what she would do with me if she was still alive. But without those special words bringing fun to my little friend (and which are surely on the no-go list) our dialogue reminds me at a kitschy 21st century novel.
I wish Rebecca a happy death and head for my digital way home. Click! Blackness.
Something is wrong.
I lie on a very hard ground, stretching out my arms. There is a wall just beside me. Also on the left. And above me. Everywhere. Walls, darkness, absolute silence.
Like … in a coffin!
My heart is pounding. I am pounding – against the ceiling. Muffled sounds, then silence.
“Mia!”, I scream. Am I buried alive at last? Just a minute ago I have been enjoying my death on eDead.com, now I’m lying in a grave. Impossible, isn’t it?
My heart slowly calms down. Shivering, I’m feeling the top of the coffin and its sides all over. Hard wood. Intransigent. Impenetrable. No special features. I push my hands under my body again, feeling the underground. Nothing.
Just in the center, under my butt, there appears to be an unevennes. And a button. Which I press.
A coloured text appears on the top of the coffin, just before my eyes. Stunned I read it again and again: “Greetz from mike03, junior engineer. To end this little joke, just press the button again. Happy Death!”
I close my eyes and press the button.
The underground reassembles. Do I feel a cushion there, under my neck, is it really my bed again?
Daring to open my eyes again, I discover my home. Yes, I am back! This mike03 should go to hell! After a short moment, it’s clear to me that only one person could have put me on like this: Tikko-bastard!
Rapidly I get out of the bed, heading for my virtual computer screen. Chasing away the fishes with a motion of my fingers, I go through the pull down menus. There must be a function to contact eDead’s support! Finally I find it. I choose “Express mail, just in case of emergency.”
But a message box reminds me: “We are sorry, but third class deads are not allowed to use our support. Please contact your bereaved if you have any questions.”
I stamp on the ground.
My computer says: “There are new messages waiting in your message box.”
I close my eyes. Maybe there is a notification of Mia awaiting me … Hurriedly I scroll down my inbox, but there is nothing by Mia. She isn’t online either. Dammit! I have to tell her what happened to me as soon as possible.
There, an e-mail of Wesley! It says: “Hi! We are about to demonstrate against the no-go lists and the full body ads. Just click here to join us.”
After all this, what ever-so pleasing things could this damned day still hold for me? Reassuring myself that Mia is really not online I finally click on the link. Soon after the click I jump directly to the demonstration of my new friends.
Wow! I have never seen so many people in this chatroom! I’m getting lost in all this chattering and yelling. A few of the “vex” are waving with banners they got somewhere in the world wide web. One reads “We want to say sex whenever we like it”, another “No censures after death”. Others are screaming “You-know-what for all” and “Freedom for the dead”.
Will the official newscasts feature this? At last, eDead.com will have to comment it. It’s true, you have to fight for your freedom until you are dead, no question, and even after that! I feel great. Being part of such a demonstration makes me somewhat prouder than I was before. Someone copies his banner so that I can wave and sing and shout and scream together with the others.
Suddenly, all the “vex” beside me vanish. Irritated, I drop my banner. The chatroom empties and after a while there is nobody left. Where have they gone?
“Warning”, a voice in my head says. “Your memory has reached its limit, your electronical stability is not guaranteed any more.”
What’s …? Hell, that’s …!
“For your own safety you will soon be replaced by a backup identity.”
Hey, they can’t do th…
“So …”, Zanu shrugs his shoulders, “No chance to do anything about your situation.”
“If just I could talk to Mia once again.”
“Forget it. You know you’re on her ignore list.”
I cling to the 1800 pixels, putting my fingers around the virtual table’s edge. “But only she can …”
“Forget it, got that?” Zanus face shows real consent. “She doesn’t want to crossgrade you to another “vex” provider. Your soul is property of eDead.com by now.”
“Tikko, this bastard!”
“Shut up, Paul. There is something left I haven’t told you.”
“What? What is it?”
“You’re never reading the newspapers, hm? The sponsoring companies have shown their collective dirty finger to eDead.com, because of the bad publicity.”
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“Your demonstration. Making a fuss about the no-go list though they have rebooted your virtual bodies again and again. The public opinion for eDead.com has reached point zero, the share prices aren’t much higher.
“But …” Sure unsureness is creaping through my neuronal network. It’s like …
“eDead’s bankrupt”, Zanu says. “They will deactivate the servers.”
… Fear. I don’t reply.
“You know … there is this new … what was the name … ah, Death Community. With Vex Filter Software. Patented brainwashing for the dead.”
“That means …”
“No demonstrations any more. No … sexual demands. No fuss.”
Somewhere, deep inside me, I’m laughing. But that’s pure sarcasm. “Sounds like rest in pieces … ahm … in peace.”
Zanu hesitates. “Yes”, he finally says. “That’s exactly what it means for you.”
I say goodbye to Zanu without any further motivation. Forwarding my diary to him is the only thing I manage to do in this state of mind.
Maybe Mia reads it when I’m absolutely dead, not just buried.
And what will I do with the time left to me?
Let’s see. Going to the self-help group? It’s evident that this final death following my physical death is worth some discussion.
Oh, if I had known this all before I died, at this chilling evening, as I stood on the balkony, just after Mia left me, a half emptied bottle in my hand …
Now I’m sure that I wouldn’t have jumped off that roof.
The original version of this story with the same title won the German William Voltz Award in 2006 and has been on the shortlist for the German Kurd Lasswitz Award in 2007
© 2006 Uwe Post