...then everything went black

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story about a crisis at Emulation Corporation, a company that transfers minds into a virtual heaven moments before death, as their virtual heaven gets hacked into hell. Cover art by Rodrigo Pradel. See more at www.rodrigopradel.com

Submitted: April 09, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 09, 2017



In a crisis it is vital to eliminate the distracting elements that can keep one from focusing on the problem at hand, and the situation Lead Transitional Engineer Charles Damwedge faced now was most certainly a crisis. It was easily the biggest one he had ever had to deal with in his twenty seven year career at Emulation, a company who at fifty nine years of incorporation was the same age his father Reginald Damwedge was when he dropped dead from a heart attack.  Charles couldn’t save his father then. At the time Charles wasn’t even big enough to feed himself, much less pull his father’s face up from the plate of scrambled eggs, buttered toast, and bacon to resuscitate him. But now, in this moment of crisis, he could do something to save the company his father helped build.

If only he could focus on the problem.

But he couldn’t.

It wasn’t the panicky voice of the floor manager that Charles found distracting, or the equally panic laced responses of the engineers when Control Room’s virta-tac interface suddenly vanished back into the ether from whence it came, or even the barking of the Emulation medics as they tried to preserve whatever life was left inside the three bodies lying strapped down to gurneys in the middle of the room.

What Charles found so distracting at this moment was the sight of Evelyn Linares’s bronze, exquisitely toned legs.

Charles had never noticed them until today. Actually, once he gave the matter a little thought (more thought than he knew he should at this particular moment) he had never actually seen them. Usually they were covered up in one of those blue-gray pantsuits Linares wore to hide herself in. The skirt she wore today cut mid-thigh, a fact she seemed to be acutely conscious of as she continually tugged at the hem. Her white blouse had one button undone at the top, with a thin, golden necklace resting between her personal monuments to mankind’s oral fixation.

Linares usually tucked length of her black hair in a painfully constricting bun but today it hung loosely about her shoulders. Charles even noticed gleaming traces of red highlights as it caught the flickering light from the monitors that covered the walls.  She was also wearing makeup, which wasn’t unusual, except that it seemed more expertly applied today. The eyeliner made her sleepy, almond shaped eyes more seductive. As the medics peered into the unseeing eyes of the soon-to-be corpses in the middle of the room Charles imagined looking deep into Linare’s eyes, the pupil’s dilating as he brought her to ecstasy.

He had been a good lover once, used to think he had a talent for it.

But that talent, like the so many others in a life that seemed to be more about opportunities than actual achievement, was going to waste. Sexual prowess only mattered, as Security Head Frank “Leaky” Faucette once said, “if you can seal the deal.” You gotta have something; money, looks, a sense of humor (whatever that was) to get them to the bed in the first place. And a young, rising star in the Emulation Legal department like Ms. Evelyn Linares, was not likely going to bother to find out what a balding, paunchy, one-foot-over-the-hill-and-the-other-in-the-grave black man had to offer in the sack.

Anyway the dress, nails, hair, and eyeliner wasn’t done for his benefit, or anyone else’s who worked at Emulation. It was for that man lying on a gurney in the middle room, whose was now probably as dead as the monitors lining the walls. Or at least as dead as the wife and child who laid beside him.

The things people do to impress celebrities Charles thought as he listened to Ms. Linares and Leaky discuss the situation from all the wrong angles.

Namely, their own.

“Luv2’s follower’s are going nuts.” Ms. Linares said as she put her device on halo mode, which created a full color, three dimensional image that hovered above her palm. Images from Mr. Luv2’s rabid fans played on and on in a swirling, cascading loop. As their number grew and content of their diatribes became more impassioned the accumulating images looked like a time lapse video of a blossoming flower.  Only this flower was made of red eyed, screaming people in various states of distress, one even threatening to flay off his tattoo of Mr. Luv2’s face and mail it to Emulation’s mothballed cloning labs. All were all demanding to know immediately if Emulation had botched their job and killed the beloved soccer player/movie star/singing and reality show sensation known as Luv2 (birth name Arcturus Princeton) and his wife Brenna Luv2 and their child BeeLuv.

“They expected him to send out a post-transfer message almost ten minutes ago.” Linares said as she twirled her finger around the images to erase them.  An echoing chime rang out as each hysterical visage disintegrated a in a puff of glittering diamond dust. “I’ve sent out several prepared statements about the delay. But they are not buying it. We need to give them an REAL answer.” Linares emphasized “real” as if was an abstract concept, and not what Charles’s grandmother would have called “the God’s Honest Truth”.

“No, no answers. Keep stalling.” Leaky said with an oddly timed smile. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his shirt sleeve. “We don’t even know what happened yet. The transfer process was almost complete when the blackout hit. Their minds could have made into the neural web. We won’t know until we can get the monitor stations back on line.”

Leaky took out a handkerchief from inside his jacket pocket, one he often used to blow his nose during hay fever season, and wiped his neck and chin.

“Anyway, who’s this we?” Leaky pointed to Linares, the flaccid kerchief dangling from his hand. “Talking is your department, getting you to shut up is mine.”

Ms. Linares’s gave him an annoyed, sideways glance as she brought up more videos. The tattooed man had now passed out in his chair at the first sight of his own blood, video of his halting shrieks went viral, and almost instantly scores of videos mocking him metastasized like noisy cancer cells.

“I can’t very well say anything until we have some idea of Mr. Luv2’s condition.” Linares said.

“And his wife and child.” Charles offered.

“Yes, them as well.” Ms. Linares said after a beat, “Of course.”

“What do you think Charlie?” Leaky asked in the offhand way one guy would ask another what he ate for lunch. “Do you think they made it?” He folded his hands together as if he were praying and placed the tips of his fingers to his lips.

 “Well, first we have to ascertain that they even left. Their neural log had at least made it to the subsystem before the shutdown. If we can retrieve that there is a good chance that we can reintegrate it back into the body, or send it on to the neural web if the body is no longer in  a proper condition to receive it. But the question is what did they want? What’s on Mr. Luv2’s A.D.?”

Ms. Linares’s fingers glided over her device with the elegance of a figure skater. Charles’ heard his own voice coming from the device and the words “Advance Directive” appear in midair. Linares slid her pointer finger along the words.

Red nail polish Charles noticed, and then tried to regain focus.

Out, Out Damn Thoughts!

“They wanted to be sent on.” Linares said as she squished Charles’s words in-between her fingers and flicked them away. “Mr. Luv2’s body wasn’t going to last much longer. There would be no point for reintegrating with it.”

“All of them then? Even the child?” Charles asked.

“Even the child.”

“Jesus Christ” Leaky said after a rare, thoughtful pause.

Charles looked over the family. Although there was no visible sign of Luv2’s disease in his cosmetically tanned skin and age-regressed frame, it was inside him like a time bomb about to go off. But the wife and child, both so young and healthy, and without the A.D. reintegration would be a priority with them.

Charles marveled at how completely Luv2 was able to convince his wife to stay with him into death, and bring their beautiful young daughter with him. Probably took Luv2’s whole team to do it. Lawyers, publicists, entourage, fans, and maybe even Luv2’s legendary mother, the Godmother of Reality programing, chipped in from the virtual afterlife. People who were smart enough, or at least greedy, to know that the best career move an artist can make is to die young. And the best thing of all is that in this day and age, the artist will be around to reap the benefits for all eternity. For the right price of course.

The Luv2’s minds, safely transferred into the Neural Net, a large web of synaptic plasticine housed in the depths of Emulation’s headquarters, would reside in the Simulated World Emulation had created for them. Emulation’s customers, called ghosts by the engineers, would be able interact with one another on more than a conversational level thanks to the latest sensory software that replicated their five senses once they integrated into the Sim-World.

There were two systems that made it all possible. The Neural Net, which looked like an gigantic pink kickball trapped in a web of chewing gum, was the store for the electrical impulses of their customer’s brains. It was made from a malleable substance called “neural plasticine” that had once been the hope to repair damage to brain tissue until it was disregarded as too unwieldly to implant into the human body. It was the technicians at Emulation, men like Charles’ father, who fixed upon the idea of using it not to save or repair an existing brain, but to store it.

It was quickly decided that the stored minds would need a world to integrate with, otherwise they would simply be a floating conscious, without senses to guide it Emulation techs feared anyone residing in the neural web would be effectively be damned to a  solipsistic hell.

Their accomplishment created a new frontier, and all the old ones were soon forgotten. After all, once death was conquered, what else did people need to live for? Solving the problems of disease, hunger, shelter, and wars was an inconvenience when you could just leave the world. And if you were the 75% of the world who couldn’t afford it, there was always the lottery. As a high level Emulation employee Charles had his ticket punched, if he was able to do his thirty years that is. A sure-fire way to cure the constipation of any Emulation employee was to utter the phrase “early retirement” in their presence.

“So what are we going to do?” Leaky said with the irritated tone of a bored teenager stuck in the backseat of their parent’s car. “We’ve been locked out of the system. Can’t see a thing in there. Messages people are sending into the Neural Web are bouncing back. Soon we won’t just have Luv2’s followers to worry about. Every last lump of carbon left on this planet is going to start wondering if their Gran or the President just got turned off like a light. Whatever trick you got Damwedge, use it fast.”

“What about rebooting the Neural Surveillance system? Once on, maybe we can look inside.” Linares offered helpfully.

Charles gave Linares a smile she did not return.

 “It’s a possibility,” Charles said in his best cocky engineer voice, “one I’ve considered as a last resort. But in this case, it’s not likely to help us.”

 “Why not?” Leaky said, then wiped a line of spittle from his mouth.

“Let me put it this way. A power company can try to flip on the lights from outside the house all they please.” Charles said, “Won’t matter if someone unscrewed the bulbs.”


“Whatever happened to the system,” Charles replied, “whatever, or whomever, shut it down during the transfer, it happened from INSIDE the simulation.”

“Impossible.” Leaky sputtered, the redness growing in his face giving the spittle a crimson color. “That’s impossible. No ghost has any kind of access to the Simulation Transmitters or our Transfer hubs. The wall between our world and theirs is miles high and just as thick. They can build almost any kind of life for themselves on their side, but only we can open the gates.”

Charles was about to reply when Linares piped in.

“What about someone getting through the communication portal? Maybe some Life and Soul Terrorists made good on their plans to shut the whole Simulated World down.”

 “Impossible.” Leaky responded with a vigorous head shake. “Impossible. Besides, even if they could, how many of those fanatics are left? They want eternity in the Neural Web just as bad as everyone else now. Their leader declared it a gift of heaven on Earth granted to us by divine providence. By every measure the communication portal’s untouched, it’s as pure as the pope’s pecker,” Frank’s laugh came out a snort, “nothing untidy is going on there unless you have a moral objection to the Conjugal Interfaces.”

Leaky’s snorting laugh disintegrated into a phlegmy chortle.

 “I’m telling you, there is no other explanation.” Charles said, “As you said Frank, zero evidence of fiddling through the communications portal from the Real. It was a layered blackout, which on its own is not particularly revelatory, except in how the blackout occurred. First went our surveillance of the Neural-Sim World, then on to the Transfer Stations, then the Carbon World Communications. It was like watching a line of dominos get knocked over one by one, but not from the end you pushed them from. By the time we got any semblance of control all we had left was access to the transfer sub-system.”

“Then we’re fucked” Leaky said. “Our pants down and dicks in a socket. Neural Justice will make it look like we just blew the Luv2’s heads off with a shotgun.”

“No, there is a way.” Charles shook his head, “Someone will have to go inside. Find a way into the Neural Web to see if anyone is there. Go into the house to switch on the lights.”

Leaky’s jaw dropped. For once, Ms. Linares stopped fiddling with her device.

“You mean die.” Linares said.

“No, not necessarily, you could interface with the system without going all the way. They tried it in the early days, in the alpha phase. It wasn’t deemed useable for Sustainable Cognition because there was no neural-cognitive growth. It was like leaving a living photograph, a snapshot of a person, not the entire faculties of the mind. The early engineers sometimes went in to make modifications or monitor the Neural-Sim.”

“Why don’t we do that now?” Linares asked.

“Because some didn’t make it back.” Leaky said with a grim smile.

“You mean they were transferred into the Neural Sim World?” Linares’ eyes went wide.

God, they are beautiful.

“Not exactly. Their bodies never went through the chemical changes that happen at the moment of death, so they didn’t get the full push into the system. But that part of them that did interface with it, well, it either got trapped or lost. We still don’t know exactly. But when the engineer was awakened, either they weren’t the same…” Charles paused. His fingers instinctively went for the non-existent cigarette that would have dangled from his lips before he quit, “…or weren’t there at all.”

“Veggies.” Frank helpfully explained and then laughed. “So who gets the short straw?”

“I think we all know the answer to that.” Charles said.

In a flash all of the people around Charles, the Luv2s, engineers, medics, Leaky and the lovely Ms. Linares suddenly vanished. Charles rubbed his eyes and looked around at the monitors and tables the way a child would after seeing a rabbit being pulled from a magician’s hat. The last thing he remembered was the look Linares gave him, which either conveyed sympathy or admiration, but either way he wished he had the balls to kiss her.

I’m inside the system he realized, and then wondered what the significance of not remembering the process of transference meant, and how much of HIM was here, and how much was back in the Real.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say he felt good, but he didn’t feel bad either. He felt no longing for a cigarette, nor any pain in his lower back, and most unfortunately the pleasant scent of Linares's perfume did not linger in his nose.  He just felt…clear…for lack of a more appropriate word. But what other word could describe a sensation that was completely new to him?

This is what it feels like to be a cool, autumn breeze.

There was a sensation that he was present in the control room and a nagging anxiety from his understanding of the situation, but none of the sweating palms, racing heartbeat, or confusion of the mind to accompany it. Charles looked around the room to assess the situation and decided he would then sit down in front of the monitors, and begin to fix the problem.

The monitors were a sea of swirling code. There was a box in each asking for a security password. Characters appeared in the box as Charles spoke. There was a slight humming sound as the system came on line. And then, from the middle of the room where the bodies once lay, came a scream.


Charles supposed if he were still in the real world the sound would have sent him flying out of his chair. But rather, he looked up from his monitor in the direction of the scream and saw the body of Mr. Luv2 appear on the gurney. After the scream Luv2’s gaping mouth let out constant white noise that sounded like a rush of air echoing in a cave.  Luv2’s eyes were open, and Charles registered his first sense of horror as they suddenly fell back into Luv2’s head like stones dropped down a well. The ears went next, then the teeth, then hair, each part becoming transparent and then disappearing entirely as they dropped away until Luv2’s body vanished.

Charles looked over at the gurneys of Breanna Luv2 and her daughter, but neither appeared, which was either a very good sign or a very bad one. Charles would not know until the monitors were up.

Charles was back at his station, deep into his work, when Mr. Luv2 appeared again, accompanied by another scream, this one even more jolting than the first.


The first exclamation did not register with Charles, but the repetitive percussion of Luv2’s machine gun sounds was instantly recognizable.  It was from his first hit film, No Guns No Story, where he played a “realist” movie director who orchestrates a series of violent robberies in order to get footage for his next epic.  Like many of Luv2’s films, the line is repeated in several moments of the film, thus firmly rooting the character in everyone’s mind and ensuring that every one of his fans will have something to reference in their own conversations for at least a day.

Then the airy sound returned, followed by another gradual disintegration, and reappearance with another movie quote, this one from a remake of some ancient film Charles only knew from a film history class he took just to meet the girl that would be the first of many ex-wives.


As he gradually accustomed himself to the phantom idiot Charles worked with a focus that was almost meditative. The intervals between the Luv2’s appearances became longer as their presence during them became shorter. Charles had just gotten the monitors in the sub-station to work and was preparing to link them back to the station in the Real when he heard a voice from behind him.

“Don’t do that. Not yet.”

This voice, unlike Luv2’s, created the semblance of a physical sensation on Charles’ virtual skin. Charles turned slowly and blinked repeatedly at the sight in front of him.

Linares stood naked, arms outstretched, skin gleaming with sweat. Her long black hair gracefully laid on the gentle contours of her collar bones and her skin an unblemished color of caramel.  The lithe frame that she so often hid in pantsuits had more curves than he had imagined, the breasts fuller, the hips a gentle slope that led to perfectly formed thighs.  She was more perfect than Charles could have dared to dream.

“We still have time. No one will know.”

“Ms. Linares…” Charles began, but stopped as she walked toward him, lips opening in a kiss and sleepy eyes now wild and hungry.

“You want me, I know you do. Now you can have me.”

She knelt down before him. Her hands at first hovered over his knees as she looked up at him, then moved slowly towards his pelvis. She did not touch him, but rather mimed the action of unzipping his pants.

Charles found himself admiring her beauty like he would a nude statue in a museum. It was erotic, but nothing about it made him want to throw her down on the floor and take what she was offering. He cursed the sudden revelation that this couldn’t possibly be real, that Linares was fully clothed back in the Real, where he was strapped to a gurney and the only fingers running over his body were the graceless prods of hairy knuckled Emulation medics.

Charles turned away from the virtual succubus. His knees, or at least the impression of them, glided through Linares’ arms. He went back to work, and desperately tried to ignore the sight of Linares moaning gyrations on the consul. Once he made the connection to the Real she vanished and, for once, Charles was happy to hear Leaky’s reedy voice.

“You there Charles, we can’t see you yet.”

“I’m here Frank, the sub-systems back online, and I have confirmation that the Neural Web and Sim World are active and operational, and the all the ghosts are haunting it. There is some confusion on their end about why they can’t contact the real world, but I’ve let them know that channel will be back on shortly. You can tell the carbonites the same on your end.”

“And the Luv2s?”

It was Linares. Charles took a quick look around the station before answering. The phantom Linares was gone.

“I should have asked you if you wanted the bad news first.” Charles said. “Bits of Mr. Luv2 made it, but not enough to be functioning, and the wife and girl and nowhere to be found. Not in the Sim-World, not in the Neural Web, nowhere.”

Charles waited for a response. Perhaps they were too shocked to speak. In the short time Charles had spent disconnected from his body he found the concept of speechlessness slightly peculiar.

“That’s great Charles. Once you’ve restored the link we’ll bring you back.” Linares chirped.

Charles hesitated. Maybe it was a bad connection, although he couldn’t fathom how.

“Didn’t you hear me? Luv2’s nothing, and his family is missing.”

“Excellent work Charles, we’ll bring you back soon.”

Charles took a moment to process. Perhaps the connection was not as clear as he had thought.

“We seem to have some communication issues. Again, Luv2 is gone, and family is miss-”

Linares interrupted with the same relieved pleasantness in her voice.

“Yes, that would be fine. We’ll be expecting Mr. Luv2’s statement within the hour. And pictures of the happy family in their new home.”

“They are gone you hear me?” Charles shouted, “Gone!”

“Great Charles, see you soon.” Linares said with the sound of a blown kiss.  

Charles could not hear whatever voice they were responding to. They were obviously receiving some sort of message, but whether it was from the Sim-World or from their own he could not tell. What he did know was that he was cut off, trapped in the Transfer Sub-Station with no way to get a message out.

Getting out wasn’t like going in. If he wasn’t prepped when they reopened the link back into his body he may not know how, or when, to return. His mind would be trapped between two worlds, if not simply ripped apart.

I must reestablish the connection he thought as Leaky congratulated him on a job well done.

 “We got the link to the Sim-World up,” Charles heard an engineer say “everything is nominal. Prepare for reintegration Mr. Damwedge.”

“It’s not ready!” Charles screamed in frustration. “I don’t know what you’re seeing but it’s all wrong!”

“Roger that” the engineer responded, “prep for reintegration in ten, nine, eight…”


On Charles’s monitors everything did in fact seemed fine. The connections between the Sim-World and the Real appeared to be stablished. He watched in disbelief as Luv2 stood smiling before new grand estate. He saw children speaking to their Grandparents, thanking them for the gifts they had bought, lovers separated by death now joined in the virtual bliss in the Conjugal interfaces, and lawyers speaking with their deceased clients about the stock options that will allow them to fund their life in Emulation’s eternity. But the code told a different story. There was repetition in the individual conversations on the Sim-World side that looked unnatural, as if was simply copied and pasted.

Or simulated he thought with horror, Which means we don’t control the transmission stations.  Someone else, not Emulation, is the middle man now. And their trying to make it look like everything is normal.

He had to let them know, even if they couldn’t hear him. That meant only one thing.

Shut down the Sim-World. Shut it down from here. Emulation will know something’s wrong. They can rebuild it from scratch. Some Ghosts will find a way back. At least some will be saved.

But not me.

Charles entered the code. He could see that someone else was trying to stop him. Whoever it was had in depth knowledge of the system, but didn’t know the updates and backdoors that Charles had encoded. As the shutdown sequence began he heard Linares voice again. This time there was a concern in it that was all too real.

“Charles? Breanna Luv2 and BeeLuv just reintegrated with their bodies. They’re back and the Sim-World is going dark again. What’s going on over there?”

“Someone got in the system. Don’t reintegrate me.”

“What do you mean? Charles, WHY ARE YOU SHUTTING DOWN THE SYSTEM?”

Charles could hear the pandemonium in the Real, Breanna Luv2 and her child weeping over the body of their father, Leaky’s drum tap of “shit-shit-shit-”, and Linares screaming for the engineers to stop the shutdown.

The walls around Charles exploded, sending shards of glass and metal flying though his body. Everything seemed to move slowly. There was nothing beyond the shattered walls of the station. Not like the blackness of empty space. Just, nothing.

Charles extended his arms and waited to be consumed by it. He too would soon be nothing. A void.

A damn shame he thought.

And then Charles heard his father’s voice.

This was not the father that died face down in his eggs, but a younger version that Charles knew from photographs. He was standing in empty space as casually as a man in a park. 

 “Now why did you have to shut down the Sim-World?” His father said with a smile. “Now you can’t go back you know.”

“What are you doing here? I never knew you transferred.”

“I didn’t. Well, not all of me.”

“The tests.” Charles said. “You linked in to the system like I did.  You’re just a snapshot of my father. Not the man I knew.”

“Do you consider yourself a snapshot? Do you feel something missing?”

Charles thought for a moment. Rather than feeling something missing he had never felt so whole in his life. He felt every faculty of his mind was instantly accessible, his entire life was a clear to him as the sparkling stars, he remembered his life down to the minute detail of what color his toothbrush was when he was five. Green, with pictures of sword welding cartoon characters on it. The room smelled like lilacs from the air purifier. And he could hear his mother singing in the next room.

“No.” Charles lied.

His father scoffed, then smiled.

“Well you have to trust that I don’t as well. I could let you in to prove it…” Charles’ father pointed to his own temple. “…but it’s a bit early to sync up like that. Makes your head feel like its swarming with bees. How about you answer my question then, about shutting the Sim-World down and making so much work for us?”

“Whose us?”

“You could have just bypassed the feed.” His father said, ignoring the question. “You were doing quite well at the end getting around the old protocols.” Charles’ father smiled broadly. “You finally had me on my heels.”

“What do you mean? Why were you shutting off contact with the Real?”

Again his father ignored Charles’s questions. The man walked in circles around Charles and seemed to be lost in his thoughts, as if only half paying attention to the conversation at hand. Like the Linares apparition, he didn’t want to give himself over to his father, but the sight of him created an ache in him that dug deeper than flesh. The urge to reach out and embrace the man was almost uncontrollable. If this was a trick by whoever was manipulating the system, Charles hoped he got the chance to strangle him. 

“Where do you think we are now son?”

“We’re lost somewhere in the Neural Web. Lost. Drifting. With nothing to anchor us to reality.”

His father smiled, but not in a way that was at all comforting. Rather, it gave Charles the impression that he was a deer cornered by a wolf.

“No, we’re home. Circulating through the network of satellites and transmissions sent into space when man used to dream of living among the stars. Before the Sim-World. Before we decided to stick our metaphorical heads up our actual asses. I am your father, not the one you knew perhaps, but the one who had a vision of something greater than keeping the consciousness of celebrities and halfwits with us for eternity. The one who started Emulation to keep the best and brightest minds with us forever, to help guide humanity, to free it of its bodily constraints, and to ease its pain…to aid life, not to abandon it. The man who took pride not just in the accomplishment, but in being part of all of the great leaps humanity has taken in its history, and to set the stage for more. To take our collective conscious to a much higher plane. Not to create a gated community of souls to keep out those too poor or unworthy to die beating on its gates. Not to abandon the living and escape from the trails of life. To forget all that aided humanity in its struggle with nature and mortality. To build the world of men into one worthy of God.”

Charles had heard this talk before, but not from his father. The anger in Charles was tempered by fear. Because he now knew who, or more precisely, what was behind this, and that he would most likely be dead soon. If that was his fate, he was going to die knowing how it happened.

“So how did Life and Soul get access to the Sim-World?”

His father stared at him, the smile now a smirk.

“Through a gift, from mother to daughter.”

“I don’t understand.”

“How could you?” His father said, “You who left others to pick up what you have discarded. Not all of humanity is content to sit in a waiting room for their turn to strip their bodies away.”

A gift from the motherpick up what you have discarded. Leaky was wrong, there was a way, not through the channels, but through the mind. When all the research in the world had ceased only the nutjobs stayed in the labs to work on actual living, breathing people.

“Life and Soul hacked in with the child didn’t they?” Charles said. “You found a way to implant it the plasticine in the brain, attach a program to it.  All you needed was a person who could pass any thought scan. But we didn’t see anything with the mother, no involvement with Life and Soul.”

“You scientist never give those with faith any credit. Do you think we would be so simpleminded to announce our presence in such a fashion? She was simply an angry woman, not a believer, and we gave her a way to strike back at the man who wanted to give her life just to make his compete.”

Charles’ father’s face grew as he spoke, until it was so large that Charles appeared as small as a fly buzzing around his eye.

 “Humanity needs uncertainty. It drives us to greater feats of understanding. Otherwise we are like children hiding under a favorite blanket. Those that chose to remain in the Sim-World, to keep the comforts of their lives, to refuse the great voyage of a new life among the stars, will have the eternity that befits them. They wanted to take pleasure with them into the afterlife…”

Charles looked down and saw that he now hovered over a massive city. The ghosts of the Neural Web going about their lives going in the Sim-World. His eyes were drawn to a glamourous woman feeding her dog fine strips of beef as she sat drinking her coffee by a scenic canal surrounded by roses. He didn’t need a second to realize it was Luv2’s mother.  

She screamed as her the dog lunged at her throat. A scream that became a chorus as the shadows in the world became monstrous flesh, grew claws and teeth, and tore at the bodies of the people residing there.

“…so they also must take pain.”

The banality of the cityscape changed into something that defied comprehension. The people were enmeshed in it, like mice trapped in the gears of a giant machine. Despite the violence inflicted on them they did not die, but were rent in agony.

“This isn’t real.” Charles shook his head, “It can’t be real.”

Charles felt himself being drawn closer to the hell below him. He became conscious of a tingling sensation in his toes.

 “But it is Mr. Damwedge. And although you have proven yourself worthy of our respect, you must still be punished for your complicity. There was an age where man believed in eternal paradise, yet still strove to better himself, still strove for a greater understanding. And now humanity has achieved the paradise promised by God, yet has made it in its own image, not his. The unworthy and their conspirators have abandoned their brothers and sisters to disease and want, taking from them so that they may live on in eternal pleasure.”

Charles’ could feel himself slipping slowly down into the pit. The tingle in his toes became a burn. He stared his father’s face. His father showed no emotion as Charles screamed.

“They will know” Charles said “They will see what you’ve done and shut you down.”

“Let them,” Charles’s father said in a voice that sounded like an angelic chorus, “let the world see what eternity is like, and rejoice…”

A shadowy, grinning demon reached up and pulled Charles down into the flames.  As the demon’s claws dug into his flesh Charles heard his father’s voice one last time.

“…for the pleasure of Heaven, is to watch the torments of Hell.”

© Copyright 2018 T.E. Dickason. All rights reserved.

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