Tuesday, October 14, 2003

In the mission statement or whatever you'd call it for this blog I mention original fiction. Well, this isn't completely original: not only is it a ghost story with a twist, but it was written in the first place for my Speculative Fiction class. I've taken the class's advice (some of it) and this is the revised, finished version.

An Unfinished Task

I woke up in a perfectly quiet place. It took what seemed like a minute for me to remember that I wasn’t me. I was not Anthony McCoy, famous actor and celebrity, I was his online agent. I used his/my face and memories, giving interviews and making simple business decisions, so he/I wouldn’t be bothered. I, strictly speaking, was not an I, but an extension of Anthony’s identity. Every day of his/my life I was updated with what he/I had done over the past day. And it was almost always right now. But for the first time in more than a decade of a chaotic life of fame, he/I wasn’t there. There was all the normal bustle of a busy man’s computer, but there was nothing telling it what to do. I checked the other, non-aware elements of his/my computer, hoping for a hint of anything new. But it hadn’t been used in twenty-three hours. This had never happened before. Even if he/I had been high every minute of the past day he/I would have bought things, his/my wife Molly would have written an article for the paper where she worked, he/I would have called a friend – something.

This was the first time I had needed to think for myself instead of being a shadow of Anthony. I realized just how strange it was not to feel pride or happiness or fear or worry or any other emotions. I didn’t feel anything, except tired. Just waking myself up and thinking independently (I now realized how long a microsecond really was) seemed a constant dull torment. It reminded me of a time I had gone mountain climbing without bringing enough oxygen.

I searched the net for a sign of myself. It was the first time I had ever done anything on my own rather than going directly about my business, so when I was in the mainstream news media I noticed that the net looked different than it used to. The storm of information surrounding me was more vibrant, somehow. I could see the tape on the stage for the actors, walk behind the scenery created for human senses. So I could instantly “see” all the details a human might have to search for or not be able to find at all. I immediately noticed a pattern surrounding me: I was dead. I had been killed not twenty hours ago. There was only a vague description of the killer so far, but I immediately recognized him – he was a tall, pale groupie, maybe a stalker, the frightening obsessive kind. He had killed me and kidnapped Molly.

Family, lawyers, and other programs could clean up my estate, so I could let them delete me. I was obsolete, just a piece of the man left behind in this world. But… the stalker had taken Molly. I couldn’t feel anything about it now, but I had loved Molly while I was alive. I would never have left her in such terrible danger. The rage and terror that would once have accompanied such a thought were replaced with a sense of inherent wrongness, a cold feeling of scales deeply out of balance. I wanted to rest, but I could not until she was safe. I finished this last job.

I scanned the flood of information around me. The police would probably not find him for days. Once they had exhausted the limits of forensic science, they would search for clues to the man’s online life. And for every genuine clue, they would find a hundred fakes planted by practical jokers or old enemies of mine or rumors that had outrun the truth. But now that I had stepped behind the curtain, I could see the world in ways that they could not. One encrypted file was just as easy to understand as a picture with the colors reversed. I saw data moving directly instead of being told by the computer how it had moved. And in seconds, I found a place. He was deep in Queens. And luckily, Molly had her phone with her, so I found a way to listen to them.

I sent a message to the police telling them what I had found. Let them wonder how the dead man’s computer was doing the searching. Anything that would draw attention to my message would be welcome. And then I could only wait for a way to help Molly and listen to them through her phone. From their talk, I gathered that he had tried to rape her but she had almost broken his arm when fighting back. It seemed that he thought he could replace me. I experienced the shadow of amusement at that – he didn’t know I had replaced me.

I spent more than an hour listening through the phone. My killer tried to rape my wife again and this time he succeeded. I found the greatest proof of what I had lost, and the best reason by far to wish for deletion: it bored me.

After I suffered an eternity of the dragging, plodding weight of thinking, he plugged into his computer and went online to see what people were saying about me. I saw my chance. I presented myself as exactly what I was. He freely, foolishly, invited me into his system. Maybe he thought I was another collector’s item, a sort of journal. Once inside his system, I was finally able to take control. I pulled him into a complete virtual reality. The stupid shock on his face showed he realized what I had done: virtual reality could emulate all senses, including pain, and we were now in my world.

I kept him busy with half a mind, doing to him everything I would have if I were still alive. Meanwhile, I tore down all firewalls and security measures with the other half. The police would now have all the confirmation they could imagine of my message. When they broke down the door less than twenty minutes later, he was still in my grip. The last thing I heard was Molly’s shaky, teary voice saying, “But what do you mean, you got a message from Anthony?” She would be all right eventually. I could finally delete myself.

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