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eDead.com

by Uwe Post

Mia!

Where are you?

Where is my computer? And … where the hell am I?

“Welcome to server miller03 at eDead.com. We wish you a happy death.”

Oh … shit!

You know, usually the heroes in those B-rated movies are given time to remember what has happened to them. For me it’s like a punch in the belly. I’d like to vomit, but my avatar doesn’t support this action.

Stay cool, Paul, just cool down!

The system clock tells that it’s Wednesday. Hmm… 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 crematorium, and I…

I am sitting in my digital living room at a desk that’s 1,800 pixels wide. Directly in front of me there’s a booklet. I leaf through it. The first pages are full of licence agreements, followed by short instructions, then a detailed manual. It concludes with detailed personal data on me, including my death report. It reminds me of the story-line of feeble-minded sitcoms: Falling from the balcony before the very eyes of my beloved. What an idiot!

The booklet deatails information that I know too well: As a “vex” – that means virtual ex-human – I am not allowed to possess any money. Furthermore, I have no civil rights. In the unlikely event my memoirs become a best-seller, all incomes would revert to eDead.com. This oh-so-enlightening information is followed by a just-as-enlightening advisory note: In case of trouble, I can join one of their 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 catch myself hoping he’s not a drinker.

I stand up, examining my surroundings. So this is my final resting place! A small living-room with an even smaller kitchen of the cheapest design – striped, acrylic textures whose pixely structure dissolves on close inspection. Giga-pixelled images, with their ‘only powerful microscopes can tell the difference’ quality are for the rich. But hey, cheap immortality beats everlasting death!

The fridge is full of junk-food and booze. Now that I’m dead, it’s not even unhealthy! Indeed, nutrients are kinda useless, since we “vex” get our energy from a power-point. Alcohol, on the other hand, has – thanks to a special software – the same effect as it does on the living, so it is strictly rationed. Hell yeah. Because drinking myself to death is an option here.

 Against the wall there’s a nice bed with blue cushions and a small reading-lamp. The window opposite plays a screen-saver. Fish.

Mia liked fish. Me not so much. But I liked Mia.

My apartment has no door, no exit at all, but that’s just logical. Vex don’t need doors. Just entertainment. I reach for the window, moving my arm with a soft motion. The fish disappear into the uncrtainty below the windowsill and the main menu appears. Now I’m able to surf the web, to write and to receive e-mails (paul07012@edead.com), to visit chat rooms and to play online adventure games. I could email Mia. Tell her I’m fine. Tell her I still love her…

My avatar’s face becomes a smiley. Everything is nearly as cute as in my pre-dead days.

I reach between my legs and my smiley blushes.

Hell-damned if those eDead.com founders weren’t a bunch of puritans!

 “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. “And who would know better than me? I’ve deleted myself twice and have been reinstalled each time. Multiple resurrection is very burdening, you know.”

Poor Stev-o. He has ignored his licence agreements. They state that our surviving dependants can insist on our continued existence on eDead’s servers. At least it’s they who are paying the monthly rates. Even the more depressive dead, those who download worms and viruses from the darker channels of the web are easily backed up to the system. Deleting yourself is hard.

This is the fourth week I’ve visited this self-help group. Stev-o is one of the digital personalities with the most suicidal tendencies. What an idiot!

“Something occurs to me”, says Wesley. He died riding a motorcycle without a body-shield. He was crushed by a robot truck, his body resembling an apple pie in the end.

“What’s up?” Stev-o asks, his face an innocent smiley.

Wesley shrugs his shoulders. “You’ve mentioned something that’s on the no-go list. The phenomenon of many people destroying each other simply because some others think it’s a good idea.”

“War?” Stev-o asks. Trapped by his own words, he looks around, 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. “If I do, maybe we’ll be able to talk about certain physical interactions.”

Cybersex! I’d like to scream the word out loud, but I cannot. It is on the no-go list. If it wasn’t, there would at least be some interesting possibilities.

With cybersex, my relationship with Mia might become more like it was before my death.

The idea cheers me up. In high spirits, I leave the self-help group, wishing everyone a happy death and fewer worms. I hit “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 list. It’s no surprise that eDead.com has blocked access to most of the hacker blogs, but after much trawling 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 try to say anything to do with certain aspects of physical interaction, the patch fails.

My dreams of cybersex vanish. I’m not even missing the sex, which actually makes it worse. At this point I am motivated by pure defiance. All focused on a handful of programmers over in the Holy Capitalist States of America. I may be dead, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let them do anything they want. I may have no body – not to mention genitals –, but still I look like a human being. I can still gamble, watch TV and drink my beer, even if it’s just an algorithm distressing my artificial intelligence.

A sound reminiscent of a doorbell announces 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,”, the realo says. His name is Zanu. He is grinning at me from behind the window. Lazy ass. Hasn’t contacted me once since I died.

“What’s up with you out there?” I ask.

Zanu leans on the windowsill. “You look queer…”

I look down at myself. Across my stomach runs an ad for a new film starring Johnny Depp. I roll with my eyes. An old movie starring a long dead actor, still making the rounds.

“Ad-supported, eh?”, Zanu murmurs and shakes his head. “Too bad.”

His hair hangs in strings, so I guess he has gambled all day and night. It’s what he does.

“No other option for us cheap vex, man. Can’t afford to be dead for free in here. I’m not Erok,”I respond.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Erok Tnaonu, a Romanian Elvis Presley clone, victim of a racist attack three months previous. He’s sort of a trade-mark of eDead.com. Realos can watch him 24/7 strutting in his villa, giving huge parties – for money, of course.

“Hey, um, Paul …”

“Yes?” The advertisement on my front updates itself, now displaying a shaver. Maybe the software has recognised Zanu’s unshaven cheeks…

“Don’t know if you’re, um, interested at all, I mean …” Zanu is great at umming and ahing. It drives me nuts.

“Talk or let me rest in peace man!”

“Mia’s new lover, Tikko …”

“What?”

“He works for eDead.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Yeah, I’ve got nothing better to do with my free time than kid the dead. Seriously. I mean it. This guy is very smart. But, hey, I’m not crazy about chatting with a geeky corpse, so…”

I quit the chat. The shaver on my avatar disappears in an instant.

So Tikko, my successor, working for eDead, has all the codes to access my personal data, to spy on me, to know when I chat with Mia, to read my ediary.

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.“

„Are you okay, Paul?“

Okay? Ridiculous!

“eDead is full of digital zombies, philosophising about transcendence, esoteric theories and self-deleting. It makes me want to program some new kind of an all-destroying computer virus!”

“Don’t be all depressed. You’re just dead. I’m the one with the real problems.“

“What?“ I ask. „What problems?“

She explains that her new boy friend is jealous. He says she’s clinging to a ghost instead of confronting reality. Tikko even tried to get her to go to a psychiatrist without telling her, but she caught on and hasn’t spoken to him for three days by now. I tell her he deserves no better. I tell her I am still here for her, dead or alive.

She exits the chat, saying she’s late for therapy.

What a bastard!

A glance at the digital clock tells me it’s time for a new ration of algorithmic alcohol.

Cybersex is no fun when you can’t jerk off. I try anyway, of course, somewhere on a dot.sex chat 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 key words, 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 home. Click! Blackness.

Something is wrong.

I lie on a very hard surface, stretching out my arms. There is a wall on my right. And on the left. And above me. Everywhere. Walls, darkness, absolute silence.

Like 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 was enjoying my death on eDead.com, now I’m lying in a grave? It’s not possible…

My heart slowly calms down. Shivering, I feel 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. Nothing.

Nothing?

Just in the center, under my butt, the surface seems uneven. A button, which I press.

Coloured text appears on the surface above me at eye-level. Stunned, I have to 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 virtual world reassembles. Is that a cusion under my neck? Is that really my bed again?

Daring to open my eyes again, I see my home. I am back! Go to hell, mike03!

Clearly only one person could have put me on like this: that bastard Tikko!

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 support!. Finally I find it. I select “Express mail, just in case of emergency.”

A message box reminds me: “We are sorry, but third class deads cannot access support. Please contact your bereaved if you have any questions.”

I stamp on the virtual ground.

“There are new messages waiting in your message box.”

I close my eyes. Maybe Mia is trying to contact me. Hurriedly, I scroll through my inbox, but there is nothing from Mia. And she’s not online. Damn it. I have to tell her what happened.

An email pops up from Wesley: “Hi! We are about to demonstrate against the no-go lists and the full body ads. Just click here to join us.”

After a day like this, what else awaits me? I double check that Mia isn’t online and click the link. I am jumped directly to my new friends’ demonstration.

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 found on the web. One reads: “We want to say SEX whenever we like it!“ Another reads: “No censorship 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.

You have to fight for your freedom, even if it kills you. And sometimes, even after that! I feel great. Being part of the demonstration makes me somewhat prouder than I can express. Someone copies his banner for me and we 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. 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, “There’s nothing you can do.”

“But, 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, man!” Zanu looks concerned. “She doesn’t want to crossgrade you to another vex provider. Your soul is property of eDead.com by now.”

“That bastard, Tikko!”

“Shut up, Paul. There is something I haven’t told you.”

“What? What is it?”

“You never read the newspapers, do you? The sponsors have flipped the bird to eDead.com. All the bad publicity.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Your demonstration. Making a fuss about the no-go list. They may have rebooted your virtual bodies again and again, but the damage is done. Public opinion of eDead.com has reached its lowest point ever. And the share price isn’t much higher.“

“But …” Uncertainty creeps through my neuronal network. It’s like …

“eDead’s bankrupt”, Zanu says. “They will deactivate the servers.”

Fear.

I don’t reply.

“You know, um, there is this new um, what was the name… ah yeah, 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. A hollow laugh. “Rest in pieces, eh? In peace.”

Zanu hesitates. “Yes,” he says with finality. “That’s exactly what it means for you.”

I say goodbye to Zanu without any further ado. Forwarding my diary to him is tall I have the strength for.

Perhaps Mia will read it when I’m absolutely dead, not just buried.

And what will I do with the time left to me?

Let’s see. Self-help group? Final death might be worth some discussion.

You know, if I had known then what I know now… If I had known before I died, as I stood on that balcony, after Mia left me, a half-empty bottle in my hand…

I don’t think I would have jumped.

Translated by Sven Klöpping

Original title „eDead.com“

First published in: Helmuth W. Mommers (ed.) Der Moloch, Shayol-Verlag, Berlin 2007

Copyright © 2007 by Uwe Post

Uwe Post was born in 1968 and lives with his wife Nadine Boos, also a prominent German sf writer, in Erkrath near Duesseldorf today. He is a qualified physicist, journalist and software developer. Since 1982 he writes short stories mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genre and published numerous stories in anthologies and magazins. His novel Walpar Tonnraffir und der Zeigefinger Gottes was awarded with the Kurd Laßwitz Preis and the Deutsche Science Fiction Preis, the most important German sf awards, in 2011. The original version of the story above won the William Voltz Preis in 2006 and has been shortlisted for the Kurd Lasswitz Preis in 2007.

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