The third part of my abridged version of ‘Thank You For Afterlifing With Us’ (see here for details).
Part one can be read here, part two here, part four here, part five here, part six here, part seven here and part eight here.
“Why are you old?” Jason asked Rachel. He pushed past her quickly, tried to hide from her his surprise. And his revulsion.
“Because I am old, Jason,” she replied. “Older,” she added quietly.
“Why didn’t you reply to my messages?” he demanded.
“Because I was naively hoping that if I didn’t answer you then you might just go away and leave me alone,” she said. She pushed the door shut and turned to face him.
Jason sat down on a chair, looked at her angrily. “What?”
“You’re the ’37 copy, right?” she said. “I knew I was going to have to face you. I knew he wouldn’t delete you like I asked him to.”
“Delete me?” said Jason. “What in God’s name are you talking about? Why do you look so old?”
“I suppose you still think it’s 2037,” she continued. “You never did pay attention to the first thing going on around you.”
“I’m well aware it’s 2068,” he snapped back. “Why are you talking about me in the past tense like that?”
She sat down on the chair opposite. “Look at me, Jason,” she told him. “I’m 54 years old. Can’t you work it out for yourself?”
“I’m only here,” he told her, “because you talked me into this.”
“No Jason, you’re here because your idiot template didn’t delete you. I told him we were over and, clearly, he didn’t listen. Don’t you dare put this back on me.”
“You’re using words I don’t understand,” he said. “Who is the ‘template’? Me? How can you have told me anything? You didn’t even exist until seven days ago.”
She stood up again, exasperated. “For Christ’s sake, Jason! I’m not the scan that got made when you got made. Isn’t that obvious?”
He looked at her blankly. “What?”
“This me-” she pointed at herself with both hands, “is based on a scan made before I died. I’ve been scanning twice a year for the past decade.”
“So what,” said Jason slowly, “happened to your first scan? What happened to the scan you made when we-”
“I deleted her,” Rachel said.
“I deleted her. I went back into that office and I told them to erase the scan.”
“You mean… she’s gone?”
“She’s gone,” she said. “You and I were finished, Jason. I hated your guts. Quite frankly, the idea that some naïve little clone of mine was going to come back to life and jump into virtual bed with you turned my stomach every time I thought of it. So I deleted her.”
Jason asked her, “What happened to ‘The moment will be preserved for us to come back to, whatever happens. Even if we fall out of love.’? What happened to, ‘When our lives are over, we can start again.’?”
“I’m touched that you remember my words so clearly,” she said coldly.
“Because it was only last week that I heard them!” he shouted.
“Well,” she said. “This all happened thirty years ago for me.”
Jason was unable to speak for a moment. He thought of her on top of him, her knees either side of his chest, her arms around his neck, her hair across his face, her lips next to his ear. I want you all to myself, just like this, she had said. Each and every day. So that was that, then. His horny little lover was gone. “You had no right,” he said finally.
“I had every right,” she replied.
“You murdered her.”
“Then think of it,” she said, “as a mercy killing.”
“You’re a bitch,” he told her.
“And you’re a cold, heartless bastard,” she replied, without hesitation. “I encourage you to read up on your template’s post-scan activities.”
“You’re holding me responsible for someone else’s behaviour?”
“For your behaviour, Jason. The fact that you haven’t yet done those things is mere circumstance.”
My, hadn’t Rachel gone and made herself all articulate? “How very deterministic of you,” he said.
“I don’t want to debate issues of free will with you,” she replied. “But I do want to make it unequivocally clear that when I send you back through that door in a moment I have no wish to see you ever again.”
He actually found himself starting to like this new version. He actually found himself starting to become attracted to her. “What did I do,” he asked, “that made you hate me so much? Did I cheat on you? Did I break your heart?”
“Oh I have no doubt whatsoever that you cheated on me,” she told him. “But, stupid little love-struck idiot that I was, I quite happily ignored any sign that didn’t fit with the little fantasy I’d immersed myself in.”
“Tell me something,” Jason said, “was I still at the top when I died? Was I still recording? I ran into this guy who couldn’t remember any of my songs off the top of his head. Where can I listen to the stuff I released after my scan? Did Playmate do well? Were there any more albums after that?”
She shook her head slowly. “You’re a piece of work. You only ever want to know about you. Oddly enough, your narcissism is one of the things I used to love the most. Oh, it’s all coming back to me now. It’s a strange thing to be talking to you again, after all these years, and feel all that hatred coming back.”
“It wasn’t my narcissism you loved,” he told her, “it was my pride in it. It’s what got me where I was. You liked where I was.”
“I did,” she said and nodded.
“Apparently,” said Jason, “I died in a car accident.”
“Which you caused,” she told him.
“Which I caused? That’s not possible.”
“Even washed-up pop stars can make mistakes when they’re pissed and pissed off,” she told him.
Washed up? “Not when they have my driving skills,” he said. He tried to remember his lap time in the Reasonably Priced Car. One minute forty-two point four. Oh yes. He smiled briefly at the memory.
“You remember Swallow Lane?” she asked him.
“Of course I remember Swallow Lane. I only drove down it last week.”
“You were racing another driver down it,” she said flatly. “You overtook him on a blind corner at sixty miles an hour and hit an oncoming vehicle that was doing fifty. It was two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. There were four people in the car that you hit: two children aged three and eight, and their parents. You killed all but the eight year old.”
Jason frowned and studied his fingers. “Oh,” he said. “That’s pretty bad.”
“Really, you think?”
“Well. It’s like I said. That wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. It’s not like I’m responsible.” An idea occurred to him. “Were any of them, you know, ‘backed up’?”
“In 2039, Jason, brain scanning was still exorbitantly expensive,” she reminded him. “Just the storage space alone required for a single brain was massive, let alone the maintenance. Less than 0.1% of the population – and I’m only talking the richer nations here – ‘backed up.’ Not everyone had your millions.”
“Fine,” Jason said. “I’ll take that as a no.”
“Actually,” she said, “the father did have a brain scan; it wasn’t something he’d paid for, though; the company he worked for had insisted on it.”
“Only the one, then? That’s too bad.”
“And, as it happens, child scanning is illegal,” she added.
“The brain’s still developing during childhood. You scan one that’s not matured past a certain point and the remaining development ends up disordered. They can’t work out how to solve it. I suppose they will, eventually. Anyway, plenty of people scan illegally all the same, these days, now that home scanners have become affordable. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?”
“Would you?” said Jason, uninterested. “If you say so.”
“You really don’t give a shit, do you?”
“Rachel,” he said, looking around the room as he spoke, evaluating the décor, reminding himself that it was a hotel room and not an apartment, “it’s like you’re asking me to take responsibility for something some complete stranger has done. If I were a visitor from your future and told you about something dreadful you were going to do, would you be able to relate to that?”
“It’s not something that’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s already happened. And I’m not from your future; you’re from my past.”
“From my perspective you are from my future.”
“Well anyway,” she said, finally sitting down again, “the law disagrees with you. You are responsible. Yours was one of the first cases, in fact.”
“What do you mean?”
“You died instantly,” she said. “More’s the pity; you deserved a drawn out, agonising death.”
“What did I do to you?” he said.
“The police found out about your scan,” she continued, ignoring him. “They convinced the Crown Prosecution Service to put your digital self on trial as soon as it was activated.” She smiled.
“What?” Jason said.
“’In the absence of a living defendant…’” she said, and her eyes went distant and her voice went formal, “’…in matters of manslaughter or murder where the accused has created a digital archive of his brain for posthumous conscious revival, we propose that this ‘snapshot’ be brought to trial for the crimes of his or her template. Furthermore, and where there is clear evidence on which a jury is able to arrive at a decision of guilt, we propose that the snapshot be sentenced to incarceration in a manner reflecting the seriousness of their crime and the nature of digital existence. In extreme cases, deletion of the snapshot should be considered.’ Well there’s not much point in putting a person on trial if you’re not prepared to punish him,” she added in her own voice.
“That’s outrageous!” Jason cried. “You can’t place someone on trial for something it’s known they didn’t do!”
“Not finished,” she said. “’Although the mind on trial,’” she continued, “’is not one with direct contact to or even knowledge of the events transpired, it is the view of this office that the unrestricted freedom of any snapshot created less than twelve months previously would be wrong.’ Which sort of makes sense, don’t you think? I mean, imagine seeing the killer of your son and wife running around in the afterexistence, free as a bird to do whatever the hell he likes – that would be hard, right?”
“I am not anybody’s killer,” Jason snarled.
“Oh baby,” said Rachel – and she said it in exactly the same tone of voice that he remembered, “you don’t know the half of it yet.”
“Are you telling me there’s some sort of virtual prison they’re going to try to get me put in?” he demanded. “As if all of this isn’t bad enough as it is?”
“There is a prison in Pink Dawn, yes,” she said. “And you are one of its occupants.”
“So much for the trial!”
“The trial took place in 2040, Jason. You were found guilty, of course. Manslaughter. You got sentenced to fifty years.” She leaned forward, to be closer to him. “Fifty years, Jason. No overcrowded prisons to have to take into account in your sentencing when it’s virtual jails you’re dealing with, see?”
“That’s outrageous,” he said again. “They should at least have let me attend the trial. And why has no-one told me anything about this?”
“They did let you attend the trial,” she said and sat back again, a look of satisfaction creeping across her face as she took in and enjoyed his disorientation. “It was quite a news item… for all of two to three weeks, that is – don’t go imagining it immortalised you or anything. Dead pop star in court, etc, etc; the very tabloid that four months previously had carried your free promotional CD was the loudest voice calling for your deletion. They did a special interview with the scan of the guy you killed. And you, of course, made exactly the same sorts of noises then that you are right now. Even more so, in fact. Your public disintegration was quite a pleasure to observe.”
“What are you talking about?” he said, “I have no recollection of this.”
“Of course you don’t,” she said. “Well, how could you?”
“It wasn’t you it happened to,” she said. “It was your other copy.”
Rachel looked at her watch. “I have to go,” she said. “I’m meeting my daughter in ten minutes.”
“No wait. Don’t go,” said Jason. “I need more time. I don’t understand. My ‘other copy’? What in God’s name do you mean? Please. You have to stay and talk to me.”
“If you’re hoping I’m going to prioritise you over my family,” she told him, “then you should know that that possibility just doesn’t exist.” She got up, walked over to a full length mirror and stood in front of it. Her tops started to change, from a cream sweater to a red cardigan to a white blouse to a black and white henley. “I’m not entirely happy with you sitting there whilst I try out different clothes,” she said. “Shut the door on your way out, will you?”
“Please,” he said in earnest. “I used to mean something to you once. I can’t adjust to this change so quickly. Just give me a few more minutes. Then I’ll go and never disturb you again.”
“You don’t mean anything to me any more,” she said. “You don’t mean anything at all. Not after what you did.”
“Ok, fine; I’m sorry about the car accident,” he said. “In all honesty I still don’t see that I should be held responsible for it, but I’m willing to accept that my judgement is wrong on that and that it is my fault. Is that what you want to hear? I accept responsibility.”
“Of course you don’t,” she said, with a laugh. “In any case, we were split up long before your car crash. And note my use of the word ‘crash’ over ‘accident’; ‘accident’ implies no-one was to blame.” She settled for a white blouse with blue and red flowers and started browsing first skirts and then trousers.
“What do you mean by ‘other copy’?” he pleaded.
She sighed. “Surely it’s obvious, Jason? Your template registered a new scan after you were created.”
“That’s why you asked him to delete me?”
“Don’t be silly. I didn’t give a damn about whether he’d created another scan or not. I just wanted you deleted so I didn’t have to look forward to a moment like – well, this.”
“So the second copy is already here in Pink Dawn? In prison?”
“Yes,” she said. “And yes.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why wasn’t I told anything about this when I got here?”
Green jeans. She sighed and started browsing tops again. “I don’t know, Jason. Maybe no-one bothered to look in your file. It’s all automated, you know.”
“But I had a guy come and speak to me.”
“What? You imagine that in the five minutes between you summoning him and him turning up he had time to digest your entire life history?” White T-shirt. Red cardigan. The green jeans got rejected.
“Another copy of me,” Jason stated, frowning. “Another me. Someone else with all my memories. I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine speaking to someone who knows everything that I do.”
“At least the conversation won’t be killed by your complete inability to see things from another person’s point of view,” she commented.
“What’s prison like in here?”
“I have no idea,” she replied. “Nor any desire to rectify that. I like to think of it as awful and I’d hate to be disillusioned.”
“Did you say you have a daughter?” he asked.
She turned to look at him suspiciously for a moment. “Yes,” she said. “And a son as well. Why?”
“I’m pleased for you; that’s all,” he replied.
She snorted. “Do me a favour.” Blue jeans. She started sorting through shoes.
“It’s… an odd experience,” he said, “seeing you… ‘grown up’ like this. You’re stronger than you used to be. I like who you’ve become.” Not ‘like’. Not ‘like’ at all. But ‘like’ would suffice for the moment.
“Well, you always did want the things you couldn’t have,” she said.
“But why are you still old? Can’t you make yourself look young again in here?”
“Of course you can,” she replied. “The guidelines recommend you hold off on that for at least the first couple of months. It helps your family to connect with you.” She chose red shoes. She sighed. She took them off. She looked at her watch. She sighed. She put them back on again. “I have to go.”
“Take me with you. I’d like to meet your daughter.”
“I just bet you would.”
“Look,” he said. “Are you telling me I was always a monster or are you saying I became one?”
“You were…” she began, and then she stopped. “No. You’re not going to trick me into discussing this with you.”
“Let me come with you just now. Just this once. I’ll stay out of the way.”
“The answer,” she said, as she walked past him to the door, “is no.”
Jason resisted the urge to scream. “Just tell me one thing,” he said. “Is it absolutely inevitable that I will repeat the same mistakes that I obviously made? Is there no way I can avoid becoming the terrible person you remember me as?”
She stopped and sighed. And swore. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you in.”
“Just tell me what it is I need to do.”
She sighed again, looked at her watch, cursed once more and then turned to look at him. “I don’t have time for this. Ok, fine, I’ll send you a teleport. You had better fucking behave yourself,” she told him.
“I mean it, Jason. No hitting on my daughter. She has a funny thing for retro.”
“Retro?” he asked. But she had disappeared.
Friendship Avenue in the physical world was a long pathway through a park in Brighton. Running all the way along the middle of the path was a waterproof seeshow: a wall of glass, it looked like, for the real world view through the display was of an identical park in the metaverse, the virtual other half of the place you were standing in if you stood on the real world side and looked through. Avatars at life size could come up to the digital divide and meet with their loved ones, and take a walk together.
In the metaverse, the other side of the seeshow was effectively a video wall, an eye for the dead back into the real world. Jason stood with Rachel at the edge whilst she looked for her daughter. She rezzed a mobile phone and rang her. “She’s held up in traffic,” she said, a few moments later. “How quickly we forget things like traffic jams,” she added.
A little way off to his left, the path widened into a children’s playground. On the dead side, park benches faced the play area. It was a quiet afternoon, there were just three children playing. An elderly couple sat on one of the dead-side benches, they smiled and waved at a brother and sister playing on a roundabout. Two benches along, a man sat by himself and watched a seven year old boy playing on a climbing frame.
“How many places like this are there?” he asked. “In the real world, I mean.” It was a sunny day. He peered through the divide at a row of trees about a hundred yards away and watched them swaying in a gentle breeze; he suddenly yearned to feel that breeze upon his face and the rough bark beneath his fingertips.
“Reunion parks?” she said. “Several cities have them now. They’re very expensive, but there’s a big demand.”
“Why go to all this trouble when the living relatives can just log in at home and see their dead people that way?
“Surely I don’t really have to explain that,” she said. “Even to you.” Jason laughed politely. He thought to himself, Bitch.
A little further down, past the playground, the path narrowed again and there was a section lined by park benches facing each other. The path now carried tables, but only on the living side. Jason zoomed in on one about a hundred yards away: a young man sat on the dead side, an older man opposite. A chess board sat on the table between them. The older man was gesticulating; his right hand hovered above the board with a pawn held by its head between his middle and index finger.
There were other people on the benches beyond them, but only on the dead side. Mostly they were single avatars, sitting by themselves and looking into a world they could no longer enter.
“There was none of this,” Jason said, “in the thirties.”
“Because very few people understood the potential, back then, she replied. “It took a while for the ideas and the technology to properly converge.”
“What rights do we have,” he asked, “as dead people?”
“Officially, we have no rights at all,” she told him. “Officially, we’re just data. There’s a lot happening, though. There’s unrest about the whole ‘one hundred switch-off’, the right asserted by Pink Dawn to deactivate your scan after a hundred years if you haven’t paid for an additional period. They – the dead, that is… of course, I keep forgetting I’m a member of that group now as well – they claim that deletion would be the equivalent of murder. Pink Dawn say the cost of maintaining an active brain scan over a hundred years is massive. The dead say the cost of this is tumbling. Pink Dawn say the increase in scanning is almost exponential and this far outweighs any cost benefits brought about through improved technology or economies of scale. And so on, and so on, and so on. The dead are now campaigning to get the law changed. Pink Dawn have taken on a dead guy as their VP, but the dead say that’s just a publicity stunt.”
“How did you die?” Jason asked her.
“Cancer,” she said.
“They didn’t fix that yet?” he asked.
“Not my type.”
“So if they know you’re going to die,” he said, “and if they have the time…”
“…they try to get the scan as close as possible to the moment of death, yes,” she answered. “It very rarely works out that way, but if it’s possible, then that’s what everyone wants. It’s more of a comfort to relatives. It makes it more easy for them to identify with you as the person they’ve just lost.” She ran her fingers along the divide. “Watching a person face and encounter death creates an entirely new relationship; finding that gone in the activation of a six month old brain scan can make it very difficult for bereaved families to re-associate. Scanning is much more easy these days. You don’t have to be unconscious any more and it only takes about ten minutes. I wore a scan cap almost continuously for my last few days.”
“How long before you died was your brain image created?”
“About half an hour,” she replied.
“So you remember pretty much everything, then?”
“I remember it all, Jason; every last bit. I lost consciousness forty-five minutes before I died, so I even remember my body’s final waking moments. They actually scanned me after I closed my eyes for the last time, you see; I remember them getting so heavy I could barely keep them open. I remember thinking on the one hand, in a blurry, dreamy sort of way, Is this the last thing I will look at? I should try to look at more! And I remember on the other hand thinking, What more is there to look at? What point is there in drawing it out any longer? It felt warm, like falling asleep, but there was a creeping coldness as well that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
“My son was in Brazil and couldn’t get back,” she continued, looking briefly at her watch. “My daughter had been to visit me earlier that day, but she’d had to leave to meet her boyfriend at the airport. My husband was staying with me in the hospice, but he’d gone for a walk into the village to buy biscuits. Actually, I told him to go. I told him I’d be fine. I knew that death would take me before he got back; it was a woolliness I could feel filling me up, like a blanket on the inside of me coming up to my chin. So it ended up just me in an empty room, and a picture of foxgloves in a wood on the wall facing my bed, and sunlight coming in through the blinds. It felt right to die like that, alone, in peace. It would have been nice to have had a hand to hold, but then whoever it had belonged to would have probably felt all awkward with the silence and tried to fill it with chatter I was way past wanting to listen to. That’s just me. I wanted to die in a silent room. And that’s what I did.”
“I never really thought all that much about how I wanted to die,” said Jason.
“That doesn’t especially surprise me,” she replied.
“I didn’t want it to be destroying some innocent family, that’s for damned sure,” he said, mixing in what he thought was just the right amount of bitterness.
“You say that as though somehow you’re the victim.”
He sighed. “If you could go back in time and meet Adolf Hitler as a baby, would you blame him for what you knew he was going to go on to do?”
“I wouldn’t blame him,” she said. “I might try to smother him, though.
“The most bizarre thing about my death,” she said, diverting this attempt to put the conversation back onto him, “was knowing I would never wake up, and then waking up, just the same.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, I knew that when my brain died then my brain died. That was that. Nothing would move from my head into the digital image. If heaven exists – which I doubt, but you never know – then the soul of Rachel is up there now and I – me – this brain image – is nothing more than some sort of an echo. Yet, all her thoughts are mine – right up to the moment that she met death and let it take her. Other than the sensory loss, I feel no different from how she felt when she was alive. The transition has been seamless.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Jason. “What do religious folk make of all of this? Do they use it? Do they get themselves scanned like everyone else? How do they deal with life in here knowing there’s no heaven waiting for them?”
She looked at him for a moment, as though trying to gauge how actually interested he was in this academic topic. “Some Christian Fundamentalist groups do refuse to use it,” she said finally. “They say that that which enters into the metaverse is the brain separated from the soul and therefore a sort of evil, godless version of you. They say it bears about as much resemblance to your original person as your shadow does. Something like that. They cite the high metaverse suicide rate as evidence for this: no soul equals no drive to exist. A clever use of facts to fit theory. I’d like to say that soft core religiosity has some sort of clever ‘third way’ theory developed, but the reality is that most living people deal with the issue by just not thinking about it. It’s a bit harder to do that when you’re actually dead. Non-committal religious people – and by those I mean the millions who tell the surveys that, yes, they do believe there’s a God, but they just haven’t got around to going to church since their last childhood carol service – just don’t realise how integral the concept of afterlife is to their normal functioning until it’s been definitively taken away from them. The irony is it’s just about possible that you really could live forever in Pink Dawn, so long as you can pay for your existence. Even if that’s not a certainty, ‘dying’ still isn’t something you have to worry about on a day-to-day basis. But if you ever should choose to get your image deleted, or if one day Pink Dawn goes bust or World War Four breaks out or any other thing happens that could lead to your file being wiped, then there really would be nothing waiting for you at the end of it. It really would be only non-existence. For some reason, short life followed by possible heaven is far more comforting an idea than long life followed by definitely nothing.”
“World War Four?” Jason asked. “So there was-”
“No.” she said. “That was a joke.”
He scowled. “If I were religious I’d just claim the metaverse to be another part of God’s creation. I’d tell myself that brain scans have souls just the same as living people do and I wouldn’t bother myself too much with trying to work out the detail. How is that any different from regular, real world religion anyway?”
“Yes, well,” Rachel replied. “To say such a thing now would be a considerable U-turn on the part of the church. Perhaps they should have thought a little harder before their knee-jerk reaction to it all. It’s doctrine now and that’s that.”
“Conceivably, a person could live for 30 years in the real world,” said Jason, “and then 3,000 in the metaverse; what was once considered his ‘real life’ ends up constituting less than one per cent of his total existence. It seems unfair to consider that it’s only the owner of the original 30 years that gets to go to heaven, no?”
“I don’t think ‘fairness’ is a factor under consideration,” she said, but she looked intrigued by the thought that Jason had put into that.
“What are the long-term consequences,” he asked next, “of existing for so long? I mean, cognitively. The brain isn’t designed to exist for that length of time. Do you end up going mad?”
“Nobody knows,” she said. “The oldest people in here haven’t yet accumulated forty years. It’s too early to say. Of course, there’s plenty of speculation. There’s talk, I understand, of some sort of ‘brain expansion’ thing we might be able to buy in the future – only an idea at the moment, of course. Not the sort of thing conceivable in the real world, obviously, but here our brains take up no physical space, so they could in theory be as large as we want them to be. Our skulls could be bigger on the inside than on the outside. We could all be like the TARDIS.”
“What about old people?” he said. “What about people with alzheimers?”
“There are extra rules if you’re over sixty. I think it’s just they sometimes find it hard to adjust. Alzheimers? Being scanned doesn’t cure brain syndromes. At least, I don’t think it does. I don’t know.” She seemed, suddenly, to become irritated with the conversation. “Why are you asking me these things?” she said. “What do I know? You’ve been in here the same amount of time as me. Find out, if it’s that important to you.”
“You’re older than me now,” he said. That gave him an idea, and he brought up a personal text screen whilst her back was turned, typed in ‘Idea for song title – You used to be younger than me.’ Snappy. It had a ring to it. He filed it away as she turned to look at him. “And I met somebody who has alzheimers,” he added. “Or at least it looked like that to me. Some sort of dementia. Her daughter had resurrected her. I think she thought it was just a question of getting her brain reprogrammed somehow.”
“Well, some people leave it ’till it’s too late to scan,” Rachel said. “It’s still quite expensive if you’re not all that well off. They can’t reprogram your brain, Jason.”
“Even I know that,” he said. “They have to keep rolling this woman’s brain back to factory settings.”
“It is not,” she said, “even remotely like ‘factory settings’.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I know. That was a joke.”
She sighed. She checked her phone for messages. “I want to be understanding,” she said, absently, “but her timekeeping was always dreadful. You’d think she’d show her dead mother just a little more respect.”
“What happened to the eight year old?” Jason asked.
“What eight year old?”
“The one whose parents I killed.”
“I don’t know, Jason,” she said. “I didn’t follow them. I think he was autistic.”
“Autistic? I thought they got rid of all them.”
She looked at him. “Not everyone screened back then. And not everyone who did screen aborted when the test came back positive. It might interest you to know that that programme is now considered one of the biggest mistakes of the 21st century.”
“Really?” he said. It did not interest him to know.
He spotted a distant woman approaching on a perpendicular path. She looked in a rush, but not so much in a rush that it was worth the indignity of trying to run. “Is that your daughter?” he asked.
“Where?” asked Rachel and looked. “Oh, yes!” She stood on tip-toes and waved. “Jane! Jane!” she shouted. The distant figure looked towards them and waved back.
“So, look, you’re telling me,” said Jason, suddenly keen to be gone before the offspring got there, “that there’s another, older version of me in here? But he’s incarcerated?”
“Yes, that’s right.” She looked at him sharply, probably also hopeful that he would leave now. “And if you want my advice, Jason, you won’t go anywhere near him.”
“You do realise, he took my money?” Jason said. “I have nothing, Rachel. He willed his entire estate to someone else’s account.”
“His own, Jason. Do you honestly think he would ever give his riches to someone else? He would have willed it to himself. Well, you know him better than I do.”
“I want my money back.”
“Just listen to you,” she said. “You haven’t changed at all.”
“It’s not right, Rachel. It isn’t fair.”
“Jason, you tell me that you’re different from him: well, fine. I’m not too big I can’t admit I’ve been wrong about something, but I need to see the proof.” She was leaving a door ajar for him, just a crack. “I’ve spent nearly thirty years trying not to think about that man. Prove to me that you’re not him by leaving him there to rot. Forget your money; you won’t get it from him anyway, he’ll never give it to you. Darling!” She grinned widely as her daughter came into audible range.
“Thank you, Rachel,” he said. “You’ve helped me a lot.”
“I mean it, Jason,” she told him. “Don’t go near him.”
He nodded. He took a step back from her, because he’d learned it was considered bad manners to teleport from within someone’s personal space, and transported back to his ‘home’ location.
Back to Annabelle’s place. He typed out a message to Lexington Greene, demanding to know where the second scan was being held. A few minutes elapsed, and then a text window opened up in front of him. “Hello, Mr Harlan; Lex isn’t on duty at the moment. Can I help?”
Jason remembered the way that Lexington Greene’s voice had wavered after he’d pushed him over and his head had caved in; he decided he didn’t want to have to spend time breaking in another advisor. “When will he be back on duty?” he typed. “I need to speak to him urgently.”
“I’m afraid I’m not able to make that information available,” came the reply. “Lex is currently on leave and our policy is not to divulge information on employee’s personal lives. Would you like to meet with me instead?”
Jason swore. “What impact does letting a client know when an advisor is due *back* at work have on his personal life?” he asked, knowing it would get him nowhere, but seeing the opportunity to intimidate from the moral high ground.
“I do appreciate your perspective, Mr Harlan, however the policy is not open to my interpretation in this area. I can offer you an appointment with me for this time tomorrow, if that would be helpful.”
“Tomorrow?” he replied, contemplating block capitals, but unable to lower himself quite that far. He hoped the word’s isolation would communicate a better, more intellectual incredulity.
“Yes, Mr Harlan.” From the other end of the conversation, however, ‘Kingston Harmony’ returned the dangling silence effortlessly. Jason supposed he wasn’t the only person who had ever become angry at Pink Dawn staff. He swore again.