I’d rather gag on a witchetty grub in front of a few million viewers than have fifty years of nothing to fill my time. Part 6 of ‘Thank You For Afterlifing With Us.’

The sixth 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 three here, part four here, part five here, part seven here and part eight here.

That night, he took Kingston Harmony from behind and had his greatest post-death orgasm so far.  It was something about the sight of her naked back, stretched out in front of him, that had done it.  Afterwards, he told her all about it.  “You know what I think you’d like?” he said.  “Me and my update doing you together.  What a triangle that would make.  I’d flip him for your ass.”

“Maybe you should cut straight to C and fuck his ass,” she said to him, as she put her clothes back on in the old fashioned way; she paused to slap his face hard.  “Bastard!  That’s what you really want, isn’t it?  After all, every man’s dream is to fuck himself up his own ass.”

He reached out and took a handful of her hair, pulled her backwards, back onto the bed so that she lay across his legs with her breasts looking up at him.  She gasped.  He leaned over and bit her lower lip, sucked it in between his teeth.  A shame he couldn’t taste the blood… “If you were alive,” he said, “I would make you feel such wonderful pain.”

She bit back, got his upper lip, held him there.  “I am alive,” she said through her teeth.  She pushed him away.  “Maybe, one day, my comatose sister will awaken and then you’ll be able to have us both together: one living and one emulated; how’s that for triangles for you?”

“I prefer my idea,” he said.  “I only have one penis.”  And then a thought suddenly occurred to him.  “I wonder what would happen if I tried to attach another?”

“Now that sounds like an appointment!” she declared, grinning.  She rolled away from him, came face to face with the item in question and stroked it gently for a while.  And eventually gave up.

“It needs another refill,” he said, by means of an explanation, and got out of bed before she could ask him what the hell he meant by that.  Silently, he swore.  It was still less than a week since his last visit to the prison.  He’d been told not to come back within a fortnight unless it was to announce that he was ready.  He hated having to go back there on bended knee.  He hated having to beg in front of that idiot, that arsehole, that evil piece of shit.

*

 “I suppose this means that Rachel is dead,” his ‘update’ had said on that first visit, once the guard who had brought him in had left them and it was just the two of them in that room.  Jason had wondered what the function of the guard actually was, given that there was surely nothing an inmate could do to escape from the virtual prison.  He thought of prisons and of Stanford and of Zimbardo, and decided that being a guard in this context was perhaps less about keeping inmates secure as it was about playing a role and making sure psychological imprisonment was as real and as thorough as it could be.

Kingston Harmony had left him as soon as he was through the gate and at the door to the visitors’ office.  “Dancing,” she had reminded him, before vanishing in a puff of purple smoke with yellow swirls and green sparkles.

“Well,” the update continued, “she took her sweet time.  It could have been worse, I suppose.  What got her in the end?  Believe me, if I could have done something to have brought it about more quickly I would have done – I have the contacts, I assure you.  There are limits on what I can do – or, more importantly, get away with – from in here though.”  He wore an orange inmate’s jumpsuit.  On the right-side breast was embroidered, “Harlan, J”.  He had stubble; about a day’s growth.  His hair was down to his shoulders and looked unwashed.  Later, Jason would learn that this was all obligatory, everything; right down to the lines of dirt beneath the fingernails.  All part of the removal of freedom, for freedom meant different things in different places, but in the metaverse, appearance was one of the greatest freedoms you had.

“She died of cancer,” he said.

“What sort?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“I’ll get someone to find out, after you’ve gone,” said the update.  “Not now, because they’ll monitor me whilst you’re here.”

Jason One looked around the empty room.  “Don’t they monitor you anyway?”

“What for?” Jason Two said.  It’s not like I’m likely to escape, is it?”  He rezzed a small pine cube between them and started playing with it, manipulating its dimensions and twisting it to torture.  “If I did escape,” he said, “would I be able to do anyone harm?  Would I be able to take refuge in a local village and disguise myself as a simple peasant, work for a coin a day in the fields and fuck the farmer’s daughter whilst I’m lying low?  It’s not like we’re not talking Alcatraz.”

“If they hardly ever monitor you,” One said dryly, “then what was stopping you from using your ‘contacts’ at an earlier moment?”

“Don’t try to get clever with me, junior,” Two said, in a nonetheless amiable tone.  “There are different types of communication and there are different levels of monitoring.  And there are different amounts of efforts made when the issue is homicide.  Why don’t you just take it from me that, after thirty-odd years in here, I’ve managed to work out how things work, ok?”

“And this conversation?” said One.

“Calm yourself,” he said, smugly.  “No-one cares what you and I say to each other.  The only thing that matters is I’m miserable.  Out there in the real world, they lock people up to punish them, but also to protect the rest of the world from their evil ways; in here, punishment is the only function.  No-one cares what happens to us, just so long as we’re not happy.”

“And provided you don’t go mad,” One said.

“What?  Oh yes, the first inmates; you heard about that, then?  I suppose you think I was lucky?  Don’t imagine it’s anything approaching pleasant in here.”  The pine cube had now become a very specific crystalline-looking structure.  Two made seven copies and stacked them in a two by two-by-two matrix. He positioned the whole structure in the middle of the table.  He winked.  “You have to be able to remember the dimensions by heart,” he said.  “It won’t store in inventory, no matter what you do.  It took me three weeks to learn it.”  He fiddled with the positioning a little more and then said, “Harlancubeone activate.”  The eight individual crystalline structures moved apart suddenly, expanding outwards to the eight corners of an invisible cube of space that incorporated both of the Jasons and the desk and the chairs that they sat on.  They turned green.  “It’s a combination of code and physical properties,” Two said.  “It’s a loophole.”

“What is?” said One.

“The field,” he said, indicating the space between them.  “Now we can talk.”

“I thought you said they don’t monitor you,” One said.

“They don’t,” Two told him.  “But it never hurts to be sure.  And they can always go back over recordings.”

“Let’s get to business,” One said, suddenly irritated by this man in front of him, suddenly keen to get out of there.  It was absolutely nothing like staring in a mirror, he realised.  Or rather hoped.  “You took all my money.  I have nothing in here.  I want my money back.”

Two leaned forward.  “Excuse me?” he said.  “How exactly is it your money?”

“It’s my money,” One said, “because I made it.”

“And I didn’t?  Did some sort of reset switch get pressed the moment you got made?”

“Well, it’s funny you should put it that way,” One remarked.  “What exactly happened with Playmate?  Were you unable to sell records once I’d been peeled away from your existence?”

“You bitch!” Two said and laughed.  “Just for that, I’m going to tell you something I’ve never said to anyone before, except you’re going to know it word-for-word because it’s part of your very cell structure: you’re not that good a singer, boy; and you’re not that good a songwriter.  What you achieved you achieved by being just the right mix of looks, tones, tunes and arrogance in the right place at the right time.  You were Zeitgeist, and nothing more.”

“Just over a week ago,” One said, “I was recording that fucking album.  No-one was talking about me being Zeitgeist then.”

“But you were,” Two said.  “If you think about it, the signs were there.  Don’t you remember Stefan trying to talk us into that jungle thing?”

“Stefan’s full of shit,” One said.  “Him and his fucking ‘nose’.”

“Yeah, well; it turns out we should have attended to that nose of his.  Vardel did, and it didn’t do him any harm.”

“I’d rather be a nobody than have to eat bugs live on television,” One said.  “Imagine that.  Imagine throwing up in front of the cameras and everyone at home can see your spew.  They might as well watch you taking a shit.  What’s left to keep covered?”

“Speak for yourself,” Two told him.  “If I’d have taken that job, I might not be stuck here in this dump.  I’d rather gag on a witchetty grub in front of a few million viewers than have fifty years of nothing to fill my time.  Do you know anything about coding?”

“What?” One said, frowning.  “No, of course I don’t.  Why do you ask me that?”

“No reason,” Two replied.  “You think you’re hard done by finding out about Playmate?  Think how it felt to experience it.”

“You poor thing.  It must have been dreadful.  I want my money.  You have no more right to it than I do.”

“Well that’s where you’re wrong, junior.  We might both be digital now, but for a short while back then I was the flesh and blood one with all the decision-making rights that biological substrate has.  In fact, that money never belonged to you for even a second.  I plain forgot all about your scan the very moment I walked out of that office, so I never got around to changing my will like I said I would.  The next time I found myself even thinking about you was when Rachel wrote to me telling me to delete your binary ass.  After I’d zapped you, I then started messing around with the whole Pink Dawn thing – I had more free time on my hands at that point in my life, you see.  I became addicted.  And that’s when I decided I did want a scan after all.  So that time – because it was actually my idea in the first place – I got the money stuff sorted out.  My money, see?  Don’t go throwing your rattle out, now; there’s nothing anyone’s going to be able to do about this for you.”

“Wait a minute,” One said, “you said you deleted my scan.  Well, that’s not right.”

“I deleted you, yes,” Two said.

“But I’m here.  How could you have deleted me if I’m here?”

“Didn’t I just mention that I have contacts?” Two said.  “I got your file recovered.”

 “My scan was deleted and you recovered it?” One repeated.  “How?”

“It’s easy.  Scans are held on light drives on servers that get filled up one at a time,” Two told him.  “Once a drive is full, a new one gets started.  You delete a scan and you create a gap there like the space on a shelf where a book used to be.  Sure, you could use that space in theory – you could shuffle all the books along to create a bit of extra space at the end – but when the existing procedure is just to keep adding bookshelves and when bookshelves are cheap and plentiful, why mess about for the sake of the odd book here and there?  Too much hassle.  And anyway, you never know when someone’s going to change their mind about a deleted scan.”

“So the data’s still there when a scan gets deleted?”

“Of course.  The only thing they actually delete is a few bytes from the file header so the system doesn’t see it any more.  Recovery is just a question of locating the right space.  It takes minutes.”

Jason One dared hope for a moment.  All thoughts of getting back his money left him completely.  “So… Rachel’s deleted scan could also be retrieved, then?”

Two looked distinctly disappointed in his predecessor.  “The original Rachel?  It would be hard to organise without consent, but yes it could be done.  You want her reactivated?”

One was punching his hand, both in delight and anger.  “She had no right to delete that scan,” he said.  “We made a promise to each other.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Two said, “like you were ever one to take a promise seriously.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“I am,” he said.  “Or have you forgotten that you and I are the same person?”

One tried to picture this man in front of him making love to Rachel and the thought of it revolted him.  30 years.  Surely, that was enough?  Surely that made them as different as two strangers?  “What if I tell you that you and I are not the same?” he said.

“Aren’t we?  In what manner?  Are you referring to the things I’ve seen and done since your creation?  You know what?  They didn’t change me so much.”

“Why does Rachel hate me?” One asked him.  “Is it because of the car accident?”

“She didn’t tell you?” Two asked.  “Not even a hint?  How about that?  I suppose she’s still shitting herself about it, after all these years.  Well, the world won’t hear it from me; I have enough time in here left to serve as it is.  Of course it isn’t to do with the accident, you idiot.  We were over long before then.”

“So what did you do to her?”

“What did I do to her?  You’re barking up the wrong tree completely, boy.  It’s what I did to someone else that’s the issue here.  That horny little bitch of ours agreed to every last detail at first.  Then she went and got herself a conscience.”

“Every last detail of what?”

“Perhaps I’ll tell you,” Two said.  “It all depends on how good you are.”

In fact, One was rapidly losing interest.  “Are you going to help me reactivate Rachel’s old scan or not?” he asked.

“Why don’t we focus on what you might be able to do for me for a while?” Two said.  “Once we’re clear on that we’ll return to the issue of your girlfriend – who, incidentally, you will tire of, and very quickly.”

“Why did you reactivate me?”

“Jesus Christ, are you going to answer everything I say to you with a question?”

“Fine.  Then I’ll find out how to do it myself.”  One got up out of his seat.

“Sit down,” Two growled.  “Don’t be so damned hostile.  I’ll speak to my people about it once you’re gone.  Jesus.  Do you hate yourself that much that you have to speak to me that way?”

“Hate myself?” One repeated.  “You’re nearly thirty years older than me, how do you honestly imagine that we’re still connected?”

“Does it mean nothing to you that we share the same memories?  I know you better than any brother ever could, boy.  Every last ejaculation you ever had, I had too; don’t you think that gives me some sort of access to the insides of your brain?”

“When I was five,” One said, “I was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine.  I know that about myself, because my mother kept reminding me about it, but I don’t actually remember what it was like.  You don’t know me any more than I know that five-year-old.”

“When we were five,” Two corrected.  “And, for your information, she was our mother.  You can project ‘otherness’ all you like onto me, but it’ll never be true.  Sooner or later, you’re going to come round to that.  Sooner or later, you’re going to realise I’m the closest thing you have to family in here.”

“Or maybe,” One commented, “I’ll become even more different from you, now that I’ve seen what I could become.”

“Fine,” Two said.  “Live happily ever after.  Make sure you buy Tiny Tim the biggest, fattest turkey you can find.”

Which reminded One about the money.  He said, “And I want some of my money back.  You have no right to it all.”

“I have every right, as I explained” Two replied.  “And don’t even think about attempting a moral argument; not with me.  But I will give you some money, yes.  If you do what I ask.”

“Oh?” said One. “What do you want from me?”

“There are things which I can do from in here and there are things which I can’t,” Two said.  “I’m able to communicate with people outside, but it’s a roundabout thing involving the exploitation of a very old scripting feature.  I was able to get your synaptic scan restored, but I wasn’t able to get it activated in advance of the originally agreed conditions.  I am theoretically able to teleport out of here – I have the algorithms to do it with – but to do so would be pointless because I’d automatically be detected, wherever I went.  But you can help me out there, boy.  You can get me out of here.”

“Don’t you go thinking I’m going to do some sort of switch with you,” One said.  “I don’t know if that’s possible, but I know how your mind works.  You can forget it.”

“I’m not asking for anything permanent,” Two told him.  “Quite literally, you would hardly notice that anything was different.  What I’m proposing is that we share your avatar, fifty-fifty.  We each of us alternate between your account and mine.  We take it in turns.  When you’re not in your avatar you’ll be here in mine; put it in sleep for twelve hours and you’ll hardly notice you’re here.”

“Switch avatars?  Is that possible?” One asked.

“Of course.  It’s just like logging into an alternate account.  Pink Dawn pre-dates brain scanning.  I heard stories it was even a physical place once. Our digital brains aren’t inside these avatars – they’re outside of the metaverse on different servers altogether, interfacing with it just the same as living people do.  Only we get output from the metaverse that they don’t, because for them to receive it as input would require major brain surgery.  You can log out of your account at any time, but only by logging on to a different one.  Plenty of dead people have alternative accounts.  But the moment my synaptic signature disappears from here and shows up in another avatar, the system detects it, shuts it down and hauls me back in here – and, incidentally, adds an extra year to my sentence for each attempt that I make.”

“How would it be any different if you were in this avatar?”

“Because we share the same signature, you idiot,” Two snapped.  “It’s like a fingerprint.  It’s like DNA.  You log into this account and me into yours and the system will be none the wiser.”

“So why hasn’t it detected me as you already and tried to bring me back to prison?”

“Because it can still see me in here,” Two replied.  “It has to see my signature outside of here and at the same time it has to be missing from inside of here.  Only then will the alarm be triggered.”

“Are you telling me they can’t write some sort of routine to detect the difference between my brain and your brain, and which is in which avatar?” One asked, incredulously.

“Of course they could,” Two replied.  “Every scan has its own unique ID tag, they’d just need to rewrite the system to incorporate that. But they haven’t, because it’s not a priority.  And it won’t become a high priority if we take care and don’t get found out.  And we won’t get found out if we don’t stand out.  Nobody’s interested in us anymore, boy.  They have a few hundred agents out there amongst hundreds of millions of residents.  So long as the automatics aren’t tripped, no-one will pay us the slightest bit of attention.”

“Well anyway,” said One, “It’s all academic, because I’m not interested.”

“Of course, you’re interested,” Two told him.  “Not only will I find out about Rachel’s scan for you, but I’ll also pay you extremely well.  And the cost to you is virtually negligible.  Come here and sleep – that’s it.  You’ll hardly notice a thing.”

“I do know about the work rotas you’re required to do here,” One said.

“We’ll time things so they fall during my shift,” said Two.  “I’ll sleep for six hours rather than twelve.”

“How would I stop you from taking possession of my body permanently, once you were in it?”

“We’ll get the whole thing automated.  I’ll prepare the scripts and then you can get hold of a coder of your own to look through it all.  Once you’re satisfied the routines aren’t dirty, we’ll lock out modification under a dual passkey.  After that, any alterations will have to be approved by both of us.  It’s fool proof.”

One looked carefully at his update, as though hidden thoughts could somehow leak across an avatar’s face.  “Don’t think I trust you for a second,” he said.

“I’ll be happy to listen to any additional security ideas you come up with,” Two said, amiably.  He smiled.  “Go away and think about it.  Come back in a week.”

“How long do you have left to serve?”

“23 years.  Then we’ll both be out of here.  If you like, we’ll never have to see each other again after that.  Come to think of it, we’ll pretty much never need to actually see each other at all if you accept my proposal.  It’ll be like hot-bunking on a submarine.  We can leave each other messages under the pillow and that will be that.”

“23 years?  I’m not even sure I want to be here for 23 weeks,” One said bitterly, slumping, letting his guard down, just a little.

“I remember that feeling,” Two told him.  “The lack of sensation, right?  I hated it.  I still miss eating, but actually it’s not all that different from how I miss smoking.  You do get used to it.

“Of course!” he said suddenly, “you’re still stuck with the default prick, aren’t you?  The one with the odd pubes?  Jesus, no wonder you’re so despondent.”

“I heard there was other stuff available,” One said.

“Trust me on one thing, junior,” Two told him, “there’s only one product out there at the moment that has the neural feedback I know you’re after, and you won’t be finding it in any store.  Forget about ‘other stuff’; it’s the C350A you’re after.”

“I never heard of that.”

“Of course you didn’t,” he said.  “It looks like a standard MultiGen, but that’s deliberate, of course.”

“Where do I get it from?” One asked, feeling an odd sort of hope, feeling disgust at the same time that this was now the sort of thing he pinned his hopes to.  But what point was there in reviving Rachel if this particular hope didn’t exist?

“You get it from me,” Two said.  “In fact, I have eight for exchange.  I use them when money alone can’t buy me what I’m after.  I’ll give you one right now on the proviso you don’t go broadcasting the fact that you have it.”

One asked, “What does it… feel like?”

“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not as authentic as the real thing.  Not quite.  Certain sensations are missing, like the feel from inside of coming.  But you do orgasm.  Once you get used to it, you’ll stop thinking of how things used to be.  It focuses you on other aspects of sex – stuff you never really paid attention to before, like the way her toes curl.  It’s hard to describe in words.  I actually prefer sex this way, now I’m used to it.  They bring women in here every three months.  I usually get through four or five before it’s home time.”

“Let me try it out,” One said, eager to be gone from the cell and in bed, taking Annabelle.  Or maybe Kingston Harmony.  “If I like it, I’ll consider your plan.”

“Now look here,” Two said, “don’t you be taking me for some kind of idiot.”  He rezzed a box between them, removed the lid.  Inside, there was a fairly standard looking penis, flaccid and circumcised.  “You don’t get this for keeps – not yet, at least.  I’m setting it to trial mode.  You get two ejaculations, no more – how you go about getting them is your business – and if you want more than that then you’ll come back here to me.  Fair’s fair, right?  I’ve got to have some sort of guarantee.”

“Fine,” said One, knowing he would have done the same.

“If you agreed to my proposal, of course, I’d enable it permanently.  After all, then it would belong to both of us.”

“For 23 years.”

“Yes.”

“You know,” One said, “when you put it like that, I’m not so sure any more.  I don’t like the idea of having to share a prick with you.”

“Think of it this way – we shared one for the first thirty years of your life,” Two told him.  “You managed that just fine.  Put it on.  Put it on now.  Take off the default cock and put this on in its place.  You’ll notice the difference straight away.  Even when you’re not fucking, you’ll be glad that it’s there.  It’ll make you feel more human.”

One took the penis into his inventory and called up his management system.  He detached his existing genitals – felt an odd sensation there, a lightness, an absence of pull – and selected the new item for wearing.  Straight away, he felt it: a fullness, almost a warmth.  Two noted the tiny changes in his original’s non-verbals and smiled.  “The default penis makes no connection at all to the neural pathways it should be connected to,” he said.  “Anything you feel with that lump of clay is pure placebo, pure association: a phantom cock.  The interface for third party attachments allows a limited degree of neural wiring for developers to play with, but this baby uses an external application for additional channels, it increases just the resolution of sensation by nearly five hundred per cent, but it adds new layers of tactile data too.”

“It’s actually,” said One, hesitantly, “a little… uncomfortable.”

“That’s because you’ve already become accustomed to feeling virtually numb down there,” Two said.  “You’ll re-adjust to sensation very quickly.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” One added, “I’m not complaining.”

Two smiled again, looked at his clone, looked at the clock on the wall.  The crystalline structures had become orange.  He said, “So I imagine you’ll want to be off experimenting, then?  My shift is coming up.  You should go now, find somebody to fuck.  Or maybe just give yourself a quick hand job.  Don’t waste it, mind: two ejaculations are all you get.  Get a form on the way out for a repeat visit, ok?  Come see me when you need topping up.”

*

And One had hurried back to Annabelle’s place and waited nearly four hours for her to come inworld.  He’d used the time to acquaint himself with the C350A user manual.  By the time she arrived he’d set up his penis to emulate penetration of the P350A, because he doubted that the forty-nine-year-old had invested in genitalia of comparable quality, and he wanted the maximum stimulation available.  She’d been lethargic in the end; unenthusiastic; tired, after a long day at work.  She’d let him take her all the same and they’d squirmed together in missionary on the bed for five mostly silent minutes.  He’d orgasmed at just about the moment when he’d realised she’d left him with an empty avatar.  He withdrew so that he could see what his semen looked like, exiting, and cursed the utter waste that this had been.  He left a notecard for her return.  “Thanks, but I can do a better job wanking myself off.  See you around.  J.”

*

And One had messaged Kingston Harmony and taken her dancing, and listened to nearly three hours of talk before finally getting her back to her place and sitting on the couch together.  He’d asked her if she had someone in the metaverse and she’d told him about some guy she’d been serious with until recently; and whilst she spoke, he kissed her neck and put his hand on her thigh and reached up, into her skirt, and grasped her panties with both hands; and pulled.  They fucked each other right there on the couch; this time, when he came, it was as though his entire body was vibrating.  He saw her body go tight at the same time, her arms outstretched, clawing at the fabric.  He heard her gasp, and he wondered how one gasped when one had no lungs; but he gasped as well, all the same.

*

One was back in the prison the next day.  Two said to him, “You used them up already, didn’t you?  I can tell you did from the way that you’re walking.  You look all of a sudden like you realised this is home now.  So, you want a refill?”

“I wasted one of them,” One told him.  “She left me with an empty avatar.  I think she was sleeping in real life, all that fuss she made about being tired.  A total waste of time.  How was I to know she’d do that?”

“Maybe she was taking a shit,” Two said. “She could have been blowing her next-door neighbour, for all you know.  And therein lies lesson number one: don’t fuck the living; you never can tell what they’re up to.  Besides, the dead appreciate it better.”

“The thing is,” said One, “my number two last night is a digital scan, yes, but her real-life body isn’t dead.”

“An early activation, huh?  How does she get on with her original?”

“Her original is in a coma.  She works to pay the hospital fees.  The girl’s parents activated her.”

“You see,” said Two, “that’s the problem with earlies.  Parents and stuff.  They imagine they should be treated by their mummies just like before they got scanned.  It’d be one thing if their flesh and blood was dead and burned and bytes was all the parents had left – then, for sure they’d get the daily calls to dress up warm in the metaverse.  It’s not the same when your biological origin is alive and well and enjoying weekly roasts at the homestead.  Earlies end up getting all resentful.  I even heard once about one that hired someone to knock off his original, he was that sick of being the unwanted understudy.”

“They caught him?”

“Sure they caught him.  He was put in here for six months whilst they pushed his deletion through the courts.  Get rid of your early.  Even if her blood’s blood stops flowing, she’ll never be what she would have been.  She’s not the inanimate lump her parents have been reading the daily news to, after all.  Take my advice and ditch her.”

“She works for Pink Dawn,” One told him.

“Does she, now?”  Two looked suddenly interested.  “Well that’s a turn of events.  You didn’t tell her about me, did you?  You didn’t tell her about my proposition, I hope?”

“Of course not.”

“Very unusual for an employee to engage in any sort of relationship outside of an alt.  You want to keep an eye on her, my boy.  How did you meet?”

One told him about Lexington Greene, and how he’d come to be upgraded to ‘difficult’.  Two grimaced when he heard.  He wagged a finger.  “From now on, you behave yourself, you understand?  Don’t stand out.  I mean it.  You make yourself visible like that and we won’t have a chance of making this work.  This changes things.  We’re going to have to let a bit of time pass, wait until they’ve decided you’re a good boy after all.  Say, a couple of months; maybe three.  And you should find that Greene guy and apologise to him.  I mean it.  Ask your woman to set up a meeting as soon as possible.  Once things are nice and quiet we can then work on getting this back on track.”

“And… in the meantime?” One asked him.

“Don’t worry,” Two said, “I’ll keep you topped up.  But I’m not raising the level any.  Two per refill is all you get.  And don’t think you can keep coming here every day either.  You’re going to have to learn to make them last.  And don’t for Christsakes let that Pink Dawn bitch know you’ve got a C350 either.  Do you understand me?”

“I understand,” One told him.

*

Presently, he came to thinking about his deletion.  Of course, he told himself, it wasn’t really a deletion.  ‘A couple of bytes from the file header,’ Two had said; nothing had actually happened to his scan, it was hardly as though it had been wiped from existence.  He thought about the storage of data and wondered how many sheets of paper his digital brain would occupy if it got printed out in all its ones and zeros.  He imagined it all written out by hand, leather bound across a million volumes.  As storage, it would still suffice if it came to it.  He could exist within pages.  And then he considered the notion that data is only truly ‘alive’ when it is being acted upon.  He tried to imagine a Dickensian office, filled with clerks with quills and abaci, the shelves lined with his volumes; a Victorian workhouse, then, pouring over the details of his neurons; a factory of him, belching thoughts into the air at the rate of one per day.  How slow did the calculation have to be before the illusion of consciousness broke apart, just like the illusion of movement when the frame rate slows to a gentle tick-tock, when the spin slows and the top begins to wobble?

He thought of Rachel 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.’  Soon, he thought to himself.  He would find her file and replace its index card.  He would bring redundant numbers back to life.  And then data would make love to data, just like they had planned it, and to hell with the thoughts of the older him or the older her.  They belonged to a different world of other happenstance.

*

“It needs another refill?” Kingston Harmony repeated, as she did up her buttons, one-by-one.  “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means I need to get to work,” said One, pulling on trousers.  “We’ve a party of eighty turning up tomorrow evening and I’ve only got an hour’s worth of set planned.  The pianist had some sort of mental breakdown last week; I have to break in a whole new guy in less than six hours.”  He put on his shirt with his back to her, watched her face carefully in the mirror.  She looked in the direction of his ass with raised eyebrows for a moment and then sighed.

“It’s been nearly five months,” Two had said to him, five days previously.  “I’m starting to get impatient, little brother.  I’m going to have to get less generous with those top-ups I’ve been giving you.”

“Did you find Rachel yet?” One had asked him, without hesitation.  “You know the deal.  Find Rachel first.”

Two had sighed and said, “Ok, Junior, have it your way.  Yes, I did find Rachel.  I found her two weeks ago, in fact.  I had hoped you might start to like your new life just fine without her; quite apart from the bitter taste it gives me just to hear that name, her reactivation is going to cost me a small fortune.  All for a couple of weeks’ worth of fucking before you want rid of her, I promise.  If you absolutely insist, I’ll give the go ahead – but not until you’ve at least found yourself a decent coder and got him to look over the script for the timeshare.  I want to move this thing along now.  Twenty-seven years is more than enough time to wait.”

“You’d bring her brain online before we started the share?” One had asked him.

“I will,” Two had replied.  “Consider it an advance.  But you won’t get any money until the end of the first month – I’ll arrange for a stipend to be set up – and you should know that once I’ve switched her on I’m cutting back your refills to one a month.  Oh and I imagine you’ll be wanting an attachment similar to your own for Rachel to wear as well.”

“I have a job now,” One had told him, “I have my own income.  Maybe I’ll find someone who can supply me with my own C350A.  After all, you must have got them from somewhere yourself.”

“I like your honesty,” Two said.  “I’m glad we can be open about these things.  First of all, even if you did find someone to sell to you, you’d have to work for something like four to five years on the salary you earn before you could afford a 350.  Just so that you know.  Second, it’ll be a while before Rachel’s file makes it into the Pink Dawn database proper if we do it this way around – she won’t get the standard induction, you know; you’ll have to organise that for yourself somewhere.  In your case, we worked you back into the database first, so it looked like you’d never been erased.  Until we work Rachel’s metadata into the system, the same guy I have on the outside that switched her on will be able to switch her off again, and just as fast.  I have plenty of safeguards, see?”

From the edge of the bed, Kingston Harmony sighed again, smoothed her blouse and straightened her stockings.  “Then I’ll drop by the club later on,” she told him.  “Maybe I’ll get to hear you sing for a bit.”

“If I’m not there I’ll be at Barney’s getting the flats for the beach scene sorted out,” he said hastily.  “But stick around; I won’t be there long.”  In exactly three hours he had a meeting with a coder.

This is an excerpt from an abridged version of my digital afterlife novel, “Thank you for afterlifing with us,” which I will be serialising here over the next few weeks.  The complete novel follows the story of two separate people and their lives in the virtual world of Pink Dawn. For this abridgement, I am presenting just one of these stories (that of Jason Harlan).

“Thank you for afterlifing with us” was published originally in 2014 under the title, “Beside an Open Window.” For this serialisation, I’ve taken the opportunity to update the novel in a number of small ways (including its title). I will be publishing the complete revised version at the end of this serialisation. In the meantime, the original book can be purchased from here (this version will be retired on publication of the new version).

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