Sunset #1724 figured among Jack’s favorites with its explosion of reds and golds. Leaning back in the chaise lounge by the pool, a glass in his hand, he watched the sun slowly disappear behind the horizon. He’d earned the right to indulge after a hard day’s work.
He took a sip of whiskey. Should he invite Darla over — she always made him laugh — or pull up the simulation instead? It was considerably less witty than the original but curvier and a lot more compliant. Jack smiled at how Darla would hate the facsimile if she learned of its existence.
Another swig. He’d go for the simulation tonight. He felt too tired for the real Darla. With a contented sigh, he launched sunset #864. He deserved a second one.
But when he tried to run the Darla simulation program, an error message popped up, “File not found.”
The letters flashed in front of his eyes in angry red. Jack sat up in surprise. He never got error messages, especially ones like that. What had happened to his carefully crafted simulation? He’d paid a hefty premium to have all his specifications fulfilled. Please, he thought, let it be only a network issue.
He was about to contact user support when the trees that had been swaying slowly in the breeze froze, the cicadas stopped singing, and the sun became fixed above the horizon.
A message filled the sky: “Sunset #864 unavailable.”
None of this made sense. He’d lived in his private partition for years without a glitch. Those files belonged to him. He tried to access other proprietary data, but there, too, only encountered error messages.
Jack stood up in a panic and was beginning to pace when someone pinged him. The message, displayed directly in his mind, was flagged as coming from the server support team. Good. Maybe they’d identified the issue and were already taking care of it.
“Hello, Mr. Young. I am Mary, your mainframe administrator.”
“Thank god. I need your help, Mary,” Jack replied.
Since Mary was a flesh and blood human, it meant waiting several minutes, subjective time, for an answer.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience you’re experiencing right now, Mr. Young. It will be of short duration.”
Nothing else came after that.
Finally, Jack sent, “Mary, can you tell me what’s going on?”
When the response came, it was disappointingly cryptic, “Are you familiar with article X, section 23, subsection 14 of your contract with Forever Inc., Mr. Young?”
A sense of dread seized him when he realized he couldn’t open the document in question. He slowed the speed of his mind to objective time. Something he usually avoided, since it felt like a waste of precious minutes, but he needed this to feel like a real conversation.
“It’s triggered in case of acquisition of Forever Inc. by another company. In this case, Eternity Ltd. The takeover took place one month ago, objective time. Article X, section 23, subsection 14 states that your Computerized Mental Construct becomes subject to the new company’s terms and conditions. Do you understand, Mr. Young?”
“The words, yes. Their meaning, no.”
However, he understood the name Eternity meant bad news. If memory served — when you were a Computerized Mental Construct, it always did — Eternity had ranked last on his list of possible providers. After he learned his colon cancer was incurable, he’d chosen Forever to upload his mind because they offered the best conditions.
“Your first-tier bundle with Forever Inc. has been converted into a basic package with Eternity Ltd. Eternity Ltd. guarantees only twenty years of subjective time for clients who purchase the basic package.”
“Unacceptable. My contract with Forever promised at least two hundred years.”
“I understand your frustration, Mr. Young, but as I explained before, Eternity Ltd. terms of service now apply to your contract.”
“I want to upgrade then. I’ve made a lot of money as a Computerized Mental Construct.”
Subjective time trading had allowed him to earn more than during his entire physical life.
This couldn’t be happening. He’d built a new virtual life and only enjoyed it for only twenty-five years.
“Are you going to…” he paused, searching for the right word, “unplug me?”
“The technical term is: format the individual partition. Your peripheral files and functionalities have already been erased, but not your Computerized Mental Construct, Mr. Young.”
“You can’t kill me!”
“You’re not alive, Mr. Young.”
“I am, damn it. There must be a way to appeal or to arrange a transfer to a different provider. I need time.”
“The formatting is already scheduled. It’ll start in five minutes, objective time. I’m sorry, Mr. Young.”
“Why tell me beforehand if there’s nothing I can do? You must get off on people’s fear.”
“I’m only following the directives of the Computerized Mental Construct ethics committee in the matter, Mr. Young. It concluded Computerized Mental Constructs were persons, and therefore must be apprized of any event that might compromise their integrity, and the reason for said event. But they also denied Computerized Mental Constructs any other statute.”
“Mary. Please, help me.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Young.”
Mary, whose name wasn’t really Mary, looked up from the parting words she’d just typed on her computer. A colleague had put a coffee cup on her desk.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile.
“How many have you deleted today?” the man asked, leaning against the wall of her cubicle.
“Twenty-four,” she said proudly. “I get a bonus for every zettabyte of server I reclaim, and 1% of the assets that revert to the company.”
The man’s frown deepened.
“Don’t look at me like I’m killing people. I’m not. I’m erasing computer programs.”
Cup in hand, Mary turned back to her screen and pinged the next entry on her listing.
Carole de Monclin is a traveler in the real world and imaginary ones. She has lived in France, Australia, and the USA; and visited 25+ countries (if you don’t count fictional ones). She writes to invite people on a journey with her. Her stories appear in multiples venues including The Black Hare Press Anthology “Deep Space” and the Exoplanet Magazine. Check out her website caroledemonclin.com.