“Where am I?” Daniel asked hesitantly.
He was sitting in a comfortable chair right in the middle of what seemed to be a room. Although he knew he was sitting down, he did not feel the surface.
When he looked around, he saw nothing but an intense white space. There was no ceiling, just endless white.
On the floor, he saw what looked like a compass. Thin, golden lines formed its shape. He looked North, and suddenly his gaze met that of a woman. A woman so beautiful that he was thinking of surrendering himself to her immediately. To do everything and anything she asked. She was tall and wore a white, silk dress with a golden belt and crown on top of her blonde hair.
“Welcome Daniel, you made it. You just died. My name is Mira.”
“Daniel, Daniel? Come back to us.” Mira spoke softly.
“Is he awake?” A second woman asked.
“He is opening his eyes.” The third woman said.
Daniel looked into Mira’s magnificent face again. Did I hear that correctly? Am I dead? he thought.
What was he doing? He should be braver in front of her. Not weak. Sit up straight.
He felt weightless, but as he looked down he saw his body. He wore a brown cloth, strapped together by a thick rope with a small pouch attached to it. As he held it up, he could hear metal clinking.
And then he saw her. Another woman. Equally breathtaking, with dark hair and olive skin. She wore a dark green rope, with a belt made of leaves. On her head, she wore a crown too, completely made out of daffodils. How come I know what daffodils are, but that I don’t know who I was before I died?
“Dear Daniel, you’re finally here. Sit up and let us look at you. We’re about to begin. I am Sira.”
Daniel was unable to speak. Such beauty, such grace. Her voice was unlike anything he had ever heard. So sweet, so gentle. He wanted to compare it to something, but he could not come up with a memory. At the moment he knew nothing, no one. There he was with Mira and Sira. And wait, there was another woman! His heart jumped at the sight of her. She wore a blue dress, the color of a clear sky on a spring day. Her long red curls touched her bare feet. She too came to stand before him. Then something unexpected happened. She kissed him on his right cheek. Briefly, he was able to gaze into her blue eyes, surrounded by dozens of freckles. His face turned warm and red.
“Lira, stop teasing the man. That will not work. He has to decide for himself and must not be biased.” Mira spoke firmly.
As she walked away, Lira winked at Daniel.
In front of him, three glass thrones had appeared. Behind them, three doors emerged, except they were not traditional doors, they were twisting and turning, showing different colors, like a soapy surface. Daniel had a feeling that if you would blow with intent, it would turn in a shiny and bubble.
On each throne sat one of the women. Mira on the far left, with Sira in the middle and Lira on the right.
Next to Lira, a hunched, cloaked figure stood, holding on to a long golden staff, with a pigeon in flight on top of it. It was as if the staff was the sole reason for the figure being able to stand up straight.
“Very well, Daniel. We don’t have much time. There are many others waiting in line. You are not the only one to have died today you know.” Mira spoke softly. “Behind us are the passages to your new world. As you can see there are three options for you to choose from. Now, if you will stand up and follow me.”
Mira beckoned Daniel to come forward and ushered him towards the first door. Sira and Lira merely looked at them.
“Be sure to come back Daniel, you might like what you see behind my door too.” Sira said mysteriously.
“And mine, handsome. Do not forget to join me too.” Lira spoke teasingly.
The soapy liquid in front of him started bubbling. All the bubbles coming off it glided in the air, showing dozens of colors. Some touched his skin, some popped. However, Daniel did not feel anything.
“Follow me.” Mira said as she took him by his hand and pulled him into the surface.
Daniel and Mira were sucked into what seemed like a tube of lights. Long lines in all colors surrounded them. Then an electric light illuminated the entire tunnel. The lights made way for green ones and zeros.
With a thud, Daniel fell to the floor. Mira stood calmly beside him and held out her hand.
“Welcome to the Universe of the Artificial, Daniel. Shall we meet the professor?”
They walked through a large hall. Inside, it looked like a cathedral, except there seemed to be no ceiling, no benches, no images of Christ. At the end of the hall, stood a big black object. Daniel gasped for the object seemed to have no end. When they walked closer, he heard hissing and beaming sounds. He saw thousands upon thousands of blue lights flickering. Daniel was looking up at the machine, not paying attention as to where he was walking. He was awoken from his trance by a loud yell.
“Ouch, that’s my foot!”
Daniel looked down again, only to find a balding man with a thick grey beard sitting on an office chair. He wore immense spectacles on his large and crooked nose. His eyes were magnified by the glass into saucers. Daniel let a short grin escape the moment the old man blinked.
“Daniel, this is the professor,” Mira spoke. “Professor, this is Daniel. He is here to explore his options.”
“Naturally.” The professor spoke annoyed.
“What’s that thing behind you, professor?”
“That is a server, m’boy. Let me explain it plain and simple. Here you can upload your brain to this server. On this server are billions of people who have died before you and who chose to extend their conscience. We download your conscience and connect it to the server. Then, you will live on forever, in the cloud.”
Daniel looked at the professor in disbelief.
The professor burst out laughing, uncontrollably. Tears dripping beneath his glasses. Daniel looked at Mira. Mira looked at the professor earnestly but at the same time without judgment, patient even. Not at all like she had listened to his story billions of times.
“Every time. Every time I see that look. It’s so funny. But it’s true m’boy.”
“So you’re able to exist, without a body, only with your mind?”
“And will I be able to access my memories?”
“Very clever, m’boy. Since you haven’t chosen any of your options yet, your memories are blocked. It’s important you make a decision based on what appeals to you, but without your judgments and values from your past life.” The old man said briskly. “Do you want to have a peek?”
The old man grabbed what looked like a combination of a USB stick and a syringe. “I’m going to temporarily download your conscience. You have fifteen minutes to explore. Explore wisely.”
Daniel looked hesitantly from the syringe to the old man and to Mira. Mira nodded at him encouragingly. He closed his eyes as he felt the needle enter his left temple.
Daniel suddenly had no eyes to open. His body had disappeared. The space he was in was dark, green zeros and ones illuminated the darkness, floating. The space turned into a digital menu. He browsed the options. Chat. Read. Learn. Explore past, was locked with an icon of a vault next to it. Find relatives. Daniel did not need to press or click, he wanted to open the option, and it automatically did.
A list of people appeared. It wasn’t very long. He recognized some names, but only vaguely. Then he got a request to chat. Marie Stitt. Who could that be?
Before he was able to open the request, Mira’s face appeared. “Welcome Daniel, to the Universe of the Artificial. Here you’ll live on in an abstract form. You’re able to think, converse and develop. You are linked to all other souls who have chosen to live on in this realm. Your brain is now connected to the system and to each and every other mind. You have ten more minutes to explore. Good luck.”
Her face disappeared and a chat box appeared, a conversation with Marie Stitt. Who could she be? Words materialized. “Daniel, is that really you my son? Oh, why so soon? You’re way too young. My poor child. What happened?”
Is my mother here? How come I don’t recognize her name? But he knew why. The professor just explained it. “I don’t know, I just started exploring. My memories are blocked. Who else is here?”
“I understand. Oh, it’s been so long, my boy. How I’ve worried about your well-being. Such a shame I can’t see you. Or touch you.
Don’t be mistaken, you can live on in here, but it’s tough nonetheless. I am here with my mother and a few friends. We talk a lot, watch films, play games, learn new skills. However, every day we think about our past lives, how we were able to love, touch, and feel. Not having a body and knowing you once had one is cruel.”
“But you’re able to be with your mother! With friends!”
“After twelve years, we’ve pretty much said all that there is to say. I only wished your father was here too. I don’t know if he still lives, or if he died and chose a different universe. I’ve been on the lookout, but it’s not always possible to spot the newcomers. There are just too many.”
YOU HAVE ONE MINUTE LEFT.
“Mom, I’ve got to go. This is so weird, I don’t know who you are, nor who I am for that matter. What is this?”
“I know, Daniel. All I can say is: explore all three worlds. Then make your decision. I’ll be here waiting for you if you choose to revisit.”
His eyes needed to adjust to the bright light. Once he was able to distinguish colors and objects, he found Mira’s eyes.
“Daniel, do you want to stay here? Or do you want to see the other universes?”
“I’d like to see the other ones.”
Mira took his hand and brought him back to the white hall and the other women.
“Will you take my hand?” Sira held out her hand for Daniel to take.
Together they were sucked in by the liquid of door number two.
Daniel had to admit he preferred traveling to the first universe. This flight felt eerie. Once again, they were gliding through a tube, but this one seemed to be made of muscles and tendons. Showing red, pink and white colors. Gradually the muscles turned into steel and wires encapsulating them in their journey. This time too, Daniel fell to the floor. Albeit this floor was soft and made of woolen fabric with colorful patterns. It vaguely reminded Daniel of something, but he did not know what.
“Welcome to the Universe of the Bionic, Daniel. Shall we meet the director?” Sira spoke while hoisting him up.
They walked through hundreds of shelves, long lanes moving on endlessly both left and right. It was hard for Daniel to make out what was stocked on the shelves for it was dark. At what seemed to be the end of the lane they were walking in, he saw a shimmering green light. When they finally arrived at the light, they were standing in front of a cash register. Behind it stood a man who looked awfully familiar.
“Daniel, this is the director of this vicinity. Director, meet Daniel.”
“Pouch?” The man with the big spectacles said dully.
Daniel was taken aback by the question.
“Your pouch darling, on your waist?” Sira’s marvelous green eyes looked at him. Her hand gently pointing to his waist. Daniel removed the pouch from his belt and gave it to the old man. The director rummaged under the counter and picked up a scale. He emptied the contents of the pouch. Oval gold coins fell into the scale.
“That’s quite an amount at your age, Daniel. You’ll be pleased to know that I can provide you with a version 2.34.1 of the C-series. Very adequate. It does the trick so to say. Quite attractive too. It’s available in your age category as well. And you may pick a male, female or androgynous version, that’s up to you. Come on now, follow me.”
For the second time that day, Daniel looked puzzled. “Excuse me sir, but what is a 2-something of a C-series?”
“Sira, haven’t you told the boy? Hmm. Well, it's a robot m’boy. The money from your pouch got you a decent one too. Yes. I usually sell E-series or further along the product line. The poor bastards are lucky to get a 1.1.0 G-series. And that’s not even available in age or gender categories! Those can’t do much really. Some who don’t have a dime to their name must share used models or malfunctioning ones with another soul. Tragic.”
He laughed a luxurious laugh, his belly shaking.
“No, you’ll be able to play around a bit. After I’ve uploaded your brain on its hard drive of course. You can feel some sensations too. At that, he winked at Daniel. Come on boy, keep up.” The director walked fast, changing directions quickly between the aisles. “Let’s see if I have a try-out version of your model. Wouldn’t want to waste a perfectly good new one, if you decide not to come back. Ah, here we are. This will do. Sira, would be so kind to hand me the syringe?”
Sira handed the director a similar looking syringe as the professor used in the first world, only this one was connected to a bigger device. A black box, showing the sign of a compass in golden lines.
“This is a hard drive. I will download your brain on to it. Then I will connect it to your robot body here. You can explore for about fifteen minutes. I’m sure that’ll do.”
In front of them was a robot. Its face was undoubtedly male, it had skin and hair too. It looked like a regular naked body of a man. All parts included. But when the director switched it on, Daniel saw red lights glimmering behind the skin.
Before Daniel knew it, the syringe entered his left temple.
When he looked down, he suddenly felt embarrassed. He was naked and vulnerable. And everyone was looking at him. Funnily enough, without judgment. People were lying in the grass. Swimming in the lake. Some were picking apples from a tree and ate them. Men and women alike were all naked. Daniel could not help but feel a bit aroused. That is probably what the director meant. His robot was able to feel something.
There were not many editions like his walking around. Most were not at all human looking. Many had more robotic traits.
A woman’s giggle caught his attention. She was standing behind a veil that acted as a door to a wooden cabin. Beside her metal hands and feet, she was also covered in flesh. She was pretty. With her index finger, she beckoned for Daniel to come over. He did not have to think twice.
Inside the cabin were more people. Were they really people? The woman who lured him inside was by far one of the most expensive editions.
A man who was made more of iron than flesh came up to him, desperate. “Have you seen my Luna? My Luna? I’ve been searching for over three hundred years!” His voice sounded throaty.
Another man came up to him, made entirely out of flesh. He was holding hands with a tall, equally expensive edition. “It took me seventy-seven years until I found my Moira.” He eyed the woman next to him lovingly.
The woman who had beckoned him inside pulled him into a small room. In the corner of the room lay a thick mattress.
In his head he heard Sira’s voice, stating he had only five minutes left. Daniel did not waste those five minutes and tested what his electronic body was capable of.
“You seemed to have enjoyed yourself.” Sira said derisively.
“Right you are m’boy, right you are.” The director said.
Daniel felt embarrassed and he desperately wanted to get out of there. He could not help but wonder what else he could do in that universe. It seemed like the robot technology was of no use.
“Would I be able to go online, and grow like I could in the first universe?”
“Ah alas, no. You could learn other tricks. Like hunting, or building a boat.”
“Will I be able to recognize friends and family, people who I’ve lost?”
“Technically you could, yes, but that would require you to speak to each and every robot you encounter. Or you could put up a message on the message board. However, I must warn you, billions of messages are put up there. It’s quite a big message board. Like the size of an entire country.”
“I’ve seen and heard enough. Erm, thanks, sir. Sira, can you take me back?”
Daniel had no time to think about what he had just experienced in world number two, for Lira already took him by the hand. Before he knew it, he dissolved into a foam wall.
The tube was like an aquarium. They were swimming in the dark, along with shoals of long, white fish. They looked a bit like slippery snakes with heads too big for their bodies. Slowly they hit a strong, rigid bubble. Then, poof, he was on the floor again. Lira stood next to him, her long blue dress still billowing, her red hair dancing.
“Welcome to the Universe of the Shells, Daniel. Shall we meet the Doctor?” Lira spoke rapturously.
They had entered yet another tunnel. It seemed they were in some sort of invisible boat. The river started quite narrow and straight, and then, it was meandering towards a vast lake. Daniel could distinguish a dark, red ceiling. On both the ceiling and circled walls, he saw purple and dark blue lines, twisting and turning.
“Daniel,” Lira said. “This is the doctor of this department. Doctor, meet Daniel.”
Once more, Daniel was introduced to a short man, with a grey beard and enormous glasses with popping eyes. He was wearing a white overall and a nametag simply stating ‘Doctor’.
“Here you cannot find fancy servers or the latest robotic inventions. No, here we go back to the big bang. To the origin. To the start of every existence.
Your journey will end here I’m afraid, m’boy. You will not get your memories back. No, you will have to take the exit.” The man pointed at a pitch black tunnel to his left. “However, you get to keep your body. Only, you won’t know that you once owned it.” He roared with laughter.
Daniel gave him a few seconds, unimpressed.
So on the first few occasions, I got to keep my conscience, who I am. Now I must leave that behind, but get to keep my body? Why?
“Unfortunately, that is part of the deals presented. Unfair? Yes, but the once enslaved bodies must be freed from the mind.” The doctor said. “If you’ll go that way,” He pointed to tunnel again. “You can experience what awaits you in the Universe of the Shells. But remember–“
“Only for fifteen minutes, yes.” Daniel said gruffly.
Without another word, he sailed towards the darkness.
“Vectigal Enterprises, how may I help you?” A man who looked like Daniel spoke through his headset. He sat at a small desk, in a room with dozens of people. An electric sign on his desk said Customer Service Agent 239.
Someone on the other end muttered something in his ear. He recognized what she said and absentmindedly rattled out the necessary answer. It was like that all day, every day. Until those shiny green digits on his screen would mark 5:00. The breaker of chains, the hopping redeemer. The digits turned to 4.46. He answered, he talked, he rattled off what he needed to say. A notification popped up on his screen: pick up Nora from daycare. He did not know who Nora was, but she must be great because he felt a longing feeling rising up in his belly. 4.52. His screen informed him that there were still 4 calls waiting. He waited till he would see the digits change into the numbers he desired, but he never would.
“How did you like it?” Lira asked him, looking at him with interest.
“That was… Awful. However, something made it great too.” He thought of Nora and wondered what she would be like.
“Would you not like to stay? If you choose this universe you get to start over as someone else. It would be inside your own body, but with a different soul.”
“I’d rather go back to Mira and Sira.”
“If you insist.”
Daniel could have sworn he saw Lira’s face alter, her eyes showing a hint of aggravation.
He sat back in the chair. Weightless. The three women sat on their thrones. Looking down on him, waiting.
“So, what will it be?” Mira asked.
“What will it be? How can I possibly decide? Live on in the cloud, never able to feel or touch or see another human being? Morphing into a machine, never recognizing passed loved ones? Living on in another body, experiencing life, but not as myself?” Daniel was confused beyond comprehension.
“I don’t even know who I was. How I died. Would I like to keep my conscience?
At least in the first one, he was able to speak to his mother again. He could never touch her though. In another world, he might be able to live again, experience life. The only thing was, he would not be this young man called Daniel. Immortality. Immorality. Oblivion.
“I want to know what I deserve. How did I come to so much money? What kind of person was I? Was I loved? Did I love? Was I happy? Did I have a good life? I can’t remember.”
“We are not allowed to say.” But Daniel could have sworn he saw Lira’s eyes flicker to the guard and back.”
On a hunch, Daniel turned to the guard.
“You know, don’t you?”
At that, the guard’s cloak disappeared, piece by piece it dissolved, slowly exposing the person behind it.
That person was both handsome and frightening. Its shape altered almost every second. Then, the creature spoke:
I am black, I am white,
I am male, I am female
I am young, I am old
I am a believer, I am a doubter
I am straight, I am gay
I am everything in between
I am you, I am him, I am her, I am us, I am me
I am everyone
I am human
The creature had turned different colors, genders, ages, and people. It never looked the same. It was both confusing and calming. His or her voice playfully echoing in the circular room. Mira, Sira, and Lira had disappeared.
“Daniel, you had great people in your life. You had a great career going on. However, somehow you felt like you did not belong. You tried to give up. Several times, to the detriment of your family. You’ve lost your mother twelve years ago. You have never met your father. To you, life felt always unbalanced. Until you finally made a successful attempt. A successful attempt to end your life. To get a glimpse of what lies beyond. To see if that would finally bring you peace.”
Daniel felt anxious. He wanted to hurt the creature for telling him that awful truth. He had been severely unhappy. The only thing was, he did not know why. He could not tap into that feeling.
“Now that you know, you may still choose one of the first three options. Your intuition has however offered you another option. Nothing. Emptiness. Quiet. Your body, your conscience will be no more. Your worries, your fears. Your loves, your joys. If you choose to stop existing, you can not go back.”
“Then I’ve made my decision.”
The creature who now looked back at him was his own reflection. He was holding up his left arm, a small blade held up in his right hand.
And at that moment the room vanished and all had gone dark.
- The End -
Liked this story? Please share it with someone who might like it too. It would be much appreciated :-).