Could being digitized be a way for all of us to become immortal? Maybe, but not in a way we would particularly enjoy, as this story from listener Mark Pantoja illustrates. This listener story was originally from "To The Best of Our Knowledge's" "3 Minute Futures" Flash Fiction competition. The text of the story has been edited for clarity.
"Welcome back to Re-Life. Would you like to talk to a loved one?" says a computer voice.
I can only talk to her for a few minutes before she starts to ask all the wrong questions and gets upset. I could dumb it down, but then that's not who Abigail was. She was always smart, always sharp, always a step ahead.
"I'll get Abigail on the line," the computer voice says.
I talk to her on the phone. When she was alive, it was always text or chat, or video. I think that's the first thing that sets her off.
"What's so important you had to call?!" says Abigail.
They got her voice right, copied from cell phone and YouTube videos.
"This is what happens when you try to message me."
And they got her pauses and inflection and laughs down perfectly.
There wasn't much of her mind left to trawl after the accident. So they rendered her from tweets and reviews and comments, and likes, and Netflix categories, and all the crap they used to peddle.
Useless garbage to her.
"This is the best thing all week."
They reverse engineered her with marketing.
"I just thought of you."
"I heart you."
We talk until she starts to complain about not being able to check her email.
"Why won't my apps refresh?"
She never guesses. Who guesses they're a simulation? But she knows something's wrong.
"Where's Mom? Can I talk to her? Why did you call me Dad? Where are you? Dad? Dad, where are you?"
I don't know where she is. In the ground? On a server in Russia?
"I'm sorry, baby. I just wanted to hear your voice," I say.
"Where am I?" she asks.
There are questions I can't ask. I don't want to know the answers.
"I feel like I'm in a movie or something."
I always end the conversation before any crying. Would she cry?
"I don't know where to begin."
Does her simulation feel anything?
"I'm confused sometimes."
Sometimes I think of letting her go. Erasing her.
"What is up with you? What is this?"
How many dark rooms out there are filled with people endlessly replaying loved ones. Or Michael Jackson? Or Elvis?
"Why aren't you saying anything?"
(The simulation ends). "Would you like to save this conversation?" asks the computer voice.
I never do. I always "factory reset" my daughter. So we have the same conversation. Day after day, the same, brief, few minutes when everything is like it was.
I had her rendered so I could tell her how much I love her and tell her goodbye. But I can't do it. I can't let go.
"I miss you. Hugs!" she says (after a reboot).
Was she always so affectionate? It's hard to remember what she was like before. Sometimes I wonder how well they've marketed to me.
"We should hang more often! I mis—"