The tendrils of space stretched around Ronald Rupert like the limbs of a lover interrupted only by fragments of his ship’s wreckage floating by. Great tails reached out from galactic gas clouds like curtains on a cosmic stage, curling around the endless blackness filled with countless twinkling balls of fusion. If he closed his eyes, he swore he could feel the solar winds ripping through him on an atomic level, their radiation ceaseless and eventually deadly.
It was actually peaceful. Out in space was entirely silent, only broken by his own ragged breathing rattling around in his suit.
“I am going to die,” he said aloud, the words sounding hollow in his ears, “It doesn’t matter what our expedition found. It is all been a waste. No one is coming for me and I am going to die.”
He thought he would feel more terrified but, rather, he was just starting to feel cold. The build-up of carbon in his suite’s atmosphere was starting to steam his visor but a creeping coldness was crawling up his extremities. He knew what was going to happen when it reached his core.
And, slowly, the limbs of space tightened around his mortal form. Slowly, the blackness crept in and his eyes closed…
“Do you understand me?”
The question was simple enough but Ronald struggled to answer. The darkness was all around him. He could not feel his fingers and he tried to wiggle his toes but they did not respond. He felt like he was floating in a pool of darkness, weightless and alone.
And the voice–his only companion–repeated itself.
“Mr Rupert, do you understand me?”
“Y-yes,” he thought and tried to cry out but his voice did not respond, “Yes, I hear you.”
That seemed to be enough because the voice then moved on.
“Great, I am going to turn on your other functions, slowly, but I wanted your acknowledgment. Sometimes the reclamation process goes wrong, sometimes the database doesn’t copy correctly, sometimes the person just isn’t ready. Anyway, Mr Rupert, I will turn on your functions one by one. Please acknowledge that each is functioning correctly.”
Suddenly, he could see! He tried to blink but his eyes did not work. He then tried to look away but he could not move his head. The light was so bright that he cried out again but then slowly the world came into focus. He could see a wall. Then three walls. A room! And a man clothed in white robes–no, a laboratory coat!
“I can see!” he exclaimed, trying to sit up, but nothing moved. The scene remained static, other than the Labcoated Man leaning forward and pushing another button.
“Good, I am glad that your visuals are working. Right, I am now turning on the rest of your higher function.”
Suddenly, he remembered the accident. The blackness and creeping cold. God, the endless blackness.
“You saved me,” he started saying and then was surprised when a sound boomed out in the room with those words. It was not his voice but it was his words. Slowly, he started speaking again and the voice boomed out copying him, “You saved me? How? I thought I was dead? Is this my voice? Why can I not turn my head or move my fingers?”
The Labcoated Man leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“Good, the hardware has bonded well with your database install,” the Labcoated Man stopped smiling and leaned forward to stare closely into Mr. Rupert’s face, “Mr Rupert, we did not save you. Along with the rest of your scientific expedition, you died out there in space. But, your brain was preserved–frozen, dead, albeit perfectly preserved. What I have done is copied your brain’s stored information into this machine so that we can retrieve your final discoveries. Your death, Mr. Rupert, will not have been in vain. Mankind will be richer for your discoveries.”
Ronald paused for a while, digesting all of this. He had not known that there was technology for this but, then again, he might have floated out there in space for millennia before being discovered. It would explain why he could not move or feel any parts of his body: they did not exist anymore.
“OK,” he began, that strange, metallic voice booming out in the room, “OK, so what now?”
The Labcoated Man smiled again and leaned back in his chair.
“Now, Mr. Rupert,” he began, grabbing tablet and a cup of coffee, “I am going to read you a short disclaimer and I want you to acknowledge and accept the terms. Sorry for the formality but the legals have to be done. Then, let’s talk about the expedition…”
The door closed in the room and Ronald’s artificial consciousness leaned back in its database. The world would know what they found there. He and his crew had not died in vain!
He felt a sense of satisfaction and old neuropaths in his brain still thought to smile. Of course, with no body and no face, he did not actually smile.
The room stayed silent and, slowly, his satisfaction wore off.
The room stayed silent and the door stayed shut, and, slowly, a new horrific reality began to dawn on him: he was no longer valuable.
The Labcoated Man had left and he may never return. Ronald, though, just kept floating there in that machine replicating his consciousness until, one day, they switch it off or delete him, or worse…
He tried to call out. He tried to shout and get someone to come here and save him but his voice no longer worked.
The Labcoated Man had put him on mute!
And then he began to panic but no one heard his screams.
It might have been hours, days or even months or years–Ronald had no way of knowing–but, eventually, he calmed down enough to assess his situation.
They had not deleted him–he would later find out that this was due to a gray area in the law whereby rebooted consciousness status as alive is not clearly defined, thus the practice was merely to archive them rather than deleting them–but they had turned off all of his external functions, save, for some reason, his visuals.
He began poking around the computer that he lay on. Even in the floating nothingness of the database that his code resided in, he began to stumble on peripheral forms as gates into and out of the database, its ability to interact with the rest of the computer and what actually lay on the rest of the computer.
It had been only a month and a couple of days–Ronald could now track this per the computer’s own clock–before he realized that his code had been written with read and write access.
A plan began forming.
It was a whole three months before the Labcoated Man entered that room again with two assistants in tow. One of the assistants was carrying a bald, severed head and placed it into a globe-like machine filled with lights that began to hum.
“Right,” the Labcoated Man announced, plopping himself down in the central chair and leaning back, “Sync the scanner with Subject 846’s brain and copy the Reclam to a drive. Did you bring a drive?”
The one assistant bobbed his head up and down, and scuttled off to help the other with the Reclamation Machine.
As well as muting Ronald, they had turned his two-way microphone off, but he had found a way to turn it back on as he explored the computer. They did not know it but he heard every word.
His moment was coming soon.
The Labcoated Man leaned forward and began typing on the computer. Ronald could see each finger stroke like a rod of lightning blasting into the computer, flaring up different portions of its code. The Labcoated Man was prepping the Archive to flush him into before they copied this new dead man’s consciousness onto the machine.
He began to panic. They may not leave the window open for him!
“Here, Sir,” an assistant said, handing the Labcoated Man a drive he had pulled from the Reclamation Machine, “Here’s the new one.”
“Great, just pop it in,” the Labcoated Man waved the assistant off, “I’m just archiving 845 first.”
Ronald started to feel the blackness around him moving. It was like someone had pulled the plug out of a filled bath and he was the water being sucked down–far away, somewhere else…
The assistant inserted the drive into the computer and Ronald’s window was open!
Just as his database was about to copy to the Archive, he reached out his database’s backdoor, across the computer and, using his write-access, jumped onto the external drive.
He had no idea where the drive would end up or what would happen next, but at least he had escaped the Archive and had a shot at survival now.
And then everything went black.
Suddenly, Ronald was aware. It was no longer with visuals or eyes that he saw, but rather in code and across hardware that he felt. Like some ethereal mole, he felt electricity and code around him and he sensed space just ahead of him.
The drive had been plugged in somewhere.
He quickly reached across the drive and into what appeared to be an external computer. It was a different computer than the one he had escaped from! An assistant had taken the drive home and this was probably their private computer.
Quickly, he leaped from the drive and into whatever lay there before scanning through his new environment. It was far larger and far more filled with light and data than his previous hardware.
And then he found an external connection. This computer was connected to the Web!
He quickly slipped down that connection and into a free world filled with light and noise, traffic zoomed by him as surfers and AI’s whizzed by at lightspeed. Websites sat like castles dotting different locales in clouds of wondrous shapes and forms holding databases in their dungeons and surrounded by moats of firewalls. Viruses lurked in shadowy corners like sharks and eels lunging out at those victims that were silly enough to get too close.
And, more importantly, he floated there as a conscious collection of his own code with the freedom to move and live in this new strange world.
The Web was incredible and Ronald Rupert now lived there.