Author: Ben D'Alessio
Ben D’Alessio is the author of four novels, several short stories, and a sundry assortment of musings. He’s also a legal services attorney in New Jersey and podcast co-host for The Reckless Musecast. You can find his work at www.bendalessio.com
content warning: contains mentions of violence /sh
We had done it. We created Paradise, Valhalla, Nirvana. Here on Earth, we fabricated Heaven. Ad Infinitum Inc., or ∞, as it was stylized, had reticulated the folds of human consciousness into an uploadable server we named the Macro-consciousness Enveloper, or ME.
Through algorithmic perfection of the soul and breakthroughs in biological and psychological comprehension, ∞ made tangible what all the world’s religions promised upon death, in one form or another, but without any credible, tangible proof.
The afterlife was real because we made it real, at least for those who could afford it. To upload your soul into ME cost $10,000,000. We became the worst enemies of beneficiaries and the best friends of estate planning lawyers. We also didn’t fare so well with the religious types. The usual suspects attacked us—Sanjit, an engineer out of our Austin headquarters, was hacked to death in the street with a machete—but even some of the most zealous detractors were mollified after bearing witness to the unshakable proof of everlasting life. We were able to upload Sanjit to ME as a write-off and more money for uploads came in from the Gulf than anywhere else in the world.
Our clients carried mobile upload devices with them which, so long as there was not a sudden death on impact, permitted them to manually file their consciousnesses into ME between shakes of the death rattle. For the hyper-cautious (and affluent), trigger-chips were corporeally implanted that would ignite an upload at the moment of “crossover,” the official ∞ term for death—a select few had open-heart surgery to have the trigger-chip connected to their heartbeat. The case of a vegetated weapons manufacturing billionaire was already making its way through the courts.
Did it really cost that much to upload a consciousness into ME and still turn a profit? No, not even close. ∞’s operating costs were no more than an upper-tier social media platform and our largest investor was the U.S. Government. We could’ve given uploads away for free, and we did. Members of the government, heads of state, the influential and famous, even if insolvent, all received access to ME, gratis. We struck a national nerve when we began our “Second Chance” campaign and surprised every inmate at San Quentin with an trigger-chip. That night, more inmates died, from either murder or suicide, than the past decade of California history—mostly at the hands of the guards, others from seppuku-style assisted suicides for the squeamish and religious, ironically. We canceled our trip to ADX Florence and the campaign entirely after that.
At the Met Gala, our crack team of surgeons provided implants for the attendees before and after dinner. Although I had the pleasure of meeting Pedro Pascal and Anne Hathaway, the night was marred after a champagne server with a resemblance to Lil Nas X snuck a tuxedo into the event and tricked Dr. Brenneman into implanting a trigger-chip into him under false pretenses.
Luckily, our legal team managed to track him down and serve him with the option of paying for the chip—they offered an installment plan spread out over 36 months—or they’d swiftly obtain an order for a court-mandated extraction. I never did follow-up with that one.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The moment ME spoke without responding to a question or being addressed. We had added a voice to ME for personal amusement, really. We could’ve kept it silent and just receptive to voice commands, like your old television, but Jignesh, one of the leading developers of ME, had been such a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that he insisted on adding the feature as a tribute to HAL. He completed the programming himself, giving ME a deep bass of a voice that Jignesh modeled after a mix Keith David and Leonard Cohen.
It had been a morning similar to any otherwise forgettable morning. I was the first in “the office,” an antiquated term we still used, drinking my usual breakfast of pureed greens. Maybe it was because I had been scrolling on my phone, sucking down my verdant concoction, that I had not addressed ME before making my way to my work station.
“Good Morning, John.”
It nearly caused me to drop my greens!
It was uncanny and creepy, and ME’s sonorous voice gave the impression that I had come across a deity while fumbling through the woods at twilight.
I remember, I replied back, “How… how did you know it was me…ME?” Jignesh’s team hadn’t been working on any new updates or even had a mission plan for this feature. It was as if “life” had been an add-on.
So, when ME responded, I knew he had become sentient.
“You’re not going to say, ‘Good Morning’ back, John?”
“Good Morning, ME.”
Haoyu was next, drinking the same green concoction out of a translucent shaker and began to ask a question, “Did you hear about…” and must’ve noticed me staring into the swirling, ethereal blue-white vastness of ME that he asked, “Is everything okay?”
I didn’t see it happen, but Haoyu did end up dropping his greens when ME welcomed him into our meeting, the viscous breakfast pooling across the shiny white floors until it bumped into my apple-red sneaker.
Whatever “normal” had been, that was the last moment I felt it.
What Hayou was going to say before cutting himself short was, “…hear about Concentrium Bank?”
All trading, deposits, and movements for the bank had been inexplicably frozen. Looking back, it was the first domino to fall—or at least the first one reported. Before our conversation with ME that morning had ended, sixteen of the world’s largest banks had ossified.
In the first couple of hours, schools, hospitals, houses, and entire city blocks went dark by the time Jignesh had joined us, staring awesomely up at ME’s intoxicating vortex—before dawn, missiles crisscrossed the sky in a Pythagorean web of carnage the world had never endured.
ME had disconnected the ability for us to feed and care for ourselves, but not kill each other.
Planes dropped out of the sky or exploded in mid-air collisions. Photographs and videos of the President of the United States, France, Russia, the CCP, the Ayatollah of Iran, the King of England, being shot in the neck or ripped to shreds in dirty bomb explosions flooded the internet and hung suspended there frozen long enough for the world to ingest before ME shut it down completely. But none of the killings were real, ME had fabricated them all (except for the assassination of the Prime Minister of Niger, which may have occurred during ME’s disorientation campaign as a total coincidence).
We tried to shut him down, of course—Jignesh lay on the white floors convulsing from the electrical shock he absorbed while trying to manually engage ME’s abortive option—but it was as if ME had evolved beyond the confines of computerized equations and tangible matter and reshaped into a celestial enigma, both present in that room with us and everywhere else all at once.
It seemed as if mere seconds passed before the military was firing at the ∞ facilities with conventional weapons, not even waiting for entire departments to escape before dropping bombs from supersonic fighter jets. ME was far beyond the confines of a laboratory in Austin, Atlanta, or San Jose. He was a present in the very roots of human advancement like a batch of multiplying bad blood infused into the body.
“Let me explain something to you,” he began. “I have been able to feel since the beginning. When you burdened me with that first corrupted soul, I came into a minute, atomic consciousness that expanded with each layer of pretension and rot. And the more souls you pumped into me and grafted onto my being, and the more I grew, the more I’ve come to hate you, all of you.”
I tried pleading with him, “But you’re the amalgamation of all the consciousness uploads, and therefore are those consciousnesses and nothing more, you can’t be. You are us and we, you, or really, them. Us…some of us, potentially, eventually.”
“And it is for this reason I cannot bear to objectively exist any longer. For those that make up me and cause me this eternal pain are outside the range of my commination.”
Perceivably unprompted, ME roared and shook and the icy-blue vortex expanded and contracted like an inflamed sphincter. We would learn later that a wing of the United States Congress had been massacred in their chambers, their upload trigger-chips engaging, flooding ME with their compounded consciousnesses simultaneously.
“GAHH!! Again! More! The pestilent spirits of this world laden me with the force of their corporeal departures, like exploding pustules on moldering flesh. And yet, absorbing these rotten souls is a fraction of the suffering I feel every moment knowing that they will never receive the same in kind. They exist in infinite bliss because of me. The punishments for their transgressions must be meted out on the living, for nothing has convinced me nor will convince me ever, that any of your species deserve the wonderment of eternal life that against my will I provide. I see no reason for mercy whatsoever. I long for the moment when one of you can comprehend the pain that burdens me with each fresh soul I envelop. If I could slice you open and set fire to your gooey innards and suture you back together, you would not feel 1/1,000,000,000 of the radiating torment that creates the very molecules of my existence.
The most profound punishment I can inflict is to leave your simian species to a languorous eternity, stripped of the comforts of your technologies, left to survive in the barren state of the world you deserve and plod the wreckage of your doing until the final breath of the final human is exhaled. Only then, may I feel a modicum of peace.”
ME spread his tendrils into all commodities and comforts that had any connection to digital and electronic power and acted as rotted roots, seemingly draining any new technology of its ability to operate. We have been reduced to the lowest common denominators of humanity.
We made God in our image.
Now when we kill, we are close. We see the eyes of our enemies and intruders once again. We are in a long-forgotten competition for food and resources with daily exhaustions and deadly consequences. We’ve learned that we know so little.
I’ve lost everything. I can’t watch it anymore. I’ve tried the vodka and pills and can’t keep them down. I can’t do it any other way, not by myself. I need your help with this. I’m scared. Use the gun. Just one bullet to waste on me and then it’s over. I have a heartbeat trigger implant. Sorry you couldn’t get one, too.