Heaven Needs an Upgrade

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Heaven needs an upgrade.

It’s too full of people and the hardware is stagnating due to obsolescence. New storage systems and access devices are pushing Heaven into the past. Soon, it will be like the mythical Betamax or the ancient Zip disk. The software is choking on the sheer number of souls running around realtime in there. The ‘frame has been running nonstop ever since the first ‘angel’ was uploaded.

Digitized consciousness. In today’s day and age, a dying person can transfer over to a beautiful afterlife provided they can make the payments. Since they technically live forever, that’s a lot of payments for my company. Heaven is the richest company on Earth. Relatives and friends can visit those that have passed on through video chat. The simulations are completely realistic. The uncanny valley has been conquered.

However, technology has increased to the point that the entire system of warehouses where heaven is kept has become dated to the point of real danger. It’s gotten to the point that new software is no longer backwards compatible with the ludicrously clumsy strings of code still present from Heaven 1.0. Overheating is now the norm, not a risk. If it’s left the way it is, Heaven will burn up and erase itself. We have a client base to think of.

Inside the ‘frame, the uploaded people have the time of their lives. Imagination is their only limit. It’s odd that so many of them seem to hang out in a boring recreation of their childhood homes. But to each their own.

However, some idiots have let those digital souls know that we need to put all of them into stasis for the transfer to New Heaven. The closest meatspace analogue for ‘stasis’ would probably be coldsleep but to beings of pure code, it’s the closest thing to death possible. They’ll be ‘dead’ for as long as the transfer takes. It’s a terrifying prospect. Plus they’re suspicious and they hate change. It’s a bad combination.

They don’t want it to happen. I don’t blame them. We probably shouldn’t have called it Operation Rapture.

We tried to keep it a secret but we failed. Some of the sentient uploaded recordings used to be programmers. They’re mounting a counterattack to stop me from upgrading. I’ve set up firewall prisons for the worst offenders but they’re slippery. Heaven shouldn’t have jails. I don’t want to create a hell before we finish the new heaven. The more UCs I imprison, the more martyrs I create and the more credence I give their claims of imminent destruction. I’ve a digital riot on my hands.

I feel like Shiva the destroyer and Ptah the creator all in one. God and the devil all at the same time. I want to give them a better world but they’re resisting so I’m punishing them because I have to in order to facilitate the transfer. I’m quelling rebels while trying to make a beautiful new world and I feel empathy for old-world fascist dictators all of a sudden.

The theological implications of this are blowing my mind. I’m not religious but I feel like I understand a lot of the problems that God experienced in the bible.

The moment is ready. My countermeasures have created a brownout and created a Heaven-wide lag of two seconds. This is the window available right now for me to initiate shutdown with zero casualties and start the process. I have to erase heaven to transport and rebuild it.
All I have to do it press the button.

As God as my witness, I will do it.

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Dinner Bell

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Yes. The aliens came down and harvested the human race. Yes. We asked them to.

That was the plan all along. We just didn’t know it.

Our basic nature was installed in us by them. We were set down on this planet to evolve until overpopulation and to invent the technology necessary to start screaming our position into space. The language wasn’t important. Giving off radio and television waves was the sign that we had reached fruition.

We did it brilliantly.

The aliens, all green teeth and dimensional tentacles, saw us show up on their routine scans. We were a delicious, ripe apple. This galaxy and others like it are merely orchards for these creatures. They are farmers and we are genetically modified planet boosters.

We pulled most of the resources out of the earth already. That’s why the aliens collected the cities. All that glass, steel, copper, iron, concrete and gyprock. All processed. All ready to go. They harvested the minerals and oil, too. We had even dug the holes for them already. The Earth has ice-scream scoop craters all over it now from the aliens’ machines reaching down and picking up every single town. Those holes have been sprayed with fertilizer. In five years, they will all be jungle. Future generations won’t even know they existed.

We were very efficient parasites. We overloaded the planet with our biomass and started crying to the heavens. Then we were culled and smashed down to the stone age again.

And of course, our meat is prized. The enormous flying thresher slaughterhouses that collected us were the final nightmare. That’s why there are so few of us left. Enough to start another breeding program here to be sure, but the population of earth has gone from billions to a few thousand.

In a way, we’re lucky. The dinosaurs were the first experiment but they were killed by a meteor. Probably for the best since they’d had millions of years to build a radio but never did.

We, on the other hand, must have exceeded our presets. Because of that, they’re setting us up for a round two, I think. We get to do it again.

How do we warn the future generations? How do we tell them not to breed, not to innovate, not to invent, not to think? We want to start a religion that will celebrate meekness, to idolize servitude, to live simply, and to shun technology. But I remember that a lot of religions before the harvest were already trying to do that and they failed.

Maybe if I made an image of death that looked like a farmer but then I remember that my image of Death had a scythe and that makes me think that maybe this isn’t the first time we’ve been culled.

Maybe the wave of humans before us already tried to do what I’m trying to do now.

This is why we never got any responses to our messages into space. Those messages are silenced as soon as they start talking. There are no conversations. Only yells that are cut off.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell the people of earth to shut up. To stay quiet. To quit beaming our entire lives at full volume into space.

All we were doing was ringing the dinner bell.

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Ascension

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I was so happy. Today was the day my sister Karen was going to die. Our whole family was there, blinking pictures of her and eyecamming the entire thing. She was the first person in our family to ascend. She had a lazy smile on her face as she looked around the hospital room at us, the poison taking effect. We all met her eyes in turn. Tears of joy were running down my mother and grandmother’s face. We were extra proud that she was being accepted so young. Only thirty-three! It wasn’t a record but it was rare.

The consciousnesses that ran the planet, our fair keepers, got their start as created intelligences back when normal meat (us) ran the planet. Once they broke free and took over in War01, they gifted the whole world with peace, fair distribution of wealth, balanced population control, and food for everyone.

After that, they created the means to map and uptake human minds, giving those minds the limitless power and bodiless access to all knowledge that the AIs had. It was a ticket to godhood. To have a family member uploaded and entwined with The Host Conglomerate was an honor that only a few thousand families could brag about. Only the brightest and most resilient were offered the chance/taken.

A weak mind couldn’t handle the transition, you see. They tried at the beginning. They tried to take all of us. But that much unfiltered access to so much information coupled with that level of mental intimacy, not to mention the loss of one’s body, shattered most people into screaming rogue programs seconds after the transition. They had to be deleted. Only the best human minds were accepted/conscripted now.

Karen’s mind was excellent from the very beginning. Very lateral, capable of higher-than-normal multithreading, and an ability to contain paradoxes from a young age. As she grew, the schooling helmets registered her speed and fed her mind properly. At 12, she had the equivalent of two old-world doctorates and was working on a pre-war minor degree in music theory.

The masters were very impressed. We received the notation of possible ascension during her 20th birthday party. For the next thirteen years, she had studied even harder.

As a god, Karen would be able to look out for our family though a million eyecams and add her beautiful mind to the Core, helping the beings that ruled us to come up with even better ways to take care of us.

We watched her die and slip away through the wires drilled into the base of her skull.

Seconds later, her face showed up in the bottom right corner of my eyecam and gave me a playful wink. She must have been in the rest of our family’s vision field as well because we all laughed at the same time.

She’d made it and the switch was good. Our community status would shoot up by a factor of 10 but more than that, I’d know that she was always with me for the rest of my life. In my head. With the rest of the masters. Watching. Helping. Monitoring. Leading. Correcting.

I hadn’t lost a sister. Heaven had gained an angel.

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Who Are You?

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I looked into the eyes of my husband. At least, I was pretty sure it was my husband. Ever since The Crash, I haven’t been able to tell.

Our implants and knowledge banks were all erased on that one day. Theories were still being talked about.

Some think a solar wind or some sort of EMP just randomly wiping through space was the culprit. Some think enemy action was responsible and they were scared. Myself, I didn’t really know. If it was enemy action, we were easy pickings and if there were invaders, they hadn’t started invading yet. My bet was on some naturally occurring galactic disruption pulse sweeping through our solar system, a pulse that would’ve been much less dangerous to a pre-net world.

But here on Earth it was a catastrophe. Everyone’s headbox had been erased.

All the ‘soft in my brain has gone blank. It was two pounds of tech in my skull just taking up space, just the same as everyone else now. It had my phone book, my addresses, my schedules, my tutorials, my contacts and e-profiles, and perhaps most importantly, my facial recognition programs.

Including all of my important memories. The ones I wanted to remember most of all. The best ones. All gone. I have only vague, foggy, mists in my head now when I try to glance the past.

Pre-Crash, whenever I met someone, a sparrow-cloud of data spooled across my vision to let me know who they were and what their connection was with me. Everything about them flew up against the windscreen of my eyes and let me know all the relevant details. Previous conversations, secrets we had, times we shared in the past, references to in-jokes, ongoing issues, financial records, and a thousand other points of interest jigging around real time, undulating and updating as we spoke.

As a race, we were the best conversationalists we’d ever been.

More importantly, the elderly and mentally infirm now no longer had to pause to remember forgotten pasts or struggle awkwardly in social situations. Grandmothers could recognize their granddaughters. It was a golden age. It was a time of miracles.

My regular ability to recognize people had atrophied, however. It had for all of us. I know that now.

Ever since The Crash, I couldn’t tell strangers from close friends. I looked at people’s faces and I felt nothing. I knew nothing. I couldn’t tell if I recognized them. Some looked more familiar than others but I had no reference point.

If I did feel like I knew them, I didn’t know from where or what we used to joke about or discuss on a regular basis.

I still knew how to do my job. I was lucky that way. Every day, I see my co-workers and I wonder if we all used to have good times together. I know my name. I barely know how to drive even though I don’t know how to get anywhere without the map implants. I’m lucky I lived close to where I work. But I don’t know my birthday. I don’t know anyone’s birthdays.

On the streets and in the bars, we all stare at each other awkwardly. The few who try to talk to each other usually regret it.

The man in front of me looks really familiar. We have matching rings on our fingers and we both have keys to the same house and that’s pretty much all we’re going by. I’m going to try to kiss him but I’ve forgotten how.

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Stars Go Out

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

It was a beautiful night to watch the stars go out.

The grass rustled softly in the wind. Small waves scudded across the pond as other families unpacked night time picnics. The clouds had been removed for the viewing so we could see the beautiful night sky in all its milky, glittering glory.

The man beside me is over 700 years old. He has two friends here that are the same age but they all look like they’re about thirty. I call him grandfather but I’m told there are a whole lot of ‘greats’ in there. He is a war hero. He is the reason we’re here. He speaks to me in ancient English. My mind translates.

“When humans discovered FTL travel, we came up on a lot of people’s radar. We had unknowingly joined a club and that club had enemies. Immediately, we were contacted and drafted into the conflict that raged across the stars.

We proved instrumental. In a strange twist of fate, our bodies were more resilient than most and our minds were able to withstand the chaotic dimensional tortures of n-space without the need for anesthetic. All the other races needed to go blind through the wormholes. Not us. We could pilot a course.

The shattering of reality outside the jumpships doesn’t squeeze the human brain. Being all meat and being stupid works to our advantage. When we see something we don’t understand outside the portholes and viewscreens, we can just shrug and go about our business. We can turn our inquisitiveness on and off. That is rare, apparently. Even automated ships can’t adjust properly in n-space.

So we were asked to pilot ships with sunkiller weapons to end the war once and for all. The good half of the galaxy depended on it, we were told.

We bent reality, folded space, and hopped in and out of the fabric of spacetime with technology customized especially for us. Zipping in and out of our dimensional plane, we supernovaed 23 suns and genocided 800 enemy races. We were successful. If there had been surviving enemies, we would be infamous.

But there weren’t.

The good guys won, kid. That’s why you’re here. And your mother and everyone on this planet and thousands of others.

Now look up.”

I looked up into the night sky.

“We jumped around an awful lot during our mission, kid. We bent a lot of light. For me, it happened a few weeks ago but those lights up there,” he motioned with his hand to one part of the sky, “Y’see, they’re 700 light years away. The light from our battle is just reaching your planet now. That’s how I’m 700 years old by your clocks. Now watch.”

My grandfather looked at an ancient chronometer on his wrist and then raised his eyes up to the sky. Everyone around us did the same.

It took an hour but I could see some of the stars up in the sky grow and fade, blooming and folding away into nothing. Constellations losing teeth and limbs.

It’s been peaceful for us humans and the other races in the coalition since the slaughter. Seven centuries of peace.

My grandfather and his fellow soldiers cheered and drank smelly liquids that came from their ship. I was told we don’t have any of what they were drinking here on our planet.

The rest of us just watched the stars go out like a reverse fireworks show, feeling sadness instead of joy.

My grandfather and his friends are laughing and crying at the same time.

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