Author : Martin Berka

Nothing about hell could be pleasant, and that included departure, but joy matched pain. Slowly, my consciousness was drifting through the wires. A thought or a memory would drift away from the others, accelerating, then slowing. More would follow, and thus my tired, rippling self moved along. It seemed to take forever, but hell does strange things to your sense of time.

The body, a blank synthetic, was waiting for me. The brain was a mass of undefined elements, slowly molding into cells and connections as my file – my mind – moved in, piece by conscious piece. It looked like the file was being accepted as-is. Would they modify a soul directly?

I’m solid again. Machinery rolls away behind me with a quiet squeal, but since I’m seated in a straightjacket-chair, it doesn’t look like I’m free just yet.

Aside from a short, unassuming man seated in an armchair, the room is empty. I’ve seen his type before – scientist, minister, and bureaucrat, all rolled into one. Clearly, things have changed less than I hoped.

“Congratulations on finishing your sentence,” he says, and he means it.

“What happens now?” I feel pressured, but given the mod, it makes sense.

“You’ve suffered for all wrongs done during your life, so we are transferring you to the heaven system. However, we do have one question. You were in hell for over a century, and the experience is much longer on the inside. That makes you one of the first entrants, and we have no record of what led to your sentence.”

I think back several lifetimes, while keeping up the tension. “I was a neural engineer. When the war started, I joined the Luddites. I felt it’d all gone too far… Anyway, I killed, and I had no regrets back then. Most of my unit was killed, and I surrendered.”

The three-in-one isn’t surprised, barely even reacts. “And the Trial Unit was beta-testing the hell system. Thanks, that’s all we need.”

“Then enlighten me in return. How the … what do Techies want with a religious afterlife system?”

His answer sounds prepared. “The traditionalists lost, though it took nearly a decade. But long before, the rational leadership spotted a problem – once the idea of a god was crippled, people would need a replacement to satisfy them. What is conquered, must also be administered. The developers found a way to move minds without interruption of awareness, and could thus sway the religionists; souls were being properly rewarded and punished. And now, afterlife was a guarantee, an antidote for everyone’s doubts.”

“I spent my last years fighting you, yet you’d send me to heaven?”

“You’ve paid in full, and you won’t be any more of a threat there than you were in hell.”

I look for a snappy comeback, fail, and relax the added, voluntary sphincter muscle. Acid floods out of the tiny sack in my brain, and the best part is that I barely feel it.

It’s supposed to be impossible to hack a mind file – there are incredible protections on basic memory, processing, and senses. However, a mind has a unique physical structure that meshes with everything else. It would take a neural engineer to spend a virtual century breaking into and tweaking his structure file from the inside.

I wasn’t a fervent believer during that distant life. I had doubts. But choosing between a godless heaven, and the heaven-less god that they all fear so much, I’ll risk the second, while the choice is still my own.

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