Author : Amanda Schoen
I was at work when the chat program pinged. We weren’t supposed to take personal calls so I ignored it. Two seconds later it pinged again. And again. Oh hell. One conversation couldn’t hurt.
My sister’s handle popped up. <Mel, I have some bad news. Dad passed away.>
It was the sort of thing that warranted a phone call, so the words could dissipate in the ether. Instead they lingered in fuzzy black print on the screen.
Had he been sick? I didn’t know. It’d been eons since I called home.
Well. That was something.
I logged into my personal server and sent every picture I had. <When’s the service? I’d like to be there.>
The screen said my sister was typing. It took ages. I expected directions to the funeral home, the date of the ceremony. But when the screen blinked, her reply was short. <That’d be nice.>
She logged off without another word.
Well…people coped with grief in different ways. Maybe she just needed space. There’d be an obituary. Something in the paper that would have the details. I opened the browser and kept a tab open to the local paper.
It seemed disrespectful to just go back to work. Maybe I should hit a bar. Or call my sister back. There were probably things to do before the service…
But I couldn’t tear myself away from the computer. My sister might need space, but I just threw myself into work. There was something comforting about coalescing data. I’d been doing this for…I don’t know how long. A while. It’d become rote.
I took regular breaks to check if Dad’s obituary had made the paper yet. Nothing. So I sent a chat request to my sister until she responded.
<No, himself.> It was free to go in and get the scan, to store a copy of your memories on a hard drive. Accessing them later, now that got tricky. Most folks agreed to work for the storage company. Contract basis. Who wouldn’t do a year of labor—or ten, or a hundred—if it meant immortality?
And there were laws. You weren’t a piece of software; you had rights. You got email. The Internet. All the commercials showed happy families chatting away with their loved ones on their laptops. Some even set a place for the computer at the dinner table. What more could you want?
<Why?> It made no sense. You made your backup before you died. You didn’t even need to know how it’d happened, no memories of agonizing pain to haunt you. Most people spent their time plugged in anyway. They just carried on. Forever.
She paused. <It’s late. I should go.>
She logged off, leaving me to reread our stilted words, longing for a program that could parse them for deeper meaning.
Somewhere along the seventeenth time I checked the paper, the obituary popped up. It was short and sparse, each word measured against the cost of printing it:
Jean Phelps passed away at the age of eighty-six.
That wasn’t right. He’d just celebrated his seventieth birthday. We set the smoke detector off because I’d lit seventy little candles on the cake.
I read on:
He is survived by his wife Marie Phelps-Sanchez and his youngest daughter, Stephanie. His eldest daughter, Melanie, passed away sixteen years ago. He will be missed.
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