Author: John McLaughlin

Toru Sato was negotiating for a new body.
“And they’re rad-resistant too?”
The blonde sales rep smoothly reclined, a wide smile ratcheting onto her face as if delivered from an assembly line.
“Oh yes, as of last year the radiation resistant chassis comes standard. And just in time, considering the latest ozone reports.”
Toru gripped his wife’s knee in a failed bid to squash the excitement; it was just as they had read.
“And we’ll both be together, in the…” he trailed off; what exactly was it called? “I mean, during Service, correct?”
The woman’s smile was replaced by a carefully rendered thoughtfulness.
“Although we do make our best effort to pair couples in the simulations,” she began, “the placement is ultimately based on personal aptitudes.”
Toru rubbed his goatee. The thought of 10 cycles of Service–40 to 50 years subjective time–without Aiko by his side; it gave him serious pause.
His introspection was broken by a freshly uploaded gentleman hastening past their booth’s crystal window. On the client’s smooth neck, Toru could make out subdermal LEDs emblazoning Incorporated Intelligence in a delayed fire pattern. The company was proud of its work.
The rep crossed her legs.
“Mr. Sato, Service will vary for everyone. One client may be answering phone calls, another programming one of our advanced AIs, still another subjected to mild deprivation while we monitor his cognitive functions. And the simulations will be cycled, to avoid mental burnout.”
Aiko was disturbed by these possibilities, which felt worlds apart from the exciting brochures they had browsed together earlier. She still trusted her husband, as she had through all five years of their marriage. But Aiko now turned to him wearing a grave expression.
The rep continued without noticing, “And in exchange for your 10 cycles–a mere one-hour objective time–you will each walk out of this office uploaded into new hybrid bodies. Resistant to aging and disease, and personally customized. Sounds like a good deal to me.” She flipped open a thick catalogue to further sell them on the synthetic artistry of I-Squared.
Toru took his wife’s soft hands. He thought of their future together; a long and healthy one, with children when the time came. One family, united and unbreakable.
Aiko gripped him firmly in unspoken agreement.
“We will sign,” he said.
The man awoke in a canvas tent swallowed by miles of orange desert. There was a small girl nearby, maybe seven or eight years. Her brown curls shifted as she sidled up to him in the heavy wind.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She reached out and tugged on his shirt, then spun and ran away. A party at least fifty strong was descending from a nearby dune in the flying dust. A woman stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the little one.
“Lead us from this place. To Salvation.”
Why was he here? There was a reason; it danced at the edges of his memory.
Toru brandished his walking stick.
There was time enough to find it.