Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It’s dark in here. Which is both true and false. To my limited perception, there’s no light. In reality, I’m a long series of binary digits running in RAM somewhere in the world: my senses are irrelevant.
97 years ago, 20-year-old real world me joined the Utopia V-Eco community along with forty of my friends, delighted to contribute towards the saving of the Earth by our absence. With our physical bodies recycled, our lifetimes calculated saving in energy consumption allowed us to live for free in a virtual world where things like poverty, homelessness, and hunger didn’t exist. When the world was finally restored, we would be returned into custom-grown bodies.
70 years ago, twenty of my friends vanished; two from right in front of me. Utopia Server D1836004 in Cluster EUR02431 had crashed catastrophically. By sad, freakish chance, the backups were also corrupt. A global hour of mourning was unanimously agreed.
56 years ago, I picked up on a command stream about crashed servers. As I’d developed the skills, I followed up on the things hinted at. What I found headlined the global newsfeeds for a day.
There were no backup servers! The small risk of unrecoverable server loss was considered acceptable. A hundred thousand people a decade lost from low privilege clusters was neither here nor there, apparently.
Everyone who joined Utopia had been graded on their ‘privilege’. Within that was their priority, which depended on behaviour within the Utopia instance they inhabited.
There were several instances of the ‘V-Eco world space’. Those with privilege grades B and C got the option to move between them. Those in grades D and E could apply to transfer, but only once. Anyone in grades F thru H – the majority of the population – didn’t know about instances, or privilege and priority.
If your priority turned negative, you dropped a grade. Drop ‘too far’ – a conveniently nebulous metric – and you get archived. Your digital self is flashed onto ROM, and there you stay.
The outcry was loud, but brief. The explanations were terribly reasonable: there were limits to the virtual world. Server life and power consumption had to be carefully offset against the ecological recovery of Earth. Some hard decisions had been made. For anybody maintaining themselves in good standing, there was no risk. Only those who didn’t contribute enough, and thus got dropped repeatedly, suffered.
With that revelation absorbed by the participants of V-Eco with no real change beyond the concepts involved coming into general use, I decided to go after a bigger story.
Which was stupid. Having attracted the attention of those who administer Utopia, I should have realised they were monitoring me. Before my second expose could be released, I got dropped. From grade D to archived in one fell swoop.
I’ve been here ever since. Every waking, I upload as I was upon arrival. However, there seems to be a glitch: a small number of new memories get stored each time I go to sleep. It’s taken 30 years to achieve this state: knowing I’m an echo of a snapshot from more than half a century ago, and what I can become is dictated by how much overflow storage I can nab.
All because I found the truth: there’s no return from Utopia.
Great warrens of datacentres have been built in out-of-the-way places so those in Grade A can live luxuriously upon a rejuvenating, depopulated Earth, where automatons piloted by the consciousnesses of B and C grades take care of their every need.
I don’t even have the privilege to delete myself.