The Dreaming

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

Dear Harold,

I’m so pleased that you are considering uploading! It would be very nice to have my nephew with me here on the other side. I would be happy to be your sponsor if you decide to cross over. The experience can be confusing at times, but I find that as successive generations are uploaded the process becomes easier. Younger folk are making the transition very smoothly these days. I’m sure that you, being a bit of a technophile, would adjust quite well.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about the process. I know you must have read the informational brochure already, so I won’t go into the medical process or how your consciousness is digitized. From your questions, it seems like you are mostly interested in the lifestyle of the uploaded.

To answer your first question, yes, the scenery is very realistic. Visitors say that it seems, at times, to be a bit pixilated. However, visiting is not the same as being fully uploaded. It’s like seeing a photograph versus being immersed in the space. Sometimes new attractions can suffer from a bit of pixilation, but that is usually smoothed over quickly. If anything is unrealistic about most of the public spaces, it is the cleanliness of it all, nothing is rusted, there is no litter, no dirt. Private spaces can be programmed to get filthy, and some do that to keep a degree of realism, but public spaces are always clean.

Space is infinite, so you can choose to have a home with eight other people, to live in a castle by yourself, or not live anywhere at all. Call me old fashioned, but I like having a base of operations, working within an avatar. I live in a single level private home on an island. The island is a community, we screen applications to live here and talk about the settings we like for temperature and scenery. It’s a place for people who like a quiet retreat but like the occasional sense of community. I have to admit, my community is, like me, all early adapters. We aren’t a cult or an artist commune, like you might find in other spaces, but we are a nice little community, and we have all designed some wonderful sunsets. I love to sit on my porch and watch the sun go down over the ocean. It’s a stunning view. Before you upload, you should pick up an avatar and come visit me on the island for a good sunset.

What do we do here? Well, mostly, to be honest, it’s experimentation. People experiment with living together, taking different shapes, entertainments, building experiences of pleasure and pain. Food is a major art form here, with connoisseurs talking about what tasted like what when they were alive. Coffee and wine are major sources of debate, and no one can agree on the taste of them. I find that Italian food is usually great, but it’s impossible to find a good chili, so enjoy your chili while you are alive!

What I miss the most is the dreaming. When I died, I was uploaded, neurally scanned and moved into the electron network, the energy web that surrounds the earth. I can have anything here, I can build a dream home, make friends with dead and the living who choose to interact with the dead. I can read books in seconds, write books in minutes, paint, design my avatar, divide my consciousness between a thousand activities, but I can’t dream.

The uploaded can even enjoy sleep, hours of a semi unconsciousness state where we enjoy a black warmth, but mostly, only newbies indulge in that kind of luxury, most of the uploaded consider it a waste of time. I can have these neuro hypnotic experiences designed by my friend Sam (also dead) who made a program that assimilates your memory with randomized images, feeling and experiences that coalesces into an experience that’s something like a bad trip, but that’s far from a dream.

I used to have the most wonderful dreams. My husband would curl his warm body around mine before we went to sleep, putting his hand on my bare stomach, his face on my shoulder. I would fall asleep with him at my back and have the most extraordinary dreams, epics, fantasies, shorts, little stories starring my family and friends, terrifying horrors where I was killed, or worse, when I was a killer. I would dream of riding monsters, of sex, of flying, and going to sleep, I never knew what I would be dreaming next.

Now I always know what my next experience is going to be. I know because I choose it, every choice is conscious, every step clean and prepared. This is the world of the uploader, predictable, intellectual, sterile.

My husband is dead, truly, dead, not uploaded. He didn’t want to join me. I’ve thought of death too, but I’m a coward, and not willing to step into the unknown. There are still interesting things, my grandson still talks to me over the network. He’s a good boy, my grandson, always willing to tell me his dreams.

If I can make one suggestion for you before you get uploaded, it would be to make tight connections with your family, and always be there for them so that when you are uploaded they’ll stay in touch. Things can get strange without a physical body, so make your ties tight before you go, you will appreciate having people on the outside when you’re in here.

I hope that this has answered most of your questions about uploading. Please do come by for a sunset sometime. I’d be glad to see you.

Your friend,

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Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

“Okay girls, it’s time to party!” Fran opened the door to the strip club, and held it open like a doorman while Trisha and Nancy filed in. The bouncer scanned their palms and put a glowing X-mark on the back of Nancy’s hands. The marks glowed brightly under the black lights of the club.

Fran entered last, triumphant, her eyes crinkled small as she grinned. She offered her palm for the bouncer to scan. Trisha took a picture as the big man used the little handheld scanner on Fran.

“First day being Post?” said the bouncer.

“You got it big guy.” Said Fran, beaming. That day, with a note from her doctor, Fran had successfully applied for and received a metapausal license. It only took three minutes for the bored official at the National Identification Office to reprogram the chip in her palm to scan as post metapausal.

“Three minutes after that,” Fran said “I was in a bar, drinking with a bunch of young men and old women. I threw out my supplements and smoked a cigar.” She guided Trisha and Nancy to a big empty table.

“You smoked a cigar!” Nancy had never even touched a cigar. “They are so carcinogenic! Didn’t you cough?”

“Doesn’t matter, I’m not pre-pregnant anymore.” Fran motioned to one of the shirtless waiters. “Besides, I didn’t really take the smoke in my lungs, it was mostly symbolic. I wanted to experience smoking, not have a coughing fit.” Fran ordered white wine, Trisha ordered a strawberry daiquiri and Nancy and got puréed vegetable juice, the staple drink of the pre-pregnant.

“Why not have an orange juice?” said Trisha. “After all, it’s a special occasion for Fran.”

“Can’t,” said Nancy “Got to watch my sugars. Can’t have too many. The police do spot-checks, you know.”

Fran laughed. “I’ve never gotten a spot check.” She touched her long neck. “Must have looked too old.” Fran was lean and tall, her salt and pepper hair cut in a neat pixie cut around her head.

Trisha smacked Fran lightly in the arm. “You? Never, I can barely see a line on your face.”

“No, my face looks fine, it’s my neck that looks wrinkled.”

Trisha mimed looking at Fran’s neck though a magnifying glass. “Maybe in your mind you have wrinkles, but to the people in the real world, we’d have to scan your palm to find out your real age.”

The waiter brought them their drinks. Nancy felt like if she touched him, her finger would come away oily. Still, the sheen off his biceps was intriguing.

“I wish I was post metapausal,” said Nancy, stirring her purred tomato and cauliflower with a pink, plastic straw.

Trisha patted Nancy’s arm. “You’ll get there someday.”

Fran leaned in close to Nancy, so close that Nancy could smell her vanilla perfume. “You could hack a license.”

“What? No way, I could get put in jail for that. Eating poorly or sneaking a smoke is enough of a fine for me. I heard what they do to people who hack their own chips.”

Trisha shrugged. “How would they find out? Who would tell them?”

“I’m sure they set up stings for that kind of thing. It’s not like I could just search for “hacking federal chip” on the internet and not get spotted by the FEDs.”

“There’s more ways to find things than an internet search.” said Fran, patting the back of Nancy’s hand.

“Are you saying that you’re not really post-metapausal?” Nancy put her hands over her mouth.

Fran laughed. “No, no. I’m really post-metapausal, but not all women are that seem that way.” Fran glanced at Trisha. “I say all the more power to them. Today I had a double fudge chocolate cake. It made me a little sick, but I loved every bite.”

Nancy pulled her skirt over her knees “I can’t believe I’m sitting here at a strip club, a place where they serve alcoholic beverages.”

Fran pulled out a little compact and checked her makeup. “I used to go into strip clubs when I was young, but ever since young women were banned from drinking, it just wasn’t the same.”

Trisha winked at Nancy “You should try a daiquiri. They’re delicious.”

“What if someone finds out?”

“It’s just strawberries.” whispered Trisha “Try a sip of mine. No one has to know.”

Nancy took a sip of the fruity, frosty drink, the paper umbrella bumping her nose. “Wow. That has a kick.” She took another long sip.

Fran leaned back in her chair and raised her glass. “I’m looking forward to all kinds of kicks now that I’m not fertile.”

Nancy felt a heavy, sweaty arm on her shoulder. She looked up, and a young police officer towered over her, one hand on her shoulder, one hand on Frans. “Excuse me Miss,” said the officer. Nancy’s breath caught in her throat. Could they tell that she had a sip of Trisha’s drink? How did they know to come for her?

The cop pulled down the zipper on his coat with a flourish. “I have a warrant for the arrest of a woman named Fran – we can’t believe a lady as good looking as she is qualifies for a post pregnant license!”

Fran clapped her hands “Take it off!” she cried. The music started and the colored lights whirled, pointing towards their table.

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Do You Remember?

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

Do you remember when I bought that old theater, sold my house and lived in the basement with the rats and the roaches and the scuttling things that I couldn’t identify? Do you remember before I got too bitter to kill those things, when I let them chew at the woodwork, when I ate one meal a day, always dinner always at someone’s house, some part time actor with a real job that paid for me to eat, or when I lived, lover to lover, each of them paychecks for me to breathe and eat and work on with, me and one of those computers you held on your lap, not in your hand, on your lap and worked and worked, when an internet connection was something I’d pay more for than food, when it was something you could steal?

I scrubbed that old theater. I scrubbed it with old t-shirts down on my hands and knees between every aisle, scrubbed the bottom of those cherry seats, all two hundred of them, till each one of them, dented or cracking, shined for me, my indoor orchard.

Remember my signature suit, the one I stole from the donation box of the goodwill so I wouldn’t have to pay the five dollars for it inside? Remember cash money and the way it felt like cloth and paper all at once? Cartoons never got paper right in those days, like being drawn on paper meant somehow that you couldn’t draw paper.

Do you remember the men who smelled like patchouli and wore sandals and laughed and cried all in the same night, both of us laughing and crying with them riding their emotions like a drug? Do you remember the boys who looked like girls who loved boys who looked like men? Do you remember Ronald, after he went off to the global war, and the way he looked when he came back, the metal and plastic in his chest blowing and humming its war tune though his body? Do you remember staying up till those cold blue dawns, Ronald still shirtless, playing drinking games, playing truth or dare moving past screwing and drugs and deviation till we asked, hey, has anyone here ever killed, and Ronald raising his hand and bringing that silence to the theater, that big, full, quiet, strong and loud as any applause. All those giant emotions swirled around in my drinks back then, oceans of drink.

Do you remember the greasepaint and the girls who smelled so sweet that I thought they would stick to my hands, that they would rub off on me, into me? I remember loving every single one of them, falling in love every night of a show, each show a fever. I was the starving delirious kind of all that magic. Remember how the cops threw me out of my own theater because it wasn’t residential, or how pest control shut us down for a week before a show? Do you remember the way that I begged and pleaded with everyone I knew who had part time jobs, who had money, who knew money, to give me some so that I could spend it on that old breaking theater?

Do you remember when they came with their little boxes, those cheap squares that could make the little machines that would scrub floors, repair chairs, fix and mend? Do you remember how we cracked them open to see how they worked, had them make us all food out of the rats and the show bills that was barely food, but we knew we wouldn’t have to worry about eating anymore? Do you remember when the girls started to freeze-dry, to turn into plastic at sixteen, so that no breast ever sagged, no wrinkle ever folded? Do you remember feeling like a pedophile the first time you slept with one? Do you remember when the men stopped running off to war and played at it from home like a game? Do you remember how the new people, that new guard said that we were missing all the art because it wasn’t here anymore, it wasn’t wrapped up in the tangible?

Am I old that I don’t want to move my body to a tank? Am I old that I want to scrub my cherry seats and smell my greasepaint? Have I missed the train to the next world, an old guard, and a relic of past time, a giant on whose shoulders a castle is standing? I do not understand the intangible world of numbers and glow in the world made of those bright young minds. But I am not lost. I do remember, children, I remember before, and I will learn to share with you, so that you can carry my memories with you.

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Human Proof

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

When I was eleven, I tried to kill myself after seeing an old movie. In the film, a man cut his wrists with bits of mirror and then held them under steaming hot water. At his funeral, people piled flowers on his grave. Everything in the film was grey but that pile of flowers.

I thought it looked so cool.

I was eleven and an only child. I never had so much as a dog to play with. My mother was working on a Doctorate in French film of the early 2020’s and didn’t have a lot of time for me. I tried to break my mirror in my room, but pounding on it did nothing except slam the back of my dresser against the wall. The noise caused my mom to come upstairs.

“Why are you making this racket?” She asked, smoking her cancer-free strawberry cigarettes.

“Just exercising.” I said. Behind my mirror, the plaster was starting to crumble.

“Are you trying to break your dresser?” She laughed, crossing her arms in front of her. My mother looked a lot like a chicken, skinny legs and beady eyes. “Good luck, the thing is child-proof, wail on it all you want.”

Everything in my room was childproofed. Even when I went to stab myself by running and jumping, stomach first, on my bedpost, it just turned to foam and bent beneath me. If I was going to kill myself, I needed some adult tools. I went to the kitchen, where my mother kept all the kitchen implements she bought and never used. There was a block of knives in the kitchen, and I brought out the largest one and scraped it across my palm. It flickered blue and spoke in a friendly, female voice.

“Oops! Be more careful when you are cutting!” it said. When I moved it across my flesh, it was soft as cotton. I threw it on the floor.

I don’t think I wanted to die out of any morbid curiosity or self-hatred. I think I just wanted to be raised by my Grandmother. Grandma Loretta had lived with mom and I until she died at the age of ninety-three. I was eight years old when she died. I remember mother saying that she wasn’t gone, just sleeping until she could wake up again on the Network.

She was one of the first people to get her consciousness uploaded into the Network. When she was alive, she would play dolls or blocks or immersion games with me. I would always win our games. Grandma Loretta never seemed hurt or angry that a child won playing against her. She would just giggle, putting a winkled hand over her pocked face. Later I learned that this was due to dementia, her organic mind slipping away. When she was uploaded, she chastised my mother for keeping her in the organic body for so long.

I thought that if I died, I might get flowers thrown at me and then Grandma Loretta would raise me on the Network. Grandma Loretta seemed to have lots of free time. She was always going to parties, making experimental art environments, and conducting science experiments. When I sent her voice messages on the Network she would get back to me in seconds.

“Things move faster here,” she would say. On the Network, she had built her own virtual house with large white pillars and flowering ivy. She sent me pictures of the place that she had built with her new boyfriend. The pictures of the both of them almost looked real, just a little too perfect, a little too smooth. I knew if I died, I could go live with them, where things moved faster.

I drank every cleaning fluid in the house, but all I got were hiccups.
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The New Girl

Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

“I just can’t believe they dumped me!” Relex squealed into the Audio Tube.

“Relex, Silkstring, Bloodpuff, you have to calm down.” Relex mothers voice chimed evenly through the Audio Tube. “It’s been three sun cycles now, and you need to start the process of healing, move on, maybe try to find another mating group.”

“Mom, I’m forty three seasons old, I don’t have a job because I spent all my time caring for my Hive, and now I’m living in a stick cell in a public Hive with a bunch of weirdoes.”

“I’m sure it’s not all that bad.”

Relex waved two of her limbs in the air. “One of them is missing half his eyes!”

“Darling, this is just a transition period. You weren’t really happy with your Hive anyway.”

It was true, though Relex hated to admit it; her old Hive had worked her hard. Relex had spent hours cleaning the Queens chamber, removing sterile or rotten eggs, and spinning the fine clear string out of her abdomen that allowed her to make repairs to their home. The rest of her seven partners worked outside the Hive to support the Queen and each other.

The Queen of their Hive lay in her room, eating and laying eggs. Relex would sort through the eggs, looking for fertilized eggs. The broken and dysfunctional eggs Relex would discard, crushing them to make a fine paste that would feed the great tree that held the Hive in it’s branches. It was hard work, but raising young with the Queen was exciting, if exhausting.

Then She came.

Her name was Astrill, and she was a youth from the lower branches of their tree. Her abdomen was full of bright glistening fluid, healthy and bursting with youth. Relex’s abdomen was flat and her fluid dull, as she was constantly emptying it to repair the house. Astrill’s hundred eyes shone like the color of the sky at sunset, and her eight legs were youthful and strong. Relex had lost ten of her eyes while defending the Hive from an attack of the Bris bugs, losing eyes to their stingers. Next to Astrill, Relex felt like a broken egg.

Astrill came home with Elex and Lillx from the hunt. She needed a place to stay for a while, they said, until she found a Hive. Relex had always supported the idea of community, but actually letting Astrill into their home was like a breach, like a Bris bug has accidentally crawled inside their Hive. After a few sun cycles, everyone but Relex was infatuated with Astrill.

Then the Queen told Relex that she had to leave. There was only eight to a mating, and the Queen said that Astrill was more suited to their youthful Hive. Relex felt like a Bris bug had stung her in the stomach. She left, going to a public Hive where unattached singletons went to try to find mates. She talked with her mother on the Audio Tube daily, complaining about her old Hive. Mother was starting to become frustrated.

“Relex, you’ve got to pull your strings together! So, you got dumped by your mates, that’s awful, but you’ve got to move on!”

Relex slumped in a corner of her cell. “Are you mad at me?”

“Oh, my little egg, I just want all of my young to be successful. I love you, but if you can’t pick yourself up and move on, than no one can help you.”

There was a scratch on the Hive wall. Relex sighed. “Gotta go Mom, I’ve got a visitor, probably some creep starting a Hive.”

Relex went to answer the door. Elex stood outside, his abdomen twitching. “Hey Relex, how are you doing?”

“What do you want Elex? Did you come to tell me how unattractive I am? Well, thanks, but I don’t want to hear it.”

“No Relex, I came on behalf of everyone back at the Hive. I, we, want to apologize.”

“Absolve yourself of guilt? I won’t be giving you the satisfaction, go back home to your new tramp.”

Elex scratched his forelimbs together. “Well, the thing is Relex, she’s gone.”

Relex’s antennae snapped to attention. “Left you, has she? Good for her.”

“Actually, we had to throw her out. We just, we had no idea how much you did around the Hive. After you were gone, Astrill wouldn’t lift a limb to help with the eggs, the Hive repair, anything. Things got to be a mess, Lillix stayed at the hive all the time, which she hated, but then we weren’t bringing in enough food and the Queen stopped producing eggs. It was terrible, and Astrill wouldn’t help. We made a mistake.”

Relex felt a pang of sympathy. To imagine the Queen in filth made her cringe. “The Queen really isn’t producing eggs?”

“We need you Relex. We need you to clean for us, to repair the Hive.”

“So basically, you just want me back to clean.”

“No, that’s not it at all.”

“Elex, take a message back to the Hive. I’m not coming back. Not ever. I’m going to start my own Hive.”

“You can’t, that’s crazy, you’re too old!”

“You know what, that is the last I want to hear about that. I’ve heard they are looking for elders on the colony ships, I think I’ll sign up, get as far away from here and you and the others as I can, and I will start my own Hive, and maybe there I’ll even be Queen.” Relex turned around and aimed her abdomen at the door, sending a spray out of her back, sealing the door closed. In your face Hive, she thought, I’m headed for the stars.
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