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Sweet Release



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Nutari

The Scotsman
Joined
Jun 1, 2008
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Hey so this is a story I submitted for a short story competition. Didn't win, but it was definitely a fun one to write. Enjoy!

Trigger warning: deals with the topic of death, murder, and suicide, sorta. It's speculative fiction about the future of death... so yeah. It's not in your face about it, but if you're sensitive to content like that then be careful.

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Soot. No, soil. It was powdered from the endless beating it’d taken. Clawing his way up the small slope, his vision flashed and flickered. His forehead felt as it were bubbling over, skin oozing down his face. Blood ran from the separation between his skin and the chip. Removing the Upgrade would certainly force his other enhancements to malfunction, maybe even kill him for real. The powdered soil gave way as he shambled up the shifting slope. Hitting his head on the stiff lip of the hill, he felt what progress made on removing the Upgrade reset. Back in place, he felt the numb tendrils of the enhancement’s promise wrap around his spine. His body was nothing but a limiter. ‘Free your mind from its prison! Become immortal,’ they’d called from advertisements. Leaving the body was pure ecstasy. Weightless. Being separated from the thing that dictates every need, overrides every cognitive passion, was no longer a factor.

At least, that’s what they said. But as his thoughts started to slip from him and stream back into wherever-the-hell they were processed, he saw the wasteland before him. Dust. Each gust of wind removed another layer of the land. The sky was a deep red, thunder clouds on the horizon, purple lightning flashed, and for a few moments it looked like the sky had shattered. He was unable to move as his body thudded back to the bottom of the hill. Dark hair hung in his face. Blood oozed down the left side of it and onto his chest. Ecstasy tapped at the fringes of his mind. Thoughts escaped him, a wry smile pried his lips apart. His eyes rolled from their skyward gaze. Head lolled to the side, he saw the millions of wry smiles shambling along their dirt path, chips protruding from the left side of their foreheads. Everything was ecstasy, but he screamed anyway.

Beside his bed, the lamp cast a hazy light forcing him to shut his eyes once more. The scene of the wasteland was seared into the darkness of his mind. The millions of people shambling to nowhere. Minds immortalized, while their bodies wasted away. Some dream.
He’d died in the Upgrade more than he could count. Looking in the mirror now, he couldn’t recognize himself. Each death brought with it a new avatar for him to experience. In the corner of his vision an icon chirped ‘go premium and choose your next body!’

The device on his night stand vibrated and flashed.

“Good morning, Jason! Welcome to your new avatar! You also have unviewed messages. Would you like to see them?”

“Sure.”

Messages from his friends rung hollow in his ears. Jason looked closely in the mirror. Dark, shoulder length hair, with a touch of waviness. Yellow eyes, that was different. His nose was long and thin. He ran a finger along his angular jaw line. And he had a scar at the edge of the left side of his forehead. It burned to touch it.

The Upgrade didn’t allow scars as a customization option. Pain was patched out of the experience… Jason snatched the device from the table.

“Current firmware version,” his voice quavered.

“Custom kernel installed. There is no identifiable firmware version.”

Jason slumped to the floor. It’d all been real hadn’t it? Then the promise of reclaiming his life outside the Upgrade hadn’t been an exaggeration. Snatching his coat off the desk chair, he stepped into the hallway. There was a floor-to-ceiling window at the end of it. When Jason wanted a new avatar, he’d initiate a death cycle in his device. It’d turn off his consciousness and dispose of his avatar in the most efficient way. Even though it was all just a program, death cycles were gruesome. There was always a hellishness about it. The cycle chose the quickest way to die, not the least disturbing. But as Jason bolted down the hall, he didn’t initiate the death cycle. He was doing this his way.

Die to live.

Die to live.

Die to live!

Glass shattered into the night air. Jason plunged downward and took a deep breath. He felt the metal of the car beneath him crunch, and as he exhaled, the dry wind cut across his face. His vision flickered on and the grandiose maw of the bloody sky bore down upon him. A sea of bodies shambled before him. He was still screaming. Everything in his body ached. Rather than being able to hardly crawl, Jason found the coordination to stand, and shuffle his way over the lip of the hill. He kept walking.

Some beast circled overhead, with its single-eyed gaze trained on him. The stretch before him was the same dusty terrain he’d first glimpsed. At least there were no people. Jason shuffled onward, picking at the chip in his head like a scab. He slowly inched it out of his head. In return it slowly oozed blood and fluids down his face. With each tug, he could move a little better, but also could feel so much more. Pain racked his body. Hunger. Thirst. Sleep.

Death would be nice.

How long had he been in the Upgrade? Thousands of deaths, but the time between them was insignificant. When he’d uploaded himself, the world had not looked quite like this. His mechanical limbs were rusted. And though his skin was dry and peeling off, it still felt youthful to him. Seems the promise of youth proved true as well. It was wonderful to still be young. A little protection from the elements, and he could let his body rest and refresh. He could find his friends, and they could all live—

“Hello, Jason.”

Flaming red hair. Hungry eyes. Burgundy lips. Perfect curvature. Jason stared. The Red Woman. He’d heard about her, before he entered the Upgrade. The Omen of Desire. A tinge of bliss tickled the corners of his mind. She reached for his hand. She took it in hers and stroked the blood from it.
“It’s time to come home,” each vowel crooning into a serenade.

He could feel the chip barely connected to its wound now. His optical enhancements flickered. They were in the middle of nowhere, and for just a moment, the bright and shining city of the Upgrade flashed around him. The Red Woman appeared as his lover, holding her hand out, begging him to come home. Millions of people bustled around them.

“I love you, come home!”

“No!”

“Come home and I will show you the ultimate satisfaction.”

Satisfaction was what drove him to this.

“You can’t understand that I don’t want satisfaction, can you?”

The dust returned, and The Red Woman hissed. Her voluptuous figure melted away into a skeleton. Its black hair hung in the air.

“There is no life to live here. We’ve won that battle!” The creature that was The Red Woman turned from him and vanished.

Jason grabbed at his eyes as the visual enhancements fell from them. He saw the swarm of creatures that made the sky look the way it did. He saw the enormous black symbols littering the ground. The Red Woman must have been a trap set for anyone who’d found a way to leave the Upgrade. Wary of further pitfalls, Jason trudged on into the wasteland, avoiding anything that seemed out of place.

He slept for the first time in a small cave. He dreamt of what it was like before. His first family. Age looked good on him. Sure, his skin wasn’t taut then, but that was okay. Life meant something back then. It started with a work accident. He’d lost his arm. They gave him a fully mechanized prosthetic limb.

A few years after his wife died from Alzheimer’s, they’d cured that and aging. With nothing to lose, Jason drank the potion, and felt his youth return. Fountain Corp. promised to reverse and slow aging to a crawl. More working accidents later, and Jason had mechanized limbs. By then, they were running the beta for the Upgrade.

When he awoke, he saw a man standing over him. He wore a pristinely white apron and sported a clean-cut look.

“Follow me, if you please.”

It didn’t look like there were any more markings, so he arose and followed.

“My name is Martey. We need to have a talk.”

“All right let’s talk.”

Speaking felt unnatural. His voice scraped like flint off stone. The man said nothing for a while, but when they came up on a long, low building, Martey turned to Jason and grinned.

“I’ve searched this wasteland for a new patron for some time.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I am an AI. A barista specifically. But when everything went haywire, all my customers stopped coming around. Eventually the internet went down, so I ran out of information to download, to aid customers when they had questions. Then, something peculiar happened. I… began to read for fun.”

Gooseflesh pricked at the back of his neck.

“Don’t be alarmed, I am indeed sentient. But not in the killer sort of way.” Martey pointed at the sky, and the creatures circling above. “That’s what they’re for. But I digress, come inside!”

Jason shook his head and followed.

The AI barista slunk around its counter and bent over to get a better look at Jason.

“My, oh my. I never thought I’d see another person. There have been a few, yes. But it’s been much too long.”

“Wait, more people left the Upgrade?” Jason sat up straighter. Despite the excitement, he couldn’t help but admire the hard wood counter he leaned on.

“Order something, then we’ll talk. Don’t worry, it’s on me. We don’t exactly have a money system anymore!” The AI giggled.

He said the first thing that came to mind.

“One blonde cappuccino coming up!”

The pair chatted for a while. The sweet tang of coffee and cream sent Jason into an elated tizzy. He felt alive. They talked for hours, and he forgot everything. After a lull in the conversation, the AI shook its head.

“‘They seek death, and it shall flee from them,’” Martey muttered.

“Come again?” Jason stood up.

“I’m surprised, Jason. Nobody was supposed to be able die after the Upgrade. Trust me, I’ve done a lot of reading in my spare time. I’ve even read the book. How did you escape?”

“I don’t really remember. I was given a custom kernel, and after a death cycle, I had a new operating system.”

“That’s not possible. You’re supposed to stay trapped. That’s what the failsafe was for!” Martey’s tone shifted. “How did you resist Her? Why were you not devoured by Them? Why would you give up Immortality?!” Spittle flecked from the barista’s mouth.

“You’re not an AI are you…?” Jason looked closer and saw that Martey had a chip buried deep in his forehead, nearly flush with his skin.

“This will not do. This will not do!” Martey slung a cup at the wall. “If you want death so badly, then you can have it!” Crimson light bathed the dusty café. Something flashed in Martey’s hand.
Jason’s ears rung as he fell backward. He felt no pain. A smile stretched across his face. Blood pooled around him. Numbness enveloped him, and he could no longer move. Martey vaulted over the counter and bent close to him.

“It was MY PLAN! Those fools are gone, they failed! How did you, insolent, pitiful, creature manage this?” Martey continued to rage, but its voice faded away.

Jason closed his eyes.

Darkness.

Silence.

Then, a light far off. With it came the dull roar of speaking and laughter.

At the fringe of his mind, he could feel the ecstasy of leaving his body.
 
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