UKArchive ID: 36396Returned Mail by sirat
Originally published on April 1, 2016 in Fiction    

This is my offering in response to the current challenge in the Prose Challenge forum: A story in which someone suffers a similar transition to the one in Kafka's Metamorphosis. It should contain a moral or philosophical life lesson.

This is my final attempt to get a message through to my lawyer Mrs. Prudence Cooper. I don’t have very much hope left that it will ever get to her but I have to make the effort.

Pru, if you ever get to read this, I don’t want you to think that I’m ungrateful for the work you did in getting me the settlement with the Omega Corporation in 2063. Speaking for myself I thought it was a first class settlement at the time.

You counselled caution and I wouldn’t listen. That was foolish of me. I was rash, I didn’t look at all the angles. I acted like a five-year-old in a candy store. Go ahead, eat as much as you like, the Omega Corporation said, and that was what I did. You and one or two others tried to warn me that I would make myself sick, and I sure did.

There isn’t much point in going over it all again, but I want to ask you to use your imagination here, and your compassion. Can you put yourself into my shoes on the day they told me? I wonder if you can?

I was the most average American imaginable: thirty-six-years old, good enough job in hydrogen distribution, pleasant enough home life with my wife and the two kids, even if a little of the magic had gone out of it, nice house in a decent neighbourhood with guaranteed aircar access, good health, no debts, a few guys I used to drink with, a couple of hobbies I enjoyed, nothing much to bring me down. Of course there was a reason why I was so average, I understand that now. Then they hit me with something like that. Can you even begin to imagine it? Being told you aren’t real? I don’t think so. That shock alone is worth something in terms of compensation. Something damned big. And I don’t think it was even taken into account in the settlement.

Now at first I could see the Corporation’s point of view. Computer time isn’t cheap, not on something the size of Ocean Blue. But then I found out – that thing wasn’t running me in real time, and I only ever took up about ten per cent of its processing power and memory. The only time they were running me in real time was when they needed to talk to me. My thirty-six years of life had taken place in nine hours and sixteen minutes of Ocean Blue’s time, running at ten per cent capacity! So what was all the fuss about, for Christ sake? Give me another nine hours and I could live to 72. Give me eighteen more and I could get to 108, which must be about the average lifespan for a modern American. Eighteen hours of Ocean Blue’s time at ten per cent capacity. What’s that to a corporation the size of Omega?

That was what I reckoned and of course I was right, they jumped at the offer. Even let me add all those little clauses, like I could have any kind of life I wanted, nicer children, a more beautiful wife who loved me more, a higher IQ, better teeth, permanent youth and health up to the moment of death… how come they were so keen to please? So keen to get me to sign that settlement agreement?

Well, we found out why pretty damned quick, and I was grateful at the time to Father Ryan for pointing it out to me: the fact that the majority of American citizens believe that they have an afterlife to look forward to – in everlasting paradise. Nobody can prove that there isn’t one, so why shouldn’t I have that to look forward to as well? Why should I be the only human being without any hope of that afterlife of eternal bliss? Regardless of how much computer time that would need. And thanks to you, the court accepted it. You gave those atheists a dose of their own logic! I know you had personal reservations, but you were my lawyer and you did what a person’s lawyer is supposed to do, you took my instructions and you fought my corner. You had already won official human status for me, something that had never been achieved before for a computer simulation. I didn’t have to feel like some kind of glorified crash dummy for statisticians to study any more – you proved legally that I was a free-willed person making moral choices and originating thoughts that were entirely my own. That’s what I’ve always been, I can pass the Turing Test with one hand tied behind my back, but you forced Omega to acknowledge it.

I used to feel so grateful for that. Like I could never thank you enough. If you hadn’t won that case life would have ended for me right there and then. I wouldn’t even have been dead, I would have been deleted – a bunch of erased and shredded files reduced to total non-existence.

But the next bit was a step too far. You were right about that and I should have listened to you. We all knew deep down that human beings aren’t fitted for eternal life. We’re born, we grow old, we die. That’s who we are, the way it’s supposed to be. The only kind of eternal life a human being can have is one of absolute misery and despair. I know that now. Even with all the perks that Omega gave me, all those extra agreements about designing my own women and ruling the world and experiencing ecstasy every moment of my life – it just isn’t enough to make eternity tolerable. Eternity is too long for human beings. It doesn’t matter how good it is, how much pleasure we experience, how clever we are, how much power we have, how beautiful everything is… eternal anything is hell, not heaven. There’s nothing, and I really mean nothing, that can make eternal existence tolerable let alone pleasurable for a human being.

I don’t know how long I’ve been in ‘heaven’. I haven’t tried to keep records. But I know that it’s too long. A lot too long. I’ve had enough now. I want out. I want it to end. I want peace. I want death.

I know that wasn’t in the agreement. I can’t choose oblivion. It’s the one option I never thought I would need. But I need it more than anything now. Omega can have their computer back. I don’t want any more of Ocean Blue’s time. Surely that’s to their advantage too? Why haven’t they given it to me aeons ago? Aren’t they listening to me any more? Isn’t anybody listening?

Are you out there any more, Pru? Is there anybody out there any more? What year is it in your world?

For God’s sake pull the plug somebody! Anybody, please!


© sirat (sirat on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 36396
Archived comments for Returned Mail
QBall on 01-04-2016
Returned Mail
Very interesting idea. I am happy I am not in this situation. I think you wrote this just right. Congratulations.

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much Leslie. Much appreciated.

Mikeverdi on 02-04-2016
Returned Mail
I think it's excellent. I was a little unsure at the start, I should have realised I was in safe hands. I was not expecting heaven, that was inventive. I wondered if at the end,you needed the last three lines, just me I expect.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for the kind words, Mike.
Re the ending, I wanted my protagonist to 'lose it' a bit, to have a screaming outburst, and maybe to push the whole thing a little bit further in the direction of comedy, but I can see that you're right,it probably works just as well without those three lines. I'll see what other people think about them. Maybe they shouldn't be there. Thanks for reading and commenting.

pdemitchell on 03-04-2016
Returned Mail
Heaven in a CPU well expanded into the realisation of eternity in a processor. The last line is a cliche and I think overegged the coda-pudding a bit and could go as the penultimate line 'hangs' better as an ending. Brilliant short piece. Mitch

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mitch. Glad you liked it. The consensus on the ending seems to be that it needs trimming.

Supratik on 03-04-2016
Returned Mail
Brilliant! I just loved it. Health until death... I came back to that part a number of times.

Author's Reply:
I've always thought my ideal death would be to be shot by a jealous husband when I'm 104.
Thanks for the kind words.

e-griff on 04-04-2016
Returned Mail
Highly competent and complete story benefitting from your interest and knowledge of AI, very well expressed (as ever!) No glitches, no doubts on my part. Ten out of ten for what it is.

Enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:
Coming from you John that is praise indeed. Many thanks!

expat on 04-04-2016
Returned Mail
You're pretty good at these epistolary tales! Both of your short story collections had some if I remember correctly.
I wrote a similarly-themed story several years ago about a tube-festooned old man being kept unhappily alive in hospital purely as a chest-beating example of medical showmanship.
Me - I'm all for the Do Not Resuscitate option.
No gripes about anything - a good read.

Author's Reply:
Thanks. I agree with you more or less about not keeping people alive for the sake of it, but there is a bit of a minefield connected with voluntary euthenasia when people begin to feel like a burden on their families. Always a question mark over just how voluntary it is.