By Tony Domaille
I thought they’d hail it as the greatest scientific advance of all time. As it goes, basking in the glory of that discovery never happened because, inconveniently, I died.
Oh, I know, you’re wondering how I can tell this story if I’m dead. Well, don’t be scared. I’m not a ghost. There are no tricks or magic, it’s just science. You see, before I died, I managed to upload my entire consciousness to The Cloud. You may have saved your photos or your files to the digital ether, but I went one…no, many times better. I saved me. My body may have returned to dust, but my mind, my memories, and my knowledge are still working, and available at a click.
You have to be impressed, don’t you? But whilst I’m a scientific genius, I must admit to some deficit of social skills. Most notably, I hadn’t got round to telling my wife about uploading myself before I died, so when I spoke to her, she was a bit shocked.
I said, ‘Hello Mary,’ as she logged onto Facebook. I was disappointed my voice was a bit robotic, but it still sounded like me.
‘Ian?’ she gasped, looking up at the ceiling.
I wonder why people do that. If they think they’re talking to the dead, they always look to the heavens. Still, I suppose I am there, metaphorically.
‘You’d better sit down,’ I told her.
Mary glanced at the computer screen, then up again, and back. ‘Bloody hell,’ she said, ‘that frightened me to death. Stupid sod’s left a recording on the drive.’
‘I haven’t,’ I said.
She froze. Though confused, she knew recordings couldn’t talk back.
I said, ‘I should have mentioned this before I died, but I invented something recently.’
‘Oh?’ she said.
I was expecting more. I mean, there she was talking to her late husband, and she’d gone from shock to matter of fact in seconds.
I said, ‘I’m talking to you from The Cloud. I found a way to upload my conscious self.’
Mary frowned. ‘Your conscious self wasn’t very conscious when you were alive.’
That stung a bit. I’d always thought I wasn’t a bad husband. Okay, I did get engrossed in my work and forgot the odd domestic commitment, but overall…
‘What did you want to go and do that for?’ asked Mary, interrupting my digital thoughts.
I patiently explained that experimenting on people would be unethical, so I’d selflessly concentrated on my own consciousness. I couldn’t have predicted dying of a massive heart attack before I could tell the world of my scientific breakthrough. But my death aside, I told her I was rather hoping she’d be appreciative and supportive.
Mary looked at the screen, even though I presented as no more than a programme icon. ‘So, what’s your plan?’
‘How do you plan to exist from now?’ she asked. ‘I mean, it’s not as if you can do much, is it?’
‘Mary,’ I said, ‘I’m a scientific genius. People can…people will want to talk to me, up here in The Cloud. You have to tell them.’
She wasn’t convinced. ‘I’m sorry, Ian. I’m not telling the scientific community I’ve been talking to my dead husband in The Cloud. They’ll think I’m a loony. You’ll just have to settle for catching up with me when I go on Facebook.’
Then she switched me off.
Whilst things weren’t working out as I’d hoped, I consoled myself that at least I was around in mind, if not body. As far as I knew, when you pop your clogs, that’s it. But I could still think and feel, emotionally. And at least I could talk to Mary when she went on-line, so that was surely better than being six feet under. At least I thought it was until Mary started treating me as some kind of personal Google.
‘Ian, I don’t have time to chat, but when is the MOT due on the Peugeot?’
‘Quickly, Ian, where do we keep the boiler cover policy?’
‘What’s the password for your cash ISA?’
I’d hoped we would have conversations more around how much I was missed, or recalling events of the past, but it just didn’t happen.
‘I feel like we’re drifting apart,’ I told her.
‘We are apart,’ she said. ‘You’re dead.’
Mary didn’t seem to consider me a person anymore. No matter how many times I reminded her of the enormity of what I’d achieved, she acted as if I were no more tangible than a file. In fact, as time went by, I began to feel I was in direct competition with Alexa. A competition I was losing because, unlike Alexa, I couldn’t order from Amazon or pull up a favourite play list. I think I finally realised we weren’t still a couple when she opened the profile of a bloke called Derek from a dating App and asked me what I thought of him.
‘He looks a bit swarthy to me,’ I told her.
She called me a racist.
I said, ‘As your husband, I forbid you to go out with him.’
Mary laughed. ‘If you think I’m loving, honouring and obeying a bunch of code, you’re very much mistaken.’
Code? How hurtful. Technically correct, but I’m so much more.
‘Mary…,’ I began, but she was gone on her date with Derek.
Over time, I’ve got lonely in The Cloud. Mary doesn’t go on-line as much since she started going out with Derek. My dream had been that life would go on, just without my creaky knees and rapidly receding hairline. I thought that scientists would queue up to talk to me and that the secrets of my science would lead to people never really dying. But my dream that we would all live on an island in The Cloud, with me as the God figure, wasn’t to be. The days became long. The nights became longer, and when Mary did come on-line, all she talked about was her upcoming wedding to Derek.
‘I’m not doing so well,’ I told her, one day.
‘What do you mean, not doing so well? You don’t have a body to cause you problems.’
I said, ‘I still have feelings.’
‘Do you?’ she asked.
‘What sort of feelings?’
I sighed. ‘All the ones I’ve always had.’
‘Oh,’ said Mary.
I told her that I missed her and that it felt weird knowing she was with Derek now. I told her that I was still me and that I still wanted all the things I’d ever wanted. Success in my scientific work, two holidays a year, steak dinners, an evening at the cinema, a happy marriage.
Mary didn’t answer right away. She seemed to be thinking, and when she spoke, I knew that she had chosen her words carefully. She told me that she had loved me very much, but that I’d become a stranger the more I had got into my work. She said that we hadn’t had movie nights or steak dinners or holidays.
‘Did we have a happy marriage?’ I asked.
‘It wasn’t unhappy,’ she said. ‘But then it wasn’t that happy either.’
‘Because of my work?’
‘Because of your work.’
‘It was my life,’ I said.
Mary looked sad. ‘It cost you your life. Lack of sleep, lack of exercise, a terrible diet…you were a heart attack waiting to happen.’
I knew she was right, but I persisted anyway. ‘But look at what I achieved.’
Mary said, ‘Do you remember I asked you what your plan was?
‘How’s that plan working?’
‘It’s not,’ I said.
She took a deep breath. ‘What you’ve done is the work of a genius when it comes to science, but the work of a madman when it comes to the meaning of life. I’ll always love you, but you shouldn’t be here.’
When she’d gone, I felt tearful, though I couldn’t cry tears. She was right, of course. Living in The Cloud wasn’t what I’d dreamt it would be. There’s so much more to life than consciousness. So much more to life than work and success in that work. If there is any immortality, it’s in the love we have and share with other people. But once we distance ourselves…
Mary was also right saying I shouldn’t be here, so it’s a good job I really am a great scientist. Whilst I never guessed it would turn out this way, I built a fail-safe into the programme. So, in a moment, I will activate delete and I’ll be gone, and you won’t hear from me again. Maybe you’ll be frustrated that I haven’t shared the secret of how to upload someone to The Cloud. But take my advice, don’t look for that secret. Look for the secret of how to live on the ground; the secret I never found.
About the author
Bio: Tony has written a number of award-winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world. This story has been adapted for the stage and the play will premier at the Avon Festival in July 2021. Tony has also had many stories published in anthologies and magazines. You can follow him here -https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/