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A Dream of Dignity
by Esther Loydall

Death after the Crossover
Rain falls on my face as the sun rises. The wind howls as the stones turn to sand beneath my feet. I ebb and flow with the tides of the Earth and sky. Into one reality, out of another, through an existence I have only dreamed of, by way of a scattered but distinct trail of memories which have become ingrained, etched into my soul like stars.

Their melody is all about me, as intrusive as the silence which encompasses it, and equally hard to define. I can feel, but not touch, as sound and silence dance before my eyes until I can almost taste them. I cannot reach out, even though in my heart I hold an entire world. I cannot speak, even though my voice rings clear and cold through my being.I feel so alone. So very afraid.

This moment has always been the essence of my ultimate fear. The core of my nightmares in which I always knew that it had, finally and irreversibly, arrived. It was the powerlessness of the knowing, rather than the actual state of existence, which had always sent my heart racing. In these moments of isolation, the heat of panic would cause my life's blood to flow black through my veins, as my eyes shrivelled to darkness in my skull. I would awake screaming and shrieking in cold sweats, to be comforted through my terror by parents whose idea of perfection was cyberspacial immortalisation. They could never understand my fear, they aspired to the Crossover. I instead overdosed on regulation prescriptions, accelerating the process I sought so desperately to delay until my body could no longer take the strain. Polluted and broken, it became caught in a strange stasis somewhere between sleeping and waking, ageing and regressing. It never recovered.

They called it the Jam. Apparently it is not uncommon. My obsessive addiction to the anti-ageing pills themselves was a recognised social problem among progressive splinter communities like Cyberhimmel. There were a great many people like me. All for their own reasons. My parents were told when I was seven that I had a recognised psychological condition ; a fear of the concept of my own non-physical existence. The doctors had prescribed tranquilisers and mood suppressants, coupled with Ai3 - who was supposed to provide me with the constant reassurance that a chip is just as alive as we are; once properly programmed. I suppose it was true, in a way. I certainly grew very fond of him, possibly as fond as I would have been of a real pet - he seemed to be attached to me as well, and he learned fast which made him very rewarding. He was never alive, though. Not in my eyes, and this was my point.

I would have been so grateful if I had just been allowed to leave. My situation did not allow for this possibility. That was the problem with being a child in a community such as ours. My parents had the rights to me until I was sixteen. I could make no decision about my own life. Much like any other child, I suppose, but for me it meant accepting a great deal more than a few house rules.

I was chipped according to the custom of Cyberhimmel at the age of five. Even then, my instincts were against it. The six months of preparatory education did nothing, even though they were supposed to open my mind to the idea as a positive progression. It would be 'fun,' was, I seem to recall, the principle line of argument at the time. Mind you, I suppose they did their best, how else better to appeal to a child? They never went into much detail, although they explained that I would be able to play games with my mind, learn from a big computer without looking at its screen, talk to my friends without speaking, live forever with them and never have to leave. I think perhaps I understood too much.

Three months before the chipping I was having nightmares of being trapped inside computer screens, unable to move or communicate, people staring in at me from the outside, tapping on the glass and leering into my two dimensional life. I would dream that I was nothing but a file name, a recording of myself. I was terrified of having no body, being a mind suspended in nothingness, but my parents dismissed these fears, replying that I was too young to understand, and that I would thank them one day. The opaque liquids they gave me kept me tired, barely conscious, deluding my mind with racing cloudforms, hardly discernable through the gloom of my confusion.

When at last I awoke from the fog, I remember feeling peculiarly aware. It seemed I could hear every sound, every movement. All conversations were open to me, even though I could not detect their origin. Images would suddenly break through into my consciousness, other people's experiences and visions. Waves, surges of uncontrollable anger, excitement, misery and pain. Other people's emotions. I had to be taught, along with all the other children recently chipped, to control my own channels, to limit my own accessibility, to deflect the bursts of interruption from exterior sources and to focus solely on my own interior thought processes unless I chose to be receptive to others. I had to gain control of my own existence, to internalise my thoughts and feelings. It was a very long time before I felt comfortable enough with my own control for me to be able to feel enclosed once more by my life, rather than exposed and entirely vulnerable. So it was that, in a matter of days, my freedom, privacy and innocence were entirely stripped away. It was a cruel lesson to expect a five year old to learn, and it robbed me of my childhood.

As a result of this invasive technological transformation, I became obsessed with nature and the natural world. I would walk for hours, contemplating the plants, trees and animals outside the Cyberhimmel perimiters, thinking always of how free they were. How beautiful. They were not deprived as I had been of their right to die. I would often sit amongst the heather and weep for everything I loved; the transience of life, the reality of the Earth. I dreaded an existence outside its confines, in a virtual world from which I could never leave. I resolved, panicked and desperate, to attempt to delay the decay of my body for as long as possible. I did not want to leave. It was then that I began taking twice, three times the amount of regulated anti-ageing tablets, thinking nothing of the damage they could do to the body I so wanted to save.

Outside my world, I knew that there were already people suspended voluntarily in Cyberspace. The first of new generation. I followed their stories via the net. I studied interviews with them avidly, despairing as they enthused. I wanted somebody to somehow validate my fear, to show me that I wasn't alone. Gradually I developed an interest in the lives of the Townhimmelers. They were a splinter group like us in Cyberhimmel, only their creed was extremely different and, I found to my delight, far more like my own.

By the time I was actively studying these things, I can only have been about eleven. Four years ago. I did not actually know any Townhimmelers, apart from a few that I spoke to in chat rooms on the net. As with so many of us, the great Flu of 2006 had had a profound impact upon their lives, wiping out vast areas of the towns. Many of them had found themselves leading an isolated existence like that of Cyberhimmel, with little communication with one another. Sometimes there would only be about three families to an entire suburb. As a result, they had moved inwards, towards the very centre of the city, leaving behind them a sprawling ghost-town in every direction. The empty Suburbs created even more distance between Townhimmel and the outside world, which, it seemed had a favourable effect upon the central community - drawing it closer together.

Closer. Closeness. I longed for the feeling. Just as I longed for life. A life with a natural end, and all the hopes, goals and aspirations such an end incites in a healthy and ambitious mind. A race is, after all, not race if there is no finishing line. Without a finishing line there can never be anything to strive for, there can never be any winners. It is in exactly this way that here. Like this. Constantly running towards nothing. Cruelly cheated out of what should rightfully have been mine. My peace and my dignity. The panic courses through me. The memory sudden and sharp. As it used to do. 'My Pills!' All previous thought is lost as I focus painfully upon my single crutch, only to remember with a hollow misery that it is no longer relevant. The delicious sensation that perhaps I could change, avoid, or at least forget my reality with those orange, sugar-coated, pips. Down, down into the dark they would go, washed deep into my chemistry, chemical comfort in the darkness of my mind. What can comfort me now? Here it is neither dark, nor light. Nor is it silent, but there is no sound. Instead there is a sensation. Almost a buzzing. A permanent reminder that I still exist. Without it, perhaps it would be easier to forget. I clearly remember my parents trying to comfort me in one of my blackhours saying that, one day, a graphic dimension would be created for Cyberlivers, so that they wouldn't find it so difficult to adjust to the Crossover. I had tried to explain then, that no such thing would ever be possible, that graphics are something for seeing-eyes only to enjoy. Without a physical body, there can be no vision. There can be no comforting graphic reality for us. I was sure of it then. I am still more certain now.

I miss my sight more than anything. Even from before the implants. The simple gift of vision. After the implants a huge and awe-inspiring world unfurled before me. I could hardly believe the difference they made to my life - to many peoples'. Instant net access and much else besides was now possible wherever you were, and everyday life changed as a result. 'The Virtual Reality Eyeball Implant heralds the final days of the computer screen.' It was big news. Even the Townhimmelers were wild about this piece of Scientific progress, and they were particularly selective about such things.

As well as my sight, I miss the movement and excitement of the physical world. Those days when everything about you inspires and delights. I now have to live these episodes vicariously, through the memories of my past. I remember particularly vividly the time of my life - I must have been about fourteen - when some friends and I began visiting the nearest city, Townhimmel. It offered us so much more than Cyberhimmel and we had all decided that we would move there as soon as we were of an age to do so. We would travel there on foot, relishing the countryside around us. The old road, cracked and uneven, was full of flowering weeds and grasses. Only the trade routes were used by traffic now. The minor roads all lay abandoned, sprawled across the land like forgotten silver snakes. Cyberhimmel had an enormous seven lane Trade Route. It needed it, for the entire settlement shopped online. The Route itself was like the others of its kind. Utterly straight, grey and faceless. Here by contrast, the trees towered over the verges, vast and thick-trunked, their roots breaking up through the tarmac in places. Flowers jostled their way between one another, eager blooms turned skyward. The sun burned hot on our backs as we walked into our shadows over and over in the light. The clouds above us. All was so perfect. So impossible to mirror with either science or technology. These were the important things to us. The things which could not be re-created, the parts of our lives which had a certain vital essence, an essence which was life itself.

Outside the centre of the city lay the ruined suburbs. We were lucky enough to live on the side nearest the heart of the town and therefore only had about twenty minutes to walk through the ruins. On other sides they stretched for miles, some necessitating a two or three hour trek before eventually giving way to life. They were very strange places. The atmosphere was eerie. They formed a skeletal, brittle shell or wall around the pulsating heart of the city. A shell which was at once redundant and efficient. So grey. So dusty. Long, tattered shadows, sharp silhouettes, shards of broken glass and splintered plinths. Soft against these sharp edges, ragged curtains billowed out into the wind like a forgotten scream. A scream screamed so long that no sound is left, for the beginning is lost and the end never reached.

On old, staggering billboards the future of many yesterdays stood still, emblazoned in faded colour, punctuated here and there with forlorn letters, searching for sentences now torn away. Neglected bus-shelters carried similar forgotten visions which were now equally lost to the weather. Here, the arrival of the first phone-stud was heralded proudly in shredded glory. It seemed peculiar that once phones were something to be touched. I have no recollection of ever seeing a phone. As far as I was concerned it was an integral element of your central chip. However, Cyberhimmel was about six or seven years ahead of Townhimmel.

We would wend our way through these grey bones of an old life, drinking in the atmosphere, revelling in our own impatience to be where we were heading. We sometimes talked, sometimes thought to each other. Laughing as we pirouetted through the dust. In these moments, I could forget our destiny and with it, my fear. Living only for the moment and the anticipation it brought, as the sounds of the city grew closer and closer up ahead

The noise was the most striking difference. Voices filling the streets. Cyberhimmel dismissed the spoken word as outmoded and unneccesary. To talk to one's contacts was considered backward in the extreme. Thought was instead the method of communication. The method of isolation. Shops were also non-existent in that community, thus ensuring the complete absence of daily social interaction so prominent in Townhimmel.

We wandered, intoxicated with vitality, through the main streets of the City. All around were people, their movement, their sound. We strutted with our personalised plastic, swipe after swipe as digits flashed in decreasing circles, units clocking down one by one. We didn't care. This decrease was the price of instant gratification. We thought it a small one to pay. We could feel, smell, see the objects we purchased, saturated with the moment. The Now. Our hands heavy with our happiness and our escape. Our throats warm with coffee as we left the cafes spilling over into the streets. Lives overlapping one with another. All so glad to be aware of their own existence.

Existence...existence. Panic. Quick. Snap open box. Glints in the light, tiny orbs of life. Down they go. Make me real. Make me always now and never forever nothing. So hot. Prickled, burnt with fear, quivering release of relief. Work. Work. Work. - Only you didn't, did you? How could you let me down like this? Leaving me wallowing in the lake of memories which can be my only pleasure. How could you?

And after the panic, the calm. The life again, all around. Swirling like a dervish through the veins of the city. Through my veins, rolling along like the sea, rising like the tide as I drowned. For, ahead of me, I saw the perfect horror. The serpent in my Eden.

'www.lifeternal.com - Pro life throughout death.'

The image was of a Chipped arm. It had come. Silently and swiftly infiltrating this community, until Suddenly it was all about me. Perhaps before, my joy had blinded me to the deadly living fever which had swept my beautiful City, or perhaps a second earlier it genuinely hadn't been there. I breathlessly took in the world about me as if for the first time. Billboards shrieking from all directions.

'www.forevertogether.com - never leave the ones you love, call now for free quotation.'

'www.cyberhome.com - virtual eternity for first time buyers, sign up now for site.'

'www.nevergrieve.com - death need not be the end, now it is just the beginning.'

Even on the back pages of the magazines in the stands,'Crossover of a loved one? Talking not enough? Try our graphics packages, accurate reproductions of your loved one to ease that hollow feeling. Order now and get our special screensaver package at no extra charge.www.graphiclives.com.' I picked one up. The feel of the paper in my hand had, until that moment, been yet another source of pleasure. A luxury. The caress of the pages against my fingertips. I would flick through them over and over, loving the smell of the print, the brightness of the pictures. So different to the way we accessed information. The Townhimmelers used the net as well, they also had electronic books, just as we did. But they appreciated the physical world, and never used technology to exclude, but rather to enhance it. Now, it seemed, they were allowing this evil infiltrator into their confines. I was devastated. Surely they could not fail to see the horrors of eternal cyberlife?

I searched desperately through the magazines for clues. Therapy. Grief therapy. This was, it seemed, the key reason for their embrace of the Chip as a means of prolonging life. The Townhimmelers were all systematically chipped just as we were, but at a later age and they never used it the same way we did. For them, the chip and the technology it provided them with was used to enhance the course of their natural lives, just as the anti-ageing pills were. For us, the Chip 'was' life, the anti-ageing pills taken Ūbecausež they were living science. In Cyberhimmel, life was spent in desperate attempts to attain the perfect technological existence, the natural world was something outside of us and unnecessary.

It seemed that doctors and psychiatrists in Townhimmel had decided to manipulate the concept of a life after death to the advantage of the living. For them, continuing access to a loved one after the event of their death was considered to be highly therapeutic, and should continue as long as was necessary for the living human to re-attain a happy state of existence. The actual life on-line was not in question. I found this highly disturbing, aware as I was of the persistence of consciousness linked to the chip. The Townhimmelers appeared to have entirely overlooked the question of the suspended individual himself.

I lost something that day in Townhimmel. I do not know if I am even sure what myself. I think it was the security I had vested in the knowledge that a community existed which would not abuse the human soul. I had hoped to be a part of that community someday. It was upon Townhimmel that I had pinned all my hopes and dreams. From then on was a steady progression towards the Jam, I could not help myself, so determined was I never to die and leave my Self to the protection of others. Others who, in Cyberhimmel, would Cross me over instantly, believing that I could attain their idea of a perfect existence. Or who, in Townhimmel, would Cross me over just the same if a relative or friend wealthy enough to buy a space on the net in which to store me decided they wished to come to terms with their grief at my death slowly, at their own pace. Either way I would be abused. I could trust nobody to simply let me die. The obvious solution was to ensure that I never did. I suppose it is almost ironic that I have not succeeded.

The days pass slowly. I keep count from sheer force of habit. Of course they are only a matter of numbers now. There can be no more day and night. My parents are ecstatic. They contact me frequently. I loathe it. My friends have tried. All I want to do is dissolve into hysteria, but my tears cannot flow, all I feel is the ache. I wonder what the purpose was.

I must have been like this for about six months. Everyday is long. Every hour. Every lifeless minute. Other cyberlivers can sometimes be communicated with, all seem happy. A few are hoping to be placed in new bodies at some point in the future, genetically reconstructed with the DNA of the original host. Humans really are getting closer to being God. Closer to being Godless. I feel aimless, adrift. Panic, horror and fear are integral components of my being. I cannot remember myself without them.

More numbers clock by. I dive deep into my past, re-living, re-experiencing everything that I loved. At other times I search the net for news that may give me hope, any hope of an end. For a very long while there is nothing whatsoever until, one day, there is a difference. Breaking news. A splinter group of radical Pro-Death activists. Many of their principles are violent and insane. They slice chips from people's arms at random in the streets. They set fire to the design institutes and factories that produce the software. None of this is relevant, they have been around for as long as I can remember. However, they have recently begun a new project, which is to destroy all cyberlivers currently in existence. Several have already been terminated

Everyday, they set people free.

Everyday I wait and hope.

Perhaps they will find me.

Perhaps.

Perhaps it is just a vain hope.

A dying dream.

© ESTHER LOYDALL

Victims of the State
by Esther Loydall -
thousands of children are lost in care - why?

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