Announcing My Death

A short story by Colin Campbell

2,300 words


     It is so strange to have to announce my death. I’ve heard vague rumors about something like this but I never dreamed it would happen to me. My body stopped and I didn’t notice for several hours.

     I was in Santa Barbara at a birthday party for the nephew of one of my clients when my body stopped. I didn’t know how many of the other guests were actually there in corpus, it’s so hard to tell these days. The holos are just too darned good, but at a Struldbrug party you’ve got to think everybody there was a holo.   

     A blinking red light in the top left of my field of view kept insisting on my attention. I activated it and saw my bioreadouts. Everything was flatlined.

     It was the kid’s Struldbrug birthday, two to the seventh power. A biggie. I maneuvered through the crowd and found the host. “I’m sorry, Holly, I have to leave, I think there might be something wrong with my body.”

     She looked me up and down and said, “I can’t believe that, Dorian, you’re looking great! I’ve never seen you looking better! What optimizer are you using these days?”

     “Oh, just plain old DNA,” I told her. Back when I first started using remote holodrones I was scrupulous about having the holo be an accurate representation of my real body.

     But after dozens and dozens of years, jesus it’s been a long time, my holo-body evolved into an optimized version of myself in my strongest youngest days while my actual body faded into wheelchair life. My holo-body was a representation of what my DNA would have generated if I’d led a life of optimal nutrition and exercise. Not an accurate portrayal of my current withered old self, sorry to say.

     After all these years my holodrone body seems like my normal self. I’ve always used high-end hologenerators that mimic gravity very well and display realistic folds and drapes of clothing.

     “You’re just tired of Struldbrug parties,” Holly said.

     “Well, yeah, in a way,” I said. “I’m glad for your nephew, but my own Struldbrug was so long ago…you know what I’m talking about, he’s just a kid. It seems important when you’re only 128.”

     “I know, I know. The Struldbrugs used to be exclusive but now 128 is nothing special. I hope your body is all right. I hope it isn’t anything serious. Please don’t leave without telling me you’ll write me a new realio for my show tomorrow night, you have such an eye for interlocking events. Tomorrow night we’re covering Shirley, say you’ll do it.”

     “I will.” I stepped out onto the balcony overlooking Santa Barbara and looked down at the glittering lights of the city and the flow of headlights on the freeway. Even if I was dead I didn’t want to leave all this behind.

     I hadn’t actually travelled to Santa Barbara, of course; I’m stored in the cloud so I can go anywhere. I’d rented a holodrone from Gwar’s Drone Shack in the Funk Zone, a super-excellent one, a six-inch sphere that hovers with its dual cameras at eye level, totally silent, and generates whatever body holo you upload.

     Now I dismissed it and it whirred down the hillside toward town. I rode with it down the hill toward the lights for a while savoring the view before switching back to my own holodrone at home.

     I went into my modified bathroom where my LifeCapsule was connected to the plumbing. The readouts all still were flatlined and red lights were blinking everywhere. I slid back the cover and looked down at myself. I touched my face with my holo finger and was startled at how cold and different it felt. It was so strange to look down on my own dead body.

     I wanted to turn off the blinking lights but I paused…I knew I should call the police or the coroner or whatever, but this is a very unusual situation. Let’s think about this first.

     I went back to my workdesk, parked the holodrone in front of my screen array, and “sat down.” It was just as if I was sitting in my chair. I reached for the keyboard and saw my holo-generated hands. A visual aid for focusing my attention.

     I retrieved the LifeCapsule manual to see what to do but there was nothing in there about resuscitation or any post-mortem procedures.

     How could this be happening?

     Am I legally dead or is it just my former body that is dead? What a can of worms. Will I still be able to control my assets? I have a comfortable lifestyle and I’d like to continue it, and now I’d no longer have the expense of food and medicine and life support technology.

     I don’t know when it started, it crept up on me. Maybe it started when I began to use Google as my auxiliary memory. I didn’t have to remember that Al Kaline batted .379 in the 1968 World Series; if I needed to retrieve that number I could look it up instantly.

     I began relying more and more on internet searches when my memory sprang a leak. If I was away from the computer I had my smartphone and it became routine.

     Early on there were animated avatars that mimicked your facial movements when you speak so it looks like the avatar is talking, and mimicking your expressions. It was a fun toy at first but then the Optimizer apps came along. Use your phone or iPad for a non-reversed mirror and stare at your own face and adjust parameters and remove zits and ask for various levels of enhancement and different hairstyles and select from an array of choices until you’re looking like the you you really are, if you hadn’t stumbled out of bed two minutes ago to answer the phone.

     As the machine-learning technology improved the avatar morphed into a highly accurate version, and you couldn’t tell the difference between the avatar and an actual video of your face. 

     I had a stroke when I was 98 and lost the use of my vocal cords. I’d seen the video of the brain-chipped monkey playing a video game using its mind but I never dreamed the technology would advance so fast. After the non-invasive connection was invented to replace the surgically implanted chip, the Neureaux company became the fastest growing unicorn in stock market history. I was one of the first to buy the NeureauxCap.

     It was a neuroprosthetic that converted signals from my brain directly to the screen as words. Not the old way of using your mind to peck out words one letter at a time on a keyboard, but a direct detection of the neural activity directed at the vocal tract. I regained the ability to command Alexa.

     When I went blind with age-related macular degeneration, I had an ultra-MRI scan of the retina of my eyes. Within a couple weeks I had a 3D-printed replica in silica that accessed video feeds directly into my brain through the NeureauxCap.

     More and more parts of my body have conked out on me over the decades but new technologies have kept coming along to pick up the slack. We all barely noticed as the momentum of the speed of digital doubling, tripling, quadrupling brought faster and better mental connection to the computer. Plus replacements made from my own DNA for failing organs.  

     I kept adding more external memory over the years, terabytes and petabytes and exabytes of it.

     By now my physical body had become redundant.

     And now the piece of meat that generated me is gone but I’m still here.

     I think.

     Nothing feels any different now that the body has died. Who is this “me” that’s thinking about this?  I switched back and forth between my home server and the cloud but I seemed to have full control of everything no matter where I was working from.

     How could I find out if I was really real? Do I have volition, or is it simulated? If I have volition, I can turn myself off and then turn myself on, just like waking up from sleep in the morning.

     A long time ago, after I stopped being able to roll my wheelchair to the computer desk and was always confined in the life support capsule, I started using my holo all the time even at home. At bedtime each night I’d walk the holo into the bedroom and lay down on the bed just to maintain a semblance of continuity. I thought maybe I could now enter a 24/7 consciousness but it turned out I still needed sleep. My prosthetic neurocircuits needed a nightly reorganization just like every other organic brain on earth.

     The blinking red LifeCapsule warning light was still in my field of view. I looked at the full readout array again: still flatlined. Might as well turn off the readouts, shut down the life support.

     Well, wait. Nobody knows I’m dead. Maybe I could keep going. I sat at my workdesk and fired up my usual apps. Let’s see if I can make the realio that Holly wanted about “Shirley.”

     My specialty is following trails of unbelievable coincidences. There aren’t any coincidences, of course, there are merely incidents where you haven’t been looking at the other half of what’s going on. I could access as much AI power as I could afford in my realio search to follow millions of trails that didn’t pan out, to find the rare gems of hilarity.

     If something happened that shoved somebody into the news, I could run her life backward to see where it intersected with other events. I had no idea who Shirley was, but a rapid sweep of the mediasphere showed me the Shirley who was the current focus of frenzy around the planet. I roamed timelines back to her point of birth and raced forward and saw her interactions with other people. I followed those people’s trail forward in time. Most of them turned out to be totally uninteresting, of course, but I kept searching their forward branchings, too, that led to modern-day incongruities between Shirley and these other folks.  

     Just like when I was alive, I was still able to go completely in that zone where your brain is at full attention, focused on one task to the point that other distractions seem to fade away. I sifted through thousands of events around the world and selected a few of them here and there and developed a satirical connective matrix between them. I collected videos and text and graphics and wrote connective information for Holly’s writers to fill in with jokes.

     Sent it to Holly.

     Okay. I was so tired. Maybe I was dead, maybe not. One way to test it was to go to bed. I went to sleep.

     In the morning I woke up, which was a surprise. There was a call from Holly. “Thank you, Dorian! This is so fresh! This is some of your best work. The producers are saying they might want a regular monthly feature from you, let me know if you can fit that into your schedule.”

      It went over well on her show that night. Even I laughed at it. The next day the ratings came in and the producers okayed the monthly feature. It looked like my normal life would be able to continue.

     But a few days later my external surveillance cameras showed four men approaching my front door. Two uniformed cops, a man in a suit, and Ted, the building manager of my eldercondo. One of the cops knocked loudly on my door. “Wellness check,” he said.

     I stood up from my desk but Ted opened the door without waiting and they came in. They immediately flinched and turned their heads away. Ted turned around and ran out and I heard him puking. One of the cops said into his phone, “We got a solid wall of stink here, bring in the gurney.” He turned his phone toward the man in a suit. “Readout says it’s putrecin, Lou.”

     “I can smell that myself without your gadget,” the man said.

     “What is this?” I said.

     “Wellness check,” he said to me. “I’m county coroner Lou Ralston. Something here is dead. Your nutrient and medications supplier says you’ve stopped using. Neighbors are complaining about the smell.”

     I hadn’t thought about that. It was so automatic that I’d forgotten about it, all the regular life-support supplies. Several liters per month of brand-new blood made from my DNA pattern, telomere-clipped to the age level of an 18-year-old, plus medication drips and nutrition fluids.  

     “I’m fine,” I said. “Get out of my house, or show me your warrant.”

     He sighed and turned away from me. He said to one of the cops, “O’Grady, turn this damned thing off.”

     The cop reached into my holo and grabbed the holodrone and flipped the off switch and I vanished from their view.

     I was still able to observe them because I am still connected to the in-house surveillance cameras. I drifted among them like a ghost.

     I watched them put my body in a body bag and onto a gurney. 

     I tried switching to my cloud connection but it was shut off.   

     I saw O’Grady rummaging at my desk area. He said, “Hey, look, this guy knew Holly of Hollywood!”

     I saw O’Grady fumbling at my workstation. He found the power switch and