I haven’t written much short fiction in several years, but recently some flash fiction challenges have caught my eye. I decided to give one a try. The full details of it are over at Chuck Wendig’s terribleminds, but the gist was to pick an alliterative title and play off the phrase “Double Dead”, the title of Wendig’s most recent novel.
And so I present:
I woke to the familiar lights of the cloning chamber. Shit, I thought, how did I die this time? I pawed through the disorientation for my last memory. It was March, going in for my annual backup.
“Good morning, Mr. Wallace,” the voice said. She sounded young, but what did that mean anyway? My last body had only been forty-two, and I had treated the knees well this time.
“What happened?” I croaked. Those first few days were always a bitch of uncoordination. Talking is okay, but getting your balance back for those first few steps is nasty.
“You died. We have restored you from March 22, 2839.”
Well, of course I had died. If this had been a rejuvenation cloning, I would have remembered it. Plus, I usually didn’t bother with those until the body turned fifty or sixty. “What’s the date?”
“May 9, 2846.”
2846? That was seven years. Clone installation takes three months, maybe four if you go for the heavier body mods. Why would they have waited seven years? My resurrection policy was fully paid! “When did I die?”
“February 3 of this year.”
That didn’t make sense. I always did a regular backup the week of my birthday. My son still does monthlies and chides me for risking up to a year of lost memory, but I can’t imagine that I would have gone seven years without a backup. “Was this my most recent restore point?”
“No, Mr. Wallace, your most recent backup was in March of last year.”
“What the fuck?” This was going nowhere. “Get me out of this thing.”
The seal broke, and the coffin lid lifted up. A robot with a feminine face bent over me. There was no telling if she was really a robot or merely some punk all kitted up. I tried it once myself, but hydraulic strength is no substitute for skin. She reached in and lifted me up into a sitting position. I tightened my abs, but I still flopped side to side. She braced me with a padded metal hand.
“Why?” I asked.
“You left specific instructions to use the 2839 backup,” she said.
I looked at her, and she nodded. She had probably been human at one point. The AI mannerisms usually aren’t that good. “Instructions, huh? Suicide?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Wallace.”
It wasn’t my first suicide. The first one had been for kicks. I was on my ninth or tenth body, back in the 2400’s, and I did the whole Icarus leap off one of the Mercury flights. It’s laughable now, but if you were alive back then, I’m sure you know someone who did it.
My second suicide was only suspected. My flyer went down in clear weather near the Alps in 2612. I still think it was an accident or a faulty lift unit, but the review board found no evidence of it. I had not had any reason for it, but it was only a week after my annual backup. I’ve wondered if maybe I simply decided on a lark to kick off my next rejuvenation early, but the paperwork afterwards was enough to dissuade me from ever considering anything like that in the future.
And sure, I guess all of the rejuvenations are technically suicide, trading in one body for another, but that’s clinical, not suicidal. You wait for the body to finish cooking, do the final backup, drop into a coma until the next one checks out, and then slip away. It got to the point where you never even thought of it as a death. You looked forward to the fresh body, soft skin, and painless joints.
But this was something very different. I had apparently killed myself and deliberately wiped out the last seven years of my life. Why? What was I trying to forget? What had I been doing?
The basics would be easy enough to track down. There would be financial records if nothing else. Presumably I’d purged whatever diary I might have been keeping, or at least dropped it into a time-delayed archive. There might be news articles or perhaps some published papers. I might have kept in touch with some of my old exes, and they would have copies of our correspondence. But none of that was likely to point to the reason I would have done this.
I love a mystery, and I’m pretty sure I can figure it out eventually. But I also know that I love a mystery, and I doubt I’d have gone to all this trouble only to let myself undo it.
“Did I leave myself a message?” I asked.
The robot nodded and handed me a folded slip of paper. I opened it to see my own handwriting, a bit more ragged than I’m used to.
“I wish I’d never met her,” it read. “Now I don’t have to. Don’t bother tracking her down. She jumped too.”
I crumpled it up and threw it towards the trash. I missed, of course.
The next six weeks of rehab were going to be a pain in the ass, but after that I could start looking. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no glutton for punishment.
I just want to see if she was worth it.