The New You
Orion Martin

Paul stopped breathing. He stared at the box in his hands, the wrapping paper covered in Escher-Christmas-trees still hanging from the box like snakeskin.

“What, the fuck, is this?”

Liz couldn’t quite place her father’s anger, so she decided to ignore it. “It’s a voucher for a digital vacation. It’s simple, they make a copy of your mind, let it go on a vacation, and then they upload the memories to you.”

Her father didn’t respond, so Liz continued, “It’s completely safe.”

Liz’s mother, Alice, put a single hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Don’t be angry at her. She didn’t know.”

Paul stood up from the table and threw the package to the ground so hard that Liz jumped in surprise. “Jesus, dad. I thought it would be nice to get you something besides a golf club. You don’t have to be a dick about it.” Paul had already left the sun room, and the present lay inert on the tiled floor.

Liz stood and reached for the package.

“Listen, Liz. There’s something I need to tell you.” Alice glanced at the dining room, where Paul was sitting by himself. She thought about going to him, but knew he would need another minute to calm down. “Something happened when you were young that we just don’t talk about, because it brings up some very painful memories for your father.”

“What was it?”

“Well, years ago your father signed up to have his mind digitized. They were going to make a perfect digital copy that would be identical to him, a prototype for digital life.”

“Seriously? How come you never told me?” Liz stared at the half-unwrapped present in her hands. On the cover, a white man walked down the beach with his arm wrapped around the waist of a dark-skinned, hula skirt-clad woman. Behind them was an enormous yacht with two jetskis attached to it. A logo in holographic letters read, “A World of Your Own.” The woman stared sensuously at the man, but he ignored her. Instead, he stared outside the box, meeting Liz’s gaze.

“This was before there were strict controls on digital life, and someone made a mistake,” Alice continued. “A technician left the copy of your father’s mind running while he went to get a cup of coffee.”

“He was only gone for a few minutes, but the digital mind had been set to full speed. Circuitry is much faster than brain tissue, so even though it was just a few minutes, the subjective experience was much longer.”

“I don’t understand,” Liz said.

Alice spoke slowly, “Well, your father’s mind was in that computer, with no stimulus or contact, for what felt to him like tens of thousands of years.”

Liz’s chest felt tight. “What?”

“Of course, by the time they realized the mistake, it was too late. The digital copy of your father had gone completely insane. It didn’t affect your father directly, but it was a copy of his mind that was trapped in thereā€¦ I know it was difficult for him to hear that.”

Liz looked at her father, sitting in the other room. He was hunched over, elbows to knees, facing the wall.

Alice stared out the window. “I’ll never forget what the technician said when we asked him what the digital copy had said. He told us that your father’s mind had been begging for death for thousands of years.”

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