Prose Header

Debt and Deletion

by Phillip Donnelly

“You can’t run your mother and the car!”

Tom bit his lip and turned away from his wife. The same arguments, day after day. Habit wasn’t making them any easier.

Carol got up from the dining table and moved across the room, with bills in her hand and anger in her eyes. “It’s not as though we haven’t wasted enough money on it already.”

Her, not ‘it’,” Tom replied.

“No, not her — it! It’s not real, damn it!”

Tom’s heart pumped, and he started to breathe more quickly. He looked up and met her bulging eyes.

Carol opened her mouth and was about to speak, but words didn’t come. In their place, she threw a bunch of unpaid bills toward him. Quickly losing momentum, they floated to earth, like dead butterflies.

“Arguing again, I see,” said a voice from the screen that covered most of the back wall.

“I told you to put her in sleep mode,” Carol said, turning her back to the huge, angry face.

“Ha! ‘Sleep mode’, is it?” the voice snarled. “I know what kind of sleep you’d like to put me in — a permanent sleep!”

Carol grabbed the remote control and muted the volume.

“Put it to sleep, Tom! We can’t talk with that thing butting in all the time. Besides, it’s been weeks since the last defragging. You know how craggy she gets,” Carol insisted, behind folded arms.

“I can’t. She’s... afraid. She’s afraid we won’t turn her back on,” Tom said.

“Oh, be a man!” Carol demanded. “Just put those hangdog eyes of yours in front of the retina scanner and send the virtual witch off to bed.”

The volume indicator on the screen rose again.

“You can’t shut me up by just pressing a button. Like some, like some...” said the voice.

“Like some machine,” Carol said, turning toward the screen long enough to give it a smug smile.

“How dare you!” the voice replied. “I always knew you were just a no-good fortune hunter.”

“What fortune?” Carol snapped. “In your will, you left everything to yourself, and you’re even meaner dead than alive!”

The screen grew incandescent and the speakers buzzed. “You know I can’t touch that money. It’s not my fault I’m dead!”

The virtual mother’s voice grew so loud that one of the older speakers blew out. Carol jumped and put her hands over her ears.

“Enough!” said the son and husband. Tom left the room and went upstairs, slamming the door behind him. As he climbed the stairs, he wondered if his mother had always been so spiteful. Does death make you twisted?

All the screens in the house came on simultaneously. A malevolent hiss filled the air. Every screen showed Tom’s mother on her deathbed. The Virtual Integrated Personality staff were all around her, inserting electrodes into the scalp, funnelling probes into every facial orifice, drilling needles deep into the brain itself. It hadn’t looked like that in the VIP advertising. There was no gore in their slick Second Life promos.

Tom went to the bathroom to escape the screens and their LED death masks, and to get some heartburn medication.

He felt bitter. Three days it had taken to download her. He hadn’t even finished paying for that yet. Configuring the virtual mother and installing her in the house’s upgraded cyber systems took another full day. A final demand for that was waiting downstairs.

“If payment is not made in full, we will be forced to exercise our right to summary deletion,” the bill had stated.

“Summary deletion,” he said out loud.

“Murder most foul!” the bathroom mirror said. A hologram of his mother appeared in front of it. “That’s what they call murder nowadays, isn’t it? ‘Deletion’. Why don’t you get the probate lawyers to release my funds?”

What Tom hadn’t told his mother or his wife was that the lawyers had already explored all avenues. They had sent teams to every court in the land, commissioned every possible expert to testify, made every appeal imaginable. So zealous had Shank, Flank and Faker been that the entire family fortune was now exhausted.

Even if there was a way for his mother to inherit the money she had bequeathed to her Virtual Integrated Personality, there was no longer any money left to inherit. The lawyers had bled the estate dry. All that was left was the house, but VIP Corp had a lien on it.

Tom looked at his mother again and tried to tell her the awful truth. The hologram was at the edge of its range. The projection was fuzzy, especially around the edges, and its colour distorted towards the green end of the spectrum. They had warned him that this might be a problem if the CPU started to overheat.

Through the bathroom door, he heard his mother rant. “I’m never going to sleep! Never! I don’t care what that wife of yours says.”

“You need to sleep, mother. We all do. And don’t be so hard on Carol. She’s just worried about money,” Tom said.

“She’s worried! That’s rich. I’m about to be murdered by VIP accountants — if your wife doesn’t get me first — and she’s worried about money. Why don’t they delete her, eh?”

“Because she’s alive, mother.”

“I’m alive! I’m alive. I am alive!” The hologram crackled and dissolved into silver sparks. Tom left the bathroom and went downstairs.

His wife was sitting at the dining room table. Above her head, the screen showed an Error Warning. “VIP Mother has crashed. The system will reboot in 30 seconds. Press F1 to exit reboot.”

Tom moved to the retina scanner, which didn’t register tears. “Rest, rest, perturbed spirit,” he said. “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

“Please state a command or name,” said the operating system.

He pressed the F1 key to exit reboot and then placed the Virtual Integrated Personality in hibernation mode.

Copyright © 2014 by Phillip Donnelly

Home Page