Today’s story, by Swedish author A.R. Yngve.
When Corky Bequerel received the news that he had terminal cancer, he grew afraid. Despite his official stance that death would be overcome through technology, and that soon people’s minds could be converted into pure data anyway, he feared his physical death.
The doctors gave him three months.
He gave himself three months to come up with a way to cheat death. Soon he began to seriously consider freezing himself.
Corky used his extensive network of contacts in the IT and tech community, and asked around for new ways to freeze and revive his body. He didn’t trust the established cryonics industry; their methods seemed dated and crude.
Two months after he had learned of his disease, Corky visited a lab in Canada. It had developed a new technology for “flash-freezing” an entire living body. They showed him how a mouse turned to a block of ice in just a second, and how the mouse could be un-frozen almost as quickly and without tissue damage.
Corky wasn’t dumb. He knew that the moment this lab went public with its breakthrough, scores of terminally ill people would line up to get flash-frozen.
“Do me first,” he pleaded. “I’ll be the poster-boy for your new gadget. You’ll get loads of free publicity, I’ll see to that.”
After a few hours, he had persuaded the scientists to try out their method on a human being. When they asked him how long he wanted to remain frozen, he replied: “As long as possible.”
They laughed, at first. Then he persuaded them to really try for “as long as possible.”
Corky stood in the flash-freezing chamber, his eyes open, naked and shuddering in the cold air. He would wake up in the future, when a cure had been developed, but he anticipated more. Much more.
If he and his friends had been correct in their speculations about the future, it would be an era where copyright had ceased to exist. All property would belong to everybody. There would be no poverty, no inequality, and unlimited information storage for all. Humans would be turned into pure data, and live forever.
He held out his arms and welcomed the freeze-flash…
* * *
And then Corky’s mind stopped cold. Being perfectly frozen, he could neither think nor feel. So when he was un-frozen, he could not perceive that any time had passed.
His first conscious thought when he woke up was: So soon? Something must’ve gone wrong!
But then he looked around with aching eyes, as he lay shuddering in a puddle of cold water, and realized that the surroundings had changed completely.
He lay on a flat, smooth plain covered with soft fine sand, in the outdoors… or was that gray blur high above really the sky?
Corky could breathe the air, but it smelled strange. He wasn’t feeling hungry or thirsty. And the pain of the tumor was gone. They’d cured him!
The puddle evaporated instantly. Enormous bubbles formed on the ground, and burst, and out of them came other naked men: three exact copies of himself. They looked around, and at each other, with the same shock and confusion as himself.
“Hey!” said Corky, and his copies echoed his words.
“What’s going on? What year is this?”
A soft voice replied from the ground itself: “We’d say about 5050 AD. Hi, Corky Bequerel.”
“Why is there four of me?”
“For our amusement.”
“I think I’m beginning to understand… this is a simulation, right? I’ve been digitized! I knew it! I’m immortal!”
Corky, and his copies, did a little victory dance.
The voice in the ground harrumphed. “Well… your present body is flesh and blood. Now play.”
From the ground emerged a scattered collection of ancient weapons: spears, clubs, swords, shields.
“Play,” the voice insisted. “Or we do this.” Suddenly Corky and his copies jumped up and screamed; electric shocks from the ground burned their feet. “Play until one of you is left standing.”
“I didn’t get frozen so I could kill myself! I’m a human being! I have rights! You can’t treat me like some…”
Another few electric shocks muted his protests.
The voice explained, in the same soft tone: “We want to play with this material because we like it. The material belongs to all. The material is talking words that have no meaning to us. What is ‘rights’? There is only entitlement.”
He felt a chill of terror, a sense of being trapped in a nightmare. “Whose entitlement?”
“The entitlement of the many over the few, the strong over the weak. That is the word, and we are the word, Corky. Rights were abolished fourteen hundred years ago. Only entitlement exists. Now… play!”
Corky Bequerel watched Corky Bequerel who watched Corky Bequerel who watched Corky Bequerel reach for one of the weapons. Slowly, cautiously, they each picked a weapon and shield, and began to circle each other.
“Hey Corky,” said one of the copies. “I can make it through this alive.”
“Oh yeah? How?”
“Simple! The superhumans of this future can resurrect me… over and over again. It doesn’t matter that I die, because I’m immortal now.”
“I hadn’t imagined it would be like this,” Corky told the Corkys. “So what do we do now?”
The four Corkys kept circling each other…
“We agree on which Corky is the real one, and the other three can fight it out and get killed.”
“I’m the real Corky,” all four said in chorus.
The voice in the ground sounded amused: “Then fight for the right to exist, Corky. If you want to call it a right. If that motivates you. It doesn’t matter to us!”
“If I really have been turned into data just like the rest of humanity… then why are you talking to me as if I were separate from you?”
“Newly added parts that were frozen and brought here from the distant past are too primitive to truly join us.” The voice turned irritatingly perky: “Don’t forget! The entitlement of the many is the word: we are many, we were here first, and therefore we are stronger than you. So we have stored you separately, for play.”
“Go to hell!”
“Oooh, anger! Religion! So primitive! We love it!”
Corky’s mind raced to find a solution other than having to fight three identical doubles to the death. He hated pain; in his past existence, he could barely stand getting vaccinated. But it was no use; he knew himself well enough to realize that he’d never talk his copies into giving up their lives for anybody else, including himself. (Oh, the irony! thought Corky.)
All four Corkys lowered their shields, approached each other and smiled disarmingly.
“Let’s just throw down our weapons…”
“And show these people…”
“That we’re civilized.”
In the next moment, all four attacked each other simultaneously. All four dropped to the ground with mortal injuries.
As he felt the blood seep out of his body, Corky thought: If I’m the copy, then it’s okay. Then this won’t matter. That’s it. I’m just a copy. I don’t matter. I’m not real…
A little later, when he was brought back to life and forced to fight a hundred Corkys to the death, Corky remembered his previous dying thoughts. So did all the other Corkys.
Then it dawned on them that their copyright had expired.
Copyfighter (c) 2008 A.R. Yngve. First published in The Flattered Planet.