The Accidental Forever
“It’s time to die again, Love.”
“The Sun has risen 279 times already?” I sigh.
My favorite lover nods. When I stand, she leads me arm in arm across the beach to where my friends, wearing ceremonial feathers, shells, and beads, have circled the sacred palm grove. As I lie down in the middle, I ask, “Tell me again what it is like for you.”
“Your body fades away. Everything stops – the wind and surf. Even the birds in the sky hang motionless. The silence is profound. Then you slowly reappear, open your eyes, and all becomes as it was.”
I awaken inside an organic pod, the pit in a gigantic fruit. My memory is a hall of mirrors – repeating images fading backward into mist. Between pod awakenings, I live on the tropical island, basking in sunshine, making love and music. The island memories are sliced at regular intervals by memories of this cloning pod on an interstellar ship. Other more ancient recollections mingle with these, useless as worn out serial numbers – being a scientist, having a former life on Earth.
At each awakening, I remember pushing through the slimy opening of the pod to confront… myself.
So I push.
My self outside the pod is strapped on a couch in a shiny transparent bubble. His steel-blue eyes widen frantically as I appear. I remember that he will soon be flushed away. The microbots are oozing over his skin already, like a grey sweat, beginning the reclamation.
He speaks. “Listen. Focus. We’re on an interstellar seed ship, damaged by radiation from a supernova. The ship’s AI got fried. The ship was in early stages of growing from interstellar gas and dust. It had also just started cloning a crew from stored DNA. I, you were the first crewmember being cloned when the AI died. The system’s now on auto-function, stuck in a loop, re-cloning you, me, over and over. I wake up, just before you – the new me – leaves the pod. Then the ship tells me all this, but it doesn’t put it in your memory. It’s all part of the malfunction.”
“Yes,” I say, “I remember now. You always tell me this. The ship was still small when it got zapped. So when the new clone emerges, the ship scours away the old one, because it can keep only one of us alive.”
“Right. Good. Concentrate on threads of reality. Find a way out. Don’t go back to the island. It’s only a simulation, computational. The ship scoops up enough gas and dust to keep this insane cycle going indefinitely. We could’ve been flying through space like this for thousands, maybe millions of years. We’ve got to stop it.”
“Who’re the people on the island then?”
“They’re computational. Pseudo-realities. Real personalities stored in the ship’s database. But focus. Damn it. That’s irrelevant.” The self in the bubble is now slick with bots, eating away at him. He grimaces and screams and pulls against the straps.
“I’m counting on you!”
He howls. Then his skull caves in, and he’s silent. I’m glad the experience of dissolving is never transferred into my memories. It’s bad enough to remember watching it. Once fully liquefied, his remains, along with the bots, are drained from the bubble.
After suction and a drying blast of air, the bubble opens. There is nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. For sustenance, I lie down on the form-fitted bed. The device straps me in and penetrates me with tubes and needles. It’s rough, but, when the narcotics kick in, I don’t mind. I’ll have to struggle against the drugs to figure out how to disable all this.
The bubble begins to play sounds of rustling palm leaves, crashing waves, and the cries of sea birds. I yearn for the island. What can I do without ship AI? If I break the cycle of re-cloning, I’m trapped in an interstellar coffin. I’ll die for real.
Maybe it’s external reality that’s irrelevant. Except for the regular horror of waking up to watch a used-up version of myself wash away like dirt, I can live on my tropical island.
I feel the bubble’s automatic software probe my thoughts, looking for guidance.
I request more drug enhancements and a trip back to paradise.
My favorite lover, with cat-like eyes and purple skin, is cradling me in her arms.
“Welcome back,” she purrs.
This story was short-listed for a sci-fi contest and published on line at Brilliant Flash Fiction in January 2016.