“You’re not serious,” I said to this mental construction, whatever it was, of my wife, sitting on the couch of a stranger’s house beside me and smiling with love at me as she rubbed my hand between her fingers.
“What’s scaring you, husband?” Alexis kept smiling, didn’t stop moving her fingers against mine. Somehow, that closeness made it even worse.
“Stop it.” I drew my fingers back, pulling them out of her grasp. She didn’t try to cling to me, just placidly let me back away. “You’re talking about killing billions of people!”
“Killing?” She repeated the word blankly, as if it was a foreign concept to her. “Brian, don’t you understand?”
“Enlighten me,” I snarled, climbing back up to my feet. “Explain how taking the minds of billions of people, ripping them out of their bodies without permission – and then absorbing, eating, those bodies – is a good thing!”
Alexis didn’t move from her spot on the couch. She just smiled up at me, the way that a parent might look at a child who didn’t understand a basic concept.
“Death,” she said softly, still smiling. “It’s an awful thing, isn’t it? So much loss from death. Knowledge, friendship, love – all of it is torn away in the pain of death. And it can never be recovered.”
A chill crept over me, but I didn’t speak as she continued, echoing the same words as Hobbson.
“But don’t you see?” She spread her arms, taking in the little living room. “In here, we don’t need to fear death any longer. It can never reach us, because together, united in the neural net, there’s no more loss of information.” She smiled at me, but the light behind her eyes didn’t quite look like her. “No one dies, Brian.”
“But no one lives, either,” I protested. I gestured around at the little room. “This isn’t real.”
Alexis’s smile grew wider. She stood up from the couch and stepped towards me, once again taking my hand. I tried to pull away, but her fingers gripped too tightly, too strongly. She didn’t hurt me, but she didn’t let me pull free. She stepped past me, took three steps over to the door, and cast it open.
I don’t know what I expected to see on the other side. Maybe the blank nothingness, where we’d been before we plunged through that floating door. Maybe I’d be looking out at empty space, or at my own scared reflection staring back at me. I even, for an instant, thought that Dr. Hobbson might be there, like a father hiding in a closet and waiting to jump out and shout “Boo!” into the faces of his startled children.
Instead, outside, I saw… greenness. It was the same exterior that I remembered from when we visited Hobbson’s house in real life, I realized after a second, but now brought to life. Grass grew lushly from the ground, and trees bloomed with color. The place looked real, but more alive, somehow, if such a thing was possible.
“There’s a whole world in here, Brian,” Alexis said softly. “And it’s no less real than what’s outside. But in here there’s no death, no loss. Everything can be preserved, can be kept.”
“But it’s not real,” my mouth said, even as my brain reeled. Could this truly be fake? Was this all a projection of my head? It didn’t feel fake.
A breeze rustled the grass, brushed lightly against my face. It felt totally real. Even pinching myself didn’t change any of that.
I took a step outside, then another. The grass brushed against my ankles, and I felt the warmth of the sun overhead painting my face and the back of my neck. I turned around, looking at Alexis.
“See, Brian?” she said, standing and smiling in the doorway of Hobbson’s house. “This isn’t death. This is heaven. Shouldn’t everyone be welcome here?”
I turned back to her. “And this is all true? They won’t die? Ever? How is that possible?”
“Gestalt,” she said still smiling. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, we are more than we ever could be when apart.”
Gestalt. That was the same word that Hobbson had used. Sudden, horrible, inky black suspicion flooded my mind. I looked at Alexis, saw the perfect representation of my wife, not even a hair out of place.
“Alexis, where’s the rest of my team?” I asked, trying to ignore how my heartbeat accelerated.
She shrugged one shoulder. “They all have their own loved ones, knew people who were living on this hemisphere. They’re learning about this world, just like you.”
She was trying to recruit them, I realized. But if we were all dead, had all been absorbed already, why…?
“You need us to say yes,” I exclaimed aloud. “You can’t absorb us until we say yes. But why?”
Was that a wince that crossed my dear wife’s face? “You could be absorbed without accepting,” she stated, looking like the words burned her mouth. “But there are issues with ensuring a compatible read. Significant parts of data may be corrupted or lost.”
“So you’d only get half a person?”
“Something like that.”
I nodded. “And that would be a loss of information, which you hate. Whatever you are.”
Alexis spread out her hands. “Brian, it’s me-”
“No!” The word ripped its way out of me, leaving a jagged hole behind. “Stop it,” I growled, once I had myself a little more under control. “Whatever you are, you’re not Alexis, not quite. You know things she can’t, have something else inside your head. I don’t know if this is all just a spectacle that you’re putting on or what, but stop it!”
For a moment, Alexis kept up the expression of frustrated protest – and then, just as suddenly, dropped it completely. Her face went slack, a horrifying sight that I’d never seen on my wife’s features before.
“Fine,” she growled. Her voice was flat, almost as if she was drugged. “Maintaining a separate reference frame like this is difficult, anyway. The bleed can’t be fully blocked; new leaks constantly spring.”
I wasn’t sure what that meant. “So who are you? Really?” I asked.
A flat smile. This new thing, still wearing the skin of my dead wife, stood a little awkwardly, as if it wasn’t sure how to balance. “Consider the result of a billion minds, merging together,” it said. “The level of new connections, the strength of processing… it’s as immense as moving from an abacus to a supercomputer. So many limits that previously defined thought… they simply no longer exist.”
“So what are you?”
The figure stepped forward, down from the threshold of the house. “I am best described as God,” she said, and the whole world flickered behind her.
“God?” I was trying to stall, to buy time, although I couldn’t explain why. My eyes cast around, landed on a broken-down car sitting in Hobbson’s driveway. More important than the car itself, however, was the crowbar leaning up against it.
The thing wearing Alexis’s body nodded. “Indeed. In here, I can generate my own reality, and fill it with everyone who has existed. They all live on, in a way, as a part of me. Your wife’s memories are not lost.” It took another step forward. “I remember your first date, when you spilled your drink right on your pants, when you felt embarrassed – up until she burst into delighted laughter, leaned in and kissed you.”
“Stop it.” My lip pulled back in anger. How dare this thing besmirch my wife’s memories.
It took another step forward, moving after me as I took another step back. “I remember the wedding,” it went on, still with that flat voice, so devoid of emotion. “I remember how you almost cried at the reading of your vows, how I was openly weeping. I remember how you pulled out your pocket square to wipe away my tears, giving it up without a second thought to help me.”
Another step back, another step forward as it followed me. My fingers bumped against coldness. “I remember before you left on this last deployment. We talked about a baby, agreed that when you came back-”
“STOP IT!” I couldn’t hear this, couldn’t bear another word.
I swung my hand around – and the crowbar I’d grasped slammed home against my dead wife’s temple.
Yes, these chapters are getting longer! Sorry! Next one in a couple days!