A Dream of Dignity
by Esther Loydall
after the Crossover
falls on my face as the sun rises. The wind howls as the stones
turn to sand beneath my feet. I ebb and flow with the tides of the
Earth and sky. Into one reality, out of another, through an existence
I have only dreamed of, by way of a scattered but distinct trail
of memories which have become ingrained, etched into my soul like
Their melody is all about me, as intrusive as the silence
which encompasses it, and equally hard to define. I can feel, but
not touch, as sound and silence dance before my eyes until I can
almost taste them. I cannot reach out, even though in my heart I
hold an entire world. I cannot speak, even though my voice rings
clear and cold through my being.I
feel so alone. So very afraid.
This moment has always been the essence
of my ultimate fear. The core of my nightmares in which I always knew
that it had, finally and irreversibly, arrived. It was the powerlessness
of the knowing, rather than the actual state of existence, which had
always sent my heart racing. In these moments of isolation, the heat
of panic would cause my life's blood to flow black through my veins,
as my eyes shrivelled to darkness in my skull. I would awake screaming
and shrieking in cold sweats, to be comforted through my terror by parents
whose idea of perfection was cyberspacial immortalisation. They could
never understand my fear, they aspired to the Crossover. I instead overdosed
on regulation prescriptions, accelerating the process I sought so desperately
to delay until my body could no longer take the strain. Polluted and
broken, it became caught in a strange stasis somewhere between sleeping
and waking, ageing and regressing. It never recovered.
They called it the
Jam. Apparently it is not uncommon. My obsessive addiction to the anti-ageing
pills themselves was a recognised social problem among progressive splinter
communities like Cyberhimmel. There were a great many people like me.
All for their own reasons. My parents were told when I was seven that
I had a recognised psychological condition ; a fear of the concept of
my own non-physical existence. The doctors had prescribed tranquilisers
and mood suppressants, coupled with Ai3 - who was supposed to provide
me with the constant reassurance that a chip is just as alive as we
are; once properly programmed. I suppose it was true, in a way. I certainly
grew very fond of him, possibly as fond as I would have been of a real
pet - he seemed to be attached to me as well, and he learned fast which
made him very rewarding. He was never alive, though. Not in my eyes,
and this was my point.
I would have been
so grateful if I had just been allowed to leave. My situation did not
allow for this possibility. That was the problem with being a child
in a community such as ours. My parents had the rights to me until I
was sixteen. I could make no decision about my own life. Much like any
other child, I suppose, but for me it meant accepting a great deal more
than a few house rules.
I was chipped according
to the custom of Cyberhimmel at the age of five. Even then, my instincts
were against it. The six months of preparatory education did nothing,
even though they were supposed to open my mind to the idea as a positive
progression. It would be 'fun,' was, I seem to recall, the principle
line of argument at the time. Mind you, I suppose they did their best,
how else better to appeal to a child? They never went into much detail,
although they explained that I would be able to play games with my mind,
learn from a big computer without looking at its screen, talk to my
friends without speaking, live forever with them and never have to leave.
I think perhaps I understood too much.
Three months before
the chipping I was having nightmares of being trapped inside computer
screens, unable to move or communicate, people staring in at me from
the outside, tapping on the glass and leering into my two dimensional
life. I would dream that I was nothing but a file name, a recording
of myself. I was terrified of having no body, being a mind suspended
in nothingness, but my parents dismissed these fears, replying that
I was too young to understand, and that I would thank them one day.
The opaque liquids they gave me kept me tired, barely conscious, deluding
my mind with racing cloudforms, hardly discernable through the gloom
of my confusion.
When at last I awoke
from the fog, I remember feeling peculiarly aware. It seemed I could
hear every sound, every movement. All conversations were open to me,
even though I could not detect their origin. Images would suddenly break
through into my consciousness, other people's experiences and visions.
Waves, surges of uncontrollable anger, excitement, misery and pain.
Other people's emotions. I had to be taught, along with all the other
children recently chipped, to control my own channels, to limit my own
accessibility, to deflect the bursts of interruption from exterior sources
and to focus solely on my own interior thought processes unless I chose
to be receptive to others. I had to gain control of my own existence,
to internalise my thoughts and feelings. It was a very long time before
I felt comfortable enough with my own control for me to be able to feel
enclosed once more by my life, rather than exposed and entirely vulnerable.
So it was that, in a matter of days, my freedom, privacy and innocence
were entirely stripped away. It was a cruel lesson to expect a five
year old to learn, and it robbed me of my childhood.
As a result of
this invasive technological transformation, I became obsessed with nature
and the natural world. I would walk for hours, contemplating the plants,
trees and animals outside the Cyberhimmel perimiters, thinking always
of how free they were. How beautiful. They were not deprived as I had
been of their right to die. I would often sit amongst the heather and
weep for everything I loved; the transience of life, the reality of
the Earth. I dreaded an existence outside its confines, in a virtual
world from which I could never leave. I resolved, panicked and desperate,
to attempt to delay the decay of my body for as long as possible. I
did not want to leave. It was then that I began taking twice, three
times the amount of regulated anti-ageing tablets, thinking nothing
of the damage they could do to the body I so wanted to save.
Outside my world,
I knew that there were already people suspended voluntarily in Cyberspace.
The first of new generation. I followed their stories via the net. I
studied interviews with them avidly, despairing as they enthused. I
wanted somebody to somehow validate my fear, to show me that I wasn't
alone. Gradually I developed an interest in the lives of the Townhimmelers.
They were a splinter group like us in Cyberhimmel, only their creed
was extremely different and, I found to my delight, far more like my
By the time I was
actively studying these things, I can only have been about eleven. Four
years ago. I did not actually know any Townhimmelers, apart from a few
that I spoke to in chat rooms on the net. As with so many of us, the
great Flu of 2006 had had a profound impact upon their lives, wiping
out vast areas of the towns. Many of them had found themselves leading
an isolated existence like that of Cyberhimmel, with little communication
with one another. Sometimes there would only be about three families
to an entire suburb. As a result, they had moved inwards, towards the
very centre of the city, leaving behind them a sprawling ghost-town
in every direction. The empty Suburbs created even more distance between
Townhimmel and the outside world, which, it seemed had a favourable
effect upon the central community - drawing it closer together.
I longed for the feeling. Just as I longed for life. A life with a natural
end, and all the hopes, goals and aspirations such an end incites in
a healthy and ambitious mind. A race is, after all, not race if there
is no finishing line. Without a finishing line there can never be anything
to strive for, there can never be any winners. It is in exactly this
way that here. Like this. Constantly running towards nothing. Cruelly
cheated out of what should rightfully have been mine. My peace and my
dignity. The panic courses through me. The memory sudden and sharp.
As it used to do. 'My Pills!' All previous thought is lost as I focus
painfully upon my single crutch, only to remember with a hollow misery
that it is no longer relevant. The delicious sensation that perhaps
I could change, avoid, or at least forget my reality with those orange,
sugar-coated, pips. Down, down into the dark they would go, washed deep
into my chemistry, chemical comfort in the darkness of my mind. What
can comfort me now? Here it is neither dark, nor light. Nor is it silent,
but there is no sound. Instead there is a sensation. Almost a buzzing.
A permanent reminder that I still exist. Without it, perhaps it would
be easier to forget. I clearly remember my parents trying to comfort
me in one of my blackhours saying that, one day, a graphic dimension
would be created for Cyberlivers, so that they wouldn't find it so difficult
to adjust to the Crossover. I had tried to explain then, that no such
thing would ever be possible, that graphics are something for seeing-eyes
only to enjoy. Without a physical body, there can be no vision. There
can be no comforting graphic reality for us. I was sure of it then.
I am still more certain now.
I miss my sight
more than anything. Even from before the implants. The simple gift of
vision. After the implants a huge and awe-inspiring world unfurled before
me. I could hardly believe the difference they made to my life - to
many peoples'. Instant net access and much else besides was now possible
wherever you were, and everyday life changed as a result. 'The Virtual
Reality Eyeball Implant heralds the final days of the computer screen.'
It was big news. Even the Townhimmelers were wild about this piece of
Scientific progress, and they were particularly selective about such
As well as my sight,
I miss the movement and excitement of the physical world. Those days
when everything about you inspires and delights. I now have to live
these episodes vicariously, through the memories of my past. I remember
particularly vividly the time of my life - I must have been about fourteen
- when some friends and I began visiting the nearest city, Townhimmel.
It offered us so much more than Cyberhimmel and we had all decided that
we would move there as soon as we were of an age to do so. We would
travel there on foot, relishing the countryside around us. The old road,
cracked and uneven, was full of flowering weeds and grasses. Only the
trade routes were used by traffic now. The minor roads all lay abandoned,
sprawled across the land like forgotten silver snakes. Cyberhimmel had
an enormous seven lane Trade Route. It needed it, for the entire settlement
shopped online. The Route itself was like the others of its kind. Utterly
straight, grey and faceless. Here by contrast, the trees towered over
the verges, vast and thick-trunked, their roots breaking up through
the tarmac in places. Flowers jostled their way between one another,
eager blooms turned skyward. The sun burned hot on our backs as we walked
into our shadows over and over in the light. The clouds above us. All
was so perfect. So impossible to mirror with either science or technology.
These were the important things to us. The things which could not be
re-created, the parts of our lives which had a certain vital essence,
an essence which was life itself.
Outside the centre
of the city lay the ruined suburbs. We were lucky enough to live on
the side nearest the heart of the town and therefore only had about
twenty minutes to walk through the ruins. On other sides they stretched
for miles, some necessitating a two or three hour trek before eventually
giving way to life. They were very strange places. The atmosphere was
eerie. They formed a skeletal, brittle shell or wall around the pulsating
heart of the city. A shell which was at once redundant and efficient.
So grey. So dusty. Long, tattered shadows, sharp silhouettes, shards
of broken glass and splintered plinths. Soft against these sharp edges,
ragged curtains billowed out into the wind like a forgotten scream.
A scream screamed so long that no sound is left, for the beginning is
lost and the end never reached.
On old, staggering
billboards the future of many yesterdays stood still, emblazoned in
faded colour, punctuated here and there with forlorn letters, searching
for sentences now torn away. Neglected bus-shelters carried similar
forgotten visions which were now equally lost to the weather. Here,
the arrival of the first phone-stud was heralded proudly in shredded
glory. It seemed peculiar that once phones were something to be touched.
I have no recollection of ever seeing a phone. As far as I was concerned
it was an integral element of your central chip. However, Cyberhimmel
was about six or seven years ahead of Townhimmel.
We would wend our
way through these grey bones of an old life, drinking in the atmosphere,
revelling in our own impatience to be where we were heading. We sometimes
talked, sometimes thought to each other. Laughing as we pirouetted through
the dust. In these moments, I could forget our destiny and with it,
my fear. Living only for the moment and the anticipation it brought,
as the sounds of the city grew closer and closer up ahead
The noise was the
most striking difference. Voices filling the streets. Cyberhimmel dismissed
the spoken word as outmoded and unneccesary. To talk to one's contacts
was considered backward in the extreme. Thought was instead the method
of communication. The method of isolation. Shops were also non-existent
in that community, thus ensuring the complete absence of daily social
interaction so prominent in Townhimmel.
We wandered, intoxicated
with vitality, through the main streets of the City. All around were
people, their movement, their sound. We strutted with our personalised
plastic, swipe after swipe as digits flashed in decreasing circles,
units clocking down one by one. We didn't care. This decrease was the
price of instant gratification. We thought it a small one to pay. We
could feel, smell, see the objects we purchased, saturated with the
moment. The Now. Our hands heavy with our happiness and our escape.
Our throats warm with coffee as we left the cafes spilling over into
the streets. Lives overlapping one with another. All so glad to be aware
of their own existence.
Panic. Quick. Snap open box. Glints in the light, tiny orbs of life.
Down they go. Make me real. Make me always now and never forever nothing.
So hot. Prickled, burnt with fear, quivering release of relief. Work.
Work. Work. - Only you didn't, did you? How could you let me down like
this? Leaving me wallowing in the lake of memories which can be my only
pleasure. How could you?
And after the panic,
the calm. The life again, all around. Swirling like a dervish through
the veins of the city. Through my veins, rolling along like the sea,
rising like the tide as I drowned. For, ahead of me, I saw the perfect
horror. The serpent in my Eden.
- Pro life throughout death.'
The image was of
a Chipped arm. It had come. Silently and swiftly infiltrating this community,
until Suddenly it was all about me. Perhaps before, my joy had blinded
me to the deadly living fever which had swept my beautiful City, or
perhaps a second earlier it genuinely hadn't been there. I breathlessly
took in the world about me as if for the first time. Billboards shrieking
from all directions.
- never leave the ones you love, call now for free quotation.'
- virtual eternity for first time buyers, sign up now for site.'
- death need not be the end, now it is just the beginning.'
Even on the back
pages of the magazines in the stands,'Crossover of a loved one? Talking
not enough? Try our graphics packages, accurate reproductions of your
loved one to ease that hollow feeling. Order now and get our special
screensaver package at no extra charge.www.graphiclives.com.' I picked
one up. The feel of the paper in my hand had, until that moment, been
yet another source of pleasure. A luxury. The caress of the pages against
my fingertips. I would flick through them over and over, loving the
smell of the print, the brightness of the pictures. So different to
the way we accessed information. The Townhimmelers used the net as well,
they also had electronic books, just as we did. But they appreciated
the physical world, and never used technology to exclude, but rather
to enhance it. Now, it seemed, they were allowing this evil infiltrator
into their confines. I was devastated. Surely they could not fail to
see the horrors of eternal cyberlife?
I searched desperately
through the magazines for clues. Therapy. Grief therapy. This was, it
seemed, the key reason for their embrace of the Chip as a means of prolonging
life. The Townhimmelers were all systematically chipped just as we were,
but at a later age and they never used it the same way we did. For them,
the chip and the technology it provided them with was used to enhance
the course of their natural lives, just as the anti-ageing pills were.
For us, the Chip 'was' life, the anti-ageing pills taken Ūbecausež they
were living science. In Cyberhimmel, life was spent in desperate attempts
to attain the perfect technological existence, the natural world was
something outside of us and unnecessary.
It seemed that
doctors and psychiatrists in Townhimmel had decided to manipulate the
concept of a life after death to the advantage of the living. For them,
continuing access to a loved one after the event of their death was
considered to be highly therapeutic, and should continue as long as
was necessary for the living human to re-attain a happy state of existence.
The actual life on-line was not in question. I found this highly disturbing,
aware as I was of the persistence of consciousness linked to the chip.
The Townhimmelers appeared to have entirely overlooked the question
of the suspended individual himself.
I lost something
that day in Townhimmel. I do not know if I am even sure what myself.
I think it was the security I had vested in the knowledge that a community
existed which would not abuse the human soul. I had hoped to be a part
of that community someday. It was upon Townhimmel that I had pinned
all my hopes and dreams. From then on was a steady progression towards
the Jam, I could not help myself, so determined was I never to die and
leave my Self to the protection of others. Others who, in Cyberhimmel,
would Cross me over instantly, believing that I could attain their idea
of a perfect existence. Or who, in Townhimmel, would Cross me over just
the same if a relative or friend wealthy enough to buy a space on the
net in which to store me decided they wished to come to terms with their
grief at my death slowly, at their own pace. Either way I would be abused.
I could trust nobody to simply let me die. The obvious solution was
to ensure that I never did. I suppose it is almost ironic that I have
The days pass slowly.
I keep count from sheer force of habit. Of course they are only a matter
of numbers now. There can be no more day and night. My parents are ecstatic.
They contact me frequently. I loathe it. My friends have tried. All
I want to do is dissolve into hysteria, but my tears cannot flow, all
I feel is the ache. I wonder what the purpose was.
I must have been
like this for about six months. Everyday is long. Every hour. Every
lifeless minute. Other cyberlivers can sometimes be communicated with,
all seem happy. A few are hoping to be placed in new bodies at some
point in the future, genetically reconstructed with the DNA of the original
host. Humans really are getting closer to being God. Closer to being
Godless. I feel aimless, adrift. Panic, horror and fear are integral
components of my being. I cannot remember myself without them.
More numbers clock
by. I dive deep into my past, re-living, re-experiencing everything
that I loved. At other times I search the net for news that may give
me hope, any hope of an end. For a very long while there is nothing
whatsoever until, one day, there is a difference. Breaking news. A splinter
group of radical Pro-Death activists. Many of their principles are violent
and insane. They slice chips from people's arms at random in the streets.
They set fire to the design institutes and factories that produce the
software. None of this is relevant, they have been around for as long
as I can remember. However, they have recently begun a new project,
which is to destroy all cyberlivers currently in existence. Several
have already been terminated
set people free.
Everyday I wait
will find me.
it is just a vain hope.
© ESTHER LOYDALL
Fiction in Dreamscapes
of the State
by Esther Loydall - thousands of children are lost in care -
Hackwriters 2002 - all rights reserved