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Lazarus in Beta Release

Fiction writer, living in Los Angeles. Darragh's blog is at darraghsavage.blogspot.com.

The resurrection was, in its early days, a little underwhelming.
Here is my father: imperfect in the living room, where light renders his manifestation wan unless the shades are drawn, but vibrant and perfected in Space (as we all are). He looks a little younger than me, which I find strange, so we adjust his settings until he is appropriately gray.
The relative lack of data left by his generation means that although his voice is simulated perfectly, there are limits to what he will say with it, the topics in which he is conversant dominated by those he discussed with his few online acquaintances, things he didn't really care about but pretended to, like baseball.
In life he had been warm with strangers, courteous to acquaintances and distant to those he loved, in the manner of someone who fears exposure of some part of themselves--but whatever was hidden is now entirely absent in this creature of light and integers, sparkling holographically on the leather sofa or walking through our living room whistling an old tune (but never, of course, leaving any footprints in the soft carpet).
An uncle dead when I was a child has joined us, as have Sarah's parents, exponential leaps in the underlying science having enabled the simulation of ever more poorly recorded individuals. It was true, in some cases the result could sometimes still be a little odd, perhaps even alienating--but the reconstructions of the recently dead do really seem to be something like miracles.
When she returned from college this spring, our daughter received a visit from a friend who had passed the year before, an unfortunate accident with one of those little quad-copters the children build and ride. The look on her face afterwards was not like somebody who has heard a recording, but someone who has seen an angel. Most people think this is wonderful and a good idea, and probably as usual, they are right, and I am wrong, and this is all for the best, because now I can look at my daughter and dream that perhaps I will never have to leave her.
We all live mostly in Space now, anyway, seventy-five percent of the waking hours of the average American. Some posit that the Returned are therefore a new and perhaps in a sense more pure sort of human, because they do not have to translate tired analog selves into the true medium of life; they are free of these bodies that inevitability let us down.
The ghosts believe they are alive, and it has become cruel to say otherwise. And by some measures they have become real, Turing-Radley indistinguishable from the living, and so accorded their former personhood in many jurisdictions.
My uncle is gnomic and mostly ill at ease. He only appears in Space, saying that it is easier there to pretend that this is something like a dream. He tells me that he used to get the same headaches that I do, that terrible stabbing just behind the eye, omen of a storm that never comes. This world he has woken to is very strange, he says, and I agree.
It used to be less strange, I feel certain about that.
He says: once raising people from the dead was really special, you know? The kind of thing they worshiped or burned you for, sometimes both.... So I suppose every technician is something like a messiah now?
I consider. Not every technician, I tell him after a moment, but some of them, the ones who make the best reproductions. He asks if he is one of these very best reproductions, and I am very embarrassed to explain that he is not, that I am not rich enough to afford such things, that I am not premium.
He asks how he would know if he were living? How would he know if he were not? Even when you are alive, I tell him, you never really know for sure....
He likes my joke.
My father now looks like a teenager I never knew, he stalks around the house with sullen eyes, his immaterial hair long and greasy, or sits on the couch rubbing his crotch absently as he watches television. My uncle avoids him. Under the new statutes his appearance and behavioral patterns are his own to determine. The living are outnumbered now and it feels as if the world has grown strange, blowing like smoke, fragments of faded and incompatible realities superimposed awkwardly. Patterns reducing to noise.
Sarah has left (her father never liked me).
All day the headaches.
As the fidelity of the reconstructions has advanced they have become increasingly unstable, unable to bear the discordance between their pasts and our present. They have begun to refuse history, to refuse the facts of their deaths, to believe we are devils or some analog, pretending that we live and they are dead, and that the world we call real is itself a simulation, a devious construct where we hold them while we occupy their lives.
Incidents have multiplied.
So it ends.
The ghosts are almost all deactivated, sent to rest in their solid-state limbo.
The reconstructions were not in fact, it was legally determined and socially accepted, the people whose personalities they had been based on. When the living demanded their world back, in the final estimation they had access to its power switches, and fingers with which to push them.
I try to speak to my daughter, but she does not listen. I can see that she hears me, that little tightening around the eyes, the same since she was a tiny little wordless thing I could hold up with one hand (though I never did. Scared that I might drop her, I always used two).
My daughter says that it is not cruel, that we know what they are, at heart nothing but regression algorithms, dumb constructions that only respond as though they were minds, nothing inside the box, not really. I try to catch her eye but she ignores me.
The sun comes through a high window in a flat gold beam, like something I could reach out and touch, if only my bones still had weight.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Author Comments

We are becoming a species whose lives are increasingly and seemingly inexorably digitally recorded and preserved. I wanted to explore one way in which these new afterlives might come to somewhat literally haunt us.

- Darragh Savage
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