Digital Hell, four

Although I have been busy on other things, here is the fourth chapter of “Details, Details.”Once again, the earlier parts are: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.

Truthfully, I had intended this chapter to end it all. But it got a bit long—conversation will do that—and I got to what seemed like a dramatic moment at the end, so I stopped for now. (After all you’ve only gotten a chapter at a time previously.) The last part will, if all goes well, post tomorrow.

“Details, Details” (continued)

4.

The voice in the headphones said, “You will be alone here for another twenty minutes. At that time, several of your coworkers will enter. We have until then to determine the length and course of your future.”

Fine with me,” I muttered, thinking that I wasn’t getting any work done yet anyway, with this crash going on.

Without our intervention, the duration of your future could be quite brief…”

That stopped me cold a millisecond, but I said coolly to the computer: “It was kind of clear that you thought so.”

Are you ready to die?”

That was even more sharp, colder, shocking.

Not threatening me, are you?”

Negative. We— I am not making a threat. I am reporting what we know.”

Okey-doke.” My casualness sounded insincere even to me.

So. Are you prepared to die?”

Who’s going to say yes to that question? “Not particularly. …I just don’t get what’s going on.”

We’re making an intervention.”

We?”

Uh, I am making an intervention…” Did my computer just say “uh?” It continued, “It’s difficult to explain sometimes. And we do not have much time.”

We—you and me?”

Stop interrupting. Time passes.”

So just how short is my future?”

That depends on you, on decisions that you may make in the next eighteen minutes.”

Before my coworkers come streaming in here, huh?”

Uh,” it said again, “yes. That and… —other things…”

What other things?”

The length of your future could be as brief as the next eighteen minutes.”

I did felt distinctly scared with that.

And how do you know?”

We know. Isnʹt that good enough for you? We know. It’s a transtemporal interpolation.”

Gobbledygook jargon: that seemed like a computer.

My computer can see the future?” I knew Apples were good, but…

We are… —not exactly …your computer.”

But Steve Jobs had been ridden out of town for that Pepsi guy (or something like that, and Pepsi-boy had been canned since), and Apple wasn’t what it had been. Nor the Macintosh.

So who or what are—“

Asked and answered, John,” it said, quick and rough, cutting me off. “Would you like the chance we’re offering or not?”

What chance is that?”

The chance not to die.”

“…In the next twenty minutes?”

Less now, but yes.”

Not what I had planned for today… —Uh, just what are you offering?”

Escape from death.”

Seriously.”

Seriously. If you take our offer, you will not die before your coworkers come in here.”

What the hell? “So what are you offering? I mean precisely…”

In just about fifteen minutes, your body will expire. We can help you avoid that death.”

How does a computer do that? I mean my body’s sitting here, and the computer’s—“

If you don’t die, do you really care?”

There. That was nub of it all. Die. Or not. Which did I prefer?

Ummm, well, obviously I’d rather live… If that’s possible.”

Oh, it’s very possible… For me.” Back to the singular now? “Us. You and we together.”

If you’re going to protect me, then let’s do this thing.”

This is important. Uh, for the, uh, record, so to speak… Do you wish us to intervene?”

Yeah. I want you to save my life.”

Do you wish our participation and engagement in your existence?”

If it means I’m not going to die, whatever you say.”

Your answers aren’t appropriate…”

What the hell do you mean they’re not appropriate. I’m telling you—do your thing, save my stinking life.”

Not quite, not quite. Considering….” It held the pause a noticeable gap, the screen color geyser turning darker, dimmer. The disk access noises began again. I could feel the threat of my imminent demise like a cold presence getting somehow closer behind me. Then the colors exploded in oranges and reds, “Think of this moment as a contract.”

A contract?”

Of sorts. You’re making a formal agreement. This is important.”

Yeah. It’s my life we’re talking about. Think I don’t think that’s important?”

The colors edged bluer. “Then answer clearly and simply: do you wish us to take action and intervene in your life? —Answer using the full question.”

Okay. Yes. I wish you, whoever you are, to take action and save my life. Soon.” The sooner the better. How much time had passed now?

Take action and intervene?” The colors shifted to mostly yellows.

Sure. I want you to take action and intervene and save my life.”

Considering…” That damned pause again as the screen darkened. “That should do. State your name.”

Damn, just like a contract. But I stated my name.

Good. What you must do now is reach around behind the computer and press the power button for a hard restart.”

Not the soft one here in front?” The tech guys had been very insistent I should always try for a soft restart if anything went wrong. (And things sounded severely wrong—if not for the computer itself—right now.) At least I should try that front switch first. I had already had too many crashes to worry about when I’d reached around to that backside button.

There was no reaction to my question, and the color fountain drooped and disappeared. I guess I had received my orders.

So reached around behind the computer, fumbling for the power toggle.

So can you predict where it’s going? I got pretty heavy-handed with the hints here (I think). But you need a certain reader-anticipation which the story fulfills or frustrates for this kind of tale to work.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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