You need this money

(short story)

It all started when your wife died.

You have never had a well-balanced and resilient mind. To you, her sudden disappearance felt like losing the crutches you had been walking with for years. Suddenly, you stumbled and fell into a new secluded life. You couldn’t accept the reality of her death. And this is what brought you your new vocation.

Today, a new order came in, the 137th order. You take care of it as well as usual. The fan of your computer spins fast to prevent overheating, due to the heavy computations needed by your software. The first step of the work is simple, it consists in gathering and examining all the documents provided by your client: photos, videos, sound recordings, odor recordings, etc. Then, the next step is to create the simulation. You stay seated in front of your screen, in that dark bedroom of yours which you rarely leave. The noise from outside reaches your ears but your brain doesn’t heed it. You are completely focused on your current task. You are in a trance-like state, out of the reach of the outside world.

Quite unusually, this order is not a weird one. If you are lucky, the client will allow you to showcase your work on your online portfolio. But this kind of order rarely earns you a lot. Certainly not enough to put some money aside for your old days.

It took you one full week, but you’ve completed it. You export your work and send it. This time, the target was a grand-grand-mother, aged 89, who died peacefully in her sleep. Today, thanks to you, she is ready to go back to her family. Virtually, that is.

You lean back on your seat and stretch your arms. It feels good to have completed your work. And what you enjoy the most is this feeling of being useful, of making the life of someone more beautiful. Unfortunately, orders of this kind are getting scarcer with time.

Following your daily routine, you seize your VR helmet* and put it on your head. For a short instant, everything that surrounds you disappears, but one second later, the bedroom reappears, thanks to the helmet. It looks like the real world.

Except for one detail: your wife is here too. She looks at you with eyes full of love. She asks: how was your day? Have you got any news from your daughter? You chat with your wife as if it were for real.

Computers are really incredible machines. The personality of your wife looks so real. And simulated intelligence programs have even got better, since you created this one simulation, your very first simulation. Nowadays, it’s close to impossible to distinguish between a simulation and a real person. There is only one way to tell them apart: the simulation cannot know when the real person, its model, is already dead. The simulation still believes itself is alive. As a result, your wife can keep on talking, as if she hadn’t been killed in an accident, five years ago.

The first orders that you got were all of this kind: bringing back a loved one from death, at least virtually. Prolonging a life, making it possible for people to continue communicating with the loved one, the parent, or the child, even touching it (provided they have the adequate hardware). Even odors can be reproduced now. It makes your work harder, but you are a perfectionist, and your clients are always satisfied. Bringing back loved ones, that’s what you do. Well, that’s what you did.

With the next day comes a new order. You decrypt the files with a password provided to you. If the files are encrypted, it means that it’s a different kind of order. The weird kind of order. But also the kind that pays more.

The target model for the simulation is a woman in her thirties. Your client may be one of her coworkers, or maybe a friend of hers, you don’t know. Actually, you don’t have the right to know. There is a clause in your contract that explicitly forbids you from searching any additional information about your client, except for the information already directly provided by him. All the data that you have about the target of the simulation is the data provided by the client. The client himself is anonymous, as is the case for all such orders. He will pay you by indirect means, to protect his identity. It’s a necessity, since it’s all illegal. But on the other hand, you’ll be paid much more than for an ordinary order, maybe ten or twenty times more.

Clients often have precise scenarios in mind. Apart from photos, videos and other recordings taken without the knowing of the person used as model for the simulation, clients also provide stories to input into the intelligence simulator program. Of course, you erase all these documents when you are done with your work. Let’s not think of what would happen if the police or someone else inspected the files on your computer before you had the time to erase everything. Your life would surely change for the worst.

The first time that you received such an order, you were taken aback. But the remuneration promised to you took you aback too, and as it happened, you were in dire need of money at that time. Not a long time ago, you had underwent a very expensive operation in the hospital. Like most people as poor as you, you didn’t have any health insurance, and paying for the operation forced you to take a heavy loan and mortgage your house. That order which promised a generous remuneration came just at the right moment, and allowed you to repay your loan and even put some money aside. It didn’t take you long to leave aside your qualms.

After all, this is all virtual. One may see, hear, feel, touch – precisely what all such clients want – but it all remains virtual. The individual used as the target of the simulation may well be alive, but will never know that somewhere, there is a virtual copy of herself, a simulated copy that fulfills the fantasies of your client. So you just put aside your scruples, and started accepting all orders of that kind without further hesitation.

You have been used to such orders for a long time, and now, they account for most of your income.

You shake your head to shake off your thoughts and focus on the present moment. You prepare yourself mentally before starting. You open the first file that will let you discover the individual that is to be used as a model for the new simulation.

And you recognize her at once. It’s her. The woman you have known since she was only a fetus in the womb of your wife. The one that you have carried in your arms when she was just a little girl.

Example of VR helmet

Photo from: Andri Koolme (CC - BY 2.0)

30th November 2018