Saturday Storytime: Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

Continuing with the theme of Nebula nominees, today’s SF story is one of those where the technology is integral, but the story is still not about the technology. This isn’t Tom Crosshill‘s first award nomination. He is a past-winner of the Writers of the Future contest, Scientology’s one real contribution to the public good.

“Just build the habitat. You’ll feel better.”

Lisa packs shirt after lopsided shirt into her green Samsonite. After three decades of marriage, the sight is comforting. Lisa’s only happy when in motion. Even her business suit has a space age streamlined look, the collar chic-asymmetric.

“It seems too… permanent,” I say. “Like I’m giving up on her.”

“It’s hard, I know. But what if she strokes tomorrow?”

Lisa’s right, of course. The habitat’s a contingency. I won’t have to use it until it’s that or the crematorium.

But can I watch Mom suffer day after day, once there’s an alternative?

“You’re giving her a gift,” Lisa says. “You of all people should know that.”

Me of all people.

I walk to the viewport in the north wall. It sits mounted in a steel band like a ship’s porthole. Below it, a brass plate reads “George Dieter — Captain, Husband, Father. 1960-2049.”

Dust covers the screen. Has it been that long? I reach up to wipe it clean.

Blackness flickers into life.

A turquoise sea laps against a stretch of sand. The beach glares blinding white, studded with regal palms. Beautiful.

I could grab my immersion headset, feel the heat of the sun, hear the breeze coming off the water. But then I’d have to face the man on the sand.

He lies in the shade of a thatched beach umbrella. Perhaps thirty, his body lean and muscular, tanned bronze. Arms stretched out at his sides, eyes closed, face relaxed.

George Dieter. First habitat upload in the world.

“Hi, Dad,” I whisper.

It’s been long since I said those words. Long since I descended into the world Lisa and I built two decades ago. I miss Dad — it’s not that. But every time I went to see him, I didn’t find the man I was looking for.

“Mom’s drawing again,” I tell Lisa. “She won’t, after.”

I offered to give Dad a ship, after he uploaded. I offered to give him virtual seas to sail, cargo to carry, battles to fight. He only told me, “I’m tired, son.”

I learned that lesson well, those early years before our IPO. Maybe it’s the lack of biochemical stimuli, maybe it’s a shortcoming in the iterative neural matrices — uploads just don’t care.

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Saturday Storytime: Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes
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