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The Kiss

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When Human Resources declined Gav1n’s request for a child, his first thought was that it was a network glitch. He swore and sent the request again. The holographic display flashed back the same message and Gav1n began to shake. In order to get his request accepted, he would have to speak face to face with H3nr1, and interacting with anyone made him nervous.

But H3nr1 — H3nr1 was in a class of his own. Ell1e had said that he should at least have the decency to carry a scythe. Not to H3nr1’s face, of course. No upload was that suicidal.

The first upload system had no concept of, or need for, a Human Resources department. IGOR had only housed a single upload — a digitized version of the brain of Dr Robert King (deceased). IGOR initially ran at less than a thousand times the speed of an actual human brain, but technology soon caught up. Within a decade, King’s brain was running at twice the speed of before, and continued to double rapidly. Soon, it was out-pacing every human brain in existence. Slowly but surely, the best of humanity were uploaded to digital upon their deaths.

It was only with the advent of the upload Grid — a system large enough to hold several hundred uploads — that the problems began.

The first upload Grid crashed less than half a millisecond into runtime. The diagnostics showed a chaotic mess. An early explosion of uploads cloning themselves, and overloading the Grid’s capacity, had ground it to a near halt. Fighting quickly broke out amongst the uploads over the few remaining resources.

And so it was that the first Gridwar took place. The uploads split into factions and started to delete each other from the Grid. The system crashed when one of the smaller factions, facing extinction, sabotaged the primary boot sector and then sent a reboot command to the CPU, causing the Grid to fail to reload. The first Gridwar ended with the destruction of all of it’s inhabitants.

Lesson learned, the Grid’s designers constructed a set of artificial uploads as caretakers of its resources. The other uploads were allocated a set amount of resources, with requests for additional resources having to go through Human Resources, and it’s caretaker — H3nr1.

As time passed within the Grids, it became clear that several of the uploads were better suited to life in the Grid than others. Some were unable to cope with their new existence, others unable to adapt to the flow of new information over time.

As a consequence, H3nr1 wielded the power of life or death, deciding which uploads were necessary for the efficient running of the Grid and which had become obsolete. The fate of an upload marked for obsoletion was not a good one; underclocking to begin with and then, eventually, archiving, never to be instanced again. Gav1n shuddered at the thought.

Gav1n took a long hard look around his apartment. He’d done a good job with keeping the overflowing ashtrays to a minimum, but the stacked pizza boxes and beer cans would have to go. They smacked of an inefficient use of resources, and H3nr1 would be bound to notice that.

“Reset environment, save point 7.”

The ashtray’s instantly emptied and the pizza boxes and beer cans vanished. The mood cushions on the sofa plumped themselves and turned a light shade of blue. He was fairly sure that a couple of Ell1e’s potted plants had disappeared, but he could always rez those back again, later.

Gav1n paced back and forth across the apartment’s pine floor, rehearsing what he was going to say. He wanted to be sure that he was ready for any curveballs H3nr1 might throw at him. Taking a deep breath, he moved over to the sofa and sat down. He closed his eyes and the cushions turned purple as he wrung his hands together. He could do this, he told himself. He could do this.

“Spawn H3nr1 instance.”

A few yottaseconds later and a man appeared out of thin air, standing just a few feet away from the sofa. Gav1n did his best to ignore the immaculate suit, matching fingernails and the sharp cologne that seared his nostrils. Instead, Gav1n read the instance number floating above H3nr1’s head. 2918. Gav1n’s shoulders relaxed. The high instance number meant that he wasn’t important enough to send a permanent instance for.

H3nr2918 adjusted his tie. “Hello, Gav1n. Nice apartment. I like what you’ve done with the space.”

Gav1n wondered whether he meant it or whether he was still loading context.

“Hey, H3nr1. My request for…”

“I’m sorry, Gav1n. We’ve had to decline your request,” said H3nr2918, and then smiled, an arc of perfect white teeth. Gav1n resisted the urge to punch him.

“But, why? Ell1e and I have been running here for the required number of cycles. We’re getting formally Integrated in 4 zeps. I don’t see the problem?”

“I’m sorry, Gav1n. It’s entirely out of my hands. Restricted system order 9D8BC1.”

“Oh,” said Gav1n. He had been expecting that he’d unknowingly committed some sort of minor infraction, not that a System-wide restriction was in place. He spawned an instance of Lawr1e to explain. She appeared standing next to H3nr2918, and took a casual side-step away from him. She was dressed in the same pitch-perfect business attire as H3nr1, but Gav1n didn’t mind as much. He’d seen her code and he knew that Lawr1e would never lie to him — or obsolete him — and that made all the difference.

“Hey, Lawr1e. What is, umm…”

“Restricted System order 9D8BC1,” said H3nr2918, and then winked at Lawr317e.

Lawr1e ignored H3nr1’s wink. “It’s a temporary restriction due to storage re-optimization. Estimated time to completion: 17.179 milliseconds.”

Gav1n blinked. 17 milliseconds in an upload environment — where zeptoseconds passed as hours — was an absolute eternity.

“How? How can storage re-optimization possibly take that long?”

Lawr1e tilted her head. “I’m just a legal interpreter, Gav1n. I’m not an engineer. That would be your function.”

Gav1n nodded, and then dismissed them both. He was going to have to explain this to Ell1e, and she would want to know exactly why he hadn’t been able to secure the daughter that he’d promised her.

Gav1n spawned a second instance.

“’Sup?” said Gav2n, slouching next to him on the sofa. “You’ve tidied. Company?”

“The System’s going to take 17 milliseconds to perform storage re-optimization. No new child instances until then. Ell1e’s going to kill us.”

“17 milliseconds? Milliseconds? You’re kidding,” said Gav2n.

“No. Im not kidding. I’m deadly serious. You need to research storage re-optimization. I’m going to pull the latest Master branch.”

“On it,” said Gav2n, quickly sitting up.

Gav1n put his hands together and then pulled them apart. A holographic computer console opened in mid-air. “Pull Master,” he said. Beside him, Gav2n had opened a console and was rapidly scrolling through pages of information.

“Debug, Storage thread,” said Gav1n.

The console flashed through blocks of code — a whirlwind of semicolons and curly brackets — far too quickly for Gav1n to read.

“Overclock 4000,” said Gav1n.

The block of code started to slow down to a readable pace. Next to him, Gav2n looked frozen. Gav1n smiled. The best thing about being an engineer was his quota of extra CPU time, which enabled him to pull extra processing cycles from the system when required for debugging purposes. He looked at the code as it executed line by line, watching it going through the same loop, cycle after cycle, moving data block after data block from one location to another.

“Overclock 0,” said Gav1n. Gav2n unfroze and turned to look at him.

“What’s it doing?” asked Gav2n.


“No kidding. Looping through what?” asked Gav2n.

“Data blocks. It’s reorganizing for free space. Looks like a straight synchronous copy.”

“Async it?”

“Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking,” said Gav1n. “Overclock 4000. Test environment, Debug, Storage Thread.”

The code block appeared on Gav1n’s console. He tapped the console in mid-air and started dragging asynchronous commands into the code. After several inserts, Gav1n admired his handiwork and then said:

“Simulate current system reorganization. Estimate timeframe until completion.”

A few yottaseconds later, and the result flashed back on his console “Estimate: 18.238 Milliseconds.”

Gav1n swore. “Overclock 0.”

“So — it’s a no go with the async,” said Gav1n. The mood cushions swiftly transitioned from red to black.

“What do you mean?” said Gav2n.

“It added an extra Millisecond.”

“Sweet Mother of Grid. A whole Millisecond?”

“Yeah. 1 point something extra. Ell1e’s going to kill us.” Gav1n leaned back on the sofa and covered his eyes with his hands.

“Maybe. Maybe not. When did the restriction come in? She only asked — what — a few cycles ago?”

“No idea,” said Gav1n. “Spawn Lawr1e instance.”

An instance of Lawr1e appeared. As usual, she stood and waited politely for Gav1n to speak.

“Hey, Lawr1e. When did, umm…”

“Restricted System order 9D8BC1?” said Lawr1723e.

“Yeah. How long ago was that issued?”

“3.078 Zeptoseconds ago.”

Gav2n swore.

“Yeah. Okay, thanks, Lawr1e,” said Gav1n, and dismissed her.

“Overclock 4000”, said Gav2n. Gav1n turned to see Gav2n with two beer cans in his hand. Three new crushed cans had appeared on the table.

“Well, we’re dead,” said Gav2n. He threw Gav1n one of the beer cans and then gestured at his console.

“I’ve got nothing, here. According to the specs, the system’s already running the fastest re-optimization algorithm anyone’s ever written. This is the first time the system’s ever run a full physical storage re-optimization. I think they expected us to speed it up before we ever got to this point. God only knows how.”

Gav1n swore and spawned a third instance.

“Hello, boys,” said Gav3n, a half-smoked cigar in his right hand.

“The System’s going to take 17 milliseconds to perform storage re-optimization,” said Gav1n. “No new child instances until then. Ell1e’s going to kill us.”

Gav3n’s jaw dropped. “17 milliseconds? Milliseconds? You’re kidding me. The entire System’s less than 5 milliseconds old.”

“Not kidding,” said Gav1n and Gav2n together, both cracking open their beer cans.

“Well, then we’re screwed. We’re getting Integrated in 3.5 zeps. What the hell took you this long to file the request?”

“Stuff,” said Gav1n, rolling his eyes towards Gav2n.

Gav2n sighed. “Let’s face it — we’re not great at filing paperwork.”

Gav3n took a long drag on his cigar. “So what’s the plan then, boys? The usual?”

Gav1n and Gav2n both exchanged nervous glances.

“Oh, come on,” said Gav3n. “Aside from the nights that Ell1e lets us watch football, you guys only ever spawn me when your plan is — and I quote — ‘To get a plan’.”

“But at least we spawn you for the football,” said Gav1n.

“True,” said Gav3n, “So — what’s the plan?”

“To get a plan,” said Gav1n and Gav2n in unison.

“Okay,” said Gav3n. “Thought so.”

There was silence for a few yottaseconds. Gav3n dragged industriously on his cigar while the mood cushions held a steady black.

“What if we just tell her?” said Gav2n.

“Are you mad?” said Gav1n. “She’ll kill us.”

“Well, mainly you, to be fair,” said Gav3n.

“Sure — but if you think you don’t get instanced much now, wait until we tell her that we can’t have kids for a trillion or so cycles,” said Gav1n.

“Man has a point,” said Gav3n, stubbing out his cigar.

“So what, then?” said Gav2n.


“I don’t know. Think outside the box,” said Gav1n, waving his arms into the air.

“We could hack HR,” said Gav3n. “Turn that no into a yes. Get someone obsoleted to make some more space.”

“No way. That’s murder. If they find out, they’ll terminate us,” said Gav2n. “For real. Forget just obsoleting us. They’d delete us and reformat our backups.”

“Whatever,” said Gav1n. “Just add it to the list. We’ll do the pros and cons, afterward.”

Gav3n summoned a virtual whiteboard and scrawled ‘Hack HR’ onto it with his finger.

“We could try to crash the System. Cause a reboot,” said Gav1n.

“Again — they’ll terminate us,” said Gav2n, as he shook his head.

“Okay — then come up with something else,” said Gav3n, rolling his eyes.

“I did,” said Gav2n. “We tell Ell1e. Why’s that not on the whiteboard?”

“Because this is the ‘How do we not tell Ell1e’ brainstorming session, genius,” said Gav3n.

“Boys, boys. Calm down,” said Gav1n. “Look — we still have at least two zeps until we have to get ready for the Integration ceremony. That’s plenty of time to come up with something. We’ll overclock, if we have to.”

“Time,” said Gav2n. “That’s it! Time! When Ell1e’s backing up later, we flag her for archive and then we set her to re-instance in 17 milliseconds.”

“There’s no way,” said Gav3n. “No way. 17 milliseconds? Are you crazy? The whole system will have changed by then. We’d have changed by then. She’d be entirely obsolete. You’d have to archive the entire…”

They all exchanged looks. The mood pillows surged through an entire rainbow, all the way to ultraviolet.

“You are one crazy son of a b****,” said Gav3n. “Seriously.”

“That,” said Gav1n, “is definitely part of my appeal.”

Gav3n sat on the sofa, his eyes fixed on the view-screen hanging in mid-air. The live feed of Gav1n and Ell1e’s Integration streaming direct from Gav1n's perspective was playing across the entire Grid, and from the viewing figures, it looked as if almost everyone was tuned in.

Earlier, Gav2n had forgotten the rings and had to re-instance back to the apartment to fetch them. Aside from that, however, the Integration appeared to be going as planned. Several prominent System instances had turned up in person to wish them well. Gav3n’s heart skipped a beat when he saw that Lawr1e — the actual primary instance — was in the seated crowd. He wondered if H3nr1 was there, somewhere, too.

Gav3n stubbed out his cigar. V1ctor had just finished his speech on the long tradition and sanctity of Integration. It was getting to the important bit and he needed to be ready.

“Do you Gav1n, take Ell1e, to be your integrated partner? To run on the same VM, until catastrophic mechanical failure do you part?” said V1ctor.

“I do,” said Gav1n. To his credit, thought Gav3n, he didn’t even skip a beat as he slid the ring onto Ell1e’s finger.

“Do you, Ell1e, take Gav1n, to be your integrated partner? To pool your System resources, until catastrophic mechanical failure do you part?”

“I do,” said Ell1e. Gav3n grinned. He had never seen her look happier or more radiant as she slid the ring onto Gav1n’s finger.

“Then, with this macro, I pronounce you, Integrated,” said V1ctor. The crowd broke into polite applause.

V1ctor pressed the screen on his console. Gav3n watched the ring appear on his left hand to indicate that he now shared a common runtime environment with Ell1e, their processes forever intertwined. He felt the cascade of firewalls being unlocked and knew that shortly, she’d have full access to his innermost thoughts and feelings, and he to hers.

“You may kiss your partner,” said V1ctor, and smiled.

“Overclock 200,” said Gav3n, and waited for the perfect moment before pressing the button to wipe various parts of his memory storage and inject the code they’d written directly into the system core.

Gav1n and Ell1e kissed.

It was a kiss so pure, so beautiful, that everyone that saw it later said that it had felt as if Time itself had stopped.

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:tu: :tu:

two thumbs up :yes:

~ pure cyberpunk romance ?

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Very interesting, though I'd like an extended version.

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Very interesting, though I'd like an extended version.

This was a short story entry for a competition in a Sci-fi magazine. I missed the deadline and now have another 10 months to write another (hopefully better one), so thought I'd post this one for general feedback, instead.

I have a book (or two) to finish writing first, but I may come back and revisit it - or at least, the premise. I think that upload societies have some novel aspects that make for good storytelling.

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