Sara looked out of the open doors, across the terrace, to the golden sandy beach. It was dawn. The tide was sweeping in long white waves. The dark blue expanse of the calm sea reflected the rising summer sun. Gulls circled and cried above the house.

How many times had she watched this same dawn from the living room? How many more times would she be forced to?

She hardly ever slept these days. She spent most of her time scouring the library for anything that might help her escape this designer paradise. She remembered, years ago, meeting the designer in an approximation of where she now was, to go over the final plans for the house and the island. Did she like the effects of the fractal maps he had used for the mountain in the centre? How did she find the plant and animal models he had used?

She did not much care then. She'd said it was all beautiful. What did it matter anyway? It could always be changed.

She looked away from the painfully familiar scene, back to the monitor, which hung in space in front of her. It displayed something from a book on machine code, which she had culled from the house's library. The text was scrolling down as a text to speech converter read it out in a soft, measured tone.

She wondered how long it had been churning the book out while she stared into the sun rise, totally ignoring it. Time to try a sleep again at last? Why not. She was not getting anywhere new. How many times had she read this book cover to cover? She really didn't want to know, so she refrained from asking Carl.

'Stop reading', she ordered and the monitor disappeared. 'I'll try sleeping again.'

'OK, Sara', came Carl's disembodied reply. 'What time shall I wake you?'

'Don't. If I get to sleep, I want to stay that way.'


And that was true. She deeply desired the bliss of unconsciousness. It had been five days since she last slept for more than a few minutes.

She rose from the floor and made her way to the stairs. It is not as if I need to sleep, she thought, but it is like a release, you know?

She did not even need to breathe.

She woke from the dream about the Japanese clinic in a film of sweat. She rolled over in the huge bed and looked at the bedside monitor.

1:26 p.m.

'Carl, clean me up' she ordered the construct's AI and she was clean and dry, the bed as well.

She had dreamt of the Tokyo clinic where she had undergone her 'transition'. She remembered the spotless white room, her family crowding round her, her great-grandchildren there, one of her daughters crying.

The 'transition' would have been illegal back home, as many regarded it as a form of euthanasia. It was legal in the European Union, but the Japanese clinics were the best, and hence, the most expensive.

She remembered visiting that Tokyo park in winter, the last time she had been outside, propped up in a white exo, her legs useless. Undignified, it had seemed. Ice sculptures and the frozen lake. The youngest of her great-grandchildren running around, playing in the snow. Soon, she had thought, soon.

But the dream had been about the transition. About the wires in her skull. About the tubes and banks of medical equipment. About the surgeons, explaining their procedures though her portable translator.

The last sight, the last sound. She would always remember them. The spotless white ceiling of the operating theatre, the steady flow of Japanese between the surgeons and techs, the translator off, the language indecipherable.

Into young bones, young skin. An idealised reconstruction of herself aged twenty. Standing on that beach, looking up at the house, and then past the white cliffs, to the peak of the mountain.

She had tried to walk. And then she had run towards the house, her new heart racing. Carl was there, waiting on the terrace, a personality model of her late husband, controlled by the construct's AI. She beamed at him.

And the joy. The joy at her own death.

Sara walked along the broad empty beach. The tide was out. The sun setting. She wondered why she did not just tell Carl to turn the day and night cycle off. But then how would she judge the passage of time? And would not that be even more unbearable, it always being day? Maybe she should try it.

How long had it been since she had lost contact with the outside world? She had been able to access the Net from the construct. She would get all the latest news, try all the popular entertainment constructs. She would visit her family, or they would come to visit her in the construct. She had watched the great-grandchildren grow up, have their own children.

One day the Net link had just gone down. At first Carl had said it was a temporary fault and the link would soon be back up. But weeks and months passed, and nothing. The world outside was a blank, unreachable, unknown.

She must have spent years wondering what had happened. She had reviewed the last news casts over and over again. It seemed that the Japanese-Chinese Union and the USA had had a major escalation in their trade war over who owned the Pacific Ocean. It seemed unlikely that this had grown into a full scale nuclear conflict, but there was no other explanation she or Carl could come up with.

The JCU and the USA had been engaged in a mild cold war over the past few decades, not as pronounced as the one in the previous century, but there was deep distrust on both sides, and much money ploughed into 'defence' budgets. Few had expected it to end like this, however. Perhaps she and Carl were wrong?

She had long since turned off the Carl personality model. At first she had loved having him with her again, but the thing was imperfect. It was subtlely and indefinably inhuman. It scared her. She began to hate it. She had told the AI to get rid of it a year before they got cut off from the outside world.

She still called the AI Carl. What else would she call the damn thing? It did not matter. She stared out across the perfectly calm sea.

Back in the house. Midnight. Sara sat cross legged on the floor, scanning through another book she had read thousands of times. Sending commands directly to the construct's operating system. Trying to bypass Carl.

She wanted to destroy the construct, in effect to kill herself. End this pointless existence in this mind-numbing boring world of the island and the endless blue sea.

Sometimes she wondered if she really was alive anyway. Perhaps she just had Sara's memories, thought like Sara would have, but was nothing more than a personality model. The real Sara had died during the transition into the construct. She had have just stopped being, or gone to heaven or hell or whatever happened when you died.

I think therefore I am. That made no sense here, no sense at all.

The AI would not let her kill herself, would not shut the construct down. At first she had tried to drown herself in the sea. Of course, that did nothing. She could not even feel pain in here, never mind kill herself.

So she had gone about searching the construct's substantial database for text on the operating system it was running on. Of course there was nothing on the particular OS, very little on programming at all, but there were some coding books and they were all that she had to go on.

If she could just find some way to wipe the thing, cut the solar power supply, something, she was out, free, dead. Some day, she told herself. some day.

This was hell, this place. Not the dream of immortality she had once had. Of being young. Forever. Fifty million dollars' worth of designer hell.

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Dave Allison

Prose and HTML by Dave Allison. Last updated 8/12/2007