Neither Dead, Nor

Waking up dead is liable to ruin your entire day. When I opened my eyes and saw my own face, I thought I’d left the vid on some odd channel again, like last time, but no, it was my corpse. Guess that was as good a reason as any to call in sick for work. Worse than my own dead body, the vidscreen didn’t work. Every single channel was out – communication, too. I couldn’t call up anyone from the governments, the tribunal, not even my mother down around the corner.

Well, a quick shower to wash the corpse smell off, and down to the reallife I went. Pretty much what everyone else was doing, too, it seemed. The levitators were jammed with people heading down to the streets. As I floated down, the woman below me was chatting with some gent.

“I never realized what I’d look like dead. It wasn’t pleasant, let me tell you. You’d think I’d have the sense to dress up if I was going to die like that. Maybe some makeup.”

“You have to remember, at the funeral parlors the men with the black hats have worked their magic,” answered the gent, holding his bowler respectably. “Me, I didn’t even realize I was dead until after my morning caffeine. I can’t even open my eyes until then.”

When I’d levitated down to the street, I set off for my mother’s. She’d probably be scared dead by her own corpse, not take it in her stride like a normal person.

When I entered her flat, I heard screaming. “Margaret, I can’t hear you! Turn on your camera, dearie, I can’t see you!” Yep, that’s mother. Screaming at a blank wall.

“The vids’re down.”

She whipped around and smiled, crinkling the red red lipstick at the corners of her mouth. “Dearie John!” She gave me a hug.

“You get a new scent?” I quizzed.

“Well, I mixed it up myself out of Lavender and some of the pheromones I got in the last shipment. You like it?”

“I don’t think it’s ever proper to ask your boy if he likes your pheromones.”

“Oh, John!” she chirped. “You won’t believe the morning I’ve had. Right horrible! Look what someone left me as a prank. Right in my own bed, and I never even noticed anyone coming or going!”

She’d dragged her corpse out to the kitchen and propped it up against a sliding glass door. The dyed blonde hair was still stacked upon her head like some sort of ghastly popover.

“Right, mom,” I sighed. “Someone went around and pranked everyone. Seems we’re all dead but still here. That ain’t some prop. That’s you.”

“Me? Oh, dearie John, are you part of this, too?”

“Well, I’ve got a corpse at my flat, too. Ugly bloke. But that’s the way of it. Everyone on the levitator was talking about it.”

“You’re saying we’re dead? The Construct won?” She cocked her head.

“Well, we’ve all got corpses, but all of us seem to be fine. A mite strange, I admit, but I don’t think it’s a prank. And with the vids down, we can’t get the latest news, can we?” I glanced about the kitchen. “You got any food? I couldn’t call for delivery like I normally do.”

“Oh, dearie John, always so helpless without your mom.” She kissed the top of my head, wafting her death-perfume at me. “I’ll fry up some eggs. Runny, right?”

One necessity relieved, I soon went out to take care of another. Why weren’t the vids working? The streets were more than a little crowded. With no entertainment or communication, most of the city had nothing to do. Everyone talked about it, of course. While I waited with a group of people to cross a street, I took part in what was becoming a normal conversation: “Where were you?”

“Working night shift, actually. Oddest thing. I was leaning out over the vats to reach one of the winches, when I saw someone falling. As the body twirled, I saw it was me. The vats ate the body right up. Hope I didn’t need it.”

One woman wanted to wax philosophic. “Does it mean we all died? Did the Construct finally get us, and this is hell?”

A vicar that stood with us shook his head. “Can’t be. I’d be in heaven, not here with you lot.”

We all had a chuckle as the light turned and we crossed.

As I got closer to the Square, the streets got more and more crowded. It seemed that more than a few people had decided to come to the government for answers. Rabble packed every open space as I elbowed my way in. Perhaps not the shiniest way to get anywhere, but it worked.

My father worked here, and maybe he knew something. Center of planetary government, and my father was a clerk for one of the bigwigs. Someone on the council, I never followed who. Didn’t really matter. Just another cog in the machine. Maybe he knew something, though. Cogs did, sometimes.

I showed my card to the guards, who let me in with a grunt. The crowd pushed against them, but were still orderly. Even after we all saw our corpses, we were an orderly bunch. Usually.

Down four, five flights of stairs to my father’s office. He slumped before his console, a mug of cold caffeine beside his head. Another late night for him, apparently. His corpse was curled up under the desk, knees to the chest. Books by some guy named Schroedinger lay scattered about the desk. Something about cats and observation. Father must have been assigned some odd research by his boss. He was always doing cogwork.

“Time to wake up. And don’t look down.”

He startled awake, running his hand through gray hair. “Hm? Oh, we made it.” His voice was weak as he rubbed his eyes. “So, this is what it’s like inside the box.” He glanced at his mug and tested it, grimacing when the liquid touched his lips.

“Uh, right. Listen, all the vids are down, and there’s a lot of confused people. Like me. Care to make the vids run again?”

Father grunted a laugh. “No, I’m afraid the vids will have to remain off until we figure out a way to limit communication to just us. Can’t let anyone see in or out. Not anymore.” He glanced up at me. “So, tell me. What happened?”

“Well, I woke up with a face full of me, but dead. And everyone else, too. And the vids don’t work.”

“Yes, yes.” Father waved at me. “How do you feel?”

“Well, other than about to vomit from mother’s eggs, mostly fine.”

“You ate? Well, that’s good. We still need to eat, then.” He muttered, his eyes narrowed. “We should be able to keep that up indefinitely. I wonder if we can still have children?”

I waved. “Hello? Over here. Get down on the ground, old man. Either explain or see what you can do to fix the vids.”

“Well, seeing as you’re a participant now, it shouldn’t make any difference. What do you know about the Construct?”

I shrugged. “We’re in a war against it. Everyone is.”

“How’s the war going?”

“I don’t know. I don’t watch the news. Doesn’t matter so much.”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course not. Listen, we’re losing. We’re losing terribly. And our planet was just one more, about to be swallowed up. They’d come down, kill us all, and that would be that. But those of us in the government… we had an idea.” He waved at the books. “There’s a number of theories that say that nothing exists unless someone observes it. An old adage went that if you put a cat in a box and released a poison gas there, the cat would be neither dead nor alive until someone observed it.”

“You’re talking above my ears.”

“It’s like this. We thought that as long as no one observed us, those of us on the planet, we might be able to fake the Construct out. If they saw that we’d released a poison gas in the atmosphere, and they saw only that, they might avoid our planet. And we’d all survive as long as no outside observer saw us.”

“What you’re saying is…”

“We’re the cat, son. We’re the cat.”


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