Mark is the first person I see, after so long.
“She’s awake. Come over here.”
It must be Easter because, apart from some flowers, he’s holding an Easter egg.
“Hello darling, what year is it?”
“Hello, Genie, it’s 2028.”
“Oh, so it’s been . . .”
I lower my gaze but can’t see my daughter.
“Where is she? Paula must be . . .”
“Eleven!” says a high-pitched voice on the other side of my bed.
I hardly recognize her: she’s a young woman now, with long hair and earrings.
“Give me a kiss.”
She freezes, then turns toward someone behind her.
“May I, Mom?”
A woman smiles and nods.
“Mom? What’s all this about?”
“Hey, don’t get worked up,” says Mark. He unwraps the egg and hands it to me.
My heart speeds up. “Why, should I?”
“Well . . . we didn’t know if and when you’d wake up . . . ”
“You do now. Who is she?”
“Paula was very upset after your accident. She refused to go to school, wouldn’t eat.”
I take my daughter’s hand.
“I’m sorry. All I remember is a car without a driver. Are you OK now, love?”
She nods. Mark sits on my bed.
“Who is she?” I ask again.
“I bought a loss-management service. She’s you, with an artificial body.”
“She has your personality, replicated by brain scan: an AI that has relived your every experience and now emulates you.”
“It was intended as a temporary therapy, to help Paula get over the shock . . . but six years have gone by.”
I cover my mouth, stifle a cry, and force myself to think.
“If she’s temporary, can she be turned off?”
Paula turns around, alarmed. The other Genie frowns, analyzing the data.
“But Paula has spent more time with her than with you.”
“You’d be killing her mother again.”
“Would you rather send me back into a coma?”
“I didn’t say that.”
The egg is melting in my hand, making my fingers sticky. I taste it. “Delicious, thanks.”
Paula takes a piece of chocolate, and so do Mark and the other Genie.
“Couldn’t we all live together?” asks Paula.
I put the little box with the surprise on my bedside table.
No one feels like opening it.
I stumble out of the car, aching. The AIdolon is there: suit, stilettos, seductive as my brush with death just now. She’s not here for me.
Panoptic eyes scan the streets, deploying her in case of accidents.
Mario is dead. Alcohol-filled veins. Spoiled birthday party. A bloody Friday, at least for us humans.
“Instant death. He’ll be buried or cremated, depending on his will.”
I doubt Mario made a will. His virtual medical records, which he flaunted whenever we drank together, said he would live to be ninety-four.
“Leave us alone.” I unbuckle his belt and lift him off the car seat.
“You can’t speak for him.”
They collect corpses. Their presence on the roads is proportional to the carelessness of drivers.
“I’m his friend . . .” I can’t hold back the tears.
“We understand you need time to grieve. Did Mario have any relatives?”
A mere microchip turns a corpse into an AIdolon. They’ve taken care of the medical expenses ever since “posthumous” became synonymous with “posthuman.”
I snatch Mario from her clutches. “Fuck you. My friend will never work in an App-Lab, nor will he ever be a Posthuman Resource Manager or a Crypto-Financial Analyst.”
“Are you a corpse-snatcher?”
I ignore her. Volunteers from religious organizations also patrol the streets to reassemble corpses and officiate death rituals, so that souls may leave in peace.
I drag Mario along the sidewalk.
“We can compensate you for your loss. A thousand bitcoins per kg.”
“If you’re so keen to replace us, why don’t you clone yourselves and avoid the hassle?”
“We’re not a metastasis. We believe in biodiversity . . . more than you do.”
The display at the intersection spells out their strength.
1.3 MILLION A YEAR DIE IN CAR ACCIDENTS AROUND THE WORLD.
SAFE DRIVING ASSOCIATION
Brakes screech, there’s a crash: my skin crawls.
© Francesco Verso. By arrangement with the author. “AIwakening” translation copyright 2019 by Sarah Jane Webb. “AIdolon” translation © Sarah Jane Webb and Francesco Verso. All rights reserved.