It’s always about space with me, ultimately.
I was in space. Well, I wasn’t really in space, I was very much on earth. My brain was in a jar in some hospital somewhere, and my body was six feed under in some cemetery somewhere. But my senses were all plugged into a geostationary satellite twenty-two thousand miles above the Atlantic Ocean.
“Wow,” Saint Peter said.
“Wow, indeed,” I said, “I’ve been here eleventh jillion times, it always takes my virtual breath away.”
“I always wanted to be an astronaut,” he said, “Back when there were astronauts.”
“I know, right?” I replied, “My dad took me to a shuttle launch when I was little. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. From that moment, Saint Peter, I wanted to be in space.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t call me ‘Saint Peter,’” Saint Peter said. His real name was Aloysius Shabaz Gumpert. It was a horrible name. I preferred the nickname I’d saddled him with, both because it annoyed him, and because of my own sentimental reasons: He was the paramedic who’d taken care of me when I’d died two years ago. Well, more-or-less died. As far as he and I were concerned, I wasn’t dead, but legally my status was debatable.
“Sure thing, Pete. Lunch?”
I blinked and the two of us were outside The Greasy Spoon, my favorite not-quite-adult diner. The waitresses were hot angels, waiting tables in their underwear. It was impossible to get lucky, of course, all the supernatural beings here in this virtual heaven were simply artistic representations of artificial intelligence programs. But that was part of the appeal: they were an idealized kind of hot, and I’m a guy, and the place has the best apple pie in the afterlife. The pie itself was basically an artistic representation of pie, with virtual taste, texture and smell added. These entirely-artificial variables were fed to my brain in a jar on a shelf in wherever-it-is that they’re keeping my brain these days, along with an electronic representation of Pete’s voice - always too loud, forceful, and direct - and I interpreted the former with a ‘yum’ and the latter as being slightly unpleasant.
Am I being too remedial? I don’t know how many of you folks in the Securities and Exchange Commission have ever been in here for some first-hand experience, and I know a lot of people don’t really ‘get it’…well, anyway…
“How old were you?”
“At the shuttle launch? Young. Three or five. Probably around 1990,” I said.
“Seventy-five years go.”
“Is there anything further out than geosynch?” Pete asked.
“Nope. I spent about a month trying to access the sensory gear from the Chinese moonbase, but that’s been abandoned so long now that nothing’s working.”
We had to wait for a table. It was crowded. It was always crowded in heaven these days. In the two years since it had opened as a pilot medical program, it had become a refuge for hundreds of thousands of people like myself, who never recovered from their injuries. There were also at least twice that many daytrippers - people having surgery or whatever, who were ‘sent’ here rather than use conventional anesthetics. Add to that an increasing number of hard-luck (Gang violence mostly), medical professionals who telecommuted, and their families who frequently just came here to hang out, and there were a lot of people running along the streets of transparent gold.
Heaven was a big place, but it was finite, both in terms of memory and in terms of simulated virtual space. It could hold an indeterminate number of people before our processing time slowed down conspicuously - all our programs running at the same time, don’tcha’no - but the program parameters were limited. You couldn’t go ‘off the map’ here any more than you could visit the cyclorama out the window in a movie set - it just didn’t exist. There was nothing there. Because of programming and processor limitations, Heaven couldn’t be expanded. We’d need a whole new system of hardware to run another program. The insurance companies were taking a bath - unwillingly - keeping this place running, so that clearly wasn’t going to happen. They’d keep packing ‘em in and packing ‘em in until the system crashed, or perhaps they decided to turn a blind eye to someone sabotaging us.
Once we finally got a table, some Crips blustered in and demanded it. Saint Pete was starting to give it to them, but I said “No.” What are they