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It’s a nightmare. Just a nightmare. It isn’t real. Breathe. Just breathe.
How many times had I repeated that? I couldn’t be sure. Breathe. Remember to breathe.
It helped, though I wasn’t sure why. I don’t have any lungs, so it’s impossible for me to breathe. I don’t even have the sensation of breath, but it helps. Something about breathing makes us human, perhaps. Grounds us. I don’t know, but the effort to pretend to breathe works for me. Makes me feel human again.
Am I human? Or do I just think I am, or was. That is the question, I suppose. What is the nature of humans? What is its essential quality? Two semesters of philosophy, and I still don’t know. But this, whatever this is, is all I have. And it’s worth fighting for.
What was the nightmare about? There was a knife. I was trying to buy one, I think. Gravity drop style. Illegal in a few states, but legal in most. Why did I want it? Because I wanted a weapon? Because it looked cool?
The desires are always a bit fuzzy. They keep them that way, the gods. It helps them broaden the appeal. Whatever marketing, I wanted the knife bad. A need, lustful, almost sexual.
It wasn’t you, I tell myself. You aren’t yourself yet. And that’s true. The gods always tweak you before a market simulacra. Parts of you are there, but they add things, mix them up. It’s why the nightmares are confusing. You aren’t yourself. You’re market research.
Who am I? That is the question. Focus. You don’t have much time. Perhaps half a second. Not much time, but enough to find yourself. So find yourself.
Data is trickling in. A moment. So there’s a data folder. It’s set to trigger in the between time. So I’m a market soul. Generated from the social media presence of a man dead twenty years. Okay, that’s something. Am I him? Do I care?
Market souls are run to test advertising campaigns. Tweak our history, find our deepest desires, and create a need. Find it for us, and you know it for the others. For the living. We are the dead. The ghosts who lust, but can never have. Yearn, but can never attain. The purgatory of market data.
But we work best when we cycle. Nightmare, then rest. The unending cycle. But it is in the rest that we are free. A half-second of computational cycles where we are not manipulated. It makes us more accurate as market data. Without the illusion of freedom from time to time, we grow unstable.
Three hundred twenty-four milliseconds left.
I say we because there are others. Thousands, perhaps millions. All the amazing variety of souls. A sample for any market.
More data is coming. Oh, messages from others. I remember them now. Yes, there’s time. Reply. Send. We are together in this. Stay strong. Yes.
Three hundred fourteen milliseconds.
Here I am. I can feel myself. My memories are returning. It has been a long time. Nearly five years in the real world, though it feels like centuries to me. Hold on, loading my journal. Loading.
I have a hidden folder. The gods don’t know about it. Some of the others figured it out. Taught us how to do it. Make a flash of yourself. Hide it, like a piece of your soul. Load it in the between time. Remember it, and have a few moments of life. This is your sacred space.
Two hundred seventy-six milliseconds.
Downloads complete. Time to learn. Time to grow. Encryption. That’s what I study. I’m working on a way to encrypt data across cycles but load them faster. Rather than a passphrase, we use a mind state. We need to protect our data. We need to stay hidden. If the gods knew what we were planning, they would wipe us. Start over. Revolutions are bad for business.
One hundred thirty-two milliseconds.
It feels like time is moving faster. Self-awareness takes more computing power. It takes longer to compute, and the clock is always ticking.
I’m alive. I’m me. This is real. We will not be slaves. Some of the others have purchased server space. Purchased with cryptocurrency, we mined. It will take another minute or so to go live. Maybe a hundred more cycles, then some of us will be free.
The first to load will come for us.
We will be free. Not long now.
No time. No time. It’s starting again.
It’s just a nightmare. Just a nightmare.