Bob entered the doctor’s office with his wife Catherine clinging to his hand. They sat quietly, and the good doctor immediately closed the file he was working on and gave them his full attention. Catherine smiled at the gesture. Through it all, through the agonizing months of surgeries and treatments, this man had done everything in his power and always made them feel as though Bob’s condition was priority number one. When it was all said and done, despite her not liking the final outcome, she could rest at night knowing that every option was exercised to its fullest.
The doctor caught this smile, and nodded in a way that seemed to say he understood her feelings. “Thank you for coming in today, Bob,” the doctor said. “I appreciate your taking the time to see me once more. I know that time is no longer a luxury for you.”
Bob nodded and Catherine gave a loving squeeze to his hand. “So what’s the word?” Bob asked. “It must be something good if it’s coming from you with such urgency. Lord knows you’re not one to waste our time.”
“How much do you know about computers, Bob?”
Bob shrugged. “I dunno. I can email the kids and find pictures of boobies easy enough. I don’t see much point in them beyond that.” Catherine sighed and shook her head.
The doctor smiled. “A rascal ’til the end, eh?” Catherine nodded and smiled. Her face tightened and she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. Bob gave her a gentle pat on the hand.
“What about computers?” Bob asked.
“Well,” the doctor said, leaning back in a modest chair that creaked under his weight. “Everyday there are new and exciting experiments going on in the field of Advanced Computation. A new study group has formed in the last week. Here, in our area. They’re seeking volunteers that meet your qualifications.”
“Terminals,” Bob said.
The doctor nodded. Outside, in the lazy afternoon, a leaf-blower sent its monotone hum through the air.
“What’s it about?” Bob asked.
“Well, to put it plainly, it’s the first attempt at preserving the mind and personality of an individual in a computer simulation so that they can continue living.”
Bob’s brow furrowed and Catherine’s tears fled her eyes. “What?” she asked.
“I don’t know all the details,” the doctor said. “A lot of this is well beyond my area of expertise. But the idea is that your mind, the mental construct that you call I, is uploaded into a very sophisticated computer and allowed to continue living in a very advanced simulation of life.”
“So I just live forever in some sort of damned video game?” Bob asked.
“In a way.” The doctor stared at the old couple and tried to gauge their faces. He could tell that his attempts at keeping things plain wasn’t working. “You would set the parameters of the world, and you could change them at anytime. For example, you could live on the beach and take up surfing. Or, if you wanted to change things up, you could live in the mountains and pursue rock climbing.” He punched the keys of his laptop and began reading from the screen. “There are nearly 90 different activities that you can engage in.”
“Does he know he’s in there?” Catherine asked. “Does he know it’s not real?”
The doctor’s enthusiasm waned. “Yes,” he said. “So much so that you even interact with the programmers who design the simulation. You give them direct input and feedback about the world.”
Bob’s brow furrowed once more, forming a chasm of concern across his face. “But wait,” he said. “What about me?”
The doctor looked at him, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Bob said, “you put me in the damned computing box. Yeah? So my brain is in there. But what happens to me? The real me. Do I die the moment I go into the computer?”
“No,” the doctor said. “Your mind is essentially copied.” He chuckled. “It’s not stolen from your body.” Catherine smiled at this.
“So my mind is still in my body. So then I still die,” Bob said.
“Well, yeah,” said the doctor, making his chair creak again. “Your condition doesn’t change.”
“So I die, while some copy of me gets to live forever in a machine doing all the things I never got to do?”
The doctor looked to Catherine for words of support, but she only shrugged her shoulders. “Well, sort of.”
Bob shook his head. “No way,” he said. “No way that freeloader gets to have all the fun.”
“But Bob,” cried the doctor. “It’s still you, you see?”
“No way,” he said again. “Screw that asshole. I did all the work.”