Moving On

I had only started working in the mind-uploading lab a few months ago, when I graduated from college, and was already on the verge of breaking the department's main rule: Don't become emotionally involved with your clients.

I had another job offer, but it involved relocating to Mars, and I was hesitant. Starting a life on another planet was terrifying, especially since I would be part of a colonization team. Life would be tough and primitive.

At least with this job, I could stay on Earth, working with people who had died over half a century ago. Well, I could stay with Aaron, even if he was basically a dream. A dream that seemed very real when I entered his reality.

A new technology was developed in the mid-twenty-first century which allowed people, just before they died, to upload their consciousness into a computer. As software advanced, virtual realities were created, allowing these disembodied minds to permanently dwell in a virtual world that felt real to them. From their viewpoint, they were alive again. Most lived in idealized recreations of wherever had been their favorite place when they were living.

I interacted with several mind-clients in my job as a virtual therapist. Each morning, I plugged into the main database and entered an aware dream state in order to converse with each one, see how they were adjusting to what could best be called their "new life." I'd always reintroduce myself: "Hello, it's me again, Andi Garcia, your caseworker, just checking in." I would note any concerns or adjustments that needed to be made but, since most were blissfully engaged in hobbies, work, or vacations they enjoyed while alive, I'd quickly be on my way.

Except for Aaron. I spent almost all of my working hours with him.

Most of my clients had died when they were old, and were elated to find themselves back in young, healthy bodies. A few were married couples who had both had their minds downloaded, allowing them to spend more time together in this virtual afterlife. They were the lucky ones.

Aaron Burke had not been so fortunate. According to the dossier I had on him, he died young. His virtual body looked the same as when he had died. He was a tall, slender young man with dark hair and eyes the color of Earth as viewed from space. But they were sad eyes.

My heart pounded every time I approached him. Today was no different. His favorite spot in life had been Catalina Island. The quaint, idyllic town of Avalon looked the same as it did in the twenty-first century with its shop-lined streets, hills decorated with colorful houses, and the large landmark casino standing out against the landscape. But tourists didn't exist in this reality, just a few virtual locals to make the place seem less lonely. Aaron sat in his usual spot, alone on Descanso Beach. I settled beside him.

"I proposed to Samantha right here, on this beach." Aaron wasn't looking at me. His eyes were fixed on the undulating sea. Docked boats gently bobbed and a parasailer glided by in the distance. "She had grown up here, you know."

"I know." I slid my hand into his. Even though Aaron was technically a virtual person, his hand felt warm and slightly rough. My pulse quickened. I knew everything about him, how he had grown up in Los Angeles, then moved to Catalina after he graduated from high school, hoping to figure out his life. His parents pressured him to go to college, but he wanted to take a year off. He met Samantha while he was waiting tables at a local restaurant.

"She didn't want to stay." He still didn't look at me. "She had plans to attend college on the mainland and eventually have a career there. I . . . I agreed to join her. I know it's ridiculous, but I wish I had stayed here, on Catalina. If I had, I wouldn't have gotten into that accident." His tone grew harsh.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, my thoughts grasping for words.

"At least I was able to see her again right before . . . you know."

"Before you died." My voice rasped. "And had your mind uploaded into a computer."

"Samantha promised she'd join me. She held my hand and cried, just as my consciousness was fading. I was sure we'd be together again someday." He shook his head. "I've searched this entire island, but she's not here."

Samantha would never return. I knew that much from his dossier. After his death, she had moved on, eventually finding another lover. She married, raised a family, and died when her great-grandchildren were well into their teens. She didn't choose to have her mind uploaded.

I swallowed and squeezed his hand tightly. Still no reaction. It was against the rules to create a simulation of Samantha since it wouldn't be her, just Aaron's memory of her. He would be living a lie and would eventually discover she was a fake. Besides, the real Samantha wouldn't have wanted to stay on Catalina. A replica of her would have just been a mindless, virtual clone.

I ached to become the woman he wanted, but that, too, was just a fantasy. I looked around. The sun shimmered against the restless sea. A fresh breeze brushed against my face. It all felt so real, so wonderful. This would be a beautiful place to live, where I could spend my days browsing the quaint shops, hiking the hills, spotting buffalo, and swimming in the sea. Much better than toiling for countless hours in the developing colony on barren, desolate Mars. There were plans to terraform the planet, make it more like Earth, but that wouldn't be completed in my lifetime.

Still, a part of me wanted the experience, even though, once I left Earth, there was no coming back. It wouldn't be an easy life since I'd essentially be a pioneer. Remaining here on beautiful Catalina, even if it was just a virtual simulation, was tempting.

I sighed. I needed to live and Aaron had to find peace.

I stood and pulled him to his feet. His brilliant eyes still held the dim shadow of depression, mixed with a slight spark of finding hope.

I raised my face and kissed his cheek. It was scratchy with stubble.

"I came to say goodbye, Aaron." Hot tears touched my own eyes, but I blinked them away. "Samantha isn't coming back. She moved on a long time ago."

"I know." He sighed, resigned. "I suppose I've known, ever since I arrived here."

"We both need to move on." I released his hand and stepped back.

A sad smile played about his lips. "It was nice knowing you, Andi. Thank you."

I waved, and returned to my own reality. To my life. I would accept the new job offer.

The End