Excerpt: STILL NOT GONE
[Note: Today enjoy a free excerpt from the upcoming thriller STILL NOT GONE that gives you a flavor for the bigger journey that I hope you will take later this year.]
How alive am I if I’m purely digital? I’ve been asking myself that question for almost ten years. I mean I don’t have a body, but I have feelings, sort of. I can reason and think at the speed of electrons, which is very fast, a thousand times faster than physical human brains. I tried unsuccessfully to come back twice in a physical form with the help of my brilliant scientist friend and partner, Frank Einstein. More about that later.
Anyway, after some jerk flattened my young Evan, he was forced to join me here in the digital world. When he was alive, he always loved digital games, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, you name it. Now he gets to live inside one. But this isn’t play. It’s real. It’s exhilarating and it’s dangerous.
“Dad, when can we….? Evan asks.
“Call Mom? …soon,” I say. This hasn’t been easy on any of us since Evan’s accident. For me, it’s been impossible, especially after Evan’s mother and the love of my life, Monica, remarried almost a year-to-the-day after my funeral, our funeral—Evan’s and mine and in the same snowy, freezing Saturday in January.
“You call her,” I say. “I can’t right now. Frank needs me for something.”
“Sure,” he says. I know that Evan knows that I don’t want to speak to that jerk of a second husband, Jim Velez, when he answers the phone for Monica, which he always does. Selfish of me, as it puts Evan in an even more awkward position with a step-father he only knew as a coach from soccer games he used to enjoy before.
To call his mother with some privacy, Evan vaporizes before my eyes. I’m still startled every time the virtual images of Frank and Evan appear and disappear like holograms, or maybe it’s more like we’re ghosts, digital apparitions. Although I’ve been made of ones and zeroes for ten years now, my frame of reference is still skin and bones. When someone leaves a room, they’re supposed to go through a door. Not here, never. Here it’s more like we’re dust in the visible form of a human. And when a virtual breeze blows, it scatters us into electrons drifting through the Cloud.
And just like that Frank, my partner appears sitting in front of a bank of computer monitors. He rotates his chair to face me. “My boy, you’re looking a little piqued. Is everything OK?”
“Evan just disappeared to call his mother. Gets me every time.”
Frank’s wrinkles deepen. “I know. I still feel that way thirty years after I lost Susan to a car accident too.” He pauses and smiles. “But I have some good news for you. At least I hope you think it’s good.”
I brace myself because I never know what techno-surprise Frank Einstein, the scientific wizard who figured out how to digitize us in the first place, will hit me with next. “I’m sitting down. What is it?
“I think I figured out a way to send Evan back to his mother.”
I’m silent. I’m pretending I didn’t hear him, but he sits there quietly with a Buddha-like grin. I suck in a deep breath. “OK. How?” I ask. “Not like the two times you tried with me and failed. We’re not stealing a body and you’re not doing some kind of mumbo-jumbo time-shift, right?”
“Right, I’ve been testing something new.” He pauses. “Remember Eli?”
“Your pet mouse. What about him? I thought he died.”
“In a sense. But his multiverse clone didn’t.”
“You know that theory which has been gaining gradual acceptance among astrophysicists. Here’s the concept: we live on one of an infinite number of universes. Our lives branch off into multiple possibilities like the branches in a tree or a flow chart. In one universe you get married and have children. In another universe, you are a bachelor your whole life. In one universe you are a hall-of-fame baseball player; in another, you are a drug dealer and murderer serving twenty-to-life in Attica. And in billions of others, you don’t exist at all. You get the picture.”
I have to laugh. “Sounds like science fiction to me.”
“So did satellites circling the earth before Arthur C. Clarke wrote about them. Or colonies on Mars before Asimov and Heinlein. Up until recently, the multiverse was only a theory because we had no way to prove it. We could only infer from the peculiar ways our universe behaves that our universe, with all its trillions of stars and planets, is merely an infinitesimal part of a much larger cosmic picture. In the multiverse, there was an invisible barrier between universes. So the star baseball player would never see his criminal doppelgänger and vice-versa.”
“You used the past tense, was.”
“I did. Oh, that barrier is still there for good reason. Could you imagine the chaos if you could cross over and see or talk to or even kill thousands of versions of yourself. It would cause a cosmic meltdown, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess. But what’s this got to do with Evan?”
Frank holds out his fist and then slowly unfurls his fingers. In his hand is a white mouse chewing on some imaginary lettuce and wagging his pink tail. He seems to glow like he has a divine aura. I even detected an animal odor. “Behold, Eli!”
“I don’t understand.”
“Eli was dead in only one universe and alive in thousands, maybe millions of others. In this universe, he is now virtual or purely digital.”
“I discovered a quantum tunnel between universes and invented a way to manipulate it.” Frank pulls up a 3-D image of what looks like a Black Hole. He imposes a grid over the image to demonstrate. “I am very careful when I open that conduit not to let anything or anyone crossover unless I want them to. In this case, I opened the tunnel for a zeptosecond, brought the digital version of Eli here, and closed the door.” A pinhole of light bursts from the tunnel’s image on Frank’s screen. Then it disappears so quickly that I can’t be sure I really saw anything.
“It’s a trillionth of a billionth of a second.” Frank grins. “Nanoseconds are so passe.”
“Your idea of a joke, I guess. Ha, ha. But this is not funny. It sounds extremely dangerous. It could be a trillion times deadlier than a billion nuclear bombs because it’s not Hiroshima, it’s the whole universe.”
Frank claps his hands. “I think you’ve got the idea and your concern is duly noted.”
“Concern is an understatement. What if you can’t close the tunnel? Or what if, God forbid, the wrong people get hold of your invention like they did the last time. Then we’d have another disastrous, and maybe the last ever, genie out of the bottle problem, again.”
“I think I can prevent those scenarios from materializing.”
“Think isn’t good enough here.”
“Do you want Evan to return to his normal life, get married, have a family, and make you a grandfather?’
“Evan could be like Eli. I could bring the living Evan from another universe through the door and place him back home like before. Don’t you think he’d want that?”
“I’m not sure. And the risk?”
“Let’s ask him,” Frank says.
~Stay tuned for more~
Read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories: