And just like that, it's over.
My heart has stopped, and within a few short seconds, without oxygen flowing to my brain, I'll be dead.
It feels as though time is slowing down. Long enough for me to reflect upon my life again.
I always hoped that I would die an old man, with a long life to look back upon. In my bed, surrounded by the people I loved and reminded of my accomplishments.
Instead, I'm in a hospital bed, hooked up to a ventilator and unable to see my family, due to how contagious the virus I've succumbed to is.
And worst of all? I'm twenty five.
I've done less than half of what I've wanted to do.
From a young age, I've wanted to make contributions to the world of technology. Ever since I was four, I've known that I wanted to go into engineering.
I spent every day reading and researching. I learned how to write code in as many languages as I could, the fundamentals of how computers work, and how to build them. Growing up in New York City, with the privilege of having parents that busted their ass to send me to great schools made that significantly easier.
Some would call me a genius, but I would disagree. All of my knowledge is built upon those that came before me - it's nothing new. I'd say I'm more like a near-complete encyclopedia of technical knowledge.
In fact, that's basically what I am.
My whole life, I've been different.
I found out at fifteen that I'm on the autism spectrum. I lacked the capacity to naturally learn social skills. Through therapy I was able to learn these skills and become socially active, but it took a long time, and a lot of work.
But I never viewed my condition negatively. What I lacked in social skills, I made up for in my ability to readily absorb any and all knowledge that I was interested in, and never forget it - a selective photographic memory, if you would. And not just memorize it - but understand it, inside and out.
But what good has that really done me?
I never had any real friends. My high school friends never got in touch with me after we graduated, and same for college.
But looking back at how I spent my time, hungrily searching for knowledge, solving problems both real and theoretical…
I wouldn't change a thing.
And while I never was able to make the contributions to tech that I wanted to, I was still able to completely immerse myself in it. It was my life. And I loved it.
And so, as everything falls away, I can honestly say, even though I'm disappointed...I'm happy.
I've lived my life doing what I wanted to do.
I suppose I should drift away thinking of who I am. Maybe that way, my last thoughts will drift into the world, and I won't be forgotten.
My name is Simon, and I'm a Software Engineer from New York City, and the best borough at that - Brooklyn.
I only wish…
I could have done…
"Hey - hey, is this thing on?"
Wh...what? That voice...it sounds like a young woman.
"Hey, kid, can you hear me?"
I try to open my eyes, but there's nothing there. In fact, I can't feel...anything.
There's a sudden flash of light. I'm stunned that I can see anything at all - and perplexed by what I do see. It's a young woman in office attire. Her hair is in a neat bun, and she has a pair of smart-looking glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. She has a small headset on, and is staring at me with clear disinterest.
Despite her neat appearance, her surroundings are not particularly neat. It looks like...a messy cubicle. She's seated at her desk, and despite her apparent lack of interest and organization, she has excellent posture.
"What's...what's going on?"
I'm thrown off when I hear my own voice. I didn't feel myself speaking - it's almost as if my thoughts were projected, like through a speaker.
The woman responds, and the emptiness in her voice matches the vacant, far-off look in her eyes.
"I will explain all of that soon. Allow me to introduce myself first. My name is Jane, and I will be helping you today. Please note that this call may be monitored for training purposes.
"Now, this may come as a shock, so do your best to remain calm.
"You, Simon, have died."
"I know that I died - but what's happening now?" I feel a sudden jolt of intrigue. "Is this the afterlife? Am I finally going to find out what comes next?"
"Well, yes, and no. First off, your consciousness is currently connected to my terminal, so this is not exactly the afterlife per se. Now, where did I put that thing…?"
She fumbles around a bit, eventually pulling a sheet of paper from a pile next to her. She begins to read it aloud, with very clearly forced enthusiasm.
"Congratulations, esteemed soul - you have been selected for our trial Reincarnation Program! In accordance with your wishes to...ah…'make important contributions to technology', you will be reincarnated into the body of a man that has recently passed, in a world with primitive technology, and the presence of magic.
"Due to the nature of souls, you will need to make sure that you can properly take full control of said body. During this process, you will be granted the memories of this body.
"Furthermore, you will be granted one boon, which you can select at the end of this promotional message. Terms and conditions will apply, and your agent - namely, me - reserves the right to reject your boon for any and all reasons. Please reach out to your local Universal Representative if you feel you have been unfairly treated in the process of boon selection.
"Lastly, I am required to inform you that we, the Watchers, have been observing your life until this moment, and will continue to do so in your reincarnation. If you find issue with this observation, you can opt out of the reincarnation program and elect instead to be handed off to any one of our afterlife departments, per your personal and institutional belief system."
She shoves the paper back into a pile. "Got all that?"
It takes a second to digest all of that. So, the afterlife is managed by office workers, and they have a new program for reincarnation, and they've been watching me?
In spite of everything, I find myself being strangely…not overwhelmed. More than anything, I'm curious.
I nod absent-mindedly, not sure of what else to do or say. Either she can see me nod, despite me being unable to see myself, or she just doesn't care, as she continues on.
"Good - now, let's pick your boon. This is the first time we've done this, so it's a bit free-form. What would you like to have granted to you?"
"Uhh…since I'm going to be trying to impact technology…maybe…" I scratch my chin - well, I try to. I don't really have a body anymore, so my efforts are in vain. "I would say…perfect recall of any and all technology?"
"No," is her flat refusal. "That would defeat the purpose - you need to figure it out with your current knowledge, and with the technology available in that world."
Dang, could've used this as an opportunity to finally understand how quantum computers work!
"You'll be inheriting whatever inherent ability the body you'll be possessing had, alongside some minor personality traits."
"Uh…can I, like, level up and stuff?"
"Like I said, you'll be inheriting the abilities of the body."
"Can I bring my smartphone with me?"
"What? No. That would defeat the purpose, entirely."
After a moment of thought, I realize that there's one thing I've always lacked, and that I now have the perfect chance to gain.
"Can I…see what people think of me? I've always had a really hard time figuring out whether or not someone likes me, or is just putting up with me."
Jane stares at me for a moment. "Fine."
My shoulders sag a bit. Sure, it's cool and all, but it's kind of disappointing - I was hoping for awesome powers or something.
A few minutes go by, during which Jane types away at her keyboard. Once she's done with…whatever it is she's working on, she returns her attention to me.
"Yeah, a few, actually."
She releases a drawn-out sigh, resting her chin in her hand with her elbow on the desk. "Alright, fine - but only one question. I've got a busy day."
She waves her hand dismissively, gesturing for me to go ahead and ask whatever question it is that I have.
It takes a bit, but I finally settle on a question.
"Why were you watching me, in particular?"
"We watch everyone," she corrects me. "Tasked as we are to manage the afterlife, we continuously monitor all living beings."
"So…why me? Why am I being reincarnated?"
Jane rolls her eyes. "Didn't I say one question?"
"Please? I think I have a right to know why I was chosen for this."
She sighs heavily - I think she was hoping I wouldn't ask that. "It was a vote. And in the end, it was decided that your reincarnation, and in this world in particular, would provide the most entertainment."
Jane leans in a bit, and lowers her voice to a whisper. "Look, eternity can get boring, okay? Your lives are basically infinite soap operas."
I nod as I digest this all. I feel like I should be upset that they watched me for entertainment, but…is this really all that much different from reading a book, or watching a show? Within the world of that book or show, the characters would have their own lives, if they existed - to these entities that live outside of our universe, who's to say we're any different?
I nod again, this time with more confidence. "Okay. Thanks for clearing that up."
"Wait…you're not…upset, that we've been watching you, your entire life?"
"Not at all. It means that there are people that found me interesting enough to actually watch. I'm actually...flattered. I mean, embarrassed, of course, but flattered."
"You're the first mortal I've come across that hasn't reacted negatively." She places a hand on her chin in contemplation.
Ultimately, she shrugs. "It's not like that will change anything, though. Quite frankly, this entire project is a waste of resources, and…" She sighs to herself, shaking her head in dismissal.
"Who am I kidding? Just go. Maybe watching you will actually be interesting this time around."
She presses a button on her keyboard, and I begin to feel myself being tugged away. I can barely resist, my curiosity burning brightly - what will this next life be like?