Love Among the Dead

When the City’s human population exceeds the capacity of the mist to provide for, certain citizens are extended an invitation: forego their corporeal existence and lock their minds away in storage. The City will resurrect them at some later time, when their skills and personalities are more suited to the times. In return, they’ll be given a suitable economic and political consideration.

Love Among the Dead

This suits the poor of the City, as martyrdom for a reward beyond death has been the cornerstone of human religion since the dawn of time, and religion has been the respite from poverty for just as long. The City promises that they will be the settlers of a bold new social frontier when they are restored. It must be said that pioneers and suicides share this much: they embark on their journey believing that the unknown before them will be superior to their current situation.

Juan has yet to be offered the shining future of death for the City’s good. He is the caretaker of the pods in which the digital remains of the hallowed dead await their advent. In this capacity he encountered an angel. Not one of the Host, who wheel and glide in the skies above the City. No, a beautiful, unspoiled woman held in suspension. The image of her in life is etched onto her pod, as with all those stored in these depths. Juan’s eyes have strayed from their duties many times as he passed this way, and in time he came under the thrall of the spell she wove.

Thereafter Juan would sometimes neglect his work, and come instead to commune at his own personal shrine. He would gaze with longing at the face of the sleeping angel. Sometimes he entertained wild thoughts of surrendering himself to be with her in the cold underworld of offline storage.

His supervisor Alessandra issued a stern reprimand for the time he’d lost in mooning over a dead girl and insinuated that her fate might be his if he were to continue to stay idle. But her missive informed him of another possibility too. A citizen of sufficient station could vouch for the worthiness of another citizen. Through his own efforts, Juan could buy the release of his angel from limbo.

“If your feelings are so strong,” urged Alessandra, “then use them.” Juan had woven many a tale of love and loss in his heart. If his fellow citizens heard his anguish, would they not be moved to do him honors and elevate him sufficiently to achieve his aims?

And so Juan became a poet, and a public dreamer, and a storyteller. He held forth in public places, though at first few listened. There were other angels, he sang, not merely the Host who circled at unreachable heights, and that he had seen one. And he told beautiful lies of their future lives, when she was free to walk with him again. And he spun a web of fanciful histories in which they had walked before, wherein she had been cruelly taken from him by the inscrutable ways of the City’s gods.

At first the citizens of the City thought him another unworthy fellow from the underlevels, which he was. But the intensity of his conviction, and the depths of his passion, touched some quiescent core in the jaded hearts of the inhabitants of this paradise. “We have never needed anything, but you need so much,” their hearts would say to him as they passed, and their eyes softened at the primal human instincts of love and loss. And the people presented Juan with the honors he had sought.

He approached the guardians of the electronic limbo with his petition to free his angel. Alessandra had another warning for him at this time: “the guardians have accepted your petition, but they suspect that your intentions are dishonorable. You may not communicate with this girl or acknowledge her, or she will be returned to storage, until such time as the guardians are satisfied.”

In grief Juan acknowledged this missive. He was not present at the reincorporation ceremony. Indeed, few were - the curious and the morbid - for this frozen soul had no living kin or companions in the strange epoch of her awakening. She emerged from the body architects’ machines draped in the white robe of the newly decanted.

She was told of the City’s history since her departure, and of the services the mist - the municipal infrastructure technology - offered her as a citizen. In turn she told the City her name, Ainhoa, and this name resonated through the databases and dispassionate cybernetic minds that lurked like ghosts in the walls. And she was told the name of her rescuer, and a means to send messages to him.

Ainhoa sought out knowledge of the City that the inhuman cores and unseen presences would not care about: the arts, the daily lives of living humans, the songs that had been sung. For she was a dreamer, not given to the grim toil of a machine, and for this reason had she fallen into limbo rather than serve the City as a productive citizen. And most of all she wished to learn why a stranger would exert such effort on her behalf.

In her search she came upon the tales that Juan had essayed in her honor, and recognized him as her rescuer. And her heart was touched, as had the hearts of all citizens before her, at the simple depths of his adoration. But she was also troubled, because she knew him not.

In desperation she sent him message after message, demanding an accounting. But Juan could not reply, for the guardians had forbidden it. She sent him recordings of his songs and his poetry and the plays he had staged. “Why have you done all this for me, a stranger?” she would sometimes ask. “What right have you, to tear me from my own promised place and time, to gratify your own feelings?” she would sometimes demand. For she knew well the cost to a citizen to free another from storage, and yet her enigmatic suitor had not appeared to press a claim.

Finally she sent a most damning missive: “It would be better for me to return to storage, than to exist in this uncertain time. I have no other friends, no family, none to call my own and to love. If your love was as true as your songs promised, you would show yourself to me. Why do you torment me?”

In anguish, Juan wrote out all that he had experienced and all that he had been told. And this is the story that he wrote, and sent to Ainhoa, knowing that he had broken the guardians’ commandments, and that she would be returned to storage for his crime. But he could not be responsible for the suffering of one he had loved for so long.

How will this story end? Perhaps Alessandra will appear before the two, and tell them that Juan has proven himself. Perhaps she will argue that Ainhoa has the right to choose for herself whether to accept his love. Perhaps the guardians have been moved by Juan’s feelings and chosen human mercy rather than divine justice. Or perhaps they be condemned to dream together, side by side in electronic limbo, until such time as a citizen is moved by their sad tale to resurrect them.