‘Put your finger in. Go on.’
Children, at the edge of an abyss. Tylon, 12, and Sandy, 14, their digitised consciousnesses crackling with anticipation. Before them a crack, an opening to the pieces of a life, floating in the void.
‘Who was it?’ Sandy wanted to know.
Sandy stared into the fractured depth, black and gleaming and shimmery like a swimming pool full of coal. She had never touched anything here before, not since her uploading had completed. She thought about her fingers, then her hands, tried running one over the other to see what it would feel like. There was maybe something, like air passing over her skin, but that was all.
She had heard of crack-ups before, uploaded consciousnesses splintering under the strain of who knows what technological or pathological forces, but she had never seen one before. It was somehow ugly and beautiful at the same time, deeper than anything she could have imagined. You were not supposed to go near them in case there was some virus at play. This one didn’t look especially dangerous to Sandy but how could you be sure? Sometimes things would emerge out of the darkness of the crack, flashes of faces, landscapes; memories, Sandy supposed. Tylon didn’t care, was only interested in the haptic thrill of reaching in before the breach could be sutured shut.
‘What if you get stuck?’ asked Sandy. ‘What if you get pulled in?’
‘I won’t,’ said Tylon, his voice devoid of confidence.
Sandy could not but help think of the accident that had brought them both here, brother and sister drowned at sea just shy of their birthdays, which were only a month apart. If Tylon was thinking of it she could not tell. She wondered what she would say to their mum and dad if Tylon were to disappear into the crack, wondered how dimly they would take having to fork out for his re-uploading if he could not be retrieved. They would be calling soon.
‘Let’s go,’ Sandy said. ‘Mum and dad will be here any minute.’
But Tylon was not listening. The crack had him transfixed, its inky depths a siren song. There was nothing Sandy could do to restrain him, no digital constraint she could place over his inquisitiveness. He reached in, exhaling strangely as he did so. She could tell he was still there, had not tumbled or been dragged in.
‘Well?’ said Sandy. ‘What’s it like?’
‘Ice,’ he said. ‘And fire. You should try it. You should –’
He had stopped talking abruptly. He was still there, just.
‘What? What should I do?’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Tylon said. ‘It’s nothing.’ He was crying. ‘Is that what it’s like?’ he said finally. ‘For mum and dad? All that… sadness?’
‘I told you not to touch it.’
‘But I did,’ he said. ‘I touched it. I feel…’
His voice was different, fainter.
‘What? You feel what?’
‘Older,’ he said. ‘I feel so much older, Sandy.’