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In 2052 the web controls the living and the dead, and Anika Kaur plans to change that.  Right now.

By Joe Reister © 2017


“Soon nobody’ll remember the world before the web,” a woman said, staring at the rain forest on the other side of the room.  “Not even the dead.”

“How dramatic,” a man said, giving her a look, and waved away the jungle to a red wood forest, then the Alps and finally a Caribbean sunrise.  “And such a surprise coming from you, Anika.”

“I’m sure,” she said and smiled at the suddenly warm breeze.

The man smiled with her.  “We’re ready when you are.”

“I’ve been ready ten years, Sai,” Anika said and kissed him.  “You hadn’t picked up on that?”

“I had,” Sai said and grabbed her hand, squeezing it.  “But Steve almost went off last time, and…”

“It’s what we expected,” Anika said, squeezing back.  “And we’re ready for him, right?”

“Right,” Sai said, nodding.  “But I’ve got the easier job.”

“Like always,” Anika said and winked.  “Not that it’ll matter in a few hours.”

“Four hours, Anika,” Sai said, watching her take a crown from the computer console, and looked right at her.  “We need four hours.”

“Then keep up your end, Sai,” Anika said, slipping on the crown and feeling the console hum.  “It’ll be fun.”

He blushed. 

“Confirming identity of Anika Kaur,” the console said as Anika repeated the words verbatim.  “Spiritual host, first class.  Female, 170.2 centimeters, 60.3 kilograms, born in New York City, February 9, 2025.”  She took off her robe and a wave of light trailed over her naked body.   “Recovered from recent cosmetic enhancements and in excellent health.  Only child of Anne Stryphas and Andrew Kaur.  High school dropout with no permanent residence from 15 to 18 when she joined the United Sta…”

“We all know who I am,” Anika said, eyeing the console.  “So…”

“…where she served as a coder for five years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant.  Honorably discharged to become a maintenance worker where she met Sai Patel, male, born March 8, 2023.  They married on May 4, 2049, in Newark, New Jersey, where they still reside with no children.”

Yet,” Anika thought, feeling a tiny spark from the crown, and said, “Now the fun begins.”

Sai’s eyes narrowed on her.

She closed hers just before the spark upped to a jolt and began spreading to the rest of her body.  “Like being high if it goes well,” she thought, trembling.  “Or a bad trip if it goes wrong.”

“Finally?” she said in almost another voice, not speaking herself, and opened her eyes.  “It’s about time.”

“From wide awake to dreaming and back again in less than half a minute,” she thought, her head buzzing, and turned to Sai.

He nodded.

“Tingly all over,” she said, sounding like herself, and let out her breath as her right hand rose in front of her.  She stared at it, smiling.  “Just like last time.”

She turned to the mirror and noticed more trembling.  “Steve’s almost here.”

“But you’re still in charge,” Sai said, watching the computer console.  “You know that.”

“And he doesn’t,” Anika said, nodding back to her wide open eyes, and thought, “But it’s strange that he wanted to host with a woman again.”

She turned to the beach on the far wall and felt the breeze as if for the first time when the tingle hit the last bit of her body. 

“I expect only the best,” she heard herself say in a brusque tone.

“How are you Steve?” Anika said, and felt herself step toward the wall, waving the beach to the Atacama Desert and then the Alps.  “Happier?”

Steve turned her to the full length mirror on the opposite wall.  “Yes,” he said, leering, and smiled.  “Or at least, getting there.”

“Wonderful,” Anika said, letting him lift her arms over her head and pirouette.  “The transition wasn’t a problem this time?”

“We updated it from the inside,” Steve said and started rubbing her hands slowly over her smooth body.  “I figured the transition should be more comfortable.”

“No doubt you’re worth it,” Anika said, watching him ogle her in the mirror.

“I see you got the upgrades,” Steve said, staring, and her hands stopped on her breasts.  “Good.”

And it only hurt a little,” she thought, nodding, but said, “I’m surprised you wanted them after all you can see on the inside.”

“It’s not the same,” Steve said, turning her to the Alps, and she shivered.  “And I am definitely worth it.”

“I agree,” Anika said, looking into her own eyes, and thought, “For a few more hours anyway.”

“We all are,” Steve said, taking in the room and her many belongings.  “Life here and there is more wonderful than even I could have imagined.”

“You’re very generous,” Anika said, bowing.  “And we do have a good life.”

“No children help,” Steve said, starting down her body again.

“Yes,” Anika said, swallowing, and thought, “Although not by choice.”

“Yes,” Steve said, grinning, and she caught her breath.  “And you’re privileged that you can earn so much more, Anika.”

She nodded.  “Thank you, Steve.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, looking her in the eye, and smiled again.  “Who’d have thought a juvenile delinquent could get so far, eh?”

“Yes,” Anika said, guiding his hands a bit, and swallowed again.  “Life is full of opportunities.”

“And now so is death,” Steven said, waving over Sai.

He removed his robe and put his arms around them.

That’s better,” Anika thought, kissing Sai, and took a deep breath.  “The first of four times.”

Steve pulled Sai closer with Anika letting him, and closed her eyes.

She opened them later to see Sai taking away a turkey carcass and handing her a bottle of water.  “Ugh,” she thought, wiping her face, and started gulping the water.

“Go ahead,” Steve said, laughing.  “Keep your system flush.”

“I can’t eat like that and do the other things, Steve,” Anika said and drank more.  “No one’s body is built for that.”

“I know,” Steve said, laughing again, and beckoned over Sai.  “And five times is enough even for me.”

“As you wish,” Sai said and held up a platter of deserts.

Remember,” Anika thought as Steve dug into the creme brulee and she closed her eyes.  “Very soon this will all be worth it.” 

She blinked again, hearing an opera, and saw Elmer Fudd call down lightening on Bugs Bunny.  She stared at the screen, feeling beyond bloated as Sai wiped her face and hands. 

“You all right?” he said.

She nodded.

“Hey, we’re watching the best cartoon ever,” Steve said, pushing away Sai as Elmer cried out and lifted up Bugs’ limp body.  “And it’s just like when I was a kid on Saturday morning.  It’s great.”  He turned to Sai with a big smile.  “Do you have Star Wars before Lucas ruined it?”

“Yes, sir,” Sai said, waving to the screen.  “Just like you wanted.”

Steve giggled, staring at the 20th Century logo, and grabbed the Scotch and ice in Sai’s hand.  He sipped it, smiling as Anika got down the liquor, and took in the room again with a nod.  “This makes working 120 hours a week and even cancer worth it.”  He sipped again on the Scotch and looked at her in the mirror again.  “I don’t think you can even understand hard work when all you do is just lay back and live out our fantasies, Anika.”

Because you’ve never sold yourself, Steve,” she thought, but found a smile, and said, “I’m glad I can help you and the others remember what it’s like to be human.  It’s all I could ask for.”

“And I suppose I should thank you?” Steve said, and Anika coughed up the Scotch. 

Sai stepped forward with a napkin.

“No,” Steve said and pushed it aside, turning to the mirror, and stared into Anika’s eyes.  “I solved all of the world’s problems, you know?  War, disease and even death.  You remember that, right?”

Anika felt her face tighten. 

“But even with all of that and so much more, it’s not enough, is it?” Steve said, and started down her body again.

“No,” she said, holding up her hand.  “No, we’re done now, Steve.” 

“Funny” he said, unable to move her hands, and looked back in the mirror.  “And as perfect as you are, and with all I can promise, this still isn’t enough for you or me, is it?”

Anika squinted at him in the mirror.

Steve laughed yet again, squinting back.  “You know, you’ll never be more than a promising disappointment, Anika.  Never able to get past your broken home and failed dreams, even after serving your country and helping the dead.”  He shook his head.  “You’ll never be worth the afterlife.”

I’m so surprised,” Anika thought and shared a glance with Sai.

“And soon that’s all the world will be, Anika.  You know that, right?” Steve said, and she felt the jolt begin to ease.  “The dead are changing everything from the inside, and I’m almost sorry to say that soon we won’t need you or even humanity anymore.”  She let him shake her head.  “Not ever again.”

“We’ve outlived our purpose, huh?” Anika said, walking away from the mirror, and picked up her robe. 

“You and humanity have been replaced, Anika.  This is our last session,” Steve said as she put on the robe.  “Just like I predicted 50 years ago.”

“Or so you think,” Anika said and turned back to the mirror.  “The web is everywhere…”

“And everything…”

“Not quite,” Anika said, smiling right at him, and took off the crown.  “Although you’re probably even smarter than when you were alive, you still missed that the rest of us might just move heaven and earth to save ourselves, Steve.”

“Except that you all live in paradise, Anika, want for nothing, and can’t even save yourselves when death is staring you right in the face,” he said, and she let him smile.

“That was almost true until you took away children, Steve,” Anika said, feeling the last of the jolt, and nodded.  “That was too much for everyone.”

She let him blink.

“Then we started fighting back: infiltrating, counterprogramming, and letting you think you were in control while we started chipping away and took over from the outside.”

“What?” Steve said, and Anika let her eyes go wide.  “That’s impossible.  You’d have to…”

“Be planning this for a decade, Steve?” Anika said and dropped the crown.  “Yes, Bezos started…”

“No,” Steve said, and she let him look down at the broken crown on the floor.  “No, I created this world when humanity was destroying the planet, destroying itself.  Dying, and I…”

“Will finally die too.  Like you should have decades ago.  Because humans are and have always been the world’s best killers, Steve,” Anika said and stepped on the broken crown, crushing it beneath her heel.  “That’s our true gift, and you helped when you let the web nurture us even as you planned our deaths.”  She looked at the mirror one last time and laughed.  “That was incredibly thoughtful and stupid of you, Steve, and I can’t thank you enough.”

She heard nothing but silence.

“He’s gone,” Sai said, standing next to her, and stared at the now bare wall. 

“And we still have the web,” Anika said as the beach blinked back onto the wall.  “With so many possibilities, Sai.”


She put her arms around him and they kissed again, this time slowly.

“We’ll make a better future,” Anika said, looking into his eyes.  “A fairer, future.”

Sai turned to the broken crown. 

“Right?” Anika said.






All material copyrighted by Joe. Please contact him at joe@joestories.com if you have any comments, queries or questions.
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