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The Digital Man

by Asith

The Digital Man

"Author's note: I think I got a little carried away with this one, and I don't know if there's much point to it. Hopefully it makes someone shudder, I guess. It's 2000 words long, vaguely sci-fi, and contains mildly graphic violence. There might be some tense mess-ups."

Mrs Swanson walked home as inconspicuously as she could manage. Of course, the black suitcase she carried made it nearly impossible to be entirely inconspicuous. The lousy things, she thought. No-one in their right-mind had used them in a century, and yet, that corporation insisted on them - even though the thing inside the suitcase was so miniscule that it could have fit in her pocket. She had considered opening it and taking out the package, leaving the suitcase behind, but felt that doing this might draw even more attention to herself, or damage the thing inside, so she simply attempted to get home as fast as she could.

It wouldn't be too difficult, for she lived quite near the corporation. Not that it had mattered to her before - she hadn't had to set foot in there before today. She did not work there. She had been asked to, once - her programming skills were relatively well-known in the industry - but of course, she would never have worked there. Not after what her husband had done. Fortunately, she'd had friend who did - her only friend - but now, she might have no friends left. It hadn't been easy to get the package. Mrs Swanson had begged her friend to give it to her. She'd refused, of course - it was not an item that should leave the corporation under any circumstances. Weeks of bartering and arguing had followed, until it was eventually replaced by outright blackmail. Mrs Swanson had then gotten what she'd wanted.

She made it to her home. Her hand shook as she held it up to the glowing touch-security-system on her door, so much so that she had to attempt it thrice before it allowed her in. She did not hesitate to boot up her computer system the minute she walked inside. She then opened the suitcase, revealing a miniature digital chip that looked far too delicate to be fully-developed. But she knew it would work. Her friend had been a relatively higher-up at the corporation, and she had told her so, once.

She slipped the microchip into her computer's scanning dock. It was simple enough, not unlike the USBs that had once been popular. She tingled with excitement, and perhaps a little fear, at what she was about to do.

The scan was successful. The computer asked her whether she wished to run the program. She replied "yes", more loudly than she needed to.

"Corporate Think-Tank; SWANSON," blared her computer, as it rendered the chip's program.

Mrs Swanson held her breath. The computer's announcement had triggered her sense of reality. It was finally happening. She had been fixated on this for months - there was no more room to change her mind. She was doing this.

The shape was beginning to forge itself on her computer screen. It was the shape of a man, in great detail, but more importantly than that - the shape would be accompanied by the man's consciousness. The cooperation's CEO's very existence would now be drawn inside her computer. It would be a perfect copy. It would be self-aware. It would quite literally be Mr Swanson himself.

It was almost sickening, what she was about to do. But frankly, she thought Mr Swanson had been entirely sickening too. And people had called his idea sickening, once. The idea to pour his consciousness into a computer program so that the corporation would never lose its CEO. His memories - his genius, as he would call it - preserved in whole. His being, ultimately simulated. Mrs Swanson would make the most of it.

The render was nearly complete. Her system was not nearly as powerful as the mainframe of the corporation - in fact, she had worried that she would not even be able to run the chip on her hardware - but it seemed to be functioning fine, albeit at a slower pace. She would just have to keep her... methods, relatively simple.

The man in the computer was surrounded by darkness. He was the only thing in his realm of existence, for now. He opened his eyes. He seemed to have been ready with a hearty greeting, but faltered upon recognizing Mrs Swanson as the user. All of Mr Swanson's memories were still perfectly intact.

"Hello dear," said Mrs Swanson, cruelly. She began to realise that insanity had festered in her middle-aged brain, but she found that she did not care in the slightest.

"M-Margaret?" said the man. "How did you..."

"Oh, never you mind. Perhaps you should have invested in more security using all the money you stole from me."

The man's expression was strange. Perhaps, if he had been entirely human, he would not have even been able to form the expression. There was a large quantity of tiredness in it - the expression of a man who had had this conversation far too many times, and did not look forward to repeating it in his technological eternity, but knew he no longer had any choice. There was also a notable dash of fear.

"Margaret, I know you think I've wronged you - "

"You stole everything from me! It was MY idea!"

"You wouldn't have known how to develop it properly! I turned your idea into a busniness! Into a corporation!"

"And that gives you the right how?"

"Look, I offered you a job!"

"Why would I work for a thief? Don't you remember how you took everything else we had and then left me?"

"You didn't want to use your idea properly! It would have been a waste. I only wanted to build a stable for future for us."

"You mean for you."

"For us. You just refused to participate."

The man in the computer had lost his chance. Perhaps, deep down, there would have been a shred of forgiveness buried in Mrs Swanson's otherwise broken heart that could have been brought out by the right words. But the man's words had been the same wrong words they'd always been, and Mrs Swanson was reminded of why she was even doing this.

"Right," she said cruelly. She rendered her holographic keyboard.

The digital man became visibly terrified. It seemed that he knew what was about to happen - he was about to meet a cruel God.

Mrs Swanson furiously typed into her keyboard with all the skill of a programmer, and all the haste of a madwoman. The chip had rendered the man, but everything around the man? Well, that was her playground.

The first few lines of code she typed were simple enough: she flooded the entire scene. Tectonic amounts of water suddenly appeared on the screen, and the digital man found himself at the bottom of a digital ocean. He gasped and struggled, precious bubbles of air having already escaped from his mouth the second that the water had appeared. He failed and floated, rotating about, instinctively trying to look for the surface of the water, but of course, no surface had been designed.

Looking at the mortally-terrified man who already seemed to be on the verge of suffocation in the great blue expanse, Mrs Swanson lost any remaining doubt. This was exactly what she'd wanted. The ocean had been a passive threat - she would no longer hesitate to use more active ones.

It was true, of course, that the man - being digital - would not be inherently capable of drowning. Not unless Mrs Swanson added her own code to the mix. But his consciousness, being an exact replica of his human brain - instincts and all - fully believed that he could. And that was the horror that Mrs Swanson enjoyed inflicting - the terror of being in mortal danger, only to survive and go through more. It would be, in her eyes, valid retribution. Of course, it would eventually turn to actual pain as well, but there was no rush.

The man had given up. He had yielded himself to the thought of drowning in the great ocean as the deranged woman looked on. But he was not so lucky. Just as the water was about to flow into his lungs - or just as he thought this was about to happen - the keyboard flashed, and the ocean disappeared. Mrs Swanson was delighted with her timing.

Mr Swanson, now on all fours, desperately coughed and splintered as he gasped for air. He was instantly dry, of course, because the computer did not try to render any remnant of the ocean anymore. But the remnants of terror in his psyche lingered. Mr Swason was also an intelligent man, and he definitely understood what was happening, technically speaking, but logic couldn't overrule instinctual fear. He looked up at Mrs Swanson, as if to beg, but said nothing.

Mrs Swanson began typing again. This was now a fully-fledged torture session, and she had no second-thoughts. She had no plans - she would use whatever method came into her head.

She removed the digital floor. She made the man fall from an unimaginable height, at speeds that would not have even been possible. She wanted to drive terror into him. It was the purest form of torture. And just before the man hit the ground - just before his very being screamed at the coming of a painful death, and perhaps on some deep level welcomed the release - she saved him. He stood, fine - but traumatised.

The fear was now permanently visible in the man's eyes. Perhaps this was only because he was digital; perhaps it was just the extent of the terror. But it was there, and Mrs Swanson was satisfied.

With the joys of fear-infliction finished, she decided to move on to pain. And it would be well-deserved pain.

As the man whimpered, she coated the floor in fire. The flames burned orange, as far the computer could handle, which was much too far for the digital man to see. To him, it was an infinite hell. To her, it was temporary enjoyment.

This time, Mrs Swanson took care to define what the fires would do the man. She made them scorch his skin, burn into his limbs, boil his muscles into the wrong shade and make his central nervous system explode. But he would not die.

The man screamed the loudest he had screamed so far. Mrs Swanson lowered the volume, but not all the way. She wanted to hear the screams.

Mrs Swanson did not bother to turn off the fire. The flames were working perfectly; the man was being entirely engulfed and burnt alive. She let them continue to burn as she typed in her next step. In the middle of the ifire, she coded in various digital blades, and began slicing away at the man's now fire-scorched skin. At times, she simply stabbed. A normal man may not have been able to differentiate between all the intense pains at this stage, but the digital man's brain calculated them perfectly.

Mrs Swanson smiled as she watched her creations work. They were all functioning better than she could have hoped for, and she wanted this pain to be the man's penultimate memory, so she did not turn off the fire or the blades. She instead immediately delved deeper into the digital man's own code. As he screamed, and cried, and tried to peel off his own blackened skin before the blades got to it, Mrs Swanson attacked his mind. She injected pain into his psyche's code. She ripped out vital areas. She programmed in new areas to experience absolute pain when she felt the original areas were grossly lacking. The digital man's entire existence became defined by pain. And then - in no rush whatsoever - she deconstructed him. She made sure he could feel each step; each shred of his consciousness being ripped away from him viciously, until eventually, he was silent. The digital man vanished into the fires of Mrs Swanson's computer.

Mrs Swanson blinked. She had been immersed in the experience, and felt as if she'd just noticed the room she sat in. Her computer whirred from the all the hard work it had done. She breathed a sigh of relief.

She had done it; and if you'd asked her, she would have told you that it had been completely therapeutic, and she wouldn't have hesitated to recommend it to anyone. Was it murder? Perhaps, yes. But the murder of a digital man would never be final. While this chip had been protected so well that she would never be able to duplicate the man again, she had no doubt that they would have another copy of Mr Swanson backed-up somewhere. Another digital man existed. The same digital man. But this one had gotten what he'd deserved - he'd suffered; he'd died. Maybe, if she could find another one...

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22 Reviews

Points: 15
Reviews: 22

Sat Sep 07, 2019 7:32 pm
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MoonlightForest wrote a review...

Wow! This piece gave me some strong Black Mirror vibes, but I loved it. You effectively made use of the plot twist, because initially I was rooting for Mrs. Swanson. I assumed, wrongfully so, that the so-called "corporation" was automatically corrupt, but once I discovered that the digital man was a copied consciousness of her estranged husband, that completely changed the game. I like how you used some evocative language without over describing, such as the moments in which Mrs. Swanson deployed the script for fire and how the copy of her husband reacted to it. The story is sinister in the exact way I like, and really begs the question, where should we draw the lines in terms of revenge, and does technology blur those distinctions? I would love to learn more about this woman and whether there were other elements involved in her decision to torture his consciousness, i.e. infidelity, physical and/or mental abuse.

One thing that is probably worth considering if you ever decide to go back and revise, is your hook. I didn't think the first few paragraphs of this piece were largely effective; that is, the story opened just like the beginning pages of any other dystopian novel. Perhaps that is the point you were trying to drive home, but if so, I would suggest making it more parody-like in terms of mocking the genre. Other than that, I enjoyed the prose, though some of your paragraphs could have been broken up sooner and at times I wish there was more description of the ferocious, vengeful landscape that Mrs. Swanson had crafted for her former husband.

Overall, this is an excellent short story and I hope to read more from you in the near future. You definitely have a knack for science fiction storytelling which I appreciate because sci-fi is actually my favorite genre. I wish you the best of luck in your future writing endeavors and consider me a fan! :)

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442 Reviews

Points: 14670
Reviews: 442

Tue Aug 27, 2019 5:21 am
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Ventomology wrote a review...

Hi! It's been a while since I reviewed a short story, but hopefully I can offer at least a little bit of advice. Also were you inspired by Black Mirror

1. I know that a lot of short-story writing is an exercise in omission, but I sort of wish we had some information about what the world looks like. It doesn't even need to be concrete--just some indication of its tone and atmosphere. What has the Swansons' prolific idea done to society? Or is everything very normal, and the struggle is purely between Mrs. Swanson and her late husband? You can use some small, well-placed adjectives to show contrast between places and feelings and provide emotional context, even if you don't go into detail.

2. Man, you did a really impressive job with Mrs. Swanson's revenge. And I'm glad you chose to focus on the simple pain of it, instead of going into visual detail. The actions she takes are terrifying all on their own!

3. This last comment is just a bit of musing on story structure, so if it doesn't really fit in with what you have in mind for this, then I'm really sorry!

Shorts can actually be fairly long (if you've never read "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, I highly recommend it; it can be found for free online). I think it would have been actually really fun to go through Mrs. Swanson's struggle to just get the chip in the first place, especially if us readers had no idea what the chip was, or why she wanted it. A bit more struggle and world-building at the beginning would make the revenge much sweeter, after all. Plus, it would make the hint at her going after the other copies more intense, because we would understand better the trials she went through the get just the one chip.

Hope this helps! As Em16 said, this was a really fantastic and satisfying read! Revenge is a really fun topic to work with, and it's great to see someone writing it. : D

Until next time!

Asith says...

The points about world-building and backstory are actually really insightful, I'm going to try work those into the story now :)

Also were you inspired by Black Mirror

Nah, as much as people tell me to, I've never actually watched it. Please don't tell me there's a bit about digital torture

Ventomology says...

There is actually like a whole season about digital torture I'm so sorry.

Asith says...


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9 Reviews

Points: 228
Reviews: 9

Mon Aug 26, 2019 11:29 pm
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Em16 wrote a review...

Wow. This was really creepy, in a good way. You explained the madness of the lady with painstaking detail, and I could feel the tension throughout the whole piece. You also did a really good job with suspense, leaving the reader questioning for the first half of the piece. It starts in the first paragraph, when you write “the thing inside the suitcase was so miniscule that it could have fit in her pocket”. That made me want to read more, to find out what was in that suitcase. However, I would suggest you replace briefcase with suitcase. I think it would be more fitting to the context. The suspense continues when you write “what her husband had done”. That implies a messy history that would be important to the story, and makes the reader want to know how it’s important. And I like the way you state “the cooperation’s CEO” would be drawn up in her computer, and then explain the CEO is Mr. Swanson. That was a bombshell that shocked me. The dialogue between the two characters is tense and explains a lot about their history. However, I feel it could be more concise, and it could say more about the wrongs Mr. Swanson committed. I’d like more specifics. What had Mr. Swanson taken? Why did Mr. Swanson think Mrs. Swanson was misusing her idea?
Also, I like the details you put in describing the way Mr. Swanson was tortured. It reveals a lot about Mrs. Swanson, her emotions and her mental state. However, you spend a lot of time describing Mr. Swanson being tortured, and I think you could get your point across with a shorter description. I also find it a little hard to take the scene seriously when I know that Mr. Swanson is merely a face on a computer. I know he’s real and feels the pain, but imagining it in my head, it just looks funny. I would suggest finding a way to make her torture more real. Not completely real, because one of the compelling elements of the story is that Mrs. Swanson is torturing a computer generated consciousness. But real enough to make it disturbing for the reader. I found the ending very intriguing, where Mrs. Swanson reveals that somewhere, there is a copy of Mr. Swanson that was not tortured. That says a lot about her mental state, that she enjoys torturing Mr. Swanson for the sake of torture, and not because it has any effect. It implies that he really messed with her, for her to be this upset.
On a side note I noticed a few grammatical errors through the story, such as when you wrote “the cooperation’s CEO” instead of “the corporation’s CEO”. Still, this piece is incredibly original, with a very unique concept, and I really enjoyed reading it. I have seen nothing like this before.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
— William Shakespeare