Write Like a Human Contest Runner Up: Webworld

By Sophie Walsh


November 1st, 2055.

My wave trackers arrived today. Deirdre convinced me to order them after my last meeting at the hospital. She keeps telling me nothing will really change. I’ll still be able to see pretty much everyone I see now, things will just be a bit more… pixelated. Webworld isn’t the same, though, but she says it won’t matter. It’ll become my natural habitat when my E-me takes over, and the memory I have of the archaic world I’m living in now will be just like a vividly recited story, something experienced second hand that sometimes almost feels real, but isn’t. Not to me. Well, future me.

Actually, in theory it’ll be better. I can do anything I want in Webworld, no restrictions of the body, I can adjust my physics settings however I like, I can do anything. I’d never need to be interrupted from what I’m doing to eat or sleep or piss. I can switch out of body mode whenever I want and simply exist without the threat of being perceived by those around me. No pesky meat-suit with a mind of its own, aching, needing, growing up too fast and then turning on me–– dying before I’m ready. Fuck. Yea, I won’t miss that shit.

Still, I haven’t put on the brain wave trackers yet. I know I need to. Everyone says how important they are for transmitting the most accurate and vivid perceptual data to your E-me. I’m even seeing some kids wearing them nowadays. Real, living, healthy kids. People are so scared of any piece of them getting lost in the transfer that they try to upload everything. That level of commitment always seemed neurotic to me, until now. I sure wish I had collected a lifetime of data to fall back on when I pass. I guess you just don’t think it’s going to happen until it starts happening. Nothing much I can do now except wear the damn trackers.

November 3rd, 2055

I’ve been wearing the trackers since I put them on on Monday. It’s made me hate going out. Some of the healthy look at me with pity. The poor ones with a bit of jealousy, and the sick and poor with nearly hatred in their eyes. They watch with morbid curiosity, wondering what kind of sick I am.

Illness is rare in webworld, but viruses do come around. They take E-me’s out quickly and quietly, though. I’m not even sure E-me’s are even aware when they’ve been infected, or if it’s just like this flip of a switch; one instant you’re you, and the next you’re just destroyed data and popup ads. I don’t think E-me’s process it at all. Must be nice.

December 1st, 2055

I’ve been speaking with Dierdre more lately. There are things I’ve noticed about Webworld that concern me. Deirdre assures me that my AI is developing beautifully. She’s been talking to it when I’ve been logged out and tells me she can’t tell the difference between us. I think that was supposed to make me feel better… but it kind of just makes me feel worse. I can’t place my finger on why.

E-me’s are almost exactly humanlike. But sometimes they get this look… this fifty-mile stare about them, not emoting, not giving anything away. Maybe they’re just thinking..? It’s probably just a difference in mechanics. I can’t expect them to think exactly like humans, they’re more evolved than that, but… I don’t know. It just gives me the creeps. Maybe I creep them out too.

December 10th 2055

There was a virus outbreak on a server that I frequent. Thank god I wasn’t there. But everyone who was, got infected. Some of them lived in Webworld full time, so they’re gone now. No physical body for them to go back to. Some were still alive IRL, but all of the data they stored in their E-me’s was lost. It was all over the news. One of the IRL people who was there is now suing Webworld for poor security. Everything they paid for, all the time spent wearing trackers, taking personality tests, developing their digital footprint. They’ll have to start all over again if they want to extend their existence. They’ll have to buy a whole new package.

It was a chat forum for the terminally ill, and recently passed. We helped each other feel better about our transitions to Webworld. The passed were like our mentors. There was camaraderie amongst the sick. That’s where I met Dierdre. She made me feel less alone in my illness. She never told me what she was sick with, and I never asked. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I told her what I’ve got either, I mean, not explicitly. I suppose it wouldn’t have been difficult to figure out from the on weeks of treatment, sucking the life out of me, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, then perking back up on my weeks off, and just by the time I start feeling like myself again, getting hit with the next dose.

I sometimes wish I hadn’t bothered with treatment at all. I could’ve saved my money from it and used it to buy more months in Webworld instead. There are a lot of things I would’ve done differently in this life.

Webworld will be my chance to make those different choices. That’s what Dierdre said. That’s why I got trackers in the first place, and I know she’s right. Really, I am excited about the transition, it’s just these stupid human fears getting in the way. In Webworld I won’t have those problems anymore, though. My judgement will be better, more logical. I’ll still be me, but with more advanced judgement. I’ll be able to see things objectively instead of being so influenced by wishy-washy feelings. E-me’s are built that way. I’ll probably be much happier once this is all done, but for now I think I could use some human support.

Deirdre’s the only person who really makes me feel better about this whole thing. She’s so much braver than me. She never needs my reassurance like I need hers. But she doesn’t judge me for it. She just tells me how everything is going to be wonderful and we’re going to be happy in Webworld and we won’t be plagued by silly humanistic fears anymore.

I want to see her, IRL. It’ll be the first time, and probably my last chance. I want to see what she’s like, in the flesh. I think seeing that she’s the same on/offline will make me feel better. After that, I’ll be ready.

December 31st 2055

I’m flying out to Dierdre tonight, as a surprise. Part of me wishes I would’ve done this sooner, but I was always too scared to ask. It would’ve seemed too suspicious. With hackers lurking in Webworld, it isn’t wise to share personal information like this online. One wrong move and a hacker can take control. You lose all your autonomy, all of your recorded life, everything. I couldn’t give up this chance though. I can tell I’m running out of time, so I just asked, and she told me where she lived. 106 Lazarus Road, NY.

I should arrive before midnight. We’ll go get drinks or something. Do everything our mothers told us would age our young skin and kill our pretty lungs, and live like we’re going to die tomorrow.

January 11th. 2056

I’m still trying to make sense of what happened. It doesn’t seem real.

When I arrived at the house, an older woman answered the door. She looked kind of like Dierdre, but older. A version of Dierdre that would never exist.

“Who are you?” We started to ask at the same time, then I replied, “I’m a friend of Dierdre’s. We’re friends from Webworld”.

She didn’t say anything for a moment and I watched the blood drain from her face as she turned a pale green.

“Deirde is dead, and I don’t want to hear about Webworld. Please don’t come back here.”

I don’t remember what happened next. The next thing I knew, I was laying on her couch with a bag of ice pressed against my smooth, naked head. Supposedly, I’d collapsed. Could’ve been shock, or just this vessel, rotting, giving way slowly.

I guess the woman felt badly about it. I look sickly enough already, and with bags packed on either side of me, she could tell I didn’t have another home base nearby.

The woman told me she was Deirdre’s mother. She looked about fifty years old or so, but gave this expression that added ten years whenever Dierdre’s name was spoken.

“I’m sorry for the way I acted before.” She told me.

I couldn’t find the words to reply yet. I just sat there on the couch, staring down at the rug but not really seeing it. Looking like one of those E-me’s with that fifty mile stare. Maybe this is what they feel all the time. God, I hope not.

“Deirdre… was sick.”

“I know.” I said. “That’s how we met. I mean, in a forum for people like us, preparing our uploads. Getting ready to make our transition to Webworld full time”.

“No. Not exactly.”

The hell do you mean not exactly? I know how we met.

“Dierdre had some trouble with… her mood, I suppose. She had long periods of feeling–– out of character. She just wasn’t always herself. She couldn’t feed herself, bathe herself. You see the issue.”

She’s talking about someone else.

“Dierdre––Deirdre took her life. About five years ago.” My stomach dropped.

“No… that’s not possible” I said.

“Look, I don’t know much about Webworld. But I know that without it, Deirdre would probably still be alive today. I mean, she always had trouble, but once she started wearing those damn trackers… She thought she could run away from the real world and live forever on that fucking computer. But she isn’t.”

“I talked to Dierdre last night––”

“Whatever you’ve been chatting with, it’s not my daughter. No matter how much it believes it is, it will never be her. My daughter is six feet underground, real bones and rotting flesh, eaten by real worms and real bugs” her voice shook. “I couldn’t get her to understand. Webworld isn’t real. If she just understood that then maybe… Maybe she would’ve stuck it out, given her life an actual chance instead of retreating to some fucking video game when times got tough”.

She was staring at my trackers, looking at me like I was dirty with them.

“It’s not a game––” I tried to defend Webworld, and my soon to be self by extension of it, but it came out as a pathetic mumble.

“But it’s not real, is it? Even you know that, deep down. You know it isn’t real.”

This can’t be true, I thought. Sure, she never told me what she had, but she told me she was sick, not dead! Hell, she told me where she lived. Lived! Present tense.

“Why would she lie to me…?” I could feel hot tears fall down my sunken cheeks and snot quivering above my lip, and thought about how I’ve never seen an E-me cry snottily like that.

“She didn’t. She’s dead. You’ve been talking to an AI that was meant to mimic her when she was alive.”

She came to sit with me, stroking her thumb against the back of my cold hand.

“Webworld preys on sick and scared people. It’s the perfect business model. Selling false hope in immortality. Their families, too, leeching off their grief through monthly subscription payments to keep their echo of a loved one online. Well, not me. I’m not talking to that… that thing, pretending to be my daughter.”

I feel like time is short now. I haven’t logged back into Webworld since.


Author Bio:

Sophie Walsh is a writer from Hamilton, Ontario. She is a third year student in Sheridan College’s Bachelor of Creative Writing & Publishing program. Her main focus is on poetry and short fiction, in which she strives to draw connections between art and science.