“The Hole”

Trigger warning: suicide. (Some would argue that every d-mat story is triggering . . .)

People commit suicide using d-mat all the time. Or at least, they try to. In theory it should be easy: just step into a booth and send yourself nowhere. But what does “nowhere” mean? Data doesn’t vanish just because it doesn’t come out the other end. If your pattern remains in the system, stuck in a loop perhaps, or stored in a server somewhere, peacekeepers are authorized to dig it out and bring you back. It’s the only circumstance under which people are allowed to be resurrected from a pattern, which is weird when you think about it. Euthanasia is legal provided you follow the proper procedures. Guess they don’t want people to look at d-mat booths and think killing machine.

mars hole 2So there was this guy. He tried committing suicide the d-mat way. Left a note explaining that he had no friends and felt alone and his family were horrible and so was his ex-girlfriend, especially his ex-girlfriend, and there was no point living any more. He felt as though he had already vanished into a black hole. Rigging the booth to finish him off was just a formality, he said.

The PKs sent in their suicide squad, the team responsible for bringing people like him back. They don’t take kindly to people dicking with the system. They traced his transmission, noted the hack he had used, and began to dig.

It soon became apparent that this particular case was going to be hard to undo. Knowing that erasure probably wasn’t going to be enough, our depressed but clever friend took his pattern and broke into pieces. Those pieces he scattered all over the world. But he didn’t just scatter them, because pieces can be reassembled. That’s what d-mat does all the time. No, he buried those pieces so they couldn’t easily be recovered. He buried them in other people.

To put it another way: if you were unlucky enough to travel that day, you might have ended up with a piece of him inside your pattern.

Eww, right?

(Not that it would have done any damage or anything. There’s always a certain amount of static, in data as well as real life. It’s smoothed over. Life goes on. But still . . .)

The PKs did what anyone would do: they hushed it up. What was the point of causing a panic over something that couldn’t possibly mean anything? There was no possibility of it ever causing a problem–unless people found out about it. Drawing attention to the yuck factor would be a PR disaster of the first order.

So they sealed the case, citing security concerns–they didn’t want anyone to copy this method of doing away with themselves, which I suppose is a genuine concern–and installed a counter-hack to stop it happening again. And there, they thought, it ended.

Until the suicide plague began.

Within days, the number of deliberate deaths and self-harm had tripled. Some legal, some unnatural, some peaceful, some violent. There was no obvious reason for the rise, no major disasters or celebrity deaths or anything like that. It was as though someone had turned the suicide dial to eleven.

The squad noticed and immediately put two and two together. The plague correlated exactly with the spread of the dead guy’s scattered pattern. It was as though something about him, something subtle and infectious, brought people to the brink of suicide and then tipped them over.

The squad caught a couple of victims before they committed the deed, and they all said the same thing. I’m alone. I’m invisible. This is just a formality. The squad began to reel everyone in, just to be sure.

Then, looking deeper, they added another two and got six. The spread of deaths seemed random, but who should be among them but the ex-girlfriend? And the dead guy’s friends and family? It was as though he was reaching from beyond the grave and enacting some terrible, supernatural revenge. . . .

It probably wasn’t supernatural, but still. The targeted disposal of his “remains” suggest that our friend had had motives other than simply shuffling off this mortal coil, and that he was even more clever than he had appeared. Vicious with it, too. Murder-suicide is perhaps the most cowardly of crimes, unless you believe in an afterlife.

The PKs, they aren’t superstitious. They took matters into their own hands. The first thing they did was painstakingly comb through all the patterns of the people “infected” and take out the offending material, returning everyone back the way they had originally been and restoring those they could legally restore. Then they took all that extra material and reassembled it. Quietly. Without telling anyone. To avoid the PR scandal that would have been even worse if anyone ever knew.

But people always know. And this is where the other hole in this story appears. It was a hole an acquaintance of mine dug in the Australian outback for clients who weren’t named but sound a lot like the suicide squad. It was a very deep hole, with just one thing at the bottom. A room with no windows or doors, just a fabber to make food and water and to take away someone’s waste. Most importantly: no d-mat booth.

If a black hole was what our friend wanted, that’s exactly what he got.

(Note #1: This is just a quick word to say that this story was not inspired by nor related to the recent death of a friend of mine, lest anyone who knows me or him thinks so. It’s just one of those things you consider when you write about d-mat. Barry Malzberg calls it the “Final Trip” in Guernica Night. Fred Pohl, Jack Williamson and Eric Frank Russell also mucked around with it. Suicide by d-mat is very much a part of Algis Budrys’ Rogue Moon. You get the picture. I don’t mean to point the finger at someone real, nor to punish anyone considering ending their lives. I’m just exploring what might be.)

(Note #2: the idea of someone committing dying and “dissolving” into fellow travelers was used very differently in “Five into Four” by J. T. McIntosh in 1954.)

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