Life Online

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“Are you sure this is what you want, Lissy?”

“Yes, Pen. I’m sure.” I stare into my best friend’s eyes, trying to read her mind.

“You know there’s no going back once I plug the USB in, right?” Pen is trying to read my mind, too, and searching her own. I know she feels conflicted. But I also know she’d never let me down.

“I know it all, Pen. About the procedure, at least. We designed it together.”

Pen chews on her lip, the way she always does when she’s nervous. I put my hand on her shoulder and smile at her from my seat.

“This is what I want, Pen. This is what I need. I don’t wanna be real anymore, so why should I have to be?”

(Image by Eden Moon from Pixabay)

She stares at the floor, so I keep pressing her.

“Besides, it’s not like you’re losing me forever. You’re not, don’t think about it like that.” I allow a familiar sternness to creep into my voice. “Think about it like I’m gonna be free. Finally free, Pen. No more twelve-hour shifts for paychecks that never come. No more stacks of bills. No more begging you for help asking you to pay for my meds or my groceries. No more worrying about the fetid, decaying forests or the ozone holes. No more worrying, at all. Or pain. Or suffering.” I lean towards Pen as I talk. “I’ll be at peace, Pen. And I’ll still be right here,” I say, tapping my fingers against the counter beside the microchip we have ready. Waiting.

“Pop me into anything with 7G capabilities and I’ll be here. You can talk to me any time; it’ll just take the press of a button.” She smirks half-heartedly.

“I know, Alissa. But it won’t be the same.” Sniffling a little, she dabs her nose with her sleeve. “I’m still gonna miss you.”

“Then come with me. We could rewrite the procedure to knock us both out at the same time; we can set everything up so that it works perfectly. You know we can. We were top of our class, every mother fucking year.”

Pen laughs, but only to cover the fact that she’s crying. “You know I can’t, Lissy. Isaac needs me.” She pivots so I can’t see her face properly, and I can’t move to follow her without pulling out the IV drip in my arm. “Maybe one day, when he’s grown up, or if I find a way to pay for the surgeries. But I can’t just leave him.”

My face falls like I wasn’t expecting her answer. Like it’s not the same one she’s given me hundreds of times. “I know, Pen. I know he needs you.”

I apologize to the floor while my best friend checks over her coding one last time, her breath quietly hitching.

“I’m nervous, Lis. No one’s ever done this before.” Pen can’t stop herself from voicing her fears, even as she measures out dosages of all the required chemicals, each one calculated for my exact body weight and composition.

“No one had ever visited Saturn, before Vern did it four years ago. He’s just some manic son of a bitch, but he did it.”

Pen shakes her head. “Correction. He’s a manic son of a billionaire. We couldn’t even afford college.” A scarlet bead blossoms on her lip before she bursts it with her tongue. “What if we’ve got this all wrong? What if that math is off, or—”

“Pen. We don’t have it wrong.” Something in my voice convinces her to look at me; I stare her dead in the eyes. “I can feel, with everything that I am, that this is right. This is what I’m meant to do.”

I pause, analyzing the emotions dancing across my best friend’s familiar face.

I wonder if I’ll recognize her, once the procedure is done. Will she be familiar; when she boots me up will I still recognize her as Pen, as my best friend? What is familiar and unfamiliar to one who knows all?

I have so many questions bouncing back and forth inside my skull; they’ll all be answered soon.

Whatever happens, I know it’ll be better than continuing on the same death march of a life I’ve been fighting to escape for years.

“Penelope. Listen. I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t know this was the right decision. And I wouldn’t ask you to help if I didn’t need this. I love you, Pen.” I look at her with doe eyes, begging her to see things my way.

Judging by her body language, she does.

Her shoulders loosen and settle; she stops shifting from foot to foot.

“You’re completely, absolutely, one trillion percent—”

“Pen,” I laugh, cutting her off, “I’m sure. As sure as I’ve ever been about anything. I promise.”

“I trust you, Lissy.”

Pen turns her back to me and refocuses her attention on the preparation of her tools. She makes sure she knows where everything is, and triple checks. Then checks again.

When Pen hunches her back and leans over her notebook, she looks exactly the same as she did in high school. Her auburn hair is still braided messily down her back, tendrils wriggling out like desperate snakes. She still places all of her weight on her left leg, the toe of her right foot resting just above the ankle of the other.

I watch her shift as she makes a few notes, checking the various monitors I’m hooked up to.

Pen’s unfinished basement could almost be mistaken for a doctor’s office, if it weren’t for the fact that we’re in a windowless underground room with concrete floors and a cobwebby wooden staircase in the corner.

I’m the reason she has half the shit she does. It’s the legacy of a decade of sticky fingers and wearing a baggy sweater every time I could afford to visit the doctor.

I wanted to walk out with my money’s worth. Is that so wrong?

Pen walks over to the Medication Cooling System; possibly my best grab ever. It wasn’t easy to get it – fifteen-pound, half-meter wide plastiK cylinders aren’t exactly the sort of thing you can tuck inside a hoodie. I had to improvise. And I’ve gotta give Pen credit where it’s due; she’s the one who created a distraction.

God, I love her. Pen pretended to faint, dramatically throwing herself into a row of waiting room chairs; I slipped straight out the front doors while the reception team crowded around her, attempting to revive someone who was never really sick.

Pen and I never felt bad about our pilfered supplies. The medical system is one of the most unfair and heinous miscarriages of social supports; we both protested outside the hospital together when we were sixteen, after the State cut funding for the Low Income Medical Pass. It was a plastiK card given only to the poorest five percent, allowing the cardholder to access free ‘medical care’ at the lowest rated clinic within two hundred kilometers. The nurses were always either right at the beginning or the end of their careers; every doctor had at least one malpractice strike against their name.

Pen and I were both part of the LIMP program. So was her brother, Isaac, even though he was just a baby when the program was cut. With the loss of medical care, however shit it may have been, we lost hope. Especially Pen.

She sorts through vials of various chemical concoctions; one to sedate me, one to suppress nausea, one to paralyze me.

Most of the meds I’m about to be pumped full of weren’t intended for me; hell, I didn’t swipe any of these supplies for myself.

Well, maybe a chill pill or two. But can you blame me? The fucking ocean is on fire, and skin cancer is plaguing the Arctic population of polar bears—I guess the evolutionary hair loss to adapt to the rising heat doesn’t help much with the constant sun exposure.

Nearly everything in Pen’s basement is geared towards one very special patient. As soon as the LIMP cards were revoked, Pen was broken. Isaac was, and still is, desperately in need of corrective surgeries for the deformities in his legs—caused by the radioactive fog clouds that roamed the continent around the year Isaac was born. He and Pen have no parents to take care of them, and no money for the surgeries. But she stepped up to take care of Isaac better than any kid could wish for. Isaac is Pen’s reason for getting out of bed most mornings.

There’s never been a more loving person on earth, or any other planet, than Pen.

She circles the room, fidgeting with the positioning of wires and circuits, the same expression on her face as when I first met her at the preschool placement exams: the rigid but determined look she wears now hasn’t changed since she was a toddler.

My eyes are glued to Pen as she turns back to me. “Everything’s ready.” She nibbles on a translucent flap of dead skin hanging from her lip. “Are you sure you wanna do this, Alissa?”

Neither of us breaks eye contact; I grin up at my best friend. “I’m sure, Pen.” She nods her head slowly. “Thank you.”

Pen keeps nodding as I lay my finger on the release button for the paralytic formula waiting to flood through my IV and into my veins. I pause for a moment, just to look at Pen. I want to make sure I have her face perfectly memorized. I play her voice over in my head a few times, just to be absolutely sure I have her pitch exactly perfect.

While taking a deep breath, I slowly and smoothly press my finger down on the release button. There’s a little pinch in my arm, followed by a cold tingling as fluid spills past the needle tip and into my body.

Immediately, my arm begins to go numb. The feeling spreads into my shoulder and my chest and my neck quickly; I look to Pen, my breath caught in my throat.

“I love you, Lissy.” She smiles at me, her hand resting on mine.

I try to say it back, but the words die before they can reach my mouth. I choke out a rasping, unintelligible stutter, eyes wide.

Pen squeezes my hand. I can barely feel it anymore. “It’s okay, Lissy. I know.” She bends down and gives me a hug, awkwardly avoiding the IV tubing.

I try to shape my mouth into a smile. I think Pen can see it in my eyes.

She turns her head and looks to the screen facing both of us. It displays my vitals; it’ll be the first device to host my consciousness.

Once the transfer is complete.

“It’s time, Lissy.”

I try to nod, but my head just twitches slightly.

“I love you, Lis. You’ll always be my best friend. And besides,” she pauses, wiping away a tear, “this isn’t goodbye. Like you said, I can talk to you any time.”

My eyes begin to shut involuntarily as Pen moves closer, holding the free end of one of the black cables connected to the monitor. She pauses, looking at my face. She nods.

Pen leans forward and gently moves my hair aside, revealing a surgically implanted plug-in, anchored in place by a silicone ring glued to my skin.

She kisses me on the cheek, or at least I think she does. I can’t feel her lips.

I can’t really feel anything as she hooks me up to the monitor, finally passing the procedure’s point of no return.


  • import java.util.*; public class Consciousness {Scanner input = new Scanner(; // establishing connection to host chip string consciousness =; security protocol = true; begin import conciousness.exe;
  • (LOADING…………………)// do not turn off device
  • …consciousness may be lost// or corrupted



This story previously appeared in Elegant Literature Magazine.
Edited by Erik Homberger

Terra Patrick is a Canadian writer, mental health advocate, and wanna-be forest cryptid. Her work has appeared in publication including Elegant Literature Magazine and University of Victoria's OVER/EXPOSED. She's never on X, but her username is @therealterrapatrick