Randal Isaac’s Suicide
By Josh Byer
My life had been compressed into a 5.8 Megabyte .MP5 file. It was all in there. Everything. Me.
I had been downloaded two hundred thousand and fifty-seven times. I was not famous. I was not anyone. Tom at the hot dog stand, his .MP5 file had been downloaded four hundred and twenty-two thousand, six hundred and fifty-two times. He was winning the popularity contest.
I wanted to see what it was all about. I have no idea how anyone gained access to my head and its contents. The file just washed up on the net one day.
I searched, found, downloaded, and ran the file. The Windows Personality Media Re-Enactor program said it needed several plug-ins that it didn’t have. I sat and waited patiently for them to also download.
It didn’t work.
The RANDAL_ISAAC.MP5 I had downloaded was corrupt. I spent the next hour trying to find another website that was carrying my file. I found one. I re-downloaded it. I hoped that this one was corrupt, too. I hoped that they were all corrupt.
The file ran fine this time.
There it was, me. It even looked like me. The hair was different though. My hair is longer now. Better.
“Hello?” said the synthetic Randal, from inside my 14″ TVM Super VGA monitor. I stared at that monitor. It’d been scavenged from a nearby alley. I had walked past it for a week, watching it get rained on, spit on, pissed on by angry dogs. If I had known I was going to be inside it, I would’ve taken it home sooner.
“Wait a second,” I said. Synth-Randal did not respond. He looked a little cross-eyed and was wearing a t-shirt I have long since lost.
“Hey,” I repeated, louder, “Wait a second.”
No response. I turned on my computer microphone and spoke into it.
Synth-Randal’s eyes lit up — terror. He knew it was me. I knew it was him. If it had been me in there, hearing my own voice, I’d have lost my fucking mind. Synthy was doing pretty good.
Synthy was holding it together.
“I can’t see you,” he said.
I had a webcam. It had been a gift from a friendly cousin, almost a decade ago. It was a measly 1 megapixel and took low-res photos that were too dark. It was in my closet, under cardboard luggage and reeking shoes.
I plugged in the camera and turned it on. I pointed the lens at my face. I leaned forward to watch the Synth react.
“Oh, fuck me,” he started.
“Hi,” I replied. The Synth sat down on a synth chair.
“What – is – going – on?” he asked.
He didn’t have my little forehead scar. I had fallen off of some idiot’s motorcycle last year. Spent three days in the hospital. A doctor had called me a “moron with no respect for self- preservation” before I was released.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“I’m 21,” he began, “How old are you?”
There was a long silence. He was uncomfortable, in there, inside that computer, sitting in the darkness, on a chair that didn’t exist.
“Are you me?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m you.” I told him.
“How are you 26?”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Let’s just skip the bullshit,” I said, stalling.
I was putting on my tough guy voice.
“Fuck off with that macho shit,” he replied. There was no point in being gracious. He was me. He knew my shtick. I gave him the best explanation I could.
“You’re inside a computer.”
He laughed. He looked around.
“Can you prove that?” he squeaked, stressed. It was a good question. I moved the mouse cursor over his face.
“Can you see the little white arrow?”
“No. There’s no arrow,” he answered.
I sat and thought. He broke the moment —
“Do you swear to God that I’m inside your computer?”
It was a strong statement. I did believe in God, in a very personal and non-verbal way. I have never told anyone about this belief. It was something only I knew.
“I swear to God,” I told him. He looked stunned. I guess he believed me. I was relieved.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
I only had one idea left. It was cruel. Cruel and stupid. I pointed the webcam at the monitor. I remembered an old movie called Encino Man — a caveman is thawed out of a block of ice, and shown his own reflection in a mirror. The caveman has never seen his own reflection. He freaks out.
The Synth moved his left hand. He stood up. He sat down. He was watching himself. He became pathetic. I will always regret doing that to him.
“How did I get here?” His voice was very small now.
“I don’t know.”
“Try and speculate,” he begged.
“Okay. You’re twenty-one. So that means when I was twenty- one, which was five years ago, someone must have scanned my head and made a computer file.”
He sat and chewed his lip. I stopped doing that a long time ago.
“Do you know who scanned me into here?”
He was rubbing the back of his neck. Nervous tick. I still do that.
“Well, if you ever figure it out, I want you to find the motherfucker who did this and put a bullet through his face,” he proclaimed.
“Fuck off with that macho shit,” I told him. The Synth laughed.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m right. We’re right. Whatever.”
I laughed, too. I sat there and had a good chuckle at my own expense.
“You’re 26, huh? So you’re in the future?”
To him, five years had passed without his knowledge. He was the perfect imprint of me in my youth. I thought about a lot of things, right then.
“Did you marry Scarlet?”
Scarlet and I had been engaged, a long time ago. Then she got a scholarship to York University. Moved to Toronto. She asked me to come but I said no. I didn’t want to. She didn’t like steak, or flea markets, or the way I dressed.
“Yeah,” I smirked. “We’re married. Our son is coming in the fall.”
I added the “son” thing to comfort him. When I was twenty-one, I was convinced that I would never have children. I’m still convinced of this. The future is no kind of place for kids. Synth slouched back in his chair, relieved. He hissed a sigh, deep and dangerous.
“I knew it,” he told me. “Scarlet Isaacs, eh? Good for you, Randy.”
God was I gullible, once.
“If I’m in a computer, then I’m a file,” he said.
I nodded. Now he was smart? I knew nothing about myself.
“Have I ever been copied?”
“No,” I lied. “I just found you on one of my old hard drives.”
He’d been downloaded two hundred thousand and fifty-seven times. Two hundred thousand and fifty-eight if you included my copy. There was an army of me out there –trapped inside the PCs of Internet addicts, porn surfers, soccer moms. Strangers coaxing my synth-face into their cyber-fantasies.
“Can you get me out of here?” he asked. Pleaded.
“Why should I?” I snapped. The Synth was afraid. That made me ashamed. His fears were my faults.
“You can’t, can you?” Synthy quipped, “I’m just a program. Body-less. I’m just numbers on a hard drive, right?”
But I knew how to do it. I know how I could get him out of there.
I didn’t want to think about it. About him. About the past, distant and shitty and gone.
I double-clicked on the Synth-Randal window.
“Wait!” he yelled, voice piercing and full of static. “Is it going to hurt?”
I offered no answer. I dragged him to the Recycle Bin. I emptied the trash.
There were now two hundred thousand and fifty-seven Synth- Randals left in the world.
I could never end their sufferings.
Josh Byer pens fiction and gonzo journalism. Recent awards include a 2005 Journey Prize nomination, a 2006 Praxis Story Editor Internship, and a 2007 writing grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. He lives in Vancouver.