PEN AND PAPER MAN • by Richard J. Dowling

It was the evening of my forty-fifth birthday when, upon stubbing a cigar out in my solid platinum ashtray, I realized that my life too would one day end. I dismissed the prostitutes, lit another Cohiba and started to think.

“Death is for the poor!” I protested. “How can I buy my way out of this?”

This wasn’t as crazy as it might sound for I was, in truth, loaded as all get out. My parents had died in a strange accident at a Swiss spa when I was four, leaving me heir to the greatest feminine personal-hygiene fortune in North America.

Anyway, from that very restaurant, I made a call and hired the best bods in the business of life extension.

“I don’t want to die,” I said to them. “Won’t have no truck with it. You guys figure out a way to make sure I live forever and there’ll be a nice bonus in it for you all.”

They scuttered away for a few months. Then they came back with big news.

“The brain,” said Chief Scientist Something-or Other, “is just a squishy computer with lots of electrical pulses shooting round. Your software, i.e. you, is running on a biological machine made of neurons, but it could just as easily run on a non-organic one of silicon.”

No, I didn’t understand a word. But thankfully I’m rich enough to have people do my understanding for me. Cut to the chase; when the Grim Reaper came calling I had myself uploaded onto a state-of-the-art computer where I could play God inside a perfect simulation of reality. Forever.

I indulged in every kind of sin known to Man, and more than a few I invented myself. It was Heaven.

Then my people on the outside got word to me that a nuclear war was about to break out between us, North Korea and the Vatican City.

“That is a shame,” I said. “But everything’s hunky dory in here.”

“Sir,” said Engineer Nerdy-Nerdy, “nuclear annihilation would leave no energy for the insanely power-hungry computer on which your existence now depends.”

I dismissed the slave girls, the She-Devils and the Succubi and started to think.

“Apocalypses are for losers!” I protested. “How can I buy my way out of this?”

My bods didn’t have any answers so I had them killed and hired even better bods to come up with a plan, told them that if they came up with something inside 24 hours I’d make them all millionaires.

Twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes later they got back to me.

“You’re going to need a bunker,” said Doctor Slaphead. “A nuclear shelter.”

“Obviously.”

“And enough stockpiles of food to feed an army for a lifetime.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Plus 100 idiot-savants. Preferably children.”

“Say what?”

I thought that kidnapping kids might cause a snag or two, but it turns out the parents were happy their geeky offspring would have a chance to survive the End of the World. I guess I’m kind of a hero in all this. Who’d have thought?

Anyway, with everything prepared I got Doctor Slaphead to try and explain it all to me again.

“Currently,” he said, “your mind exists as software on a computer. But what is software? It’s just a series of instructions in binary code, ones and zeros, operations which can easily be transferred to pen and paper.”

No, I didn’t understand a word of it. But who needs to understand things when your bank account is larger than the national budget? That reminds me I will be kind of sorry when the bombs drop and the banks disappear along with the rest of civilization but I’ll be fine inside my own universe. Where I own all the banks.

Meanwhile, the genius kids are happy to bounce numbers round all night and all day, which is great because although they don’t know it, they’re scribbling out the equations that keep me and my universe alive. Sure, they work a lot slower than a computer, but I don’t notice the difference because I’m inside the maths. And when the savants do eventually begin to die off, my bods have another plan ready to put into action.

“It’s quite simple,” said Doctor Slaphead, “all we do is tinker with the equations to form a link between your pen and paper world, and some other parallel universe in an alternate dimension. If we do it right, your dimension of time will stretch to infinity.”

Frankly, I don’t care how it works as long as it does the job. And so far I’ve got no complaints. This new dimension seems more or less the same as the old one.

But that’s enough about me; who the hell are you?

Wait a second. You looked away and it felt like I disappeared.

My God!

You’re reading me.

And if you stop, I’ll cease to exist.

You looked away again. No! You’ve got to keep reading. Don’t you see? I’m a good man. I deserve to live.

Is there any way we can make a deal? Shucks, I’ve bought my way out of wor–


Richard J. Dowling hopes his fiction brings a smile to the faces of life forms throughout the universe.


This story is sponsored by
Clarion West — Apply now through March 1 to attend our 2014 six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.


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