Ghosts In The Machine

By John Auckland

A novel about one woman's fear of dying and her relentless pursuit of eternal life


Part I

Extract from a 22nd Century Wiki:

5. Appropriation /əˌprəʊprɪˈeɪʃən/ n. The act of experiencing a deceased human’s life through their digital footprint.

Part II

The Elder paced along the corridor of the vast Life Foundation building excitedly. It was strange to feel such a strong emotion after so many years, something akin to nostalgia. They no longer cared for counting the years so it was impossible to tell how long it had been since he had last felt excited. He would almost go as far as to say he felt – happy. Even forming the word “happy” in his mind seemed alien.

The Elder looked down at his shaking hands, turned translucent from the centuries of gene therapy. History depended on the outcome of the next few days. Not just history in a rhetorical sense but the history of the human race, its very existence.

The Ginkgo had found a candidate from their ever-depleting pool only a few weeks ago and everything had moved quickly since then. The wretched woman’s mind was about to go, so she was going to sacrifice her life to change the path humanity had taken towards its own destruction. Or so they all hoped.

The Elder arrived at the auditorium. The room was filled with the last remnants of humanity. Such was its importance that every single person left alive had arrived to watch the Appropriation. The hubbub and excited chatter died down upon his entrance.

He addressed the room in English, welcoming the feeling of the archaic language on his tongue.

“Today one of the Ginkgo will Appropriate our founder, whose drive and ambition birthed our species. She set us on this path towards immortality. However, we came to realise we were wrong to pursue her philosophies. We now hope to change history and ensure the aging cure is never found. Join me in thanks to the one who has volunteered to make this happen.”

The remnants of humanity cheered. It was a sound The Elder had never expected to hear again. It made him believe that they would find Angela so they could stop her from bringing about the destruction of the human race.

Chapter 1

A light flickered, which was the only warning that anything was amiss. Angela surveyed the backs of the heads of the other four people in the lift. They were eclectic to say the least: a middle-aged, Asian woman; a young, attractive couple; a black woman in her late twenties or early thirties with blue hair and a nose ring. Hospitals had a way of bringing diverse groups of people together. She had private medical cover, of course, but her GP had still referred her to the Royal Berkshire for tests. She did sometimes wonder what difference the extra money made.

The lift lurched, startling her. The young redhead, one half of the couple, gasped then looked immediately embarrassed. The lift started moving again and the brief moment of anxiety passed. Angela checked her phone. She hated confined spaces, especially ones that put her out of the reach of a mobile signal.

The lift stopped at the next floor and the middle-aged woman stepped off. Angela briefly considered leaving the lift and walking the rest of the way, but dismissed it as an overreaction. Before she had the chance to take action, a young male nurse wheeled a jaundiced-looking elderly gentleman into the space vacated by the woman. Angela stepped back to allow them some room and the lift doors closed.

The lift suddenly lurched again, coming to a complete stop this time. The young woman let out a small yelp and the elderly gentleman in the wheelchair groaned. The young woman’s boyfriend laughed lightly but nervously. The lights flickered and then went off completely, to be replaced with an ominous red emergency light.

“Bloody typical. I knew we should have got off at the last floor,” the young woman said in a Yorkshire accent.

Angela might have responded in support but decided not to. The woman’s boyfriend nodded agreement.

“Does this happen a lot? Are you always rescuing people from broken lifts?” the woman with the blue hair asked the nurse.

“Not that I’m aware of,” he replied.

“You work here don’t you?” she replied, as though he might be responsible for the lifts when he wasn't completing his nursing duties.

“I’m really sorry but I’m only a temp, so I don’t actually work here very often.”

“Oh right, I didn’t realise. Well I suppose it’s not your fault anyway. Shouldn’t be happening in a hospital though – what if someone was having a heart attack?”

The old man groaned. Don’t speak to soon, Angela has to stop herself from saying.

The nurse – the youngest person in the lift, but the one wearing a uniform – pressed the alarm button on the panel. It rang five times before someone answered.

“Hello? Is everything OK?” a crackly voice asked after a moment’s pause.

“Not really, it seems our lift has become stuck,” the nurse replied.

There was silence for a while before the crackly voice reappeared. “Hello, is anyone there?”

“Yes, can you hear me?” the nurse replied again, speaking more urgently.


“Yes hello!”

“Fucking kids. Parents really need to control them better. That’s the third time this week,” said a second crackly voice before the line went dead.

Everyone in the lift looked at each other. The old man dribbled. Angela felt the panic set in.

“What do we do now?” the blue-haired lady asked to no one in particular.

Angela decided to take affirmative action. She leant forwards and repeatedly hit the alarm button.

“Hello, can you hear my voice?” she asked loudly.

“Dave, I don’t think that’s someone pranking the alarm. Maybe the intercom’s stopped working.”

There was a load grunt then, “I really don’t need this today.”

“I suppose we should check it, just in case,” said the crackly voice.

‘Yeah, you’re probably right,” said the man called Dave with a sigh. He spoke loudly: “If anyone’s in there and needs help, just don’t panic. We’ll be down soon.”

“They bloody best be,” said the young Yorkshire woman. “We’ve got a train to catch.

“I’m sure they’ll get us moving again quickly,” said the nurse. “This is a hospital after all.”

Angela couldn’t bring herself to agree with his logic. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, where red light projected back an image of an Amsterdam call girl, a doppelganger with black hair instead of brown. She checked her phone and still didn’t have signal, the clock in the corner telling her she was going to be late for her appointment.

Angela was the CEO of a successful global pharmaceutical company called Amcap Zenith. She had worked her way to the very top from the position of graduate, choosing the life of a successful businesswoman over marriage and two-point-four. But with success comes sacrifice. At the age of forty-eight she’d only just started to recognise a void where a family should have been. For over fifteen years Angela had put off having children to focus on her career, but since the onset of her health problem she had begun to consider what it meant to leave behind a legacy.

Would she be remembered for being a successful businesswoman? In a society that was becoming critical of growing imbalance between the rich and poor, she thought not. She was a multi-millionaire so could use her money for good, but most do-gooders were quickly forgotten after they died. A child could pass on your genes, thoughts and beliefs for generations. In a sense it was a way of living forever. Because above all else, Angela was terrified of dying.

Angela didn’t like being left idle. It gave her overactive brain too much time to think. She also didn’t like making small talk with strangers, but decided to choose distraction over darkness, which is where thinking of her illness led. The young couple were speaking in low tones and Angela strained to eavesdrop. From the sounds of things they were visiting the redheaded girl’s sister in the maternity ward. They had a train to catch that would take them back to Leeds, and they were worried about missing it. The young lad, called Jack, started showing the redhead pictures of her holding her newborn nephew.

Angela imagined what it would be like if people were coming to see her in the hospital, to hold her baby. Only a few of her friends would visit, probably, and she wasn’t in touch with the distant family she had left. In truth she was genuinely close to only one or two people – she tended to use her charms to manipulate others for self-gain. It wasn’t a recipe for deep, lasting relationships.

The blue-haired woman started chatting with the young couple. And the nurse was talking to the elderly man in soothing tones, trying to calm him down. Thankfully the occupants of the lift hadn’t started telling their life stories yet. She hoped they would fix the lift before anyone tried invoking the spirit of the blitz.

“Is he OK?” the redhead asked the nurse.

“Yeah he’s fine, just really old. You’re ninety-nine next week, aren’t you Arthur?”

In response, the old man started rocking and making a cooing sound.

“He’s not a happy bunny,” the nurse explained. “He’s overdue with his dialysis so the pain will be excruciating. His son is still hoping he’ll get a birthday card from the Queen though. Let’s hope this lift gets moving soon,” he added.

Angela felt pity for the man and was once again reminded of her mortality. She supposed it was selfish to think about her own death when this man was clearly close to experiencing his. But for most of her life she had been drawn to the macabre thought of dying, what her death would be like, how other people popped, kicked or dropped. She couldn’t help herself – she was obsessed.

The lift doors suddenly opened a crack and light appeared, making Angela blink. The three young people let out a small cheer. The doors opened wider revealing a gap at the top of the lift.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have you out in no time.”

Angela pretended to leaf through a dog-eared Country Living magazine, although she could barely concentrate. It had taken them half an hour to get her out of the lift. The old man had been a priority, and he wasn’t easily moved. She eventually made it to her waiting room over an hour late for her appointment, and was made to wait even longer while another slot became free.

The woman sat next to her was playing with her baby, the sight of a small bump on her belly revealing that she’d conceived her second soon after. It seemed a cruel irony to Angela that she was made to attend the same ultrasound ward as expectant mothers. Babies were everywhere she looked nowadays – the last thing she needed was a room full of healthy pregnant women.

Whenever Angela pictured her future it had children in it, but she’d never given any thought as to how it would happen. She was in hospital to have a scan to detect for a lump in her ovaries, an indication of ovarian cancer. If confirmed, Angela doubted she’d be able to ever have kids, even if she managed to survive the chemo. Being single and nearly fifty had already reduced her chances, but now she would have to resign herself to the inevitable. The thought of dying alone terrified her.

But she was getting ahead of herself. An afternoon searching symptoms on the Internet was hardly a watertight diagnosis. Her emotions, normally controlled and ordered, had been unusually jittery recently. She was probably fine.

The speaker system called Angela’s name just when she thought she couldn’t handle waiting any longer. She stood up too quickly and felt dizzy, but continued quickly through to room fifteen, her head rushing, aware of each step she took.

The doctor told her to remove all her clothes and put on a gown that didn’t leave a lot to the imagination. The floor was cold and she was self-conscious from her semi-nudity. A few minutes later and her back was sticking to a plastic bed while a nurse was spreading gel over her stomach. The scanner buzzed and whirred and Angela imagined her lower abdomen throbbing as radio waves passed through her body. She knew enough about physics to realise she couldn’t really feel anything, regardless of what her mind told her.

The professionals didn’t talk Angela through their observations, but instead spoke with each other in hushed tones, leaving Angela alone to her thoughts again. She traced the steps that led to this point. She’d been experiencing considerable pain in her back lately and so far every test had proven inconclusive, despite all the visits to the osteopath, masseuse, her GP and other specialists. Even the blood tests had shown “inconsistencies” but nothing solid. At some stage in the process a consultant suggested she go for an ultrasound to search for abnormalities, so here she was.

She watched everything, trying to apply her analytical mind to all the steps they took, looking for small signs that might reveal the truth of what was going on in her insides.

Angela found medicine interesting, but it wouldn’t have been her chosen career. Her obsession with her company mirrored that of her obsession with death, both were driven by fear. Angela needed her company to be successful because it was an insurance policy on her own longevity. By running one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies she was increasing her odds of living longer.

Under her direction, Angela’s company was attempting to find an effective cure for aging.

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