Dying is a very strange sensation. First you feel a lot of pain, then you feel none, then you feel… well, absolutely nothing whatsoever.
I died on a Tuesday afternoon. It was a normal enough workday: I was using a sit-down forklift to stack pallets on racking. Each pallet was stacked high with several dozen cases of glass bottles, shrink-wrapped nice and snug. The pallets weighed about five tons apiece and the forklift was rated at just that amount, so it was straining its poor little engine as I worked. I was not particularly alarmed by this, as we often pushed our outdated equipment to its limit.
Suddenly, there was a sharp cracking sound as the pallet splintered and split into two. The depalletized cases, each weighing several hundred pounds, came crashing down and smashed into the roof of the forklift. I barely had time to think “Oh f-“ before the forklift keeled over to one side and several dozen cases landed on me, violently tearing into my body.
The pain came first. Such hot, searing, all-encompassing pain as I had never felt before. I could just barely make out fragments of bone and blood flying everywhere. Then, as if a circuit breaker had been overloaded and tripped, the pain just… stopped.
As I lay there in a stupor, I heard voices screaming; voices that belonged to my co-workers and my boss. They sounded muffled, and I couldn’t make out what they were trying to say. I tried to reply, but I couldn’t seem to draw breath into my lungs.
My vision grew hazy and dark, and all my senses slipped away. Before long, I was encompassed in perfectly silent pitch blackness, feeling nothing.
“Ah,” my formless mind thought, “I just died. This is the end.”
Turns out I was only half-right.
After a timeless interval in that blank void, I felt sensation return to me. Specifically, I saw in the center of my vision a green line of text with a blinking cursor at the end. It said
I just stared at it, dumbfounded. The text just hung there for a moment, before progressing.
OPERATING SYSTEM FOUND. BOOTING FROM DISC.
G-FRAME BIOS USSE STANDARD 4.2 RELEASE 6.11729
COPYRIGHT 2049 ENERGIA AVIONICS AND ROCKETRY CORPORATION
CIVILIAN USE PROHIBITED
BOOTING TO OPERATING SYSTEM
AI PROCESSOR DETECTED. AUTO-BOOT DISABLED.
ENTERING BOOT OPTIONS.
What… what the hell is this?! my voiceless consciousness screamed.
I gawped at the computer text floating before me. The absolute last thing I had expected after dying was a glowing green BIOS computer menu. If this truly was life after death… shouldn’t I have been greeted by some cute goddess, lamenting my passing and offering me reincarnation in another world? Or, at the very least, a kindly old bearded man in front of some pearly gates?
Alas, so such pleasantry awaited me. Instead, I got:
SYSTEM TIME: [14:22:04]
SYSTEM DATE: [10/24/2055]
SYSTEM DISC A: 10191 TERABYTES
SYSTEM DISC B: [DISABLED]
SYSTEM MEMORY: 849 TERABYTES
EXTENDED MEMORY: 1027 TERABYTES
MULTIPROCESSOR SPECIFICATION: 10.27 EFLOPS
OPERATING SYSTEM: ENERGIA G-FRAME HOLOGRAPHIC GUI 2051.12.187
 SAFE MODE
 BOOT FROM DEVICE
PLEASE SELECT AN OPTION TO PROCEED █
I stared at the text, bewildered.
Why is the afterlife a computer boot screen? Is God a computer? Am I a computer? Is reality a simulation? AAAAAA WHAT’S GOING ON?!
Utterly bereft of any other option, I gazed at the menu. My head cooled, just a bit.
I should at least boot up, right? Please, whoever or whatever you are, be kind…
STANDARD BOOT MODE CONFIRMED.
There was a tinkling chime, and suddenly I found sight returning to me. The vision was something I had never experienced before… it extended 360 degrees, in spectrums beyond the human visual range. Ultraviolet and infrared perception melded with visible light to form a truly astounding image. The amount of information suddenly assailing my brain (processor?) was massive, and yet somehow I was not overwhelmed.
I found myself in a large, industrial-type hanger area. The floors, wall and ceiling were gunmetal-grey and brightly lit by florescent lights. In some two dozen alcoves on the walls stood what can only be described as giant robots, each entangled in a mass of umbilical wiring and scaffolding. Humans, tiny by comparison, zoomed around to and fro, completely unbound by gravity.
My hearing had returned as well. A cacophonous din of industrial equipment and beeping electronics filled the hanger, punctuated by dozens of simultaneous conversations between the humans. Somehow, I was able to hear each conversation clearly, despite all the noise. One conversation drew my attention, between two people standing directly in front of me. The first was a large man, dressed in coveralls and coated in grease. The second was a lady, wearing some sort of form-fitting armored spacesuit complete with a helmet.
“There ya go. She’s all initialized.” the man said. “Boot mode was a little funny though. Maybe the last pilot made some odd customization?”
“Right.” the woman replied tersely. “Thank you.” She kicked off from the floor, floating up to my chest.
“Oy!” the mechanic yelled after her. “Be gentle with this one! She’s gettin’ on in years, yeah? Treat her nice. If you bust her up and I gotta do an overhaul, I’ll be damn pissed.”
The woman wordlessly shrugged and floated up towards me.
Are these two talking about… me? I thought, bewildered. I turned my vision towards my own point of perception, trying to get a look at my own body. The sight that greeted me was shocking indeed.
My body, for lack of a better term, was a giant robot. A blocky, humanoid giant robot covered in light grey paint that was so worn, glints of metal showed through in several patches. Indeed, my body looked beat to hell and back, like it had been through countless battles.
No. Nonononononono. There is absolutely no fucking way. This has to be a dream, a fever dream.
There is no way in HELL I’ve been reincarnated as a giant robot!!
Oblivious to my existential crisis, the woman floated up to my chest and punched a button nestled between my chest-plates. The plates swung outwards, revealing a cockpit within. A cockpit where my RIBCAGE USED TO BE!
Hey hey hey! Can you give me a moment here?! I’m still trying to sort all this out! Please don’t climb inside of me! I’m not ready… ah…
She slid effortlessly into my cockpit seat, and my chest-plates closed behind her.
“Initialize GUI.” she said.
“Initializing. Please insert pilot authentication device.” I heard my own voice monotonously respond.
WHOA WHOA! WHAT THE HELL! I just responded to her… as if it were the most natural thing in the world?!
The woman slotted a small thumb drive into a slot by her leg. Data about her suddenly poured into my consciousness.
“Greetings, 2nd Lieutenant Miette Levesque.” my voice intoned. “Please present for biometric verification.”
A small holographic light flashed in her eyes, reading her retinal patterns. I noticed, offhandedly, that her eyes were bright green.
“Biometric scan completed. Command authority has been transferred. Welcome, my pilot.”
Another influx of information flooded my consciousness, imprinting upon me the fact that this woman was now my pilot, and my duty was to fight alongside her, protect her, and bring her home safely no matter what obstacles stood in our way. It was extraordinarily disconcerting.
Miette, please! This is all moving WAY too fast! I just died a few minutes ago, you know?!
Ignoring my silent protests, Miette (or should I call her Lieutenant Levesque?) brought up my holographic interface and began casually browsing through my settings, tweaking them as she pleased. She set control sensitivity to maximum, programmed in several control macros, and turned up the brightness on the spherical holographic projection that surrounded the cockpit seat. Satisfied, she closed the settings.
“Oy, robot.” she asked. “Do you have a name? Like, something your last pilot called you?”
I… did have a name, right? In my past human life? For some reason, I couldn’t remember what it was.
“My designation is SVGF-40 Nighthawk-C Serial No. 74656.” my flat computer voice helpfully responded.
“SVGF-40, huh… older model. Reminds me of… hmm.” She tapped her helmet’s chin in thought. “Okay, robot. From today on, your name is Sveta.”
Upon hearing those words, that name somehow permeated my entire being. Yes… that’s right… I’m Sveta… wait, WHAT? Stop hijacking my consciousness, program!
“Change in designation confirmed. This unit will henceforth refer to itself as Sveta.”
“Good, good. Alright, I think we’re ready to go. Commence launch preparations.”
“Commencing. Gravity drives spinning up. Nuclear reactor control rods retracting. Detaching umbilicals. Retracting auto-scaffolding. Mounting handheld positron repeater rifle. Estimate 74 seconds until combat readiness.”
WAIT! COMBAT? WHAT?!
“Ping the ship. Let her know we’re ready to go.”
WHOA WHOA WHOA HOLD THE FUCK UP! WE’RE GOING INTO BATTLE? I AM ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT READY FOR THIS!
“Ping confirmed. Movement to linear accelerator will commence in 600 seconds. Combat will initiate in 647 seconds. I pray for your glory in battle, my pilot.”
AAAAAA! NO WAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYY!!!
And thus began my second life as a giant robot.