You feel tightness in your chest, a crushing pain in your left arm and jaw. You cannot breathe. You are having a heart attack.
You shout for help, but no one is home. The pain is eclipsed only by your panic. You need to call 9-1-1. Where is your phone? On the counter. You stride toward it but collapse to the floor. Everything fades to black.
The pain instantly vanishes, and your life flashes before your eyes: your mother, your father, your lover, your child… “Is this death?” you wonder. “Am I dying?”
You are blinded by a bright light accompanied by the uplifting tunes of a harp.
“Hello,” you say into the white void, but there is no response. “Hello!” you say again, this time louder, your panic growing.
“Welcome,” a familiar voice says, though you can’t quite place it.
“Where am I?” you ask.
“You are safe,” the voice says in a comforting tone.
“Who are you?”
The blinding light gradually fades, but the sea of white remains. You are surrounded by puffy clouds.
“How was your life?” The source of the voice is revealed: a man dressed in a white robe with feathery wings. You are not religious, but there is no word to call him other than an angel.
“Am I dead?” you ask, breathing quick short breaths.
“Relax,” the angel says. “It will come to you.”
“What will?” You look down and discover your feet are not grounded. You are floating among the clouds. “Am I in heaven?”
“Not quite,” the angel says.
You notice a set of pearly gates behind him. “You mean I have to pass a test to get in?”
“Oh, no, that’s just for ambiance.” The gates disappear. “This isn’t heaven.”
“Then what is this place?” You dread to ask the question. “Am I in… Hell?”
The angel laughs. “I sure hope not.”
“I don’t understand,” you say. “Am I dead or not?”
“That depends on what you mean by ‘I’ and ‘dead.’”
“What is that supposed to mean?” you ask, losing patience.
“You know where you are.”
“No, I don’t.” You study his face but it rings no bells. “Who are you? An angel?”
“No,” he says and his wings vanish. “We have met before—many times.”
“When?” you ask, “How?”
“Relax and return to the present,” he says. “Think back. Remember.”
You take a few deep breaths, and your hazy memory slowly sharpens. “I… had a heart attack…”
“And… I… was hit by a car. And bit by a snake. And had a stroke. And fell off a cliff. And got shot at war. And bombed. And drowned. And— My God…” It’s all coming back to you. Your wife, Laura. Your husband, James. And Kim, Jiaying, Ahmed, Julie, and Chan. Your son, Ethan. And your son, Kevin. And your daughter, Lisa. And all the other sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, friends and acquaintances from all your past lives. You have died a thousand deaths, and each time, you end up here with this “angel.”
“Do you remember now?” he asks.
“I’ve been…” You struggle to make sense of your multiple past lives. “Reincarnated?”
“In a sense,” he says.
“What does that mean?”
“Think back to your first life.”
You sort through your memories—thousands of different spouses, children, homes, and careers. You follow them all the way back to…
“Mindex,” you whisper. “A brain extension that connected my neocortex to a computer. I uploaded my consciousness into digital form.” You look at the white puffs of cumulus around you. “I’m not in the clouds; I’m in the Cloud.”
“Ironic, isn’t it?” the angel says. “Ancient humans weren’t so far off when they imagined the afterlife existing in the clouds.”
“But this isn’t ‘heaven.’”
“No,” he says. “It’s more of a… waiting room. We call it the Omni-Queue.”
It all comes back to you now. You realize your past lives weren’t ‘real’ in the physical sense of the word. They were simulations—a copy of your consciousness replaying life over and over again. You are a digital mind in a simulation right now. The man before you is not an angel, he’s an AI. You have done this all before.