The first time I killed my neighbor’s body, it was just common sense.
He had killed mine the day before, and it was only fair that he lose a backup too. Body for a body, or so the kids say. I really believed the trade off would end our little turf war. These things aren’t cheap, and he has two mortgages.
But the second time I killed him? That was pure spite.
It all started with the tree.
I’m not opposed to trees. They can be lovely in the right setting. My backyard is the wrong setting, especially for ancient 200-lb oak branches that could topple down on me, my wife, or (abhor the thought) our fully natural ten-pound chihuahua, Muffins.
I never thought Yates was a bad guy. Reclusive, yes, but not bad. Even when he refused my request to cut down the entire oak, I didn’t freak. The tree was in his yard, and only one branch was a problem for me. But you know what they say about negotiating—start with an unreasonable request so the real ask will feel like a compromise.
But he refused that one, too. Didn’t even bother to compose a polite response. He just thought back an image of the tree, whole and untouched with the time stamp May 2106 at the bottom.
That’s fifty years from now.
What an ass.
So I cut down the branch myself. What’s the worst he could do? File a complaint with the city? Sue me? The branch was over the line into my property. You would have done the same.
And what kind of a first name is “Yates” anyway?
But I was wrong. He could—and did—do the worst.
I took the next morning to recline against the fence dividing our properties, partly to display confidence and partly to test out the semi-organic new skin I had implanted on my forearms. It was supposed to feel warm and tingle in full sunshine like real skin; a big improvement over the old model. Affordable, too.
Meh. It itched a little. You get what you pay for.
But before I had a chance to log my complaints with the manufacturer and send the sensory data to the review sites, something punched into my spine and dragged me under the fence. I barely had time to glimpse the culprit—one of Yates’ yard maintenance bots—before the beast pulled me head-first through its internal mulching system. My body death didn’t hurt exactly, but I wouldn’t call it pleasant either.
I opened my eyes in a new body and found my wife standing over me. She thumped my nose.
“Shouldn’t have cut down that branch.”
“You’re on HIS side?”
“I’m on the side of rational thinking. And I know you. You’ll want revenge.”
“It’s not revenge. It’s achieving balance.”
My wife has never body-died or body-murdered before (that she admits) so it’s very easy for her to judge.
Yates, of course, claimed bad code in the machine. Blamed the manufacturer, cited previous malfunctions, and muddied the waters enough for the police to declare it an accident.
But I know it was him.
I had to retaliate. If I did nothing, it would be a tacit acceptance of body death as an acceptable response to tree branch death, and that’s no way to color my next century of homeowner relations. Yates might kill me again just to maintain the upper hand.
But how to kill his body and make it look like an accident? Using my house or yard bots would be too obvious. And I couldn’t just shoot the guy.
So I disabled my car’s brain, waited until Yates was in his driveway, and backed into him. His skull imploded between the car shell and his front door. It was magnificent.
The police were less enthusiastic. I showed them my car’s “malfunctioning” intelligence and explained that I’d never driven a car manually in my whole life. An accident was bound to happen.
“So why drive it at all?” they asked.
I didn’t have an answer for that. There is no realistically urgent situation that would require moving my body from one physical location to the next via car.
So I paid the fine and composed the mandated apology to Yates. But I was satisfied. This had cost him as much as it cost me.
Yates wasn’t done. He invited me for a parlay at the fence by flashing a picture of the fence and an old image of the Treaty of Versailles negotiations. I accepted. What I didn’t realize was that he had moved the entire fence two feet into his property line and activated his emergency home defense systems. The moment I stepped over the invisible line, a perimeter pulse sliced me neatly in two, cortex and all.
I woke again to my wife’s disapproving gaze. “This has to stop,” she said.
“Tell him to stop it.”
I was down two bodies in just 48 hours. My service plan allowed only three full corporeal replacements per calendar month (for a max of two months per year). A generous plan, but the per-body deductible was expensive. I had to avoid using up my allotment; I lacked the funds to purchase a new body outright.
Before I could report Yates to the authorities, he flashed over a fabricated video of me in tears, crying to the police about my big bad neighbor.
Oh, the bastard. So that’s how he wants to play it.
This time I used his own precious tree against him. I had a few of my bots core through the soil, cross property lines, and sever all the tree’s roots on his side. I waited for him to appear in the backyard before giving the signal; one of my bots took his feet from underneath, holding his still, while the rest pushed the tree down on top of him.
He was back inside a new body in less than an hour (I must find out what corporealization service he uses).
This time he simply shot me. Not subtle, but very effective.
My wife was giving Muffins a bath when I woke (it takes me two hours to cycle back). Muffins growled at me.
I shook off the new-body kinks and paced through the living room. “He shot me. You can’t expect me to do nothing.”
“I expect nothing,” she said.
“I’ll need a new body if Yates attacks again. I’m a little cash poor right now. Would you buy me one if it came to the worst?”
She studied me from over the top of her ornamental glasses, each splashed with soapy Muffins water. It felt like a no. I pressed my case.
“Honey, it’s not me doing this, it’s Yates. I’d stop warring this instant if I had any choice in the matter, honest. But the guy won’t listen to reason. He hates me.”
I tried connecting to her public thoughts, but she’d temporarily masked them.
Time to beg. “Please, sweetness? My body plan doesn’t reload for two more weeks. I’ve never had to limbo for anything close to that long before. People go crazy that way. I’m begging you.”
She sighed. “I’ll need power of attorney.”
I searched my mind for the code, found it, and granted it to her in less than a second. “I love you.”
“Then order us dinner. Something with a lot of salt. I got new buds this morning.”
I ordered dinner, retrieved my pulse gun from the garage, and leaped over the fence into Yates’ backyard.
He was waiting.
Or something was; I never quite saw what took my last body apart. Something vaguely tentacle-like coiled around me, followed by a sensation of extreme pressure…
I woke on the couch next to my wife’s leg. But something was wrong; the dimensions of the room were way off. My vantage was too low, and her leg far too large.
When I realized what she’d done, I barked my little head off.
We’d ordered a new body for Muffins a month or so back in hopes of keeping him around for the long haul. A puppy model for maximum cuteness.
My wife had simply designated the tiny canine body as my primary backup.
I ran circles on the couch, yapping my frustration. I tried to bite her leg, but her synthetic skin was far too tough for my little teeth. The real Muffins watched me from his bed in the corner.
Two weeks inside Muffins’s body. I resolved to be a nightmare, chewing every shoe, tearing up every rug.
My wife took me for a walk around the block that evening. I barked at everyone we passed, determined to make things as unpleasant for her as possible.
Yates was on his front porch. She walked me right by him.
So there you go, a bit of silliness this week (with zero scientific rigor). Hope you liked it. I have to take a break from the nightmares now and then, right? The alternative was discussion of an article about sheep being born in artificial wombs. It’s happening.
Give me a silly story over that any day.
Have a lovely week and treat your neighbors with respect.