Story concept: Dead man walking

I often sketch out stories in my head, just because it’s something I enjoy doing. Occasionally I turn them into shorts, but I’ve neither the patience nor the talent to really turn them into anything longer so most of the concepts just wither and die.

This seems like a shame, so I thought I might post some of them here as I come up with them. Feel free to take them and run with them if the idea grabs you, though I imagine that’s fairly unlikely as I suspect most people with the will to write are not short of ideas to write about.


Protagonist is some sort of research into personal software assistance and/or cybernetics. He has a lot of software which is basically designed to emulate him in mundane tasks – dealing with phone calls, doing drudge research, etc. Over time, both with new software being written and the software developing better models of his behaviour, it gets to the point where the software can fake him to a very convincing degree. Additionally the more he relies on it the more it becomes an integrated part of his personality to the point where it’s difficult to tell exactly where he ends and the software begins (there’s probably no full mind-brain link so much as a very good wearable interface).

At some point he realises that he’s having to deal with a lot of boring face to face stuff while the software is automating a lot of things he’d rather be doing. He takes advantage of latest developments in cybernetic prosthetics for dealing with e.g. spine damage and enables it so that the software is actually fully capable of running his body while his mind wanders. Division blurs further.

Then he dies. Severe brain aneurysm or some such – leaves the body basically intact but brain dead.

…but the software is still happily running and, as per above, is quite capable of controlling the body. Moreover it basically behaves like him in most cases. So despite being brain dead, he is perfectly capable of carrying on as he always did in most circumstances. What does he do now?


  • Social issues. Friends and family are going to be severely freaked out – it’s unlikely they had any idea how much of their interactions with protagonist were already just the software, and it will be very hard to figure out how they should treat him now
  • Legal issues. By all medical definitions our protagonist is legally brain dead and unable to make his own decisions. Except that he appears to be walking around, talking and carrying about his daily business
  • Personal issues. The protagonist is having a pretty serious identity crisis. Is he dead? Is he an upload? Is he an AI or merely a really good non-sentient fake? Additionally, he has to cope with the fact that he feels like he’s become stupid. The biological brain was the real creative problem solver – even the software that was designed to cope with doing research and problem solving was really there to do the drudge work while he sorted out the real thing

And that’s about as far as I’ve got with the concept. I like the idea, but I’m not sure how I’d flesh it out into a full story even if I wanted to.

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3 thoughts on “Story concept: Dead man walking

  1. Zarkonnen

    I remember reading a story a bit like this in an old Analog issue, where the transformation was a bit less complete: an already house-bound person who was conversing with people only via the Internet started automating more and more of her interactions, to the point where her computer simply carried on when she died.

  2. Al

    Have you read The Raw Shark Texts? There’s a little sub-story in there about a Victorian guy called Mycroft Ward who attempted something similar in a steampunk kind of way.

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