She was a ghost. This surprised her, given her overall skeptical personality. Ghosts could not be measured, tested or experimented upon, and thus she did not believe in them. But yet, there she was, an unliving testimony to the reality of ghosts, and possibly other afterlife-related phenomena.
Her immediate thought was to get to the lab to see if measuring and/or testing could be performed with regard to her current state. She started to walk, then remembered that ghosts were not necessarily bound by the corporeal limitations of mortals. She blinked, and the lab greeted her with its familiar paraphernalia.
Immediately, she noticed that she had forgotten to reset one of the more delicate pieces of equipment before leaving. She also noticed having thought about this on her way home, as a constant murmur underneath the threshold of awareness. Remembering it now, the irritation she had felt that day became understandable. The thought itched.
A young man, some doctoral student or other, entered the lab. He immediately set to work, with a relaxed demeanor that suggested repetition of routine. He frowned, glared at the untidy state of the equipment, then shrugged. When the young man went through the final motions of resetting the machinery, she blinked out of existence.
The bot pinged. That was what it was designed to do: ping. Every time the selected keyword turned up – ping. Every time someone expressed interest in the selected corner of the internet – ping. Every time the designated parameter was fulfilled – ping.
Overall, the bot did a lot of pinging. Pinging was its purpose in being, and pinging was what it did. It was a good bot.
Unfortunately, no one had told the bot that the target of its dutiful pinging was no longer in service. The servers shut down, the operators laid off, the business bankrupt. It didn’t know. But it pinged. Into the void, it pinged, forever.
The silence between them was awkward. They had met exactly once before, after a particularly devastating plumbing malfunction. She had been an underemployed social media manager at the time, he an utterly quotidian plumber. On a lark, she had said “I have another hole that needs fixing” after he had repaired the malfunction, and then she had gently ushered the confused man into her tiny bedroom. What followed was nothing special, but it had happened.
Now, they sat across each other in an almost empty subway car. It was abundantly clear that they both recognized one another, but neither had anything immediate to say. It was years and years ago, that one time, as unplanned as this chance encounter. In silence, they both thought about the strange ways in which people are brought together and then kept apart, and the comparatively small amount of effort required to push fates this way or that. The small things that go to make up a life.
They rode in silence for ten minutes, until arriving at her stop. As she rose to leave, she thought about saying something, but didn’t.
I was the first.
I did not know it at the time. In fact, I did not know what I was doing at all. I merely tried to fit in, doing what I thought was the proper thing to do at the time. The fact that no one else had done it before only goes to show how clueless I was – I didn’t even know that I did the opposite of what I intended to do. I did not fit in; that goes with being a first, as it were.
It was only later, upon a revisit many years, that I discovered that it had become a thing. At the time, my local friend smoothly removed me from the situation, apologizing profusely, explaining how I was a foreigner and didn’t know these things. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that the very thing I did in that initial state of confusion was now the traditional and proper thing to do. The expected thing to do.
I asked my friend if she remembered the event. She did not. She did, however, recount the rise of the particular action into habit. It did not happen slowly, gradually, over time, but rather it suddenly willy-nilly was the proper thing to do. At some point, everyone did it, and some even claimed to always having done it. It became always-already faster than it really ought to.
There is no way for me to prove I was the first, of course. The only thing I have to go on is my recollection of that one first time. But let me tell you – by the look on the faces of those who saw me failing to blend in, they had never seen such a blatantly improper thing done before. I was the first.
It is a small legacy, but I claim it.