How Not to Die

Our Special Correspondent Investigates the “Helljumpers” Subculture: is it Right to Try and Avoid the Acheron?

It’s hardly the latest craze. Dig deep enough and you can find records of extreme suicides stretching back at least two centuries: the final actions of those who thought to try and keep their brain from the Acheron. Of course it’s illegal. Those who fail to die in their attempts, or those who are charged with planning an unsalvageable death, are detained for the rest of their lives in special suicide watch asylums. It’s also a dangerous risk — the brain has to be completely destroyed, obliterated beyond all recognition, before it is unusable. It has been proven that even a head-first plummet from a hundred-storey building would leave sufficient brain material left to be used, so those who succeed in dying are usually salvaged anyway. I would hate to experience the shattered remnants of their afterlives.

All good citizens know that the service they can render to the City after their deaths is invaluable, and surrender willingly to the dictates of the Charon Act. Even more admirable are the people who give up their lives for the City before their time, so that their brains may be of use at their greatest potential rather than withered and atrophied after decades of old age. (The latest statistics suggest that the amount of premature Acheron volunteers rose by 13% last year alone.) And yet there remains a small group of individuals who reject this duty. They struggle as hard as they can to escape their afterlives, and like many others I wanted to know why.

And so, after much searching, I managed to make indirect contact with one of the networks that facilitates “Helljumping”. I have not met any of the individuals from whom I received information, and I do not know their identities. However, I did receive certain assurances as to the truth of what they told me, and so I am not hesitant to unveil to the public the following astonishing facts.

It turns out that many “Helljumpers” are not averse to the Acheron itself — or, at any rate, they do not ally themselves closely with those other criminal groups who would seek to destroy it. Their cause is different. They simply do not want, for personal reasons, to have an afterlife forced upon them.

Some of these reasons are religious: a belief in another, mystical afterlife that one could not enter while still semi-alive in the Acheron. Others conscientiously object to the goal of the Acheron. They believe that the amount of data and control that it has is actually unnecessary (all proof of the anarchy that would result from a removal of those powers to the contrary) and so wish not to be involved in its upkeep. Still others suffer from grave personal problems which they do not wish to bear with them beyond the grave.

There is even a further group of people who are terrified that they may be the victim of an accident, of the unfortunate variety that happens so often and cannot be predicted — a traffic accident, a sector fire, the late arrival of a collection team. They choose to try and eliminate their brains rather than risk being flung into a broken afterlife.

The contact I made was a facilitator of others’ deaths, rather than one who sought death themselves. They believe that entry to the Acheron should be voluntary. Pointing to the current level of over-capacity reported in the Acheron’s systems by various subversive news groups, they argue that the world could quite easily be run with up to half of the population opting out of donating their brains to the machine. They brought up beliefs in the freedom of people to choose how their bodies would be treated, they criticised the idea that it was a good citizen’s duty to assist in any way they could in the management and control of their society, and they even made dark hints that the Acheron is used for a range of shadowy purposes beyond those the Olympians make public.

It’s all conspiracies and unproven suspicion, naturally. But my contact had a response even to this: I didn’t have to believe the reasons why the people he tried to help wanted to avoid the Acheron. I simply had to accept their personal decisions, which would probably have little effect on my life.

Our correspondence was interrupted before it could continue beyond this point. I do not know why.

Which unfortunately leaves us as confused as we were before, if not more so. None of the reasons for abandoning the Acheron stand up to the rational understanding that, by sacrificing our afterlives to the machine, we are helping keep the world we live in and love turning and running as smoothly as possible. Without the Acheron, supply chains would collapse, law and order would be hamstrung, and the City would tear itself apart in a war far more terrifying than what happened in Ilium.

And yet… My contact did not seem unintelligent. They weren’t the normal kind of bombs-and-anarchy zealot. They even seemed to have no personal desire themselves to escape the Acheron. But they believed that the few who held those desires should be allowed them. I suspect that if we started to indulge every citizen who wished to shirk some duty or other the City would collapse far quicker than if the Acheron were destroyed. But it is certainly an interesting point of view to hold.