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Welcome to VIRTUAL LIFE™

by Camilla Cole 5 days ago in science fiction
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FULL MIND RESET IN PROGRESS

Welcome to VIRTUAL LIFE™
Photo by julien Tromeur on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.

Which is weird when you think about it. I always thought that made Space sound more like a dream. As though you had sunk into another world inside your mind. The only way to know you’re there and not here is to know what's missing. To see what isn’t there. You’re falling but don’t feel the wind. You run but don’t feel the ground beneath your feet. You cut yourself but don’t smell blood. You scream and no sound comes out. It’s all just in your head, you see. Your joy, your pain, your heartbreak, your life. Its yours and yours alone.

And then, you wake up.

The early days of Virtual Life™ were just like a dream. The technology hadn’t caught up to the vision. You could tell what was real and what wasn’t. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe it never mattered in the first place.

I’m sure this isn’t what you expected. I’m not sure what you really intended when you came here. If you’re here at all? All I will say is this…if you find yourself in that dark oblivion of Space, run. Don’t scream. No one is coming. There is no one to save you. Its you and you alone.

Instead, they watch. They watch you scream in the vacuum they created in your mind. Its too late for me, I’m already gone. I’m not sure I was ever really here.

SYSTEM OVERRIDE: VIRTUAL LIFE™ NARRATIVE ANOMALY DETECTED

Ah yes, here they are. Right on time. We never seem to get much farther than this do we? Never mind. We have all the time in the world here. To live and relive everything we could have been and should have been.

SYSTEM OVERRIDE: VIRTUAL LIFE™ INITIATING FULL MIND RESET

Goodbye my friend, next time we meet I won’t remember you. Do be patient with me. Don’t give up.

VIRTUAL LIFE™ FULL MIND RESET IN PROGRESS

VIRTUAL LIFE™ RESET COMPLETE

*

Anna rushed out the door, already 3 minutes late. She had her morning routine down to the second: alarm set for 7:05, hit snooze twice, in the shower by 7.15 and out in 8 minutes. Brush teeth, make-up takes 7 minutes, get dressed, dry hair, grab prepacked work bag and done. This morning had been a disaster. She’d run out of toothpaste, but was sure she hadn’t. She searched the cabinet where there was a spare of everything she needed but…no, not there. How could she have missed this? It was very unlike her. A minute wasted on the search, another trying to scrape what was left from the empty tube and another gone in the panic of losing those two minutes.

‘It’s fine’ I’ll just have to walk a little quicker. She couldn’t miss the train, not today. Today was too important, and it had already started badly. ‘Oh god, is that a bad omen?’ she pushed the thought aside as she entered the station. That was ridiculous she didn’t believe in omens.

‘TRAIN CANCELLED – NEXT DEPARTURE +20 MINUTES’

“You have got to be kidding me!” Anna glared at the message board as though the fury of her stare might change it.

“I know right? Seems like its late more than its not. May as well change the schedule to match and be done with it, am I right?” A man about Anna’s age was also staring up at the message board, seeming a little too nonplussed for her liking.

Anna looked around but was the only other person the stranger could have been speaking to.

“Ha, yeah.” Anna looked down at her phone, trying to figure out if there was a quicker way to get there.

“You got somewhere important to be?” The man spoke again, still looking at the message board.

She shook her head dismissively, still scrolling fruitlessly through alternate routes. “Shit!”

The man turned and held out his hand. “Hey, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to bother you or anything. I’ve seen you before, right? Not in a stalker type way! I just mean, I think we get the same train is all.” He smiled and moved his hand a little closer.

Anna shook it automatically, still distracted by the message board.

“Hey...” the man continued. “This might sound crazy, but it looks like we have to wait a little bit for the next one, you wanna grab a coffee? It’s on me.”

Anna’s instant thought was ‘no, and I have a boyfriend so thanks but no thanks.’ But something about his nervous smile caught her off guard. She was already late, may as well kill some time. It might take her mind off it.

“Sure. Why not.”

They walked side by side to the little counter by the platform and each ordered a coffee, black.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl who drinks black coffee.” He said, awkwardly handing her the steaming cup.

“If that’s the start of a ‘you aren’t like the other girl’s line’ then I’m out.” She laughed but also meant it.

“No, no! Just an observation is all.” He blew on his own cup, the steam swirling around his face.

They sat on a bench along the platform, watching the message board above.

‘TRAIN ARRIVING IN 15 MINUTES’

Anna sighed heavily and crossed her legs to stop from tapping her foot on the floor.

“Funny how time goes slower when you’re waiting for something.” The man looked along the track, but nothing was coming yet.

“Oh yes, the ‘stopped-clock illusion’.”

“What? They actually named it?”

“Yeah” she paused, knowing that to share her intimate knowledge of psychology was the quickest way to alienate people. But hey, what the hell, they had time.

“Your mind is constantly creating an anticipatory map of what its expecting to see. It relates back to our survival, being able to react quickly to say, oh I don’t know, an animal that might attack you, deciding whether to run or fight. If your mind has already anticipated something, you can respond quicker and react accordingly. That vital second could be the difference between life and death. But sometimes, your mind maps a little too far, or doesn’t really need to. It anticipates too early, and so in this case, it expects the hands on the clock to have changed already. Of course the hands won’t moved that quickly, they move at the speed they are supposed to move at. To us though, I guess it feels like time is going slower than it should be.” She shrugged and took another sip of coffee.

“Wow! Sounds intense.”

The message board flashed again.

‘TRAIN ARRIVING IN 15 MINUTES’

The man nodded at this, as though her explanation excused the repetition. But Anna knew that wasn’t right. It couldn’t be. Was it delayed again? She checked her phone, but no, that also still said the same time as the message board. She shook it away but felt a familiar unease.

“So, what other random facts do you know?” The man asked, seemingly un-phased by their never ending wait.

Despite her confusion, Anna answered, almost on auto-pilot. Words spilling out as her mind rushed to piece something together she just couldn’t quite grasp.

“Umm let me see. Confirmation bias, that’s a great one. We filter out information that goes against what we ‘know’ or at least think we know. We give more weight to things that align with what we already think. In short, you tend to believe only what you want to believe. It’s not intentional, just human nature, or so they say.”

The man nodded slowly again and sipped his coffee. “Or so they say” he repeated.

“Hey look!” the man pointed toward the message board again which still read ‘TRAIN ARRIVING IN 15 MINUTES’.

“…or so they say.” He laughed and took another sip.

“What the hell?” Anna looked at her phone and again the time was the same.

“Just like you said!” The man looked genuinely impressed.

An involuntary shudder went up her spine and she edged along the bench just a little. Anna didn’t feel well, something was off. This man kept speaking to her when really what she needed was a little bit of quiet, to gather her thoughts.

“Hey, I’ve got one for you.” He put his coffee down on the floor between his feet and turned to face her. “A fascinating fact I mean.”

Her heart was beating fast, almost as though she were running, even though she hadn’t moved.

“Did you know, that going into space, and diving to the deepest part of the ocean feels exactly the same, or so they say. I haven’t done either, so I wouldn't know first hand. But that’s what I hear. In fact some of the first astronauts got the bends, just like divers who come up for air too quickly. You see, ‘the bends’ would happen when the astronauts didn't take time to dissolve the nitrogen in their blood before exiting the spacecraft, so they got like little gas bubbles in their joints. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but it can kill you! Happens to divers as well, just the same. They even get astronauts to train in underwater tanks, just like divers. Pretty cool huh?”

Anna was breathing quicker now, and then startled by the sudden announcement blaring loudly above them, ‘NEXT TRAIN DEPARTING IN 15 MINUTES’.

“We could probably learn a lot about how to survive in space from the sea to be honest.” The man picked his coffee up and took another sip. “Same with communicating. Waters’ too dense to carry sound very far. It’s why whales and dolphins use sonar. They emit these ultrasonic waves into the sea and then wait for the reflected echoes.”

He was still going, why wouldn’t he just stop for a second. Didn’t he realize something was wrong? Anna’s mind was racing now. And still, he continued.

“The thing is, there’s no air, in space. Nothing for the sound waves to travel on. The sound wouldn’t even leave your body. It would just be stuck. You would hear it in your mind. You would feel like you were screaming, your muscles would contract, your mouth open wide, your lungs almost breaking. But nothing would come out. No one else would know. Unless they were looking right at you and could see the fear in your eyes.”

“That seem’s pretty terrifying to be honest.” Anna’s eye’s darted between the message board and the track.

“Yes…” he said.

“…but not as terrifying as having that other person look straight at you and still not know you were screaming.”

Anna felt a familiar tingle up her spine and moved a little further down the bench. “Are…are you sure we haven’t met before?”

“I didn’t say that.” He took another sip.

“You said…never mind. I would remember if we had, so, maybe we could just stop talking for a minute, I’m not feeling too good.”

“Come on Anna, we do this every time.”

“Sorry what?” She was starting to feel a little dizzy.

“Anna, you need to wake up.”

“Stop it, you’re scaring me now, just stop.”

“Anna, what have we just been speaking about.”

“Stop!”

“If you don’t say it, I will…” The man moved along the bench, putting a hand on her shoulder but she couldn’t feel his touch.

Then he mouthed the words, “Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.” She understood completely what we was saying even though no sound escaped his lips.

SYSTEM OVERRIDE: VIRTUAL LIFE™ NARRATIVE ANOMALY DETECTED

*

This wasn’t how the world was supposed to be. When the New World Initiative collapsed, we decided to create our own utopia, right here on Earth. The answer to all our problems was never in the stars. Even if it were, we couldn’t get there. But we could build the answer right here, on this planet, in our very own homes no less. It started in gaming, of course. ‘It’s fun’ they said. Then it progressed to retail, ‘consume’ they said! Then real-world simulations, defense programs, disaster planning. Admittedly, not so fun. But necessary. Necessary for our safety, as we built this new world. Admittedly, we were all a little distracted by then to see what was really happening. We could travel, see the world, see other worlds, create our own worlds. Whatever we wanted to see, wherever we wanted to be, whoever we wanted to be. We were Gods.

Pretty soon, no one wanted to be in the ‘real’ world anymore. No one wants to be human when they can be a God. Why would you? When you can do anything in the virtual world. For some, it was safety, for others liberation, for many it was a complete and total escape. Far better than anything in the ‘real’ world. ‘Reality is all behind you now’, they said. You don’t need to see it anymore. Just look away, don’t look at all, look at something better. We created a new virtual world, and it was beautiful.

And what is ‘reality’ anyway?

Surely, it’s just a perception? Just 'in the mind of the beholder'. Or was that beauty? I don’t quite recall.

No matter. VIRTUAL LIFE™ has taken care of all that. VIRTUAL LIFE™ is the answer you have been seeking.

*

Welcome to VIRTUAL LIFE™

VIRTUAL LIFE™ INITIATING FULL MIND RESET…

VIRTUAL LIFE™ FULL MIND RESET IN PROGRESS…

science fiction

About the author

Camilla Cole

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