He walked toward their beach house, the one he and Deborah had worked so hard to get. It was still hard to believe, after all the years of work, of saving and planning that they had finally made their dream a reality. The house on the beach, the 42 foot schooner moored to the dock, everything was perfect. Deborah, his true love and wife of 19 years, by his side, fulfilling everything he could have ever desired in a partner. He had never before been this content with his life. “Surfing,” he though to himself, “I think I’ll go surfing today.”
The sounds of the waves licking at the pier were in perfect sync with the gulls singing overhead. The breeze, out of the west, was soft and gentle on his face. He loved the smell of the salty air, it reminded him of family vacations at the coast when he was a child. But the coast where he and his parents would trek to during the hot Texas summers was nothing like this. Here, the sand wasn’t gray, but white, and delicate and pristine; the water not the sea green of the gulf, but a beautiful azure blue ocean, clear and crystalline.
He scooped his feet through the soft clean sand as he walked, relishing the sensations. He wanted the passing of time to freeze at this very moment, to seal and preserve forever this feeling, this moment, this wonderful sense of contentment. He would be happy to live in this moment and in this place for the rest of his life. “Heaven…this must be what Heaven is like,” he mused.
“Dad?” it was his daughter.
“Good Morning, Princess!”
Heather was almost 15 now, and had been begging to start driving lessons this summer, but the thought of her behind the wheel terrified him. In fact, the thought of driving period – had become unnerving to him. Maybe it was old age creeping in, or the increasingly dimming memory of hectic city driving, exchanged now for their life here on the island, where walking, biking and sailing were the only needed modes of transportation. The thought of Heather going away to college, and having to drive the treacherous highways, cars and trucks recklessly flying by and at her at breakneck speeds…he shivered.
“Princess, I’ve been thinking…about the driving lessons. I think, maybe, we should wait a little bit…maybe another year before…”
“Mom!” she shouted. “Why do we always have to remind him? Every time! It’s getting old.”
“Dad, walk into the water with me.” She waded out into the ocean defiantly, and then suddenly dropped under the surface.
“Heather!” He ran in, small explosions of foamy water flying out from under his feet, until she popped back up.
“Heather, that’s not funny! You scared the heck out of me.” They walked slowly back to shore, his arm wrapped around her shoulder.
“Dad, look.” she spoke softly now.
“What?” a smile returning to his face.
“Your pants, your shoes, your socks…see? See them? Geez.”
“Hey, I like these pants! And these are the shoes that…” he stopped.
“Dry? I’m…dry. But…”
Deborah’s voice broke into the growing awkward silence, “It’s the software glitch, Honey, we should have it fixed soon, I told you that already. You need to be patient, and stop shutting down at night like I told you. Now go get ready for school and let me talk with you dad.”
Deborah was now beside him, looking amazing. She always looked amazing. She was wearing a yellow sundress and sandals, and like the sun itself, radiated warmth and beauty from her hair, her eyes, her fingers. She was gorgeous, her long auburn hair waving gently with the ocean breeze. She rarely wore makeup or jewelry; she didn’t need it, and he loved that about her.
Still, after 19 years, there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t remind himself how lucky he was to have won her heart. He could have easily become one of those sad middle-aged men he used to see on business trips; unhappy with their spouse, pitifully and always unsuccessfully seeking illicit happiness with a waitress or a stranger in hotel lounges. They reminded him of desperate salmon, fighting the ruthless currents of time and reality, looking for a one night spawn.
“Software glitch…Deb, What are you talking about?” he chuckled, waiting for the joke.
“John, the upgrades should be available within a month or two, until then I’ll keep trying to make sure Heather doesn’t shut down at night unless…oh, wow, this is…” there was a disquieting despair creeping into her words. “I hate to keep having to tell you.”
“Tell me what? Deb, what is it?” his brow furrowed by his sincere confusion.
“John, once the upgrades come, you’ll be able to remember everything from the previous sessions. It’s just that, for now I have to tell you every…”
“Sessions? Deb, what’s going on? Where did Heather go? Tell me what?!” His frustration always seemed to reach a new high each time she went through this. It concerned her that it was beginning to turn to anger. She didn’t want Heather to see him like this, to spoil her memories of him.
“Heather had to sign out, she’ll be late for school again. She’ll be back online later.” she sighed.
“Deb…I don’t understand…”
“John…Baby, try to remember…the accident.”
“Accident?” his voice trembled.
“Yes, Baby. Six months ago. Try to remember, John. I hate this. They said that the AI interface-software-patch-thingy would fix this. What a waste of money. I should have just waited for the upgrade, but they said the patch would allow you uninterrupted access to the MARM data, without rebooting, but…
“Wait! MARM? The ‘MARM’ data? That was the mind and memory mapping program we did together in June. I…I remember. Memory, augmented…reality…module. MARM, that’s right isn’t it?”
“Good, baby. Yes, that’s right. That’s good. We did the baseline mind mapping together, the whole family. John…do you remember…the accident?” she waited.
“Rain,” he felt the blood drain from his face. “It was raining and I was late. The meeting in Portland,” his mind raced backwards. “I…I wanted to drive instead of flying. But…oh…” he felt sick. “God…please help me.”
“It’s OK, John. It’s over now.”
“No! I remember now, spinning out of control and…the truck, the semi…it was just there, in front of me, barreling at…me. Then…” he stopped as his mind replayed the sound of metal twisting, steel scraping against steel, glass shattering. He heard himself screaming, and then, the sickening smell of gasoline, of smoke, of intolerable heat, singeing his nostrils. He started to weep.
“I know baby. I know it’s hard, John, but it’s over now.”
“But,” he looked over his body; his perfect body, without scar, without blemish. He was lean and muscular and…perfect. “But, I…”
“John, your mind mapping data…your thoughts, your memories, your emotions…the essence of who you were…you’re still here. We created this sim, Heather and I, from the data you uploaded, so we could be together, and…”
“Were? I…I’m…” he stopped himself from saying the inevitable. Then silence. She knew it usually took him about 30 seconds from this point. She waited.
“I died? I’m dead? God, please help me…I died. This isn’t real? This isn’t real.”
“Baby, it is real. It is you. Don’t lose control, don’t let go of that thought, stay with me. John, everything that made you a person, everything that made you who you were is still here. You’re here. We can still be together.” she tried to reassure him, but she didn’t know what “being together” meant anymore.
“But, Deb, it’s not real, this isn’t real - none of it. The beach, our home…it’s…what is it…a simulation? This is all virtual…I’m not real…I’m…a program? I’m a damn software program?!”
“No. John it’s more than that, a lot more.”
“Dear God…help me.” his plea was desperate and sincere. Then, as if in answer, there was a sound, a cry…a baby.
“John, I’m so sorry, but I have to run. I have to get the baby ready, and my small group meeting at church is in 20 minutes, then I’m supposed to run over to see your mom, and..”
“John, I can’t do this again now. We’ll talk later, ok? I’ll be home about three-thirty. We’ll do something fun. Hang gliding or dancing at that weird Jazz club you like.”
“But…we had our baby? I don’t…”
“John, I have to shut down the computer again. I’m so sorry, but the cleaning people will be here today, and I don’t want the computer on when they’re around. So, I need to shut down, ok?”
“Wait. Shut down? What happens when you shut down?” he felt all of his breath being sucked out of him, gasping for air, for clarity, for…hope. He was terrified.
“Nothing happens, Baby. Just sleep. Go to sleep, and we’ll be together before you know it.”
“Deborah…I love you.” he heard his voice crack under the strain.
“I love you too, John. I miss you so much.”
“But, I’m right here…right?”
“Sleep, Baby,” she whispered.
The tears started to flow down her face now, the salty pools already blurring her vision of him. She forced herself to reach for the mouse. She’d already learned to do it quickly. Not to listen at this point, to go into autopilot. She clicked START, SHUT DOWN. Open programs began to close, the sequence would only take 30 seconds.
“God, please help me,” he whispered. He closed his eyes and began to pray.
By FoxM Ember
Originaly printed in Second Life Newspaper