Sunday, December 27, 2015

Vestigial Surreality: 03: Seven


Newbury stirred and opened her eyes in the blackness. It always seemed like waking up, rising from sleep, despite the fact that she had been more active over the past three days than any collective seven days in her previous life, maybe even ten days, or more. She should expect to be tired, exhausted, after seventy-two hours, and yet she felt wonderful. The lid of the chamber rose silently and the very dim lighting in the bunker greeted her eyes like full daylight. She blinked several times and instinctively yawned, although she was not tired, not in the least.
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2015 - Vestigial Surreality: THREE
Newbury swung her long legs over the side of the padded chamber and rose to a sitting position. All her limbs tingled, especially her fingers and toes. She pushed herself away from the chamber and stood, taking deep breaths, smiling.
She felt alive. More fully and vibrantly alive than at any other time in her twenty years of existence.
She padded softly with bare feet in quick steps to the bathroom and switched on the mulled warm lights. She caught sight of herself in the mirror and for a few moments, she hardly recognized herself. The young woman with the short blonde hair in the mirror appeared to have just come from a health spa where she must have sampled every conceivable beauty treatment.
Newbury inhaled deeply, staring at the stranger that was herself. Her skin glowed. Her eyes were large and bright. Even her hair seemed lit from within. She never thought such things about herself, but the young woman in the reflection was beautiful.
She felt like the luckiest girl alive. She had applied for this experimental program, really as just a lark. But she had been one of the fortunate few to pass the battery of both psychological and physical diagnostics. At first, it was nothing more than that she needed money and the college provided only very limited opportunities for scholarship students. This research participation had seemed ideal, as it did not interfere with her school time, and it provided experiences, which had up to this point seemed more like speculative fiction. And at triple the pay of any mundane job she might have found, this gig answered all her needs, and more. She wanted it to be permanent, even though she only had a two-month contract.
More than anything, she wanted to race back over to the chamber and immerse herself again. But she had to steel herself, as there were requirements she must meet. Sighing, she hurried back to the chamber and seated herself into the modular desk that was a part of the chamber itself. She flipped up the small LCD screen and a keyboard of light appeared on the glass desk surface beneath the screen. It was not a physical keyboard, but much like a smartphone projection. It was just like entering information in her phone, only slicker, as the keyboard was lifesize.
Newbury quickly typed her information and as soon as she completed the first menu, her own face replaced the text fields on the screen. Softly she spoke her report. Her words came easily. She rattled off the required explanations and descriptions, spreaking softly and quickly. This part seemed like nothing more complicated than recording a selfie video for friends.
Requirements met, she stood away from the desk and stretched her body. The sensation was amazing. Her arms and legs and torso seemed powerful, ready to go, muscles tingling. She was bursting with fabulous energy.
She went to the base of the chamber and peered at the display screen. All her numbers were listed. She had just logged seventy-two hours, and this was the third time she had completed a three-day cycle. Now she felt confident enough to try some of the extended cycles that her more experienced peers, far longer in the program, were regularly completing.
Newbury strode to the next chamber and casually read the data shining on its screen. Number Six was deep into a thirty-day cycle. She was not sure if she was ready for this kind of commitment, but felt the seven-day cycle should be easy enough to complete. She progressed down the line, glancing at screens. Number Five was nearing the end of a seven-day cycle, for the second time. Number Four had just begun a seven-day cycle, for the second time. Number Three, another Elder Veteran (they were called), was midway through a sixty-day cycle, and Newbury noted that Number Three had progressed steadily from a three-day cycle, to seven-day, thirty-day, to the present cycle.
Numbers Two and One were newbies, like herself. Number Two was on the third day of a three-day cycle, and Number One was just reaching the second day of a first three-day cycle. Wow, Number One was really new to this. Newbury felt a pleasant sense of surprise, as she was not the lowest man on the totem pole any longer; lowest woman, she mentally corrected. She felt like an Elder Veteran compared to these two, although she would in reality must complete two seven-day cycles before she could be considered an Elder Veteran.
Once she gained Elder Veteran status she would sign a new seven-month contract. She felt so excited. For the first time in her life she had found something at which she was very good.
She knew nothing of the people lying in these chambers, separated from her by only a few feet, other than assuming that they, like her, were students. But the chamber screens revealed nothing of gender, age, name, or anything else of a personal nature. If she wanted, she could watch their slow breathing, which displayed on each screen as slowly rising and falling graphs. The undulations of the graphs were hypnotic. Pulse rates displayed as a tiny beating heart shape, like a little Valentine, with the numbers beneath, which remained steady on each display at thirty-two beats per minute.
Newbury was not really curious about the six other chambers. She was interested in her chamber, and she had to force herself not to run to her chamber. She strolled slowly, measuring each step, dragging her fingertips lightly along each silent chamber as she passed. Perhaps she should get a glass of water, or use the bathroom, but the fact was, she felt perfect, she needed nothing, not food, not water, and incredible excitement ascended throughout her body.
For the first time in her life, she truly felt that she had found…home.
Newbury knew she was supposed to wait a few hours before beginning a new cycle, but she couldn’t wait, it felt like Christmas morning.
She quickly rolled into her chamber and situated herself comfortably in the warm sponge of the bed. The upper portion of the chamber descended and she closed her eyes, sighing.
Distantly, Newbury heard the hum of the field suffusing her, and she felt the delicious ripple at the back of her neck, chills, really more like thrills. What did they call it, a goose walking over your grave? Something like that.
This part felt like falling asleep, and in a moment she sensed her body drop, just an instant of the falling sensation, and then she was weightless. Newbury was cradled, in the womb, something other than herself, more like an amoeba than a human being. And she liked this feeling, as well. This was the good part just before it got truly great.
She separated.
She was in her Inner Sanctum, a domicile of her own creation. Warm natural light filled the space, just beyond the foyer arch. One moment she was amoeba, and the next moment she was more herself, more herself, well, she…was. Newbury was, Newbury is, Newbury will be.
Newbury stood, lightly, with one hand on a low foyer table, just inside the warm red door. The warm red door was just at her back, she could feel it behind her, even though she was not really touching the lacquered door. The tabletop beneath her fingertips felt alive. Everything seemed alive, sparkling with breath, tingling with light.
Before her the steps of white tile led down, three simple steps. She loved stepping on the rough white stone in her bare feet. But for a few moments she did not descend, as she enjoyed looking down into her Inner Sanctum. Warm, soothing, rich, textured, her safe, safe place, she was safe, she was alive, and an infinity of possibility was just before Newbury with the ceiling rising high above her in the Inner Sanctum, and gleaming wood of the polished floors inviting her, and far across she could just discern the dancing flames in the stone hearth. She slowly strolled down the white steps onto the wooden floor. Yes. She always loved this part, entering her Inner Sanctum, with the big red lacquered door behind her, safe. She touched the rough beige stucco of the textured wall, the small arched doorway where she passed from the foyer into the Inner Sanctum itself.
Newbury spun around like a little child, throwing out her arms, her head back, eyes closed, and she spun gracefully, twirling like the distant memory of her childhood, images of the little pink ballerina in the music box, ah yes, she twirled, safe, home within her Inner Sanctum.
Desk, she thought, and opened her eyes at her massive rolltop desk. She was in the cozy office chair, and she reached and rolled up the rumbling cover of the desk. With her peripheral vision she noted the red door up on her left and the three white tiled steps leading down to the wooden floor. She didn’t have to do this, open the desk each time, but she loved the feel of the red wood slats rumbling upward, the pigeon holes appearing with all her neat cards and notes and folded sheets of crisp white paper, each in its place, as she was in her place.
She drew a creamy sheet of parchment from the top left pigeonhole of the desk, and unfolded the thick paper and smoothed it into the air just to her left. She swiveled in her office chair, resting her hands on the fine wooden arms of the chair. She glanced at the paper in the air and expanded it with a thought. She checked through her classes for the day, mentally ticking off the various assignments and homework. She flicked her eyes to the left and the surface of the paper scrolled slowly, moving from right to left, and Newbury checked each day for the next two weeks, and yes, she congratulated herself, she was this far ahead of schedule. In fact, much of her itinerary in the third week going forward was already completed. She blinked her eyes softly and the scrolling paper vanished.
She checked to make certain the folded parchment was in its pigeonhole, which she knew was silly, but she had accepted long ago that this was her personality; she liked things in their places. She enjoyed seeing things in their places. A while back, she had experimented with being messy, but it just didn’t suit her.
Newbury reached into her hair and pulled. In RL, her hair was short and marginally blonde, but here she could pull it out all shaggy and shades of red. She liked to pull masses out and around her shoulders, and then toss back her head. It was wonderful, like trying on an expensive hat, yet it was as sensitive as hair always felt, and she could pull handfuls in front of her face and smell it, weigh it, and enjoy the way the light glimmered on the blonde strands amidst the red, like tangles of silver and gold.
She never spent much time ogling her own appearance, and did not consider herself vain, not in the least, but if once a day she loved to play with handfuls of her hair, her full, living hair, and then toss all of it back over her shoulders as if she really did not care about such things. She loved that moment, the first weight of her hair swinging back over her shoulders, as if she were advertising the best shampoo in the world.
Newbury stood from her desk, enjoying the feel of her hair tugging behind her, and strolled across the large bumpy throw rug, taking a moment to scrub her bare toes deep into the coarse knots of weave, then eased into the alcove where she sometimes enjoyed reading her books. She peered out the window at the densely thick pine trees and the squirrels racing about. She always had to force herself not to lull here, staring out into the forest, as she might find herself dreamily standing before this window, hours later.
She heard the grandfather clock begin tolling the hour. She loved to count the strikes. When the ninth bell struck, she allowed herself to depart the window. It was time to check in on her research project. She returned to the great red rolltop desk and retrieved a small box from the center drawer. She thought of the deep leather sofa and found herself there, and placed the box on the heavy wooden coffee table.
Coffee, she thought, and her favorite brown mug appeared in her hand, steaming. Often she went through the whole ritual of brewing the coffee, French-pressing it. But for now, she luxuriated in the feel of the smooth, creamy surface of the mug in her hands, breathing in the wafting aroma. The cup was warm, as if the coffee had been waiting for her, waiting perfectly for just this perfect moment.
Almond milk, she thought, and a white swirl appeared in the dark coffee. She reached for and seized the end of the silver spoon even as it appeared, and stirred the coffee slowly. Honey, she thought, and stirred that nectar into the mix. Then she smiled, and thought cinnamon, and then, finally, a dash of ginger.
She lifted the mug to her lips and sampled the brew. Ah, yes, ooh, that was good. Hot, thick, good, and what a wonderful taste. She had never tasted coffee this good, absolutely never in RL.
“Okay,” she breathed, her own voice startling her, and she half laughed. She set the coffee mug on the table and unfastened the small, embroidered box. She swung back the small lid and reached into the box and produced a small, crystal cube about the size of one regulation dice. She held the glass cube up in the light and examined the contents. It appeared to be a very green park layout, tiny between her fingers.
She placed the glass box on the center surface of the wooden coffee table. No, she didn’t like that. Glass, she thought, and the coffee table became an unlikely sculpture of crystal glass. She inhaled, as the table was beautiful. Of course, in RL, such a thing would be a horror, you would never be able to come close to it without breaking it—just looking at it could shatter it into a million pieces—but in the Here, it was just…perfect.
Expand, she thought. The tiny glass box expanded rapidly, encompassing the surface of the coffee table. At the last moment, she snatched the coffee cup from the table and nearly sloshed coffee on herself. That would have been just like me, she thought, grinning wryly. It would really have caused no damage, other than to her ego, of course, because any kind of spill here could be remedied with just half a thought.
She readjusted the glass box so that it extended the edges of the table on all sides by about four inches, and then she cut away the top half of the box with a dismissing gesture of her index finger. She looked in at the scene. She leaned forward from the sofa, felt the sides of the glass box, and then whisked them away. Now she could get in close.
Newbury watched the kid coming through the park and she smiled as she instantly caught on to the silly race in progress. She witnessed the kid noticing the children, and then the girl, of course, and then his comical slip up due to an unseen sprinkler head in the grass. He never paid attention to his surroundings, or, she corrected, the kid never paid attention to the proper things. He certainly paid extra attention to the girl with the children. Teenagers, she thought, shaking her head. Then realized with whimsical guilt the reality that just five months ago she had been a teenager, herself! That seemed a long, long time ago. The world had been a very different place when she was nineteen years of age.
She leaned in close. The businessman seemed somewhat familiar. She called up a window above the table, isolating the businessman’s face as he glanced briefly to where the kid was nearly taking a spill, and the businessman grinned. Was he famous, she wondered, studying him, a handsome Asian man in his forties, possibly fifties. There was something about him, Newbury thought, something that troubled her. The businessman glanced directly at her, holding her gaze for just an instant, before turning his attention to his iPhone.
“That was weird,” Newbury said, startling herself again with her own voice. She blinked at the close-up view of the businessman and the window vanished.
She pulled in the view toward her, zooming, eavesdropping on the two at the picnic table as the kid arrived, at full, normal volume, as if she was at the picnic table with them, as if she stood at the end of the table and looked slightly down on them, each person only a few feet away.
“Girls. Hmm. They. Are. Distractions,” the businessman was saying, and as he spoke he glanced to the side and slightly upward, again meeting Newbury’s eyes.
Newbury was not present, in the park, she was not there, not truly. So the businessman could not be meeting her eyes, as her eyes were nowhere near the park, and yet he looked directly to her angle of view, and quite deliberately, had met her gaze, but only for a moment.
The pair at the picnic table exchanged a few words, and then the young man lost himself in his moleskin journal. Newbury, more fascinated than she ought to be, considering the lack of drama at the table in the park, felt herself suffused with a sense of unreality. But no kidding, how much was a human mind expected to leap? She was not in the park. She was not seated on a leather couch watching a crystal diorama. In reality, her eyes were closed, and she was lying cocooned in a spongey chamber, utterly in the dark. She could almost sense her body lying there, quietly, not moving, barely breathing, her pulse slowed to thirty-two beats per minute.
And yet she was fully here, a presence at the end of a picnic table, simultaneously sitting comfortably on a leather couch, leaning forward, while simultaneously lying prone in the dark.
She lifted her hands to her heart. Not really, as these were her Here hands, in her Inner Sanctum, and so really there were no hands clasped at a heart that wasn’t here either, and yet her presence was here at the end of the picnic table and she could feel, with her hands, her heart racing in her breast, she could feel her pulse throbbing in something that felt very much like fright.
Unreality rippled across her presence, because the businessman seated a few feet away from her had looked at her, twice. First he had glanced out at her from the isolated window she called up, the close-up view she used to study his face. He saw her, although that was absurdly impossible. And now he had turned his head in the opposite direction, to meet her gaze again, from another angle. He had seen her, Newbury was sure of it, even as he said that girls were distracting, as if he were more speaking to the unseen young woman than to the teenager.
Part of her wanted to close this research project down, right now, just shrink down the glass cube and fit it back into the embroidered box, latch the lid, and return the thing to her desktop drawer. Or, she thought, she could throw it into the brass wastebasket next to the red rolltop desk. But then again, she could not stop watching.
Newbury watched the businessman with the silver half-lens spectacles as he pretended to perform tasks on his iPhone, while all the while he watched the kid through the corners of his eyes. The kid was in another place, yet seated at the picnic table, but his mind was soaring as his fingers moved furiously, the pen scratching on the paper in the journal. The businessman was nodding, studying the boy.
Newbury called up a quick window near her face, zooming in on the businessman’s hands and the silver iPhone. She pulled the view in closer. The businessman was actually doing things even though he was not really looking at the device, calling up e-mails, discarding them, opening a schedule that was marked to the minute, and then she caught a glimpse of another screen behind the flashing windows on the iPhone. It was a familiar looking window, one she had looked at many times that displayed a respiratory graphic and a pulse graphic, with the label, Number Seven: OBSERVING.
She caught her breath. Number Seven, that was Newbury!
The screen flashed and filled with videofeed. She recognized it at once, the shaky hand-held wobble, that view when someone turns on their own facecam and takes a moment to center their own image on the screen, and suddenly she was looking close-up into the businessman’s dark eyes, and he was frowning at her over his silver half-lens spectacles, slowly shaking his head.
Then her window closed. She did not close it. It was an outside control. The businessman himself closed the window, her close-up view on his iPhone. Not only did the view disappear, but so too the floating window. He had commandeered her own sacred space, reaching into her very Inner Sanctum.
Newbury returned her view to her unseen perspective at the end of the table and watched as the businessman pocketed his iPhone and began speaking with the teenager. They discussed a few books she had never heard of, and as she sat huddled on the couch, feeling cold and alone, isolated, she saw the businessman make a series of intricate finger motions in the air, all done while the teenager was looking away from him, and she witnessed the carving appear deep in the bark of the tree, the four letters appearing in a very deliberate series.
Somehow the businessman, from six feet away from the tree, had carved the teenager’s name into the bark. Without thinking she zoomed in on the letters. They looked aged, weathered, as if someone had carved the name there years ago.
Newbury closed the whole view. She sat at her wooden coffee table, grasping her coffee cup to her breast, the glass cube inside the embroidered box returned to the top drawer of the red rolltop desk.
She looked up at the glass dome of her Inner Sanctum where it was always night, where all the fiery stars glittered and planets shone. She noted one planet burning too brightly. It seemed to be growing larger as she watched.
Saturn became plainly visible, with all its rings, hanging in the succulent night sky. Newbury dropped her favorite mug of coffee but it vanished before it struck the wood floor.

© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).

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related terms, ideas, works:
ancestor simulation, digital ark, salvation of humanity,
vestigial surreality, manda project, rocket to saturn,
the singularity, the butterfly effect, simulated reality, matrix,
virtual reality, otherland, the matrix, 1q84, haruki murakami,
hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, dreaming,
the dream place, waking from a dream, ready player one,
hologram, holodeck, saturn, saturnalia, cycles of time,
simulacron-3, daniel f. galouye, counterfeit world,
tad williams, science fantasy, science fiction,
Victor Frankenstein, Nikola Tesla, genius
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mystery, thriller, horror, techno thriller,
signs and wonders, vestigial surreality,
william gibson, neal stephenson, serial,
cyberpunk, dystopian future, apocalypse,
scifi, mmorpg, online video game world,
end times, apocalypse, armageddon,
digital universe, hologram universe,
sunday sci-fi fantasy serial fiction,
virtual reality, augmented reality
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puppets, puppetry, punch
Elon Musk, Tesla, VR

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