“My reality is my video feed! Going outside, that is just another display, another screen…” Ahn mulled the thought over in her mind. Her client Julie said those words earlier during their therapy session to deal with her unhealthy video game addiction.
Ahn quickly forgot Julie. She was absorbed, her eyes unfocused, staring off into space. She was sitting indoors, in her office, but was watching the small display just to the left of her vision, a video overlaid against what she saw, of a man golfing at a course next to the ocean. She could hear the waves crashing, smell the salt. Ahn absolutely loved this new model!
Ahn brushed her hair back from her forehead self consciously. She wanted everyone to see the new scar on her temple, it would only last a few days. She closed the video and pulled up her calendar in her display and scrolled through it quickly, looking for when- there, 3 PM today. She would see Margaret at the Partner meeting, and rub her new acquisition in her face. Margaret with her Prada purse and her Jimmy Choos. Ahn clenched her hands in anger just thinking about her. Always trying to get one up on me, but she doesn’t have this. Ahn smiled, and brushed her hair back from her temple again.
She flicked her eye quickly to flip to a new tab on her iPlant 14 display. It was larger and sharper then her previous model. The papers on her desk, reports of staff schedules and progress on their clients bored her. She continued to scroll through the iPlant feed and switched tabs over and over, searching for more golf videos.
Suddenly all of Ahn’s vision flicked in and then out, juxtaposing two different realities. She was in her office by herself, standing by the door-
- A face was in front of her, twisted with fear, his mouth curled, his teeth bared in a scream. She knew this bearded man, but from where, and what was he scared of, should she be afraid too? Rage coursed through her-
A spike of fire, agony in her temple, stopped her thoughts. She closed her eyes against the pain, the vision of the man in front of her that was so wrong. What is happening! Panic engulfed her, drowning everything out.
She put her hand to the wall for balance, and then pulled it back as if it had been burned, the touch of cold hard wall where she expected soft office wallpaper, the Burberry plaid she had picked out herself. She opened her eyes to a bright white room, as if the color had been drained out, turned into a black and white version of reality.
“Where am I?” she cried out and the blackness crept in, her field of vision narrowing into a vignette photo, shrinking to just the scuffed white floor, then gone.
- Ahn was back at her desk, staring out of her spectacular floor to ceiling window. Her view to a vibrant green golf course below her glowed with the morning sun. The iPlant display feed rolled down the left side of her vision, providing readings on the types of trees and plants she saw even from this distance, the name of the bird soaring by- a ‘red-tailed hawk’.
Ahn jumped up, her memory of her last moments sparking her muscles, launching her up and away from her desk into the open space of her office, was it a dream?
She ran thru a self-diagnosis, could it be schizophrenia or early onset Alzheimer's? Even Parkinson's disease causes hallucinations, she thought.
She stood in the quiet room, looked around at the furniture and decorations she knew she herself picked out. As a Partner and practicing therapist at the Frederick, Carter, Irving and Associates, she did not have the corner office, but it was close. A couch, to the right of her mahogany desk, chairs for her staff when they came in, and dramatic art on the walls.
Her hand went up to her left temple, she brushed a small wound, gently with her finger, scared of recreating the pain, felt nothing more than a slightly tender bruise. She absentmindedly blinked, and darted her eyes up and to the left to adjust the display in her vision to show the calendar view of her day, meetings with people she knew, on topics that were familiar and mundane.
Ahn willed herself to breath deep to calm down. She ran through what she did know: she remembered her office, she remembered her name, Ahn Carter, her job at F.C.I.A. She looked down and recognized the tan slacks and light blue blouse she was wearing. She remembered buying the outfit last week and loved how they fit.
But she did not remember today! The hair on her neck stood up, a chill rolled down her arms, goosebumps under her thin blouse. She could not recollect anything from earlier that day, how she came to be sitting at her desk. And who was that frightened man? Her body felt wrong, weak, heavier than it should.
“Ahn, Hello?” A man’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
Ahn jumped, almost falling over in her turn toward the voice echoing in the room. She stared at one of the most gorgeous men she had ever seen. Ahn’s eyes moved from his closely shaved square jaw, down to his muscular arms and shoulders, then to his narrow waist and tight dress slacks-
“Are you OK?” The man said. This is Chris, Ahn knew him. He is my assistant, Ahn’s thought came unbidden to her, and I tolerate his mistakes because of his looks.
“Chris, I am a little confused, do you know how I hit my head?” Ahn asked, she touched her temple again, harder and-
-The spike was back, fire shooting behind her eyes, blues and greens and yellows reflecting in an explosion of light. Her hands covered her face, squeezing her forehead to stop the pain. Blinking several times she opened her eyes and through her fingers saw a vision of somewhere else, the white room, blank walls. Sudden vertigo made her put a foot forward to catch her fall, and she felt hard floor underneath her, not her office carpet. The wave of agony crested, then faded. She opened her eyes and brought her hands down. Her office was back, the light shining through the floor length window, the green hills vibrant and Chris in front of her looking concerned.
She heard Chris’ voice soft and caring. “Are you OK Ahn, what is wrong?”
“I am getting serious headaches, and then I have these visions of a white room? Maybe a visual psychosis...” Ahn’s mind was spinning, what was the appropriate diagnosis for her hallucinatory symptoms. Is this what her patients see, this it seemed so real?
“Oh goodness. Come here, sit down. "Chris led Ahn over to her couch. “This happens sometimes- keep your eyes closed. I’ll be right back.”
She focused on her breathing, not able to risk opening her eyes. Her whole body shook with fear, a door had opened in her stable reality and she was falling through it, an Alice in Wonderland experience she was used to seeing in her patients, not herself. Would she see a white rabbit next?
“Here.” Chris’s open hand had a blue pill in front of her and his other a plastic cup of water.
“What is this?” She opened her eyes tentatively.
“Just take it. It will reduce the headaches.” Chris stared at her. “There might be something going on with the new implants.”
Ahn took the pill and water. “What implants?”
“The scar on your temple? It is from your upgrade, iPlant 14.3." Chris' voice was dry and fast, a monotone like he has said this before. "The visual display is faster loading, larger display, with enhanced connectivity to your other senses. FCIA provided it for you. It does take some time to transition, as it connects to your neural synapses.”
Chris tapped his temple with his finger. “I don't make the big bucks so I still got the old number 10. I’m jealous.” Chris nodded at the pill. That will solve it, go on.”
Ahn put the pill in her mouth and took a sip of water, then handed the cup back, closing her eyes. “Thanks, can you cancel the rest of the day? I think I need to just rest.”
“No problem. Use the intercom if you need anything.” Chris stood up and closed the office door behind him with a soft clink.
Ahn’s eyes opened abruptly. Something was wrong, and she needed to know what it was. She pulled the pill out from under her tongue and looked at it, it glistened in the office light, small and insignificant.
Ahn had moved to her desk, she had searched it unsuccessfully for some clue about herself, about what was going on when there was a knock at the door and Chris entered without waiting, her was holding a white box.
“Here is your lunch Ahn.” His voice reverberated in the office.
The acrid smell of burnt meat and steamed vegetables curled Ahn’s nose. “Oh- what is that?”
“It is, uh Thai. You love Thai, it is your favorite?” Chris lifted up the take-away box even higher
“Thai!" Faintly at first, then growing stronger the aroma changed until Ahn could almost taste the curry, and dal lentils. “Oh great, thanks for getting it. I’m just so busy. Oh, that curry smells good!” Ahn took the box and put it on her desk.
“Oh Chris, I need to get out of this office! Tomorrow for real this time, I am going outside for a walk at lunch. I am tired of being cooped up. Would you want to come, we can walk over to the park?” Ahn waved to the window and the green park outside as she put the box on her desk.
Chris' eyes didn’t leave Ahn. “Tomorrow, yah, sure tomorrow.” He quickly straightened out his brief smile.
Seeing Chris again inspired her, maybe he could help her. “I am thinking about hitting some balls after work, interested? You golf, right? We can get a drink after-”
“-I have to get home tonight Ahn, maybe next time-” Chris shrugged.
Let me know! We can go to the course, maybe on Friday…” Ahn’s eyes unfocused to pull up her iPlant display. She saw the calendar view pop up, then the display shook. Purple lights shot across her vision, the whole room turned white, ribbons of pain gripped her head. She stumbled and put her hand on her desk to hold herself up. Her other hand went to the source of the agony, grabbing at her temple. She squeezed her eyes closed, waiting for the debilitating spasm to pass. Looking up, she opened them to see a short black women standing in front of her, an expression of concern on her face. The harsh fluorescent light glared off the white walls-
She blinked and Chris was back, his hands out.
“Who is that woman?” Ahn shrieked.
“You are not feeling well.” Chris said in a smooth voice. “Come over to the bed.”
“Bed? You mean couch- I just saw a woman, right where you are standing.” Ahn pointed at Chris. “She was looking at me like she knew me, how- there is no one else here?” Ahn looked around her office
Ahn pulled back from Chris’ arm directing her to her couch. ”I should go home-” Ahn took a step toward her office door to leave.
“No!” Chris’s voice sharp and demanding. “No, just lie down on your bed. You need to rest, sleep will let the pill reset your iPlant and stop the transition side effects.”
Ahn took one more step toward the door, but Chris forcibly moved her to the couch.
“Ok, just for a minute.” Ahn laid down and closed her eyes while Chris left. She thought again of that man’s face, dark complexioned with a beard. Why was he scared of her? Thinking about him brought a smell too, a musk-filled, comforting odor that surrounded her.
Lying on her couch, she opened the iPlant display to look for a diagnosis for her hallucinations. She rolled through her display, screen after screen until the headaches began again. The stabbing pain through her temple. She was getting used to it now, understanding it came in waves. A strong crash, and suddenly instead of a couch she was on a hard bed, only a thin pad below her. She was in the white room again, blank walls surrounding her. And she knew, like she had always known, that man in her dreams, was Richard, Richard her husband! Hot tears began to run down her cheeks. What was happening to her! The white room lasted almost a full minute before the hallucination ended and she was back in her office.
She went back to her desk, rifling through it again, looking for her purse maybe, a wallet, anything to find an answer to her questions. She only saw office supplies, paper, pencils, paperclips and staples, but no stapler no pens. That seemed odd -
She shut the desk drawer with a slam. She turned to the credenza behind her and began filing through the few papers there, a certificate of recognition, a few marketing fliers. She put her hand on the wall to lean in -and felt hard plastic. Looking to the wall, she saw her wallpaper, and a framed picture of a landscape scene, boring and in muted colors. She closed her eyes and felt the wall, touched each wall but one of her office, all cold hard plastic.
She hesitated before she searched the last wall, not wanting to know.
The last wall, the floor to ceiling beautiful window, that felt like plastic too, not the glass it should have been. Her hands shook with fear and feeling of losing touch. She needed an answer from the one person she could trust. She went to her office door, she pulled at the handle, twisting the knob, locked!
She slammed her fist on the wood door, over and over, the metallic clanging reverberating around her.
Chris came in, his eyes narrowed with concern.
“Chris, what is going on?" Ahn yelled. "The walls don’t feel right, they are not wallpaper, but the hard plastic- I think my psychosis is moving from visual to haptic hallucinations-”
“-Calm down Ahn, your implants are failing.” Chris reached in his pocket, began fumbling with a small device. “You are getting mixed up images and feelings, from, uh -past times in your life. Your mind is choosing your reality based on your subconscious desires. ”
“That makes no sense-” Ahn watched Chris morph into a small black woman, wearing a blue shirt and a utility belt, the white room surrounding them both.
Ahn’s fear took over and she stepped back, bumping into her desk, she reached for her office chair, now a thin plastic stool, and rushed the woman , swinging hard, missing.
-A vice grip of pain encircled Ahn's head, much worse than what she felt before, ricocheting through her body, her legs falter, she collapses onto the floor. Ahn pushed up with her arms, the woman was pointing a small black controller at her. The walls of her office vibrated, shimmied back and forth, back and forth from her beautiful striped wall paper glowing from the window to the bright white walls and a partially opened metal door. The sparse white room wins out, .
“Sorry Ahn, I had to shock you to listen. I am here to protect you. Calm down. I am calling for help.” The woman turned away and spoke softly, internally through her own iPlant.
Ahn her head half way down, watched, waiting for just the moment when the women's attention drifted away -
-Now! Ahn launched herself up, knocking the controller to the floor and then slamming the smaller woman’s head back to the wall, and then on top of her.
“Where am I, where is my husband?" Ahn raged, screaming. “Where have you taken me!”
“You’re in FCIA.” The woman’s uniform was all blue, a badge on her chest. Her head was bleeding where Ahn hit her with the chair, her hand reaching down to a gun on her hip-
Ahn slammed the woman’s head back again. "FCIA - the company?"
“Federal Corrections Institute, Atlanta. You are in prison, Ahn, solitary. You have the implant for compliance. Except it didn't take- if you had swallowed the pill I gave you this would be resolved.”
She paused, looking up at Ahn from below her. “You should really have taken the pill Ahn, it makes everything easier-”
“-Prison?” Ahn sat back. Memories started to come back at the word, of handcuffs, of sitting at a long table, men in suits, a judge.
“I have a husband- why can’t I see him, why am I stuck in this room?” Ahn heard the sound of boots running down the hall outside.
“Ahn- it will go easier for you if you let me up-” the guard said.
“Please- I need to know…”
“Your husband?” The woman answered. “You don’t remember?”
Ahn looked down at this woman in fear. The guard's body flicked back to Chris, bleeding from his forehead laying on her office carpet, until the figure stabilized back into a prison guard.
“You’re famous you know.” The guard smiled. “I followed your story in the news feed. There was a video too. You found your husband cheating on you at a golf course- you beat him to death with his golf club. Then you killed his mistress too-”
“Her name was Margaret-” Ahn said, remembering, swinging her club again and again at his bearded face, his blood spurting everywhere. The guards pushed into the room, and pinned her to the cold hard ground.
“Don’t worry Ahn, you won’t remember any of this.” The guard pressed the button the controller, Ahn’s reality turned black and cold.