Dear Diary, it's me again, Cassandra Jiro, living day eight in isolation.
At least I think that's how many it's been? Without a clock or calendar and no way to leave, I can't be sure. All I have is the ceiling illumination as morning arrives, and fading again as night falls.
All things considered, I'm doing well. I have food, filtered water, and clean air. My home is a hermetically sealed refuge from the world, but I miss being connected to the Central-Net, that damn virus shut down everything.
AQ they called it. It swept the net; shutting down low-tech systems. My little Mimic-Kitten LUXLEE started to glitch, became immobile, and went offline. The virtual interior in my home stopped shortly after. What was a charming provincial French cottage became a pale windowless box. Even the ceiling illumination lacks warmth.
The government issued positive messaging, we were told cybernetics were not at risk. Still, people were on edge, so many had implants and some had major replacements. The buying frenzy started, food and other essentials were being delivered in record numbers, I admit I got caught up in it. I'm glad I did because the second wave hit even harder.
AQX they called this one, officials urged everyone to remain calm and stay connected to the Net for updates. The virus moved out into segments quickly. They tried to block the transmission, but it evolved and rerouted. The most at risk were those who had replaced most of their older, failing human parts with cybernetics. They became immobile, bedridden, and some did not make it.
I was confident in my augmentations; I borrowed a lot of credits to buy the best, so I stayed connected to watch all of this unfold.
Then it found me.
I could feel the infection as it started. My arm was the first to alert me. There was no known defense, I immediately disconnect from the net and hoped it didn't fully download. The left side of my body was most affected, my cybernetic arm was unresponsive, and my left cornea had darkened. I was lucky I wasn't blind and deaf, but that wasn't the worst of it, the outside door was locked, and only my cybernetic arm knew the complex gesture sequence to open it.
Dear Diary, day twelve? Just finished a holiday food pack, I wanted to celebrate something. Being alone doesn't scare me, people scare me. My parents owned a small farm, they didn't have money for expensive designer genetic preparations; they took a chance on nature getting it right. I was born with ten toes and five fingers, my left arm was just a stubby thing. Growing up with a birth defect was tough, especially with all the beautifully engineered, genetically perfect kids around me. The doctor said they could replace my arm once I was an adult, so I survived high school, but it was during that time that I stopped wanting to be around people.
Day fourteen. I am not sure why, but I feel a bit of panic today, two weeks and nothing. I really wanted to reconnect to the net this morning in the worst way. Would the virus finish me? Would it infect my cybernetic senses, would I be blind and deaf?
If only I could open that goddamn front door.
I'm a little stir crazy. Lying in bed, I count the vent slots on the air exchanger above me.
I wonder how Ari is doing? He is the best friend I have never really seen, at least not in the real-world sense, I know it's ridiculous but the thought of meeting him for real scares me, he seems so down to earth, he isn't fake and I'm falling for him. We met online one night in a social hub; he was one of the few persons there that used his actual face, no virtual make-up, just him, I liked that. I wasn't as brave. I had to put on my best hair, best eyes, best skin, I looked amazing in my stupid virtual mask.
Dear Diary, day fifteen, my food supply is ok for now I am getting concerned. My cybernetic arm feels weird, at least my stub arm had sensations, now the whole thing is just numb and heavy. What am I even doing sitting here? I need to figure out a way to open that door. Maybe voice commands? I never set that up, I should have, they recommended it, but why when my arm knows over 2000 complex gestures, opening the door is easy. There must be some kind of voice override, think Cass, think.
"door, open," I say, my voice sounds weird, raspy. I haven't spoken in weeks, probably normal. The door remains pale and unmoving.
"Open sesame," I say with a little more emphasis, no change.
"Ugh." I go back and sit down, glaring at the door, my evil nemesis. I bet there is a cure for this virus on the net already, I could reconnect, my arm would receive the fix, my eye would self-correct and I would be good as new.
Although, the alternative would leave me completely in the dark, literally deaf and blind with no hope of getting out of here. I can't risk it, there has to be another solution.
"What would you do, LUXLEE?" I ask my fluffy lifeless mechanical roommate, I move her to a new shelf just to change something in the house.
Dear Diary. I have a box or so of food packets left, I will probably start to eat half a pack for now. It looks like I have about a week. I've tried every damn door command I could think of, I even screamed at it and kicked it a couple of times, but nothing. Seriously, what am I going to do? Oh God, I want to reconnect to the net so badly. I miss seeing Ari; I miss talking with him. I just want to see him, he always makes the world less stressful. I love how he makes fun of the artificial cinnamon toast I make each morning. Make real toast, he says, but why when I can just tell my house to add more butter.
"Oh My God. There is a control panel in this house somewhere?" I remember the sales guy boasting 'you could even add a pound of butter to your morning toast' from the settings stored in the home panel.
"First of all, Gross. But forget that, I'm a genius. The question is, where is it?"
I scour the entire house, every wall, every space looking for a seam, a secret door, something that would show me that panel, but to no avail.
Day seventeen. I found it! I almost gave up, but it was right there in front of me all the time, up in the air exchanger vent, I could see the faint glimmer of the edge of the panel, but how do I get up there? I can almost touch the vent, maybe if I put a chair on my bed. It is late, and the light is fading already. First thing tomorrow, I will be free.
Day eighteen. Dear Diary, I woke up this morning with a plan, I just need to reach the panel. I set a chair up on my bed, it's unstable but I am determined. This is freedom! Stepping up, I unscrew the vent and open the grate. I can reach the panel and pop it off with ease. Now how do I do this? I move through a couple of menus and settings, nothing says anything about releasing the door.
Ok, I could always just factory reset the whole thing, it looks easy to do. Propped up on a chair on my bed on my tippy toes, I read over the warnings. Factory reset will delete all your preferences and reboot your home. This may require several moments of downtime, would you like to proceed?
"Oh Hell yeah! Cassandra one, virus zero."
I hold my breath and press OK.
The overhead light flickers and goes dark, the air exchanger spins down. I never realized how much noise those fans made. Now in total silence, I stand on a wobbly chair, set up on my bed, in the pitch dark. This is such a weird feeling.
"Come on, please start," I whisper.
The familiar sound of the exchanger fans brings relief as it spins to life, the glow from the ceiling wakes and grows, my heart can settle now.
I climb down and walk to the door, as I approach I can see the control panel is lit, I am free. I remember the original factory gesture to open the door, the shape of a cross, swipe down, and swipe left. I try the gesture with my natural hand. The icon spins and stops. Error.
"Hmmmm, maybe it's the other way?" I swipe up and right. Error.
"Oh, don't do this to me. Maybe it was an 'X'."
I swipe out an 'X' gesture on the panel.
Error. Contact Neo-Home customer service.
Then the ceiling light goes out.
"Oh, god, what did I do?"
I bump into furniture and walls in a panic, even the air exchanger has shut down. I stumble in the dark back to my room, to the bed, to the chair. I feel around and climb up my unsteady tower to the control panel. All I see is 'Virus detected. Contact customer service.' flashes in a steady pulse.
I'm going to be sick.
I carefully climb down off the chair and find my way to the floor, the only light in my prison is the faint glow from the front door control panel. My home must have reconnected to the net when it rebooted, which means the virus is still out there.
I feel my way to my bed and take the chair down. In almost complete darkness I lay there, crying. I will never get out of here. The air exchanger has stopped. The silence will probably kill me.
Day ... something, I don't know I have been in the dark for so long, the door panel still glows. I am probably crazy, but I think I talked to my mom last night; at least I could see her, I know that isn't possible. Ari where are you please find me. I am so alone. I have two packets of food left.
What if I start a fire, would the emergency systems come online? Are they infected too? I don't even know if the air in here would keep a fire going.
Dear Diary, I am not even sure why I am still doing this.
The air in here is getting weird I am taking deeper breaths, I feel like I have 50 pounds on my chest, the only chance I have is to start a fire and hope the emergency systems are ok and someone will come.
If I get out of here I am buying a different house, a really drafty house, with windows and a door handle.
OK, I need to start a fire, it's the only way. How would I do this, my stove is kinetic it doesn't even get hot, everything is safe in this damn house. What if I pull the panel in the exchanger? I could probably cross some wires they must be high-powered?
I grab my blanket and fumble around to find the chair; I set it up on my bed, I carefully step up on it. I can see from the panel flashing the virus warning that the exchanger fan is right there above it. The wires to the fan are just in reach, if I pull hard enough, they will come loose. With very little effort they release, the bare ends glimmer in the glow of the settings panel. I touch them together, a few sparks travel to the floor below me. I try again, and more sparks release, then fall into the dark.
I touch my blanket and a small bit of it lights up, almost there
I touch the blanket again, only this time it really lights up, I hold it until the fabric is almost too hot and I drop it on my bed. The flame takes over my sheets and pillows, at least I can see my house again, in a warm orange glow.
What is that? I jump down to avoid encroaching flames.
"CASSA, open the door."
Oh my god, it's Ari, am I hallucinating?
"ARI!" I scream. The smoke is now floating heavily in the air.
"ARI, I can't open the door, the virus ... I started a fire, but the emergency systems are not coming on. I can't breathe."
"ARI, are you there?" I cry, my voice is hoarse, my lungs are on fire.
"Ari?" I am down to a whisper. Has he left?
"Cassa, there is an override code..." Ari's voice is muffled, but I give it all the focus I have.
"Repeat this phrase, Alpha, Three, Priority, Exit."
"Cassa, say it, it won't open for me, it has to be you!" Ari's screams are distant.
"Alpha" I try to speak but I just want to sleep.
"Alpha, three" I can't stop coughing.
"CASSA! do it."
"Pri, Priority," I am so tired.
"Alpha, Three, Priority, Exit" Ari's voice floats in the ether.
leaning my head against the door I whisper "exit".
'click' the front door lock releases and that is the last thing I remember.
"Oh, my head," I say opening my eyes. Machines beep in a steady rhythm next to my hospital bed.
"How are you feeling?"
Ari stands over me.
"what happened?" I try to utter, my throat is raw.
"You apparently took the crazy route and torched your home." Ari laughs.
"I, I was trying to set off the emergency systems. The virus had shut everything down.
"Sorry, it took me so long to find you. I had to do a lot of snooping to get your address, it worried me when you fell off the grid." Ari says sitting down next to me.
"I should have had you over, I should have been with you in real life, I should have not been so scared" I can't help but cry, I am alive and not alone.
"I know how you grew up, Cas. People can be cruel, but sometimes, they are not, and that's worth taking a chance on. You deserve that."
"I am ready," I reply.
Ari smiles his beautiful, natural smile.
"How did you know the override code for my door? I didn't even know there was one."
"I didn't either," Ari replies "I was outside your house frantically searching the net, apparently it was in the back of the neo-home owner's manual."
"Oh, and they fixed your arm," he says.
"The virus?" I ask
"They found a cure" Ari responds
I lift my cybernetic arm and touch my fingers together; it feels perfect again. I set it down and reach up to touch Ari's face with my natural hand.
That is the connection I have longed for.