Alternate Realities

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Start your story with a metaphor about human nature.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Thriller Speculative

“They are mindless reeds, drifting wherever wind guides them. They can grow under artificial sunlight if they believe it is real. What is real?-- they are not sure. And if we claim to have the answers, they’ll drift like lost sheep into our fence, put down their scythes and live in the world their brains have cultivated unbeknownst to them”    

-Only Chance Application, Page 70, Chapter 10

 Xin was close, very close. The hum of old baseboard heating in the beach home vibrated with contempt, desire, a special secret lying in this repulsive reality. And Xin couldn’t wait to wipe the floors clean of it. 

“Come out,” she snapped. “There’s no use hiding at this sorry point of your life.” 

The hum intensified, though that could’ve been a result of her imagination. But Xin never imagined anything, especially when it concerned Only Chance Administration’s reality checks.  

“No, thank you. I’m perfectly fine here, where you can’t see me, and I can get the jump on you. No, I’d rather just have you play this game where you give me some answers.”

Speaking was a bad move on whoever Xin would drag out of this. She was half-hoping this assignment would be hard, mostly because assignments rarely measured up to her standards.

 “You talk too much.”

Two minutes later, a man was dragged into the Main Station and executed. His face was barely recognizable with all the blood and bruises covering his skin. The reality was disbanded from use, cleaned, and severed from its current transmitter. And the ghost of that man slinked away to whatever came after, his dried blood staining each perfectly-cut tile. 

Xin’s job was done, for now. 

·𖥸· 

Kaira is human, but that’s classified information. She’s the supervisor, so she makes the rules. Not that anyone knows it. Her job isn’t what most living organisms take pride in--but it has to be done, no matter what the circumstances. 

“Smart, tactical violence is the only way to attain true peace. Among species that fight amongst each other, mind soothing is the best technique. They’re in control, or so they think. Similarities between organisms of living origin are fear and perspective. Subdue their fears, alter their perspectives.” 

Chapter 4, page 25. Kaira uses the Only Chance Application as a mantra, which isn’t really classified anymore since there isn’t anyone to keep secrets from. Deception is unnecessarily hard when you only have yourself and a labyrinth of buildings spread not too far apart, filled with…

every human being on the planet except her. Locked in rooms, bound by their minds alone, all subdued in comas. Some of them are brain dead. Executed by Main Office for breaking the peace. 

That’s another thing. Kaira doesn’t have just one building. What do you think the planet Earth is for? Here’s another thing: she doesn’t want power, because there isn’t a point to power if all there is to it is endless loneliness and sore eyes. Life isn’t a magic 8-ball. She learned that early in her life, ducking from bombs, training her eyes on the horizon for the peppering of guns. Time to hide, time to roll, time to grit your teeth and watch people die and kill over useless things. 

Maybe, in another life, Kaira could’ve been a worldwide prodigy, a phenomenon to gloss over, or most likely a weapon because of her gifts. Now, she couldn’t care less over such gifts. They already brought her reality alteration, and all she has to do is maintain her creation with the detectives. 

She laughs to herself, remembering the times people thanked her for a new reality to escape to. Violence followed, but it was different. “When you play tricks on one’s mind, they are not present, but at peace.”- Only Chance Application: handbook written by Kaira Lake. 

She still isn’t sure if that sort of peace is real, or fake. 

·𖥸· 

Xin sat in the Main Office’s lounge, content after a day’s work. She was lucky that she had the truth, lucky she’d been selected when the applications were becoming mandatory to fill by all the human race. Xin didn’t know what she’d do if she realized her reality was a fake all along--but she would never need to deal with that. 

Most of the day, Xin just waited in anticipation to Alternate inside another person’s reality. When missions were doled out, someone new had escaped, which was very dangerous to the system. According to the OCA handbook, detectives were the regulators. 

Xin used to be the only detective, though she wasn’t quite sure how she happened to be selected, or where she was from originally. Somehow, more and more detectives came for the alarmingly increasing rate of cases Main Office had to deal with. That wasn’t any of Xin’s business, though. Whoever ran the Main Office ran humanity and kept it from going off the rails. 

After all, what was the purpose of living inside a world marred by imperfection? Each human had a chance to truly experience perfection through their brain-made realities because of Main Office. 

“Attention all Level 3 and above detectives. Report to the mailroom for new, updated assignments. Florida, New York, and various locations in Asia are under breach.” 

For a split second, Xin held back. How could numerous locations be under breach if the daily count of escapees were usually under 5 a day? Similar bewildered expressions were worn by the others in the room, people getting up slower than usual. 

“Move it maggots! I overheard the Main Office representatives talking about how Supervisor says it’s a rebellion!” A sweaty-faced man shrilled, making a break for the exit of the lounge. “I’m going on the Fame List today!”

A woman with curly brown hair pushed past him. “I call New York; they always have the hardest ones! Room 20 reality check for me!”

This wasn’t some sort of game, was it? Xin could only imagine how bloodied the tile floors would become after today, execution after execution. Human life after human life was taken, just because they wanted to go back to their imperfect reality. It was almost pitiful to her, but she couldn’t let her reputation fall.

Xin ran from the door out into a long, twisty hallway marked with rooms, each to a different reality. Some were bigger than others. Sometimes, it took days to find rebels in bigger cities. That was why those who were chosen were destined to hunt rebel trails. 

·𖥸· 

The thing about humans Kaira is never able to understand is their adaptability, perseverance, trying to find the bitter truths time and time again. Of course, her alternate reality program took years of research, work, and her...gift, but the human brain is impossibly complex. Even if the only thing humankind devoted themselves to was violence. A war to end wars. 

Kaira’s never killed a soul--never will. The executions are for the detectives thinking they own their reality even though she’s the puppetmaster--like a reality inside a reality. Her own creation makes her head spin sometimes, but the blood isn’t on her hands. Only deception is, but the majority of humankind is peaceful. 

Two minutes, and then she’ll draw the shutters and get a little shut-eye for an hour or two. After that, it’s back to running her neural network program designed to keep people in their own happy reality for eternity. One day, before she’d developed a schedule to keep her mind off of the buildings, Kaira had ventured inside a room for the second and last time. 

They reminded her of dead people, and she shudders just thinking about that day, her short, coal-black hair vibrating with intensity. Her brain is singing again. The humans reminded her of dead people, all neatly sitting upright but eyes faraway, blue chips the only reminder… And on that day, all the significance of why she was doing the program vanished, and she was back with the bombs and guns. Guns. War. Plague. Famine. Human Imperfection. 

Kaira herself had led each human into the buildings, newly constructed for new beginnings. Come here; sit against the wall so we can get all of you in here. Now, imagine your happy place. Your happy place is in Hawaii? Then go to the Hawaii room. No more worries, no more imperfection, no more war. Just...breathe. 

After that day, that day when she’d wondered if what she was doing was the right thing, Kaira never opened a room again. After that day, she’d begun programming/wiring the reality inside the reality--the Main Office.   

She started talking to herself soon after because she’s the only one she can trust. Kaira isn’t the type who has regrets. 

·𖥸· 

BREACH! BREACH!

“Rebellion is impossible; how can the isolated humans rally?!”  Kaira wakes from her power nap with a strangled sort of scream upon seeing the words scrolling across her perfectly positioned computers. (She has over ten) 

She can’t go back to those days, the ones of war, suffering, bomb-hit everything until the world looks like a desert of blood. 

“Things always come crashing down. You must be prepared to build them back up again, for the sake of peace. Whatever it takes.” Chapter 6. Page…

BREACH! If Kaira closes her eyes, she can imagine a beach with people running towards the cascading waves. If she digs deep enough, she can find people she has loved and cared about, still rotating through their realities like nothing ever happened. She’s never gone inside her program before, though the entirety of the human race relies on no malfunctions. 

“Asia, Florida, New York.” Kaira’s words are barely over a whisper, her fingers flashing across the dozen keyboards madly. There are so many rebels. But rebellion is impossible! Her virtual countries mapping to human neural visual cortices are impenetrable, so far apart, mapped with advanced security. 

Her detectives will be on it, but they only know how to kill. Kaira has half a mind to check the Asia, Florida, and New York rooms in this building to check if any people are readying to jump her with--no. She’s a good person--she saved all those people. She goes on walks outside alone, picks up litter, makes sure the detectives aren’t being too harsh. 

Detectives! Over the sound of the “breach” noises, Kaira switches gears, moving her cursor along one reality strand. The Main Office. 

“It’s the only way.” She breathes, clicking on an item, inputting an extra item into all of the humans’ neural passageways. Kaira needs to be granted access and inputted into her own program by a detective who wouldn’t ask any questions. Followers until the end.

Stop the rebels. Get out alive. Life as normal--or, however close to normal as Kaira can get when she controls a whole species’ every move. 

·𖥸· 

Xin saw the note as she was running in the midst of all the other detectives, heart pounding, chest heaving, face flushing in anticipation. It fluttered out of thin air and Xin had to jump sideways to nab the paper without getting trampled by other detectives. Great; all of them would surely come back through the doors with more rebel bounty, but, as she saw on the front of the paper, the message was for her. 

Xin; go to the opposite hallway. Press the fourth brick down, seventh to the right from the left side. Don’t disappoint me. - The Supervisor

Her heart leaped out of her chest, a few detectives watching her with piqued interest. Xin was the regiment’s Fame List champion for the last...for the last...however many years she’d been here. But this was the Supervisor, the one whose name was whispered around every hallway, each alternate reality, escaping the lips of each moaning rebel caught in the crosshairs. The Supervisor was the one in charge of the realities. 

No, Xin wouldn’t take one step back. Sweat had begun to trail a path down her back, and Xin looked down, attempting to catch her breath. The tiles were bloody yesterday, but at the moment they were sparkling clean. Xin could see her long, flowy hair and concerned face, the note crumpled in her fist. Who was the janitor for this place--they’d done a spectacular job. Was there anyone besides the Main Office crew who lived in the real world?

4th brick down, 7th to the right. Opposite hallway. 

It was certainly no coincidence that the note had arrived in the week Xin had asked the most questions she ever had in her lifetime, perhaps. Though she couldn’t quite remember what she’d done in her life before the Main Office. What would pressing that brick do? Would it open something? What did the Supervisor want from her? 

One, two, three. None of that was Xin’s business. All she had to do was obey. One, two, three. Luckily, everyone was off chasing rebels--nobody was watching her--or, at least that was what Xin wanted to believe. 

Xin counted the bricks, panted, shuffled from side to side, wondering. She pressed the 4th brick down, 7th to the right.

·𖥸· 

A blast so intense and bright followed that Xin had to shield her eyes from the glow. 

And out of the glow, stepped out a woman who looked to be in her mid-twenties; so young. She had just stepped out of A BRICK WALL, and acted as though this was as normal as taking a walk down the Office halls! 

Questions, so many of them grappled for a turn to be spoken, but Xin blurted out the first one. 

“Who the heck are you?!” 

The woman flipped her hair and nodded to Xin curtly. 

“I’m the Supervisor. Nice to make your acquaintance, Xin.” 

July 15, 2021 00:19

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10 comments

Frances Reine
20:33 Jul 19, 2021

I didn't really understand this prompt but - my god, that is a smart way of doing it at the start. Would never have thought of it. As always, I enjoy your sci-fi and fantasy stories the most. The imagery, dialogue and plot always end up harmonious. Reading part 2 soon :)

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11:53 Jul 20, 2021

Frances! It's been a while! This story kind of came to me in bits and pieces...and then the whole series idea kind of bounced into place. Thank you so much for this comment which made my day : ) Hopefully, you get some inspiration soon ;P

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Frances Reine
20:45 Jul 20, 2021

Got my fingers-crossed for this series to be long, haha.

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Kendall Defoe
03:22 Jul 17, 2021

I really need to read more sci-fi. A very impressive work. And thank you for the shared praise on reaching the five-oh. I wonder how much longer I can do this...

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12:08 Jul 17, 2021

Thank you so much! This is going to be a 6-part (short story) series and the next one is coming out soon if you want to bear with me through navigating this sci-fi reality. I hope you can keep writing stories so I can keep reading them!

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Kendall Defoe
00:51 Jul 18, 2021

I will do my best... ;)

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Sia S
11:51 Jul 15, 2021

Ooh, a reedsy cast! Sounds fun! Could I be in it? If not, its totally fine, I understand. Anyways, keep me updated on the parts, I'd love to read them!

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12:15 Jul 15, 2021

Well, it's not a reedsy cast, more like a series of stories (I would be terrible at making a reedsy cast :P ) This is the first one in the 5-part series. :)

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Sia S
12:40 Jul 15, 2021

Ohh! (I'm sure you won't :) that's nice! Keep me updated! :)

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Karen Lethlean
06:38 Aug 15, 2021

Not sure if I really understood this piece. Wanted to place it into a video game mode? Only just catching up with a few critique pieces in my emails. Recently read a piece in a literary journal which used a similar format, but it was in a non-real world, with places and points into the real world.

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