The cold metal interior caresses my skin. I stiffly wriggle my bony hips, shifting them by an inch to the right. Drawing my lanky arms closer to my body, I organise my hands into an upside down ‘V’ under my pelvis in an effort to cushion by tailbone. All in small, mechanical motions. There is limited scope for movement. No matter how minimal, everything seems to translate into awkwardness. It does not take long for pearls of sweat to condense on the back of my thighs which are pushed tightly against the stainless steel-lined pod.
Austin senses the modest grimace I wear on my face. “Ah, the ventilator,” I hear him mutter. He presses a button that incites violent coughs from one of the pipes. After an entire orchestra of harsh discordant sputters and whirrs, the pod ventilator finally kicks itself alive.
“You sure this is the most recent prototype?” I ask, not forgetting to paint my words in a joking tone that superimposes my disquiet.
“They don’t make too big of a difference, really– the early stage prototypes and this baby,” he gives the sturdy pod a good ol’ slap. My nervousness causes me to let out a soft wince. After an exhale escapes through my lips, I turn them inwards, sealing them against one another. All I see from where I am rooted in, are the ceiling lights hovering over me. Dimmed but glaring nonetheless.
“Look, it’s not going to be exactly like the simulations used during training. But it won’t be far off,” he assures with an assertiveness in his voice that offers little consolation. Setup completed successfully. The words belong to a languid, monotonous female voice accompanied by no sign of humanity. He swivels his chair around, bends over and adjusts his lever just so he looms over me, who lies mummified. This is when I take notice of how tall and lanky he is.
“Right, on to protocol.”
He reads off the handbook like a teacher reciting examination instructions to uninterested candidates before it commences. I echo his words in my mind and digest them thoroughly as if they’ve never been told to me, for it pays to be one of the few passengers in the aircraft who listens intently to in-flight safety videos, no matter how lacklustre they appear to be.
Here’s how it works. The uploading of the mind to the brain-computer interface is carried out through the extraction, transfer and storage of cookies into an Amino-chip. In the initial stage, timing is critical. The instructions remind us to take no longer than 25 minutes. Should the serum wear off before completion, the virtual mind will wander in a transcendental dimen–
“That’s actually awfully optimistic,” Austin frowns, one eyebrow exhibiting more arch than the other, but both are saturated with an equal disbelief. “It wouldn’t be a case of wandering in the sense of travelling like you would be. But stuck,” he elaborates. “In the twilight zone. And… we don’t have much experience with such situations.” I rarely appreciated his unsolicited candor. There is something about it that has always been a tad too aggressive for my liking.
“That’s good to know,” I mumble while my light emerald hazel eyes drip with sardonic goo. “So… how safe is this technology, really?”
He stretches for the lid of the pod that descends upon me. “Isn’t it a little too late for that?”
I suppose he’s right. The computer emits a few pulsating bleeps. Changes detected in vital signs.
“See you on the other side. Have a safe journey.” With that, my heavy eyelids grow drunk in drowsiness.
“Lana, do you copy?”
“Lana, do you copy?”
The voice moves like undulating sound waves. My eardrums vibrate and throb as its frequency spikes, piercing my soul at times.
I gasp, vociferously, for air. I grapple on to whatever minuscule amounts of air there is in this vacuum called space. I gasp and I hack.
No. This isn’t space. No. Wait, this is space; the ever expanding universe. But this isn’t my body. It’s a simulation of the puzzle pieces and each neuron and synapse that forms it. I attempt to extend my nape but I can’t look down. My frozen joints stay loyal to my physical body that rests in the pod. The only thing that can dance is my mind. My searching eyes dart around in the ferocious darkness.
Far away, an imperfectly molded ball of incandescence crumbles into its core comprising of stardust. A dramatic burst of rainbow mold mourns the death of the star. It reminds me of Holi– the festival of colors. The ring of particles rush forcefully towards me, like in a 4D movie. Everything dies back into nothingness. With no control to my faculties, I float aimlessly in this sea of plasma and magic dust. Futility greets me when I tried to gape my mouth open to taste the universe. Helplessly sinking into the huge playground of bouncing stars, I catch a marbleized glass sphere in my peripheral vision field that stares back with friendliness.
It lulls me in with its artful Pollock-esque swirls that mark the serendipitous ball of life. It has the fragility of a butterfly’s wings, more alluring than Aphrodite herself. Its charm doesn’t hit you and reverberate like the rich baritone tolling of a bell. It creeps in as philosophical mice run wild in your mind. There it is, the overview of Life, the quintessential Minimalist centerpiece, painted against a vantablack background. The Pale Blue Dot that stands unaffected by a voyeur like me. As its beauty colonizes my heart which calls for me longingly thousands of miles away, I trace its raised bumps and depressions with my vision and try to find my hometown like a grade F Geography student. It must be tucked away, somewhere amongst the greenery. Maybe, misted by the white cotton candy. Or perhaps braided in between the ridges.
You could actively marvel at its asymmetry in awe and wonderment or draw back in unease as its gravitas washes over you in ripples. But if only they could see the system that accommodated them; if only they could soak themselves in the beauty amongst the carnal chaos; if only they could... feel, feel with their overplayed egos, how easily satisfied we could all be.