Programmed into the Netherworld
Tom Jepson worked hard as a project manager for Apex Computer Consulting. In fact, every one of his many clients would rely solely on Tom’s expertise. If he had taken one of the extremely infrequent vacations he took during his two-decade tenure at Apex, his clients would endanger the success of important projects rather than entrust operations corrections to anyone but Tom while he remained out of the office.
Thus, for 21 years, he put in extra time late into the night and on weekends to deal with the minutiae of every single project, exerting maximum effort and brain power.
Aside from the personal satisfaction and, of course the advancing status and monetary rewards of Tom’s fanatical dedication to his craft, another, somewhat sinister, reason lurked beneath the surface.
You see, after Tom did finish each of his projects he had to return to his home. Due to his breakneck and tiring schedule, this meant sleeping many hours--and, very seldom, did the sleep that came result in restful slumber.
Every time he tried to rest from his work-a-day concerns his subconscious mind transported him to a bizarre world where the totalitarian rulers of a rogue planet sought to capture him for “crimes” they said Tom had committed “against the federation” by fighting with a rebel faction.
Tom had no recollection of ever having sided with the rebels.
Yet the rulers and their “security forces” pursued him throughout the solar system and made quite sure he knew that the ultimate penalty, should they ever catch him, would be his immediate execution in one of the horrible “atomic smashers” they used to enforce their iron-fisted rule of the fearful populace.
However, after sleeping through several of these intergalactic near-death marches over the course of several hours each night, Tom would wake up soaked in sweat, but, thankfully still physically intact.
Although he found the dreams extremely disturbing, Tom, up to now, had realized his nightime excursions into the intergalactic realm only existed in the dream state--or did they?
After one particularly close call with his intergalactic pursuers that lasted longer than most had in the past, Tom found himself unable to escape his dream sequence and wake up in his apartment. He tried to get up for work, but found himself shackled to his bed and appearing before some type of spaceworld magistrate.
The magistrate said, “The intergalactic jury has found you guilty of anti-federation criminal activity. Your sentencing will take place in three days. Among possible punishments you could face final destruction in the atomic smasher.”
“How can this happen?” Tom asked. “I am not even of your world. Even if I had belonged to this world, I have done nothing wrong. I am simply a computer consultant program manager.”
“You now have entered our world through our portal,” the magistrate replied. “Because your subconscious has transported you into our world and, in that world, you have attempted to overthrow the federation, you must suffer the consequences.”
Suddenly, however, Tom’s subconscious mind and his conscious mind sent him a message that jarred him back to the true reality of his situation.
During his last vacation, the project manager had experimented with virtual reality. Instead of the technical breakthroughs for which he had hoped, his experiments went “way off the rails” and he crashed through the portal to the middle of the intergalactic battle.
Unfortunately for Tom, he could not avoid coming to the side of those he perceived as the underdogs in the other world to which his dreams had transported him. He signed on to a “rebel squad” in the latest battle against the federation and sought to overturn what he considered the federation’s dictatorship.
For his own welfare, however, he knew he had to abandon the fight in which he really had no stake--except his own survival. The result Tom found in his dream world had taken him to a new reality way beyond that he had bargained for when conducting what he considered very elementary VR experiments.
He scanned his brain and stored memory for some novel idea that would enable him to escape what could become his last voyage both on earth and in the alternative universe to which he had unwittingly transported himself.
Suddenly Tom remembered something in one of his experiments that, he believed, would offer the solution to his problem. He had read about an experimental mechanism VR experts recently had worked on that would enable the operator to rewind the VR “episodes” they had observed in the past.
His research showed that this reversal mechanism would allow Tom to backtrack through his dreams and enter the reality existing at the time of a past memory so he could escape back through the portal and land back in reality.
Turned out Tom had acquired a “beta” copy of this reversal mechanism when conducting his many experiments into VR. It took some time to uncover the mechanism from the vast amount of clutter around his apartment. The clutter had resulted from the battles between his real and virtual worlds. During those battles the federation had attacked his apartment, which had transported him through the dream world.
After an hour of searching Tom uncovered the mechanism and wound it back to return to the memory that portrayed his last entrance into the portal. He then set the controls to change history and take him back to the time when he only was dreaming. The portal opened, his apartment crashed through it and Tom landed on his bed.
The project manager breathed a sigh of relief, glad he soon would return to life as an ordinary “cog in the wheel” at a computer consulting firm the following week.
It took him some time to fully recover from his ordeal and to explain his absence--especially since very few of his fellow “computer geeks” would buy his story.
Tom resolved to never again experiment with virtual reality and to stick to whatever adventures he could find in his daily workday life.