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Historical Fiction

My name is Ryan James Harper, and I live in a crazy, upside-down world. Actually, it's a normal world. It's normally perfect and perfectly normal in every way. In my mind, at least, that's abnormal. But it's only unsettling when you take the time to think about it. That's probably why no one ever does.

The world I live in is what used to be called virtual reality. Now it's just called life. It's almost ironic that our world is completely fabricated, yet almost everyone accepts it as reality.

I don't know what the world looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like to live there. No one does. Yes, I do technically live in the real world, but I've never seen it with my own eyes. Virtual reality blocks our senses and recognition of anything not coded and made of machinery. That's the difference between virtual reality, this prison world I'm trapped in, and augmented reality, those stupid phone games that make people walk off cliffs and whatnot.

Anyhow, I don't know much at all about the real world. Sure, I've done my fair share of deep internet searches. I would go as far as to say I've done an irregular amount of deep dives through the world wide web. I've fallen into wormholes of historical files and websites from "the old age." It's not like humanity went straight from newspapers and camcorders to uploading their consciousnesses to high-speed computers. Of course, there was an intermittent stage, where people still existed and lived (somewhat) happily while relying heavily on computers as well. News sites, for example. Or entertainment streaming services. But you have to be a pretty talented hacker to know how to maneuver the sites and bypass the firewall. Not to sound pretentious, but I just so happen to be one.

In theory, the idea of placing all of humanity into a virtual world seems like a scientifically sound concept. We learned all about our history in elementary school. We learned how our ancient ancestors came together in "a momentous display of teamwork and cooperation." How they pooled their know-how of technology to code and create "the perfect world." And in a materialistic way, it is perfect. If you're shallow enough to only care about how the world looks and how little it inconveniences you, then you'd be infinitely happy here.

The weather is always nice, moderated to general preference. Different areas of the city are set with different weather patterns. It's kind of like that old Disney movie, Zootopia. Minus the civil unrest, of course.

Another thing, you can't get hurt. Like, at all. Fall on concrete? You might scrape your knee, but you won't feel any pain. And that scratch will heal up in less than a second. I guess that just proves the idea that pain is in the mind. If pain is really just in our brains, then we can just take it away. Of course, when there's no pain, there's the question of death. Everyone is exceptionally healthy here. There is only one hospital in the entire city, and it very rarely gets used. One of the oddest things about this place is the suspicious lack of death. In my many years of life on this plane of existence, I have not once heard of a death in the city. Granted, I don't have many friends who might alert me to such an event, but I'm an avid follower of the news. I should have heard at least a whisper.

That leads me to the economy of this place, which is, in my opinion, the weirdest part of it all. First, there isn't any money. No money or currency of any kind. How would a society function without forms of payment, you may be wondering? Well, the answer is it doesn't. Food, essential services, basically anything required to live life, they're all taken care of by robots. We're supposed to call these robots "androids?, but I use the word "robot" to remind myself that they're really just walking, talking boxes of codes.

Here's the thing about an economy with no money or currency. You don't have to get a job if you don't want to. Only the nerds who find joy in brokering sales or managing spreadsheets have jobs. And even then, they don't get paychecks. They're paid in the joy they get from being employed. As for the rest of us, there's no motivation except "that which is inside of you." I can't believe people just accept the crap they teach in schools. I obviously don't buy it. Hey, I'm not being spoon-fed lies, but that also means I have no reason to do anything with my life. Or whatever this warped, twisted semblance of a life is.

I didn't make it past high school. Not like that's something to be ashamed of here. It's a requirement to attend twelve full years of schooling, but after that, you're free to go and live your life. I guess the philosophy is, if you're not going to enjoy higher education, it's just a big waste of time. If I were to drag myself through college, through grueling lectures and sleepless nights, only to not get a job, I was just wasting 4 years of my life. So yeah, I didn't go to college. College was only for nerds who wanted jobs.

But I do have one special skill. Using the term "special skill" to describe my single hobby makes it sound like a superpower or something. It's hacking, which sounds a lot cooler than it really is. I've seen the old movies, where the hacker wears a black tactical suit and carries their laptop around in a silver metal case. Those spies wearing sunglasses sulking in coffee shop booths are what all hackers aspire to be in life. But that's not what it's like.

As a hyper-aware person in a virtual world, my hacking skills come in handy a lot. To "protect" the citizens from any dangers, there was a firewall installed in front of all the old age internet contents. Lucky for me, the firewall was so outdated, it barely took a day to overload the sensors and slip in. I might be the only person here that has access to all this old age stuff. That makes me kind of special, I guess. Too bad I can't tell anyone without them giving me strange looks.

The old-age news articles, social media photos, and blogs were snippets of the old world, windows into the past. They sparked something in me, something I had truly never experienced before. I wanted to be a part of something. I wanted to get up and do something. I wanted to change the world. Not for anyone else, but for myself. I wanted out of this prison reality that no one else seemed concerned about.

First, I explored the idea of those bulky VR headsets like the ones in Ready Player One. I dismissed that concept pretty quickly, as it was unlikely that I constantly had headgear strapped to my head without knowing.

My next idea was that the world might be a matrix. I had seen the trilogy on an entertainment service within the old age internet. I looked for any person or robot who could grant me a proverbial red pill.

I had to work in the shadows, but that wasn't uncommon. As a hacker, most normal people disapproved of my hobby and sought any chance to report me to the robots. I had to sneak around the internet, access to the dark web, converse with black market sellers. I rewatched The Matrix over and over, almost obsessively. Nothing gave any hint to a way to escape the matrix.

I searched for a long time. I never found my red pill.

At that time, suspense built up in my mind. I dreamt of what the real world would be like when I eventually got there. I was an arm's reach from the truth, from reality.

After a while, I gave up on the whole matrix idea. It seemed like no one was able to grant me my freedom in the way I had imagined and hoped. I had to get it for myself.

For a while, I was stumped. Stuck. I couldn't fathom how we were integrated into the software without realizing it and without physical indication. We didn't have headsets. I had already ruled out that possibility. If I didn't know better, I would think that this virtual reality is real life.

I gave up for a while. I thought I could just forget about the whole thing and go back to living my pointless, boring life. But I just couldn't. My mind has been cultivated. I had dipped into a world outside of my own life, a life of hope.

With my reclaimed free time, I continued to discover media and entertainment from the old age. And I stumbled onto the movie Inception. It inspired me, relit that fire of motivation. It gave me hope that maybe I hadn't been totally wrong. I started to wonder that if our world wasn't the matrix, maybe it was like a dream.

I was hesitant though, to act on my suspicions. In order to test the hypothesis, I was asking myself to risk everything. Risk the life I'd built for myself, my public image, and possibly even my life. But I had to try. Aside from a desire for truth, there was no push for me to achieve. I had to take the risk.

So I made a plan.

I boarded the elevator on the tallest skyscraper in the city. Its purpose was tourist sightseeing, so it was tall but safe. The glass at the top was supposed to be unbreakable. Of course, since it was designed to be unbreakable, it was. But I had made and revised a plan. I just hoped it worked out the way it seemed to on paper. I brought with me in the elevator a drill. Not just any drill, the most powerful drill. I'm not just making that up to be dramatic. The advertising claimed it was, "the only drill you'll ever need."

I got up to the top floor. Luckily, there were very few people present. I started drilling my way through the impenetrable glass. It was slow work, but it did work. Funnily enough, during my planning stage, I was worried about people staring and alerting the androids. However, these people had been conditioned to not question anything out the ordinary. Aside from a crazy man telling them the world was fake, of course. But a crazy man drilling holes in the glass on top of a skyscraper? Not unusual enough to hold their attention. For three days, I traveled to that skyscraper to drill holes. On the fourth day, I pushed the pane of glass out. I felt the rush of cold wind in my face and the lightheaded feeling that results from being up high started to settle in.

Here goes nothing, I thought. I jumped out that window, spreadeagled. The feeling of freefall, of adrenaline pumping through my veins, was one that felt so real I knew I must have been right about my speculations. I was so close to reality, so close to freedom.

And then... nothing.

Was I wrong? Surely not.

I looked around. There was nothing. The world was a blank canvas. It was all white, like an empty void.

"Hello," I heard a voice behind me. I turned around sharply. An old man was sitting in a beat-up old lawn chair, staring intently at me.

"Who are you?"

"I'm William M. Harris, but you can call me Bill." Bill extended his hand for me to shake, and I did.

"Ryan."

"Well, Ryan, nice to meet you. Welcome to the real world."

June 04, 2020 17:19

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