A short story
Last time I kind of just launched into my piece. Jordan told me I should have sections. He also helped me a lot with this short (fictional) story that I wrote to share with you all. I hope you enjoy it! And I hope as always that you’re well.
To whom it may concern:
I pretty much did the bare minimum in Life: fed my body, worked my hours, checked in when I had to. Then I hit a period in my career when Life felt impossible.
I’m a vector architect by training. I had some success under my belt when styles started changing, becoming more baroque. Frankly, I had trouble keeping up, and I was losing clients. I began spending time stalking the homes of rival creators for inspiration, which led me to more and more exotic places, kingdoms where you can experience anything for a price. The content was endless.
It was easy, then, to forget all about Life. I received several friendly and thorough reports of my declining stats from LifeCo (I believe they are your parent organization). Yet it seemed impossible for me to go back to Life and feel the horrifying weight of my body. I was, I realize now, in the throes of a deep depression.
After LifeCo fined me for inactivity, they locked down my account. I believe this has always been the usual measure, but in my state of mind, I hadn’t even considered it. I was shocked to find myself suddenly on my lawn, unable to travel, looking up at my 12-story Victorian, an homage to old San Francisco. I went to open the door and found the handle wouldn’t even turn. Just delete the door, right? I tried, but my customizations were completely disabled.
All the things I’d created were disabled — my award-winning patterns, my pets, my partner. I suppose that was the breaking point. I couldn’t put it off anymore. I sat on the lawn, and I spoke the code.
No sooner had the words left my mouth than I felt that familiar tingling sensation, and next I felt the heaviness, even worse than I’d expected. This was Life, no doubt about it. I became aware of an unpleasant smell, and I was cold to the bone.
When I opened my eyes, there was a woman I’d never met before, not that I’d met all that many people in Life. She had an adult body, like mine, and was standing over me with a relieved smile.
“You’re awake,” she said, in a voice that sounded like she was underwater. “I thought you’d never come back.”
It was taking me a while to remember the controls, the way they’re implicit and intuitive. There’s really no controls for Life, as the saying goes. When at last I managed to sit up, I hit my head on something — I’d forgotten all about the bed cover.
“Press with your toes,” she said mildly, sounding just like one of those old tutorials. I was too exhausted for embarrassment. I felt for the button, and the cover lifted with a pneumatic hiss. I gasped at the fresh air in the room.
“Who are you?” I wheezed.
She seemed surprised and about to say something, then she looked sad, and finally she said, “It’s best if you don’t try to speak.” Now that I could hear her clearly, her voice was musical, almost programmatically pleasant. “You’ve been asleep for far too long. Please stay in bed, and I’ll bring you some food.”
She left, and with eyes that ached in their sockets I looked around the room. I guess it was my room. Sunlight was coming in through the window, harsh and too bright the way Life is. A vase of dead flowers stood on my nightstand — I wasn’t sure where they’d come from.
The woman came back, carrying a tall glass of steaming, flesh-colored liquid. “Drink up,” she said, setting it in front of me. I was so thirsty I didn’t care what it was. As I drank, my cells soaked up the warm smoothie like a sponge. I found myself looking at her and wondering what she was like in the real world, whether she took the form of a human or an animal or something else.
“Thank you,” I said. Each word took effort, like I was running a slow connection. “Why are you helping me?”
She sighed and shook her head. She seemed fondly annoyed. “Maybe your memories will come back once you’re feeling stronger.”
I was sure I’d never seen her before. Was it possible I’d written over some memories when I was in the middle of my content binge? I’d heard of such things happening.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I really don’t remember meeting you, and I’m sure I would have remembered it.”
She gave me an indecipherable look, like she was disappointed, or amused, I couldn’t tell. Her eyes drifted to the flowers in the corner.
“Do you know who those are from?” I asked.
“Get some rest,” she said, and she left the room.
“Do I know you in the real world?” I called after her, but the only reply was my front door closing quietly.
I didn’t have enough strength to follow her, as much as I wanted to. After some hours I was ready to stretch and take a few shaky steps from my bed to my door. When I got outside, she was nowhere to be seen. I searched for her until the sun went down, finding only a lot of sleeping bodies. They mostly looked like healthy, productive citizens, but I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them had been away from Life for as long as I had.
Finally, my own body was too tired to do any more searching. I returned to my room, lay down in bed, shut the cover, closed my eyes, and went back to the real world.
Back on my lawn, I found that my lock had been lifted. I once again took comfort in the pleasures of the home I’d designed, but I no longer felt the same itch to roam about the internet, sampling content, indulging whims. My mind was occupied. I found myself, as never before, thinking about Life.
The next day, I went straight back to Life and its odd cyclical rhythm, the sun rising, the birds singing. I even clocked in my hours and maintained my body before I went looking for her again. I knew the flowers meant something, and when I examined the shriveled bouquet I found a note attached, with a set of coordinates and a time. After some brief research online — the coordinates were for a nearby train platform — I came back to Life, waited until the hour arrived, and set off on foot. If only I’d spent enough time in Life to have earned some wheels.
I was out of breath when I spotted her. I think the technical term is winded? It’s a strange but exhilarating feeling that you don’t get in the real world. She had her back to me as I approached, and when she turned, she gasped.
“It’s you! I didn’t see you there.” To my relief, she started to smile.
“I found your note,” I said. I felt the sensation (also odd) that our bodies were alarmingly close. We were alone on the platform.
She gave me a coy look. The individual hairs on her head made tiny prisms in the light. “I was testing you,” she said. “And you passed.”
“Now will you tell me how we know each other? I honestly have been wracking my brain, I’ve searched all over the internet, I’ve asked all my friends about you” — I hadn’t, I’d stopped talking to them months ago — “but I don’t remember.”
“You really don’t remember me?” She glanced up at the train schedule and said, “Look, I have to catch the next train to the mines. For work. If you wanted to join me, we could talk on the train. But it’s probably pretty inconvenient for you.”
“No, it’s ok,” I said. I didn’t know anyone who worked in the mines, and I realized I was a little curious about it.
“You’ll need a ticket,” she said, nodding to a machine at the other end of the platform.
They say that Life is full of surprises. As I walked, I saw an adult male — maybe he verged on elderly — half-hidden behind some bushes. He motioned for me to come over.
“Need a ticket to the mines? I know you do. Half price.” He had a smirk on his face.
“I’m ok, thanks,” I said, trying to continue on to the machine. My savings had taken a hit recently, to be sure, but I could afford not to deal with scalpers.
He followed me, and leaned against the machine now, watching me fumble with the buttons. My fingers were out of practice.
“She’s pretty good, right?” he said.
“The girl. She’s really got you going, huh?” I could smell his breath, and I felt a strong urge in my body to get away from him. “Yeah,” he continued, “She’s one of the best. She always gets them to go on the train.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, though I was beginning to think I wanted to know.
“She’s a plot device,” he sneered.
I didn’t have time to think about what he could possibly mean, because the woman suddenly came running down the platform.
“Get out of here!” She shouted. The man turned and fled before she could even finish yelling, “I’ll call the cops on you, spoiler!”
She stood in front of me, winded.
“What’s going on?” I said. “Did that man call you a plot device?”
“I’ve seen him around here before, he’s crazy.” She touched my arm. “I’m so sorry.”
“But —“ I stepped away from her. “He said that everyone you come here with gets on the train.”
The body can betray many things, I was learning. And the eyes. She wouldn’t look at me.
“A week ago,” I said, “in the real world, I literally couldn’t bring myself to so much as play with my tigerdragons. They locked my account, and I had to come here. But then you were here, and suddenly I’m spending all my time in Life, and now I need to know — is this some kind of trick?”
“No, it’s not like that,” she said.
“But did we really meet before?”
She shook her head.
“Of course not,” I said. “Then what are we doing here?”
“We’re having a good time in Life,” she said softly.
“So you’re an actress.” I felt bad for saying that, but at that point, I was pretty sure it was true. She didn’t reply.
I turned to leave, but she suddenly reached out and took my hand. It was shocking how warm her fingers were. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Look, you’re right, it was a story. But what you’re getting is the real me. Nothing to customize here.”
A breeze caught her hair, slathering it across her face.
“This wind,” she said, as she brushed her hair back, “isn’t it great?”
“It’s different,” I said.
“Exactly.” She sighed. “I’m really sorry that you felt strung along. Honestly, I think some of the re-engagement strategies are pretty extreme, but they seem to work. I guess by the time most people figure it out, we’ve done our job.”
“It’s ok,” I said. “I mean, you did get me to come back. I even started to enjoy Life a little bit. Maybe more than a little bit.”
I could tell she was happy when I said that. She offered to keep the plot going — apparently, we would have had a lot of great moments down the road — but I didn’t want to force anything. As we parted, she told me that she’d found out I was a vector artist in the real world, and that I should consider spending more time as a vector artist in Life.
“There’s no such thing,” I told her honestly.
“Think about it,” she said, and left me with the feeling of her hand on mine, as well as a business card with your company’s account information.
My re-entry into Life, which I owe to the work of your organization, has been transformative. I’ve now participated in several plot lines, and my work in the mines has helped supplement my income. I’ve convinced several of my friends to participate more fully in Life, and we’e finding that our time there enhances our enjoyment of everything the real world has to offer. The body and the mind are not so disconnected as I once thought. There is something extra about Life.
After I left the train platform that day, I went back to my creations and put them in different real world environments — but I couldn’t replicate the conditions of Life. In my mind’s eye, I can see them in the light of the sun, the way I saw the woman’s hair sparkling. There has never been something in my mind’s eye that I couldn’t create in the real world, and now I’ve found it. I feel truly excited for the first time in years.
I’m not a writer, or an actor, and none of the open roles that I found on your job listing are a perfect fit. So I’d like to propose a kind of custom role. The designs I’ve been making for years — I would like to make them in Life.
Imagine a Life where you could stumble across beautiful things. A vibrant rug, a glossy patterned bed cover, a stone archway supported by flying buttresses. I discovered an old term that I find quite fitting: “Easter eggs.” I’ve attached several examples of my work, in vector space. Picture these Easter eggs in Life, and see if you believe, as I do, that they could help many people re-engage.