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By geralt on pixabay.com
The blade pushed down his skin, which gave in a few millimeters before it broke. No blood. No pain. Nothing. He put the blade aside and watched the wound close itself again. The healing process was quick and thorough; not even a scar stayed behind.
“Ah for fuck’s sake” , he muttered. “Computer! Log out!”
Everything went dark and he opened his eyes. For a few moments, he was just staring at the grey ceiling, until he lifted his hand and removed the Access Point from his right temple. The adhesive on the back of the tiny metal button ripped out some fine hairs. He wondered, not for the first time, why they hadn’t developed something better yet. @suesa
Next to him, on his nightstand, there was a blade. He laid the button next to it, took the blade, and repeated what he had done just moments before. Push the blade against the skin, press, cut. This time, there was blood, which he stopped with one of the band-aids that he kept ready for exactly this purpose.
The contrast between the light band-aid and his dark skin was distracting. Then again, the thin scars that covered his left arm weren’t any better. Hundreds of lines marked all the times he hadn’t been sure if things around him were real or not, even though they had been.
“Computer, date and time”, he called out. Some people named their home AI. He didn’t like that. Making it human felt wrong.
“It’s the 20th of February, 2060, fifteen hundred hours.”
“Who put you on military time?”
“You, Oscar. Six months ago.”
Right. That had been around the time when that new military game had hit the market. He hadn’t been able to adjust back to reality for weeks … but why hadn’t he changed it back?
“Computer, change back time format to 12 hours, am/pm.”
“As you wish.”
Oscar stood up from his bed and immediately sank back because he was so dizzy. How long had he been out? 20th February. That didn’t help him at all.
“How long have I been in the simulation?”
Too long. Way too long. No wonder his body refused to let him stand up without issues. He had lost himself in the game again. It wasn’t the longest time he had ever been under, but … he had sworn himself to not let it escalate this much again. Keeping in touch with reality was already hard enough the way things were.
“Would you like some food and water, Oscar?”
“What did I tell you about speaking without being spoken to?” Every time the AI proved that it was, in fact, an artificial intelligence and not just a fancy pre-recorded computer program, he started feeling uncomfortable. For decades, people had predicted that AIs would take over the world once they’d become truly intelligent, but nothing had ever happened. And he didn’t believe it would stay like this.
“You complained about being hungry and thirsty, I had assumed that was you speaking to me. I apologize if I interpreted that wrong.”
Oscar’s heart seemed to skip a beat. He didn’t remember saying that. Not at all. His eyes wandered back to the blade, which still had traces of blood on it. Would another reality check be worth it? But the last cut on his arm was still burning. There was no pain in the simulations. There was never any pain or discomfort, that’s why it was so easy to get lost in there.
“Sure. Get me something”, he finally said, choosing to assume that he just hadn’t noticed complaining.
The door opened, and a tiny robot on wheels drove in, carrying a bottle of water and a nutrition bar. Oscar picked up both, unwrapped the bar, and started chewing slowly, sipping water in between bites.
Over two days. He had lost himself for over two days in the simulation. And it hadn’t even been a good or a new one! Just another version of some old MMORPG that the developers just didn’t want to lay to rest. But everything was better than the life that expected him outside his apartment. The world had gone to shit over the last few decades.
“Computer, any news?”
“The Pentagon has been hit by a nuclear missile 30 hours and 26 minutes ago. World War Three has been declared on the USA and the EU by Russia. Most of the population has been evacuated to the moon base, only those necessary to protect said base have been left behind.”
A cold feeling spread in Oscar’s chest, and he put down the remains of his nutrition bar.
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’m afraid you disabled my humor unit.”
“We’re at war? With Russia?”
“And everyone has been evacuated?”
“Everyone but necessary personnel?”
“Am I necessary personnel?”
“Why the fuck have I not been evacuated then?”
“According to my database, you have been reported as deceased five years ago. This apartment is registered as vacant.”
“What?!” Oscar jumped up but immediately had to sit down again. The whole room was moving in front of his eyes. “How could they think I am dead? I’ve been selling gear I’ve earned in the games! I’ve been paying my bills! I’ve been paying rent!”
This time, the computer did not reply. The nutrition bar made its way back up, and Oscar threw up on the floor. His head was pounding. They thought he was dead? They left him behind? How? Why?
Suddenly, everything went dark.
He opened his eyes. For a few moments, he was just staring at the grey ceiling, until he lifted his hand and removed the Access Point from his right temple. The previous events felt like a dream, but still real. The taste of vomit in his mouth was still vaguely present.
Next to him, on his nightstand, there was a blade. He laid the button next to it, took the blade, and repeated what he had done so many times before. Push the blade against the skin, press, cut.
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