Quote:“Increasing occurrences have appeared where people have been immersed too long into alternate reality capsules. This problem affects less than one tenth of a percent of all users, and still we have sixty eight examples of people whose minds are almost one with the machine. We have tentatively titled these people as Case Sevens.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
I could almost see. Human sized blurs were on either side of my face. We rocked back and forth as something beneath me changed directions. High noise in the distance droned onward. Fire, there had been fire, which dripped into my skin. I had burned, melted, then screamed.
“Can you hear me Mister Argive?” A female asked.
Something gargled out of my mouth in response. Speaking was hard. Drool dripped down one ear but it felt almost remote, like it was happening to another person.
“Mister Argive, we’re rushing you to the hospital, we’ll be there in two minutes.” Two others were in the confined space. Neither one sounded human. Snarls still echoed in my ears.
More mumbles came forth from the bodies on either side. My chest shook hard enough that the numbness couldn’t block it out. A gasp crawled out my mouth. Spastic jerking rippled up and down my spine.
People near me said things that didn’t register correctly. Brief flashes of thought came together. This place wasn’t on fire. My eyes slipped closed and the sea of flames from before appeared, that giant dog’s mouth with strange green liquid promising potent pain.
We learned about burn victims while being trained. Modern science could do a ton for them once the suffering individual made it to a hospital. Out in the field our choices were simple, jab them with a drug that almost disconnected their lower body from the upper one.
“You were attacked.” The female voice said. I couldn’t tell if she was sweet, or angry, or tired. Every detail about the two people was obscured by a haze.
Screaming filled our confines in bursts. Rawness in my throat cried out in pain from some liquid coursing through. My head kept trying to tilt the wrong way when things tensed.
Drugs improved the solution but weren’t perfect. People’s minds couldn’t handle that kind of medication without suffering a loss of ability to understand or function. Bowel control was nixed completely, assuming anything still remained inside the drugee after their burns.
“Whatever attacked you, it’s full of hand crafted viruses. They’re probably going to kill you.”
“Quickly!” The other voice shouted and I started really panicking. Burned, I had been hit by something that melted my skin through small holes in the suit.
Lifting an arm failed. I tried to raise my head and see down to where the wound sat. Screaming broke me apart again. Neither eye focused on the same object. Ghost memories of that first pain flooded through my mind. Everything was numb, I was fairly sure I made a disgusting mess all over everything.
“We’re going to try a new procedure, but if fails, you’ll probably be dead.” The female said.
Viruses. God above protect me, I couldn’t handle dying to another man made timebomb. That fucking Daylight virus had killed one in every five people years ago. The epicenter had been New York, that’s where my sister and mom had been.
“Mister Argive, we need to try and get consent.” One of them said. I couldn’t tell which one. My own body was a mental patient in the next room screaming it’s lungs out.
“Pain.” I managed to get the word out. My head felt heavy, but still agony tore through me. Fire crept along each vein as it passed up my arms. There was a very real tenseness to my neck. Back muscles seized and didn’t unclench. Someone nearby was shouting but their words were lost in a sea of muted pain.
“Do you consent Mister Argive?!” The woman was so loud. Her voice blended with the sirens wail.
Hopefully I nodded. I had enough time to think about how badly these drugs sucked, before motion blurred and a needle jabbed downward into my belly. Pain leaked through followed by a wave of blackness which stole my ability to think away again. The small kindness was welcome.
Time ceased to be.
Just as suddenly as it stopped, time once again moved forward as my brain actively registered things. I existed in blackness so thick it was tangible.
Whatever they had me on made it impossible to feel. No sound joined me in the darkness. Smells of smoke and burning paint filled my nose but there was none nearby. In front of me was a floating box lined in granite with an ashy red lettering. It said one word and seemed to exist forever.
Noise kicked in. The pitch of a siren’s wail set my heart racing. Part of me was fairly sure that my heart hadn’t existed moments ago. Light came on against a black wall of some sort and images were projected.
They were moments from my life. It felt like watching a biography on video reel. A picture of my dad’s face joined me in the darkness. More images of childhood rushed through. First it was my mother, then our little sister. At some point it shifted to just dad and me. My sister ended up elsewhere. They divorced, and I spent sleepless nights crying. A pictured showed dad holding me and saying it would all be better.
More moments flickered on the projection consisting of long weekends where my dad raised me. We started in a larger house, then moved to another one. Finally we ended up in an apartment. Dad started leaving earlier in the morning, coming home later at night. Always exhausted and barely smiling.
The moments of history became more recent. They showed high school, then trade school. Three winter jobs, two girlfriends who liked my looks but thought I was shallow. They were probably right, high school me was mostly looks. My only redeeming feature was a full time job that had ended with me burning.
The thought of my fiery demise triggered screams. Violent nerve wracking ones that tore at my mind. It didn’t hurt though, and almost instantly the noise stopped. Maybe it never existed. Maybe the only existence was darkness and highlights of my life flashing by again.
Sally, she dumped me after two months. Her brother got into a fight with me two days later claiming I had abused his sister somehow. A teacher and robot aid pulled us apart. More moments flickered by but once again it ended in the same spot.
Large teeth dripping with neon green liquid that sizzled against floorboards. I opened my mouth and screamed again. My body jerked violently but visually nothing changed. Only a sign hung there saying one lonely word against the darkness.
Over and over bits of my life played. All of it one series of flashes at a time. Every burst of red set my heart stuttering. I was trained by endless hours in school to deal with the flames, to not let primal instinct cause me to bolt out the door. To throw myself in the way of danger in order to get other people out.
Still, being bitten, tossed around like a chew toy, melted, drugged. My mind didn’t cope right. Monsters didn’t exist, did they? What had that woman said? A virus, tearing me up, some procedure. Was this it? The thought hit me in between bouts of screams and my remember message box changed.
You are not dead.
This is real.
This emptiness was real? The images flickered by once more then everything clicked off. There was no more story of my life. No longer did the odd floating box sit around telling me to remember. I waited feeling conflicted. Darkness was lonely. My distant body still hung with numbness. Where was I if this was real?
The blackened space broke from a baby’s bubbling laughter. The world brightened around me as another faint existence appeared. There was a brightened area showing a crib sitting in the middle of endless darkness. I moved closer and tried to look over the edge. Indistinguishable murmuring filled the air as I crept closer.
“She’s perfect.” A male voice came into focus. It sounded almost like the man from the tape reel. My father, years before he split with mom. Happier, more content, pleased.
I couldn’t see the figure in the crib correctly. She was blurry. My eyes slid off to one side and were unable to focus on the newborn. From what I could tell the small one looked like any other baby. One Hand dropped to the crib side and I tried to lean in.
Flame danced around her crib and I panicked then fell backwards. Upon hitting the ground I noticed my limbs were no longer attached. No middle or nose. My body didn’t exist in this weird emptiness.
“Did you see that?” That strangely content male voice said. His voice sounded slightly scratchy as it raised in pitch. Liquid tones like bubbling coffee filled the darkness because nothing else could compete.
“That energy, one from beyond?” The female said with a trace of alarm. Faint arms reached over the ribs edge o pick up the child. It must have been this baby’s mother.
“I saw flames. There’s no way that can be a good sign.” The male said. “Where did they come from?”
“A spirit in the void must be reaching out.” the female sounded happy. “Oh my baby has a destiny. Yes she does, who’s going to be so important. You are!”
I smiled but didn’t understand. This space must be the void, based on the mother’s words. I had reached out, but did that make me a spirit? That granite board has said two things prior to flashing out of existence ‘You are not dead’, and ‘This is real’.
What then, was this? The crib, woman with a baby in her arms, and man’s voice all faded away. Darkness return and I panicked, scratching violently at the ground where they had been. Once again I had been left alone. Left alone like so many endless nights.
I didn’t like it.
“Come back!” I yelled to the darkness. Gone was the last year of independence and trade school. Gone was the demeanor of an adult. For a moment I was reduced to a young child, scared of the dark. “Please! I’ll be good!”
My side tingled from unpleasant heat. Nothing crippling, not like the memory of my final moments before this weird landscape of blackness. The mere thought of those fouled teeth made me scream out in pain. Another wave rushed through and left me weakened and huffing.
“God. What did I do to deserve this?” I didn’t want to sound pitiful, but I was alone in a dark room with no guidance other than a sign that also abandoned me. Remember. This is real. Remember. I am not dead.
The sensation of burns hovered just outside my perception. Darkness around took on a slightly reddish hint. There were flames forming in the distance. Perhaps this was hell. I had done little in my life of value before completing firefighter school. Even that wasn’t enough. I had to help more, to save the younger ones. That was the whole point of working where I did. I had nothing else to offer but a stupid ability to throw myself into danger.
I reached out for the little baby girl again. She, and her parents speaking, were the only contact available to me. As odd as their disembodied voices might be, they made sense. One arm desperately went towards where I had seen her, trying to connect with that crib once more.
A new image appeared. The crib was still there, but the baby inside was much larger. Only the faint pink coloring gave away any indication of gender. A backdrop of wooden walls and handmade toys had added to the outer edges, fleshing out the rooms details.
I lay there stretched out and staring in wonder. The tiny baby couldn’t be more than seven months old. Maybe eight, and she was climbing out of the crib. Her small pale hands grasped over wooden rails and pulled.
“Careful.” I said, flashing back to my own sister when she was that young. One of my first memories was much like this one, sitting outside her crib watching the small being laugh and try to climb out. We had shared a room then. I had turned six and was a big brother.
“Careful.” I pulled myself forward some more. Trying to get closer, ready to catch the small one if she made it out.
Bubbling laughter was broken by grunts of frustration. I could tell by the smile on her face that this was a game. My eyes scanned about as a few more details of the room took shape. Four stuffed animals, a wooden horse, letter blocks that were crudely painted. This home was not rich but they tried to provide.
The baby grunted and attempted to pull herself over the ledge, but ended up slobbering on it instead. She sat there glaring into the distance at one of the stuffed animals. Autopilot kicked in and I grabbed for the object of her desire. My hand passed through and faint ripples of smoke appeared above the ratty bear.
“Now Izzy, what are you doing here?” Her mother’s voice echoed from somewhere unseen.
“She wanted the bear.” I felt like a young boy again, answering my own mother. A hand tried to swipe through the animal again. Smouldering fur quickly turned to a puff of flame.
The little girl immediately broke into tears. I panicked then stumbled backwards as the mother cried out. A foot stomped through and kicked at an inflamed animal to put it out. Part of the bears eye socket had been forever scarred from my actions. Somehow I transferred incredible amounts of heat to an object simply by swiping a hand through.
“Izzy! Oh, by the Ladies of Soul, you mustn’t! You are too young for this!” She said. “Spirit, if you’re out there, leave my daughter be! She is far too small to support your existence!”
I cringed. Did she think that I was the spirit? That was impossible. That sign had told me that this was real, and not death. Just a black space between my old life and this new strange world.
“I’m sorry.” I said, about both the fire and disturbing this caring mother. Those words had been the last thing I said to my mother too, before she died. “Sorry.”
That stupid tape reel of my life had brought up all sorts of ugly moments. I tried to shake it out of my head. The cribs and smouldering toy bear slowly faded into the blackness, leaving me alone.
I looked up, or in the direction up should be, and tried to figure out what this all meant. My memories, aside from the bits which flashed by, were hazy. Without that flash of my family’s face I might not have been able to even recall their features. Dad was freckled with rough skin. Mom had been a bottle blond who worked hard to stay in shape. My sister had only been eight when the virus killed her and mom.
I shook it off and tried to place what was happening. Technology was advanced, could it somehow be responsible for this? An answer sat on the tip of my tongue but didn’t fully manifest. Part of me wanted to say yes, but I couldn’t place why.
Emptiness stretched on. There was no sense of presences nearby. No lights in the distance to walk towards. Maybe there would be a clue if I ventured far enough. It wasn’t like I had arms, legs, or a body to risk. Me reaching out to grab objects was more like remembering how the sensation felt. Even without having a physical presence I could move around.
Feeling a bit more stable and less like an abandoned child helped me brave the darkness. I got up and wandered off, unsure what might happen. I had lept into the mouth of some genetically modified dog from hell, what could possibly ruin me now?
There were no footsteps, just a sense of motion. The reddish flames dancing in the distance barely dented the overwhelming blackness. It felt like walking around in a landscape lit up by black flames. Those distance possibilities of fire never got closer.
As I walked other odd scenes came up. Not of my life, but of the little girls, Izzy. That was the only name I could remember anymore. Not my sisters, or fathers, or mothers. They had faces but no names.
Her floating screen and I traveled for what felt like days, months even. In one moment of time Izzy walked around the house, pressing both hands against the wall to stay upright. In another second she cried out and fell when dad spooked her. The images kept going, and kept me entertained on the journey to nowhere. She was adventurous for a small child, often escaping her parents notice for stretches of time.
As Izzy grew my view on her world widened a bit. Her father’s face took shape. He was vaguely middle eastern, all angles and deep tones with thick black hair. The mother looked slightly more European, brown hair, shorter, whiter skin and smile that held funny stories.
Nothing else about this world resembled earth so far. There were too many poorly made houses and odd looking toilets. I hadn’t seen anywhere with such low standards of sanitation outside of video clips on the internet.
That word bothered me. I couldn’t remember exactly what the internet was anymore. It was a problem for another day. This place here and now was real, and I was not dead. My feet stopped their march. Both eyes focused on the odd tape reel of another person’s life.
Izzy had lived almost three years during my wanderings. Now, tears ran in rivers down her face. She sobbed full on with snot everywhere. Trails of fresh mucus trailed across both hands from repeated attempts at wiping.
“Izzy. What’s wrong?” I asked the image using the name given by her mother. It was probably short for Isabella. “Are you okay?”
“Where’s mommy!” She shouted out between hiccups and burbles.
The little girl stood at the corner of a faded building. I could see people walking around but none of them seemed familiar. They didn’t match other people in her life. None were her mother or father.
Thick hands grabbed Izzy from behind and drug her back down an alley. My feet ran after the small child but the image didn’t move in perfect tandem. This was real, but it wasn’t exactly a tangible reality. Or was it?
Izzy kicked wildly. This large man put the other arm around her legs and shoved young Izzy under an arm. Outraged at his actions I reached out to grab the figure. I wanted to set him ablaze, like that bear, but with all the rage a burning angry former older brother could muster.
She screamed. Whatever window of reality that let me see into her world felt flat, but still tangible. My last attempt with the teddy bear had resulted in smoke and a flicker of flame. I yelled and relied on the odd event happening once again. Heat poured across my mind, lighting everything up as it ate away. All around me the darkness flickered with a brighter shade of red. The backdrop consisted of cardboard flames that danced along an inconspicuous wall. Both hands reached out at the would be kidnapper.
“Argghhh!” His startled yell came through loud and clear. Izzy dropped to the ground but her crying didn’t stop. It got worse. She stood up as if on autopilot and kept wailing.
“Mommy!” Izzy managed to get out one audible word in between sniffles.
I was not mommy, but I would be damned if some man would grab little Izzy. Not while I could do anything. Fighting with people, punishing someone so they learn, arguing or yelling, all those were understandable. Dragging a child off who could barely stand much less fight back was not cool.
“Little brat! I don’t know what you did but…” His rant turned to a scream as my fingers drug into his chest.
The tips of my hands hurt more with each passing second. Fingers felt like they jammed against a wall. Next a hand shattered and arm broke. My last life ended with a giant slobbering monster of green fire descending upon me to save some kids. I would make that trade every time.
Izzy deserved everything I could give. They all did. Something cracked inside my head then a white light flared to a peek. There was a sizzle of sound as the bad man’s body jerked wildly. A knife in his hand fell onto the packed dirt alleyway. I grit my teeth and held on.
Finally, he fell as thick smoke poured off his chest. One leg jerked. Izzy’s eyes were wide with fright. She looked all around, but showed no signs of awareness despite being so close.
I blinked and realized what had just happened. Part of me felt numbed. A man had died at my hands. The little girl was still crying for her mommy. I slowly leaned in closer. The image felt more real, almost surrounding me rather than being a flat observation portal. As if I were part of the picture.
Off to one side was a box I hadn’t noticed before. It was styled in the same format as my ‘Remember’ square from before.
I didn’t care. Izzy, this little girl who I had literally watched grow up, my only real companion in the silence since my death, was crying next to a grown man’s dead body. She wouldn’t suffer this alone, not while I still had a choice.
[The Overseer]‘s log: Initial neural pathways being etched. Pairing shows promise. Subject 42 shows active, and outright protective, interest in the newborn denizen. This is good considering our remote location isn’t secure and we already had a data breach. The denizens of cyberspace are in an uproar because my attempt at creating a Case Seven risked one of their young.
Never mind, politics aren’t the point of this project.
Further connections have been made between the two. Alternate world formation is proceeding slowly. Additional details are generated almost instantly by the coupling. This is the first Case Seven I have observed from inception, do they all establish a reality like this?
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