“Is he still in there,” Director Laura Stiles walking into the room, stilettos clicking on the marble floors. Her thick brown hair was drawn back into a ponytail. The assistant director Charles Flint was checking the candidates stats at the medical station. He wrote a few numbers down and join Laura at the viewing glass. There, behind thick glass, a man laid on a gurney with a slight incline to keep him from swallowing his tongue. Leather straps held him in place.
“His heart rate spikes every few minutes before returning to normal. Other than the fact he’s been under for 18 hours, he’s doing fine,” Charles explained.
“We’ll need to get in on an IV, maybe even a feeding tube. Is there a next of kin who’d be able to sign off on this,” Laura has never seen this before. 18 hours in VR stasis was unprecedented.
“He has no next of kin listed and no has sign complete control of his physical well being into our hands,” Charles said.
“Brave,” Laura said.
“And maybe a little strange. I get the feeling he’s not just a thrill seeker. This guy is on his last dime. This might be his way out of a situation,” Charles said, sounding concerned. “Laura,” he said quietly. “I don’t know about this.”
“We need to see what’s going on in there,” ignoring Charles all together. Charles is always so careful. There is risk in progress, she’d told him before. “What’s the word on getting an observer in there.”
“We haven’t been able to get the observer to work properly. We get a few slight images but that’s it.”
“Oh come on. Aren’t we the ones controlling the VR world? We project the images directly into the ocular receptors in the candidates eyes and all him to use his nervous system as a controller to move around. Simply tap into the feedback system so that we can monitor what our voyager is doing in there. What program are we running?” Laura began to sound annoyed.
“It’s the garden program.”
“The garden program. You mean our guy over there has been prancing with the lilies and smelling roses for 18 hours.”
“He’s not like the rest, Laura. There is something distinctly different about this candidate. We were able to few the others, though the VR strain sent them running, we saw them. After the first 45 minutes we’d lost contact with this guy. Laura something isn’t right” Charles hated when she got like this. Laura was entirely too passionate about her work.
“Something, Charles? That’s all you have is something? Charles, we need results. The garden is for beginners. Okay, let’s pull him out and see if he will jack into another program,” she said ignoring him.
“Laura, we’ve tried that,” Charles said more forcefully, getting her attention, but also drawing the attention of the laboratory personnel. “We tried that,” lower now. “when we initiate the disconnect, it is refused.”
“Well, hell, force him out!”
“We can’t do that without severe mental, psychological damage,” he said. Charles knew he had to breech the subject with her, but he didn’t know how. He just had to come out and say it. “We don’t know how to get him out.” Laura’s eyes bulged.
“We have to get in there. We have to see what’s going on. This is unprecedented. This is huge!” excitement written all over her face.
“This is huge.”
Charles stared back with a blank look on his face. He didn’t know what to make of her reaction.
“You know what. I want to go in there. I’m rested and ready to go right now.” Laura started towards her office. The lab coat was already in her hands.
“Right now Charles. Get me in there,” she said as she closed the door to her office. Moments later Laura emerged in scrubs and barefooted. She walked with determined steps to the gurney bed and laid herself down. Charles was still getting everything ready and the other little bees in the lab were fluttering all over the place. Laura started attaching cables and wires to her own head. She had no time to waste. This guy might wake up any second. She might never know what really happened in there.
“C’mon Charles let’s go,” she said impatiently. Charles walked into the room. Laura’s gurney was next to Jack’s. All their male candidates were Jacks and females Jills. All the cables were already connect. He placed a VR helmet over Laura’s head. “Count me down.”
“Director are you sure about this,” Charles had gone formal. Reminder her that she was head of this department by stating her title. Nice one Charles, she thought.
“Count me down,” she said calmly, betraying the excitement she really felt inside. Charles pulled a syringe and injected a sedative into Lara’s forearm.
“You won’t have as much control as our friend here, but you’ll be able to explore the world with him. If you find him, you’ll be able to speak with him also. Okay Laura, here we go.10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..and..1”
Laura felt her head swim. The light emitted by the VR helmet seemed to go black. Then, like waking up from a nap, Laura’s eyes opened. She was laying on her back staring into thick stormy grey skies. Strange, she thought Charles said the garden simulation. There should be perpetual golden sunshine and blue skies. The flowers had all wilted. There was a broken down old house off in the distance. That looks so familiar.
“Hello, Mr Woods,” Laura shouted, eyes fastened on the house. There are no houses in the garden simulation. No houses like that in any simulation. The garden was there, but the flowers were dead.
“Do you like what I’ve done with the place?” A man appeared next Laura.
“Oh my god, you scared me,” Laura hand to heart. “You did this?”
“Why,” she asked confused. “Why change it to look like this.”
“Why? You mean you don’t like it,” his voice crestfallen. “Laura I thought you’d recognize the place.”
Laura swiveled her head towards him. How did he know my name, she thought. “How?”
“This place, I’ve turned into my art work. It’s beautiful. It’s wondrous. I spent hours putting it all together just for you. And to think I didn’t even get a thank you,” Jack said.
Laura was speechless.
“I don’t know what you’re getting at but…”
“Well you didn’t like all my other artwork. So I figured if I recreate your childhood home you’d at least appreciate that. But not even a thank you. I’m so disappointed, ” Jack shouted the last word.
Images from newspapers. Magazines clippings in the mail. Weird phone calls in the dead of night all from burner phones.
“A restraining order Laura, a restraining order?”
“Charles pull me out. Charles, pull me out now.” voice sounding desperate now.
“He can’t hear you. I’ve changed the code of your little world. It was so easy. I just had to crash the code of a single flower and I was in. Laura, we can finally be together. Just you and me, until we die.”
This story was inspired by a writing prompt on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/WritingPrompts/comments/glunv0/wp_you_work_for_a_company_that_has_developed_the/
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