Life is a Game, Play it!
Sci Fi story published in Science Reporter
I have never been this happy in my life. Doing things I always wanted to. There was a time in a past when the going was not this good. I even forget how far this was in the past and what had it been that had bothered me. Then, I used to drive cars down below, on those crowded, jam-packed roads where it was difficult to even breathe, leave alone travel. Up in the sky it’s cool, very cool. And I don’t drive a private jet, it’s a Sea Hawk I drive at sounds that boom and speeds that zoom.
Up in the sky, ‘the being with you spirit’ had helped me with another milestone; I connected to the state of happiness more easily and readily than ever. Happiness had been eluding me since I don’t know when but there, up in the sky and in my Sea Hawk, I finally connected. I could feel its intensity, and was drenched in it! But then, you won’t understand that exhilarating feeling through words. It has to be felt.
I have been flying for over three hours now. No territory is beyond my reach, nothing I can’t come to within inches of feeling. I can fly over deserts, perch atop a mountain, graze over the sea waves, dive deep into gullies and come up within inches of hitting the ground, then soar up in space. To explore the outer limits of stratosphere. This freedom, this speed and this access, I know only a few people have. Danger excites me, new lands thrill me and I fly past the globe every evening like a wanderer.
It’s time to return and in the next half an hour I fly down the tarmac of the private airstrip I own. My Sea Hawk lands softly, something that comes only with skill and taxies down to a halt.
I spot her in her sky blue dress, her golden hair blowing in the windswept strip. She looks striking, the next most beautiful thing after my aircraft. She is always there to receive me at the airstrip. She accompanied me once, but my maneuvers overwhelmed her and she didn’t have the heart to climb the aircraft a second time! She waited at the strip because she was anxious, for my safety and well-being. Her extreme devotion touched me.
Today, she looked exceptional because of the evening light that fell on her face in a curious way. The golden haze accentuated her features and her figure stood out. I swallowed the lump in my throat. I too loved her, just as she loved me.
She rushed to me and gave me a hug.
“Thanks for avoiding your last minute acrobats,” she smiled.
And we walked into the sunset, towards my waiting Ferrari. I opened the door for her and got into the driver’s seat. For once, I was not in a mood to zip but instead I cruised on the long empty road. She put her favourite song on the disk which was also my favourite and we drove all night.
My passion of kissing the skies on my Sea Hawk and being with the woman I loved. This sprinkled with the joys of racing my favourite Ferrari, feeling the essence of happiness that eluded most people and eating in the best of the restaurants filled my cup of joy. I had all objects of desire and it was as if the world was at my feet! What else could anyone want out of life? What else? Because there was nothing else to achieve beyond what I had!
I lost count of the years that went by. Then George came along, my blue-eyed child prodigy who could beat the world’s chess champions at 7. He could do the most difficult calculations in less than 30 seconds and his name kept flashing regularly in newspapers, magazines and television. The world envied us for what we were – I was a much decorated Pilot with several gallantry awards which I received by carrying out dangerous, lifesaving assignments and Sarah was a 5 times Oscar winning actress. And my son, the newspaper claimed would one day get the Nobel prize in mathematics! What else could anyone want out of life? What else?
Then it happened one day.
I was rushing headlong into the long dead volcano and staring death in the face as the earth rushed in to meet me. I was testing the limits of thrill and excitement I could engage myself. I tensed, ready with the controls to pull the planes at the last possible minute and inches away from danger. That was what excited me, the play with danger. Adrenalin quickened my heartbeat to a new threshold.
“Now!” I muttered to myself. “Now!”
But then the lights went out. I knew I hadn’t hit the ground, not yet, because the ground was still far away and there was no way the light could have gone out, except for an eclipse. But they had, and I had not hit the ground. This was surprising because in the fractions of the seconds that elapsed, I should have, but didn’t. I was safe, without a hit, in the darkness. No sound of the engine plane. No crash. No vibrations. Just an eerie quiet. And an opaque blackness.
Time ticked away in my mind. Few seconds, minutes and then a long time. I tried to move but I was stuck fast on the seat. I reached out for the belts and released them. Where was I? Where was this? The plane couldn’t be mid air and for so long. I had been hurtling downwards and had been less than a 100 feet away. What was happening?
Free, I thrashed my hands around, tried to smash the screen. There was no screen! I tried again. No way. I gripped the handles they were there, but the screen was missing where it should have been. I brought my hands close to my eyes and felt my helmet. Suddenly I felt claustrophobic. Quickly, I pulled off the helmet. Bright light hit my eyes and I was blinded by it! I realized there was no plane! I was in a room, a very quiet room with many gadgets. Where was this?
Slowly the rods and cones in my eyes adjusted to light. Still the light hurt, even though it wasn’t intense. That only meant I hadn’t been exposed to light for a long time. I looked at the helmet I was holding and it was connected with wires and wires and wires! My gaze followed the sinewy wires that slithered to the floor, just like snakes. They led to a console placed on a recessed portion of the room. I moved about in the room which had been built deliberately to give a dimensionless feel. Where was I? Was I in some kind of a prison?
My heart was beating fast because I was suddenly afraid. Looking again at the helmet, I realized the helmet screen was not transparent and what I thought of to be a helmet was not a helmet but a shield. Or was it a gear?
Looking around I saw just walls and drips. I followed the drips and realized they were attached to me. Someone was nourishing me, while I imagined I was flying, so the illusion didn’t fade away or break. I looked at the console and it was simply playing noise. Then, it blanked out.
Without knowing why, I reached out for a button and then adjusted certain settings on the console. The screen came alive with my picture of flying. Instinctively, I walked back to my helmet and wore it. The same feeling of flying the aircraft engrossed me! I began to enjoy my dream. Then, quickly, to fade the illusion, I removed the helmet.
Present reality stared at me as the invented reality faded away. I was living in a dream world and the virtual machine with the drips was sustaining it! I pulled off the drips and looked around. If these drip sets were real, then there must be people who were attending to me. For the first time, the thought of escaping from captivity occurred to me. I looked around and saw a door and walked out of it.
It didn’t open into space, it opened into another room. Immediately, I was struck with the likeness it had with the house of my dreams. Identical, including the small crack in the tile just near the door. So this was where they moved me when I arrived home! What I felt gave me goose bumps.
I moved into another room and saw my wife! She too was sitting on a console, wearing a helmet. She was smiling, a beautiful smile no doubt but it appeared stupid and empty to me. Poor girl, she was fooling herself with happiness in that make-believe world!
“Sarah!” I called her name. Was it real? More important, was she my wife?
“John! I love you. You are so handsome! But I wish you were more careful about flying,” she said. I thought it was a reply but she was responding to a stimulus given to her in the world she was living. She hadn’t heard me.
“Sarah!” I tried to jolt her.
“Thanks John. I feel tired, let’s retire early tonight.”
She didn’t respond. I shouted, screamed, gave her nudges, and slapped her on the shoulder. Nothing! She was in a deep trance, coma, anesthesia or whatever anyone may call it. She was cut off from my world. We were in the same room but existed in different dimensions. As if I were dead for her. She continued to relive her virtual world experiences.
Then, the elaborate consol on which she was sitting, complete with the drips attached to her body, began to move noiselessly. It moved to another room. This was the bedroom of the world in which Sarah and John (yes that was me, but really?) existed, but one that didn’t belong jointly to us anymore.
I was in for another shock! I saw George, my child prodigy, sitting on another console, his expression intense!
Suddenly, for no reason, tears trickled down my cheeks as my ideal world of perfect happiness crashed like a house of cards. It was a fake. George was no prodigy, not in the real world. It was a make-believe hypothesis. He was ordinary but I thought him to be extraordinary. The complete and callous deception made me angry.
“George, wake up! They’re fooling you!”
“That’s Sin2a!” He replied triumphantly. The same on-top-of the world expression reflecting on my face that made me proud on him now looked contorted and full of conceit because it was for something he didn’t have!
I tried to search for a way to switch off the madness but couldn’t find the switches. I tried to pull out wires but they were strong. For the next hour all my attempts to shatter their illusion failed miserably. They laughed together, interacted with me and each other but they didn’t know anything, didn’t know the big joke that was being played on them.
Sick, hurt and wiping away my tears, I stomped out of the room, unable to bear their pathetic plights. Moving through corridors and doors, I came across a staircase. I began to climb. The climb was steep and the steps were high. Thick metal layers began to show as I climbed higher and higher. I was panting now and took rest. Then I resumed my climb again. Beads of sweat began to form on my head. The heat was unbearable now. It took me an hour of effort to reach the top.
A door confronted me. I opened it and my jaw dropped. Outside the destruction was horrifying. There were skeletons laughing at me with their dropped open jaws. A huge Sea Hawk lay with its fuselage broken into two and no wings. The sunset was uncanny in that no man’s land. Buses, cars and buildings were distorted, mutilated and pitted. The house where I stood, my house was charred. I walked through huddled skeletons and moved into the silence lingering in the interiors of that house. My wife, my son and me we were surviving in the deep basement we had built as a precaution a long time ago.
I saw a huge photograph of John, me! I was receiving a prize for developing virtual war simulations for the US Army from the president of America! Then I saw more magazines and curious I read through them, my head began to spin as the contents connected me to a past I had long since forgotten. It came alive, with one word – Nuclear.
I saw the miraculously preserved wood of the bed I was sitting on. Reluctantly, I went back to the stairs from which I had climbed. I closed the door securely behind me. I couldn’t risk intrusions from desperadoes.
When the door shut behind me, I couldn’t contain my tears.
Going down had been much easier than coming up, just as it had been for mankind. One war had brought all glory and progress to this! In which, the world lay twisted and destroyed above, by a few nuclear bombs!
When I reached down, the team was there, waiting for me.
“So that was a time-out,” I stared at my subordinates, albeit sheepishly. “My window to reality, just incase things improved.”
“Now what, Sir?” A spectacled techie with long hair asked me, nervously.
“We have enough funds?”
“No worry about that,” the financial expert smiled.
“Why is this place so vulnerable? Anyone can walk through that door.”
“It’s impregnable. You could go out because it was a time-out. Your setting enabled you to walk out. No one can get in. The 2 feet thick steel door padded with lead can’t be compromised even by a bomb.”
“OK,” I conceded, as I went back to my console and sat on the chair, thinking.
“What are your orders, sir?”
“Let me think. Give me an hour please!”
In that hour, I didn’t shout at my wife and kid. The kid was a prodigy. I remembered it when the effects of the selective amnesia causing drug weaned off. In fact, he was on an intensive learning course I had designed for him with my virtual gaming skills.
I watched my wife too through tears that were hot and salty. They tasted just the same, the way they had millions of years ago, since human beings. But mankind had changed the planet beyond redemption. One had just to step outside this shelter, an oasis in ruins, to discover the destructive potential of humans.
An hour later, the team strapped back all the paraphernalia I had dismantled.
“How long after do you want the time-out to be set this time, sir?”
“3 years from now.” I had already reset the time-outs for Sarah and George. No point in causing distress to them, his had been enough!
When they injected the anesthesia again, I remembered the bright orange landscape littered with skeletons and the twisted man-made creation once again before it began to fade. Then it was dark and I felt going down a tunnel.
Then there was bright sunshine!
I regained my bearings again. The plane was diving lower and lower. I pulled at the controls with all the force in me. At the last minute, the aircraft tilted its angle and once again I began to soar in the sky. I took a deep breath.
“Whew, that was close!” I muttered. “Damn close! Almost hit the ground this time!”
And I exulted, and smiled at the blue skies and the green earth below.
A perfect world. A perfect life. What more could I ask?