Author : Jeff Kirchoff
A few short keystrokes and the room sprung to life, bare, the walls black yet glowing with the subtle aura of electrical potential. Rico strolled to the center of the small space and looked at the crumpled paper clutched in his left hand with a sigh.
He spoke aloud to the empty room, “Cara, is everything ready?”
“Yes, loading is currently in progress.” The mechanical sound of the ship’s AI buzzed from the walls in response, mechanical and staccato in a vaguely feminine way, “Welcome back Chief. Should I run the program now?”
“Light it up.”
The walls of the room flickered with static then snapped into focus, like an ancient television adjusting itself after a sharp thump. Where moments ago there was only blackness now contained an impressive springtime reproduction of a tall, shady tree surrounded by a secluded meadow. Wispy white clouds materialized in the sky, floating lazily overhead as wildflowers sprung up around Rico’s feet, growing a month’s time in an instant and spreading the pleasant smell of nature, subtle and earthy. He took in a deep breath and sighed.
Beneath the tree’s canopy a small ironwork table flickered into existence, followed quickly by two complementary chairs. Knowing what came next, Rico began to walk toward the tree and took a seat. Elbows on the table, he gazed at the empty chair opposite him, trying not to close his eyes.
He blinked. In the span of an instant a pale, dainty woman appeared before his eyes. Her long chestnut hair wafted in the gentle breeze, her blue jumpsuit ruffled almost imperceptibly.
She stifled a giggle, “I wish you would stop having a staring contest with the computer every time we do this, you know it waits to make huge changes until your eyes are closed.”
Rico cracked a grin, “Right. So how have you been?”
“Great! I got hired into Mars, just like you suggested.”
“Well, I put a word in.”
Kenna twirled a finger through her hair, “I appreciate it. Everyone is so nice here, all the red is kind of hard to get used to though. How’s your run going?”
“Same as always.” He frowned, “You know how hauling cargo can get.”
Her face turned serious and her voice badly mimicked his, “It’s a lonely job but someone has to do it!”
Rico gave her a playful shove, “Cut it out.”
“I wonder how you put up with it.”
“Well, this room certainly helps, how realistic it is.”
“Oh, of course.” A smile spread across her face, “So, what did you want to do today Ricky?”
“Nothing…” He abruptly grabbed Kenna’s hand,” I just wanted to sit here with you for a while.”
She smiled, “Whatever you want, love.”
The allotted time for the meeting passed and Rico sadly said his goodbyes, promising to meet again soon. As the room blackened and he stepped through the door into the cockpit of his hauler he looked again at the crumpled paper in his hand that he had been clutching the entire visit. He smoothed it out and stared at it while he sat back down at the helm, picturing himself receiving the printed letter from the post at his last stop, months ago.
I’m sorry that you had to find out this way but
we’ve been growing apart for so long and
I had to move on with my life, I hope that
He couldn’t bear to read any further.
The ship droned, “Yes Chief?”
“I can’t do this anymore, delete the VR program I’ve been running.”
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