Author: David Henson
Colors are less vibrant, flowers without scent. Water doesn’t feel as wet. All this and more so our simulated world consumes less energy. And data errors slipped through. In NewWorld my toes are webbed — a constant reminder of where I am. Still, life here isn’t bad. But most of us would love to get back to RealWorld despite its flaws.
As I sit at the hover table in the interface chamber, the Council of the Wise — a man, woman, and a third who looks not-quite human — enter and sit at an identical table in RealWorld.
“Mr. Singman, this is Councilwoman Perez and Councilman Wilson,” says the artificial sentient. “I’m Arthur. You’re petitioning this Council for return to reality because you have a story?”
Councilwoman Perez leans forward. “Most living space made available from the recent interstellar colonization initiative is reserved for the Breathing Room Project,” she says. “There will few NewWorld returnees. I don’t believe having a story sufficiently raises your Value Quotient.”
“Not just any story,” I say. “An original story.”
“Mr. Singman,” Councilman Wilson says, “It’s been 300 years since the last original story?”
“I have one.”
“Not credible,” Councilwoman Perez says. “There are no new word sequences left.”
“That’s never been proven,” Arthur says. “Mr. Singman, proceed with your story.”
“No. You have to bring me back to RealWorld if you want to hear it. And you must agree to let me stay no matter what.” I’m glad emotions are dulled in NewWorld or I wouldn’t have the nerve to try this.
The three whisper among themselves. “Mr. Singman,” Arthur says a moment later. “You’ve piqued our curiosity. We’ll bring you here to tell us your story. If we deem it original, can you stay. Wait while we have your body pulled from cryogenic storage and refreshed.”
I find myself sitting across from the COW. At the real hover table. In my real body. Brrr. Not fully warmed yet. I resist the urge to take off my shoes and socks and check my toes.
“Proceed,” Arthur says.
I swallow hard and begin, starting years ago when I learned my Value Quotient was insufficient to remain in our overcrowded solar system. I describe how frightened I was when they yanked my consciousness from my body and streamed my mind to NewWorld. I tell them I was relieved when I got there. The place isn’t home, but isn’t horrible. There’s art and music, although the paintings are washed out and the symphony is tinny.
I describe how I learned to play the clarinet, my articulation so-so. I talk about my dog Lilly. She loved to play Magic / Split / Heel, a game we made up. I talk about the time I fractured my tibia when my light board flickered. I reminisce about Jennifer. We might’ve fallen in love, but feelings in NewWorld are too pastel. I admit my irrational fear of birds. I even tell them how I refer to the Council of the Wise as the COW — why hold back? — but mean no disrespect.
I say nothing profound because there’s nothing profound about me. I remind them I promised an original story, not a deep one. And I feel I’ve delivered. My story isn’t merely a sequence of words. It’s a life. My life. Unique. Original.
When I shut up, the three whisper among themselves again. I hold my breath….
When Arthur tells me I can stay, I pull off my shoes and socks and look at my toes. Then I walk to a window. Big sun. We must be on earth. Not home, but close enough.