Author: Bill Cox

“What’s happened?” The Captain’s voice was a harsh rasp, his throat still raw from the cryo-fluid.

“The ship has experienced a failure of one of the three cold fusion engines due to a catastrophic meteor strike,” the mainframe avatar replied. “We have diverged substantially from our planned route and are now on a collision course with the eighth planet in this system.”

The Captain shook his head, trying to clear the fog from his mind, a side effect of the emergency re-animation.

“What needs to be done to rectify the situation?” he asked.

“The Chief Engineer needs to be awakened. Only he has the expertise to re-align the remaining engines, which will allow us to resume a safe course,” the avatar responded, in its soothing feminine voice.

“Can’t you re-align the engines?”

“Unfortunately, protocols hardwired into my programming mean that I will self-terminate if I attempt to undertake any action for which a trained human is present, as per the ‘Full Employment for Humans’ Act of 2261.”

“Right, right,” the Captain muttered, “Go ahead and waken the Chief Engineer then!”

“Regrettably I am unable to do so. The Chief Engineer remains in suspended animation. He has undergone a recursive feedback loop, which, if interrupted, could lead to a psychotic breakdown.”

“Explain what that means!” the Captain said, frustration creeping into his voice.

“The scenario developed to maintain brain plasticity during suspended animation has been accepted as real by his sub-conscious.”

The Captain swore softly. It was rare, but he’d heard of this happening before, on other ships. During suspended animation, virtual reality scenarios were fed into the crew’s brains in an attempt to preserve cognitive function. There had been instances where these realistic dreams became fully integrated into the host personality, altering their perceived identity. If those dreams were forcefully interrupted then this could cause a catastrophic personality crisis and result in a psychotic break. The Chief Engineer wouldn’t be much use to him in such circumstances.

The Captain stroked his beard as he thought.

“Wasn’t there a safe way to remind the host personality of their reality, of the fact that they were experiencing a simulation? What was it called again?”

“The Percosi method,” the avatar replied, “Named after the famed psychologist, it involves introducing gentle prompts into the virtual reality to remind the host of their underlying reality, encouraging their psyche to break free of the simulation.”

“Can you do that for the Chief Engineer?”

After the briefest of pauses, during which time the mainframe carried out several billion calculations, the avatar responded.

“Yes. He is undergoing a simulation of life in the early part of the twenty-first century, prior to the Third World War.”

“Whatever! Can you introduce some elements that will remind him that he is actually the Chief Engineer aboard a starship in OUR century?”

“Yes, I am manipulating the virtuality now. I have introduced the concept into a short story that he is presently reading online in the simulation. This may prove sufficient stimulus to break through the simulation and remind him of his underlying reality.”

The Captain looked at the ship’s course on the main display. The situation was critical.

“If he doesn’t wake up then we’re all dead.”

“Indeed Captain. I am beginning the insertion now.”

Chief Engineer, this story that you are reading is part of a simulation. You are currently experiencing a virtual reality aboard a starship. It is imperative that you realise this and now wake up! The ship is in imminent danger of destruction.

Wake up!
Wake Up!