There are some things you just instinctively know without needing evidence. I guess you could call it intuition. Others might describe it as a sixth sense. But I don’t believe in any of that crap – usually.
Only today I’ve woken up disoriented in a perfectly crease free bed. My concept of how long I’ve slept is distinctly muddled. It could be three hours. It could be three days. It certainly feels as though it was a deep sleep.
Normally I’m a light sleeper. In fact lately I’ve been suffering from insomnia – hence my surprised reference to the crease free bed. I can tell by the light trickling through the slats of my blinds that it must be late. A quick glance at my watch reveals that it’s eight twenty seven. The day has already begun without me.
In the world outside my window I discover every thing’s wrong as I it can be, just as I had suspected. There’s a snow plough passing along the street, clearing the way for the residents and delivery vans to go about their business. There must be at least two feet of snow out there.
“Put the central heating on!” a voice in my head commands. I ignore it and continue standing and staring, frozen to the spot.
Next doors children squeal with delight as they build a rotund snowman and fire snowballs at each other from behind snow covered cars. The sky above them is brightest cornflower blue and the sun blazes down on them just as it had done yesterday. Only yesterday it had been summer. The start of June to be precise.
“Get dressed and shovel the snow from your driveway,” the voice in my head commands again.
Stuff that! I’ve got a phone call to make. I lift the receiver, dial the number and wait…
“Hi Mom. It’s me, Aran.”
“Hi honey! I’m so glad you called. We were worried when we didn’t hear from you on New Year’s. Especially when I saw Glenda yesterday. She says you haven’t been sleeping again. Perhaps it’s time to get something from the Doctor. You can’t keep going on like that.”
“I know…I know.”
Glenda is my ex by the way…we split up just before Easter.
“It can screw up your mind if you don’t get your sleep,” she warns me.
“Glenda did a pretty good job of that already Mom.”
“Don’t say that…I know she has her faults. But she really does care about you.”
I can hear the concern in her voice so I decide not to mention the fact that it’s winter outside when it’s actually supposed to be summer. Or that the guy on the SKY news channel keeps referring to Hilary Clinton as President Clinton instead of Senator Clinton. As I grip the phone next to my ear I can feel the stubble on my jaw prickling my knuckles. There must be about two or three days’ worth there, which is odd because I distinctly recall shaving yesterday. It’s almost like I’ve lost three days of memory during which the world has moved on six months without me.
“Glenda’s a nice enough person in her own way,” I reply through gritted teeth. “But she’s just not part of my life any more. We have nothing in common.”
There’s a pause.
“What are you saying Aran? What about the twins?” she asks in disbelief.
I have no notion of what she’s talking about.
“I don’t know what’s going on here son but you need to see someone. Forgetting to call me is one thing but your boys too? Just what is important to you these days? Glenda is the mother of your children. It would be a mistake to cut off all contact with her. You told me you wanted to keep things amicable.”
She sounds very upset.
“What is it? What’s going on?” she demands.
“I don’t know!” I reply in desperation. “It’s like I woke up this morning and everything was all wrong.”
“We all have days like that son. Why don’t you go and see Doctor Code at the drop in clinic? He’s a nice man.”
“Yeah, maybe I will.”
“Good. Let me know how you get on.”
“So what exactly has been happening?” the Doctor asks. His voice has a vague drone like quality that grates on my frayed nerves no end.
I want to laugh at his crazy bushy white eyebrows and Disney character bow tie but the desire to appear as sane as possible prompts me reign in the urge. Instead I calmly tell him everything and show him my three day beard growth.
“I’m afraid this is outside my area,” he admits, looking at me closely. “I’ll have to refer you to a specialist.”
Oh no! Please don’t suggest a shrink!
For a while his hands fly across a thin silvery keyboard until they became a blur of harmonious motion.
“There,” he says. “I’ve re-referred you to a good friend of mine called Professor Ultra. He’s a specialist in this kind of memory disfunctionality.”
“Ok. Thank you. Although I’ve got to tell you there must be some kind of mistake. I’ve never seen Professor Ultra before.”
The doctor smiles benignly.
“Not that you remember.”
What does that mean? I ask myself.
Later, when I get to the hospital across town I find the waiting room full of strange folk. I suppose they ought to make me feel normal but somehow they’re only heightening the not so secret fear that I’m losing my mind. I try not look at that man over there, locked in a cycle of repeating the same series strange of movements over and over again.
He stands up. Raises his hand. Looks at it, and then sits down again. Then repeats the whole process again and again and again, ad infinitum. Perhaps.
There’s a child too, who does nothing but walk round the perimeter of the room over and over. Everyone’s behaviour here is quite frankly bizarre. The man beside me seems normal enough thankfully.
“Have you been waiting long?” I ask him.
“Bout two hundred days,” he says, turning to me with strangely large eyes. I try not to stare. They are like brown puddles of dirty mud.
“Oh. Well hopefully you won’t have too much longer to wait then,” I say with a nervous smile.
“Aran Simms, please,” calls a nurse looking up from a folder.
“This way,” she says to me opening a door.
Inside Professor Ultra looms behind a desk, larger than life and disturbingly still. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an enormous man before.
“Still feeling the effects of the reboot then?” he asks in an emotionless voice. “I thought all that would have been sorted by the removal of the corrupted files.”
Oh God! What is he talking about? A chill runs through me like the blade of a knife.
“I need to perform a diagnostic. Step into the chair over there and I’ll see what I can do.”
In the centre of the room stands a futuristic looking chair, festooned in tubes, wires, readouts and a myriad fantastic shiny dials. I want to turn and run right out the door but if I do that what hope do I have of getting better? This guy is an expert on memory and I badly need him to do his job.
With a painful gulp I lower myself into the chair and close my eyes to await my fate.
“Shit! What are you doing?” I shriek, suddenly looking down a few moments later.
“Lie still,” he commands. He has one arm up to the elbow inside my actual chest cavity. All the skin, flesh and bone from my neck down to my navel is gone in the absolute sense, as if it has never even been there at all. In its place is a bottomless black cavern, like the depths of outer space but without the brilliance of the stars. Long lines of neon numbers, symbols and letters rush past, sideways, diagonal, horizontal and every other which way you can think of.
I lie back and groan miserably, flinging my arm across my eyes.
“I’ve gone mad,” I whimper. “I can’t go on. Make it stop. Make it go away.”
The nurse pities me and holds my hand tenderly.
“You haven’t gone mad Aran. You’ve just got no understanding of what you truly are because your files are corrupted. The reboot damaged them. Every single human, animal, tree, road, house, cloud and star you see and ever have seen is a simulation. None of what you have experienced since ‘birth’ is real. It is merely a simulation of something real that exists far, far, far away on another plane of existence. Legend has it; the makers call this world of ours a game. They like to spend their free time controlling us. No one knows why. It’s just the way it is.”
“Very well put my dear,” Ultra says with obvious admiration.
As I look down he makes a lunge for two glowing red strands of code floating within my innards.
“Gotcha!” he says, then draws them out, twisting and writhing like poisonous snakes.
“Nurse, fire up the vaporizer,” he cries, trying to hold on.
She touches a button and a circular trapdoor I hadn’t noticed before opens up in the floor. With great effort he subjugates the errant code and hurls it with great force into the disposal unit. Flames shoot up scouring his face and torso but he stands his ground boldly until the roaring passes. Eventually the room falls silent.
Sparks suddenly pour from my chest lighting up the blackness inside.
“What now?” I cry turning my head back and forth hopelessly.
“There is too much damage in there. I’m sorry,” Doctor Ultra replies peering in. “I’m afraid the only thing left is for your character to retire from the game.”
“Isn’t there another way? Please! You’ve got to do something!”
“But doctor, if he retires from the game the rest of Simworld will certainly be affected in one way or another,” the nurse says.
“That is how it works, both in our world and theirs,” replies Professor Ultra cryptically.
All my senses are leaving me. I’m no longer afraid. The two of them look at me gravely- chest cleaved open like a Thanks giving turkey and exposed to the world. Or should I say worlds?
“However, there is a way for him continue, in a manner of speaking…” Professor Ultra says slowly. “We can donate healthy strands of his code to perpetuate the existence of other Simworlder’s that have bugs in their system. Give his life to save lives, so to speak. What do you say Aran? Is that what you want?”
I can hear him but it’s unbelievably difficult to summon the strength to reply. Another fountain of sparks bursts forth from my chest. Ultra and the nurse dive for cover.
When it has passed, I just about hear the professor say these words;
“If you want to give life to others squeeze my hand and I shall make it so.”
I think I can hear him breathing but I know my senses are not to be trusted. My time here is almost over. I wonder if there will be anything afterwards? He places his hand in mine and I use the last of my energy quota to express my fervent wish.
“Let’s do it,” he says to the nurse gripping my hand tightly as my eyelids shut out Simworld for the last and final time.