“It’s Virtual Reality.”
Kate picked up the helmet and looked through the visor.
“It’s for the paralyzed. With this, they can surf the internet and play games with eye movements.” Robert said.
“So it’s Google Vision?” Kate was reasonably unimpressed.
“Just put it on.”
Kate put the helmet on and watched the screen light up. Lights strobed into her eyes, faster and faster until it was a constant, if twitchy, glow.
She looked around for a minute and felt Robert adjust something on the helmet. The definition cleared and she couldn’t be sure where her world ended and this virtual world began. She was standing. She walked a few steps and stared at her pixelated hands. She could feel the chair beneath her like a ghost but the floor beneath her feet felt real and solid.
She inspected herself. She was still a big girl but it felt weightless.
“Damn, Rob!” She reached up to remove the helmet.
Her hands went up and into her hair. There was no helmet to be found.
She pulled her hair and waved her arms. Nothing but empty air around her.
“Rob, take my helmet off. I can’t get it.” She said.
There was no response.
“I’m here.” He said.
He was standing next to her.
“I can’t get my helmet off.”
Robert reached up. His hands wafted around his ears for a second. His smile faded. “Shit.”
“How do we get out?”
“The verbal command center isn’t finished yet.” Robert said. “We’ll have to get access to a command prompt.”
“A command prompt?”
“Or wait till Jack comes back on Monday.”
The thought of her body sitting unattended for two days did not appeal.
“Alright, where’s the command prompt?”
“We have to find a computer somewhere in the game. The program will recognize it and bring up the command prompt.”
“I thought this was for the disabled! Jesus!”
“The command prompt is a backdoor for programmers to customize it.” he smiled, “My Nana’s getting one and I want to put her old house in there.”
“You might think about a nurse too.”
“Come on. There’s a library in the town square.” He said. “It gives a visual simulation of flipping pages on a book, but it’s all ebooks.”
“That’s actually kind of brilliant.”
The library mall was full of lights flicking around the garden. Kate walked up to them and watched as the tiny transparent women danced and flickered around the flowers.
“Jessi begged for Fairies.” Robert said. “So I made them like butterflies that dance ballet.”
The fairies danced through the air and circled all around them. Kate reached her hand out to touch one and it landed on her finger. Tiny feet tiptoed across her skin.
“Are you a wizard?” She asked.
The fairy leapt off her fingertip and back into the throng.
“Let’s go.” Robert pulled her toward the library.
Inside, the first floor was filled with bookshelves. There was a computer behind the help desk. Robert went straight to it. It showed a book search for the library but he wasn’t after that. He typed a few letters and a small black box with a blinking line appeared.
And Robert and everything else disappeared.
Kate woke up still in the library.
She went up to the console and typed in the little box.
But nothing happened.
“Rob?” She called.
She sat down next to the computer and looked around the library. She had all the books she could ever read, at least.
Rob appeared moments later in the same spot he’d disappeared from. He saw her sitting there.
“Kate?” He rushed to her chair.
“What happened?” Kate asked. “Why can’t I get out?”
“I don’t know. I took off your helmet and everything.” He said.
He frowned. “But I turned on the voice control.”
“Command. Exit program.” He shouted.
“Command. Exit Program!” She shouted.
She went to the console and opened the internet. Everything was just the same as in the real world. Furthermore, Rob was online.
She messaged him.
Kate says: I still can’t get out.
Rob says: Kate? I turned the system off. How are you IMing me?
Kate says: I’m still in the library.
He was unresponsive for a long time. When he did respond, it was in person. Well, as in person as Virtual Reality can get.
“Alright, you’re stuck in the cache.” He said. “I updated the script to give you some things.”
He handed her a strange looking bracelet.
“What? What about getting me out of here?”
He looked away from her. “I can’t.”
Her grip tightened on the bracelet.
“You body passed away.” He said. “If you get out of the system, you’ll die.”
“I already died, didn’t I?”
Robert put the bracelet on her wrist. “I’ve made you a portable console. It’s voice activated.”
“The voice stuff didn’t work before.”
“Try this one. Say Command. iTunes.”
A screen appeared.
“It’s a touch screen. Just for you.” Robert said.
Kate tapped through a playlist and pressed play. Music came from the air around her.
“I’m still gonna get lonely.” Kate closed the music player. “And what purpose do I have now?”
Robert frowned. “I don’t know.” He said.
Kate walked away and out to the library mall. The fairies flickered around her cheerfully. She felt one brush her cheek with a tiny hand.
“Command. Exit program.” he said.
And Robert was gone.
She looked down at her bracelet.
The library mall flickered and glitched out of existence. Kate stood in a hallway with no end on either side. She walked down the aisle looking through windows.
The screen came up and facebook displayed. She logged in and saw messages to her sister. Condolences. Stories of happy times with the people she knew. One or two were lies from people who wanted her friendship now.
She could post. She could reach out and tell them she was there. Would it go through? Would it show up?
She couldn’t hurt them like that.
She was back at the library. She went to one of the bookshelves and started thumbing along the books. Classics, all in the public domain. She pulled out a copy of Alice in Wonderland. She sat down and looked at the page but didn’t read.
“Rob.” She said. “What do I do now? I have all the time in the world and limitless access. But all I want is my busy, frustrating life.”
She wandered outside. The virtual sun was warm on her virtual skin. But nothing was real. She sat on a bench by the bushes and watched the fairies dance around her. Their tiny giggles filled the silence.
A loud ding came from everywhere. Invalid Command.
“Command. Netflix.” She said.
The library disappeared and a theatre appeared. She grabbed the remote by her hand and flipped through the guide.
They really didn’t have anything good on instant. She would have to ask Robert if he could get Hulu Plus instead.
She opened an old movie she hadn’t seen and hoped. She curled up with her feet under her and waited for the buffering.
An hour or later, she turned the film off.
“Command. Library.” She said.
Robert was standing at the console.
“Kate! There you are!” He said.
Kate found herself immediately in his arms. “You came back.”
“Of course I did.” He said. “I’m not gonna just leave you in here alone.”
His arms weren’t real but neither was she so his hug felt just as good as she’d remembered from real life.
And he held her. And he came back every day.
They’d spend hours lying on the grass and catching fairies in butterfly nets. Every time he came, he brought changes. New landscapes. New commands. New costumes for her.
Mutants erupted from the abandoned building. Kate aimed her gun and started shooting. She’d gotten much better at this game since Robert’s latest upgrade. Maybe he’d made it easier.
But he was struggling the same as he always was. She jumped between him and a mutant and stabbed the creature in the face with the end of her baronet.
The mutant fell to the ground writhing and screeching. The others fell ins short order at the end of their guns.
“You won’t be alone in here for much longer.” Robert said, wrapping her in his arms. “We’re releasing the beta system. I put in some new applications for multiplayer.”
Kate pushed him away. “You mean the system that killed me? You’re releasing it?”
He frowned. “The system didn’t kill you.”
“Then what did happen? I tried on your stupid virtual reality helmet then I couldn’t get back in my body and then my body died. I’m dead.”
“You aren’t dead.”
“If we have a blackout, I’m gone. Forever. Sounds dead to me.”
“You aren’t gone forever.” Robert pulled her close again. “You’ll reboot with the system.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I programmed you in. You’re as much a part of it now as the fairies.”
“Because you died.” His arms tightened. “I can’t change that. But I can make you happy here.”
“Is that what you think?”
“Command. Rain Forest.”
A waterfall was pouring into a clear pool behind them. Trees shaded the sun from their warmed suddenly clean skin.
“It’s not real, Rob.” Kate said.
“It could be real for you. It can be real for me.”
Kate shook her head. “It can’t be real for you. You have a life to live.”
“I’ll program myself in, like I programmed you.”
Kate backed away from him. Fairies appeared between the trees and played across the surface of the water.
“I can’t let you do that.” She said.
He reached out for her again.