The Abandoned Station






Larry's Wad

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Here's a Thought




There I Was A Doctor


I could have held it in but every so often I'm simply taken with the overwhelming awareness that none of this is the same sort of real that I was born into so I casually lift my right butt cheek and let my rectum expel a heavy burst of repugnant gas. And cheers to the designers (well the designers of the AIs that designed this) for a level of realism that covers every crack and crevice. And smell.

If I didn't know any better I'd be fooled, and I have a PhD. Here I have a PhD, to be more specific.

I get up from my desk to get away from the egg-laden odour and briskly walk over to my bookshelf and take less time than it should to find the exact book I was thinking of before I knew I needed it.

I read the words upon the page but the words aren't real and neither am I.

This is a simple transfer of electrical information that I am enabling.

I don't leave the office until after the sun sets, and there's a briskness in the mid-autumn air but the city lights brighten up everything and all of us on the streets seem to stop walking at the same time and look towards the skies to witness the first snowflakes of the season. People I recognize, strangers who are only a nod and hello away from becoming friends. All standing in quiet awe, in the midst of a towering, far-reaching city, for a moment we all decided was worth sharing.

There's a connection here that you can't tell is coded in or not. And that's certainly one of the phenomena the researchers are spending all their waking moments poring over.

There are no rules about thinking how all of this is being calculated and crunched. They go over it in the briefing and make some recommendations, which I've been told can become 'avoid that now' and ultimately lead to 'thank you for your service, we’re ending your contract'.

It's one thing to lose a job these days. It's another to lose a life.

A life that feels right, feels real. Even as I hear a pleasant dinging in my ear that tells me it's the end of the shift, that I should be ready for disconnection in five...four...three...

I tilt my head back and see the last few flecks of snow with my fake eyes.

And less than a second later I open my real eyes and there was a roughness to how dry they were.

Above me one of the ceiling lights was blinking, probably about to fizzle out. Alone and a dizzy in a tiny room. After the probationary period, they 'let' you upgrade from the starter floor, with attendants and researchers helping you on and off with your gear and asking you basic questions that correspond to your recent experience. Now I get to do it all by myself in an always changing tiny room, handling the headset, gloves, the adjustment of the foam bed for max comfort, and the series of questions on the console at the door. If anything impressive or very unimpressive happened, there'll be a request to talk to the floor debriefer in the booth at the end of the hall, where there's usually a line.

I'm lucky that the life of a thoracic surgeon is professionally rewarding while not being continually stressful or life-threatening. Usually on days when I have surgery scheduled there would be enough deviations for me to have a quick chat with the debriefer, but if I had a position in the military or any sort of criminal enterprise, the time I could be in the booth for question after question might equal the amount of time that I was hooked in.

I down the glass of water I readied before I started (after two shifts, you never forget to do that before you begin) and change clothes. Slowly. If there was going to be any other sort of message from management (a delay in my direct deposit, an alternate series of questions due tomorrow morning), I'd hear a buzz

Just the fritzing of the one bad ceiling light.

I stretch a final time, making sure I don't tear my shirt at the elbow again, and walk out, into the throngs of people who are on the same schedule as me.

I'm able to work from my apartment during the wet months, but rolling brown outs means we all had to make the trek to the offices during the dry. Some live in the camps alongside the site, for these four months or so, just to eliminate the commute, but I miss my bed, my couch, my square metre balcony that doesn't feel completely safe but hasn't been give the red bar by property logistics just yet.

But as I step outside and make the walk to the rail terminal, the camp suddenly seems more appealing. The weather is hot, dusty and even the spread hats don't offer enough cover, but at least the campers are already home.

I didn't take a full dose of allergy medication this morning, and now I'm paying for it. My nose and throat quickly getting clogged. And a long nagging part of me is telling me I should go back east, that this is killing me, that it's killing all of us, that the air shouldn't be this colour, but a job's a job because there wasn't anything like this anywhere else. There was nothing back east. Not even anger. There was nothing to strike from, there was nothing to throw rocks at. It seemed that protests was the best use of our time by default, but it was just a lot of standing around. The force of change was somewhere else and none of us knew exactly the location. At least we didn't fight it out. Much.

About fifty of us came together. And only fifteen of us passed the tests. Something about memory recall and background checks was the divide. I see some of the others at the weekly mandatory meetings where nobody talks about what we're supposed to talk about.

Of course it's better… there.

Of course of course of course.

Of course we know the difference between the real and fake. Even the so-called setbacks and problems built into the program to make it realistic is never enough to convince me that I'm actually a thoracic surgeon. Or that he's a janitor. Or that she's a financial planner.

We stand around holding paper cups full of slow water and ignore the barely enforced rule of not talking about our other lives, and gripe about watching fake series in our fake personal automated vehicles that sit in fake traffic on fake freeways which lead to our fake homes in the fake suburbs.

Then we sit in a large circle and make bland observations of how we feel about our real selves without complaining too much about the air, the apartment buildings and the powers-that-be because that could get you a social citation, which makes the whole thing even duller. The only thing that was vaguely interesting was hearing each person’s arrival bio. We're all interchangeable once we get here, but before, that's when everything was different, that's when everything was like what being in there is now.

One woman in tonight's circle was from the Floyd-Mohawk transfer from two years ago, when an entire company announced one day that all four thousand of their employees had been 'bought out' and now worked here as research assistants. Sure, they could turn this job down and say no, and then start hustling any way they can...but that's no way to live for creatures of complicated habit (I think being a surgeon has had the side effect of enlarging my vocab, but I'm never allowed to see my full assessments).

My friends and I started around the same time as the Floyds so we're envious that they even had a choice. Some of them still rant at their former bosses, who they feel sold them out and treated them like furniture. Upon hearing that at one of the meetings, my friend said this is the first time in their life that they actually were able to own furniture. Kind of shut the Floyd guy up.

When I get off the train there is a blast of horns through speakers mounted on buildings, which is how they announce that a planned five-minute rain storm is about to begin. Within seconds it's coming down heavy and there's no wind so the particles per million just sit which means now a smiling weather av is reminding us to put on the breathing mask ten seconds after I've already done it.

My mask's filter looks a lousy grey-yellow, so I have a rather nasty hacking cough by the time I reach my building's lobby, and call the meeting administrator and use it as a reason not to make it to group tonight.

I pick up noodles and a pizza slice at the sixth floor food ward and take the glass elevator to my apartment and after watching four back to back porn thriller trailers I pop two extra groove pills and by the time they kick in I've only finished the pizza and my neck droops like it's turned to mush and I barely have time to press the button on my sofa to go all mattress and I get dazed and I stick my hand down my pants with my last bit of strength before I unwind all the way and I hold the last moving images on my four metre platinum definition screen and let them smear into my subconscious-

Which I need because I don't

Which I can ruin because it is in ruins

Which counts only with imaginary numbers

Which has the memory of a goldfish because I am a goldfish

When I wake up to the hum of a song I've never known the title of it's almost three in the morning and I feel ready to start the day with two reversal pills to bring me back and a cup of cold noodles that were intentionally left for right now. I put on the neck brace I won't take off until I'm on the train because it's none of the floor supervisor's business. Yet.

The network connection on the mid floors bounces between down and slow so I can't check my funds until I'm on the way to the station, and it seems like I really shouldn't have missed last night's meeting because I'd forgotten to set the reminder for myself that it was a bumper, where I was supposed to summarize my goals in the previous month and set up new ones for the next. They're withholding a basic bonus until I attend a re-scheduled session.

I’ve left early and the train is still late. There's only six stops on the entire line, all of them in the middle of purposely built neighbourhood apartment building clusters. You're either going to the facility or coming back from it, and I have to wait for scores of the evening shift to disembark before I get on a train that's half empty only for a single stop, and then I'm staring into someone's armpit.

There's a problem at the station before the facility and we wait for fifteen minutes. The reversal pills are weakening and I'm feeling tired. I'm worried that I'll have to make small talk in the security line. I'm worried about getting rid of that five pounds that snuck up on me. I'm worried about how many bottles I'll bring to the next floor social night. I'm worried when the next time I can take two days off will be. I'm worried about the size of my share if the quarter results don't meet expectations.

But then you get into the room and put on the gear and go in and the problems just...change.

Not go away. Not at all.

But the problems here are so much better, so much more interesting, so much less monotonous, so much more worthwhile.

But they designed it that way. How do we solve X sorts of problems in Y style environments? A powerful group of scientists and engineers and investors were willing to try to answer these questions, variables intact. Let's scan the brain in real time to find out. Let's ask people what it's like to be someone different. Let's create a laboratory that feels like a world.

I'm so glad this is here, I'm so glad that I can be part.

Let me help. I want to help. I want to do something. I want to do something that makes a good difference. Even a small one.

Even not a real one.

Of course it's not real.

But as the fake sun rises and my boat is slowly leaving the marina in a strong, proud summer wind, I know that if I make an unconscious decision to believe I'm sailing, then I'm sailing.

I'm sailing.






The wisest man does not know how to feed himself