‘When the void is composed of reality, and reality is composed of the void, where lies the truth?’
I found this quotation several days ago, in a wooden chest containing my great-great-grandfather’s possessions, and have spent much time thinking about it. I discovered that the quote was derived from an ancient society, who believed that the emptiness or space in reality was as important as the visible objects. Although its original context can no longer apply, I wonder about the validity of it.
Looking at my fixed point now, at the austere wooden walls I have selected, that look so real, it’s hard to believe that there could be anything else. But that quote’s been nagging me. If you live a vicarious life, is it real? Or have I unknowingly been severed from some greater truth?
I get up, tired of no answers, and walk out the door, onto my mountain peak, thousands of miles above the silence, or perhaps that should be nothingness, below. I run my fingers through the snow, roll a snowball into existence, and hold it in front of me. A nervous shudder scrambles up my arm and down my spine. Yet I know it’s illusion. Everybody does. We all live in our arbitrary fantasies, consigned to them by our ancestors, floating through a life we have complete control over. We are able to impact everything around us, yet I question if we are really impacting anything.
I withdraw my mobile phone from its holder at my waist, press several buttons, and watch as reality’s personality breaks down, from a snow-capped mountain to a dense, bustling city, its skyscrapers stabbing the upper atmosphere. I go to put the mobile away, and as I look down, a familiar ripple of disgust courses through me. My pierced navel is choked by wires, connecting me to the phone. A bond surgically created at birth. I have had it all my life, but recently I am filled with a festering resentment, a resentment that travels down wires.
I put the mobile away, and amble to my favourite spot, a perch on a rooftop ledge, that I rely on for perspective. Sat there, I watch the moving dots of ‘people’, numerous vessels of emptiness. They look, feel, taste, and sound like me, but they’re not. I am their creator. The phone transmits information to the nanomachines in my body, and they craft a bespoke reality, based on information from the databanks, like a dream shaped from thought and memory. That’s all this place is. A dream. And I want to wake up.
I get up, unfulfilled, and decide to head to my fixed point, one of two places in my ‘realities’ that never changes position, where all my familial inheritance is found. The one place where proof of a past exists.
I’ve overslept. It’s the sixth consecutive morning that’s happened. I figure that maybe I need some genuine human contact, and head to my other constant, the nexus.
For me, the nexus is a quaint, old pub, with drinks and food tucked behind the bar, and warm midday meals being delivered to the tables. A comforting, antiquated lifestyle.
The nexus is eerily empty. Off to the side of the bar is a table circled by two women and three men. Politely, I ask if I can join them. They assent, and I pull up a chair. I look at each of the five individuals, and ponder where they’ve situated their nexus. Judging from the man to my left’s wandering gaze, a lap dancing joint, whereas the man to my right is quiet and simply dressed. I imagine he’s in an untouched forest, sitting on a small, weather-beaten toadstool.
A middle-aged, tired waitress walks over to me, and raises a dead smile. I order a cheeseburger, french fries, and mayonnaise sauce. She leaves, only to return promptly with the meal. A thank you isn’t required.
I place the cheeseburger in my mouth, and take a hearty bite. The yielding bread breaks, giving way to crunchy, wet lettuce, sizzling cheese and succulent beef. It tastes perfect, as I knew it would, and makes it hard to believe the whole ritual is unnecessary. I don’t need sustenance, even if this burger could provide it. The nanomachines take care of that, giving off nourishing chemical pulses, combining the body’s natural chemicals with its own. They and the phone are intrinsic, the nanomachines dependent on the phone for power and information, which in turn is transmitted from the machines on the real moon, where the whole operation is conducted. The machines have to be so far away, the procedure’s radiation is so dangerous.
The men and women are talking about the recent stories that have been fed to their brains, as a means of entertainment.
‘I can’t believe they killed her,’ a woman to my right said.
‘I know,’ said one of the men, ‘still, she had it coming.’
I remain uninvolved. I have no interest in these fairy tales. I am more concerned with what is actually happening. Looking round, I am reminded of the nexus’ sparseness. Nowadays, many avoid the nexus, content instead to live purely in their fantasies, their need of real human contact shrivelled to insignificance. I hope I never end up like that.
But there is another rumour, of an illness called E.M., about people who are so detached from human contact, that their mind begins to crack and shut down. It’s not proven. Little is. But that’s what these people should be discussing; not imaginary deaths and fictitious lives.
I finish my meal. The lap dancing man’s expression and movement is becoming increasingly explicit, and I feel disconcerted. I say good-bye, and leave the others engaged in their idle conversation.
Outside, I withdraw my mobile, and instigate a new landscape, with a descending, burning red sun in the distance, and an endless sea of shadowy, shifting sand. I wander, desultory, and muse about how the real reality and mine would differ. Would the sensations be more vivid? Would the air be sweeter? Would there be an unknown truth there, that this environment lacked? Or would it be exactly the same?
And then I wonder if it would be familiar. I must have felt it, in my first few moments of life. But even life isn’t natural anymore. The mobiles send our DNA patterns to the machines, they replicate it, fuse it with another’s of the opposite sex, and produce a test tube baby, who’s deposited on Earth, never to see it.
Is that right? To divorce us from reality, without consent? We don’t even have our own age now, all of us living in our own separate bubbles of reality, with different times, different memories, different sunsets and sunrises. Instead, we have ‘wakes’, which represent every sleep and every awakening. At least, that’s the consensus. I’m starting to view it as a wake for every day that reality’s been dead to me.
I haven’t written for several wakes. I haven’t had the energy. I haven’t been out. Thoughts continue to plague me, not letting me sleep, sapping my will. It’s all inconsequential. I think I’ve descended into ennui. I’ve been thinking of how to get out.
The decision is solid now, like coal that has been crushed by time into diamond. I stand, and clasp in both hands the connection between me and the phone. I’m conscious of my breathing. The muscles in my hands are taut with anticipation. I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this. But I know that, once it’s done, there will be no coming back.
I hold my breath, summon belief, and tear. I scream, though I don’t know if the pain is physical or mental. I collapse. The world starts to blink. I can feel it all slipping away. The last thing I see are the wires swaying in the air on sparks of dissipating electricity, a crackle of power, and I’m gone.
Eyes flutter open. It takes me a couple of seconds to realise they are mine. My eyes sting, and my breathing is ragged, due to the intoxicating wind. The world is bleary, but the colours are potent, vivid. I pull myself onto my elbows. The slow colours coalesce, and paint a landscape.
I am in a garden: a huge, expansive, fertile garden, filled with trees, broad trees draped with vines, and leaves, and grass, flowers, so many flowers and so many colours more hues than you can imagine, and all of it caressed by sun rays so fresh I can almost taste them. Pure, like the beginning of time.
I survey further. I realise I’m naked, and my body is bony and my skin translucent, I’m emaciated, but I don’t care, I feel complete. I glance at the dormant humans lying on the grass around me, people still trapped in that technological trance, and I pity them. But it’s hard to care. The sky is cerulean, glorious, and the foliage swings back and forth in the wind, whispering to me. All is quiet. It then occurs to me that this place, in many ways, is identical to the reality I left, but more. Not in sight or sense, but in joy. Life is living.
The whispers draw my eyes back downward, and I see the dormant humans, and part of me is sucked back into that darker reality. I’m not like them anymore, controlled by machines, their life squeezed away by their dreams. They lie with their phones in their hands, while mine lies dead at my feet. But I didn’t just sever my connection to the dream world. I severed my connection to the nanomachines that nourished me. And there are no animals here, in the real world; they were exterminated to make room for the dormant humans. The ecosystem is broken. There is no food.
But I knew that. For my death, I bought the chance to explore and appreciate life.
I get to my feet, and stare at the whispering grass that beckons me inwards. As I enter the deep, silent forest, I wonder which is better: To play a part in someone else’s dream, or perish in reality.