Yeah, I know it’s been a while since I posted. Again. Well, I haven’t just been writing the story, I’ve been doing a good deal of planning for it. I haven’t felt this excited for the future of a story since Mostly Hidden, I think. Which makes sense in a way, since… Ah, never mind.
It’s necessary for me to live for a long time. Thankfully, we have means of extending youth far beyond what would be thought possible. I was the one chosen to take that place, the place of the one who would continue to keep watch over the company through the years. Part of that includes seeing people like those who attacked the information farm Caroline worked at do so all across the country. There were security measures in place, though, in the world as it is now, it is difficult to make them the best they could be. The quality also varied depending upon who set up the information farm. You see, about half of the information farms weren’t just a conduit of data for the company. They also paid “the way” for the people who set them up, which was a major part of why the workers’ salaries were so small, and why the farms were set up to be as cost-efficient as possible, at the cost of difficulty for the workers.
What’s “the way” that they’re paying for? Ah, that’s where things get interesting. I’ve been stalling against explaining it until now, but..
No, I think perhaps it will be best to continue telling our characters’ stories for a little longer before I give that away. Next time I give my side of things I’ll explain it all, I promise. But for now, I’d like to show what I consider an interesting part of Stephen and many other people’s lives. Perhaps it’s a bit egotistical, but… Well, I suppose you won’t understand why until next time when I explain things.
Stephen pulled on the reigns, issuing a halt to the horse. David, Stephen’s stableman, took the reigns from him and looped them around a hook on the nearby gate, then Stephen dismounted the horse.
“Give him a good wash before putting him away for the day,” Stephen said to David, walking away.
It was time for the weekly gathering. Everyone Stephen knew went to it, and he assumed everyone else did too. A massive congregation of people, coming together to praise their leader. That was how Stephen viewed him, anyway, “their leader”. Others viewed it in other ways, but all paid reverence to him no matter their opinion.
Stephen drove into town – it was called a town, though in size it was nearing a city – with the hood down, feeling the warm breeze brush through his hair. He smiled as he thought how fortunate he was to be in his situation; then he felt a cold shock jolt through him as a dim remembrance of the previous night’s dream drifted through his mind. Not only that, but a vague sense of other dreams like it that he had in the past, dreams that had been forgotten but never truly forgotten, merely tucked away into inaccessible recesses of his mind. Stephen’s body felt cold as he thought of them, colder still as he tried in vain to remember details. He knew it was important, but the need to remember just made it harder. His body felt so cold, the warmth of the outside air nothing but teasing of the world.
He realized he had arrived, and as soon as he saw the three steeples of the massive building, all of the coldness faded away without a trace or memory; a memory he could remember then, at least.
He parked his car and headed inside, checking his wristwatch to make sure he had plenty of time. He was a few minutes early.
He stepped inside and looked around to see if he knew anyone nearby well. A distance away was a friend of his, Peter, talking with a few other men. Stephen waved to him and walked over to the group. The four of them chatted about small things for a bit, then split up as the service began and they took their seats.
A song was played on an organ and piano as the prologue, then Stephen rose with the others when the leader at the front raised his hands.
“Who is our god?” asked the leader.
“We have no god. We have the creator. His is not our god. There is no god. We honor the creator,” the uncountable congregation said in unison.
The leader lowered his hands and everyone took their seats. The service began, mostly centering around honoring the creator, declaring the complexity of the world he had created for them, and so on. Stephen didn’t know why, but going to the services always just made him feel good. He truly felt awe when thinking of the creator and what power he must have. Everyone respected him, though for what reason varied.
After the service, Stephen left the huge building and walked on the path through a landscaped yard – so skillfully landscaped and tended to, it was nearly a garden – to where his car waited. The sleek convertible was beautiful, with a silver-plated grill and chrome spoked hubcaps. The hood could be removed to show the beautiful six-cylinder engine beneath. Cars had been common for twenty or so years at that point, so enough time had passed for there to be more focus on making powerful vehicles that managed to be art at the same time.
Stephen drove home, the warm afterglow of the service meshing with the perfect temperature air. The sun was beginning to set, casting a awe inspiring orange-purple glow to his left.
When he arrived home, he was greeted outside the house by Bartholomew, who took the keys and parked the car in the garage.
Stephen went into his house. Night was getting closer, and the house was dark. Bartholomew returned and began lighting the gas lamps in the house. Electricity had been available for a while now, but Stephen just preferred gas. Perhaps it was nostalgia from his youth, or perhaps it was just that he liked how “natural” the gas was. The flame moved continually, it was alive. But electricity was dead; static, if he was permitted the pun.
Well, I guess it’s time for me to explain things. Not everything, no no. But I’ll fulfill my promise to you and explain the company – my company, Introspect Inc. We provide an escape from reality, very literally. For an initial price, followed by yearly or monthly payments, we will let anyone leave their real life and live instead in a completely virtual reality that all users share. They have no memories of their past life, and instead have “memories” of the “past” in their new reality. Depending upon what plan they purchase, they get different abilities, belongings, and so on in the virtual reality. It’s an incredible system, and likely the greatest leap in science seen in the past century or more. I am one of the three original creators. The others, Christopher Penn and Rick Foley, created the hardware of it and handled the business side of it, respectively. I created the “software” that builds and controls the world.
The desire to escape from reality and live in a perfect paradise is not by any means new in human history, but the need for it became much more acute before it was released to the public. A series of dirty bombings – bombs laced with radioactive material – wreaked devastation across multiple countries. Life became difficult for some and nearly impossible for most. And as such, an easy getaway was very easily marketable.
Introspect Inc. has garnered a good deal of hatred over the years as well, though. Steep prices denied the entry of nearly ninety-nine percent of the population, and the stagnation of the economy after the bombings required most people to work for the pittance that information farms provided. It didn’t help that many of the top one or two percent scrambled to reach the entrance fee in any way they could, including becoming a thief or murderer to take that which belonged to anyone below them. It was amusing, actually, to see those who had been the crème de la crème become those who they despised.
I am the only one of the three who started the company who is still alive. We decided early on that one of us would need to live far longer than the others to manage the company. We each were of equal importance in the company, so the decision wasn’t simple, but eventually I was chosen. Once the hardware was set in place it could be easily replicated, and one the business was strongly established it would be easy to keep it running, but it was more important to have someone very familiar with the software and world to remain and monitor it. As a result, once Christopher and Rick died, I had to handle all three factors of the company. It may have seemed overwhelming to others, but I enjoyed the challenge of it and the unprecedented power it afforded me.
I trust that the explanation I just gave will suffice for now, until I may need to fill out some of the details later on when they become important. For now, I think I’ll continue Caroline’s story and the journey she begins.