Future Shocked

Deck: 

New uses for electricity doubtless on the horizon albeit unpredictable

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2016

Powered Immersion debuted in 2025, an expensive toy for early adopters with money. Glitches diminished the immersive effect but were worked out. Prices came down. PI went mass market in 2030. By Christmastime 2035, with the new sensory technologies, it was a must-buy.

The industry made the alerts a standard feature, to help users pull away, from "being lost within." Hundreds of cases of dehydration, sleep deprivation, concussions, bodily injuries, and heart attacks were reported. Media stories told of neglected relationships and responsibilities, of less time thinking, talking, taking in the world. Still, the demand for immersion was immense.

By 2040, most households had at least one PI room. Some had two or three. A husband and a wife and a child could each get lost. The trend led to new demand for larger homes, also high-capacity line drops from the local utility grid. PI was a power hog. Though the latest models were said to be fifteen percent more energy efficient.

*** 

A trim young man enters a room. It's steel gray, bare, stark. It's quiet, inert. It's nothing. The room's asleep. Then, he blinks, commands. The room awakens.

A vast menu appears, floats in the air before him. Ghostly, transparent, tall as him, it waits, beckoning. Blinking and in subtle gesture, in face and body, the man scans, chooses, scans, chooses. The menu scrolls, speeds past countless offerings. He comes to what suits, a favorite entertainment. Blink and it starts. He's within.

The alert interrupts. Two hours have passed. Nowadays everyone knows to bring along the alert. Not doing so risks being lost in a timeless otherworld.

His alert is a small round boy. A baseball cap sits atop bushy red hair. The boy pulls on a sleeve or jostles a leg. It's time to go.

The man smiles. He then realizes how thirsty and sweaty he is, how sore is his back. 

It was Constantinople, the spring of 1453. He carried stone for the repair of the Theodosian Walls. The vast Ottoman army of Mehmed II was in siege, taunting, menacing what remained of the Roman Empire. He was there, with the desperate Byzantines, in Constantine's final days.

Byzantine comrades spoke Greek to him and he to them. He lifted and ran and fell and dodged cannon ruin. He saw afar the harbor chain protecting the Golden Horn walls, beyond it, the fire ships. He smelled the pungent fumes of war, tasted its choking dust.

***

A paunchy gray man enters a room. It's deep mahogany. He blinks, commands. The room awakens.

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A vast menu appears, floats in the air before him. Ghostly, transparent, tall and broad as a wall, it waits, beckoning. Blinking and in gestures, in face and body, he scans, chooses, scans, chooses. The menu scrolls, speeds past countless offerings. He comes to what suits, a business exercise. Blink and it starts. He's within.

The alert interrupts. Two hours have passed. The trainer instructed, insisted, always bring along the alert. Not doing so risks being lost in a timeless otherworld, squandering the company's time.

His alert is a twentieth century secretary. Severe glasses frame her face. The secretary pulls on a sleeve or taps a shoulder. It's time to go.

The man grimaces. He realizes how worn he is, and how stressful he was. 

It was the upcoming sales meeting with the top client. He patiently made small talk and pitched the new line. The client was there, as was his new cynical assistant, she thinly disguising doubts throughout. The client, the doubter, and he, were there.

***

A stooped elderly woman enters a room. It's decorated with a few memories. After a hesitation, she blinks, commands. The room awakens.

A menu appears, floats in the air before her. Ghostly, transparent, small as she, it waits, beckoning. Blinking and in painfully slow gestures, in face and body, she scans, chooses. Her choice is always that, always.

Her precious remembrance sustains her like the meds in the kitchen cabinet. Blink and it starts. She's within.

The alert interrupts. Two hours have passed. The doctor instructed, again and again, each time with a gentle kindness, always bring along the alert. But, she thinks, why return to this world? 

Her alert is a nurse. A starched white uniform houses the young lady. The nurse nudges an elbow or whispers into her good ear. I'm so sorry, it's time to go.

The woman smiles wanly. There was home, not here. Then she realizes, how spent she is, how empty. 

It was that last time, at home with her husband and son, way back in 2020. She made their favorite meal and a pie. They talked and laughed forever until it was time for her son to go. She never saw him again. They and she were there, together.

***

A cold dark woman enters a room. It's pitch black. She blinks, commands. The room awakens, transforms. She's suddenly within a wild spinning kaleidoscope.

A menu appears, rotating in the air all about her. Ghostly, transparent, infinite in variation, beckoning. Blinking and in lightning fast gestures, in face and body, she scans, chooses, scans, chooses, scans, chooses. Her choices are seemingly erratic but anything but. She's white hot, alive with creative energies.

The others now join her. She senses their presence. They're all within, together as one.

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The alert interrupts. Two hours have passed. The arts department chairman demanded, always bring along the alert. But, she wonders, which world is reality, the within, or the without?

Her alert is a scarred street urchin. He spits the threat. Hey lady, all you, go now. Else, there's trouble.

Now, right now? They had spotted the new path, in the distance still, though closer than ever before. Then she realizes, how exhausted she is, how much of herself she poured into their works. They all feel it.

It was the new path, it surely was. Leading to, where? None of them knew. They and she felt it, there, together. Now, she's alone again, here in supposed reality.