I really liked the meadows. That's what they were in the beginning, but it's all changed now. Just rolling hills covered in uniform green grass as far as the eye could see in any direction. I loved to just lay down in it and look up at the cloudless blue sky. If I tamped down the grass around me, I could see only blue and the sun and it felt like I was just velcroed to the Earth and if I got up I'd fall away into space.
"How are you feeling today?" asked the doctor.
"Fine," I'd say. Elaborating had always been such a chore and I was still in the habit of avoid the work.
"Are there any side-effects?"
"It's kind of boring," I'd say.
"Let's change that then," he'd say.
I'd start the exercises. It was frustrating at first, the first few weeks I guess. I sort of lost track of the time. The doctor would give me verbal instructions, which was awkward, because the exercises were like origami--you kind of needed to see what you needed to do. But that was the only way we communicated.
"I want you to sit up--"
"Do I have to?"
"Yes. Sit up and focus your eyes at a point in front of you. Have you done that?"
"I think you're still sitting."
"How do you know?"
"I can see it on your scan."
"Get out of my head."
"Sorry. It's a little late for that. Shall we continue?"
"Fine. I'm sitting up. I'm not sure how that makes a difference."
"This exercise was rigorously tested. The sitting position is most effective. Anyway, I shouldn't be arguing this with you. You need to follow my instructions or you won't improve. You want to improve don't you?"
"Doctor, this is already a massive improvement."
"Glad to hear it, Holly. Now, focus your eyesight at a point--"
"Yeah, got that part."
"Okay, now pinch that space. Squeeze it into a dot."
I sighed. What the hell did that mean? I squinted.
"It should look darker," continued the doctor. "Keep at it until you get a black spot."
"I'm staring at air."
"Yes but there is color behind that, in the background, even though you're not focused on it."
I squinted some more.
"Who created this system? Why can't I just recite zen koans or something? Or couldn't you have given me a magic wand? This telekinesis stuff is out there."
"It's not telekinesis Holly."
"It is to me."
"Please try to keep your focus. It may take awhile."
"It's like looking at one of those stupid paintings back in the 90s, trying to see the three-dimensional image. I'm not sure that wasn't all just bullshit."
"Keep your focus. Talking isn't going to help."
I shut up. I mean, I really did want to learn the stuff--I didn't have many options. I stared and eventually the background color did darken. It was subtle at first, and then once I noticed it, it popped completely to black.
"Good job Holly!"
"I finally did it!" It was there, a black orb that looked a little velvety, just stationary a few feet in front of my face. "Can I touch it?'
"If you touch it, it will retain that form indefinitely. It will also drop to the ground because once you acknowledge the form, it will then obey the laws of physics. You can if you like, but wouldn't you rather complete the exercise?"
"Oh, okay, sure," I said, withdrawing a finger that was finding it's way to the orb.
"Now keep your focus on the object. I want you to expand its volume."
"How do I do that?"
"Imagine it coming closer to you, but make it also stay in the same spot."
"Uh..." I didn't think about it too much, and it happened right away. It grew so large so fast that its bottom touched the top of the grass and I had to lean back.
"Excellent Holly! You're a very fast learner."
"I guess. Look, you can stop with the pep talks. I know your trained to--"
"They're not pep talks. I'm genuinely impressed, but as you're aware, your situation is different from the testers. You are fully integrated with the simulation."
"It's not that. Don't call it that." I don't know why I hated it so much, that word. It was my world now, my salvation. I was locked in and couldn't go back, my brain was severed from my body, unraveled, mapped, and done with, not to be reversed, but it didn't matter. That old life was...unbearable.
"I understand," said the doctor. "Now I'm going to upload some code to you. It will look like a white haze right in front of you. When you see it, push it with your mind onto the object. Let it envelope the object. It might take a few seconds, but when you're more practiced with it, the transformation will be instantaneous."
"What is this transformation? What's it going to be?"
"You'll see. I'm sending you the code now."
It arrived, barely visible, like a sheer veil. I pushed it to the orb, and it floated around it, then it sucked in and clung to the surface of the orb. The orb shrank and deformed, stretching out to the sides, sideways and front-to-back, and squashing itself up-and-down. Legs descended from the bottom. The sides flattened into wings, then grew transparent. In about ten seconds, the velvet black orb had transformed into a jurassically large dragonfly. It hung still in the air, its wings frozen and its eyes dead.
"That was interesting. Its a bit big," I said.
"It won't harm you. Besides, it doesn't need to eat in the...your world. The code I sent you is accessible at any time. You just need to see the dragonfly in your mind. You can control the size when you invoke it. It's just one of many variables. It's aspect oriented programming. You can modify the code--combine it with other codes that you will learn. You can also combine behaviors, extract behaviors to make them abstract and apply--"
"Hold up. You're going too fast for me." I was positive, well, completely sure, that the doctor was not one person, even though there was only one voice. I met the research team before I was inserted into the world and I tried to tease out who the last speaker was, it must have been someone dorky, but the memory kept slipping. I wondered if they'd done anything to help grease that along. Maybe in a thousand years I wouldn't even remember that all this was manufactured for my benefit.
"Don't worry about the details now, Holly."
I spent a great deal of time, several days in my world, although I'm not sure how that translated to the outside world, learning new instructions. I created plenty of animals, rabbits, butterflies, groundhogs, lizards, owls, rabbits with feathers, owls with fur, rabbits with insect wings, tiny rabbits, massive groundhogs that burrowed cavernous holes. I started to realize that the project had its limitations. They really hadn't come up with a lot of code. I then learned how to manipulate the vegetation. I pulled trees up from underneath the grass (I had a choice of and indistinct bonsai, white pine, poplars, or birch). I made a large grove of birch bonsai, but I got bored with it quickly. I then pulled poppy petals out of grass blades. All they gave me was the code for poppies, and soon I felt like a bonafide opium grower.
I didn't have to sleep, so I spent my nights looking up at the stars. It was beautiful, until I realized there were no other worlds circle those stars. They really were just dots of light. It would have been depressing, but I couldn't physically be depressed any longer. That was the whole point of the project anyway, and I was the center of it.
"When will other people join me?" I asked, on more than one occasion. I hoped I got a different team member each time, but they all seemed to keep their story straight.
"We're in clinical trials," the doctor would say. "It's very difficult to get another volunteer, given the sacrifice involved."
"How is it a sacrifice? It was this or death."
"It's not...it's complicated," the doctor would inevitably say.
"Are you hiding something from me?"
"Are you feeling paranoid?"
"Would I tell you if I was?" I swatted a minuscule flying rabbit away. "Look, it's just a bit lonely in here. That's all. Plus the owls keep staring at me. It's creepy."
"You can erase them."
"Sure, but you're not really answering my question."
I did get more code eventually (I could change the seasons and the temperature, and I could make various water features), but still no real people.
Then one day, as I was practicing with the wind with a cleared and focused mind, the doctor interrupted me.
"We have something to tell you," said the doctor.
"You're breaking character," I said. I let the breeze die down and my world went still.
"It's appropriate," he said. "There have been some political events here, and well, we lost funding for the project."
"What does that mean, exactly?" I said.
"We...literally, have to pull the plug."
"You're going to kill me?" I asked, my voice was barely audible to me, but of course they couldn't actually hear what I was saying directly. It was all transferred from my brain.
"Technically, you're already dead."
"When is this going to happen?" I asked.
"We're sorry, but it's now."