A short on love, regret and reinvention. Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments.
Love Lost, Pain Remains
In the darkness of the AltLife Portal™, I can feel the wood warping around me. I begin the breathing exercises they had demonstrated during orientation. A disembodied voice interrupts me just as I am concentrating on my left big toe.
“Mr. Sohn, your scenario will load momentarily. Please remain calm.”
It was easy for the AI to be so blasé. After all, it wasn’t the one trapped in a box. In truth the AltLife Portal™ was more than a box. It was the newest tech in alternate life simulations. Users could jump back to major diversion points in their lives, make different choices, and play out the resulting dream-state in a compressed artificial timeline. The flashy ad on the Metro had claimed it was enhanced lucid dreaming with effects lasting for a couple of days. I endured the exhaustive background reconstruction, answering penetrating and humiliating questions; but I readily sunk the last of my Ceres mining credits into my simulation.
I lay naked and submerged in a conductive gel that interfaces directly with my internal nodes, jacking me into the AltLife Portal ™ landing page. Instantly, I am inside a white space, facing the largest bank of drawers I had ever seen. They stretch beyond any horizon I could see. One of the drawer fronts begins blinking rapidly and I find myself directly in front of it. My simulation is ready.
I had chosen the day I first met my wife. I punch a code on the virtual keypad and the space around me dissolves into a sunny day 15 years back in the past at the University of Hellas freshman orientation mixer. Since the scenarios are supposed to approximate real life as closely as possible, I materialize into a toilet stall so as not to frighten the clueless constructs that populate the simulation. I try to smooth away wrinkles from my flannel shirt as I stare at my virtual reflection. The sim engineers have done such an excellent job customizing my character that they had replicated my younger self right down to the patchy red beard hugging my square jaw.
I see Phyllis immediately; a goddess generating gravity that ensnares hapless satellites hoping to catch her attention. In real life, I had been standing at the back of the auditorium, a spectator watching the clumsy advances of strangers. Just then, our eyes met across the room and I found myself striding confidently towards her. She smiled as I introduced myself, a radiance that captured my heart. By the end of the semester, we were inseparable and irrevocably in love.
In the scenario, she is so beautiful that I wonder if the AI is proactively rejiggering my memories. The tight dress accentuates a tiny waist and long legs balanced on a perfect butt. I watch her toss her braids back as she laughs at a joke, her voice as clear as a bell. I feel her pulling me closer and closer into her orbit. I steel myself and walk towards her, looking straight into her green eyes. She turns towards me, a slight frown marring her face as if she was trying to figure out a puzzle. My virtual body is sweating profusely by now but I am determined to reach her. I pick up two glasses of the neon-colored Punchaid™ from the drinks table as I saunter towards her. Her sycophants grow silent and their chatter becomes indistinct as I approach. They clear a space when I came to a stop before her.
My only regret is that Phyllis is wearing black and so the stains are not as pronounced as I would have liked, but she does hurl more than a couple of shrill invectives as I stroll away from her stunned crew.
I re-enter the stall in the men’s bathroom triggering the scenario kill switch. The AI slowly brings me out of unconsciousness. I can feel the alternate memories reforming in my mind. In the simulation, our relationship never happened. Our wedding day filled with light and laughter scatters into fragments. Umami smells of braising fungi floating into our tiny squat, dissipate into nothingness. The failed fertility sessions vanish into darkness. The visual of her sudden and fiery shuttle crush fades away.
I sit up and gingerly rub my heart, but the soul-crushing sorrow is indelible.