“Wake up Jason! Wake up!”
I opened my eyes and found myself in the middle of my living room, facing my large brown leather couch. There was a man sitting on the couch and it seemed to me like he was dominating the entire space with his presence. His appearance was almost that of an official, wearing a single breasted grey suit and a black tie. My mind was blurry and I could not recognize this man nor could I realize what he was doing in my living room.
“What is your last name, Jason?”
“Who are you?”
“Your last name, Jason. Tell me your last name!”
I noticed that I was sitting on a chair, a simple wooden chair – not one from my house as far as I could tell. I tried to get up but found myself incapable of moving any muscle from the neck down.
“If I allowed you to move, Jason, you will try to run and it would deviate this conversation from the subject."
“What are you doing in my house?”
I was still waking up but as I felt my senses coming back I was starting to panic. I struggled again to move, but all my limbs were in a peculiar deep state of relaxation. I could not gather enough strength to tense even the muscles in my arms . But, yet, I still felt my chest drawing breath after breath and I was able to control this motion. My heart was pounding and I sensed the need for more air.
“What did you do to me? Let me go!”
I could still scream.
“Help! HEEELP! SOMEBODY!”
“Who are you calling for Jason? Are you trying to call your neighbors? Are you hoping that someone might walk by your house, and hear the screams?”
“HELP! PLEASE, HELP!!!”
“Jason, listen to me! I will explain you everything, but I need you to remain calm. If you keep screaming I will put you to sleep again. “
“PLEASE, SOMEBODY!!! HELP!!!”
The man rose up from the couch, reached in to his inner pocket and drew a gun. I froze in fear and my voice drowned in my throat as the man put his gun against my head.
“I need you to be quiet. You understand me, Jason? “
My neck and skull was shaking in terror, but I nodded.
“Good! Now I will ask you some questions and you will answer them as best as you can, alright?”
The man seated himself on the couch again and leaned forward with the gun still hanging casual in his hand. I could not take my eyes of the pistol.
“If you are cooperative, this all will end up soon. If not, we might be here for some time and I would not like that. Would you like that? To be stuck in that chair for more than you have to, Jason?”
“No… please, let me go. I have money, take whatever you like, just let me go.”
“I know you do, Jason. But I’m not here for your money. My name is Gabriel. You can call me Gabe.”
The man painted himself a smile on his face like he was trying to sell me a used car. Somehow he made me even more uncomfortable. I sneaked a peek at the clock on the wall behind the man. It was half past four and Marie should arrive home at five. I had to escape or at least think of some way to prevent her from coming home.
I remembered hearing stories about a serial killer. In some stories he wore gray; in others he wore blue. He would enter your house, ask you a series of questions and if you could not answer him he will kill you. I could not remember where I first heard those stories. It didn't meant anything to me at that time. Just another urban myth.
“What is your last name, Jason?”
“Doyle. My name is Jason Doyle.”
“What are your parents’ names?”
“My father's name is Gerard and my mother's Susan.”
“What do you remember about your parents, Jason? Do you remember their faces?”
For God sake, how long is this going to last? I looked at the clock again, but it was still half past four.
“Stop looking at the clock, Jason! You are afraid that your wife will be entering through the front door any minute now and I might tie her up with you or do something worse.”
“Please, don’t harm her!”
I had no idea how he knew about my wife. He probably planned this. He must have stalked us; he must have learned our schedule. How long had he been following me and why? Did he got to Marie first? Is she being tied up somewhere… is she still alive?
“Please, tell me what you want, I’ll do anything!” I begged.
I remembered watching action movies where the hero gets tied up and interrogated. I always assumed that I would be able to keep my cool if I was ever trapped in a situation like that. I always assumed I could outsmart the attacker in some way with my wits, or at least prove myself a man and show him no sign of fear, but now I was begging. I could not stop myself crying. I would have dropped on my knees and begged him, if could move from this chair.
“Why can’t I move, please, let me go! What did you do to me?”
“Don’t worry; you will be able to move as soon as we are done. I promise you, you are paralyzed only temporary.”
He must have injected me with some drug.
“What do you do for a living, Jason?”
“I work at a business company. I’m a successful man. I can give you everything you want.”
“I am quite sure of that, Jason, but what exactly do you do at that company of yours?”
“I am a business man, I …. I manage, I conduct….”
“You were driving home from work when I approached you earlier. Sometimes you arrive home from work half an hour earlier than your wife. You like to wait for her. Sometimes you arrive home half an hour late, and she waits for you. You were at the office today, weren’t you? What did you do at the office?”
“I was working, I was…I can’t remember.”
“You go there every day. What is the last thing you remember about your office? What was the last thing you did in your office?”
I could remember my co-workers, I could remember their faces, I could even tell this stranger the story Mitch from marketing told me about his trip to Florida last year. I could remember laughing with Kathy from Accounting. What were we laughing about? It must be the drugs. The man must have hit me or drugged me to knock me out, it probably affected my memory.
“What area do you work in?”
“I can’t remember, I swear.”
“But you do remember, don’t you, Jason. You can remember everything you did yesterday and the day before. You can remember the breakfast you had this morning. You can remember taking Marie out for dinner last evening; you can remember having a beer with Mitch from the office while watching the game at your favorite pub last week. What you can’t remember Jason are the things you assumed you were doing every day; those things never happened. When I put that gun to your head, Jason, you felt genuine fear. You are afraid that I will kill you, even though you can stop this at any time. You are afraid that I will kill your wife, even though she will not enter through that door until you want her to.”
The man spoke in a calm voice, yet hearing him talk terrified me even more than seeing his gun pointed at my head. He was right. I could envision every tiny detail about my office, every piece of paper on my desk, every pencil, the post it taped on the upper right corner of my computer screen, but I could not recall any moment of me doing actual work.
“Your parents, Jason! You visited them last Christmas. You were with Marie. Did they look any different, where they at any point unhappy about something? “
“How do you know about my parents?”
“When is the last time you had a fight with your wife, Jason?”
“I ...we don’t fight! Why do you keep asking me about my family?”
“Do you remember the last time anything slightly unpleasant happened to you, Jason? Do you remember the last time you had to do a mundane thing? When was the last time you got stuck in traffic, when was the last time you felt sick, when was the last time you felt annoyed? Describe that to me, Jason?”
I could not come up with an answer.
“What are you talking about? Of course I feel all of these, I am a normal man. Just because I have no problems in my family, just because my wife and I get along, you think I live a perfect life? Is that it? You want to kill me out of envy?”
The man got up from the couch and walked to the entrance door. He turned to me with the same devilish grin on his face.
“It should be about four a clock, don’t you think? Your wife should return home any second now.”
I looked again at the clock and saw that he was right and I fought to get up from the chair again as I heard Marie’s footsteps and the metallic chink of her keys.
“Run, Marie! RUUUN!”
The man grabbed her arm and pulled her inside and closed the door before she could react to my screams. She stood there, in her pale blue dress, with a confused gaze in her eyes, but her confusion turn to horror when the stranger in the grey suit positioned his gun against her face.
“What’s going on, Jason? Who is this man?”
I wish I could answer her.
“You have a very beautiful wife, Jason, long blond silky hair, big blue eyes and the body of a Victoria Secrets model. Did she look like that when you married her?
“I swear the God, if you do anything to her…?”
“Then stop me, Jason. Get up from that chair and make me go away! Do it for your wife!”
“I will kill you, I swear, I will kill you.”
He continued to smile at me while grabbing Marie by the shoulders and pulling her in front of him. His gun was now pointed at her temple.
This sadistic asshole must have loved making me watch my wife whimpering in terror, while I sat on the chair, immobilized.
“Let her go!”
All I could do was yell and threaten him, but he and I knew he was in control and there was nothing I could do to stop him. I hated myself for being unable to protect her; I hated myself for allowing this to happen, even though I had no idea what action I might have taken to prevent this.
“You were fighting with your wife five months ago. Why were you fighting about?”
“It’s not true. Let her go. I love you honey.”
“Answer me, Jason! Why were you fighting with your wife?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We had some arguments but it was long ago. What do you want from us?”
Suddenly the image of Marie yelling at me appeared in my head. But it was so long ago. She looked different. It couldn’t have been her, she was …older. I was angry at her, but why?
“I’m sorry Jason, but it seems you got trapped in your own dream world. You’ve been in a comatose state for five months. In the last four months you failed to make any contact with the outside world. Your mind lost the capacity of differencing between the real world and the simulation. Your sister hired me to extract you. “
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“The world you’ve been living in, the world you thought you’ve been living in for the past five years it’s just a simulated experience, a dream you’ve been dreaming for the past five months.”
“You’re fucking crazy! You’re fucking crazy! Let us go, you asshole!”
“Jason, listen to me. I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to put a bullet into your wife’s head then I’m going to shoot you. It is your choice if you want this stop.”
“Don’t do it, please, I’ll do anything, please stop it.”
“You’re fucking crazy, you hear me? Stop it!”
“Three. Time to wake up, Jason. Acting on behalf of Susan Fawning, sister of Jason Doyle, I am extracting the subject, Jason Doyle. “
I heard these words as I saw the gun moving from my wife’s head and pointing in my direction. There was no loud bang, there was no pain. There was just darkness and absolute silence. And then a bright light.
“Third one this month, Gabe. You’re going to put me out of my business. Who signed the contract, his wife? “
“His sister. His wife divorced him five months ago. I guess that’s why he came here in the first place. “
“Yeah they tend to do that. Some are looking for a closure, some are fantasizing about revenge. I had a guy once who spent three weeks in here after his wife left him. When he got out of the pod he had a huge smile on his face. He told me he had spent three weeks murdering his ex in that pod. I thought the guy lost it and was going to go for the real thing, but nope. He just walked out of here and started his life again.
“He’s been through some hard times. He’s been living on his basic income since he graduated, and his parents died several years ago in a plane crash.”
“Come on, Mike, let’s go to your office. We’ll do the paperwork and you can serve me a glass of that scotch you keep hidden”, smiled Gabe, tapping the manager on his shoulder.
“Yeah, why not? You take my money, you might as drink my booze too, right?”
Michael Garsfield had been manager for a small SIMIM hotel in district 32 for the past three years. In this time he learned that whenever Gabriel would step through the entrance door he will end up leaving with at least one of his customers. He regarded him as a pain in the ass, but at the same time had a sense of respect for the man. One thing he had to admit about Gabriel – the man knew how to do his job.
Michael looked at the nurse pulling Mr. Doyle out of his isolation pod and grunted. The whole process of removing the tubes and sensors from the client’s body always made him sick. To top it off, people who spent as much time as Mr. Doyle in the simulation would almost always began their contact with reality by puking their insides out.
He led Gabriel into his office and lighted a cigarette after seating himself on his black leather chair.
Gabriel took the smaller chair in front of him and tossed a handful of papers on Mike’s desk.
“I have the standard symptoms here, Mike. The client was confused, fully involved in the simulated world and had little to no recollection of the events happened previous to his immersion. He displayed signs of genuine fear for his life when faced with a potential threat and failed to use his administrator options in order to remove said threat.”
“The guy must have forgotten how to.”
“He forgot he was there.”
“Did he have a nice chick there?”
“You know the law, Mike. I’m not allowed to give any details about what I see in there.”
“Yeah, right”, said Mike, grabbing two glasses and a squared crystal bottle from his cabinet.
“Blonde, big breasts, big dreamy blue eyes.”
“You see, here’s what I don’t get about this whole deal. The state offers every citizen a basic income, so he can use it as he likes. Some choose to study, improve themselves, chase some lifelong ambition, some just sit on their asses all day, stuffing their faces. This guy got dumped by his wife, he’s feeling miserable and so he comes here at SIMIM and chooses to live in a dream world with a nice blonde with big tits. Then you come along with your Free Will Act and your extraction contract and destroy that guy’s fantasy, put him in a psychic rehabilitation center for three months and fill out a report so that a judge can prohibit him any use of a simulated environment. Gabe you must be the worst type of asshole out there.”
“You’re just mad you lost another monthly income. “
“It might be so. Back in my days we used to have problems with fat teenagers spending too much time playing WOW online, jacking off to elves and stuff, but I still can’t see what’s wrong with letting a grown up man choose how he lives.”
“The Free Will Act, Mike, the Free Will Act. It’s not his choice anymore once he’s not able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.” said Gabe pouring the glass down his throat.