Almost Real

I gazed out at the world in front of me, beauty and serenity for as far as my eyes could see.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” piped up Serena, standing next to me. I felt the warmth of her hand as it slipped into mine, saw the shadows shift a little as she adjusted her grip on the lantern in her other hand. “So much possibility.”

“It is beautiful,” I replied, trying to clear my mind, to think of nothing but the world that lay in front of me, open for me to explore.

How long would it last? I knew that time worked differently here. It could pass faster, here. Entire lifetimes, I’d heard, could fly by in the span of just hours. Would that happen to me? Would I last long enough?

I hoped so. It all seemed so real, so perfect. I could almost believe it.

Next to me, Serena giggled softly. Her tail flicked back and forth. I knew that the tail flicking was just a sign of her excitement, the same way I knew her name. The memories flowed into me, but their rush didn’t feel unnatural. All of a sudden, I just knew these facts, as naturally as if I’d always known them.

I took a step forward, testing my balance. My movements felt sure and confident. The world moved smoothly around me, and I could even smell the scent of water, could hear the babbling of the streams as they cascaded down.

I tried to let go, to accept this new reality.

Still, a little part of me couldn’t fully forget. It’s not real, that voice whispered to me. It won’t last – and when you run out of credits, you’ll have to go back to the real world, the truth.

When this ended, I’d be pulled back down, back to where I was broke, worthless, jobless, homeless. I’d feel the pain in my limbs again, would be forced to look at the dirt, and grime, and garbage…

No matter what, that little part of me knew that this was all an illusion.

“Dammit!” I growled, slamming a fist down against my thigh. The cry startled a flock of birds into taking wing, and next to me, Serena looked worried.

“What is it, my lord?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”

I glared at her. “Say my name.”

“Your name?” She didn’t know, of course – it was just a sim, a standard off-the-shelf installation. I couldn’t afford to customize anything. “You are my lord, and that is what matters.”

A smart job by the programmers. But I still couldn’t believe it, couldn’t let go.

I lashed out at her, striking her with one fist. “It’s not real!” I shouted, as I pummeled her. I saw the pain and hurt in her eyes, pixels so close together that it might as well be reality. I struck out at it, attacking it.

The whole world flickered alarmingly around me. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. I was violating the rules of the program, and it threatened me now, on the verge of collapsing and terminating.

I forced myself to stop, to take a deep breath. Calm. I’m paying for this time. No reason to ruin it.

“Reset,” I called out.

Everything flickered for a moment around me – and then I was once again gazing out at the world in front of me, beauty and serenity for as far as my eyes could see.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” piped up Serena, standing next to me. I felt the warmth of her hand as it slipped into mine, saw the shadows shift a little as she adjusted her grip on the lantern in her other hand. “So much possibility.”

I nodded, controlling my anger, my frustration. Relax. Enjoy the escape.

“Almost unlimited possibilities,” I agreed, stepping forward. “Let’s go exploring.”

So nearly real.

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