Chapter 7 – Ignorant Bliss
By Jeffrey Kieviet
Einstein would have said time was relative. But he never plugged his brain into a computer which could literally stretch the subjective conscious. Dinah had lived 10 years in a place that didn’t exist, in a time that was only in her head. As most people grow old, they feel like younger versions of themselves trapped in aging, decaying bodies. Dinah recalled a story her father used to tell her about a boy who never wanted to grow up, who would never become a man, and the little girl he wanted to be his mother. They ran away to a place that also didn’t exist, somewhere past the stars (the 2nd star to the right), and when she came back home, she had grown up, she wasn’t a lost girl any more.
Taking her time, she surveyed the hospital room. How Thomas had managed confidential access to such a public part of the colony was a mystery to her, but Thomas was able to do many things that she couldn’t understand. He stayed with her for a few moments, neither of them speaking now, and after an uncomfortable silence that stretched on to forever, a quiet nurse joined them. She was pleasant, cute in a mousy way. The nurse smiled at Thomas and he nodded back, then he stood and left, telling Dinah to rest, leaving her in his sterile, private workshop. That’s how he viewed it: a workshop; playing with people’s biology & mental state as a means to justify a terrible end, an end to so many lives. Dinah said nothing to the nurse, and the nurse just smiled back, and after she checked her vitals and IV, the nurse departed as well leaving Dinah alone with her thoughts.
She reflected back on the last 10 minutes, the last 10 years. Everything was a jumble. As she tried to make sense of it, she realized she should have understood, should have seen the signs, that so much of her life had just been a virtual simulation. Facts hadn’t added up, the days had blurred together, people had not been whole, complete beings. She had attributed this to being in prison, assumed it had warped her sense of reality, but it had been warped because it wasn’t real. What had happened to the man who’d helped her escape from Beta? Why had the judicial system imprisoned a clearly innocent girl? How had she escaped from confinement on Theta? Who was Rusty, why was a robot alive? Her subconscious had been in clear defiance of the virtual program once Beta began to collapse around her. No, not Beta, just a half forgotten memory; an illusion.
Of course, when she’d agreed to help Thomas, she had had a small idea of the project and she knew research would be her main goal. As he’d explained it, he was giving her time to search the colony’s databases faster than real time; why he’d needed this information, he hadn’t expressly told her, but she knew he was dissatisfied with the government and sought revolution through anarchy. But she never imagined it would be so heinous, so depraved, such a useless waste of human life.
She remained in the hospital for some time, resting and recuperating, a few visits from the mousy nurse to make sure her vitals were improving, fewer visits from Thomas, only twice over the next week. Once to verify she was alive, that her mind was intact, to make small prods into the research she achieved during her 10 year imprisonment. And soon after, he came bearing gifts: a data tablet to organize her thoughts and provide an outlet for her virtual research. He wanted all the information she had found about the colonies: blueprints, management, personnel, history, secrets; all the studying she had done in the fake prison library was real data from the colony’s mainframe; whatever unrestricted information Thomas’s machine had granted to her.
Time passed, real time, and after an eternity of the sterile, white room and the calm, plain nurse, Dinah was released. A simple message appeared on her tablet: “Time to go home.” Her monitors and vitals all beeped and blinked off, everything returning to a dim neutral. The nurse never came to check on her, or even unhook her IV; Dinah waited but grew restless and detached herself. She found a basic set of clothes in the cabinet by the door, and led herself out of the room. Down a long hospital hallway, passing empty rooms and closed doors, she made her way out. Slowly, people began to appear, more nurses, a few doctors, but none of them paid her any mind, they were all rushing off to emergencies, trying to save lives, not realizing she’d already seen their deaths. Maybe not directly, but she’d lived 10 years believing everyone on Beta dead.
Home, the word hadn’t entered her consciousness in nearly a decade. Where was home? With her family & friends? Back in prison, with the people she’d spent so much time with in her mind? Thomas? Thomas. He wasn’t her home, but he was where she was headed. She knew where his loft was, the small yet lavishly furnished bedroom she’d spent too many nights, too many years ago. It was almost just yesterday that she’d passed this way, but she hadn’t seen it since she was just a girl. Now the woman knocked on his door.
No answer. She rang the bell, swiping the panel along the doorframe. Still no answer. She held her hand against the panel, fingertips pressing into the sensors, and like it had so many times before, the door slid open. Because he wanted her to be there, he had invited her into his world. And she was scared.
A low light glowed in the living room, the display screen against the wall projecting a muted news broadcast about the cost of living and quality of life among the colonies; Beta was winning as if it were some sort of competition. Thomas had one of the honored suites in Beta, there was a small porthole covered in multiple pains of glass that granted a beautiful view of space. She remembered spending hours just staring out into the black. Slowly, she slunk towards his bedroom. It was dark, a small amount of light leaking from under the bathroom door. She could hear the shower running. With a cloud of steam, she cracked the door open and let it’s weight carry the swing until she saw her silhouette in the mirror.
Unsure of what she hoped to happen, she crept towards the shower curtain. In one fell swoop, she pulled it back, startling the naked reverend. He was a confident man, and only lost his composure for a fraction of a second, but during that moment, Dinah saw the man in the wheelchair, the machinated monster that sought death and destruction. And when he smiled, it chilled her to the bone. He reached out, invitingly, and Dinah reacted with all the force in her body, shoving him backwards as if to remove him from her life, to shove him out of the colony and into the deepest recesses of space. The smile slipped from his face just as he slipped on the wet porceline of the bath, his limbs splaying and grasping for any hold in the empty stream of water. An arm hit the wall with a dull bang, a leg hit the tap with a shattering clang, and the back of his head hit the floor with a sickening thud.
This all happened so quickly she could barely register what had happened until she saw the broken tiles on the wall, the broken bone sticking through Thomas’s shin, the blood pooling in his hair. He looked at her with dazed eyes and all the anger melted from her.
“Oh, god, no!” She cried. “Thomas, no! I’m so sorry.”
He tried to smile, lazily for her, but shock was setting in and his face began to go rigid.
Dinah leapt into the living room and swiped the display screen to make an emergency call. “Help, there’s been an accident! I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’ve done. There’s so much blood. Send help please! The reverend Thomas Whitney. I think he’s dying…” Tears poured from her eyes but she was too desperate to sob. She couldn’t hear the medical response team over the sound of her own despair. She ran back into the bathroom.
Thomas was still conscious, mumbling incoherently, or maybe Dinah just didn’t understand what he was trying to say over the chaos of her emotions. Soon the room was full of medical personnel, they were trying to stem the bleeding, bandage the wounds, usher Dinah from the room but she wouldn’t let go of Thomas’s undamaged hand, and it gripped her back with what feeble strength it had left. Then finally, she caught Thomas’s eyes, all other sound dropped out of her ears, and she finally heard his words as they passed from his lips, “It’s too late.” He smiled and was whisked from the room.
Then the ground beneath her feet shuddered. She wasn’t sure if it was real any more, it was so like the explosion in her false memory, the explosion that destroyed Beta 10 years ago in her illusion of a life. Alarms rung & sirens whaled. From the porthole in the living room, a blinding flash of light shocked the room. She walked over to the window and looked out into space. She saw Theta, fires being sucked out into space as more explosions tore it apart, piece by piece. In the distance she saw the charred ruble that must have been Orion.
All of the colonies…
She didn’t know what the contingency plan was, but at this point it didn’t matter. When Thomas was injured, when the call for help went out, the call she placed, it must have activated; a self destruct sequence? Or was this the plan all along. Throughout the colonies, the remainder of humanity was blown to bits, burned to death, or thrown into the emptiness of space.
Dinah prayed this was another illusion, another virtual reality created to test her, but she knew this was real. With another shudder, she felt a crack in the compartment and the oxygen began to flee the room with a vengeance. Humanity was over, she had played her part, and there was nothing left. In her last moments, she thought of Thomas, cried for her family, prayed for her people. She thought of the 10 fake years that felt like such a lie and she hoped for more.
And then it was done.