So I follow Phil out the door. I really like the reality simulator. I can't use it myself, of course, but I observe at every opportunity. When Phil is sleeping I will flit from room to room until I find something interesting. I've learned a lot about the world just through these. Every simulation is completely different; the tone, the texture of the experience, the focus varies. I always wondered what it would be like to look through the eyes of another and now I know. I have seen every part of Earth first hand, been manhandled and emasculated by the cops a hundred times at least. I have shown identification, presented proof of identification, taken off my shoes and socks and knelt for clarification. I have sat dumbfounded through lectures held in French or Arabic exchanging hateful or amorous glances with other students. I have been so many kisses, scratches, punches and grips. I have been the throws of ten different kinds of love and seven different kinds of hate, and so many mixes of the two... Yes, Isaac Brock, other people's lives are more interesting cus they ain't mine.
I feel like I'm getting ahead of myself here, like maybe I should explain exactly what reality simulation is first. Obviously it's the simulation of reality, of course, the name tells you that, but what exactly does it do? How does it work?
Well, the easiest way to explain would be to say it's like the holodeck, and, yes, dammit, Gene Roddenberry thought of everything. His name is even in the spell-check. But that would be sheer laziness on my part, and not entirely honest. It's significantly different from the holodeck. For one, it doesn't exactly create a false reality, but displays one. You don't really move through it so much as it moves around you and you feel it. For another, it's not really supposed to be used recreationally.
In fact, it's the main method of treatment here, like drugs are in our time. It's kind of like the padded cells they keep the real nuts in back home, except, like Phil's bed, rigged with real groovy and expensive equipment. The room is basically like stepping into the monitor of a computer. Phil will put on a little crown doohickey when he goes in and then he'll close the door. The crown, I forget what they call it, will read his brainwaves as well as affect them. It's pretty complex and in all honesty I don't really understand it, but holograms pop up based on the reality that Phil chooses to experience and the crown acts as a catalyst for these things. It's designed to allow doctors to see the patients' reality so as to better understand and treat them. That said, we're about to step into Phil's reality. He's about to recreate the events of his ship going down on Mars. He's told me about most of this already, but I'll let you hear it from him, or experience it with us, rather.
We got here a few minutes ago and he just finished setting it up. He's got the crown on and the Goliath of a machine is whirring into life. There's kind of faint images popping here and there resembling several things at once in the darkness, like what you see when you close your eyes but with more substance. I can almost touch them except they move away and then they're gone. I can faintly hear Phil's inner monologue, if I listen, though he has it turned low and anyway it feels sort of invasive, hearing that. Now the grey hull of his cruiser comes into view. The imagery is still a bit jagged. It's jumping from place to place, trying to find itself like a dream that has spun out of focus.
This period is something like a computer booting up. The hard drives are aligning and all that, metaphorically. Literally, I have not got a clue what's going on and it's sort of disorienting, but good exercise for keeping with the dream. If I had a stomach it would feel queasy, but as I am in a disembodied state currently there is only an uneasy feeling. I just wish I could close my eyes, but I know from experience that would make it worse.
Ah, here we are. On the morning, or on his morning, rather, as on a star ship there's three sets of mornings, one for each shift... on the morning of the day he crashed on Mars, he was in his rack. He sat up, crouching his back under the bunk above his and stared numbly at the set of beds opposite, "Hey, Phil, can we speed through this, please? It's kind of boring."
"Huh?" The world pauses. Phil is there, in the past, forever in that moment staring like a statue or a zombie off into space or at something maybe, and Phil is here, in this room projecting his memories into holographic forms. "Yeah? Yeah. I guess I can skip this bit."
Sirens sounded and suddenly Phil was thrown against the starboard wall, violently. I feel myself shaking with him. I can feel the hollowing of his stomach as he realizes that the existence of his life and senses is tenuous, holding on to its continuance in the material world like a spider holds on to a web. And now this shaking, this fire alarm here, and the alarm for a hull breach over top of it, and the very real gravity of Mars overruling the very false gravity of a C-class cruiser and the falling, the falling, the falling up.
"Hey, Phil, can we get a projection of this from the outside, maybe... a kilometer?... above the fleet?" He responds more quickly this time and now we're suspended overhead, but we've missed the bit where the carrier explodes. "Can we rewind a bit too?"
"Yeah, I guess I can do that. Can I get you something to drink, too? Maybe some fresh squeezed pineapple and kiwi juice?"
"Come on Phil, it's for posterity... err... anterity? It's for science!"
There it was, the fleet of ships, a dozen strong, barreling down on a little settlement that could hardly even be seen from so far out in space. Phil heard, "Martian Colony, please prepare for--whoosh" and suddenly the sound went dead. Phil's neck became very cold. Oddly enough, his feet were sweating, and yet nothing registered consciously as being out of place.
"I thought there was a problem with the intercoms or something," he tells me, "or maybe the guy on comduty didn't feel like listening to that bull@!$%# and cut it out. That'd be kind of irregular though. This thought only passed through my head for a second." Less, actually, but it seemed to Phil like a second.
Then there was the sudden ball like a supernova appearing in a violet rainbow of sound and color. The carrier which had been there, right in the center of this future armada, became suddenly the size and brightness of a small gaseous moon and its atmosphere consumed the fleet, "Well, God damn, if that's not pretty, isn't it, Phil? Of course I can't see any of the ships anymore. Can you zoom on yours?"
A bit of shrapnel from the carrier, the UNS Longfellow, hit Phil's ship, the UNS Stewart, glanced off its top bow and exploded just close enough to it to not only send it barreling down towards the red sand below, but also to take off one of the com dishes. Of course this didn't matter because there was enough small debris sanding the Stewart to completely incapacitate its sensors anyway. Long story short, the Stewart went burning through the Martian atmosphere in an azure cloud. About half the other ships exploded outright. Phil was lucky.
"Can we see you again?"
So there Phil was, glued to the corner of the ceiling with what was probably a concussion, though he had no way of knowing at the time. All he knew is that he wasn't looking out a porthole and there were stars, lots of colorful ones and he was compressing in every direction physically and psychically possible. This state lasted for something of an eternity in spiritual and conscious time and roughly three minutes in consensus chronology. "Whump!" went the universe. "Whump!" went Phil into what had been the consensus port wall of the ship.
"Whump!" I say.
"Hmm... I don't remember any of this," Phil says as we take a long view of the ship splayed out on the endless oceanless beach that is Mars in the year 270 UN. It looks something like a metal whale. Less than a mile away, we can see people in very streamlined and heavily decorated spacesuits riding motorcycles into the clouds of dust and rock that are kicking about slowly through this red spartan atmosphere.
"When did you put Mad Max in?" I ask, jokingly. Their suits are black and covered with spikes.
The spiky bikers, in groups of about fifty, began hacking their way into the crashed star ships. Under a minute later they came dragging out injured, unconscious, and struggling seamen, tying them up and lumping them into piles beside what were probably oxygen tanks. Then there was the distant thunder of trucks. Trucks the size of dinosaurs.
"Shit. Really?" I say. "Where are you in all of this?" He changes the view.
Phil, one of the less injured ones, was coming shakily to his feet. Each thought came with the wayward lumbering of an elephant strung out on heroine. His senses were all almost like round knives dancing through his spine. One moment he could see the walls, the next moment all he saw was their color. They met at odd angles, waltzing with the knives in his spine, grinding. There was a lot of grinding and footsteps. Footsteps echoed in a chorus with the lastbreath death cries of groaning machines. He knelt and breathed.
First he tried to breathe through his nose, which it turned out was broken, so, failing that, it was his mouth. His throat was a bruise. When the footsteps hit their crescendo his fingers remembered his sidearm before his thoughts did. His thoughts were like lemmings in that old computer game, marching straight, ignorant of pits and falls, only he had no tools with which to save them. But this left his hands free to do as they pleased and they took up his sidearm. They held down the trigger and out shot those streams of superheated atoms which people use to kill each other in the future.
Somehow the eyes which saw the black-skull-face and spiked shoulders, which must have been a flashback to the last time he'd gotten some condensed lyserge, managed to tell the hands where to point, and the thoughts were still rushing forward en mass, thousands of them, entirely heedless of their environment, themselves, and one another, so he shot without a thought as to whether this skull-faced anthropod was "real," he simply shot.
"Seriously, this is all a complete blur to me. I wonder if I'm actually making it up?" This is unlikely, as the crown simply extracts the sensory data which was stored in the mind and it is in fact the computer which interprets it against its vast stores of other sensory data to make the most accurate and unbiased representation of reality possible.
The black-skull-faced spiky biker held a blue glowing stick in its hand and moved sideways, actually sidestepping the short beam of burning light, and Phil's hands shot again, twice more, one to the left, one to the right, and again in the center and in the top and again to the bottom and in four places, pieces of this apparition exploded first, and for less than a second, into blood and then into what might be charcoal. It dropped immediately.
Phil's thoughts began to come down and around him, at the pehewm of the pistol a few more seaman began to stir, most of them with broken limbs. The general sentiment, the air of the room, if it could be put into words, the zeitgeist was, "What the Hell?" as figuratively speaking, the man with his hand on the mouse stepped in and started handing out umbrellas and the material to build bridges and tunnels, thus giving the means to these lemming thoughts to save themselves.
Phil came to his feet and found that something did not feel right. Slowly the Socratic method was employed, almost of its own accord, and Phil discovered that his hips were facing the wrong way and his left arm was not quite hanging correctly from his shoulder. He began to taste blood and tried to feel his nose with his hands. It felt very large. This was when the black-skull-faced spiky biker, whom he had thought incapacitated, reached up with that glowing blue baton and touched Phil gently on the leg. This was when he collapsed to the ground. Then there was darkness.
"Can we see what happens next?"
"Okay," He tells me, "But this thing's saying it's probably going to be a bit inaccurate, being as how I'm unconscious."
"That's fine. I'm not sure how much I trust the accuracy anyway. The precision is great, though. Quite riveting."
Four more of these spiky bikers came into the same bit of corridor and blue-batoned the still confused seamen. One man managed to get a shot off, but a spiky biker dodged it and then tapped the man (or it might have been a woman) with his baton. They carried this bunch of sailors out and directly onto a lightly oxygenated truck.
This is when the picture begins to blur a bit more as Phil's senses dull further. The computer can't even really piece much together. So we're just watching a truck trekking across the surface of Mars towards a dome looming ever larger in the distance.