The room is dark now. Nothing is happening. I feel a vague sense of quiet and a distant and persistent pain in my nose and back. Phil says to me, "If we let it, this'll go on for a day or two."
"You have my permission to skip to the next part that matters, Phil."
"Oh, well thank you."
So first the world comes in blinks, like of eyes fluttering open and sounds gradually registering. The world is an off-shade of white and there are many people, like at a zoo.
"Say, Phil, can you have the computer give us a bit more distance here? I feel very dull and I think I'd rather have an unvarnished perspective."
"You're the boss. Apparently."
So we zoom out of Phil's head. He was floating in a hospital bed. Well, not a hospital bed exactly. More like a hospital tub or tube. A white cylinder cut in half and filled with a rather thick liquid. It looked a lot like butterscotch pudding. Maybe a little too yellow. Just his head stuck out. Not even the whole face. It's like he was in Bill Cosby's Heaven.
There were a lot of people in the same sort of situation all around him, immersed in viscous liquid and fluttering through various states of consciousness. If I had to guess I'd say there were at least a few thousand. More than a few thousand, all faces, mostly noses, poking out the top of these pudding vats. It reminds me of that scene in the Matrix, or those scenes, in which it shows the human power plants. Except that it's quite well lit and all of the vats are on the floor and comfortably spaced. It is a very large room, wherever it is, or will be, rather, since this is at least a few hundred years in the future. I'm not sure if room even qualifies as the word for it. More like an open area with a roof. I think squinting I can almost make out a wall in the distance.
The floor is red. Two stories up, the ceiling is red. There are people rushing gracefully around dressed all in white. They're probably doctors. I haven't seen clothes like theirs before. It's like those Chinese martial arts getups, except made out of some rubbery material. Definitely not rubber, exactly, though. It moves too freely but shines like hell.
Anyway, the whole room was buzzing gently as a beehive when Phil woke up in this postmodern recovery ward. Also there was a man standing over his bed and staring at him. He looked more like a statue. He did not move in any way. There was no strain of any kind on his countenance, just plain black clothing rustling gently in the monstrous room's air currents. But the eyes, Phil could actually feel those eyes. He tried to sit up.
Phil found himself entirely unable to move anything but his eyes. And he could moan a little. As someone who experiences sleep paralysis on a fairly regular basis, I am familiar with the sensation. But Phil knew nothing of it. He tried to move and felt himself stay still. This gave him a sensation as though he were drowning. His heart sped up, he moaned more loudly... Normally this is when one begins to hallucinate. As an outside observer, I can tell you that the tall man really was there, really was boiling the pudding with his eyes, and finally he spoke, "Do not struggle Paul. Your body must continue to sleep for some time. They say your spine was fully contorted and needs time. Time. It is okay, Paul. I am here. I will make sure that nothing happens to you."
Phil tried to say his name was not Paul, but could not. With some effort a light moan escaped his lips. The man did not respond. More moans.
"How long does this last, Paul?"
"It lasts another good hour and then I have sort of an out of body experience. Then I dream. Then it's back to moaning. This goes on for a few days... and my name is Phil, damn it all to Hell!"
"Sorry, Phil. I meant to ask why he called you Paul?"
"Paul is my slave name."
"Who's that standing over you?"
"That'd be Alric. Same person who I shot in the crash site, though I don't remember doing it. He took an interest in me. That's why he's standing there."
"So finally we get to the slavery!"
"Yes. Finally we get to the slavery. Every survivor of that cluster-fuck was made a slave on Mars."
Phil's time in the simulator passes slowly. Alric makes no move, only stares. Around them can be seen other Martian men and women walking around, perhaps choosing which slaves they wish to buy. Every so often one of the white uniformed people, some of whom are women, will come and talk to these shoppers and, it would seem, will bargain with them.
"What does anyone need slaves for in the future, what about robots?"
"It's mostly a status thing. Like in the Bible. You know you simply cannot be a patriarch unless you have more slaves than children, and a lot of children. They also are good cannon fodder in the wars, as well as being good potential citizens, thickening the genetic and memetic pools. These colonies can tend to get pretty insular and experimenting with human genetics is a strong taboo for most of them."
"So, like, what, this guy bought you to sleep with his daughter?"
"No, no, not at all. Actually, that scary bastard there works for, or 'with' might be a better word, an offworlder, whom we'll meet fairly soon."
"So then he bought you as a punishment for shooting him?"
"More like a reward, actually, but yes. He bought me because I shot him."
And when looking at the simulation we see Alric standing still as a photograph and Phil trying to move or moan or do anything. "Rest, Paul, rest." Alric says and he begins to sing very gently and with great and clear reverberation some hymn or mantra.
"Aww... He likes you..." I say, and in retaliation, Phil switches back to a first person view and the world reels. There is a skipping sensation to time. It is like every five seconds repeats in a loop. I am flying over a room full of mummies first up, then back down, and suddenly I am in a vat again, and then again I am flying. I come up to the ceiling, all made up of the skulls and bones of some giant alien god, a million million beings strong, it was, now dead, crushed into the ceiling of this mausoleum, and up I float. I am face to face with a face red as red can be. And I go through it, up, and into the rock of Mars, I am swimming through a sea of stone. The stone is the heart bone of the god and I am for a time its blood, I am pumped by the stone and I pump the stone. And then I am back in the bed, and then I am on the surface in a crowd of so many pieces, tiki pieces, of this great Martian god, this great dead god. They crowd around me. They become me. I see the face on Mars and it is my face. My face in the pyramids. And I scream.
I am screaming. Phil was screaming, only no words were coming out. Phil is not now screaming. Phil now is laughing.
And Phil skips ahead two hours, two days, who knows? We see one of the white coats come over and stick his finger into a socket on the bed.
"That went on for two days?"
"It's not so bad after the first day. Actually those little guys are kind of friendly, it's just that they're very different.
"He's ready to be released," the doctor said. Suddenly, after an endless stream of dreams and wakings, hallucinations, and downright religious experiences, Phil was released. The pudding parted like the Red Sea and out came Phil smooth, wet, and nude as a baby.
"I remember this. I felt great. Usually something somewhere hurts at least a little, but after that there was no pain anywhere at all. Completely fixed. Everything."
Alric tossed Phil a robe to put on and then whistled and slapped his thigh. Phil threw the robe on, and for lack of any better ideas, followed Alric.