The carriage of the subway rattles along as I hold onto the steel bar and the hologram projected onto my retina beams with a gigantic smile. “Fantastic new possibilities await you in the Realm! Sign up now and receive a live test experience in your stream, free of charge and without obligation!” That obnoxious smile, wide and sparkling, trying to convince me to take up the call like so many others have.
Sixteen-billion people on this planet now, you would have thought something would have come to wipe us out, some mega-bacteria or nuclear holocaust or something, but no. Growth, more and more growth, and less and less space. Less and less food and clean air and clean water. Just more people, more filth, more grey, more noise. Too much of everything, so someone had the bright idea to put those that wanted out into the Realm.
It worked, over a billion have gone in so far and they keep on pushing it. They need at least another two billion to go under to help start reversing some of the problems we’ve got in the real world. So, the man keeps getting beamed into my retina, everywhere I go, trying to convince me that it’s a good idea to give up real life for some virtual one. I guess we’re lucky that for now they’re giving us the choice.
I step off the subway carriage and move through the hordes of people. Every creed and colour, religion and sect, race and gender, we’re all stuck down here in this tunnel underground, racing towards some crappy job to work for some asshole company that might give us just enough credits to get a bit of synthetic food and drink. More meat for the grinder.
I stand at the bottom of the escalator and look up at both sides, one bringing people down, the other taking people up. Endless streams of people, each with their own little piece of reality that they cling onto, each with their own little bit of a worthless insignificant life. Why don’t they go to the Realm? Why don’t I, for that matter?
That perfect world they’ve created, under the veil of the gigantic virtual reality systems. Slip into the pod, specifically designed and tailored to you, and you wake up in this gorgeous world. Of course, the pod provides you with everything the body might need, and inside the Realm you think you’re eating a steak or swimming in a moonlit ocean or whatever. What a wonder it must be, and the only price? Live and die in there, and never have a family. There are no children in the Realm, no real ones anyway. You go in, your brain is stimulated to create whatever you might desire, but you’ll die in there. Really, you’ll die in the pod, you’ll be liquidized and recycled and fed back to the others who have gone in, and that’ll be that.
“Norbert Vokal!” The hologram shouts my name. “Looks like you’re feeling down! Never feel down again, sign up to the Realm and you’ll have anything you want, any time you want, all created by our virtual integration systems, you’ll never know the difference. Fantastic new possibilities! New realities are imminent!”
Not today, pal. I shake my head and step off the escalator into the grey light of day, maybe I’ll make someone remember me, maybe I won’t, but that’ll be my choice.
Building inspiration: Canary Wharf London Underground escalator