escVR – Your Dreams Made Real
Jenn read the sign behind the android receptionist as it began to speak. She had never been a “tech person” but it was a means to an end.
“Welcome to escVR, the world’s most immersive virtual reality system, how can we help you?”
Advancements in artificial intelligence had created machines that could pass the Turing Test, but robotics was yet to fully realise a human face, and so the receptionist of escVR was instantly spottable as the one jarringly unreal element of the huge facility. The receptionist android continued in a slow, soothing voice.
“We cater to any requirements our client might need – and without another human being involved, we guarantee complete privacy and anonymity. You are free to explore whatever your heart or mind desires.”
Jenn took a breath and spoke, the scowl she wore on her face near-permanently unmoving.
“Tell me about the immersion suites.”
The android smiled (it always smiled, but the smile now seemed to grow a little wider), “Our immersion suites utilise the most cutting edge technology available to give you a complete experience. You fall asleep and we tap into your nervous system, and prompt the brain to respond to what you experience in the virtual world. You won’t be able to tell if you are awake or asleep except for the timer, which will audibly prompt you with each remaining hour.”
“How do I program the simulation? There are real people I want to interact with, how do you replicate them?”
“You simply tell me what you need, and we draw from real locations to build the world for you. For the people you interact with, we look at their social media profiles, their jobs, their likes, their interests, and build a character profile of them. The more information they have given to Facebook, Google, etc, the more accurate we can be. We use video recordings of them to match appearance, movement and voice.”
“Is that legal?”
“Our team of lawyers assures us that we comply with all laws relevant to the territories in which we operate. For full terms and conditions, see our online presence.”
Jenn thought she detected an element of sass in the android, but shrugged it off as an echo of dealing with hundreds of receptionists in her life leading up to this point.
“And I can’t get hurt whilst I’m inside?”
“Any event that would ordinarily cause you harm is only an illusion of the experience. Your body and mind are totally protected by our safety systems – the experience would end abruptly for you, but no physical harm will come to you.”
She proceeded to describe the scenario she wanted – very similar to the real world, but with a few subtle tweaks. Nothing that couldn’t be done outside the experience, just inconvenient to arrange in the real world. She was taken to the immersion suite. She had expected a futuristic looking room with neon lights and heads up displays, but was surprised to find it sparse and minimal. A dentist’s chair, wires leading to the corner of the room, and a headset. The future was never the way it looked in movies.
She lay in the chair and was given an anaesthetic – she fell instantly into a deep sleep, and awoke in her own bed. She couldn’t tell the difference between the experience and reality, and didn’t want to either. A soft voice in her ear told her she had four hours. At the end of which, it had been explained, she would collapse into unconsciousness in her experience, and slowly wake up in the real world.
Jenn got out of bed and dressed herself in a low cut top, blue jeans and a leather jacket. Her blonde hair she tied up in a bun and she applied a bright red lipstick to her lips.
It’s not subtle, but that’s the point.
She left the apartment and walked across the street to the bar opposite. For a moment she remembered she was in a simulation and marvelled that they had even captured the smell of vomit and cigarettes as she sauntered in.
Jenn saw the person she was looking for immediately. Robin, she had remembered his name was. A handsome man, the same age as her, with a leather jacket and white t-shirt. His manner reminded her of James Dean, though with his arms propping him up against the bar, and a glass of whiskey in his hand, he was channeling a Hollywood film noir more than an angst-ridden young upstart.
She leaned back against the bar and smiled at him – they’d met before, but only briefly as he’d taken more interest in the friend she was with. She reintroduced herself and they talked for a few minutes. Jenn made sure to laugh loudly at his jokes, and touch his hand whenever it seemed natural enough.
When she invited him back to her apartment – he jumped at the opportunity. They continued to drink and flirt. She kissed him then got up to pour them another drink. He looked relaxed and she smiled back at him in a girl-ish way that he had no way of knowing was entirely out of character for her. She reached into the cupboard and pulled out the gun that she had arranged to be placed there by the simulation’s designers, pointed it at Robin and pulled the trigger.
Blood splattered against the wall behind him, a darker shade of red than she had expected. She looked at his lifeless corpse and the hole the bullet had left in him, but felt nothing. She had expected conflict in herself. Shame, satisfaction, righteous fury. But instead she was faced with emptiness. She was drunk enough she thought it was real, and only when she woke from her experience some hours later, did she reflect on its unreality.
The following day she returned to escVR and played out her scenario again. Again she brought Robin back to her apartment, but this time she poisoned his drink. And again, she felt nothing.
When she awoke, she wondered if it made a difference if he knew why he was being killed. If he understood that justice was being done to him. She returned to the simulation and before shooting him again, she gave him a chance to explain himself.
“I don’t care what she told you” he’d replied, “she wanted me. If she woke up the next morning and didn’t want to admit it, that’s not my problem.”
She had taken more pleasure in shooting him that time, but the gun was too distant. Too remote. Too impersonal.
Back to the simulation she returned again. She felt it was like coming up for air, compared to the suffocating reality of her day-to-day life. She lost track of the number of times she killed him, and the number of ways. She relished each of them.
Finally she hit upon the method she could enjoy. She would pin him down on the bed, reach across to the pillow beside him and use it to smother him.
She tried it and found the connection she was lacking. She held the pillow over his face and pushed down hard, as his arms flailed and legs kicked out. As she screamed her reasons at him, she felt him loose consciousness, felt the sense of power flow into her, and knew that this was how she had to do it.
And yet, she kept coming back to the simulation. She told herself it was because she wanted everything to be perfect, to consider all eventualities. She modified his behaviour each time, and built up her own strength to compensate.
After she’d been though the experience over a hundred times, she felt ready. She dressed herself as she had in the simulation, walked into the same bar, the same way and leant against the bar as she had so many times. She looked around and saw other men flirting and persuading women to go home with them who were clearly in no state to take care of themselves. Her face turned to anger whenever she was sure her target wasn’t looking.
Jenn lured Robin back to her apartment and the knowledge that she was finally going to do it for real filled her with an ecstatic zeal. She held the pillow down all the harder, and the rush of feeling him go limp beneath her was unlike anything she’d expected.
As she gathered her breath she looked out of her window and saw a man bundling a barely conscious woman into a taxi outside. She made a mental note of both of them.
She turned her attention back to the body on her bed, and took a knife from her beside drawer. After all, she still had to take her memento, and it wouldn’t stay stiff forever