The remnants of the logs crackled as embers rose into the air. I watched them flutter away into the sky, becoming nothing more than a light among millions of flickering stars before going out in the wind.
I inhaled and closed my eyes, relishing in the cold country air. The wind carried the scent of rain. It was something I hadn’t encountered in months.
A shiver crept up my arms. I cracked one eye open before I scooted closer to the fire, but stopped. The crackling of the fire was silent. I glanced down and saw it frozen in place, and then up to the trees, no longer moving in the wind. A flash of light caught my eye. I opened my fingers and turned my hand over—the mechanism sat tight against my fingers.
My time was drawing short.
I leaned back and watched as the water dancing atop the lake stilled as well.
And then the static grew loud. I winced as it assaulted my ears, louder and louder. With a huff I pushed myself to my feet as the simulation began to fall apart.
The water was frozen. I knelt at the end of the dock and stared at my hands, dancing between real and simulated.
“What’s the point of this, eh?” I asked the sky.
The stars didn’t twinkle in reply, but I liked to think that whoever was up there could hear me. Maybe my lips moved in the real world, and maybe my message got out.
I dipped two fingers beneath the water’s surface. Green ripples followed where I touched. They were beautiful, but a glitch—this color was never supposed to exist here.
The sky shuddered, and then the stars fell. They left streaks of white in their wake as they slipped from the sky. The water began to glow brighter. Brighter. It poured into a chasm, a widening maw.
The world was crumbling.
And then I heard them. Ghosts in the simulation danced overhead, in the starless sky. Flashes of emotion, tainted memories of happier times. They were lines of code destined to never properly work. They took advantage of their freedom and danced beyond their perimeters, free, finally, to exist, even if it was only a single speck in time.
They were explorers in their own right.
I watched their fragile faces fall apart, but their smiles never faded, even as their bodies crumbled.
And then everything froze.
And then there was an explosion of yellow, fire, red, heat, love, hate.
The force of the explosion blew apart the dock and sent me plummeting into the abyss. I watched it all grow small as the remnants of the world, the destruction, took to the airwaves, and sent it all crashing down.
I gasped. The bell was a gentle chime. “Thank you for your service. Please consider applying at one of our other locations,” a robotic voice said.
I pulled the visor off my eyes and sat in bed, gasping for breath and begging my heart to slow.
I stared at the screen hanging over my bed, now showing nothing but a flickering logo of my company.
And then I tilted my head away from the mechanism that had been my life, and instead looked towards the window.
It was dark outside. The distant sounds of a train, and then a coyote, rolled across the valley. My fingers found the power button, and I turned the screen off.