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The Horse Bridge, Part 4 of 4

The final chapter of the Horse Bridge story, based around the picture below, which was drawn for me by the always awesome Sorina at Chosen Voice. If you missed the previous chapters, you can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The story is a science fiction story based on a world where people live inside multiple virtual reality worlds in a program called Real World. They create the first world and then the computer creates iterations of it to go deeper in realism and intensity. The main character goes into the new 5th iteration, only to find a white horse that he did not put there that brings him to see his father, who in the outside world is in a nursing home with brain damage.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, by the way. This story is partially dedicated to my awesome dad. I’m far away from him at the moment, but I love him a lot. I wish we had a computer program we could go canoeing in together.

copyright Sorina M

copyright Sorina M

The Horse Bridge, Part 4

When I got to my father’s room in the Tall Maple nursing home, he was on a ventilator. A nurse was making notes of his life signs. She nodded at me when I entered.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked immediately. “I was here yesterday and he seemed fine.”

“He’s had a massive stroke,” the nurse said. “We were trying a revolutionary type of therapy, using online realities. He collapsed while connected.”

“Which one did you use? Was it Real World?” Anticipation was crackling through my nerves.

The nurse nodded. “It was to try to get him out of his shut-in little world and experience something bigger. The doctor doesn’t think the stroke was directly related to the therapy; I don’t know.”

The nurse left a moment later and a doctor came in.

“Thank you for coming in so quickly, Mr. Sherwood. Your father had a stroke last night. This is the second one he has had, and much worse than the first. There was extensive damage and combined with his other chronic injuries, he may not have much time left.”

“The nurse said that you hooked him up to Real World,” I said. “Was he on public channels? Could he interact with other people?”

“No, of course not,” the doctor said. “The point of the therapy was to recreate an environment he was familiar with; it has been shown to help rehabilitate cases such as your father’s. We connected him to a blank world and he filled it in with his memories.”

“I know,” I said. “I visited my father yesterday, in Real World. He was camping by a lake. We canoed together. There was no invitation: I just found him.”

“I didn’t know that was possible,” the doctor said.

“Neither did I,” I said.

I stayed by my father for hours. I had always dreaded having to see him every month, but now I wanted to get back there—to go canoeing with him and to continue getting to know him as I never had in real life.

The doctor came in again at last and her expression told me everything before she even spoke. “There is very little hope,” she said. “His brain activity is shutting down and it looks like he won’t regain consciousness.”

“Would he still be able to communicate in Real World?” I asked. “If you hooked him back up?”

“Conceivably, yes, but there is no real point. We only did it as a form of therapy and he is past therapy now, I’m afraid.”

“Hook him up anyway, please,” I said. “I made contact with him before somehow and maybe I can do it again. I just want to say good-bye.”

“You can try, I suppose,” the doctor said. “It won’t hurt anything, at least.”

I went down to my car and hooked in to Real World there. The day before, I had made a quick-jump link to my 5th iteration dragon-world and in a moment, I was standing on the plain with the weirdly glowing purple and white sky over me.

I needed to find the white horse. “Hey, where are you?” I shouted. I flew up in the air, scanning the area for any sign of it. Then I saw it, galloping down from the high air above me. Without saying a word, I climbed on its back and again, it flew up, heading towards one of the countless millions of glowing spheres in the sky.

A moment later, and I was high above Forked Lake. The horse was descending and I could see my dad’s canoe pulled up on the shore and the tent pitched beside it.

He was lying in the tent and for a moment, I thought he was dead. But then, he opened his eyes and smiled at me.

“Jeremy, you came back. I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Dad, are you okay? How do you feel?” I ran to the tent and gave him a hug.

He laughed in surprise. “I’ll feel fantastic. Are you ready for another day of canoeing?”

“I’d love to,” I said, but inside, my heart was breaking. “First though, I want to say good-bye.”

“Good-bye?” He looked puzzled. “Where are you going? You just got here. I thought we were going canoeing.”

“We will go canoeing, Dad. I just wanted to tell you I love you.”

He looked at me steadily for a moment. “I love you too, son.” He smiled and then nodded. “Okay, let’s get packed up.”

We loaded the canoe and launched it into the still lake. The sun was bright but not hot as we paddled out. We had just reached the middle when my father stopped paddled. I looked back at him.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “Thank you for being here with me Jeremy. Thank you.” Then he bowed his head slowly and disappeared.

Reality flickered for a moment, then stabilized. With an aching sadness in my chest, I disconnected.

I went back upstairs to the hospital and met the doctor in the hallway. “I have some bad news,” she said. “Your father just passed away. I’m sorry.”

“I know,” I said. “I was there when he died.”

After I filled out paperwork and took care of my father’s funeral arrangements, I went home. I summoned Helper and we searched for a long time, but never found any reference to the white horse, or any other device that let you travel to another person’s world, uninvited. No one had heard of such a thing and most people protested that it sounded like a virus—an invasion of privacy—more than anything else.

About a week after my father died, I was climbing up to the top floor of my home base of Darktower when I glanced out the window into the pitch blackness beyond. I had never really thought about why I had made the land beyond in darkness except that I had liked the idea of my tower standing tall and isolated in an abyss. Now, however, I wondered what I would find if there was light outside. I pulled up a menu and set the sun to rise outside.

As soon as the sky began to turn pink in the distance, I gasped, then laughed. The sun rose slowly over a vast landscape of mountains and forests, but what shocked me was that the outer walls of my tower were clear, just like the Light Tower my father had built for me when I was young. As the sun climbed higher, I found myself standing in a crystal spire that towered high above the land. Had I planned to make it with clear walls like my Light Tower? I didn’t know, but it was comforting to know that even here in my home base, my father lived on.

Just as I reached the top floor of the tower, I looked out to see the white horse galloping over the hills towards my tower and I smiled.

The Horse Bridge, Part 3 of 4

Here is Part 3 of a story I wrote based on a picture drawn for me by my good blogging friend, Sorina at Chosen Voice. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. It is a science fiction story based on a world where people live inside multiple virtual reality worlds in a program called Real World. They create the first one and then the computer creates iterations of it to go deeper in realism and intensity.

copyright Sorina M

copyright Sorina M

The Horse Bridge, Part 3

I slid off the horse’s back but still didn’t take my father’s outstretched hand. “What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m making lunch,” he said. He turned back to the fire. “Sit down; it’s almost ready. Are you hungry?”

I sat down, still stunned. An iterative world should not contain anything that I had not put into previous iterations, and I definitely had not put my father into any of them.

“Where are we?” I asked after a moment.

“This is Forked Lake,” he said. “I came canoeing here with your mother before you were born. It is one of my favorite places in the world.”

I stood up and tried to fly up and look at the lake from the air, but I fell back down. “What’s wrong with the physics here? I can’t fly.”

My father laughed, a simple joyful sound I had never heard from him before, at least not in decades. “Have you ever been able to, Superman? Come on; sit down before you step in the fire.
I sat down and tried to figure out where I was. If this was the 5th iteration, I wasn’t sure I liked it. I suddenly could not change anything and the physics was messed up. It was like I was not in a computer anymore, but actually out in UX somewhere. The thought made me panicky.

Of course, that was impossible. I had just left my father, senile and frail in a nursing home and UX had no places like this left. I had never seen so many plants in one place. The air smelled clean and fresh and I found myself drinking in huge breaths and feeling refreshed.

My father served up the lunch and handed me a plate. “How long have you been here?” I asked.

“Just an hour or so. I came down the lake from the north fork this morning and decided to stop for lunch. I’m going to go as far as the rapids tonight. Do you want to join me? Canoeing is more fun with two people.”

“I’ve never been canoeing before.”

He nodded, almost as if he was expecting that answer. “We never got the chance to go as a family, did we? It was one of my regrets in life. I’m sorry, Jeremy.”

I nodded, awkwardly. I didn’t know if this was just some projection of my subconscious or if, by some miracle, I was actually speaking to my father at that moment.

We ate lunch. The taste experience was amazing; much better than 4th iteration, but I was relieved to feel that infinitesimal lag between eating and tasting and the subtle difference between tasting with the tongue and tasting with the mind. I was still in a computer program and that quieted some of my worry.

My father asked again if I would go canoeing with him and this time I accepted. We packed up and launched the canoe. The white horse was nowhere to be found now and when I asked him about it, he did not remember seeing it.

“Do you remember the glass palace I built for you when you were younger?” he asked. We were on the lake, paddling leisurely along the shore.

“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “What was it?”

“It was something, alright. Your mother was not much of a creator; that was more me, and you too. You were always drawing pictures of castles and fantastic places. So, I made you a castle that was all glass. Well, plexi-glass really, but it went up three stories, with a tower and a secret hideout at the top. You loved playing in it. You called it your Light Tower.”

“I almost remember it, now that you mention it,” I said. “I must have been pretty small. I didn’t know you built it though. What happened to it?”

“The environmental meltdown made it so you couldn’t play outside anymore,” he said. “It got to be too hot in the Light Tower. After treating a few of your bad sunburns, we rigged you up a cave in the basement instead.”

As we paddled along and the sun began to sink down into the lake behind us, I learned more and more about my father—things I had never known before; things I couldn’t have known, about when I was a baby and before I was born. He told me of hiking trips he had taken with my mother, where they would go into the wilderness and not see another person for a week or more.

We camped by a set of roaring rapids. My father made a fire and cooked supper for us as the sun died and its light was resurrected as millions of glowing stars that pricked the blackness above us. The smell of the wood smoke, the taste of the food cooked over an open fire—it was the best experience I had ever had in a computer world or out of one.

I woke up the next morning to find myself lying on the flat plain with the cloudy purple sky above me. It was the dragon-world, where I had first entered the 5th iteration, before the white horse had appeared. I went back to my home base tower of Darktower. Among the messages waiting for me was one from the Tall Maple nursing home. It read:

We are sorry to inform you that your father, Mr. Mason Sherwood, has become quite sick and may be in the last stages of life. Please come to the hospital as soon as possible.

For the second time in 24 hours, I put up my status as “UXing” and left my apartment to drive to the nursing home.


(to be concluded tomorrow)

The Horse Bridge, Part 2 of 4

Here is Part 2 of a story I wrote based on a picture drawn for me by my good blogging friend, Sorina at Chosen Voice. You can read Part 1 here. It is a science fiction story based on a world where people live inside multiple virtual reality worlds in a program called Real World. They create the first one and then the computer creates iterations of it to go deeper in realism and intensity.

copyright Sorina M

copyright Sorina M

The Horse Bridge, Part 2

I was ready to go into the 5th iteration of Real World, the deepest I had ever descended into a computer-generated world. At first, new iterations could only be reached from the ones right before it; in this case the 4th iteration. In the corner of my inner sanctum were a bunch of ropes hanging from the ceiling, each one a quick-jump link to a different world. I chose one of the 4th iteration ones and climbed up.

I climbed up into a vast cavern, filled with dragons. The walls glowed with pink phosphorescence. In this world, I had set the physics so that I could fly and the dragons respected me as an equal. I flew across the cavern while dragons stopped and saluted me with jets of flame. The tool to make a gate to the 5th iteration was in the form of a crystal bottle, with burning red liquid inside. I opened the bottle in mid-air and poured out a drop. It formed a glowing yellow orb that hung in the air like a miniature sun.

Before I entered, I pulled up a small menu in the air and selected Random Iterations. Every iteration enhanced and played off certain features of the previous one. If I wanted to, I could reiterate the dragons to make them more terrifying, more deadly, faster, anything. I could reiterate their reverence of me to make them worship me as a god.

That was where the danger of iterative computing lay—the computer could successively reiterate certain features to inhuman and dangerous levels. Many guys filled their home bases with beautiful women, then choose the iterations with even sexier women and more erotic fantasies. By the fourth iteration, the woman were like living goddesses: beautiful and sexual far beyond human limits. For some men, this was perfect, but for others, it destroyed them. It is not healthy to live in a world where you are a worm compared to all the other inhabitants; a tiny blemish on an otherwise flawless mural.

Other people went for darkness, choosing nightmare scenarios, and going for the darkest iterations until, deep enough down, the evil and sickness that they had purified through successive iterations drove them insane or to suicide.

When the settings were ready, I took a breath, and flew into the glowing orb.

I found myself on a flat, grassy plain with mountains in the far distance. The sky was overcast with clouds that twinkled with points of undulating light. Far away, a corona of purple hung over the hills.

For a moment, my senses were overwhelmed. It was not the otherworldly scenery, but instead just how real it felt. Real World had made amazing leaps in graphics and mood enhancers, but just like watching a movie in a theater, there had never been any doubt that it was a computer rendering. This, however, seemed like UX: for the first time, it felt like the real world outside.

I set off running and found that I could run at any speed. I jumped and then willed myself to jump further, which I did, rocketing a hundred feet in the air with each bound. Unlike other iterations, which had setup menus and parameter guides, the changes here were mind-controlled and instantaneous.

It was like a dream, I realized suddenly. I tried to change the landscape with my mind and the mountains rose up at my mental command. The clouds roiled and blazed with purple. I leaped into the air and started to fly, soaring over the landscape at the speed of a rocket. As I got higher, I saw that the entire world was on the back of a colossal dragon flying through an ether of milk and purple—the ridge of mountains was the ridge along its back and the plain was its hide.

I saw movement below me out of the corner of my eye. It was the white horse, galloping below me and matching my speed. Again I wondered if this was a feature of the 5th iteration, like another Helper, but I didn’t like it showing up uninvited. I mentally tried to change it into an elephant. Nothing happened.

I started to wonder if it was a virus or a glitch. I changed the land under it to ocean but the horse ran on, its hooves barely touching the surface of the water.

I flew down to its level until I was running along the surface of the water next to it. Abruptly, it stopped and looked at me. Purple light encircled its neck and its liquid eyes gazed steadily at me.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am a bridge,” it said. “I can take you places you cannot go on your own.”

“This is my world; I can go anywhere I want.”

“Not where I can bring you. If you want to try, then get on my back.”

This seemed like a waste of time, but I wanted to see what would happen. I climbed on and the aura of purple light surrounded me.

The horse took off running, the land sliding underneath it in one continuous blur. It launched itself into the air and kept running, treading the air with its pawing hooves and pulling itself higher and higher until the whole of the dragon-world was laid out below us. One of the glowing balls of light in the sky began to grow bigger and started swallowing up all the smaller lights around it. When the white light had filled the whole sky, a mist seemed to disperse in front of us and I saw a deep blue lake appear, surrounded by dark-green spruce trees.

The horse was descending now, aiming for one place on the shore where a tent was set up and a figure was cooking over a fire.

It was a man in his mid-thirties, dressed in a flannel shirt and khaki pants. He straightened up from the fire and smiled at me as I landed.

“Hello, Jeremy,” he said, holding out his hand. “You’ve got perfect timing. Come have some lunch.”

I stared at him. “Dad?”

(to be continued tomorrow)

The Horse Bridge, Part 1 of 4

A while back, my friend Sorina at Chosen Voice drew a picture for me and I promised to write a story for it. It took quite a while and since what I came up with was more a novel-length story than a short story, I had to restart it several times. As it was, I still had to break it into four installments. I will be posting them over the next four days so you won’t have to wait long to get the whole story.

I also wrote this as a tribute to fathers since it’s Father’s Day coming up on Sunday in some countries. This story is partially dedicated to my father, who is one of my best friends.

copyright Sorina M

copyright Sorina M

The Horse Bridge, Part 1

Yesterday was New Year’s Day, 2084, but I didn’t go out. No one goes out anymore, at least not when they can help it—out to that disturbing real outside where you’re not in control of anything and nothing is customizable. We call it “UX” in online speak, for “UnCustomizable Space.” In is the craze now—further and further in. That’s the challenge, the goal of life: to make your own digital world, and then move deeper, down to stronger and stranger realities.

They say that UX is the place of unavoidable necessities, the kind you don’t talk about—like using the bathroom or going to a doctor. So, that afternoon, when I had an unavoidable necessity to attend to, I simply told my friends that I was “UXing” and they didn’t ask the details. Everyone has unavoidable necessities that take them away from their real life.

I disconnected the inputs to the computer and pulled myself out of the chair with a groan. Two steps across my 10’x10’ apartment brought me from my input chair to the shower stall, where I washed off and dressed. Then my car drove me over to the Tall Maple nursing home.

When I opened the door to Room 406, the wispy-haired resident with blistered and scarred skin was sitting on the bed, staring towards the door. I forced a smile onto my face.

“Hi Dad,” I said. “How are you today?”

“Hi, Jeremy,” he said. “Is it raining out?”

“I don’t know, Dad. I took the car over—it’s all underground roadway.”

“Is it raining?”

“Yeah, it’s raining.” I didn’t know, or particularly care. “Happy birthday, Dad.”

“Is today my birthday? I thought I had one already.”

“You get one every year. You’re 45 this year.”

“45?” Abruptly, he began to cry, although I wasn’t sure if it was because he thought this was too old or too young. Or maybe he was crying just because. Honestly, I didn’t really care. They told me that my father was a hero for all the work he had done researching the environmental meltdown and finding ways to start reversing the effects. All I knew was that he had not really been my father for the last eleven years. I didn’t know him—had never known him well—and I was always glad when I could say good-bye and head back to my real life.

“What’s that, Jeremy?” he asked suddenly, pointing.

“That’s the door, Dad.”

“How do you use it?”

“You just put your finger to that button and it opens,” I said, then stopped. “Well, not for you.”

“I want to go out,” he said, and got up to lightly brush his finger over the door button. It didn’t open for him. “Do you think I could go hiking again someday? Maybe canoeing?” I never answered those questions when he asked them. “Why don’t you get out more, Jeremy? You look so pale.”

“Outside’s not much fun anymore, Dad—not the kind of place you want to go. I go in, deeper and deeper—”

I stopped when I saw his blank look. It was pointless trying to relate to him. Once, when I was feeling ambitious, I explained to my dad about the fractal nature of life programs like Real World, the one I used. I explained how you created your home base and then the computer created iterations of it, emphasizing some things, and expanding hints and implications of the home base. These resulted in hundreds and thousands of custom-made worlds that were often beyond the user’s wildest imaginations but perfectly suited to them. I explained all this and he seemed to understand, until I finished and he asked, “But why?” After that, I gave up. My dad would always view computers as tools for work and play, not places to live.

I stayed with Dad another hour, reminded the nurses that it was his birthday, then went down to my car. It hummed along the underground roadway on its own while I plugged in and went to Darktower, my home base. It was a massive tower, soaring thousands of feet over a midnight landscape. I made it so that the sun never rose and there were no stars or moon. Outside the windows, it was pure black, but inside the tower, it was cheery and bright.

I went into my hall of mirrors, to see if any of my friends were available. Rashid was there. The mirror showed a glimpse into his home base, which was in the middle of the sun. His avatar wore sunglasses all the time.

“’Sup, Baron?” Rashid said. He leaned back against a wall of roiling orange flame. “Did you hear the news from Real World?”

“I just got back from UX. What’s hot?”

“They released a 5th iteration,” Rashid said. “The creation software is totally new, they say. It’s a big secret how it works. I’m going down tonight. If I find anything amazing, I’ll send you a wormhole to come join me.”

“Which world are you going to iterate? You going to try another Miranda?” Rashid only nodded, a wicked grin on his face. He had around 30 iterations of Miranda, his computer-generated girlfriend. Each one had a slightly different personality, depending on his mood.

“You should introduce a girl too,” he said.

“Maybe later. I want to test it out first.”

I talked to Rashid a bit more, then picked up the 5th iteration upgrade from Package Depot. It looked like an egg and I threw it against the wall to start the update. Everything shimmered for a second, as it always did with large updates.

I started up the tower towards my inner sanctum at the very top. I could have installed a jump to get there instantly, but I liked to walk up the long, winding stairway and feel the distance increase below me.

I had gone halfway when something walked into view far below me on the ground floor. It was some sort of animal—large and white, with a purple corona around its neck. I snapped my fingers to summon the Universal Helper and it appeared next to me in the form of  a small dragon.

“What is that?” I asked, pointing at the animal below me.

“I’m sorry, Baron Darktower, what do you mean?”

“That animal-thing down there. What is it?”

“I don’t see any animal,” the Helper said.

“There, it’s walking away. Now it’s gone.” The Helper spread its small wings and flew out into the open space and then back. “Oh, you’re hopeless,” I said, and dismissed it.

When I got up to my sanctum, I got the Helper back and had him show me pictures of animals. Five minutes later, a picture came up. It had been a horse. I had never seen an actual horse, and only a few times even in Real Life. It must have come in with the upgrade, although the fact that the Helper could not see it worried me. I hoped it wasn’t a glitch.

(to be continued tomorrow)

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