Please note: this is a work of fiction. It has been crafted by the author and is not a direct opinion from AHS.
I knew it was over the minute he pressed the “on” button. All of the memories, the little moments, the laughs that really mattered, all gone with a twitch, a buzz, and a satisfying “ping!” sound that has since been etched deep into my soul. He had promised me that it wasn’t a big deal. That he wouldn’t get sucked in like all of the other kids. He had looked me straight in the eye before giving me that hug I now missed more than anything. That promise was broken on day one. Day one… and he hasn’t said a word to me since.
It’s been 254 days.
My morning routine is simple, like a to-the-point speech written by a no-nonsense drill sergeant. I wake up at 6:00 AM. I lie in bed for five minutes before swinging my legs over the edge of the memory foam mattress with the most enthusiasm I can muster. I stand up, walk to the bathroom, and brush my teeth. I shower for three minutes, just long enough to steam up the glass. I dry off, put on a nice looking pair of clothes and off I go to the kitchen. The time is exactly 6:15 AM. This would’ve been the part where I wake up Andrew, who was never much of an early riser. I would tiptoe into his room, making sure not to disturb him prematurely. With a flick of my wrist, all of the lights would flutter on, startling him enough to fall out of his bed. I would laugh as he scrambled to stand up.
“Why do you always have to do that?” he would ask as he regained his bearings.
I just shook my head and replied, “Never gets old. Early bird gets the worm!”
“What do you want for breakfast?”
“Other than worms?”
“Unless that’s what you want.”
“No thanks. I’m in a pancake mood.”
“Sure thing! Nothing like a feast of sugar and carbs to wake you up in the morning!” I would tease sarcastically.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. When was the last time we had pancakes anyway? You’re always in a hurry to get to work!”
“Hey now! If I don’t work, I can’t pay for your college tuition rates. Have you seen what they’re like nowadays?”
“Yeah I know. They’re ridiculous,” he would shrug and then laugh. “Don’t worry Dad. With the grades I’ve got, I’ll get a full ride.”
I’d laugh too. “I’m counting on it! That dream house in Alaska isn’t paying for itself!” Our chatter back and forth would always light up my morning. It was as if, just for a moment, we were the only two people in the whole world.
The time is 6:37 AM. I eat my breakfast of pancakes in silence.
I look down upon the hustle and bustle of downtown Denver in awe. Despite seeing this view almost everyday at the office, it never ceases to amaze me how much the city has changed. Back when I was a teenager, my parents had moved us out here from a small town called Galena, which was a rural community out near the Maryland/Delaware border. The sheer change from farmland to skyscrapers had caught me off guard. I was used to the comforting emptiness of open skies and lonely fields, so the sudden onslaught of rush hour traffic and flashing lights both fascinated and terrified me. This world was so much bigger than I could have ever imagined. If only my parents could see what this urban landscape had now become. Where coffee shops and clothing stores had once been, gigantic screens and other attractions now stood. Skyscrapers loomed above the bright streets, reaching as many as 200 stories tall. Self-driving cabs whizzed up and down the bustling roads, zipping around and around, delivering impatient business men and women to their desired locations. Everything below me moves like one big machine, twisting and changing and evolving. All about the destination; never about the journey.
I sigh and back away from the window. One of my coworkers, Steven, shuffles up behind me. “How was your weekend?”
“Alright. What about you?”
“Pretty fun. My wife and I went up to ski on Saturday. She’s actually getting pretty good!” I laugh.
“Just let me know when you wanna start getting competitive. I still have a pair of old GS skis from a few years back. I might be a little rusty though.” Steven shrugs.
“Never too late to get back into it. Now that the world has achieved net zero and all, the climate should start repairing itself, right? I hear that by 2090, we’ll be back to at least 100 inches of real snow per season!”
“I don’t think the climate just “repairs” itself like that, but being optimistic is fine,” I look back towards the clock. 8:45.
“How’s Andrew?” My heart sank a little at the question.
“He’s fine.” Steven doesn’t seem satisfied with this answer.
“What do you mean? He’s still not talking to you?” I turn away and massage the back of my head.
“Yeah,” I sigh heavily. “How about Ben?”
Steven snorts. “That kid’s about as social as a wooden board. I’ll be damned if he ever says more than two words to me.”
“Be grateful that he speaks at all. Andrew just ignores my existence all together. I guess I’m kind of a crappy father anyway,” I lean against the wall behind me. Steven pats my shoulder.
“Don’t beat yourself up about it man. You’re not a bad father. It’s just…” he starts to walk away before turning back and facing me. “It’s just the kids these days, am I right?” He laughs. I just nod and stare at the clock. 8:47.
The world around me moves too damn fast. I’m stuck in this endless loop of sleep, work, home, sleep, work, home. The cyclone goes round and round and I am stuck in the eye of the storm. I do what is required of me and then I take care of myself. I eat, I drink, I watch some TV, I read a little news, and then I sleep. That’s it. That’s my life now. Andrew comes out of his den every once in a while to eat a little and guzzle up on water before trudging back to his room. I wonder if he knows what he’s doing to me, the torture of being ignored, of being rejected for no reason other than the fact that you are no longer important or relevant. I wonder if he knows, and if he does, I wonder if he cares.
When you’re a kid, you have your whole life ahead of you. Nothing you do really matters in the grand scheme of things, and so you’re free. Free of the madness that encompasses this world. Free of stupidity and war and hatred. At least I was. Maybe I just got lucky.
I tried to give Andrew the love and respect I had gotten. I wanted him to grow up in a world where he believed anything was possible. I had been naive when I was his age, but I had liked my dreams and goals for the future, no matter how crazy or ridiculous they were. When I was really young, I had wanted to be a firefighter. Classic first grader, that was me. When I got older, I had gotten into business and advertising. That was a little more realistic. I majored in Marketing Management and Research before heading off to college. I had been so hopeful. I was convinced that the world was awesome and big, and that I was going to have a great life. And I did, for a while. But now I see the punchline. The whole universe is laughing, laughing at me and my whole stupid species.
Maybe we did our jobs a little too well. When I graduated from the University Of Pennsylvania, I immediately started looking for opportunities that would satisfy my big plans for life. I managed to land a dream job working for OptionsCity in 2031, a huge software company working to provide advanced analytics and future city plans. That’s how it began anyway. Over the past few years, we have evolved. The company has now grown into something I no longer recognize. In 2035, we were rebranded, new logo, new name, new everything. Our mission changed. No longer were we supposed to help other companies change the future, we were the future. We took what people wanted and made it a reality. We connected with scientists and other tech groups, working together to crack the human mind. Psychology had always been the name of the game in business, but this was different. No more stupid consumer surveys sent through email. No more guessing and hoping. By using software, VR, and other virtual platforms, we created a new world. A better world. NewUrbanX. In the end, it sounded more like a space colonizing program than a business modeling platform.
Over the past two decades, the world has evolved into one big glowing orb of technology. Everything is online. Shopping, food delivery and ordering, and everything else. There’s no more need for physical cafes or stores. After all, why have the real thing when VR is just as good? Granted, I still enjoy some physical activities. A couple of my coworkers ski, others go on hikes, and so on. But they always seem to do it out of necessity more than anything. If we didn’t go and do something with our lives, we would’ve all gone crazy long ago. Our minds just don’t seem to link up with the new world.
In 2058, the effects of climate change have been reversed.
Pollution is practically nonexistent.
The world is more divided than ever.
The human population has skyrocketed to the point where mandatory migrations to Mars are essential.
Humans are losing the mental capacity for empathy and kindness.
In 2058, I have been left behind, along with everyone else born before The Update.
Our future isn’t a dystopia. There’s no apocalyptic plague or nuclear war. In my eyes, we’ve just grown too big, too fast, and too powerful as a species. Our existence is dominated by technology. Some call it evolution. Others call it insanity. Maybe it’s both.
I don’t have a Link like my son does. Andrew got his when he turned 13. I let him have one after Audrey died. He had seemed so lost, so disconnected from the world. He only had a couple friends, and even they were Linked up. The Update had changed everything. No more devices, no more clunky iPhones or tablets. The human mind could now directly access the internet and every virtual platform available with the push of a button. Located behind your left (or right) ear, this “Link” used a more advanced version of Bluetooth called LinkUp, which could project anything you wanted directly into your brain. The entire world was now in your head.
People immediately began questioning safety. Could there be negative effects on the mind? Could it cause cancer or tumor growth? Could it damage the brain? Would it cause seizures or other problems? After 20 years of use, no issues have been detected. The technology is supposedly 100% safe.
Yet, despite the fact that it’s “safe”, I now wonder what that word means. Does it mean it won’t hurt you physically? Does it mean it’s good for you? The actual word “safe” is about as helpful as a broken Link. It does nothing but reassure us that nothing bad can happen. But something bad has happened. Andrew was once my pride and joy. He loved me and I loved him.
I loved him.
I loved him.
I loved him.
No. Stop thinking like that. How dare you. What would Audrey say?
I still love him.
I love him.
I love him so goddamn much, I want to scream. He’s my son and now they’ve taken him from me. They’ve taken him away and I want to scream. I want to scream, but no one will hear me. No one can hear me because the world doesn’t want to hear me. It doesn’t care.
The seats of the self-driving cab are soft and falsely comforting. The glow of the lights outside call me to look out into the world, but my eyes never move towards the window. I just stare blankly ahead. The screens on the back of the seat in front of me blast their useless messages in my face. More news, more ads, more promotions, more trash no one truly cares about. It’s just there. I check my watch for the thousandth time that day. 6:11 PM.
“We will be arriving shortly,” the car speaks in a calm, yet strangely detached voice. No matter how human they try to make it sound, the augmented voices have always been off.
“Alrighty Jason, pull us up nice and quiet into the driveway. How’s Andrew doing on his assignments?”
“Andrew is currently Linked in. He is playing Halo Genesis with friends Riley, Ian, and-”
“That’s not what I asked you. How is he doing with his assignments from school?” The car takes a second to respond.
“Andrew currently has 19 missing assignments. He has two F’s in Math-related and History-related courses. He also has a D in English-related course, a C- in Physical Education related course, a B+ in Science-related course, and two A’s in Spanish-related and Coding-related courses.” I sigh. If he would just talk to me, I could help him. I wanted to so badly, but I couldn’t.
A month ago, I had lost it. It had been on day 223 and Andrew’s first semester report card had come in. As I looked over it, I realized what I had to do. With 4 F’s, a couple of D’s, and one A- (in coding of course), the reality of the situation hit me like a glitchy e-Cab.
I remember waiting for him to come out at the dinner table. After around 45 minutes, the bedroom door creaked open and Andrew came stumbling out. He drank some water, grabbed a protein bar, and didn’t even stop to look at me.
“Andrew,” I called out as he turned away to go back to his den. He couldn’t hear me and if he did, he didn’t stop. So I broke.
“Andrew! Don’t you dare turn your back on me! Turn around! Turn around goddamn it!” I screamed, kicking back the chair I had been sitting on. It smashed against the floor. Andrew stopped. I was shaking. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to apologize or cry or scream or just throw myself to the ground. My heart had been ripped out and crushed. I couldn’t keep it in. I just couldn’t.
“Just say something to me. Please Andrew. I need you. You’re my son and I don’t want to lose you,” I was sobbing at this point. I remember his gaze. His cold, hard, disconnected gaze. It was like he was looking straight through me. I begged. I pleaded. I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
“Look at me, Andrew! Please, just say something!” My cries were met with nothing but a cruel stare and an unflinching face. After about a second or two, he blinked, spun around, and headed back into his room without saying a word. When the door clicked shut behind him, I collapsed.
There was silence for a long time.
I didn’t try to talk to him after that. I have accepted our current relationship as permanent. After I walk inside, the lights flutter on with a vibrant glow. The house chimes its little tune when it senses my presence.
“Hello Joshua. How are you this evening? Would you like to order something to eat?” The supposedly soothing voice simply pisses me off more than I already am.
“Shut up. I’ll order something later.” With that, the house is quiet. I fall back into the recliner and put my feet up, massaging my achy neck. I am a failure. My son is a wreck. I am helpless to do anything about it and no one will help me. When I called the therapist to see if they could bring Andrew back to me, they just made up some bs excuse about how it wasn’t “their issue” and that “it wasn’t a part of their field”. So I called a tech operative. They basically just told me to screw off. I called everyone I could think of. I offered money. I offered one physciatrist 50,000 dollars to help Andrew. They just told me “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you,” and hung up. I have been defeated.
Maybe this is it. Maybe this is humanity’s last leg of evolution before being fully integrated into the virtual world. It’s a bit of a sad thought, the idea that, in another fifty years or so, humanity will be defined by a bunch of blips and bloops. But maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe once we’re confined to a bunch of computers, the world can finally heal from the hell we’ve caused.
It’s been 328 days since William last talked to me and I can’t take it anymore. I have to do something drastic. At 7 am, I climb into my car and instruct “Jason” (my son named it after Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies) to drive me over to the nearest Link Portal. Link Portals are these little workshop rooms where a group of tech geniuses (cause we have plenty of those nowadays) implant a Link into your brain. Ten years ago, when the stupid things were invented, I had sworn to myself never to get one. Now, I had no choice.
“Alright sir, this’ll be over in no time. Any brain injuries or diseases we should be concerned about?” I shook my head. “We need a verbal confirmation before we can begin.”
“No.” I sigh. What the hell am I doing? It’s not too late to back out. Then I feel sick.
“This isn’t about you, it’s about Andrew,” I yell at myself in my mind. “Keep it together.”
I don’t remember much after that. My first memory following the experience was the feeling of soft fabric underneath my fingertips. No. Not fabric. Something’s wrong. I sit up, blinking my eyes, which feel dry, like I’ve been staring at a screen for hours. But I see nothing. It’s just me in a bed. No room, no world around me. Just darkness.
“Mr. Harris, can you confirm your Link is working?” the voice comes out of nowhere, startling me and I grip the sheets that aren’t real. Why does it feel so real?
“Where am I? What the hell is this? What have you done to me?” my voice comes out raspy and hoarse. It doesn’t even sound human. This is all wrong.
“You have been Linked in. You are probably feeling disoriented. Would you like a glass of water?” Out of the darkness, a small glass of water floats towards me. I jump out of the bed and back away.
“Just give it to me normally! Quit the crap and stop messing with me!” My body isn’t moving right. Nothing here is right. This is all wrong. A wooden picnic table appears in front of me and the glass lands gently on top of it. Everything is quiet for several exhausting moments.
“Mr. Harris? Can you confirm you’re okay? I’m going to be joining with you shortly,” the voice drifts from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. My brain can’t comprehend this. I can’t comprehend this.
“Mr. Harris?” The voice seems to be getting agitated. I stand up and clear my throat.
“I’m here. I’m okay,” I shake uncontrollably. This is it. I have a Link. Just as I begin to catch my bearings, a young man appears in front of me, sitting at the picnic table. I stumble back, eyes wide.
“Wha-” I look around. “Where did you-?”
“I understand that this is a new experience for you. It takes some time for the Link to cement itself in your mind,” The man waves his hand and a mug full of black liquid appears on the table. He picks it up, inhaling deeply. “The coffee is pretty good. Would you like some?” He waves his hand again and another mug appears. He offers it to me. After a brief pause, I take it tentatively.
“So how does this work?” I ask, taking a small sip. The man’s right. It is good coffee.
“How about we get a little more comfortable? Having a Link gives you endless possibilities, but endless possibilities is a hard concept to fully grasp. It’ll take awhile to break down the basics for you.” With another gesture, the man conjures up a small table and two comfy looking office chairs. He stands and the picnic table disappears into nothing. Then, he looks at me with an expression of both curiosity and artificial wisdom. I feel uneasy.
“So, what now?” I ask. The man laughs.
“How about you take a seat Mr. Harris. We have some things to discuss…”
End of Part One