by Jie Wang
I’m in. Deep, dark water everywhere, flowing through my nerves. It feels like the primitive ocean, the womb. My first memory of Ash emerges, like Aphrodite emerging from the foam. A hot summer day. The sun beats down on the schoolyard. The light in the air is quivering as though it’s about to explode. A high-pitched male voice on the school radio is talking about love for the State, chiselling the young skulls. I’m being suffocated by the waves of heat and noise, when Ash says, ‘Hi.’ He’s thin and shy, like fresh air. We are two survivors, washed up on an abandoned shore.
‘So, what do you think of the new sim-therapy?’ asks Sam.
‘It’s great. I can literally feel my body. What do you call it? Phantom limbs?’
‘Yes. But you know it’s not real. It’s just a way to help you find a sense of closure.’ says Sam.
‘Yes... but you told me once, if we can run a simulation like this, our “reality” is probably also a simulation.’
‘Then ... what’s the point? Travelling from sim to sim, dream to dream?’ says Sam. ‘I think it makes more sense to focus on this world, which might be real.’
‘I agree. But... iGenesis has Ash.’
The November sky, clear, crisp, tastes like mint. The vast empty square. ‘I hate it here.’ says Ash, ‘One day we will leave, to the sky, space. We will be space citizens.’
Ash is 17. I am 16. Our planet is being covered up with a thick spiderweb of government surveillance, while time is creeping under our feet, stealthily like cancer.
‘Space citizens.’ I open my eyes.
‘Sorry?’ asks Sam.
‘Space citizens. Ash used to talk about it all the time, when we were teenagers.’
‘Oh. How many years since he... Three?’
‘Perhaps it’s time to move on. Ash would want you to move on.’
‘I’m not sure about that.’
‘Hmm... have you ever considered... your affair with Chris is just a side effect of your depression?’
Chris. I haven’t thought of him for a long time. He’s a pretty boy, but that’s about it. For a while I’m obsessed with the thought that maybe without Chris, Ash would not have gone on that spaceship.
‘A side effect of my depression. That’s a nice way to put it.’ I look at Sam’s peaceful eyes, ‘But I don’t know if I can pin all my mistakes on my depression. I thought Chris would make me happy, but he didn’t. Nobody did. Like you said, the only person who can make me happy is me.’
iGenesis is like outer space. We emigrate there, grow in it, grow things in it. I am planting a magnolia tree. I can smell the blossom in iGenesis by just thinking about it. The scent to me is like the taste of madeleine to Proust. It makes me think of Ash. He is lying under the tree. White petals keep falling down like giant eyelids. His eyes are closed. He’s covered by a thousand eyelids.
‘Sam, if our world is a simulation, why did someone make it?’
‘To tell stories? To play video games?’ Sam chuckles.
‘Maybe. Maybe they are more depressed than we are.’
‘So our world is their iGenesis?’
‘Yes, and we are their memories, their lost ones. Maybe we are in Ash’s dream right now.’
‘We’ve talked about this,’ says Sam. ‘Acceptance is more helpful than denial. I hope you don’t get too obsessed with iGenesis. Some people became addicted and live in it now.’
‘I won’t. I don’t have an addictive personality.’
‘I hope so. I hope some day you’ll be free from iGenesis. It’s under government surveillance now. There are no human rights there.’
As if there are many human rights here. But I can’t say this out loud.
I imagine the sun, the moon, and millions of stars. Immediately they are all there. Ash is flying a spaceship among the stars, like a beetle in an orchard.
The spaceship is on fire. I put it in my palm. It turns into a piece of amber. In its centre is Ash, like a beetle.
‘It’s the rainy season. More patients now?’ I look out of the window.
‘Yes, more and more patients each year.’
‘Sam, my leg... it hurts badly because of the weather. Do you think I can enter iGenesis by myself now?’
‘Yes, I think you are ready. Just don’t get addicted.’
‘I won’t. Don’t worry.’
‘Let me give you the password, so you can use iGenesis at home.’
‘Thank you, Sam. You’ve been so kind to me all these years. I really wish I could make more progress.’
‘You’ve made amazing progress. I’m really proud of you.’ Sam smiles. ‘The best of luck with your life.’
‘Ash, do you miss the birds?’ I look up at the government drones with cameras in the sky.
‘Why do we find birds poetic?’
‘Because they can fly?’ says Ash.
‘Maybe one day we’ll find drones poetic, given enough time.’
‘That won’t happen.’ Ash is slightly angry.
‘But ancient people would find heavy metal music hideous. Art is such an arbitrary thing.’
‘Yes, but there are things that are not arbitrary.’
I’m putting the final touches to my creation. A scar on Ash’s face, a mole on his hand. Some people alter their loved ones in iGenesis, making them sexier, sweeter, smarter. I want Ash to keep all his flaws. They are like birthmarks. Birthmarks of a program, however ironic they sound, they keep me from waking up.
But sometimes I don’t even remember Ash’s face clearly. This Ash I invented in iGenesis, how accurate can he be? This is all we are left with in the end, bits and pieces, a small sample of our loved ones.
I perform private rituals. I touch imitation wood to avoid tempting fate, I triple-check the door before sleep, I say ‘good night’ to the empty side of the bed every night.
I know it’s irrational, but after doing these, I feel that everything is going to be all right.
It’s like ancient times, when people sang songs to bless the ships that were going down to the sea.
Seven sessions, seven songs. Seven is a lucky number. Time to start the journey.
For the last time I look outside the window. The drones are wheeling overhead like vultures. They dominate the sky, reaching as far as the ends of the earth where people don’t even have electricity.
I close the curtains. I take the peaceful pill and enter iGenesis. I hear Sam’s voice: sim to sim, dream to dream.
There are many programs like me in iGenesis. The government call us ‘parasites’. Eventually we will all be wiped out.
But Ash is there, smiling.
Copyright © 2020 by Jie Wang