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Dear Past: Thank You For Our Future
He felt safe. He was surrounded by silence; the only notion of a sound coming from his low, deep breaths, and that – if anything – gave him more comfort. He was completely alone, away from the chaotic routines of the outside, the glimmer of the ‘new world’, and the constant necessity to move ‘forward’. Of course he was being slightly hypocritical. He was in the one true place where society, and the human race, had truly advanced the furthest and for him to find solace in such a place – a place so comparable to the outside – made his feelings feel small and false.
He looked at the large gold plaque that was sprawled across the wall directly in front of him. It was embodied with big yellow letters which read: To the past, whom we thank for our future.
It was big and took up much of the wall, yet it looked small. It looked small because it looked so prehistoric, because it was void of the eerie glow the rest of the room possessed, and because it seemed so insignificant, its purpose lacking any pretence at all. He, in all respects, adored that gold plaque, and perhaps – he wondered – it was one the thing that made him feel so safe – so safe because it was the only thing disconnected from the outside world.
He let his eyes wander throughout the rest of the room. The wall in front of him moved up for a hundred feet or so wherein it turned into the roof, expanding another hundred feet upwards in a dome-like shape. It was vast and majestic, with countless paintings scrolling and flashing across the ceiling. It was like a cathedral from the old days, one that was just extremely updated with technology. Below the gold plaque was a large screen, and below that a number of different smaller screens with various different buttons and other attached devices. However the most prominent part of this dome room was the silver door to his right. It shot upwards, almost touching the beginning of the roof, and had the width of almost a quarter of the wall. It glowed in the silent darkness of the room, a silver glow, one that seemed to have a voice, urging one forwards into its depths and mysteries; and that’s where he would be going today, into its magical world.
This place usually was bustling with people. Thousands would come through it daily, each one entering the silver door by themselves or with others, each one travelling. Traveling to what? Most didn’t want to spill that secret, because most we’re either embarrassed, or protective of some new place they had found.
He approached the panel of screens and placed his hand on the largest one. It instantly lit up. As the white light of it approached his eyelids, a voice echoed inside of him.
“You know one day there is going to be consequences for what you do.”
He shook his head, trying to rid those words from his mind. They had some foretelling reasoning behind them, one that scarred him.
He looked back at the lit up panel. Its interface had loaded, waiting for his action.
It showed the following:
10 Digit Password:
Note: If all three are not correct on first try, a lockdown will proceed.
He had done this so many times that it had become a habit, something he could do, as they say, with his eyes closed.
Within seconds he was finished, the interface now showing:
10 Digit Password: **********
Fingerprint Scan: Complete.
Transaction complete. Please proceed to the set up page.
The set up page showed a list of his favourite ‘events’, as they named it. He liked to think of them, however, as different worlds. He thought of them as a place where he could get lost in, a place he could control, a place where he – at times – felt like a god. He knew exactly where he would go tonight. He would go to the event – the world – where he had gone a thousand times; he would go to the one place he had truly mastered, the one place where he knew nothing could go wrong, the one place he knew everything that could go right.
He finished at the panel, and walked over to the large, silver door. It still loomed ominously, still glowing oddly. He approached it and –
“Really, Tunis, you we’re going to do this without me?”
Tunis turned, inches from the door. With his best effort to sound displeased, he said, “I want to do this alone, Lilly.”
She hastily walked over to the array of panels. A grin had inched its away across her face.
“Really, Tuns,” she said strongly, before adding, in a sweeter voice, “I think we both know that you want me here with you. After all you do love me.”
Tunis smiled. “That is true, but you know what happens when you come with me,” he said teasingly. “You always waste so much –“
“What,” Lilly intervened, “because I want to kiss you so
much and have you all to my self.”
Tunis blushed. “Well, yeah, I mean… I like it… its just that… okay fine, hurry up and get over here.”
Lilly smiled, her apparent pleasure of her latest victory shining off her face. Tunis watched as she entered her username, password, and fingerprint. When she was done she turned towards Tunis and asked: “I assume you’re doing your favourite?”
Tunis nodded. “Event Titanic 001, that’s right.”
“Of course you would love the hardest one,” she noted swiftly, finishing up at the panel and walking over to Tunis. She reached him and grabbed his hand, the warmth of it instantly echoing throughout the rest of his body. If he hadn’t felt safe and content before, he did now.
“How many away are you from perfection?” Lilly asked, taking the lead and approaching the door.
“Two away, and I know how to save those, as well. This will be the one.”
“And after this you promise you won’t come here anymore…at least this late at night?”
Tunis thought about this for a moment. Lilly had a look of concern on her face and finally he nodded and said, “Yes I’ll spend more time with you.”
She smiled and, with one vibrant pull, led the way into the silver door – into the mysterious world where one could become lost in.
It wasn’t like walking through a door into another world. It was, instead, like being thrown – being physically torn and twisted – into another existence. At least that’s what it felt like. The moment the door was shut behind them, the whole room, which was a small compartment, would turn black. After that a white light would emerge from above, spreading across the walls until the whole room had become the color. A flash, and then the transfer would begin.
It wasn’t time travelling. No, that was deemed impossible. But to make the world so real, to make the ‘event’ feel so real, it had to be created in another place. It had to be created in another world – in another dimension. So when the silver door closed, and the white light spread across the room, one had to be ready for what came next. It was a convulsion of colours, a screaming of noise, a euphoria of feelings.
It was absolution of life thrust into that void of existence.
Their bodies would twist and turn, their internal organs shifting and moving, their brains filtering and understanding, and their capacity for knowledge expanding and shrinking.
One would call it invigorating.
One may call it terrifying.
But all would call it life rejuvenating.
The white light would subside, the blackness once again would fall, and the silver door would slide silently open.
Titanic 001 was the first event created, and it was also the hardest to ‘win’. Because that’s what the goal of these worlds was – to win them. It was the new age of video games, an age that had surpassed virtual reality and created more reality, and an age where – in some regard – your actions did matter. All the events that were created were from some kind of natural disaster, human tragedy, or any other kind of heartfelt loss of human life. The goal, when one entered a world, was to finish with no lives being lost – to change the outcome of what happened, and to save human lives. If you could do that then you would be called a winner, and to be a winner of this game was like becoming a god.
Fifty-nine events had created, and fifty-eight winners had been crowned. The only one left – the one that had been named impossible – was the first one, the one Tunis and Lilly had entered now, the one where Tunis had finally found a way to win. And to win was to become a god, to become a hero of legend, to become a figure of authority.
And it was fitting that the disaster that was Titanic was the first event created. It was a disaster that had become embedded in the minds of everyday society, continually reinforced through big-budget productions, holographic realisms, and countless books and stories. To be given the chance to save the fated ship had become an instant hit – and an instant failure. No matter how hard anyone tried they were never able to save every soul on the ship. People had come close, of course. Tunis himself had made it to two lost people and many had made it below the ten mark. Still, other then Tunis himself, very few people concerned themselves with the first event anymore, instead focusing on the new ‘advanced’ and more ‘realistic’ ones that were being made like clockwork.
He didn’t care. Today all that was about to change.
The transfer was different this time. It was a slight difference, something that could only be noticed by someone who had done it a thousand times, but still – it was a difference. There had been the usual clashing and twisting of the body, the change of color, and the sharp awareness that lodged itself in the brain; however, this time, there had been something else added. It was a feeling of passing through fluid, the feeling one receives when diving into a calm lake, the only movement around the fluttering of feet, or stroking of hands. It was the feeling of breaking a peace that wasn’t supposed to be touched. It felt like trespassing.
But that feeling had only lasted a moment, and before long the transfer had completed and the silver door was opening correctly. Tunis looked to his side out of habit. Lilly had appropriately disappeared, traveling to her own, personal start point of the event. Although they were both participating in the same event, they were very much on their own, playing out in their own distinctive ‘reality’. They could see each other, but only in way someone can see a ghost, from a wide eyed distance that seems untrue.
He took in a deep breath and tried to relax. He knew he could go through the majority of the event with his eyes closed; he had done it so many times that it had become just an exotic habit to him, something that was part of his very existence. It wouldn’t be until the final section, when he had to save those final two, that his skill and will power would truly be tested. It excited him in a way that he had long forgotten, a child’s sort of excitement, one that can’t really be explained or ignored. Perhaps it was because he was on the verge of something new, he thought. Maybe he was about to grow up.
He reached the entrance of the door, its silver light echoing up on to his pale face. He glanced around the room once more and took one more deep breath. Then with the confidence and exuberance of some master of work, he stepped through the door and onto the grand ship called the Titanic.
It wasn’t like waking. It was more like a sudden awareness that you were awake, like you had been staring blankly into the universe for all time previous. Tunis, in retrospect, loved this part. He always felt like he had just had the best sleep of his life, giving him a feeling of immense energy and of full knowing, like he was some kind of god.
He looked around at the room he was now in. A dull light hung ruefully from the roof, its weak glow casting shadows on the walls. Two beds lay opposite each other, Tunis on the one, the other one being empty. Except for a small table and chair the rest of the room was barren and, Tunis noted, slightly depressing. It felt like home to him.
He looked at his watch. In twenty seconds his roommate would walk through the door. He would look dishevelled and upset, his long black hair messy, and his eyes red with anger and tears. He would walk into the room, avoid eye contact with Tunis, and go directly to his bed. This would be Tunis’s first ‘save’, and would eventually lead to many more of them.
Twenty seconds later, right on schedule, the door swung violently open, and Tunis’s roommate, John stormed in. His head was down, half covered by his dark hair, and his eyes – which peaked through strands of hair – were a dark red.
Am I ever wrong? Tunis thought cheerfully to himself.
John pounced onto his bed, quickly gathering the covers and hiding himself under them. Tunis knew that this next sequence could be done in many different ways - he had even spent hours one time solving it – but he had to follow the most quick and efficient one if he wanted to win the game.
Tunis quickly got out of the bed and walked swiftly over to the door. He paused and counted three seconds. He reached for the doorknob and –
“I hate her.”
Tunis smiled shrewdly and with his back still turned to John, said: “No you don’t, John. You love her.” He kept his back turned, the smile still holding its place. He knew that the comment had ignited even more anger in John, and correctly so. It was all part of the ‘game’ plan.
“I,” John began in a slow, wavering voice, “do…not… love her!” He, in a complete anger, rose from his bed, thrusting his beddings to the floor in the process. As he walked over to Tunis he, in anger, said: “I hate how she walks, how she talks, how she ridicules me, how she looks at me, how she… how she… ,” he paused, a sudden revelation starting to invoke on him.
Tunis turned towards him slowly. “I think, John, it is the reasons you just listed that you love her so much,” he said simply. Before John could yell a reply, Tunis had rotated around and left the room.
He knew that John would stomp around his room for another twenty minutes or so, wallowing in his self-pity, but he would not do what he was supposed to do – he would not kill himself. Instead – perhaps not any notably better – would leave his room in a rage, cursing down the hallways until he was captured by the boat security. This in-turn would result in the Titanic calling the nearest ship to come and meet them at their destination, wherein they could take him back to his homeland. And this made Tunis smile the most. This small act of setting John off would inadvertently cause the nearest ship, the Carpathia, to change its course slightly, causing it to move closer to the Titanic; therefore when the ship hit the iceberg it would be forty-five minutes closer than it was supposed to be.
The obstacle of the iceberg had always been the one most closely scrutinized, many of the players of the game focusing their efforts on the removal of it, and it – was quickly found – was the one variable that could not be changed. No matter what you did, no matter what incredible action you appointed yourself to, you could never stop the mighty Titanic from hitting the large piece of ice. Tunis, in his shrewdness, had found that early and had instead focused himself on the one other thing that had made the disaster so severe – the unavailability of lifeboats, and the distance of the nearest ship. He had solved the second one fairly easily.
He approached the end of his hallway, entered the elevator, and motioned to the clerk to take him to the bottom deck (he was already near the bottom, being in the third-class sector and all). He liked these elevator trips – they were long and peaceful – and gave him time to think. He had explored the Titanic on numerous occasions on his trips to this hidden world, and he had enjoyed every minute of it. He loved the mix of grandeur and lower class, the mixtures of different cultures and people, the individual features of a time period long forgotten, but most of all he loved atmosphere; he loved how it began so calm, majestic and enjoyable and how it changed into one that chaotic, deathly and terrifying. A lot could be learned on the decks of the ill-fated ship.
The elevator clunked to the ground, and the clerk swiftly moved his arm to open its gate.
“Have a good evening, sir,” he said casually. Tunis smiled at him. He would save his life tonight.
The hallway was busier then the one he had come from. A dozen people or so walked the hallways, some just standing outside their rooms, mingling with other passengers. Their clothes were poor and sparse, dishevelled and weak, but they all had one thing in common: a smile. They were on, at least in the current time period, the greatest and grandest ship of all time.
Tunis smiled again – he would save their lives as well. He would able to make the smile on their faces last, at least for a little longer.
“Mommy, I saw some a lady in nice clothes today.” The little boys voice, squeaky and true, echoed through the hall. Tunis knew this conversation by heart. He always enjoyed it.
The mother, who was standing outside one of the rooms, responded: “You did honey? What did she look like?”
“She had a beautiful white dress on, a gold headband and long red hair. And, Mommy… she was on our deck!”
“Well then… that is special. Did you talk to her?”
The boys face flushed. He answered embarrassingly: “No I thought that she might not like me.”
At this point Tunis had reached the mother and son. He slowed before them, reaching into his pocket as he did so.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said fluently. “But a young lady from first class told me to give you this.” He held out a large, gold headband to the little boy. A look of shocked awe had erupted on both their faces and, without another word, Tunis carried on past them down the hallway.
A couple metres away he heard the boy exclaim: “Mommy… this was her headband!”
Of course Tunis had no need to do that because, one: take the time to find a stock of gold headbands from his world, and two: because it didn’t aid him in any way to win the game. He just didn’t it out of the goodness of his heart, he told himself. Even though he knew he loved the exclamation of joy the little boy exulted after he received the headband. It was his guilty pleasure, he mused.
The light dimmed as he reached the end of the hallway, the cheap lights beginning to fail in the grim conditions. He took a left, then another left, where he reached a small door. He ducked down, and entered the door. He was now in a small compartment, smaller than his room, with one small lantern lighting it. In the centre of the room laying flat on the ground was a panel, and on the panel a small, horizontal latch. A small amount of dust had already piled up on it, which was ironic – Tunis thought – because it led to the one place where dust could not survive.
Tunis gingerly walked over to the panel and swung the latch towards him. It opened appropriately, a rush of heated steam rushing up to meet him. He could already hear the grunts and cries of the men; he could already hear the cling and clang of coal being pounded into the flames. As much as he liked helping the little boy, he dreaded this part. He hated going down into the machinery, into the place that made all the wheels turn, and witness how poor the conditions were and how – in contrast to the conditions – how strong, and pure-spirited the men were. To see the sweat drip off them, and to see the amount of determination in their faces both scared him and humanized him.
He quickly climbed down the latter, the heat from the flames slowly intensifying as he moved down. With the journey down allowing him another opportunity to think, he thought of Lilly. He wondered where she was, what her technique of the game was, and if she was succeeding as much as she hoped. He didn’t like to say it, but he did love her. She was the one person, the one thing, which kept him grounded in the outside world; because, he knew deep down, he was happiest when he was in one of these worlds, trying to solve its problems. If not for her – well – he would probably become lost in one of them, forever oblivious to the true reality that tarnished him.
“Hey! You can’t be down here! What are you doing?”
Right on cue the voice of a large man cut into his thought. Tunis knew who he was – he had, on one occasion, got to know the man. He was a tall, Irish, man who had joined the crew in hoping to find a better paid job over in America. He had a thick black beard, and a strong voice which his fellow crew admired. Tunis admired him too; however in the current situation he didn’t have time too.
“Hey, you! Where do you think you’re going?!” the man yelled again over the roar of the flames and other men. Tunis, unable to turn and reply, had already moved twenty metres down the hallway. His destination would be one of the smaller compartments near the end. The heat was beginning to scorch him, and he wondered how the men down here, working day in and day out, were able to survive.
I wonder how many times I’ve thought this, he thought oddly.
He reached the compartment, entering hastily, and welcoming the cold rush of air it exulted.
This was the key part of the game.
This was the place where the iceberg first struck, and this, he had found, was the one true place where he could do the most fixing. No one else had found this solution, at least he thought. The problem was, when the iceberg struck, that it cut into too many of the bottom compartments, causing the water to spill over into five compartments(which was above the mathematical max) and it therefore caused a chain reaction. The water kept on spilling over until the ship began to do the only thing possible – sink. His plan, however, wouldn’t be stopping this process, because that was impossible, but prolonging it. The goal was to prolong it enough so that by the time the ship was sinking, the other ship, the one that John had caused to come closer, would have arrived and be able to help all the passengers unable to load into a lifeboat. The tricky part was getting this done correctly and in enough time. Tunis didn’t know how many times the iceberg had hit while he was still down there, the ice water piercing into his skin momentarily before the world shut down.
He walked to end of the room, where the wall curved with the design of the boat, curving both downwards and upwards in a half cylinder. Three large crates were leaned against the wall, two resting on the floor, and one lying on top.
How lucky it was that the crates were set up in such position, Tunis thought, his face baring a slight grin.
He climbed on top of them, making sure he was careful not puncture its weak exterior. Then, almost subtly, he drew out a long, thin nail from his pocket, followed by a small hammer. This was the most delicate part, any mistake made resulting in an instant fail. What he was to do was rather simple, if one were to look on the act from the outside, but on the inside was full of complex physics, mechanics and other minute details. He liked thinking of it the first way, from the outside, a simple and easy task.
His goal was to, in each of the first four compartments (most importantly the first one), blow out a dozen small holes using the thin nail and hammer. These holes, situated just above the horizon of water and boat, would act as drainage. The iceberg would hit near the front, spilling in quickly and uncontrollably, and these holes – in the same spot in the other three compartments – would instantly begin propelling the water outwards. Of course it would be impossible to stop the water from spilling through all the compartments, the input energy was still much, much greater than the output – but it would be enough to slow the sinking down, and that – coupled with the fuss John was going to cause – would allow enough time for the Titanic’s passengers to be saved.
He finished the first three compartments in perfect time and expert precision; the fourth one however, and it was common for him, caused him the most trouble. At this point in his routine some uncontrollable feeling of guilt came over him, a feeling that made him feel like a thief, like he was stealing some invisible material – some invisible knowledge – from a forgotten world. His hands would begin to tremble, his eyes beginning to water, and his usual clear and focused demeanour suddenly lost.
And this time, as he trembled through the remaining holes, the voice began to reverberate inside his head.
“To tamper with such things is to tamper with the universe itself… and the universe is like a balancing act! Tipped one way too much and it hurdles even harder back the other way! I’m just saying, my son, watch your step.”
The nail dropped from his hand, hitting the ground with a small thump. He shook his head, begging the invisible demon to leave him alone; he begged it the way a small child begs his parents for another scoop of ice cream, innocently with a hint of manipulation.
He slowly reached down to retrieve the nail, taking deep breaths as he went, steadying himself for the final few holes. He was already seconds over his time limit (he was allowed a little leeway, but still – he liked to be on time).
He made the final few holes crudely, not worrying about precision anymore but more about his time. They looked weak and fake compared to the other ones, and for a moment he thought he should redo them, but then the internal clock inside beeped a warning and he turned and made his way out of the compartments.
When he reached the door he knew he had made up his lost seconds; and he knew the Titanic would crash into the lone iceberg in exactly thirty minutes.
Lilly climbed the latter as quietly as a ghost. The air was cold and crisp against her young face, her cheeks already reddening beyond their usual crimson color. The stars lay still above her, entranced in some kind of eternal, universal, magic. A white moon hung low on the horizon.
Her way of playing the game was much different than Tunis’s straight, calculated, and thought out approach. She liked to play it by year, doing something different each time, and then like some mother of a child watching to see how it played out. She was intent on attaining as many saves as possible, but she knew she was more satisfied by gathering up the atmosphere, enjoying its uniqueness and majesty, and seeing how she could play with its different variables. She admired Tunis for his determination, but she also admired herself for her curiosity.
Her game-plan today had been all about warning. She had started in the lower decks, going from door to door, and trying to explain to people that they were going to hit an iceberg. Of course very few believed her, but that didn’t matter; she was just trying out something new. After the lower decks she had, rather ironically, ran through the hallways of the upper class decks, screaming at the top of her lungs that everyone should fear an incoming doom. She laughed at this. She wondered how all the purposefully orderly people of the first class had handled her raging, incoherent yelling. After that she had come to the outside deck, and decided that she should warn the lookouts that an iceberg was coming, because, surely, if they could turn the boat in time then everyone would be saved. The thought occurred to her that it had probably been tried a thousands times before, but – she thought – not with her lead up of screaming to the first class.
About halfway up she started to hear voices.
“Awfully cold out tonight, hey Jim?” The voice was small and quiet; which was in contrast with the one that replied, which was loud and firm.
“Well what did you expect out here in the middle of Atlantic? Hell, we can practically see the North Pole from here.”
“I know… but still, don’t you feel it? It feels like the cold is colder than usual… maybe trying to tell us something. Do you reckon?”
Lilly heard a loud laugh echo down to her and she wondered how far that sound travelled across the Atlantic.
“Tom… can you hear yourself? The cold is trying to tell us something? I think you’ve spent a little too much time out here.”
Lilly had climbed to just below the lookout platform. In a moment of spontaneous conviction she jumped up onto the platform.
She said rather gleefully: “Tom is right! There’s an iceberg directly ahead!”
They went silent and looked at her incredulously.
“And who the hell are you?” the man with the deep voice, Jim, asked. He added sharply: “What are you doing up here?”
The other man was more sheltered in his response. Lilly could see a deep recognition in his eyes, something saying, ‘This girl’s presence just confirms my predictions’.
“Miss, you can’t be up here; it’s dangerous,” Tom said quietly and Lilly could tell he wanted her to say what she had first said again, that an iceberg was directly ahead.
Lilly, ignoring their comments, walked past them to the edge of the platform. She pointed straight ahead, and, a little too cheerfully, said: “Look, straight ahead, an iceberg!”