They made their way to the water, and the water, surprisingly, was there. The presentation was better than they had hoped for. Much better. The sight of it, its blue and dark olive layout and design, forced their breath still.

Ironic, they thought.

The details are perfect, they murmured, the sound of their words coming and going so fast it was as if they hadn’t said anything.

Hello, they said aloud. Their voice was clear and sharp, the sensation of their tongue sliding along the roof of their mouth almost violently as the long O-sound vibrated and then slid down their throat.


That word had little to no effect. In this place, it rarely did. Everything here was optimized visually and via sensation, something they first discovered when creating the color wheel and pixelation of old phones. Bright colors, notification sounds, and an endless feed trigger addictive behavior, eventually getting the user to feel as if they are missing out on something even when they're not. Human beings were obsessed with life, the good and the bad. This is why they loved them: they couldn't get enough, even to the point of their own demise.

They looked down at their bare feet on the semi-warm land, forgetting they had not come with shoes, boots, or sandals. No matter. They simply forgot from the lack of need, like taking a pen to the office or a toothbrush to the dentist. They knew they would be ok without it, so the thought of the shoes never crossed their mind. They were cold but not uncomfortable, not secure. For now, they felt safe.

With their gaze still pointed downward, a slight pressure started in the center of their forehead. They exhaled, brought their pointer to the spot, and pressed down slightly. As they did this, mosquitos danced on the water's surface, and tiny fish hurried along the coastline, catching the light from above. After a few more seconds, the pressure was gone. They knelt and dipped their fingertips into the flat, still icy.

They caught their reflection in the water. There was their mouth, thin salmon pink lips, always dry. Their roundish cheeks, stubble, and long, stringy hazelnut hair spilled from their favorite hat, which read “Dew Good” in the infamous Mountain Dew font. They hadn't remembered choosing that hat. Maybe it was given to them by some default. It didn't matter, really. It was all just a costume. They stood.

I see no issues yet, they said aloud. Scanning.

The view wasn’t what they expected; it was better. Everything looked real, sharp, and defined as if the water, sky, and trees were all designed by nature itself. What shocked them was how seamless their words and coding were when producing the finished product. They thought there would be more issues. As they advanced, problems were becoming less and less. Everything was becoming so optimized and quick to remedy. At times it felt like they weren't doing enough.

It was so early. Everything in this new space was so new, which only made them think that it would only get realer, but what did that even mean? Progress had surpassed the need or even an want of a definition.

I don't know where we go from here, they thought. I don't know if we will recognize the differences, the world from this to that. I have a growing fear the us as we know it will change so quickly we won't be able to go back. Even if I wanted to, this cannot be stopped.

A memory arose. Their past was always away and in the distance. It never came up at work or social settings or when they were alone and especially not when they were where they were. So the tremor the vision of them with their father on a similar shoreline, holding his hand and walking along the water, the pebbles and the shimmering bouncing off the running river, was very real.

Father, they whispered, both their eyes beginning to pinch and water. Dad?

Smells of vanilla ice cream and heat and sun tan lotion overwhelmed them. Their body was sore from the car ride but there was an excitement still stirring in them. There was no fear of being led astray, for his father had him and held their direction. Wherever he was taking them, they knew they would be ok. And when they reached the section of the deep part of the river, where the big fish swam, they saw their dark emerald scales clashing with the pinks and browns and even reds of their body, feeling as if, for the first time, the world was showing them something they had shown no one else but before they could ask their father where they were, the memory went as fast as it had come.

They looked down at their two hands against the backdrop of the water, the shore, and the manufactured shimmering sun above and began to cry, then weep, and fell to their knees, the cold shock of the water.

I have done it, they sobbed. I have done it.

They designed the perfect world, far cleaner, more protected, and more managed than the real one. Here, there was the possibility of no pain, no destruction. If it happened, they could come in and fix it instantly. So fast that no one would ever even notice it. Every problem faced in reality didn’t have to exist anymore. War? Corruption? Genocide?

They could be free without pain or friction, but then where would the growth come from? If everything was easy, where then would the truth come from? What would they become if they no longer had what had made them?

From the wet, gray and brown ground stuck silver algae dotted rocks, slick from the lapping waves of the lake. The undulating wake caught the reflection of the bright marigold and butter sun placed perfectly in the sky above. Small fishes danced in the shallows near their legs as an egret in the distance slid its thin legs through waves; a weapon of agile, indifferent death. They leaned their head back and observed a few spotted brush stroked cream-clouds.

This perfection, they said. I have to destroy it.

Suddenly, everything around them switched to grayscale. Any sensation they were having before, the cold, the wet of the water, the shine of the sun and the animals and wind and trees, became muted. In seconds, perfection was gone. There was a soft beeping sound in both ear drums, then a voice.

Protocol #1247 initiated. It was a familiar voice. Remember what was taken from us, son. Remember you are building this place for hope, for refuge, to let people know what they have forgotten.

To let people know what they must take back, they said.

They rose, undressed, and slowly entered the water, weightless.