Some day we will keep sentience in a box.



We were in flight bound for my stat in the suburbs. My altimeter read five thousand meters, airspeed two hundred knots. I reached over to change psych sets.

"HEY!" she exclaimed too loudly. My ears were suddenly ringing. "That's my favorite set!" And her hand whipped out forefinger-first to change back to the original channel.

I eyed her suspiciously. She wasn't what she seemed to be and she'd just let her secret slip.

I was flying a Boeing Tiger 1027. Among other plush features it offered a Selby Turbo Psych System. It cost me ten thousand credits and was the most complicated bit of electronics any man ever desired to own. My Selby could run sets to ten thousand megbetas without damaging the cerebral cortex or impairing real time senses. It could adapt to any format, even the weird sets programmed by Lunar ScienceCorp, and delivered only the highest quality organic sensory input, free of aural distortion.

The set she had chosen (and I had tuned out) quickly filled my cockpit with tulips. Now we were flying over rows and endless rows of them; yellow, white, red, a mosaic of bleeding color fleeting just beneath the Tiger's drive fields. Doves scattered at our approach, their wings making a dull music with each flap. An old fashioned windmill whipped past, all rotted clapboards and derelict vanes. It was just a glimpse at two hundred knots.

This psych set I knew had been programmed by Yuri Andropov, the Azbakastani genius (in SOME people's opinion) and was extremely popular with the younger generation. I hated it. I wouldn't have turned it off otherwise.

It wasn't her choice of sets that betrayed my lover's secret, however, but the alacrity with which she learned the program feature's of my Selby. There were one hundred twelve set switches on its face, and two dozen routine variant dials. She had only run through the system once in the course of our evening together, yet she had reprogrammed sets in the blink of an eye, seemingly without conscious thought. She had MEMORIZED ten thousand variables in a single lesson.

And I had almost begun to believe her the ignorant tart she pretended to be. "Andropov is too emotional for my tastes."

"Wait!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "Wait for the sun!"

In reality it was night. Ten kilosecs to be correct, and the sun was four kilos from dawning. But within the psych set's virtual reality morning was a kilo old, the sun was obscured by a distant fleece of silver cumulus, threatening to burst free any second. Rows and rows of multicolored tulips. Windmills. Doves. Seagulls. All blended in a rising crest of psychic music, a mixture of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch that encompassed the mind to overwhelm the body.

Now sunlight exploded, showered the tulip fields with light refracted from a billion dew drops into a continuous rainbow that raced along below us, that arced from each wingtip to the Earth like the ethereal legs of a godly water skimmer. Geese pierced the blue-white sky with their migratory arrows pointed either north or south, only Yuri Andropov knew which.

For this was his world. We were traveling the airways of that mongrel's mind, feeding our senses from the well spring of his distorted imagination.

His symphony reached crescendo as the tulip fields gave way to a dodging flight beneath the canopy of a primeval European forest. The sun flashed overhead through a tangle of branches and leaves. Tree trunks seemed to whip past the Boeing's stabilizers with only centimeters to spare.

"You wanna know what I think?" she shouted to be heard above the forest din. "I think the tulips symbolize youth and innocence, while the appearance of the sun represents the glorious loss of that innocence. Now we're in the forests of adulthood and the sun is but a fleeting memory, a bright dream in the darkness. Wait till you see how he portrays death!"

Oh boy. I could hardly.

"What happened to the bimbo I picked up?"

"She's still here. I can be anybody you want me to be."

"I'll bet."

Abruptly the set went completely dark. We crashed into the Earth, plowed a geyser of soil and uprooted vegetation that streamed over our shattering canopy and ripped away the Tiger's drive section aft. I had a heartbeat glance of my blood splashing across the Selby's complex control surface before my eyeballs ruptured and my brain was squashed inside my crumbling skull. Then more blackness and a single, incredibly distant pin point of light. Faster and faster we flew. Faster still. The light grew brighter and brighter, assumed mammoth proportions, ultimately filled my sight.

God stepped out of the light to scold my approach. His smile thrilled my soul and I was sent hurtling away, back to life. Or back to death, I couldn't decide.

The set came to coda. My mind was a seed, and the seed took root, pushed to the heavens through the soil of my grave, reached sunlight once more, sprouted, grew, budded, was pollinated, bore fruit. And the fruit was my body. A hand picked me and set me free.

"Wow!" Her hand was on my thigh rubbing, rubbing, rubbing. "Wasn't that fan-fucking-tastic? Weren't you boggled?"

"Boggled," I repeated dully, wishing my pulse would slow before my veins ruptured. "Unnecessarily so."

"Don't you think that's how it might be to really die?"

"Perhaps. I only hope God doesn't truly look like Yuri Andropov."

...(More Reading Here)