Prison Planet

Chapter 1: The Age of Dystopia

RAL LAY ENCAPSULATED IN ELECTRONICALLY INDUCED VISUAL, AUDITORY, OLFACTORY, GUSTATORY AND NERVOUS STIMULATION. Though his eyes were closed, he was watching a golden temple erupt spontaneously from a tropical rainforest; while the room around him was silent, his ears whistled with the whoosh! of the air as he sailed over the teeming canopy, lofted by the fragrant scents of flowers and warm thermals rising from the jungle; his body was stationary, but his skin tingled with exhilaration as he raced forward at breakneck speed, prone instead of supine. His heart skipped a beat as he plunged into the temple and circled the gaudy interior twice or thrice, before twisting vertically and shooting up out of the gleaming ceiling. Like an eagle he soared higher and higher until losing himself into fleecy white plateaus of cloud, resonant with the enchanting harmony of a heavenly choir.

<<What a trip!>> Ral murmured softly as he slowly regained consciousness. Lela sat by his side, and gripped his hand as he removed his metal headband. <<I didn't see you there.>>

<<I sat this one out unfortunately>> Lela confessed. <<I've done enough virtual Amazons. I'm after new thrills.>>

She let go of his hand, stood and crossed the ancient Mayan themed room to a pedestal holding a jug juiced with ginseng, ginkgo biloba and numerous synergetic neuroprotectors. She was dressed and made up, rather inexplicably, like Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, face painted like a melancholic clown, and wearing a crown of roses.

Lela Dressed as Frida Kahlo, on Neercedes

She poured him a glass of gooey goodness, and gushed: <<I hear the latest craze is accessing ancestral memories. It's really quite tantalizing. They say that not only physical features are passed down in our DNA, but engrams too. Apparently the pastlife recollections that we encounter under hypnosis are actually fragments of our ancestors' lives, encoded somehow in the genetic matrix, via quantum entanglement, or some other caper. That's how birds know how to make nests without ever doing a course in nestmaking. That's how animals of all kinds know how to make love without any formal training.>>

<<I thought it was just by instinct>> Ral replied.

<<What is instinct? where is it located?>> Lela challenged him. <<It is strange that with all of scientific advances, we have never found a gene for instinct. And also strange that humans don't seem to have an instinct for building houses, but need to learn it from other humans.>>

<<We are not bound by instinct the same way that animals are>> Ral retorted.

<<Isn't that rather chauvinistic? We don't really know what animals experience. They seem conscious to me. And if there is one lesson that science has taught us, is that all wills are free.>>

Feeling like he had found a loophole in Lela's logic, Ral grilled: <<So aren't these memories also wills, which demand to be followed? You might also call them instincts.>>

<<They are lifeforces in their own way, but they be ignored by the primary will of the organism if they choose to do so. Alternatively, they can be drawn upon when needed, which is the point that I was trying to make.>>

<<You're starting to sound like the Professor>> Ral joked.

<<It's not rocket science; even you could understand it. I've already traced back in my family tree to 1850AD, and found a few surprises. Do you know I have an ancestor who died in the Balronian Cultural Revolution, or another who fought in the Terra-Soosagin War? I am even directly descended from a crew member of the first expedition to leave the Milky Way galaxy. Some these experiences I have been able to relive.>>

<<What, you can relive their lives?>> Ral asked in wonder.

<<The memories are patchy and residual>> Lela explained. <<Historical programs are employed to add atmosphere and detail, and supply biographical data where possible. Indeed, many of them have been verified as real people, according to birth and death reports... they are not just figments of my imagination.>>

OF COURSE, THERE WAS a program for everything these days. Ral himself had been using an application for his Amazon trip, Deep Mind Window, which randomly plucked out subconscious thoughts and impulses and presented them to the viewer in a symbolically interesting format. Were these unconscious thoughts subverted wills, or wills with the power to subvert? Both of them could be true. That was the paradox of observation, it presented a dualistic choice... when in reality unity was the native state. But since humans are suckers for making unilateral decisions, Ral said: <<I should try it.>>

<<You don't know who you could unearth. I can't wait to see how far I can dig back. I have still to see the early colonization of the Solar System, the Culture Wars, World War 2, the French Revolution, the Middle Ages, and so on. Wouldn't it be remarkable if I could trace my family tree back to the first Homo Sapiens, or even beyond, back to the first primates.>>

<<You could always just ask the Professor>> Ral proposed. <<He was probably back there in person, up to some mischief or intrique.>>

<<I want to experience it myself!>> Lela insisted. <<Through my own nerves, as much as possible. Not hear it as an anecdote from an Immortal.>>

<<That's another loophole!>> Ral pointed out. <<It can't be your own experience if it was encoded in your DNA.>>

She turned away, anger flashing across her face. <<You didn't have to rub it in.>>

<<Rub what in?>> Ral responded, perplexed.

<<Sometimes I worry that my life is not as spectacular as all those ancestors who left their imprints on me>> she managed at length. <<What am I contributing to my descendants? I've certainly been in nothing as exciting as a revolution or war.>>

<<Seriously, why would you want to?>> Ral asked. <<All those Ancients would kill to swap places with us right now. They were longing for perfection, fought to attain it, but never found it. Nonetheless, their blood, sweat and tears have culminated in the utopia that we now enjoy. To be honest, I don't think a lemur swinging from the trees had a very satisfying existence.>>

<<It lived an authentic life at least>> Lela argued. <<It wasn't permanently cocooned in a world of simulation. I've always been fascinated by history, and where we all came from. The first spark of consciousness, the Big Bang. We can't escape our ancestry... even if we spent our whole lives in a mind trip, it would still exert its influence.>>

Ral gave her a glass of happy juice, hoping it would elevate her from talk of lemurs, wars and revolutions. <<What do you want do today?>> he inquired, changing the subject. "Apparently there is a wild party starting at the Pyramid of Giza on Earth. Or we might go to the Free Love Festival on Pluto. You know what it's like doing it in low gravity," he added with a sly grin.

<<Let's visit the History of Man Museum in Kenya!>>Lela proclaimed defiantly. <I am in the mood for nostalgia today.>>

<This history bug really has a hold on you," Ral conceded. "Okay, you've got six hours to scratch around the bones of antiquity in Africa, and then we beam ourselves to Egypt!"

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Literary Me, at the Halfway House Squared