Is This Really Surviving?

This story is about a futuristic world in which everyone is surviving via a computer simulation:

We don’t actually need to sleep anymore. At least, that’s what father says. It’s been decades since The Heat destroyed the earth, but he says we aren’t ready to completely alter our way of life. So, we keep pretending that everything is normal and we aren’t living in a metal box miles under the Kansas wastelands.


“I’m coming!”

I jumped over the stairs and landed right in front of the breakfast table where a box of cereal and milk had been laid out for me.

"Thank you,” I mumbled, grinning with a mouthful of cereal as I watched him rush out the front door. He looks the same as he did sixty years ago, with some slight modifications. I never understood how he wasn’t concerned enough about that to reprogram the system, and yet he still worried about changing any other mundane habits. People thought he was crazy back then but now they honor him every year. Every year there’s a festival to celebrate our new world and to thank its creators, my father included. This day is monumental as it has been exactly fifty years since we began our lives here. That means it’s been fifty years and a day since the first bomb was dropped on D.C. and fifty years and a day since we lost mother. Decades of work paid off and father was able to save thousands of people in only a few short days. I was one of the first to enter the system and then came all of the country’s important leaders and engineers. The former to help us maintain what little sanity we could bring from the real world and the latter to continue reprogramming the system from the inside. No one talks about it but the batteries that have kept the mainframe computer running will die eventually, and then so will our avatars, the only thing left of our true selves. Father says not to dwell on that.

By now I’ve finished my cereal and began walking down Main Street towards the square. Everyone has updated their avatars to personify the excitement of the celebration. Some have changed their skin tone to match the colors of our world, green and violet, while others have added ridiculous hats sporting my father’s face along with the other creators.

"L-O-U! L-O-U!" I can hear the people in the square chanting the acronym for our home, Land of Users.

Father says they weren’t too concerned with the name at the time, but I bet he wishes he would’ve thought a little more about it now that everyone shouts it hundreds of times every year. The world he designed is flawless, but recently I’ve been able to spot a few glitches. I’m not sure if this means I’ve become more accustomed to this place or that our world is faltering. LOU was decades in the making, but no one thought we would need to use it as soon as we did. In 1991 it seemed as though the Cold War had finally come to an end, but then Washington was hit and greater destruction was inevitable. Father and his team had only a few weeks to wrap up a project that had taken decades to develop. The difference was that after the bomb, the government gave father’s team billions of dollars and all the equipment and labor they asked for. Never before had survivability been so important. Few thought the answer would be in the Internet and even fewer knew just how far engineers had come in creating an online world as real as earth.

"Where are you? There are so many people! The message popped up in my eye’s inbox.

"I’m standing outside of the Red Bakery,” I responded.

“There you are!” Several minutes had passed and I could see Kate, my best friend, leaping towards me.“Can you believe this crowd?” she shouted loudly in my ear.

“It looks the same as last year!” I yelled back. Kate was always amazed by the size of the crowd, even though I’d pointed out to her on several occasions that our world’s population is, and always has been, stagnant. Father said he was working on that though, so maybe one day Kate’s exclamations would be well-founded. I admired her enthusiasm, but I also envied how easily she seemed to adapt to her virtual form. I miss the subtle complexities of life on earth. Such as travelling by bus or just travelling at all. Father’s team has continued work to expand our realm, but can they really make a virtual world as large as earth?

Kate grabbed my arm and pulled me out of trance, “It’s almost our turn to get on stage, come on!” We walked towards the stage and I looked around at the cheering crowd. At seventeen, Kate and I were among the youngest to have entered this world and I was the only one to have a pet; therefore, every year we got on stage with the other LOUies (the name given to the youngest users) and stood alongside the developer team as they waved to the crowd in thanks. Father transferred in our dog, Lucky, to help this place feel like home, but in that moment, as I stroked his fur on that stage, I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that he just doesn’t feel the same. I can’t remember what his fur felt like on my skin.

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