Taylor shot awake with a gasp. Her chest heaved from the shock and her now re-beating heart hammered against the inside of her chest. What the …? Her hand shot straight to her chest, unable to comprehend her resurrection. She felt a snag in her hand as she pulled a needle free from her vein with the movement. The next thing she noticed was the cold. The room was bare, antiseptic and freezing cold. She shivered, shocked by the fact this was now possible again. Then the lights beamed into her newly opened eyes and stung so her eyes watered. Blinking away the tears her eyes shot around the room, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings. She had just been in a hospital and now she was …? God knows where. God? Could she be dead, is this the afterlife? If the shock of feeling suddenly alive was bad, suddenly dead (well again) was worse. The unfamiliar room – yet was it?
“Oh Taylor how was it?” The voice boomed in her ear, coming from behind her.
“Jesus!” She practically jumped out of the chair she was in. More like an operating table, she noticed. She turned to see a woman behind her.
The woman … no – she really must be dead – was her mother, who had died nearly ten years ago. How was she possibly here, now, alive and younger than Taylor was? And she was happy?
“What … how? You’re alive?!”
“What?” Her mother looked taken-aback and strode up to the chair, placing a hand on her forehead. “Are you alright?”
Taylor stared at her blankly. What the hell was going on? “Am I alright? You’re alive!”
“Oh don’t tell me you’re having it bad?” Her mother made her impatient face. “You feel like you’ve just died don’t you?” Now her hands were on her hips like when she was kid and had done something wrong.
“Feel like? I did! Didn’t I …?”
“No, not at all,” she waved off the thought like anyone else would swat a fly.
Taylor felt like she’d been slapped. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Symulation of course,” she said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And the scary thing? To her it sounded like it was.
“Symu-what? What does that even mean?!”
“Oh don’t worry in a few days you’ll be fine, all your memories will come back?”
“Come back? Where’ve they gone? I haven’t forgot anything!”
“Oh yeah? How old are you? Why are we both alive? What is Symulation? What year is it?” she listed in her usual condescending parental tone.
Fear, was the only word that can describe the feeling that comes with not being able to answer those questions. How old was she? She looked down at her hand, gone where the wrinkles of recent decades and there was young, smooth, strong skin, like in her youth. She stared at it wide eyed, while her mother made a smugly victorious face, which seemed cruel considering Taylor’s blind panic and growing confusion.
“I can’t remember anything,” she realized. “Where are we? What am I wearing?” Looking down at her hand she saw the space cadets costume she was wearing like some sci-fi movie.
“How far did you go back?” her mother asked accusingly.
“Where did you just wake up from?” she prompted without being friendly about it.
The phrasing of the question was beyond Taylor but at last one question she could answer. “Modern day.”
“Clearly not,” he rolled her eyes like it was a ridiculous answer.
“2014,” Taylor snapped, finally sick of the lack of sympathy.
“Well,” her mother chortled. “It’s just a few centuries after that.”
“What are you talking about?!” Taylor demanded horror-struck. Centuries after Theo?
“Oh sweetie, you weren’t this bad last time.” She almost pouted, finally seeing how truly lost Taylor was.
“Last time I died in a car crash at 23!” she was surprised to remember. Taylor hadn’t meant to shout, she hadn’t even realized she knew that. What did it mean …?
“And this time?” she prompted gently, happy to see some improvement in her recall.
Her mother whistled. “The luck of some people. I was 56.”
“You’ve just woke up,” Taylor realized.
“Two days ago.”
“And you remember this?” She gestured around her at the only-slightly-vaguely-familiar-room.
“Well I am older than you and have done it a lot more.”
“Couldn’t you have figured that out?”
Taylor hung her head. “So a few days?” she mumbled.
“Yes dear,” she sighed. “How Real did you go?” Her mother suddenly asked, the suspicious tone strong in her voice as she eyed her critically.
Taylor’s stomach dropped to her feet as the memory hit her like a brick wall.
Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “Answer me.”
“A lot,” Taylor mumbled, the memory suddenly flooding back of the last decision she’d make before the start of Symulation. The adrenaline returned as she prepared for the consequences of her risky move. She’d known people wouldn’t be happy with her but it had been her choice. She knew people advised against it, but advised … it wasn’t breaking the law. But somehow, it felt like it.
“Taylor you know you’re not meant to do that.”
“I went for ideal last time and died early, I thought if I went the other way …”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Taylor shrugged, as much as she remembered it was still nothing compared to what was missing. “Where are we?” she felt like she was swallowing her pride to ask, like it was something she would not usually do.
Her mother seemed to realize this and there was pity in her voice when she answered. “Space.”
Taylor’s mind sparked with recognition and disbelief. She ran to the window, and sure enough what she’d just assumed was night-time, was space. She was in space. The initial shock wore off as quickly as it came, followed by a nagging feeling like a memory she just couldn’t quite fully form. Well at least it explained the space cadet get-up.
But the feeling just reminded her how much really was missing. “How? … Why? … When?” she stammered, clutching the window frame for support as her head spun with questions and confusion, more so when she saw her reflection. She gasped and so did her 18 year old self staring back at her wide eyed.
Her mother looked worried in the reflection she could see in the window. “Oh honey,” she put a hand on her shoulder. “You will remember. You shouldn’t have picked real, it’s no good.”
“Answer me!” Taylor demanded. “Tell me something, anything, everything!”
“Alright,” she gave in, taking the seat she’d abandoned. “It was the Supernova.”
“The sun?” Of all the stupid questions.
“You remember?” There was a slight hope to her voice but Taylor shook her head and she continued, looking disappointed. “Well the sun engulfed the earth when it exploded, but scientists had pre-empted it and every human alive at the time managed to escape.”
“Earth is gone!” Taylor screamed, mortified.
“Symulation lets us still live there.” Like that was any consolation.
“So what is this thing,” she tapped the window. “Like Star trek?”
“It’s a Space Cruiser. All the humans managed to escape and ever since humanity has thrived here creating a new society, throwing away old norms and constrictions. We started again. Symulation is in our mind, a virtual escape.” Taylor realized she was talking about it like she would a history lesson and suddenly remembered this was before even her time.
Taylor leant her forehead against the glass, the memories pulling her back to the future depressingly fast.
“You’ve learnt all this at school.”
“School? But I know everything, from school in symulation.”
“Future studied Taylor.” Her mother sounded like giving her a history lesson was the last thing she wanted to be doing. “You learn everything after earth.”
“Oh,” she couldn’t argue with that, her memory was feeling pretty blank on the future stuff.
“Why don’t you go and see Caleb?”
“Who?” Her mother gasped behind her.
“I wouldn’t say that around him. Caleb is your boyfriend.”
Taylor nearly choked on her gasp. “What!?”
“Okay, maybe you shouldn’t see him. He’s just woken up today too, I can’t imagine he’s as confused as you, but it would be good for you to have some fun, act like a teenager, be in love.”
“I am not in love with him!” Taylor thundered.
“That’s it! I’m taking you straight home. You’re not going anywhere until you get your memory back!”
At this rate Taylor felt like that would be forever, and she had something more important on her mind.
“You can see your father. Tell me you remember him?” Taylor nodded but it was a lie. Her mother noticed and looked hurt but tried to hide it for her sake.
“No I’m going for a walk,” Taylor insisted and stormed out of the room.
As soon as Taylor was out of the room she felt the strangeness of the ship so strongly around her. Shouldn’t somewhere she supposedly lived seem even a little familiar to her? But instead she felt like she was in a bad movie, walking through corridors she was almost sure she’d never seen before. This whole situation was crazy, Symulation, her parents, it was all wrong and she could feel it. There was something she was missing, something that didn’t make sense.
Theo. She had to find him.
Taylor wandered the unfamiliar decks and corridors that seemed to stretch for miles. She didn’t stop to ask for directions, too scared to stop anyone she was supposed to know.
But finally by some miracle she found him. “Theo,” she gasped, stopping short when he rounded the corner.
He stopped at the other end of the corridor staring at her like he didn’t believe what he was seeing. “You … but how … how are you here?”
“Theo I had to find you,” she gasped. He was there, in front of her, he was real again, alive again. He’d died four years ago at 85 and now here he was again, young at 18.
“This isn’t possible – it was just a symulation … it was imaginary … You,” he took a step towards her, wonderstruck. “You shouldn’t be real …”
“No …” Taylor gasped in confusion. “Theo.” She wanted to throw herself at him like so many times before but she held herself back. Something in his expression made believe he wasn’t exactly happy to see her. “I can’t remember anything about this life - this ship - but it feels … wrong. I don’t belong here. We don’t belong here.”
“I woke up yesterday, but I didn’t remember anything until this morning. But it’s not like the other times – it doesn’t feel the same,” he agreed. He moved closed to her and her heart hammered in her chest.
“It’s the Symulation I don’t believe it … it felt more real than this.”
“I went 100% Real, they told me not to but I didn’t listen. Maybe it’s because they’re hiding something?”
“I did too, 100% Real, no perfection, no Idealism,” she explained. “Then that’s it, that’s why we remember each other, it was real!”
He knitted his eyebrows together in thought. “They told me that I shouldn’t do it … they made it sound like it was dangerous.”
“They tried to convince me it wasn’t safe,” she remembered the thought but the more she tried to focus on it the foggier it became.
“A lot has come back since yesterday, like the fact that we shouldn’t have had the same Symulation.”
“Why not?” Taylor asked hearing the edge to his voice.
“Everyone we see in the Symulation is real, a real face. But it should just be that.”
“Like in a dream.”
“Exactly, your name should have been different, your physique, personality, but it’s really you.” He took hold of her face in his hands just like he used to.
“I’ve missed you.” She laced her fingers through his.
“I’ve missed you too, Tay.” He wrapped his arms around her waist. “How is this possible?” he marvelled. “You’re real.” Taylor hooked her arms around his neck remembering just how tall he was.
As soon as they pulled away a women dressed all in black came around the corner and headed straight towards them. “Taylor?” She asked stopping just short of them. Taylor guessed by the way she was dressed that she was a security officer on this ship, with some kind of gun strapped to her hip.
“Yes,” Taylor said hesitantly and Theo took her hand from behind and squeezed it as if in warning. Taylor felt her stomach turn to ice at his alarm.
“And Theo?” the women asked.
“You two need to come with me,” she ordered firmly.
“What is this about?” Theo moved to stand between Taylor and the woman, not letting go of her hand.
“I believe there was a problem with your Symulation.”
“Don’t you mean Symulations?” Taylor corrected, her fear spiking.
The woman’s face became suddenly hard. “There’s been a problem and we would just like to make sure you two don’t have any … let’s say, negative side effects.”
The way the woman said it, Taylor could tell there was far more behind her words than she was telling them.
“We feel fine,” Theo told her and pulled Taylor towards a door.
“Don’t move!” The woman snapped and Theo froze, Taylor noticed his nostrils flare like they used to do when he was really angry. “The conversation I just overheard, said otherwise.” Taylor heard the threat in her voice and gasped. The next thing she knew the hallway flooded with armed guards and someone grabbed her and pulled her away from Theo.
“No!” Theo shouted and struggled against the guard who was hauling him down the hallway. As soon as Taylor screamed a hand clamped down over her mouth and she felt a sharp scratch on her arm. She thrashed out when she realized what was happening but she was too late. The last thing she saw before passing out was an unconscious Theo being dragged down the corridor.
Theo woke up. There was a tube in his arm like the ones used to send people into a symulation, but this time he was strapped to the chair. “Taylor,” he gasped, seeing her slumped in the chair opposite, still unconscious.
A woman stood over him, arms folded and lips pursed. He recognised her as the head of symulations.
“What do you want with us?” he growled, struggling against the restraints.
“You and your pretty little girlfriend seemed to have found a glitch in the system. The only two to have ever done a 100% Symulation, and survived.” She stepped closer. “Don’t worry it won’t happen again, those administrators have been executed.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Theo tried to pull his arm away from the tube but the needle wouldn’t move.
“Stay still!” she snapped, her voice as sharp and cold as the needle. Taylor jolted awake “I, Theo, am going to eradicate the glitch.”
“Wh-what?” Taylor murmured. “No!” Taylor made a dive for the woman but the wire caught where the needle was in her arm.
“Don’t!” The woman warned and pushed the final button on the screen and Theo went under.
Taylor launched forward and knocked the woman over, the screen was a mess of controls and confusion but one word stood out to her, ‘wake’ and she slammed her fist against it.
Taylor’s eyes shot open, taking in the dim light and the heat around her. Theo shot awake next to her.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“You’re okay!” Taylor threw herself at him. They were in some decrepit building with broken glass for windows and crumbling brick walls. The air was on fire and the humidity brought on perspiration immediately.
“It looks like earth,” Theo gestured out of a window.
“It looks more like mars,” Taylor wiped the sweat from her face. The ground was scorched, everywhere was red and dry, no water in sight and the heat was visible in the air.
“What the hell is this!” A voice shouted behind them.
“Who are you?” Theo demanded, turning to see an old man striding towards them. No less than pure disbelief on his face.
“You’re awake, it’s impossible!”
“Is this Symulation?” Taylor asked.
“No, you’ve just left it.” His words didn’t make any sense to her.
“No we were on the cruiser,” Theo argued.
“The cruiser doesn’t exist … it was a dream that could never be a reality,” his eyes were distant, sympathetic. “Symulation was the alternative.”
“No we we’re in Symulation, we went 100% Real and they tried to kill us for it.”
“You’re talking about Level 2. I’m talking about Level 1,” the man explained. “This is earth.”
“The cruiser was a Symulation?” Taylor realized feeling the ground beneath her feet literally shift.
“It’s starting …”
“What is?” Theo grabbed the window sill for support and Taylor clung to him.
“The end. The Supernova.” The heat intensified, burning Taylor’s skin and the air seemed to disappear. “It affected the system, let you two find the glitch. The government failed to complete the Rescue Project, so instead they created Symulation. Level 1 was the cruiser … a conspiracy, so people believe the government had succeeded in saving them. Level 2 allowed people to still experience life on earth – before the solar flares began.”
“It was all fake!” Theo gasped for air, the sunlight outside was blinding and the air practically evaporated in Taylor’s lungs.
“This hell is real. This is the end …”
The world around them seemed to catch fire and Taylor clung to Theo as the world was burned out of existence.