The Reality Machine
by Karl El-Koura
Michael Dudlas limped out of his car, which had rescued him from the alley and brought him to the roof of his house. Moving quickly despite the pain, he took the elevator to his basement and unlocked the large room where he kept his reality machine--or, to be more accurate, the virtual mirror copy of the reality machine. He undressed, ignoring the protests from his bruised and aching body, then sunk into the sleek, bath-like pod until every part of him, including his face, was covered by the warm blue liquid. Immediately he felt the pod's large tendrils envelope his body and head, holding them immobile while the small tendrils slunk through his nostrils and into his brain to do their delicate work (or to undo it).
He closed his eyes because of the discomfort, waited to feel the shift and for the large tendrils to release him. When he did feel the shift--something like a sharp, instant head-splitting shock which was the result of the tendrils either implanting or removing the neural sensory infusers from his neocortex--he sat up and coughed. Usually he allowed the small tendrils to withdraw gently on their own, but this time he grabbed them and tugged, and they fell into the bath in a stream of snot and blood.
One of his eyes was still swollen shut. After the first year with it, he'd begun to deactivate more and more safety controls on the reality machine so that everything in the virtual world felt more and more authentic, and the consequences (thanks to the efforts of the large tendrils) carried over into the real world. Except that when things got too crazy, he could always step out of the virtual world, take a break and heal, and decide if he wanted to reset the world or dive back into the heap of trouble he'd created for himself.
Like now. But he didn't want to reset the machine, he wanted to destroy it. And not because things had gotten really, really bad--no, the problem was that his grip on reality was starting to slip; more than once lately, he'd found himself confusing the real and virtual worlds.
He needed to destroy the machine. Even if it had cost him all of his substantial life's savings.