Reality Sucks, by Tori and Giulio Lisi

SFReader 2013 Story Contest
Third Place Winner

I logged off my work program and looked at my schedule – a two hour break.

My options: Happy Family 27Dream Boat 22 (it was a new program – one I hadn’t tried before), Conspiracy 10, one of the Adventure series, or an exercise program. I gritted my teeth.

I was going to do the exercise program. Most people didn’t bother anymore. Since no one ever saw anyone except on a vid screen, what with the price of transportation. I’d vided my mother last year and she didn’t even turn on her visual. Just prattled on and on about Happy Family 15, like Missy Smart was her real daughter and not me. It had irritated me – after all, I didn’t look half bad and had an actual job. I couldn’t compete with the perfect Holo daughter who had just become President. Sometimes I wondered why I bothered to vid people. No one wanted to remember their real lives.

I prided myself in self discipline. I walked to my COMPU SIM. I hooked myself up, put on my goggles and gloves and opted for a heart pounding Grizzly Bear Escape program. It was pretty realistic and simulated a walk in the Rockies with real fir trees, before they had burnt to a crisp, and the grizzly bear always scared me even though I’d outrun it a dozen times.

After that I felt fully cardio’ed and really virtuous, and I still had an hour. I re-booted the COMPU SIM, affixed the drip, the dilation scan and clicked.

Soon I was in the arms of a dashing sea captain in Dream Boat 22, 16th century version. Crushed against his muscled chest, gazing into his indigo eyes, he knew exactly what to say and do. Things I wanted and didn’t even know I wanted. The new pupil scans are amazing. I was just getting all hot and steamy when the power went out. I slammed the COMPU SIM in frustration.

I waited a few minutes just to be sure, but the mood fled quickly now that the drip was off. I unhooked myself, climbed out and fumbled around in the dim apartment until I found my antique crank flashlight. Then I unlatched the door, glad I still had that option and hadn’t gone fully automatic.

A hugely obese man was stumbling in the dark corridor. He gaped at me, opening and closing his mouth several times, like a fish out of water. He had probably forgotten how to talk. One of the hole ups. Lots of people ended up like that. Never went outside, never left the virtual. Can’t say I blamed them. Reality sucks. The heat was building in the hallway. Last time I’d checked it was 115 outside and that was a month ago. It’s summer, I think.

“A…A…Alee…” he was trying to speak. I stood for a moment trying to remember common courtesy protocols. His rank odor was nauseating. I finally shrugged and walked on. I took the dusty stairs, glad the door still worked and the stairwell hadn’t collapsed. I stumbled down eight dusty flights, fighting spider webs all the way. It reminded me of Haunted House 19. Except no ghosts leaped out. The holos are so much more familiar. When I got to the ground level, I braced myself. Reality, I suspected, could be far worse than any scary holo program.

The heat hit me like a blow torch in the face. I gazed at the shimmering buildings, as the sidewalk baked my feet. The air was unfiltered and foul. I stood gaping and gasping. I hadn’t been out in a long time. The street was even more run down than I remembered, if that’s possible, and my neighborhood is considered good. But it’s too hot for much maintenance. The cheap labor from Mexico evaporated long ago. A cracked, buckled street. High-rises black with soot. Not much trash though. No one goes out. And no weeds either. Stuff only grows in greenhouses anymore. Just sand, blowing through a decaying city scape.

Several people were gathered in the street, mostly the fitter ones like me. People who could still move around. We were a shabbily dressed lot. Everyone uses their money for COMPU SIM. Pajama style lounging rags – I fit right in. I gingerly walked over. No one looked especially dangerous. Of course there weren’t gangs anymore. The Happy Family series had replaced most social interactions. I was going to watch my favorite (number 27) when the power came back on. I was very stressed.

Several of the guys weren’t bad looking. Like they really worked out, but they ignored me. Even though I do my best to keep clean and in shape. No man has looked at me with lust in ten years. I can’t compete with the Dream Girl series. The male equivalent of Dream Boat. The holograms are just too perfect.

I sighed and spoke up. “Does anyone know what is going on?” That startled them. My job is to be the voice of Mrs. Marm in <strong>Home Sweet Home (a family style program). An obscure program, few families anymore. However, it has helped me retain my ability to speak audibly.

“I… I think it…could be the Aliens” said a tall lean man with a crank radio. His voice was low but not a mumble.

“What…what Aliens?'” a muted chorus that I joined in.

“Th..They landed about six months ago,” radio man said. “You won’t hear a thing about it on the news. It’s all repeats, if you haven’t noticed.” He seemed to be getting the hang of speaking out loud again.

“So, how do you know,” I demanded suspiciously.

He blinked at me and seemed frightened. Most men are, of me that is … they are so used to the supplicating pleasers in Dream Girl. I terrify them.

“I work for Biotech. I heard through work.”

“S…S…So what’s going on? Are they d…d…dangerous?” gasped the hugely obese man. I was surprised to see he could speak and had made it outside

“Not so far. They seem to be ignoring us. They are sticking to uninhabited areas. But sometimes what they do seems to cause power outages,” replied radio man.

“What can the government do anyway?” a flabby woman slurred, fanning herself with her hand. “It’s too hot to do anything.”

That was true. The militaries had all disbanded years ago. The work that was done was for food and minimal maintenance. The only growth was in Holo programs.

“It’s not too hot for the Aliens,” the man with the radio started.

The apartments around us suddenly began humming as hundreds of air conditioners kicked in. The power was back.

“Thank God! Hallelujah!” several people exclaimed. The small crowd started to disperse.

“W…What, aren’t you interested in the aliens?” asked the man, waving his radio. “I can get a news program on this, a real one.”

“So what if it’s true, what can we do. I just want to watch my Holo,” said the woman, the skin under her arms flapping as she fanned her sweaty face.

Soon it was just me and the man with the radio on the street.

“Do you want to come to my apartment?” he asked. “I can show you vids. What the aliens look like and everything.”

I studied him for a few moments, evaluating. It would probably be quite interesting to find out what was really going on. I believed him after all. Few had enough social skill to pull off a lie anymore. But I could watch the new Alien Invasion #6 instead. It would get me all excited and curious. My body would be wired into the exact appropriate adrenaline dosage and it had a happy ending. I wasn’t sure this would.

He was nice looking. I could imagine us in his apartment. Awkward conversations, fumbling, sweat, real touch…but no. Dream Girl had spoiled men for flesh and blood women. I could see in his eyes that he would never find me attractive. What was the point. Aliens I couldn’t understand and a relationship that would never happen.

“No,” I said. “I’ve had it with reality.”

I turned and walked back to my apartment. I was going to watch Happy Family 27. I deserved it.

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