Wind howled around Ryan and the drizzle seeped through the seams of his clothes as he approached the old Victorian shell of a building. Pulling his hood down against the wind, he turned and scanned his surroundings before opening the wrought iron gate and climbing the stairs to the door. After giving a further furtive look around, he knocked on the door and put his ear to the wood listening for movement. As he heard footsteps approaching, he stepped back from the door and pulled off his hood.
The door opened a crack and a man wearing sunglasses appeared and held out his hand. Ryan rummaged through his pockets and handed the man his phone, which was swiftly dumped into a Faraday cage by the doorstep. ‘What do you want?’ the man asked brusquely.
‘I just want a 20-minute reset, I’ve got the credits’, Ryan said fanning out a handful of credit cards.
‘Are you a cop?’ the man asked.
‘C’mon man, you know me, Cypher’ Ryan replied, offering the cards for him to take.
After hesitating for a second, he took the cards and then opened the door to let him in. Ryan looked up and down the street one final time before walking over the threshold.
The inside of the house had been decimated through neglect. Water streamed down the walls and through a gaping hole in the roof. The floors above him were being held up with temporary supports and a dank and rotting smell permeated the air.
Cypher took off his sunglasses and headed towards the back of the house. As they walked through the corridors, they stepped over people sprawled on the floor wearing VR headsets. The wires of the headsets were connected straight into a battery wall and he could hear the whirring of cooling fans over the sound of the rain.
‘You’re in luck my friend, we had a long termer go to mush this morning. Had to dump him near the Neuro Recovery Unit in town earlier’. Cypher opened the door to the room and held it open for Ryan to enter.
Amongst the puddles covering the floor sat a reclining chair, wires snaking out from it and gathering again into a console in the corner of the room.
‘Take a seat’ Cypher said, as he approached the console and flipped the switches to turn it on. As the console lit up, he picked up a VR headset and waited for Ryan to shift around in the chair until he was comfortable.
Cypher placed the headset on Ryans head and began attaching the wires. ‘You sure you want a reset?’, I’ve programmed some pretty interesting places with some pretty friendly people’.
‘I need a reset’, Ryan replied without hesitation.
Cypher pressed a button on the console and just as Ryan was whisked away, he heard a fizzling sound and the smell of burning. A second later he was looking up at his mother. Her face was blurred, but he could smell her perfume. He waved his hands in front of him and his little chubby fingers moved in trails in front of his face.
He gurgled with happiness as he kicked freely into the air and relieved himself in his diaper. The sun warmed his face, and his mind was peaceful in the newness of his surroundings. Tranquillity swept through him and he rested in a blissful state for what seemed like eternity.
A fly buzzed in front of him, disturbing his serenity and suddenly his stomach felt empty, so he wailed until his mother picked him up and started rocking him back and forth.
She checked his diaper and placed him back down before changing it quickly and picking him up again. Ryan continued to cry as his hunger grew and his mother began talking, but Ryan didn’t understand what she was saying. His father appeared and his mind began to reconcile itself with his environment.
Words started flooding back into his head, ‘Reset’, he remembered now. By this time, he knew he only had a few minutes left, but he still felt hungry, so he continued to cry hoping his mother would feed him before he jumped back to reality.
She picked him up again and lifted up her top, allowing him to feed. The warmth of the milk filled his stomach and when he was done, she placed him back down again in the cot. His stomach felt fuller now than it ever did in reality and he hoped that this sensation would continue when the reset had finished.
The sky outside started to darken, which it never did with this program, yet with his stomach full, he drifted off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that when he woke, he’d be able to do it all again soon.
The sound of the rain roused him from sleep and when he opened his eyes, he could see above him the mobile that once hung from his cot. He cried for help as loud as he could, wailing for freedom, a cry that could never be answered.
‘We’ve got another lock-in’ shouted the doctor, as Cyphers van sped away from the NRU for the second time that day.