This is a continuation of the story which begins at Ten of Hearts: Double You
I lean against the wall of the corridor and close my eyes for a few moments; trying to take it all in, trying not to let the tears out. I’ve been wishing for Cat to magically reappear for a year and a half, and now that the dream has come true ten times over, I don’t know how to feel. This is the dream of a sleeper, a disconnected, nonsensical dream.
Maybe I’m really dreaming, but I feel more awake than ever. Maybe I’m in virtual reality too. Maybe there is no reality.
I open my eyes to let something like reality in. The dark hallway isn’t enough to chase away the thoughts. I flick on the flashlight and scrutinise my surroundings for anything that would betray its fakeness. There are none of the tell-tale signs I can see in my own VR software. Something else catches my eye, though. There’s another door, further down the passage.
I dread what I might find there. Another ten Cats, older than the one I knew? Younger? I have had far too many surprises for one day, but I can’t help checking.
I turn the handle and push the door open slowly. For a few moments I stand there with the flashlight aimed at the floor, afraid of what I might see if I move it. I hear whispering.
The sibilant darkness is suddenly more scary than anything else I was imagining, so I shine my light across the room.
It’s me. Me from a few years ago apparently showing a few other mes what he could recognise of the VR suit. Me squinting at the light of my torch. Me trying not to start crying. Me looking at myself in shock.
“Holy carbonara… how many of us are there?” says one of the mes who was examining the suit.
“How did you get out of your suit?” asks another.
“Did you make these?” says the me from a few years ago.
I can’t speak. I shine the light around the room, carefully counting its inhabitants. Twelve, of different ages; more than enough to match the Cats in the other room. I know that I could never have substituted one of those Cats for my Cat, but it still hurts to know that there isn’t one left over for me.
“Hey, you… I mean me,” says a young teenaged version of myself. “Do you know what’s going on?”
I sit down with them, afraid that my legs won’t support me. “I wish I did.”
“Everything was perfectly normal up until a year and a half ago. Then some old guy… maybe it was granddad… he came and killed Cat and tried to kill me, but I killed him first.” Those of me who are old enough to know Cat gasp.
“Ever since… well, of course nothing’s been normal. I’ve just been living in here trying to make sense of it all. I guess I could have left, but I don’t feel ready to face the real world yet, and maybe be accused of murder. But then, there was this power cut… and the access control on the doors is shut down. So, out of curiosity… stupid curiosity… I came down here and found…” I try unsuccessfully to hold back a sob. It’s a strange feeling, being self-conscious when the only people watching me are myself. More self, more conscious.
“Yeah, we know the feeling. At least you got to open a door to find us. I was in the middle of taking a piss.”
I involuntarily look towards his crotch, wondering how such bodily functions work in whatever virtual reality system they were in. I look away in embarrassment, then wonder whether I should be embarrassed about looking at my own fabric-covered nether regions.
It seems like I’m in a stop-motion, each absurd thing that happens shocks me into inaction for a while. Eventually I recover my train of thought. “I mean… I don’t mean… you’re not the only ones.”
The other mes are not immune to being stunned.
“There’s another room… with ten copies of Cat.”
We stare at each other, wondering how to put our thoughts into words, and wondering whether we need to. I need them to. These people were living normal lives, living with Cat, or living in the lesser, ignorant bliss of never having met her. These people have spent several hours together, learning how they are the same, how they are different, how to behave with each other. I am a stranger in a crowd of myself.
A younger me breaks the silence by giggling. “So what are we waiting for? You should go see your giiirrrlfriends!” he chides. I remember that time. The thought of having a girlfriend was so disgusting, embarrassing, and enticingly mysterious.
“He’s right,” says a me about four years younger than myself. “I want to see her. Do you know how to disconnect these cables?” He jerks his head upwards to indicate the cable attached to his head, making it sway lightly.
“I don’t know. Looks like it’s going straight into your brain. I guess if there’s no power going through it anyway, we could just cut it. But I can’t guarantee I could repair it if you want to go back in. You know I’m not that good with hardware.”
“Do it,” he says. “I think I’ve had enough fake reality to last a lifetime. I want the real thing.”
It is only when I’m back in the corridor on the way to get wire cutters that I remember Cat’s pain relief. The retreat is pretty well stocked with medicine, to avoid unnecessary contact with the high-tech outside world. We haven’t needed to use much of it, but it’s reassuring to know it’s there.
There’s no power for the computer which would have dispensed just the right amount of this or that drug. No power for the lock holding the machine closed either. I open it up and see the neat columns of capsules in their sterile plastic compartments.
Two columns are almost empty. I don’t want to think about why. It’s too much. I’m just going to take these last few painkillers to Cat, and worry about the rest when my life has regained some sanity.
To be continued…
There’s no way that I will write an entire novel this National Novel Writing Month, but I figured I should at least write another chapter of the one I was already writing. The chapters are short and badly planned, but they’re just going to have to do for now. I expect there will be substantial revisions once I’ve written all the chapters. As I’ve already mentioned, I have figured out most of the back-story but I am not sure how it will all come to light in the story.
I always have an excuse to continue this story… I have a whole deck of cats. I wanted to incorporate the pictured cat’s mood into the story (friendly but unsure, according to some websites) by having the Cats meet one or more of the other Jacks, but it didn’t work out that way. Also, you’ll have to give me some more time to fabricate a connection with the letter K. My main constraint this week was continuing the novel.