Simone's World

by Miriam English

The wind howled around the small, white, silica-foam dome. Phil's voice was barely audible above the torrent of sound outside. Simone smiled inwardly seeing impatience in the working of Phil's large pincers.

"Just look at this shit!" Phil rasped as he flailed at empty cans and cartons littering the little dome.

"The previous occupants," Simone said.

"I suppose you just let it accumulate, huh?" Phil growled, then shrieked with disgust at stepping on a bowl of months-old stew overturning it on two of his feet. The smell was horrible. Phil was centipeding around holding two of his legs up, trying to shake the smelly stuff off them, then kicking through the litter in an attempt to wipe it off.

Simone's huge, furry, mantis-like face smiled (a difficult feat but Simone had plenty of practice). She could see that Phil had never been in a situation anything like this. He was probably used to silk and gold and countless slaves to die willingly for him. He would find nothing like that here.

"Relax Phil, you might need that energy later," she advised.

Phil stopped kicking the garbage and turned, his pincers open with interest, "Is there a purpose?" his words all but lost in the roar of the wind outside.

Simone shook her head and first pair of shoulders. "No. There never is in mine."

"God, I'm sick of this already and we've only been here a little while. I don't suppose there's any way to speed things up, is there!"

Simone's neckless head shook again. "You'll just have to be patient. Shortly the wind will have fallen enough to move about outside. Only another few minutes and we will be able to move safely. There is a deep split in the ice and rock. I don't know where it is, but it's 99 percent probable less than 50 kilometers from here It should go down about a kilometer." She was about to explain the random nature of the terrain but Phil interrupted.

"The chasm, what are we looking for there?" Phil's gaming frame of mind was showing.

"I'm not looking for anything there, but I presume you want the way back. "

"Is that the only way back?" he narrowed his eyes; big, furred lids slid over fist-sized orbs.

"Apart from 'death'," came the assent.

"Typical! I don't know what possessed me to come here. In mine I ensure there's some friendly spirit or genie or guardian angel on hand to fix it if things go badly. It's bad customer relations to bore your clients... or," remembering the trash, "making them crouch in garbage to wait out a windstorm."

Simone countered, "I don't put the garbage here. Visitors leave it."

"Same thing: it requires an extra program to accumulate objects. It is actually easier to have each client start fresh."

"But I want each person to learn things during their visit. I want people to learn to take care of the world around them - to be aware of their effect on the world."

Phil opened his nostril flaps and snorted. "They don't come to these to be educated Simone, they come to them to escape from the real world. To be entertained... to wring some enjoyment from an otherwise boring existence! There are 80 million million people on Earth. These programs allow the human race to cope with itself."

Simone looked up. "You're not talking about coping, you're talking about avoiding. The Danube doesn't stop being the world's most polluted river by going on a fairy-castle adventure and forgetting about it for a while."

"Well you don't fix it by making people squat in garbage!"

"I think you do, in a round-about kind of way. If people can see the effect of their actions they may learn respect for the Earth."

"It's a bit late for that," Phil said bitterly. "The only thing we can do now is stop people tearing each other apart; provide them with the illusion that they have universes to explore and play in." Phil raised a front paw extending a single claw. "The challenge is to do it well." He turned again to Simone. "And here you my friend, are one of the best. No-one else programs with such realism. But you let them get filthy and become disasters. Did you ever think that what's out there might be just a lot of other Danubes and Melbournes and Chernobyls? Your programs, I mean. Look at how many of your simulations are about environmental disasters."

"Simone's head bowed a little and her nictitating membranes covered her eyes. "Yes, I am so scared people will forget."

"They might as well forget! There's no going back. We can't UNpoison the seas. We can't make the rain safe. All we can do is help people forget that they live like sardines packed in little boxes underground. Most people spend their entire lives in these simulations. They don't want to be bothered. They don't need to be reminded that their ancestors cheated them of their world. They just do their bit of obligatory work remoting a mining robot or a lagrangian farm capsule or whatever, then in their time off see some fun in one of Helen's comedy adventures or perhaps one of my sword and sorcery quests."

Simone's pincers moved back and forth in aggravation, "But to live like that is to live a lie."

"Oh? And when was the last time you got out of your harness and unplugged your tubes? I haven't been out of mine since I was eight years old. I don't have any idea what I really look like - and I don't particularly want to."

The wind was quieting outside now, luckily, for Simone spoke softly, "I get out of my harness each summer for a couple of weeks in a garden bubble on the surface."

"Dunno why you bother - go through a day of pain and discomfort extracting yourself from your harness. For what? Some silly artistic gesture." He breathed a big sigh. "Anyway, my friend, it's sounding better outside now. What say we make tracks, I'm impatient to savour this world of yours - your best, you say."

Simone lifted her head and opened her pincers wide in smile, "Yes, this is the most internally consistent world I've written. I'm very proud of it - I come here often. The landscape has a randomising function so that each time I visit, it is different, but it always obeys the laws of nature, and there are some wonderful lifeforms to see and meet. Come, it may take us weeks to find the return switch. We must find the crevasse before the winds start again."

copyright ©1996 by Miriam English