I was at the end of my rope, like millions of other citizens. Ready to give up. Broke, way beyond broke, out of work and down to the last of my savings. I stood in front of the VRC machine, remembering the afternoon I received the message that I hoped to God would save me:
USE THIS CERTIFICATE TO GET [37 YEARS] TODAY!
You are preselected for a 37-year bypass from Virtual Freedom International, Inc. Just bring this certificate to our offices today. Your new life could start right away! Imagine: all your financial troubles vanish… while you enjoy a vacation in whatever world you desire!
Too good to be true? Probably thousands of companies like this preying on washed up, financial failures like myself. I should say that I’m not a total mark. I did do some research on VFI International before I walked into their stunning office building. Sure enough, I read reviews from people they’d screwed over. Reviewers complaining that the machine had failed and that they’d only slept for days or weeks. I convinced myself those review writers were paid by competing services. I couldn’t let go of the idea that all my troubles would be gone! What other choice did I have? I had to at least investigate. I’d come by the offices, talk to the Crisis Manager, and feel out the situation.
After talking to my Crisis Manager, a nice older man named Jim Harrison, I knew I wanted to take them up on the offer. Yes, I could awaken penniless – but that would’ve happened anyway. I signed over what little money I had left, feeling confident that VFI International would invest the money wisely for me, and that my rate of return would be exactly what they promised it would be. (Besides – what if I slept for 37 years and awoke to a new world? Banks failed. Creditors gone … I’d be debt-free that way too!) Jim promised that I would awaken in 37 years as man with a comfortable savings. He warned me, though, that I shouldn’t expect wealth. Not with my small initial outlay. To be honest, I didn’t want wealth. Wealth seemed like too much stress. I wanted to live the rest of my life comfortably, and this, according to Jim, would be the exactly result of my signing up.
Before entering the VRC machine, I was told to meditate while holding a “Personal Sphere.” This was a brand-new part of the service. The Sphere would read my subconscious and choose the best virtual experience for me. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Jim explained that before the Sphere people had never asked for what they really wanted deep down. Men, especially, went for the surface things such as living in a mansion, sailing a yacht … basically living the life of a sex-god billionaire playboy.
I held the Sphere. It was a burnt-orange color, and soft. It resembled a furry, yarn-like child’s toy. I pulled on the fibers, and stretched them, trying to “read” the Sphere. No luck. I began to feel sleepy though, and before I knew it, Jim was leaning me back into the VRC.
The VRC was like a stretcher. Metallic, roughly rectangular, and about the length of my body. Jim made a few adjustments, and the VRC shifted its shape and size to accommodate my six foot one, one hundred ninety-eight pound frame. I asked Jim if it was really true that I would awaken into a new comfortable life without having aged even a day. He smiled warmly, held my hand for a moment, and told me not to worry. I would be thirty-four, I would be comfortable, and I would have a new lease on life.
An energy field soon surrounded me. The freezing process wasn’t cold. Not that I remember, anyway. I was sleepy, as I said, and then, then, softly, I was submerged within the VR world.
I was directing a popular SF film. I’d seen the picture. Not one of my favorites, but it had made billions worldwide. Closest I’d ever come to directing anything was my little nephew’s 5th birthday party, the result of which was never played in front of the family because my artistic camera movements would always make Aunt Jenny sick.
But I knew, in the VR, that I could make no mistakes. It was wonderfully freeing to know that no matter what choice I made, the film would go on to make billions. It was sort of like being back in time, somehow living for a while the life of a famous film director … but without any of the stresses that would go along with such a job. I called for sweeping dolly arc shots of the Captain’s chair, wild crane shots of the planet’s fiery volcano, lens flares that really had no place being there… yet I knew that what I was doing would make the film successful. Oddly, I had to keep convincing the financiers on the set that I was the right man for the job. This made me feel like myself in the old world, the world I was supposed to leave behind entirely. I wasn’t sure if this was a mistake on the part of VFI International, or if it was me: the surfacing of one of millions of my psychological issues I’d never dealt with. Issues that if I had dealt with, perhaps I would’ve been a success in life.
It felt like those 37 years went by in minutes. I’d really only had time to direct a handful of scenes, and the scenes didn’t connect in any meaningful way. I think the purpose of the VR was to make me feel confident about my choices, but without any burden of the possibility of failure; however, I couldn’t figure out why the VR had glitched on me, forcing me to explain myself to those financiers. I’d read somewhere that in dreams everyone you meet is an aspect of the dreamer. So perhaps the financiers are me. As a director I’m desperately trying to prove myself to myself because I don’t think I can do anything right. Bet that’s why I’ve failed so spectacularly in life. Just thoughts from the armchair.
37 years later, Jim. He looked not a minute older. Shouldn’t he be… in his nineties?
“What happened?” I asked him. “Has it really been 37 years?”
“Yes, it has.”
I tried to sit up. I was far too weak. I was shaking. I felt terribly ill. I grabbed the railing on the side of the machine. When I saw my arm… old, withered, fragile… I could only stare. Jim told me that the world economy had shifted. There was no way to foresee what had happened. The interest rates on my investment had plummeted. I had no backup finances to take the hit, so they subtracted my debt in terms of years of life.
He told me I was eight-one.
“Eighty one…” The math didn’t hold up.
Jim shook his head, sadly. “We were also forced to add years to your life. Otherwise you would’ve been seventy-one.”
Eighty-one and penniless.
Jim – who had had the foresight apparently to invest intelligently – was the same age as when I had entered. He released me to the bright sunlit world outside the offices, patted me on the back, and wished me luck. I stood in the hot sun, horrified, terrified. How would I survive? I knew no one! My friends and relatives would be dead or too old to take me in. I didn’t think my five-year old nephew – who would be 42 now – would care to hole me up in his life. I would be a stranger to him. I would do anything to go back in time. Before VFI… before I began making such horrible financial decisions… I turned around and wished to God that the offices would vanish and I would realize that this was all part of the VR – a way for my subconscious to kick me in the ass and make better decisions when I would awaken, 37 years in the future, age 34.
I tottered off down the street looking for a place to rest, somewhere, anywhere away from the harsh sunlight.