Vicarious - Chapter One
The notion behind the creation of High Earth were simple. Provide humanity with a safe place to live, where residents would want for nothing. Hunger, thirst, shelter, even tangible fear; these would be concerns of a bygone age. In High Earth, life was perfect, and through this harmony, the true artists would thrive.
Wealth was immaterial. After the techno-revolution of the twenty-fifth century, there were no nations with which to compete or to feed patriotism. There was no need for crime. All the blights of ancient civilization were eradicated. The only people who needed to work were those who chose to. Those with the instinctual propensity to create – to entrance minds with stories, new worlds and wild inventions – and those without it, who merely wanted the opportunity to help them realize their visions. Everyone else could simply sit back in peace and enjoy enough content to fill a billion years.
Vigo Helix was one such visionary. The greatest since those brilliant few who carefully constructed each of the mechanisms keeping High Earth chugging along. From the moment I was released from the synth-womb at sixteen and assigned my domicile, I found myself drawn to his show, Live on Ignis
It was brilliant. In a time when Virtual Reality content reigned supreme, he provided the residents of High Earth with a world so raw it was like traveling back through time in a way none of the Sims could capture. The struggle of the people who lived there was real. They went about their days, not knowing we were watching their unscripted lives unfold. And it wasn’t filled with the depressingly hopeless degenerates like the people in the High Earth Outskirts whose only interest was clawing their way back in. Enough shows featuring their plight had failed. Ignis was filled with inhabitants united for a singular purpose.
I realized shortly after my birth that I didn’t have the mind to concoct new ideas anybody would be interested in watching like Vigo did. Most people didn’t – developers were the true celebrities of High Earth – but I could never understand those residents who were content with only experiencing the designs of others. The moment there was an opening, I volunteered to join the Live on Ignis staff, full of fellow idealists like myself who didn’t have the capacity to dream up our own dreams.
I started as a camera operator, and then, after ten years slowly rising up the ranks, the greatest day of my life arrived. Nine months before, a terrible tragedy had struck Ignis; a great blackout causing the deaths of hundreds of the inhabitants who lived there. After nine months of grueling documentation of the effects, Mr. Helix’s Chief Director of Content, Fara Bolsa, decided to step down in order to pursue her own programming concepts. Mr. Helix named me as her replacement.
“You’ve come a long way, Jim,” he said to me as he guided me into my office that morning. I froze as my eyes fell upon the director’s chair. An array of screens wrapped three-quarters around it, each depicting a live feed from within Ignis. It was now my job to choose which footage would be disseminated, how each shot would be framed, and who to focus on. To put down the pages on which the inhabitants of Ignis would improvise their stories.
“Are you nervous, Jim?” Mr. Helix asked. He glanced down at the life-band wrapping my wrist, through the transparent OptiVisor constantly donning his face. It blinked red, indicating that my anxiety levels were elevated beyond satisfactory levels and I was in desperate need of medication.
Words got stuck in my suddenly parched throat. Nervous? Even after a decade working beneath him, I still preferred avoiding conversations with Mr. Helix altogether. With everybody really. Sitting in that Director’s Chair was all I’d ever wanted. Live on Ignis was my everything. High Earth Residents could watch or engage in whatever VR they wanted so long as they didn’t exceed nearly unsurpassable yearly data restrictions. Not me. Every night I wound up watching the same show, and it was the same one on which I spent every day working.
“Here.” He lifted my wrist to signal my life-band to inject soothing pharma, but I pulled away.
“It’s okay,” I muttered softly. For once in my life I wanted to feel like those on Ignis did. I lugged my suddenly hefty legs to the chair and wrapped my hand around the armrest. The synth-leather was chilly, like even after only a day left vacant it longed for another occupant.
“You’re a peculiar man, Jim Reinhart,” he chuckled. “A brilliant one, but peculiar. You won’t be able to focus in this state.”
I barely heard him. I reached out and started selecting which areas of Ignis required attention and how best to direct the rest of the studio. My hands flew across the controls. Thousands of feeds were at my fingertips. There were views of Ignis nobody but me would ever see. Conversations nobody else would ever hear.
“Slow down, Jim!” Mr. Helix said. He rested a hand on my shoulder, snapping me out of my trance. His touch had a way of making my skin crawl. One day, maybe I’d shake the feeling that I didn’t belong in his presence let alone in contact with him.
“Sorry,” I murmured.
I glanced down realized my hand was quaking. He was right, as usual. I needed to focus. I signaled my life-band to inject pharma. In a few seconds, my heartrate and breathing regulated. In a few more, I had my wits about me enough to remember I’d forgotten to lower my OptiVisor so that I could transit directions to the staff.
“I believe in you, Jim,” Mr. Helix said. “Together we are going to do great things.” He tapped my shoulder one last time, then made it all the way to the exit by the time I tore myself away from the Ignis’ feeds.
“Mr. Helix, I…,” I stuttered. “Thank you for trusting me with your vision.”
“You’ve earned it. Fara’s work was extraordinary, but this is your floor now. All of High Earth will be watching and so will I.”
Then the door shut. I watched through the glass as he walked away, down an aisle straddled by countless camera operators, hammering away on their consoles awaiting my commands. I drew a deep breath, and then got started.
The pharma had performed its job admirably. After mumbling and mixing up a few instructions to the crew, I found myself growing more comfortable in my new role. It was so much easier conversing with people through an OptiVisor then having to see them. Like programming bots. This was what I was born to do.
A vicious brawl in a galley broke out. I oversaw a handful of sexual encounters, mostly legal, except for one involving a Birthmother and a member of the Collective. All of the human drama viewers of Life on Ignis craved. I fell into a groove, like I was Mr. Helix’s eyes and ears. And then, not even an hour in, my first major milestone arrived.
“Birthmother Alora in Block B going into labor,” a member of my crew announced. Many inhabitants had died during the Great Blackout, which meant Birthmothers and Mothers working overtime to return the population to acceptable levels. Some of their prescribed laws on reproduction even had to temporarily be shirked to help rectify the situation.
My hands paused briefly, but I didn’t panic. My direction of the birthing went flawlessly. I know that because Mr. Helix never mentioned one word about that birthing. He only ever did when he felt a view or a cut compromised his expectations.
“Swap out all other leads,” I said. “I want every camera in Nursery-B focused on Alora.”
Viewers loved Ignis’s birthing’s. On High Earth, infants were both conceived and grown in the safety of synthetic-wombs. Their minds were infused with all relevant knowledge to ensure a healthy existence upon release at the end of adolescence. There, all those modern methods of safe childbirth and rearing were tossed out the window. I couldn’t imagine having to endure too deep a cut without immediate relief, yet Birthmothers placed their lives in jeopardy every time. Occaionally, the horrible agony warped their minds for good. Sometimes, it claimed either their life or the child’s.
Alora lay on a table moaning, legs propped up while the Block’s Mother and other Birthmothers yelled for her to “push.” There was something inherently savage about watching an infant being torn from it’s mother’s womb, covered in blood and placenta. Savage, but beautiful. That something so precious could come from so much pain and suffering.
I watched from every angle as Birthmother Alora survived the labor and niewer comment boards lit up with people guessing what the name might be. She was so exhausted afterwards she needed an extra pillow to keep her head upright as the Birthmothers handed her the child.
I’d operated cameras for too many birthings on Ignis to count, but they all paled in comparison to that first one I directed. It was as if I was there with Alora. She wiped her daughter’s brow with her trembling fingers, and then gazed down upon her as if she was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
The tiny girl didn’t cry. All of the others did when they first came out but not this one. Her eyes – green as the great lawn spanning High Earth – looking from side to side, piecing together the world for the first time.
Her name was Mission. She was the 4,130th inhabitant of Ignis, and the first under my watch.
‘A God Among Us’ by Rhett C. Bruno
I didn't know about this site until recently, but the man behind the magic here messaged me and asked if I might be interested in posting something. After looking through what's offered here, I couldn't say no. A place for writers to freely share their work, critique and interact? Sign me up! It's a great idea and I'm a big fan of Prose so far.
This will be my first post here so I guess I'll introduce myself. I'm Rhett C Bruno, amazon bestselling SciFi author with Random House Hydra and Diversion Books. My published novels include, "Titanborn," "From Ice to Ashes," and "The Circuit Trilogy." The story I'm choosing to post is one I wrote for fun, about a lonely god who has lost his humanity. I was never really sure what to do with it since it's so short, but I hope you all enjoy!
Wind whistled through the deep vales that stretched for miles across the rockbound badlands arrayed before me. There was no other sound. Only the oppressive layers of quietness which enveloped me as they always did - my unseen cloak. I couldn’t hear my heart, for my heart didn’t beat. A god has no use for blood. I couldn’t hear the rasp of air being drawn into my lungs, for I didn’t breathe. A god has no need for air. There, at the crest of the world, I was utterly and completely alone.
And so, on that sleepless night, like all others, I sought solace beneath the moon’s faint glow. Far over my head it climbed the ropes of the heavens, like a lidless eye amongst the stars. The light it exuded barely allowed me to see much in detail beyond the palms of my hands, but it was enough for me to make out smoke rising from chimney stacks in a distant village; enough to remind me that the world hadn’t yet vanished, which would’ve been a comforting thought if not for the well-known fact that even amongst a sea of men and woman I’d feel as secluded as I did then.
While the moon soared ever higher, I reached up to grasp the edges of the golden mask covering my face. For the first time in countless years I decided to pull it off. My mask had become the only face I remembered how to wear. It was as cold and impassive as immortality had made me. However, at that moment, all I craved was to feel the gentle arms of a breeze brushing against my bare cheeks.
I held my mask out in front of me and stared into its golden reflection. Through the darkness, I could only make out my eyes. They were blue as the smoldering coals at the base of a white-hot flame. It was the pupils, however, which most drew my focus. A normal man wouldn’t recognize the slight shimmer deep within the tiny, black circles, but I was not a normal man. To me the difference was blatant, like a pair of finely cut diamonds glinting beneath the rising sun. I loathed what I saw in them with all of my stagnant heart, almost as much as I longed for the days before they were rendered such; days so far gone that they were little more than a collection of meaningless images.
“Sir, are you all right?” a small voice squeaked from my side.
The mask slipped through my fingers. I couldn’t believe it. I’d allowed someone to climb the rugged terrain and sneak up on me as if I were a ragged, old man hard of hearing. No mortal was permitted to view me without my mask on. To see that beneath its gilded surface lay a face no different than their own. Perhaps my skin was smoother and my brow cleaner, but my mask was the face which allowed me to guard and to judge my subjects with impunity. It was gifted to me ages ago, when I was chosen by the heavens to serve as the Guardian Deity of Al’Riviera.
“Sir?” he repeated.
The person was so close now that I could feel warm breath kissing my exposed neck. I scrambled to find my mask so that I could place it back where it belonged, but in the darkness I accidentally knocked it out of grasp and into the feet of my uninvited guest.
I turned to face the mortal. He was a human child, no older than ten. His cheeks were gaunt and his hair was unkempt and mottled with dirt. He didn’t appear frightened, more confused that someone would willingly sit outside so high up, without a fire to keep him warm, or a companion to watch for wolves.
When I said nothing, he slowly bent over to pick up the mask, but he didn’t run. A brave little boy. “Sir, do you have a name?” he asked, a hint of concern edging into his tone.
'A name', I thought.
I had gone by many over the centuries, but whoever I had been before no longer mattered. I was Noden the Worldcarver, living embodiment of the Al’Kari God of earth and water. Of course, the boy couldn’t know those things. As much as I may have wanted to invite him to sit beside me and enjoy the pleasure of company, I knew I couldn’t. Faith was a fickle thing. He had seen what was beneath my mask, and the heavens wouldn’t abide that. Even if it was my own fault for allowing him to get so near, the boy could never return home.
The boy lifted the golden mask and went to hand it over to me. As my fingers wrapped my adopted facade, the light of the moon revealed the ornate designs along its surface. Unmistakable patterns.
The boy’s eyes widened in astonishment. “Noden?” he whispered.
I stared directly into them until his face went white as ash and his limbs went stiff like loose branches on a rotting tree. Then he tumbled over the precipice, leaving me alone again. It was difficult to feel sorry for him. There’d be plenty of souls for him to talk to where he was going. Release… He had no idea how lucky he was.
Thanks for reading! You can find out more about my other work or how to connect with me at www.rhettbruno.com.