#Perfect! MacBarbie07 thought with a contented smile, as she wedged deeper into her chair and looked at her finished product, herself, on the iLens screen. Her previous blonde hair had been nice at first, but was getting a bit outdated after a few weeks of wear. Photoshop had properly lengthened and dyed it to a ravishing color that she was sure Surferboi would admire on their date tonight. She snapped a screenshot with the blink of an eye, opened up a new tab with a sideways glance, and realized it was that time of day again for her old body’s daily Foodamin.
Lazily casting her old arm (Janet’s arm, though she rarely thought of Janet anymore) into the compartment of the chair she called home, she prepared to post a witty caption underneath her new avatar’s selfie. Suddenly MacBarbie07 noticed that her fingers were casting about in the compartment and not touching a thing. She made sure she had covered every corner but…emptiness. Her Foodamins had not been refilled in their pouch today. What?! The outside workers haven’t been late in their delivery once since I got admitted into iLand Getaway twenty-one years ago… I was one of them once… I had to earn my way in here. The work schedule is strict, and nobody would dare mess it up and throw away their chance to join iLand… As MacBarbie07’s Facebook wall loaded, she noticed the last few posts from the afternoon:
“#Foodaminsonstrike” “G0t f00damins?” “Any1 else not get a refill 2day?!”
MacBarbie07 began to grow nervous. She immediately checked the Facebook pages of all of the Founding Fathers, beginning with the innovative Mark Zuckerberg. No explanation. God’s Facebook page was also mysteriously blank, with no questions answered all day. She noticed several posts on His wall asking about the Foodamins incident, but to no avail, not even the standard replies of “Keep web surfing and all things will work out for the good of the Wifi.” His last post had been made a few days ago, simply reading “See Paragraph 102.” It had not received any likes, and MacBarbie07 had therefore overlooked it as irrelevant, and even now did not focus on it for more than a fraction of a second.
The whole purpose of iLand Getaway was to help its citizens forget everything about their physical lives, bodies included. Everything was arranged to have as little body maintenance as possible. A perfect avatar was maintained, while the body itself was just a willingly forgotten shell. iLand Getaway showcased the real individual, the inside that counted, that those in the real world had never accepted.
For the first time in twenty-one years, MacBarbie07 was reminded of the old life and body she had not missed or longed for very much since her arrival. She remembered the black turbans of the chanting militant religious group, the beheadings, the cancers, the wasted political system…and on a smaller scale, the turned-off faces whenever anybody looked at her, the rejection, the crushing loneliness. A twinge of annoyance accompanied this crisis, along with worry. What would the pixels of iLand do without the nutrients that kept their minds alert and functioning to surf the web and watch the newest cute cat videos?
An excerpted chat history between MacBarbie07 and Surferboi, retrieved from iLand’s WiFi system long after it became obsolete:
Surferboi: Aww u r 2 beautiful and popular 2 b sad *hugs*
Suferboi: I wish my food printer was working. I wud make u ur fav food. I feel like I know u so well.
MacBarbie07: Aww *blushes* thank u! So sweet. The FFs no wut they r doing. I <3 Zuckerberg. And u 2!
Surferboi: I luv u moreee. Can u ask some of your followers to follow me 2?
Note: The full pointless conversation can be found in the iLand Wing of the Old Technology Museum, located adjacent to the Blackberry Wing.
Three days. Three long days. MacBarbie07’s mind was growing bored, dim and tired. She had little energy to even navigate the screen before her eyes and post any sort of status. No word from God or any of iLand’s founding fathers on any subject. No Foodamin refill. No clean water from her versatile chair. Only weak one word answers from her friends in all of her group chats. Some had disappeared altogether, with no presence declaring their streams of consciousness. A few remaining desperate pleas rang out on all social media outlets:
“We thought we cud count on u Mark…#Schmuckerberg” “God is dead.” “Steve’s not dead.”
Her mind in a sleepy fog, without adequate stimulation and left to its own weak entertainment-deprived devices, MacBarbie07 hardly noticed when her entire virtual vision winked out and went blank. My lenses went to sleep, she thought weakly. She blinked rapidly to wake up the screen, her muscle movements connecting with the lenses that had become her world. No response. The first drip of adrenaline in a long while shot through her veins. She straightened her depleted body violently, blind to all worlds. Her throat croaked in protest, but after years of disuse would not make a sound. MacBarbie07 continued to blink, to dart her eyes around every which way, but to no avail. The Wifi that powered her virtual world had, for the first time in iLand’s history, shut down.
MacBarbie07 knew something must be very wrong. In shock, she began to realize what would have to be done, what many others had probably done already. She slowly reached up her hands to her eyes and scraped at them weakly. One film came out of her eye, then the other, feebly dropping to the floor. Vision slowly returned, along with Janet. Plain, boring old Janet with the slightly stocky build, mousy brown hair that must have gone a bit gray by now, and those awful beady eyes. Darkness continued to fill up her vision, yet this time it slowly adjusted. Janet peered around the blackness of cubicle that was her body’s home. A small window drilled into the wall showed that it was nearing the end of the day.
Weakened by the lack of essential vitamins to her body, dazed from lack of amusement, Janet slowly got up from her chair, pulling the tube that dealt with her drink and waste processes out with her. The door. I must have to go to the door and see if there are others…See others…Oh no. Oh no. This can’t be happening. This must be fixed. Janet began to walk over to the door, leaning against the wall for support as her unused legs buckled beneath her and cramped up; they had forgotten the reflexive movements of walking. She paused before turning the door, wondering if she should even bother to fix herself after years of neglect. Her hair had grown ragged and long, her face sagging and wrinkled from the feel of it. She weakly straightened her rumpled brown dress that had grown faded and tight over the years.
Finally, with nothing left to do, Janet opened her cubicle’s door, not knowing what would await her there…
Piercing light from the big windows, which were thankfully dirty enough to not reveal the world all at once. Janet was nonetheless brought to her knees in the hallway outside her cubicle by the glare that had been absent for so long. After this temporary rest, she opened her watery eyes. There were others, as 30 cubicles lined each wall. Some had not been strong enough to make it down the hallway, unconscious bodies littering the doors to the other cubicles and the passageway itself at the exertion of physical activity.
She spotted a man in his thirties, about the age she had been when she joined iLand, picking his way over the others with less effort than it would have taken her in this state. She tried to speak, but again, no sound emerged. Janet instead pounded on the wall faintly for his attention. He turned, though his reaction was a bit delayed. His eyes were hazy, and he squinted through the light to see her. His nose was several inches too long, his scraggly hair almost covering his eyes, his back stooped over into a hunch. Despite how Janet knew she must have looked, she could barely hold back her disgust at his appearance. Yet at the same time, the three dimensional body made of individual veins and bones and cells fascinated her.
He hoarsely choked out a whisper, breaking her reverie: “What do we do?” She could only stare at the sound of another human voice. It was full of substance and reality, rich with an unpleasant tone of horror and disbelief. Janet choked slightly, attempting to clear her throat. Her voice box finally participated and spoke, for the first time in twenty-one long years, without the rich power of inflection the man had possessed… “I don’t know.” She had never been one for words anyway.
“Um. Let’s get out.” the man cracked out in a mix of awkward human speech and the somewhat shortened sentence structure typical of online lingo. Janet nodded gawkily and started to follow him, self conscious that she would be slowing him down. They made their way into the narrow elevator at the end of the passage, and when it opened a handful of others were revealed, clearly on the same mission as them. They all stared at each other with eyes as wide as saucers, only to quickly look down and avoid any eye contact.
Janet trudged into the elevator using the wall for support as if she were ice skating for the first time. Her legs ached. She stared intensely at the floor. Her mind was cranking out thoughts of fear and panic, the whole machine breaking down. Her life was thrown up in the air, but instead of coming down it seemed to be floating farther and farther up.
Yet despite her burning worry and confusion, she was too afraid to ask anybody around her what they knew. As a matter of fact, nobody spoke at all. There was no frenzy or hurried movements. Her eye caught the pale leg of the woman next to her with pale blue varicose veins lining its length, so full of flaws, nothing appealing to the eye. Nobody spoke in the elevator ride down all fifty floors. Perhaps they were too ashamed to draw attention to themselves. Perhaps they just didn’t want to.
When the elevator creaked to a stop and opened into the entrance room with the exit door, Janet realized how poor the infrastructure of her residency was. Because nobody was living their lives in the physical space or even aware of its features, the entire building lacked adequate lighting and visual appeal. Maintenance was hardly a requirement. There would have been no windows for light in the hallways or lobby at all if not for the delivery workers.
Janet shuffled to the door with the others. They all paused, not out of any sense of unity or to wait for one another, but because all were aware of what was beyond that splintered and faded wooden door. It stood there as innocently as Pandora’s Box, making it hard to believe that evil was indiscriminate when it came to space: it always wedged its way into a space from the wide world beyond. Contagious disease, rotting garbage, animals dead, violent storms of hail and lightning, ruthless criminals, rage-filled terrorists… this rickety old building was a lighthouse for the citizens of iLand in the midst of all this chaos, and now they were being set afloat into the rocky waters of the all too real world. Nobody made a sound of either comfort or fear. One by one, at their own paces, they walked through the door separately and soundlessly.
When the world of iLand Getaway fell, once so full of life and laughter and opinions, nobody emitted so much as a single scream. It was just too embarrassing to do so.
Janet stared. The world was a different place than the one she had left behind, that was certain. How insidious these changes had been she did not know. Nobody in iLand’s virtual world, which was so much more real to her than this wasteland, had any contact or news from the outside. When she had arrived, these buildings were newer, taller, brighter.
Janet turned her head from side to side, taking a look at the tree-lined streets which were beautiful in juxtaposition to the crumbling cubicle-crammed constructions. It was autumn, and as the multicolored leaves crunched under her feet and disintegrated, others crunched through the leaves ahead of her. Footsteps of many others formed a resounding beat, streaming from the building complexes. They all walked alone, united only by direction and purpose.
Janet did not know what to do. She squinted in resistance to the raw natural light that filtered into her vision, no dirty windows to hold it back now, molten rays splaying patterns at her feet through the trees and branches. Luckily the sun was not at its apex, so the light wasn’t painful, though she had not relaxed her eye muscles out of their squint. All of the iLand compounds stretched into the sky, bleak and squashed and grey. This austere exterior somehow held a colorful universe within two clear iLenses.
Janet stumbled towards the people walking ahead of her and spent about fifteen minutes trying to get up the nerve to ask the woman closest to her side where they were going with such purpose, where the founding fathers were, where all the crime and disease and pain was lurking. She had so many questions but no courage. Speaking to that man in the hallway had been strange and unpleasant enough, and that was from a distance. She decided she could not bear to do it or touch somebody to draw their attention to her, and inside of her she began to panic, wondering if she would ever return to her homepage again.
Others, mostly the younger ones, were quietly speaking yet maintaining many inches of range between each other, a wide sphere of personal space. “They left.” “Gone…” “Nobody in the power plants.” “Town close by, I just got here a few months ago, I remember.” “What happened to the Wifi?” The hushed whispers from afar were broken by the most jarring sound of all, one that had not yet occurred amidst the entire world being hacked and shattered. An athletic young man was making his way towards them from the direction they were walking towards. He was with another man, and this man was shouting something to them.
Everybody stared in horror at the unfamiliar noise and shrunk back, some even ceasing to walk. An even deeper silence rippled over the crowd. The young man and his companion stopped a few feet away. The boy was in his teens, likely new to iLand, but still showed the ragged appearance, cloudy eyes, and staggering footsteps of a person disconnected. He quickly disappeared into the crowd. The second man, however, was older and dressed in a charcoal grey suit with combed back hair. He stood straight before the crowd and continued to yell the same phrase: “It’s over! It’s all over!” The citizens of iLand did not answer him. They did not want to. They did not know how to. They simply stared. He squinted at them quizzically and began to shout again. “People of iLand! I am from the nearest city where your Founding Fathers live. I am a secretary in their headquarters. Your fellow citizen was the first to make it to our city running and seeking answers. He didn’t say much but it seems that he was not aware of what happened to your society. Does anybody else not know what happened to iLand?” Though all were burning to know the answer to this very question, the silence prevailed, growing awkward. Everybody wanted to continue the conversation, but nobody wanted to interact. The man wrinkled his eyes and eventually stopped waiting for a response. “Well, okay. I guess I’ll tell you anyway, incase some of you haven’t realized what happened.” Silence. The man appeared frustrated. He muttered something about doing all the dirty work. “iLand is over! You will not be returning. Ever!”
Though Janet’s eyes and those of her fellow citizens grew wide, and some even made O’s with their mouth, nothing was said. “Don’t you get it?” the man related, exasperated. “It’s over! The Founding Fathers moved on! You are all obsolete. They have decided to invest elsewhere, in…space tourism.” That worked up the crowd- some breaths got deeper, caught in gasps. The man, tired of waiting for any verbal communication, went on in the midst of the slight noise. “This was a condition in the terms of service which you made clear you had “read and agreed to” on your first day in iLand. You all clicked that you understood. Did everybody forget? Paragraph 102 of the contract states that…” At this point the man pulled a paper from inside his suit pocket. “’WHEREAS, the five Founding Fathers and Service Providers may withdraw financial and technical support from this society at any time in pursuit of a more worthy field of interest.’”
The man looked up and coughed uncomfortably. Janet looked around her and saw many lowering their heads in frustration and sadness. She would never dare admit that she had not so much as read the first sentence of that contract before providing her electronic signature. The man went on, giving out instructions that all iLand citizens would now have to rejoin with their real families or make their own way in the world, but all were welcome to join his growing city and the space tourism efforts. For the first time noises erupted through the crowd in waves. Some began to wail in cracked voices rusty with disuse. The young ones were again the first to find their frantic voices: “Moved on?!” “We have to live on the outside now?!” “They forgot about us…” Fear began to seep into Janet. She suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed in a chaotic world where nothing could protect her from the abundance of evil. This was a place where germs floated in the air, wickedness could not be adequately controlled, and people rejected you with their loud words and disgusted faces.
At that exact moment, timed more perfectly than the Foodamin deliveries, the glowing sphere of the sun touched the horizon. It nested precariously there for a few precious moments before being pulled under the horizontal line. Smoldering golden rays illuminated certain faces as they shot through the sky, which was full of clouds glowing deep oranges and reds, blues and purples. The people of iLand looked up as one in wonder, and Janet herself was taken aback, awestruck.
She had forgotten what a sunset looked like. All that time and she had not once bothered to remember past the distractions of her avatar’s hair color, the latest hashtag, the forum fights over which founding father was the best (It was Mark). She could not even breathe. The fiery rays set a fire in her that consumed the fear, the loss, the worry over what would happen to her now.
Janet looked around her and realized that she would remain Janet forever. MacBarbie07 was obsolete. Others were peering around too, a bit more boldly than they had before, some even daring to look others in the eye. A hand nudged hers. Janet looked to one side and saw that a chain had started, all the castaway citizens of iLand grasping each other’s hands as they gazed up in awe. Janet held the doughy hand of the woman next to her, soft from lack of use. She gripped it tightly, felt the places where the creases and wrinkles rose and fell. She prodded the person on her other side in turn, desiring nothing more than to gaze with mankind at this ball of fire that had been in existence from the beginning of time, looked upon by the eyes of all those who had come before her. The human chain continued.
Some in the crowd had delirious looks in their eyes. The sun had not left them reverent; rather, they took on the bewildered look of Icarus, as if the blaze had melted away the artificial means of survival that brought them somewhere they never should have been in the first place. A few pulled from the mass and ran back to the infrastructure of iLand; now a floating, polluted sea of brown rickety buildings that reached to the sky but never quite made it to the source of all the splendor that had struck the citizens of iLand with deep wonder.
They all walked forward together, step by step, hand in hand, looking up. Janet smiled, forgetting all about herself in the wake of this magnificence. “Space tourism!” The beaming woman next to her, hair frazzled around her sagging face, remarked breathlessly. Janet found her voice. “The iLand system was getting outdated. Up there is where I want to be. I bet it was Mark Zuckerberg’s idea! He is so innovative!” And so the citizens of iLand picked themselves up and, seeing the beautiful world around them, chose to run full speed to the next big thing.