“The things is,” Jesus said, “it’s always going to be this hard. You just have to accept that.” I stared at his fingernails painted silver gripping the steering wheel, his armfuls of bangles tinkling as he changed gear. “I never once felt comfortable, like I belonged here. I was never truly accepted, you know? But if you don’t rise above that, despair will get you.”
I watched the landscape racing by the passenger window: fields of luscious yellow and green, each containing several intelligent windmill structures towering above the trees. I imagined that seeing this vibrant countryside would be quite an exciting prospect for some visitors, but to me it was boring, flat, monotonous. It was a symbol representing my constant feeling of disconnection, like I was part of the wrong world and my time to shine would never come.
“So, you’re saying I shouldn’t try the reality hop?” I asked.
“I’m saying,” and he turned to look at me at this point, leaving me slightly preoccupied that he wasn’t watching the road, “that people are doing it all the time without even realising it. Doing it on purpose, paying for it, making it temporary, doesn’t make a scrap of difference. It’s just like going on holiday: you’re still you, with all your baggage and concerns, just in a different set of circumstances.”
I sighed. Like a lot of others, I had been pinning my hopes on the new reality hop option as a way to start afresh. It was supposed to be only for a set amount of time, I knew, but there were ways to stay there if you liked it. I’d come into some money recently, and together with my savings I could afford the basic package which would take me somewhere close to, but not identical to, my current reality.
“Hey don’t be upset. You’ve just got to work on you, that’s all. Take back control, see things as they really are before you start messing with timelines and memories. I’ll help.” He turned to face me again and put on those comforting puppy dog eyes I could never resist. I’d miss him for sure if I went ahead with the hop.
The traffic slowed, and he took the opportunity to check his hair in the rear view mirror. Still perfect. He turned the tunes up loud, IAMX’s Spit It Out, and began mouthing the words to me in his usual magnifed way that never failed to make me laugh:
When you’re in pieces
Just follow the echo of my voice
Tune into that frequency
A kid began to cross the road in front of us. He wasn’t looking for traffic. He was too young to know he should, and his mother was some way behind him, unable to pull him back to safety.
“JESUS!” I yelled, but he was already responding. With great skill he swerved, putting us between the kid and the lane of fast oncoming traffic. I saw the mother dart out and grab her son, just before the camper van hit us on Jesus’s side and everything turned black.
I awoke in a hospital bed, a drip attached to my arm and both legs in plaster. The room was moving in and out of focus, and a wave of extreme nausea swept over me. It didn’t take long for me to remember the accident.
“Where’s Jesus?” I tried to call out, but it came instead as a pathetic croak. A nurse heard me nonetheless and came quickly to my side.
“You’re awake! You’re a very lucky young lady, if we didn’t have such sophisticated technology there’s no way you would have survived that.”
I held back remarks of how unprofessional it was to speak to a newly conscious patient in such a way, and instead repeated my question: “Where’s Jesus?”
“I don’t know who you mean, honey.”
“The man, driving the car I was in! Is he ok?”
“Men haven’t driven cars for years honey, you were in an Autonomous like everyone else.”
“What? No, I -”
“That’s why you’re still here. It calculated the best position to put itself into to keep you, the child, and the passengers of the camper, safe. Amazing, huh? The car’s a write off, of course.”
I started to panic. This wasn’t right at all. Autonomous vehicles were some way off being standard issue, I’d never even seen one. The nurse noticed tears beginning to form in my eyes, and the monitor at my side alerted her to my increasing blood pressure. She patted my shoulder, “I’ll get the doctor to come and speak with you. You’re going to be fine.”
Of course, I asked the doctor the exact same question. I was certain the nurse had got it wrong, but the doctor confirmed her story. In fact, she brought me my somewhat worse-for-wear phone, and politely asked me to look up today’s news. There was my story: ‘Autonomous saves 4 lives’. I was travelling in the latest model, the story said, with a built in simulation of a driver to converse with its passengers. According to the car’s log, the simulation mode was set to ‘Prophet’.
“Do you remember now?” The doctor said kindly.
The only response I could muster through my tears was “Yes doctor, I suppose I do.”