Jim opened his eyes, hoping to see his daughter. Immense weight crushed his stomach when the sight of blue lines and empty space came back into view. The voice hadn’t been Tori. Jim almost fell back into despair. He wanted to fall back into despair… but something stopped him. A calm, soothing thing that felt like… He found it hard to experience, let alone describe… something blue… maybe?
This blue feeling clamped on Jim’s brain like a vice and the same, disembodied woman from before spoke again.
“You may not slip away again, Jim.”
“Where’s my daughter? Where’s Tori?”
“Your daughter is not here Jim.”
Jim tried to break free of the overwhelming, controlling sensation on his mind. He couldn’t rebel with his thoughts, but he knew that he should panic. He knew he should scramble to find Tori. He stood up. He tried to find something to orient himself on, something that would lead him to Tori. The blue lines resolved itself into a grid; an isometric plane of tessellating squares. He tried to run. Any direction, any action, any movement, would be better than standing and waiting.
He didn’t know where Tori was, or even how long it had been since he’d seen her, but he felt like she was somewhere distant in both time and space. He ran. He knew he was moving because the plane that he ran across moved. The distance squared that had been stretched oblongs gradually resolved into perfect squares as he flew over them.
I have to find Tori.
With the woman’s words, Jim’s joints locked up and he decelerated steadily until he reached a mechanical standstill.
“I need to find Tori,” he begged, as much as he could with emotions locked away by this woman, this thing, anyway.
“You can not find your daughter, Jim.”
“Why not?” Despite the woman’s control, Jim’s voice began to crack and falter as his emotions strained at the bit. “Why won’t you let me find her?”
“You can not find your daughter, Jim. I am not preventing you from locating your daughter: She can not be found.”
“But why not?” Some part of Jim recognised that what he was saying was childish and infantile
The woman’s voice softened when she spoke the next words.
“I am not without compassion, Jim. My goal had been to settle you, and to guide you to this revelation yourself, but you have retained far more humanity than most.”
The woman’s words made an inevitable kind of sense. Under the woman’s frigid control, Jim could begin to objectively discern what had happened.
He had grieved. He had experienced denial and anger. He had tried to argue with the woman. He thought that, were it not for this calming, blue sensation, he would now be depressed. The woman was trying to guide, or, more likely, force, him through the five stages of grief.
“She’s dead. Isn’t she?” Jim finally came to grips with the primal feelings that had obviously been eating at his mind.
“No, Jim. You are.”
Jim’s mind tore at those words like he’d been drawn and quartered. The beasts in his brain all bolted off in different directions. He felt, primarily, relieved that, somewhere, his daughter lived... at least that’s what the woman’s voice seemed to indicate. Before he could acknowledge his other feelings, this crucial fact had to be confirmed.
“So, I’m dead, but she’s alive? Tori is alive?”
“Yes, Jim. Your daughter is alive.”
The animal part of his hind-brain responsible for paternal impulses vibrated elatedly. For a brief moment, Jim felt so happy that the animal responsible for that quarter of his life could have been a unicorn with how pleased he was. Tori was alive. Tori lived. His little girl, as far as he knew, had lived days, months, years, maybe, of her life, that he would need to catch up on. Maybe she’d be running the country, provided enough time had passed. Doubts eventually began to nag at Jim though. He couldn’t help but shy back from his own demise: even if his worry were not for himself, but for his daughter. How did Tori cope with his death? What of his ex-wife Elaine? He almost never thought of her, but the two of them had very different opinions on Tori’s life; it was why they’d split. Had she fucked up all the plans and opportunities he’d created for Tori? Did Tori have the support that she needed? Oh God. Did Tori miss her dad? Need him? Questions tumbled from his mouth, one after the other in rapid succession.
“How is she doing? How old is she? How long have I been dead? How did she cope? Is that bitch looking after her? Does she need me? Does she miss me?”
To Jim’s surprise, the woman calmly replied to each question in order.
“Well. 39. Two days. Poorly. I do not know to whom you are referring. I do not know the answer. The answer to that question is inconclusive.”
Unfortunately for Jim, having his questions answered in this way was entirely unproductive. He did not remember half of what he asked and the fact that half of the answers came out à la magic 8-ball, meant that he didn’t understand the other half. A short round of questioning revealed a more coherent set of responses.
“Your daughter’s health is acceptable, based upon her last visit to a state-run general practitioner. She is currently 39 years of age. You have been dead two days, but in a coma for twenty years. Your daughter has spoken publicly about your coma when advocating for increased government spending on health care. Your ex-wife lives in Singapore, while your daughter lives in Canberra; your daughter is currently visiting your ex-wife but does not require her support. The last two questions are inconclusive: Your daughter has often used your story in her role as Environmental minister, which would indicate that she does need you; however, she has not visited you in long-term care for fourteen years, which would indicate that she does not miss you.”
Jim reeled from the answers he received. He was proud of his daughter's accomplishments, devastated that he’d not been there to witness them, and heartbroken that she’d forgotten him as a father, choosing only to remember him as a political tool. Emotions raced through Jim’s mind again, but a soothing balm began to filter through his neurons and he was able to turn away from the thoughts of his daughter and face his own problems.
“Jim, now that I have answered your questions about the outside world, you must now answer my questions about this world.” Jim nodded in response, the slight, blue pressure on his brain had directed him to think back to the other issues gnawing at him. Primarily, Jim wanted to know why he didn’t feel dead. “Jim, you are clinically dead. Your biological brain has no electrical signals passing through it and, though we have preserved your brain, the rest of your body has been incinerated.”
“Then…” Jim looked around at the isometric blue grid that made up reality. A weird thought struck him. Why am I living in Tron?
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My name's Tim and I'm writing Forgotten Man Online, a game-literature light novel web-series that I plan to release here, on Royal Road, and eventually hopefully through Amazon's Kindle platform.
I studied writing at university for three years and then became a high-school English teacher in Australia (6 years in). Hopefully, that means you will find my content to be of a high standard and that you will enjoy it, provided you can stand the British spelling of words :).