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Virtual Reactions

December 28, 2016

“So, how was it?” A man wearing a lab coat asked. His hair was messy with gray streaks. His beard was respectable, but his age was not.

“It was OK.” Sharon said rubbing her eyes.

“With every step we make, there will be more and more people in the stadium.”

“Yeah, I’m not really that worried about it.”

“Because…”

“It’s fake.” There was a pause in the small room. The room was cold and sterile. The floors squeaked under the pressure from shoes. However, the room was a little too warm. “I mean, you know. It’s not like there’s a difference making a speech in front of 1,000 virtual people versus 1 virtual person.”

“So, you don’t think it will help you get over speaking in public.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You said…”

“I just meant that I know that it’s fake, so that might hinder the project a little.”

“Interesting.” He wrote notes on a small pad of paper. She thought that he should be using a clipboard, but what did she know? She was just a computer programmer major. The VR headset sat next to her. It seemed so meek and dumb looking at it, but in use, it opens worlds that she only hoped to eventually program. “Well, we’ll see in the future. Did they give you a loaner?”

“I actually own one. I do a surprising amount of work for class with these silly headsets.”

“I bet.” He walked the girl out of the room and closed the door behind her.

“Molly.” He called out.

“Yes?” A voice responded out of a small speaker.

“Call Devon.”

The phone rang a few times before Devon answered, “Yo, Mike. Wha’s up budday!?”

“So, Sharon mentioned something you’ll like.”

“What’s that?”

“She said since they weren’t real people that it makes the experiment flawed.”

“Nice!”

“Did you get the test subjects?”
“Almost.”

Sharon barely opened the door to her dorm, her clutter extended to each wall, which made it hard to enter or exit. She forced herself in pushing as hard as she could into her clutter. Once in, she laid down on the bed on top of a nest of dirty shirts, blankets, and lone socks. She was tired, but she had projects due. Hours later, she was unconscious in her mess. When she dreamed she would dream about her work, and every so often she’d have a dream about friends and colleagues. How she miss her friends. She missed her home. Sharon’s mother didn’t want her going so far away for school, but she had to. She needed a new beginning and apart from her old friends, there were the vicious rumors that Vicky, her ex-best friend, started about her.

The next day, she found time to slip on the VR headset for some therapy. She read aloud to a lecture hall with 30, or so, people in it. Once she finished, the group would applaud, some of the people would even stand up with generous enthusiasm. Sharon liked this. She felt good, and she’d pretend to bow and sometimes she’d even applaud to herself.

“So, how was it?” Mike said wearing an uncomfortably unfit labcoat.

“How was what?”

“We saw that you did a speech with 30 people at home.”

“You saw that?”

“Clouds.”

“Oh yeah.”

“So?”

“Like I said. It was fine. Put me in front of real people and I stutter and panic. VR people? Well, hell. That’s a lot different.”

“OK, we’re working on that aspect, so more people then?”

“Add a hundred.”

“One hundred people?”

“One thirty.”

“Alright. How do you feel about your writing?”

“I think it’s alright.”

“OK, I see that we’ve got all of your speeches. Do you like the ability to write about whatever you want? Or do you want subjects?”

“I’ve got this.”

“OK.”

Sharon went home to her mess and reluctantly worked on her portfolio for class. The stress was lying on top of her and she broke down crying several times. Life was catching up and decided to be rough on her. All the while the VR headset sat there with her answer. So, during a well-deserved break Sharon put on the VR headset and performed a speech to a hundred and thirty people. Oddly, she felt a little difference with all the eyes she felt upon her. It was hard, but she finally got through it and she felt the praise. 129 people clapping and cheering. She felt good. Then she saw one person glitching. This took her out of the moment. Seconds later she found herself following the code to the program and she found that she could bypass the instructor and the speech altogether. She even found herself writing code for praise in a secondary room, which would include a limousine waiting for her.

The next thing she knew, she was standing in a stadium with thousands of people cheering for her. Then she walked through a lobby where people shook her hand and praised her for being her.

“So, how was it?”

“One person was glitching.”

“No, I mean how was it manipulating the experiment?”

“What do you mean?”

“We can see what you did to our program.”

“Oh.”

“I think we’re done here.”

“I can put it back.”

“No, the experiment was compromised and besides, you were right. It’s not the same.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sure. Please. Leave.”

“Molly. Devon.”

“Yo!”

“She’s gone.”

“Watch her, see if she continues to use the program.”

“Where are you with…”

“Almost. I think we should play a little trick on Sharon.”

“Pipe in viewers?”

“Yeah. See what she does.”

Sharon returned home and went through the simulation several times and felt great about herself. She turned in her portfolio and it sat there lackluster in comparison to other students. She didn’t understand why she received a B-, which made her angry.

“I think I deserve something better than a B-.”

“Sharon, your work is good. This, however, is not.”

“Professor Aimes, I put a lot of work in it.”

“It doesn’t look like you did. Sharon, you’re not sloppy. This is.” Sharon couldn’t argue that fact because it was sloppy.

Three more hits of social acceptance later.

“Professor Aimes?”

“How did you get my number?”

“I went through my work, you are wrong! My work is good!”

“Sharon?” Sharon hung the phone and cried.

2 more hits before bed. She dreamt of adulations and acceptance. Then she imagined a mob killing Vicky, her ex-best friend.

Sharon woke up, 3 hits, and began working on other school projects. Things weren’t working perfectly, so she upped her hit and millions of people cheered for her. She felt great and worked on her project where things worked.

“It’s sloppy Sharon.”

“It serves its purpose.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“I put hours into it!”

“So did they.” Her professor pointed to the empty chairs in class.

“That doesn’t mean shit!”

“Sharon, please. We’re adults here.”

“Sorry.”

2 hits before bed.

Every now and then she’d imagine people cheering for her and clapping for her. Especially during class. This came to the point where she stopped paying attention.

“Your work has stagnated Sharon.”

“What?”

“Why do you think that’s happened?”

“Why what?”

“Sharon? SHARON!”

“Yeah?”

“You’re shaking.”

“It’s cold.”

“Sharon…”

2 hits, but no applause.

“What is this?” A voice called out. Sharon was confused.

“Why is she just standing there?” Another voice asked. Then an indecipherable barrage of voices came rushing to Sharon’s confusion.

She began to shake. She looked down and in her hands were a speech. She then looked up and around at the group and she couldn’t help but stutter. Her hubris bubble had collapsed and right before she tore the VR headset off of her head there was silence.

“Sharon?”

“What is this?”

“It’s Mike. Do your speech.”

“I… Uh…”

“Do your speech. Everyone. Please.”

“I… Umm… OK. Uh… E-ev… Everybody h-has…” She continued like this through her speech and the crowd just gawked at her. Mike had turned off their mics so, she couldn’t hear their disgust until she was finished. She was met with a loud boo. Sharon cried. The VR headset flew to a corner of the room and was cradles with discarded clothes. Sharon wept and shook violently. She opened her phone and looked at her facebook and nobody was responding to her posts. Twitter and Instagram sat silently as well. She left her dorm and started to talk over confidently towards two strangers talking to each other and they just glared at her. She needed acceptance, but there was no way she could get it. She just came across crazy to most and she found herself back at Mike’s office, and he was just about to leave before she arrived.

“Mike!”

“Oh, no… I’m sorry.”

“What do you think of me?”

“What?”

“What do you think of me? Am I smart? Funny? Cute?”

“Are you hitting on me?”

“No! Just tell me you’re proud of me!”

“Why? It wouldn’t be real.”

“What?”

“I think you’re a poor subject and I wished the experiment could have run its course, but you’re needy.”

“I’m needy?”

“OK, you’re cute. Happy?”

“No.”

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From → Short Stories

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