The Problem

    “Ris... Ris… you gotta stop”, I said while shaking Ris. She’s not resisting my push at all, as she sways back and forth. I looked at her body and saw the tubes intruding her body, and I looked around her room; seems like no one’s been here for months.

    I raised my wrist up and looked at my gadget and saw her coming online. “Stop shaking me, and please go away”, her text appeared in a pale teal gleam. In reality, I could see her slightly mouthing the words.

    I stood back up before pulling out my phone as my fingers started dancing across the bright white keyboard that illuminates the room. “Ris, you can’t. Don’t do this, please. You need to wake up.”

    “Why? Why stop me? Why not stop someone else? Just let me go”

    “Because it’s you. And I can’t”

    “Didn’t you made all these?”

    “I…”

    “Then why are you not here then? You said you’ll be here. But you are everywhere but here”

    “Because…” I heaved a heavy sigh as I tried to organise my thoughts together. “It’s not the answer. You know we are just distracting ourselves, right? Nothing changes, we are not happier, we are not better… the fact that they are allowing and bringing this project…” my NDA stopped me from going further. I never know if these gears have microphones monitoring our speech.

    “Because what?”, Ris replied, oblivious to my explanation. “It’s beautiful in here, we are happy everyday, games, joy, no illness nothing”

    “Meanwhile our body decays in reality”

    “Who cares? Aren’t we supposed to be here until we die? We don’t even have to disconnect.”

    “This is not real, Ris”

    “Then tell me what is real? What's the Problem?”

    “I-“

    “This?”, she removed her Goggles and I could see some blue from her almost soulless eyes. She didn’t even give me eye contact as she ran her long uncut nails across the scar on my right knee. She knew where to hit me, where I’m not the same anymore.

    “This-“, I put my hand on top of hers, “is an accident. I didn’t want it but it happened and I have no choice bu-“

    “But to accept it? But you know you can run in here? You can travel again, you can meet people, and you literally made your dreams come true. But why?”

    “Not… they are not real..” I ran my fingers across her body as if linking the different constellations together as I stopped briefly at each point where tubes are inserted in. “These… reminds me that we are not going anywhere and we are not living at all”

    “So you want to stop the project? call it off?”

    “It’s beyond me now, you know that”

    She paused and looked at me for a bit. Before looking away. “I don’t care. I can’t turn back now”

    “The avatar you made, Ris, somebody made it in real life. Because your story inspired her. This is real.”

    I turned around and took out the shirt from the carrier that I bought alongside with me. It was supposed to be a present, but ever since I’d lost Ris, this became nothing but a mortal reminder of my mistake, of perhaps the trinket that’ll always echos in my head, whispering what it could have been.

    “She pushed her headgear higher, holding up her fringe so she can see it clearly”

    I could see some tears welled up in her forsaken eyes, as her pale blue eyes fluttered with the light across my lit-up phone at the side of the bed. I looked at her, hoping that she’ll look at me at least once, giving me a sign that she’ll turn back…. But she didn’t as she looked down at her body and pulled down her gear.

    “No. You don’t get to do this to me, you have no right to. Leave. Or you know where to find me. Not here, but there…”

    “Ris… please”, my saviour complex got better of me as I became desperate. I looked around for things to bring her back but I found nothing. No photos, no nothing, it is precisely what the cells like this do to people. They clean up all the momentos that would make you look back.

    I thought about the project. How I once set out to put everything together in one virtual world. And I made it, the eyes caught a glimpse of my project and seized it. The solution to all mental health problems, so they say. The way to deal with all underperforming human beings so the best and the most wholesome people could be around. So the others are offered this “treatment” into the other world. Where they lived without worries in a fully fabricated digital world.

    “Ris-“, I whispered her name again as I could see her laughing hysterically. Her head gear flashing with different colours of lights, indicating that she’s on the other side now, probably slaying virtual monsters.

    Is this the right way to contain people with depression like that? Just so we could recreate a healthy environment. I was promised the world without or without minimal mental health problems.

    But at what cost?