Disconnected. The desire for immediate reconnection was so strong it hurt. Carefully removing the nutrient and waste tubes from my body, I stepped away from the jack, legs barely able to take my weight.
The Authority mandated a minimum one-hour disconnection every week. Otherwise the risk of losing basic motor and speech functionality becomes a real issue.
I’d pushed the limit this time around. Twelve days. Two hundred and ninety-two hours, to be exact. It took me a good five minutes to gather enough eye focus to make out the flash-bin on the other side of the room. Using the wall for support I made my way over and dumped my almost-full-to-bursting waste bag. The room spun at a 30-degree angle.
Vanessa was still jacked in. Out of habit I gave her vitals a cursory glance. She’d only been in for seventy-eight hours. Strange, I didn’t remember any disconnection and reconnection alerts for her. All her stats were leveled out. No brain spikes or low nutrient tubes. I studied her laid-out form for a few moments. Even in this reality she was beautiful. Her eyes moved beneath her lids and her limbs occasionally twitched. Again, I had to resist the urge to rush back to my jack.
Instead, I put a glass under the tap, filled it and took a sip. My dusty and tight throat refused to swallow and I clasped a hand to my neck in momentary panic. The second attempt at the drink would be fine, but knowing was never enough to dampen instinct.
The fetid smell I’d noticed since disconnecting: It was me! I put the drink down on the bench. A shower would reacquaint my throat with moisture.
The doorbell rang, a jarring melody that rattled my eardrums. By now the room had stopped spinning and my legs were mostly steady, so it only took me a minute to navigate the few meters from the kitchen bench to the door. In that time the doorbell rang twice more.
“I’m coming,” I tried to say, but nothing made its way out of my mouth. I felt like the lead character in a badly-dubbed martial arts movie. But I practiced a bit more and, by the time the door chain slid across, my voice was almost understandable.
“Ach,” I sputtered, and ducked my head. It felt like a halogen beam had been shone directly into my eyes.
I heard a cheerful voice. “Are you Mister Daniels?”
“Ah, finally. I’ve been ringing your doorbell every other hour for the last two days. Do you remember the Real Island Getaway Draw you entered last month?”
“Yes.” It was Vanessa’s idea. We’d both been disconnected at the same time and she was flipping through a newspaper and saw the ad. She was so insistent that I cut it out and post it off — yes, a real envelope and everything. She kept on saying, A break will be good for us, and I couldn’t say no to her — not in any reality. She was strange like that sometimes: wide, pleading eyes, her cold hand resting atop mine.
“Well, Mister Daniels, I have great news for you. You and Missus Daniels have won the competition. Your island retreat begins just about a month from now.”
I looked up. A man, tanned and smiling, looked back at me.
“We’ve won?” I struggled to get the words out, and not because my voicebox was still warming up. “But, I thought... I mean... Aren’t the chances like one in ten million?”
“They sure are.” The man’s name badge read Dante Phillips. “And you, Mister Daniels, are that lucky one in ten million.”
I ran a hand through slimy hair. “Um, wow. Uh.”
Phillips’ expression changed. He pursed his lips and said, “You’re a rabbit, aren’t you?”
There was no point getting upset at the term, so I said, “Yeah, I guess so.”
His jovial smile returned. “Well, regardless, you’ve won. Three weeks on an island retreat, glorious sunshine and beaches, all expenses paid. And not a jack in sight.”
I began to perspire. I looked past him, over the balcony. Someone’s washing fluttered in the breeze on a high-line between two apartments, pinks and blues and yellows. The colors seemed muted and dull. Behind the buildings sat a green hill with a lone tree on top. It all looked too... real. “I’m sorry, Mister Phillips, but now that I think about it, I don’t recall entering a competition like that. I think you must have the wrong Daniels.”
His smile widened ever so slightly. “Are you completely sure, sir?”
“Yes.” I nodded. “Completely sure.”
“Very well then. My sincere apologies for getting your hopes up like this.” He didn’t look sorry. “A terribly unfortunate mistake on our part.”
“It’s okay.” I closed the door.
I figured I still had time for that shower before reconnecting. Goodness knows I’d done more than my fair share of interacting in this reality for one disconnect.
And there Vanessa was. Standing next to her jack, her eyes a mixture of hurt and anger that I had never before seen on anyone — in any reality. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she turned to stagger towards the bedroom.
Should I follow? What would I say? My breath came in short gasps. It felt as if someone were squeezing my heart between their palms.
I rushed over to the jack and plugged myself in.
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About the Author
Isaac Espriu is a full-time writer (until his savings run out, that is) based in Auckland, New Zealand. He’s (in alphabetical order) part English, French, German, Irish, Jewish, Scottish, Seminole Indian, and Spanish, and there may be Slavic hints in there too. He lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years way back in his early childhood before his parents made New Zealand their permanent home. Canada — particularly somewhere around Lake Louise — is currently his favorite I-would-like-to-be-in place.
“Jack Rabbit” is his first pro publication, and has worked out to be his first work published (though not his first sale). His dream — apart from helping Rod M. Santos train squirrels in the ways of the Force — is to own a housebus and sometimes use it.
He is currently working on a novel or two, has developed a love of short story rejection notices, and primarily writes speculative fiction, though he has been known to dabble in mainstream writing if the mood strikes. For more information, check out his blog over at isaacespriu.com.
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