Matthew remembered thinking that his brain was going to fry like a drop of water on a sizzling hot pan. Then everything around him disappeared and his sight was suffused with a dark orange that reminded him of the edges of fire. When this orange blast dissipated he saw the same stretch of water before him.
He looked down and saw his old laptop in front of him. A cup of coffee, still steaming, was within the usual reach of his right arm.
Yet the screen of his laptop was blank. He tapped the trackpad and the stretch of water disappeared. In front of him he saw a wall-size black screen with a thin silver frame.
The room was circular and the the screen wrapped 90 degrees in front of him, from floor to ceiling. It was about twelve feet high and sixteen feet wide. Behind him was a single bed, a chair, a stationary bike, a sofa with a coffee table, a glassed-in toilet and shower, a small dining table, and behind that a kitchenette. There were three avocados on the counter and a Nespresso machine with a glass bowl full of coffee capsules beside it. Like an executive suit in a hotel, he thought.
One thing Matthew couldn’t see, however, was a door. Behind the bed and sofa was a green wall that looked like it was made of moss or lichen. It looked spongy. The ceiling and the floor were made of perfectly fitted planks of dark wood, perhaps mahogany or teak.
He took another look at his laptop. There was the usual keyboard, but the keys had different symbols on them.
Matthew had never really been any good with computers, so he did what he usually did: he started pressing buttons. He pressed one with an arrow pointing to the right. The laptop doubled in size to the right. He pushed the arrow on the left and the laptop doubled on the left. The colours on the keys became progressively more bizarre. Some appeared to be three dimensional grids, others were spectra. The holographic projections were crisp and dense. Yet his coffee cup was still there, rising up through the illusion of what his dad used to call ‘bells and whistles.’
He pushed a key labelled “12:00” and a series of time frames appeared. He thought that he’d been unconscious for a few seconds, but he could see by the first time frame that he’d been unconscious for a week. He vaguely recalled a dream in which he was suspended in a dense fog. Different colours of light massaged his body, and traced the patterns of his muscles, cells, and neurons.
Mathew looked at the key beside the 12:00.” It had a circle with a line around it, like Saturn. When he pressed it the large screen was speckled with dots of white light and various splotches of colour. At the centre of the screen was a green and blue image of Earth. Using the trackpad, he enlarged the centre, and the image of Earth became larger, taking up almost half the height of the twelve-foot tall screen. He enlarged it further, keeping the cursor in the middle. He saw the outline of North America, then the West Coast, then the familiar shapes of the Olympia Peninsula and Vancouver Island. He was reassured that there was still a place called Vancouver, although the closer he zoomed in the less it resembled the city he knew.
He pressed a key with the number 1 in the middle of a rectangle and was back on his parent’s deck in Victoria. He knew it was an illusion, yet it was comforting. Like an old family photo. Which made him wonder, Where was his brother, and his aging mother? He tried to rotate the image, to see into the kitchen, but then he realized that the image was a fixed loop. The same seagull flew across the same stretch of sky again and again.
And Sylvia. What on earth had happened to her? He pressed a key with two interlocking circles, and up popped a dialogue box beneath the graphic of the Guildford Links golf course. He took this picture several weeks ago. Had he worked on this graphic during the week that he couldn’t remember?
He entered Sylvia’s full name and their UBC address in the dialogue box. A split second after he hit the return key, a message popped up: “Information unavailable.”
He worried about what had happened to his slim Teutonic beauty. Was she still in their little apartment overlooking Thunderbird Boulevard?
There must be some logic to his present situation.
He typed: “Why am I here?’
On the next line, he read: “Dear Matthew.”
Next: First Contact