I’ve never been through a timesplit before and I hope to God I never go through one again. It feels like something sucking your brain through a straw. The only way you can stop it is by turning off your brainspike. And when you do that, the straw turns to ice, splits and jabs sharply into the backs of your eyes. You have to rub your eyes for several minutes ― not that it does anything; just that everyone does. Then everything is black for half an hour and someone is shouting gibberish in your ears.
I slept for two days, non-stop. Again, everyone has a long sleep after turning a brainspike off.
“Get up, sleeping beauty and I’ll cook you a full English.”
“Who’s that?” He was a total stranger and a total blur.
The blur came closer. “I’m your worst nightmare,” it said. “Jackson Bach, your personal trainer. And don’t say you don’t need one. Everybody does.” He said, ‘everybody’ with emphasis on the second syllable.
“I don’t feel hungry,” I said.
“They all say that too,” he said and I could hear the smile in his voice. “Wait till you bite into those eggs and bacon.”
“What’s the big deal? I’ve tried it before.”
“You tried food unwired?”
I laughed at him talking dirty. “Course not: I know it goes on; sex unwired too. You propositioning me? I’m not into smut.”
“You never thought this through, did you?”
“The Trip. The real trip: bet you’ve never been as far as Mars. I bet you’ve never been further than the far side of the moon.”
I thought about what he said. My head was still swimming, but I was beginning to make sense of everything. Make sense: that was a phrase that you didn’t hear very often. “You mean in real mode?”
“Of course. Like now.”
Of course, it had to be. “I’m just not used to it,” I said. “You’re not talking about ‘real food’ are you?”
“What else. You’ve never tried it, I take it?”
I felt a strange excitement, the thrill of forbidden fruit ― literally speaking. “I don’t break the law. Besides, what’s the point? VR satisfies on so many more levels.”
“So they say.” His face became a little clearer as my eyes cleared. “Living in space I don’t spike anymore. It makes it easier not having to timesplit. And, I have to be ready to help passengers come down.”
I followed him into a dining room, adrenaline was whipping my nerves into an unfamiliar frenzy that intensified as the mixture of smells washed over me. I recognised the arrangement of the dining room from VR dinner games. The only thing telling me it was real was a dull throbbing occipital headache. VR filtered out pain, of course, so the presence of the pain gave me a weird sense of being outside myself. I started to sit down at the table but Jackson motioned me to an oak sideboard in an ancient European style. I recognised it from historical reenactments. There were tureens and salvers laid out with sausages, eggs, bacon, kedgeree, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast and hash browns. The smells were overwhelming. Normally I would turn them down, but it just wasn’t possible to do that. I felt a little nauseated. How could people really eat this vulgar stuff when there were simulations that you could adjust to your liking.
“Take your time,” Jackson said. “It takes a little time to adjust to reality.”
I sat down at the table. “Don’t you ever get raided?”
“Who's going to raid us?” Jackson said, with a smirk. “The law stops here. You can’t synchronise earth time with space-time. There’s no absolute time, you know that?”
“No, I don’t.”
“If you were on earth or Mars or the moon, you would. Unplugged, you only have your senses to go by.”
“But killing animals, really killing them. That’s depraved.”
“So you’d rather IV without the VR?”
I looked at the cannula in my wrist. That was another thing: usually I wasn’t aware of it.
“Trust me,” Jackson said. I could see now that he had a kindly face; a strong face. But there were lines and creases here and there; across his forehead and around his eyes, which were blue and clear. I’d heard about such lines. Time did that, long ago ― before we developed genetic control of the ageing process. What had happened to him? The lines at the corners of his eyes deepened. He seemed to guess my thoughts without the help of the Psychnet. “Things just don’t stay the same out here in deep space,” he said.