Fifty years ago:
“We need to start with Project UTOPIA.”
“We can’t. Not yet; it’s too soon.”
There was an air around the table of scientists; many older men and a few older women with graying hair that were discussing the newest, top secret project – Project UTOPIA. Project UTOPIA was currently ten years of hard, manual research and ideas thrown about to create a virtual reality. The scientists were hard at work; each one played a different position in the development, and each one had their own opinions and ideas about what they wanted to do with it.
“We need to start it.”
There was a heated debate about Project UTOPIA. While, yes, there were ten years of hard work already done, the project was far from completed. The Earth was becoming harder to live on, and there was a war starting to spread, consuming the rest of the slowly diminishing human population. The scientists weren’t all happy about the situation.
“It’s not like the world is going to die tomorrow.”
“And what if it is?”
“We can do a prototype of it.”
The argument fell silent, the scientists watching each other every now and then as they debated what they would do. Should they agree? Should they vote on it? One of the men at the end of the long, rectangular table tapped his pen’s cap against the wood of the furniture in front of him.
“I suppose a vote is an order,” he finally spoke up, breaking the tension filled air with his deep, baritone voice, “there’s twenty one of us, so the group who has the most votes is the winner. All for?”
The hands were in the air; eleven in total. Unanimous, the scientists would proceed in testing Project UTOPIA. “What we need,” the scientist who offered the room a vote, “is a system to allow the citizens of the world to go into UTOPIA. I suggest we work through this, and then figure out a new project.”
“What about headsets?” one man said, holding up a drawing of a visor and connectors coming out of it, “clean, easy; it’ll be the fastest way to plug into UTOPIA.”
“Let’s get one hundred made, and then tested, and we’ll send them out through a Beta test,” the other scientist said. There was excited chatter being thrown around, glad that Project UTOPIA was finally going into more depth; it was a brilliant step towards the newest technology that was being formed.
They seemed to all accept that idea; it was easy, it was a good way to get a beta, and see how things worked. Project UTOPIA, after all, was something that many people were excited about – and the twenty one scientists were the first ones to be overly excited about it.
“When should we have these complete?” someone brought up, spinning ever so slightly in their large, padded chair around the table. Murmurs escaped the lips of almost all of the scientists again, and debate happened; tomorrow; the end of the week; the end of the month. These were all far too close of a date to have a working mechanism, and so the head scientist finally spoke up, setting the rest of the group in a comfortable silence as he spoke.
“The most logical date would be by the end of the year. It’s October; that gives us the rest of this month, and two months to have the product tested, built and then out for New Year’s Day. We’ll launch UTOPIA for the public on that day. Let us welcome the year 4000 with a bang.”
That seemed to make the rest of the group agree, and a paper was passed around. Everyone signed it, and dated it, and it was official. Project UTOPIA was opening on the first day of 4000, and hopefully, it would be the biggest hit of the year. Or, well, of their life. It was going to be a fantastic thing, and quite honestly, the scientists were hoping for the best.
“Let’s get this project on the road. Smiths, you take a handful of your developers and go work on the development of the headsets. The rest of you, go back to finalizing the scenes of UTOPIA. We want to make it absolutely perfect. Also, we need an advertising team; who wants to do that?”
Hands arose in the air as fast as lightening, and the main scientist counted out seven people who would be the best for the time. All were hard workers who’d be able to juggle not only their research, but also the advertising and making it the best thing to attract people.
“Henderson,” someone finally spoke up, catching the eye of the head scientist, “we need to bring this to the Court first, before we can finalize anything. Who do you suggest go for that?”
Andrew Henderson thought for a long moment. It was his idea for the program, after his son, Derek, told him how interesting it would be to have a “full, real life, virtual reality universe to get away from the dangers of the Earth,” and oddly enough, ten years ago, the project was launched. Henderson smiled, “Don’t worry about that,” he finally stated to the rest of the group who shifted uncomfortably. Some spun slowly in their chairs half way as they watched and listened, “I think I’ll take care of that. Just keep me involved in everything else, and let the paperwork and the heading of everything be my problem.”
That seemed to be the answer the majority of the people were looking for, because quiet, pleased murmurs could be heard throughout the room. Henderson was quite pleased with the fact that he had some of the most brilliant people on his time, as well as the best group of researchers and people who got things done. The team was efficient, manageable, individual, and a good group of women and men. Each brought about a different aspect of the team; Tracy Smiths was head of the researching group, while Anton Reeder was the head of virtual universe development; and then, even so, Lacy Trucker was the head of the program development team. Every one of the members was needed, and Henderson was quite thrilled – and rather excited – about how this project had developed in ten years.
“Alright, mates,” Henderson finally said, standing up as his large hands pressed into the wooden table, “let’s get this show on the road. If we want to launch Project UTOPIA before New Year’s, we have a lot of work to do. Keep me updated, and good luck.”
Excitedly, the men and women of the room stood up and disappeared, except for one man. He was shorter in stature, and slightly overweight, with a broad chest and a set jaw, with dark eyes, “Henderson,” the man started, calling attention to the head scientist who was busy reorganizing the slight stack of papers in front of him.
“Yes, Lindsay?” Henderson looked up, raising an eyebrow. John Lindsay; he was a brilliant man, but he was sometimes overly pessimistic – Henderson was slightly disturbed by that fact. It wasn’t like he didn’t have things to be optimistic about. Sometimes, if Henderson didn’t think he was entirely important on the team as one of the best programmers in the group, he would have dismissed the man already. Pessimistic views on what they were doing was so frustrating – especially to Henderson.
“Do you really think this will work?”
It was a simple, easy going reply as he watched the heavy set man. He knew Lindsay never thought it would work – virtual reality was something only touched up on thousands of years ago, but now it was becoming finalized, bullet proof; nobody had wanted to touch that earlier in the century. “Do you think differently?”
“I do,” Lindsay said, jaw set in irritation as he watched the older man, “I don’t understand how you want to create a virtual universe that takes someone in. I know we’ve been working on it, but I found a flaw…”
“And why didn’t you bring this up in meeting?”
“Because,” Lindsay pulled a phone out of his pocket and using a stylus brought up a coding program, filled with codes and programs for UTOPIA, “Right here,” he murmured, “right here is a fatal problem.” He offered the device to Henderson, who took it and casually flicked through the code, scanning with relatively practiced eyes at what he was looking for.
But he didn’t see what he was trying to find. It was hard, hidden beneath the first layers of CSS. “What am I looking for?”
Lindsay gave a rather irritated little sound and took the phone back, flicking back to the first place, “Right here,” he explained, urging his superior to read more, to look deeper, “it won’t just take the mind of a person to UTOPIA. It’s grown into its own program. It’ll bring the person spiritually and mentally into UTOPIA.”
“Is that a problem?” Henderson questioned, not getting why Lindsay sounded so upset about something that wasn’t planned. Henderson understood the freak out, but he figured this was something fantastic – if they could bring people into this world and have them there longer than just a mental thought bubble…
“Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous?” Lindsay asked, huffing and puffing as if something had upset him. Henderson studied his facial features, and gave a little shrug of his shoulders.
“In the long run, maybe,” Henderson said, “but this is why we have machines and tests and beta runs,” he added smoothly. And it was true to the T – everything they did was for safety and safety always came first, “and if that happens, I’m sure it’ll be okay. It’ll make it more realistic for the people going in,” he smiled, nodding.
Lindsay didn’t like that answer and gave an irritated little puff, cheeks popping out, “Okay,” he stated, “then, I’m sorry, but I’m through with this project.”
[15:06:24] LH: did you guys see the new demo for the video game coming out next week?
[15:06:55] IJ: are you kidding me, man? That looks fantastic! I’m excited!
[15:07:13] CC: I’m really excited, guys; it looks like it will be awesome. Now we just have to wait until the scientists release it. Do you think there will be a UTOPIA update?
[15:07:57] LH: there probably will be. I mean, it’s not like our generation isn’t obsessed with it, as it is. We should plug in, by the way, guys. We don’t have much time before the celebration begins.
[15:08:10] CC: what’s this celebration again?
[15:08:30] IJ: it’s the remembrance of the war. Because tomorrow is the ten year anniversary of the Treaty being signed, and that all our soldiers, who are still alive, are home.
[15:09:12] IJ: it means a lot to Li. We should definitely go with him.
[15:09:25] CC: oh, right. Li’s dad died in that war… okay. I’m going to plug in now, then. See you at the normal coordinates?
[15:10:01] IJ: we’ll see you there, yes.
[CC has been disconnected]
[15:10:45] IJ: Li, I’ll see you there, too. Make sure you get there on time. I know it’s hard, but we’ll get through it. Chao.
[IJ has been disconnected]
Liam tapped his long, slender fingers against his desk as he watched his two best friends disconnect from their normal chat room that they enjoyed. In a world so technologically advanced, Liam never thought twice of never being a message or instant connection away from them. While they never lived in the same town, or the same state, or even went to the same school, Liam never thought that they weren’t his friends. Iikka Jarvi and Cameron Cruz were fantastic. Liam had known them for so long now, that the thought of being separated from them physically, emotionally and mentally hurt.
He stood up, listening to the chair squeak against the hardwood floor of his bedroom as he straightened up to a solid six-foot-two-inches of muscle, skin and bones. He had long, lanky limbs that generally got in the way when he walked or tried to do something, but even when that was the case, he was very careful about how he wanted to move, and how he wanted to react in a certain way. He pushed his fingers through his shabby, short cut hair and stepped around his room, leaving it to head towards the equipment to send him into UTOPIA. He needed to plug out of this hellhole and into the virtual world where literally everything was grand and, well, utopic.
“Liam, you’re not going to that world again are you?”
Liam sighed, feeling already frustrated at the question. His mother, Tracey, had a good heart, but she didn’t believe in UTOPIA, or what it stood food. After Liam’s father died in the War, she started to be clingy to her only son. Liam loved her, naturally, as a son should always love his mother, but he disliked how she didn’t want him to go into UTOPIA, how she wanted him to live the rest of his life without the technology of the last fifty or sixty years created. Liam was a part of the technologically-advanced generation; his mother grew up in the generation that was a little less advanced than Liam’s. She didn’t get it.
“There’s a celebration,” Liam said slowly stated, crossing his arms over his chest, “for Dad. You can come with me. I promise you’ll like it – you’ll be safe, too.”
“They’ll broadcast it on the television,” his mother replied flatly. If she wasn’t breathing, Liam would’ve thought her voice sounded like she was flat lining. Liam rubbed his forehead, jogging his leg in an almost irritated way. How frustrating.
“Mom,” Liam started, tapping his fingers over his thigh in impatience. Iikka and Cam were waiting for him; he had to get going, or he’d be late for the celebration, “as much as I would love to sit here and watch it with you, why don’t you want to go in with me? It’ll be fun. I promise. You’ll be okay.”
“That’s not the world you live in. It’s a video game.”
Liam’s brows pressed inwards, folding at the crease above the bridge of his nose. His brown eyes studied his mother’s face, and he gave an overly exaggerated sigh, “It’s not a video game,” he pointed out. His entire generation got mad when people told them that UTOPIA wasn’t real, that it was just a video game. It was the future; it was better than the overly heated world outside of air conditioned walls that kept the electronics from overheating. Even at the poles, the weather was unusually hotter than it was years and years and years ago. Liam tried to slow his breath, relax, calm himself down as his mother opened her mouth and started to talk again.
“Liam,” Tracey said, in that very motherly tone of voice, “it is a video game. I know your generation thinks differently, but it’s still a video game. It always will be a video game. And being sucked into it as much as you are, it is not a healthy thing,” she stated. She had said it in a voice that made Liam want to hit her – he had never felt that way to his own mother.
“You should stop,” Liam finally said after a long moment of silent contemplation. He was forming his words slowly in his brain, wording it the right way as to not upset his mother the way she was upsetting him personally, “I’m going to UTOPIA. Whether you come or not is none of my concern. I promised my friends I would meet them there, and if I’m not there, I’ll be upset. Plus, it’s for Dad. I don’t want to stand here and cry. I want to feel happy and proud of what he did.”
“You should be proud regardless, Liam.”
“Over what?” Liam asked, voice cracking in irritation, “for him fighting in a war that spanned ten years and took away my father? I feel disgusted.”
Tracey studied her son, and Liam stared blankly at her. It was the frosting on the cupcake that would silence their conversation. He was done with this, with the whole “staying here and support the War of Arms.” It was a stupid war over the arming of countries and the dissolution of those arms. It was pointless, to Liam, and took away hundreds of thousands of people.
“Fine,” Tracey sighed, frowning, “just make sure you come home early enough for dinner, okay?”
Liam beamed, his eyes brightening as he watched his mother for another moment, “Sure,” he nodded, “I’m always back for dinner. You know that. Love you, Mom.”
He was quick and light on his feet as he moved through the house towards the electronic equipment that would let him go through to UTOPIA. He always had a weird fascination with electronics – Henderson Electronics. When he was younger, he had asked his mother about it, but she didn’t know why it had his last name printed on the casing of the machines. He put the headset on, folding it down over his eyes and ears and connected everything, laying down and stretching out on his back. It would only take a minute to enter the virtual universe of UTOPIA, where he could be whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
He took a deep breath, reaching up and flicking on the device over his eyes, closing them as everything seemed to spin. When he would open his eyes, he would be in UTOPIA. The machine dragged his soul and mind out of his physical body, put it into memory, and then put it in the virtual universe. It was something that not many enjoyed, but Liam didn’t mind it. It felt like blinking to the twenty three year old. He would close his eyes, and reawaken as himself with his best friends in this universe. Pain, anger, depression – nothing like that existed in UTOPIA. That’s why it was called what it was. The creators wanted something utopic compared to the world that people physically lived in.
He felt himself drift off, and when he opened his eyes, his friends were grinning at him. He looked around, the virtual grass swaying in some unknown wind that they couldn’t physically feel, “Glad you could join us,” Iikka stated, wrapping an arm around Liam’s shoulders and pointing to the crowds of people collecting in the streets about three kilometers away, “we should go before we’re stuck in the very back.”
“Yeah,” Liam laughed, “sorry I was late. Mom didn’t want me to come. As usual, she thinks that the whole world here is something that will devour my soul. But I like it here – it’s more peaceful than the real world.”
“Plus we’re here,” Iikka laughed, moving to head towards the crowd of people. Liam laughed and took Cam’s hand to drag her along with their friend towards the crowd to see what was up – Liam personally knew that there was a parade and a big speech from someone important, and he quite honestly wanted to see it. Iikka lead the way, and even when they were at the back of the crowd, shouldered them a path through to the front. There was a large, thick rail that stopped the crowd from going a certain way, and Liam laughed, letting his chest rest on the metal-like material and his hands hang over the side.
“Guys,” Liam grinned, “you guys are the best. Let me just tell you that, okay? We should hang out at the mall after this. It could be fun; there’s probably going to be a lot of things happening all over, though…”
Cam shrugged her shoulders and reached over, mussing up Liam’s hair. Not that the boy could feel it. But even if he could, he’d like it, “We’ll see,” she teased, “I might have to leave early today. My dad wants me to help him with things.”
“Yeah, and I need to get home for work,” Iikka pouted, and Liam tilted his head, stretching his arms.
“I guess we will see, huh?” he grinned, turning his attention to the large stage displayed in front of them as the crowd behind him started to jeer. It sounded like the ceremony was about to begin, and he didn’t want to miss one single beat.
The celebrations were quiet honestly exciting for Liam. He felt great pride in being able to represent his line, especially his father that he missed so much. The jeers and chants and yells of excitement around him seemed to settle down as a man, short in structure but broad shouldered and held himself with a great amount of pride, stepped onto the stage. He walked to the podium and coughed, raising a hand to silence the large crowd of people. There were children and teenagers, but the majority of the group was adults, the young generation like Liam, Cam and Iikka, or older. There were some dressed out in military garb, some carrying banners or posters or some photographs of family who had died... it was all so patriotic.
Liam grinned, listening to the way everyone had become almost deathly silent. It was as if he was a commander of silence, able to quell even the loudest of storms into a world if eerie quietness. The man, Liam knew, was Head Commander Casey Jordan. He was from around Liam's home, and he had known Commander Jordan as a child. How could he not? The man was his father's leader... back before Liam's father died and before Commander Jordan was a commander.
Liam watched quietly as Commander Jordan silenced the crowd before he stepped up to the podium. He gave a rather lazy wave of his hand and arm as he settled the excited crowd, “Good evening, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone both here in the wonderful world of UTOPIA and those who have not joined us to watch on the U-Stream from their televisions in the real world. We’re here to celebrate the victory of the War at Arms today, but also honour those who have passed away in this ten year, gruesome war. We have a splendid speech today, spoken by Lieutenant Andrew Carter, and I hope you all do listen to what he’s saying and take in what he says.
“Before I go on into handing over the microphone to him, I would just simply like everyone to understand that this is both a celebration of victory, and a remembrance of those who have passed away. War is a terrible thing, and the war to end the arming of all the countries was no exception. It was, almost, a World War Three, the other two happening millennia ago, in the twentieth century. Now, here in the forty-first century, we have advanced our technology and grown, not only as individual people, but as a nation, a world, and of course, UTOPIA-ians, and I hope, even after I pass away in the future, that we can still have a strong community that loves and cherishes each and every person here today.
“Personally, having fought in the War at Arms myself, I have seen death. I have medals that mean nothing to me – Purple Heart for saving one of my best friends? Sure, I can say I saved him from the battlefield, but that doesn’t mean I saved his life. He died shortly after. He left behind a beautiful wife and a son who I’ve known since before he was even born. But that’s not my point. I want each person who is here today, who is listening to this speech, whether on the television or here through UTOPIA, to cherish everything you have. Take nothing for granted – because, you never know, it might be gone tomorrow.
“With that said, I would love to take this time to welcome First Lieutenant Andrew Carters to the podium to have his speech,” Commander Jordan stepped away from the microphone and started clapping. That induced everyone else to start their cheering and clapping and becoming frantically excited over the next speaker. Personally, for Liam, it hurt to hear Commander Jordan’s speech, but he knew who he was talking about. The twenty three year old made a point to find the Commander and have a conversation with him before he left UTOPIA, even if that meant missing the rest of this speech that would happen.
The next speaker, First Lieutenant Andrew Carters was a muscular man, with a sharp, angular jaw line and deep, dark set eyes. He had a scar over one half of his face, and graying, salt-and-pepper coloured hair that showed his age.
Liam was quiet as he watched the man. He studied the rough features of his face, of the way he held himself. He walked with a slight limp in his step, which Liam assumed was from the war. He could honour that – this man had fought and fought for their country, and for the improvements of everything that they stood for. It wasn’t like he was trying to be offset about anything. Liam rubbed his nose as the man stepped to the podium, his dark eyes scanning the area around them as he stood there silent for a long moment.
It happened at once. He had raised his arm and everything had fallen silent. It was almost like Commander Jordan and Lieutenant Carters knew how to contain the people, or the people knew how to shut up when the seasoned fighters were about to talk. When everything was quiet enough, he took a step closer to the podium, reached into his coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Methodically, he unfolded it and then smoothed the creases out on the wood in front of him, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he started, his voice slow, laboured, almost like he was having a hard time to breath.
“I want to thank you all for coming out tonight. I also want to thank those who have served in the military or any type of infantry; you have all done hard, stressful work and you are all wonderful men and women. I want to also thank the entire generation for creating the world we’re standing in – or watching on the television – because if we didn’t have UTOPIA, we probably would’ve been dead by now. I want to thank everyone for living, for surviving, and for pushing through each day.
“But the thing is,” he stated, taking a moment to think, flipping the page of his rather long speech, “is that every day we are still fighting a war. A war that, sadly, I do not think we will win if we don’t have the support for you, the people. The War at Arms happened during some of the greatest transitions between the technological advances we, as a people, have gotten. While, I understand, that this is something we need to focus on, and continue to change, develop and make flawless, it is also dangerous.
“People have reported not coming out of UTOPIA. There are cases where people come in, and they are so overwhelmed by the greatness that they never want to leave. Do not let yourself fall victim to this. The real world, no matter how horrible you believe it is, is something you are born into. Let us just take a moment to remember that you can never grow old here in UTOPIA, and if you never leave, you’ll be losing valuable life lessons. Pain, anger, irritation, love – actual, needed love – you should all have the experience of that. It’s a fundamental part of our lives, of our DNA that we’re assembled of.
“I want to tell you about a project the scientists never released. It was called Project SAVIOR. SAVIOR was a failure. It was to help people live forever, by translating their life into a new body, a younger body, but they never successfully added it. SAVIOR was scrapped after two years of hard work. Once your body dies, you cannot come back – or leave – UTOPIA. Do not let yourself get sucked into something like that. It won’t be pretty on anyone’s part.”
He took a breath, flipping to the next page in his speech, letting everyone digest what he had just talked about. It was hard to get a hold of, but even so, he knew that it wasn’t too hard to digest. Liam’s stomach tightened at thinking about being locked into UTOPIA for the rest of his life – he wouldn’t mind it (after all, Iikka and Cam were here) but then he remembered his mother. He rubbed the bridge of his nose as Lieutenant Carters started to speak again.
“I have one final thing to say,” he started after a brief moment, composing himself and letting everyone compose their thoughts and feelings virtually, “the last thing I want to say is to always believe in yourself. Everyone here, everyone in the real world, is a strong, powerful individual. You can change the world if you need to, and you should always utilize this. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, or that you’re too weak to do it. Belief in yourself is something strong, powerful, and I promise you, when I first went into the War at Arms, I definitely didn’t believe in myself. Thank you for your time.”
He gave a bow and then stepped off the platform, handing the command back to Commander Jordan. Liam rubbed his brow, feeling rather frustrated now, but also terribly inspired. He had a spark of patriotism in himself – his father was a fighter, and he would be a fighter, too. There was nothing he didn’t want to do, and there was something he often needed to do. He made a mental note for himself to go back to his mother sooner.