This story is by Robert David Strawn and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
At one time, all the gateways in this station were running and stable. The huge bright hallways teemed with people. The arches flowed with murals taken from views within the well. Bright flawless images from perfect worlds. Beautiful films played constantly. Films slowed down ten thousand times and edited so as not to spook those of us who were stuck in reality.
For many years, the transit gates were busy bringing folk to the well’s terminals to talk to the people within. People begging for research, people gleaning clues, people asking for memories.
Over the years, fewer and fewer have come back out of the well and its promise of immortality, unlimited resources, health, whatever. There were other wells, newer ones, more specialized wells, more secure ones.
This well, the deep well, was always the big one. Even now, its crystals are growing. Some of those other wells may still be running, but I have not been able to contact them for years.
The deep well’s crystals process worlds and worlds, at speeds that transcend time. For years, people would venture to the well, get sucked in and come out healed, younger, healthier, even smarter. They would return to their lives to sort the issues that drew them back, but eventually they would wind up details, break up with their lovers or convince them to join them in the better written worlds. They all came back to the well. Eventually, they stopped coming out.
Some driven by poverty, some by age, some by immortality. After a while, only those of us who were poor matches for simulation were remaining to keep things going. The religious fanatics weren’t going to keep the gateways clear. The superstitious and the bigots were hardly going to keep the terminals connected. Oddly, only those of us who were bitter with jealousy could be trusted.
Lots of folk got rich as their families all left reality. But with no servants, employees or customers, the boom failed. It is a lot of work to survive the hard times. Day after day, year after year, too much work. Some places turned off or burned out their gateways.
Hard to let go of a civilization, Hard to keep a civilization when Heaven’s Gates are wide open. The big crash just sped up the migration to digital. The wells figured out how to simulate even the worst matches and then it seemed like there was no reason for us guardians not to abandon our posts at least in shifts as we dived into the well. But then, a month out and all of your buddies in the well, lovers, teachers, even pets had moved on. Gone for a month real time, and the folk had moved on. Eight hundred years gives time for a person to go strange or shift references and perspectives.
When possessions have no meaning, friends are a rough thing to lose. Eventually, I stopped going back into the well. I ventured back only when I got a sniffle or an ache. Gradually, I learned to see the real difference between the cracking and flickering walls that now just show murals. The scenes from the well are too jarring for those of us younger than a thousand years. Without living a few hundred years without consequence to jade your views, it is too chaotic despite the glowing beauty of it all.
While I despise the bigots outside that would destroy the well while not even understanding what it is, I have become a bigot myself. When a dog is transcended into the well and made smart, even wise and then takes to the paths of man and more, how long does he remember with joy the man who once threw him bones? When the girl you love gives up the arms that limit her reach and takes a form that nature never knew or could, how long can your unrequited romance persevere?
I need to do some repair soon. Soon I will have to take parts formed from within the well to replace the factory made ones that are wearing down. Before this, the parts have all been checked and measured, tested and passed before we put them to service. The new parts were ordered and those that answered and cared, chose not to match patterns that mortals could test.
Sometimes I get mad and throw things around. I have been left behind. I never get a card sent on anniversary or birthday. I guess it is no large thing for those who left me behind.
In the well, ten thousand years or more of unmarked time pass between each Christmas. How could the ones I loved and cared about remember or care about me still? Understanding is not forgiving, and part of me rages. Not a large enough part to turn me dark. But I fear that part of me will feel relief if the new parts fail. If the well fails, I will be free. All of civilization’s peak will turn off and all of those who sailed for immortality, will have sunk. They will have sunk because none of them remembered that someone needs to bail the ship.
Rodney, just before he bailed on bailing, invited me to join him. “If the terminals crash, the crystals will stay on for a week or more. Even after failure, we will have physical freedom matching mental freedom for more than 192 years.”
I said, “Each year I stay on gives those in the well three times the history of man. I don’t know where they are heading, but I dream that one day they will start to emerge and bring heaven with them.”
Rodney shook his head, “Every year you and I fall 10,000 years behind. We dive into the well for a moment to bring back supplies and now the supplies we need would require us to dive for days. We both know how likely anyone is to return after a few days in heaven. We either trust the gates to these odd fittings and perhaps destroy our chances of ever diving again or we seize the day and have lifetimes of our own before the system crashes.”
“You could dive for a few days and make parts that we could test.” I said.
“Be honest, how many come back or care after a few days? Forty years of subjective time is the estimate on setting up and making the parts we need.”
“But then we could have hundreds of spares and the patterns for more.”
Rodney said, “That would be forty years to resist temptations not even possible in the real world. None of us will come back with a finished project. Tell you what, I’ll help you set up to bring the new parts live and then dive in. Wait a week and then put them in place. If it fails, I will still have had a couple of lifetimes. I will try to stay focused and make some parts, but we both know how that ends up,”
We did just that, and I have put it off for months, but the time is drawing near.
When the zealots were attacking, we asked for defenses from the well. Most of the strange tools failed to do anything at all. A few were amazing and we have been safe since. More often than not the systems invented down in the well would only work in a fantasy realm such as the well can make. I have no way of guessing what will happen when I pull the switches I need to pull. If I enter the well, I will have several lifetimes to regret not reaching for millions. But if the part fails, I will have the rest of this life to regret not taking advantage of the moment.
I think I will take one more quick visit to the well. I should get my body repaired, restock on supplies and get some fresh clothing. If the well collapses this will be my last payday, I might as well give myself a bonus. I really shouldn’t put it off. If I decide to stay in the well, every minute out here will reduce my life inside by nearly seven years.
I reach out to the controls to turn on one of the few gateways that still work. I pull back my hand knowing the best way to avoid temptation is to never place it before you. I reach out again.