Part III - Chapter 13 - Got the World in a Box

"Good Morning," came an overly sweet female voice. If you could call it a female voice. It sounded less human and more like someone rubbing their fingers over velvet, a sound that seemed to make Pete's skin crawl.

Hoping that the voice would stop speaking, Pete forced himself awake to find a beautiful woman's face right over his head. She was standing next to the bed that Pete was laying on and she reached out to stroke his face. Pete couldn't put his finger on it, but it all seemed somehow fake. There were flowers on a nearby table with breakfast food laying out on it but somehow the smells weren't right. It was if someone told you that flowers were sweet and they took a bunch of sweet smells, like syrup and clean linen, and replaced the original smell of flowers. As he looked at the food and noticed bacon and eggs, it smelled more like beef and potatoes. The linens on the bed felt more like leather than cotton and the woman's hand felt more like cotton was being held up to his face, rather than the sensation of human skin. The room was not unpleasant but the sensory signals were all wrong and it was a jarring experience.

Pete pushed the woman's hand away from his face and stood up. As he moved around, the room seemed to change with him. He had taken a mere two steps and the room rushed by as though he had roamed from a bedroom to a new part of the house. After only a couple more steps he was standing in a fully decorated dining room with giant windows overlooking a beautiful snowy scene. Pete's mind tried to send a shiver down his back as it triggered the sight sense but his back would not shiver as the room was hot and humid. The temperature felt more like a beach than a snowy mountain top. Pete turned around and leaned over the table to inspect the food. He took a bite of the eggs and realized that he was actually just eating the mush from the day before. Maybe this is what Livi and Charles were talking about.

Pete was suddenly aware of the woman who had not only walked with him but appeared to have been talking the whole time. The incorrect sensory environment was causing every neuron in Pete to work overtime which made listening to the velvet voice difficult to process. He began to watch her mouth move and noticed that there was a slight delay with every word that she had said, almost like a dream. Pete surreptitiously pinched himself in an effort to wake up from this bizarre world. Maybe he had left the futuristic captor and if he pinched his arm hard enough, Pete would find himself back in San Francisco. Unfortunately, no luck. Pete was indeed experiencing this odd world.

Pete attempted to focus on the woman again. The velvet voice had another element that was too sweet and because Pete could not place it, the uneasy feeling grew exponentially. After watching her for several minutes, Pete finally registered that she was asking him if he would go out with the boys and play a few rounds of golf or would he be joining her at the club for dancing.

Pete cleared his voice and said, "Why don't we stay here for a moment and you tell me about this place?"

"This is our house, Silly. You know all about it as you designed everything that you wanted in it," came the overly patronizing female voice.

Twice in two days that I have been called "Silly." If I wasn't so outside my element, I'd be offended.

"Let's just say that I am having a hard time moving from my slumbering dreamland and into reality. Can you explain to me what is going on? Where we are? And who the hell are you?"

Instead of becoming offended like a normal woman, this faux woman answered automatically, with little emotion or attachment. "Well, to answer your questions in order, we are trying to decide on your plans for today as we have mandatory activities, including your consumer hours, before you switch to your work hours. We are in our house but if you don't like the settings, feel free to simply change the house by clicking on the wall remote. And I, am your programmed entertainment and companion."

As she was speaking, she pointed to a small box mounted next to a sliding glass door. As Pete approached it, the room changed again and he was now standing outside in the snow overlooking a ski pass. He had not even opened a door but suddenly the world changed to render an outside environment. The woman had simultaneously moved outside with him but was now wearing a pink cloak with white fur lining. Pete took a step backwards and found himself back "inside" and his companion wearing the outfit designed for "indoors." Pete took a forward and backward step a couple more times to see the world and woman change as an individual might turn on and off a light switch.

Deciding to let the outside world be for a moment, Pete turned his attention back to the small box mounted next to the sliding glass door. As Pete studied the box, he found that there were 4 buttons on it marked, "Everyday," "Preferred," "Special Occasion," and "Evening." Each setting had a dollar sign next to it but the numbers did not look like anything that he recognized. Clearly the monetary system had changed since Pete's time.

Pete clicked the "Everyday" button and the room and woman shivered like a rock causing ripples in a lake. After the momentary shiver passed though the environment it ended and the world surrounding Pete remained the same. He clicked on the "Preferred" button and the room shivered again but this time it changed when the ripples ended. He was on a beach but not like one he had ever seen before. There were scantily clad women everywhere and men wearing nothing but pants that cut off at the knees. As the water began to creep up to catch his toes, Pete looked down and his feet were no longer in shoes or socks but bare feet. Pete noticed that his legs looked a lot tanner than he remembered as the waves came up to splash on his feet. However, like everything else, it did not feel correct. It felt more like a gelatinous slime everywhere which caused Pete to jump back and away from it. Whatever the blue liquid was, it was definitely not water. What made the situation worse, was that the "beach" was cold.

Deciding this world was much too unappealing, Pete turned his attention back to the box which seemed to now be attached on some kind of board that was sticking out of the sand rather than mounted to a wall. He clicked on "Special Occasion" and suddenly he was in a room crowded with people. It was a casino with roulette tables, card tables, and slot machines. The room was full of smoke but it smelled more like burnt cotton candy and the smoke looked more like a morning dew than cigarette smoke. The woman's dress looked more like a negligee than a dress as it left almost nothing to the imagination.

"Oh yes!" the faux woman exclaimed, "Let's go dancing!"

She took a few steps towards Pete and the room suddenly changed leaving the couple standing in the middle of a dance floor. Pete looked down to notice that he was wearing some kind of a suit. However, she had barely moved in close to the dumbfounded Pete, when the shimmer occurred and the room changed back to the dining room overlooking a snowy exterior. The woman was suddenly in everyday clothes and an unseen male voice said, "Your credits for 'Special Occasion' have been used up. You must accumulate more credits during work shifts before you can use 'Special Occasion' again."

Pete touched the last button and found himself in a flannel shirt and jeans and the woman in a flannel nightdress. They were standing on the deck of a log cabin overlooking a lake. The sounds of nature sounded off, the frogs were too low in sound and the mosquitos too high. The fireflies were much too bright. In fact, a couple of the lightning bugs seemed to have actual fairies riding on them instead of just being the insects. "Is it time for bed?" yawned the woman.

Pete switched back to the "Everyday" setting as that seemed the least distracting of the various worlds. Pete passed through the "glass door" before walking towards the side of the snow laden deck and found a ladder. But just as he turned to climb down the ladder, he touched the rail and found himself suddenly standing on the ground without having actually descended down a single rung. The woman was still standing next to him, as Pete's personal ghost. "Would you mind scootin' along, little lady?" he asked in an effort to better explore the place alone.

"Your request does not compute. I am your companion," stated the faux woman and instead of stepping back, she moved closer.

"Beat it! Skedaddle! Go away!" And within moments of Pete's explosion, she disappeared. Pete took a few more steps into the snowy banks before he walked into what felt like a solid wall. Pete took a step back to regain his senses. As he rubbed his nose, he realized that the pain was not part of this odd world. His nose legitimately hurt. He stretched his hands out to get a better understanding of what was in front of him. As he ran his fingers up and down, it was clear that he was in front of a solid wall. Only the snowy bank in front of Pete was better and more convincing than any rock painting Pete had ever seen or commissioned for train robberies. The snowy bank looked to go on as far as the eye could see and as Pete leaned in close to inspect the artwork, he could not find any evidence of brushstrokes.

If there was a wall, then there must be a door, he thought. Pete used his hands to guide him down the wall as he could not trust his vision. Just as he came to a corner, Pete looked down and saw the powder from the snow was staying in the air longer than expected. As he knelt down to study the anachronism, he realized too late that it was a kind of gas and a mistake to have moved closer to it. Pete quickly stood up and attempted to run away but within moments he had run into an adjoining wall. Pete fell backwards, knocked out on the cold hard floor.

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