The walls around me are bright white, almost like a mirror. Facing them, I can see just how strange I look. A dark black jumpsuit, bare feet, sensors, and wires are attached to my fingers and chest. The room around me is echoing with the beeping of machines and a slight hum coming from the DreamScape2000. A neon screen catches my eye and I watch it flicker curiously. None of it makes sense to me.
Two scientists, Dr. Cleo and Dr. Lakes, stand over the coffin-like box running last minute checks. This will be my third time in the simulator. The first time was scary and exciting, the second one was flat-out terrifying.
My first experienced turned out more like a nightmare than the euphoric dream state that it was supposed to induce. Even if I wasn’t getting paid as much as I do to be their human lab rat, I reckon I would still want to participate. These machines have been in the making for years now and the media was very vocal about them. Everyone wanted to try them out. So when my chemistry professor asked me if I’d want to apply to the trial, I jumped at the chance. So here I am, dozens of physical and mental tests later, making history.
Cleo and Lakes come up to me and slide the heavy black helmet onto my head. They give me the same run down as twice before. My heartbeat will be slowed to near death and I’ll be completely submerged in the saline chamber. I have exactly one hour to explore the new platform they created, named Cloud Nine. If I have any troubles, press the red button on my watch, which will also offer me a countdown so I can keep track of time inside the simulator. If I need to press the button for whatever reason, the trial will end within one minute. I’ve heard this before and am not really paying attention.
The young, red-haired lab assistant sets up a ladder before the machine, signaling that it’s almost time to start. I step up the ladder and then lower myself feet first into the water. It’s warm and smells salty. Before I put my head under water, I check that it is completely sealed. Dr. Cleo attaches the tubes to the back of my helmet that will be pumping me oxygen. Finally, I lay back, and my body is completely submerged. A blue light on the lining of the inside of the machine illuminates as a thin layer of plastic moves to cover my entire body. As soon as it clicks into place above my head, Lakes shuts the machine and I hear a rush of air being suctioned out of the DreamScape. Everything around me is dark and I feel myself fall backward.
It’s as if I’m doing flips in the empty air until I find myself surrounded by a pale blue sky. I look down at my body, I’m still barefoot and wearing the black jumpsuit, but the helmet and wires attached to my body are gone. I wiggle my toes and feel the cool, fluffy sensation of the cloud. I kick my left foot forward and pieces of smoke swirl up into the air. It’s like a thick, warm fog.
Hundreds of clouds, big and small, surround me for miles. Some are thin and stretch out into eternity. The sky far below me is pale yellow and fades purple, green and pink into the deep indigo sky above me. There’s no source of light as far as I can see. I see birds flying around that look like they are made of paper, and hot air balloons floating in the distance. They sway and rock in the sky but I feel no breeze. They remind me of a baby’s cradle.
I turn around and see a white ladder connecting the small cloud that I’m on to a larger one above me. As I take a step forward, I float into the air. My body is light here; the gravity is weak. I bounce and skip my way over to the ladder, a light feeling in my stomach. I feel like I’m made of bubbles. On my first jump on the ladder, I am already half way up. Shortly, I find myself clambering up onto the next cloud. I have a better view from up here.
There are two lone pillars that look like they too are made of paper or maybe a solid cloud. As I asses my surroundings, I notice that some of the clouds are shaped funny. I see some shaped like a heart, a bunny, and a large ship. I can tell that there is a lot to explore here. I decide that this is my favorite landscape yet.
Checking the watch on my wrist, I notice that my hour is already halfway up. I climb onto another cloud and then another. The higher I get, the darker the sky becomes. Soon, I see shining stars popping into the sky. I discover statues on some of the clouds. I see a horse in mid-jump that looks like it belongs on a carousel, two giant statues of sleeping babies and a kite tethered to a distant cloud, floating thirty feet into the air. Each cloud I climb offers a new perspective and many more discoveries. This platform has many layers.
As my hour ticks away, I catch sight of a huge castle made of, you guessed it, cloud. It reminds me of a sandcastle. Not a lot of detail but very creative. I see that I only have a few minutes left and spend it jumping and doing flips on a cloud. This one was built like a trampoline. I notice that I never seem to run out of breath and suddenly feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to test drive this new invention.
I watch as my watch ticks down from ten seconds to five, four, three, two, and one. I close my eyes and wait for the familiar feeling of falling back into the machine. Nothing happens. Maybe my watch is off a minute or two. I wait five more minutes and still nothing happens, so I press the red button on my watch. I’m still in the cloud. When I look around, all I see are hundreds of clouds and no way out. Time is passing so slowly so I just sit down on the cloud, pressing the red button repeatedly. My heart starts to thump in my chest.
This has never happened before. Even on the first trial, I left after thirty-seven minutes. I was becoming really stressed. I take deep breaths to slow my heart rate. I remember Dr. Lakes telling me that panicking would mess up the machines ability to properly display my surroundings. My hands are shining with sweat and my face feels hot. I realized we never had a plan for if the simulation doesn’t end on time.
When thirty minutes have passed, I come to a conclusion. I am stuck.