Three years ago Jason Dyson's life was turned upside down.

What should've been the proudest day of his life turned into the most tragic one.

He had landed a position as a junior reporter at a prodigious news station in town, but unbeknownst to him his family was on their way to meet him that afternoon to proudly celebrate after he had sent an email to his sister telling her of the good news! Only a mile away from the news station they were involved in a terrible car accident and were killed instantly.

Present day.

Jason Dyson felt tense.

Floating on his nine foot long surfboard twenty meters off shore in nothing but a pair of swimming trunks in full view of his bungalow beach house, he soaked up the Maui sun and tried to relax. But his mind was racing with what had just recently happened at the news station and he couldn't settle down.

Three years ago he began as a junior reporter under the tutelage of one of the greatest field reporters in the business and then two years later he got a big break and landed his own TV show that now aired three times a week. Some people called him a tabloid reporter - someone who fed the audience trash TV. But he reported the stories and touched on the issues that the public needed to know and that other reporters wouldn't touch.

Like the unnecessary excessive spending within the military and the UNSA (United Nations Space Administration). When he demanded an interview with the base commander of UNSA's HQ in Washington to discuss the matter he was denied and told, in not so many words, to go fuck himself.

Or why the military felt they have the right to detain anyone they believed was a threat to national security for as long as they seemed fit. There was a story a couple of weeks ago about one man who was kidnapped from his home in Alabama and taken to an undisclosed location. He was tortured and beaten to an inch of his life. The military believed he was an enemy sympathizer for the rebel factions in the west, but it turned out it was only a case of mistaken identity and released him. The man filed suit against the military's actions, but nothing has yet come of the case.

Jason had researched the story and wanted to do a story on it, but the station manager refused to air it on TV due to his intense controversy. The only controversy, Dyson believed, was the military's control over the media. He argued for his story to air, but he was denied and the station manager suspended him for his eccentric behavior. He was not being objective enough.

That was yesterday.

UNSA was in charge of defending Earth against the invading forces of the Sussrik. They were an alien militarist space faring warlike race who saw conquering the universe was their god-giving purpose in life. Fifty years ago the planet was nearly conquered by the Sussrik, but due to the valiant efforts of seven courageous warriors, who were actually teenagers, calling themselves the Arch Angel Seven, Earth was able to defend the planet and defeat the invading army of the Sussrik, driving them out of Earth's solar system. Unfortunately the spaceship carrying the Arch Angel Seven was sucked into a Black Hole and disappeared.

Dyson always thought there was something more to the story of their disappearance than the military was letting on, but he could never get the goods on the story. Even after fifty years, the records of the Arch Angel Seven's last mission in space was classified. It was sealed at the highest level. He thought it curious why the records of their last mission were unable to the public. He figured they'd want people to know the story of these brave heroes who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of the planet.

And like the Roswell Weather Balloon story in 1947 disclaiming the existence of aliens who were visiting the planet observing humankind (which was later exposed), the military wasn't talking. But every month he gave them a nudge for any classified information about the battle. And every month they told him to go #$ himself. Recently, the Freedom of Information Act allowed pieces of data to periodically be released to the public about the battle and of the Arch Angel Seven, but most of it was blacked out and incomprehensible. It was like handing you a blank data sheet and expecting you to follow orders without a single direction.

Surprisingly enough, however, in the fifty year period between then and now fleeing colonists of the Sussrik came to Earth and settled peacefully, wanting a better life other than war. They blended into the population and became allies instead of enemies.


Jason's thoughts betrayed him and his mind was suddenly invaded by what devious act the military was up to as he lay on his back on his board, sunrays bleeding in his tanned skin like an ugly virus, suspended from his job. He should be out there getting the hot scoops and exposing to the world to just how corrupt the military was. But he was being monitored and watched by his superiors. He was told to go on an extended vacation until things blew over. He hated it. He'd rather be working. It was the excitement that brought him joy. But if he had to be anywhere he'd rather be here. With his family.

The military wasn't the only one who had their secrets. And this AIRP (Artificial Intelligence Reality Program) was his. Only one other person on the entire planet knew about this program and that was his camera woman, Clara. If his little secret got out that he was spending time inside a specially designed AI environment built by his late father, they'd barge in and throw him in jail. They'd study it and dissect it for every ounce of technology it had. The military didn't like his father much.

His father was a wanted man, though he died tragically several years ago, (not with his mother and twin sister in the car crash that took their lives), he was labeled a villain for what he had tried to deliver to humanity, the gift of ever-lasting life through the embodiment of technology. Ten years ago he discovered something that scared the military and they kidnapped him. Jason never knew the reason. And no explanation was ever give for his disappearance. His father had just vanished.

But now every one of them was artificially generated in the most highly sophistically program ever designed and built by his father days before his disappearance. Inside its matrix were each of his family members brain anagrams and patterns all stored in a special data base. Jason figured that his father knew something was wrong and duplicated and downloaded his family's brain patterns in here for safe keeping. In wasn't until the event of his mother's death that he was granted access to a safety deposit box in the Grand National Bank in the centre of town that he found the program on a small computer slug. At first he didn't know what it was, but as soon as he inserted the slug into a pair of VR (virtual reality) glasses his father also left him in the box - he was able to access the AIRP world.

His first experience with the program was seeing an introduction by his father telling him of this great achievement and how some day it will change the world. But he also made Jason promise never to tell anyone about it. It was a contradiction by his father, but he followed his father's wishes, telling no one but one person. However, he knew she could be trusted. After all, she was also his lover.

His father had designed the program as much more than a simple AI program. It was devised to mimic actual life and evolve with usage. So the more time Jason spent in the program the more the program began to adapt to his personality. Although, the photons representing his father, mother and sister, were already fully conscious of their existence as artificial beings in a computer program, they didn't refute the fact. They all had the same mannerisms, traits and quirks, as his real family, and each behaved according to their downloaded personality. They even aged. So this world was very much like the real world. And with every access by Jason, the program grew. His experiences and the people he encountered would be inserted into the program enlarging the matrix. But his father had designed the AI program to be infinite and everlasting, so no matter what the program could handle it.

The family's old beach house located in Maui was Jason's favorite setting. Every year when he was a kid, they'd take the family vacation and spend two weeks here. This was where Jason felt most at ease and his father had remembered that. Every ounce of the bungalow family beach house from the smell of the wood right down to the soft sandy shore it sat upon was programmed with perfect detail. There was so many good memories here. And this was where Jason spent all of his time when he accessed the program. It was like a second home.

As he lay on his board, the wake of the water gently rocking him back and forth like a mother rocking her newborn baby to sleep - he thought he heard someone call his name. The water carried the carrier of the voice across its glassy surface, but it sounded distant. Which it was. He turned his head and looked towards shore. There, standing in a Hawaiian t-shirt, tan kaki shorts and sandals, at the waters edge, was his father with his hands cupped around his mouth. "Jason! C'mon in son! Lunch is ready!"

Jason smiled, and then turned over on his stomach and began peddling towards shore. It took him less than a minute to reach swallow waters. He picked up his board, cupped it under his right arm, and then walked the rest of the way. "Thanks dad. Must've been day-dreamin' out there again," Jason said.

"You've been day-dreaming a lot lately son, is there something wrong?" his father asked.

"No, not really," Jason said back. "Just the pressures of work, is all." He hadn't told his family that he had been suspended from his job at the news station. He didn't want them to worry. But there was something in his father's eyes when he gazed into them that told him he suspected something. His father was an intuitive man. Maybe he ought to just come out and say it before he guessed. "I was suspended yesterday, dad, from the news station," he said. "I acted, according to the station manger, inappropriately. He won't welcome me back without an apology, which I don't intend to give him."

"Now Jason, I raised you to be a proper young man," his father said, putting an arm around his son's shoulders as they walked to the beach house. "You must apologize or your career as a reporter will end before it begins. You still have so much to accomplish. I told you those tabloid stories would get you into trouble," his father then said. "So what happened this time? Let me guess, and I'm usually right about these things… you wanted to report on the military's over erroneous surplus budget, right? And the station manager suspended you because you refused to breach your integrity to report the truth? Tell me if I'm right?"

Jason wasn't at all surprised. He shook his head and smiled with a I-should've-known-look. His father already knew. He never got anything past him. After all, he was psychic. Even in his photon computer generated form his psychic intuitiveness came through. "Never get anything past you, dad," Jason said.

"I'm your father and I know things," he said. "And it's just the kind of issue you'd pursue." He continued. "I know you, you were just like me as a kid, always wanting to know the truth about things. But some truths are best kept secret. Being a reporter comes a certain responsibility and you must respect that position or, like a wild dog, it'll bite you in the ass. You have a duty to report the stories that the public should know about. But have some tact in reporting them."

"Tactfulness isn't the issue, dad," Jason said. "The public has a right to know things. That is reporting."

"No son, that's creating dissention. And the military doesn't want that. The Sussrik are back, son, and without the Arch Angel Seven, the military needs the support of the people to prevail."

"By lying to its people? The military should be held accountable just like everyone else and my reporting opens the public's eyes."

"No, you're scaring them," his father said. "And I don't like you jeopardizing your job. As soon as you log out of here I want you to march back to the news station and apologize to your boss."

Jason's mouth opened agape with shock. He couldn't believe his father would say that. But he didn't want to hear his words. Jason believed he was one-hundred percent right. "Forget it, dad. I'm a reporter and I report the truth." He said. "And no one has the right to censor the media, not even the military."

They had made it back to the beach house and climbed the six steps up to the patio deck. Around a glass table sat his mother and sister who were dishing out lunch. Hot dogs and two different types of salad: green and macaroni. His mother always made the best meals and each meal was accompanied by a salad. She considered a salad an essential source of nutrients for the body.

In the real world he tried to have a salad at least once or twice a week, but with his hectic schedule sometimes his nutrition suffered for the time restraints of his job.

He was hungry, so Jason dished out two hot dogs and two large portions of each salad onto a plate for himself. Though the food he was about to eat was nothing more than computer generated photons with no eatery value, somehow, beyond all reasoning, it was delicious. And this was his family. His mother was a magnificent cook!

He theorized his memory was placing flavor to the food by sensory input it was gathering from his brain at all times while in the program; what he remembered his mother's cooking tasted like.

"So will you be staying long this time, son?" his mother asked, while pouring him a tall glass of lemonade. "I really wish you would. We miss you when you're gone."

Jason picked up his glass and took a sip of his lemonade, swallowed. "I miss you too, Mom," he said, "But I have a tremendously busy schedule and I log in whenever I can."

"Not anymore," his sister then said. "You've been suspended from your job for speaking against the military's agenda, eh big brother?" He immediately looked at his father. But he'd just told him what had happened. He didn't have time to tell the rest of the family. "Don't get so excited, I read it on the internet just before you logged in. A big celebrity like you suspended is big news in the tabloid world. Especially when it's one of its own. They praise you. And some people are forming a petition to get your back on the job. So far nearly 1,000 people have sighed it on-line."

"I told you, I report the truth. I'm not a tabloid reporter." He said insistently. "Besides, 1,000 people signing a petition is nothing. Maybe 10,000 or 100,000 people… might open the station manager's eyes to see just how valuable I am."

"Please," she said, and rolled her eyes. "Sometimes you can be so full of yourself, bro. You know you're not the most liked reporter in town. They only tune into you because you showcase the stories other reporters are too afraid to touch."

"And… my ratings are high because of that," Jason rebutted.

"You can't argue with that," his mother chimed in, and smiled. "I enjoy his news reports. They're so captivating, like a really interesting book."

"Thank you, Mom. At least I have one fan at this table."

"However, I don't like the way you go about getting the story, son."


"You're so invasive. And that's nothing but tabloid journalism."

He silently sighed. "There's no use in arguing about how I go about my job, 'cause I'm never goin' change. And if my station manager can't see it, then I'll just apply to another station who wants me." He stuffed half a hot dog in his mouth and began to chew intently, a little angry and annoyed that he had to go through the same conversion he had with his family a thousand times before.

His father looked at him like a father would his son when he had something valuable to say to him, but instead didn't say a word. His son would find his niche in life and he knew this wasn't it. He knew his son had so much more potential. But he'd allow him to learn the hard way. It built character.

Suddenly, Jason's meal was interrupted by the ringing chime of his cell phone. He finished what he was eating and then plunked it off his pants belt. He opened the flip phone and there on a video screen was Clara, his camera woman. "Clara, I'm spending some quality time with my family, what is it?" he said.

And she told him.

Jason's eyes lid up with elation. "Are you serious? When did they book in?"

"The hotel registry had them book in yesterday afternoon," she said. "The names are obliviously false. Our informant gave me the heads up and now I'm telling you. This would be a major swoop."

"That's stating the oblivious," he said, grinning happy. "I'll be right out." He closed the connection and then stood up from the table on the patio deck, hooking the phone back onto his pants belt. "Sorry Mom, Dad, Sis… but I gotta jet. There's a major story brewing and I'll gotta get it."

"But I thought you were suspended?" his mother said.

"With this story I'm betting the station manager will reconsider his decision," Jason said. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I leave the program running 24/7, so watch for my live broadcast on TV."

"Son, I beg you to reconsider," his father said. "You're throwing your life away by--"

Jason reached for his watch which was the trigger for him to access the return signal to log out of the world and pressed a button, logging out in mid-sentence of his father.

There was a bright flash, and he then found himself sitting in a black leather chair. He removed the VR goggles, grabbed his brown jacket hanging over a chair, and rushed out of his apartment.

- tbc