"Coldness isn't easy for me. Each time I detach with icy stares or heartless words it requires painful… forced…effort. The only way I can describe it is like grinding a rock, where the rock is my warmth being forced through a cold device until it becomes unrecognisable shards of hate, spitting out uncontrollably. Warmth in contrast is painless. It flows much like a waterfall, effortless and breathtakingly beautiful. The warmth is who I am and how I am meant to be." (Me, 2016).
"We hope you enjoyed your visit, Mr Kingston?"
As the words floated through the air, reaching my eardrum as if travelling from afar, I slowly opened my eyes in a gentle flutter.
Groggily I said, "Huh?" as I stared at the dull white ceiling before scanning the room with confusion and curiosity.
I was in a small office with a single leafy plant in the corner and a jug of water with two glasses on the desk. The man sitting opposite me had a thick brown moustache and looked to be in his late fifties. He had a gentle face, with deep coffee eyes hidden behind old fashioned glasses. He adjusted his leg, resting it over his knee, and repeated the question.
"We hope you enjoyed your visit, Mr Kingston?"
I took a moment before answering, small pieces of information flooding back to me rendering the situation slightly less weird.
"Mmh. Oh yes. It was… interesting." I replied lost in thought.
I was lying across a lounge chair with my goofy size-tens dangling off the end. I was wearing a grey suit, normally reserved for funerals, and my shirt was also a dull grey which was slightly poking out of my trouser top as always.
"We're pleased to hear that, Mr Kingston." The therapist nodded his head slightly to indicate content as he spoke.
"What did you find during your visit that was of interest, Mr Kingston?" His tone was calming but felt disingenuous. I chose to ignore that for now and simply focused on answering his questions.
"Mostly the people. One was very…" I struggled to find a suitable word and once again scanned the dull white ceiling for answers.
"Warm." I said finally in a low tone. For some reason it was an embarrassing word for a 30-something male to use, similar to 'love' or 'cuddling'.
"I see. How were they warm exactly?" The therapist asked, almost mimicking my lowered tone on the same word.
"Well, I felt my character was warm… without my influence or effort. I found that… comforting." Another word I struggled to utter aloud. I was ashamed by my reluctance of speaking simple words, but it was like an automatic reflex I couldn't control.
"Gentle personalities were often the norm during that era. People were intrinsically controlled by emotional transference, which they deployed with random logic dependant on the envisaged reward." The therapist said without feeling.
I found myself shaking my head in disagreement and sitting up slightly. "No, this one… he was effortlessly warm… like it somehow flowed from him without thought or dark calculated motive. It was quite pleasant actually." I smiled briefly at the memory before resting my head back to stare at the ceiling once again.
The therapist sat back in his chair and placed a hand to his chin before speaking. "Psychological warmth and coldness are how people conceptualise their internal and mental worlds as they do with the physical world. The insular cortex processes both the physical and the psychological versions of warmth and coldness in similar ways. For instance, a warm object is often akin to shelter and comfort, whereas the cold is something to seek safety and console from. The same can be said of human interactions."
"Why was it so easy for him, to be so… warm?" I asked, more to myself. The ceiling was getting whiter, as though someone had recently painted it with fine gloss.
"We offer many unique experiences, Mr Kingston. We noted you were looking for a meaningful experience and this met your search history." He said putting down his notepad and pen.
"Can I go… back?" I asked, arching upright to stare at the moustache therapist, hoping he'd note the desperation in my eyes and grant me a repeat purchase.
"I'm sorry but we are currently out of stock of that particular life experience. We recommend the following you may find interesting…" He started listing various types of human life experiences and I stood up.
"Oh great, another fucking android." I muttered walking around the therapist's office mindlessly.
I soon tuned out the robotic therapist completely as I reminisced on my virtual life experience…
An entire lifetime experienced in just a few days, almost like watching a movie or reading a book, except you get to determine and influence the outcome through the main character.
Granted, some of it was unpleasant as the guy I was had often been underprivileged, with thoughtless parents and constantly struck out in love. Yet there was something naturally warm about him. He would always be kind to everyone he met and offer them a small token of hope in whatever form he could. Perhaps with a smile, an ear to simply listen or a consoling hug. It certainly wasn't a character I was used to being. As though he had a gift to make people feel at ease and loved, and see the world through his warm eyes.
Eventually, he grew old and moved to a little cottage off the Welsh countryside and spent most of his days just staring into the distant waters of the sea with a full heart. That's not to say he hadn't been cold-hearted during his lifetime. However, any sense of coldness was always painful and difficult for him to convey. He used it as a defence mechanism to protect himself from hurt and the coldness of others in a deflective manner. That was one thing we had in common, shielding ourselves from the potential hurts of others.
Now I was Victor Kingston again and certain I had never experienced such humanity in any virtual experience before. Since the CPU chips were implanted in human minds a decade ago and the entire human race could download anything they so wished directly into their minds, this was the first time that anything had left a noticeable mark and made me question my own nature.
"Would you like to purchase any of these recommended services, Mr Kingston?" The therapist asked in a repetitive tone.
I shook my head before recalling he was just an android and then answered, "No, I would not."
"Thank you for your service. We hope you purchase from Virtually Reality again."
Then a long beep sounded and everything went a bright white.
It always made me smile thinking of how a white light was attributed to heaven or an angel, but instead it was just the brightness of a computer screen.
I blinked my eyes, refocusing on my own cubic apartment in its uncluttered minuteness and held my head in my hands. It always felt like coming to from anaesthetic when re-entering reality. A slight wooziness and lightheaded feeling washed over me until the fog dispersed and things became clear. My CPU device was humming slightly as it rebooted my functionality, allowing me to lift my arms and move my legs normally.
After a few minutes I walked to the kitchen and poured myself a long glass of water and drank thirstily. As I gulped down the clear liquid, the coolness coating the back of my throat, I saw the calming sea appear before my eyes from my virtual life experience. I had spent so many hours just staring at it whilst being the character that it had engrained within my entire being. Waves echoed in my ears soothingly, as if singing to me.
Indeed this was strange, as often a VR (virtual reality) programme leaves only a faint memory, much like recalling something seen many years ago through an old movie projector. It wasn't intended to be a long-lasting memory but merely an experience, like a rollercoaster where you can recall the event but the feeling of the thrill and excitement has long faded.
The selflessness of my character and his pure giving nature had penetrated to my very soul. I felt compelled to remember him, for the injustice of simply forgetting was a price too heavy to bear.
I walked over to my balcony and looked out at the bee hives of cubic apartments which lined the empty streets in drones. Everyone lived within their minds these days and had evolved to such intelligence that they knew no other human being could be trusted. Even reproduction took place completely with insemination and offspring was often carried by a third party. This world suddenly felt very empty to me.
A sharp buzzing in my CPU device startled me and caused me to fall to my knees as the discomforting sound continued to vibrate through my skull.
"What's happening?" I choked in shock.
Sweat poured down my forehead and I contorted my features in deep distress. It felt like I was malfunctioning. I laughed loudly at the thought, despite the pain travelling like a speed train around my body, it was perhaps the truest thought I had ever had. After all, we were all part machine, the entire human race with our implanted robotic brains and living in worlds of make believe.
Instantly, I knew what was happening to me. I was feeling a sense of warmth which was going against my logic coding, because to give freely without return was meaningless to a machine. Having this need to share my warmth with others, even with a passing smile or a token of kindness, required painful effort… like grinding a stone. I simply couldn't do it without feeling it was forced and painful. Yet, somehow, I wanted this kindness within me. I wanted to be the character I had experienced but not in a virtual world that existed a thousand years ago, but I wanted it right now.
Screams escaped my tightened lips in muffles. I slammed my wrists on the cold floor, fighting the extreme effort of this feeling… of wanting to give without reserve and feel compassion and trust, instead of all the self-serving darkness I was trapped within.
I ran to my study and hurriedly grabbed the only piece of paper I owned. A gift from my aunty of an antique writing set of gold patterned paper with a blue ink pen. It was something to be put behind glass and admired by museum goers, but I knew it would be the only way I could remember...
Quickly, I tore the writing set open and began scribbling down my thoughts in ink. Everything that had happened I wrote down in a messy haste. My hands shaking violently as I tried to calm myself and steady the emotional turmoil inside of me. My feelings of warmth were being overridden by logic programming in my CPU, which was busily whizzing around my brain to counteract the virus it perceived I was under attack.
Without warning I fell to the ground, taking the chair with me in stumble. My eyes began to close without permission; my hands still shakily writing in spasm.
Then, like a light bulb flickering, everything eventually went dark.
Slowly, the man rebooted to consciousness. He stood up hazily, holding the back of his head for comfort, the dull soreness troubling him. He couldn't recall how he had fallen and the faint alarm resounding indicated a help android was on its way, which was only vaguely reassuring.
The man levered himself upright and saw a pile of papers sprawled across his desk with spidery blue writing. Briefly, he wondered if he'd been robbed, but the apartment was untouched and the door sealed shut. It must be a trick of some sort he concluded with puzzled eyes and stuffed the written papers away into the desk drawer, ashamed others may deem him a madman.
He felt coldness flowing through him freely, which offered a strange comfort as if too long neglected. He smiled contently to himself, knowing he was all that mattered and everything else did not.
"The cold is who I am and how I am meant to be." He said quietly, before adding, "Me, 3016."