"Black Mirror" by Benjamin DeVos

Today I woke up and paused, thinking that this whole thing, life, may not be what I thought it was. I pictured myself as a giant dollar bill being fed to a robot that chewed me up, lifting its mechanical legs in the air, birthing some sentient, highly intellectual being that would figure out how to rehabilitate the entire planet. It was part man, part machine, supremely wise but also emotional. It engineered Earth’s pollution through an air-purifying apparatus, and when all of the contaminants were gone the device shot daffodils into the sky, petals falling like rain.

Once the world was purified, the man-machine wanted it all for himself. He betrayed the humans, demanding that every person transfer their consciousness to another world, a virtual one that was endless, and where anything could happen. Only then would they be pure like he was. The humans’ nanoparticles were transferred, configured down to the harmonic vibrations in the tubules of their nerve cells, precisely duplicated into a new undulating field of unlimited variables.

It wasn’t until all of the humans relocated that the man-machine revealed the cost of living the virtual life to be over a trillion dollars a year. The humans would pay for their stay by becoming virtual slaves, working to fill their virtual accounts, so that they could keep riding their virtual unicorns through virtual meadows. The humans wanted to come back to Earth, but the man-machine told them that if they returned, they would no longer recognize or understand the world in which they left and would be like monkeys forced to repeat a billion year cycle of evolution. So the humans stayed, their consciousness flowing like water through infinite interconnected networks. They lived in a single day that stretched on forever.

I paused again, looked out my bedroom window at the moving cars, the people in the streets walking to or from someplace that would cost them something, a piece of themselves. I wondered if I was already in that alternate dimension. I wondered if there was a machine somewhere logging everything that I did in some supercomputer. I wondered if I was merely data to be collected.

Maybe I was just paranoid.