The 1% used to be the stuff of conspiracy theories—until it became our reality. The theorists suddenly had increased credibility, but unfortunately for us this only occurred when it was too late. The 1% were guaranteed safety while the rest of us faced global warming, natural disasters, and slavery to corporate armies.
Some of the 1% saw this as a great cleansing; they felt the world needed to get rid of all the desperate and depraved people so only the elites would remain. The chosen ones would be allowed inside the exclusive Ultra-High pods or could enter between reality and virtual life as day-walkers.
Big Tech and Big Corp propagated humanity's downfall with their insatiable greed, yet they still blamed us for draining resources. They utilised their media outlets to control, confuse, and placate us into submission, into a state of depression concerning wealth and emotion that remained the norm for human interaction.
The number of people, particularly children, on medication for mental health issues like fatigue, sadness, and worry was high. What made it worse was the controlled distribution of antidepressants that would only give them short-term relief but would keep them addicted to the drugs and never fully satisfied or properly treated.
In the past, the Great Depression was largely caused by global market crashes and unemployment. However, this era's situation is different: depression has stemmed from the human population's mental instability because of being manipulated and controlled by digital media elites, corporate techs, and capitalists who create spaces of fear and anxiety.
Politicians had already been deemed as puppets of the corporatocracy, their elections a mere charade. Few people turned out to vote - some in protest but always overlooked. Any political debates were funded and run by corporations to pass laws, rules, and tariffs that only benefitted their own interests. Businesses acquired the rights of humans and put profit above humanity itself. As the last forests burned down, there was an argument about who should get lucrative contracts for clean-up operations, while others fought over land to build Amazon skyscrapers on fabricated landscapes.
Children born into the affluent regions of the world's mega-cities were enveloped in artificial landscapes and environments. With the air so clean and pure, they would never know what life was truly like outside their walls. Questions of fact and fiction were disallowed by the corporate ruling elite to control the populace’s narrative; even history itself became fabricated. Education to the rich meant luxury while for the poor it became a thing of stories passed down from generation to generation. Food came in the form of reprocessed meats, liquified fat, and carbs for those with no choice while those wealthier had access to digitally enhanced ectobeef, chicken, and bacon, as well as refined oils for their diets.
A great equaliser was said to be coming, a balance between the haves and have-nots, but only if the people stepped willingly into the corpocratic Ultra-High reality pods with faith in those who had taken away much from them before. Of course, many disbelieved this agenda, and activist voices argued against it - these voices soon died down.
I was in a state of relative comfort. I wasn't wealthy, but I wasn’t destitute either. My air was cleaned to a 2 rating, not the 8 that those with real power had, but it was good enough for me, an Ultra Reality Architect, Programmer, and Artist. The people who employed me could turn off my air supply if I didn’t pay the taxes or do the work they wanted, so I had to stay attentive. My air reserves would last for about a year - nothing more than that.
My home was in a derelict, partly industrialised neighbourhood. There were AI-run restaurants and automated convenience stores where you could eat, drink, and even visit cyber brothels - though I never met anyone in any of these places and every time I went inside I felt like someone was watching me.
My street was always tranquil. The houses were far enough apart that I was spared the need to care about my neighbours' noise. They were all staying inside, working remotely or in their own virtual bubbles of existence, known as Ultra-High –– a state where they could go at any time. Most of them were programmers like me –– however, unlike me, they weren't artists and so struggled with inflated egos regarding their skills. What they didn't know was that I had created most of their open architectures and hidden worlds, allowing me to slip unnoticed into anyone's system whenever I wanted. After long enough, it ceased being interesting as I discovered how many warped individuals lived close by –– myself included.
Most people had grown so accustomed to ignoring the real world that they never left their tombs, instead opting to stay plugged into the matrix where fantasy could become reality if actuality got too awful. I didn't blame them; life outside was no longer worth living, and who was crazy enough to attempt it? Not many -- but I still went grocery shopping for my whiskey, weed, and heroin tabs, I still cooked close-to-real food in my oven, and I still enjoyed the sound of real music even though it was outlawed. At night, I'd sit on my porch with a fake breeze on my face while smoking, drinking, and jamming away on my memo pad or shooting my shotgun up into the sky.
I knew there were others with similar mindsets out there like me -- but when our paths crossed, we greeted each other with suspicion and rarely hung out together. Reality was horrid, and UH had pretty much driven us to other worlds that were allowing themselves space to exist since there were hardly any humans left in the outside world except for me.
The day after I defeated the devil, calmness swept the streets again--at least until recently. I had noticed strange movements from the corner of my eyes as they emerged from their hiding places, growing bolder. I hadn't figured out what was driving them, but evidently, word had gotten around that the devil's 'executioner' had invited them into his home. It seemed like some sort of friendship might be budding.
These beings had little to no influence on those in the ultra-pods, as it would take a nuclear fallout to stir their real senses. Why would you need reality when your simulated world could give you all of your needs and desires? I thought about shutting down the systems and freeing my people from the machine, but at the time, I failed to understand why it was beneficial. Those born into the system rarely knew anything else, brought up by the networks to feed the machine without question. People who asked questions were given re-education treatments: hypnotised, drugged, and seduced into submission. Those that chose to leave were essentially sentenced to death; they were forced out of the gated clean air communities or homes if they wanted to live in reality. For those of us that lived between realities - we feared being thrown out more than being pulled in. If this happened, we would be outside of the protection of the corporation and the network, away from Ultra-High and its guarded societies. We understood that we wouldn't survive in this harsh environment, so this kept us compliant.
Although not strictly forbidden, walking, or driving the streets after dark was heavily discouraged by the enforcers and their drones. They had grown familiar with me and displayed a sense of caution that I couldn't quite understand. I wasn't sure if they had heard rumours of my slaying of the devil or whether they saw something else in me entirely. In the beginning, I had been stopped once or twice, but now they just watched me intently from a safe distance as I passed them by.
When coding at an Ultra-High level, paranoia often sets in. It wouldn't take much for one's reality to be manipulated or changed by others, thus becoming a victim unknowingly. I realized that someone could drug me and place me in an incubator while I am unconscious so they could plug me into an Ultra-High state without my knowledge. However, as a coder and hacker, it would be foolish to try such a thing on me since I had left various Easter eggs both in reality and in the coding of Ultra-High. These were used as the skeletal architecture for most Ultra-High coding platforms that other coders would use. If anyone tried to trap me in this way, I'd quickly crack my way out of it before they knew what hit them.
My mind often wandered to the thought of whether I was actually living in reality, or if this were just a crafty simulation created by beings with coding skills even more advanced than mine. After all, it was strange that my roommate was the devil and that we had conversations. It was odder still that I killed them; this world seemed far too hard to believe compared to whatever reality came before it. That kind of thinking could easily make me paranoid, though I certainly knew that. To keep myself safe, I left certain "Easter eggs" scattered around both the physical world and in the deepest parts of my thoughts. When paranoia began to creep in, I would take out these eggs to test if my reality was being altered. Although I couldn't be sure those ideas weren't planted there by someone else. I won't reveal what these words are or where they're hidden, for simply uttering them or writing them down could alter the code written in time—or worse, give away my secrets.
This is a live book series writing/story art graphic novel cyberpunk, dystopian fantasy project. Written by Sam I Am Artwork by Wonder Ai directed by Sam I Am. Copyright is protected. It is a first rough draft work in progress so will change over time. This project is part of the SleeplessDystopian.com writing projects.
Words and story by mem Images directed by me and created using Wonder Ai