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There were three doors in Dave’s small living room: one opened into his bedroom, the other into the corridor outside his apartment, and the third one into a train platform with a direct line to the building neighboring Hell where Dave had his office and the windows he couldn’t close.
Every early morning from Monday to Saturday (and the Sundays when he needed extra money, which was all of them) Dave sat in his living room, put on his work glasses and gloves, and walked through the newly visible door into the train platform. There he waited for a carefully randomized time for the train that would take him across beautiful simulated morning fields, thirty-five minutes or thereabouts later, to the virtual office where he would do his virtual work analyzing videos he always hoped were synthetic. Somebody had to reverse-engineer the hidden horror foundries that weaponized large-scale generative trauma to destroy psyches and poison politics. Somebody had to maintain the walls.
Every afternoon Dave went through the door from his virtual office to the train platform, took the train back, and only after crossing the door to his living room did he take off his work glasses. The company’s psychiatric department had a clear policy on that: commutes however virtual helped the brain put distance between the horrors of the job and the safety of his home. Time and the view of simulated fields and calm towns did not trick his consciousness into believing there was a faraway place where he could leave his work behind but it wasn’t his consciousness they were concerned with.
Dave always took the train to his job. Always took the train back. Never took off his work glasses until he had pretended to walk through a virtual door and simulated sitting on a virtual couch. Dave answered the random mental health surveys with as much honesty as he felt he could.
It wasn’t much. Dave needed the job. Even if the fields the train rode through were darker every week and the towns were filled with things he could hear with closed eyes and the thing he pretended to himself was nothing more than suppurating rot was closer to his home’s train platform time.
Closer to the virtual door that had no lock.
The company knew he lied. The fields they showed were beautiful but the brain they monitored wasn’t seeing that. What he saw, exactly, they didn’t know but weren’t curious about. They could tell where the change was across the train line by listening to the terrified neural chorus of Dave’s brain. They could extrapolate when it would reach his door. They were curious about what would happen when Dave took off his work glasses and he could still see the door and what had come through it. Somebody had to design ways to break through the walls.