The decision to stay in the forest had come gradually. At first, she set about repairing the hut out of habit. The systems on the farm were nearly as old so she was used to the work. Taking apart and cleaning the water pump and filter system kept her hands busy and prevented her from thinking about Marco. Clearing out the ventilation system established there was indeed still wildlife in the forest. She found familiar plants growing here and there; seeds from the farm dropped by thieving crows or mice. It was enough to supplement the out-dated rations. She ignored the ghostly whispers, humming to herself to drown them out when she explored the area. She avoided the places where people had died; their few possessions carefully laid out below the trees. ID cards left near these sites gave names and faces to scattered bones. The ghosts were loudest around them. She avoided Marco’s grave completely.
It was while looking for a small screwdriver that Maiv found the virtual reality glasses in a drawer below the monitor. They looked more like a welder’s mask than the sleek-framed models used on the farm. Heavy black plastic formed a half frame supporting an opaque copper view screen that wrapped around the eyes from ear to ear and extended to cover most of the face. She found the power switch and put them on, adjusting the earbuds for comfort.
She drew a sharp breath as she looked around the forest. The hut was nowhere to be seen. Rain poured down, the patter on leaves musical. She held out her hand then realized she had no avatar. She removed the glasses and searched for VR gloves or other gear. There was none to be had. It was a passive system designed only for surveillance; she had to settle for ghosting through the forest. She put the glasses back on, thinking to find sites to set traps for wildlife.
With a little experimenting, she found she could scroll in and out for focus and telescope to wide angle views, rotate direction, and move through the forest. Well spaced microphones provided good directional hearing. She stalked a family of rabbits for several minutes. Suddenly, the rabbits froze, ears erect, then dove for cover in a bramble. Maiv heard heavy footsteps in the distance. She zoomed in on them; her heart stopped and she forgot to breathe. Frozen like a rabbit, she watched as Marco trudged past.
Once he was out of view, she drew a ragged breath and, heart pounding, numb fingers directed the system to follow him. She found him sitting under a tree smoking a cigarette and staring at the hologram of a young girl dying. He watched it loop a dozen times then set it down. He rubbed his forehead, snuffed out his cigarette. Maiv heard a susurration of ghostly whispers. Despair gripped her heart.
Marco mechanically doled out the cable he’d brought for repairing a system in the next farm and tired a hangman’s knot.
Maiv tore off the glasses and ran out into the afternoon sun. She skid to a halt by Marco’s cairn and blinked uncomprehendingly at the tree, the pile of stones, and the golden light.
Copyright 2014, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved