There was a room, with stark, featureless white walls. There was a bed along one wall with white sheets and pillows. In the center of the wall across from the bed was a large recessed moniter screen. It could have been a hospital room except for the lack of any equipment, or windows, or anything else for that matter aside from the bed and the moniter in the wall.
And no door.
Lying in the bed was a young woman wearing a set of white pajamas., sleeping comfortably. Long, pale-blonde hair framed her pretty face and fanned out over the pillow and over her shoulders. She lay on her side with her long legs and arms sprawled in the carelessness of the kind of sleep that seems so comfortable that it's a shame to wake up from it.
Slowly, the girl stirred from her slumber, sitting up and looking around. Taking in her surroundings, her blank expression turned to confusion, then apprehension. "What's going on here....?"
The screen came to life brightly. Showing an older oriental man with salt and pepper hair and a thin fringe of beard. He wore glasses and a kind, though seemingly troubled expression on his face.
"Hello, child. Can you hear me?"
The girl answered, "Yes, I can, where am I? Who are you?"
"My name is Gennai Sanato. I am speaking to you from the facilities of the Shiroko-Tsuhi arcology. And you have me at a bit of a disadvantage in that regard, for my colleages and I do not yet know your name. Do you remember it?"
"What an odd question. Of course I know it. My name is Lora. Lora Doubet."
Mr. Sanato seemed pleased by this, "Good, we were afraid you might have suffered true brain damage from what happened to you."
Lora started, "....Brain damage?! ....What happened... What are you saying? I feel just fine!"
Mr. Sanato paused a moment, seeming to choose his words carefully. "That is because you are in a simulated environment, Lora. That room you are in? An electronically induced dream vista. The sensations you are getting from your bodies five senses? Biofeedback induced from the virtual reality system hooked to your brain. The reason you see and feel a normal body is because that is what your brain expects to feel, and the A.I. in the computer constantly gives biofeedback confirming that."
Shocked, Lora looked wildly around, at her hands, felt her face. It seemed so real.
"Lora? Listen to me." Sanato's kindly voice urged. "You are dying. But you can be saved. We _can_ save you. We _will_ save you. If you let us."
Lora focused intently on the screen, her hands trembling. "What.... what happened to me? Why am I dying?"
Mr. Sanato said, "You do not remember. Maybe that is a kindness. The mind often blocks out trauma such as what you have endured. I will explain momentarily, but first, what is the last thing that you can remember clearly before waking up here? Think back, Lora."
Lora thought for a moment, "I... I was in the Zone. I was busking for the noon crowd on Church Row...."
"Busking?" Sanato asked.
"You know," Lora said, "playing music for tips. I'm pretty damn good at it actually. I was hoping to land a gig with one of the bands, but it's hard for a flutist to get a job with a band in the Zone."
"I apologise, I've simply never heard the term before. Go on."
"Okay... I was playing for the crowd, like usual... ummm.... let's see.... " Lora concentrated. Then an odd expression came across her face.
"No... did that actually... did I...."
Mr. Sanato said, "Yes, Lora?"
"Y'know, I"ve always.... occasionally weird stuff happens around me. I'm real lucky, so everyone says. I ran away from home to the zone, you know that? A lot of girls don't last in the zone. They get raped, someone tries to pimp them, some crazy tries to slice and dice them. but that never happened to me. I knew what to stay away from. But sometimes, no matter how careful you are, some go ganger is gonna notice you. A couple of times I had to run, and things just sort of happened. They ran into trash bins, took a corner too tight, tripped over something. And I always got away. I never thought much about it."
Mr. Sanato seemed to lean in a bit closer, "Yes, that would fit the pattern."
Lora looked at him intently, "Am I a peek?"
"What makes you think so, Lora?"
"Because I remember.... getting entranced by this one song I was playing.... I was really doing a good job with it, more so than usual. I mean, I really lost myself in it... " She trailed off speaking.
"And... I noticed I was floating... above the street.... and...." Lora stopped. She shuddered.
"Yes? Do you remember what happened next?"
Lora looked down at her feet from where she was sitting on the bed, "No... I.... I _can't_ remember.... I just can't...."
Mr. Sanato let out a breath, "Don't try, Lora. What happened next is probably not worth remembering."
Lora looked up from under the bangs of her hair, she was gettintg frustrated at the older man's hesitation, "What. Happened. To. Me!?!?"
He paused, then said, "You attracted the attention of Ran." In a very small voice, Lora said, "W...wha... what...?"
Sanato continued, "It was fortunate that one of our PK talents noticed your awakening at the time. It was unfortunate that we arrived on the scene too late to prevent what happened." he looked very sympathetic, "I'm afraid you caught Ran on a _very_ bad day to be manifesting your true power as a telekinetic for the first time. I think you caused him a headache. Even our PK here in the arcology felt it."
"No." Lora shivered.
"I'm afraid so. Ran nearly destroyed your body in a rage. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it. There was nothing anyone could have done.... "
Lora, numb, just looked at the screen, then on a rising note of hysteria, wailed, "NO!! I won't believe it! I CAN'T believe it!!" She started looking around wildly again, crying, "Where's the DOOR?! Let me OUT of here!!"
"Lora, please!! Calm yourself!!"
"NO!! You can't make me believe that! Where am I, really? What have you done to me?!"
A voice on the screen that was not Sanato's said, "Convince her."
Sighing, Sanato appeared to touch something in front of him.
All of a sudden, the wall next to her turned into a screen, she whirled to face it, she saw....
What was left, anyway.
The face at least, was still recognizable, barely.
She fell to her knees and elbows, covering her head with her arms. She dimly heard from the screen, faintly, "...boost her endorphin levels, she's going into shock!"
She should have been feeling nausea, she should have been sick. But now, she finally realized, there was simply no feeling inside. She wasn't hungry, and there was nothing to throw up. That, more than anything else, convinced her.
She was dead, wasn't she?
Was this some strange purgatory?
"Lora, please answer me. You have a decision to make."
Slowly, she reached for the bed and pulled herself up to sit on it.
Without looking up, she numbly asked, "What decision? Where to scatter my ashes?"
"No, Lora. Whether to live or not. Remember, I told you we could save your life. We can give you a new body... a second chance."
Lora looked up, brushing her hair away from her face, "As a cyborg? Right?"
Lora was silent for a long moment, then said quietly, "What's the catch?"
Sanato nodded, she was quick, all right. Good.
He said, "As you know, this would not come for free. As a Zone native, you have nothing to pay for such an operation, except your service. Normally, the corporation would not bother."
"But you showed surprising potential as a esper. We have been developing new cybernetic technology that may prove not to interfere with such talent, and may even improve it. Boost it. We want your help in testing this."
"If you choose to do so, we will perform the operation, we will tailor your new body so that it looks exactly as your old one did, or change it according to your tastes. In return, you will work for us for however long it takes to pay off the debt."
Lora took all this in. Then said, "And if I choose not to?"
Sanato replied, "That is your decision. We can not make it for you. We will only be able to keep your brain alive for another twelve to fourteen hours. It will require at least 6 hours to perform the initial hook up to cybernetic life support. In the six hours remaining to you, we can dilate your time sense and allow you to experience days, perhaps even weeks of subjective time, and provide you with a very pleasant virtual reality to live out your remaining time in. In the end, you will still die. But you will suffer no pain. We can guarantee that."
"However, should you choose to live, we will provide everything you need, housing, a stipend to live on, maintenance for your new body, and training. It would not be a bad life, Lora."
"The choice is yours. If you choose to live, walk through that door." There was now a door in the wall to Lora's right.
"If you want to end your life peacefully, you can choose to walk through that door to your left." Another door had appeared in the wall left of the bed.
Mr. Sanato looked squarely at her, "I personally hope you choose to live Lora. I await your decision."
The screen turned blank.
Lora sat on the bed, thinking. She stayed there for a long time, it seemed.
Then she got up and moved towards the door to her right, towards her new life. There wasn't really any choice, was there?
She wanted to live, no matter the cost.
She opened the door, and into the brightness beyond.
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