The Imagination Machine [2120]

August 10, 2020

"Don't be afraid, it doesn't bite, get closer" said M, extending his hand. W hesitated, while taking in one more time the sight of the enormous organism growing high into the sky, its spirals of curvy branches projecting an intricate shadow as far-reaching as he could see. Fluorescent, puffy flowers where covering every inch of wood, making the gigantic structure look as if it could slowly float away at the first gust of wind. At its base, an entrance resembling a carnivorous plant was patiently waiting with its jaws wide open.

"Those look like teeth," W pointed out, not at all convinced. M sighed, shaking his head in disapproval: "You really aren't the exciting phantasianaut type, are you?". He then closed his eyes, and during a few brief seconds the teeth of the plant lengthened, softened, thinned and multiplied until they resembled an inviting curtain. M then pushed part of it to the side: "You first!". The two finally adventured inside the organic castle.

What looked like a menacing shadow from the outside, was instead an exquisite vortex of colors on the inside. W could smell the acutely sweet yet fascinatingly rich scent flowing through the convoluted tunnels of bright blooms. Luminous pollen slowly followed the currents mid-air, mixing and layering onto each other like ethereal waves. At every corner, shapes and patterns changed slightly, luring the eye to the fine repetitions of detail. Staring at any given inch of wall deserved minutes of contemplation, as if getting lost into an infinite fractal.

"When... Did you think all of this up?" asked W, watching his step carefully. "I was helping my mom with some gardening, and these white hairy dots on a cactus caught my attention. It was just fascinating how they were placed on it, following such a regular pattern! And the plant's shape itself, was branching over and over again, and each branch had tinier dots, and tinier branches on it..."

"I see how that got out of hand," W chuckled, waving his hands towards the alien world they were now exploring. "But I love it" he continued, with a smile that quickly reflected on M's face.

The hike led them through an opening. They walked in the middle of what looked like the inside of a colossal, empty tree trunk. There was so much space, a sparse forest of what looked like cherry trees was growing in it. A transparent, vitreous substance was stretching between the wooden walls. The cyan daylight, trickling in from the top of the structure was refracted, reflected, and concentrated through them; god rays of every color of the rainbow pierced the luminescent air in every direction, lighting the canvas of white blossoming woods below.

W's expression, as they both looked up in awe, slowly turned empty, suspended between feelings. "Is everything OK?" M asked. "Yes, yes, more than OK. This is beautiful." W paused, while sitting on a large root arching out of the ground, then added: "I just wish... We had this sooner. This form of sharing." M sat next to him, unsure on what to reply. He knew what W was talking about, and it was one of those topics for which all words had already been said. It took M a few seconds to realize that W had closed his eyes: it was time to follow him. M did the same, and immediately felt the temperature starting to shift. The sweet and saturated perfumes slowly disappeared, leaving space to a sober hint of salt; what felt like ocean breeze delicately started caressing their skins. M took in a deep breath of fresh, cool air, then opened his eyes.

W was still next to him, however they were now sitting in a meadow. M looked in the direction of the wind: a sudden cliff, probably tens of meters high, then the soft gradients of a sea climbed towards the horizon. The open sky over their heads was turning to twilight, however the sun was still visible, sprinkling distant waves with orange highlights. Pink stripes of clouds where slowly passing by, disappearing in the direction of a distant city. Longilineal buildings almost blended with their background, reflecting the colors of the sunset like mirrors; some of them were so tall, they gradually disappeared into a gentle mist. A bustling of flashing speckles orderly flowed through the artificial gorges, like diamond powder in perpetual motion: thousands of flying vehicles.

"This is so unimaginative," thought M, but kept that for himself, still unsure about what was happening in W's mind. Well, aside from that landscape itself. W finally talked: "This is where I lived. I often come here, you know, and get lost in this tiny slice of time for hours. So many of the amazing things I see while using this incredible machine bring me back here. I thought you'd want to see where I go when I look absent." M now understood. He knew the story, and had seen pictures of that skyline in the news... "The morning that never came." However what had always been mere facts, was now being slowly distilled into a deeper understanding. He realized how the sun was still lingering above the waves, yet never touching them. W's memory was resisting the night, almost as if repeatedly asking for "a little more" of that instant. M pushed himself to be a little closer to his friend. They sat there for hours. The sun never set.

Coming back was never pleasant. You'd feel a dull pain gradually onsetting in your neck, due to the weight of the helmet you had been wearing for so long, then your muscles and bones would start feeling stiff, as your real body's sensations took over. Lifting that mess of wires and electrodes off your head always came with a relief: public services weren't prioritizing flashiness over the more functional characteristics of the Imagination Machine. Before standing up, M and W looked at each other from across the room. They incurred that usual, annoying realization that a thick wall had been placed back between the two. Their inner worlds where now completely invisible to each other, and no closing of eyes, or magic gestures, would allow them to materialize their thoughts for one another to see. What they found in each other's eyes was however changed, as the depth of their pupils now felt like a window to a parallel universe of colors, stories and emotions. They hugged each other, then walked out into a world that we, today, couldn't even imagine.

- C