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Lenora

By Lundy Burge

Copyright 2018 Lundy Burge at Smashwords


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THE SKY WAS AS IT ALWAYS WAS IN THE CLEARING: very blue, very clear, and very fake looking with its uncanniness and repeating cloud patterns. It was high definition, to be sure, but it was just that, a highly defined, crisp photograph, a screen saver with extra depth, and nothing more. The grass was a little bit better, offering more depth to the eye, but even that was undermined by a thin coating of visual fuzz, just enough to tip off that something was wrong with the whole scene. The giveaways didn’t end there either, as the grass and flowers all had a distant sensation, like astroturf you touched after a watered down injection of novocaine to your arm. Surely, the only thing that could be mistaken for “real” in this clearing was the woman standing at the edge of it, her hair wafting in the programmed breeze in the same motion as her blue dress as she held her white wide-brimmed hat in place. It was the sight that Mike was always greeted with when he entered this world: a woman who was both of this world and too pure for it.

“Don’t you ever wish that they’d let us change the colors once in awhile?” he called out to her. As if she was expecting him, she didn’t even jump at the sudden burst of sound in the quiet bubble. She simply turned around and waved at him, a grin on her face as there always seemed to be.

“That’s not what’s it’s made for though,” she answered him with a girly giggle.

“Doesn’t mean it can’t be an option.”

“If you're so insistent on it, then I can make a request for you.”

Mike nodded gravely. Nothing she did here mattered, for all intents and purposes. She wasn’t given any power to change this clearing for herself. All she could do was ask him and his team to do it for her. It was still unclear if she realized this, even after all this time.


He remembered the clearing looking a lot crisper the first time. He supposed that it was just the novelty of it all, the innocence of this budding technology that allowed him to stand there in a net of diodes and electrical impulses. The only thing that seemed off was a column of blue light jutting from a patch of dandelions, which were constantly phasing in and out of existence from the interference. He couldn’t shove down the anxiety he felt as he slowly walked towards it. Its surface was incredibly opaque, yet no shadows or shading appeared on any of the surfaces, even as he placed his hand on it.

“Hello?” a monotone voice asked from inside the column. “Can you tell me your name?”

There was a pregnant pause after he introduced himself to the voice. Unsure of what to do, he finally asked, “And who are you?”

At first it only made a garbled noise, something along the lines of “Lerere,” overlaid with strange metallic tones. With every other attempt, the voice became both clearer and apparently more frustrated, until finally after one last, recomposing pause, it sounded out, “Le-nor-a.”

“Lenora. That’s right. Your body needs some recalibrating but at least you seem func—“

“Shut-ting down.” The blue column suddenly went stiff, like it changed itself to concrete, then snapped out of existence. Mike didn’t even have time to say “Wait!” before the world turned into a collage of triangles, squares and other polygons and collapsed around him.


Nothing quite that buggy ever happened again in the rest of their sessions. Glitches would still occur on occasion, though, most often whenever they ventured to the edge of the clearing, the “End of Everything.”

“Do you ever wish that there was something out there?” Lenora had asked him one time as they stood watching the sky break into rectangles and cubes, “Somewhere to walk to besides here?”

“Hopefully we can add more places,” he said “But that’s a long way off.”

She nodded, not looking his way at all.

“Do you get bored here?”

She shook her head and said to him, “Whenever I’m here I’m with you.”

He typed in what she said on a holographic keyboard. She just kept looking on at the horizon as it flickered from green to blue to yellow, as it either abruptly stopped or stretched on forever.


“What happens to you when I’m not here?” Mike asked her one day.

She started at first and only looked at him with a puzzled face for a few moments. Then she answered, “Why? What happens to you?”

“Well,” he spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully for her, “I go home.”

“Home?”

“Yeah, an apartment.”

She had a look like he just told her that his skin was really purple.

“Do you know what those things are?” This was very disconcerting. She was programmed with a built in search engine linked directly to her person. There shouldn’t have been any concept that she didn’t at least rudimentary knowledge of.

She quickly nodded, saying, “Yes, of course. I supposed I just never thought of you having those things.” She must’ve noticed the tightening of his face since she continued, “Does that bother you?”

“No, not at all. Could you answer my first question, though?”

Lenora crossed her arms nervously. “Well, I suppose I just stay here wait for you.”

“You seem a little unsure of your answer.”

“Because I don’t actually know how to answer.” She looked down at her feet, swaying back and forth.

“That’s fine. You can answer when you figure out how to.”

She continued looking down.

“Lenora?”

Absolute, tangible silence hung between them.

“Lenora is something wrong?”

She only stood silent, stiff.

“Lenny…”

“I have to go now. Shutting down.”

With that all the world disintegrated into prisms, polygons, then lines, and Lenora stood in the middle of it all, until she was simply cut out of the world.


“What colors would you choose for the sky if you could?” Mike said.

“This might be a bit overdone, but I would just make it orange and purple all the time, like a sunset.”

“Sunset? Nothing crazy or fantastical like green or pink?”

“It gets a little pinkish during a sunset.”

“But I mean like bright pink, neon pink, something that you could only get here.”

She simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t think it could get any more beautiful than a sunset. Not in here, not in any program.”

The air caught in Mike’s throat.

“What is it?”

“Nothing. It’s nothing.”

“Really?” She crossed her arms like a knowing, scolding mother.

“No, I was just reminded of something. It doesn’t really matter.” He couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“I think you’ve forgotten what we’re doing here. Your transparency is very important, not to mention—comforting, for lack of a better word.”

Mike, realizing she was right, sighed and admitted, “This is the first time I’ve heard you refer to this place as a program.”

Lenora only had a blank look for a second before bursting out into a coy, fake grin and saying, “Well, that’s what it is, isn’t it?”

“Right, right. Of course you’d know that.”

They just stood across from each other, like an awkward couple at their first boys and girls dance. Mike couldn’t tell whether the low murmur in his ears was artificial wind or the actual whir of the circuits powering this world.

“Mike.” Lenora stood up straight and rigid. “There’s something wrong, isn’t it?”

“Lenny…”

“Micheal, please.”

We’re ending the program today, which means you’re being shut down permanently. Deleted, essentially. We’re making upgrades, bug fixes. We’ll start it back up certainly, but I don’t know if your current functionally or personality, you, will remain intact.

He couldn’t. He just couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth. He quickly rattled his brain for something to say instead.

“I went to the doctor’s today,” He blurted out.

Even the wind seemed to stop for a little bit. At the very least, Mike didn’t hear it anymore.

“You’re sick,” she said slowly, calculating, “You’re very sick.”

Mike nodded solemnly, trying to keep his face unreadable and his posture straight and wooden.

“And you’re not coming back, are you?” she prodded.

He exhaled very loudly as he said, “No, no I won’t. I’m sorry. I’m very, truly sorry.”

Her eyes appeared to be shimmering as she replied, “No, don’t be, please. It’s alright.”

“No it isn’t.”

“Well, I understand then.”

“I’m glad for that. I just,” he choked up a little bit, “I wish it didn’t have to end like this.”

“It can’t be helped, and for what it’s worth, I really enjoyed my time with you.”

“Yeah, I did too.” His shoulders drooped

“Hey.” She suddenly burst into a smile. “I learned something. I want to show you.”

“What?”

She remained silent as she closed her eyes in deep concentration. Over the course of a minute or so, the sky became saturated with blotches or red, until it finally settled down in a uniform, pastel pink, punctuated by fuchsia clouds.

“Whoa,” he said, “How did you figure that out?”

“Just toyed around with the settings.” She continued to stand there as Mike walked out towards the center, soaking it all in. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah, I do. I really do.”

He fought not to frown as she went over to the edge of the clearing and gestured for him to join her. He did just that, and they spent what had to be years staring out at the glitchy landscape. It felt like years to Mike, anyway; in fact it felt like forever. He sat there for so long that he became numb to everything, to the fact that Lenora had completely disappeared, to the fact that the world had completely faded out around him, even to the fact that his own body didn’t exist anymore. The only thing that remained was the single thought of him sitting next to his best and only friend as they stared out together at the surreal horizon, and even that eventually flickered, and was gone.


A pair of feminine hands with unacceptably chipped nail polish reached in to help Lenora off the “couch,” the padded, contouring device shaped like a hospital bed that had been monitoring her vitals and movements each and every minute of her sessions that she had locked herself away in the virtual clearing (the Meadow as the company had dubbed it for lack of any other name). Her vision was blurry for a few seconds as she adjusted once more to the sight of Brenda, a smallish woman who’s face was always coated in thick make-up, which made her look incredibly young. She tried to raise herself to her feet but stumbled right into Brenda’s arms.

“Just take it easy, Lenny,” she told her, half guiding, half dragging Lenora to a chair. “I’m having someone get you a drink.”

Before she could protest that she was disoriented, not dehydrated, an intern came back with a sugary sports drink in his hand, which made her realize just how dry her mouth felt as she greedily gulped down half in less than a minute.

“Alright,” Brenda said, wielding a clipboard and a pen, “How was the landing?”

“Fine,” she said, “‘bout the same as the last few times. Feel a little weak-kneed.” She looked up at the ceiling and immediately regretted as she shut her eyes tight against the fluorescents. “Little bit of eye strain.”

“Uh-huh,” Brenda would say intermittently with each of Lenora’s answers as either she or the intern would go about checking her reflexes, pulse, pupils, etc., until finally she found all that she needed. In one fluid motion, she put down her clipboard and sat down in a chair next to hers. She proceeded to shoe the intern away, which Lenora did not think bode well for her.

Brenda looked her square in the face and asked bluntly, “You told him, right?”

“He already knew.” Her shoulders slumped.

“What? How?”

“I don’t know. News leak? Insecure email? I’ll get George and Lars to look through the recent files and his internal search history. He had to pick it up from somewhere.”

“Well, hell,” Brenda leaned back in her own seat, “How did he take it?”

She shook her head. “That’s just it. He didn’t. He was under the impression that he just had a terminal illness.”

“Oh wow,” she ran her fingers through her pulled up hair.

“Whether it was a delusion or an act, he kept it up to the end.”

“You ever think you should’ve told him? Like, just been up front about it?”

Lenora wasn’t sure she could really answer that one, but as she gazed at the work bench supporting the arms-length black prism that held (or once held) Mike, a man not of and too pure for this world, the words simply slipped from her, “It wouldn’t have meant anything, anyways.”

She didn’t have to see Brenda’s face to know that intense worry for her was overtaking it.

“I’m fine, really. I knew better than to get too attached to something I can’t even see outside of an oversized microwave.”

“You and I both know that it’s a bit more impressive than a microwave.”

“An EKG then. Is that better?”

The smile her friend had was obviously forced, but it made her feel better nonetheless. She leaned forward, rubbing her temples.

“You feeling okay? Not nauseous or anything?”

Lenora shook her head and straightened her self up to allow her face to be seen. She began to play with a stray string hanging off of her hospital gown.

“What do you know about brain death?” she asked Brenda.

“It’s about as bad as any other kind of death. Why?”

“People have woken up from it, right?”

“It’s rare, but people have come out of intense comas, if that’s what you mean. A lot of times, though, brain damage is irreversible.”

“The ones that do survive, though, what’s their memory like?”

“Depends on the nature and extent of the damage.”

“No, I mean, of when they were comatose. Do they remember anything from that? People visiting them, doctors prodding them, dreams, anything?”

She seemed to be searching for an emergency exit as she explained, “Look, this isn’t really my field. I know neurologist who might—“ She was cut off by Lenora simply turning back to stare at the long black box.

“Are you afraid that if they bring him back he’ll be mad at you?” Brenda asked Lenora.

She only shook her head, because she couldn’t give her her real answer: that she was growing increasingly paranoid that one day at dusk the sun would simply disappear, leaving the sky permanently orange and her all alone to run to the horizon just to see it glitch in and out of existence.


END



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