What they do is sit me in a folding chair in a white-walled room with a single fluorescent bulb on the ceiling. Two techs in white (one short and female, one skinny and male) sit there and tell me this is real, that I was never a world-famous concert pianist, never married and never mourned my husband, and never never never had a daughter.
As such, the skinny one says, it is impossible for her to be in any danger.
Is she in danger? I ask.
But I don't let him finish. If she's all right, I say, I'd like to see her.
Ma'am, the skinny one repeats. You can't see her. She isn’t real.
Are you the police?
No, the short one says. We’ve been through this before.
We are experimental psychologists with the University of —, the skinny one says, and you have spent the last eight minutes immersed in a holistic simulation designed to test the human mind’s response to stress.
The name of the school is white noise, a distant burst of static that doesn't obscure anything else. I can't make it...
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Stewart C Baker is an academic librarian, speculative fiction writer, and occasional haikuist. His fiction has appeared in Writers of the Future, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, and Flash Fiction Online, among other places. Stewart was born in England, has lived in South Carolina, Japan, and California (in that order), and currently resides in Oregon with his family—although if anyone asks, he’ll usually say he’s from the Internet. You can find him at infomancy.net or on Twitter and Facebook as @stewartcbaker