The Easter Hill, Page 1Fiona Bradley
The Easter Hill
A short story by Fiona Bradley
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…God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water’. 1 Peter 3:20-21
The bus heaved and Rose leaned slightly still clinging with to the edge of the seat as she stood in the aisle. In the other hand was her tablet displaying the day's news. She was reviewing the technology section and was particularly interested in the launch of a new game in her industry. The article announced the upcoming launch with some hint at the controversial history of its beginning.
She read, 'although keenly anticipated, Circle Sim has received its fair share of criticism. The original architect has never been interviewed about the game. He's also never responded to various comments that recent versions have had negative impacts on players’.
According to a story she'd read, the company that owned the game took it out of production a while ago, and the likelihood of it ever reaching the market seemed slim. But now a new release appeared imminent, and despite the reports, the game seemed very popular. Just then, her mobile phone rang.
"Hello?" There was no sound. She checked the screen.
"Hello?" She waited a few seconds longer then slipped it back into her pocket.
The bus slowed and Rose lurched forward, remembering where she was. She slipped the tablet back into the pocket of her coat, grabbed her canvas bag from between her feet and filed out of the bus. On Main Street, in the heart of the city, she focused on taking the shortest route to a small bakery cafe wedged between two slick office frontages. As she did, her phone rang again. Taking the phone from her back pocket, she answered while still walking.
"Hello?" she asked. The number was blocked again. She hung up. She'd reached the cafe now and was pushing her way through the glass door.
As she entered, she waved and smiled at the man behind the counter. He waved back. Rose walked over to the table near the front windows and watched the scene of flowing cars and people beyond the glass. Her eyes travelled across the road and rested on the figure standing there. A man facing her directly opposite the window, on the other side of the road. Staring through the traffic. She couldn’t quite make out his face, but he had a beard. He nodded at her distinctly, then turned on his heal and walked down the street. Rose leaned over to watch him as he walked away.
"Coffee?" The cafe was empty now and the man pointed to a take away coffee on the bench.
“Same as usual,” he said.
“Thanks," she said, walking over to take the cup then pushed through the door and walked back onto the busy sidewalk.
Her office was only two more sets of lights down the sidewalk in a modern high-rise with colourful sculptures in the forecourt and tribal art in the foyer. She took a lift to her floor and swiped herself through floor to ceiling glass doors at the end of a long corridor, then lifted her security pass with the tag hanging on it over her head and made her way across the colourful floor to her desk. Her pod was near the corner of the office - a collection of flat screens and a low flat desk with a single set of drawers she never used. She pulled the fit-ball over, sat down and dropped her bag. Then reached over and knocked on the desk of the man at the pod beside her. He looked over at her, lifting the headphones from his ears to speak.
“Peter,” she said to him.
“Did you see it?” he asked, pointing to her desk.
She looked down. A pile of mail lay across her keyboard. A large white, square envelope with a red ribbon around it stood out from other generic envelopes. She untied the ribbon and slid her finger through the envelope to dislodge the waxy seal. The envelope unfolded easily and entirely to reveal a small card with writing on it and a USB stick.
She read the card. ‘You are invited, Rose, to try the latest version of Circle Sim.’
The logo on the USB had the words, ‘Circle Sim’.
"It's the game isn’t it?" Peter was beside her now, trying to read the card over her shoulder.
"Are you going to take it to Pegasus?" he asked. Pegasus was the company's dedicated computer gaming suite set up in the centre of the floor like a goldfish bowl. Inside the glass bowl, a recliner chair, an army of screens and a helmet and goggles for the ultimate 3D gaming experience.
"Yes. I think this is definitely deserving of Pegasus," said Rose.
"What do the instructions say?" Peter asked.
"There are no instructions," she said, flipping the card over. Apart from the invitation, it was blank. She dropped the card on her desk and picked up the USB stick and walked over to the centre of the office where Pegasus was located inside the glass office, set up on a small platform, three stairs high. She pressed the button to open the single sliding door.
"See ya," she turned and shut the door.
"OK. I expect a full report," he said as the glass doors closed in his face.
Rose took a seat on the leather chair, pushed the USB stick into the slot on the dashboard in front of her and leaned back. There was enough computing power around her now to launch her to the edge of the universe, she thought, lifting the goggles over her eyes. As she nestled into the chair, her eyes adjusted to the spinning Circle Sim logo and calming backing music.
"Mesmerizing," she whispered to herself aloud as it seemed to spin faster and faster and grow bigger and bigger.
A voice spoke to her, "Thank you for playing Circle Sim. Please relax. This game relies on an intelligent learning program for all players, so the simulation must be fully embedded"
"Points are gained by passing requirements on each level," the voice continued.
"You must achieve 3,000 points or all four levels in the game within three hours to exit."
"Hmm," thought Rose, wondering if she should have had a bite to eat first.
"Please relax while we create the interface."
"Downloading Complete," said the voice. "Level One begins in three - two - one..." a long beep sounded and immediately a scene opened up around Rose in 360 degrees.
She stood on Main Street again, next to the cafe back where she'd been earlier that morning. It's unbelievable how life-like this interface is, she thought. The city was nearly empty, and it stood ghostly in the twilight of either the coming morning or evening. In front of her face and slightly higher were symbols and numbers - as if hanging in mid-air. In one corner, the timer had started rolling 00h 00m 01s. Beneath the timer was her starting point-bank: 0060 points. In the other corner was a slow flashing red light. Up ahead on the footpath was a man in a dark coat hunched over and writing something. Rose started walking towards him, but as she did, he straightened up and walked slowly to the corner and down the street and around a building. When Rose reached the place where he was, she looked and there, written on the concrete in chalk was the word LIFE. Rose stepped up to the corner and looked down the street to see him again, about halfway down the street, hunched over again and writing. He looked back at her for a moment - it looked like the man with a beard that she'd seen earlier. She followed quickly behind. He stood again, and as she approached, he appeared to turn into a doorway and disappear. On the footpath was the same handwritten word again, LIFE, but no sign of the man or the doorway where he'd disappeared. As she stood wondering what to do next, she heard a bus coming down the street. She turned. On it was the symbol of a circle. She signalled, the bus slowed and she got on board. Once inside she took a seat near the front next to an older woman.
over, "How long do you plan to stay?"
"How long?" Rose questioned.
"On the bus?" said the woman.
"I'm not sure. As long as it takes.”
"Well, the bus just takes a circle around the city. You can get off at any of the stops along the way - or you can stay on, like most of us here."
"Is there a stop you can recommend?"
"It depends on you."
"What's the next stop?" She asked.
"The train station. It's just up ahead."
Rose looked up and saw they were approaching a large ornate building.
"But of course, you can only get on that with a ticket," said the woman, in a very matter of fact way.
Rose watched as the bus passed by the station stop and no one got off. She travelled a little further and the bus followed the road out of the city and into thick bush land. She saw another stop up ahead. 'Mirror Lake' said the sign. She waited for the bus to stop and then climbed off.
The word scrolled along the screen, 'CONGRATULATIONS'. The timer in the corner of her screen appeared and read 02h 20m 47s. Beneath the timer, her point-bank turned over. It read 0200.
Rose stepped out onto the road, and walked along until the bush thinned and she came to a beach, sloping gently toward the edge of a lake. A weathered rowboat leant slightly on the sand. The overcast sky bled onto the flat lake. She walked over to the rowboat and