“Wake up, Sage. We’re almost there,” DeeCee said, his synthetic voice ringing in my ear. “We will arrive at Lihue International Airport in about five minutes. Then we have to catch our transport to Polihale right away. No time to spare, so wake up!”
DeeCee was the name I had given to my digital companion. Even though it was just a small earpiece that I could communicate with, he was the closest thing I had to a friend and travel buddy. DeeCee and I had been flying for what seemed like days, finally arriving at our destination.
“What time is it, Deese?” I asked through the neural implant that turned my thoughts into speech as I stretched my legs in the cramped airplane. “All of his fancy high-tech in the world, and we still can’t figure out how to get some proper leg room.”
“It’s time for you to get serious about finding someone to travel with, Sage. You know how I hate flying,” DeeCee said matter-of-factly.
“You hate flying?” I laughed to myself. “Deese, you’re a virtual companion. What don’t you like about flying? In fact, how could you possibly feel any way about flying?”
“Well, Sage, that’s how you programmed me when I was first activated. You chose my personality profile, and you happened to choose one that was afraid of flying. So, it’s your fault, really,” DeeCee said in his usual sarcastic tone.
“Oh, it’s my fault, huh? Geez, I should have gotten you a personality with a better sense of humor too. You know I wanted this trip to be about relaxing and escape. I’ve found it’s not very relaxing to travel with other people, so here you are instead.” I was hoping my response would silence DeeCee. The truth was, I didn’t want any company on that trip; not even him.
After another hour and a half of ground travel, I finally arrived at my destination, alone on a beach on Kauai, one of the Hawaiian islands, minutes from midnight on December 31, 2025.
I had been planning the trip for some time. I wanted to be alone on New Year’s Eve. The wild parties and intoxicating substances that often accompanied the mixing of strangers at social events no longer appealed to me. It was five years after the virus was first detected, and life on Earth was pretty much back to what people were accustomed to prior to the pandemic, for the most part.
My life in the metropolis of Toronto was pretty ordinary. Like many other pandemic survivors, there was nothing particularly special or out of the ordinary about my life. I had a steady job, I made a decent living, and I had just enough resources to keep me going. I was okay with that. I joked sometimes with DeeCee about giving it all up and moving out into the wilderness, and in many ways, that was what this trip was about, even if just for two weeks.
Living in the city was draining at times—the ups and downs of commuting to and from work, daily routines, deadlines, bills, and limitations on what I could afford. Like many others who shared such a lifestyle, every now and then I liked to take a vacation away from it all and get back in touch with a more natural environment, away from towers of glass and steel. I sought out experiences that allowed me to commune with nature, where I could recharge my mind and body away from the hum of city life. I needed a break from the microwaves, Wi-Fi signals, traffic, smog, noise, and light pollution. I was really looking forward to my alone time on the beach, anticipating a peaceful, relaxing, and cleansing retreat, so I could recharge before my return to “normal life.”
“Really, Sage? You know I can still hear you right? Do you really want a break from Wi-Fi? What about me? Do you want a break from me too?” DeeCee said in his slightly sarcastic tone. I had programmed his voice to sound like that of C-3PO from the Star Wars movies, so it was always funny to hear him ask such questions. DeeCee was more like a friend to me than a digital assistant. While I knew he was not a real person, the responses that I programmed into him were just the right balance for my thoughts.
“You know that’s not what I meant, Deece,” I replied. “It’s just that the world in general feels as though it didn’t even slow down from the pandemic.”
“I understand, Sage. I know what you mean.”
“Do you really, DeeCee? A few short years ago, all people could talk about was the pandemic and how we must change our ways. But as soon as the CHIPs were introduced, it was back to business as usual for governments and businesses. Instead of slowing things down, the virus seemed to speed things up.”
Things had sped up in the world but not for me. There I was, camped out on a lovely beach, hidden away from the rest of the world, alone with my thoughts, the surf, the sand, and night sky; not another soul for miles.
“You see this, Deece? This is what I’m talking about! It’s great!”
And it truly was great. All I had were my basic supplies: a tent, a sleeping bag, a small propane stove, a compact cooking bowl, and other utensils, all packed away neatly for my dream retreat.
I sat outside my tent that night cooking a pre-packaged meal of rice with various herbs and spices. My bare feet were buried in the soft white sand as the shadows from my campfire danced across the beach. It was accompanied by the sound of the surf crashing gently on the shore and the forest insects chirping away,
“Is this not the life I should be living? Not just in nature but at one with nature, feeling its pulse surround me. It feels so good, DeeCee. I wish you could feel it too.” I paused to inhale the crisp night air.
“It sounds that way, Sage. I’m going to shut down now and give you your space. Just reach out if you need me.”
As I sat there truly alone with my thoughts after DeeCee shut down, surrounded by the wonders of nature, my life in Toronto felt so distant. The nine-to-five job, the technology to soothe us to bed at night and to wake us up in the morning, the technology designed to mimic natural rhythms, the technology designed to drown out other technology, it all seemed so far away, and I couldn’t have been more content.
I scratched the bump on my wrist where my CHIP was embedded. Then I lifted the last spoonful of rice to my mouth. Its spicy flavors warmed my insides as I swallowed. Sitting on that beach, surrounded by nature, I felt a sense of calm, belonging, and comfort that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
Later that night after I put the campfire out and rinsed and cleaned my utensils, I lay in my tent on my sleeping bag, Do I really need a sleeping pad? I wondered. The sand seems soft enough. I was tired and already in rest mode, not interested in expending any more energy, so I laid my head back down.
Looking through my tent’s mesh top, I saw a field of stars and the Second Moon, with its all-seeing technology, floating quietly in the night sky. The Second Moon’s white exterior punctured the black sky with its artificial glow, but everyone was used to it. Many of my fellow survivors took comfort in knowing that the Second Moon was there. It gave us a feeling of safety, knowing that the AI was always watching, always monitoring us, and always keeping us safe and healthy.
A few slivers of clouds were being pushed through the night sky like sailboats on a calm sea of infinite depth. I saw a shooting star. Then I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing gently outside on the dimly lit beach.
I awoke in the middle of the night to a familiar sound that took me back to my childhood, a simpler time before the virus, a time of bonfires on the beach with my friends and family, the crackling of burning wood. I could feel its heat, as if it were right next to my tent.
Immediately, my mind leaped to the campfire that I had sat beside earlier that night. Had I extinguished it properly before I went to sleep? Could it have started a fire in my tent? Jumping out of my sleeping bag, I searched frantically for my flashlight and the small propane stove that I had, thinking how much of a disaster it would be to be injured in an explosion in my own tent alone on a secluded beach, miles away from the next human being, but I quickly shook that thought.
I went into survival mode instead. Riveted by the crackling of burning wood just outside my tent, I didn’t even notice the flickering blue light that had filled my tent. Blue light? That was strange. I calmed down and began looking around my tent, a little less frantic now but even more confused and a bit hazy from waking up so abruptly. What’s this blue light, and where is it coming from?
My focus shifted from looking for my flashlight to figuring out what the strange blue light was. Everything was bathed in its flickering glow. My tent was filled with it, and I began to think that I must be dreaming.
A loud pop snapped me back to my senses as I moved closer to my tent’s doorway. Even before I started unzipping the door, I saw the silhouette of a glowing blue object just a few feet away.
Taking a deep breath, I unzipped the tent door as if it were the portal to another dimension. I stepped outside, and with my feet planted firmly in the soft white sand, I was confronted by what I can only describe as something out of a science fiction novel, a movie, or the Old Testament.
No more than five feet in front of me stood a plant of some sort. It looked like an ancient bonsai tree. It had a low, broad canopy and a thick trunk that seemed to grow out of the sand. The tree was ablaze with fire unlike any that I had seen before.
As I stood there in disbelief, thinking again that I had to be dreaming, I was mesmerized by the blue flames and the crackling sound of the wood burning. Bright blue embers drifted into the night sky like stars, surrounded in darkness.
The embers circled the tree’s canopy in a whirling spiral of light until eight large embers formed the outline of some type of geometric form, like a mandala floating just above the blue bonsai. Suddenly, the tree exploded with bright blue light, as if a floodgate of energy had opened.
The light was blinding yet comforting. Although it was bright, I could look directly into it. The light seemed to flow all around me, like a fire engulfing me, burning everything that was inorganic.
My clothes were turned to ash, as was my tent and everything in it.
I must be dreaming, I thought. As I turned my head to the pile of ash that was my campsite and then back to the blue flames emanating from the tree, I noticed the mysterious tree’s trunk beginning to crack, splitting open from the top down.
Suddenly, with a loud crack, the tree split in half, revealing a rectangular object at its roots. I realized immediately that the strange object was the source of the mystical blue light.
The object pulsated and glowed, as if breathing with life. The sand began to vibrate between my toes in rhythm with the object’s pulsating glow. A low hum followed. It was deep and ethereal, like a monk’s chant, and it grew louder the longer I stood there, its pulse increasing as well. As the deep hum increased in intensity, the sand began to vibrate more rapidly, and the blue flames expanded with faster and faster rings of energy. Like an ever-expanding breath, the low hum escalated into a roar.
My senses of sight and hearing soon became overwhelmed. I held my head and screamed in pain, tears flowing from my eyes as the roaring sound and blinding light became too much for me to bear. I could not explain what I was feeling.
Then suddenly, the overloading intensity of light and sound stopped. I dropped to my knees, overwhelmed by the intensity of the light. As it faded, I passed out on the soft white sand. I was comforted by the darkness as my mind drifted into oblivion.
I awoke the next morning from what was probably the most lucid, vivid, and wild dream I had ever had. Wow, what kind of spices were in that rice? I wondered, thinking back to my meal the night before, the images of the blue bonsai’s glowing breath still fresh in my mind.
I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by the comfort of my tent. It was in one piece, and everything was as I had left it the night before. I deflated my sleeping pad and rolled up my sleeping bag in preparation for the day ahead.
I still couldn’t shake the experience though. What a crazy dream, I thought as I reached for the coffee grounds. It was one of those dreams that I awoke from but still felt like I was in the dream. It had been so vivid, the sensations so real, the image of the tree still so clear in my mind, as was the bright blue light and the feel of the sand vibrating beneath my feet. I thought I may never know what it meant, but as scary and unreal as it was, it had been a pretty cool dream.
I decided to start my day with some quiet meditation to shake the unsettling thoughts caused by the dream. I would follow that with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. It was going to be a good day, and I was thankful not to have been burned to ashes like everything was in my dream. I started every day with such thoughts of gratitude, even back at home in Toronto, where everyone paid their pound of flesh. Whether in a routine job or not, I liked to start my day with some quiet meditation and gratitude simply for having a job.
Such were the thoughts of thankfulness that I had that morning as I unzipped my tent and entered not the blue, pulsing fire of my dream but the crisp, fresh surf-side air and rising morning sun.
As I sank my feet into the soft white sand that surrounded my tent, the crisp morning ocean air filled my lungs; the crashing of the steady surf so calming and refreshing. I looked around at the vast beach that lay spread out around me and wondered how I could ever leave that majestic spot.
Then, to my astonishment, I saw something that would change my life forever.