At the Project House it was as if Nike and Helen and Pryce had never been. Omo had once again stopped asking questions. Both he and Flora seemed to have settled to the new regime under Griff and to have adapted to Bose’s ways. All was right in the ULTIMATE® world. Except of course that it was all a fiction. The reality was that Griff and Bose were working hard to subvert the Project Kids through any and all means possible. And it seemed like they had achieved a level of success.
As Helen had predicted, Omo had found love at last. And so had Flora. Bose had played Pandarus to their Troilus and Cressida and Griff managed to keep the burgeoning relationship below the ULTIMATE® radar. Together Bose and Griff introduced Flora and Omo to a whole new dimension in living. A life that was not being monitored by ULTIMATE®. A life beyond the screen. But it couldn’t last indefinitely. They all knew that.
One evening, as Omo and Flora sat on the sofa in the common room watching some US™ stream, or not watching it because they were wrapped up in each other, their attention was drawn by the unexpected picture of Helen in front of them. Omo felt a slight tinge of guilt, realising he hadn’t thought about Helen in a while. All his thoughts had been about Flora. Now, here she now was. But something was odd. She didn’t seem to be in her ULTIMATE® room. They sat up straight and paid attention.
‘Where is that?’ Flora asked.
Helen was sitting, with a man Omo assumed must be Randall, drinking coffee and watching a beautiful sunset.
‘Who is that?’ Flora asked.
‘It.. It must be Randall,’ Omo replied, ‘her husband.’
‘But he was dead?’
‘Shh,’ Omo urged her. ‘Just watch and we’ll find out.’
Randall and Helen were relaxing in the part of the garden they had constructed specifically for that purpose, the part which overlooked the sunset. Randall swung back and forth on his patio chair and they both drank in the beautiful full red sun as it made its way slowly over the distant hills. You could almost smell the coffee as they savoured it.
‘I bet that isn’t ULTIMATE® coffee,’ Omo observed.
‘They look so happy,’ Flora noted.
‘They are happy,’ Omo pointed out. ‘They’re free.’
‘Is this from your Memory Bank, Omo?’ Flora asked.
Omo played around with the system to see where the picture had come from. He couldn’t find the source. The US™ kept defaulting to LIVE STREAM.
‘I can’t believe it’s a live stream,’ he said…. ‘because it means… it would mean…’
‘That they’re out there.’ Flora spoke the words he was afraid to voice.
‘I hope they are,’ Omo replied.
They were distracted by the entrance of Bose.
‘Hey, that’s cool,’ he said, looking at Helen and Randall. ‘Is that your Nan and Grandad?’
‘No,’ Omo replied… ‘They’re…’ He was about to say Nike’s, when Flora interrupted.
‘Yes. Yes they are, in a way.’
‘You’re lucky, having folks alive outside of ULTIMATE®’ Bose observed. ‘My folks all died. If I had folks living on the outside, I’d go find them.’
‘Really?’ Omo was surprised.
‘How would we do that?’ Flora seemed to be taking this conversation seriously. She seemed to think that maybe there was a life out there.
‘Easy. Griff can sort it for you. Want me to speak to him?’
True to Bose’s word, it was as easy as that. Within half an hour the sun had barely set over the sunset garden and Griff had a plan sorted out.
‘Wait outside for a man called Jason.’
‘How will we know who he is?’ Omo asked.
Griff laughed. ‘Oh, you’ll recognise him.’
‘I’ve never heard of anyone called Jason,’ Flora said, worried.
‘Believe me, you’ll recognise him,’ Griff affirmed. ‘Trust me. He’ll take you there.’
‘If we don’t like it, can we come back?’ Omo asked, ever cautious.
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Bose said, ‘You’ll love it. It’s freedom.’
It was like a whirlwind, but then everything had been turned upside down in the last few months and as long as Flora was with him, Omo felt he could try anything. He knew that he loved her and he wanted her to know that too. He wanted Helen to know. He wanted a new start, for both of them, in a world which would allow love, a world where maybe even they could start their own family, have a future….
‘But you have to go now,’ Griff added, ‘and it means turning your back on The PROJECT⌂. Giving up the ULTIMATE® world. Are you prepared to do that?’
‘What do you think?’ Omo asked Flora.
‘Nike would have jumped at the chance,’ she said. A few months ago, Flora hadn’t even seemed bothered when Nike died. Omo observed that she’d changed as much as him in as short a time. And he liked it. He loved it. There were so many things they didn’t know about each other. So much to find out. And he wanted to do that. More than anything.
‘And we owe it to Helen,’ she added.
That was the clincher. She was right. If Helen had done it, why shouldn’t they?
There wasn’t time to think about it rationally. To weigh up pros and cons. This was the start of real life and the only thing to do was to dive right in, whatever the consequences. Take a risk. Omo was ready. He kissed Flora as he took her hand and led her out of The Project House.
‘Let’s go find Helen,’ he said.
As they turned their back on it the US™ screen continued streaming. They had only just left the room when the picture changed, the sun set to black and then as the image re-emerged into light it showed a small, frail, grey haired woman sitting peacefully in her chair in a magnolia room, in front of her own US™ screen. Her eyes were closed as if sleeping. She looked happy. The face which had in youth turned a few heads had become a face which just might launch a thousand ships of dreams.
The ULTIMATE® world didn’t matter to Helen any more. She was walking the familiar path up to the beech tree, surrounded by every dog who had ever owned her, with the sun shining on the soft snow and the familiar, comforting sound as the crystals crunched underfoot. The chill air filling her body like the taste of ice-cream and in her ears Randall’s words – reality is what you choose to believe. She’d let go and it was enough. She was forever in February.
Oblivious to this version of reality, Omo and Flora stood outside The Project House, ready to embark upon their own journey. They stood waiting for a man who had once been known to them only by his surname, but who had finally understood that name is the thief of identity and had become Jason.