Book 0: Chapter 1

Before You Go

The sky turned a magnificent shade of orange as the summer sun set across the horizon. Kasumi watched the sunset as she walked up to her farmhouse and wiped the sweat from her brow. She could feel the sweat building on the collar of her shirt and her muscles ached as they anticipated the relief of the day’s end.

It was hard working in a rice farm, especially during the humid summers when the heat ached into the very folds of your muscles. Her father, Takuya, didn’t mind the heat. He liked to roll up his sleeves and work with his bare hands. He liked to say the work gave him purpose and smiled as he did it. When she was young, she thought he just did it for her, to set an example. But now she knew that he genuinely enjoyed it. Takuya sat in his old chair in front of the farmhouse transfixed by a perfect sunset.

Kasumi walked up to him and sat in the adjacent chair, "Finally, it’s getting dark."

"You should be grateful for the heat." he said, "It’s good for the rice."

"But the night is better for me. I’m exhausted."

"I won’t deny that you’ve earned some rest."

Kasumi hesitated. "If we started automating things like other farms, it would be a lot less work around here."

He scoffed, "Then I would be less alive. You know that. I’ve been grateful to live and raise you in a life of hard work. Every moment on the farm is a lived moment. It’s an honest life.", he smiled. "I’m looking forward to the day when you’re married and your kids have their turn to live by honest values. It’s all a parent can hope for.".

Kasumi tensed her stomach, she couldn’t hold it in any longer. "I want to be plugged in." she said.

The air grew quiet as a harsh silence took hold of the porch. Neither spoke as they both took in the magnitude of what was said.

Takuya pushed himself out of his chair, then punched the side of the house. His nose flared and brows furrowed, "What the hell are you talking about?!"

Kasumi panicked, "There’s no one around anymore! Everyone is on the cord! There’s nothing to do, but work in the field all day!"

"And you think lying on your back in a coma for the rest of your life is any better?!"

"It gives you chemicals that make you happy, so yes! It does! Everyone else has been plugged in."

"And you’re just going to follow blindly?"

"You’re resisting blindly." she said, "I hate that every day is endless manual labor with no hope of what might be different. I used to think I might travel or make new friends or something! But not even that can happen because almost everyone is plugged in! And I’m left here with a grind that doesn’t look like it ever ends. It’s like there’s nothing left anymore Takuya. It’s like the world has been bled dry and I just want to rest."

Takuya stood silently with tears building in his eyes. He gathered his thoughts and let the moment hang in the air. After a few seconds, he looked back at his daughter, then sat back down and stared straight ahead.

"First of all, I want you to call me Dad."

"Yeah, of course Dad. I..."

"I want you to look towards that sunset on the horizon. I want you to feel the sun on your face, and air on your skin. When you feel the warmth from the light, and air, and rain. When you sit here next to me, that’s what life is. And I know it gets hard sometimes. I know what it’s like to wake up screaming on the inside, and all you want is that pain to go away. In those moments, all we want is to numb ourselves. But if we ignore that pain, we end up ignoring life too. We escape from our lives into other things, and pretty soon we find that we’ve escaped life itself. You’re not the only one who’s had it hard."

"I know that Takuya. Of course I know that. But if there’s an easier alternative - if I don’t have to feel stressed and anxious all the time, of course I’m going to take it. I can take things in moderation. You can unplug yourself after being plugged in."

"And how many people have chosen to leave that facility?"

"Barely any, sure, but I would come back." she looked towards her father, "I wouldn’t leave you behind."

"When your Mom died," he started, "I took a lot of time for myself. I took to drinking as a comfort. I wanted to escape from how I was feeling. Then one day I woke up and found that life had moved on without me. Years had gone by, and I was there, but I wasn’t really. I’m sure I don’t need to explain that to you."

Kasumi stayed silent.

"You know that I love you right?"

"Of course I do."

"I want you to always value the fruits life brings you. I don’t want you to waste them. I want you to carry nozomi (hope) with you."

"I’m not giving up on life Dad. Don’t be so melodramatic." she smiled.

"I know you’re a woman now, and I can’t stop you, but please, promise me you won’t plug into those machines, for me. I don’t know what I would do if I lost you

"Fine." she lied, "I promise."