Arc’s winning stories: Child’s Play by JP Heeley

20 Nov

In the 1920s, the Soviet film pioneer Dziga Vertov began cooking up extraordinary claims for the new medium of cinema. It would, he said, dissolve the boundaries between Space, Time, and the human body.

Much the same claims have been made for every new medium, from VR to Twitter. And, little by little, the dream comes a little closer to reality. 

JP Heeley, a runner-up in our recent short story competition, runs with this idea – and comes to a conclusion very different to those peddled by tech evangelists like Ray Kurzweil. In “Child’s Play”, ordinary domestic frustrations play themselves out at an astronomical scale – a sharp and sad reminder that, no matter how far we run, we cannot outrun our own natures.

Over the past ten years Heeley has been working with scientists from the UKs leading universities, building new businesses based on their inventions. Though surrounded by new technologies, Heeley is nonetheless keen to give the human element its due. He writes: “I believe it is the human response to the context of these inventions that lies at the heart of an interesting story.”

Here’s an extract, and you can click here to read the full piece.

Suzanne sat fixated on her son. He was lying suspended in a glass fluid-filled coffin, enveloped in the wired skin membrane. Diffraction and translucence disguised him, but she could make out the rare serenity on his face. Skin-induced neutrality. She joined their play date using earphones and screens, providing a flat experience, like she was watching one of the old movies. She was just sitting in, invisible, intangible, unannounced. A voyeur. Not the way you should treat your husband, she knew. But once a week. That’s all they had. And a second for their son. A generous perk on the part of the company. She drank in the vicarious company.

The other miners’ widows were jealous, scarcely concealed in coffee mornings and play groups. Twice a week Alexi got. Claire’s Neil only got skin time every other week. And their system was always breaking down. Hadn’t had skin time for over a month she said. Not that Claire minded. She’d moved on.

Paul was a great man. Good for Claire. But she felt sorry for Neil. All those miles away. Working for years. Working for their future. Claire wasn’t going to tell him though. Too cruel she said. Stuck out there on a ten year contract. Working for his future. For little Neil and Kitty’s future.

No getting out of it just because your wife had left you. Not without triggering penalty clauses. Costs of yours and your replacement’s transport. Enough to bankrupt anyone. Lose the house in the compound and take your chances in the shanty. No they all knew they were signing up for the duration.

Neil didn’t know. He was soppy like Alexi. Lived for the skin. So Claire had joined in. Once a fortnight, like clockwork. Except not now. Claire confessed the other day over a bottle of wine. Said it made her feel dirty. Like she was being used. Now that she had moved on. And Paul was jealous, of what they did, that it continued. Had insisted on looking at the logs. Of course Claire would let him. It would kill him to see it. Her cross to bear. She’d tried grafting a Paul avatar onto Neil. But it didn’t work. Felt wrong. Confused. Perverse. She’d not slept with Paul month after that. Nearly finished them. So she was sending her avatar in now. At first stepping out when it got too … intimate. Once he was involved enough he didn’t notice. Then stepping out earlier and earlier, until last time it was just the avatar. She never skinned up. Just checked the logs afterwards.

Read all our winning entries here

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