By the time Delian Whitlock woke up, the sun was already at its peak. Dust motes drifted in a window-shaped sun patch on his bedroom floor. Delian thought he could sense the patch creeping along the floor, the way you can sometimes see the Earth turning ever-so-slightly along the ocean horizon. An idea struck him. He grabbed the pocket-sized yellow Buddha figurine from his bedside table and leaned down from his bed to place the chubby deity on the edge of the patch. As long as Sidd remained in His transcendental repose, Delian would be able to track the sun moving across his room with an engineer's confidence.
Engineer. There's that word again.
Delian flung back the covers and stepped into his slippers, carefully lain bedside the night prior. What to do? Putter, perhaps, but what was there to putter? For he knew that free time is only valuable to someone with none of it.
Yesterday, Delian lost his job to an AI.
Delian was a software engineer by trade. A computer programmer. A highly-compensated, well-educated human being who made colorful buttons on websites do things when you clicked them. Oh, and forms. It was always something with forms.
Like the rest of his distinguished code-literate peerage, Delian had thought he was safe from technological displacement. His work, while routine, was no mere manufacturing assembly line work waiting for a robot arm. Or was it? Like bankruptcy, things moved quickly. Artists, then writers, then the coders themselves were affected. A few of Delian's more prescient co-workers had proactively updated their resumes to "Prompt Engineers." Not so for Delian.
At least Eagle's severance package was pretty solid, all things considered. Four months plus medical. More than enough time to
build a house in the woods.
Delian's empty stomach lurched with compulsion. The idea rang from his very core, a stronger thought than any he could ever recall, that he would
build a house in the woods.
The thought of wallowing or shock or denial or any of the other grief-stages that might accompany a layoff seemed absurd to Delian. Because Delian was going to build a house in the woods. Delian was going to live off the land. Delian was going to become someone who truly built things with their hands. A real engineer.
It came as no surprise to Delian that his bags were already packed, ready by the door, handles erect. He found the handwritten note he'd left for his landlord, along with his final rent check, held down on the dinged wooden table by an pearlwhite stone.
In a gaussian blur, Delian found himself in a small office, signing a stack of legalese paperwork. With two dots and a dash, the land demarcated on the folded paper map before him was now his. A six-acre pentagonal plot of beech, sugar maple, birch, and oak in the Catskills, straddling a brook, some four miles from the closet town. Delian's land, upon which he would build a house.
Here, Delian's memories became something of a series of vignettes. Or journal entries. Perhaps déjà vu. It was as if he were living in a snow-globe, a small figurine, clad in flannel-lined jeans, captured mid-ax-swing, with the scaffolding of a log-cabin in the background. The time he found the robin's nest and its ocean blue eggs hiding in the cabin's framing. The near-disasterous thunderstorm that flooded his store-room. The rather attractive and seemingly single local town librarian who advised him on regional plant's medicinal and nutricious properties. The yellow eyes of the old coyote in the gloaming. The first night in his completed cabin, on Christmas Eve, no less. Time returned from its swirling vortex. Delian lay in small bed, a fire crackling in its iron stove. Perhaps Maddie, yes, Maddie, that's the name of the librarian, thought Delian. He hoped she might stop by on Christmas Day and bring him an orange. He already had a gift for her, a homemade pennywhistle he wittled from a cattail reed. He then noticed the rectangular patch of moonlight, tracing through the small window of his cabin, infinitismal motes shimmering like snowflakes.
Buddha was already clasped in his hand.
Please remove your goggles.
"What is this?" asked Delian. "Where's Maddie? Where am I?"
You are in Conference Room Grace Hopper of Eagle HQ.
Delian remembered. This was his office. But how? How was he here?
Your role at Eagle has been made redundant. In twenty-seconds, this door will open and a PF-290 unit will escort you out of the building. We thank you for your service to Eagle.
"But... what am I gonna do? What was that... vision?"
As a severance benefit, you received an offboarding simulation, trained specifically on your personal neuro-readings, at Eagle's expense, meant to deliver the skills and confidence to achieve the goal you desire most.
"Oh, yeah? What was that goal, genius? To build a fucking log cabin?"
No, to live up to your father's expectations.