Short story excerpt: “What Price to Live the Dream?”

“Stop trying so desperately to convince me, and yourself, that I’m wrong. Listen to what I am saying with your heart and mind; get out of the ‘adversarial mode’ and back into the ‘friendship mode’ counselor.”
“I’m trying. Believe me, I’m really trying to understand.”
And I’m trying just as hard to make you understand. Your understanding and approval is very important to me; although I know you realize I’ll do what I have to without either, if necessary.”
I know, I know,” Dan replied softly, beginning to resign himself to the irresistible force of his friend’s determination.”
“Anyway, what you implied a moment ago is not accurate. I will not reprogram the system to bring about or even facilitate any given result. All I will do is program one single thought into my mind which should trigger the right course.”
“And what might that be?”
“Simple. Twenty years ago, the last time that Linda and I got together and I broke it off, I reached what has become for me the most crucial crossroad of my life: a moment in which I was torn between wanting to hold her, to tell her that I loved her desperately and completely and that all would be well, and needing to run out of the apartment and keep running, never looking back. I chose the latter course. If only I’d stayed a few minutes more, looked for another instant at her warm brown eyes, and saw, really saw, her understanding face with the tears gently rolling down her cheeks, I know I would not have been able to follow through. I would have followed my heart and held her, kissed her, and poured out my heart to her. All I will do to the system is to program the thought that I must stay with her for a little longer, and kiss her one last time.”
“And that will do it?”
“Yes.”
“You’re certain?”
“Absolutely.”
“And what if you’re wrong? What if you stay five minutes longer, kiss her one last time and then get up and run away, just like the last time?”
“I won’t”
“Damn it, what if you do? Then what?”
“Then my ghosts will have been set free. I will be twice damned and will prove myself unworthy of that second chance. And I will most likely go on to live out the rest of my virtual life with the same pain and regrets as my real one. Who knows, perhaps I’ll go on to work on this project, overflowing with regret, and do it all over again. How do you know I haven’t already, and that this is not the umpteenth iteration of an endless loop? It doesn’t really matter what the outcome is; if there were only a one in a trillion chance of it working, I’d sell my soul to try.”
“You can’t live out the rest of your life, damn you. That’s the point; you’d have nothing but a dream, a make-believe reality.”
“What’s the difference, as long as I don’t know it? Reality is a subjective thing. It will be real, to me, and that’s all that matters.”
“And what if I can’t stop them from pulling the plug? What if I can’t get a restraining order? National security is still a touchy area; there are no guarantees that a state or federal judge will be willing to meddle in an intelligence agency’s internal affairs, especially when they’re being carried out with Senate approval.”
“Come on, Dan, you know perfectly well that no judge will stand idly by when a human life is at stake, especially when three others have already been lost. We’re not engaged in any meaningful war at the moment, and we’re not talking about the Manhattan Project. The judiciary will grant you a temporary restraining order as a matter of course.”
“Granted, I can get an injunction. But there’s no guarantee that I can get it on time to prevent the system from being dismantled, or your death. What’s to prevent the agency or the military from simply pulling the plug before or after I get a restraining order?”
“That’s why time is of the essence, my friend. That’s why we can’t debate the issue all night. But don’t worry about the agency being in too much of a hurry to pull the plug; I’ve taken some precautions to safeguard against that.”
[End of preview]
 Excerpted from “What Price to Live the Dream?” (C) 1987, 2011 Victor D. Lopez. All Rights Reserved.
 
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