[WP] The year is 2501. You're sent to back to the Earth to perform the annual cleanup. Beneath a mountain of scraps and trash, you find a precious hard disk loaded with something that was forgotten for centuries: Video Games.

Begrudgingly I stepped onto the shuttle, went into stasis for a few days and suited up when we reached the landing station on the ground. My first glimpse of Earth up close wasn't much noteworthy. The area surrounding the facility had already been reclaimed, leaving it mostly just a Barron and rocky landscape, nothing like the vibrant forests of Venus with their blue skies above. To think the trees back home originally grew here at all just doesn't seem possible with this toxic atmosphere. As I dig through this pile of centuries old oddities some hundred miles east of the landing site, I'm greeted by clouds of dust and the local wildlife crawling over my gloves with each new crevice explored in this pile.

Our job was to sort through the variety of unusual objects the automated terraforming units bring our way. Things that their AI isn't programmed to handle themselves. Like say precious jewelry or objects of lost cultural significance, things better saved than thrown away. Most of the pile in front of me was an infested mess. Covered in centuries of dust and grime, I pick anything that might be recoverable and place it in the left pile where a conveyor belt drags it off to the next team for cleaning.

"This is so exciting." A woman speaks behind me. "I know. Anything could be under here. We might even find treasure." A man teases. "Really? You think they'd let us keep it?" She responds. "Of course not. But we'll get a civil deed for sure if we spot something big! That'll upgrade us to a type B+ standing for sure." I stop paying attention to the couples conversation, too busy with the monotony of manual labour. I've never been a high achiever, stuck at a D+ rating for some years now. People in my ranking are destined for the mediocre. In theory it's possible to increase your rating, but its an exhausting social process. The rewards might be worth it, but I just couldn't do that. I like my simple isolation.

I thought nothing of the next thing to come into my hands, a plastic object with a hollow interior. Whatever label was once on its cover had since rotten away. Another useless piece of junk, I fling it into the bin and go to move on. But as it hits off the pile with not much force the damaged cover pops open. The reflective disk inside quickly catches my eye. I stare at it for a moment, before making a curious approach. A cockroach starts crawling out from the pile, threatening to step all over the disk. I brush it out of the way, flinging it onto the floor where it scurries off in a presumably offended mood.

"Aren't you shiny..." I pluck the disk from its case and walk off from my station. Ahead, I make an approach to the artifact scanner. The disk is set down onto the tray and after giving a short input, the machine cross-references it with what is known about Old Earth.

"Analysis:: A data storage disk made from several thin layers of plastic. It contains coded information, likely pertaining to Old Earth media." My eyes flutter in surprise. I pick the object back up and stare at my colourful reflection on its surface. "You store... information on this?" The idea of using a plastic disk to keep information was just... archaic. But, it has peaked my interest. I make an approach to the coordinator of the camp and notify him that I've found something and want to research further into it. We don't adhere to strict roles in the camp. Everyone's free to do as they please, but their overall performance is graded in the end. He instructs me to head into the facility, so I depart the dense atmosphere of earth to greet the inside of an airlock, our home sweet home while planet side.

Fresh, breathable air fills the room until the Carbon level is safe. The rebreather around my face is torn off and discarded into the bio-bin where it quickly degrades. I make my way to the server rooms where the research computers are situated. I don't know much about quantum calculations myself, but that's why we have AI. "I need you to scan this and run any data you find. Think you can do that?" I place the disk down on the wireless scanner. "Of course. One moment..." I fold my arms as I wait.

"Several data repositories have been installed on the virtual machine. Would you like to initiate them in compatibility mode?" "Uh, sure." The AI complies and within a moment the screen lights up with several images in succession, followed by varying types of audio playing in the background. After a minute a final, looping image is displayed on the screen with atmospheric music playing, complimenting the scenery. I must stand there for close to two minutes before finally asking what it is. "It is a prompt screen. There are several options available, the most prominent being 'New Game'. Would you like to select an option?" "A game?... Navigate to the most obvious one then." The screen changes to a spoken narrative that details fantastical events with clunky graphics. After several minutes of exposition it finally comes to a close with the main speaker standing overlooking a scene.

I've been leaning against the table, drawn in by the narrative. Only to be disappointed by how little of the context I have in the end. "Is that it? What happens?" "Unknown. There are now a wide arrange of inputs present. This appears to be an interactive simulation. Allocating controls to the tabletop." Dozens of outdated symbols in my language appear on the transparent table before me, glowing conspicuously. "I don't understand?" "Some of the symbols activate certain unique commands within the Simulation. For the ease of study, I have offered you the physical controls the simulation expects. But if you would like me to retain complete control-" "No... That's fine." I sit up straight and place my hand on one of the symbols, patiently waiting for an effect. "Nothing is happening?" I question. The AI chimes in. "Try this one." A large, empty box on the right hand side changes to a different colour. I hesitantly slide my finger across it.

The scene on the screen flips around. I seem to now be looking behind the person standing idly. "Oh, the view changed... So this is an interactive artwork? Or rather a simulation involving art?" The AI beeps afterwords. "It may be anything. I have no record of anything like this having been recovered as of yet. Most data from Earth was destroyed after the exodus and what remained has largely been damaged by the elements, though we recovered a variety of audio and graphical pieces. This unique medium may be a find of cultural significance, if it is indeed Art." Several decades of scavenging and we have only found scraps of the information that was lost. I may not care much about those who managed to bleed everything beautiful from this rock where only the cockroaches now grow. But as I navigate this simulation, I can't help but feel a little bit of melancholy

Hours had gone by as I familiarized myself with the Simulation. It seemed to teach me the controls as I operated it, allowing me to gain a high degree of familiarity with its mechanics. My persona stalks through a primitive world I was not familiar with, filled with such greenery not unlike Venus where city scapes that looked both Alien and impossibly human carved themselves jarringly into the landscape. In a quest to fight an impossible foe in a gripping narrative that tries to make you ponder the meaning of what it is to be human and how the choices we make define us. I spend several more days examining and participating in the simulation, experiencing and understanding the old world better than I had before, and enjoying it more than I probably should. When the narrative comes to a close and a chorus plays alongside unfamiliar names that ascend to the heavens, I'm beset by feelings of both satisfaction and remorse. I couldn't explain it well, but if I tried I would simply say I didn't want it to end. Somehow, I felt an intimate connection to the person on the screen and the life I lived through their own eyes.

Conflicted but satisfied, I remove the primitive disk and place it into a protective, sealed cover. My contributions would reach the extranet within the week Under the Artisan Freedoms Guarantee, bypassing the committees strict regulations on Earth-Found graphical material. I distribute the data freely, and within two days It would have reached twenty million individual copies. Within a month the ministry would start regulating the distribution of Old-Earth narrative simulations, viewing the content they provided with skepticism through wary eyes. Their censorship of a new medium, deemed dangerous and volatile because of the violence the user may engage in, ignored the reason behind that violence existing. To both teach and to experience the consequences of ones actions. To be part of an authors story so you might understand it on a more personal level than simple film. I guess that is why they considered it dangerous.

A new medium had been born and although it would soon be classified as contraband, the experience would continue to be secretly shared by minds with a hunger to experience stories for decades to come.

/r/WritingPrompts Thread