Ada Lawrence stood in her shower, not yet wet, and debated returning to bed for another hour of sleep. But recently, Ada’s mind re-arranged itself while she slept. Upon awakening, Ada struggled to distinguish dreams from memories. After each slumber, she felt a bit more adrift, further from a reality she could fully comprehend. Ada never asked if anyone else felt the same. She buried these thoughts in hopes that her nighttime imaginings would fade into nothingness.

Refusing herself another bout of delusion, Ada plunged her body under the icy beads of water. She gasped for air, but her chest couldn’t fully expand. Although Ada had started her mornings this way hundreds of times, it was never any easier—the shock any less jarring. It wasn’t the pain that drew Ada into the cold, it was how the temperature eradicated everything abstract. Under the cold water all Ada’s worries dissolved to a single thought: flee. She always disobeyed this instinct. Instead, Ada stood firm in the chilling water and anchored herself with a slow, steady breath. It was a breath that never came quickly, but always, eventually, she found. And once she did, she’d say to herself, this is good. Cold, but real.

When Ada exited the shower, a red light activated from above, warming the space and evaporating the few droplets of water still clinging to her skin. Ada’s told that she’s thirty. Her taut, poreless skin suggests an age even younger. But Ada’s stern and studious face betrays any signs of youth. There are no papers to prove her age. For obsoletes, like Ada, life before living in the Stratum of Knowledge is folklore. All she could examine of her past was observable in the mirror before her. She traced the edges of her torso with her fingertips. Then Ada stared deeply into her eyes through the mirror. Her mind flashed to a scene she tried drowning in the cold water; a moment when her mother, Elena, coddled her as a toddler. This was impossible. Ada’s mother had died in the war when she was one.

Then, a numbing zap faded her memory black. Ada reached for the base of her neck, and caressed her BRiDG, a tiny neural device embedded into her cerebellum. A device which everyone who survived the Second Civil War wore in promise of everlasting peace. The BRiDG was invented by Sixth Domain Industries (6Di), and was the antidote to conspiratorial thinking and misinformation. It was a piece of neural-hardware that connected the human mind to The Sphere—6Di’s proprietary web—which was a sanitized, safe version of the former internet. On it were no lies. No threat of radicalization or delusionment. All that remained on The Sphere, and in each mind connected to it, was truth.

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