Once in a while he wondered how long he'd been down here. At first he kept very close track of time, but then it became exhausting. There were small, thin, rectangular windows along the edges of two walls which let in light and could be cracked open in the summer. All he could see out of them at eye level was bushes and grass. The windows were solidly placed, well built. He was positive he couldn't fit through them, but he thought about it often. When it was warm he would stand on boxes and stretch his arm out, tossing crumbs so that he could watch the birds and squirrels.
He never wanted to be involved with ReeLs. His father was from Taiwan and helped create them. Although he wasn't sure his captors knew this—he looked Asian so he must know how these things worked right? Unfortunately he did. His father had taught him electrical engineering, but he'd really wanted to be a musician.
The wrong people found out he was doing ReeL repairs. Worse, that he'd been making improvements. After Surrender it had become dull but consistent work, so he started altering the hardware—out of boredom mostly.
He remembered his father's rigid stoicism. That's what the hardware was like, inflexible. What if it was a bit more like jazz? He listened to John Coltrane and he made the ReeL hardware better. One night his door was kicked in and he was dragged out of bed. He didn't see them, they wore masks, he never saw their faces.
Once in a while he wondered how long he'd been down here. Whoever was keeping him here certainly had a lot of ReeL parts. Some looked brand new, which was impossible. He ignored this. He had a quota to fill. If he met the quota he got better food, he was given beer. If he missed the quota, food got shitty, there was no more beer. Building ReeLs was the last thing in the world he wanted to be spending his time on, but at least he'd convinced them to give him some music. They brought him a vintage Japanese record player and vinyl records. Whoever they jacked for it had kept everything in beautiful condition. There was more classical than he cared for in the crate of records, but there was some real jazz too. Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Mingus. He put on "Bitches Brew" and wept.
His captors rarely communicated. There wasn't much need to. He'd get his quota for the week. It didn't matter if he finished in the first day or the seventh as long as he finished. Shipping day was the only time he saw them. Although not their faces, they were consistent about keeping the masks on. There was a tall one and a short one. He would help them load boxes onto a primitive elevator. The building must've been an old factory, this was the only way up. A third person was up there working the pulley and rope driven platform. The two trusted him enough now to let him help with the boxes—it took a long time to be trusted and he knew he could use it to his advantage. Every day he told himself he would get out of here.
Until then he had to build ReeLs, and this took great care and attention, especially with the primitive tools he'd been given. He'd learned in a well equipped workshop so he knew he was spoiled.
He had to remain sane. This was important. He decided months ago, was it months?, that he would change the way ReeLs worked. He'd been thinking about it for a long time. His little tweaks in the past didn't compare, this would be a fundamental change. The ReeL would rely on organic routines, asyncopation, cognitive improvisation. Over time this would alter the viewer, it would make reality more interesting and ReeLs less interesting. Eventually nobody would want ReeLs anymore. One way or another he'd be free.