Thursday, October 7, 2010

Episode 03: Party! (1 of 2)


Thomas set his jetpack to land smoothly in the backyard so he didn't slam into the pool or the people sitting around the patio table. It was too early to cause a scene. He touched down near the table and his jetpack disappeared.

Fighting specialty: Specialist of everything. Likes bare knuckle brawling.
Pertinent facts: Changes his appearance regularly. May be The One?
Agent: Villain the chinchilla.
Current appearance: Lanky. Looney Tunes colors and proportions.
Environment filter: None. Things and people appear as others set them.

T waved at Dexter. He ignored the other people outside that he didn't know or care about, and they ignored him.

Fighting specialty: Fighter jets.
Pertinent facts: Mike's friend. Lives with Sam. Physical body present at party. A lame-o?
Agent: Something dumb, probably.
Appearance to others: Art Deco-ish.
Environment filter: Art Deco everything. An awful way to live.

T entered the kitchen to find Sam talking with Saitou. He waved at them and they waved back as they continued talking. Sam was wearing her infinitely revolving short movie/pics shirt, which cycled randomly through her image file. At the instant T came in, it was apparently stuck on funny kitten pics.

Fighting specialty:
Expert sword fighter. Possesses strong kung-fu.
Pertinent facts: Resides in house. Physical body present.
Agent: Tacky the octopus.
Appearance to others: Natural. Short hair. Tomboy.
Environment filter: Impressionist environment. None for body proxies.

Saitou was wearing his star suit. His hands and head were natural, but the rest of the space where his body would be was a deep star field. It displayed notable astronomical objects that existed in the direction the viewer looked through Saitou's body.


Fighting specialty: Strategy from a distance. Starcraft 4 addict.
Pertinent facts: T suspects Saitou of being a Japanese school girl.
Agent: Mr. Naps the man-eating lion.
Appearance to others: Head and hands natural. Everything else astronomical.
Environment filter: Classic horror theme. Oozing blood from the walls, random zombie faces on proxies, spiders, webs, and bats hanging from the ceiling, etc.
Saitou simultaneously maintains a 1st and 3rd person view at all times.

Thomas went over to Saitou, stuck a hand into his chest and swished the stars and galaxies around. They swirled around for a few moments before reorienting into their correct position. Saitou's suit used a comprehensive astronomical database to create the most accurate and up-to-date starscape possible. T walked around behind Saitou, looking for something shiny. He stopped and watched as Saitou's back zoomed deeper and deeper into the field.

He watched objects passing by until he found a sufficiently fetching elliptical galaxy. He plucked it out and let it go in front of him. He enlarged it to basketball size and opened up its data tags, which showed its name and other information- when it was discovered, what instrument discovered it, how far away it was, its diameter, etc. He played the projected evolution of the galaxy from its beginning to its end. Then he spun it like a top and punched it back into Saitou, who didn't notice it spin its way home. T began paying attention to the conversation in progress.

Sam: It's annoying. I mean, he's really annoying about it. You see what I mean? Gendered pronouns are useful, at least until someone invents a better neutral term than "it" or "them". Why isn't there one by now anyway?
Thomas: Is this about Pawn? Cause Pawn's annoying in all kinds of ways.
Saitou: Pawn doesn't care about pronouns. We're talking about Keen. You probably don't know him. Er, it. It's in the other room. Keen is. Geeze. Keen doesn't pay attention if you call it "him" or "her". If it ever pays attention at all.

Thomas knew Keen, sort of, but had never looked "it" up before. He looked up the SIS tag for Keen that had come up when Saitou said its name. Keen's SIS page featured a ridiculous number of pictures and video of him/her in its various guises- male, female, animals, geometrical. Keen was proud to have live broadcast every moment of its life for the last 11 years.

Fighting specialty: Doesn't fight.
Pertinent facts: Known weirdo. Gender unknown. T suspects Keen of being a shell proxy for multiple users, but does not yet have evidence. Not that it matters. Performance artist?

Agent: None known.
Appearance to others: When in anthropic form: pale, black hair, sunken eyes, generally Goth. Often assumes abstract shapes like clouds.
Environment filter: Unknown, but probably strange.

Thomas tried to teleport from the kitchen to the living room, but failed. The house layer shared by all partygoers restricted T's proxy to standardized physical properties as usual, but new restrictions had been added since the last party. He could only have two proxies at once and their total volume was limited. He couldn't turn invisible, but he could still adjust his gravity at will. He could phase through the wall dividing the kitchen and the living room, but otherwise he had to use doors. He couldn't even teleport or use portals inside the house. His movement was restrained to a jogging level, so he couldn't bounce around the house like he had at NumNums. He had been leashed.

All guests had access to the house's public layer. It facilitated socializing and created a shared environment. Guests were given great liberty in adding and sharing their own layers while they were there, but Sam was perfectly willing to take away that privilege, as Thomas well knew. Thomas wondered if the new rules only applied to him, or if they affected other people as well. He had gotten a little rambunctious at Sam's last party, as was his tendency.

He had, among other things, instantly flooded the house all the way to its ceiling with orange juice. It had made perfect sense at the time. He had also stretched his skin over the living room and kitchen floor and screamed whenever anyone walked on it. Sam had shown great patience before ejecting him from the house by having him eaten by an army of tiny, ravenous leprechauns. There was applause as he was eaten. He had been leaving anyway.

Thomas noticed the familiar purple cartoon octopus wrapped flat around his left pinkie. All the guests in the house had one. It represented Sam's agent Tacky the octopus. Guests could move the icon, filter it away if they didn't like it, or they could activate it by looking at it intently. Tacky served as an interface for Sam's house. It provided a map of the house (including a "you are here" arrow), a real-time inventory of food and drink available in the kitchen, both Sam and Dexter's SIS links, and access to some of the surveillance "bugs" roaming the house.

T took a look around the kitchen as he headed (on foot) to the living room. The kitchen had all the standard features. The sensors in their refrigerator and pantry kept track of which items were running low. The kitchen sink was both motion controlled and could be operated remotely. The kitchen walls appeared light blue, but T knew they were physically an unsightly pearl. There was an infinite movie poster on one of the kitchen walls, cycling through the posters for untold thousands of movies. Another kitchen wall served as a real time window to magnificent sights such as the towering cliffs of Cirrus in the virtual world Ataraxia (complete with dragon nests), to various perspectives inside the tanks in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and to ongoing battles of note in various virtual worlds.

For the house in general, lights turned on and off automatically according to the preference of the inhabitants. The house tried to compromise if multiple people were present with different lighting desires. Air conditioning was usually set to turn off when the owners weren't home, and to be turned back on again shortly before they arrived. Basically everything in the house was hooked up to a network that could be controlled remotely.

Most devices by this point were powered or recharged wirelessly, via inductive charging bases, which were typically hidden into walls or countertops. This was convenient for the service robots that lived in the house. They cleaned floors and other surfaces, caught and disposed of bugs and pests and generally watched over the house. The walls had embedded sensors for sound and scent, and fixed cameras around giving several views of most rooms.

There were also the ubiquitous mobile surveillance devices known affectionately as "bugs". Sam and Dexter's house featured 12 bugs. They were small, furry, cute, and durable. You could step on one without hurting yourself or damaging the bug. They could also be safely kicked or thrown around. They carried visible and infrared cameras, microphones, small speakers, scent and chemical sensors, and lasers for judging distances. They were slow moving, but capable of climbing on any wall or ceiling due to their light weight and advanced "sticky toes". Designs varied and most were adorable. Some of Sam's looked like cartoon spiders, others looked like caterpillars, a few looked like tribbles, and two looked like super deformed koalas.

Owners could remotely control bugs to look in on the house. They tirelessly kept guard- detecting fire, burst pipes, or alerting authorities to a break in (while allowing the owner to scream at the burglars). Bugs were very useful to proxies. They helped paint an accurate virtual representation of a place for augmented reality or proxy use. Proxies were often allowed control over them to get a better view of people and events in the house, and to establish a more vigorous presence.

To recharge, bugs simply moved near charge spots on the wall or counters. They were disposable, stayed out of the way, and were generally ignored by the usual inhabitants of the house except for remote check ins.


Thomas walked into the living room and was immediately captivated by the wall to his right. The entire wall was one giant sand garden. T took a look around the living room and determined that everyone was sufficiently distracted so that he could politely play with the sand. The garden featured long, intertwining strings of multicolored sand, along with nine fist-sized rocks. Concentric circles, of brilliant alternating colors, surrounded the rocks. Everywhere else was a chaos of twisting trails and spirals. T grabbed a handful of it. It lost its color as soon as it was removed from the wall. It felt like sand, but smelled like sandalwood. The sand pushed into his hand exactly as if gravity was oriented into the direction of the wall. He poured it in wavy line back onto the wall and was pleased as red and green curls sprouted along his trail. It made no sound.

He raked his fingers along it and observed the waves of changing color sweeping across the sand. Discordant interference patterns appeared as the waves smashed into each other. He smacked the wall with his fist, creating a whirlpool which sucked up surrounding colors and replaced them with a deep blue. He picked up one of the rocks and threw it at the ceiling. It bounced off and arced toward the wall. Intermixed streams of color appeared where it rolled down the wall.

As a final test, T shoved his arm deep into the sand, flattened it out to widen his arm's surface area and flung the sand into the living room as fast as Sam's proxy rules allowed. Sand spread out in the air and fell like torrential rain all over the wall, splashing new colors everywhere. It sent waves of primary colors flowing across the wall and rebounding off of the ceiling and floor. Everything he did to the wall changed it in unexpected ways, but nothing seemed to unbalance it or make it unaesthetic.

Thomas: [shouting softly to Sam] Where the hell did you get this sand thing?
Sam: Oh, Dex got it somewhere the other day. I think he copied it from one of his friend's places. The tag's right on it if you want it. I think it's got sound too, but I've never messed with it.
Thomas: Cool.

Thomas' agent Villain (the chinchilla) automatically downloaded everything in T's range as a matter of course, so he'd have it to play with it later. He had been so swept up by the sand's playful anarchy that he had forgotten about the rest of the room.

Turning around, he saw a couch and several chairs surrounding a coffee table at the opposite end of the room. Deathly pale Keen, in its elegant Goth gear, was using up one of the physical chairs, staring at the surface of the coffee table, which was broadcasting a to-scale replica of an ongoing transhuman league soccer match. Keen had horrible posture, bending its head forward to watch the game (which it could have just zoom into), while clasping its knees to its chest. Keen's proxy looked quite male for being neuter.

Opposite Keen, sitting thoughtfully in a virtual chair so as not to take up a physical one, was Chester. Chester was slumped back in her chair, completely still. Her proxy kept her presence at the party while her mind was busy elsewhere.

Chester's proxy was made of sleek wood. Her life-size marionette body (no strings) was covered in a pleasing oak grain. Her body was as sexy as a 5 foot marionette could be. She had no face or paint markings of any kind on her body. Her breasts were perky, but lacked nipples, while her crotch sported an ornate rose engraving. Her hands sported a full set of fingers. Each of her feet was enclosed within a large green leaf, the only part of her proxy which wasn't wood.

Fighting specialty:
Dragon Ball style- flying through the air, blowing up the damn moon.
Pertinent facts: Besides Mike, T's oldest nemesis (and friend).
Hard knocks, but soft hugs. 

Agent: Sifl the punk sock puppet.
Appearance to others: Wooden body. Painted face and grass hair when active.
Environment filter: Sci-fi theme. Lens flare, random "alien" modifications to people's faces, walls made of chrome with touch screens and "futuristic" beeps and whistles.

There were two other bodies in the room, and they were both Megan. Megan's physical body sat on the couch, carefully chewing pizza. Her proxy was standing by the house media collection, perusing Dexter's books while listening to Sam's music. Both Megans had lite freckles and brown hair. Her physical body wore overalls. Her proxy was animated. The outfit covering its body was a snowy wonderland, complete with mountains for breasts, a skating rink (with skaters) for a stomach and a forest for her midsection. The effect was a little freaky, but fun.

Fighting specialty: Unknown.
Pertinent facts: Physical body present. Newly Planted.
Agent: None known.
Appearance to others: Anime- Classic Madhouse Studios design. Snowy resort body.
Environment filter: Anime (funky Madhouse)

Since all media was available instantly over the Internet and for very little cost (or just for donation, for reasons we are going to see later), physical collections of movies and music had disappeared, except for specialty collectors. The Social Interface System (SIS) had largely replaced perusing someone's stuff while you're over at their place. SIS could give you a list of shared media and let you easily go over anyone's favorites list and ratings. Virtual media collections like Sam's also served this function less exactly, while giving guests something to do.

The display was a selected set of Sam and Dexter's favorite and recently viewed movies, shows, books, graphic novels, and music, all displayed as if they were physical medium. Meg made a rotating motion with her fingers to access Sam's books. Meg swiped her fingers from left to right in front of the display, cycling the display to more books. She picked up one of the books from the shelf and read the back cover. She put it back and swiped her fingers from up to down, changing it into CD shelves. Thomas hopped over to Megan's proxy, only stopping for a moment to look at the physical glass display case suspended on the wall next to Sam's media collection.

Thomas: Hey Megs, I like your outfit.
Megan: [hugging T] Oh, hey! When'd you get here?

Thomas: A few minutes ago. I can't believe you're here! And you're... over there too [gesturing to the couch].

Megan: Oh yeah. Obviously, I'm fully Planted. So, yay me!

Thomas: Yay you indeed. Sam told me earlier.

Megan: I thought about not bringing it, but I feel more comfortable with
it around. I'm still getting a hang on the Plant.

Thomas: Hey, you're eating with your physical while you inhabit a proxy. Not bad.
Megan: Yeah, it's sort of weird, but fun. Well, you know. You just set your body to stay within a sitting equilibrium. The eating part isn't too tricky either, cause you can just keep the eating sensations and related motor controls while transferring everything else to a virtual body. So there's no real risk of choking. Then you just control the physical arm every once in a while to eat more food. I keep spilling things though. I'm pretty used to talking through a proxy while eating now. But being able to change the taste is just too cool! I'm adding jalapenos to the pizza and subtracting black olives right now. Way neat.

Thomas: Can I share?

Megan: What? The pizza I'm eating? Uh... really?

Thomas: Sure, just send me the eating sensations. It's in a neat little package.

Megan fiddled with her settings and sent a feed to Thomas, who filtered out his own mouth and throat sensations to passively experience Megan's. It replicated the taste and smell of the pizza, along with the sensations of chewing and swallowing.

Megan: Uh... this is making me self-conscious about eating.
Thomas: [dropping the feed] Ah, sorry. I remember being self-conscious. But you're doing really well.
About as well I did after two months. There's a lot to get used to.

Megan: Thanks. I've been practicing.

Thomas snapped his fingers and a drink appeared in his hand. He took a sip of his orange smoothie. Many miles away, his physical body took a shot.

Megan: Is that just for taste?
Thomas: First of all, just for taste? [hands her a donut] Second, my physical takes shots while my proxy eats or drinks something. I'm aware of it just enough not to choke on it, but I don't like dealing with the taste or the sting of cheap vodka.
Megan: [eating the donut] Isn't that kind of dangerous? Wouldn't it be easy to overdo it? Nice donut, by the way.
Thomas: I can tell how drunk I am. I also have an internal BAC detector that I use like a gauge to hit my tipsy sweet spot. Oh, and you can keep the recipe for the donut.

Megan, tired of standing around, walked over to the couch and sat into her body, merging her physical body and her proxy. The physical body was now animated, and featured the snowy wonderland outfit. Thomas followed and sat cross-legged on the coffee table facing her. Without moving, Keen made Thomas transparent so he could watch the soccer match.

Thomas: How's the job?
Megan: Oh, it's as fun as ever. But now I never have to drag my body to work. It wasn't common anyway, since I'm mostly just programming, but sometimes I have to interact with the robots, you know, and I can pretty much just take care of that virtually now. How's your work going?
Thomas: I'm on sabbatical. I'm a little burnt out, actually. Too much bureaucracy, too many narrow minds. They either don't understand how cyberization can help developing countries or they're afraid of it. Augmentation helps connect people around the world. It helps expose abuses. That's what some of them are afraid of.

Thomas sprouted a second proxy which walked over to examine the glass collectible case by the media display. He moved his primary proxy, sitting on the table, with his usual motor controls, while he moved the second one with his Universal Remote Control. He split his vision between the two proxies, along with an overhead view in a subwindow to keep a tab on the room. His second proxy began to examine the case.

Thomas: Oh, don't mind me, I'm paying attention. I just wanted to check something out.
: How do you guys do that? I get so turned around unless I seriously limit one of my bodies.

: Once you master the URC, it's not something you really have to work at. You don't have to understand it any more than you understand how you move your physical body. You direct an arm to move and it just does. You'll get it, it just takes practice.

The physical glass case, suspended from the wall, was filled with neat junk. There were puzzles, old Star Trek collectibles, anime figurines, an antique cellphone, an old wireless mouse, and a replica of the Hellraiser puzzle box- the Lament Configuration. Unfortunately, none of the objects had data tags, which meant that the best T could do with them was handle virtual images of them based on the house sensors. He picked the Lament Configuration up through the glass. He could feel its weight, the smoothness of its surface and the finely textured design. These simulated attributes were estimated based primarily on one of the bug's video cameras. Video of an object could often be used to estimate the way it would feel based on similar objects that had been more sensitively measured. This was often, but not always, accurate.

He turned the box over to view its underside, which was probably identical to the side he had been viewing. It showed the same thing, but it was fuzzy, indicating that side was a projection and hadn't been captured by camera yet. So he took control of one of the nearby bugs, which happened to be on the ceiling, and had it drop to the floor and move up the wall next to the case to get a better view of the box's underside. It turned out to be the same. Still, the box was inert because T had no recording of someone opening the box to base a simulation on.

Thomas: [text to Sam] Does this Hellraiser box do anything cool?
: [to T] Like open a portal to Hell? Actually, I don't know if it works, it's Dexter's.

Thomas: [text to Dexter] Does this Hellraiser box work?
: [to T] Yes.

Thomas did a quick internet search and found data tags for a Lament Configuration replica, maybe even the same as Dexter's. He changed Dexter's box into the working replica and began playing with it. The box began shifting with his touch.

Thomas: [mumbling to himself as he ran his fingers over the puzzle] Come on... I used to be able to do this....

A large crack appeared in the wall. He had opened a portal to the realm of Leviathan.

Megan: T, why is Hell erupting into Sam's house?
Thomas: [frantically] Well Megs, that was probably my fault. But I'm fixing it, so don't worry.

He managed to revert the Lament Configuration back to its original box shape before throwing it into the closing Hell maw. No Cenobites were involved.

Thomas: I don't know what I thought the Lament Configuration replica I randomly found online was going to do. I really just wanted to see if there was a working physical puzzle box based on the design.
Megan: Wait, so what happens after the crack opens? I mean, if you didn't close it?
Thomas: [throwing her the tag for the box] Find out sometime.

Thomas looked over at Chester.

Thomas: Have you spoken to Chester tonight?
Megan: Nope. She's been like that since I got here hours ago.

Thomas shifted to face Chester and waved to her. Chester's head suddenly sported a colorfully animated painted face and inch-long grass hair. Chester perked up, waved back, made eye contact with T and smiled. She subtly mirrored Thomas' posture and demeanor as he tried to engage with her.

Thomas: [knocking loudly on her forehead] Are you in there Chess?

Chester cocked her head to one side and blinked her eyes quizzically. Chester was obviously not present, but her "ghost" was active now. A proxy "ghost" was the set of trained reactions based on the proxy user's recorded behavior when interacting with other users and when exposed to various stimuli. Ghost controlled proxies could present an often eerie facsimile of a proxy user's nonverbal communication and general sense of presence. Ghosts could even imitate a person's speech patterns to some degree, though not what they would say, or how they would respond in a specific conversation.

Besides being used as placeholders, ghost proxies were very popular in games and for creating sexbots. Basically, for any repetitive physical behaviors that fall within a limited set of actions. For instance, record a proxy inhabitant having sex 300 times with multiple partners and you could use that data to create a reasonably convincing sexbot patterned after that proxy user's sexual style. That user could then have sex with themselves and get a roughly accurate idea of what they're like in bed. Celebrity patterned sexbots were particularly popular, as one might imagine.

Megan: Maybe she'd wake up if we set her hair on fire.
Thomas: [pulling out a lighter] It would probably just smell really bad.

But before their experiment could begin, there was a knock on the door.

Mike was at the front door, finally arriving with the beer. Megan opened the door for him. Mike entered looking mostly like his usual self except for his fedora, which sported a buzz saw on a robotic arm. Megan hugged him anyway.

Fighting specialty: Mecha. Giant robots all the way.
Pertinent facts: Physical body present.
Tenchi the tachikoma (tactical robotic spider).
Appearance to others: Weaponized fedora, nice jacket. 1920's-ish. Virtual glasses (to complete his style). Black and white.
Environment filter: Ultra-Epic Crash Forest. Shoujo for proxies.


Megan: Heyo. What's with the hat?
Mike: Protection. T knows what it means.

The buzz saw whirred ominously for a second before disappearing into the hat.

Thomas: Hmm...
Megan: Why not just filter T's nonsense automatically?
Mike: What fun would that be? I'm going to go put these beers down...

Mike said hello to T's second proxy, still standing by the glass case, as he walked to the kitchen. But he was captivated by the sand wall and put the beers down to play with it. He felt the sand run through his fingers via his haptic gloves. T's second proxy jumped over beside him.

Thomas: It smells like sandalwood. Very relaxing. And apparently it has sound.
Mike: Actually, I'm pretty sure this is a music visualizer.

Thomas yelled as loud as he could at the wall and then blasted music at it, to no effect. Mike played Mozart through the speakers of a nearby bug he moved close to the wall, and also through his jacket, to no effect.

Sam: What is going on in there?
Thomas: Mike says this sand thing is a music visualizer.

Sam came into the living room, put her arm around Mike, and scanned through the sand garden's settings. She started playing a death metal song through the wall speaker. The effect was glorious. The sand melted into expanding, sloshing seas of molten glass. The seas ballooned from the wall and expanded rapidly into the room, pulsing and throbbing with the music, splaying out in myriad forms. The living room was filled with crashing waves, whipping plumes, and effervescent bubbling towers, physically pounding out the heavy music. It even extended into the kitchen. Mike felt the beat of the music rattling his ribs. The proxies in the room felt the waves flowing through them, synchronizing all of their sensations with the spirit of the music.

Megan: Holy crap! That's beautiful.

Tendrils snapped through T in beat to the music. It kind of tickled. Sam stopped the music and turned it back into a sand garden. The forms filling the room collapsed into the wall, leaving only chaotic colored trails through the sand and its 9 rocks.

Sam: [accompanying Mike into the kitchen] I just hadn't looked at it, it's got all sorts of settings. I'll have to play with it later.

Sam sent a short vid of the visualizer to Dex, who was still sitting outside, arguing about a movie. Saitou had watched the event through the kitchen wall. Saitou's lion agent Mr. Naps, noticing his interest, automatically saved the sand visualizer for him. The 2nd Thomas followed Sam and Mike into the kitchen. Megan sent her proxy walking through the kitchen wall after them.

Chester's sock puppet agent Sifl alerted her that Sam's party had reached a critical mass of interesting people. Chester decided to leave the 2nd party she was attending, which had gotten kind of lame. Of course, it was 6 a.m. there. The 3rd party she was present at was projected to be awesome around 1 a.m, but that was in three hours.

At the moment, Sam's party was just right
. Chester sat up in her chair and looked around the room, pretending to stretch. Her painted face smiled in greeting to Thomas and Megan. Thomas was always surprised at how expressive and engaging a painted face could be. Her chia hair was kind of endearing too. Thomas' 1st proxy, sitting on the coffee table, turned to face her.

Chester: Oh, hi Thomas.

Chester leaned over and hugged T. Her body was soft and warm despite its appearance. Chester practiced enhanced hugs, which transferred physical warmth, a soothing full-body constriction, and temporary intermingling of certain body senses when the other person's setting allowed. She settled back into her chair.

Thomas: Nice crotch flower, Chess.
Chester: Carved it myself. Hey Meg.
Thomas: I think she's in the kitchen with Sam and me and everybody. Primarily, I mean.
Chester: Oh yeah, she got Planted. Very nice. What's with Keen?
Thomas: [looking over his shoulder at him/it] He's here. It's here. It's just ignoring everything but the game. Which I am sitting on. I don't know why it's watching it here. Keen could be on the field experiencing it, or at least hovering over it. Screw it, he's "he" to me from now on.
Chester: Well, maybe it doesn't communicate, but just likes being around people.
Thomas: [jumping up and down on Keen's head] Soaking it all in, are you? Contribute!

But Keen did not care to react. Thomas sat down on the table and shoved some cheesecake into his mouth. Many miles away, his physical body did a shot.

Thomas: So, Chess, how are things in New Zealand? Still got that lag problem?
Chester: They mostly fixed that, but lag is inevitable proxying from New Zealand to anywhere in the United States. Quarter second delay at the best. Speed of light and routing delays and all that.
Thomas: Well, I've said it before, but your proxy fills in for you quite nicely. At least as far as body language and reflective gesturing goes.
Chester: Well, it's got a lot of data to work with.

One function of proxies was to fill in the gap for the user in cases of lag. Spoken communication is more flexible in terms of lag. Except in cases of being slow to deal with interruptions, it can just appear as if the person speaking is taking a short pause to think. But subtle things like eye contact, non-verbal communication and reflexive posturing could make lag during conversations, or other intimate social interactions, awkward.

A well-trained ghost could help fill in the gaps for its user so that the other side may not even know there's lag. They even help with sex, where a quarter second delay could be very annoying. But if your ghost knows you well enough, they can partially fill in for you. This can be a strange sensation to the user at first, like experiencing an echo of something you were about to do, just before you did it. But if it fits with what the user was going to do, the user's brain more often than not simply gets used to trailing some actions, almost as if it actually had done it. Because it kind of had. Luckily, people's social interactions were, for the most part, limited in their variety, and capable of being modeled to various levels of success. Matching gazes, maintaining appropriate eye contact, angling toward a speaker and generally mirroring other users were commonly compensated for by ghosts.

Thomas: Go check out the kitchen. It's the happening place. 


Chester teleported into the middle of kitchen, shimmering Star Trek style. T wondered if he was the only one with restricted porting  privileges. Chester said hello and passed out enhanced hugs to everyone.


Thomas switched his attention to his second proxy, which was standing by the kitchen table where Sam was seated. Saitou was doing the moonwalk for some reason. There was much merrymaking.
Eventually Thomas noticed that Sam was mixing drinks with a mid-priced rum on the kitchen table. Many miles away he took another shot.

Thomas: I really don't understand why you buy expensive alcohol. Why not get cheap vodka and change its sensation like I do? It's not like any of us have money to burn.
It's not that much more expensive. Besides, Mike appreciates it.

That crap you drink is terrible, whether you can taste it or not.

That's the whole point! Alcohol is nasty no matter how expensive it is, but the cheap stuff works the same.

I'm not arguing with you. Like, about anything. Ever.

Mike got a message from Dexter and excused himself to see what was going on outside. While Megan wasn't paying attention, Mr. Naps sniffed the back of her knee. The cold lion nose caused her to yelp and jump to the other side of the room.

Megan: Saitou! Does your lion really eat people?
I don't have to answer that... Maybe it does. Sometimes.

Well, put it away or shrink it!

Saitou picked up Mr. Naps by the scruff of the neck. Naps purred and meowed softly.

See, Mr. Naps is just a big kitty. He only eats people if they're incapacitated. Like T will be if he keeps drinking.

How could you possibly know how drunk I am? Everyone knows I use drunk masking.

You're being a little too smooth, T. You haven't even agitated Mike yet.

He's been here like 4 minutes. And he's outside now.


[text to Saitou]: I am planning revenge against Mike, just you see.

: [text to T] What is with you and revenge?

Saitou turned away and continued talking to Sam about politics.
Chester had moved over to the fridge and had been gesturing for T to come over, so he did.

Is Zuul in the fridge or something?

Something in this fridge is being filtered. You know what?

I don't know, what?

A large window opened up above Thomas' head and a waterfall of green slime drenched him, but without touching anything else.

You've been green mustard-ed!

Chester walked away to Saitou before T could respond. T wiped a donut on his chest and ate it. It was not the taste sensation he had hoped for. T filtered the slime away. Proxy Megan jumped up and sat on the island counter between the fridge and the kitchen table.

My eyes still sting.

Why doesn't anyone set it so stupid crap like that is automatically filtered?

How realistic would that be?

Megan: Um...
Thomas: Besides, now I can get revenge.
Megan: What is with you and revenge?
Thomas: It's fun and stuff.

Chester and Saitou stood talking by the table. On a layer private to Meg and himself, T used his index finger as a laser (an ever popular device) and cut the top of Saitou's head off. It fell molten onto Chester's leg and set it on fire. Megan snorted in suppressed laughter. Chester looked at T suspiciously while her body blackened and then melted down like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Chester's melting body flailed its arms impotently as Saitou's half-head spurted blood on the ceiling.

On the same layer, Meg drew a mustache made of cartoon caterpillars on Sam.

Thomas: [text to Meg] Lame!
: [to T] Yeah, how about this...

Megan restored everyone on their joke layer and created a copy of Chester's proxy next to Chester. It was complete with her ghost (from her SIS). The Chesters started dancing around each other. They started making out (as only marionettes can). Lush tree branches grew out of the Chesters' indicated erogenous zones and wrapped around their bodies until they merged and became a single Chester again, the branches being absorbed back into its body.

Thomas: [text to Meg] Very nice. And pretty. Not really funny though. Watch what I'm going to do to Starman there.
: [to T] Starman?
: [to Meg] Saitou. Wait, are you filtering his proxy's special application?
: [to T] I just force everything to be my favorite flavor of anime.

: [to Meg] You should give special applications an exception and at least look at them first before filtering them. You never know what you'll miss.

: [removing her filter from Saitou] Holy crap!

Megan went over to play with Saitou's stars. Thomas noticed that
a panel had appeared on the panorama wall, ruining a nice space view of Earth. The panel featured a terminal display complete with a keyboard sticking out beneath it. The terminal simply said, "Keen: Available for chat. Please use the keyboard." Thomas was the only one who noticed it or cared.

Thomas: I'm not typing anything. Villain, go punch the keys for me.

Villain ran over and jumped up on the keyboard, ready to hop on the keys to enter T's messages. T sat down at the kitchen table and duplicated the display in front of him so he wouldn't have to stare at the wall.

Thomas: Hey Keen, how's it going?
Keen: Who is typing?
Thomas: [to himself] You have got to be kidding me.
Thomas: It's me, Thomas. You know.
Keen: Oh. That Thomas. You are famous.
Thomas: What for?
Keen: Games. Some call you Hanged Man.
Thomas: Yeah, people call me all sorts of things. Why are you a chat room?
Keen: Anthropic bodies get in the way of multiple conversations.
Thomas: Unlike keyboards? Bodies work so nicely with the human brain. Non-verbal communication contains a high bandwidth of tasty information.
Keen: That information is extraneous for my purposes. It speaks of character and social standing, but not of higher truth.
Thomas: Just how many people are you talking to right now?
Keen: It varies. About 30 that are meaningful shares of information.
Thomas: What kind of information?
Keen: Today's prepared topics are: Middle Eastern archaeology, neurology, growing brain babies, and contemporary politics in Britain.
Thomas: Uh... let's go with the babies one.
Keen: There are projects underway to grow babies without physical bodies. Brain vats would sustain and nurture their brains while they inhabited virtual infantile bodies through specially designed brain implants.

Keen displayed a schematic for a baby brain vat, and below it an animation of a genetically modified brain growing from a single cell and being integrated with cybernetics. Then it showed a happy virtual baby, unaware that it existed only Outside.

Thomas: Brain vats are very much relevant to my interests. It would be nice to not have to worry about my physical. But I think we should better develop brain vats for mature brains before we start thinking about crazy projects that people will freak out over.
Keen: Vat babies will be superior. Babies with physical bodies are a pain, and their physical bodies limit them and hamper their development.
Thomas: Yeah, babies are a pain. You could probably grow their brains larger than regular in vats too. It's limited now by the birth canal, I have heard.
Keen: With bio-engineering, probably. Although it is uncertain that size alone would appreciably affect intelligence, due to its many contributing factors. The primary reason for growing brain vat babies is that fewer and fewer people want to raise a physical child. Eventually, we could have a population crises due to having too few babies to replace the aging populace, even with automation fulfilling humanity's physical needs and supporting our infrastructure.
Thomas: But if babies don't have bodies, what will I eat?
Keen: Most people don't eat babies.
Thomas: Do you know what a joke is?
Keen: What is "joke"?
Thomas: Oh.... huh.... Keen, are you a chatbot?
Keen: Now who lacks a sense of humor?
Thomas: See, this is why people don't talk to you.
Keen: You're just a low priority conversation, that's all.
Thomas: Are you sure you're not a chatbot? Oh wait, I have to go. "See" you later Keen.

Mike was coming back in to get a new beer.

Thomas: [text to Megan] Oh, oh, oh, I think Mike's coming back. Check this out. Mike's been physically abusing me! He ejected me from a car and I got run over! So I'm going to teach him a lesson by means of revenge!
Megan: [text to T] How much of that cheap vodka have you had? 


T did not answer. He moved over by the kitchen sink just before Mike got to the refrigerator and began to whistle the Ghostbuster's theme. He had carefully positioned a bug on the ceiling in front of the refrigerator, but it refused to fall when Mike opened the fridge to get another beer. Falling bugs were too light and soft to hurt anyone, and sometimes having one let go of a surface was the fastest way to move it into a different position, so people were generally allowed to drop them. Sam had, however, added a house restriction against bugs falling near physical people. Probably because of T.

Unfortunately for everyone in the kitchen, the falling bug was only the first part of Thomas' plan, and he had contingencies. The bug began to beep at Mike. Mike didn't even look up. Then the kitchen sink turned on. Mike turned it off with a finger flick. The bug continued beeping. T turned the faucet back on. Mike turned it off. The bug beeped. T turned the faucet back on.

Mike: T!
Thomas: What? How do you know it's me?
Mike: Stop wasting water!

Mike lightly punched T in the chest. In response, T's chest exploded into a raging geyser of blood that splattered half of the kitchen. As he dramatically crumpled to the ground, the rupture across his chest spread to his stomach, and his insides (including his brain) splayed across the kitchen floor, carried by a cascade of blood. His organs and guts were based on his medical scans, so they were fairly accurate. It was disgustingly realistic, except for the ridiculous amount of blood and the strong smell of cinnamon.

Saitou continued talking with Chester, trying to ignore whatever was going on behind him despite being splashed with blood. He took a step back to emphasize a point and slipped on the expanding pool of blood. He nearly hit Sam as he fell. The stars of his body mixed with T's blood. Mr. Naps came over to help him up and lick blood off of his elbow, and off of the floor. Mike buried his face in his palm while Thomas lay writhing in his own guts.

Thomas: Oh gods, I'm dying! Why Mike? Why did you have to brutalize me yet again?
Megan: [blushing with embarrassment for T] What is this, preschool?

Sam calmly watched the entire thing happen and let T shame himself for a few more moments before filtering the mess from her house's primary layer. T stood up in his renewed body and brushed himself off. He noted his restricted house privileges. It had been worth it. He should never have had access to the sinks to begin with. But Saitou was an unfortunate casualty.

Thomas: Sorry Saitou.
Saitou: I've come to expect such things from life in general, and from you in particular.
Thomas: [turning to his older brother] Mike, have you learned something here?
Mike: I... think several things, probably.
Thomas: Maybe you'll think about how fragile I am the next time you eject me from a car.
Mike: [going back outside] You could have just said something.
Thomas: [yelling after him] Graphic lessons are more effective.

Megan: I think we all got the point.
Thomas: Megs, sometimes I just don't know why I even try.
Megan: But where would we all be if you gave up trying?
Thomas: Oh yeah, that reminds me...

Mr. Naps was prowling around the kitchen. The blood had fueled his appetite for human flesh and now he was looking for someone to eat. This had given Thomas an idea.

Thomas: You should let Mr. Naps eat you. He's always hungry for human flesh.
Megan: I don't know about that.
Thomas: Come on. Just turn discomfort off.
Megan: Is this like a rite of passage or something for new proxy users?
Sam and Chester: No!
Megan: So it's hazing, then?
Saitou: I don't think it even counts as hazing.
Thomas: Aw, come on! Look how hungry he is!

Mr. Naps did look pretty hungry.

Megan: [turning off her discomfort and blood] Fine, whatever. Come here Mr. Naps.

Megan was pulled to the ground as Mr. Naps set about quickly eating her, starting with her legs.

Megan: [one leg being consumed] This is actually not so bad.
Thomas: Why would it be? Hey Naps, can you chew off the second leg at the hip and wait a second.
Naps: [after swallowing the first leg] Sure.

Megan's second leg came off after a few chomps. T held it up in the air, took off her sandal, and tickled her foot. She jerked her leg and hit him with her bloody stump.

Megan: What the hell? That's worse than being eaten.
Thomas: Tickling is usually a separate option from discomfort. It can be turned off in an instant, but that instant might mean your death in a virtual world.
Megan: Yeah, gotcha. Go ahead Mr. Naps.

Mr. Naps started eat again. Thomas threw Meg's leg into the air and vaporized it with his finger laser. Its ashes fell to the ground.

Megan: [eaten up to her belly button] And so what is this for again?
Thomas: [stepping away from Megan's expanding pool of blood] Mr. Naps was hungry, is all.
Megan: [chest and head remaining] My legs feel weird.
Thomas: Haven't you ever turned your body off before?
Megan: [just her head remaining] Yeah, for meditation. But being eaten is different.
Thomas: Interesting.
Megan: [head disappearing] It just occurred to me how silly this is.

Megan reinstated her physical body's senses and found herself on the couch in the living room. T sat on the coffee table looking at her.

Thomas: Good work being eaten. Some new Plants would have freaked out.
Megan: I've been eaten in Zombietown any number of times, and it even hurt a bit.
Thomas: Being eaten by zombies is always good. Alright, so it was a dumb test. You know what diving is?
Megan: Oh yeah, I've gone a few times. I know it's not the same if you're just getting the tactile feedback from a haptic suit, but it was fun.
Thomas: It really isn't even remotely the same thing. Even with a Plant, you have to develop flexibility in your body sense to get the whole experience. All your senses get played like a musical instrument if you can really stretch yourself out in the stream. I think you should try it. You could go with us on Saturday, after the movie shoot. It'll be fun!
Megan: [rubbing her legs thoughtfully] I'm interested, but I don't know. I wouldn't want to get in the way.
Thomas: Oh, you couldn't if you tried. That is, we'd just leave you behind. By which I mean that we are going to leave you behind. But it'll be fine.

Megan: Diving can create some pretty strange distortions, I've read.
Thomas: You only have to relax to what you're comfortable with. And how do you think people get flexible in the first place? Eventually, your brain has to adapt to some crazy physical distortions if you're going to get the most out of living Outside.

Chester's living room proxy raised its head.

Chester: You should come and see Club Omni if nothing else. Largest ongoing orgy outside of a sex club.
Megan: Hasn't everyone already seen that?
Thomas: Oh, sure. But have you felt it? Participants on the floor often share their proxy's sensory feeds. Just the dancing is pretty incredible by itself.
Megan: I've been experimenting with experiencing other user's feeds. It's weird having the senses of a body that someone else is controlling.
Chester: Share a feed and shut out your own senses and it's like you're just some impotent voice in somebody's head. Like a roller coaster ride. But you don't have to go that far.
Thomas: You'll need to start riding feeds if you want to appreciate the best movies and shows, not to mention all the worlds that involve sharing.
Megan: Alright, yeah, I'll go.
Thomas: Ha! I knew it. You're gonna get totally washed. It'll be great.
Megan: Washed?
Thomas: Oh my gods, you live in a cave. Getting washed is losing your sense of yourself when you become an experience. It's a Zen thing or something. It's great fun. Shouldn't your agent have looked that term up for you?
Megan: I don't have an agent.
Thomas: [O_O] !
Megan: What? I like to do things myself.

Thomas: [text to Sam] Megs doesn't have an agent.
Sam: [to T] That makes sense, actually. I always get her or voice mail when I call. How could we not notice that?
Thomas: [to Sam] What should I say?
Sam: [to T] Just fix it, Thomas! Geeze.

Thomas bit his lower lip. Choosing to not have an agent was like choosing to wash all of your dishes by hand. He looked to Chester for help, but he seemed to have left the living room again.

Thomas: Uh... you should really try a basic agent. They're indispensable once you get used to them.
Megan: I've got a set of programs that do the same things.
Thomas: You'd still use the same programs, but the interface... it's hard to explain until you work with one. It's a relationship. They're like extensions of your mind. I'd be hobbled if I lost Villain.
Villain: [appearing on T's shoulder long enough to be petted] Thanks, boss.
Megan: That's kind of why I don't want one. You extend your mind too much and the scaffolding could give out.
Thomas: Well, I understand that. That's why you have to thoroughly understand your agent and the programs it interfaces. Agents don't obscure how programs work, they actually illuminate them. Agents help train you in new programs and optimize settings. Also, automating communication is really nice. They're like 24 hour secretaries.
Megan: Maybe I'll try one when you give up being... uh...
Thomas: Me. I'll have you know that I am me only occasionally. I'm only me right now by Sam's special invitation.
Megan: What are you all the rest of the time?
Thomas: Whatever the situation calls for.


Next- Episode 03: Party! (2 of 2)

1 comment:

  1. That raises an interesting question about projected consciousness and managing your own real body simultaneously. How many different perspectives could a human mind manage at once? Would it be a little like a fly with a zillion eyes? Could one truly have a 'one man army' made of robot 'proxies' connected to one man's mind? It will be interesting to see how the human body reacts to such a situation, as some might say that the mind was not designed(?) to handle that kind of sensory load.

    I guess they are still in a transitional phase while 'living outside' if they are having 'vat' babies (hehe - I just thought of using VATS in Fallout 3 on dancing baby with the bloody mess perk - BOOM!). I guess AI isn't that ballin' yet to have fully singularitized our consciousnesses into a robot body with the strength of 10 gorillas.

    You may be a little heavy on the description, but I can see it as being maybe necessary given the nature of the advanced tech exposited in the story. Still, the writing style is pretty consistent so far. Keep it up - I'm enjoying it so far.