Friday, November 18, 2011

Spanner 24.5: The Reality Escapists

Okay, I’ve finally succeeded in overcoming a nasty case of mid-NaNoWriMo writer’s block. So, returning to this installment, I had to reach deep within, and managed to retrieve one of my earliest story ideas, the first one I discussed with my friend and fellow anime-club member, cartoonist Tony Angelino, in the local mall’s food court way back in 1992. So now, from deep within my earliest project notebooks, I present the first of the true virtual-reality scenes! After some more political trouble is dealt with first, of course...

...from previous

Chaos Angel Spanner — Chapter 24: Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud
Part 5: The Reality Escapists

8 november 2014.
The Leaders of the Nation spar in duelling messages over what to do with the people.
Lord Chancellor Richard Becket:
Virtue has never been with the ignorant mass. It belongs only to the deserving. God alone chooses who is deserving and undeserving; he blesses the deserving and punishes the undeserving. He says in His Word that he will give more to those who hath, and take away from those who hath not. To his chosen, he hath given eternal dominion. This is the eternal principle of religion and government.

We have heard suggestions that we reduce the rabble to servitude. If we must, then so be it.

Lt. Cmdr. William Becket:
My uncle says the fundamental principle of government is the “golden rule.” To wit: he who hath the gold, maketh the rules. Which is just another way of defining the Law as his personal whim.

His faction, the Corporates, have no honor. They live by greed and power-lust alone. Honor, they tell us over and over, is for losers, meaning those unblessed with Jesus America’s denominated green-paper blood. Uncle Dick insults all the men of honor who have taken up arms and shed their blood in sacrifice to the Nation. We do not give our lives so that Uncle Dick and his cabal can heartlessly profit off them. We do not shed our blood just so the men of wealth can mix it into their bloody Marys over their deals. It is time the men of honor take dominion away from the truly undeserving, the men of greed who worship corruption, and restore Our Nation to honor.

Those who sacrifice must become those who rule. If this means eternal martial law, then so be it.

COPCO CEO Brendan Sparks:
I’ve been hearing Chairman Becket saying the rich should rule over the poor, and his nephews tell me the soldiers should rule over the civilians. But rich people are in the business of making money, and soldiers are in the business of killing the enemy. We’re the police. Our job is to keep everybody in line. If President Goldman Sachs gets out of control, we’ll arrest it. If the Cartel Chairman himself get out of line, we’ll arrest him, and we’ll take no guff from that power-hungry greedhead.

Face it, nation. President Goldman Sachs blew it. It let King Patriot die, for God’s sake. Out in Cascadia, Wally Brinkman and his government company blew it, too. He let the rabble ruin his dominion. So we’re launching a hostile takeover of Cascadia Public Management effective immediately, and I’m firing Wally and Jack. While they’re running to the City of London to bawl on Uncle Chairman’s lap, I’m replacing them with far more effective directors: Michael Corson in management, J.L. Holmes in enforcement. So there.
Westlake Center. Workers gather this Saturday to underline their demands. Employers try to find common ground with them and explain that they too are at the mercy of capital, especially the small employers who, explain the big consumer-oriented companies, are the foundation of the entire city economy.

Richard Becket is offended. The United Corporations chairman has decided to make a personal appearance so he can smash the rally himself. A large contingent of bodyguards surrounds him as soon as he steps down from his helicopter on the Westlake Center tower’s roof. He yells at his nephew Jack, “Get those fools out of here! They’ll only be getting in my way!”

“Chairman’s orders, Uncle.”

Fuck chairman’s orders! Can’t he get it through his thick skull? I’m a superhero, goddamn it! Get those idiots away from me, or I’ll be sending them back to your chairman in pieces!”

The bodyguards part in a wave advancing toward the Chairman. Ariel Shield parts them like a human Red Sea, comes toward her granduncle, smiling sweetly, followed by her own niece Leila and her girlfriend Shira, until she blocks his way. Chairman Becket flinches. Both he and Ariel know that she can trap him within one of her Repulse fields and use his own Destruct field as a weapon against him. “Hello, Uncle. Going on a super jihad again, aren’t you.”

“Ariel, you’re not supposed to be here. Get back to where you belong.”

“I belong here. I was expecting you, so I decided I’d pay you a visit early.”

The Chairman leans into her face. “You know what this is about?”

Ariel does not flinch and continues to smile ironically. “Quote, ‘We must keep the mooching parasites from sucking the blood of Our Nation dry,’ unquote. Quote, “Money is the blood of Our Nation, which we must defend from the parasitic masses by any means necessary,’ unquote. Yes, I know all too well. And that’s why I’m not letting you have your little jihad.”

“Oh, and those business types here?” adds Shira. “Unlike you finance types and your quote-unquote ‘holy blood,’ we actually make things, and those people in the street work to earn the money to buy them. You’re looking at the Producers, Mr Chairman.”

Chairman Becket pokes Shira’s chest. “If you’re such an economic wizard yourself, little girl, you know full well that production has nothing to do with profit, not in a genuinely free market.”
Corporatist definition of “free trade”: freedom to commit fraud without getting arrested.
Leila says, “If I remember my aristocratic education correctly, ‘reality’ means ‘doing deals with eldritch abominations to receive maximum power and profit without consequences.’ But have you sussed out yet that the price is your soul?”

“Why don’t you go read your Ayn Rand. Did you know you’re in Atlas Shrugged, Dick? No, not who you think. You’re no Midas Mulligan, Mr Chairman. You’re Orren Boyle.”

The Chairman laughs contemptuously. “You fool! Ayn Rand knew nothing about anything!”

“So then, where’s the growth?”
Corporatist definition of “growth”: constantly rising profits for bankers. For workers? Even for employers? Sorry, producers. It’s a zero-sum game. The Nation has only so much blood to go around.
“Voodoo, Mr Chairman. Pure voodoo. As Cartel chairman, you’re the cult's high priest. As dictator of the Bank of England, you just happen to be Lyndon LaRouche’s recruiters’ wet dream. Economic reality? Gods forbid, facts? Blank-out! Oh, and I speak as one of those consumer-oriented business-owner fools upon whom you look down and like to spit.”

Chairman Becket glares down at Shira incredulously. “You think you’re one to laugh at me?

“Every Econ 101 student with any grade higher than F already is. They can see that the emperor, as the saying goes, has no clothes. I should know. I took it last year.”

Jennifer pushes her way through the crowd of MIBs to pull Shira away. “Come on, dear cousin, don’t talk to that clueless old witch doctor. He’s incapable of speaking anything but voodoo.”

Shira tells the Chairman, “I’m sorry to have to give you the bad news, Chairman, but one of these days reality’s gonna have its revenge.” Jennifer takes Shira by the hand, Shira takes Leila by her hand, and the three walk single-file, hand in hand, toward the elevator.

Ariel, still smiling, gets back in the Chairman’s way and refuses to let him pass. “Sorry, Uncle, but I’m not leaving until you do.”

In a huff, Richard Becket gets back on his helicopter and orders the pilot to take off. The dumbfounded bodyguards look at each other. Jack Becket crosses his arms and storms over to Ariel to attempt to intimidate her. She smiles, snaps his eyepatch, and says, “

Down below, the worker rally continues as planned and goes off without a hitch. No one below the roof knows that the Cartel chairman came and went.

Game Wars. Back in Bremerton, Shira, Leila, and Jennifer check out the game center’s huge new virtual reality annex. Connor, Rob, Cory, and Polly wait for them at the double table next to the Tully’s outlet, ready to get them coffee and whatever they want to eat with it.

Polly looks at the crowded VR pods. “Just look at ’em. These reality evaders make me sick.”

Jennifer winks. “Some people just aren’t tough enough to handle reality. That requires politics.”

“How do they know the tyrants of our world won’t just try to take over theirs?” asks Leila.

“They don’t. But it could be worse. Grandma Nelly introduced me and Connor to some people called ‘soul travellers’ who try to spend all their time in dreamspace and suffer from virtual-world sickness as a result. That’s what these people will end up with if they spend too much time away from reality. Virtual-world sickness. You feel your soul fading away into nothing.” Connor rolls his eyes and sighs sadly.

“You know somebody like that?”

“Mother of an ex-girlfriend,” says Connor. “She was heavy into this New Age spiritual stuff. Then she decided to go off into the deepest reaches of dream reality, so now here in hard reality she’s catatonic. That cured me of the ‘cosmic foo-foo’ thing.”

Shira stands up. “I’m gonna have me a look-see. Put on your AR goggles and link me if you wanna come along.” Before the others can protest, she runs off to take an empty pod. They sigh and put on what look like ordinary eyeglasses or sunglasses but are really computer monitor goggles for use with augmented-reality software in their personal area networks. Jennifer plugs two pairs of AR goggles into her bra, a wearable computer, and puts one pair on Leila, then rubs her shoes back and forth on the floor to generate extra power from their friction. Once Shira is locked up in her pod, they all find themselves in her room.

Dr Hiram Whistler and his assistant, the engineer Isaac Finney, installed a hyperadvanced computer into Shira’s skull at the same time Jennifer was battling serial killers to the death on Blake Island. Her personal virtual reality system has a home base in the form of a cluttered expandable room. They see from her perspective. Right now she looks at the mechanical-owl avatar of her analytical, AEGIS. In a squeaky voice that needs oiled, it says, “I hope you’re not getting your friends stuck in a trap, Shira.”

“Don’t worry about that. They’re not really with me, they’re just seeing what I see. I get in trouble, they’ll autojack out.”

A dot of light resembling a virtual version of the stage Tinkerbell flits about the room. To Shira’s “tourists,” AEGIS explains, “This is Option. Shira can use it to absorb, generate, and evolve powers she can use here in virtual reality but which will be of no use in your reality. There is also a subspace link she can use to contact me in the event she finds trouble.”

Shira says, “Don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready. Let’s see just how these people are fleeing reality. I suspect games.”

Shira becomes visible to her friends. In a burst of light, she morphs into her virtual alter ego, Aya Shibata, the sexy cyborg dark elf with flaming red hair. (Polly [catching her breath]: “I can see why that otaku boy married her avatar.”) Shira’s viewpoint resumes, the room’s door to the outside world dilates, and she flies through it as Option orbits her like an electron.

This virtual reality is organized like a huge city on the inside of a space colony. This being Game Wars, Shira notices that the buildings are actually arenas, each one containing a game. She flits toward the fighting games. One simulates the prison-gladiator show Pit of Death: the players can be condemned criminals fighting to the death without actually dying. $1 a minute. She spies Game Wars itself (mid-air fighting without the danger or the glitches), plus VR versions of such classic fighters from late-twentieth-century video arcades: Mortal Kombat (specifically, MK Ultra), Street Fighter, World Heroes, Samurai Shodown... The surviving arcade game companies are determined to make their mark on the new virtual world.

Next stop, the wargames. Most of these arenas contain complete virtual worlds for the still-faddish military first-person shooters from such cash-cow franchises as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, and SOCOM, every single one of them fully funded by, and showering with profits, the Pentagon, which hopes to recruit from the field of players.

She looks around: the platform worlds, the MMOs, the strategy wargames, the society simulators, the virtual nightclubs made famous in cyberpunk novels. But no matter how much she looks around, there’s something specific she does not find, and probably cannot find at a place like Game Wars. “Nope! No political sims! Maybe I should claim it as my niche? I could make a fortune.”

She rises from her pod and leaves it for the next customer. Her friends take off their AR goggles. “Games,” says Leila. “Figures.”

“Well, if you can’t do arcade gaming the old-fashioned way anymore, why not take it virtual.”

Jennifer says, “They can do bigger games that way, bigger ones than even the consoles can hold even on multiple BluRays.”

“Why don’t we get a tour of that dreamspace those ‘soul travellers’ are so keen on playing around in,“ says Cory conspiratorially.

Shira brushes him off. “Nah. Too long to get in. Gotta meditate, shift perspectives, count sheep, and all that. Too much fuss and bother for a quickie tour.”

Rob says, “You say they’re running away from politics, aren’t they, Shira.”

“Like I said, some people just aren’t tough enough for it. Problem is, sooner or later, politics is gonna invade their dreamspace, and they won’t be able to evade that. Maybe us hardcore hackers can handle it, but I don’t know if these people can.”

“We’ll find out eventually,” Jennifer warns.

on to the next...

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Copyright © 2011 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

[Revision 1, 11/18/11. The virtual reality scenes and the characters AEGIS and Option come from the earliest Project Notebooks and the original Cybernauts concept from the early-to-mid 1990s.]

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