Sunday, December 4, 2016

Excerpt from Retrograde Horizon (a work in progress)

He woke up staring at his simulated ceiling, which had fat little babies with wings painted on it. He had to use the toilet. The orientation videos had warned him about this, making sure he knew it was important to simulate using a toilet, even if for all practical purposes someone’s body might be dropping a load while their avatar was engaging in sparkling conversation at some dinner party. If you didn’t at least pretend to be using an actual toilet, you might discover, upon leaving your vat, that all of the patient toilet training your parents had done had been erased. If you were certain you were never coming out of your vat, of course, it didn’t matter, but if there was a possibility that someday you might rejoin the physical world, it was a good idea to keep those muscles in tone. Sonny intended to rejoin the world, and he physically stood up and walked his avatar several steps to his bathroom.

After his simulated visit to the bathroom, complete with a simulated scented shower, it was time for breakfast. Sonny dialed it up and the feeding apparatus moved in, delivering a smooth custard that was absolutely the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted in the world. It had undertones of fruit and grain and fresh air. At regular intervals the custard ceased flowing and a mouthful of crunchy things appeared to give his teeth a workout, similarly flavored and equally tasty. After feeding him a perfect-sized portion that exactly occupied the emptiness in his belly, the feeding apparatus was replaced by the one that cleaned teeth and left a different pleasant taste behind.

“Cardio session commencing in thirty seconds,” whispered a flirty disembodied voice somewhere beyond his left shoulder. Sonny wasn’t quite sure what that meant so he ignored it and called up his social node. As he was browsing his feed the voice returned, telling him the cardio session was imminent. Soft but solid restraints closed in over his arms and legs. A banner popped up in his social node, informing him that the command interface had shifted to nose-wiggle mode.

Then his body began moving. The restraints pulled, pushed and bounced him in various directions. His heart responded, pumping faster and his lungs sucked in more air. His avatar, sitting on the bed browsing his social media feed, was unaffected by any of this until Sonny toggled outside mode, which made him reappear in the plaza. Once he was there a popup appeared, floating at eye level and asking him if he wanted to emulate jogging. When he agreed with a nose wiggle, his avatar took off running. He cruised through the empty city streets surrounding the plaza, past all the decorated windows.

Even though his avatar was running gracefully, his body was doing a variety of movements – bouncing, stretching, twisting. After several minutes of this the disembodied voice informed him he was entering cooldown and the activity slowed gradually. Sonny’s avatar slowed to a walk, its reflection unruffled and sweatless in the windows of a candy store displaying hundreds of flavors of fudge. 

He wondered how many other people were standing beside him, looking though this same window, invisible because they had him filtered. Lots of them, no doubt. This city had wide streets, and pixelated people took up very little space.

He turned around and headed back to a building that had caught his eye earlier. It had two gigantic stone lions guarding the doorway, one on either side, and when Sonny had run past them he had seen their stone eyes swivel in his direction.

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