Also published in The Cuilverse
This series is all humans, a rarity in the cuilverse. But this is the cuilverse, so the catch is that neurodiversity-centered humanism has thrived. About a thousand years after the Drone Wars decimated the Earth (there is never just one apocalypse in the cuilverse), humanity has spread out within the heliosphere, and eventually, across the galaxy. It is a place where ads have become so intrusive near-Earth that they literally hurt people, a place where Google Universe is king, and where most far-out inhabitants control more than one body.
This is straight neuro scifi, and features a collaboration between Ripley Santo and myself.
This is the beginning of that story, started way back in September 2012…
The One Called Emeris Hague
The day-long docking procedure had me keyed up and exhausted. Why hadn’t someone come up with a simpler procedure by now? Maybe Kensington could figure it out. He was a trajectory studies nerd; spent the whole day doing math problems. I wasn’t nearly as patient. Yet I had to hold on long enough for these rough ladings. My module was a lower end knock-off of the IMods. It came in as basic a form as possible. No wheels, no podding, and only a glitchy electromagnet to connect it to any station. Parking like this was old-fashioned and risky. It’s the reason I had to operate my module manually. Most of the other modules could be could be driven via wifi and had a quantum key that automatically docked them to the nearest station. I still had 10,000 lom to go in order to afford one and finally dump this junker. I watched the lock clamp down into place and awaited the green signal. After a quick double-check of my pack, I zipped up my jacket and shut down the module’s computer.
I floated out of the module, passing by a scanner on my way down the rock. It matched my ID to my cloud and brought up my settings. A rainbow bounced out from the antenna on the side of the mothership and travelled across the asteroid next to it. This was the only station in this quadrant right up amongst a particularly dense field of asteroids. They had all been gathered into what I’d dubbed The Square over the past few years. The owner of the station was Mentac Baron, an old classmate. He tended to trail me across the solar system because I had more avatars than he did. My original job was as a fashion designer. I made high end avatars for myself and a good number of Martians. It had taken me 14 years in six to save up enough hours to buy my off-brand module. Now here I was working in the Kuiper Belt. I collected rare metals and sometimes water to ship back to the inhabitants and visitors of Marsden (I know, totally original name for the most popular destination on Mars, right? It still beat New Vegas and Marsterdam. Do not get me started on those sites!).
I had been a harvester now for 19 years in one. Hence my needing a newer model ship. This avatar was reaching it’s expiry date. Also, I’d much rather be doing the harvesting with a simple psylink through the Web than in person. I was eager to create more distance between Mentac and my Self. He already had five of his avatars trailing five of mine. I’d managed to shake two of them recently and that gave me the energy to push that number up to complete. I was getting way too expansive to be propositioned by a mere one in seven, anyway. Mentac was a newbie to having more than the standard five avatars; all of his were of the same gender and he didn’t even have any complete Mechs! However, he was a damn fine businessman in one with a chain of stations around the System. I was unfortunate enough to have my Square orbiting along with a station he personally operated.
As I was headed to Asteroid 621–4652 EGG to start drilling out its water I caught something in the corner of my eye. Asteroid 621–4659 EGG was rolling languidly in another direction, sneaking away from the rest of the group. “Oh, no, you don’t!” I fired out a jet in front of me so I could change which way I was heading. After the initial push from the short blast of H20, I swam toward the errant asteroid. Scolding the hunk of iron that often seemed desperate to escape, I landed on one side as gently as possible then jumped off harder to send it floating back into place. Leave it to relativity! This asteroid was always wandering off on its own for whatever reason. I might need to add a weight to it to keep it in group, I thought.
The rainbow bounced along beside me, ready for me to select my playlist. I chose my favorite work tunes. The ad line popped up behind the video, bugging me with false promises. Immediately, I muted it as much as I could manage; Still, the faint superimposed images and sounds were enough for my subconscious to pick up on. It was either that or the deafening silence of space. Soon I could tune out the ads and just soak in the musical holograms. It was a rather sentimental taste — most of the Nexgen kids used printers for all of their media. I didn’t appreciate the loose garbage it left behind. It had gotten to be so extensive that even out here in the Kuiper Cloud I sometimes saw their floating videos, banners, and other shared files. Add that to the automatic stream of running ads over the Web no matter what one was interacting with and space suddenly didn’t seem quite so full of space. Closer to Earth, the spam and litter just intensified. Compared to Earth atmo, the Kuiper Belt was still serene. Those who still lived on Earth had a hell of a time getting off. Not that many Stationaries wanted to leave.
The only travellers from the home planet were visitors. They rode up in one of the space elevators usually, which provided the safest and clearest paths into other parts of the heliosphere. Those pathways had restricted access and so were comparatively ad and litter free. Outside the rockets, that is. Whatever business owned the rocket played streams of ads along the touch-screen surfaces. On the fancier rockets a full merge with wifi reality was provided. However, lately, there were complaints circulating about people and Mechs bumping into the ads or worse, having one pop up stuck to them. Congress was pushing through a bill now to establish No Tech zones and passes. Like I said, much more serene out here. I only ever went into the heliosphere as far as Mars. The bickering between Stationaries and Travellers was way too intense further in. I wondered how long it would be before the government shut off Earth entirely. I had a few friends there who wanted to move to Mars. One of my other avatars was working as a travel agent to help make that possible (also ironically using hours from the job to help pay the 4,000 hour fee).
Eh, I could worry about them in my other bodies. Right now, here, I had some rock to drill.
The One Called Marla Dane
One wrong move and it was over. One twitch and all my work would be for naught.
Thank the stars this body had stability precision installed. It was nearly enough to overcome Jordan’s abysmal driving skills. “I know I should have brought my driver instead of hitching with you, Jor!” I muttered. The acoustics of the module carried my voice up to the pit, where Jordan’s left ear twitched.
“Lighten up, love. I’m as soft as a cat, innit? Within four microns of deviation,” he purred in a bid to placate me.
“Come off it, Jor! You know atomic work must be done within only two microns of relative deviation. You bump us one more time against a gravity well and we blow up. This is plutonium I’m dealing with here. This is my only window in which to do this test for the next half a cen. I really don’t want to wait that long; Who knows what my patience would be like. I might not even leave my avatars in the heliosphere if humanity makes it to Alpha Centauri,” I rambled on, looping a thread of 1/10th of a micron thick around my tablet. This avatar was all about stability.
“I read you, Mar. Please shut up. Your voice grates on my ears when you go all subsonic. We’re almost there, anaway,” Jordan interrupted me and sonically sealed his door.
I frowned and focused on my experiment. I was presently building a 4D clock for this sector of the heliosphere. This clock was built with such a minimal energy output that it would survive the heat death of the universe itself. I loved keeping time; my particular iteration of OCD was great for that. I had already made thousands of other 4D clocks like this one. It was my custom (or a tick; I hadn’t bothered to sort it out) to build the clocks at their place of residence. It was just another tick of mine. I strongly upheld my rule of “Everything in its time and place” whenever possible. Whenever possible.
I surveyed my present work, zooming in and out with my bionic eyes to view the clock from each level of reality up to the macro perspective I currently inhabited. Seeing that it was good, I tapped my ear a number of times to check in on my other avatars. I entered the mental space of my central and downloaded the hovids for each of them. The one called Emeris Hague seemed vaguely annoyed, but that was about it. Seeing that they were good, I shone a light to catch Jordan’s attention and inform him of my intention to Rest. “Don’t fret, Mar, I’ll keep you safe. I’ll activate you once we port in Marsden,” he assured me.
My eyes focused on the black dot in the corner of my eye. Widgets flowed out across my field of vision and I focused for three seconds on the hibernate function. My Second Vision bid me goodnight and I drifted back into my central consciousness.
The One Called Arbab Zixel Kariat
To be continued…