Mike was happily humming along to Crain Slain's live song, "Chainsaw Blizzard," and deciding if he really needed granola bars, when he felt his shirt gently grip his left forearm. Looking down he saw that he was being gripped by an adorable mechanical spider a little smaller than his fist. It was Tenchi, Mike's personal virtual agent. Having Mike's haptic sleeve simulate the spider's grip was Tenchi's inconspicuous way of getting attention.
Tenchi spoke, with a voice like distant wind chimes.
Personal virtual agents were a popular interface for managing social contacts, getting help with program interfaces, security management, and generally automating their users' lives. The most advanced agents had what could be considered a very basic AI. While there existed some impressive examples of strong general AI, most AI at this point was not anthropomorphic, but devoted to specific purposes like creating realistic cg animation, doing science, emulating real time virtual world simulations, and helping people efficiently manage their affairs.
Mike activated his visual contact list to see who else was around. His bionic contacts made the world transparent so he could see where his friends were in relation to him geographically. This was to give a sense of orientation. He selected Kyu from the list and his attention was drawn by a thin line through the Earth to South Korea. He zoomed in through the Earth until an upside down Kyu came into view, about five feet below Mike's feet.
Mike waved at Kyu, who was walking down a street, either physical or virtual. From his perspective, Kyu looked down at an upside down Mike and waved back. Their mutual waving activated a proxy exchange. A Kyu proxy appeared on Mike's left, and a Mike proxy appeared on Kyu's right. This was the most convenient orientation for their situations. Mirroring could also be used to put both proxies on the left, or the right. Unless they performed a special change in orientation, they would appear in this relation to each other no matter how fast each walked or even if they spun around, so that they could more conveniently talk to each other.
The full body proxy of each was removed from its original context. Besides the glimpse of the other's environment when they waved at each other, which was readily faked anyway, each could have been in a strip club, a concert, or a carnival for all the other knew. They could, of course, enter more immersively into their proxy and move around freely in the other's environment, but this was the most efficient way to have a quick chat without interrupting their other activities.
The set up could be awkward in places like grocery stores, where Kyu would clip into people and shelving. In such instances the objects, deemed less significant than Kyu, would be made transparent around Kyu so the conversation could continue. Kyu and Mike's proxies each inhabited private layers, so they didn't exist to anyone else who lacked permission to add that layer. People could see Mike communicating with some invisible entity, but that wasn't exactly unusual. The potential annoyance of overhearing one-sided speech was mitigated by the use of subvocal communication.
Mike's ear insert provided high quality sound and optimized his aural surroundings, but also picked up subtle vibrations from the muscles in his throat that operated his vocal cords. It wasn't perfect, but it enabled him to speak to Kyu without any visible or audible sign of talking to anyone else. There were tiny neck implants that could detect subvocalization almost perfectly, and there were several ways of speaking with the Plant, including intercepting motor signals for speech and translating them into proxy speech, but Mike's subvocal-enabled ear inserts worked well enough for him.
Kyu and Mike hugged. Mike had no implants, and Kyu only had a URC, but the squeeze of the hug was simulated, with reasonable success, by the synthetic "muscles" of their haptic clothing.
Kyu brought up a display for Mike showing an overhead view of the city along with the music. Mike stopped and watched the battle raging across Neo-Kyoto, exactly as it had occurred 7 years before inside the game Ataraxia, but now with more striking visuals. If nothing else, Kyu's graphic overlay made it easier to sort out the hundreds of giant robots and powered suits clashing all over the city, fighting desperately for strategic points. Mike imagined updating the graphics had required quite an effort.
He expanded the display and the city sprawled out below him in all directions. He had forgotten how big Neo-Kyoto was. The netizens of Ataraxia sure knew how to overdo things. His contacts made the store, and even his body, transparent for the battle's full vista. He clutched at his shopping cart for balance. It was almost overwhelming how much was going on at once. It was no wonder that no one had properly dramatized this battle. Just picking where to start was problematic. There were so many key players. Still, it was odd that no one had covered the events surrounding the fortuitously named Zero Daisaku's story. Focusing on that part of the story opened up the conflict for examination in an accessible way. He forwarded the feed to watch Zero's escape. He shrank the video back to a window, which hovered in front of him.
Kyu had his agent adjust the music and played the relevant section back again. It only took a few seconds.
Mike "grabbed" the window displaying Kyu's video from the area, collapsed it into a ball. With a flick of his fingers, a box labeled "Neo-Kyoto," popped up before him. Mike tossed the ball into the box, and the box disappeared back into thin air. During this, Tenchi, noting a short lull in the conversation, sent Mike a text saying he had, at Sam's request, added "detox pills" to Mike's grocery list and that the shopping path had been rerouted.
Mike turned the aisles transparent to find T. He zoomed his vision to see T and the game he was playing, and watched it for a moment before noticing a miniature Sam hovering beside T's sphere.
Mike's haptic-gloved fingers nimbly tapped away in the air for a few seconds as he pushed the cart with his palms, sending a text to T asking permission to share his RR expedition. T nearly instantly shot back a message with a link to an "improved" copy and encouraging him to send it to his complete contact list. Mike grabbed the text from the air in front of him and it turned into a crumpled piece of paper in his hand, which he threw at Kyu's proxy, giving him the link. There were subtler ways to share messages, but they were less fun and immediate.
Mike patted Kyu on the shoulder just before he disappeared. He brushed past some overgrown palm leaves as he moved to the next aisle.
Halfway through Mike and Kyu's talk, Sam called Mike. Tenchi responded.
Sam then called Thomas. T's agent Villain responded. He was a chinchilla with a luxurious Spanish accent.
A moment later, a miniature Sam appeared hovering in the air next to T's sphere, on the opposite side from the game so as not to obstruct his view. Miniature Sam wore baggy jeans and a t-shirt that cycled every 8 seconds through a different design:
- A commemoration of the the Mars manned landing.
- A Crain Slain album cover.
- The 15th Doctor.
- A Nintendo cast ensemble.
- The Techno-Pantheist emblem.
- An erotic portrait of Carl Sagan.
Sam spun around playfully.
A neon green smiley face appeared on T's sphere.
Sam tapped her forehead thoughtfully.
Thomas brought up Mike's list and saw the pills listed there. He added "human brains" to the list. It wasn't the first time.
Rabid Weasel was now ahead by a good two feet. The little girl was also skillfully shoving the nastier enemies at Thomas, slowing him down. Her handicap was large, but to T, the way she leveraged it was just beautiful. He thought that it might be good for her self esteem (or something) if she won. But he wasn't going to just let her win. He opened a space and knocked a strong ogre into Strider and killed it. Then he did another.
Chaining was a risky strategy. By stringing out surrounding monsters and fighting the strongest opponents you could quickly gain power. But it meant that the addition of even a very weak monster into the fight could be disastrous. He was walking the razor's edge, something not considered wise for ranked play. But T had little time and wasn't about to be beaten by a 6 year old girl. At least, not outside of a tournament. T felt lucky as Strider took down a belligerent dwarf, a poisoned skull, a pirate king, and finally a crude caricature of the current president.
Rabid Weasel's player marveled at the skillful way T continuously scattered weaker monsters with his hookshots. It was a feat that was impossible without a URC. Soon Strider smashed his way ahead of Rabid Weasel and victory seemed certain. But then the girl managed to toss an ogre onto Strider, slowing him down enough for surrounding monsters to converge on him. Facing imminent destruction, Strider engaged several powerful monsters near him and then ran at Rabid Weasel in a suicide monstering that resulted in both their deaths.
The girl stomped the ground with frustration and stuck her tongue out at T.
The girl grinned, pleased with herself. And then T flew away.
T returned to Mike's side as he entered the cereal aisle, and switched from the phantom sphere to his regular proxy, phasing in his tactile sensations again.
T dipped a donut in chocolate pudding and gulped it down. Then he grabbed a box of sugared cereal off of the shelf and pulled a few handfuls of cereal out of the top. Cereal boxes frequently came with links to product samples for those with appropriate enhancements.
Mike's eye tracking selected the box and pulled its nutritional information up for his display.
T shook the entire contents of the box into his mouth.
The boxes also came with a tag that displayed augmented reality animated content over the box. If you didn't filter out ad tags, the cereal section was a glowing mess of frantically competing commercials. No individual box was too obnoxious. They had learned that 3d animation sticking out of the boxes into the aisle resulted in irritated consumers. Obnoxious ads on TV were one thing, because they might cement brand recognition. But in the aisle, customers were less likely to pick up boxes that were actively annoying them at that moment. It was only the collected ads over the entire aisle that was too much.
Still, people generally didn't filter the ads that displayed when they looked directly at an item. Being present for a several second ad would often create digital coupons for products from the item's company. Mike, however, wouldn't trade his dignity for such small savings, so he just filtered all of them.
Mike remembered the new item that T had added to the list. He pulled a crazy straw out of his palm, jammed it into T's head and began noisily sucking his brains out.
The straw made a final slurping sound and T's head deflated.
T stuck his thumb in his mouth and inflated his head. Mike could see the boxes of cornflakes glowing blue through T. T was automatically made transparent when Mike's eye tracking system indicated he was actually looking for something and not just looking at T. He reached through T and grabbed a box of cornflakes. His grocery list program informed him that the price of that brand had gone up 5% in area stores on average since the last time he bought it. An old woman stopped in T's space, so he pulled her head off and turned it into an apple-sized blackberry, which he then consumed. The woman remained oblivious.
Using the store cameras, Mike made the aisles transparent and zoomed into the fruit section to check out the bananas. They looked ripe enough, but he didn't know about leaving them in the car overnight if he decided to crash at Sam's place, so he marked them off of the active grocery list. The list indicated just detox pills and beer left, in that order. The beer was listed last so it would be coldest for the party.
Mike got the last items and headed for the exit. Along the way, store sensors scanned his cart and gave him a list of its items with their prices, applicable coupons, and the final checkout price. He glanced at the list as he walked. T threw a few dollars in for the beer and Mike confirmed the purchase. A second later he received a notice from his bank asking for confirmation of payment to the store at the agreed price. He confirmed it. He didn't bother with bank confirmations for some regular, scheduled payments, but he kept a tight rein on all other transactions.
Mike threw everything in the trunk, he and T got in, and he directed the car to head to the party. As they were driving away, wind chimes echoed in the distance. It was Tenchi, alerting Mike that his friend Dexter was calling.
A lever popped out of the right side of Mike's seat. He pulled it and T's seat flew out of the roof, propelled by a giant spring. T landed hard on the road and was promptly run over by a number of cars. T wondered if Mike remembered that T's settings, designed for realism, could result in enough pain for that to suck. He would have to teach Mike a lesson of some kind. T jumped over the next car, and while in the air popped a jetpack out of his back and made for the party with an acceleration that would have killed a physical person. And he only crashed into 2 buildings on the way.
See my Tech Notes for more details on how the technology in this story might be implemented.
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