This episode of Living Outside contains frank discussions of technologically enhanced sexuality, as well as depictions of virtual reality violence. You have been warned.
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.
T waved at Dexter. He ignored the other people outside that he didn't know or care about, and they ignored him.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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' 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.
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.
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.
Megan hugged T.
T gestured to the couch.
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.
T dropped Megan's sensory feed.
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.
T handed her a donut and she took a bite.
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 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.
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 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. He mumbled to himself as the box began shifting with his touch.
A large crack appeared in the wall. He had opened a portal to the realm of Leviathan.
T frantically fiddled with the box.
He managed to revert the Lament Configuration back to its original box shape before throwing it into the closing Hell maw. No Cenobites made an appearance.
Thomas looked over at Chester.
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.
T knocked hard on her forehead. 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.
A lighter appeared in T's hand, but there was a knock on the door before their experiment could begin.