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 woke in his physical body at 9 a.m. when his agent Villain jumped on his face, as scheduled. T threw the chinchilla across the room and sat up on his bed in the main room of his apartment.
Complete list of every object in T's apartment:
- 1 bed with 2 sets of sheets and 2 cyber-enhanced pillows.
- 1 folding chair and 1 collapsible coffee table.
- 4 cyber-enhanced outfits, 2 pairs of tennis shoes, 5 pairs of socks and underwear.
- 2 sets of enhanced augmented reality gear with sensors.
- 1 CyberFit exercise machine.
- 1 computer with accessories.
- 5 surveillance bugs, 3 cleaner bots.
- Toiletries, hair clipers, minimum kitchen ware, consumables.
- A small box of nostalgic items which he had digitally duplicated and sometimes thought about throwing away.
His apartment complex catered to those who mostly lived Outside. His apartment was 250 square feet, composed of a main living area, a small kitchen, and a tiny bathroom. It was more than he needed. More important than space, the complex provided an excellent internet connection. T's computer served as a high speed wireless hub for connecting his Plant to the internet from anywhere within the apartment. For the rare occasions when T physically ventured from his apartment, he used a decent wireless service to maintain his connection, but it wasn't as snappy.
The complex was owned by a company with apartments around the world. It had a policy of allowing its residents to move freely to any of its locations, dependent on availability and the laws of individual nations. Many of its residents didn't have a lot of possessions, making it super easy for residents to hop around the globe in order to immerse themselves in different cultures or get closer to particular servers to reduce lag.
His bed was high quality, which was good because he spent a good deal of time lying on it. It was collapsible into a suitcase which was easily carried as it only weighed a few pounds. His pillows, physically wired to his computer, provided a close range wireless connection with his Plant for when he was lying down. Both his computer and his pillows featured easily accessed physical kill switches for disconnecting from Outside.
His walls were white, free of clutter, and smart. They had cameras and microphones and were capable of displaying video and sound, but T had never used them for that. T also owned no physical media of any kind, and so had no bookcases or media centers.
T ate donuts for breakfast. At least, that's what he tasted. He fed his physical body only nutritious foods, in this case oatmeal and fruit. With the ability to change the taste of his food, he had no excuse to eat junk.
After breakfast, T ran using his CyberFit exercise machine, which was included in every apartment in his complex. Based off of designs originally developed to allow for natural movement and full body haptic feedback in virtual reality, CyberFit machines accommodated a full range of movements and provided resistance for the strengthening of all muscle groups. CyberFit machines were designed for Plant users, who could strap themselves in and program their Plants to take their physicals through a series of exercises while they were inhabiting proxies elsewhere. Removing the inconvenience, and much of the unpleasantness, of exercise made it much more appealing. Like eating right, exercising helped sustain and strengthen the infrastructure for what really mattered- the brain.
That morning, Thomas used one of the machine's games which involved running away from sexy Draculas, which he found effective motivation.
After exercising, T was about to take a shower when he was alerted that groceries had been left at his front door. His apartment automatically ordered new supplies when he was running low on something. It timed groceries to be delivered when he would be be at his apartment, which was pretty much always. While T didn't own a car, cheap automated rentals were available on 15 minutes notice. He simply had no good reason to physically go outside.
He put his groceries up and took a shower.
Megan woke up, got ready, and performed the synchronization and calibration exercises for her Plant. This involved going through the Plant's daily diagnostics, which only lasted a few minutes. She spent a few more minutes fine tuning Plant and proxy settings before she was ready. She laid her physical body out on her bed, setting it to change position every once in a while and perform some basic exercises to prevent bed sores and keep her body limber. She created a proxy superimposed on, and synchronized with, her physical to ease the transition, and then switched over to primarily inhabiting her proxy.
Switching to a proxy involved the user's Plant routing the sensory signals from a virtual proxy body to the brain, and routing the motor signals sent from the brain to control the proxy body. The Plant closely monitored the physical signals which were cut off. Just about every part of a Plant user's body which interacted with or experienced the outside world could be safely shut out entirely. A Plant user's limbs, muscles, skin, genitalia, ears, eyes, mouth, back of the throat, vocal chords, and sinuses could be entirely diverted to a proxy body, cutting off their physical sensations to the brain.
The Plant actively monitored the body's internal organs - such as the heart, lungs, and stomach - for safety and health. Due to safety concerns, signals from and to these organs couldn't be completely filtered out, but users habituated to internal sensations quickly unless something went wrong, so they were pretty easy to ignore. The Plant handled the swallowing of saliva, but bowel and bladder sensations and control remained intact, for obvious reasons.
The proxy Megan transitioned to mimicked her physical body as closely as possible, so that she felt very little change as she switched over. The quickly fading sensory information from her physical mixed for a moment with her proxy's simulated senses as they faded in. Mixed states like this, combinations of sensory and motor signals between proxies and physical bodies, were common and useful.
The sensations and control of the mouth and tongue, for example, could be entirely diverted to a proxy. However, to prevent choking, the sensation of most of the physical throat couldn't be cut off. Instead, the usually minimal physical sensation of the throat could be mixed with the simulated sensations of a proxy throat. This allows proxy users to have a realistic simulated eating and drinking experience, though their stomach obviously wouldn't register virtual yummies. Users could also change the flavor and texture of physical food with a mixed state, although it was common sense to not augment the size and consistency of the food to avoid choking.
Likewise, the anus and rectum couldn't be entirely diverted to a proxy, but their signals could be made faint and mixed with proxy signals for the obvious desired simulated experiences. Stimulation of the prostate, the cervix, the uterus, and most other internal organs was likewise possible with mixed states. For example, to create the sensation of being punched in the stomach.
After Megan had eased herself into a proxy and jumped around a bit, she sent a message to T.
Megan appeared in T's apartment, next to his bed. T hugged her.
Megan looked around at T's few possessions and blank walls. T's bed and exercise machine filled most of the main room. Thomas' unaugmented physical, dressed only in underwear, stood up next to his proxy.
His proxy punched his natural body in the head and it fell onto the bed. It sat there smiling idiotically.
T's proxy took out a handgun and shot his physical in the head. Megan jumped, mostly from the loud bang. T's head spurted blood and slumped over onto the bed. T's proxy put on shades.
T's physical body popped back up, smiling. It was still leaking blood from the hole in its head. Megan, not wanting to encourage him, went over to the kitchen and looked at his food. It was all healthy, except for his supply of cheap vodka and special brownies.
T's proxy sat on his physical's lap.
Megan added T's layer. The walls and ceiling were suddenly covered with animated movie and concert posters. The carpets were pristine, and the space smelled of strawberries.
Thomas reached down his throat and pulled out a black marble. He dropped it and it exploded into a full sized door. It had a stone frame around a flowing mercury center. Thomas poked the center and drew a line of mercury through the air until it dropped back between the frame.
Thomas hopped into the mercury and disappeared. Megan hesitated a moment before following him. An instant later she was accelerating down a winding, enclosed water slide. She fell through a hole at the bottom of the slide into a dirt room and managed to land on her feet. The hole above closed.
The dirt room contained Thomas, a few small roots hanging out of the walls, and a panda. The panda was sitting in a corner, facing the center of the room, chewing on a piece of bamboo.
Thomas pulled a .45 Colt revolver out of one of the roots in the wall and handed it to Megan.
Megan shot the panda and held it for the short while it took to die while its hot blood poured into her lap.
Megan lowered the dead panda's body to the ground and handed the gun to Thomas, who tossed it back into the wall. The panda returned to its sitting position and nodded to Megan. A door opened in the wall next to it.
Megan walked with T through the door into a brightly lit dirt hall. The door closed behind them. There were numerous doorways with frames of various hues lining the sides of the hall until it forked off in the distance. There was a hole in the ground halfway down the visible hall and further down there was another one on the ceiling.
Megan stepped in a shallow yellow puddle and noticed that her shoes had vanished.
Megan fumbled through her sensory allocation settings and her foot in the puddle tasted butterscotch. She noted puddles of assorted colors along every surface of the hall. She gave the sense of taste to her hand and slapped a puddle on the wall. It was pistachio.
Thomas tossed Villain onto Megan's shoulder and imploded away. Megan petted Villain's soft fur.
Megan spent a moment splashing in a raspberry danish puddle on the way there.
She stepped into the media center. The first room was semicircular and had three doors- a door with a red curtain to her left, a door with a colorful beaded curtain straight ahead, and a stained glass door depicting a battle between angels and clowns to her right. She went to the right.
Stepping through the incorporeal glass, she found herself in a narrow hall. It extended to the horizon. The ground and the wall to her left were made of granite. The wall to her right was a staggeringly huge bookshelf, stretching from the entrance of the library into the far distance, and from the floor to the sky. There was no roof, just granite and countless books.
Megan ran a finger along one of the shelves and appreciated its detail. She wiped a thin layer of dust off her finger onto her pants. The shelf at her eye level contained the complete works of Thomas Ligotti and some related existential horror fiction. She grabbed a book and a recliner appeared behind her. She held the book and thumbed through it, feeling its weight and smelling its musty, yellowed pages. She had grown up with only a few paper books, but they still carried a mystique for her, as did the perfect simulation she was admiring. It was a convincing experience, as only a Plant could offer, to the extent that Megan would not have been able to differentiate the book she was holding from a physical book. Haptics could create a similar effect, but lacked a little something.
She put the book back and the recliner behind her disappeared.
Megan shoved a shelf diagonally down and to the right. The bookshelf flew by in a blur, shelves disappearing seamlessly into the ground and the wall by the entrance. She put out a finger to stop it and was faced with science magazines. She made a less forceful downward motion with two fingers and the bookshelf slowed until she put her palm up, stopping it on collections of webcomics.
The standard comprehensive library collection lived up to its name, containing most titles below a certain data size. It excluded more immersive works, but contained links to stream most of them. An average computer hard drive could easily contain the collection, and so many people had much or all of the collection in their direct possession. Libraries were rare, but there were still many extremely helpful librarians available to anyone at anytime.
The library shifted, with countless new books expanding every section. She was still looking at webcomics starting with R, but there were a whole lot more of them. She flicked the shelves and when it stopped she was still looking at webcomics beginning with R. She flicked it harder and ended up looking at webcomics beginning with S. She picked up a book titled "The Complete Subnormality", and sat down in the recliner as it appeared behind her. It was remarkably comfy. She was perusing the book when she noticed an attractive middle-aged Japanese maid dusting the shelves nearby.
She remembered the granite wall. She turned and pointed at it purposely with her index finger and gestured to the side. A beach appeared in place of the granite, sending a cool breeze over her. The floor was now sand. Clouds covered the sun, giving just the right amount of light and warmth for reading.
Megan turned back to the shelves and scrolled through them by flicking her fingers before realizing that she would never get anywhere that way.
A book titled, "Batman Comics" appeared floating next to her. She tossed the webcomic collection into the shelves where it vanished, and opened up the Batman book. The table of contents was quite extensive, featuring every Batman comic, official and fan made, and even links to every animated Batman series which she could watch right on the page. She touched an issue in the index and the book became a pristine copy of that comic, complete to its dimensions and the feel of its paper. The comic was interesting enough, so she brought out a pencil and drew a mustache on Batman, her way of bookmarking it. The book, with any alterations she made to it, would be kept available via her SIS as a title of interest.
The comic morphed into a book. She flipped to the middle and touched one of the paneled skits. It expanded to the whole page while it played. It was crude, but amusing.
She stretched the page out to make it larger, held it up a few feet away from her and let it go. It hung in the air while the next skit played and then returned to its regular size and fell into her lap when the video was done.
Turning back to the beach, she flicked a finger at it and it became the bridge of a starship, with a majestic starscape and an alien planet visible through its large viewport. Another flick and she was in a dense jungle, complete with jungle noise. Another flick and she was on a castle rampart, overlooking a large, ongoing medieval battle. One final flick changed it to a skyscraper view of a city crawling with monsters, which were barely visible through a deep fog.
On impulse she threw the book she was holding through the skyscraper's window, with a satisfying crash. Having gotten a feel for the library space, Megan walked back to the semicircular entrance and then through the beads of the center door. On the other side, she walked down stairs into a basement.
The classic gaming room featured a pool table, a bar, a table set up for tabletop gaming, and a couch facing a small screen in a cabinet. Megan turned the couch into the library's recliner (using its tag which her SIS had automatically grabbed) and jumped onto it. A window popped up with a selection of game emulators that included a comprehensive listing of every video game console that had ever existed. It had all the Segas, Playstations, Xboxes, Nintendos, etc. It also had an extensive list of PC and Mac gaming platforms. It was able to emulate any game built to be played primarily through a screen, whether contemporary or antique. It was a standard classic gaming set, but Megan hadn't interacted with one since her Plant, so she was excited.
She selected Super Nintendo from the emulator list, and that console appeared in the cabinet. The screen above it became a small, boxy television appropriate for the game's time. Megan switched it to a large flat screen. The system's controller hovered in front of her, plugged into the console. She grabbed it and a window with more controller options popped up, alongside a complete list of SNES titles. T's favorites were highlighted.
A Super Mario World cartridge appeared in her hand. She didn't feel like getting up so she threw it at the TV, and as expected, it flew into the system's cartridge slot and the game started. She found to her delight that she was receiving tactile feedback as if she were Mario. Her normal proxy senses were slightly faded out and she could feel herself running, jumping, falling, smashing blocks, and being hit by enemies.
Megan was now holding a Sega Genesis controller and the game started up. Megan played the first level filled with the joy of Sonic speed.
Villain shook his head and disappeared. She was happily zooming along halfway through the first lap of the futuristic racing game when a loud vacuuming noise started nearby. An increasing number of cats jumped on and off her lap, meowing obnoxiously. Blood dripped from the ceiling onto her head, although neither it nor the cats ever obscured her vision or interfered with her hands. Soon the room was filling rapidly with cold water. Before the end of the second lap, the water was above Megan's head. The cats began drowning, while the blood attracted sharks which swarmed around her.
Obnoxiously loud and large explosions, unmuted by the water, occurred in Megan's peripheral vision. They seemed to get closer and closer but never actually reached her. The now dead cats turned into zombies and began lightly chewing on her legs and scalp. The force of gravity affecting Megan's upper body reversed, so it felt like she was about to fall into the sky. The water became crystal clear honey and rapidly drained from the room, leaving flopping sharks everywhere. The honey didn't affect her eyes or hands, but it did attract an army of ants that formed a thick layer covering her. They didn't bite her but they tickled and itched horribly.
Megan somehow got past the first stage of F-Zero and was starting the second when the zombie cats became more active. They were rapidly being consumed by the ants, but that barely slowed their chewing. The smell was truly horrible, and Megan considered turning it off, but didn't want to cheat.
The floor disappeared and the contents of the space fell with acceleration toward a violently active super volcano. The screen fell relative to Megan, so as not to interrupt her playing. The space got hotter and hotter. The ants screamed in terror. Mostly-eaten cats chewed on her legs and opened a hole in her cheek which gushed grape soda into her mouth. Her seat started shocking her each time she passed a car, but Megan's final straw was when the dozen dying sharks falling all around her pulled out oversized vuvuzelas and bagpipes.
Villain reappeared on her shoulder.
The space went back to normal and Megan finished the second stage before getting up to leave. She noticed a sliding glass door beside the exit. Above it was a sign saying, "Quarter Arcade".
Megan saved Quarter Arcade's tag and returned to the entrance area, where she walked through the left door with the red curtain.
Megan found herself standing in the grand lobby of an old movie theater. There was a snack bar and advertisements for old and new movies in the forms of posters, cardboard cut-outs, holograms, and interactive projections.
There was only one theater, so Megan entered it. She grabbed a seat in the middle of the small, empty theater. A window popped up showing a complete index of every film ever made up until the present. Almost all were available. There was also a filter available to display T's favorite films.
The entire collection was easily streamed from the internet, but T kept more than two million movies on his hard drive, mostly because he just liked having them there. Once a week his computer downloaded any new movie titles he might be interested in to keep an up to date collection. This was completely unnecessary as they could all be streamed.
Megan brought up the movie options in a window and scrolled through them. They included trailers, which could be contemporary for the film selected, modern, or some mix.
The theater morphed into a standard theater from 1985, the year it was first in theaters. The picture and sound were far from optimal, but seeing a movie in its original setting had some appeal. She selected some snacks, and a bag of popcorn and a soda appeared in the seat next to her. She munched popcorn and looked around at the empty theater.
Random proxies wearing clothing typical of 1985 appeared, filling the theater, having great fun. Megan approved.
A pop up informed her that there was a public showing of Scott Pilgrim set to begin in 20 minutes. Anyone with a virtual theater could host any movie they wanted simply by announcing the movie and its start time over their SIS. This would result in many cases with a full theater of enthusiastic fans. This let anyone watch their favorite movies with a live audience whenever they wanted, recreating the full theater experience.
Participants could change their own subjective view of the theater to their liking. Obnoxious individuals or groups were easy enough to filter, so you never had to deal too much with trolls unless you wanted to. Hosts could try nasty tricks, but the standard theater interface limited the annoyance they could cause, and they would get a bad reputation for things like splicing in porn to children's films.
Popular movies were constantly having public showings. Movie lovers rarely had to host their own screenings of any movie they were likely to want to see in a group, when they could just wait a minute for the someone else's screening. Even non-implant augmented reality, such as Mike's, could satisfactorily simulate the theatrical experience. For these and other reasons, physical movie theaters had become a rarity.
Crowds were fun, but Megan didn't have the time to watch an entire movie at that moment. She ignored the pop up and it disappeared. The space and screen expanded into an IMAX theater circa 2010. The 3D effect was pretty good considering it wasn't native, but it was just a visual illusion, as Megan discovered when she tried to open a portal to grab some coins from the screen. She noted that the movie had numerous immersive fan mod options, but didn't have time to try them out. She left the theater and the media center and went back into the main hall of T's lair.