Living Outside
Episode 07: Omni 1

This episode of Living Outside contains frank discussions of technologically enhanced sexuality, as well as depictions of virtual reality violence. You have been warned.

Cruising To The Club

Saitou stepped through a portal directly into club Omni, while Kyu and Miguel stayed behind at Mike's studio to continue working on the project. The rest of the film crew walked out of the front door of the studio to a small landing on a skyscraper located in Sunshine City's Film District.

Megan stood at the edge of the landing and looked out at the city. The street was lined on both sides with buildings up to a quarter of a mile high, plastered with countless film ads. Thick streams of people filled the sky, moving at breakneck speeds by flying cars, planes, jetpacks, hoverboards, helicopters, brooms, winged dinosaurs, or just by themselves. Proxies were also sucked through a tangled series of transparent tubes, taking it easy while enjoying the sights.

Megan glanced back at the outside of the high rise floor that belonged to Mike and Kyu's Neo-Kyoto project. The allotted floor was smaller than his studio. The door on the side of the building was simply a portal linked to any virtual space Mike assigned it. The entire floor was a giant billboard showing a trailer for the film, complete with explosions coming out of the building. It announced that the film would have enhanced special effects, special guest stars, and was full-immersion capable.

After taking a few moments to appreciate the view, Sam tossed a capsule on the ground and it expanded into a silvery carpet, from which five bucket seats rose.

SamLet's go in my car. We'll take a scenic route.

The group sat down and a 1959 Cadillac Convertible popped up around them. Sam was in the driver's seat and started the car. It floated off the ground, then smoothly but rapidly accelerated off the landing, merging into one of the many streams of traffic.

ThomasCould you go through the Garden District? SamThe route past Sunshine Park, you mean? Got it.

The wind whipped Megan's hair around. She took in a lungful of fresh air.

MeganOoh, new car smell. SamTry the Gothic Sunshine City filter, Meg. It's well developed.

She adopted the filter and was amazed by the beautiful and intricate detail of the classically designed buildings. The structural art even blended well with the multitude of trailers playing throughout the Film District.

Megan looked up at the sky, past the traffic. Under default settings, the Sun always shined on Sunshine City. She zoomed way into it to look at a close up view of its surface, which was being broadcast from a satellite orbiting it.

Megan looked back down at Sunshine City. It was truly one of the great virtual worlds. It was the second largest virtual spaces, and was both larger and more diverse than any physical city. Half a billion people from all around the world, and from almost every major virtual world, passed through its streets every day. As a nexus city, many sections of Sunshine City were functional extensions of those worlds, places where characters from different universes could intermingle, or through which they could even migrate to a new world.

Besides being a nexus, it also served as a convenient representation of everything online, encapsulating every aspect of Outside in one way or another. Tens of millions considered SC at least a part time home. And it was the primary home for increasing millions who considered their Sunshine City proxies as their primary identities, more core to their being than even their physical bodies. It was a place where people with multiple proxies in multiple virtual worlds could create a unified identity, and conveniently socialize and organize with like-minded people from every culture- both virtual and physical.

Megan was highly amused by the hectic traffic the sky was teaming with. There were flying vehicles everywhere, and not just in the official midair lanes. They merged into traffic from all directions, sometimes opposite to the main flow. The city's traffic system made particularly bad drivers and griefers immaterial and invisible so they couldn't bother anyone. Most people were sincerely attempting to fly safely out of consideration for others, but the density of people in the sky ensured constant collisions no matter how careful people were. Traffic could have been automatically controlled and made safe, of course, but that would have killed the fun.

Thus, chaos reigned in the skies of Sunshine City. A car, filled with animated skeletons, entered the traffic stream and bumped into Sam's car. Sam bumped them back, sending them careening into another car. The other cars crashed into a building, temporarily destroying a billboard for a romantic comedy.

MeganAren't they going to be mad? SamIf they didn't want to crash occasionally, they wouldn't be flying in heavy traffic. It's all in fun. MeganIt's amazing that anyone used to think that the masses would physically travel by flying cars. What a terrifying idea. MikeI was in a flying car once. Pretty smooth ride. Not as terrifying as I would have thought.

They passed along the edge of Sunshine Park on their way to the Garden District. Sunshine Park was vast and beautiful, but the Garden District was simply magnificent. The ground level along the street was an exquisite garden valley, filled with happy blooming flowers and roaming animals of all types. The sides of the skyscrapers were covered by dense jungles, forests, deserts, marshes, and every other natural landscape. They were filled with plants and animals native to each environment. Gravity wrapped around the buildings so that proxies could walk down a building side to the garden valley and up a building on the other side. In the space between the buildings were natural barriers- rivers flowing up, waterfalls flowing down, canyons, lagoons, and corral reefs. The street extended to the horizon, far beyond the limits of Sunshine City proper.

An area wide alert popped up on the car's front windshield, drawing attention to a fire burning on one of the jungle buildings about a mile ahead. Sounds of explosions and gunfire echoed from beneath the thick canopy sticking out of the building's side.

SamSo that's why you wanted to take this route. ThomasWow, I didn't think it was going to be this bad. I'll be right back.

T's proxy went into standby mode.

MeganIs there usually fighting here? SamI've never seen fighting in the top layer of the Garden District. Heck, there's rarely fighting in the top layer of gaming districts. Usually it's only possible in deeper game layers so passers-by don't get annoyed. MeganWhat's going on down there then? SamI have no idea. This is very strange. Check out one of the Sunshine City news channels.

Megan brought up a screen for a local news channel. It showed footage of the fighting in the forest. The carnage was hard to sort out. At first, it appeared as though some giant, strange looking plants had gone berserk and were eating the animals. Then she saw human proxies rioting in the garden valley.

Bespeckled news announcerI'm afraid we don't have much information at the moment. We have confirmed that the plants are specially designed proxies being controlled by players, and are native to the jungle environment. The human forces appear to be operating with a paramilitary configuration and coordinating attacks with the help of various animals.

The news screen showed that the human proxies had established a base at the foot of the building, just inside the jungle canopy. They were using heavy gunfire against the plant people while also hacking their way into the burning jungle with large bladed weapons.

SamThose poor plant people. Where's a friendly Saiyan when you need one?

From out of Sunshine Park, a woman in black spandex, riding a motorcycle, crashed into the crowd of humans and began slaughtering them with a machine gun in one hand and a giant sword in the other, occasionally throwing grenades with a third arm appearing out of her back. She moved with such speed that the humans couldn't get a bead on her. Her assault was just the push the plants needed to force the humans back into the open valley, where snipers from a neighboring desert building could more easily pick them off.

The first human group had begun to disperse when more humans from a forest building near Sunshine Park began invading the park itself, and the woman in black rode back to the park to continue fighting. Megan zoomed in on the woman, who looked suspiciously familiar.

MeganIs that Xea? MikeYep. MeganIs T a superhero? MikeSomething like that. Xea migrated to Sunshine City after suffering permanent death in Ataraxia. T put a lot of work into getting Xea's combat attributes to transfer over, and he likes to help out when the city needs it. MeganSo the plant people were the good guys? MikeProbably. T doesn't always get all the facts before she starts shooting. Big surprise, huh?

Shots whizzed by their heads. The fighting had extended into the sky, and there were several nearby people shooting at each other, jumping from car to car, and generally being nuisances. One of them jumped on a broom, knocking off its elderly passenger. Sam slammed her car against the broom thief, causing him to careen into a car going the other direction. Megan turned Sam's car transparent and enhanced her vision so she could watch the thief plummet and splat on the ground below.

SamI know that guy. He deserved that.

Sam pulled out a shotgun and blasted one of the other fighters off of a hoverboard. Then, she flipped the car upside down (turning Megan's stomach), pulled out a sniper rifle, and assassinated a few of the rioters as the car passed above the scene.

MeganHow are you doing this? SamPractice.

Sam turned the car upright and accelerated at top speed to Omni to avoid any more distractions. The force was a bit much for Megan, so she cut the g-force she was experiencing in half.

The clubbing district of Sunshine City was filled with glowing lights and flashy graphics to entice clubbers. The entrance to Omni was a large platform jutting out near the top of one of the tallest skyscrapers, marked by a giant glowing red O on the side of the building.

The car set down on Omni's landing, its frame disappeared, and the group stepped off of its base. The seats and the carpet collapsed back into a capsule and hopped into Sam's pocket. Other people simply left their vehicles on the landing, to be lifted up by a crane that appeared out of the building, which moved the vehicles into Omni's unlimited "vehicle storage."

Megan stepped to the edge of the platform and looked down at the throngs of people walking around on the ground half a mile below. It made her dizzy in a fun way.

Sam led her group through Omni's doors, with T's proxy auto-following behind.

Omni's Only Price Of Admission - Curiosity

The bouncer just outside the door was a proper Kryptonian, not a proxy to mess with in Sunshine City where kryptonite had only weak effects. She nodded to Sam's group as they walked through. Kryptonians had to be elected by the city's citizens, and could easily have their powers stripped if they abused them.

Inside, the door disappeared behind them and the group found itself floating in the club. Megan had seen video of Omni before, but being there was an entirely different thing. Omni's default representation was that of an immense coliseum, except in place of seats there were pods. The pods represented the personal spaces of various groups, which could be kept private and hidden, or opened up to public view and visitation as desired. The groups in most pods were sitting around tables, conversing and taking in the club's sights. Between the walls of pods was a vast empty space through which countless proxies flew about and congregated.

Far below in the center of Omni was the Play Floor, featuring every possible form of human recreation. Megan's visualization filters divided it by color into four main areas- dancing, fighting/sports, sex, and interactive art. Dark mists shielded Megan from areas incompatible with her content filters. In reality, floor activities weren't so discrete, but arbitrary sections made it easier to get a handle on.

SamThe space wraps around so that you can see every other group's public table from any given location. It's a universal panopticon in that way, facilitating social mixing. By the way, it's customary not to use style filters in Omni so as to fully appreciate its variety.

Megan, who had been turning proxies into lively watercolors, turned her filters off and tried to get a grip on the small city of people surrounding her in all directions. It made Crain Slain seem small and quaint. There were proxies of every sort. Omni was a place for free expression, and every element of human existence and culture was represented in some way.

The dress of every human culture in history was present, including Stone Age furs, ancient Roman peasant clothing, Medieval Age garb, traditional African and Asian clothing, as well as the latest contemporary fashions.

Megan's visualization divided the club into neatly defined social sections. There were sections filled with proxies from fantasy, horror, and science fiction worlds. Characters from every major virtual world were present, many on vacation in the space of Omni, an extension of the Sunshine City nexus which preserved their character's attributes so they be themselves as they were in their native worlds. Most visiting characters could party consequence free throughout Sunshine City, as it was generally a "safe nexus." There were characters from worlds more integrated with Sunshine City who could potentially be killed or suffer other ill fates in the city. There were also, of course, many proxies there from non-gaming worlds or with proxies designed uniquely for social settings like Omni. In any case, all proxies were safe within Omni's specially constructed space, which helped it to develop its own unique participatory culture free of coercive conflict.

There were proxies decked out in cyberpunk gear, rennies, groups from various militaries (both real and from game worlds), goths, mid-century retro hipsters, Victorian steampunkers, anime characters, a good number of pixelated video game characters, Wild West zombies, alien starship crews from every popular space-based sci-fi show, unfortunate beasts from the bowels of the Golden Martyr realm, lithe angels, and vivacious demons.

Besides groups from virtual worlds there were also countless physical clubs represented. Megan saw a space with a blinking neon sign, which was a tag linking to a night club that was being virtualized live. She selected the space and it splayed open so she could see all of the people, talking at tables or on the outside patio. Only those who opted in were visible from Omni, the others were edited out of the feed. Other clubs automatically virtualized all their customers, although they were supposed to be warned before entering such clubs, and their identities were usually anonymized. Many of the pods represented other virtualized physical locations, including living rooms and house parties.

Still floating far above the ground, Megan looked a little too far into the distant reaches of the club, resulting in a touch of vertigo. Sam, who had been searching the club for people she knew, noticed Megan looking a bit shaky and created a floor, a hovering sandalwood table with chairs, three walls, and a ceiling to complete their pod.

SamSorry about that, Meg. Have a seat.

The group sat down in the ridiculously comfortable chairs at the waist height hovering table. Megan ran her hand over the table. She had always loved the feel and smell of sandalwood.

Growing more experienced with full immersion all the time, Megan had set her plant to mix her physical and virtual body as much as was physically safe. Her physical body stayed sitting on her couch, whether she was walking or standing, but her physical upper body mimicked her proxy upper body to help it keep active. Via her plant, almost all of her sensations were from Omni, including smell, sight, sound, temperature, the texture of her clothing, and her seat, which was more comfortable than her couch. She stretched her feet under the table. They stopped when they encountered the physical coffee table in her living room, which she pushed out of the way.

With the creation of their space, the group had automatically donned their club gear. Sam was a cyborg with a complex robotic right arm, wore form fitting urban combat gear, and had open data plugs on the back of her neck. Mike, classy as usual, wore a tuxedo. Megan changed her proxy to being a leatherclad, post-apocalyptic road warrior with a mohawk. Pawn's proxy was the most elaborate of the group. He was naked, but his body was completely covered by delicate, multicolored, shimmering feathers. His agent, Naboo the snowy owl, sat on his shoulder, complementing his style.

MeganOoh, that's pretty.

Megan copied his feathers, added some to her arm, and petted them. They were incredibly soft. She plucked one off her arm and it crumbled to sparkly dust, which sprinkled all over her.

Feeling more stable in her chair, Megan looked out at the club again. She added a filter to emphasize the proxies and people she was familiar with, making them glow and stand out against the background, making them easy to zoom her sights in on. It also made familiar proxies transparent and flat, like steamrolled cartoon characters.

MeganIs this place always so... huge? SamThis is about average. Even on off days there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting around in Omni. But the play floor is much larger, encompassing the activities of untold millions of people. Your settings are only showing you small sections of it at a time, positioned in the center of Omni. So it seems like Omni encompasses the floor, but it's more accurate to say that the club you see around you is a small part of the play floor.

Among the many proxies sticking out for Megan were a few clones of T and Sam, in various costumes and states of undress.

MeganUh... Sam, you know that there are people here with your and T's proxies, right? SamOh yeah, we're celebrities or whatever. MeganHow do you avoid stalkers? SamOur agents do a good job managing requests and messages. Also, we only appear as ourselves to people with a good standing in the Omni reputation system. MeganDoesn't that make things confusing? SamIt works out. Heck, even when people have access to our SIS, T and I appear as different genders and in different styles to any given individual depending on optimal SIS compatibility ratings. Anyway, your SIS ID is private here unless you explicitly make it public, so you don't have to worry about people annoying you. Not strangers anyway.

The rest of the group was busy looking around the club for people they knew, so Megan raised the volume of the music which happened to be playing in their area. Since the music was going through her plant, she could listen to it as loud as she wanted without worrying about hearing loss. But the song changed and it wasn't particularly to her taste, so she turned the music off. Control of music volume was one of the advantages of clubbing Outside, making it much easier to hold conversations.

T's proxy sat up as he returned to it and adopted a rather snappy, vibrantly green zoot suit. He fell up to the ceiling, and started dancing on it in celebration of something.

ThomasHey Sam, set us up a node on Indra's Net. SamSure. Let's do Tides of War to start. But only as long as no one gets too crazy with it.

Sam started a game of Tides of War for the table, which she broadcast to a part of the play floor for other club goers to interact with. T also started broadcasting his dancing through the node onto the dance floor.

Megan, curious about what T had been doing with Xea, decided to privately text him. But she wasn't quite up to using her URC implant to do it, so she set her arms to appear to the group to remain by her side while she brought up and manipulated a keysphere to type out the text. While she was doing that, she took a quick view of her physical environment to reassure herself that she was still safe in her apartment.

Megan[Text> T] What was going on back there? Thomas[Audio> Meg] Just local politics, nothing too interesting. Take a look at Indra's Net, it's super neat.

Megan brought Indra's Net up on the table. At first, it appeared to be a solid white block. Upon enhancing her view of it, she discovered it was actually a three dimensional matrix of thousands upon thousands of nodes. It was like an immense jungle gym with a jewel at each intersection, with each jewel representing the streaming input from a group, individual, or space. The nodes were of myriad colors, each representing different sorts of sensory feeds. One of the nodes blinked red, representing the input from Sam's group. Megan accessed it and found herself fading into the Tides of War game. It only took her a little way in to preview it. She could see that dozens of people from other groups were already participating in the game of Tides of War being played on Sam's table- mostly because Sam's excellent reputation at Omni gave her node high visibility. They were mostly joining Sam's side, taking over control of parts of her army, and unbalancing the game in her favor. Luckily, the game was more relaxed than at the party, so no one seemed to care.

Megan followed associations that were being connected between Sam's node and other nodes in the matrix related by likeness, or the preferences of members of Sam's group. Mike's agent, the adorable robot spider Tenchi, was skillfully drawing threads through the network of nodes to bring interesting attractions to the group's attention. Other agents, including T's Villain, and Pawn's Naboo, went scouring for nodes or social connections their masters might enjoy.

Megan followed one of the threads Tenchi was drawing through Indra's Net. Everything that could be streamed was present. There were nodes streaming interactive movies, parts of the dance floor, views of game worlds, fights, people having sex, subtle sensations, music, light shows, and other things Megan couldn't immediately figure out.

MeganMike, what's Tenchi doing exactly? MikeHe's optimizing my dive path for later. We're going to pick a destination, dive into Indra's Net, and float through various streaming experiences along the way. The path is somewhat random, but Tenchi's weighting the journey toward addresses I'll find interesting and that will be compatible with my gear.

T sent Megan an address to check out. The node was the Crain Slain stream he had put on Indra's Net during the last night's concert, a mash-up of the two side's songs playing against each other, along with the fighting along the central divide. It was being played in a continual loop, and people on Indra's Net were sliding down the central divide like it was a water slide, being knocked this way and that by the endlessly repeating violence of the crowd.

Thomas[Audio> Megan] I'm surprised that's still up, it's not that cool. I may have more clout here than I thought.

From that node, Megan saw that another Crain Slain concert was being streamed live at that moment. She activated the address and created the concert in miniature on the table. She immersed herself more fully in the node, so that it was going on all around her just like the night before, but this time she was only a passive observer since she hadn't paid the participation fee. She watched for part of a song. Crain looked to be dominating this time.

Megan faded back to the table and brought up info about Indra's Net. It was streaming 467 live concerts, both physical and purely virtual, listed as of interest to Crain Slain fans. She checked a few of them out before Chester, having been notified that Sam's node on Indra's Net was getting popular, teleported into a chair that appeared at the table. The table enlarged to make room for her. Once again she was a stringless, life-sized marionette, but this time made of matte silver metal. Her face was an animated etching, but her smile was still warm. She waved at everyone before she realized that she was sitting next to Pawn. She moved to another seat across the table from him and flipped him off, a gesture that Pawn ignored in favor of watching the dance floor.

A cup of coffee appeared in front of Sam.

ThomasDrinking time!

T took out a flask and drank from it, spilling some on the table below him. Sam blew on her coffee.

MeganWhy did you make it so hot? SamThis is actually a physical cup of coffee. With a touch of whiskey. Waiting for coffee to cool down is part of the experience anyway. MeganIt smells so good. Can I have some?

A cup appeared in front of her.

SamThere you go. But you'll have to drink something physical if you want psychoactive effects. ThomasPretty sure she knew that. But she may not know about other stuff, now that I think about it. MeganLike what? ThomasSmell me!

Thomas dropped into a seat next to her. He smelled a little musky, and his breath stank of cheap liquor.

ThomasThat's what I smell like. Plants can stimulate the olfactory nerve to simulate anything the olfactory system can detect. That includes the little bit of "pheremones" that affect humans, or whatever. Mostly involving complementary immune systems or something. That means that you can find out if you'll like someone's physical smell, or make everyone so they smell good to you. You can also find out what someone tastes like.

Thomas took a bite of Sam's unrobotic arm.

MeganWhat does that taste like? SamBite me!

Megan took a bite of Sam's forearm. It turned into cotton candy and melted in her mouth.

MeganYum! It doesn't hurt, right? SamOnly if you want it to. ChesterTry me!

Chester offered her hand and Megan bit off her little finger, which immediately grew back. It was meat of some kind.

MeganI don't know why I wasn't expecting meat. What sort is this? ChesterWhat sort do you think? Long pig.

Megan managed to choke it down.

MeganWhere did they get the taste? ChesterAsian vat meat. It's a delicacy. No one got hurt, it was harmlessly cultured from a volunteer.

T took a bite of himself. He was made out of his favorite donut.

(Originally posted on 12/28/2011 on