Megan took another look around Omni and found that something was going on in a large, Star Trek themed bar where numerous sci-fi and fantasy world characters were intermingling. A brawl had broken out between a crew of Bajorans and some Cardassians. Romulans quickly came in on the side of the Cardassians and some drunken Klingons joined the Bajorans. Before long, the Rebel Alliance, a handful of Cylons, some Browncoats, and some residents of Discworld were involved. Then a table of Borg started assimilating combatants, and it turned into a battle between the Borg and everyone else.
Megan lost interest and searched for more "adult" content. There was a group of sexy Draculas biting into naked men and women chained to their table. There was a group of Japanese men in their underwear being peed on by a human sized kaiju standing on their table. There was a table of hot gay men doing hot gay men things. There was an underwater space filled with squids and mermen sexing each other up. There were other tables doing things Megan found disturbing, if not almost morally objectionable. This raised a question.
MeganDoes anyone ever get banned?
SamRarely. Each space can have its own rules, but there's only one universal rule in Omni- Everything must be properly tagged. It's not hard to follow, since automatic tagging is very effective. The tag system makes it so you never have to see, or participate in, anything you don't want to. Every group's space is solely theirs to do with as they please, so there's every sort of craziness occurring all around us. You might try loosening your filters all the way, but I'll warn you that besides faulty tagging, it's damn hard to be fucked up enough to get thrown out of here. Look at that table's tags just as an example, but don't unfilter them.
Sam directed Megan's attention to a table which was being danced on by several nondescript people who were spraying variously colored fluids all over their space. The space's tags included coprophilia, racism, Naziism, and several other tags in the "highly likely to offend" category.
SamThat group just wants attention. There are others who are more sincere. Omni's got everything, just like its name implies.
Sam pulled out a harpoon.
SamThis is my ban harpoon. People with high enough Omni reps get weapons to draw the bouncer's attention to questionable tagging. If people shoot you with a ban gun or hit you with a ban hammer, and you evaded tags, it can get you thrown out or banned for good. It will at least hurt your Omni reputation, which is highly valued. A good reputation gives you visibility at the club, means you can be trusted, and gives your nodes higher priority in Indra's Net. I said that you could see every table from here, but under our group's default filter you only see groups with a minimal reputation score, so there are lots of people here who are either relatively new or who don't use the reputation system and so don't show up to us.
MeganBut there are lots of people here anonymously, right?
SamYou are anonymous right now, actually. And just because you have an Omni reputation doesn't mean anyone knows who you are outside of the club. There are plenty of people here who don't have handles or reps, and you can't tell them apart. They're mostly in the mosh pits or in one of the general orgy areas. Conversely, a lot of people here are playing their characters from various worlds with the matching SIS identities to prove it. Our group is somewhat masked. Only some people can see our real SIS ID's, since T and I are famous enough to cause problems. If T publicly used his proxy from the Golden Martyr world, whose name I will not speak here, it would cause quite a commotion. But drumming up proxies like that is considered bad form.
ThomasBad ass form. But I promised I wouldn't do that again.
SamSpeaking of reputations, is that Indra?
Sam set up an indicator to draw attention to, and visually magnify, a pod on the other side of Omni.
ThomasMust be. That's her authentic SIS, cloaked so only reputable Omni members can see her.
MeganThere's a real Indra? Isn't that a reference to Hindu mythology?
SamIt's probably not her real name, but yes, there is a real Indra who owns and manages Indra's Net. You'll have to meet her sometime. She's fabulous. You know the Hindu mythology behind the name, right? Indra's net is described as a web of jewels, each jewel representing some aspect of existence while also reflecting all of the other jewels. It's about the interconnectedness of every aspect of creation. In a similar way, the nodes of the Indra's Net in Omni each represent a different streaming experience that can potentially be combined with the experiences from any other node or combination of nodes.
Author's note: See Indra's net article on Wikipedia. Cool concept.
MeganAnd anyone can set up a node?
SamYep, much of it is anonymous, or done with little fanfare. It's a massive cooperative effort. No one really makes any money off of it, although good content producers and coordinators can occasionally earn some nice social standing, which can increase their odds of getting paid gigs. T and I have pretty good followings on Indra's Net. Lots of people are notified when we create nodes, and automatically gravitate toward our shared content when they go spiral diving.
MeganSpeaking of diving, how tricky is it?
SamDon't worry, diving's very intuitive. It's just a streaming experience through a series of mixed nodes. Your SIS and filters control the content, so you won't encounter anything too far outside your comfort zone. You should look for some interesting nodes to visit in the spiral. You'll gravitate toward nodes you've show interest in.
Megan returned her attention to Indra's Net, using her URC to select and sample different nodes which her SIS recommended as being likely interests for her. In preview mode, selecting nodes representing music were faintly audible. Various nodes were linked together because divers on Indra's Net liked their combination. She mixed two such linked nodes- a song she liked and a pleasant buzzing sensation. They worked well together. As with all transitions from one space to another, Megan controlled the extent of her immersion within the nodes by means of a key turning motion by her right hand.
She then looked through some movies playing, which appeared as semi-transparent screen hovering above the table.
There were also nodes broadcasting the physical sensations of couples having sex, which felt a bit too voyeuristic for her. Someone was streaming their live experience of being on a roller coaster on one node, giving Megan more g's than she was expecting.
She changed the preview to a more peaceful space. It was a meadow at sunset, with an overview that hovered over the table like a hologram, including a projection of Megan sitting on the grass. It gave her the tactile sensations of being in the meadow, including a gentle breeze, all while she continued to watch the scene from her seat at the table. It was strangely peaceful to watch herself watching a sunset. She merged a song node she had liked earlier with the experience. One of the other people in the meadow overheard the song playing faintly from Megan's location and started playing it too. Soon, the song had spread over the meadow and was nicely complementing the atmosphere. She would have just stayed there for a while, but Thomas interrupted her meditation.
ThomasHey Megs, check this guy out.
Thomas linked a location to Megan and her eyes were directed toward a man stomping around on the dance floor.
ThomasLook at our compatibility ratings.
It reported 95% sexual compatibility between the man and T.
MeganThat seems like a nice match. But their SIS says they have a female brain. Don't you prefer male brains?
ThomasI do tend to like male brains better, in terms of romance. But I'm not prejudiced. And it's a particularly high rating, at least for my peculiarities. I'm making a note of her, might look her up later. Sexual compatibility is about way more than just gender, you know? There's dominance versus submission, kinks, and all sorts of subtle things.
MeganHow good is SIS at determining compatibility?
ThomasIt's not perfect, but it is a pretty good guideline. I mean, 95% basically guarantees a great time, and very low percentages guarantee that you'll annoy the hell out of each other. Mid level percentages require compromise, which can be fine. And you're more likely to grow and experience new things if you don't go for super high ratings all the time. But you totally need to try it out. Just create a separate, anonymized version of your SIS and put it out there to see who matches.
MeganBut what if you want to meet someone in the physical world?
ThomasRelationships in the physical world form first Outside all the time. If you want that as a requirement, you can just use your natural proxy and look for people located nearby. You can even have it smell like you so suitors can see if they like your natural scent. I wouldn't write off relationships that only exist Outside though. You can be whoever you want without the restrictions of your biology. It's been more than a decade since I've had a lover that lived close enough to conveniently visit me physically, and it hasn't hurt my love life any.
MeganYou know, I've always been comfortable with my physical body, I don't really have any complaints about it. And I'm pretty new to really living Outside, but I can definitely see the advantages of a custom made body. And getting comfortable with having different bodies is a fascinating idea.
ThomasYou should try out everything. A person's sexuality Outside tends to be more flexible than in the natural world, even in terms of preferences for genders, aesthetics, genitalia, and such.
MeganIsn't genitalia covered under gender?
ThomasOh no. Lots of women give their female bodies penises, and lots of male proxies have vaginas. That's besides the various non-natural genitals like tentacles. Sex Outside is way more liberated and fun than it could be in the physical world. There are no diseases or accidental pregnancies to worry about. You can't be coerced into sex, and people can't intimidate you the same way since you can always just leave a virtual space if it comes to that. It's safe to explore and experience whatever you want. The upshot of all these improvements is that, at this point, there is way more sex going on Outside than in the physical world. You can have any sort of random sex at any time, and completely anonymously if you want.
MeganJust how much random sex are you having?
ThomasAs much as I want. Duh.
SamThomas has a pretty nice "queue."
MeganWhat do you mean by queue?
ThomasPeople waiting on a list to have sex with me. They're organized according to SIS compatibility and my various preferences. Anytime I'm feeling amorous, I can look through the queue to see if anyone looks interesting, or activate it to alert the next available person on the list that I'm looking for a rendezvous. It's not just sex. I usually have first meetings in my library, but sometimes SIS indicates it would be better if we didn't talk at all for one reason or another, so those times it's just straight sex. I'm on other people's queues too, so I get pinged all the time, but Villain shuts most of those down depending on my mood and current activities.
SamCourse, it's not hard to get a long queue going, depending on how choosy you are. If you make one, I would recommend restricting it to people with good reputations from social groups you feel comfortable with. It's best not to tempt potentially awkward hook ups. There are some real weirdos out there.
Sam motioned toward T, who gave her a crooked smile in return.
Megan had used her Social Interaction System to converse with people in the physical world and had found it a very effective social lubricant. Almost everyone belonged to a social network compatible with the open source SIS standard, which made conversations easy by offering up shared interests and mutual social ties, as well as topics to avoid. With an active SIS, you could steer right to the people at a party you share rare fandoms with, or even find the person with the most compatible personality.
Megan created a new SIS identity just for Omni, sanitized of any information specific enough to identify her, and made it public there. She was immediately matched up with compatible people in the area. Dozens of open invitations to join various tables, or activities on the play floor, were instantly generated based on her SIS. It was good to feel wanted, but she shut off that particular SIS so she could focus on her own group. She'd have to come back later alone and crowd surf.
Sam pointed out a proxy flying around the center of the club, covered in swastikas and penises spewing various bodily fluids. She handed Megan her ban harpoon.
SamGo ahead and shoot that guy. He's evading tags.
Megan and a few dozen others nailed the troll and he evaporated into oblivion, banned from the club for a week.
SamHe had unusually high visibility for such a weak prank. He spent a good part of his hard earned Omni rep just to spread some minor grief. People with restrictive filters didn't even saw him. Lame. Megs, if you ever want to grief, at least do it to a better effect.
Saitou and his group waited until Sam's group was settled at their table to send an invite for the groups to merge. Everyone accepted the invite, their table elongated, and Saitou's group faded into view sitting opposite Sam's group. Saitou was in a tanuki suit. Beside him was a catgirl named Mai who looked like a female version of Saitou. Next to her was a serenely smiling male proxy named Gale. The next space on the table was taken up by a white cartoon cloud representing Keen, who was, as usual, genderless.
The groups exchanged greetings. Mai waved energetically at Sam's group. Her eyes were sparkly, but a little creepy because they never blinked. Her agent, a small, cute David Bowie, was playing a tiny piano on her shoulder.
MeganWhy a raccoon suit, Sai?
SaitouIt's actually a tanuki suit, like in Mario. Common mistake. Tanuki look like raccoons but they're actually more closely related to dogs.
MeganAh, I see. Mai, are you Saitou's sister?
Mai smiled wickedly while massaging Saitou's chest and playing footsie with him under the table.
MaiNo, no. We're lovers. We enjoy twincest. Sometimes we both look like versions of me.
They changed for a moment into different matching proxies, this time Hispanic, and started grooming each other like wild animals.
SamWhat's the point of joining our group if you're just going to be doing that?
MaiYou could join us if you want.
Mai stretched luxuriously while purring loudly.
MaiWe're feeding to a spot on the floor.
SamThanks, but I'm going diving later.
MaiWe'll be there all night if you change your mind.
Gale, the other person Megan didn't know, looked around the group with a blank smile.
MeganHey Gale. How do you know Saitou? Or Keen?
Gale made eye contact with her and from that she could tell that he was a ghost. A melodious voice came from Keen's cloud.
KeenGale was my friend for a long time. He died three years ago. It's his birthday, so we're taking the last version of his ghost out on the town. We're publicly distributing his sex ghost into one of the orgy spaces. He would have liked that.
ThomasIs it any good?
KeenNot sure. I have an abnormal sexuality.
ThomasRight. Well, what the heck. It's his birthday.
T officially sanctioned Gale's sexbot ghost under Omni's reputation system, which greatly boosted its visibility in the club, and resulted in hundreds of T's SIS followers automatically downloading it into their collections.
The two table's nodes finished merging into one. Now it included the ongoing Tides of War game as well as Keen's cloud.
Megan recognized Keen's cloud configuration and got curious, so she stepped into it and started dancing to the music inside. The cloud was larger on the inside and just transparent enough to see through. Parts of it lit up and warmed as she interacted with it. She breathed in. It was musky, but not unpleasant.
MeganIs that what you smell like in the physical?
The mist squeezed around her, like a full body hug. It was a strangely comforting sensation. Megan swept her hand through the cloud. Part of it offered resistance, then yielded. Her hand slipped around another squishy part and followed it along a curve, producing a tingling up her spine. Megan naturally found a rhythm in her dance that maximized Keen's warmth and light, and the cloud started smelling of vanilla and flowers.
SaitouYou know that's Keen's sex cloud, right?
MeganI'm not completely ignorant. I can recognize a sex cloud.
ThomasKeen's just lazy.
MeganWell, I think Keen's sweet. And sex clouds are fun.
The cloud's density, colors, textures, lights, and wetness were all abstract analogs representing different aspects of Keen's body and sexual responses. Sex cloud proxies were designed to give positive feedback for properly stimulating their inhabitant's erogenous zones. It was quite intuitive, to the point where Megan could somehow recognize that her right hand was caressing something which correlated to the small of Keen's back.
Keen's cloud became more active on the dance floor, grew much larger, and dozens of dancers started interacting with it. They began dancing to create positive feedback from Keen in coordination with their fellow dancers. Many of the dancers merged their own sex clouds with Keen's, and the play floor system created a compromised group cloud that worked for everyone, correlating the various parties' analogous erogenous zones. It wasn't the most efficient way to get off, but sex clouds were subtle enough that even those dancers who were shy about open orgies could participate with minimal embarrassment in a form of group sex.
Seeing that Keen was well taken care of, Megan returned to her seat. Shortly thereafter, a weirdly attractive woman with reptilian skin floated over to Pawn.
KerriganHey Pawn. Our sex rating is amazing. I'm fucking your ghost right now, and it is hot. Check it out *link*.
PawnThat is hot. So you want to try it brain to brain?
KerriganThat's the idea.
PawnI'll be back guys.
Pawn left his proxy at the table in standby mode and joined the situation with Kerrigan, already in progress.
SamI can't believe that Pawn doesn't insist on using protection. That's asking for trouble.
ThomasHe's just adventurous.
MeganWhat do you mean by protection?
SamSecured Shared Spaces, of course.
MeganRight, I'm vaguely aware of those. They're that important though?
SamOh boy. Watch this video.
An educational cartoon popped up in front of Megan.
NarratorAlice and Bob are on their first date.
The two characters were shown in a private instance of Happy Land- riding various attractions, eating funnel cakes, and setting things on fire.
NarratorBut then they decided to go somewhere more romantic.
Alice and Bob appeared in a bedroom, mid-grope.
NarratorEverything was going great, but someone had made an unwarranted assumption.
Alice suddenly exploded into dozens of tentacles, which wrapped around Bob, who vanished from the room.
NarratorOops. Alice immediately apologized, but the awkwardness remained. Not everyone enjoys the loving caress of sextacles. If Alice and Bob had established their potential love nest as a Secured Shared Space instead, they could have avoided the unpleasantness of mismatching desires and found amorous middle ground.
Alice and Bob appeared in the bedroom again, but this time a window popped up with the various settings and rules of the space. Bob's personal settings prevented proxies from being introduced into the space, or changing form, without the consent of all parties involved. Alice's settings prevented her proxy from being forcibly restrained, among other things. A set of mutually agreeable settings appeared and they spent a few moments tweaking them.
Alice whispered something into Bob's ear. They smiled at each other and Bob changed his settings to allow for sextacles. They both accepted the rules of the space and began tearing each other's clothes off.
NarratorSometimes, all you have to do is ask! Negotiating the rules can be fun, and can even give you ideas to spice up an occasion. SSS settings cover everything from physics and location to proxy interaction. Always insist on Secured Shared Spaces to keep things consensual and comfortable.
The video disappeared.
SamSecured Spaces can restrict which parties can enter them, although there's no way to stop valid participants from sharing their sensory information with outsiders. And they do a pretty good job detecting a proxy user swap based on changes in behavior, though not perfectly.
MeganSo it will alert you if the person you're having sex with is switching off with someone else? That's a creepy concept.
SamIf you care about that kind of thing, it's definitely better to get to know someone before you get intimate. Or get someone with a good reputation. There are no lack of renowned lovers around here who wouldn't pull that crap.
MeganBut can't people just create new SIS accounts?
SamIt's true that you can always create a new SIS with a fresh Omni rep, but a good reputation that's been established over months or years is something people generally won't risk for something stupid like that. Reputation is the only real currency Outside, as they say.
Megan researched the SSS system while the rest of the group was checking out the play floor or previewing nodes for the dive. After a few minutes, Pawn's proxy reanimated.
ThomasThat was quick. How was it?
PawnYou didn't watch? It was great! We're hooking up for a more private rendezvous later tonight after the dive. It was a pretty big audience, kind of threw me off my game.
ChesterLike you're some great lover.
Pawn and Chester stared each other down, though it didn't quite work because Chester's etched face couldn't quite express anger in a non-humorous way.