This episode of Living Outside contains frank discussions of technologically enhanced sexuality, as well as depictions of virtual reality violence. You have been warned.
Megan laid her physical body down on her couch and minimized her brain's connection to it so she could fully inhabit her proxy in the spiral. She closed her proxy's eyes as she felt the stream of the spiral engulf her. She curled into a ball and slowly floated along, warm and suspended, like she was back in the womb. She could feel other proxies all around her, bumping into her and squeezing past her. It reminded her of a water park "lazy river" ride from her childhood. She relaxed and her proxy expanded into the stream until it started to tingle, a sign that she had stretched her body beyond the comfortable limits of her brain's proprioception. She contracted a bit so that she was only a little uncomfortable, to gently stretch her brain's interpretation of her senses.
She opened her eyes and saw threads of light of every color spinning off in all directions, serving as leads to nodes that she might find attractive. She couldn't fully differentiate her body from the surrounding "fluid," which was entirely composed of other people's amorphous, globlike proxies. She could just barely make out the largely transparent outline of separate proxies, each of which served as a node in itself, functioning as the very medium through which flowed all of the sensory experience in the spiral.
The abstract nature of her surroundings was a homogenized mix of the many possible sensations vying for her attention. The sound and soothing hum of calming music pulsed through her in waves. She swayed to the music, resonating with it, and felt the music passing through her to the proxies surrounding her. It was like resonance in Crain Slain, except more intimate and cooperative. Like most proxies in the stream, she had chosen to be active, but anonymous. This meant that no one could determine who inhabited her proxy, though its limits were clear, and the nodes and sensations she was experiencing were being actively broadcast to those around her.
Megan was mildly disoriented from the lack of absolute direction inside the stream. There was no up or down, or even "outside" to the spiral, with its many streams intertwining and feeding off of each other. She felt a gentle force floating her slowly toward node 2501, her given destination, which she could see in the far distance as a bright point of light. This gave her a sense of direction in the seemingly endless sea of shared experience that was Indra's Net. She decided to think of the direction of the light as "down."
As she swam along, Megan felt currents, representing paths to the nodes around her, tugging on her and enticing her with their sights and sounds. She picked a random thread and moved toward it. The calming music she had first heard was slowly replaced by a lofty classical piece. She didn't like it, so she gave it some resistance by swaying out of sync with it. This muted it for her as well as dampening its flow through her to the people around her, making it just slightly less prominent to her neighboring divers.
She picked up a thread broadcasting Japanese pop. She naturally swam through the stream and found it easy to follow the thread currents, which gradually brought nodes and their attendant sensations into focus, first as a preview and then as a port of entry into any given space.
The first distinct node she found was a piece of the Omni Play Floor, which was filled with proxies dancing to the J-pop song she was following. She swam toward it and her abstract dive proxy seamlessly transitioned into her regular body as she stepped onto the floor and started dancing. She had fun with the space's playful light show which wrapped beams of light around the dancers, accentuating their motion. A new song started, but it was kind of lame, so someone introduced a different music feed.
At first Megan could barely hear it, but in a few moments everyone was dancing to it, resonating it into prominence and dampening the old song until it was almost gone from the floor. Megan tried to continue dancing to the old song, but found herself out of sync with the other dancers, so she gave up and adopted the new song.
The new music feed was from a popular Indra's Net contributor named Carrier l0st. She was an "orchestrator," which meant she was a highly respected node coordinator. Orchestrators were granted special rights to introduce prominent extracts, modify certain sets of nodes, and police the tagging system. Carrier l0st was known for her excellent musical taste, and her music broadcast was regularly adopted into a variety of nodes. Megan favorited the feed so that associated nodes would be displayed more prominently as she spiraled toward 2501.
There were screens all around the dance floor showing nodes that might be of interest to the dancers. They displayed other dance spaces, orgies, a music video for the song that was currently playing, and a variety of games adapted for divers. Megan's attention was captured by a wild car chase on one of the screens, occurring in some game world called "Hot Pursuit." She jumped through the frame and hovered over the cars as they wound their way through busy streets, hitting pedestrians and evading the police. She dropped down into the passenger seat of one of the cars to get a closer look at the action.
Megan rode along until the car fell off of a bridge and exploded, sending her flying down a street. Getting up and brushing herself off, she noticed that the music from the dance floor was still playing in the distance, leaving a trail for her if she wanted to return. There were people dancing all over the street and on top of buildings. The space was a virtualization of a physical street in Los Angeles, and was available as an overlay for the people there, as well as being a dance space on Omni's Play Floor. Megan didn't like the music playing there, so she muted it and walked down the street.
Everywhere she looked there were links to nodes of every kind, created by free association using her preferences and the preferences of dancers in the street. Doors along the street linked to art shows, bathhouses, interactive stories, restaurants, graffiti advertising psychedelic experiences, fashion shows, poetry readings, and philosophy clubs.
Picking something at random, Megan wandered up to a theater playing a kung-fu film. The entry fee, according to the theater's info, was to kick the first person she encountered inside. She entered the rather large theater to find its audience in a free for all battle, with blazing fires consuming a good part of the theater. She kicked the first woman she came across, who returned the favor by putting Megan in a headlock until someone tackled both of them. Megan struggled out of the pile and found a relatively peaceful corner of the theater to sit down and watch the movie.
On screen was an epic kung-fu battle being performed live on top of a beautiful mountain range. The screen was a port to that space, so Megan jumped through the screen and hovered over the fighting, darting around to get the best view of the action. Some audience members, who had wandered into the film and grown bored with it, donned wingsuits and jumped off of nearby cliffs. But the mountain in the space wasn't comprehensive, so they ended up looping around and repeatedly buzzing over the fight scene. The kung-fu fighters got irritated at this and "paused" the movie to shoot arrows at the wingsuiters, who started trying to drop rocks on the heads of the actors. Soon it was an all out brawl between the actors and the audience.
Megan was disappointed at the interruption of the story and ported back to the dance floor she had first materialized in. But now it was filled waist deep with jello, and there were more people naked wrestling there than dancing. It was no longer her scene, so she dove back into the stream after stuffing her face with delicious jello.
She followed Carrier l0st's beat past a church broadcasting a gospel song. She stopped outside of a club playing her music, but there was a six minute wait to get in. It was designed to weed out the fickle, and it worked on Megan, who floated along. She brought up a list of nodes linked to Carrier l0st's feed. She popped into the most interesting one near to her, a copy of the Louvre Museum, in which people were dancing and "improving" works of art. She danced and manically leapt through the halls of the Louvre, enjoying the graffiti, some of which was quite clever. After a few songs, she returned to the stream.
Of the innumerable nodes branching off in every direction she looked, one caught her eye and she swam to check it out, despite it being listed as a "Bog" node. It was some sort of puppet show, being put on in a small shack. Megan was blasted by icy cold air as she entered. Her legs fell asleep as she walked to one of the many empty chairs. She found walking with numb legs to be surprisingly difficult, and clumsily bumped into one of the audience members, who was too busy staring raptly at the show to notice. She took a seat. Feeling, in the form of pricks and needles, returned to her legs. It was a sensation that her Plant had never produced before, as she had not been inclined to actively explore the more unpleasant possibilities that the Plant offered.
The dolls bounced along on their strings and at first it seemed like a simple children's play. But then there was a subtle turning point. The antics of the dolls grew strange and the fragile strings grew taut with their tiny pullings, their tiny limbs straining against the puppet master. As it went on, something about the show made Megan feel ill. There was a stench in the air, but that was only part of it. She thought the sickness was a physical component to the show, like her numb legs had been, but she checked and the space wasn't directly causing her feeling of sickness. There was just something deeply unnerving about the violently convulsing puppets.
Megan closed her eyes, floated free back into the stream, and filtered away "Bog" related nodes, though she bookmarked the puppet node with the intention of returning to it one day, which would turn out to be a mistake.
Megan looked around for something to cleanse her sensory palate from the ickiness of her last experience. Her SIS had registered that she had watched some gay men dancing earlier, and presented a gay bathhouse, blaring techno, as one of the next immediate options. She floated into the men's section, which automatically changed her proxy into a male version.
Despite her inexperience with having male genitalia, she was tempted to participate in the sexual aspect of the orgy, as there were so many cute, super friendly men having such a good time. But she just lurked and admired the sights instead. The speed of the techno's beat grinded in sync with the men's pace to encourage them, not that they needed the help. After a few songs, she peeked into the lesbian half of the bathhouse, but it wasn't as interesting to her, so she moved along.
Her next stop was a BDSM space on the Play Floor, brought up because she had previously paid attention to it on the table in Omni. It was a restricted club, but she didn't want to be an active participant anyway.
Plant users could give incredible control over their bodies to those they trusted, with the ability to instantly snatch it back if they needed to. This led to some pretty extreme practices. The plant could almost eliminate pain, which could be useful for emergencies and chronic medical conditions. It could also generate pain and discomfort to a degree, within its stringent safety limits. But this pain was not enough for some masochists. Instead, using mixed states, they would subject their physical bodies, under the control and authority of their dominants, to practices that would cause them pain. This included self-flagellation, sitting in uncomfortable positions, nipple clamps, and just about everything else imaginable. This required self-discipline, since they could use their plants at any time to reduce their suffering.
Megan sampled some of the pain on display. There was a female proxy being lashed by a whip that shot red lightning all over her body. Megan adopted her sensations, sending a strange, buzzing ache sweeping over Megan's body, making her cringe. She stayed with it for a good half minute before turning it off. The Plant's safety limits stopped short of being able to generate something unbearable, although it could cause enough hurt to seriously suck. Still, the more discomfort Megan experienced from the Plant, the less she was resistant to it. Negative sensations from the Plant were certainly realistic, but unlike natural suffering they didn't mean that something was wrong with her body. Suffering was now something she could choose to safely experience, opening an entire world of unpleasant, yet intriguing sensations that she would have normally avoided.
Megan tried out the sensations from nipple clamps, some light biting, random static electric shocks (which she did not find sexy at all), and some expertly used ice before reaching the limit of her curiosity.
She stopped and watched a few fights (and subsequent sexual conquests) at a sex arena linked to the BDSM club. It was set up so that audience members could try strange and rare foods while they watched- mostly insects and endangered species. Megan enjoyed a few chocolate covered ants while she was there. Also available were approximations of the effects of the stings and bites of various animals and insects, though the Plant's pain limits mitigated the more extreme ones. Lactating, topless female proxies wandered through the crowd, offering their breasts to anyone who wanted to drink human milk in the natural way.
Megan floated on and briefly peeked at a space catering to more unusual tastes. It featured things like feeds from physical cameras and other sensors in bathrooms, including from the inside of toilets, for those looking to explore "the call of nature" more intimately.
She also passed by a simulation of the aftermath of a civil war battle, complete with a "game" where divers played doctors, amputating limb after mauled limb. Passing relatively close to the space, she still caught some of the stench of gangrene and dead bodies that emanated from it. Worse was the screaming of wounded horses as soldiers put them out of their misery.
Megan remembered that the Crain Slain concert would still be ongoing, so she ported there to watch it for a bit as it was nearing its climax. Crain still had a good lead and looked likely to win. While she hadn't paid the fee to be active in the game, Megan still resonated with Crain's song, sending it out in small waves to her fellow spirallers as they passed by her.
Megan left and floated along toward 2501 again. Her proxy felt bulkier. Someone had glommed onto her, because of her feed from CS or from traces of her earlier adventures in the spiral, which her neighbors could easily peruse. She felt suddenly self-aware, and accelerated downstream, dislodging and losing whoever had linked to her.
The next node that caught her attention was some sort of game featuring one lone player fighting insane odds. Dressed as a biker, he traveled at breakneck speeds on a rocket cycle, deftly maneuvering around horror-themed obstacles as they popped up in the road- everything from zombies and floating eyes to large flying scorpions. His path was particularly littered with hideously mutated babies which were constantly jumping up at him. He expertly cut them down with a machete in his right hand while steering with his left. The occasional baby made it to his body and viciously bit him before he could smack it off. In the first minute that Megan watched he had slaughtered more than 50 babies.
It was funny because they were babies. It was OK because they were evil.
Cars made of undead flesh began leaping at him from other lanes, attempting to devour him with their decaying, jagged-toothed mouths. Megan was impressed with how expertly he dodged them, though he was slowing as more and more babies were getting through and latching on to him. Then the road ahead shot straight into the sky. The biker stopped exactly at the edge of the wall and started climbing it, using small holes in its surface. The node indicated that this climb was designed to be slightly less difficult than the biker had previously achieved in a rock climbing game, although now he had evil babies crawling up the wall with him and digging their talons into him, trying to weigh him down, but not directly attacking his hands or feet.
Having watched for several minutes, Megan was granted the right to control one element in the game at a time. At first she took control of one of the babies and used it to pull other babies off the biker, but then she figured out she could temporarily deepen individual hand or footholds, so she started strategically helping the biker climb. She noticed that other observers were responsible for many of the babies tormenting the biker. Not quite sure what she was involved in, she floated away from the node.