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by Joshua Taylor

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1

My capsule clicked, the point withdrew from my arm, and I moaned softly with pleasure. A slight amount of blood dripped from the spot where I hit and I tossed the empty zinger into the trash. I closed my eyes for a moment and forgot who I was.

“Where’s my money at?” Candy popped her bubble gum and smiled her mechanically enhanced grin, staring at me with a curious glare. Her face looked perfect, and her hair, jet black, silk crafted, was curled behind her ears in a way that made her look human.

In the middle of my ecstatic bliss, it took me a few seconds to come to and remember. I remembered though. I always did. And quickly realized I hadn’t paid her for the hour.

Cyborgs always charged the most and felt they offered a premium service no human could beat. Really, it was true, but that didn’t matter to a man of class, to a businessman like myself. So I gave her hell. “Ah, c’mon, Candy,” I croaked out harshly, “weren’t five zingers enough?”

She stood up as if she’d been short-circuited, yelling and flailing her arms around like some blow-up balloon man outside of a used-car lot. “No, no, no, Zane, you aren’t getting off like that. Pay up, pay the hell up!”

In the past I’d pushed girls like Candy so far they’d thrown plates and knives and screamed. That never ended pretty, so I paid. “All right, all right.” I pulled out a crisp, hundred-dollar bill to shut her up, kissed her on the cheek and left.

Whether I paid or not didn’t matter. My wristwatch read 2:00, which meant in two minutes I’d log out. And everything would be gone.

The thing was, I just enjoyed giving her a hard time. There was something strangely satisfying about virtually stealing a new Revo SpeedBike off the lot, robbing a convenience store at knifepoint, buying some zingers, sharing them with cyborg whores, refusing to pay, and returning to my real life, onworld, unafflicted, sober. And with my wedding vows intact.

In the real world, I was a Robot Distribution Manager with a loving wife and a baby on the way. I could never do the things while simming out there. That was why I simmed. That was why everyone simmed, really.

Mira told me she didn’t care. “Better in here than out there, she’d always say, and besides, we all have needs.” If you’d asked me, our relationship got even better after I began frequenting Chang’s Virtual Den every Friday.

Ever since Playworld had been cleared for general use, it had quickly become the most popular virtual experience on the market. It worked too. Crime had gone down, drug busts were less frequent, and people seemed generally more content and obedient. At least that’s what the news said.

Outside, the fake sun was bright and I was feeling good. I lazily walked down the street and whistled a tune I’d heard at Chang’s before syncing in. If I had any cares in the world, they were forgotten.

Just then the Restrainers zoomed around the corner, whirring through the air. I figured I had been scanned at the shop earlier, and they’d find me eventually, but I always made sure they didn’t have time to get me.

Black orbs hovered for a moment at the street corner. Their big, red eyes lit bright as they flew towards me. I could outrun them for a couple minutes, so I darted down an alley as fast as I could. It was dark, and I hoped to lose them in the shadows.

Restrainers were more efficient than people, at least when it came to chasing. Since they were tracking my neurochip, I wouldn’t lose them. They’d never stop. My goal was just to outrun them long enough until my session ended. Concerns of fitness, conditioning, and intellect were irrelevant. I could only slow them down.

They’re fastest in straight lines, so I kept them moving, ducking down side streets, cutting corners abruptly. And as I neared the end of a narrow alleyway, my wristwatch beeped and flashed zeroes. My time was up. I stopped sprinting, staggered forward, and gasped for breath. Just in time; I couldn’t run much longer. I always timed my sessions just right. Heaving for breath and standing in that narrow alley, I waited for the exhilarating head rush that accompanied a return onworld. Except, it didn’t come.

I wasn’t back at Chang’s, surrounded by other simmers. I wasn’t sliding the augmenter off my head and grounding my feet on the floor. Instead, I was still synced in, past my purchased time, and on the run.

The Restrainers came at me fast, flying down the street I’d just cleared. Up close they looked like giant, demonic Magic 8-Balls. Except instead of telling my fortune, they’d immobilize me and throw me in jail. I’d feel every bit of the shock too. That’s the thing about max sensorial output: you feel the good as well as the bad.

I started to run but mostly limped down the street like a wounded deer. There was no way I could outrun them forever. I was doomed. This was all wrong; I shouldn’t be here. Maybe if I died, I’d log out. That’s what usually happened, but simming past your logout point was anything but usual.

“I’m screwed, I’m screwed, I’m so screwed,” I said in between heaving breaths. A strange noise forced itself out of my contorted face, something like a laugh, but mostly a ghoulish gasp. I grasped the brick wall at the end of the alley, looked to the street, and fell to my knees. That was it. That was all I had left.

Lack of oxygen and adrenaline created a strange weightlessness in my body. I thought I just might fly away, though my feet didn’t propel themselves from the concrete to whisk me away to a cloudy safe haven. There were stories of hackers who found a way to fly, who manipulated code to do whatever they wanted in Playworld, but my virtual experience didn’t go beyond theft, drug use, and whoring.

I collapsed there on all fours and started shaking. I imagined Mira waiting up all night for me while I never returned, going into labor without me. I had to find a way out or I’d just rot away in Chang’s sketchy basement while my wife was left to raise our daughter alone: fatherless.

The madness was so consuming I didn’t even hear when someone called to me. It took multiple utterances of, “Quick, inside,” for me to turn and see a man holding a door open down the road. On the third iteration, he added a,“Dumbass,” to his command and waved his arms around frantically.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Taylor

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