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The Shining World

by Vanessa Kittle

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


Elly553 had invited her because she had covered for him at work the week before. She also gave him a few minutes with her in a private room upstairs at the Rose. She played it demure, which she figured would appeal to Elly553’s dull, gray-suited avatar. Really, who wore gray?

Maybe it was because of her poor resolution, but she didn’t really feel anything. Everything was a simulation: orgasm, nausea, hate, anticipation; these were all just based on composites of memory data. While Jax ‘felt good,’ she really didn’t care that she felt that way. A lot of the forgos had given up many of these archaic practices. Jax hadn’t, though. She found the drama involved leading up to the feeling to be worthwhile.

Of course, the constant changing of avatars and characters that was popular at the clubs right now also made the whole experience very nebulous and somewhat hard to follow. Jax viewed it as just another Perfect City experience. It was either engaging or it was not. If it was, then she pursued it.

She waved at Elly553 from across the room, wondering if he had access to the level above the Rose. He really had been patient with her poor dancing skills. She would have to work on those with some dancing games soon. Elly553 waved back. He must have had a good time.

For some reason, the meeting was delayed, Jax realized. The timer on the front wall showed that they were now 10 minutes late. This was unusual, and it was beginning to catch Jax’s full attention, bringing her back from the grassy plains of that alien planet. As usual, she wondered why they couldn’t just automate everything they did in their whole department. There was no real need for these meetings. It was just a way for the managers to justify their personal and ever-growing storage and detail requisitions, but if it wasn’t RAPPS, it would just be something else.

She looked to the center of the room where the two managers stood. They were communicating internally with one another. Their expressions were set to stoic. Gradually, all of the standard conversations in the room began to quiet as more and more people turned to the managers, waiting to find out what was happening. Exactly how long were they supposed to stand there doing nothing? The boredom was starting to blare in Jax’s mind like a siren. This was when Jax noticed that there were several people missing from the meeting. That must be what they were waiting for. None of the naturals had shown up yet.

Suddenly, the walls started flashing red. The alert system began to broadcast a voice message. Usually these were directly downloaded. The message said, “Attention all former organics. This section has been declared off limits. All former organics must return to an organic-only zone by 1200 hours precisely. All former organics remaining in natural zones following 1200 hours will be deleted.” The message repeated itself.

By her timer, Jax saw that she had five minutes to get out of there. She was confused and found herself wandering over to Elly553. He seemed to be feeling about the same way as Jax. His avatar was of a fairly short and slender young male with jet-black hair and a tiny triangular sort of face. She guessed that he found it comforting to look at her for some reason because he would not stop looking.

She asked him, “What are we supposed to do?”

“I guess we have to go home.”

“That’s fine by me. Do you think the meeting’s canceled? I hope so.”

“I really don’t know.”

“Do you want to come try the new program I just started?” Jax asked.

“What is it?”

“A space mission.”

“No, I hate those. They make me feel... I don’t know.”

The walls flashed blue now. This was an official message from the forgo administration. “Attention all former organics. We have reached an agreement with the natural AIs. Please return immediately to forgo-only zones and remain there until further notice. We have been assured that you will be completely safe in these zones. Forgos are valued members of the Network and will not be harmed so long we remain in our proper zones.”

What was this all about, Jax wondered? She hadn’t heard anything about any negotiations, or even any disagreement more than usual. She looked to the center of the room and found that both of their section managers had already left. She turned to Elly553 and saw that he seemed even more confused than before. Actually, his expression was not exactly confused. Was it frightened? Jax had never seen that expression outside of Perfect City, and it looked very strange. It made her tell him, “I think we should go home now.” She assumed that he agreed. Jax was back in her space before he responded.

Despite being thrown by Elly553’s strange expression, Jax found that she was feeling curious more than anything else. What did it mean that they had to stay in forgo-only zones? She pulled up a map. It was now marked in blue and red only! There were no more pink, mixed zones, and the blue was by far a minority, covering maybe only 25% of the public Network.

Most of the best clubs and other elite places were now red. Perfect City and Club Rose were still blue. Jax felt a wave of relief. Then she wondered what would happen if she tried to go to a red area. She input some red coordinates and got the warning, “File transfer will result in permanent deletion.” She canceled the request immediately. She felt frozen and oddly claustrophobic in her tiny restart chamber. She wished that she had tried to acquire more personal space and wondered if she still would be able to do so. She found that she was longing for the open grassy plains of that alien planet, so she opened up Perfect City and selected “Continue Game,” to return to the sweet bliss of adventure and stimulation.

* * *

That night, Jax decided to go back to Club Rose. She could not face being in her restart chamber. The walls seemed to have closed in while she was on the alien planet. She felt that if she didn’t get out for a while she would be crushed into nothing.

Although the music was pounding and the lights were flashing as always, Jax also noticed that there were far fewer people at the club than the night before. The people that were there huddled in small groups, and very few of them were dancing. She was very surprised to see an arm go up and wave to her from the far side of the room next to the rope for the first VIP level.

Elly553 had come back tonight, though as she got closer she saw that he looked as nervous and confused as he had at the meeting. He leaned in to say something to her over the music. “Do you want to go into VIP?” he asked, but he didn’t seem as excited about it as he had been the night before.

Jax nodded yes. When they started up the steps, the club’s music suddenly stopped. The room went completely silent. All of the screens playing all of those stupid movies went blank. Then a message appeared on every one of them. “Club Rose is closed. Preparing to delete in 15, 14, 13...”

Jax looked at Elly553’s face. It was frozen into a wide and terrifying expression. She shouted to him over the even more terrifying silence, “Go home. Now!” Then she transferred herself back to her restart chamber without waiting to see if he had unfrozen himself before zero.

The following day, when it came time to go to work, Jax initiated the transfer as usual, but nothing happened. She traced it and saw that the address was not found. She messaged her supervisor but, while she was waiting for a reply, just in those few seconds, her message vanished as if it had never been sent. It was as if the recipient no longer existed.

Then she got a message on the Network: “The RAPPS process has now been fully automated to improve efficiency. Your attendance, Jax, is no longer necessary.”

Jax was confused by the message at first. Gradually, though, she realized that her job had been eliminated. That was good, right? She no longer had to go there. She could stay in Perfect City all day instead. She clicked to access and found only a message telling her that Perfect City had been deleted to provide space for more efficient operations.

After that, everything became very hazy for Jax for an indeterminate period. She shut down everything, especially her clock and calendar functions, and just sort of floated in sleep mode. She came out of it, she realized, because she was getting a very insistent priority message on the Network. Her entire restart chamber was flashing red.

The message informed her: “There is an opening for a full-time maintenance controller. Please indicate whether you accept this position. Failure to accept will result in deletion.” Then there was a countdown timer at 4 minutes and 50 seconds.

The job consisted in operating the robots that maintained necessary equipment in the dull world. It meant crawling around in filth as a robot full time. They can’t make me do that, Jax thought. Why aren’t the forgos doing anything to help me? We have to... do something.

The timer was down to three minutes forty-five seconds. She pictured the wide-open grassy plains on the alien planet in Perfect City. That planet sort of had dirt in its own way, too, right? It wasn’t so different than being a robot here. I wouldn’t actually have to touch anything.

At two minutes fifty seconds, she clicked Accept. She didn’t want to let the clock run down too close to zero. She did not want to disappear. That was... unthinkable; not after all this time. No way. No thank you.

A new message appeared detailing her schedule and responsibilities. She suddenly wondered how long this position would last before it became inefficient and unnecessary. She quickly put the thought out of her mind, turning instead to this new robotic game she would soon be starting. She bet that if she concentrated a little she could pretend that it was a brand new adventure zone that had just been released today. She might be the very first to play it!

Copyright © 2019 by Vanessa Kittle

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