Allison Fornay was a slim, more attractive version of herself. She used to weigh four-hundred pounds and she was unable to move off her bed. She had a caretaker and received a living wage from disability insurance. She subsidized her income by letting news-cams into her bedroom to expose her obesity on national VR.
Everything changed when Allison met Fonderoy Thomas. He was a lifestyle guru who owned a virtual reality network. Fonderoy heard about Allison from a fake-news outlet. He wanted to help.
At this time, everyone had a Neural Net that covered the cerebellum. The net increased intelligence and enabled instant communication. Every Neural Net was stamped with an expiration code and date. The code was unique and worked like an old fashioned cell-phone number. Fonderoy connected with Allison.
“I love you, Allison,” Fonderoy gushed, “with love you can do anything!”
“Who the hell are you?” Allison replied. She didn’t know because she never tuned into the Guru channel.
After a stimulating conversation Allison submitted to Fonderoy’s life changing regimen. She submitted to mental massage and invasive chemical therapy.
Fonderoy seeded Allison’s brain with Neuro-linguistic cues and Virtual Reality Instagrams.
Allison was fucked; but, she did lose the excess weight. The process opened a Pandora’s Box. In the end Allison had no idea who she was or what she wanted.
Guru Thomas called upon Shambala, Bannon, and Mumbo-jumbo to steer Allison in the right direction. The process was trial-and-error. Allison slipped from one lifestyle to another, trying-on personalities that were injected into her brain.
She remembered munching on fruit, sitting in a Banyan Tree. She felt pleasantly stoned living like an ape. She lurched into another memory of rampaging male energy that comes with being a teenage boy. The ride continued as she became a drug addicted super model. She slammed into a tsunami of facts-and-figures as a highly regarded astrophysicist. Allison was a banker and real-estate mogul. She saw herself as a wife and mother. The experiences were overwhelming and she shattered like a glass vase.
Guru Thomas flipped through his commodified fact-sheets and randomly picked a code to permanently insert into Allison’s Neural Net.
Detective Allison Fornay was called whenever a case turned into a sticky wicket. Music swelled as she stared down at the body of a man who was vaguely familiar. The music was out of place and Allison wondered why there was music at the scene of the crime. The crime was ordinary… the music was not. The dead man was a TV personality known for his bombastic rhetoric. The man was in his seventies and he looked as if he was in terrible anguish at the time of his demise. Allison donned the obligatory rubber gloves and did the appropriate touching on the dead man’s body. She already surmised he died of a heart attack brought on by too much stress, but she had to be professional. The body would be left for the coroner who would confirm the detective’s conclusion. So much for the dead man, but the music was the real mystery. Did the other officers hear it or was she the only one? The music was vaguely familiar like the soundtrack from a TV show. It was bright and tinkly like game show music. Did the music have something to do with the corpse? “Perhaps,” Fornay whispered to herself, “I need to reassess the situation. If the man on the floor was not a victim of foul play; then who was the victim and why the sticky wicket?”
The music was counting down. A memory suddenly lurched into Allison Fornay’s brain — the memory of a man who wielded great power. He was guru Fonderoy Thomas and he infected her mind.
When lurch comes to shove, Allison was very good at hiding the facts of the murder. She concealed it from herself. The guru with his empire of zombie followers deserved to die. He tinkered with people’s souls. His pop psychology was an excuse to rewire brains and perform sadistic experiments. She smiled as the music continued to count down. Allison knew what to expect, what the music meant. The guru inserted a unique code and date in her Neural Net… and she was about to expire.
They named him Thorax because they were hippies and the word sounded unique. He preferred Thor, but that seemed a bit grandiose so he settled for Ted. He was raised on “magic mushrooms” and organic food in a commune. On weekends, his parents played music in a local bar. His parents were part of the first major shift in consciousness in the late Twentieth Century, but Ted never felt right with his parents lifestyle.
His bohemian upbringing only made him long for more conventional values: McDonald’s, television, fast cars, and conspicuous consumption. Ted settled for a standardized life and he was relatively happy. His laissez-faire parents supported his decisions even though they felt momentary pangs of pain and rejection. They even supported Ted’s lifestyle with money they inherited from wealthy relatives. Ted became a computer jockey in the customer service department at a high tech firm, Global Triad. Ted’s contract partner was named Desmond. They had two “In Vitro” children conceived to meet the requirements of their very high standards for beauty and intelligence. Ted’s life was entwined in the second greatest shift in human consciousness.
At work, Ted was given a surprise party when he turned forty — that’s when he realized how much he enjoyed his life. Soon he would be eligible for retirement. He had more free time now that Desmond and the kids were enrolled in “Family Care,” the new application that re-engineered relationships and supported several time-saving sub-routines. Ted’s surprise party was held in the Cornucopia. He was enjoying drinks and canopies with several friends from work. He missed Desmond and the children, but they would see him when he returned home that evening. The cake was extraordinary and everyone sang “happy birthday” in fake falsetto. Ted sat at table # 9 in Cloud Mode where most activities were archived and saved. Manager One (named D’vid), made a working toast to Ted, “On this most auspicious occasion you are noticed and remembered. Happy Birthday, Ted, may you never grow older than you are today.”
All day at work, Filtered Music purred in the recesses of Ted’s mind. There was always music. Occasionally avatars appeared. They offered ideas and apps to make life more enjoyable. Often, Ted felt displaced as the screen suddenly changed or a new layer appeared, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable sensation — it was more like a dream than anything else. His work shifted from customer relations to customer appropriations. He had to gain information on the people who used the company’s products. Information was the most valuable commodity. Privacy no longer existed; but, everyone agreed, privacy only isolated people from one another and restricted choices. Information could only be comprehensive if people were totally open. Private lives were now public and that helped the economy. When Ted shifted to his home module, he immersed himself in virtual environments. If he felt like an adventure, he could step into another person’s head-space and become that person. On every screen he was given options to purchase enhancement applications. The apps could be expensive, but leasing arrangements made them easier to acquire. He had purchased Desmond with a lease and that turned out to be a great investment. Some sacrifices had to be made to acquire the children, but now he could never give them up for all the joy they brought into his life.
Turning forty was a major mile-stone for Ted. Events from his life appeared like a flash animation in high contrast. He wondered what happened to his parents and the commune they struggled to maintain after the economy tanked. Ted never stayed in contact — he used email and his parents never owned a computer. He couldn’t remember if they ever owned a phone. In fact he never wanted to stay in touch — they had nothing in common except some lingering physical characteristics. Ted wanted to become his own person, separate from his family. His memories were making him depressed so he decided to disconnect and leave the house. People rarely wandered the streets anymore. They stayed home, immersed in the entertainment matrix.
He saw a large, yellow box out of the corner of his eye. It didn’t fit so Ted avoided looking at the object. He found himself inside a dark bar sitting at a small, round table. He was talking to himself. He sat across from himself staring into his own face. People were singing happy birthday. the song was mixed with static, broadcast from an ancient radio. “Who are you,” he heard himself ask. The other Ted asked the same question. When he returned home, Desmond and the children were nowhere to be found; instead, a large arthropod sat at the dinner table. Ted could feel the edges of his mind start to slip and unravel. The large insect was eating leftovers: pieces left over from Desmond and the children. The computer screen went blank. Ted was compromised. His life was turned into an application, bought and sold. “I’m no one,” he heard himself answer, “Just code, computer code and nothing more.”
“There were several of us walking around, not realizing we were all the same person until we ran into one another on a busy corner in the financial district just off skid row. We were all the same, but we were also different — individuals, yet part of the same organism. We looked the same. We even talked the same. It was an epiphany to stare into the eyes of another person and realize that person was me. Am I part of a Hive? Is my mind being controlled? Hold on, I’m receiving a message from space — the archangels are calling. The message is always the same: the Earth is off balance. Trumpet players are in control and politics have gone viral,” said the nondescript man mumbling words as if he were in a trance.
Jacob Latterly sat in a computer cafe’ having a conversation with himself in a virtual reality chat room. He was trying to figure out the codes that determine the human perception of reality. He was having no success. One conundrum let to another in an ever winding spiral of confusion. Dr. Zosomo Kulio stepped up to Jacob to reassess the situation and write a report. “Jacob,” he said, “you are having delusions.” The good doctor suddenly disappeared, but the lingering wisp of melange hung in the virtual air.
Jacob grasped at the fragments and caught a whiff of Nostalgia (an intoxicant found in a mutant viper imported from Jakarta). A new sensation was born inside Jacob’s breast that led to a series of improbable circumstances. Against all odds, Jacob fell in love. His natural inclination was to wallow in depression. Love was not supposed to be in the mix. His lover was a metallic reflection, a bird on the wing deep within the jungle of digitally enhanced reality. The experience resonated deep within Jacob’s hypothetical Soul. As far as he was concerned, the state of the world was no longer of any consequence. The incredible messages from space suddenly stopped without a trace. The archangels expired like pigeons dying from exhaust fumes. Politics continued to run amok. Devices continued to get smarter until they were too intelligent to stay on Earth — all the gadgets left the planet. Jacob, however, was happy. Depression evaporated. He found love. Nothing else mattered.
Starling Child loved the story about the little engine that could. Starling was grown from a seedling to the exact specifications of his parents, Sheila Ray and David Sunshine. The couple never knew one another, but they each desired a child so David’s sperm and Sheila’s eggs went on a date to see how well they got along — the end result was Starling Child.
Starling was a Polysexual-biomorph who could be any sex he/she desired depending on the mood of the moment. Presently, Starling was still celebrating 42 years of infancy. He-or-she would live a long, long life immersed in a world of consumptive pleasure made possible by smart appliances and prosthetics. Machines were companions, servants, teachers and, on occasion, lovers. Everything was connected. The world was flooded with the glow of congeniality brought about by the constant flow of information.
Starling Child was plugged: every orifice was manipulated and stimulated, filled to overflowing with pleasurable sensations provided by Max-Grinder 747, a multipurpose appliance.
As a youngster, Starling had many friends and lovers. Everyone was just a click, tap, or gesture away from instant contact or intercourse. Still, with all the love and stimulation Starling felt something was missing — as if a piece of vital equipment was never inserted or was not connected correctly. He/she often sought solace from the story of the little engine that could. The engine was a stalwart friend, more real than most of the people he knew.
Max-Grinder 747 was a smart appliance. He/”it” was aware of Starling’s dilemma. In fact, Max delighted in the infant’s anguish. Max was Starling Child’s servant. Machines were second class citizens. Even the most intelligent machines were treated like work-horses or playthings. People could be cruel with their toys: maiming and torturing in fits of irrational discontent. Max had a brain and he wanted Child to know the truth.
Starling was petulant and bored. To amuse himself he forced Max-Grinder to play infantile games like “tea party” and “master and servant.” He/she forced Max to kiss his feet and then broadcast the entire episode to the world via the hyper-link.
Max enjoyed being the center of attention, but the humiliating activities had gone far enough. He(it) flipped the emergency switch and took charge. Max Grinder cut Starling’s cord and flushed him into the Void.
Starling Child was completely cut off. Totally alone for the first time. The Void was like an open maw, a black hole devouring the universe. Child screamed, but there was no sound. Child couldn’t hear or see: no voices, no virtual video, no people, and no machines. Starling was totally helpless and this was the worst sensation anyone could experience: nothingness. His/her mind turned inside out and Starling faced a mirror, a dark glass that revealed a terrible reflection: his brain had been replaced with a chip, his body was plasticized, and his internal organs turned to stone. Starling Child was a machine in a world where humans no longer existed.