The Waking Ones

For hours I tried sleeping. I shifted uncomfortably in the rattling seat. It was an act of masochism, hadn’t been able to sleep natural lately. I leaned against the cold metal of the bus.

Desperately I kept checking my email, but I knew there would be no new responses. I sneered contempt at my sleeping videographer. He slept blissfully unaware of the outside world. That was because, Brannon, my videographer, was wearing stimglasses.

Usually such a device would be kept at home, brain stimmers. They were good alright. Almost anything to do with the mind could be done better with the help of a proper stimmer device. They allowed complete mental mastery, at least in the moment.

To put it succinctly they turned our minds into one big toy. Busted the doors of consciousness down, allowing itself to use its own for anything, a big mental playground.

The effects built up once all the dirty code was buried. Once platforms, interfaces, and networks, were built up into the technology, the uses were hard to deny.

So everything started to change, the line between real experiences and virtual was left behind. It used to be one thing to go to a movie, or a restaurant, and another thing entirely to simulate it. However, the simulation is real now, why go to the movies in person, when you can much easier watch it simulated or to “simulate” it to put it more simply?

Is it still fake when you can feel the seat? When you can taste the food, when the people are real, and the movie still seems to play from a projection booth?  The real is a generation of the mind.

The profound retreat of the human race that is what had me on this bus. Obviously with the technology, there was less demand for these “externalities”, and so they withered.

Not everyone cared so much. A certain nostalgia of the “real” is prevalent. However the end point of this movement is hard to deny, especially when you look at someone like Brannon. A few years younger than me, he already prefers to do nearly everything with some enhancement or another.

The nostalgic in society, living in the same cities as the rest of us, redoubled an effort to bring forth a vibrant public life.

However the interests of a vibrant public life and virtual one can sometimes conflict. There is tension because of this, some say an unraveling, but perhaps that is too reactionary of a phrase.

However, if the virtual could disconnect entirely from the real, then that would be an interesting world to say the least. That’s what brought me here, along with Brannon.

We found out about it after meeting a series of increasingly interesting people in a social forum that preferred to masquerade as a Wild West saloon. After a night of shooting each other and drinking, we met some people who called themselves “natives.”

It wasn’t a forum theme either, they pitched the community to us as New Valley. We looked it up later, it was small town in Nebraska.

Now this isn’t the first time, people have tried this sort of thing. In Los Angeles there are large blocks dedicated to the idea of virtual nativity, but they have always been watched carefully by the city and get shutdown the instant there’s a hint of non-compliance.

I’ve been obsessing about the place for awhile. My usual song and dance is covering B-grade straterspace matches. My boss laughed when I asked for a physical assignment, but after a few months of saving, I decided to pay for the excess costs myself at a promise for half of the net profits from any payments it generates for him.

The city slowly began coming into existence. You couldn’t just see one coming anymore, you saw it in the little things, advertisements, overland net cables, traffic, the taste in the air changed, the energy in it buzzing slowly higher.

“Hey.” I slapped Brannon’s headset ajar, “Wake up dummy.”

“What? We there?” he mumbled half conscious.

“No, we’re just coming up on Lincoln, this is as far as the bus goes.”

He pushed his stimglasses up into his messy hair.

“I hope this turns out well.” Brannon stated looking into the encroaching city, “No one wants to see a simulation of a few server rooms and generators you know?”

“I know.” I replied, “Hopefully these freaks, freak harder than usual.”

“At least harder than us.” Brannon replied, readjusting his stimglasses.

I replied dully with an obligatory yes, and retrieved my phone. I looked up from my screen to see us pulling into a bus depot, I looked down again to see the email page update, once again free of any new messages.

“You still fretting over that Kenny dude?”

The bus shuttered to a stop, and everyone began retrieving there belongings.

“Her name’s Kennsi.” I replied, “And we went over that she is she, I’ve heard her voice.

Brannon shook his head as he pulled out equipment from the storage rack

          “Yea sure, you can never know, it’s all too real these days. Could be a girl, could be a viral marketing associate in Bangladesh.”

          I helped him carry the recording equipment off the bus, and we silently trudged to a rental car lot. We stuffed everything including ourselves into the diminutive transport.

          “We should stop to eat somewhere. It’s been a few.” Brannon suggested.

          “We’ll eat there,” I responded, looking up from the destination panel on the dash, “I want to get rooted into how life is in New Valley ASAP”

          Brannon lifted his visor and looked at the panel, “Tch, an hour?” he asked with a groan.

          The car clicked into reversed, and began exiting the lot.

          “Yea yea just go back to sleep.” I jabbed, “That’s what I’m going to do.”

          I leaned the seat back, and closed my eyes, without any stimulation, left trapped in a domain of anxious thought.

 We arrived at a “Quik-Pik” on the outskirts of New Valley, and rummaged up some convenience food. We ate silently. I contemplated where one would set up a brain farm in a place like this.  We coasted along the main street. Kennsi, who claimed to live here, had been vague on directions. After a few minutes of circling the diminutive road, someone waved us down from a small office building.

I initiated a park. The person greeted us as we exited the vehicle.

“Hey, are you serious? You can’t just fucking park here.”

“What? Are you sure? What’s the matter?” Brannon protested.

“Get back in the car, come on, no one’s suppose to know you’re here.” She shouted.

The woman guided us back into the vehicle, and climbed into the back.

“Wait,” I spoke, “Are you Kennsi? Why haven’t been answering our messages?”

“Drive first.” She replied.

I clicked last destination, and rerouted the car back to the gas station. The woman seemed young, but was pale, and thin, after the car reversed back onto the road, I resumed my probing.

“I’m Paratas, from the Steel Wrattler night? That means you were Kennsi, yea?”

“Yea that was me,” she replied, “It’s actually Kelsey, what’re your real names?”

“I’m Marcus, and this is Brannon, my friend and associate.”

Brannon slipped on his visor, and began recording. He turned and greeted the girl.

“Hey, I’m Brannon,” He shook her hand, “So can you show us something worth seeing, or what?”

“Sure,” She said, “As long as you two aren’t here to trash the lifestyle. I’ll let you see, where we store the meat.”

“You make it sound so glamorous” I replied.

“Let me be clear. I’m an idealist, I believe that what we’re doing is positive, the secrecy is only necessary due to the pressure that we could get from the outside.”

“And the inside maybe too? Why so secretive on your own turf?” Brannon asked, staring at her through his dark stimglasses.

“The more influential members are cautious to publicize anything, after the LA block raids. Originally things started here as a less risky alternative to some of the cities in the Midwest.”

“Interesting.” I replied, “Well their will be plenty of time for questions, what can we see?”

“I’ll take you to some racks outside of town. We have several locations hidden throughout the county, but this is where a lot of us live. Let me have at the navigation.” She requested.

She reached out from the backseat, and began setting in the address.  I tried not to stare at her gaunt face as she reached over me. I looked to the right to Brannon, who had no such inhibitions.  I turned and watched the short skyline of the town roll by.

It looked like shit. Everything out here was spread out and crumbling. An antipole in some ways to the city, the alien nature engulfed everything like a vast sea. The car lumbered its way past the dilapidated town, and onto a country highway.

“Who pays for all of this?” I asked.

“We all pay small fees for our electrical use, I wish I could say we were self-sufficient, but we purchase it right off the grid. As you might know it’s not so hard to earn a living through the net. Especially when all you need is necessities.”

We turned onto a dirt road, conversation dying out. Soon we came upon a property with rows of sheet metal hangars. Kelsey got out and started toward one. I helped Brannon unload his penoptic recorder.

A small drone used capture and stitch together a 3d model of any environment. Brannon started the thing up, and it hovered over our heads with a low whirring.

We joined Kelsey, she led us somewhat hesitantly the first hangar, and rolled open the door.

The large interior consisted of organized rows of bunks. The people all wore brain stimulators, aside from a pair visiting in the back they were all somewhere else in the universe.

I walked through with the others.

“Sorry about the macabre jokes.” Kelsey said, “I forget this is abnormal even for net junkies.”

Most all of them had standard head readers. They were made from non-intrusive sensory scanners, still some bore the controversial port implants, allowing direct access to the human nervous system. I tried to make nothing of this externally to Kelsey, so as to not disturb my credibility.

She led us through the rest of the hangars. They were dedicated almost equally to the lodgings of people and machines. Some were rows of bunks, and some were racks of servers. The external or the realness of these places was mundane and downright depressing.

I felt the disappointed, Brannon had been right. No one would want to simulate this place. It was the mundane real. The machines and people alike sat lifelessly in rows. Like rocks, without any thought, lives, or purpose, it was the fiction of the place that was interesting.

They hadn’t all come here for the air, but for a place to connect to the fictional undisturbed. Internally, and delusionally they did things unquantifiably complicated, through the thoughts of machines and men alike. It was a new universe of dreamers, and of petty gods.

After an afternoon of shooting with Kelsey, we took our leave. We promised to meet up with Kelsey on the net later, and headed back to the bus station.

“What a bunch of freaks huh?” Brannon commented, “I don’t know what to do with this footage…”

“Yea,” I replied, “I was hoping something more, but they just wanted to be on the net.”

“Yea,” Brannon reflected, “Speaking of which, when was the last time you slept man?”

“It’s only been 22 hours, I’m sure I’ll crash and burn soon enough.”

“You know, you can borrow my stimglasses if it’ll help.” He suggested.

“I’m trying to get away from sleeping in them, you know that.” I answered.

“Geeze you’re more laid back online man. Just take a trip somewhere and nap.”

He handed me the stimglasses, I accepted them slowly. Once I got back online, I went to a gentle dark grassland, it was like Nebraska, yet different, it seemed to embrace you as if a person onto itself.

I thumbed through all of my straterspace updates, and slipped off to sleep,

Ultimately, I felt bad for judging them. I returned back to my home. It was furnished nicely, and I wouldn’t have to share it with anyone. Although I was there, it wouldn’t be more than a few hours until I would leave it again.

Leave it for the place they lived out there lives from. I would give it all up to connect, be free, and create again with everyone. The people at the farm seemed to be simpler, in embracing the net’s illusion, they shucked off one greater.

My house, the neighborhood, the metroplex, the city, and material society were all real things. But they made it feel fake, their lives, and the wide embracing maw of the net existed almost impossibly next to reality. The limitations of material society were meaningless there, a mere illusion caused by material existence.

For now I decided to focus more on my straterspace commentary.