by Russell Linton
@Carlo5* lay face first on an operating table. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the stabilizing ring. He didn’t want to look. Didn’t want to be reminded. The entire world had melted into a blue-coated plane of harsh geometry.
Ever since his gLink had malfunctioned his entire afternoon had been a nightmare. But now, he mused, even the twentieth century simulation he’d been goaded into trying last month would have been an improvement. That simple, easily rendered prog at least had the benefit of not wasting precious flops – unlike the deficit he was sure to be racking up here.
“How much?” he asked.
@Carlo5* felt his head wiggle as @Paulson_G.C. paused, followed by a grunt from the cyberneticist. “Guess you can’t see the meter, yet?”
“40342 ‘flops so far, but it won’t be much longer.”
“Goog, I hope not! I’ve already had to dedicate over a hundred thousand to the HAN this month. My house can’t maintain elevation!”
@Paulson_G.C. adjusted his mask. “Sounds fancy. You must have an open environment, too.”
The statement, @Carlo5* decided, was a bit judgmental. “What of it?”
“Might explain your problems.”
“Nonsense,” exclaimed @Carlo5* as a sharp sting inside his neck caused him to squirm.
“Overtaxed stem processor, not the most common thing I see, but it happens. You’re lucky it wasn’t a full system crash.”
@Carlo5* shuddered, daring to open his eyes and stare into the blue void that was the floor. Another biting pain at the base of his skull and for a moment, the azure wash faded leaving a pitted concrete surface beneath him. Divots in the surface were crusted with irregular black spatters. He heard a robotic whine close to his ear and a sharp edge of metal flashed. Shocked, he tried to swivel, but @Paulson_G.C. bore down on the back of his head, immobilizing him against the stabilizing ring.
Blue coated the world once again and @Carlo5* wondered if he should mention what he had seen. A glimpse at @Paulson_G.C.’s meta? Why would he choose such an unattractive visual?
“Tell me about your meta,” asked @Paulson_G.C. in a workmanlike voice.
“I hardly see why that’s necessary.”
“I’m diagnosing here,” came Paulson_G.C.’s short reply. “I need to know.”
Even for a general cyberneticist, such disregard for privacy could be a violation, @Carl05* was almost certain, but with his severed link to the Hub Area Network, he was unable to confirm it. Surely, @Paulson_G.C.’s own gLink had already informed him of the violation and levied the necessary fine. But @Carlo5*, desperate to be off of the table decided to respond.
“My meta is a villa, from Pre-VirtTuscany. The walls are all made of these individual stones, each with their own unique shape – it’s quite astounding they even fit together at all. A winding maze of mortar and rock.” @Carlo5* nearly turned to his back in his excitement but the cyberneticist continued to hold him in place. “And there’s this pool, where the water flows up to the very edge of, well, nothing, and finally plummets into an endless ocean, hundreds of feet below like a herd of wild horses.”
“An entire ocean?” grunted @Paulson_G.C. “You can see it from this view?”
“No islands? Buildings?”
“There are a few islands. Small. Sand mostly, some palms.”
“No other obstructions?”
“Of course not. Why would I?” Now the questions seemed to hold a definite accusatory tone and @Carlo5* decided he’d had enough prying. “What business is it of yours what my personal meta…”
“You made it my business by coming in here with a faulty gLink,” grunted @Paulson_G.C.
“Fine…wait, I see the meter!”
As @Carlo5* tried to sort out the commas in the number now displayed on his meter, @Paulson_G.C. leaned back and rubbed his hands together. “Obstacles, walls, it gives your gLink a break,” said grunted @Paulson_G.C. over the noise of running water. “With nothing to shorten the render, you’ll keep overtaxing.”
“67,087? Seriously? That’s robbery!” @Carlo5* sat up and looked angrily around the well-appointed office. Seated on a stool by the padded bedside, @Paulson_G.C. stared back with glistening green eyes that reminded @Carlo5* of the vast ocean surrounding his Villa. She smiled and tilted her head until a strand of auburn hair tumbled over her shoulder, lost between the curve of her breasts.
“Are you sure you don’t need the bio pack while you’re here?” purred @Paulson_G.C.
“Ummm, yes, quite sure.” @Carlo5* was certain of one thing when he came into the office and that had been @Paulson_G.C.’s gender. The thought was followed by a sharp twitch near his gLink. @Carlo5* swatted at the nuisance as a message echoed in his mind. ‘Questioning a Crowd member’s gender identity, fifty flop violation.’
“Is everything alright?” @Paulson_G.C. leaned forward and placed a hand on @Carlo5*’s knee.
@Carlo5* stood and brushed her hand away. “Fine, perfectly fine,” he said through gritted teeth, “Back to normal.” He blinked, accepting the environmental meta being broadcast by @Paulson_G.C. The remaining empty blue filled with plush brown carpet, clean, neutral tone walls and an especially relaxing, sweet scent. What was it, he wondered?
‘Vanilla’ came the reply from the HAN.
Vanilla? Villa. He’d have to add it to his meta.
“Are you sure about that bio-pack? It would eliminate those inconvenient breaks.” @Paulson_G.C. bit her bottom lip as she asked and stark images of arousal flashed through @Carlo5*’s mind. He quickly rejected this part of @Paulson_G.C.’s broadcast and the buxom doctor flickered, replaced by a graying man whose stubble scratched against his teeth as he worked his lip.
“No, thank you,” spat Carlo5* and he slid off the table.
@Paulson_G.C. winked and with a nod @Carlo5* stepped out of the office into the gleaming streets of the Core – the sun was always shining in the Core, if you wanted it to be.
‘Message from provider: Thank you, come again!’