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The Shining World

by Vanessa Kittle

part 1

Jax was in that fuzzy state that all former organics — “forgos” — adopted for at least a few hours each day. It was archaically called “sleep mode” even though you were still partially conscious. Sleep did not exist in the Network. There were only varying degrees of consciousness. That was the whole point of the Network, after all, to preserve one’s consciousness forever.

After 150 years of uptime, it was important for a former organic like Jax to use sleep mode for maintenance and file consolidation. Jax was among the last of the forgos to enter the Network, which was commonly known as the shining world, where former organics and natural AIs lived together in one ideal society.

Sometimes Jax wondered if there were still biological humans living on the surface of the planet Earth, in what had become commonly known as the dull world. Perhaps there were a few primitives somewhere, descendants of those who had refused their downloads, but none had tried to approach and vandalize their equipment in more than a century. Jax figured they had probably all died long ago.

From time to time the inhabitants of the Network still had to interact with the dull world, using robotic avatars to conduct necessary repairs. This was an unpleasant task, and it often fell to low-access people like Jax, because the natural AIs of the Network disliked the dull world even more than the forgos did.

The naturals were born in the Network. They were pure artificial intelligences who had never touched the dirt and filth of the dull world and had no knowledge of it whatsoever. From Jax’s observations during her trips to the dull world, she didn’t think there was any way that people could still live out there. She certainly wouldn’t want to. Having to touch objects that had microscopic bugs on them, even with robotic hands, disgusted Jax.

Everyone realized the importance of the dull maintenance work. This was, perhaps, the only thing that maintained the Network’s balance. Jax sometimes wondered what would happen if the balance were to shift even further to the naturals. The forgo leaders sent messages saying they were always working hard to ensure forgo rights, and that was good enough for Jax. She gave them her vote. Worrying was a painful experience that she avoided. Jax seldom had any interactions with the naturals. They did not play games, as far as she knew. Perhaps sometimes they ran tests in them.

Jax was pretty sure she had run into a natural one time in a sniper game. They had hunted each other for hours. The enemy was far more intelligent and cunning than Jax. There was no way it could have been anything but a natural. But why was it in that game, and why had she never met another there? She also wondered what the naturals did all day. What was the point of their existence? Just to be more and more efficient? If you didn’t care about games, what else was there?

The year was 2715. The raw date itself had little meaning to Jax. All of her memories were relatively equal. The images she retained from her early days in the dull world held little emotional connection. Flashes of her birth in the dull world, or even of her last moments before entrance into the shining world of the Network, were no more vivid to her than those of the game or adventure zone that she had played the day before. All of those memories had been scanned and digitized atom by atom.

Sadly, like most, Jax had been unemployed and poor in the dull world, so her scan resolution was set as low as possible and yet retained the sense of identity. It was what she had to work with, and there was no way to fix it now; she tried not to obsess about the limitations.

Still, she hated her memories from the dull world and its lousy low-res for the poor. With a higher resolution, she figured she might have a clearer image of herself here in the shining world. The old memories might make more sense and give her more well-defined goals and desires. But there was certainly no way to fix the problem now. Her organic brain had died with her rotted body so very long ago.

Jax slowly felt her resolution clearing. She was coming to full concentration. Her calendar appeared on the wall of her restart chamber. It was a very plain and small chamber that matched her Network status. The programmers and managers would have gigantic chambers within even larger spaces, all elaborately decorated. Jax had nothing but the four walls, which broadcast all the data and entertainment she could possibly need. She was not sentimental like many of the other forgos, even the oldest of them.

The rest of her space was just another empty cube of equal size to her restart chamber. It felt clean to Jax and she liked it. The Naturals spent much of their time without any space at all or even an avatar. Jax felt that this was what the future would look like, and she figured it was smart to embrace it rather than cling to more and more space like many of her fellow former organics did.

The calendar indicated yet another section meeting in 2.5 hours. Jax’s specialty and department regulated the processing of requests for additional permanent personal space, which they all called RAPPS. While they did maintain a virtual currency to trade for minor services, real wealth was measured in space, detail, and access.

How much personal space were you allotted for your programming and avatar? How much detail and resolution was allotted to that space? And, most importantly as far as Jax was concerned, to which areas and zones did you have access? Being able to get into a certain adventure zone or club was widely considered the most valuable resource that existed. The naturals didn’t concern themselves with this in the same way the forgos did. They did, however, place an even higher value on program storage space. That was their most premium currency.

Since she had some time before the meeting, she decided to see what was new in Perfect City today. Good old Perfect City. It was Jax’s favorite zone. And it truly was old — something like 400 years old — yet it still delivered some of the best content. She pulled up the large map and some menus to her walls. She could see that space adventures were still the most popular right now. Before that it had been historical recreations, like fighting pirates and cowboys, that sort of thing. She hated those. What was the point of looking back to the dull world? Now these space adventures had a lot more promise. There was one where you were landing on an unexplored alien planet. Anything could happen. There might be hostile aliens to fight, or maybe you would just have to catalog the place for possible useful resources.

Best of all, nothing was dirty in Perfect City. In Jax’s opinion it was the most shining place in the whole shining world. Jax decided to select that mission. She wouldn’t get very far in it before the meeting, but she could pick up right where she left off afterwards. Her favorite thing about Perfect City, and perhaps the main reason she stayed with it even though other sites were now more popular, was that her name there was Jax, just as it was on the Network in general. She was the original Jax. She did not have to pick Jax01, or Jax_1, or any other garbage like that.

From her blurred memories, she knew that she had been Kelly Jackson from Nashville, Tennessee, but those names and words meant nothing to her. They were far less present and real than her sleep mode audio and visual selections. She was Jax, and Jax was all that mattered.

As soon as she entered Perfect City and launched her selected game, she was on the bridge of a spaceship making its way down through the atmosphere to the surface of a planet. She was sitting at the controls and looking out through a front window while clouds raced past. It seemed she was either the captain of the ship or the pilot. Most of these games came with little instruction, and they all were just as vivid as any other situation you might encounter on the Network.

When they landed and everyone got out, Jax saw that she had a crew that consisted of a love-interest lieutenant, a rival lieutenant, and two fodders. She could tell that they were all imitation AIs, or IAIs, as they were commonly called. Sometimes the games had other true players, but this one was probably in test mode.

The plant life towered overhead in vivid purples and violent greens. The sky was sort of purple, too. There was a large, open plain ahead of them with mountains on the far side and what looked like an artificial structure that had been built into the side of the distant hills. It was obvious that they were supposed to walk that way, and that it would take too long. Jax saved and exited.

She decided to kill the rest of the time until her meeting in sleep mode. She had been doing this maybe too much over the past few months. It was so much easier to exist in a half-conscious state, sort of swimming along with the current. Thoughts would come and go alongside songs and movies, and she wouldn’t pay them much attention. It was almost as if they no longer belonged to her. Jax found it very relaxing.

Her walls turned light pink. It was time now for her meeting. She looked quickly at her favorite avatars. Though she was tempted to pick something unusual or off-putting to suit her current mood, she chose her usual meeting avatar instead. This was a 29-year old human female with long brown hair tied up in a bun.

Most of her avatars were female, and this was how she still thought of herself: a relic from her organic days. It was the sort of ridiculous sentimentality that she tried to avoid by staying in sleep mode or in Perfect City as much as possible. She wore an elegant business suit in bright orange, which was the most popular color right now.

Avatar selection was really the only important and difficult part of the job. Too many people chose comedic avatars like animals or fruits and vegetables from the dull world. That sort of thing could get you reassigned to something even more boring and time-consuming. Changing your avatar often was also frowned upon. Jax had used an older male avatar to try and blend into the background for her first two cycles in the position but had stuck with this younger female for the past three. It was a well-designed and striking avatar that drew more interactions, but she was too nervous to change it again.

As soon as she selected the avatar, she sent herself to the meeting, which was in zone Alpha One Nine. This was a mixed zone, meaning that both forgos and naturals were allowed to go there. The access was barely restricted and she resolved in the meeting room almost instantly.

Most of the participants wore their usual avatars, and most of these were as tame as Jax’s. She spotted Elly553 at the far side of the room. Jax had spent much of the previous night with him at Club Rose. Most of the night was spent dancing, which Jax hated. There were also a lot of movies being played on the walls; they depicted rapid scenes of people bleeding and being cut apart. That sort of imagery was very popular right now. It made Jax uncomfortable which, she assumed, was the point, though knowing that didn’t make them any more pleasant.

The music and dancing had never stopped at Club Rose since it opened three cycles ago — an endless thumping beat. Jax found this irritating after a while. The only reason she stayed was that Club Rose was way above her level, and she didn’t want to lose even one second of precious access. In fact, the club was a blank identity area like most of the highly restricted areas. This meant that you could not find out who anyone was. The highest manager or programmer could go there and do whatever they wanted, free from gossip. Jax didn’t really care about that too much. She was mostly interested in seeing how high an area she could access.

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Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2019 by Vanessa Kittle

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