Friday, September 5, 2008

Pushing the Boundaries of Reality by Angelia Sparrow

The fusion of hardware and wetware, which began in the late twentieth century, reached its art form in the early twenty-second. Cyberspace, long the playground of anyone with a computer, now became accessible at a mere thought--no more clumsy keyboards or virtual reality visors--to anyone with the ready cash for a jack and a running program. Many of the technocrati logged out only to tend to their bodies' most pressing needs. Anyone could get around the forty-hour safety limit with a little thought.

Ariel benEzra, CEO of LedaTech, turned the small case containing the newest program over in his hands. It was meant to take the virtual reality a step farther, into true reality. His long fingers turned it over one more time, as if tantalizing himself. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror by the door and noticed he was smiling, full mouth curving up over very white teeth. Oh yes, this little piece of technology was going to change everything, for Leda and for him.

Zara Broine's running program was state of the art and fully integrated in all senses. As with most programs, it created a street scene of her desiring, translating the bits and bytes into images the human brain could more easily process. Right now, she moved through the crowd on her way to the great cathedral, the Church of Christ, Programmer. Her sable cloak fell only to her knees, keeping the fur from the cobbled street. Her black silk gown, embroidered in all shades of green from peridot to emerald, fluttered about her ankles as she pressed through, listening to the bell peal out the call to worship. A silver cross, haloed with an antique circuit chip, gleamed on the dark bosom of her dress.

Zara might have scandalized seven generations of atheistic ancestors, but the Technomancer looked perfectly at home in the great gloomy virtual gothic cathedral. Her own brother mocked her belief. She found him easy enough to ignore now. She listened quietly, making all the correct responses.

"In the name of the Artificer, Programmer, and Debugger, go in peace." The priest blessed the congregation, making the Sign of the Monitor and Cross.

"And all the people said, 'Amen,'" they responded, crossing themselves with a square added in.

Technomancer rose smoothly from her seat in the virtual cathedral. She moved out into her perception of the Net: a faux-medieval village scene of thatched huts and street markets. In the distance, she could see castles and towers and cathedral spires that marked major corporations and public services.

The congregants milled around her. Her program let her see them as their avatars, but dressed them to fit her reality. This made for oddities like the anthropomorphic lion in a houppeland and a tattooed Maori warrior in hose and folly bells. She took in the street for a minute and then planned her travel.

Technomancer made the jump to her fortress, an instantaneous translation between net-coordinates. She smiled at her reflection in the seamless obsidian wall of the tower.

Intrusion Countermeasures, ice in common parlance, sounded a warning beginning a data point away from the structure. More aggressive ice, including a couple of pieces that could flatline the best hacker, arrayed itself nearer the tower.

Technomancer herself gave off proper recognition codes and frequencies, so the forest of thorns parted for her and the drawbridge lowered to let her cross the alligator-filled moat. The red-hot iron caltrops scurried off on their newly animated legs, letting her pass. A door appeared for her, swinging open in the glass wall of the tower.

She puttered about the tower for a time, replacing a damaged section of the thorn coding where some cowboy had tried breaking in on a dare. She had ice that could kill and maim, and all the runners past their third run knew the Technomancer's Tower held nothing of value. But some always had to learn the hard way.