Shadows in Neon City: Part Six
This City Is A Deep Fantasy
Written by: Zack
Published On: June 30th, 2021
Art by Hydra ヒドラ
The final elevator ding signaled their arrival. Murph and the other applicants stepped out into a waiting area. This one had floor-to-ceiling windows. From this height, Murph could just see the bridge he crossed to come here. The room kept the same aesthetic as the lobby he entered — without the chaos of the morning crowd, of course.
The applicants were met with a line of sharply dressed men and women. They wore grey suits and dresses free of wrinkles or creases, with bright white button-up shirts and cream-colored ties. The women wore Asutenki hair clips with the company logo; a yellow and pink sunflower. The men wore pins.
“Welcome applicants,” One of the women said as she stepped forward. “Thank you for joining us on time. In a moment you will be assigned a proctor to begin the first step of the interview process.”
She stood out from the rest of the employees. While each had some kind of cybernetic enhancement or effect to distinguish them, this woman’s eyes were covered by an enamel shell and her sockets were covered by chrome, like a mask. She was also noticeably paler than the rest of them. Her jet black hair was done up in a ponytail and stuck with an Asutenki clip. One by one the employees were matched up with a proctor and taken down the hall. He waited as he was soon left alone with the lead woman from before. She stepped forward, her black lips cracked a smile.
“My name is June and I’ll be your proctor for this part of your evaluation,” She said. Murph nodded before he stood up straight.
“Yes ma’am. Murph Bell, it’s a pleasure,” he said, offering his hand. She shook it with her one gloved hand.
“Indeed it is Mr. Bell. Before we begin, do you have any questions?” she said. Murph took back his hand and thought for a moment.
“Is there anything you can tell me about the nature of this evaluation? Like, what kind of skills will I be assessed on?” He asked. Her expression was unreadable behind that mask. It hid her eyes.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you about the content of this interview Mr. Bell. For this step in the process, we want your responses to be genuine.”
“Genuine? What is genuine about a data entry job?” Murph thought.
“Come with me and we’ll get you started. I can tell you now that this evaluation will take place in the Virtual Dream Rebirth. Are you familiar, Mr. Bell?” she inquired. Murph had a feeling that would happen.
“I’ve supervised VDR dives for some of the more dedicated divers at Orion Electronics. I’ve only logged about 6 hours of dive time in total over my career,” Murph said.
The Virtual Dream Rebirth was something beyond accessing the net via an interface. Normally, using an interface or computer would bring the net to you, so you could access information in your own space, within your own control. The Virtual Dream Rebirth, or VDR, was a process where you were brought to the net, and the interactions between you and information got…complicated. It was a process only the top performers at Orion got to handle regularly. Murph was rarely in that position, despite his best efforts. On those fateful days when he was allowed to dive into the VDR, he swore each time lasted moments despite hours passing in the real world.
He was taken to a corner office with a window overlooking the Corpo plaza.
He took a quick look around before his eyes were drawn to the solid wood office desk. On the desk was a VDR module with some connecting wires. The module was sleek and jet black, with a mirrored finish and rounded corners. It looked downright alien next to the desk and ergonomic office chair. The connectors were neatly arranged on the desk pointing towards the other chair, where June offered Murph to sit. Besides the console, the desk — and the office by extension — was minimal. Asutenki branded calendars and mugs dotted the work area. The one personal item Murph saw was a picture frame with a smiling older woman. She was in a wheelchair being pushed by what looked like a younger June. Murph focused on how happy June looked. She had hazel eyes.
June sat in the chair behind the desk, bringing Murph’s attention back to her. It was like flipping a light switch, seeing the June in the photo and the one who sat just a few feet in front of him, but that’s office life for you.
Murph didn’t get a cruel or harsh feeling from June, but it was cold. Professionally distant maybe? In any case, the woman didn’t so much as glance at the photo to her immediate right.
“We will conduct this interview in seed world 2. This is a collaborative world where your psychic profile will inform the world’s shape,” She said, tapping a few keys on the computer the VDR console was hooked up to. “You are from Southern Yupe, correct?” Murph was about to give her specifics but then felt that it would just be a waste of time.
“Yeah, Southern Yupe. By the lake,” Murph said. She nodded and entered the information into her computer. “Right about now a lot of people from the city travel up to the Yupe to enjoy our side of the lake,” While he said this his eyes drifted back towards the photo of June again.
“Alright, we’re ready to go here. The seed world will be complete with your input. If you will, Mr. Bell,” June gestured to the connectors.
He grabbed the connecting plugs and carefully pushed each one into the appropriate port. The sensation was as weird — and surprisingly painless — as ever. Each successful plug was met with a cool rush to the back of Murph’s skull, as if someone poured ice water down the back of his neck and it had somehow leaked into his head. He brought up his interface and opened up the dive program.
Entering the Virtual Dream Rebirth was a lot like lucid dreaming. You’re fully aware of your surroundings, even if you’re in the most fantastic of settings. As the programs began, the ice water feeling in the back of Murph’s head turned to a buzzing sensation before finally turning warm. “Fresh data” they called it, those divers who regularly visited the VDR. When your connection begins to feel warm, you know you’re getting piping fresh data shot directly into your cyberbrain. The sensation eventually spreads through your whole body. To Murph, it felt like he was sleeping on a waterbed. According to the divers he talked to, it took about four deep breaths to complete the dive. His chest rose and fell slowly.
On the fourth exhale, Murph opened his eyes to find himself outside. The sky above him was a deep sunset orange. Sound began to populate the silence around him. He sat up, towards the sound of water. He was on a beach near the lake. He could tell it was the lake because the air was cool and lacked the salty smell of the ocean he had heard about. He was up on a hill and looked down to see the waves crashing against a pebbled coast. Weeds, driftwood, and sand all mixed together to give it a speckled look. The hill he stood on was pretty steep. Murph looked behind him to see a winding walking trail snake up a steep hill. He looked ahead to see an endless body of water stretch on where it met the sky in some impossibly far-off place Murph couldn’t reach.
Murph knew this beach, this place. He was back home. The Yupe. Murph walked down to the beach and looked closer at the way the waves crashed against the beach. The VDR replicated sights, sounds, and smells and plugged them right into your cyberbrain. As it was explained to Murph years ago, it’s like you’re hooking up an old media player, except you’re the TV. Of course, the human brain is far better at interpreting stimuli than any computer. As Murph knelt by the shore, he could see the subtle differences the VDR and the real world offered. His knuckles dipped ever so slightly below the ground. Instead of moving the pebbles and sticks that brushed his hand, they passed into his flesh for a nanosecond before registering they had been moved. Again, subtle. What was less subtle were the bits of binary coding that coated the surface of the water before it formed the waves that crashed into the lake. Out of all the materials, the VDR could replicate, it had a special kind of challenge with water. No matter how advanced, the properties of water were never perfected. Because of this, odd things happened when a diver interacted with a large body of water. Divers called it the Binary Ocean. In Murph’s case, it would be the Binary Lake.
“Mr. Bell?” June’s voice could be heard behind him. Murph turned to find the woman sitting on a bench that overlooked the beach.
“We can begin your interview now if you’ll please sit,” she said, patting the space beside her. She looked out of place here. A woman of the Neon City NuWave decked out in chrome, surrounded by all this nature. Was this what Murph looked like to everyone else in the city?
“You don’t prefer long walks on the beach?” He said. June looked back at him with the same unreadable expression. Yet, he didn’t mind. Something about coming home made Murph loosen up a bit. Maybe he could do this after all. Of course, why else would he come here?