Oversensed – A Sci-fi short story

Forward

I wrote this for a creative writing class back in 2009. It’s been sitting on my computer and in the back of my mind since then. When I was writing it, the idea of mining asteroids wasn’t yet in the public eye and I don’t believe I had seen Avatar yet despite some of the themes and language now being considered a bit James Cameronish.  I was more inspired by William Gibson’s vision of the world of cyberpunk and combining it with something we use everyday like the internet and evolving it with time into a future that isn’t dystopian or perfect either. We still see a need for money, we still have a societal structure much like ours today, but we have explored our own solar system and we now are harvesting it, creating new jobs and new human problems in the future. Enjoy.

Alexander Kline

Oversensed

The surreal landscape unfolded in front of my eyes like a pop up story book. Mountains erected themselves in a linear, two dimensional manner, before becoming fleshed out in the Z axis. My eyes shifted focus as I began to feel a wave of stimulus overload the nerves in my body as the landscape reeled forward in all directions and filled itself out several more times.

A bright blue sky appeared overhead, clouds randomly popping in and out as the servers loaded and synced. It was always the larger objects, then the smaller more subtle ones. Layers of sight, smell and sounds cascading upon one another. Then their textures.  I can smell the flowers now and the tall grass, I can hear a bubbling brook and birds call.

This was supposed to be an alpine location. We’re going to need snow-capped mountains, I thought. Where is she?

We met on a vintage movie review site and decided to create a virtual world fashioned after the scenery from the Sound Of Music. The internet’s different than it used to be; well the old print and pulp site’s still exist as a foundational layer of contextual searchable information, but now the newer layers actually involves your avatar going to virtual locations on the SenseNet. With your avatar goes your consciousness. Sometimes it feels like doesn’t fully make it back. Like you leave a piece of yourself out there, floating in the qubits.

The ship’s doctor looked at me inquisitively, he reminded me of an owl with those horn rimmed glasses on. Not many people wore glasses since perfect vision was a laser beam away. He must be recording me.

“Go on,” he urged.

I still remember picking up a blade of grass had a sort of an unconnected feeling. Not like the definitive and tactile “snap” of a real blade plucked by one’s own hand. More of a “pop” really, like you just opened a retro glass cola bottle.

“I remember running and jumping through a field of poppies and daffodils,” I said.

“You enjoy this sense of freedom, no?” The therapist asked with a hint of an old world Middle Eastern accent

“Yes I do, very much, running is the most fun, a different sensation than the real thing altogether. “

Very different, our avatars are only a rough estimation of physical ability or dimensions.  Built from scanning our memory, the system builds this approximation from our own glimpses in the mirror.

“They certainly don’t mirror our physical truth always, do they?” The therapist asked with a hint of sarcasm, he crimped the pen tip with his lips awaiting my response. For a second I imagined it exploding black ink all over his mouth.

“No they don’t, clearly they don’t”

“So tell me Derrick, how does your avatar look, compared to your self-identity”

“I’ve changed my appearance because in real life I’m a little overweight”

“Yes Derrick, and this morphism is a result of your online courtship with, let’s see, ahh yes Jenxzgirl32?”

“Just Jen now, but yes….. of course it is”

And if she did not look like her avatar, how would that make you feel Derrick?”

It wasn’t like I hadn’t thought of this before, but she had sent me holo-pictures… Perhaps only clear from the chest up, shit, I don’t’ want to think about this, we get along great and I’ll see her when I get back to Earth.

“I think we’re done for the day, Doc”

“We’ve actually got 15 minutes left in our session”

“No I think that’s enough time for today, just really tired”

“Before you go, I’d like you to take a diary of your day to day events, summarize them, including any Sense Over’s you have”

He handed me a flat black leather bound booklet. It had a small electric pen sheathed underneath its faux coils. Piezoelectric notepads haven’t changed much since I was in school.

“Yea Doc, sure thing, but I’m calling it a journal, diaries are for ladies”

With that I turned and left his metallic oak patterned office. I didn’t mind the Doc but if I could choose between SenseNet and seeing him, SenseNet would always win.

I needed an outlet from being bored half to death on this asteroid mining rig in the middle of our solar system. It would be another two years before this contract would be over and I would return to earth.

The doc asked me to create a journal of events after I enter into SenseNet to log my time and experiences. He says I’m developing a serious need for it and that it could become an addiction.  I know he’s right, eventually streams will cross in my brain at the wrong time like while I’m working.

Sense Overs are dangerous but only a small portion of the population is susceptible to them he tells me.  Can’t have a SenseNet flashback flooding into me while I’m operating these xenon carbide laser drills or I’ll be stuck here another ten years paying for damages.

Xterra 361 is a mining station in orbit just between the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, specifically, we orbit a partially habitable moon named Europa where we can draw upon is hydrogen supply to make water. We take smaller ships on tethers called Badgers closer to the asteroid belts and rings and scoop up the material necessary for harvesting. I’m an operator for one of the Badgers main laser drills.

My living quarters are a lot smaller than what classic flat shows like Star Trek had envisioned for the future, a lot grimier too, but hey its home and I can relax here.  Time to hit the SenseNet.

Next time, before I login I’ve got to get that poppy density up; Jen was mentioning how much she liked them.

The trodes of the neural visor massage their way onto my temples as I log in. I close my eyes and the familiar rush begins, as my mind is plucked out of my body and flown into an empty grid that expands infinitely in all directions. I focus my attention on the address of our favourite personal server, orbiting Mars. It’s a fairly neutral location for us so the lag is minimal on both ends. The mountains springboard out of the ether below, as pastel colours merge and become more intense. The familiar cool breeze begins, loaded out of sequence so that I feel it before I hear it. It’s a strange thing to experience senses out of order. The tall grass almost sprouts then multiplies without taking into account the wind until each blade is loaded. I look to my left, where are those flowers?  They begin to emerge in radiant red, almost overpowering the grass until opacity and shading are sorted out by the quantum processor my conduit.

No sign of Jen, I guess I’ll walk around and explore this modded out environment. Some of the mountains looked smudged with a god sized finger-tip. She must have been tweaking things.

SenseNet allow me to visit places back on earth and imagined, virtually lag free through solar internet. High frequencies of the sun proved to be the perfect carrier of huge amounts of information, in conjunction with multiple relay satellites spread throughout the solar system, the SenseNet layer of the internet was now virtually lag free.

My interface visor taps into my central nervous system and parts of my brain, including vision, sight, smell and touch. This technology is still relatively new but the boffins back at home have been playing with these for years without many problems; of course, they have a lot more contact with society then I do out here.  Billions of users from all over our colonies can meet and interact, including home, Earth.

I wait and wait, two hours have gone by, no sign of her, got tired of wondering around the Alps alone, logging off…

June 16th, 2216

I want so badly to have the warmth of a companion with me here. While I can’t, I focus on earning my credit bills, the monetary struggle continues. Our history books say this almost came to an end over a dozen times on earth in the past two centuries, ever since the Federal Reserve first tanked in the early two thousands.

June 17, 2216

I don’t want to have to care about credits, most people back on earth live well because of what we do out here. Pollution has been almost eliminated, but we still require resources. Mining and other polluting practices have been banned on earth since 2101. We finally realized we needed to preserve the few natural species left, or the ecosystems that sustained us would collapse entirely. When I get back to earth, I’m going to take Jen for an underwater cruise on one of those giant new luxury submarines. They say its nonstop entertainment and all the food you could want. Not to mention a great way to appreciate the ocean giants.

June 18, 2216

Another day another dollar, I didn’t have time to login to SN last night, but I craved it all day at work, the Badger hit a deep deposit of plutonium which could have had dire consequences if my co-operator didn’t snap me out of my SenseNet day dream… maybe Sense Overs could happen to me…

June19, 2216

Got my room setup for relaxation, most knowledge is available now and easily uploaded into our brain via the SN technology. I’ve been practicing my Shakespeare, I have at least 90% of the quatrains from Romeo and Juliet uploaded without much of a hitch…

June 20, 2216

Takes courage to be out here, far away from home, it’s what separates the men from the boys. My back hurts, time to get into the rejuvenation chamber. See ya tomorrow, journal.

Woke up in the middle of the night, terrible dream, was in the Alps scenario when I saw a girl in the distance, I kept running towards her but got no closer, I ran until my feet were bloody stumps and the grass turned crimson red.

June 21, 2216

I feel good physically. I stopped using gyms about the time I decided I could come out here. Instead of torturing yourself for hours while listening to up-tempo music and tearing muscle tissue, we can now bathe in an electrified gel, much like our mothers amniotic fluid I’m told, which completely rejuvenates skin, nerve and muscle tissue, it helps the body to feel healthy again and don’t need to sweat my balls off, so of course I friggen love it. We still got machines to build mass and slim ya down, but what’s the point when you don’t gotta see anyone you’re attracted to in RL.

*Logged onto SN again, no Jen, starting to get worried so I sent her an old fashioned message.

June 22, 2216

Hernandez from g-sector engineering says I spend too much time on SN.  Says the drill bit on the Badger showed signs of stress fracturing. Looks like SN daydreams are affecting my work, negligence induced broken drill bit equals partial lifetimes of being out here to repay it. Mental note, stay the fuck awake.

June 23, 2216

Got a reply back tonight, says she needs to see me tomorrow at the Alps on our favourite Mars server.

I need a real beer; this sythenol garbage tastes like club soda. My day dreams are getting clearer every day, experiencing withdrawal from SN, big-time.

June 24th, 2216

Powering on neural implants in a moment, the solar strength is high. This is it, like a junkie my body is screaming in anticipation for its next hit of SenseNet. No sign of Jen.

June 25th, 2216

She came to me in drab clothes, said she wasn’t going to be able to meet me here anymore, and says she found someone else, back on Earth, a flesh date. I shouldn’t be sad or angry, but I’m crushed. Is this a bad dream?

Woke up to the alpines being swallowed by fire, felt the world caving in on me. Time to see the Doc.

“Hey Doc. “I entered the familiar office; the metallic overtones of the room accentuated the dark wood of the Doc’s horn rimmed bio metric glasses. No doubt reading and recording my stress levels for later analysis. Any erratic readings and he would hit a button that would signal security forces to bum rush me and be grappled to the ground within ten seconds or less. But I was more deflated then violent.

“Hi Derrick, It’s good to see you. I’ve been reviewing the journal notes and I’ve been rather concerned by these day dreams you seem to be having.

“Yes Doc, I can’t be out here paying for equipment”

“Derrick, your notes leave me with two options, either place you on temporary suspension or begin a new and experimental treatment I have devised. “ He looked like a man about to eat a steak.

My heart sunk, then began to beat fast, I sure as hell can’t afford to lose any time on the drills.

“I’ll take option two, what have you got for me Doc?”

He bent forward with his eyebrows furled and his eyes focused measurably.
“We need to purge your Sense Overs by cleaning your mind of the association of the Alps scenario being a healthy escape for it. Let’s try reprogramming the world of the Alps, which symbolizes your old relationship, and to purging the land with fire. Your dream was a representation of this, but now I would like to program the computer to cleanse the Alps via your SenseNet neural trodes.”

A part of me felt sad, ruining something which Jen and I had put so much time into perfecting. My vision felt blurry, I hadn’t slept properly for days. Maybe I would slip up at work in a matter of days, maybe it was only a few minutes away from happening. Then I would be stuck here for years or out of a job and living like a subhuman back on earth, I wouldn’t have the money to pay for my implants and upgrades that kept my place in society. Then I couldn’t think of a reason why I should preserve the Alps. Fuck the Alps.

“Let’s do it Doc”

Once it began, I wasn’t the least bit nervous about watching this world burn in SenseNet, maybe it would stop actually the Sense Overs I was having. Maybe I would sleep well again.  I watched from above as the mountains split and the grass became torched and spread up the mountainside, somehow not as scary as the dream, but decidedly therapeutic in many ways.

June 26th, 2216

Not touching SN for a while, I’ll stick to the standard Hollywood holographic films, maybe even some 2d vintage ones, can’t get my heart hurt and my head stuck that way again. Maybe I’ll workout using the mass builder/leaner. Two more years on this floating rig, I wonder what Jen actually looks like?