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?

The Prodigal Son


Jeremy Calhoun was on the cusp of his 11th birthday when his father decided a camping trip was in order. Hunting, fishing and living off the land were hard lessons only learn-able in the wild spaces between civilizations. Cornelius Calhoun liked his meat pure and his data well cooked. He was a Statistician by trade and quite well educated. He had fulfilled a lot of roles in his life, most recently he had humbled a health care labour dispute in his own way. As the labour relations arbitrator he locked out the striking workers until they caved for less money then what they has originally asked for. Jeremy Calhoun thought of his dad as more of a military leader, something like a corporal. He liked the forest’s lush green background and the damp smell of the northern interior of British Columbia was still untamed and wild. Like father, like son so the saying goes.
“Hey Jeremy, come here and help me load up”, barked his father authoritatively.
The USS Enterprise as Jeremy’s dad called it was a shimmering metallic ex military vehicle. Wide tracks ran down the length of both sides which imbued its unstoppable off-road capability. Although it was capable of month long expeditions in the woods, they would only be going for a weekend perhaps to catch some venison to make sausage. Jeremy could taste it now, flavoured with all the spices of an Italian deli sitting on his plate in the morning. It was almost worth seeing the life snuffed out of a helpless buck just for that taste.
“We’re taking the rest of the armaments” Cornelius detailed. Jeremy bundled the rifles and crossbows under one arm, barley able to reach down he grabbed the drab green ammunitions box with the other hand and heaved them into the great machine. With the vehicle fully supplied, Jarhead’s father climbed his large six foot five frame into the captains chair s and fired up the old turbo diesel inline engine. It’s rumbled to life activating a deep urge in Jeremy to be deep in the forest. The cabin had plenty of room, among various dials, pressure and temp gauges there was also a stereo with CD player and room for a small envoy of another six people with supplies. This trip would just be the two of them and a CCR album. “Engage” said Cornelius, his tone not changing. The tracks dug in and they were on their way to certain adventure.

Jeremy or Jar Head as his dad sometimes called him, didn’t talk much but when he did it was one pearl of wisdom after another. Jar head’s young and impressionable mind would fill with memorable quotes and philosophies forever. Cornelius recounted stories of teaching college kids, saying they asked too many damn questions and how he wished he could fail all those cocksuckers for not being able to follow simple instructions.
The path became more ridged, the enterprise steamed forward as they approached camp. The horizon was dimming from its earlier bright hues to a sleepier looking yellow and orange.
Jeremy looked out through the side windows and spotted deer off in the distance.
They found a spot on a ridge not far away from a stony riverbed to park the vehicle and make camp before the lights were turned off on them for the night. Jeremy’s dad got out of the car and sniffed the air like a big grizzly bear “someone’s nearby, scaring away our deer with fire”
Jeremy detected the faintest hint of hickory in the wind, it smelled nice he thought, envisioning smoked meet. They made camp for the night.

When they awoke it had been raining for some time, Jeremy had heard the soft droplets at first become tiny bullets assaulting the sheet metal of the enterprise. It was close to six am now and the enterprise was so well integrated with the landscape it was hard to differentiate it from the rocks and trees. Colonel Corn was perched against a side window portal; he opened it slowly, deliberately. “My Winchester, now please” Jeremy dove into the bundle of guns, cocked, loaded just like his father has trained him to. He handed the rifle to his father who then clicked off the safety and poked the nose of the gun out the window at an approaching large buck, he fired, and six hundred metres away, the shot registered as it hit a deer in the top of the spine.
Jeremy watched as the impact misted, the deer collapsed instantly.
“Hooo Haw, got me one!” said Cornelius.
Jeremy’s job would now be to go retrieve the carcass so it could be skinned and butchered.
He was given a set of ropes and with hooks and a knife in case the animal was still breathing when he got too it. Cornelius readied his butchering equipment, clearly excited at the prospect of bringing this animal back to the household.

The water from the river bed was raised easily by a couple of feet. Jeremy noticed immediately as he jumped down into it to collect their bounty. The rain wasn’t relenting. He would have to drag a sizable deer back to the Enterprise. When he got to it it was still twitching slightly and barely breathing. He took his knife out and slit its throat quickly. Jeremy perceived some kind of force leaving its body that filled him with a wild energy.
“Thank you for giving your life to be a tasty sausage on my plate”, he thought silently.
When he got back to the enterprise his muscles ached, the deer was heavy and soaked.
Jeremy’s feet were wet, he could see his father inside trying to start the vehicle and move it higher up the bank. It was stuck. He climbed into the cab with his father and was instructed to keep the vehicle in gear while Cornelius went out to move some debris around. It was no use the river bank has risen so quickly that it eroded some of the footing of the vehicle away.
They recovered the deer and went inside the cabin to formulate an action plan and take some solace from the rain.

It was then that they heard a rumbling engine sound; a 4×4 from the nearby campsite was heading in the opposite direction down their path.
Cornelius leapt out and started making his way up the bank to wave down the car. The rain kept coming down and they were going to need a tow now or face peril. Three fellows came back to the vehicle, all pretty young looking Jeremy though, but still much older them him.
One wore his hat backwards and had large headphones on the two other looked like his caretakers he decided. Cornelius explained the seriousness of their predicament; they needed to be pulled out quickly. He explained in his matter of fact, all business voice. Jeremy could tell he wasn’t taking no for an answer. The sheepish looking tallest one and the other normal one spoke together briefly while the one wearing headphones drooled on itself. After a quick conference they had decided it was too risky and they would flag someone else in the next town to come out and get them unstuck.

Cornelius did not accept this answer, it was immediate but discreet as he turned to his son and asked quietly for his Colt 357 Python handgun. As the ungainly group of three turned to go back to their 4×4 they heard a click’ sound as Colonel Corn cocked back the hammer of his 357.
“You aren’t going anywhere until I get my tow” he said
The boys looked shocked; Jeremy was quite unshook by all this.
“Boy, hold my gun and keep it pointed at them while I use their winch to get us out of here”
“Yes Pa” said Jeremy as he pointed the gun straight at the disabled looking man in the centre of them. Cornelius demanded compliance at the highest level.
“Keys” he spoke in monotone and stretched out his hand to the smartest looking of the bunch.
Within seconds he was parking their jeep on the banks edge and rigging their winch system onto the enterprise. All the while Jeremy never flinched; he held the gun steady, pointed, trained.
The small 4×4 heaved backwards and lifted the front of the Enterprise high enough to gain traction under its wide treads. Jeremy lowered the gun as his father came back towards him, job complete. The group of three stood there sheepishly, not knowing what to expect next. The one with headphones spoke saying “I like Jazz, jazz keeps me warm, not like that rock music!”
“He hates Coldplay”, said the frumpy one. Jeremy just nodded, missing the humour of the situation. The three young men scurried into their 4×4 and drove off.
The rain eased down now, as the Enterprise pulled itself up the steep ridge, gaining more footing every second; they rejoined the path taken by the 4×4.
Cornelius pressed a button on the console “Have you ever seen the rain by CCR” started blaring, he turned to look at his young spawn, “Happy birthday kid!” he said with an affectionate smile. With the deer strapped to the top of the vehicle, they headed back home. Jeremy was twelve now, and he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate then eating those deer sausages.