“VR” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

Trey was running through a valley of neon. Behind him, crackling radio voices barked HALT CITIZEN. He heard himself laugh. He wasn’t a citizen. The data raid on the Blue-Corp processing facility had seen to that.

Even with the best soft-masks that credits could buy, Blue’s tracer routines had still latched onto Trey’s neuro-ID. They’d crunched his brainprint in a quantum server farm over in Manila and sent the data to a dark site in Stockholm for enhancement and confirmation. From there, it had been a matter of running a simple usage trace on the open net. A level three hoover-bot set to look for macro-patterns in all of the corporation’s cookie records. Given that they owned 30% of the net, statistics were in their favour.

Trey kept running, hearing the footsteps getting louder and louder. He didn’t feel tired. The black-market nanotech coursing through his veins saw to that. Just as well I bought that upgrade he thought as he spotted the mouth of a metal-panelled alleyway. The HUD implanted in his retinas flashed up a large green arrow. It almost blended in with the rainbow reflections of the street’s many glowing signs.

Behind him, the bulls kept up the pace. With their dark helmets and shiny armour, Trey didn’t know if they were human or android. He didn’t care. As he got closer to the alley, a random pedestrian staggered out in front of him. A synth-head, so loaded with illicit pharma that spatial awareness was little more than an abstract concept. A bright red prompt flashed up in Trey’s HUD telling him to do something. He did. Another prompt flashed. He followed it perfectly.

Almost as if watching holo footage of himself, Trey grabbed the synth-head and hurled him backwards into the bulls – using the momentum to boost himself forwards. It took exactly 2.3 seconds. Just like the last time. He didn’t look back. He didn’t listen to the clattering and shouting behind him. He kept running.

By now, he was in the alley. Raven cameras whirred above. He picked up the pace, barely leaping out of the other side before the bulls activated the clearance system. The alleyway became a glowing caterpillar of flame. His HUD pointed to a shadowy alcove beside a shuttered shop. He ducked into it and waited. It would take two minutes for the clearance system to go through a full burn cycle.

On the other side, the bulls would be running range algorithms and probability trees. In eighty percent of pursuits, the perp took full advantage of the headstart. Typically running 300-400 metres. Tests showed that they stuck to brightly-lit areas, too panicked to chance stumbling in the dark. Data showed 75% of them turned right. As the flames died down, the bulls followed the most logical course. Trey watched them thunder past him, still barking standard warnings.

Green text floated in front of his eyes. CONGRATULATIONS. But, before he could work out what to spend his newly-acquired credits on, a voice from outside the world said: ‘Come on, mate. I need to use the telly.’

Sighing, Trey said: ‘Pause. Save. Quit.’ The world went black.

In the living room, Trey lifted the bulky VR headset off of his face and reached for the game console sitting beneath the flat-screen. Beside it, Joe grinned: ‘You were playing for five hours, mate. Good game?’

Trey laughed: ‘Yeah, it’s set in a dystopian parallel universe. Kind of like an indie version of Deus Ex, with a hint of Judge Dredd and Blade Runner. Oh my god, did you know that..’

Joe rolled his eyes: ‘…Blade Runner is set in the distant future of next November. You’ve told me already. Seriously though, I don’t see the point of all this dystopian stuff. I mean, the world is crap enough as it is.’

‘Yeah, but it’s a cooler type of crap. Plus, it’s nice to think that all of the scary stuff goes away when you turn the console off. That things could have turned out ten times worse than they did. Anyway, why did you want the telly?’

‘The footy’s on in five minutes. Light entertainment from this universe.’ Joe reached for the remote. The tail end of the news appeared: ‘…In the face of outspoken opposition from her opponents in congress, the US president signed the net neutrality bill into law. Now for an EU election party political broadcast from…

Joe laughed: ‘Parallel universes? I’m sure all of them are as boring as this one. It’s nonsense anyway. People are smart enough not to let the world turn into a dystopia.’

Trey nodded: ‘Yeah, I guess. Still, it makes for good games and movies though.’

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2 comments on ““VR” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

  1. babbitman says:

    Nice bit of irony there. 🙂

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