A Tough Way to Live

The latest blog challenge (number five, if I’ve counted correctly) returns us once again to the three word prompt style challenge like the first. Now forgive me if my mind is in the gutter, but any prompt that puts “bed” in it is going to inspire a certain number of romantic or erotic story lines, and it’s taken me awhile to get past those and consider all my options. One thought was actually a deathbed story, a reconciliation of sorts, but that’s awfully bleak. I didn’t start writing these challenge prompts to drag a bunch of internet people down into the doom and gloom.

So that left me with quite a lot of thought needed, but I think I’ve come up with something at last. It’s not my usual cup of tea, so to speak, so I hope you’ll be kind with your condemnation. It’s a little slow to start, but I think I turned it into something interesting. Less related to the words that spawned it, but hey, I don’t profess to be perfect.

Your three words are: Honesty. Hate. Bed.​

“Let’s be honest, it’s not like we expected this to last forever, right?” It was her tone that made me angry, almost more than the words. It was that ‘I’ve decided something and I’m going to condescend like you should have known it all along’ attitude, the whole posture, even. We might be standing only figuratively speaking, with two VR avatars (that’s virtual reality for you centurs) talking to one another, but the body language still transferred well enough to irritate me beyond measure.

The next words out of my mouth probably shouldn’t have been said in the first place. I know that, really I do. I just couldn’t help the profanity. There’s an ingrained gut-clench reaction when someone shits on your sidewalk that you just can’t navigate around, even when you know better. “You used me,” I accused her next.

She didn’t object.

“If you even try to use my code in another project, I swear you’ll be paying my life forever onward. Got it?”

Her avatar just froze in place, and then disappeared. Apparently she hadn’t felt the need to reply to my copyright claims whether she intended to use my code or not. Who knows whether I’d actually need to check, but I hastily scribbled a note to myself to do so. Ultimately I disconnected also, not feeling up to VR after getting fired and broken up with in the same conversation.

The grey walls of my cubicle returned around me as more interesting things faded, and I slumped onto my bed and curled up in a ball. This was not how the conversation was supposed to go, I insisted. We were supposed to be discussing my cut of the profits so far, as well as the next stage of the project. If she thought they’d be able to keep working on the same thing and cut me out, she was in for a surprise. Most of my code would only work for me, and I would use my kill-code if she tried anything without paying me for my share. But if I knew I was in the right, why did I still feel like shit?

I guess I’d really liked her. It was new, for me, anyway, to be attracted to another woman on that level. I knew I liked people, sort of in general rather than specific to gender. When all our interaction was through VR, it’s not like the body or biology of the person in question really came into it. It was all about their mind, and how our thoughts meshed. I also knew I was attracted to intelligence, but I’d never been hit quite so hard before. Cupid is a little bitch for ruining the last six — no, eight — months of my life. Whoever I liked next was going to have to deal with some pretty heavy baggage on my end, if the weight settling around my heart was any indication. Having really liked her so much, I now really hated her in equal measure, and it was exhausting.

I needed a project.

That much my mind knew to insist on. I was never focused on my shitty so-called “life” in a box when I was working on something that interested me. I was halfway tempted to try and rebuild the software I’d just written from memory and then improve it so they didn’t make a cent, but that was just going to keep reminding me of what I was trying not to think about. I needed something that would direct my energy toward something positive.

Positive wasn’t exactly what my mind wanted to do right now. My mind wanted to write a master virus and sell it under the company name I’d just left, and watch the damage spread. I even had the knowledge to do it. I could write software all day… I had been, for six months. Maybe I needed something that wasn’t computer code.

Now there was an interesting idea. Did I know how to do anything that wasn’t computer code? Even when I played games to distract myself or break up the tedium of a job, I knew cheat codes and backdoor hacks that let me stretch my legs a bit further… figuratively speaking.

Living in a cube was supposed to be fulfilling, having all the technology to exist in VR twenty-four hours a day if you chose. They didn’t tell you that the nights were darker the longer you were there. Sure, I didn’t have to put up with the pollution and overcrowding of the city around me, the diseases that raged nearly unchecked because there simply wasn’t space to quarantine the sick people. I was protected from everyone, and what a hateful thing that was these days. Sometimes I just wanted to hack the system and unlock the door to let me out. I’d probably die of something, whether a mugging or a disease, but at least I’d get to see people. In person, like. Real people.

When did we decide that interacting with everyone digitally was so much better? All the propaganda I’d seen scrolled by my mind’s eye. Was it really so much cleaner in here? Was it worth the protein shakes and the organic gruel? They certainly didn’t account for laziness in their equations. I had the fancy shower unit. I ignored it until I stank, usually. It’s not like anyone in VR knew how clean or dirty I was. In VR I was always the same, and no one could tell differently.

On a whim, I logged back in and aggressively changed my avatar. Instead of the androgynous skinny nerd image that I usually used, I added weight, let the boobs grow and sink under their own mass, told it to put my hair up in a messy clip, and put on a skirt. It was closer to how I really looked, except the skirt part, but I wanted it to be different, and I’d never worn a skirt in VR. Ever. Just a weird thing that seemed pointless. Who was I trying to impress, anyway?

To my surprise, an envelope appeared next to me, flapping tiny off-white feathered wings. I almost didn’t reach out for it, I was so shocked. No one used physical mail any more, it was all email. The envelope landed in my hand when I reached toward it, and unfolded into a piece of paper. It read: Lookin’ good, Casey. You can do so much better than her.

I turned around, looking for any other avatars in the market square where my avatar stood who might be looking in my direction. No one paid me any mind, they all had business they were attending to, whether buying or selling, or others just using the public area to meet as I had done a bit earlier.

Nothing. So who had sent me the message? It wasn’t signed, not visibly, anyway. I grabbed onto the paper tightly, rather than let it disintegrate away from me, and put on a very special pair of rectangular-lensed glasses. I thought they were nerdy-cute, sure, but that was not their purpose. It had taken me nearly a year to write the code for them and push it bit by bit into VR the hard way — we weren’t supposed to mess with Company proprietary VR code. The glasses allowed me to see things that weren’t intended to be visible, the metadata that was part of the underlying code of the program.

To my surprise, with the glasses, the original message was gone, replaced with “Hey sexy.” and a wink emoji. The metadata was there, but it had been obscured by a quality hacker. Now whoever it was had my attention. Seemed like he’d seen my confrontation, for what purpose, though, I didn’t know. No one spied on random meetings, that was a waste of time that could be spent earning money to pay for the VR tech we were using. If it wasn’t random… which of us was the target? I didn’t think there was much about me worth spying on during a meeting, it’s not like I brought my cheat codes and hacks with me wherever I went in a “physical” sort of form, that would be a waste of my god-given eidetic memory, and possibly dangerous to boot. People got caught when they left obvious signs of hacking ability hanging around.

The project was in prototype stage, sure, but unless there was a way to make it apply to something other than the DNA machine that was running it, I didn’t see a whole lot of usefulness for it to anyone outside. If they were competing, I suppose, but that was a narrow niche to attract a hacker of the talents I’d just witnessed.

Even as I thought it, I had to crack a smile. It might be a narrow niche, but it had attracted me, hadn’t it? Hackers still needed day jobs, otherwise I wouldn’t be looking for work out here in the open market. The thought reminded me that I didn’t have a job now, and would need to start looking, but I was somewhat more intrigued by the message I still clutched in my hand. Whoever it was had reached out to me, so it seemed like there ought to be a way for me to reach back, right? There wasn’t much point in reaching out in the first place otherwise.

So I locked the code from the glasses to my head and made another turn around the market. More information was visible, all the extra code that the VR simulator used to keep things organized was hanging off people and items like ragged scarves. This time there was another flying envelope in my vision, at one side of the square. Breadcrumbs, if I had to guess.

It was better than sulking.

2 thoughts on “A Tough Way to Live

  1. What a super clever way to use those prompts. I really liked this little short and would be very interested should you decide to continue this. Thanks for sharing with us. (:


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