Editor’s note: This is the final revision of a story that White Wolf published in Digital Web 2.0. You can read this version and then go buy a copy of the book to see what the editor changed.
The crisp edges of Reality fade away as my mind melts into the web. Blackness plunges down over my vision. I raise my arm reaching, grabbing, trying to define a familiar surrounding. I feel nothing. Nothing holds me, nothing surrounds me, nothing moves inside of me. I scream. No voice. My vocal cords have been cut off. My mind drowns, gasping for air. Do I even exist? I cry out; no one around to hear me.
Light. A pinprick hole in my vision guides my movement. Straight ahead phosphorescent, it grows closer. Elongates, flattens and the hole widens, deepening to accept my entry. I turn my head, it stretches out and takes in three dimensional depth. A line, an umbilical cord guiding me, birthing me. I relax into its grasp, feeling the junkie appetite and excitement send sparks down my spine.
The world catches up to me as the speed drops me slow. Being drawn in, sucked into familiar surroundings. Blurry images and color and texture and feelings sweep towards me, merging into my new being. Then a bright Technicolor flash and everything deepens as I hit the data stream full force. Touchdown.
Overhead the flat, two-dimensional html pages float awaiting their turn to get whisked away to some Realtime user’s computer terminal. When will they learn that this is the ultimate way to explore virtual reality. There’s no real connection, no feeling when one surfs the web like that anymore. But that’s all in the past for me now. The real web is where it’s at now. Icons brush by me, always in a rush to get someplace fast, someplace new. Not to much time to chat here in the crosscorners between the web sites.
“Drop down map, highlight Fishbowl,” I call out. The gateway map spreads out into my vision. A green highlight marks my destination. I touch the highlight and zoom away to chatland.
“Hi Shiba,” calls a wandering happy face.
“Waz up?” I reply scanning his authenticode. A wide smile appears across my face, I feel as if I’m returning home to my family after a long vacation.
The Fishbowl is a kewl hang. Designed by some Webspinning fish lover, the Fishbowl is a gathering place to exchange information and party. People come here because they can escape from their limitations. Webspinners use the Fishbowl to wheel and deal. Deals and contacts are made here, only to be broken later replaced by more tantalizing offers. On a Monday night, when Reality offers little to no stimulation, it’s busting with action. Over 60 Icons are in the tank already, and the night’s just begun. Too many fishes in the pool, so to speak.
“Fish Icons permissible only” calls out the sysop message.
I shimmer my Avatar into a small guppy and jump into the tank. Bright fluorescent palms and watery flowers wave in the environmentally enhanced water. Rough colored rocks conceal Icons making deals or getting high. The phosphorous lights dance off the colorful patterns Icons chose to place upon their fish scales. An Icon whose scales are tinted with flashing signs requesting information on Yazju drifts past. Muted underwater sounds of waves, whales humping and dolphins singing are piped in through unseen controls. Hungry Icons waft toward the bowls upper opening, their fish shaped mouths begging for food. There are about 50 or 60 schools of Icons swimming and countless animations floating around. I scan their authenticode, she’s gotta be here tonight. She promised. Even her mail said she’d meet me here. A couple of sweeps later and there’s no sign of her. But the consolation prize is that 10 other Icons I’m familiar with are here. Maybe one of them can provide me with that information. Redux materializes out of the void and shimmies over to me.
“Exciting news?” I say.
His eyes dart about. It looks like he’s afraid to even be caught online. Looking over his shoulder he jacks into a private channel. I match the private shield and enter the bubble.
“Come on, spill it,” I say again.
“Shiba, I was talking to the prophets and something’s coming. Something bad is going down and the web’s gonna get hit.”
“Redux, calm down. Nothing can touch us here. It’s safe. Maybe the prophets were talking about the webs in your brain, my man. The web is safe.”
He doesn’t take to well to the joke. My stomach turns as he glares deep into my eyes, “Look Shiba, don’t say that I warned you. I’m out of here. Cya.”
The private mode disables as Redux disappears. I scan the site once more, she’s still not here. Maybe it’s for the best. Especially if Redux is right.
A shock wave scream decibels to loud hits the Fishbowl. My ears go numb as my Aviator changes shape. Icons changing form, trying to escape, dart about. Those caught in the wake are torn apart or split between two runtime programs. The curtain of the Fishbowl’s outer walls tear two holes, exposing parts of it’s next door neighbors.
“Home,” I yell, desperately trying to get the panic command to work. No good, my system is frozen. The shock wave comes closer and I close my eyes, expecting to be torn apart in its wake.
The Technicolor flash fills my vision once again. Blurry images and color and texture and the feelings depart from my mind. The bright and familiar world disappears below me, fading into the past. The umbilical cord shoots me upward through all the chaos. It’s entrance returning to a pinprick hole in the electronic sky. I reach out, wondering what’s going on. I hear the blood rushing through my ears at a deafening pace.
Reality jerks my mind back into my body. Darkness once again covers me like a blanket. My senses are on overload and the adrenaline pumps pure through my veins. My back arches, I can’t breathe, and my fingers clutch for my neck. A monitor in front of my face displays . I’m in a room with four walls. Strange objects and melting colors occupy the room. The air is warm, stale and the smell of burnt meat mixed with ozone fills the room.
Where am I, my heart races. Straight ahead on top of a brown box rests the only familiar object, a Diablo 6G surf deck. Butterflies chase each other in my stomach. A green LED light flashes to the sound of a spinning hard disk.
I turn my head to the right. A large circular viewportal exposes an outside world. Four triangular images wave in the airfoil outside. Confetti squares pour down from above, some sticking to the portal’s plastic. Everything in this world seems lifeless and dismal; drab hues of gray and blue color this world. Still nothing seems familiar.
Standing up I walk away from the Diablo. Behind it appear three more objects. A thin, clear metal rectangular form sits suspended, held upon between two cylindrical columns. Next to it on either side lounges two upward sloping squares. Closer examination reveals that they are smooth and soft. My breath becomes short once again. Still nothing seems familiar. Above this arrangement are colored objects hanging by unseen forces on the wall. Wild designs splashed with color compose the inner images.
“Now this is unReal,” I think heading back to the Diablo and sitting down.
I slide my hands down the sides of my flesh. They hit something cold and hard beneath me. A chair, I think. This is a chair. I inhale deeply. Now we’re getting somewhere. I turn my head once more to the right. The triangular shape, now taking on a different appearance. It’s outline becomes more pronounced, feathery. I can see individual lines waving in the breeze. That’s a tree, and it’s raining outside. A smile crawls across my face, as the world slowly dilates back into recognition. I grab the base of the chair, my arms’ muscles tighten as I force my body to rise.
Online unline real line unreal unReality reality
Home, my mind cycles. Home, but how? The electrodes are still taped firmly to my scalp. They’re still hot to the touch. Standing halfway up, the shock and sounds of web connection buzzes around me. Once again I feel the adrenaline jolt rush throughout my body. The crisp edges of reality fade away as my mind enters the web. Blackness enshrouds my vision. I raise my arm, reaching, grasping trying to define what is happening. “What the heck?” I ask.
Nothing holds me, nothing contains me. Nausea and deja-vu tug deeply at my stomach. I’ve done this before. The dot, the line, the umbilical cord I’m being jumped down the data stream. The bright Technicolor flash marks the last leg of my split second journey and I find myself back…to where the Fishbowl used to be.
I stand in the middle of what looks like the site of a virus bomb explosion. Voices echo within the desolate space. I almost expect tumbleweeds rolling past me at any moment. Everything lays in ruin. The shock wave has torn two giant holes in the outer walls of the Fishbowl. Flashing palms and partially exposed site matter litter the area. The underwater sounds of mammals replaced by static and clicks. Icons who weren’t fortunate enough to escape the wave hang suspended, running what was left of their runtime proglets. The Icon flashing messages across his was one of the unlucky ones. Ya ju is the only thing left visible. Ya ju reminds me of the voodoo words for bad karma and I shudder while crossing myself.
Webspinners from all over the globe resurface. Devastation written on their faces. I feebly smile and acknowledge their presence. We are out of our league here. No one knows what to do or say next. This is our common bond, we are the survivors of a fate worse than the destruction of our planet.
“Shit, man. Now what do we do,” a dark faced Icon says.
Kicking a block of sand out of my way, I wander over to him. And place my hand on his shoulder, “I guess we rebuild. That’s what we do, right? Nothing has ever stopped us from building and creating so why should this stop us now.”
A ball of light appears centimeters above my palm. I wave my hand and whisper a few commands into the ball. The globe expands and brightens as the energy flows into it. Around me, others are doing the same thing. Concentrating on the holes, I rebuild the site’s outer wall. This time I even design an added bonus, a preventative warning system in case another shock wave hits the web again. A few seconds later the program runs seamlessly and enters the main directory of the site.
Webspinners band together rebuilding the site gather all around me. The cubes and gridlines marking the administrative level of the site disappear behind the familiar forms of sand, rocks and watery ferns. Then the Fishbowl’s environmental controls kick back online. The palms and flowers sprout up waving as they did once more. Even the rocks and outcroppings that mark secret hidden niches materialize from the sand. Restored, the Fishbowl looks the same; yet, there is something dark looming in the code. The inescapable presence of escaping death hangs thick everywhere. We have experienced the worst backlash the web has ever had and survived. Others were not so
fortunate. If there is another one, next time we may not be so lucky.