Category Archives: Adventures in the NNS

A short story, posted in parts, collected here.

Day 11: Short Fiction – Adventures in the NNS Part 6

A thick fog rolled in and dissipated in a matter of moments. The open field and practice dummy were replaced with a view of a small village of earthen huts surrounded by a wall of wooden spikes. For a moment he just took in the scene. He could see people moving around in the muddy streets. The smell of woodsmoke hung in the air. Distant birdsong played at the edge of his hearing. This was all in his head, he knew this, but the scale was amazing.

“Well,” a gruff voice called from somewhere behind him. “That took you long enough.”

He turned to see a large green skinned figure dressed in simple leather armor leaning against a tree. Their head was shaved down to stubble, they had two sharp looking tusks jutted from their bottom jaw, and their eyes were a shock of gold.

“Do I know you?” As he spoke he realized his voice had changed. It now had a soft melodic edge to it.

“Focus on me for a moment.”

The name ‘Quinn’ hovered over the Orcs’ head.

“Don’t say it.” The Orc waved a hand. “Here, you’re Valandril and I’m Gorbix.”

“Gorbix.” He nodded as he said the name. “What do we do now?”

“You see that village down there?” The orc picked up the long, wicked looking blade. “They’ve got some trouble with a troll nearby and we’re going to handle it for them. Of course, we have to go talk to the mayor and accept the contract first, but this quest is the same for everyone, it’ll teach you the basics of how things work, and then it’s up to us to make find our own adventure.”

“We just roam around and do things?” Valandril watched as the orc began to walk toward the village.

“No,” Gorbix laughed. “We quest for glory!”

“Meaning?”

“By the Seven Gods, elf.” The orc shook his head. “We can fight to save this world, or destroy it. If you want, you can spend you days harvesting herbs along the countryside, or you can become a gladiator and fight all manner of beast and man. We can fly to the stars and visit far off worlds, control mechsuits the size of small skyscrapers, or if you’re in a bit of a mood, we slaughter every person from here to coast.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” The orc stopped and turned to face the elf. “There are quests along the way, treasure, a bit of glory to be had, and even a poker tournament if you’re interested.”

“It couldn’t hurt to check it out.” Valandril caught up to the taller orc.

“Greetings friends.” A village waved as they approached. He was dressed in a sleeveless burlap tunic, long muddled-blonde hair, and an axe over one shoulder. There was something familiar about his face, but Valandril couldn’t quite place how.

“Greetings, human.” Gorbix switched to a low tone. “The NPCs are pretty robust. They’ve got a good selection of dialogue and characterization, but if you play long enough you’ll find a the point where things start to loop.”

“We have a nice Inn if you’re in need of rest.”

“We’re looking for work.” Gorbix waved a hand at his elven companion. “Do you know of any trouble in the area that needs sorting out?”

“You should speak to the mayor about that.” The villager leaned in. “We have a troll problem.”

Valandril watched the village walk off into the forest.”Where does this all come from?”

“There is a framework out there that the main system runs on, but the details are filled in with your brain. Everything you’ve ever seen, read, or imagined get accessed when they need something done. Take my sword for example.” Gorbix held up the blade in question. “It’s basic shape and condition are programmed in, but the details are filled in with your brain.”

“That’s pretty cool.” The elf nodded in appreciation. “Where’s the mayor?”

“Follow me.” Gorbix strode through the gates to the town and headed down the main street with purpose. “I’ve done this a few times now. This is one of the better starting points. The skills carry over to the other setting so you’re not out of your depth when you switch. If you start out in the space opera section with laser blasters and starships it’s hard to transfer over.”

“But a shield and sword carries over to a space battle?”

“Plasma sword and a kinetic barrier.” The orc winked.

“Plasma sword?” Valandril thought for a moment. “Isn’t that like a light-”

“No, no, no, no.” Gorbix waved a hand back and forth. “That’s a copyright protected piece of intellectual property. A plasma sword is simply a plasma based weapon in the shape of a sword. The most common configuration is a saber, but there are other options.”

“I’m guessing that happens a lot?”

“Oh yeah.” Gorbix stopped in front of a wooden longhouse in the center of the village. “Are you ready to meet the mayor?”

“Sure.”

“A few things before we go any further.” The orc turned to the elf. “Don’t let anyone know your real name. Your account is connected to your personal information, and there are people out there who would hack your accounts. I know your name because we’re in class together. If you had added me from inside the game I wouldn’t have that information. Play it safe, keep your personal info to yourself.”

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”

The orc turned back to the door. “Follow my lead. If you start another character you’ll have to do this all over again, so I’ll run us through the fastest conversation path I can.”

**Running a bit long & winding, breaking it up into 2 pieces**

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Day 9: Short Fiction 2014 – Adventures in the NNS Part 5

A gently lit lobby loaded almost instantly as shifted from the education program to the entertainment setup. He looked down at his new avatar, it was a simple blue humanoid form, but he could see that it was already more detailed than his student incarnation. His arm was jointed and his fingers were fully articulated even in this basic form. He had grown accustomed to ignoring the muddled details of his avatar, it didn’t impact his studies so why should he care if his hand looked like a slice of bread?

Eight viewing screens hung in the air in front of him and off to their side stood another blue humanoid. The name ‘Quinn’ stretched across the humanoids chest. It waved, Andrew returned the gesture.

“I’ll walk you through this part, it can get a little dicey if you don’t know what you’re doing.” Quinn walked over to where Andrew stood and pointed at the monitors. “These are your selections. The top four are the general genres that you can choose from: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical, and Social. Each one comes with a few options, but we won’t worry about that right now. The bottom row are for licensed material. Unless you’ve got some money to drop, stay away from those. They’ve got weekly subscription charges, microtransactions, and this thing is linked directly to your bank account.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry.” Quinn laughed. “We’re sticking to the top row. They’re a bit generic at times, but you earn free time when you do your coursework. So,” the blue form shrugged. “Now when you make your selection, you get two options: Open or closed. Open means that you start in the world of your choosing, but you’re part of a bigger universe linked to the others realms. You can start out in a cyberpunk dystopia and then hope a drop ship to Ancient Rome to fight off the barbarian hordes. Closed, means you stick to your genre.”

“Cool.”

“What’s your poison?”

“I’m kind of partial to Fantasy.” Andrew pointed at the screen, it floated forward and a menu appeared as it moved closer.

“Urban, Classic, or Cyber?” Quinn read off the listings.

“I get Classic, but what are the other two?” He put his hand down, just in case he tapped something he wasn’t supposed to.

“Urban,” Quinn used finger-quotes. “Is what they label fantasy set in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. It’s like fantasy, but set in cities. It was really big for a time. ‘Cyber’ is the what future that people thought would be like, but also with Elves and magic and stuff.”

“I think I’ll stick to classic.” He tapped the selection on the screen. “Now what?”

“Now,” Quinn clapped. “I’ll create a character, since we’re linked for this session I’ll pop up once you’re done with the tutorial.”

Andrews virtual finger hovered over the ‘start’ button.

“One more thing,” Quinn stepped closer. “You can see my name, I can see yours, but in the game we go by our character names. Got it?”

“Yeah.” He said the word slowly. “Anything else?”

“Nope.” Quinn stepped back and vanished.

“Alright then.” He pressed the start button.

LOADING . . .

The soft white lobby was replaced by a field of vibrant grass that stretched to the horizon. In front of him stood three forms, not unlike the trio he had to choose from for his student avatar, in the form of a male, female, and unisex selection. Unlike the selections for the educational program, these were fully realized. They breathed, blinked, and even shifted their weight as they stood there. The only thing that was slightly off was their blank expressions. Beside the trio stood an heavily armored woman with long pointy ears and glowing blue eyes. The simulated sunlight glinted off the sharp edge of her shoulder pauldrons.

“Greetings traveler.” Her voices had a smooth tone with just a hint of hardness. “Please make your selection.”

Andrew selected the male. The trio were replaced by a circle of about twelve male creatures ranging from a human and elf to a huge lizardlike creature with horn ridges along its brow. Andrew flipped through the selections with a simple movement of his wrist. He paused at the elf, the avatar stepped forward and two variants took their place on either side. One was tall, statuesque with modest pointed ears, and had hair so white that it was nearly luminescent. Andrew pushed that one back, leaving the two other options still available. The remaining duo were slightly more approachable, the main difference being their height and ear length. The taller selection had ears nearly as long as his forearm, while the shorter had a normal sized ears that came to a point.

He touched the shorter of the two on the chest. The selections blinked out of existence. Andrew looked down at his arm to see a slender limb, he wiggled his new virtual fingers, and examined his hand that actually looked like a hand.

“Are you happy with your selection?”

Andrew looked over at the tall elf, she towered over him now. He had adjusted to the new height without even realizing it. After a moment he nodded.

Please name your character.

“Uh.” Andrew shrugged. “Suggestions?”

“Elvish name suggestions.” The guide nodded. “Maedhros, Eol, Ingwe. Would you like me to continue?”

“Yes, please.”

“Laenil, Valandril, Neudran. Would you like me to continue?”

“No.”  Andrew held up a hand. “Valandril. I like that one.”

“Step forward Valandril.” Her armor creaked as the tall elf bowed. She stepped out of the way to reveal four pedestals with weapons displayed upon them. “Choose your weapon.”

He looked at the options: A large sword easily as tall as he was, a sword and shield combo, a bow paired with a dagger, and gnarled staff with a glowing green crystal at the top. All four of the weapons were a bit worse for wear, but then this was the starting gear. After a moment of thought he picked up the sword and shield.

“A fine choice.” The elf took another step out of the way to reveal a training dummy. “Please take a moment to practice.”

He slid the shield onto his left arm and picked the sword up with his right. He took a couple of practice swings before he stepped toward the dummy.  The gear was a good solid weight in his hands.

 

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Day 8: Short Fiction 2014 – Adventures in the NNS Part 4

Over the next week Andrew fell into a groove. He’d go to work at the warehouse, load freight all day, and then promptly go to sleep once he got home. His avatar would load beside a desk, he would sit down, and the instructor would begin to teach. There wasn’t any interaction available between other students while the instructor taught, but Andrew didn’t mind; he had things to do. Today was no exception.

He walked up the stairs to his apartment, sealed the door, and began his routine before getting to sleep. First he’d take a shower to wash off the remains of the day, then he’d have something to eat, and once all that was done he’d unlock his safe to clean the visor. It didn’t really need to be cleaned on a daily basis, but it had cost him nearly two months wages so he wanted to take care of it.

Andrew checked the door to make sure the locks were engaged and then stretched out on his bed. The visor slid easily into place. A slight hum began to emit from the equipment as it engaged. Two long blinks and he drifted off to sleep.

LOGGING IN . . .

Instead of the lecture hall he was in an open auditorium. There were voices behind him. Andrew turned around in a slow circle to find a table of four students talking over open notebooks. They were all dressed in the uniform green outfits, he found that the two-piece suit was a popular choice as it was now repeated three times with his arrival.

“First time?” The andy on the right asked.

“For?” Andrew ventured.

“Study group.” The same student waved a hand at the open seat. “At the end of each week of classes there’s a study group. It helps the program track your progress and load the next sections.”

“Oh.” Andrew sat at the open seat. He looked down at the table. Everyone else had identical notebooks and pencil cases out in front of them.  “How do I get those?”

“Open your inventory.”

“What?”

The talking at the table stopped. Eight sets of identical eyes rested on him.

“What?” He shuffled under the collective gaze.

“Move your right hand like this.” The andy raised his hand and popped his wrist up.

Andrew mirrored the movement. A small, semitransluscnet box about the size of his hand there were three icons on the display: a notebook, a piece of paper, and filmstrip. He tapped the notebook icon and his very own supplies appeared in front of him.

“What are the other two?” Andrew tried not to look up as he spoke.

“Class transcript and entertainment.” The same student offered. “I’m Quinn, I’ll add you as a friend.”

“Thanks.” A notification popped up in place of his inventory, he hit accept. “Andrew.”

“The tutorial is kind of lacking, right?”

“Yeah.” Andrew tapped the pencil box and a facsimile of a writing utensil appeared in his hand. “What section are you on?”

“Emergency medicine.”

“Wow, you’re really ahead of me. I’m only at the endocrine system.”

“That’s not bad.” Quinns’ leaned over. “Can I ask you something personal?”

Andrew paused. “Sure.”

“Why did you choose nursing?”

“It seemed like a good idea.” Andrew shrugged. “I mean, we’re always going to need hospitals and people to work in them. If I get lucky I could work at a private one.”

“Interesting.”

“Why?”

“You’re pragmatic.” Quinn pointed a faux pencil at him. “I want work, so I’ll go into a field that needs workers. You just log in for classes, right?”

“Well,” he shrugged. “Yeah.”

“What’s your specialization?”

“Emergency Medicine.”

“When you go for it, you really go for it, eh?”

“There’s always something going on.”

“True enough, but have they talked to you about burn out Listen, I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I’ve seen a bunch of people like you come through the course and just…” Quinn mimed a streak through the air and an explosion. “Do you think we all just study constantly?”

“No?”

“You need a break, you need something to relax.” Quinn leaned back in the chair. “Why do you think they gave you that entertainment option?”

“Because it’s a billion dollar industry.”

“Fair enough, but then why can you earn free time with your completion?”

“You can?”

“Pull it up, it will show your balance.”

Andrew flipped up his inventory and selected the filmstrip. A small readout told him he had two months of free time at his disposal.

“I’ve got two months.”

“Well, one month.” Quinn shrugged. “They give everyone a free month to start, but the second one you’ve earned through class.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” Quinn leaned in. “Do you want to check it out?”

Andrew looked down at his notebook. “I should really get back to class.”

“No class today.” Quinn smiled. “Today is a free day, default setting is the study group. Check your transcript, do you have any open assignments?”

“Sweet.” Andrew smiled as he read the transcript. “I’m running three days ahead.”

Another invitation menu popped up by his inventory.

“Join me for a game?” Quinn held the smile. “You need to defrag.”

“Sure.” Andrew returned the smile and hit the button to accept.

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Day 3: Short Fiction 2014- NNS Part 3

A soft buzz alerted Andrew that it was time to wake up. The alarm was yet another function of the visor. It was supposed to be a gentler way to wake than the traditional harsh tones, but he wasn’t sold on it just yet. The buzz vibrated the his teeth and made him need to sneeze. His fingers found the latch on the visor and he disengaged it from the three small circular nubs behind both of his ears that was the dock. His shift didn’t start for another two hours and he was ahead of the morning rush, but if he wasn’t early, then he’d be too late.

He had saved up enough to get the current generation of technology, which meant the connections were sub-dermal and didn’t have any real exposed mechanics. Previous versions had open ports similar to the old USB slots that needed to be covered when not in use. The raised bumps behind his ears were easily overlooked and didn’t need any special attention. Plus he didn’t want anyone else to know that he had the tech installed. Most people in the neighborhood wasn’t exactly the most fond of people who were trying to better themselves.

Andrew rolled off the bed and folded it into the wall. He placed his visor in the wall safe by the window, then set his own lock on top of the built in one. That put a solid steel door and four locks between the hallway and his little cache. His room was a seven by ten foot efficiency apartment. It had a monitor built into the wall that doubled as a TV and a pay-per-use computer that was a good ten years behind the times. The table, with attached chair, the bed, and even the toilet folded away to give the illusion of more space.  The sink and kitchenette didn’t lock into place, they were molded plastic that were covered in graffiti from countless prior lodgers. He didn’t understand how someone who had to live in a place like this could afford to toss out their security deposit. The place was a step-up from the racks of coffin hotels that were dotted along the industrial district, but not by much. He didn’t have to crawl to get into the apartment, that was a plus.

He unfolded the table, made sure it clicked into place, and opened up the mini-fridge. The container of purified water was nearly half empty was the only item on the top shelf since dehydrated eggs were cheaper than the real stuff. He took a swig from the bottle and took out the final breakfast burrito from the package. It was mostly soy and generated cheese arranged to resemble the classic ingredients, but if he ate it while it was still hot he could fool himself into thinking it was real sausage and cheese on a flour tortilla. Not that he’d actually knew what that tasted like.

Andrew slipped into his work uniform while the burrito cooked. He had the option of eating at work and having the bill taken out of his check, but that was a slippery slope. Supposedly they used fresh ingredients from one of their company run greenhouses, but it didn’t taste much better than what he could buy in the shops nearby and was more than twice the cost.

The microwave dinged as he finished the lacing up his work boots. He tossed it from hand to-hand before taking a bite of the molten mushiness. Each bite was followed by a deep breath in. He had learned the hard way that he needed to finish the food before leaving his apartment. People found their way into the halls even with the security in place. Not to mention the other lodgers weren’t above a bit of thievery.  This wasn’t corporate housing, no one kept the rules, and the security station only covered the front doors.

There were a couple other unwritten rules that he had picked up along the way. He stuck to the stairs, the elevator was impossible to escape once the doors closed. Andrew pulled a faded jacket he got at a surplus store on over his work clothes. The urban camouflage pattern wasn’t so effective against the various graffiti tags, but it was thicker than it looked and had a few hidden pockets where he could safely keep his personal items. The jacket was his favorite piece of the few articles of clothing he owned. He buttoned up his jacket, slipped on his thick work gloves, and headed out into the hallway.

The space was closed in with one window at the end of the hall. Even at the early hour there were people coming and going. There were a couple of people passed out near, but they he wasn’t sure they were actually out. Some of the lurkers didn’t move right, they weren’t going anywhere, just waiting for someone to ambush. Two weaselly men were patiently waiting for the elevator. Andrew squared his shoulders and stood up straighter to make himself a harder target.

They didn’t look twice at him as he headed for the stairs. It was four stories down to the ground level and then six blocks to the train station. Andrew looked around the station, at this time at morning the streets were lightly populated with plenty of other workers that had the same idea of beating the morning rush.

“Just another day in paradise.” He sighed.

 

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Day 2: Short Fiction 2014- NNS Part 2

Part 2

The world around him slowly faded into view. He was standing in a gently lit white room. In front of him stood a woman dressed in a simple gray suit. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t quite place from where.

“Hello.” Her voice was soft, modulated, and just a bit off. “Welcome to the tutorial for the Neural Network Service. I am your guide. Please state your name.”

“Andrew Metchnik.”

“Welcome, Andrew Metchnik.” She nodded politely as she spoke. “Please select a service package to proceed.”

Three screen materialized in front of her. Each one displayed a single word. From left to right it went: Entertainment, Education, and Social. Andrew reached out his hand to select the middle screen and saw that his arm was a simple gray limb without an elbow.

“Please do not be alarmed.” The guide gave a facsimile of a reassuring smile. “You NNS avatar has not yet been created. Options for customization will become available once you have selected a service. Your initial session will focus on your individual settings and account management.”

“Okay.” The minutely articulated appendage tapped the center screen.

“You have selected, education.” The guide pronounced the word haltingly. “Is this correct?”

“Yes.”

“One moment please.”

He watched as his arm snapped into focus, complete with an elbow and fully realized hand. Andrew wiggled his fingers, and took a closer look. They lacked fingernails and his arms were completely hairless, but it was a step up from the broom-handle limb a moment ago. The room around him changed to an auditorium with stadium seating. Beside the guide now stood three other people, a man, a woman, and an androgynous person who were all the same height and build.

“Please make your selection.” The guide did a slow reveal wave to the three people.

“Excuse me?”

“Please select your avatar.”

Andrew stepped up and looked at the three options. All three of them were dressed in the same outfit of green slacks with a white button down shirt. They didn’t look anything like him, they didn’t look like anyone.

“Is this it?”

“The educational program has limited avatar customization to avoid distractions.” She repeated the slow reveal wave. “Please make your selection.”

“How limited?”

“Students have three different genders, skin colors, and uniforms to choose from.” Once more she repeated the motion.

“This one.” He pointed to the male figure.

The other two options faded away as the male figure copied Andrews pose. He held the pose for a moment to realize he was now staring at a mirror image. A color palette with three options popped up near his virtual face. He waved it away and another menu with three options took its place. A set of icons similar to the stick figures that identified bathrooms blinked on the menu. One wore the default shirt and pants, another wore a set of coveralls, and the third option was a two-piece suit; the only color option was olive green. He tried each selection out before settling on the suit.

“Are you sure?” The guide asked.

“Yes.”

The mirror and the menu were replaced with another screen. This one was filled with a list of service options. He checked off a number of boxes to adjust his settings before he was allowed to move on. Coarse of study was next and he found a swelling sense of pride as he made his selections.

“Please stand by.” The guide smiled her pinched smile. “Your settings have been saved. Please wait while we finish calibrating.”

Andrew looked down at his virtual body. Aside from a few minor details, mostly the lack of fingernails and body hair, it was a pretty convincing representation. He tried to unbutton the suit jacket, but found that the entire suit was just a different skin on the coveralls. There weren’t any real buttons, zippers, or pockets.

“Calibration is complete.” The guide walked to the front of the room. “Do you have any questions pertaining to the NNS?”

“What happens if I wake up suddenly?”

“The NNS works on a buffer system that allows for such interruptions.”

“How long have I been asleep?”

“Time dilation is not currently active.” The guide mimed looking at a watch. “You have currently been at rest for four hours.”

“Wow.” Andrew blinked. “It doesn’t feel like that long.”

“Calibrating the system to you individual specifications made up for the majority of the time. You experienced REM sleep during this time.”

“Will my next session have time dilation?”

“Yes.”

“What else do I have to do?”

“Your first session is complete. You will return to your regular sleep pattern. Do you have any more questions?”

“How do I know this will work?”

“Please rephrase your question.”

“How do I make sure I’m actually learning something?”

“You can sign up for periodic messaging during your waking hours that contain review materials.” A small menu appeared as she spoke. “We offer the service on a daily, weekly, or monthly rotation. Would you like to know the rates?”

Andrew winced. “Are any of the services free?”

“There is a bi-monthly review that is free of charge.”

“I’ll sign up for that.”

The guide made a mark on the menu. “Do you have any further questions?”

“No. Thank you.”

“Thank you for using NNS, we look forward to seeing you in the future.”

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Short Fiction: Day 1 2014- NNS Part 1

Part 1

Andrew adjusted the visor as he relaxed on the bed. Millions of people logged onto the neural network each night, but this was his first time. He had finally saved up enough for the dock implants and most of the services he needed were free to access. All he had to do was activate the visor and go to sleep. From there the technology would take over and he would be able off to the virtual world. Andrew looked around the small studio apartment and tried once more to convince himself that this purchase was worth the expense.

The education packet came free with installation. Due to the time dilation in the sleep cycle he could complete a year of schooling two months. From there he could take a test IRL for certification, and that would lead to a better job, more money, and an apartment where he wouldn’t have to fold up his bed into the wall to use the toilet. He felt a slight tingle across his forehead as he powered on the visor.

All he had to do was fall asleep.

Simple enough.

It was amazing how many times he had looked up at the spackling on the ceiling with out noticing the shape of a frog near the doorway. Andrew took a deep breath and tried to relax.

NOTES
** I considered just putting on long expletive here after looking at the screen for ten minutes without a single word coming to mind. I’ve been playing a lot of video games lately, so I decided to write what I know. VR escapism. I’m attempting to do a short post each day of a minimum of 200 words. This one clocks in at 224, not including the note. Part 2 will be longer.**

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