Here you go guys, a sample chapter from my upcoming science fiction novel "pre://d.o.mai.n". In this Chapter Miles Torvalds, the protagonist, receives a very special gift from his cousin, but it was chosen with an agenda in mind.
As always, let me know what you think?
The Saga of Miles Torvalds
The blank, featureless box under the shipping paper made Miles wonder at first why it had even been wrapped at all. If it was for decoration, he could think of a near infinite number of better choices of pattern and color than paper that matched the flat brown particulate of the cardboard underneath.
He paused, the index finger of his right hand having already removed the tab of packing tape that held the box flap shut. The exterior of the packing paper had been blank as well. If the packing paper had been blank, and the exterior of the box had been blank, then how did the package arrive at his Aunt and Uncles house?
There were plausible explanations that perhaps a less cynical mind would not have even questioned, such as if the box was part of a larger order, and packed into a larger box that bore the required shipping markings.
Miles would have assumed this was the case, were it not for knowledge of one thing-the relatively recent invention of disappearing shipping box ink.
For various reasons, the shipping industry had become a target of terrorist organizations. While the scanning technology at post offices had progressed to the point where they could claim a near 100% correct delivery rate, they could not seem to halt the practice of sneaking nefarious parcels onto their delivery trucks.
The terrorists had deduced that the post office had moved the shipping/tracking, and carrier information from a centralized database to parcel specific codes on the packages themselves. The information could not be faked by hackers in the central database if it never existed there in any practical form. Central office kept cursory data, but it was directly retrieved from the hand held scanners at the end of each shift and stored in a mainframe with no access to the net.
It was a very low tech but essential solution to the escalating problem of information theft and terrorism. A lost package claim had to be filed via a phone call with the local office, and a post office employee would have to physically check the mainframe records in the final mail depot stop along the way. If that search came up empty, a call would be placed to the preceding depot, and so on and so on until a record of the scan could be found. The drivers delivery notes would then be scrutinized, and a conversation would be initiated with him regarding the delivery.
It was an arduous process, but a necessary one since the proliferation of mail theft in the early 2030's. Some companies had taken the extraordinary step of printing their boxes with disappearing packing information that was designed to break down into indistinguishable cardboard compounds in concurrence with the package reaching the preprogrammed GPS delivery coordinates.
The reason for this was two fold.
First, it made reverse engineering the complicated and constantly changing postal service packing information QR codes nearly impossible, as all of the packages identifying markers would disappear as soon as it reached the front door of the correct location.
Secondly, if the delivery person could still see the information as he approached what he believed to be the correct house, he knew that he/she was at the wrong place. It made deliveries to apartment buildings/condominium complexes foolproof.
The process was expensive. Boxes equipped with GPS tracking and woven with electroconductive fibers to relay the destruction signal to the ink had decreased quite a bit in price as volume had increased, but had still not reached the level of cost effectiveness to allow for ubiquitity.
Packages of this type were typically reserved for those companies that made a practice of shipping big-ticket items, and most of them had yet to adopt the practice. Of those that had, the list of applicable equipment that would fit into the box he now held and still require such security was short.
He thought he knew what the box contained.
He tried to look his cousin in the eye, but Skyler took a sudden interest in the traffic outside and said,”Just open it, you're killing me here”.
Miles quickly tore open the packing tape and flipped open the box top.
Inside lay a brushed aluminum rectangle with rounded edges, and an impact resistant plastic object that resembled a two inch long chrome peanut. It was a sideARM, a mobile computing platform designed by Kincaid Industries. It would allow the wearer to see a projected augmented reality view of the world and interact with it.
He had seen the commercials.
Once he put the lenses on his eyes, he could change everything he saw at will. If he liked a particular model of car, but wanted to see what it might look like in blue, to him it could be blue. If he wanted to know what time it was but was not near a clock, he could project a 100% photorealistic one on the wall.
If he had a girlfriend, but wanted to have the illusion of sleeping with another woman for a night, he could overlay the face of the other woman onto his girlfriends without her ever knowing. Of course, this last one presented a bit of a moral dilemma, not the least of which would be his need to not call out the wrong name at an inopportune moment.
It also functioned as a fully networked computer, so fast it made his old beaten up model at home look like an abacus.
To borrow the tag line from the commercials, he could, “Choose your Illusion” his way through life from now on. This was the gift he thought his cousin had placed in his hands.
He looked up at his cousin, who was waiting expectantly. Amidst the twinkle in his eyes, Miles could just make out the reflection of translucent circuits in his iris.
“No way!” He exclaimed.
“Happy Birthday!” Skyler's laugh was bright and completely oblivious to the onlookers that had begun to casually turn their attention to the pair.
Miles reverently removed the rectangle from the box. It was covered in black anodized plating and the sun glinted off it's surface as he turned it over and over in his hands.
He had been right-It was a sideARM. The device had been dubbed that not by the company that designed them, Kincaid Industries, but by the hacker community.
The hackers, ever the early adopters when it came to new tech, had taken the systems processor architecture, named ARM, and added the “side” part. It was an obvious homage to the pistols carried by law enforcement. In a casual way it was meant to say, “This is my weapon”.
He handed it to Skyler, removed the peanut shaped plastic object, and very carefully opened it.
Inside of the container were two halves of aerogel that were molded to securely contain the contact lenses inside. Miles knew that aerogel both kept them secure when inside the case as well as imparted lubrication.
At that moment Skyler began to notice the attention and quickly handed the sideARM back to Miles.
“I think we should get out of here and activate it.”
Miles pocketed the two objects, tucked the empty box under his arm, and left with his cousin.
Neither of them had eaten breakfast, so they stopped at a local restaurant and Skyler overcame Miles' objections and bought breakfast. Skyler's parents were well off, and frequently tried to offer help to Miles and his family. Miles' parents were proud, and would not accept anything more than occasional offers to bring dinner or to help Miles out for school on occasion.
Miles had felt compelled to discourage expensive gifts during his birthday and Christmas, but this was something he simply couldn't pass up.
He removed the aluminum rectangle and placed it atop the table.
“How long have you had your sideARM?” He asked Skyler.
“A few days, I had a hard time not calling and ruining the surprise before Sunday.”
Miles opened the peanut shaped case and looked at the lenses inside. He could just make out the thin tracer wires over where the iris in his eyes would be.
“Is there any trick to turning it all on?”
“Nah, just put them in your eyes. It takes the capacitors in the lenses a second or two to start processing the electrolytes in your tears for power.”
Miles did as he was told. It was uncomfortable at first, never having worn contacts before, but in a matter of minutes it passed.
He understood that the lenses were not glass, and by themselves served no corrective function. They were an organic compound that was able to use the chemicals in his tears to power a tiny LED display, microphone and high resolution digital camera per lens. The black anodized central processing unit, or sideARM, was actually responsible for all of the heavy lifting. The lenses received and displayed information that was handled wirelessly by the sideARM, typically kept in a pocket of backpack somewhere nearby.
As Miles looked around, a dazzling array of commands and other words scrolled along every flat surface within his field of vision. He lifted the square breakfast container on the table and the words seamlessly textured it's surface.
“Loading?” Miles asked his cousin.
“Loading”. Skyler affirmed.
The words soon disappeared, and Miles was left with a strangely blank view of the malls food court.
“Hmm. I expected things to be a little more....busy. How does it work? Does it read my mind?”
Skyler chuckled. He knew Miles understood that an brain implant was required for that level of interaction.
“Just focus on someone with your eyes. To start, try to pick out something small on them, like a button or a pin. The system will recognize what you are looking at and offer up options.”
Miles concentrated on a young girl that happened to be walking by at that moment. She was carrying a white plastic bag, with just enough translucency that he could see a receipt through it. She had obviously just thrown the receipt into the bag after making her purchases.
Miles focused on the receipt, and the translucent plastic appeared to dissolve in front of it. A copy of the receipt zoomed into his view, and he read off the items.
Amber's Funhouse, LLC
1 pair of lace thongs
1 lace bra-size 36C
1 10oz bottle of “Solstice Interlude” Perfume.
3 “Romantic Interlude” scented candles
“Looks like someone is planning a fun evening.” He said to Skyler.
“Can I see what you are looking at?” Skyler asked him.
“Sure, if you...”
Skyler cut him off.
“Wow. I should have guessed.”
Miles couldn't help but smile at his cousin sheepishly. He then asked, “What else can this thing do?”
“Well, if you're going to go to the trouble of digging around in peoples bags, you might as well have her model it for you.”
Miles could barely disguise his shock as the undergarments rose from the bag and wrapped around the young woman. Her clothes faded out, and were replaced by tanned, glowing skin, interrupted only by the thong and bra from Amber's Funhouse. None of this was actually happening, it was all an illusion created by the SideARM.
Nonetheless, he felt aroused at the sight of the beautiful young woman strolling determinedly through the crowded Mall. The confidence in her stride, coupled with the illusion of doing so while wearing onely her shoes and linguerie, was intoxicating. He had, with Skyler's help, been doing what women had accused men of doing for years-imagining them with no clothes on. Miles forced the voyeuristic thrill aside and realized he felt dirty about what he had just done.
But had he really done anything wrong?
He managed to tear his gaze away from the young woman and shot Skyler a scared look. Skyler turned at the same time, like he knew exactly when Miles turned to him, even though the angles of their seating arrangement would have made that impossible.
It took Miles an instant to realize that they had been sharing the same sight, and that Skyler had known he had broke away from the young woman because he had quite literally seen the back of his own head.
Skyler shook his head and blinked. “That still takes a little getting used to. It's like an out of body experience, makes me dizzy.”
Miles smiled at his cousin, and it was his turn to shake his head.
“So, all I need to do to see your point of view is ask?”
“Well, it's a little more complicated than that. You have to be on my trusted associates list, what Kincaid Industries calls your friends list. Just anyone off the street can't do it.”
“Woah. Let me try.”
Skyler turned his head to look at a blank space of wall. The blank space was only blank because of a new renovation, but soon it would be filled with seamless displays playing a video loop meant to simulate a tropical beach. The store would sell clothing inspired by West Coast beach lifestyle, and the storefront was designed to make it appear as though the mall had an opening in it's wall through which you could walk into the surf.
But for now the walls remained blank, except for a small red dot in the upper left corner of one of the panels.
“Can I see what you see Skyler?”
Miles felt a sudden need to grasp the arms of his chair. He no longer felt like he could keep his balance.
“I see what you mean, this is disorienting as all hell.”
“I'm going to zoom in on that red dot. I'm telling you ahead of time because I don't want you to fall out of your chair.” He said with a laugh.
Miles gripped the arms tighter as the wall was drawn closer. He quickly realized that bringing an item up for closer inspection was not simply an amplification of his field of view. The sideARM first correctly identified the object you wanted a closer look at, then scanned it and virtually pulled that object closer to you, leaving everything else in it's original place, including the original copy of whatever object you were looking at.
Miles focused on the red dot as it came closer. He thought he could make out words within it.
As it got closer, he read the five words quickly, then again.
He turned to Skyler.
“I'm going to guess that that wall really doesn't have a microdot with the words, “Miles Torvalds is a loser” written on it.
Miles view shook like an earthquake had taken the mall. His body was stationary, every muscle in his body tensed, so he assumed his cousin was getting a kick out of his deception.
Miles let go of Skyler's view and returned to his own. He had to retain the grip on the chair for a few minutes with his eyes closed for the feeling of vertigo to pass.
When he opened his eyes, Miles was already starting to clear the table.
“Let's get out of here, I need to talk to you about something where there aren't so many.....witnesses.”
Miles cocked his head in misunderstanding, but followed his cousin as they left the mall in the direction of the adjacent park.