I decided it was time to start giving everyone a sense of what they will be getting in a few weeks. Below is Chapter 3-in it's entirety. Let me know what you think, and be sure to join in at the facebook event if you haven't already, to keep up to date on all of the upcoming shenanigans by clicking here!
Book one of the d.o.mai.n series
The box under the shipping paper was blank cardboard, making Miles wonder why they even bothered wrapping it at all. He could think of far better choices for decoration than flat brown paper that matched the flat brown cardboard underneath.
One of his favorite games growing up was to try to guess his birthday and Christmas presents based on the shape, size, weight, and balance of the package. It annoyed his parents to no end growing up, mostly because he was really good at it. It was a compulsion he sometimes wished he'd grown out of, but once again he couldn't resist the mystery of the package in his hands.
He made a show of taking in every detail of the box while Skyler anxiously waited for him to open it. It was sealed with blank shipping tape, and the outside of the box offered no clues either. 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 Uncle's house? A mystery. Miles loved a good mystery.
They could have always shipped this inside of a larger box, he supposed, but that wasn't the option his mind was first drawn to. It was unnecessarily complex.
Some of the more technologically advanced, environmentally conscious companies had developed ink designed to disappear at predefined intervals. The ink would fade a few days after a mail order package was scheduled to be delivered. The reason for that being that once a package had been delivered, or served its initial purpose, the decorative elements and shipping information that had been printed on the box days before would disappear, facilitating reuse and cutting down on landfill waste.
The technology was fairly new, and still hadn't been adopted widely. The list of companies that shipped their packages this way could be counted on one hand, and Miles knew them all. He doubted that his twelve year old nephew would hand him a present from one of the three largest sex toy companies in the world, which employed the technology more out of discretion than out of environmental consciousness. He didn't think that Skyler would give him a selection of health food from the sole online grocer that used the ink. That left one possible option.
Once Miles had that part of the equation nailed down, he was pretty confident what was inside the box.
He tried to look his cousin in the eye, but Skyler took a sudden interest in the traffic outside and said,”Just open it!"
"Okay! I'm opening it!"
Miles tore open the packing tape and flipped open the box top, laughing. After a short struggle with a flat black sleeve, he freed the foam clamshell within. The sleeve bore the words "Kincaid Industries SideARM SA-301" repeatedly in a diagonal pattern in gloss black.
He'd been right, and a triumphant smile creased his face as he placed the foam onto the tabletop and lifted the top half free.
Inside, he first spotted the black anodized aluminum rectangle with rounded edges- the SideARM. He almost didn't dare to touch it. He'd wanted one for years, but had given up that dream shortly after his mother had gotten sick. It was a mobile computer, designed by Kincaid Industries to replace the old touchscreen cellular phones that his parents had grown up with. It communicated wirelessly with a pair of included glasses , using various discreet sensors to collect data from the environment around you.
It could see what you saw, hear what you heard. It also knew where you were, which direction you were looking, and could even place virtual objects in the users field of vision to interact with, such as ethereal keyboards or web browser pages. "Augmented Reality" was the technical term for it, if Miles remembered correctly. "Reject their reality, and substitute your own," had been the tag line.
He'd seen the commercials.
Miles only knew a fraction of what they could do, but he and Skyler had devoured every bit of information on the net. There seemed to be no limit to what a SideARM would let you alter when it came to perception. Like your car, but want to see what it would look like in a different color? You never had to look at that faded baby blue again, the glasses could shift the color from light blue to anything you wanted, and maintain the illusion forever, so long as you wore the glasses. Want to kick up your sex life with a uber-realistic role-playing session? You could replace the face and skin tone of your significant other with whoever you want. It might only be an illusion, but you could do a lot with illusion. As long as anyone undertaking such a virtual infidelity kept the proportions of their reality in mind, the effect was seamless.
You could even use the system to land micro-temp jobs, like what SideARM owners called “swarm security.” Since the cameras were constantly online, you could “turk out” or lease your point of view for an hour or two at a time, serving as undercover surveillance that the employer would need to neither insure nor provide benefits for. All of that, with none of the upkeep of an installed CCTV system. Since they employed multiple people off the street at any given moment, it was impossible to tell who was security and who was shopping. There were no blind spots to such a system, and that uncertainty for would-be thieves was often enough to reduce crime to negligible levels.
As Miles lifted the glasses from their slot in the packing and slid them from their protective pouch, he remembered his old desktop at home. The process of packing it up, carrying it, and setting it back up at all of those retro LAN parties growing up made him question several times if it was even worth the effort. Now, all it would take is a few flicks of the hand, maybe a spoken word or two, and he would have a simulated computer sitting in front of him that would put his old desktop to shame.
Miles was completely blown away. He sat there in front of Skyler, the SideARM in one hand, the glasses in the other.
“Happy Birthday!” Skyler shouted, completely oblivious to the onlookers that had begun to stare.
Miles slid the glasses over his eyes, but it was more to hide his budding tears than anything else. When you go for so long with so little, your reactions to things change. What would have been a nice gesture a year ago, one that Miles could have hugged his cousin for and laughed about, now caused him to fight back tears. The momentary affectation of the glasses gave him the second or two needed to get his emotions under control.
He looked over at Skyler, and recognized the sensors carefully embedded into his glasses as well, the red ring lit around the center camera as required by law when recording. Miles could only shake his head. He'd been so preoccupied with his own issues lately that he hadn't picked up on the real reason why Skyler had begun wearing glasses. He'd been wearing his own pair of augmented reality lenses for weeks.
He lowered his gaze back to the slab of aluminum in his hand. The name "SideARM" wasn't a Kincaid Industries designation, at least not initially. Hackers, ever the early adopters when it came to new tech, had taken the system's processor architecture, ARM, and added the “side” part. It was an obvious homage to the pistols carried by police officers. It was an apt comparison, since the little rectangles were powerful, portable, and gave them a considerable edge in whatever form of information warfare they found themselves involved in.
Skyler started to notice the attention their impromptu birthday party had aroused and closed the empty box, handing it back to Miles.
“I think we should get out of here and activate it.”
Miles pocketed the SideARM, tucked the empty box under his arm, and left with his cousin. They stepped outside, and a short walk later came upon an open air restaurant in the square that served as Bangor's cultural hub, one that was still serving breakfast.
Neither of them had eaten, so Skyler bought them both large stacks of waffles with fruit and whipped cream. Skylers parents had money, but he never lorded it over Miles. He understood Miles and his parents were too proud to accept much in the way of help, so when he wanted to do something small for Miles, he just did it without asking, hoping to avoid making a big deal out of it.
Miles hated the part of him unable to resist the gift of the SideARM. For the past year, Skyler and his parents tried to help whenever possible, but all his parents would allow them to help with was the periodic home nursing care. This gift, the SideARM, wasn't something that they needed for his mother or to pay bills. This was for fun, and there hadn't been much in the way of fun in his house this past year. If they'd chosen anything else, he might have been able to turn it down, but the SideARM was the one item that could make him swallow his pride.
They retrieved their orders from the counter and sat down at a booth near the back. Miles removed the aluminum rectangle and placed it atop the table.
“How long have you had your SideARM?” he asked Skyler.
“A while, I wanted to tell you, but I didn't want to ruin the surprise.”
Miles took the glasses off to get a better look at them. The flat black finish of the frames contrasted well with the lens, a seamless panel of mirrored smoke almost impossible to see through in broad daylight. The only indication they were anything more than sunglasses built to a high safety spec were the latex eye cups that were designed to seal out ambient light from his eyes and the small black oval at the top center of the single lens. He had to look close to spot the two optical sensors to either side of the central infrared one. They were unassuming parts, but extremely good at their jobs.
The lens wasn't really designed for more than the minimum amount of visibility required by law. The translucent lens functioned as a seamless computer display, a place where the footage captured by the minuscule cameras would be mixed with computer generated imagery to craft impressive augmented reality visuals. When the glasses were on, your reality was mediated by the SideARM, and moving around with them on required that you trust the system not to let you walk off a cliff someone had obscured with virtual ground.
“Is there any trick to turning these on?”
"There's a button on the inside, near the right hinge."
Miles pressed the button and looked around. A frenetic array of commands scrolled along every flat surface in sight. He lifted the square breakfast container on the table, angling it back and forth. The words seamlessly textured its surface, judging the angles perfectly as he tilted it to maintain the illusion that the words were printed onto the thin cover.
“Loading?” Miles asked.
The words disappeared, and Miles was left with the same view of the restaurant he had before he had turned the glasses on.
“I expected things to be a little more....busy. How does it work?”
“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 woman 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. Her face blurred minutely, not enough to rob her of her beauty, but enough to make identification difficult. He'd heard of this, a provision of privacy law that required all recording capable smart glasses to carry facial obscuration software. It was designed to protect the identities of anyone opted into the governments “Identity Shield” list. Of course, as the law was written by the government, it did not apply to them, just private citizens.
Miles focused on the receipt, and a virtual copy flew up to him, hovering in place. When he turned back to the woman, her shopping bag was intact, along with the original copy of the receipt. Intrigued, Miles began to read off the items listed on it, noting the hypocrisy of the government. They would allow receipts to be read through a shopping bag, but not facial recognition.
Amber's Funhouse, LLC
1 pair of lace thongs
1 lace bra-size 36C
1 10oz bottle - “Solstice” Perfume.
1 8oz bottle - "Alice in Wonderland" Lubricant
3 "Romantic Interlude" Scented Candles
He was sure someone must have mentioned that credit card receipts were an easier means to identity theft than scanning someones face, but he supposed that was what you got when politicians cared more about justifying their existence than actually providing solutions to problems. The more he thought about it, the more out of touch the people running the country seemed technologically.
“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.”
He didn't think Skyler needed augmented vision to see his face had grown red. He decided to change the subject.
“What else can this thing do?”
“Well, if you're going to go to that kind of trouble, you might as well have her model it for you.”
The young woman’s clothing dissolved, much the same way the plastic bag had, to reveal the undergarments she had purchased. None of this was actually happening. It was all an illusion created by the SideARM, but it made Miles feel like he was doing something wrong. At the same time, he couldn't deny the baser parts of him enjoyed the view. He hadn't felt that combination of emotions since Junior High, when he sneaked into the rafters overlooking the girls' changing room at summer camp. He decided against sharing that story with Skyler.
His dream at that age had been to have x-ray vision, and now he had it. Well, not exactly, but the closest mankind would probably ever get without dangerous levels of radiation. His cousin was looking in another direction, understanding that at twelve years old he was perhaps a little young to be looking at the lithe body striding through the square, sun glinting off her perfectly toned skin. The confidence attractive women generally exhibit is often lost when they are nearly naked in public settings, and Miles thought that was too bad.
Confidence had always been a quality he found incredibly sexy in women. Even talking to them on the phone, you can generally tell a beautiful woman from an ugly one by the confidence in her voice. It was a classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma. Was the woman more attractive because of confidence, or was she confident because she was attractive? Miles thought the answer was yes.
It had made him feel less concerned about Skyler having this ability when he saw that Skyler still understood the propriety of his age. He looked at Skyler with the pride of an older brother. Skyler turned his head at the same time, as though he could see that Miles had finished gawking at the woman. Something about how their heads had moved in sync felt strange, like Skyler had known the instant Miles had started to turn his 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. Skyler hadn't needed to look at the woman directly because he had been watching her through Miles' eyes. Miles was too amused at his cousin to lose any of the pride he'd felt.
“So, you can hijack another users point of view? Please tell me there's some kind of lockout function on that. I don't want you or anyone else to accidentally jump in when I'm taking a leak.”
“Well, it's a little more complicated than that. You have to be on my approved user list, what Kincaid Industries calls your “friends list”. Not just anyone off the street can do it. Plus, you have to give someone verbal permission.”
"Alright, let me try.”
Skyler turned his head to look at a blank space of wall scheduled for renovation. Soon it would be filled with seamless displays playing a video loop simulating a tropical beach. The store would sell clothing inspired by West Coast beach lifestyle, and the storefront was designed to appear as though the mall had an opening in its wall onto the sand.
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?”
Miles grabbed the arms of his chair, the change in perspective giving him the momentary sensation of vertigo.
“I see what you mean, this is disorienting as hell.”
Miles let go of Skyler's view and returned to his own. He held to the chair for a few minutes with his eyes closed until the feeling passed.
When he opened his eyes, his view returned to normal, and Skyler was already clearing the table.
“Let's get out of here, I need to talk to you about something where there aren't so many.....witnesses.”
Miles scanned the restaurant and the surrounding area. There was no one within a hundred feet of them.
"What witnesses? Dude, we're alone. Spill it."
Skyler leaned in conspiratorially.
"It's not exactly legal if you know what I mean."
He glanced up, his eyes darting to tops of nearby buildings and poles where surveillance poles were mounted. Constant surveillance of public places had been a more or less accepted hazard for decades. If Skyler didn't dare risk his message to the maelstrom of data collected by the cities surveillance stack, it must have been bad.
"SideARM, give me the location of every audio unit in my area."
A round marker highlighted cameras and microphones in the area, but none of them were within range of their secluded corner of the plaza.
"See, we're safe."
Skyler shrugged, and started talking.