The following excerpts from *In Reality – An Autobiography by Emilio Ramos Junior also known as King FarOut, are reproduced here with kind permission of Joe Chip Publishing (*first published as an e-book in 2254.)
“In cyberspace I am King FarOut. A distinct consciousness from the real me, Emilio Ramos Junior, yet in some obscure fashion, still me. As if I trade places with an identical twin then forget my true self; an altogether unsettling aspect of the Virtual Reality experience which still worries me despite all the industry reassurances…”
Section 17 of the Greater San Francisco Bay Area based Rules Committee, Revised Rule Book, states:
‘Once the Gateway chip has been implanted in the left temple, competitors and VR tourists alike will be placed in a semi trance-like state of stasis controlled by the latest in industry approved designer drugs…in the event the game is not concluded within twenty-four hours, all participants will be returned to a fully conscious state within half an hour of the close of play and connectivity chips removed forthwith.’
When I won the Grand Final back in ‘52, pocketing a two and a half million dollar purse, the game lasted less than three hours; a record some analysts reckon might never be broken. It was, incidentally, the first time in over a quarter of a century ‘La Trinidad Impía’ turned up in CityScape.”
12:15 – 13th March 2263. The Hangar, New Universal Studios Inc. VR Tourist and Gaming Facility, Silicon Valley, Greater San Francisco Bay Area, Central Region of NUPS (New Union of Pacific States.)
The lone berth reserved for a qualifier in this year’s fifty player, 100,000 Pacific Dollar buy-in, CityScape Grand Final, went to Raymond Rushmore, known in cyberspace as Baron Wasteland. The Baron entered cyberspace a quarter of an hour ago…
According to the display in the top right of my visual field I’m fifteen minutes into a possible one thousand four hundred and forty minutes game play. Next to the clock there’s a compass, adjacent to the compass an empty space ordinarily reserved for a rolling street guide with annotations; ordinarily in lower level game play that is, but never here in CityScape where there are no street guides whatsoever. No in-vision annotations. No gimmees save for the compass and three quick-fire time-outs.
In CityScape you’ve to follow your nose and be quick about it. Ticket touts for example, have to be tracked down. The same goes for street signs. Locate and activate trigger points before you get to read what’s on them. Not that the signs are any use to me as I can’t fathom Neo-Sanskrit.
I’m busy scanning the high-end cyberspace real-estate looking for a tout whilst keeping an eye on the pavement. New Universal’s authentic turn-of-the-twentieth-century touches such as leaky fire hydrants and dog shit, lend a unique ambience to the experience patrons report.
So the Ad-Men’s hyperbole has it.
I just saw a fully functioning hydrant, a signpost disappear back through the virtual sidewalk. Thankfully, no poop. Reminds me there was nothing quite so authentic as dog shit in my old stomping ground, Better World Inc. strictly second-rate, down-market real-estate, catering for up to Level Five game play.
Whereas CityScape is exclusively Level Eight. Where I won through my last eliminator to get to today’s Grand Final. Where the best of the best hang out. Which is not to say I am fazed by the company I’m keeping. But as they say, forewarned is forearmed. So with that in mind I’ve kept in touch with developments during the run-up to today. Scouring the Virtual Reality ‘Fan boards’ to see who might be in today’s field.
A phalanx of off-world high-rollers if word is right. People like Jackson ‘DC’ Quinn. Former Grand Final winners, King FarOut and Lady Godhelpme.
I haven’t spotted any of these ‘faces’ yet but I keep an eye out for them as I wend my way through the crowds of bit-part players, concentrating very hard on not thinking about a small fortune in prize money. The truth is, despite my quasi-consciousness, the thought of four and half million Pacific Dollars is never far from my mind.
Most of the characters I pass on the sidewalk are not competitors as such, but some of the five thousand strong army of virtual-gamers — out of a solar-system-wide membership of something like one hundred and seventy million — lucky enough to get drawn out of a virtual hat. Amateurs and semi-professionals. Desperate to break into the big time and yet happy just to be here today, playing a small part in this end-of-season jamboree.
I’ve now completed a quick-fire tour of the immediate district, circled back to more or less where I started.
Got my bearings.
A hundred yards down a busy looking street bordered on both sides by three-storey red brick row houses, many with Juliet balconies, one with a window box festooned with too brightly coloured African Violets, I stop at a DON’T WALK sign.
Three small dogs in Indian file run the red light. Four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic pulls up, shimmering unnaturally. The vehicles seemingly not really in contact with the black-top. A CityScape glitch that’s become legend but that I assume the scenography techies could fathom out if they wanted to.
At the head of the inside lane a super-cool retro-chick in a white VW Beetle convertible with pink hood and trim, smiles, head perfectly still, as if balancing a giant earthenware pot there and not a two foot tall beehive hairdo cocooned in a creamy-white silk headscarf.
Stunning retro-chick with anachronistic hairstyle keeps on smiling. To herself, I wonder, or at the cute little dogs that have brought the midday traffic to a halt or is it me who is the subject of her mirth?
Less than half an hour gone I decide it’s time to invoke the first of my three permitted time-outs. Check out the dogs. The chick, too, if I’ve time.
Everyone around me stops mid-whatever-they-are-doing. I got less than a minute to call up a menu. Make my enquiries.
The menu I’m told is ‘temporarily unavailable’, so instead of finding out what the cute dogs might signify all I see is a ticker-tape messaging service dawdling across the foot of my in-vision readout telling me that I could, if I wanted to, still become Neo-Sanskrit literate! But only if in the next minute or so I hit the red button currently pulsating in my left-field of vision and pledge today’s foremost sponsor, Save The Off-World Orphans, three and half per cent of my winnings.
Should I win of course.
I dismiss the charitable route.
There is an argument that choosing the on-the-spot language download option might work out favourably for me in an ambiguously altruistic way and yet I suspect a potential donation to charity is today’s first of many red herrings.
I don’t walk, I dash across to the other side of the street, skimming over the effervescent road surface reciting incantations.
Often on a wing, is my motto, always with a prayer.
The traffic resumes its course.
I don’t believe in fate.
I see a tout.
I do believe in fate.
Everywhere you look in CityScape today there are sandwich-boards tied to street lighting and fire hydrants, numerous advertising hoardings too, all promoting the Madame X Theatre. A floor show over on Nagasaki Boulevard.
I ask for a price.
“I get you good spot at front mister.”
Girl tout stamps down hard on the skateboard she is balanced upon, snatches hold of it on the cusp of its second back somersault.
“Yes, yes,” I say, “how much?”
“For you mister, fifty Pacific.”
She tucks the skateboard under her arm.
I try not to dwell too long on her exquisite doll-like features; powdered white, accentuated with black around the eyes, but at the same time think quite unashamedly if there were not four and half million reasons not to, I might be tempted to stop a while. Chat. Take her to a hotel.
Who knows, pillow talk might even lead me to the box? Somehow I doubt it will, and I am not, if I am being entirely honest, really into cyber-sex. And yet, chatting up vaguely oriental looking girl tout with out-of-this-world looks, is a legitimate path I could follow. One of many in fact. All of which would eventually lead me to my goal. Every player’s goal in CityScape. A black oblong shape about the size of a small shoe box, only slimmer, with a silver X stencilled on the underside.
Only one of us will make it to the box. Claim First Prize. The only prize.
I am distracted from the thought of all that money by a bejewelled hand in fingerless cream coloured faux suede gloves, pointed nails glossed ‘purple haze’, reaching out towards me.
“Forty,” she says, “East Coast if that’s all you got.”
Announcing the price drop and currency change has betrayed an accent in girl tout’s voice. A trace of something akin to Vietnamese…which makes me wonder?
Whilst I’m busy thinking about what South East Asia might signify, the girl jumps back onto the board. I ask to see the ticket more closely ’cause even in cyberspace you can get stiffed and these are real dollars I’ll be parting with.
Oriental girl tout with purple pointy nails hands over a ticket. I hold it up to the perfect light. Sparkly white lettering on matte black seems genuine enough, but in the end I tell her ‘no sale.’ At which point she spins a one-eighty and half a dozen punters immediately form a queue next to her. The first in line, a woman in a black rubber jumpsuit with silver bell detail sporting can’t-see-me shades, who may or may not be Lady Godhelpme, hands over sixty Pacific Dollars.
I take another time-out. I’m told I have one whole minute to make good my enquiries and at once call up a secondary menu. Under the A to Z glossary opt for B and scroll.
Beehive Hairdo informs me: Dual meaning. Most iconic. Singular symbolism invariably denotes good karma. Coupled with certain other imagery generally denotes catastrophic tendency. Context is everything. Under Beetle VW it states: This make of motor vehicle echoes pre-WW11 production-line efficiency and yet juxtaposed post-war hippy culture suggests ideological conflicts which could spell trouble.
All ideologies are in my opinion, unsustainable; philosophies, no less fake in the short-term than CityScape’s fortune cookie style wisdom.
I need to make connections.
Sure as hell this game play is nothing like what you encounter in Level Four or Six even, where, more often than not speed, or simply ‘physical’ attributes win the day. This is Level Eight.
Level Eight gamers’ play the meta-game you won’t find described in any textbook. Think outside the box is their motto, underneath a blue-sky. The puns are intended of course, as the sun always shines in CityScape. All of which brings me back to the Madame X Theatre. X marks the spot. Is the floor show really too obvious a path?
I recall all those silver X’s on the sandwich-boards and flyers. Madame X, the eXperience. Don’t Miss out on Madame X. More terrible puns.
Are New Universal double or triple bluffing us? Triple I reckon. The racy floor show is just a side-show. Not the legendary short-cut to glory known as The Ladder, we’d all sell our Grannies for. Conversely, Madame X could even be The Snake. A trap-door portal which whooshes you out the game for good.
I pray it is The Snake, that a whole bunch of players fall for the too-good-to-be-true-triple-bluff option and slide.
Baron Wasteland is here to gamble, not to play safe and after all, I think, there are no second prizes.
It’s then I make a connection and turn and race back down the road aiming for the first intersection I came to after I entered CityScape via Portal Six with three other players around forty minutes ago.
If my guess is right there’s a five-minute loop in play here. The loop, if my calculations are right, physically jumps back one intersection per five-minute circuit, which creates a thirty-second time-slip, which means any second now, if I’m right…
Three little dogs come trotting along the sidewalk. The traffic stops when they run the red. Miss Beehive pulls up in her Volkswagen. She smiles. I smile back, which should break the loop. It does. She opens the car door. I jump in thinking; this feels like a huge gamble. But I feel good all the same.
We take a left. I begin to sense I really am onto something. Could be The Ladder? On the sidewalk, punters milling around outside the Madame X Theatre appear to be caught up in what’s termed a void space.
“Hallelujah!” I shout aloud.
They’re still in the game, sure, but only just. Trapped for maybe ten minutes or more (depending on pre-arranged tournament rules) all these players can do right now is prowl. Wonder if their misstep will prove fatal. Until they are liberated I am one of only a few competitors left actively seeking the black box.
We are still cruising when Miss Beehive turns and speaks to me.
“I need to get some cash.”
I nod that’s fine but I don’t speak. If I speak right now I might lose track of a stratagem forming in the back of my mind; lose my grip on the impetus building inside of me.
Miss Beehive takes a left. Makes two more before she pulls into an empty parking lot.
An empty parking lot is not what I was hoping for. All the same, I get out and follow her to an antiquated hole-in-the-wall ATM situated between a café and a pawn shop, where she withdraws cash. It looks from where I’m standing as though she’s stuffed at least ten thousand Pacific Dollars into her lilac coloured purse.
We head back to the VW. I’m on the point of thinking I’ve been duped into coming on a fool’s errand when I see three people walking side by side, enter the parking lot.
A boy in rags. A one-legged man in fatigues balancing on crutches. A heavily pregnant woman shuffling.
In my peripheral vision I see the door to the café open. I hear music: scratchy white noise static layered with deep base undertones overlaid by muffled vocals.
The café door swings to, stranding the early twenty-first century Hyper-Dub inside. I think to myself; the man who just exited the café has to be a player.
He heads over to us. He’s wearing a slate grey and mustard two-tone suit, but I can’t make out his features too well with the sun blinding me. When he gets closer and I get a better look at his face I see it’s the player I feared it was.
Miss Beehive goes and stands beside her car.
I know what this well-dressed man is thinking, he’s thinking, legend has it once in every twenty years or so a fabled trio appear in a Grand Final.
A phenomenon irreverently known as The Unholy Trinity.
One of the trinity, he knows, surely holds the key to finding a black box marked with a silver X. Get it wrong and its a one-way ticket out of here via the nearest trap-door portal. Get it right and get used to being a millionaire four and half times over.
I stop thinking about the money when my fellow competitor holds out a hand.
“Jackson Quinn,” he says, “but you can call me DC.”
I take his hand. “Baron Wasteland,” I say, “my true friends call me Toxic.”
We have nothing more to say to each other. The trinity await us. We turn in unison. I smile at the woman, look over at the man on crutches, who looks like a Veteran, and then wink at the Boy In Rags. I have an idea and yet I’m caught in two minds. DC Quinn is the first to commit and etiquette has it I must now wait until he is through.
Quinn leans into Pregnant Woman, who looks as though her virtual waters will break any minute, says something to her I don’t catch.
Pregnant Woman shrugs. Quinn eyeballs the Vet. In turn the Veteran shakes his head, mumbles something about him chasing shadows; about lost causes, too, belonging to a forgotten generation. DC says he’s cool with all that and then turns his attention to the Boy In Rags who is standing with his arms by his sides, his hands balled into little fists.
Jackson Quinn kneels in front of him.
“What you got there, son?”
The wretched child who looks no older than seven, unfurls his fingers. In the palm of his hand, a dusky red, time-worn plastic figure of a woman with thighs like a 49ers defensive lineman, breasts like an Amazon Queen.
Jackson ‘DC’ Quinn asks the boy if he can inspect the comically proportioned figure. Boy in Rags looks as though he’s about to smile at DC, but before he even gets the chance to open his mouth Quinn helps himself to the aged lump of plastic.
With what looks like a triumphant smile Quinn gets up off his knees and holds the anatomically infeasible form in front of me, the better to see.
Yeah Quinn, I say to myself, I’ve seen one of these figures before. Years back it was. At an auction. Worth a medium-sized tax-exempt inheritance, is an original Wanda Maximoff. Better known as the Scarlet Witch. One of a whole cadre of super-hero like characters created by Marvel Comics around three centuries ago.
Should of course have been X-People only they didn’t go in for sexual equality back in those days. Nevertheless, I think, X marks the spot and Jackson ‘DC’ Quinn has taken the initiative and with it, no doubt, captured first prize.
The off-world high-roller hands Wanda Maximoff back to the boy, lifts the child’s waif-like frame onto his broad-beam shoulders.
I realise I’m holding my breath both in and outside CityScape.
“Okay son,” DC says, “I win the game. Go take me to my prize.”
A yawning hole appears in the black-top close-by the VW. Miss Beehive turns to Quinn and points at the ominous feature, which I now see is home to a gigantic snake.
“No Sir,” she says, “you’re OUT the game.”
Boy In Rags leaps to the ground, runs off. DC Quinn whizzes down the body of the snake in true Fire Fighter fashion.
I turn to Miss Beehive, who is securing her headscarf against a stiffening breeze. I say to her, “It’s not true you know,” and laugh.
“That my true friends call me Toxic.”
“I know it’s not true.”
It is her turn to laugh now.
“You don’t have any true friends.”
The portal known as The Snake, which spelled Armageddon for the legendary Quinn, reseals itself. I cross the freshly minted ground, stand next to the soft-top VW, hold open a door, turn and salute the Veteran who promptly vanishes.
Pregnant Woman eases herself onto the back seat of the Beetle, thanking me for my attentiveness.
“You’re very welcome ma’am,” I say.
I close the door.
Miss Beehive puts the Volkswagen into gear and tucks her purse between her legs. I jump in beside her. After a couple of right turns we join Nagasaki Boulevard, cruise past the Madame X Theatre just as the void space disperses.
So many of the 2263 Grand Final cohort look dazed as they stagger out across the street. Too late I think. And they probably know it. I, Baron Wasteland have it all worked out.
Pregnant Woman is wearing a chiffon blouse with a flower motif. Violets. Viola Riviniana. Common name; the Dog Violet. A true violet. Three little dogs. A purse I mistakenly thought was lilac, which is in fact coloured violet.
When finally we arrive back in the main street I tell Miss Beehive to pull over. I leap out the car and run around to assist Pregnant Woman. She takes my hand, squeezes it. As we make our way to the front stoop of her row house, a ladder appears. I glance up, follow its course.
In a window box of African Violets, not true Violets of course, I see nestled there a dark shape. A black oblong box with a silver X stencilled on its underside.
Banner photograph: By Rosakoalaglitzereinhorn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons