When the negotiations were over for the day, Vystar and his team spread their wings and spiraled down out of the tree, landing on the enormous lily pad at the base as protocol demanded. With nods and whispers to each other, they each blinked out to their separate evenings. Vystar went a few thousand meters up and several regions west, floating in an undulating purple mist as he changed from avian form to something more relaxed, a curvy young woman with feathers for hair and long purple fingernails, dressed in cotton lounging pajamas.

She whispered to Patrice and Gentle Logan, to AnyFred and WhaTilde, and eventually was summoned to the latest version of the Sound Crystal Amphitheatre, suspended above an orange desert, where five or ten of her friends sat or sprawled on cushions in the crowd listening to a young dragon playing a citern and singing imaginary folk songs. Patrice had a new collection of semi-autonomous follower objects swarming around her head, and Vystar amused herself sending them little rushes of force and meaningless commands, just to see what they would do. Patrice stuck out her tongue, but was too absorbed in the music and some quasi-sexual exchange with a winged warrior to do anything about it.

The dragon finished his set to general applause and the launching of numerous color-rockets, Vystar fended off a pair of whispers from annoyingly persistent ex-lovers, and people had just begun discussing where to go next when she frowned and lay back in her ornate golden seat.

“Excuse me a moment, folks. Something happening Outside.”

Patrice crinkled her face at her, and Gentle Logan said, “Be careful”; Vystar’s eyes glazed over and her body relaxed.

He put down the controller and stood up from his lounge, blinking as he pulled his gaze away from the screen that covered half the wall. He flexed his arms and shoulders, opened and closed his hands, out of the healthy habit that everyone tried to cultivate when going Outside. The noise that had disturbed him continued, and he crossed the room to the window, a slightly pudgy pale man in undyed cotton pants and a thin shirt.

The room was small and spare, clean, subtly lit by indirect lighting. It contained only the lounge, the screen, the terahertz box, a selection of controllers and goggles, a small refrigerator in one corner, a door leading to the shared bathroom in the other. Vystar stepped to the single window, and looked down.

Down below, the usually empty street was half filled by a mongrel band of ordinary Outside humans, who walked or slowly drove battered-looking autos between the plain faces of the apartment blocks on each side, blowing the horns and whistles that had disturbed him, and waving signs.

“Come out and play!”, the signs said, “The Real World Needs You!”, and “Remember What Matters”. One of the leaders of the ragged march was a tall unnaturally fit-looking man that Vystar remembered vaguely having seen on an Outside feature on some news program; the former owner of a defunct automobile company, or newspaper, or something.

Slow and noisy as it was, the disturbance moved out of sound and sight soon enough, into what looked like an Outside evening. Vystar shook his head and went back to the lounge, rejoining the world to find that most of his friends were still there in the Amphitheatre, looking at the night’s list of public performances, debating the merits of the artists, remembering old adventures, making ridiculous hats.

“Back,” she said, stretching her legs and putting on a tall conical headpiece with a slowly-turning propeller.

“What was it?” Patrice asked, from under what appeared to be a squid.

“Bunch of noisy Meaties out in the Outside street. Having a protest or something.”

This was met with much laughter and rude noises.

“Walking right down the street?” asked Scarflame, a friend or associate or alt or something of Patrice’s.

“Walking, and even driving. Old automobiles! Can you imagine the carbon footprint?”

More rude noises.

“Meaties,” said Gentle Logan, the swirls around his horns expressing exasperation.

“Yeah,” said Vystar, shrugging her shoulders, “what can you do?”

Thanks to someone, maybe Ahuva, for pointing me at an article that I can’t find right now that suggested that, far short of brain-uploading, people might simply start leading sparse and spartan RL lives, because their virtual lives would be so much more interesting and rich. So here we are. This story is not intended to express any particular opinion, positive or negative, of the possibility…

22 Responses

  1. Oh yes – this picked up very well on one of my creepy “what if we really all DO move to virtual lives” imaginings. “meaties”. how perfect. and “unnatrually fit” – beautifully evocative. thank you!

  2. lovely Dale.

  3. Fascinating, thoughtful, and eerily plausible.

  4. Ohh, very nice and very well written. :)

  5. I enjoyed reading this, Dale.

  6. Dale – don’t know if this is the link you mention, but I found Ariane Barnes’ blog, Virtual Underwold, a few days ago. It mentions both the increasing reality of VW and the world economy as factors inducing young people to turn more and more to VW. hope i get this link right….

    Virtual World Philosophy: Escape From Reality

  7. Thanks for all nice comments! And yeah Ahuva that was it exactly. This in particular:

    ‘Youth raised in such conditions might live increasingly Spartan lives in the physical world, and rich, exotic lives in virtual space—lives they perceive as more empowering, creative and “real” than their physical existence, in the ways that count most.’

    One of those obvious-in-retrospect thoughts…

  8. I do know how true this might end up being, but I *do* know that when my human buys a latte in the atomic world these days we always have a talk about which is worth more – the latte, or some new shoes from Shiny Things. We don’t drink many lattes now ;)

    Maybe increasing prevalence of VWs will make people place much more value on fewer atomic things, but not eschew them entirely. I haven’t given up drinking lattes completely, but I enjoy one on the weekends as a kind of treat. I almost think they taste better now.

    Maybe Vystar wouldn’t be spending much money on going out to the movies or bowling, but he might live in a log cabin he built with his own hands, or have a roadster that he bought with his savings parked in the driveway of his spartan apartment.

    Paradoxical as it is for a Digital Person like me to say it, but I hope people don’t give up on the physical world completely. It has its charms, if you look for them.

    Anyway, great post! You certainly got me thinking ^_^

  9. We need to have some people left in the meat-world to make the electricity. When the electricity runs out, there will be much suffering in both worlds.

  10. Your first paragraph nicely captures the degree to which we’re seeing this in reality I think, Argent. But Vystar, being a fictional extrapolation, would definitely not see the point of having a log cabin or a roadster _Outside_. I mean, how silly! Then you couldn’t use it with your friends and stuff! :)

    And you’re quite right, Lunette, there are all sorts of things (including making the electricity, generally maintaining the Outside against the ravages of time, and lots of other stuff) that will still have to be done Outside. The novelization of this story would no doubt cast fascinating light on all of that! heehee

  11. Dale, I think you’ve really got something here — you should look into getting this published.

  12. Thanks, Stormy! An’ welcome to the blog. :)

    I’ve had a story or two published (under various names), and in my dreams I’ve always been a capital-W Writer, but…

    I seem to always write really short stuff. Really short stuff takes about as much work to get published as long stuff, but doesn’t pay anything to speak of. Much easier to just post it somewhere!

    It’d be fun to write the novel that this could be half a chapter of, and get that published (oooo). But… Vernor Vinge once said to a room full of smart people, (roughly) “Any of you could publish a science fiction novel if you put enough effort into it; but you all have lives!”

    There’s the rub… :)

  13. Pretty sure it was Castranova who proposed that the world might indeed be saved if we all have our passports stamped as we cross the border and continue the exodus to virtual worlds.

    Of course, he also posits that rather than looking out at the world from within the virtual, the actual world would peer at those in the virtual and perform various thought experiments and tinkerings with the virtual economy to determine, um, what might make the real more virtual.

    Somehow he imagines that going to renew our driver’s license might somehow become as much fun as grinding in Warcraft – work could become a series of quests, we wouldn’t earn salaries, we’d earn points and level up.

    The idea of us in a virtual world peering out at the poor saps in the real follows that meme that the real world will remain static and horribly boring, while the virtual won’t turn into grinding. It’s all fine to fly around as a dragon and socialize and rez great prims but what about when *gasp* we actually have to fill out our time reports or attend dull meetings in the virtual space while meat space starts adding new features to try to make itself more compelling?

    What I fear is it will all bleed together and some day soon we’ll be holding mixed reality business meetings, or doing our jobs in virtual worlds, or running quests in accounting, but none of it really helping the fact that some of life is just, um, boring.

  14. Thanks for the thoughts, Dusan!

    I’ve thought several times recently that if companies put as much thought and skill into incenting their employees (including making work -enjoyable- so employees keep coming back!) as, say, WoW does (or SL *should*), work would be a very different place. No idea if RL companies will be smart enough to do this; maybe if they don’t, then some virtual ones will, and will win!

    Vystar had just finished work at the beginning of the story when we met him; he’s a freelance negotiation facilitator, and he usually works in dragon form when the region’s culture permits. :) This leaves a huge question about what “unskilled labor” looks like in virtual worlds. Probably it’s grinding, but then unskilled labor is grinding in RL also, and at least virtual grinding doesn’t run the risk of physical death or dismemberment.

    I see what you mean about the assumption that RL will remain static and boring, and I’ll have to think about that. But in general isn’t it A Lot Harder to add new features to RL? I mean, the laws of physics are sort of hardcoded in…

    Definitely there’s the danger that virtual worlds will be made grey and boring by the same sorts of forces that make too much of the atomic world that way. I think there’s some hope that the virtual worlds are intrinsically less vulnerable to that, but who knows? And even if I’m right, do we want to be Vystars, living in a spartan flat and not really caring about the atomic execpt as a necessary evil? I dunno! Maybe we do. Maybe some of us do. Maybe…

  15. […] of bed. Stormy night.  Stormy dreams.  A misty recollection of winged creatures swept over her. Some wore feathered hair and made funny hats.  Some brandished purple nails and made rude noises.  Her eyebrows lifted in mild amusement.  […]

  16. […] 22, 2008 by michelehyacinth Note:  Dale Innis’s “Meaties” is the original story from which this attempts to build.  And like everything else under the […]

  17. […] Innis’s “Meaties” is the original story from which this attempts to build.  Without Vystar, Kennedy […]

  18. […] 13, 2008 by michelehyacinth Note:  Dale Innis’s “Meaties” is the original story from which this attempts to build.  Cradled between leather-bound […]

  19. TY for the link – I loved it! I think you should develop it more and have the meaties claiming what they have been denied only for the pamper classes to develop virtual ways to fight back :)

  20. Glad you liked it, HBA! In my current vision of that world, pretty much *everyone* has access to the virtual world, and the Meaties stay on the Outside by choice. It’s an interesting thought, though. :) I’m always toying with more little vignettes to write in that world, but I don’t often get the combination of time and inspiration that I seem to need for fiction. Well, good fiction anyway. :)

  21. Oh my, and way back in the early years of 2008.. such a great concept, and even more relevant perhaps today, almost 5 years later. How I find myself becoming so much more “Virtually Vegan” (smiles) as the years roll on, even working in a Virtual platform (albeit antiquated) to teach. Give me a cubicle room, like Vystar..I will create and create and create. I really enjoyed it Dale!!

    • Always nice to get feedback even on old stories! I really do want to write more in this world somehow, or around the same ideas. I especially like that all of this fancy tech is at least as interesting to y’all artists and poets as to the geeky folks. :)

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