"I see, so it's true, you drugged him," she said.
Tapping his fingers on his thigh, he looked away and at the wall screen. "Drugs? Are you sure? I can't imagine how that could happen," he said.
"The Empress does not approve of indiscriminate actions, especially those that harbor the potential to harm the un-matured. Perhaps a temporary moratorium on beta registrations would miraculously boost your creativity to unprecedented levels."
"Okay, okay, it was only an experiment." The CEO would hit the roof. Growth, growth, growth was the corporate mantra.
"How did you do it?"
"An injection from the synthetic foam cushion lining the helmet's neck," he said.
"Show me," she said.
"It's a trade secret."
"I'm not asking for schematics, a demo would do."
"It's on a need-to-know basis," he said.
She tapped her fingers on the desk. "Need I remind you of the moratorium?"
"Fine," he said through gritted teeth, "pass me control."
A 3D wireframe model of the helmet displayed on the wall monitor. It was the shape of a typical full-face motorcycle helmet with one important difference: it didn't have a visor. Jake rotated the view so that they were looking directly at the bottom of the helmet.
"The 3D polymer screen is bonded to the interior of the helmet casing. So, they are one piece. The screen covers the wearer's visual angle, which takes head rotation and peripheral vision into account.
"Now, looking at the bottom edge of the helmet, you can see the padding. When the algorithm detects that the helmet has been placed on the head and the helmet's Websuit operating system has connected to a server, then"—the padding expanded to enclose the neck on all sides—"the padding expands to touch the neck and the needle can't be seen, even up close, much less to the casual observer. At the same time, having the padding wrap all around the neck provides a steady platform for the needle to achieve maximum efficacy."
She raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Well done."
His chest puffed out. "Now watch." The view zoomed in to the padding. A needle on the helmet's left side emerged out of the padding. "In order to be effective, the needle must be able to perform an intramuscular injection at a depth of five millimeters. Unfortunately, with frequent injections, this could result in scar tissue build-up, thus reducing its effectiveness over time. Our latest prototoype, which hasn't gone into production yet, looks promising in terms of the reduction of scarring."
"Just out of curiosity, did he know?" she said.
"Of course not." Oh fuck, why did I admit that?
"I see, no FDA approval for human trials." She tugged her earlobe.
His eyes opened wide. "Uh, there—there's no way the FDA would've approved it, even with the fact that it's only a modification of a well-known drug prescribed by psychologists and at the current dosage levels for the specified trial period, side effects are nominal and long-term adverse effects non-existent. All participants have been screened for medical conditions, not only because of the drug but also because of the websuit's potential stress on a participant's physiology. Furthermore, this variant leaves such small trace amounts that they are virtually undetectable in urine and no standard drug test would screen for them."
"Nominal side effects? Then, why haven't you taken your own medicine?" She smiled.
"Well, it's not like I'm afraid of something happening." He twisted his ring around and around his finger. "I'm not that callous. I would never have authorized its use on real people, if I'd thought that there was one iota of a one percent chance of a negative outcome." Holding his hand up, he pressed his thumb and forefinger together. "But if anything happens to me, the project will be torpedoed."
"How does the drug work? What does it do?"
"You mean you want to know about the drug's biochemistry?" His body stiffened and he sat up straighter. Of course, a neurologist would want to know how the brain is affected.
She dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. "Its biochemical properties are of no significance."
What a ploy, neurologist my ass. He relaxed and sunk back into the recliner. The less she knew about the drug, the better.
"It promotes integration with the websuit's nano-electrodes and the helmet's VR system."
"Playing cat and mouse," she said, "isn't one of my favorite pastimes. The drug promotes addiction, addiction to gaming, correct? But isn't the serotonin effects of leveling up enough?"
Dammit, did she know everything? "It's original intent was to help with the neuro-digital interface and it does that quite well, but"—he shrugged his shoulders—"one of its side effects is enhanced addiction, and the more users who get addicted to the game, the more we're gonna be raking in the money from the extra content passes." He ran his hand through his hair. His palms were getting sweaty in the real. The latest enhanced Websuit design could detect moisture on the skin.
"Impressive." She pushed her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose. "But that can't be all, correct?"
"It's not like we're building a rocket to Mars."
"Is he really only a copy? From what my sources tell me, his interactions are indistinguishable from a real player."
"Wow, I'm really pleased to hear that." His face beamed with pride, the pride of a software developer, a creator. If only he could see Ken in-game, Jake could verify that the system worked. Ken was the only one who was actually unconscious in the real world. There was the guy from JamminChat who went missing, but there was no evidence that proved he was unconscious. Jake could watch videos of Ken until his brain turned to mush, but there wouldn't be any incontrovertible evidence until he was able to interview Ken himself.
He laughed out loud and took a big swig of the latté. He guzzled all of it down to the bottom of the cup, a line of brown sludge streamed out of the corner of his mouth and down his stubbled chin. He wiped it with his fingers before it dripped onto his shirt and then grabbed a tissue from the box on top of the side table and dried his hand.
Aya made a wry face.
He smacked his lips. Wow, that was mind-numbingly tasty. I can't wait to try it out the dynamic world instead of this jail. When this new optional Websuit gustation ora-nasal cavity insert hits the market after general availability, we're going to make a killing. "Anyway, the drug also made him susceptible to hypnosis," he said. "And while he was in that state, my team made him recite all of his memories. Then, we hacked his extended family and friend's phones and scoured the net for all traces of his life. We even paid an FBI agent to conduct mock interviews of close family and friends. We've used the same protocol for every single one of the hundred alpha testers." He tapped his temple with a forefinger. "See? I thought of everything."
She tilted her head and furrowed her brow. "Somewhat off-topic, but do you believe in a soul?"
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Quantum Katana
Tech writer by day / Dungeon master by night
Be immersed in my TechnoPhantasia stories and strike down charging oni with your blood-splattered digital katana.
Discord: quantum katana#8807 (hanging out on the LitRPG Forum and GameLit Forum servers)