After a bleary morning packing his things and a depressingly bland hotel breakfast, he headed out to his company van to begin his days journey. A Ford Atlas panel van, it held his sales materials (mostly cheap knick-knacks that he gave away at trade shows), his luggage, and had a single, comfortable seat in the center of driver’s area.
The van’s AI, who Earl had named Joshua in a fit of nostalgia, greeted him.
“Good morning, Earl. How did you sleep?”
“Good morning, Joshua.” That ingrained sense of propriety struck again. “I would ask you the same, but you don’t sleep.”
The van ignored his attempt at humor, like always. “We are traveling to North Platte, Nebraska today. You are scheduled to meet with the municipal power plant personnel there at 2 pm.”
“Wonderful,” Earl thought. Another pointless meeting in which he would talk for an hour, take no questions, and leave. Invariably these meetings were something required by the plant hierarchy and thus the personnel attending them resented the waste of their time. The decision on whether to purchase Earl’s goods would be made at the buyer level, but formalities continued to be followed for now. Eventually, even this remnant of the old, personal-based business relationships would go to the trash heap of history, and Earl would be forced to “retire” to the monotony of the UBI, unless he could find something else to do. He didn’t like his chances.
Earl got into the van and sat in the chair. The seat automatically adjusted to fit his saved preferences and the door slid shut and locked. The van began moving silently on its electric motors, solar panels deploying from the roof in a wing shape that both helped to charge the battery and keep the van firmly planted on the road. Earl still remembered internal combustion cars – the loud, roaring diesels clattering away and the smile-inducing throaty roar of a well-tuned V8 muscle car. Those were gone, rich collectors the only ones who could afford the exorbitant fuel taxes and operators licenses. “Another thing to mourn”, Earl thought.
As the van began to cruise, Earl leaned back and browsed the UniNet, skipping the boring economic numbers and celebrity news that somehow still had millions hooked on what outfit they were wearing to the latest rich-person’s ball, or who has the best beach body.
Earl flipped to the gaming news section, which really was the only thing that interested him anymore. He had been following the news of a new, advanced online game called Olympus Online. It was an old-style MMORPG, with all the sword and sorcery style that so enthralled him. There wasn’t much to read: the developers were pretty close-mouthed about details, releasing only the bare minimum.
Like he had a dozen times before, he flipped to the press release that had been out for just 10 days:
Olympus Online – Tired of the same old grind? Bored with the same old quests? Introducing Olympus Online – the last game you will ever play. Available soon, exclusively on VirNet, to a select few Chosen for greatness. Do you have what it takes?
The words seemed to leap out at him: they expressed his exact feelings. He WAS tired of the same old grind, the same old repackaged quests. But what did the rest mean? Chosen few? Who were the chosen few? How could he get an invite? The use of a capital ‘C’ in ‘Chosen’ argued that whoever got to play would be…. chosen somehow. But how?
Do you have what it takes? To do what? Play a game? Maddingly obtuse, which of course was probably the point. Millions were undoubtedly frothing to play it, to be one of the “Chosen.”
Message boards across the world were on fire with speculation. There were a few who claimed to be beta testers, but of course they “couldn’t talk about it.” Who knew if they were real or not? Earl still scoured their posts, noting details they mentioned.
Supposedly this was a giant leap forward in game technology. Un-paralleled realism. The game was based, obviously from the title, on the Greek Mythology that every kid was introduced to. Zeus, Hera, Apollo – all were rumored to be powerful NPCs in the game. It was also rumored to be possible to advance your own character to divine status. How this would play in the game world was anyone’s clue. Earl hoped this was exaggeration – it wouldn’t do to have everyone in the world becoming gods and goddesses. This would quickly make the game boring, like other games in the past that allowed every player to become all-powerful.
One rumor that he read said the game was old-school – you had one character, and one life. If you died, you had to restart from scratch. This both scared and intrigued him. A game like that would require great care, as the stakes would raise with every level gained. It would suck monstrously to reach a high level, with great gear, and then die and lose it all.
Seeing that nothing new had been posted, he took his mobile VirPak out and logged in to play while the van silently swept him to his next pointless appointment. The UniNet allowed anyone to log in, anywhere. In the 2030s, an Internet search engine company called Google deployed an innovative system to bring universal net connection. The system used large balloons that floated at high altitude, 60,000 feet or higher, with downward pointing antennas and UniNet modems. A single balloon could cover 1000 square miles with its onboard Wi-Fi modem and antenna, and there were thousands of the relatively cheap systems floating all over the world. The ability to have cheap, high speed Net access was something that the younger generations took for granted. Earl remembered the days of hard-wired net access and the slow, radio based cellular networks.
The balloon network (named Loon in a staggeringly innovative display of thought) transformed Google into an even more of a global powerhouse, and the new Universal Network Company (UNC) now housed most of the net traffic and data on its thousands of servers worldwide. Most of them were housed offshore, in giant floating server farms that used the water to cool them while providing unlimited surface area for solar power. UniNet access was free, provided by the USE, for all citizens and was protected by law, even for the small number of left-over prisoners in prisons.
All education was provided free, for as far and as high as a person wanted to go. After all, you had little else to do. Some hard chargers in every generation did just that: they were the doctors and rocket scientists that ended up on the cutting edge of research and development somewhere. Likely, he thought, those would be the ones to actually make it to the moon or Mars.
But most proved as apathetic as humanity always had: content to sit and be provided for, with little ambition past their next meal or fuck.
Earl grunted at this thought. He condemned the pasty, slow, unambitious masses. He felt superior because he clung to his job in an outdated feeling of pride. But was he any different? Wasn’t he just going through the motions? When was the last time he had done something that he was proud of? That meant something? That made a difference to anyone?
He couldn’t remember. That made him even more depressed.
With these gloomy thoughts, he rode silently as the van plodded along at 200 km/h towards his next stop.
- United States
- Aspiring Author
Bio: I've read science fiction and fantasy all of my life. For a long time I've thought about writing my own, but never could get up the time and motivation. This past year I've found a few moments with which to put my idea down on paper, and am currently working on my next book.