“Be on the right side of history! Don’t be a Nazi! End eye abuse!” Rallying cries and shibboleths rang in the virtual reality voting jamboree as people lobbied each other to their position. Lucas, portrayed by his muscular hero avatar, stayed close to the edge of the rally. He did not usually come close to these events and most political issues were scoured from his daily feed, but this time he felt he had to fight for what is right. Not just for his own sake but the sake of those still weaker than him. Still, the hubbub was almost more than he could stand, with the participants all trying to be the one at the center of attention and creating loud and eye-catching exhibitions. The sides opposed to the issue were also opposed in how they were situated in the space—a massive hall calling to his mind the ancient Roman senate with its pillars and marble floor—with the undecided in the middle, being bombarded with pitches and coercion from both sides. Lucas, with his avatar’s back to the wall, hoped that others would take that as a sign of his strong conviction on the subject, not as shying away from confrontation. At least he did not have to stand the barbarians who were intent on voting against the bill as he had blanket-censored them all so their group appeared a silent blur. Just imagining the competing party exasperated him; how could they stand against progress so callously? The undecided were almost as bad as they asked their questions and presented their arguments, both like slaps to the face for those whom the issue was everything. He would have liked to hide them from his sight as well but knew they would need every single vote they could wrangle from the unruly host to finally pass the bill after repeated efforts and so fortified himself to weather the attack on his sensibilities, to suffer for the benefit of others, as a hero would.
“You people can’t be serious,” someone whose avatar was a cowboy with star-spangled costume said. “How on Earth do you think something like this would be fair?”
He looked steadily in the other direction, pretending he had not heard the exclamation. He was put off by the man’s confrontational posture.
A person represented by a humanized bipedal deer stepped up to the challenge. “For many people the only way they can appear as their real selves is through virtual means and their physical bodies only serve to remind them of the unfairness of having been born with a bag of flesh that doesn’t match what they really are on the inside. Is it really too much to ask to respect their wishes and see them as they really are? It is their body, so it should be up to them how they show it.”
“Whatever,” the cowboy rebuffed. “But you can’t illegalize looking at them without the filters they want! It’s my eyes we are talking about here. They’re just going to have to grow a pair and deal with a glance or two.”
Lucas clenched his fists. The man’s demeanor and tone reminded him of the insults he had had to bear all the way through school, of the shoves to his back, and feet that appeared unprovoked to trip him over. People had watched from the sidelines, not intervening, like he watched when they targeted some other kid. So many, so afraid to go against so few. His vision grew blurry as tears welled up in his eyes. He was supposed to be safe here, free of the abuse emanating from the physical world.
“You probably use the glasses all the time anyway, so you won’t even notice anything,” the cervine mouthpiece continued.
“You must be hideously ugly to be for something like this. I bet behind those haunches and doe-eyes is some fat guy sweating in his mother’s –.” The tirade cut as the vote to kick the man he had initiated was passed.
“What a moron,” the deer muttered and moved away. Lucas could now breathe more easily and relaxed his posture.
“You have no power here,” he imagined himself saying to the provocateur, whose face was that of all those who had terrorized him. “Can’t step on us no more. Get in line or we will trample you.”
A collective wail rose from the crowd as the bill was rejected once again. Even through the masking effect laid over the opposing side he could tell they were celebrating from the wild roiling of the pixelated mess. He quit the forum in favor of his own personal space where he could be alone. Why was it so difficult for them to just let him have this? It would be months until the matter would be up to the vote again and until then he would be stuck in the weak, scrawny frame that in no way embodied the good he knew there was inside him. He deserved better. But how could he ever truly believe that himself when he knew one look was all it took for others to disesteem him, to consider him beneath them, to feel what he felt when he looked in the naked mirror? All that good, all that potential in him marred by physical limitations placed on him by the cruel world and upheld by pigheaded ruffians who only cared for themselves.
The familiar line of thinking once again stoked his commitment to Ampere’s project. People failed to make the right decisions, the decision that benefitted the most. What was needed was an unbiased thinker with all the data in the world and uncorruptible principles that would ensure it always had the welfare of those too weak to protect themselves in mind. He had long ago given up hope that a person could perform such a task, even aided with the latest data processing software and an army of aides. There would always be corruption, ignorance and persuasion leading to compromise and outright injustice. He would do all in his power to advance the development of Ampere Intelligence, the foremost machine brain that was going to be applied in just the way he had been hoping for. It was his one hope, the sole dot of light in otherwise dark world, his reason to keep going despite all the anguish he had to face. But as long as it was possible to reach that goal, to release himself and those like him from the shackles of this level of reality, he would keep going.
“Because that’s what heroes do.”