VOIDNet.

One: Sallum.


Sallum moved his organic body into a sitting position on his bed pad. He laid down onto his back and reached over to tap the control surface to activate the VOIDNet node that sat within arm's reach. He pulled up his HUD, selected his usual profile, and closed his eyes as the machines flooded his synapses and absorbed his brain's electrical impulses. He allowed his consciousness to connect to the VOID.

He found himself at the edge of his conscious senses, there at the borders of his physical body. Beyond his immediate consciousness was the network of extrasensory pulses that demanded his attention.

Slowly, as he had innumerable times before, he subsumed his conscious mind into the network.

Various individuals and collectives across the VOIDNet were reaching out for his attention, as usual. Bearing open invitations asking him to join, or inviting passers by to donate a token, or lend some extra processing power. He ignored them and continued aimlessly, drifting along the channels and pathways of the VOID, the currents of electronic consciousness pulling and pushing him along into the infinity of the vast, collective network of brains and minds.

He was pretty good at this, by now, having been brought up by it. As a teen, he would often plug in and join in the VOID with his friends. This was back when the VOID was new technology. Since then, of course, it had changed. In the eyes of most people, it had gone from an interesting curiosity, to a terrifying monolith that would fundamentally change humanity, and finally, to an unavoidable reality. The VOID was everywhere, insofar as it could be anywhere, or maybe it was nowhere. "Where" isn't really a concept consistent with one's experience of the VOIDNet. It just was. One connects to the VOID to interact directly with other minds or, Sallum's usual approach, merely drift across the network and spectate.

As he drifted, he spectated on the interaction of various collectives as they worked toward their common goals. Presently, a small group of minds lent their consciousness toward some scientific advancement of some kind, a process that involved allowing the network to shut down unneeded parts of the brain and running some downloaded code, utilizing the neurons for processing.

Further on, there was a collective engaged in some sort of recreation. What they were experiencing, Sallum could not directly sense unless he were to join them, but proximity to their nodes gave him a sense of the basic effects of the code that was running through their implants and into their physical brains. Its main function, Sallum sensed, was efficient and balanced delivery of dopamine.

Beyond them, two minds were engaged in a rendezvous of some kind, an equal give and take between two directly connected brains. Sallum could sense nothing that gave him further information on the matter. He wasn't one to pry, so he left them.

He pulled up his HUD and idly scrolled through the codepiece listings curated by VOIDNet. Approved codepieces were distributed by VOIDNet for use by any VOID user. Codepieces that VOIDNet didn't approve for use in the VOID could not be distributed on the public network.

Sallum brought himself out of VOID consciousness and tapped his control pad again to disengage his connection. He sat up on his bed pad and looked through the viewport in the wall across his tiny one-room dwelling. He could see a handful of indistinct lights outside, as always, but could make nothing out besides rows and rows of habitation chambers, like the one in which he currently sat.

Many people didn't exit their living space much anymore. Increasingly, people hardly disconnected at all. Slowly, people accepted that the easiest way to go about their lives was to use the most efficient means available: the VOID network. The young generation, Sallum's generation, was ready, even eager, to remain in the Void constantly, allowing their biological forms to become increasingly vestigial, viewing them as merely containers for the mysterious consciousness of the human mind. Though in reality, it was the physical synapses of the human brain upon which the Void network ran.

Sallum could certainly understand the temptation to plug oneself in entirely and free the mind from its biological husk. Something he couldn't quite pinpoint, some nagging feeling he couldn't quite rid himself of, prevented him from making the more committal leap of engaging the system known as "sensory control," which allowed the user to turn down their own sensory perceptions, to "ignore" their physcial body, and exist entirely within the VOID. The idea of becoming a more direct member of that tumultuous collective consciousness, even though he could retain his individuality and engage only as he wished, was something that still made him uneasy. Sometimes, in the darkened and lesser-traversed corners within the Void, he could sense the remains of the Void that had raised him. The Void was sparsely populated then, and more difficult to use. Its interface was far less sophisticated, but no less revolutionary at the time. He would plug in most evenings (and back then, the interface was a literal plug with a wire attached), after his daily instruction was finished, and unwind in a game with a few friends.

Since then, things had shifted. The Void was no escape from reality. It was quickly becoming the only reality that mattered. Most people worked in the Void. Everyone played and communicated through the Void. It was just so easy, and so common, and so omnipresent. Most of human society could no longer function without it.

It was a common enough occurrence to dream that one was connected to the Void. The VOIDNet Foundation said that this was due to the connectors in one's cranial implant incorrectly feeding residual signal into the brain as a side-effect of the cleaning and resetting process that occurs during sleep. Sallum, as he slept, dreamed of floating through the Void consciousness, drifting, wandering aimlessly as always. As he moved his node closer to a large collective, he reached out his consciousness to sense what they were doing. Then, the form of the collective shifted suddenly and drew him in. He could feel his mind blurring, stretching, being pulled and strained at the edges, as the collective forcibly devoured him. He could not disconnect. He could not disengage his node and move away. He was being eaten by the Void, and his consciousness would be consumed. He was drawn in. He could feel his mind going...

He jumped awake. His breath and heartbeat were fast. He rubbed his left temple and felt the implant in its usual place. He stood and shuffled the few feet to his water basin. He filled it with some cold water, and splashed it on his face. He looked into the mirror and poked at the cranial implant in his left temple. Its smooth surface was flush with the skin around it. He rubbed his shaven scalp, feeling the stubble, and sighed. He needed fresh air.

Sallum grabbed his outer jacket and threw it on over his jumpsuit, not bothering to zip it up. As he made his way to the door, it sensed his proximity and its latch audibly clicked open. He pushed through the door and out of his chamber. The door locked shut behind him as he made his way to the lift.

From his chamber on the 109th floor, the lift took him to ground level in about 7 seconds. He shuffled out into the dark of the night, realizing that he hadn't checked the time since he woke up. He tapped his implant and glanced up at his HUD. Three o'clock in the morning.

He started to walk his usual route around the block of residential spaces. As he reached the end of the first leg of the block and started to turn the corner, he glanced down the street at the retail space of a recreation dealer he frequented. It was closed and dark at this time of night, of course, but there was also a sign in the front window that had not been there before. It read: "SORRY--all physical locations closed. Visit us in the VOID!" There weren't a lot of real stores left. In fact, the reasons for human beings to physically gather in any location were slowly dwindling.

Sallum could sense that he was not going back to sleep any time soon, so he tapped his implant to bring up his HUD, and set his work status to "Available." If he was going to be awake, he might as well get a few extra tickets done. Besides, he could use the extra money.


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