After he walked a few laps around the block, Sallum's HUD pinged with a work ticket notification. He tapped his temple and pulled up the info.
"User complains that nodes have been trying to connect him to the VOID with no action on his part," read the ticket description. Weird. Cranial nodes weren't supposed to connect to the VOIDNet, apart from the basic HUD commands, unless the user was within 5 feet of a properly configured Base Station. Such restrictions were left over from the early days of the VOID, when Sallum used to plug in as a kid. This was back when the base station had open ports that the user plugged their own devices into. Nowadays, unless the Base Station detected the user's tap, their cranial nodes wouldn't connect to the extrasensory interface. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, ever. This might be a programming issue, Sallum thought. Or else user error. Was this person unaware of how the Base Station worked? Users never ceased to amaze him.
He made a few temple taps and swipes and started a call to call the user. After three and a half rings, the line connected, and there was a long pause.
"Uh... hello? Is it...? Hello?" A very distressed and distracted man practically shouted on the other end.
"Hello, Sir. My name is Sallum, I'm the technician assigned to the ticket you filed with VOIDNet. It says here your cranial nodes are trying to connect without action on your part?"
There was another long pause. "Um... Ah, yeah! Yes." Another distracted pause, then, "Please, hurry up! I don't know what's going on anymore... Please! I don't know how much longer I can hold it off..." The call abruptly disconnected.
Sallum stood stunned for a moment, unsure of what to do, before realizing that he should probably get to the job site. After a few taps, Sallum's HUD displayed the route, which was within a 15-minute walking distance, as his user preferences dictated. Maybe it was the distressed sound of the caller, or maybe it was whatever was making Sallum so sleepless tonight, but he beat the map's estimated arrival time by five minutes.
Sallum stepped out of the building's lift on the appropriate floor, and began scanning the doors as he fast-walked down the hall. Got it! He knocked on the door. There was no answer, so he called out, "VOIDNet tech!" Again no answer, so he tried the door's "open" button. It was unlocked, and it slid open.
Inside the living chamber was the same standard set of amenities that were in Sallum's own dwelling. There was a bed pad with a VOIDNet Base Station nearby. There was a sink with the same odd, curved water outlet pipe next to a food and drink dispensor. On the middle of the floor, next to the bed pad, sprawled just below the stand that held the Base Station, was a man in his early forties with dark hair that had small bits of grey at his temples, just behind where his cranial implant nodes had previously been. Now, in place of one implant, was a gaping, bloody hole in the side of the man's head. Lying next to the man's corpse was the gouged-out remnants of about half of the node and its circuitry, as well as a long, thin, crimson-stained implement that Sallum recognized as a punchdown tool, which was often used to fix food and drink dispensors.
His mind blurred, and Sallum ran. He ran out of the chamber and into the lift, where he vomited. When the doors opened, he ran out of the building. He ran past his normal walking route and kept running in a straight line. He finally stopped, out of breath, underneath a crumbling, decommissioned traffic overpass and leaned against the wall, slumping forward. He vomited twice more. He stood there bracing himself against the ragged concrete and breathed, mind reeling, for a very long time.
He wiped a sleeve across his mouth and face roughly, then tapped his cranial node and opened the work order. He managed to choke out the voice command, not caring if anyone was around to hear him. "User was found... deceased from self-inflicted wounds after... uh... attempting to... forcibly remove his own inter-cranial implants with a dispensor punchdown tool. Inform emergency services and cancel work order." His HUD pinged an acknowledgement.
Sallum caught one of the self-driving public transports back to his home section of the city. The early morning city slowly began to awaken, and the other people on the transport with him were ignoring him, tapping their own cranial nodes, or twitching their fingers, and staring off into the distance as they interacted with their VOIDNet HUDs and ignored the world around them. As Sallum sat massaging his forhead, his HUD pinged with an aSync message from the VOIDNet Foundation, his employer. He opened it for visual display. It was a typically branded message with the logo at the top.
We sincerely apologize for what you experienced today while performing the duties of your job. In the course of an on-site technician's duties at the VOIDNet Foundation, he or she may encounter unexpected or even disturbing things. We know that our field techs are aware of this as a condition of their employment, and that they ultimately take pride in their work. On behalf of the VOIDNet Foundation, we assure you that your work serves the greater good, and ensures the success of our vision for humanity's future. Please find your payment attached via VOIDCredit. Please note that, due to the unfortunate nature of your last work order, we have included a sizeable bonus as well. Thank you for your hard work!
The VOIDNet Foundation Team"
Sallum felt dirty.