VOIDNet.

Three: Banned.


The ceiling had precisely nineteen tiles in this room, plus the half tile in the one corner. Sallum counted them as he lay on his bed pad, staring up. He hadn't been able to sleep at all, and had been lying wide awake for two hours. He sighed and reached over to tap his Base Station. His HUD pinged asking for confirmation, and he acknowledged with a swipe and a tap at his temple.

As he entered VOID consciousness, Sallum pulled up his HUD and selected his personal list. He had bookmarked a codepiece that would be perfect for helping him unwind. He found it in his list, and... Next to the item in his favorites, the familiar icon had been greyed out, drained of its color to indicate its status, which was clarified below in red text: "This codepiece has been BANNED from VOIDNet."

Sallum manipulated his HUD to show the list of his own software. His copy of this codepiece, and presumably everyone else's copy, had been purged from his personal files, stored on the memory chips inside his own physical cranium, without his knowledge or permisson.

In a disturbing way, he found himself slightly understanding the compulsion a man might feel to forcibly remove their own implant nodes, and he felt sick again. Then, apropos of nothing, he got a spike of panic as he suddenly became overwhelmed by a specific thought: What if, this time, I can't exit VOID consciousness? His heartbeat sped up, and he immediately, with a sheer force of will, yanked himself out the VOID, and sat upright, breathing rapidly, drenched in a cold sweat. His Base Station and his HUD both pinged in electronic protest of his forced exit method, and reset themselves.

Sallum got up and splashed cold water on his face. "What is wrong with me?" He thought to himself. "I can't even wind down with a game in the VOID anymore?"


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