Chapter 1: Perfection
A perfect, ultra-high definition blue sky wrapped the globe thru Chan's ViewLense. A cheery orange sun, complete with cartoon smile and surrounded by tiny yellow triangles, bounced lightly above the hilltop ahead. Chan was proud of that micro-purchase. On certain days, if he looked up at just the right moment; the sun would even imitate an old children's breakfast cereal commercial and pour two scoops of raisins down onto the land below. Raisins bouncing like boulders all around him in the distance. That always made Chan laugh.
Chan's latest micro-purchase additions to his ViewLense were from an old video game from the 1980s; perfect, cute clouds from a game called Mario Brothers. A few sets of three, varying sized balls of white floating on the horizon. From time to time, one smiling cloud with a small angry turtle in aviator goggles would fly into view and toss small red, spiked turtles to the ground below.
It was just another perfect day, designed exactly as Chan had chosen.
Chan enjoyed the view he had purchased or programmed while he rode toward the Omnibus. The electric, self-driving vehicle he rode in was not his own. A simple mobile rental service, that could be requested with a word and a destination in mind, was his preferred transport. The rides were very inexpensive and allowed him to live more freely, he felt. They generally smelled like old rice and soy sauce, but his latest addition to his headset took care of that, today he smelled only lavender.
According to the electronic receipt he had received, the ride today was supposedly a blue, four-door sport utility. However, it had been fitted with ads for all sorts of energy drinks, antidepressants and myriad other addictives. The Ad Faces adorned nearly every textured and non-textured surface, inside and out, including the side windows playing ads non-stop. Looking at them forces your ViewLense to play any audio tied to the advertisement. Chan saw none of these. Of course, he knew there were ads covering everything, primarily because all of these cheaper Ultra Rental rides were literal marketing vehicles, and because he had purposefully coded a simple routine to replace all ads with random cat pictures.
He sat in silence surrounded by cute, furry, playful and sometimes grumpy cat photos. Chan was comfortable, happy and blissfully unwilling to peer out from behind the ViewLense screen that sat a few millimeters from his eyes. For he had always known, and been told through his years at the Academy and his childhood in the Rectory, that this world around him was nothing but grays and pain. A polluted wasteland of ash and wreckage that should be avoided, if for no other reason than to save yourself from the torment and depression that would overwhelm the mind from nothing more than a simple glance. This had all sounded like nonsense to him, but the ViewLense was his and everyone else's safety net, regardless of reality. ViewLense was to be the savior of mankind and the solace that would keep a mind at ease and all pants neatly unsoiled. But he was, however, curious.
Chan had worn a Lense his entire 27 years and had known nothing but the feel of the small metal clasps and bits of plastic and leather that touched his skin. There were also the new scent inserts he could feel if he touched a certain spot on his nose; or the covers that wrapped his ears providing him with extreme sound clarity in most occasions, and soft, gentle jazz music in other moments. His choice.
The beautiful mixed reality view of the world that Chan experienced every day was aided by the acclaimed 240k Sound Clarity speakers with modulation emulators and reverberation assistance. The Extreme Emotion X graphics in his View Port; the fifth generation, Sensation Engine synaptic programming; and thousands of credits worth of downloadable add-in elements; all of these made each day brighter and more beautiful than the last.
Of course, if he were honest with himself; Chan would admit that he really didn't know what any of those advanced tech terms meant, nor how they improved his actual experience. He only knew that the new ViewLense operating system update, due to release later that day was supposed to add further enhancements, like improvements to the adaptive replacement technology. The initial version of it had given Chan the ability to dynamically replace every person who wasn't in his connection list with a panda. And even though it was glitchy at times, it made for interesting walks down busy streets, being surrounded by cute, black and white, fluffy upright bears. And it made finding his friends, in a crowd, so much easier. That update alone would be worth...
A bubbly chirp suddenly rang in his ears, followed by a grating, generated voice announcing his arrival at the Omnibus.
Every time an announcement played for him, Chan would chastise himself for never purchasing any replacement tones or voices. He always found other uses for his credits and hated the idea of "wasting" them on sounds. He was more interested in the visuals; and they tended to cost more anyway, so he would save his credits accordingly. The credits that he earned, sparingly, working at the Omnibus.
The cat adorned SUV came to a stop at the front door of the place. The large, ominous structure loomed high overhead. The shadow cast by the arch above was particularly dark today. But, as always, no rain fell and the front door was actively greeting Chan with a large goofy grin and a simple "welcome" from a computer voice. Today, the oversized greeter was a popular children's cereal character, a rabbit, that would remind them all to buy several boxes of his sugary nutrition at the market.
Chan sighed deeply. Omnibus required advertising couldn't be overwritten, so his cat code was useless here.
He stepped out of the vehicle and entered the large glass doors that slid silently open as he approached. Behind him, dozens of other rental vehicles came and went in orderly fashion. Worker friends and panda bears entering and exiting like a finely tuned people machine.
Chan's responsibility at Omnibus was fairly low level work. But he had a desk. A cubicle all to himself. And, with the latest release, he was able to use his own ViewLense for work purposes. He felt sorry for the others that would be required to remove their outdated headset (once inside, and only ever inside the building) and wear the cheap Omnibus provided units. Those awful things, Chan shuddered thinking about them. They played required productivity messages and corporate propaganda every 50 minutes. His was clearly supposed to do the same, but with some hacking trickery and omniCode rerouting, he could limit the iterations to once per day.
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM OMNIBUS MANAGEMENT — Wasting time is wasting resources. The Omnibus mission is total efficiency. Waste not, want not. Be an efficiency leader today, and every day! — PLEAS NOW RETURN TO YOUR ROUTINE ACTIVITIES, REJUVENATED AND REFRESHED
Chan had the daily task of sitting thru thousands of anonymized audio clips heard by all manner of ViewLense users to find very specific audio wave patterns. There were a variety of them for which to search, long wavy ones, short staccato ones, super long and wiggly ones.
Chan didn’t know what the audio actually sounded like; playing any portion of it was absolutely forbidden and punishable with prison; and worse, a lifetime of mandatory ViewLense programming by the Regulatory Board. Not a pleasant thing, Chan knew. The rumor was that once your VL was controlled by them, everything you do would be monitored explicitly. Any elicit activity would then result in immediate termination of your connection. Without a ViewLense, you would basically be banished from normal society.