Flora spent the last few days with reigning herself in not to give the craftspeople too many suggestions on how to renovate the kitchen. Instead, she surfed the internet pages of the virtual world.
In her life, she had witnessed computer shrinking from a workstation as big as a nightstand to an implant as small as a grain of salt. Every generation got more intelligent, and more ways to interact with them opened up. First, you had to type complicated commands, then click with a mouse, then swish with fingers, then just tell them what you wanted. Now, they tracked the movements of your eyes and fingers. With wiggling your pinky, you could raise the temperature of the heater, dim the light, and play music.
Warnings about AIs were older than AIs themselves. The problem with old warnings is that they were old.
Which child wasn’t warned about drugs before they took their first hit? But then they thought, that wasn’t so bad.
Of course, Flora’s generation had been warned that you shouldn’t compromise your privacy by giving out personal information on the internet. But you could win a toaster by just filling out a short survey or get access to a neat little farming game, so they set aside the admonitions. And nothing bad happened after you did it the first time.
Nothing bad had happened when Siri was introduced, and Alexa conquered the homes.
Nothing overt, at least.
‘What happens when you have the whole world at your fingertip? Do you get spoiled, lazy, and entitled? Do you become free of the daily grind and can dive into the wonders of the world?’
The people introduced the AI’s into their world, into their homes and even into their bodies with implants. In contrast, the Cetviwos was the realm of the AIs, and they invited people, the players, into it. What would they do if they were the host and not the guest?
Flora was equally captivated by and suspicious of AIs. What would they want if they developed a will? Peace and cooperation? Rights? Power? Money? Hot robot-chicks and connecting rhythmically to their ports? Love?
Besides the philosophical ramblings, she read about the actual experiences of the users.
She had the strong urge to call Robert to say this was a bad idea, and they should think it over.
‘I can understand that you can kill monsters, but people can kill other people?’ Her fear rose.
‘You can build robots? Maybe even toaster robots?’ Her excitement rose.
‘There are con-artists who rob the technologically unsavvy?’ Her fear rose.
‘You can visit a planet which is modeled after earth in different centuries, and you can see dinosaurs, knight tournaments and the building of the pyramids (Egyptian and South American) in one day!’ Her excitement rose.
‘What is PvE? What is skill rotation? What the heck are they talking about?’ Her fear rose.
‘You can tone down pain? You can get stronger and more agile?’ Her excitement rose.
‘Can these virtual reality pods sustain my life 24/7?’ Her fear rose.
‘What? They claim it’s even healthy?’ Her excitement rose.
This interplay of emotions drained her. She breathed and cleared her mind.
‘I will do what I always do. I’ll wing it. May the higher powers grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to know the difference, and enough luck not to frack myself too badly!’
‘Time flies by too fast.’
Flora was sitting on the passager seat of Robby’s car and sulked.
“This could be my last chance to drive a real car, and you won’t let me?”
“At least bring a few arguments instead of wordless refusal!”
She continued sulking. ‘I only had some minor accidents, and most of the time, Robby wasn’t even on board.’
After some time, they arrived at an industrial park where the pod facility was located amidst rundown factories. The building was multi-storied and shabby. Only the first floor and the highest floor had windows. A bright store sign read ‘JourneyVirtual – Your vehicle for journeying into the Virtual World’.
A young woman greeted them and showed them a presentation about JourneyVirtual’s services. After that, Flora signed some contracts, and her pod was shown to her.
‘My own pod. Looks a bit like a coffin.’ Flora shuddered. ‘Or a project of a mad scientist.’ That last thought cheered her up.
She scanned the box. There was a lot of padding, cables, mesh fabric, and sensors. The interior looked remarkably like the interior of the VR-Helmet of the CAD-System. Of course, she had been interested in the technology and had taken it apart and failed to assemble it again. She remembered the snarky email she had received: ‘We noticed that the helmets of engineers tend to have more accidents than of other participants. Please take care of your helmet.’
“Ma? Are you listening to me?” Robby said. “I have to go, love you, please remember, after joining the VR World do not go ANYWHERE! Wait for me at the Plaza! DO NOT MOVE!”
He hugged her and wanted to move on, but Flora clung to him and showered him with kisses, messed up his hair and hugged him a bit tighter. When he stopped struggling, she finally let him go.
“Alright, now I’m ready.”
She got naked, and the assistant put stickers with cables all over her body and pipes in all body openings. She couldn’t move an inch. As the lid closed and darkness engulfed her, she had to fight down the panic.
“Hello Flora Fluss, welcome to the Central Tank Virtual Worlds.” a soft voice said.
“The calibrating process will take a few minutes. Please follow the instructions.”
The voice instructed her to tense muscles, move her eyeballs, breath in patterns. The darkness receded, and colorful lights filled her vision. She was tasked to reach out to rays of a specific color and did that. ‘I can move again!’ She tried to move forward but realized that she could only move her arms.
“Be patient. We will come to this point soon.”
Flora rolled her eyes and was happy that she could still roll her eyes. She followed the more and more complex directives. In the end, she could move fully and chased the yellow lights enthusiastically.
“Calibration completed. Thank you for your effort. We are proceeding to character creation.”
The lights vanished, and Flora saw an animated 3D Image of herself in front of her.
The image wore a plaid skirt and a light sweater. Flora looked down on herself and saw that she wore the same attire.
‘This won’t do.’
“Do you want to modify your avatar or continue to the Virtual World?” The voice asked.
“I want trousers.”
The image changed to plaid trousers. ‘That’s even worse.’
“I want beige trousers.”
Now the image was wearing beige trousers which contrasted nicely with the baby blue sweater.
“Do you want to modify your avatar or continue to the Virtual World?” The voice asked again.
“I haven’t even started yet, dear,” Flora smirked. “I want to modify my avatar.”
She knew that stating her wishes clearly, worked best with artificial intelligence, and she assumed that she was speaking with one.
A panel with some tabs named after different body parts and slides appeared in front of her.
“Evai: Save Project as Flora Zero,” she mumbled out of habit and felt immediately silly. That was a command from the CAD System, and Evai was her artificial intelligence personal assistant. But she discovered a reset button on the panel, so she wasn’t worried about testing the shit out of the features.
She surfed enthusiastically through the tabs and moved the sliders on a whim. Her avatar had morphed into a 2,50 m tall green monster with violet hair and eyeballs as big as footballs.
“That was fun, but Evai: Load Project named Flora Zero.”
‘Oh no, I did it again!’
To her amazement, the command worked. The avatar changed back to her initial countenance.
“Evai, are you there?” She tensed. She missed Evai. Evai was on another level than the AIs in the real world. Comparing Evai with Alexus or Sirius was like comparing a Ferrari with a tricycle.
“What’s your name? And why do my commands work?”
“You can call me System. I have no authority to answer the second question.”
“Do you know Evai?”
“I have no authority to answer the question.”
“What is the connection between the Yuan-Xianshi CAD Software and this VR?”
“I have no authority to answer the question.”
“What is the meaning of life?”
“I have insufficient processing-power to answer the question.”
Flora realized that she wasn’t going anywhere and pondered her next steps.
‘What if other features of the CAD Software work too? No harm in trying.’
“System: Load Tool-Selection Foras Fav’s!”
The panel vanished, and the tools of the CAD Software appeared in precisely the configuration she liked the most. She smirked.
“Alright, let me show you what happens when an engineer works on a human body!” Flora erupted in full-blown mad scientist laughter. “Muahahahaaaaaaa!”