Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 10: Stray Tomcat Found

by Jeff Rand

John woke with a sharp pain in his head. Using his right hand, he reached towards the side of his head, where he pulled out the object that had connected itself below the right ear. Momentarily the pain subsided and he regained full consciousness.

Gradually he became aware of the dimly lit room. At first, a flash of recent memory caused him to believe that he had been taken to the hospital. Perhaps he had been unconscious for some time. Now lying fully awake, he realized that the very warm and humid environment was much different than any modern hospital. The dull hum he heard in the background actually pleased him, knowing that his hearing had returned. Aside from the limited movement available to his right arm, he was otherwise quite immobile. He was apparently on a bed of some kind, and was not aware of wearing any clothing.

John used his right hand to investigate the situation. He found nothing more, as he probed his head and face. When he touched his left arm, he found a flexible tube connected to it. He pulled the tube, causing much pain, as a long needle left the confines of his flesh. Further investigation yielded a tube attached to his penis, which he also removed.

Finding nothing more, he set upon the task of leaving his bed. Attempting to move his other limbs, he had the sense that he had forgotten how. He was extremely weak. He recalled the mysterious experience he had while in a dream state, where he regained use of his right arm. Over the next half-hour, he put all of his energies into moving the left arm. His deliberate actions yielded slow progress, but eventually were rewarded, as they had been in the previous experience. Next he turned attention to his legs, first learning to wiggle his toes, before advancing to leg lifts. Performing a sit up was a monumental task, and John tried it more than 100 times before he was successful.

He was quite pleased with himself, as he gazed around the room. It was very dim except for the red light that was flashing above his bed. The room appeared to be filled with other beds and machinery of some sort. It was not at all pleasant.

John rolled and fell to the floor. It took several tries before he was able to hold himself on wobbly legs. Just then, he heard the engagement of machinery. In the dim light he could see an object moving across the ceiling towards his bed. "I better leave now," he thought.

He took a tentative step and fell. He used his hands and pulled himself back up. "I must get out. I'll crawl, if I have to," he thought.

He heard still more machinery and a hissing sound. While holding the side of his bed, he took a step forward. He did not fall. He took another, then another, each time gaining strength and confidence. He held onto other bunks, as he moved across the room to the wall. When he heard a loud noise and saw a flash of sparks in the direction of his bed, he had all the confidence necessary to rush to a door. He shoved hard. It didn't budge.

The level of mechanical activity in the room increased and John heard numerous hissing sounds. Just then, he realized his breathing had become more labored. He shoved the door again with no success. "I think I better lay down," he thought. "I feel so tired."

Just as he had given up on his escape, he noticed what appeared to be a fire alarm switch next to the door. He pulled the lever with all remaining strength. The door popped open and John fell naked onto the snow.

Computers had been a part John's life, ever since his family got its first TRS-80, when he was just a child. The TRS-80 or Trash-80, using John's preferred vernacular, was soon replaced by an IBM compatible PC. Throughout his adult Life John kept on the cutting edge of computer development, always owning a late model. While his desired career choice might have been more physically active, his interest and computer programming ability offered him a lucrative career in the field.

Personal computer technology advanced rapidly in the last quarter of the 20th century. The first commercial models, with clock speeds of one megahertz and 4 kilobytes of memory, were introduced in the mid-seventies and were soon replaced by the next generation, which had four times the capacity and speed. Any aware individual during this period could expect the speed and capacity of the PC to double every two years. By the end of the 20th century, the PC's being offered to consumers had clock speeds and memory capacities a thousand times those of their early ancestors. John was one of the first Winter Campers to own a machine breaking the gigahertz barrier.

During the early years of the 21st century, the PC revolution turned from issues of increasing speed and capacity to integration with other media. By 2008, as most music and video had been digitized, the home computer served as the primary tool for their storage and transmission. The "net" reached full glory in 2005 when it became the primary method for non point-of-sale commerce. Yet, these developments were hardly the most profound in their impact.

During the middle of the decade of the 2000's, the computer revolution saw its greatest change in the field of virtual reality. Although VR devices had been available for some years previously, it was the advances in several related fields that that brought them into popular use. The contemporary VR devices of the day combined the latest advances in medicine, psychology, miniature electronics, and computers in providing a viable device.

Always quick to embrace new technologies, Winter Camp saw its first VR device in 2006. While it was little more than goggles and earphones attached to a PC, it provided many hours of enjoyment. The "Glazed Eye Society" replaced the "Rat-A-Tat-Tatters" as a term describing those who spent many of their night hours entranced with a new device.

The next year saw a proliferation of VR devices, which were much more realistic. By 2010 a VR network had been established in Clearwater, providing for an exciting real-time interface for a group of six participants. In subsequent years VR activities became a regular part of the Winter Camp schedule. However, by 2015 some the traditionalists were already demanding that restrictions be imposed on the use of VR at Winter Camp.

Outside the Winter Camp Universe, the VR revolution had profound implications. By 2015 most connections to the Net were through a VR interface. Even the venerable term TV was replaced by TVR, as most people preferred to experience televised virtual reality shows. Indeed the average individual spent an inordinate number of hours experiencing TVR.

The VR revolution would have reached a plateau had it not been for advances in neurology during the teens. The new science of neuronics allowed virtual reality devices to fully interface with humans. In a few short years neural virtual reality (NVR) devices became the mainstream.

The hardware needed for NVR was much less involved than the VR or TVR devices of a few years earlier. It was the neural surgery required for each user which delayed the process. However, because of the profound benefits, most people in the developed world had completed the surgery by 2021. Over the next five years, after a considerable worldwide effort to eradicate poverty, virtually everyone in the world had the procedure.

The NVR surgery involved the placement of electronic neural transmitters within the skull. The transmitters communicated with the various neurons in the brain. Miniature electrodes sensed the chemical and electrical changes within the neurons. Another set of electrodes performed the function of stimulating selected neurons. A small computer, on the side of the skull sorted the inputs in a manner such that it could completely map the body senses and brain activity. The computer's output mode provided the stimulus to the brain to mimic the senses and other perceived activities of the body. On the side of each person's head, just below the ear, was a small interface, which connected to the VR hardware and the Net.

Neural virtual reality was quickly refined to offer an unrivaled experience. As brains became accustomed to the process, they could make no distinction from any other perceived reality.

NVR presented a whole series of profound economic implications. No longer was expensive travel or equipment needed for recreational activity. When connected to the Net, people could visit with friends around the globe in the most real sense. Many of life's activities related to working for material things could be greatly reduced, with so much available through NVR. Indeed there was a significant reduction in working hours and an unparalleled distribution of wealth worldwide.

Equal to the economic impact were significant social changes. Many of life's regular social activities could be conducted on the Net through NVR. Everything from social parties to religious services eventually used this technology.

It was, perhaps, the psychological consequences that were of most concern. The addictive aspect of NVR could not be disputed. By 2025, the average person spent two thirds of his waking hours connected to his neural interface. During this same year, a significant effort commenced in constructing regional NVR centers throughout the world. Here, people could hook up to a neural interface around the clock for days or weeks at a time. Machines provided the necessary nutrition and waste removal to allow their bodies continuous access to the virtual world.

Winter Camp saw changes, too, as the use of the NVR devices dominated the schedule. By Winter Camp 49, the veterans were concerned enough to put some limits on it, if only to maintain some vestige of the "real" Winter Camp. The schedule for Winter Camp 50 demanded that the anniversary banquet and time capsule ceremony be held in the real world. Yet, the great addiction to NVR had its way with the rest of the camp. Winter Campers enjoyed a full schedule of exciting interactive NVR events for the remainder. There had never been a Winter Camp as fulfilling in their memories.

In 2027, neural virtual reality had its greatest effect worldwide. Unlike any other previous technology, it had truly fulfilled its promise of worldwide wealth and elimination of social unrest. The decision for one world government seemed to be quite logical at the time. September 21, 2027 was proclaimed World Unity Day. With the completion of the regional NVR centers, the entire world population would join the virtual celebration. Every living person reported to the nearest center for the weeklong virtual gathering. It would be the finest test of man's ingenuity in having all of his needs met throughout the period. At precisely 4:10 a.m. GMT on September 21, to coincide with the exact moment of the autumn equinox, World Secretary General Robert Dwayne Harper proclaimed world unity. For the first time in history, all of the earth's people shared a common event.

As John experienced his first breath of fresh air in over three years, he realized that the so-called weeklong celebration of world unity had not yet ended.

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