Short Story: Part 1: Jetpack

Cubey Terra recently wrote a bittersweet short story called “The Oldbie.”  If you’ve ever used Second Life, you should read it.

It inspired me.  So I’ve written a similar story.  A story about virtual worlds and the future.

It’s called “Jetpack.”  This one’s for you, Cubey.

“So it goes,” Smith thought.

The kids were at it again.  Jittery blurs of perpetual energy as they danced around a pristine white marble fountain spraying jets of water high into the morning air.  Most of them seemed to be wearing fashionably new broadcast jackets.  Strobing videos from a live concert flickered across their backs and arms.  Angry questions shouted to the world.

From across the plaza in his favorite patio seat, Smith could hear the harsh growl of musical instruments in synch with the videos.  It sounded like a room full of broken washing machines stuck on spin-cycle.

A pair of dark-suited businessmen in silver sunglasses walked stiffly past the fountain, visibly annoyed by the disturbance as they attempted to continue their conversation over the noise.  One of the kids reached into his pocket and tossed a fuzzerbang.  Hundreds of bouncing cartoon characters suddenly appeared in a swarming cloud around the businessmen.  “Biz somewhere else!” laughed the boy.  He danced in a circle and smiled broadly as the suits angrily waved their hands in the air, hurrying out of the plaza.

Smith recrossed his legs and poured himself another cup of coffee.

Sipping it slowly, he watched the boy dance toward a group of pigeons pecking nervously at the cobblestones.  The birds took flight in a flurry of flapping grey wings, rising slowly into the clear morning sky.  Suddenly the boy held out his hand, fingers outstretched like a fan.  One of the flying pigeons froze in the air in a faint outline of yellow.  Laughing, the boy clenched his hand.  The frozen pigeon’s body shimmered and turned bright metallic green.  Resuming its flight, the bird whirled and began circling the fountain, spitting out green sparks that fell like electric rain on the upturned faces of dancing girls and boys.  More laughter.

Smith smiled and put his hand in the pocket of his blue wool overcoat, pulling out a small plywood cube. He placed it gently on the table in front of him.  The cube slowly rose and started rotating.

“Is that what I think it is?  I scan it as unfreakinbelieveable old.”

Smith looked up and saw the boy standing next to his table, watching the floating cube.

“Yes.  This cube is a firstgen artifact.  Nice work with that pigeon back there, by the way.  It’s pretty hard to hack those public works pigeons.  Clever mod.”

“Thanks,” the boy replied, puffing up his chest in pride.  “But that firstgen, where the hell did you get it?  I thought they were all wiped years ago?”

Smith smiled softly.  “I rezzed it myself.  Long time ago.”

“Wow.  Can you trans me one?  I mean, I can just rip it, but then I’d lose the rad rezdate.”  The boy shifted back and forth on his feet, and Smith noticed his jacket was now flashing with whirling patterns of metasourcecode.  The algorithms looked original, not prefab.

“Tell you what, my friend.  I have something else you might like even better.”  Smith waved his hand and the cube disappeared.  In its place on the table was a jetpack and helmet.  Brassy metal glinting in the morning sun, it looked like something out of an ancient Buck Rogers vid.

Smith took another sip of coffee, burning his tongue slightly, and watched the boy’s eyes.  “This was made by someone very special.  Back on firstgrid.  Interested?”

The boy frowned.  “Huh.  You needed jetpacks to fly on firstgrid?  And that helmet looks so recyclebin.  The old rezdate is spiff, but what use is this thing now?”

A brief smile flickered across Smith’s face.  “I’ve modded it a bit.  Go ahead and take ownership of it.  I made it fullperm.”

The boy waved his hand over the jetpack.  Smith felt a datanet reach out and wrap around the jetpack like a hungry electric sea anemone embracing a tasty new snack.

“What the hell!  Whoa whoa whoa my cloud is going crazy!”

Smith watched the boy closely.  The poor kid probably didn’t expect to find yottabytes of data nestled cleverly in the simple geometry.  Recursive compression and data wormholes to even bigger storehouses of information were unfolding.  Smith chuckled softly.  Old dogs can still do tricks.

The boy’s jacket suddenly went dark.  New images began flickering across it.  Images of flight in firstgrid.  Groups of people wearing jetpacks, laughing while flying across vast expanses.  And buried in the video, Smith could sense hidden fractaldata full of emotional responses and subconscious memories.

Shaking his head, the boy wiped his face and looked at Smith.  “You gave me…”

“Yes.  I gave you everything I experienced while wearing that jetpack.  Now you know how I felt.  Now you know the friends I made in firstgrid.  And all of our dreams.”

Smith took a last sip of coffee, placing his cup on the table.

“The neural pathway recording process is not perfect.  I’m still working on that.  I also scrubbed a lot of personal data for privacy’s sake, of course.”

The boy’s face wrinkled.  “This is gonna take me petacycles to process.  Mind if I trans it to my friends too?”

“Be my guest,” Smith replied.  “Now I must meet with an old friend.”  A man in a tight-fitting charcoal flight jacket began walking toward them from across the plaza.

“Thanks, oldtimer.”  The boy spun around and ran back to the fountain, jacket flickering with new code.  Disappearing into the huddle of youth.

The man in the flight jacket walked over and sat in the chair across from Smith.  “I see your hairstyle hasn’t changed.  Y’know they can fix follicle-deprivation these days.  Nano-Maxx-Factor stuff.”

Smith rubbed a hand slowly across his bald head.  “Yeah, and you could use a new jacket, my friend.  I always thought that gold lettering on the back was kind of disco.”

“Very funny.  So let’s talk about this spaceprobe stuff.  NASA has me building a pilot avatar interface so earthbound space jockeys can fly the robot over Mars.  Still hush-hush, so we’ll have to jump into my personalgrid to test it out.  Want to see what I’ve built so far?”

“Just a moment.”

Smith reached up and took off his tortoiseshell glasses.  As he rubbed the lenses with a soft cloth, he casually noticed how the chair across from him was vacant.  The fountain was still there across the plaza, but bone dry and covered with flaking lichen.  The group of kids still dancing around it seemed smaller.  Glancing over to the next table, Smith noticed a woman in a crisp yellow dress talking excitedly to an empty chair.

Putting his glasses back on,  Smith looked up at his companion.  “…and you know you can’t hear me when you take those damn glasses off.  I might have been saying something profound.  Why don’t you just get the cortical and auditory implants like everyone else?”

“Yeah, I know.  What can I say.  I’m an oldbie.”

“Speaking of oldbies, what did you give that kid?”

Smith and his companion both looked over at the fountain.  The boy had rezzed the jetpack in the middle of his group of friends and were working together to mod it.  Giant flexing batwings suddenly sprouted from the jetpack and began to flap, splashing the falling streams of water in the fountain.

“I gave him a message in a bottle.”

“You know, you really sound like a fortune cookie sometimes.  Let’s get to work and build something.  Mars is waiting.”

“So it goes,” thought Smith.

ADDENDUM:  This short story was professionally translated into French and published in Canard Virtuel.

Part 2: “I am Anomaly”


40 thoughts on “Short Story: Part 1: Jetpack

  1. with terms like “rez” and “bot” and “bit’ i was wondering how many of the SL youth ever really saw TRON . of course theyll have the option “SOLD” to them again in a few weeks with the TRON 2 movie and obligatory bluerays/ boxed 1/2 collections…etc.

    always when asked what will the future virtual world “look like” i cant answer anything else but “exactly how it did 20-30 years ago, on TV” 🙂

    i rezzed cube in 1990.. cubey in 2003?… to the next cubez rezzing that same cube, in another “brave new world”… coming to a LCD near you, in 15 seconds..

  2. A vision of the future with hope and memories. It makes my imagination start to figure out other parts, like what I would be doing, wearing. Thank you for the trip!

  3. That was really excellent, Pathfinder. I love the beautiful, creative anarchy in the opening. But especially, I like that you adopted the idea of transferring something from the old generation to the new, but you presented the positive side — not as a loss, but a seed planted that will grow in fertile new imaginations.

    I gather that in this vision, the virtual world enhances the real, as if it’s a kind of digital overlay?

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Pathfinder. But… my jacket is NOT disco. It’s *classic*. 😛

    • I’m so happy you liked it. 🙂 You planted the seeds for it in my brain. Thank you for that. I actually dreamed of flying with your jetpack last night, then woke up and just started writing.

      And yes, in my story the virtual world is seamlessly overlaid with the real. Augmented Reality endgame.

      And yes, I do think your jacket is eternally cool. Please don’t ever stop wearing it.

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  5. Beautiful! Full of hope and energy, and that drive to always keep creating. I like the idea of augmented reality, the two worlds existing as one… I’d so love for that to happen! Well done, I hope you write more!

    • Thanks. If folks really like this short story, perhaps I’ll continue to expand on it. I could post a story every few days as a continuing storyline.

      Obviously the main character is initially based on myself, but I think I can flesh him out in more interesting ways. I typed in the name “Smith” as a placeholder as I started writing and never bothered to change it. Guess I’ll have to stick with that as his name from now on. Funny how things work out like that.

      • I enjoyed this story! And I picked up your Jetpack to wear while I read my Dave Stevens “Complete Rocketeer.” Oh, wait … I can’t import his book to SL, and I can’t export the Jetpack to my RL …

        Definitely do more. And as for the constraint of Smith’s name – perhaps it’s a shortened version or nickname of EduSmith or WorldSmith or … 🙂

        Paradox Olbers

      • Thank you Paradox. Glad you liked the story.

        Great idea about Smith’s name, too. I think I’ll use that concept in my next short story (in progress now).

  6. I love the Media Jackets described early on. When the “Default Media Texture” was place in the firstgrid Library, I first tried it on clothing. I was disappointed when it didn’t work.

    This is what collaboration is about. Adding on ..and on.. ..and on..

  7. excellent. truly excellent. i’m still gonna take the Ark up, looking for that urban mythic portal to World of Warcraft. no, WOW isn’t the destination. it’s just one step out of here. from WOW maybe we can find our way to an open sim with a hypergrid. and then, we’ve got it made. we can hop all over the Omniverse. (Metaverse is so yesterday.) maybe by then Inworldz will have implemented hypergrid.

    • Thanks. 🙂

      Yesterday I wandered across a couple regions on ReactionGrid full of your artwork. I didn’t realize you were working on art installations in OpenSim. The regions were full of crazy big geometric shapes full of crazy complex math. I loved absolutely loved them.

  8. Imagine, what sounds so futuristic is actually happening right now. Now I know how my grandparents felt when, at their age, jet travel was becoming common place. I wish I was about 20 years younger. 🙂 Ric

  9. pffft! Jet packs are easy! Any two-bit hax can script one of those.

    I remember the day I met a man that promised romance and a slow stroll on a sandy beach with your best friend beside you. He understood the virtual world and all its complexity and vowed to make it a gentler kinder world… all without having to hold your thumb on the space bar.

    Take a walk with a friend. Enjoy the tranquility of the shared experience. The memory that you share will take your breath away.

    Ethos Erlanger

  10. Very well done, Path – and I say that as an editor of short fiction, as well as a fan of SF and VWs. I feel an anthology coming on, with Cubey’s “The Oldbie” and this one of yours as anchors. I wonder who else is out there writing “what they know,” crafting stories about avatars for avatars…

  11. Lovely story, Pathfinder. Thoroughly enjoyed it. You managed to give a solid feel to each of the characters in such a short space and the story has such a strong story arc to it – leaving you wanting more as it wraps. I particularly love the idea of transferring experiences and memories, along with inventory items. What a notion.
    And three cheers for Lallo Telling’s idea of creating an avatar anthology. I’m ready to place my order.

  12. Ahhhhh very nice writing, Pathfinder; evocative 🙂
    I think you’d like “Trouble and her Friends” by Melissa Scott if you haven’t read it 🙂

    but you know, in MY day… we listened to our 1200bps modems for bad handshakes, redialing when necessary to get a cleaner circuit, and spent 5 hours in GOPHER and VERONICA finding some file that would take all night to download 500k if you were lucky and the power didn’t go out or your roomate didn’t helpfully turn off your computer or it didn’t overheat or drop the connection or no one called your phone to knock you offline or it wasn’t over your transfer allocation that night.
    And…. *wait for it*….
    wait… 🙂
    wait… 😀
    … AND WE LIKED IT!!!!
    *sits back, satisfied* ahhh 🙂

  13. This is definitely setting a trend… I loved your story, too, it captures things so well, as only someone with a lot of experience in SL could have experienced…

    And yay on the “avatar anthology”!

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