[logo] Exocortices

Getting Lost - Chapter 5

Jan 15, 2017 • Madison Scott-Clary • Rating: green • Contains

RJ allowed emself to sleep in until nearing eleven that morning, given that tonight was the last night of dress rehearsals. Many other members of the troupe held part time jobs during the day, and ey had been known to offer their services as consultant during times like these. Even so, with all that ey did, ey made enough to not have to worry about holding down more than the one job

As it was, on days when they had nighttime rehearsals, ey felt no compunctions about sleeping in. There was nothing to be up for, and with only the ‘net to keep them occupied in the mornings, ey felt little need to get moving.

It was Priscilla who has woken em up, butting her head against their cheek and purring loudly to them. The more insistent the cat got, the less ey was able to ignore her intrusions on their admittedly banal dreams.

Ey finally trudged out of bed and refilled their cat’s water and food dishes, giving her the requisite morning pets to keep her happy. That done, ey scooped her litter box and made emself a pot of tea. Ey sat at the tiny kitchen table, sipping from their oversized mug and watching the late morning traffic from their window, primarily composed of business traffic, with the occasional mother with child in tow.

By the time ey had finished eir first mug of tea, RJ had woken up a little more and had started to putter around. As with the night before, he made sure that everything was in order before touching eir workstation. Ey’d taken care of the cat, but ey still needed to eat, emself, so, remembering eir promise, ey set about making a small pot of rice. The fifteen minutes that it would take to cook would give em enough time to finish another mug of tea.

With most of the rice setting in the pot and small bowl of rice and leftover curry on eir lap, RJ ate slowly and thoughtfully. In the process of swiping eir hand over the controls of the stove, ey was reminded of the deck that Sasha had shared with em last night. There was no reason to think that some random person in London would have too much to offer in the case of another person ey had never met getting Lost, but there was no reason not to try and figure things out. Maybe there was something, some small insight that ey had that, when pooled with those of others, which would help in some way.

Pouring the third and last cup of tea into the thick-walled mug, ey set the empty bowl into the sink and made eir way over to the workstation. As before, ey keyed in the password and rested eir hand onto the cradle for the two-factor. Instead of delving in as ey had last night, though, ey flipped up the monitor and pulled the keyboard closer, moving the hand rests to the side and the headrest up and out of the way. For work like this, there was no need to go immersive. Ey could just as easily work as a fox, of course, but it was so easy to lose track of time in there, and the night’s rehearsal hadn’t been forgotten.

“Let’s see,” ey murmured, taking a quick sip of tea before setting the mug down and calling up the deck that Sasha had given em.

Cicero Lost Nov 2108
Priv eyes only
See Debarre for ACLs

Dr. Carter Ramirez
specialist in lost
so. London

Mr/Mrs. Jackson
parents, can’t get much more
dad in govt, mother stays home

And on it went, for nearly a dozen cards. Each had its own cover embossed with a few lines of type, and each contained upwards of a gig of information, culled from various sources and of various quality. RJ flipped through each, gaining what he could from a quick scan through of the data, before collapsing the deck once more and sitting back to think.

Even though ey had only received the deck the night previously, there was nothing in there that seemed new or out of place. Ey had heard of the Lost before, and the name Ramirez was commonly tied with the hundred or so cases that had cropped up over the years. The family…no, there was nothing to be gained there, at least not that had already been tried by Debarre; again with the problem of being a random person in the UK, rather than someone known or with power. None of the rest of the cards carried any real significance to RJ.

If there was anything RJ was going to add to the conversation over Cicero, it would be through eir connection to the cat. Something ey knew, something the two had shared.

A small notification slid down from the top of his monitor to cover the upper right corner of the screen.

D - D - R

Voting begins in 5 minutes on referrendum 238ac9b8:

Summary: Tariffs on importation of goods from the Russian Bloc…

Cost: 1,000

Bounty: 280,000

RJ moved to swipe the notification away – ey had very little at stake in the arguments between the Western Federation and the Russian Bloc, and could honestly care less about taxes on things that ey wouldn’t end up buying – however, something clicked within em and ey halted eir motion just short of dismissing the notification.

Cicero.

Ey hastily shuffled back through the Cicero Lost deck until ey came up with the ‘recent net activity’ card and pulled up the contents. It took a few moments to remember how to sort tabular data, since RJ couldn’t remember how to query for the life of em, but eventually, ey got the table sorted around the activity type and scrolled rapidly through the list until ey got to the list of Direct Democracy Representative entries for votes.

The one thing that RJ and Cicero had argued about most of all was politics, and not just politics, but the worthiness of the current political system in all of its facets. RJ was a left-leaning democrat – ey felt the representative democracy combined with the DDR was a pretty good solution, and certainly one of the better of the factions out there – whereas Cicero seemed to waver between loose communism or anarchy, depending on factors such as how much he had had to drink and how angry he was at the most recent vote.

“I certainly can’t see broad shifts going my way,” he had said. “But the least I can do is make my voice heard on every DDR that comes my way.”

Ey made sure syncing was on across all copies of the deck before copying those rows out of the activity table into a card of their own:

DDR votes
todo: process by record
1 month, 2835 votes (!)

The icon in the upper left of the screen showing the deck flashed briefly to show the sync, and then RJ really got down to work.

As it turned out, Cicero had voted just how he had talked. On the surface, he was no different than any other leftist socialist out there voting on the DDR. One thing that came with the ability to vote on issues directly was the general election was the ability to comment for a price. DDR votes didn’t cost money, at least not real money, but they did cost credit, up to 1,000 per, which you gained by voting on cheaper issues, beginning with a few free ones in the form of a tutorial.

What Cicero’s records showed was that he was wealthy. Incredibly wealthy. RJ had a few million DDR credits banked away for no real reason other than in the case of a high value issue that he felt strongly about so that he could make a comment, because commenting could cost upwards of five million credits, and one could buy their way to influence by flooding issues with comments.

Cicero’s wealth surpassed RJ’s at least a hundred times over, if not more. For someone to be that active in commenting and still have that much wealth in credits stored up showed a dedication to following politics that was only just barely hinted at by the cat’s tispy rantings in the Crown Pub. Cicero was well connected, well read, and, most importantly, a key political figure on the DDR comment sections to an extent that none of the Crown regulars had ever expected.

RJ sat back in silence for a few moments before uttering, “Well, shit. Prisca, you don’t suppose…”

Rather than finishing the thought out loud, ey typed up eir conclusions in the contents of the card, in the notes section.

AwDae here. Looks like there’s a lot going on in activity (where’d you get this, Debarre?) on DDR. Cicero was into a lot, and I’m not trying to go all conspiracy nut on you, but do you think that maybe he got in too deep or something, and maybe that led to him getting Lost? Not saying someone tried to do it too him or anything, just that maybe the more one uses the ‘net, the more likely it is to happen to them? I mean seriously, look at all of his votes, and his stash of credits! I’ll keep poking at this after rehearsal.

Eir tea had gone cold long ago, but ey chugged it anyway. Ey had spent longer than planned plowing through the data the hard way, and it was getting to be about time to head back over to the theater.


By the time ey left eir flat, it was about four in the afternoon. Ey had spent a few minutes getting their suit brushed out and clean as best as ey could before putting it on, along with eir nice pair of gloves. Thankfully, the suit jacket as already spotless, and the dress shirt would go through the laundry without problems. It had been a stressful thought, that they might have to get the thing professionally cleaned, and at great cost for same- or next-day service.

On the way back to the tube station, ey stopped by a Thai counter and picked up a take-away container of phat si-io to eat on the short walk. Ey managed to make it about halfway through the container before having to close it back up again and put it back in its bag with the chopsticks before getting tagging eir way into the station’s depths.

Throughout the ride from Benthal Green to Oxford Circus, RJ’s mind was flooded with the information they had gained by prowling through Sasha and Debarre’s deck. Ey kept mulling over that incredibly large number of credits, just how much social currency was bound up within the ‘fake’ currency of the DDR credit system. Cicero had built himself up into a political player.

RJ arrived at the theater five minutes early or so, having spent the last few meters of eir walk hasitly finishing the carton of Thai so that ey could dump it into the trash bin just outside. Once ey swiped eir way into the theater, ey jogged quickly to the loo to wash eir face and straighten eir hair, some of the small things that ey had sacrificed to dig into Cicero’s case.

“Sorry, Johansson, I’m here,” ey offered to the hulking director.

“You’re here five minutes early, RJ,” he laughed. “What on earth are you sorry about?”

“What? I- Oh,” RJ pulled eir cell out to confirm the time.

“Lot on your mind, kid?”

“Nah, I’m fine. I mean,” RJ stammered, working to get emself in the work mindset. “Yeah, sorry. I woke up early and spent a bunch of time researching before work, I guess my head’s still elsewhere, boss.”

“Hah, well, alright,” Johansson rumbled. “So long as you get your head around work, I guess that’s okay. Hey, here comes more crew.”

RJ bustled into the theater and made eir way down toward the pit where the mics had been stored. Ey set a tech to work handing them out to the actors who would be wearing them, making sure the tech had his cheat-sheet to align proper mic number to actor.

Ey bounded back up the steps two at a time toward the tech booth to set about waking the theater up again. Caitlin was already in place, so it would be shaking its sleepy head already, ey just had to help it wake up the rest of the way.

Shrugging out of eir jacket and draping it over the back of the sound booth chair, RJ exchanged cheery greetings with the lights lead as ey slipped eir hands carefully out of eir gloves, contacts all freshly polished and clean.

The theater purred in recognition and brushed up against em as RJ settled into eir chair and delved in, eir hands rest lightly on the contacts in the cradles, forehead against the headrest. Safety had always been a concern of the engineers, what with the lawyers breathing down their necks, and so all it would take to pull RJ back out would be for him (or someone else, for that matter) to lift eir hands from the contacts and move eir head away from the curved plastic headrest. To that end, it was considered good form to find a comfortable position that allowed one to rest lightly against the contacts without gripping at the hand rests – the slight magnetic attraction between the contacts in eir fingers and the ones in the cradles would keep everything positioned nicely.

The first half of the evening’s rehearsal went by without much trouble at all. Johansson had apparently highlighted a few areas of concern that he wanted to work through, and the cast has followed his lead, adjusting as needed at their dear leader’s suggestions, while RJ and Caitlin kept a script running so that they could keep up with the director and Sarai, the manager.

Finally, when the clock hit eight thirty, Johansson called for a break, and informed everyone that they would be running through the play top to bottom afterwards, before prepping for opening tomorrow.

RJ backed out of the connection with the theater and reveled in the feeling of pulling eir fingers away from that slight magnetic grasp that the cradles offered, wiping eir hands dry and flexing fingers to keep limber. Ey spent the break walking around the theater and stage in one big, looping arc, simply listening to the way that the ambient sound moved through the room and reflected off of walls and ceiling. It would all be different with people in the seats, to be sure, but ey was used to that by now.

It was around the end of the first act that RJ started having problems. When one was delved in, one could always focus hard enough to feel the way their head felt against the head rest, or sense the way that their hands rested within the cradles of the grips. By the time ey had brought down house sound in time for the curtain to fall, RJ could feel a numbness creeping over emself from the base of eir neck outwards, stretching out along eir scalp and down eir arms and torso.

Initially, ey had been willing to chalk it up to nerves or exhaustion – it had been a long enough week, after all – but by the time ey couldn’t feel the plastic of the headrest or the cradles beneath eir hands, ey began to worry. All the same, it was final dress and ey would be able to head home and catch up on sleep or whatever ey needed before too long, so ey decided to simply power through it, ignoring the lack of sensation.

By the second curtain, RJ knew something was desperately wrong.

Ey hadn’t missed any cues yet, but ey couldn’t seem to figure out how to work eir ‘voice’, such as it was, to communicate with Caitlin, Sarai, or Johansson, leaving em feeling more and more cut off from the rest of the theater as time went on

It was the muzzle that was the kicker, though. The muzzle and the tail, which ey felt – any feeling was a beacon in the storm of numbness that had long since enveloped eir body – with a piercing intensity, bordering on and then diving straight into pain. Ey tried to pull back and wound up lifting eir paws in a sudden jerking motion which, combined with the act of pulling eir head back from the contacts, led to them falling over. There was no chair to catch em.

And that was when ey missed eir cue.


The curtain went down the lights dimmed, and then, clear as a bell, a thin giggle filled the auditorium: the lead had laughed at a misstep right before the curtain.

“RJ,” Sarai whispered into the silence of the theater’s sim. “Stay on cue, bud.”

There was no answer, no apology or signal that a note had been made.

“RJ?”

“What’s going on up there?” came Johansson’s subvocalization through the director’s channel in the sim.

“Something’s wrong, boss, lemme back out and check up on RJ.”

“Temporary cut, hold places,” Johansson said aloud to the the theater. The open channels from the actors mics carried a few quiet whispers in response. “Hold on, quiet please.”

Moving with a quickness which belied his bulk, Johansson ran up to the tech booth and slipped in as quickly as possible to keep sound from leaking out. Sarai was trying to rouse RJ.


Like a flame burning through celluloid film, the third curtain had signified a drastic change, slow enough to be observed and yet faster than ey could possibly hope to avoid. The few tenuous touches on reality that held RJ into eir seat in the tech booth scorched and peeled away, and the pain spiked.

RJ lay on a tile floor, dirty and yellow.

The tiles were completely regular, one foot on a side, and obviously made of some synthetic material. They were simply glued to a concrete foundation with no grout, each tile butting up against the others to form a grid of thin, black lines, showing where the dirt of hundreds of feet had been ground into the remaining seams.

Ey couldn’t move yet, but ey could still see that the world was bounded. There was a thin plastic strip of molding around the edge of a wall, and then regular rectangles of blue, a wall.


“Something’s not right, boss, he’s totally unresponsive!”

“Pull him, pull him! Hit the panic!”

Caitlin, who had backed out moments before, and Sarai both leapt to RJ’s sides and pulled eir hands up from the cradles in the way that they had been trained, rocking em back from the headrest to lean back against the back of the chair. Eir body flopped lifelessly against the cheap plastic mesh.

Caitlin slapped the small red button on the side of the monitor. Her fingers came away dusty: rarely were panics used in a theater. Below the desk, drives sparked to life and dumped the last thirty minutes of both sim and brain activity from the user.

“The hell?” Johansson said, reaching in a thick pair of fingers to press against the side of the sound lead’s neck. “Pulse is fine. Check his eyes, Sarai. Caitlin, call. Now.”

Shaking, Caitlin pulled her phone from her bag and started to hastily struggle to unlock it to get to emergency services.

“They’re rolled back, boss. Bloodshot, too.” Sarai moved over to tug back the collar of RJ’s shirt, checking eir spinal implant’s simple color-coded readout. “Blue. What the hell…”

“He’s not jacked in, though,” Johansson said, eyes boring into Sarai.

“I think-“ Sarai trailed off hoarsely, cleared her throat, and tried again. “I mean, do you think he’s Lost?”

“Caitlin, what’s our status, girl?” Johansson growled before throwing the door to the tech booth wide and shouting out toward the stage, “Cut! Manually shut off your mics and take a seat where you are. Do not move. Emergency services will be here soon, and will record what they can.”


Lockers.

The blue rectangles were lockers. The first hint were the vent slots a few inches from the bottom of each narrow rectangle, but, as ey lifted eir muzzle from where it lay on the tile floor, ey could clearly see the locks halfway up each door.

Tall, narrow lockers. Blue. The yellow tile floors. The very scent, the very feel of the place.

AwDae tried to make all of this information fit in with the fact that ey was currently halfway between human and cross fox. A cross fox dressed in a suit, laying on the floor of the central corridor of eir old high school.

“The hell?”

© 2015 Madison Scott-Clary
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