Short Story: Virtual Control

“Today is a great day for humanity!” the CEO of TecVet announced to the applause of all the people in the auditorium. “No longer will you need to pull out your phone to get important information!”

On the screen behind him filled with an image of the Smart Glasses in all its glory.

He continued to reveal all that it could do.

“These Augmented Smart Glasses now give you information on everything as it passes before your eyes. Its built-in AI assistant is ready to receive your voice commands and inquires.”

The screen behind him continued to play a video of a group of friends walking down a street wearing their new glasses. As they walked past objects, bubbles popped up showing information of car types, street names, store hours and more.

The video changed to a man driving and wearing his pair of glasses. He was giving orders to them to turn on the oven at home, so dinner would be ready when he got there, and then ordering things from an online store.

Excitement from the new technology could be felt throughout the entire auditorium.

On the screen, a man told his glasses to pull up security footage from his home, which was immediately superimposed on the lens, still allowing him to see everything around him.

The CEO went on to explain, with corresponding video playing behind him, that the glasses could also be paired with the car to alert you when you were close to hitting another car, or not slowing down when an intersection was detected. The driver was on the phone, and when alerted of someone illegally crossing the street in front of him, his glasses alerted him, causing him to slam on the brakes. The person, seeing that they almost got hit, quickens their pace to get out of the car’s way.

Orders for the new Smart Glasses caused the website to continually crash, but in the end everyone that wanted a pair, had one.

Five years later the glasses were so affordable, that it was rare to see someone not wearing them. The algorithms were refined to the point that the information provided by the glasses became less intrusive and rather than potentially cause accidents, crime and accidents actually dropped to all-time lows.

People were able to call for help during active crimes. Criminals and missing people were more easily located as the facial recognition from the glasses improved. Everyone was a walking camera.

Ten years later, people had become so dependent on the glasses, that when people took them off, they regularly panicked as they no longer had access to the instant information they had become accustomed to.

The glasses changed from looking like a regular pair of glasses to visors, covering the entire top half of the face, and since they were still comfortable, no one minded.

Society soon only saw the world through the visors. The only time they took them off was when they went to bed and the world around them was dark anyways.

Users could change their surroundings to whatever they wanted to and walk the streets normally, but feel like they were walking on another planet.

‘Pay your taxes and then you die,’ Sara thought as she walked down the busy street, weaving through the crowd with little effort. This was the life she knew. She couldn’t even remember what life was like before she only saw the world through the visors.

A couple of times she had taken them off to see what the world was really like, but not being impressed, had put them back on with no interest of taking them off again.

Her favorite music videos played on her screen with the sound going through the earbuds. Walking to work had become an autopilot action. It wasn’t much different than if she was taking a cab.

Her settings were set that to her, she was walking through a majestic forest. The other people appeared in her surroundings as they normally would, but the objects, like buildings and parked cars, appeared as boulders and trees.

It was rare that the visors malfunctioned and if they did, the company was quick to replace them. TecVet made all its revenue from the information gathered from the users to sell to other companies to help make their ads more targeted to who their audience was.

Sara couldn’t remember a time that her visors malfunctioned.

Until now.

One moment she was walking through a virtual forest with her fellow pedestrians, and the next, the forest vanished, and she was walking on a busy street. Her music evened turned off, leaving her to the sounds of cars, people walking, and every other kind of noise she barely paid attention to. All those background sounds came rushing to the forefront.

The disorientation was immense. Unable to focus, some people who were unable to avoid a now stationary Sara, bumped into her as they passed.

To avoid getting knocked around, Sara stepped into the nearest alley.

Confusion and fear set in as she realized that she didn’t know where she was. It had been a long time since she had seen the real world. Everything she had seen over the last decade was virtual. She had no idea what the world looked like around her.

“Come on you piece of shit!” she exclaimed, banging on the visor, hoping it would work again.

It flickered back on for a second, but her heart sank as it went offline again.

She felt like a blind person and started to feel her way along the wall of the alley, fearing that it would vanish too. She had no idea which way was to work or her home and since her visor had replaced her phone, she had no way to call for help.

People looked at her as if she was a homeless person, as she asked several of them for help. No one wanted to deal with her, and quickly walked away from her each time.

Fear rising, she began walking back the direction she had come, hoping to make it home. She hoped she could guess where her home was based on the steps she took every day.

‘Well,’ she thought. ‘That’s a better idea than crawling into a ball and crying.’

She gasped as she walked around a corner to witness two police officers beating some man, while tying his hands behind his back.

Sara looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what was happening. Not only did they not seem to notice, but a few even stepped around the altercation as if they were only obstacles in their way.

After they tied the man up, they threw the half-conscious man in the back of a windowless van.

One of the officers closed the door, and as he was turning around, saw Sara standing at a corner staring at them.

The officer looked as confused as Sara did, but it didn’t take long before he realized that she wasn’t wearing her visor and had witnessed everything.

Sara couldn’t explain it, but she was instantly terrified. She had never seen cops as threats before. Now, she had this overwhelming fear of what would happen if they came after her.

She decided she wasn’t going to stick around and find out.
When the police officer turned to inform his partner what was happening, Sara ran off as fast as she could. She was gone when they both looked back in her direction.

‘I wish these things never stopped working,’ she thought as she ran down the street.

Relief filled her as she started to feel like she knew where she was, and then felt even more relieved when she knew which way was home.

Every few minutes, she looked over her shoulder to see if she was being followed. The longer she went without seeing the police, the less fearful she became.

‘Almost home now,’ she thought as she rounded another corner.

She slowed to a walk, allowing her lungs and legs a break.
Her entire body tensed as she once again found herself stopping immediately.

Everyone around her had stopped moving. They all stood eerily still, until in unison, they all turned to look right at her.

Because of the visors they were wearing, she could only assume they were staring at her since she couldn’t see their eyes.

Unsure what to do, she could only stare back waiting to see what they were going to do next.

To her surprise, they only stood staring at her. None moved towards her.

All of a sudden, a black van came squealing around the corner, heading right for her.

The people casually moved out of the way of the van. Sara couldn’t even begin to imagine what they were seeing through their visors.

Seeing the police heading straight for her, she ran down the nearest alley out of shear fear. She had no expectations of escaping, but she feared that if she was captured, it wouldn’t be good.

She just kept thinking back to the man they had beaten and detained earlier and wondered how often incidents like that might have happened without her ever knowing.

‘There’s no way I can escape!’ she frantically thought, turning down another alley.

Feeling like she had given all she had, she stopped running and leaned against a wall to catch her breath, waiting for the inevitable arrival of the police.

The squelch from the tires announced their arrival, and not able to run any more, she threw her hands up, resigning to her fate.

“Get in!” a man said when the van came to a stop and the doors slid open. “Hurry!”

She didn’t’ need prodding. They clearly weren’t the police and something inside her felt that she could trust them more that everyone else right now.

The door slammed shut once she was inside and drove off quickly, but not fast enough to stand out.

No one paid them attention as they turned onto the street and disappeared around a corner.

The police arrived to where she had last been seen and began searching the area. They knew she must still be in an alley, or inside a building, as no one else had seen her back on the street.

“There’s no way she could have escaped,” one of the officers stated. “Every visor in the city is set to detect her. When she’s in someone’s view, she should light up like a Christmas Tree in any environment they’ve created for themselves. Fan out! She has to be close.”

“What is going on?” Sara asked, once everyone in the van relaxed.

“Welcome to the real world,” the man who had guided her into the van started. “Over the years, the real world has been overlaid with fake environments to cover what the real world looks like.”

The man took a moment to introduce everyone to her and then continued.

“Years ago, the government saw the benefit of everyone in the world becoming dependent on the visors,” he explained. “At first, private companies used them to simply advertise, as they do with every medium out there, but as people came so reliant on the information they received from the visors, and fewer and fewer people ever took them off, except to sleep, behind closed doors, the government confiscated the technology for themselves.

“They started by using the visors to locate criminals, since everyone became a camera with facial recognition software. As crime disappeared, they moved to using the visors to control the masses. The government was now free to conduct themselves however they saw fit right in front of us, knowing we wouldn’t even notice. Any altercation of action became an object in people’s visors, and they would just walk around. Even the sounds were controlled through your earpieces. Any residual sounds that you may hear when not wearing your earbuds, would be made to match something in your virtual environment to explain the noise.

“Every so often, people like you and us, see what’s really going on, and when that happens, we immediately become enemies of the state and are rounded up. Some join the government, but the rest of us are detained, essentially for the rest of our lives. Unless, of course, they kill you. We actually don’t know what happens to the people they capture. We only know we never see them again and I don’t think the government is capable of altering our memories…yet.”

Sara couldn’t believe what he was saying.

“So, what happens to me now?” she asked.

“We’re on our way to our hideout. You can either join us, or be returned to your home, but I can promise you they will be waiting. Either way, you’ll need to wear this hood over your head, so you don’t know where our hideout is.”

Terrified, she complied.

She was in awe of how large the resistance really was. There were probably a hundred members in their ‘Cell’ alone.

She immediately decided to stay. There was no way she could return to the world she lived in, knowing what she knew now.
After a month of training, she was ready to help whatever way she could.

For the first time in her life, she felt like she had a purpose other than just paying taxes and dying. She was going to save people.

“Let’s move!” a man yelled, waiving her towards a van. “Another person is out in the open. Clock’s ticking!”

Each time she jumped in a van, she could feel the government tremble just a little bit.
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Published on July 31, 2020 10:53
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