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The planetary environmental conditions had worsened. The near complete melting of the polar ice caps year around.  A rise in levels of ocean coastlines with a corresponding rise in overall ocean temperature displaced a large number of coastal human populations.  There were extinctions of many animals, plants and birds species as well.  Weather control systems have been put in place to control the damage of intense storms caused by global warming.  The world’s population peaked and finally begun to level off.  Newly emerging diseases culled some population growth.

All automobiles now had hydrogen fuel cells and electric motors for engines.  Oil was no longer the primary source of energy, and conflict on the planet.  Due to damages done to the planet, nanomachines and genetically engineered bacteria were required to clean pollutants and carbon from the air, water and soil.  Space based Sun Shades, nanothin transparent light dispersing shades are used in L1 orbit to cool the Earth’s temperature at polar surface areas and to begin reconstituting some of the melted ice sheets.  To maintain a delicate environmental balance, once extinct animal and plant species had been re-engineered to again adapt and thrive in hostile environments, helping the over utilized biosphere to survive. 

Jason Chen bent over in his subway seat to pick up a rarely seen plastic penny he spotted face-up on the train floor.  A penny existed today only to make exact change for those who still stubbornly used physical money.  He didn’t understand why, but somehow its continued existence was comforting for some.  Angling the lucky coin in his fingers to see the three-dimensional head of Abraham Lincoln, he noted the year on the coin was 2053, the year of his birth.

Getting off the subway he went through the biometric sensors, climbing the escalating stairs to street level.  It was raining heavily outside and he had no umbrella.  He grabbed the first hydrogen-electric cross city bus that came, getting off at the corner of Turk and Larkin. 

Shivering as he swiped his long wet neon green bangs aside.  He eyed his destination, The Palace of Technological Junk, half a block away in the San Francisco downpour of brisk rain and wind.  Running to the doorway of the store, he realizing he wouldn’t be out here in real weather, if it weren’t for the fact his present VR gear totally sucked. 

Stopping inside the sheltering entrance he looked at the items on display.  Beat up ancient historical technology filled the grimy windows; a wearable-mouse, weird looking xPad, Smelly-phone, obsolete gaming consoles, household robot attachments, and a Vexorg with the complete set of shrink-wrapped male and female erotic adapters, still in the original box.  There was a small sign that said, “Need Nanotek?”, and a sticker on the window, “We Accept Real Cash Here.” 

The Vexorg was the first virtual reality sex unit; giving multi-sex partners an orgasmic experience over the Internet.  “Better and safer than the real thing” was the company slogan stamped in large hot pink letters on the box.  That was of course before they lost the lawsuit for psycho-technological sex addiction. 

An old reflective glass sliding door whisked open and Jason quickly entered, warm dry air hitting him in the face.  Classical Bach began to play through crackled speakers above a male voice said, “Welcome Mr. Chen to the Palace of Technological Junk.  My name is Junkman, your store AI.  What can I do for you today?”  Recognizing his micro GPS Id chip; implanted in all newborns by an international law, passed only a few years before he was born. 

Instead of answering, Jason walked confidently forward; the second door slid open revealing a geek’s paradise of technological gadgetry.  “May I interest you in our store specials?” asked Junkman, trying a different approach. 

Distracted by the sight of gadgetry, Jason almost forgot how much he really disliked store AIs. “Customer over-ride, execute rubber-plant-theta-five.  Modify vocal selection chipmunks.  Interrupt only upon request.” 

“As you wish Mr. Chen,” was the AI response in a squeaky high-pitched chipmunk voice, “but feel free to request my assistance.”  Jason chuckled to himself, it sounded like the voice synthesizer had inhaled a hit of helium, knowing the voice would reset itself for the next customer.  Almost everyone hated that shoppers had to put up with AI sales personalities in every real store these days, except the expensive ones where humans worked for high wages. 

He was looking for salvaged virtual reality gear; a hot VR metaworld gamer told him he might be able to find what he need at “The Tech Palace” for a good price. 

Walking around the store, Jason noticed the place was a nightmare, a total mess.  Everything was on metal shelving rising to a high ceiling and literally filled with every gadget, gear or component imaginable.  Wires, connectors, circuit boards, tubing, black boxes, white boxes, consoles, remotes, stacked on each other, VR helmets, gloves, eye wear, body suits, devices both wireless and wired of all sizes and shapes, specialized tools and strange looking test equipment. 

Everything was packed in so tight with no wasted space.  Some of it was even hanging down from the shelves.  There were walkways large enough for humans to squeeze through, but they were arranged in twisted and turning maze like fashion.  The store itself was not that large, but held as many items as a store twice its size. 

This was obviously the work of some crazed machine intelligence.  No human mind could have organized this place.  Jason had no idea what some of this shit even did, or how to begin to find what he needed?  He was going to have to talk to this store AI. 

“Junkman!” he yelled with authority. 

“What are you looking for?” Junkman asked in a high-pitched chipmunk voice, directly to the point.

Now annoyed by the squeaky voice, Jason restored it to the original setting.  “Programmable visual contacts, auditory and tactile sensor interfaces with hyper-parallel feedback capability, wireless linkups, ultra-light weight and unrestricted mobility.  Salvage is an option, low price is a priority.” 

“The only thing I have that comes close is a VR prototype unit we bought from a bankrupt research firm.  I can sell it to you cheap. Interested?” Replied the store AI. 

“Any other options?” he inquired. 

“No other products meet specifications on planet.  There is a non-functioning unit on Luna, needs some repair work. Intra-solar system shipping costs would be high, but delivery could be arranged in five days.” 

“No.  Show me the prototype.”  Jason was startled by a slim yellow service robot, which activated itself, coming out of a nearby alcove filled with cleaning supplies, making whizzing-clicking sounds.  The robot had a multi-directional telescoping eye stock for a head, obviously not designed for human interfacing.  Moving quickly it disappeared around a corner into the maze of parts and shelving. 

The robot returned carrying a single item in each of its manipulator arms.  In one was a stretchable translucent plastic skullcap, which looked very similar to a swimmers cap.  Jason reached out and took it from the robot’s arm.  It was lightweight and he could see an external circuit film on the outside.  The inside of the VRcap was lined with a grid of room temperature super-conducting nanofibers.  Jason pulled it over his head, fitting perfectly. 

He looked for goggles or contacts, earpieces and body suit in the remaining arm of the robot, but found none, only something that looked like a medical syringe.  “You forgot the viewer, audio buds and body wear,” Jason said. 

“It is not needed with this unit.  You can access HDVR without a full helmet and sensor suit.  This prototype is very advanced, interfacing directly with your brain’s visual, audio, and sensory cortex; stimulating and reading electrical signals from your neurons by embedded nanobots.  The VRcap is only needed for the initial calibration via hyper-nanogrid.  Requiring an injection of nanoprobes into your blood stream,” informed Junkman. 

Jason looked again at the syringe in the robot manipulator.  “I understand.  But how come I’ve never seen or heard of anything this advanced before?  Doesn’t this usually require a medical appointment?” Jason asked suspiciously. 

“It’s a research prototype, one of a kind; never went to commercial production.  The company folded and the project was shelved.  Everything was eventually sold for surplus after the founder died,” explained Junkman. 

“What company made this?”  He asked the AI. 

“The Vexorg Corporation; their advanced virtual reality research division shut down when the company lost the famous sex tech trial.  They were light years ahead of the competition when they went out of business.” 

“This isn’t going to give me some kind of viral pervAD, is it?” Jason asked, seriously concerned. 

“No.  Advertisement routines were never developed for this prototype,” assured Junkman. 

“Well okay.  How do I activate it?” asked Jason impatiently. 

“First it has to be calibrated to your brain.  What little instructions I have say that you put the skullcap on, take the injection, and go to sleep.  This unit will scan various sensory and motor centers within your brain, adjust the positions of the nanoprobes, and customize itself for your use only.  In the morning it will activate itself automatically.  At that time a built-in user instruction menu will be available.  You can then discard the skullcap.” 

“What if it doesn’t work?” asked Jason. 

“Our guarantee is that all non-functional merchandise is fully refundable.  The nanobots can be easily flushed from your body through your waste elimination systems on command,” replied Junkman. 

“How much?” ask a worried Jason, thinking it might be beyond his financial means. 

“For you my young friend, a special low price of 7,652 Credits,” said Junkman. 

“7000, and you can charge my account,” said Jason, knowing this would make him short on credit for a while, but if it worked, it would be well worth it, making him an unbeatable VR Gamemaster.  He left the store with the VRcap still on his wet head of hair, syringe in hand, going home for an afternoon nap. 

In his cramped studio apartment, he got undressed, took a shower, toweled off, and lay back in bed.  He read the only instructions provided in small font on the syringe, 1. Place Cranial Interface Cap on Head.  2. Press Syringe Firmly Against Carotid Artery.  3. Inject Contents.  4. Sleep. 

He heard a hiss and felt a mild sting as he pressed the button on the needless syringe against his neck.  For a moment nothing happened and he worried he might have been ripped off, or even worse, poisoned.  Then suddenly feeling dizzy and sleepy at the same time, but before worrying too much further, he quickly lost consciousness.

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