Rikon > Short Stories > Forced Perspective

Forced Perspective

The odor this morning was unbearable. Jason paced his dormitory room impatiently waiting for his computer to tell him the bathrooms were free and waved his open hand in front of his face trying to drive off the stench.

He walked to his dresser and grabbed the AutoFresh cassette but stopped himself moments away from plugging it back into the custom cavity just below his armpit.

"No. I promised Jill I would make it a week without and by god I'll do it."

He put the cassette in his top drawer beneath his socks (which assailed his nostrils) and closed the drawer resolutely.

He busied himself cleaning his room again, dusting his walnut table and marble reading lamp, and vacuuming the plush carpeting until it was spotless. In a fit of cleanliness he changed his waterbed's sheets again for the second time since getting up, and finally sank into his overstuffed leather reading chair to wait for the bathrooms.

Finally, seeing the green light on his monitor, he hit 'accept' on the claim receipt and ordered fifteen full minutes of bathroom time on the empty stall. His order was accepted reserving the stall for him, and he grabbed his kit and ran for the door.

Swinging open the door his nose was engulfed with orders. Grease and burnt cooking odors from hundreds of student hot-plates and the sharp caustic smell of the cleaning staff's ministrations surged in his sinuses and dazed his brain until he saw spots. Struggling down the hallway with one hand on the wall, the other tightly clutching his kit least he drop it in his stupor, Jason made his way to the bathrooms, catching quick gulps of air when his lungs could take no more.

By the time he'd reached the bathrooms he was sweating profusely, but he'd learned to breath though his mouth to avoid the worse of the smells. Slamming the door on the stall he grabbed the SpringSmells cassette from the wall-mounted dispenser and slammed it into the cavity in his ribs, sucking huge gasps of air as the cartridge quickly powered up and over-rode his primitive senses, restoring proper order to the commercial scents he was used to. Carefully constructed smells of rose blossoms and commercial interpretations of fresh rain filled his perception, and for the first time in two days Jason breathed easily.

The spots in his peripheral vision quickly faded, and somewhat refreshed Jason stood up and looked at himself in the mirror. Raising his right arm he examined the row of artificial cavities descending his rib cage. So far he'd only gotten six implants; a rare and unusual RoseView cassette for his eyes with a life-time charge (a gift from his parents when his was too young even to speak), the usual assortment of taste, hearing, and personal perception cassettes (Jason had gone for the newly vogue 'long distance runner' self-perception), and the obligatory WorldView extension which allowed him to see others as they saw themselves.

In his bedroom he also had several RealSex cassettes he'd gotten when visiting Japan, but he kept these very well hidden considering the unusually embarrassing nature of the content. He'd often considering throwing them away after a close friend, Bob, had gotten drunk and walked around campus with a couple of those cassettes installed, looking to everyone else like a six-penised space monster as his cassettes broadcast his modified self perception to everyone's WorldView extensions. At the time it was a huge laugh, but when the cops got Bob it was pretty bad.

When the cops yanked the cassettes out of Bob, he of course disappeared from Jason's perception. Still, based on the movements of the cops it was clear what was happening to the invisible Bob, and even though Jason couldn't hear what was happening he was pretty sure that Bob was screaming through it all.

That's what made Jill so unusual. Here was a woman that lived completely outside the modern world, refusing to have any implants at all, and Jason still loved her.

Normally, Jason would have never even have seen Jill being that she had no implants, but she had been at that big party last summer where Janet had passed around the new freak drug - a synthetic that momentarily disabled all of a person's implants so the natural world came screaming in, and there, in the middle of the overwhelming colors and sounds and smells, was Jill.

Next time they had met, Jill had just received a 'compatibility' patch which allowed people with inoperative WorldView systems to be perceived, although without the usual enhancements. The resulting perception was fuzzy and sometimes obscure, and Jill's color and movements were faded and clumsy, but Jason had fallen in love with her.

Maybe it was her differentness that attracted him, or maybe it was the rebel in him that drove him to, as Bob had said, 'date outside his species', but Jason had come to trust Jill and now, if he could force himself to do it, he was about to have his first unaugmented date with an unaugmented girl.

Leaving the limited-run SpringSmells cassette in his rib cage, Jason finished his toilet and walked back to his room where he finished preparing for the evening.

When he saw Jill drive up in front of the dormitory, he took three deep breaths and, hand shaking, pulled the SpringSmells cassette out and threw it in the trash. He knew he would have five minutes to make it downstairs and out of the building before the residual information in his implant would completely wear off. Hopefully, Jill wouldn't notice he had so recently plugged in.

The evening actually went surprising well. Once they were outside of the city the sharp acidity of the smells decreased dramatically and Jason was able to relax. During their picnic dinner on the river bank, the smells that hit him were still unusual and difficult to place, but at least they weren't overwhelming.

That night, after a very large quantity of wine and love, Jason allowed Jill to talk him into the greatest rebellion of all; removing his RoseView cassette.

Waking the next morning, Jason wasn't sure that he wasn't still in a dream. Instead of his queen-sized water bed found himself lying on a thin wire-spring cot. Not just a cot, but on the second tier of a three-tier bunk bed. And instead of his luxurious dorm room, Jason was along one wall of a huge dimly-lit warehouse full of row upon row of cots. The entire building was perhaps three hundred feet on a side, and the large ceiling fans did little to combat the proponderous odors or stifling heat being generated by the vast swarm of humanity in the warehouse with him.

Sitting up, Jason saw hundreds of people moving about, oblivious to each other, each moving their hands and walking as if surrounded by invisible objects that they pushed and caressed. Some, embarrassingly enough, were engaged in sex with themselves or others, and some walked around with their hands near their heads, talking as if they were carrying invisible telephones.

Jason shook his head to clear the fog from his mind, and realized that the most surreal aspect to the dream was the absence of sound. For all the activity and mass of humanity, the only sound was that of his waterbed gently sloshing beneath him and his air freshener running in the corner of his room.

Jason jumped down from the bed in his dream, and heard his waterbed slosh and the floor thump as his feet hit, and he turned slowly taking in this fabulous world.

Then his alarm rang, and he heard the volume rise slowly in the clock-radio playing one of his favorite songs. Jason reached to where the clock radio should have been, and felt the invisible clock under his fingers. He felt for the invisible 'snooze' button and heard it's subtle click as he pressed it.

Reaching under his arm and feeling along his rib cage, Jason felt the cassettes for his sound and tactile implants, and as he ran his finger around the empty hole where his vision implant was missing, his peripheral vision clouded and darkness swarmed over him, the world spinning as he fell to the concrete floor.

When he awoke, he was by the river again with Jill, just finishing their third bottle of wine. He froze with his glass half-way to his lips, and stared at the glass.

"What's wrong?" Jill asked, noticing his confused face.

Jason ran his left hand across his ribs and felt only one empty hole - the missing olfactory cassette. All of his other cassettes were still in place.

He set down his glass, careful not to spill. "Nothing. Just a waking dream." Jason picked up his half-finished sandwich and took a careful bite, looking for the line between the sensation of biting and the taste of the food, that fuzzy moment when the implants searched for the correct sensation before delivering the correct marketing response. "What were we talking about?"

"About removing your vision implant. I was asking if you'd ever thought about removing it?"

Jason untucked his shirt and reached up along his ribs. Jill gasped as he slowly pulled the cassettes from their sockets one by one, finally removing the RoseView cassette itself.

"Jason - what are you doing?" Jill asked, her concern showing in her voice.

"Is the river real?" Jason asked. Jill furrowed her brow and bit her lip, then nodded 'yes'.

Standing and walking to the river, Jason threw the cassettes into the stunningly blue water. As his vision began to dim, Jason watched them splash, look for a moment as if they would float, then slowly sink into the fading water, its surface fading from blue to greenish-browns.

Jason looked back at the fabulous towers of the city, the edges beginning to fray as the residual charge of his optical implants began to wear off. Sitting heavily on the grass, now more brown than neon green, he sighed and turned to Jill.

Unchanged by the transformation warping everything else around him, she was still beautiful, and he knew he still loved her.

"You're real." he said, and was surprised to find how much that comforted him.

"Yes, I'm real" she said, and standing, took his hand and helped him stand. "Come on. There's some people I would like you to meet."


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