Here’s a story I wrote a little while ago. I posted it on my professional blog a while ago, but thought it was appropriate to post here. This is slightly edited from the original for clarity.

Enjoy.

NEW TOY

Daniel fingered the switch and grinned.

It was his first time in the net. Well, not technically his first time; he had used the inference devices before, but the helmets were nothing compared to this. The lights, the colors, the speed would be all so much more intense to him now. He was seeing his familiar playground with new senses.

His vision swam as the view of the net had replaced the blank wall he was previously staring at. He saw himself dive toward the sea of light below, flying through the end of a graceful arch. He struck the surface of the light and was immediately at the ISP connection point.


Daniel looked around at the icons swimming in the area all around him. Small bits of bright blue light flew by him, probably packets of someone’s email home. Other operator icons whizzed by him at high speed in a multitude of colors, oblivious to him in their quest to find whatever they were searching for. Out of this chaos a lone yellow icon zoomed toward him at frightening speed. It stopped and hovered near his icon for a moment.

“DANIEL THOMAS, GET A BIGGER PENIS TODAY!” the spam icon shouted. Daniel cursed as he brought up the control panel and shifted the volume control to a quieter setting. Why were the default settings always wrong?

“No,” Daniel said, giving a command to the spam icon. “Meet singles in your area for casual relationships!” the little yellow icon insisted. “No,” Daniel repeated, calling up his program list and looking for a spam blocker. “Have longer erections with over-the-counter generic…” the icon continued right up until the point that the spam blocker program vaporized it.

Daniel shook his head and called up the options on the spam blocker. He had been careless in his excitement and the spam icon had been able to dig up his personal information much too easily. Setting the spam blocker program to hide his personal information from untrusted icons, he also checked the option to have the blocker filter out any email he received. He had been too distracted to take the general precautions that everyone learns at grade school.

A few more minutes of surveying the scene gave Daniel a cause to ignore the spam icons and to grin again. The speed was intense, and the colors were more vivid than anything he had ever seen before. The direct interface was simply amazing for the clarity he saw. The feedback to his actions was nearly instantaneous. It was a sense of complete freedom compared to the old-fashioned helmet interfaces.

A small envelope icon flashed in the corner of Daniel’s view. He groaned, thinking it a spam message sent by the owner of that spam icon. His mood improved when he saw the green “thumbs up” icon next to icon that told him the spam blocker considered it a legitimate message.

“Finally made it online? About time!” came the teasing message from his friend Bethany. She was a month older than Daniel, and got her interface on her birthday. She made a big deal about it, showing off the scars to their circle of friends.

“Don’t make fun of me!” Daniel sent back as a reply. He added Bethany’s user identification to the friend’s list program he brought up. He instructed the friend’s list program to find Bethany’s location on the net; after a moment it returned that she was at a gaming site. “Figures,” Daniel muttered to himself as he entered the site’s location into his navigation program. The scene around him dissolved and reassembled itself into a different one.

“Halt!” commanded an imposing purple icon that suddenly appeared in his visual range. “Digital Meridian Gaming Space is a COPPA3-compliant site. Operator icons wishing to enter must log on using a Digital Meridian account. Account signup is handled at our main site. Underage operators must have parental approval before signing up for an account. These rules are strictly enforced,” the icon droned on.

Daniel was bored already and wasn’t paying attention. He went to his programs list and pulled up a program he had written at school. He fiddled with the settings and targeted the gateway icon. After a moment the gateway icon said, “Thank you for logging on, Bethany. Enjoy your stay at Digital Meridian Gaming Space.” Daniel grinned and slipped past the gateway into the gaming site.

He found Bethany quickly enough. She was near a game board, playing an action game with another bright red operator icon. She was winning the game handily he noticed when he went to observe the game. Bethany played a brilliant move and ended the game in victory.

“No way you [profanity deleted] cheater! WTF is up with the duplicate icon?” the other operator fumed. “You’re a [profanity deleted] cheat!” The operator went off towards the customer service area, likely going to report Bethany for cheating when she won fair and square. Some people were just sore losers.

“Daniel!” Bethany said as she turned, knowing who it had to be. “Why are you logged on as me?”

“Didn’t feel like registering. Woulda taken too long to get approved, anyway. Stupid system doesn’t even track duplicate logins.”

“[profanity deleted] it, Daniel. I have a record to maintain here.”

“Whatever. You spend too much time with these games.”

“You’re jealous because you couldn’t play the action games before,” she teased. She was right, Daniel couldn’t play the good action games very well through a helmet; you really needed the direct interface for good reaction times.

“Again: whatever,” he replied, “You wanna go do homework?”

An operator icon appeared as he asked the question. “I am CS agent ‘Enforcement’. Explain the nature of your duplicate icon. Are you using an illegal program in this game room?” it asked in the vaguely non-human way of programmed agents.

“No, I’m just smarter than your system is,” Daniel shot back at the CS agent.

“Daniel!” Bethany yelled. “He’s just a friend that logged onto my account without asking,” she replied to the agent.

“Account hacking is against the Terms of Service. Unauthorized access of another user’s account could also lead to criminal charges being filed under the Online Data Protection Act of 2022,” the CS agent recited. “User Bethany will be contacted and asked if she wants to press charges.”

“No, I don’t,” Bethany said, exasperated. “Check the reply to the email I just sent.”

“Preference noted. But, I still must ask you to log out one of the icons.”

“I was just leaving,” Daniel said as he brought up a navigation program.

“Wait, I’ll come with,” Bethany told him as she turned away from the game area.

Daniel entered the location of the library. He and Bethany had a research paper due, and he wanted to get it over with soon. Bethany went with him as the scene once again dissolved and he appeared in the middle of what appeared to be an empty area. An icon was already there, seemingly waiting for them.

“Welcome to Public Library node #29589. How may I assist you?” the green icon said flatly.

“Reference section,” Daniel said without missing a beat. The speed was simply amazing.

“Reference database accessed. Subject?”

“Bartle, Dr. Richard,” Bethany said, entering the node.

“One moment, please.”

“Why did you pick him?” Daniel asked as he turned toward Bethany’s icon. “Who is this guy, anyway?”

“Oh, don’t you ever pay attention?” Bethany scolded. “Dr. Bartle was the author of the original text MUD. His theories helped create the net as we know it.”

Daniel pulled up a dictionary icon and looked up what a “MUD” was. “How do you get from a silly text game to a graphical network?” Daniel asked after scanning the entry quickly.

“He didn’t just write text games, dumbass,” Bethany said, seemingly exasperated by Daniel’s ignorance. “He did a lot of other work. His work on artificial intelligence helped create the foundation for the agents we use in the net.”

“Oh,” Daniel replied as another mail icon flashed at the corner of his perception. This one was quickly covered by a red X and deleted by the spam blocker. “He was an agent coder?”

“You are hopeless, Daniel.”

Suddenly the room’s original icon sparked back to life. “Information on Bartle, Dr. Richard has been accessed. Please use the data icons along the side wall to browse information.” With that, several dozen colorful cubes grew out of the side wall.

“If you know so much about him, why are we here, then?”

“I don’t know, you came here.”

“Well, I’ll leave then.”

“Don’t you stick me with all the work!”

Daniel ignored Bethany and opened his navigation program again. “I’ll go see my father,” Daniel said, entering the appropriate information.

“Daniel! You’ll get in…” Bethany started as the room dissolved again and reassembled itself. He was standing outside the site where his father worked, annoyed at Bethany for being such a bossy know-it-all. Might as well go see what father was doing.

Daniel brought up his list of programs again and ran another one he had written at school. He always liked programming classes, but was sure his teacher would not approve of the type of programs he wrote.

“Authorization?” a severe red icon near the site entrance demanded. He ran the program and waited.

“Welcome, User1337,” the icon responded. Daniel grinned again. It was just too easy when you can work this fast.

Daniel slipped into the site and pulled up a directory. His father worked in the programming lab. Hopefully he was online testing something, otherwise this trip would be a waste of time. He found the proper subsystem his father would probably be working on based on his department designation. Daniel had the directory icon plot out an appropriate path through the site for him.

Slipping effortlessly from one area to another, Daniel moved easily through the system. He stopped at another directory to update his information. Just then, another harsh red icon suddenly appeared next to him. “Operator icon, identify yourself,” the icon barked. Daniel pulled up another program and ran it. He directed the effects of the program at the red icon that had appeared next to him. Suddenly the icon disappeared from view. “Stupid agents,” Daniel muttered.

It was at that point that all hell broke loose. Notification icons started appearing across Daniel’s sight as various warnings and alerts kicked into motion. Evidently crashing that agent wasn’t something that was going to go unnoticed. New icons of various security colors appeared next to him in the area, focusing in on him.

Daniel crashed a few more agents, then realized that there were real operators after him now; this could mean trouble. Slipping out of the area into another subsystem, he went towards the subsystem his father would probably be working on. He pulled up his program list while moving and ran another program that made his icon harder to spot.

Daniel finally found the subnet his father was on. His father’s blue icon was organizing agents that were furiously running programs and compressing data icons into storage. “Hey dad,” Daniel said as he entered the subnet.

“Daniel?” his father said turning towards him.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, Jesus,” his father started, “You caused this?”

“I just wanted to see you!”

“Damn it, Daniel! This is a restricted subnet!”

Two icons suddenly appeared, operator icons. Daniel pulled up another program and ran it against one of the icons. The icon tilted, then blinked out of existence. His anti-operator program had worked!

“Stop that right now!” his father demanded. “Just stop it!”

The second icon moved toward Daniel. A few particles of light shot out and hit Daniel’s icon, stopping him from running any new programs.

A new orange user icon entered the area. “Dr. Thomas, what’s the meaning of this?” the new icon demanded. “We have an intruder here, and it’s accessing your subnet.”

“Lieutenant Royo, I can explain,” Daniel’s father started. “It’s just my son.”

“Your SON?” the new icon demanded. “How did he break into this subnet?”

“I don’t know. Daniel, how did you get here?”

“I just created an additional user account using a program I wrote,” Daniel replied casually, working to break out of the paralysis routine he was stuck in.

“Your son created a program to break our validation protocols?” the Major’s icon asked.

“I know. I’m very sorry,” Daniel’s father started.

The major’s icon interrupted him, “Your son did that, huh? You know, we could use a good programmer like him.”

“I don’t think he’d like to join the military at this time, Lieutenant,” Daniel’s father started.

“Why not?”

“He’s only 11,” Daniel’s father replied with a sigh. Daniel grinned again.