Fargo, North Dakota, August 2163

Like many people these days, Callie Forsyth was a telecommuter.  She went to work by means of a virtual reality interface, its precise connections to her brain making her feel that she really was walking along the wide carpeted hallway where her avatar had materialized.  Like her physical body, the avatar had the appearance of a woman in her early thirties with light brown hair, about average height.  She wore a green dress and only one piece of jewelry, a silver bracelet with a four-leaf clover charm.

The lights in the simulated hallway, which she had adjusted to suit her needs, were pleasantly dim.  Callie was highly sensitive to bright lights and other strong sensory input.  She had been identified as autistic when she was a young child, as many people these days were.  Although reasonable accommodations always had been made for her needs, she found it much easier to work in a virtual environment where everyone could adjust their surroundings as they desired, with their personal settings visible only to themselves.

“Morning, Callie.  Nice to see you.”  One of her co-workers, whose avatar had wide dark eyes and shoulder-length black hair, nodded to her.  Almost instantly, Callie’s social interaction software identified the face and provided a standard response.  Whether or not to use the program to compensate for her difficulties with face recognition and real-time conversation was entirely Callie’s own choice, now that technology had advanced far enough so that almost every job required highly specialized skills.  Companies no longer had the power to force their employees to conform to whatever the prevailing ideas of normal social behavior might be.  Both technological complexity and sharply falling birthrates had made it so difficult to find qualified workers that hiring decisions couldn’t be based on old prejudices.

When Callie opened the door to her virtual office, a centaur trotted across a meadow of grass and clover toward her.  He had been working the night shift along with several other engineers, and his avatar wasn’t considered particularly unusual.  People worked with their brains, not their bodies; and it was nobody else’s concern how they decided to configure their bodies or any representations thereof.  The brunette who had just greeted Callie in the hall was an enthusiastic devotee of a werewolf cult and might on occasion be seen at the office fanged and furry, depending on the moon.  She did her work reliably, which was all anyone cared about.

The hazy sky kept the simulated sunlight at a comfortable level as Callie followed a gravel path to the beach that was her preferred area of the virtual office.  Nothing could be heard but the rolling waves and the distant sound of seagulls.  White sails traversed a deep blue horizon.  The sand felt warm under Callie’s feet when she took off her avatar’s sandals.  She picked up a glass from a table beside her lounge chair and took a sip of iced lemonade, which tasted and felt close enough to the real thing so that she couldn’t tell the difference.

Callie worked on a climate remediation project.  Her company maintained a fleet of satellites that unfurled into large metallic shades after being placed in orbit, reflecting sunlight back into space.  The satellites had to be regularly monitored and their software adjusted because they could be thrown out of alignment by even the smallest pieces of floating space junk.  Callie was among the senior engineers on the project after three years, which was a relatively long period to stay with the same employer.  There were always other companies trying to lure capable workers away with promises of higher pay.

A monitor on the table displayed data from several satellites.  Although Callie could just as easily have read the data through a direct interface with the satellites, rather than making use of an avatar, psychological research had shown that a high level of realistic sensory input was necessary to maintain a worker’s mental health.  The satellites were in good shape this morning, although Michael the centaur had flagged one that was in need of minor adjustments.  Callie got it back into its proper alignment in fairly short order.  Later in the day, she helped Jodie the werewolf to deal with a tricky software glitch on another satellite.  Jodie had been working for the company less than a year, and although her technical knowledge was sound, she occasionally needed guidance on specific points.

When their shifts ended, both workers walked out of the office and vanished from the hallway.  Callie’s avatar appeared on a wharf beside a Louisiana bayou where she had made plans to meet a date after work.  The speedboat that they would be using in this recreational program bobbed gently in the water, amidst the reflections of cypress trees.  Davidius, a tall blond Lithuanian whom she had met while on vacation at a virtual resort last month, materialized a moment later.  That is to say, his avatar was tall and blond; one rarely knew what the actual physical bodies of one’s acquaintances looked like, and it was considered bad manners to ask.  He greeted her in perfect, unaccented English, which could just as easily have been either a translation program or his own words.

Callie, who was piloting, laughed in delight as the speedboat accelerated and her hair streamed out behind her.  Davidius put his arm around her with a familiarity that wasn’t unexpected; after all, when one’s avatar could enjoy all the sensations available to the human body, there was quite a lot of virtual casual sex going on.  Callie was old-fashioned by this era’s standards, however, in that she preferred to get to know her dates better first.  When they returned to a moonlit wharf, she gave Davidius nothing more than a kiss before telling him good night and deactivating her avatar.

Her physical body lay in a bed at the nursing facility where she had resided since a rock-climbing accident four years ago had left her comatose.  If Callie had been born a century earlier, she would have been written off as lacking any prospect of ever again becoming part of the community.  But in this more advanced society, the rehab specialists had started working with her almost immediately, retraining the intact parts of her brain to use the virtual reality interface.  She’d been back in the workforce less than a year after the accident.

She had consulted several doctors, and they had all told her the same thing: It would be possible, through surgery, to reverse the coma and give her control over her physical body once again.  There was a significant risk, however, that she would never again be able to use a virtual reality interface after the procedure.  Callie had thought about it for a long time, but in the end she decided that it wouldn’t be worth the risk.  After all, her life these days was working just fine.

on 12/15/10 in featured, Society | 2 Comments | Read More

Comments (2)


  1. Thank you for this read, as it was the perfect escape during my work break. Keep on writing, girl!

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    Much appreciated, Elesia!

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