As I continued across the campus, I brewed on the consequences disciplinary action could have for me. Despite my recent excellent grades, my tenure at Cornell was still tenuous at best. At least I hadn't been wearing my signature "EVIL" hat. One of the drawbacks of such a hat is that it renders me unmistakeable. The flipside to that is that it forces me to stand behind my actions with absolute conviction. If the trenchcoat and fedora were not camouflage enough, it would be my word vs. theirs that I did not actually touch the young man to cause his injuries. None of this mattered, in the final calculation. What mattered was my work elsewhere. My research on telepresence.
I arrived at my quarters, where Becca told me I was needed. As the world's foremost hacker, I had been recruited for a secret government project whose importance overshadowed anything I might do at Cornell. My attendance at Cornell was at most a front for the covert activities I conducted at the confluence of my three fields of expertise: computer interface design and utilization, the psychology of metacognition, and the metaphysics of ontology. I set up my jury-rigged interface; a slinky which suspended a helical film, allowing the projection of three-dimensional images on its surface. I clipped either end of the slinky into mounts underhanging the cabinet that topped the alcove above my couch (tricky enough description for ya?) so that it formed an inverted rainbow ringed in silver. I patched my laptop computer into the defense network and snooped around. I was investigating new telepresence suits, which looked like ragdolls wrapped in screendoor mesh but were actually sophisticated robots capable of projecting images on their pale surface which would allow them to look like their operator, or anyone, for that manner, from every angle. They were not unlike PKD's scramble suits. I was just thinking of the possible chameleonic abilities of such a suit (to blend in with one's background) when a clean cut young man in a bustling tactical center somewhere broke in on my transmission. My investigations beyond my current security clearance had been detected, but could be overlooked if I were able to complete my next mission. At the successful completion of said mission, I would be offered an upgrade from contract to insider, with an upgrade on security clearance, and basically all the toys I could want. The bots were just the second out of three modes of telepresence currently being researched. This came as a surprise to me, as I was only aware of the one that was my specialty.
What I called telepresence you would've called, in the 1980s, virtual reality. While most of you were sleeping, it has been developed beyond a simple immersion in a rough, polygonal environment. The same engines that allow you rich, realistic, three-dimensional video game environments allow, on more highly developed supercomputers, the construction of vast informational simulacra; which become the playground of those capable of externalizing their consciousness into them, like myself. For the most part, it was a very "young" field, as the youthful still retain some of the malleability of consciousness this transformative experience required.
Becca gasped as something dropped through the package chute into our apartment. The image of the young man on my 3-D slinky-monitor spoke. "Your crude methods of inferring, no, imagining telepresence on your home system are a thing of the past." Behind him, I could see a flurry of activity, as people moved around the blue-lit control center with dire urgency. "To show that we are serious, we are conditionally releasing to you our latest prototypes. One for each of you." From the fat, padded manila envelope, Becca pulled two sets of goggles, and two interface tubes. The tubes themselves resembled (comically) the sort of tubes you send pneumatically through a bank's drive-thru window. "Your home-made 'infocouch' has been upgraded to include ports for the interface tubes," indeed, I'd already found them between the cushions on either side of me, "but don't worry, we've left your wireless and powersupply hookups untouched." I slid the tube into the port between the couch cushions to my left, where it locked and then slid itself home, glowing with the deep, royal light of blue LEDs. The representative of my governmental benefactors explained the nature of my mission; to track down thieves of some dangerous weapons information before it could be brokered and auctioned on the world market. Myself, I was already engrossed by the new tech in my hands. I had already divined the manner of its use and was preparing myself to enter this new form of telepresence. I donned the goggles, which shrank my surroundings into a binocular fish-eye view. I looked down into the top of the glowing blue cylinder whose image swelled to fill the goggles. I saw that the blue was here the sky, which overwhelmed my still-distorted view. The image was distorted wider than it was high, in an almost almondine shape. I discovered that this panorama allowed for peripheral vision in a way more natural to the human eye than your average myopic computer screen, whether two-dimensional or three. The secret, I determined, was to only focus on part of the image at a time, and to allow your eyes to saccade around the scene naturally. I willed my consciousness to "enter" the frame of reference of the fish-eye, and suddenly I was within the moving scene.
We were in a car on a dirt road adjacent to a North African medina, perhaps Marrakech or Tunis. Immediately before us was a police car in pursuit of someone. Our information thieves, perhaps? The traffic all but ignored the police vehicle, with the exception of one van occupied by eight nervous-looking Arabic men in green khakis resembling paramilitary uniforms. It took me a moment to figure out how to control the vehicle I was "in" but I sort of willed it, not at all unlike a lucid dream, and my arms and legs suddenly figured out how to operate clutch, gas, and gearshift without actually moving, and thereby displacing my physical body on the couch in my apartment. We took off after them like a shot, though against traffic. They had been to our left at the intersection ahead of us, moving with the traffic that was turning right around the 90° bend towards us. As such, I had to turn left into oncoming traffic in the left lane, facing them head-on. In the intervening seconds, they turned 180° around to flee, while I drove salmon-like against the right-turning traffic. A truck swerved to block their progress, but they executed a woefully simple evasion technique I'm embarrassed to profess ignorance of and simply passed through it. Thankfully, my fancy driving still allowed me to overtake them. Within miliseconds, I'd decrypted their vehicle to expose its interior as surely as had I ripped the body of the van from its chassis. Inside were eight frightened men sitting on top of an enormous stash of pornographic material; a sight so usual on the Internet as to be entirely unremarkable. Their uniforms simply symbolized that they were logged in from an Arabic military base, and their anxiety stemmed from the stiff penalties they'd face if their commanding officers knew what Allah's soldiers were doing with His Internet connection. No information on smuggled uranium, no top secret weapons blueprints, no clandestine defense contracts (such as my own). Just some good old boys out for a good time on the town. Damn and blast, I was ejected from the telepresence as well as the dream at the moment of that realization.
There was nothing for it but to go back in. As I fell asleep again, I held the picture of that scene in my mind, and was able to return briefly, but by then the dream had changed. I realized that the way to return is never to go backwards but forwards, and so my research continues.