The Individuality Clause
by Maggie Clark
The tour boat stopped two blocks updream from their final attraction, the long-term sleepers' zone rendered in immaculate detail: airships, nine-dimensional manifolds, labyrinthine menageries filled with improbable birds and beasts. Everything viewed prior, generated off shift-work, appeared cartoonish along the fuzzy border between mental matrices, and small chatter gave way to genuine oohs and aahs as the boat lurched, then settled at its edge. Cash turned to give the tourists better shots, the whirs and clicks of meme-drives like persistent mosquitos too lucrative to swat.
Headache? came Jezi's voice through the brain feed.
That your name now?
Cash felt sensation on his cheek--Jezi affecting a slap with her hand, or his? He didn't ask, and she kept feeding client specs as Cash worked the site from all angles: the kind of retirement village you could only wish your grandparents had; a miracle cure for addiction, chronic pain, and homelessness; the last, best hope for true democracy in action.
"When you go back," he said, swinging his arms wide, "and hear more news about how the real world has failed us all, I want you to remember this view. I want you to remember"--he had to concentrate with his closer; Jezi was always laughing up the line--"what dreams are really made of."
Jezi could've run the whole show--hijacked his dream self as easily as any of his limbs through the feed--but there were still some rules they respected, at least during business hours. The individuality clause could be an infernal piece of legislation, but at times it saved life and dignity alike.
Besides, she preferred working recon, and was better at it. The suit in second row was on a wait-list for organ regeneration--and not high up--but the buff avatars in back were well into their sixties, relatively fit, and looking to settle down for the next thirty to fifty years. Cash queried about the woman in row four, taking notes.
No way--serious god type, Jezi replied. Alt-reality's not her speed.
Cash checked the impulse to reply, Or maybe that's exactly her speed. He'd seen people in joyride districts play out all manner of religious fantasies, like something out of '60s drug cults or medieval vision texts, but Jezi still had a little gold cross--her mother's--that she kept by their bedroom mirror. Teasing wasn't worth the risk.
The hell she doing here, then?
Research, by the looks of it. Know thy enemy, etc.
Cash narrowed eyes at the woman, then nudged the boat on. When it hit the LTS zone there was only the slightest lag before a fuller sensory experience switched on. One of the fresher-faced tourists asked if they could steer towards the high-tech projects currently being dream-sourced. Cash tried to make his well-worn response about proprietary interests seem anything but stale.
"But you get to choose, right?" said another female avatar. "Which projects you're dedicating your life to in the LTS zone?"
"Ma'am," said Cash. "I'll be honest with you--there's shift work and then there's LTS. LTS is a commitment. You sign on and your brain's a full-time part of this whole dreamscape. And as you can see, the payoff is incredible. You've got exquisite creations everywhere; you'll never lack for variety."
"And all for free."
Her tone was appropriately dubious. Cash shrugged. "The business model is what it is. You get this amazing place to spend your life the way you want it, and the LTS zone gets the collective imagination of millions, a portion of which is invested in a wide range of projects, public and private."
"Whoever can pay the most."
Was Cash smiling, or was Jezi smiling for him?
"You got it." He widened his grin for the rest. "Capitalism, am I right?"