Waking the Sleeping Integer … 4

4 ~ The Sandbox of Opinions

Mach Force™ levelled his fire weapon at his side.  The sand beneathe his military boots burned even though he couldn’t feel a thing through the soles of his ass kickers.  But he knew the ground was scorched because he spotted waves of simmering air roiling a few feet out and then several more feet out from the spot where Mach Force™ stood watch.  He wore a snarl on his face.  His brows arched into two severe lines before pummelling the flesh at the bridge of his nose.  Damn it was hot, he said to himself and wiped beads of sweat from the side of his brow.  The sun burned down.  It was incessant.  It was determined.  And it wasn’t the only thing that was.  Or the only one.   This was going to be a brutal day.

But Mach Force’s™ eyes were even hotter than the day, which made them even more brutal.  They didn’t miss a thing, and he intended to keep it that way.

“Hurry it up, Clarity,” he urged her in a hushed, but unmistakeably stern voice.

She huffed briefly.  He didn’t know if it was directed at him or if the work she busied herself with was giving her grief.  If she didn’t hurry it up, they’d have a whole world of grief to deal with soon.  He chanced a sideways look at his friend who was crouched at the footbed of a small hill.  Good cover, he allowed himself a second to gloat since he was the one who had scouted out the location for this excursion.  The small hill did the trick and concealed them, but it wouldn’t hide them forever and he knew it.  It was only a question of time.  Like those precious seconds Clarity ate through as she rummaged through a large-ish package.  He scowled.  A question of time, he repeated to himself, and always a question of personal taste in the Sandbox of Opinions, which seemed to be everywhere these days despite how random and fickle they were.

“I’m trying,” Clarity muttered as if she had heard him scowl.  “This vendor is loaded with all kinds of notes and things that keep popping into my view.  I’m closing them out as fast as I can to get to the item.”

“Yeah.  Hang onto a landmark if it gives one to you.  Did it?,” he said in a measured tone after turning his eyes back to the expanse of sand before them.  His lips tightened into a thin red line. 

 “Yeah…,” she paused, sensing something not good in what Mach had just said.  “About five of them and a mess of other things.”

“Grab one landmark.  Pull it front and center.  Screw the rest of the stuff.  Keep your finger on that teleport button,” he directed and clutched his firearm in both hands with serious intent.  Make that preemptive-strike intent if it came down to it. 

“We’re about to be inspected and evaluated.”

Clarity Context™ moaned a soft “oh shit” and moved a landmark into clear view, while she discarded everything else from the vendor.  Except the outfit.  She couldn’t wait to put it on, at least some of it.  If they ever got a chance.

“How do you know,” she whispered, sounding nearly hoarse.  Her heart pounded suddenly.  She worked frantically and finally transferred the items to her inventory.  She cruised her arrow anxiously to the “recent” tab and scanned the series of new folders until she found “Cool New Outfit.”  Who cared about the unimaginative name.  These days, the only names or phrases worth any kind of value were trademarked.  Like Clarity Context’s™ and Mach Force’s™.   Trademarking names was a lucrative business, the brainchild of some ambulance chaser in response to the display.name uproar.  He stoked the fear, manufactured it into hyseria, entirely altered the cultural landscape of what was acceptable and what was not, put a price tag on it, tied it into the legal system, and became filthy rich.  Trademarking had become the new “tattoo”; just about everyone was trademarked somewhere now.  The longer the trademarked name was held, the more value it had, the higher its yield tended to be.  Shit — she grumbled on the topic in an effort to distract her panicking more than anything else — the really smart ones trademark their names and the first pithy-sounding catch phrase that flies out of their mouths on the very first rez day.  Should a pithy phrase occur to them…if not, they played the odds and grabbed at anything they thought would take hold. 

She and Mach trademarked in name only.  But in this moment they were distinctly different because her trademarked friend had gone into stealth mode.  Meaning he was still there but far too quiet…as if he was busy trying to conceal his very energy.  Mach Force™ had a thing about protecting his content, including his very essence or anything that involved his identity.  Call him funny that way, but he took that kind of stuff personally.  From what she could gather from the bits of his personality and character that refused to be quieted even by him, Mach had moved rapidly into stealth energy mode.  This lit a hot little fire under her hot little haunched backside.  She quickly wore the jacket layer from the “Cool New Outfit” folder and finally looked up to find out what it was that had ratcheted up Mach’s intensity.  It took only seconds, but it felt like hours, and yet she gasped immediately. 

“Oh no,” she barely said.  The jacket rezzed slowly, but she couldn’t care less and wasn’t watching it.  She knew she liked the outfit from the minute she saw the vendor and wouldn’t feel any differently about it on her body…even in parts.  What captured all of her attention now loomed larger than life and in plain sight on the plateau of a hilltop not too far away.  She stared there, gaping her mouth at the Display-a-Tron, a monstrous Welcome sign larger than a theatre screen that periodically and randomly showcased the photo and names of the Sandbox visitors.  An image came into view, flickering and morphing around the edges.  She caught the beginnings of a blurred name with the picture.  There was a TM symbol after the last name.  The guy was impressive looking.  Handsome and hot, she could tell.  Gentle and tough as hell, both, she knew even though the image was still fuzzy. 

Clarity recognized that look of brilliant awareness anywhere.

“I know because,” Mach growled, “I’m being paid.” 

Not now, he fumed internally.  Yeah, he enjoyed getting paid whenever his name was used without his consent…or used beyond the extensively limited allowable parameters.  Were there still people in this hyper culture of “trademarketing” some called it, who believed that any terms of use they didn’t understand amounted to “grey area” and meant the same thing as “royalty free”?  Normally, Mach Force™ smirked all the way to the nearest exchange terminal at how much that “grey area” racked up his receipts and account balance.  But not today.  Today in this precise moment, trademark violations annoyed the hell out of him for no other reason than the blue message window that indicated a transfer of funds had occurred was royally obstructing his view.  For only a second.  But as Mach Force™ and Clarity Context™ discovered, that one second cost a helluvalot. 

In fact.

An arm, for starters.

“Damn!” he ground his molars down into the back of his jawbone, felt his torso wrench to the side so hard he nearly dropped his fire arms, which would have been the end of it all for them.  Clarity jumped instinctively for him and applied pressure on the wound.  The side of his bicep wore a particle hole that spewed out steam mixed with what amounted to his own blood.  Which was entirely what his eyes began to do…steam in anger with blood pounding behind them.

“Damned greedy newborn,” he growled.

“Or alt,” she whispered, her voice shaking more from anger than fear.

“Not seasoned enough,” he said just as another round of attack tore at them from midway in the Sandbox. 

“Shit!” Clarity shouted and collapsed to her hands and knees.   Smoke and blood spewed out of her thigh.  She clutched her hands forcibly around her quad, rocked forward from shock, and cursed, “shit shit shit shit!  Damned good aim for being unseasoned!” she bit off before a torrent of obscenities flew out from her lips.

“Meant to wipe out that fugly jacket,” the newborn yelled.  “Public court of Sandbox Opinion says:  IT SUCKS! and your tackiness is an assault on my person!”  The cocky punk started to walk almost casually over to them, so certain was he that he had rendered them helpless.

“You okay,” Mach whispered in a half breath, his lungs flooded with concern and adrenalin.  Still clutching her thigh, Clarity nodded her head yes. 

“Teleport,” Mach’s voice whispered as it teetered on the edge of a bark.  Clarity rocked a bit again, shook her head violently no.

“Dammit!  Teleport!” Mach barked quietly at her.

“No way.  Not without you.  I’d never say this to you in a million years under normal circumstances, but take your eyes off of me and nail that bastard.”

That was all Mach needed to hear.  Clarity was just as tough as he was and stubborn to boot when she wanted to be.  Like he was.  A perfect fit, he thought, and for the first time this brutal day, he smiled a little. 

He watched as the cyber punk walked nearly mockingly toward them.  If his physical movements didn’t ridicule, then his display name definitely did:  “Mach.Force” worn over the born and trademarked name “Fuck™ Off.” 

Not exactly the best way to greet anyone, especially someone like Mach…no matter how very “money” the trademarked first name might have seemed to be.  The clueless punk was about to learn how expensive both the lame attempt at an insult and the full-on attempt at outright greed really were.

“Here,” the punk whipped out a rocket launcher.  “Let me put you out of your fashion misery.  You and your boyfriend.”

Before the kid could fire anything off, Mach yelled, “What the Fuck™!  What the fuck™ did you say?  I didn’t catch a FUCK™-ing word of anything you FUCK™-ing said, FUCK™-head.  WTF™!!!”

Mach kept the tirade going, showcasing the kid’s trademarked first name at every turn.  It was the literal.  It was the implied.  It was the intention.  And every which way it all went cha-ching cha-ching cha-ching on top of the fuck™-head until his screen was covered in a gazillion blue drop down message windows.

“Nail him!” Clarity urged, shouting over the racket of what must have been another attack on someone else in the Sandbox when she overheard “Forget editing your appearance!  Try editing this!”  Guns boomed loudly somewhere in the distance until at last Clarity thought she heard a body fall.

Mach swung his firearm up, grimacing through the pain in his bullet-holed arm, and shot off a round that tore straight and true into the distracted and disoriented kid who Mach knew was frantically closing a gazillion bue message screens to clear his line of vision.   Too late.  The punk staggered, shock flooding his expression.  His eyes spread themselves open while his body was riddled with steaming and oozing particle holes.  He teetered around like a drunken punching bag that finally had had all of its hot air knocked out of it.  Before he took another step, Clarity passed a landmark onto Mach.  He accepted and held it open in view on his screen, off to the side.  Then the punk fell forward with a thud, his face planted into the sand, his display.name and trademarked name buried in the dust.  But even though the kid was silenced for good, somehow he turned the tables on Mach.  He must’ve fallen within range because suddenly, Mach was swamped with an infestation of blue message windows that indicated his account balance was growing relentlessly before his very eyes.

He clicked on the “okay” button with hypersonic speed but he still didn’t see the next bullied up opinion in the form of a dragon who approached them.  Edit™ This didn’t waste a breath.  He/She/They inhaled viciously, expanding an already humungous chest and lined up not only their view but their mouth on Mach and Clarity.

Mach scrambled on his monitor to clear the screen, keeping the landmark open and ready, listening with every cell in his being to Clarity say to the dragon:

“Glad to” and she fired off a round from an assault weapon that she had unhoistered from the side of Mach’s thigh.  Her voice cut through the commotion of the dragon imploding around them.  She pulled herself upright onto Mach’s side and barked, “Teleport.  NOW!”

They landed safely in a music venue with all visible wounds healed, but they instantly heard an argument that was growing increasingly heated.  They glanced silently at each other, acknowleding that they both heard the distant rumblings of the court of Public Opinion.

“Home,” Mach Force™ whispered tenderly.  They wrapped their hands together.  He added, “I’m eager to see this new perspective of yours.”

And so they teleported home.  Into their shared view of the world, with shades and gradiations in experiences and perspectives — sometimes seeming very different — but nothing so extreme as the likes of some views in the Sandbox of Public Opinion.

Nanowrimo10 total word count: 2,246.  Total wordcount to date:  6,966 of 50,000 (not including this notation)  I had to laugh a bit when I saw the Sandbox newsletter in my email from SL.  I planned to use the sandbox theme in this entry before I even knew about that SL message.  Funny how some words seem to echo in the consciousness.

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