Author: Gerald Keaney

Behind the baroque crags of the planetoid peak, galactically sheeted stars gushed like a fusion fountain. Bounding in the low gravity, he grasped an outcrop that seemed to have been gnarled into divisive twistings by the cosmic wind itself. It was half soft half hard under the glove of his spacesuit, and the conflicting feel provided a surge of wonderment. Above, the mountain itself seemed impossibly pointed, the way no summit could be given the frictional elements at work on earth. Despite himself, he gasped.

Shane Jenkins doffed the VR headset and peeled off the reactive sensor suit in disgust. Too bloody realistic. Of course, there was not much worth seeing on earth these days. But his company had invested a packet in trips on the actual, non-virtual, spacecraft visiting Mars and the larger asteroids. Now no one would bother leaving the comfort of the VR booths in their loungicles.

“Have these buggers any idea of the outlay needed to reserve grav berths?” he muttered to no one in particular. His secretary ignored his scowl as he exited his company’s VR booth.

“How are you today Mr. Jenkins?” she asked brightly.

“How do I look, Layla”? he snapped. “Like a quadrillion bucks?!”

Layla O’Halloran regarded him for a moment and straightened her tight black skirt, used to rudeness.

“So you’ve been checking the new VRographs?”

Was there a hint of schadenfreude in her question? If so it would dissipate when he had to downsize. She seemed to hesitate.

“You know Mr. Jenkins, some commentators criticise the new VRography.”

“So what!!?” demanded Shane. “They’re also the ones who criticise the Amazon Basin Reflectocrete Project. Bunch of mugs!”

“VR companies cannot deny that in each a one hundred cubic metre Vrotograph, aVRographer records information via an interactive Heisenberg effect. About thirty percent of any solid subject matter is reduced to a uniform ‘Grey Soup’ of undifferentiated quarks.”

Shane Jenkins started back from Layla’s O’Halloran’s words. He somehow vaguely knew of this criticism. If it wasn’t so tricky to set up a VRamera up then maybe the tangle of mini accelerators could be a new superweapon. Grey Soup a few Chinese cities.

“OK” he murmured, thinking about it more. “Featureless Grey Soup. Infecting the inner Solar System…”

“At least” Layla corrected pensively. “VRompanies lie when they claim that there has been no VRography here on Earth. Ayers Rock for instance… You could use your company networks to circulate the criticism. Stop the spread of Grey Soup, and make good your investments in inner system tourism.”

She shot him a stare that, if only for a moment, burrowed as sharply as the swivels on a leisure class hollowing engine.

Then he snickered. He’d hired Layla because she left her body natural, and that was back in style. Other than that she just didn’t get it. Even this attempt to save her own position was see-through. Layla O’Halloran would always be scrounging for jobs, though she would avoid the medical complications decimating those cute Balloon Girls.

“No use of company networks for nut job politics Ms. O’Halloran. Now get back to work.”

Layla turned away and Shane wondered why he hadn’t thought of it earlier. Use his unbooked berths to get those VRographers out there! More of ’em, quicker! Time he got his piece of the action.