The Hero The Mob Needed Right Then

“Oh my God, everyone view-share with me you have to see this!” Amy blurted out using all her stored reputation score to do the biggest exclamation she could afford on ViewMe. 

Her view showed the protestor’s worst fears: the police had infiltrated the barrier. It had been a trick! If anyone had bothered to check a sat-view they would have seen the cops massing at the south side of the park. Instead everyone had view-shared with someone looking at a detachment of police on the north east side of the park firing tear gas cans like bullets into the demonstrators. Chilling stuff, and it caused the demonstrators to gravitate toward the action and away from the now gaping hole in the makeshift barrier.

“Ah those assholes tricked us!” Blared out of the earbud dangling from her left ear. One of the view-sharers Amy had just acquired

No shit idiot, they've had constant sat-views of us the whole time, thought Amy as her eyes dove up to the view-riders list above her right eye and eye-flicked that sharer to the mute list and turned on her commenter relevance filters; no need for more gems like that. 

She had poured requests into her fellow demonstrators that someone rent a sat-view of their location for weeks. Most had agreed they should, but of course no one put the bitcoin where their mouth was. 

She wanted to lay down an 'I told you so' to her 22,981 and climbing view-shares, but some part of her spoke up and chastised the notion as immature. Plus where had her coins been? Sitting in the bellies of investment AI like everyone elses’. No sense worrying about the past anyway, now she has to act.

“Right, they tricked us.” Amy responded as a way to cut off that line of thinking ”Now we're surrounded, hemmed in on the north, east and west by our own barriers. Obviously we need to get out of here. I say we decide on a location to break the barrier and escape.” The initial salvos of tear gas had begun to waft up to where Amy was standing. Shit, there comes that very real smell. Time to leave. 

“I’m about to move position,” Amy said, “I'm heading north west right now because they seem to be moving from south to the north east primarily. Where is everyone?” 

Markers glittered in her prism glasses showing clusterings to her West and East. You idiots, we have all this technology to sync up remotely and you still herd together like cattle!? We were making the biggest protest perimeter of our movement, not having social hour!!

Amy’s rage was diminished when suddenly her now 61,003 strong view-share group gave enough coins for a proper Topview corp. sat-view mapping package. 

“We could have gotten snaps of the whole city with that kind of coin,” Amy grumbled under her breath. Luckily the group had given her control over the waypoint settings too and not just views so at least they had enough sense. Her online presence had carved out a solid little part of the web for topics on group theory and activism strategy, so everyone's algorithms gave her decent reputation scores. And people were ranking her up as she spoke because she wasn’t shitting her pants. They pay you to be a hero these days since everyone else is just spectating…

“Alright, everyone reporting their locations? No sense in tin-foil hats now.” Amy brought up the sat-view on the prism above her right eye and more dots appeared. 

“So what's going on here...” she said half to herself half to her sharers.   

Topview topomaps markers glittered in her glasses. Highlighting that the mass of 2,036 demonstrators was getting cut in two and rounded up by a police blitzkrieg. Shown in clear, if not cliche, green and blue color coding. 

According to a sub-screen from Topview’s ‘previous two minutes’ feature, it seems that when everyone on the north end turned to Amy’s view some prioritized their attention poorly and the police had seized the opportunity to burst through the north barrier too. Ah can’t people learn to prism look without moving their phys bodies?! 

Now one lump of 489 demonstrators was stuck between a wall of riot shields and their own barriers. The scene shone in Amy's prism as a mass of green dots being pursued by a mass of blue dots estimated at 734 police. Topview's crowd counting algorithms were legendary, but really it didn't take a number to tell that there were plenty of police to arrest the whole bunch. 

“There!” Amy broadcast to her view-shares as she blink set a waypoint for the stuck mob. “A weak point where the cops from the south are supposed to be. It's not a perfect surround yet, run you have”–quick glance to the Topview distance counter and walk estimator– “1min07sec before they'll be there. Run!” 

The waypoint and path to it appeared in the collective prisms, directional headphones and screens of the mob and all at once they ran. Some part of Amy couldn't help but marvel at the perspective the sat-view let her see. The mob was a stream of green points flowing toward their escape while a wave of blue points rushed to close off the gap. How interesting would it be to study more crowd dynamics with this software...  

No. Time for musings later. 

She told the map out loud to alert her when 70% of the mob where past the waypoint. 

Now the view in her prism shifted to the larger and already running group. Need to herd these cats too… there! 

“I've found a spot where the barricade is weak and the sat-view shows no cops.” Amy set the master waypoint on her location and started clearing away the makeshift barrier she helped put up just under four weeks ago. The earbud in her left ear dinged confirmation that the trapped mob had gotten through. Only 53% of it though, her prism informed her. 

Of course the software had detected early on that 70% was unrealistic and updated the alert request. These people loved to protest, Amy thought, but not to work out for when it mattered that they be able to run!

Now the sat-view confirmed everyone else was heading for her current location. 

She blinked away requests for help from the demonstrators who were caught in the police wave. Nothing she could do. Besides, they could at least make some money selling their point of view to whatever group or algorithm was compiling this story for the rest of the web. News aggregators always pay top coin for traumatic first person perspectives, brings in the clicks, taps and blink-views the advertisers pay for. 

By now, a few dozen of Amy's comrades had made it to the waypoint and helped her in working on clearing the barricade aside.

They forced her to sit down after a while and take a break, which she did after some coercion. This gave her more attention to focus on her maps and it looked good. Amy broadcast through text-to-avatar, “alright, looks like we're home free! Someone should start scouting up ahead, we can take another part of the city.” She hadn't even noticed how out of breath she was from running until now. In fact she really didn't remember running at all but she had covered over a mile of ground from her previous position all while using her prism and thinking where to go. 

“I'm already on it” said... some guy. Honestly, Amy didn't even bother looking into her prism at his credibility score. She was just happy for someone else to take the reigns. She took her headset off and rubbed the sweat out of her eyes. She tapped at the screen on her wrist and sent Topview admin privilege to whats-his-voice. The time was running out on it anyway since the coin had stopped flowing. 

The demonstrators had filed through the narrow exit and were now onto the city streets. 

The new shepherd of the connected mob put up a few locations to a vote. A business district in the Southwest side of the city won after a few seconds of polling. The waypoint was set and the mob streamed along. 

The day was saved. A quick search of her status on the various relevance algorithms showed her reputation scores had increased, but not nearly as much as they should have. The extreme negative comments and feedback blinked and dictated to the web by those unlucky demonstrators who got arrested hurt the average pretty bad. 

“At least we're out,” Amy thought, “they thought they had us! Ha They'll never stop us!”

And a sudden wash of pride for her and her fellow demonstrators washed over her. “The movement will go on! We will triumph!” She text ballooned to her now 6,390 and weakening following. She got 17 acknowledgements and one reply that said simply, “*fist bump*” 

Oh well, fame never lasts especially when everyone has the tools of celebrity.

It didn’t matter anyway, Amy was here for the movement - these were her people! The demonstrators had taken on a festive mood now as they flowed toward their new waypoint in open streets. They should have broken out of camp sooner! Now they can spread their message to the city proper! Thanks for trying to roust us Pigs!

A quick look at the sat-view confirmed that the police in the park didn't seem to know the bulk of the demonstrators had escaped. So the Topview rental was let expire and people's prisms, screens and ears filled with share activity of ideas and arguments and gossip among the group and beyond to the whole networked movement. This particular protest movement had never scored very high on the various interest-ranking algorithms, so very few netizens had bothered to tune in. Now though, the demonstrators were temporary social media demi-gods since they had provided the all-worshipped real-time action that the net so hungered for. 

Amy and her rag tag band of rebels began chanting their various slogans and flying their flags as they headed toward the financial district. Time to take it to the man! 

Of course, the police mob-prediction software had already expected this outcome. No one in Amy’s group had panned the view wide enough to notice that a larger group of police were waiting to close a pincer around the demonstrators when they arrived on wall street… 

The Shelter

‘Ah there’s another one,’ Jackie leans over me from the passenger seat to yell over ‘excuse me sir, do you want a place to stay tonight?’

I stop the van. 

He perks up but seems in a stupor mostly.

Jackie opens the passenger door as I put the van in P and crunch the handbrake on.

‘There, there sir, we’ve got you now,’ I hear Jackie coo as she gets to the man. He is very drunk, just another 4:30pm on a Tuesday in Pacific Beach.

The air is only moderately smoky down here, tis the season after all. Thanks to the ocean for blowing it back, no wonder so much of our pickups are from down here.

The fires have been raging for decades, and each season there are less houses. More and more folks are just roaming the streets and sleeping in the still temperate climate of Southern California. There’s becoming so many that it’s not much use to talk about policing them, and the housing market just keeps building luxury condos and trying to extract high profits. So, entrepreneurs like Terrance, the Shelter founder, are stepping up to the plate with solutions for our fellow homeless citizens. Those high condo profits are doing something in the roundabout through the California Sheltering Hope fund that pays our bills.

I look over and chuckle a little seeing Jackie with our latest find.

Jackie loves fussing with these big infants. She’s cleaning him up helping him gather all his belongings. The whole time explaining what the Shelter is and how lovely it is there and asking him if he wants to go. I can tell he’s just kind of stunned, I see him nod his head a few times and gawk a little. 

She hands him the old tablet we use as the contract, she scrolls through it for him as he pretends to read it, then she helps him press his thumb onto the reader to confirm that he is accepting The Shelter’s terms.

Jackie always moves so fast that the slow ones can’t quite get sexually aroused enough to threaten her, although I have had to step in a few times with a stun stick when the folks were on a different substance that sped them up. 

It never seems to phase her though. 

She’s the altruist, I just drive the van.

And keep the schedule. 

I check my watch, 4:41p Tues 12/8/2037

We’re not going to make it back to the Shelter in time to get this latest guy a place before the staff goes home if we don’t hurry it up. 

‘Yo Jack, we gotta move it, maybe leave some of his stuff, ya?’

Her face, which had been so sweet and tender to this dirty man, snaps to me with a wordless glare.

‘I’m not keeping the schedule!’ I squirm back, ‘you know how the Shelter works!’

She composes herself, helps the man up and they hobble toward the van. 

I hit the button to open the back doors and Jackie slides him in and hands him his bundle of rubbish. 

Then she gently closes the door, heads to the passenger side, gets in, closes her door and we’re back in Drive and off to the Shelter.

In the back, there is our latest find, along with four others. Many don’t want to go with us so they stay on the street, but the very drunk usually do, they seem to know that they really shouldn’t be responsible for themselves. 

Thank god some know to trust us, Jackie would say; I just drive the van.

‘Good finds today,’ I attempt to make conversation, ‘sure these folks will enjoy the luxury of the Shelter, it’s been very cold!’ I keep my eyes on the road even though the driverAI is doing most of the work. 

Jackie seems lost in thought, then I feel her turn to me.

‘We need to get more, Ted, we can’t just keep bringing a few at a time, every homeless person on Earth should be in the Shelter.’ Jackie gets so passionate, I have to be careful not to rub her the wrong way in these moments. ‘There’s just so many now, thousands roaming the streets,’ she continues ‘they don’t even form packs though, just booze up and live in depression alone, or even beat each other up, it’s horrible!’ Jackie is almost wailing on the ‘horrible.’

‘Well Jack, you know how it is, they have to agree to come with us.’ I say calmly.

‘I know,’ Jackie cuts me off, ‘but it should be different, this is a crisis, we need to change it!’ I feel her indignation, some part of me even shares it.

‘We’re doing good work Jackie, it’s helping.’ I offer, but she is lost in another of her realms of social justice angst. 

I’m fond of her passion but I’ve also lived for a little as one of our back of the van folks, while Jackie is more the always-had-a-home type. 

While Jackie thinks the homeless are suffering a hell on earth, I have experienced the appeal of glazing out your life in the open air with no systems to think about other than how to stretch your bottle until the next. There’s always two sides, but when you’re 22 that’s harder to see; when you’re double that it’s easier.

Onto the 5 and heading north to Encinitas where the Shelter is, we both stay silent. Through the dividing screen I hear one of our van catch cough something fierce out of her lungs and then settle back to a stupor. 

Take the off ramp and wind through the industrial buildings and soon, there it is The Shelter. Looks like a warehouse because it is. 

I pull up out front, put the van in P and crunch the parking brake on as Jackie is already out and heading to the back. She manually opens the doors before hit the button. I unclick my seatbelt I head back to help her. 

We gather up our five once homeless soon to be Sheltered folks and shuffle them inside. A younger kid, Alex I think his name is? Comes out with a cart to grab their stuff. 

The latest guy we just picked up is concerned about separating from his stuff, but Jackie calms him down with those gentle coos she saves for the unfortunates. 

We all head through the front office door and Irma at the front desk greets us, we get everyone sitting in the chairs in front of the projector screen and Irma starts the show.

‘Welcome to the Shelter, your new home.’ A soft maternal voice attached to a computer rendered 3D angel coming out of the screen. 

‘You are safe here, and you will find more joy than you have known.’ She continues as green fields show behind her and ample food at large tables dances, then beautiful little cottages and their interiors start to show.

‘You are soon to enter into a new land, one where you will not need your old things but instead will have anything you need. Don’t worry we will keep your old things here if you want them in the Shelter, but chances are you’ll forget all about them,’ and our Angel smiles so brightly that even my heart ticks up a bit. 

Everyone is enraptured, no one more so than dear Jackie. Our Terrance did a good job with this intro, it really does cut through the haze of booze and smack. Although a few times I’ve had to stop a new guest from masturbating to our holy angel of the Shelter.

I’ve seen this presentation more times than I can count, so I head out to the van to check the back for any fluids left by our latest guests.

Looks clean so I spark up a little spliff and draw it in. All I would have needed to do is breathe the air around me really, I’m sure in all this fire air there are pot fields worth of spliffs, but old habits blah blah...

Each year they say fire season has peaked but we know it hasn’t. Fires inland, oceans rising, shit, sometimes I want to live in The Shelter.

Maybe that’s the real future...

I finish my spliff, grind it into the ground and head inside feeling better. Now is the part I like, when we get them to their new home.

Jackie already got them lined up and Irma is nudging from the back, I take over for her so she can sit down and resume sipping her diet La Criox. She can’t stand for too long, and no one here has the heart to prove to her the link between artificial sweeteners and obesity, so we let her have the front chair.

Alex, or whatever his name is, should be scanning the items for storage by now. This way they can still have their stuff in the Shelter, and we can re-sell what’s valuable to help pay expenses.

Our guests and us pass through the gate into the Entrance gate of the Shelter. The Door is just beyond, and Terrance is at the Entrance station ready to bring them inside.

First up is our latest guest that we just pulled in, Jackie seems to have taken a special liking to him. She lines him up in the Entrance, which looks a bit like an old school metal detector, and walks him in, then has him wait. On Terrance’s monitor I see green indicators, ‘consciousness waveform identified, transfer initiated’ reads on the status. Green light on the Entrance gate and she guides him over to a chair in the room just beyond.

The line shuffles through the Entrance one by one, me pushing gently from the back. 

I take the last one through, a woman who has more hair on her chin than teeth in her head and then we’re both in The staging room of the Shelter.

I help the last woman find her chair and now each guest is seated in a row of special chairs.

Where earlier many of their faces were perplexed, or grimaced or confused or sad, now they have changed, they are making it through, a calm bliss is on all of them now.

 I check my watch and a small message says ‘transfer 97%98%100%’ 

All of their faces go slack in unison. 

Jackie sits down in the separate small chair for staff in the Shelter room and I see her face go slack as she enters the real Shelter to show them to their new homes in the cloud.

I tap a button on the wall behind the guests and the Incinerator door opens up and all the chairs shake and then trundle along their conveyor belt to deposit the guests’ old bodies into the flames.  

Lucky bastards really, I bet they’re already eating virtual cake in the Shelter.



Some 100 years from now...


Physical and virtual realities are meshed together with no distinction. Ideas are given sovereignty with their creators rewarded fairly and directly. The world around us assembles itself to the likings of our whim, matter has become programmable. Humans have taken up their primary purpose of creativity. We now work with other intelligences of all kinds to ask wise questions and achieve meaningful answers, with an eye toward more questions. "Human" has taken on flourishing new meanings. Artful imagination has been unleashed upon the world. 


School Astride the Metaverse - Expression Capture Day


EduTopia EduSystem_nodes 00294-00310: Edu-Network hub facility Physical School “San Clemente,” ages 8-18, California South Region, Capistrano Unified District.   


“Stop fidgeting this’ll be done soon.” Ms. Chang soothed, her slender face covered in a warm smile, her bright eyes smiling too.

“I already made a avatar at home why do I need a new one?!” the young subject whined.

“Now Erik, you know why, the school needs the highest quality and we can’t have fibbing!” Ms. Chang replied.

Of course the teachers all fibbed in their avatars, de-aging was the classic; maybe they thought the kids didn’t notice, hah!

Luckily fidgeting wasn’t a huge issue; the 360 camera rig instantly captured all angles to build a detailed 3D model of each student, down to every pore and hair.

“Ok Erik, keep your head still and don't move that cute little face!

Good, now look sad. :( 

Now look angry >:(

Now confused :X

Now smiiile! :D

Now laugh! XD

Very good haha!”

The kids usually hammed it up during the expression capture part. The system did its best to smooth out the input but it always led to the kids’ avatars being a bit overly expressive. It better reflected their spirit, Ms. Chang had always thought.

“Aaaand you’re done!” She tapped on the upload button at the console and the school cloud got to work rendering Erik’s avatar. He scampered away without a goodbye.

“Next!” Ms. Chang beamed.

On and on the students were digitized. 

Each gave their expressions then ran off, many with hands fluttering in mid air, or swiping over control watches, or loudly sub-vocalizing with their untrained vocal cords emitting almost audible words.

"Next!" Chang rang out after each capture. 

Each kid so different, many with darker skin and lighter eyes than Chang remembered from her youth. America continued to melt together its human contents, despite the scary vocalizations of those who did not understand the concept of humans as a single species. When Ms. Chang did watch the news she often just felt sorry for the bigots, after all their biology education had clearly not taken.


Her heart welled up as a new kindergartner awkwardly climbed up the stool in the digitizer array and blinked at the brightness of the lights. Chang smiled brightly at the girl then snuck a glance at her parents waiting back in the shadows of the auditorium: all eyes on their daughter with that adorable mixture of pride and terror and love and hope and devotion.

Really that look summed up the reason Ms. Chang loved each school year’s Expression Capture Day: it was a moment to feel great surging hope.

When the last of the students had been digitized, Ms. Chang retired toward the teacher’s lounge to relax into being Jackie Chang and make herself a coffee. Single serve and wasteful but, finally biodegradable casings on the things at least.

Every year she reminisced, and every year it seemed to get more interesting to reminisce. Jackie had been a student and later a teacher at San Clemente when "expression capture day" was still just quaint 2D picture day. In her first years the kids still just read books and she had to work very hard as a performer to get them interested in anything. Now things were different. Now the kids could dive into the concepts, get their hands literally around ideas, and toss around hypotheses in real time! It just keep blowing her mind how much these kids were able to create now, and how fluidly they swim in the tools. 

Yet there was increasingly a tinge of sadness for Jackie since expression capture day was often the last time she saw many of the students in phys-space. Many of them had personal VR goggles or Hybrid Reality specs these days so they just beamed into school as their avatars. Most only rode the auto-buses into the physical school for their mandatory yearly avatar scan. It was not entirely the kids' choice of course.

As the economy continued to get more aggressive and competitive parents now had to move constantly chasing tasks on the open markets just to keep their footing in the legendary "middle class". Many parents had become labor nomads since the modern well-paying jobs ironically could not be done over the internet: installing solar, building levees and other projects needed physical labor. Each region of Earth would see a groundswell of labor influx, a retrofit of the infrastructure with some settlers while the rest moved on to chase other retrofit jobs. 

Knowledge work was not a growing field, AI kept biting into the need for human minds for most work, there were only a few human theorists and thinkers, the rest was essentially spam. Thus many parents' kids might never go to the same school campus twice. At least they had the eduSystem. At least they could keep their friends all across the globe.

Jackie had been in on the ground floor of the eduSystem as a designer, but she did not think to take an ownership stake, which her mother reminded her of every Christmas.

Jackie had helped to build the object handlers that allow the eduSystem simSpace to be made of voxels with properties. The thrill when she and the team goggled into the first beta version of the multi-property voxel sim! Tom Stevens, the project lead, had immediately brought up his control panel and programmed a bowl of {liquid} to be “water” and a block of {solid} to be “potassium”, dumped the block into the water and laughed maniacally as it erupted into the wonderful fire sim that Don Brown had helped get looking so dangerously real.

Now kids could learn about fire without ever being at risk! Imagine a generation of young scientists experimenting infinitely without the danger of harm! Plus we’ll merge it all across every school in the world!

That was Tom’s claim when he had pitched to her the idea of the eduSpace.

Jackie had been unconvinced and replied “I like ideas too, but what would run this program?” Tom had just winked and said “I know a guy at Nvidia, we’ll program it on a tensorWeb3 then we can get tensorCloud time at half cost and full available exponent of performance/time scaling for ten years!”

Jackie had squinted at him and moved closer. He had stayed locked in place and in eye contact with a smile on his face. They had stayed that way for a moment, Jackie using her intuition to try and detect if he was bullshitting, then Jackie had exclaimed, “yes! I’m in!”

And so she had helped make future history. 

The eduSpace worked so well that Tom got sucked into the megabiz world of fantasy experiences and intention tracking. He never got around to merging the schools of “the world” into one holistic whole like he used to dream. He quickly became surrounded by the mediocrity of money-chasing and fell back into nationalism. After all, borders mean trade gradients, and trade gradients make money. 

Bet he’s fully 50 IQ points lower than he used to be. Poor rich bastard, Jackie snorted in contempt. 

At least the eduSystem existed now. At least the North American public school system became a networked whole. Thank God for that at least.

At least the kids could still belong to the same class groups anywhere on Earth so the transitions to new locations weren’t entirely alien. Now that all the schools are networked when kids move they can blend their old friends with their new friends and classmates. 

The friend/learn social network of a modern kid is fascinating. They swim in a sea blending avatars projected in hybrid reality glasses mixed in with the world around them, plus time spent in vast VR chill realms that can defy all laws of physics. Rich endlessly generated oceans of digital reality woven into the world itself and populated by networks of far-flung homies and phys-space crew. 

Though stretching for joy with these thoughts, Jackie couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness. She had been convinced of the reality of virtual reality through her experience and knew that the lessons the kids got were real. She was more counselor than teacher and the kids sometimes came away with real trauma along with real pride. 

Still she would not shake her core belief: there is a primary reality that is real. This is where the generation lines seemed in the act of drawing, Jackie realized. This is how she knew she was old: she still believed in the value of having a single objective reality!

As if on cue, Don Brown wandered in and started making a single serve coffee packet: extra caffeine. A hotshot teacher, Don kept up with the kids in sim, and even showed them a thing or two. She had long felt toward him an enjoyable combination of jealously, affection, slight annoyance and attraction that varied in intensity along those axis depending on the moment.

His emphasis specialties overlapped with Jackie’s; they were both sociology, psychology and practical neurology certified, but Don also had talents in creative thinking and design. Jackie was more practical in logic concepts and programming. The two of them were absolutely inspiring, and the kids took their examples and ran.

“Maybe I’m just old-fashioned Don, but I worry about these kids perceptions of reality,” Jackie mused as she moved over and plopped down in the more comfortable of the two ratty tan suede couches. “They don’t even care what kind of reality they’re in, its all the same to them.”

“You're just sad because you're obsessed with phys-space still like an old," he said in a mocking kid tone, Jackie shot Don a sarcastic mean look and he carried on more seriously, "don’t be so down, think about how many more kids we get to mentor now!” His cleanly trimmed mustache curling up in a smile. Don was the optimistic type. “Plus,” he added, “you know what they say, ‘reality is perception!’” and added a wink.

Unlike Jackie, he had a home VR rig and would even hang out in the edu-space after hours. Jackie loved his enthusiasm, even if he was a bit disconnected from her notion of reality.

“Ya, I should be thankful. When my dad was a 20cen teacher he only ever got to see a handful of kids and he just talked at them.” Jackie putting emphasis on the at, “now we get to converse and go exploring with hundreds!”

Don nodded as he sipped his extra strong coffee. She suspected that he would still make another.

The change in schooling brought on by VR and Augmented Reality was really quite beautiful, epic really.

Over her career starting with small classrooms she had become a primary coach and mentor for an entire age bracket 8-30 west south district cluster, over 227 students in her responsibility sphere, which she shared with a few other teachers. Every day she helped guide anywhere from one to all of her cluster through the eduSpace challenges. Watching the students problem solve was amazing and hilarious. Some patterns of failure just seemed part of the human mind, but occasionally the kids did something beyond her reasoning. Those were the moments she lived for.

“Keeps me really happy for the future,” Don added, well in sync with her musings.

“Ya it really does,” she sighed contently as she settled deeper into the couch, suddenly feeling quite tired from wrangling the new kids for their avatar scans.

“Hey, I almost forgot,” Don said, “ I’ve got a group coming online from midwest-south. You should stop by the archeology sim space if you want to take your kids for some unstructured time. The midwest-south kids are really good at archeology digs, a few of them have done it phys-space even and my kids love learning from them.”

“Oh that sounds like fun!” Jackie replied, “I love how collaborative the kids are in the exploration and discovery sims.”

Just then, irony appeared on her notification watch; one of the students in her responsibility sphere, "student_Jerry00192", was being pushed around again on the tiny looping video feed on her wrist.

A hallway camera had detected commotion and read distress from facial recognition, forwarded it to her watch. Oh Jerry, she thought, he climbs the lessons so high so fast. Bullying had always been Jackie's bane, as a student and a teacher. 

His geolocation was on campus, so that meant that Jackie could do something about it, thank God. The system could not track bullying outside of the geofence of school campuses. It stopped tracking at all once the student turned 18. Jackie had cried about all this more than a few nights. "The compromise" had been a hard fought battle, and neither side knew if it was right or not. Certainly Jackie didn't. At least she could be a hero for the kids who showed up to her school. 

“Gotta go Don,” Jackie clipped as she quickly rose to leave and pulling her hairband down over her brow, where a prism popped out over her right eye, activating her heads-up display.

“Say no more, see you in a sim or the big sim!” Don said to the back of her head as she briskly left the lounge.

Jackie might have heard him but could not be bothered to reply. Her fingers were fluttering in space just above the notification watch interacting with the system, already thinking out toward Jerry which her displayband linked to the system interpreted as *locate student_Jerry00192*  

 -> found, physical space, coordinates -> the text on the display read, with an arrow appearing in her prism pointing in Jerry’s direction. She was Ms. Chang again.

Video started streaming into the prism as well. She normally hated these visor things, but today she she was glad she wore it at school.

The computer vision package gave her a verbal and video summary from a minute or so before real-time, with emotional peaks emphasized and possible action vectors of the kids shown super-imposed on the video feed. The system vendor claimed the military used the same tech. Very data-rich stuff, probably overkill since it didn’t often take analysis to get the gist: bullying. 

Two older students, both 12, Tom and Frank, were harassing Jerry, a scrawny 9.

These two again. She’d dealt with them before. They were outside of her direct responsibility sphere, but Jerry was within hers and in discipline matters the protector teacher had authority of action. Dipping outside ones responsibility sphere was compensated appropriately and automatically by the payroll system. But too many actions outside of one's sphere would trigger an action audit by an actual human, so it was a balancing act for teachers.

Chang picked up the pace as the video stream neared real-time.

When she got there she found Jerry on the brink of tears, but in a decidedly defiant stance.

“You gonna fight us you little autie?” Tom leered menacingly.

“Can’t even stand in the real world, look,” Frank gave Jerry a shove, who shifted a bit but was actually quite steady.

“Enough!” Chang’s voice flared up from behind them and watched their bodies tense and their shoulders rise up their necks in near unison.


“Tom, Frank come here now!”

“We were just playin’,” Tom weaseled.

“I saw everything, don't you remember that I see everything here?” Chang was annoyed, then concerned “Jerry are you alright?”

“Fine ma’am, these meat-bags are mad cause I smoked them in-sim the other day. Sucks to suck!” Jerry obviously felt emboldened by her presence. Not a smart move on his part though, since he'd pay for it later, perpetuating the cycle.

She glanced up at her prism for the system's guilt verdict, video from just before the beginning of the altercation, which showed her that Jerry had not started this, the other kids had come up behind him and shoved him. Quick crime, quick justice.

“Now Jerry, don’t be a sore winner. Run along.” Chang shooed him away.

And Jerry departed, hands fluttering in mid air interacting with his unseen AR packages, occasionally grunting commands.

Chang turned her attention to the troublesome tweens.

“You two, come with me,” She ordered. They complied with heads lowered to bury defiant eyes.

On the way over to the counseling building she had time to muse–she certainly didn’t want to engage the two sorry looking specimens trailing in her wake, not yet at least. And maybe that's what getting old is too, always wanting to check in on perspective.

She thought back to little Jerry skipping away into his own world. Most of the kids were getting immersed in AR visors and glasses so early now. Some even had the new EEG brain activity reading models; still others were starting to get the newest contact lenses, although they were still quite expensive and supposedly limited to 18-year-olds.

It worried Jackie, but she saw the benefits too. With even an old gesture-based AR visor on, a kid had more access to just-in-time knowledge and expressive creativity than had ever been imagined. Everything a Wearing kid looked at was analyzed by ‘helper brain’ software riding along in the visor and data-layers floated up with contextually relevant info. Every stroke of their hands and grunt of their voice could trigger more visuals and audio from vast generative libraries of globally sourced content. Holograms, songs, 360videos, sounds. Kids threw confetti videos at each other for fun and danced trails of light, told each other stories with holographic animations and 3D video mashups. And did a lot of less beautiful things, but Chang focused on the positives.

Embedded in so much information and possibility from such a young age, no wonder these kids' culture seemed beyond her understanding sometimes. They were still kids though, scraping their knees and learning social order just like in her day, so it seemed to balance out.

Bullies were the unfortunate constant, but the tools for dealing with them had changed a bit since her dad was a teacher.

Finally she and her catch made it over to the counseling building. When they were seated in the ‘safe space,’ a room with comfortable chairs and pixel-walls showing fluffy clouds against a perfect blue sky all around, she put the visor back up on her head and addressed the boys.

“What’s going on you two, why are you harassing Jerry over a game?” Chang scolded.

She waited a beat while they fidgeted.

"Well..." Chang prodded.

“You didn’t see Ms. Chang," Frank Blurted out, "in sim last year Jerry was always a big jerk, thinks he knows everything!”

“Ya plus he spent all summer coming into our simspace and cheating to win whenever we were there," Tom blurted right after, "we told him to leave our space but he wouldn’t!"

"We just wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine that’s all!” Frank added.

“He might be a little prince in sim but he sucks in real life!” Tom exclaimed to finish off their little defense. 

Chang tisked at that and the smiles that had crept onto their faces vanished.

Classic brawn vs brains.

In the VR games, brains triumphed, but phys-space was still the purview of the jockish types. So bullying happened now across realities with every kid at a slightly different advantage or disadvantage in each. Kids like Jerry could get a bit megalomaniacal inside the metaverse, where they found themselves in complete power as opposed to the physical world. It was becoming a bit of an issue really, kids’ personalities could become very split; a tiny minority of them would put the VR goggles on and become someone else entirely.

She had taken some guided learning expeditions into a few popular VR game environments with some of the other teachers, including Mr. Brown, over the summer exploring the symptoms and causes of “Virtual Reality / Physical Reality Personality Dimorphism.” It was interesting stuff. It actually made her glad that AR visors were getting cheaper, at least now kids were playing outside again, even if it was in a hybrid kind of virtual and physical reality. It combined the brains that won in VR with the brawn that won in phys-space. Mr. Brown in particular had been optimistic that the new paradigm might remedy the dimorphism all by itself. Ms. Chang was not so sure.

A whole new paradigm to adjust to, again! Just when she had started to figure out VR!

When her dad was a teacher in the roaring 1980s he had used the same few textbooks for his whole career. And he got a pension!!

Ms. Chang just shook her head at it all.

“We’ve been over this before, just because someone is mean to you doesn’t mean you can do it back. You two are supposed to be the role models for the younger ones,” Chang said calmly.

Both were looking down silently. Her visor would have shown their emotional state as 'angry and defiant' from reading their heart-field data, but Chang didn't need a machine to tell her the obvious.

“Do we need to empathy sim again?" she added, "I know how it affected you last time boys...” She recalled the tears from them both on the other side of the 'Being Bullied' simulation and could sense that their defiance softened.

‘Walk a Mile In Another’s Shoes’ sims were the bane of bullies. They were very real, and didn’t just throw back what the bullies had said; they created whole scenarios where the bullying was quite real. The computers knew what got under every kids’ skin; the words and scenarios the program crafted really could hurt. In truth Chang was a bit worried they were too scarring, but they did tend to affect kids and stop bullying, at least for a while.

“No Ms. Chang,” the two answered in sullen near unison.

“Good!” She replied cheerily, “Here’s what we’ll do, I’m going to assign you both as separate mentor shadows for some very young ones, Tom you'll help Mr. Jarvis and Frank you'll help Mr. Troy. You’ll help them manage their 6-8 year bracket sim classes, then I want you to report back to me here in phys-space and we’ll talk about what you learned by helping.”

“Yes ma’am,” they groaned, again in near unison.

Straight punishments like "time outs" and "detention" or the most foolish, expulsion, were never used anymore; they just made everything worse. But Chang also tried to avoid the empathy sims.

Always best to give bullies a constructive responsibility role. They rarely admitted it, but study after study had shown that kids tasked to mentor shadow got a big boost in fulfillment. And Chang didn't need to analyze to see the change in their personalities as they grew up.

"Now off with you, check in with the teachers I connected you with before the end of today or you'll get dinged system points," Chang said over the sound of suddenly moving chairs and the two kids' rustling escape.

The system had listened and added new responsibility stars to Tom and Frank's school mission constellation, and also informed Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Troy to expect some troublemakers in need of a little perspective. 

On the desk in front of her a 2D text prompt asked Chang what the follow up was to be after their day of service was done.

Chang said "have them come back here," out loud and the 2D dialog grew up into a 3D render of the counseling building with a check-mark over it and then vanished.

She could have had them meet in a counseling sim after and spared them the walking over, but she believed in the power of physical presence for matters like this. No hiding behind avatars all the time, especially when discussing one's feelings. It changed the nature of a person's responses, Chang had seen, even if the neuro-psychologists claimed otherwise…

Read Part 2 of 3 "A Normal Final Assignment" ->

Read Part 3 of 3 "Educating the System" ->