Hi guys, and welcome to chapter 1 of A3521! Super thanks to TheOddOneZoho for reviewing the prologue, and to EvilNickelbackObsessedTechy and eatmyawesome for alerting it!
Jasmine lay back on her towel with a contented sigh, feeling the warm caress of ultraviolet rays over her skin. The gentle roaring sound of the waves filled her ears, lulling her into a state of peaceful calm. She absentmindedly ran her fingers through the perfect golden sand, which had been heated both by the light and the heat generators below it.
'Jasmine, I hate to interrupt, but it is now three o'clock post meridiem.' A351's soft voice spoke up in her head. 'And you promised your father that you would be home by four o'clock. I recommend you leave now to allow plenty of time for travel.'
Thank you, Ace, Jasmine grumbled, but complied nonetheless. She opened her eyes, staring at the projected hologram of a blue sky with a few fluffy white clouds. An ultraviolet generator, or 'artificial Sun' glared directly overhead, filling the giant room with light. Beyond the sandy 'beach', the water lapped against the shore in waves that were created by giant spinning metal blades along the bottom. They were covered by a layer of mesh as a precaution, so that surfers who weren't as good as they thought they were wouldn't meet their untimely end.
Reluctantly, Jasmine got up, shook off and folded her towel, and headed towards the door. The walls of the enormous beach simulation room had holograms of a forest projected on them, but one of the 'trees' had an exit sign on it, and a small holographic handle disguised as a knot in the 'bark'. Jasmine flicked her hand sideways through the handle, and the door slid open with a quiet hiss. She stepped out into the lobby, scanned her Communicator Band to show she was now leaving the simulator, and headed out into the city.
After being in the blinding artificial sunlight of the beach simulator, the thick layer of grey fog in the air made the outside feel very bland. It was never dark, per say, as the whole city was lit up by the ultraviolet lights hovering overhead, but it just didn't have the same impact. Normally, Jasmine would take a bit of time to glare sullenly at the city, but today she just wanted to get home.
Hey Ace, where's the nearest bus stop from here? Jasmine asked her AI.
'There is one 845.7 metres from here,' he replied, projecting a zoomed-in holo-map of the Entertainment Centre, with a small red dot indicating Jasmine's position, and a small orange square showing her where the bus stop was.
Thanks, buddy! Jasmine chirped in her head, stepping onto the moving walkway that was going to the right. She navigated the pathways until she finally arrived at the bus stop. After quickly checking the timetable, she saw that the next bus into the Living Centre wouldn't be for another five minutes. She pressed the holographic button which would tell the Grid that the bus needed to stop at that station, before settling back and absentmindedly flicking through the holographic advertisement that was currently playing. It was for the latest model of Communicator Band that had just been released, with an upgraded graphics component for holo-games. Jasmine happily amused herself playing the trial game, until a small beep told her that the bus would be arriving at any second.
Jasmine stood up and watched as the large silver bus glided down on its magnetic track, the opposite polarity of the metal rail repelling the vehicle and making it hover a few centimetres above the track. It had a row of tinted windows wrapping all the way around it, and a long silver antenna stretched from its roof. The antenna was the bus's connection to the Grid, which was the huge overhead network that controlled the entire city.
The bus glided to a gentle halt in front of Jasmine. With a gentle hiss, the door slid open, and a ramp unfolded out from a small compartment on the floor. Jasmine walked onto the bus, taking a quick moment to scan her Communicator Band, before heading down the aisle and sliding into a spare seat.
For a while she just sat there, staring out the window and watching as varying shades of grey flashed past, occasionally broken up by a bright colour. That was all New Brisbane City was; endless stretches of cold, grey metal poorly covered by flashing holographic signs. A high-tech world custom-built for instant gratification. Everything you could possibly want, as long as you could afford it.
Jasmine hated it. All her life, she had loved visiting the museums, looking at the history of what this city used to look like. The original Brisbane, with blue skies and trees and lovely small houses. Even the high-rise apartments were colourful and tastefully decorated, with unique designs. A Brisbane where the beaches and forests were actually real, not giant simulators. A Brisbane that Jasmine had always longed to experience, not this stupid grey prison. Hence why she had such a fascination with the District.
'Jasmine, please stop that train of thought. The District is a strictly forbidden place,' A351 hastily interrupted. Jasmine sighed in exasperation.
I know, Ace, but can't you just let me think in peace? Jasmine grumped, her annoyance ringing clear in her head for A351 to pick up.
'I apologise, however may I point out your hypocrisy?' Jasmine scowled, but didn't stop him. 'You tell me to stop interrupting your thought processes, and yet you still continue to refer to me as "Ace", regardless of the number of times I correct you. My designation is A351, and I would prefer it if you referred to me as such.'
Ace, not now, please… I'm tired, surely you can feel that!
'Yes, I can, but-'
Ace! Turn off your argumentative protocols. Please. Jasmine commanded, her frustration growing.
'Complying. Argumentative protocols offline.' A351 stated obediently, before falling silent. Jasmine sighed again and continued looking out the window, her original thought process thoroughly de-railed.
"Attention all passengers," a soft feminine voice spoke up over the speakers in the bus, "we are now entering the Living Centre. Please enter your address when prompted. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your trip!"
A small holographic screen popped up in front of Jasmine, being projected from the seat in front of her. Jasmine entered her address into the correct area, and the screen flashed a 'thank you!' before vanishing.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, with Jasmine grudgingly allowing A351 to turn his argumentative protocols back on under strict instructions that he was not to bring up the previous topic again. A351 had reluctantly agreed, and now seemed to be sulking quietly in the back of her mind. Jasmine just ignored him.
Eventually, the bus pulled up outside Jasmine's apartment block, and she grabbed her folded-up towel and hopped off the bus, remembering to scan her Communicator Band on the way out. The small device, which was in essence a screen attached to a strap, flashed how much money had been charged for the trip. Jasmine ignored it in favour of stepping into the elevator that would take her up to her apartment.
The blocks were designed that the higher you went, the more expensive and luxurious the apartments were. Jasmine lived closer to the top, due to her father being a manager for one of the Grid's control towers. Jasmine's mother worked in a hospital, and had a fairly average pay, but anybody skilled (and lucky) enough to work in the towers received a very generous salary.
Jasmine was brought out of her musings by a gentle ding and the elevator doors sliding open. She stepped out into a decorated hallway leading to her family's apartment. Her mother had decorated the hall with a fancy rug and several synthetic plants in pots. Jasmine went up to the door and scanned her Communicator Band once again, the scanner verifying her identification code and opening the door.
The door slid shut behind her as Jasmine headed towards the living room, getting A351 to send a remote signal to the holovision. The holographic screen immediately popped up with the news.
"We now have an interview with leading Artificial Intelligence engineer and founder of Personality Works, Dr Nicholas Stephens," the newscaster announced. Jasmine listened with half an ear as she drifted into the kitchen to get a snack.
Within a few minutes, Jasmine was back in the living room, reclining happily on the couch with a can of soft drink and a ham sandwich.
"So, Dr Stephens, can you enlighten us on the current situation?" the interviewer on the HV asked, shuffling her papers in her hands.
"Well, I am very sorry to report that New Brisbane has reached a crisis stage," Dr Stephens replied gravely. "Due to the recent population boom, there is now a significant shortage of Artificial Intelligence programs."
"And what is being done to try to rectify this problem?"
"We are now contacting hospitals to remove the programs from coma patients and terminally ill patients. They will be taken back to our laboratories, reprogrammed, upgraded and distributed." Dr Stephens answered, looking slightly uncomfortable.
"But what of the people who will be losing their AIs?"
"They and their families will be given compensation. We do understand the strong bond that forms between the construct and the host, and this is a decision made with much regret, but it needs to be done."
"And what about the children of this new generation who haven't been able to receive their Artificial Intelligence?" The interviewer pressed.
"They will also be given compensation, and they are at the top of the list for implantation. We are also considering raising the age that children receive their Artificial Intelligences, to give us a bit of time to build enough programs." Dr Stephens told her.
"And my final question: could you provide any insight into the rumours that you will no longer be releasing any more of the latest model AI?"
"That is correct. Our most advanced programs to date are the 'Galaxy' programs. We are, regrettably, discontinuing production because they are too expensive and time-consuming to manufacture." Dr Stephens turned to the camera. "I apologise to anybody hoping to receive a 'Galaxy' AI in the future."
"Well, thank you, Dr-" the interviewer was cut off as the HV was switched off. Jasmine sat there in shock. A351 was a Galaxy AI. The name 'Galaxy' had absolutely no relevance; it was just a pretty label to help advertise them. 'Galaxy AIs - they're out of this world!' was the campaign's slogan. But still, she couldn't believe that they were discontinuing them. They were set to be the next big breakthrough in AI technology!
Hey, Ace, what's your opinion? Jasmine couldn't help but ask.
'I understand why they have stopped production. It is the most logical decision. Obviously, building and programming the Galaxy units takes up more time, money and resources, as compared to a Spark construct, for example.'
Don't mention Spark AIs… Jasmine grumbled. The Spark programs were a much older model of AI, and Jasmine hated them. They used a different personality model, and the developers had somehow managed to give them a mean, spiteful disposition with virtually no positive emotion. Jasmine's father, Kyle, had a Spark construct called P47, or 'Pat' as he called her. Jasmine loathed P47 with a passion, and constantly longed for the day that P47 would get a virus or something.
'That is rather rude, Jasmine,' A351 admonished. Jasmine ignored him. P47 was vicious, rude, horrible, nasty, stupid…
Her internal rant continued for a quite a while, ending with 'and needs to be smashed to pieces and thrown in a smelter!'
A351, wisely, stayed quiet.
There you go! Thanks for reading, and please leave a review! I love constructive critism, particularly the brutally honest, rip-the-story-to-shreds kind! :D