I offer a universe of infinite wonder. Is freedom too great a price to pay?
In the Millennium Republic of 2075, Madeleine, Minister of Public Health, puts her grand plan into motion: Univirtual, the final assimilation of all citizens into the virtual universe of the Worldstream. Standing in her way: the tiny communities of Orwell, Burgess, and Laputa. When Madeleine and her brutal White Shirts round up the outliers, a small band escapes: Raúl, the original shredder, Dylan, the brash upstart, and Hammad, the tech prodigy. Together, they hatch a scheme to bring down Madeleine and preserve the last vestige of Real Life.
Univirtual is the exciting third and final book in the Shredded series, continuing the stories of Grace, Dylan, and Madeleine in a near-future world in which nearly all human activity takes place in virtual reality.
“A prescient and thought-provoking work of science fiction, this novel is rife with details for tech enthusiasts to dive into, not to mention political junkies, and fans of dystopian fiction. Penned on the cutting edge of contemporary culture, the prose bounces along with idiomatic slang that feels prophetically fresh and smooth. Every nuanced detail has been considered to make this feel like an uncut first-person account. Univirtual is an incredible burst of near-future fiction, a fitting next chapter of the Shredded series, and an undeniable pleasure to read.” Self-Publishing Review, ★★★★½
2023 Independent Press Award® Distinguished Favorite – Science Fiction
2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Nominee
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Univirtual is available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.
The People’s Assembly
Mirja was the first. Since then, who knows? I’ve lost count. Hundreds? Oh, sure.
MEER-ya. M-I-R-J-A. She didn’t want it. She didn’t even know about it. She was dead, for Jah’s sake.
But I’m skipping ahead. Back to the massacre.
You know how we did school back then, right? We had online classes, some VR venues, but they were crappy. Most classes I climbed out of bed at some ungodly hour and dragged my tired ass to an RL classroom. A mile and a half on foot—rain, snow, sun if I was lucky, but Chicago’s not a sunny clime. Jah, listen to me—I’m turning into my granddad.
Chicago was in Illinois. They teach you that in history class, right? Our fifty, nifty United States? We had to learn ’em all by name and their capitals. Every state had a capital, with a state government. We had this crazy idea that folks could govern themselves, you know, at the local level? See how that makes sense if we’re not all in one homogenized Worldstream, no states, no borders, only meaningless districts? In RL, geography matters.
Right. The massacre.
One rare sunny day I’m walking across campus, headed to a seminar. The topic is—guess what?—the Worldstream. We’d heard the rumors, but nothing concrete. The Consortium had just formed, announced the new architecture, and released the spec. They’d gone on tour, hitting all the comp sci hot spots, like UC.
University of Chicago. My alma mater.
The Worldstream was all we talked about, me and Porter, a Black kid from South Chicago I’d known since forever, and the rest of the geek squad. Mirja, too, although she had other interests. This People’s Assembly thing. You know that name, right? The P.A.? I thought so. Mirja was into the P.A. deep.
So, half hour before the seminar starts, I’m passing the quad—big, open space in the middle of campus—and I hear a rumble, like crashing surf only muffled, and some guy with a bullhorn talking over the noise, all garbled, but you can tell he means business. The crowd (now they say) is in the thousands, filling up the whole quad. I don’t plan to go there, but once I’m in earshot, curiosity takes over and I detour.
From the back of the crowd, I see the bullhorn guy on the steps of the admin building. If you don’t know him, you can’t describe him, he’s that far away and he has a bullhorn stuck in his face. But I know him—Chas Royce.
Yeah, that Chas Royce, screaming through that bullhorn, all distorted like an over-modulated voice synthesizer. He sounds clearer from inside the quad, but it doesn’t matter if the crowd can’t get what he’s saying. He’s not telling them anything they haven’t heard a hundred times. He’s getting them amped up, like a preacher at a tent revival.
A tent revival. It’s like…never mind. Not important.
And amped they are. The ones in the back, where I am, aren’t too riled up…yet. They might be curious, like me, and not really into the whole P.A. thing. But the ones up front, who got there an hour early, the kind who never shut up about the ball-less government, broken alliances, Russian aggression, and Chinese hegemony—Jah, that got tiresome fast—all those folks are waving their signs, jumping around, pushing forward like a mob on Black Friday.
Black Friday. It was the day after Thanksgiving. Biggest shopping day of the year.
Anyway, Chas yells, “What order?” and they all go, “New order!” “Whose assembly?” “People’s Assembly!” On and on, yada yada, until the back-and-forth morphs into one solid roar, crowd jumping, signs flapping, until they tire out and Chas starts in again.
“Do you vote?” he asks, and the crowd goes, “No!” and he says “I don’t blame you! You get to the polls, you look at the ballot, and what do you see? Self-serving bureaucrats in fossilized factions who don’t give a shit about America! It took us 250 years to sink this low, but here we are. Patriotism? Dead! Public service? Dead! More perfect union? What a joke! Americans were the heroes of the world, now we’re the bums—because petty politicians put party and power ahead of America! They get rich while you pay!”
That gets them going. Is there anything more vexing than being taken? Even if you’ve already bought the con, nobody likes being a mark.
They keep up the yelling, hoarse and red-faced. Even the looky-loos in the back get into it. One guy in a black sweater comes at me, wild-eyed, shouting, “Whose side are you on?” I think he’s going to knock me down. I back away, and he keeps coming. Then he turns this way and that and goes after another slacker. That’s my cue to get the hell out of there, not waiting for their enthusiasm to fizzle, and for Chas to fire up the call-and-response and boot the cycle back to main.
I circle the crowd and leave by a side path toward the comp sci building. The Guard troops are right there, helmets and shields in front, rifles behind. I don’t remember seeing them, but I must have. Who could miss them?
Yeah, I knew Chas. Chas thought of Mirja as his protégé. He spent a lot of time at Mirja’s and my apartment—no, really, he did—and the two of them’d yak all night about crumbling alliances, and paralysis, and how the Earth is burning up and nothing’s getting done about it because we’re all a bunch of limp dicks, all over the world, but especially the U.S. It was hard to argue with them on the facts, since it was so obvious, what with another major weather-related disaster every month, saber-rattling in Europe, and China stepping up in every international crisis while America sits on her ass, and yet another high-ranking politician getting indicted just because he was stupider than the other crooks too smart to get caught. When they got into it, I usually checked out and let them reinforce each other’s foregone conclusions while I did my own stuff—until Chas hit on his favorite subject. That’s when I couldn’t stay out of it anymore, when Chas went off on the “rickety, antiquated American framework.”
“Corruption, impotence, abuse of power,” Chas’d tick off his usual list of grievances. “Our biggest problem is, we can’t solve big problems.” The guy was a great debater, armed with the facts, able to counter every objection. He’d lay out his cool, calculated case for upheaval while I’d sputter, and Mirja would look at the floor.
So, I meet Porter at the seminar, which is an eye-opener. Up to then, VR had been a gaming platform, a fantasy world, where a player could be anything, look like anyone, be totally anonymous. But the Worldstream is simulated real life, where all the avatars look just like their owners, identities verified by a foolproof algorithm. And the architecture is genius—supports an almost unlimited number of avatars in the same place at the same time. Turning it into a real platform would be a vast undertaking, but for the first time, we see a path—and the endpoint is awesome: instant face-to-face interaction, massive cost and energy savings—we can feel the excitement in the hall.
Until the phones start beeping.
A hundred go off at once, all telling us the same thing: Shooting in progress—campus lockdown—initiate active shooter protocol—all students and staff shelter in place.
Well, I don’t have to tell you that’s the end of the seminar. All around me folks are calling out, trying to find out what’s happening. I’d call Mirja, but I’m not quite ready to start speaking to her again, and I’m not sure she knows anything I don’t know anyway. It’s about the time someone in the back shouts, “There’s a shooting in the quad!” that my phone buzzes again, this time with a text message from Chas.
UC trauma center—meet me—hurry.
Copyright © 2018 by Charles O’Donnell
All Rights Reserved
Buy now on Amazon
Univirtual is available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.