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Chapter 2
Alternate Technology

Survivor: Heaven

by HAL MOUNTSAUERKRAUTEN, Alternate Reality News Service Crime Writer

They die with a smile on their faces. They may even have a song in their hearts, but death comes so quickly that there is no way of knowing.

So far, at least 1,217 people are known to have died while experiencing a virtual environment known as “Nirvana.” Logs show that they all died within five minutes of entering the environment; some within 30 seconds.

“It’s the biggest mass murder since Jonestown!” stated United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald III. “Somebody’s gonna pay. I’m not sure who, yet, but somebody!”

But, is it really murder? Coroners’ reports on the first people found dead in their virtual reality harnesses indicated that there were no signs of violence on the bodies, that the hearts of the victims just stopped.

“It was…heaven,” said Conrad “Connie” Linghaus, the only known survivor of the Nirvana VR. “It was like a million orgasms going off in your body all at once, but better.”

Linghaus survived when a power outage in his apartment block fried his computer hard drive a minute and a half after he had logged onto the Nirvana VR. He is currently under doctor’s supervision at Mount Jai Alai Hospital, where has been sedated and strapped to his bed in order to keep him from returning to the game.

“Yes, like all good virtual environments, I suppose some people would consider Nirvana ‘addictive,’” said Wilma Harthwrender, making scare quotes in the air with her fingers. “People find an ‘experience’ that they ‘enjoy’ and they want to do it ‘more.’ I see nothing ‘wrong’ with that, in the ‘moral’ or ‘legal’ sense of the word.”

“Besides,” Harthwrender, President of Softworld, Inc., the company that makes 2,378 online virtual environments, including Virtual Nirvana, added, “the ‘dangers’ of spending time in a ‘simulation’ of eternal oneness with the universe are clearly spelled out in the End User Licence that people have to electronically ‘sign’ before they’re allowed to ‘enter’ Nirvana. Look it up.”

We did, and Harthwrender was correct. On page 137 of the EUL is a line that warns that “time spent in Nirvana may lead to an unwillingness to return to the physical plane of existence, with its endless cycles of desire and suffering, and/or consumptive heart failure and death.” This comes right after the warning that swallowing a piece of paper with the user’s ID name and password on it may lead to choking.

“Nobody reads EULs!” Fitzgerald III shouted, banging his fist on a table for emphasis (which is hard to do over a phone). “Studies have conclusively shown that the only things people are exposed to but read less are instructions on medicine bottles and the closing credits of television shows!”

Fitzgerald suggested that an advertising campaign might be more effective in warning people about the ill effects of the VR.

“Is he nuts!” Harthwrender responded. I was pretty sure it was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t answer, and, sure enough, she continued: “Who would want to ‘buy’ time in a virtual reality ‘system’ if they knew there was a strong chance that they could ‘die’ inside of it? Except, maybe for ‘teenage’ ‘boys’ who…umm…”

The glint in her eye told me that I had just witnessed the birth of an advertising campaign.

Fitzgerald has spent the last week in court looking for an injunction to close down the Nirvana VR pending the outcome of a criminal investigation of the suspicious deaths. He looked under the judge’s bench, around the stenographer’s table and in the witness box, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

“We’ve known that guns and cigarettes are harmful to people’s health for over a century,” wrote Superior Court Judge Edgar Watanawanabe, ‘but we haven’t stopped their advertisement, sale or use. We…why is that, I wonder?”

Fitzgerald is rumoured to be considering taking his case to the Supreme Court. While there, he may take his legal briefs out of it and appeal the Superior Court’s ruling.

From his bed in the hospital, Lingahaus weakly pleaded to be let go. “Just loosen my straps a little,” he said. “I’ll do the rest. Really. I’ll leave all my worldy possessions to you in my will – ownership of them is an illusion, anyway. All you have to do is loosen my straps. Just a bit. Please. Pleeeeeeaaaase!”

The investigation continues.

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