Reality Bytes

It was an awesome party. Allegedly it was a summer solstice celebration, but that was really just the excuse Teagan’s friends, Justin and AJ, had come up with; they always had an excuse to party. The real celebration was over their new Augmesync system. It must have cost them a fortune, but it was worth every last cryptocoin. With a wave of the hand, everyone at the party—and there must have been a hundred people packed inside the ranch-style home—could synchronize all of their augs. They heard the same phantom music, saw the same illusory vistas, and interacted with the same imaginary projections. Augs used to be a local affair, shared by only a handful of people at a time. This was wild!

Teagan had had a lot to drink though, and she needed to find the actual bathroom. The Augmesync was all over it. It must have deduced her urgent bladder needs through her biometrics, and a pathway of light revealed itself to her. To Teagan, it appeared as a bridge down the center of a cackling creek, and to everyone else she must have looked as if she were walking on water. There was an old willow on the creek’s bank, and behind it reality was revealed: a toilet, a vanity, and a hollow wooden door with a brushed steel handle. A less immersive pattern of swirls still gave artificial depth to the walls, pulsing with the music. Teagan sat and closed her eyes while she took care of business.

But then the music stopped, and at once pixelated block letters hovered before her. ReaLiTY BYTeS, it said. The words blew apart, and then…then she just saw a bathroom. She hurried to the vanity to wash her hands and was shocked to find they were no longer blue; she always auged her skin to a soft baby blue. And in the mirror. Her face. Her face was…was just her face. Her real face. Teagan sobered up in a heartbeat. She hadn’t shown her real face in public in who knows how long? Years. Something had happened to her augs. She had to get out of here.

She opened the bathroom door not to a creek, or a canyon, or the surface of the sun, or any of the other vistas she’d been transported to throughout the party, but to a house. A house full of strangers. She realized she had never seen any of her friends’ real faces, or heard their real voices; or at least, she didn’t think she had. But from the looks on the faces she did see, she knew at once that it was not only her own augs that had failed. Everyone was turning away from one another and making for the exits. Teagan joined them, doing her best not to look at anything, as impossible as that was.

Things outside were no better. Neighbors flooded from their homes, appearing as shocked and disoriented as those at the party. It was eerily silent. No one spoke.

A new blocky message appeared before her—and before everyone else as well judging by the way they snapped their heads in attention. THiS oNe MiNuTe oF ReaLiTY WaS BRouGHT To You BY PSeuDo. See You aGaiN ReaL SooN. And when the letters blew away this time, the music returned, and the street was overlaid with a coral reef; the trees became a kelp forest, and giant rays and turtles swam all around. A smell of water was in their noses, and the taste of salt was on their lips, but no one was much interested in that sort of thing now. Something had changed. Somehow the spell they’d been living under was lifted, and it would not be simply replaced.

Teagan walked alone in the direction of her own home, not turning off the augs, but not wanting to feel them just now, either.

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