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Conspiratopia: Chapter 15

“Dad, what are you doing here and stuff?” I said. 

“Dude,” he said, “you wouldn’t believe it. Shit has been crazy this past little bit. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get in touch.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Have you been here this whole time?”

“Come, come inside,” he said. We stood by the open doorway of like a giant empty warehouse or something. I noticed there were still security cameras everywhere.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve been mostly here and stuff. And there,” he said, “before, you know. Coming here.”

“I think I know what you mean,” I said. 

“Dad,” I asked, looking around at the cameras, and lowering my voice so only he could hear me. “Did they slip you nanites too?”

“That was, uh, after my time and stuff,” he said. 

“Gotcha.”

“So, uh, what is this place, anyway?” I said. 

“Maintanence & Storage Space 25-Alpha,” he said, very officially, and stuff. “Of the Conspiratopia Project, of the Northern Gestalt.”

“Uh… right,” I said. “Right. And, uh, what happens now?”

“I’m not really sure, bro” he told me. “I got a notification to come up here to open the door, with no other instructions or anything.”

“Weird,” I said. “Well, uh, what were you doing before you came up here?”

“Come on,” he said, walking toward the far side of the warehouse. “I’ll show you.”

I hadn’t seen it before, but there was a door on the far wall that was camouflaged almost, like the same color and texture as the wall. If you didn’t know what to look for, you might not even see it. My dad punched in a code on a keypad next to it that was also kinda disguised. The door unlocked, and we went in. It turned out to be a smallish elevator. There was just one button inside, and he pressed it, and I could tell we were descending. 

“Wtf,” I said. “It’s underground?”

“Mmhm.”

It actually took kind of a while of going down before we stopped and stuff. 

“Wow, we must be pretty deep,” I said. 

“Yep,” was all he said. 

The door opened, and he motioned for me to follow him. We went out into this long hallway tunnel thing that kinda sloped downward just a little bit. 

At the end of it, there was another doorway, this one not hidden or whatever. My dad punched in another set of numbers onto the keypad, and it opened. 

When we stepped through, my mind was pretty much blown. We were in like a fancy shopping mall type thing, but I guess it was totally underground? Except, you couldn’t really tell that it was underground because there were tropical plants like inside and also outside the windows and stuff. And like there was sunlight coming in through the windows, and you could see a sort of hazy blue sky and clouds and everything. 

My dad saw me looking up at the sky and stuff, and was like, “Dude, holograms.”

“Omfg,” I said. “But what about inside, like the shops and the building and stuff? Holograms too?”

“Nope,” he said. “All real.”

“Goddamn, this is nuts,” I said. It really was nuts. I couldn’t believe how nuts it was. 

A few people walked by, carrying shopping bags and stuff. They were dressed like rich people you see at vacation towns near the beach. They didn’t seem to notice us.

After that, a couple of those telepresence robot things drove by, like I’d seen earlier. The iPads on a stick with wheels, basically. With a person’s face on the screen. Controlling them from who knows where. 

“So, this is it, then,” I said. “The City, or whatever. I made it…”

He smiled at me, and said, “You made it, Matty. I’m so glad to see you.”

“Me too, dad.”

“I’m sorry things got so fucked up.”

“I know,” I said. “Me too.”

“It’s my fault. I acted like a douche, and stuff.”

I didn’t say anything, but smiled, kind of agreeing.

“But I’ve got a new life or something now. And you’re here. We got another chance. We’re pretty lucky, cause most people don’t get that.”

“We’re super lucky, dad,” I agreed. 

“Hey, uh, is there a food court around here or anything? I’m frickin’ starving,” I said.

“Yeah, man. Me too. Let’s go, and I can show you our place later.”

“Our place?” I said.

“Yeah, well, my place. But like, obvs you can stay with me,” he said, pointing me toward the food court. “You know, if you want to, or whatever. I don’t know how long you’re staying and stuff, or really even like if you’re staying. Or how you got here or, well, frickin’ anything. I’m just so happy to see you, Matty. Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, dad. I’m happy to. I’ll tell you everything after I get like a frickin’ burger in me and stuff. All I had was like Cheetos and a couple Slim Jims and stuff. And like Powerade and a Rockstar…”

“Totes,” he said. “I know just the place.”

Conspiratopia: Chapter 14

I was in that container for like a long ass time. I’m not sure how long. I feel asleep during Airbud and woke up later when some other movie was playing. But I smoked again and went back to sleep. There were no windows or anything so it was hard to tell how much time had passed. Plus I was hella stoned, so like whatever. 

Eventually I woke up again, wasn’t stoned anymore, and fixed that right away. But I was starving. A dude cannot live on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos alone, as they say. I was wishing for like my old lentils and rice and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce or something. But the only other thing in the mini-fridge besides Cheetos and Powerade were a couple diet Rockstar Energy Drinks and some Monster size Slim Jims in four different flavors. Honey BBQ. Yuck. Teriyaki. Maybe. Hot AF flavor. Hell yes. Sonic Chili Cheese Coney flavor. Double hell yes. But I decided to save that one for later (cause who knows how long I’d be here), and went with the Hot AF. 

I used the toilet, and it was fine. It was sorta like a small airplane toilet or something. There was a vent that came on automatically, so I didn’t end up stinking up the joint or anything. So that was cool.

“Yo, you got any games?” I asked the computer. 

Another little hidden compartment in the wall opened up, and I pulled out a wireless controller. The holographic thingy came back on, and there was a menu with like a ton of games on it. It looked like they were all emulators and stuff of all the different systems. But they were all really good quality, and there was a lot of stuff I never heard of. 

I was just settling into some Call of Duty, when something happened. There was a thud outside and like a hissing noise, and I guess we came to a stop and stuff finally. I kinda forgot honestly we were even moving, cause you could barely feel it. The holographic thingy went dark, and the lights came on inside the cabin or whatever. Then the door slid open. 

It was pretty cool in there, but I was anxious to get outside and breathe some fresh air and stuff finally. Plus like, it was a frickin’ beach and stuff outside! There were palm trees and stuff a little ways off. I hopped right tf out, and was all like, damn, this is rad, yo!

It was totally rad, actually. “A frickin’ island!” I said. It was obvs an island. But like how did I even get here? I walked around the outside of the cabin pod thing, but still didn’t have any idea. There were no tracks or anything. So we didn’t drive all the way here for sure. Way out over the ocean though, there was this thing flying. It was already pretty far away and tiny. A helicopter? Drone? 

“A frickin’ drone!” I said. “Sweet!”

I looked around at the rest of the beach, which was totally empty and stuff. And up at the like forest or jungle or something. There was like a trail and stuff up from the beach into the woods. So I grabbed my cell from inside the cabin, and pocketed the rest of the weed, rolling papers, the lighter, a couple Slim Jims, and a Rockstar, and went up there and followed it.

The jungle was pretty cool. I didn’t see any snakes or anything, but there were lots of birds, and I thought I heard monkeys or something. Which was rad. I frickin’ love monkeys. There were some signs attached to trees that just had like arrows and stuff telling you where to go. I followed them obvs. For I don’t know, 10 minutes or something. 

Eventually, the forest ended, and there was this big concrete building that looked sort of like a cross between a warehouse and a bunker and a resort or something. I followed the arrows up to some steps, and a big metal door. There was a buzzer next to it, and I pressed it and it was like totally loud and stuff. I waited a couple minutes and nothing happened. But then all of a sudden, the door swung open, and there was like this dude standing there wearing goggles. He flipped the goggles up, and I was all like Frickin’ holy shit!

“Dad?” I said. “What in the hell…?”

“Matty?” he said, and stepped out of the door and stuff to give me a huge hug.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 13

The electric van showed up just like they said, and I got in and stuff. Cause why not? It was pretty cool inside. There was this like really super comfortable seat and stuff that folded down into a bed if you wanted it. And a table that folded out from the wall. Plus a mini-fridge and a toilet in the back and stuff. I was worried it would stink up the joint if I had to take a crap, but it looked pretty well-ventilated and stuff. So I wasn’t too worried. Plus chances were that I wouldn’t have to be there too long and stuff. 

After the door closed, and the van took off, the ride was super smooth too, just like they were saying at the trial. That frickin’ trial. Hfs. Still did not know what the deal with all of that was. Or with any of this either really. Where the hell was I even going?

I realized I had to call my mom, and come up with some excuses. I pulled my phone out, and tried to call her, but the reception was really bad and it kept cutting out. So I figured I would just send her a text message instead. 

“Hey ma,” I wrote. 

“Looks like I got the job! 

I start Monday, so thot I’d chill at Mikey’s a couple days before then. 

Hope that’s cool and stuff. 

I’ll text ya later.”

After it got sent, I texted Mikey to tell him the same story, in case she phoned or texted him or something while I was away. While I was away… How the hell long would I be away for anyway? I thought it could be cool to go check it out, but I wasn’t planning really anymore to like go live there and crap. Their shit was just too whack and stuff, based on what I’d seen so far. Hell, I didn’t even really know who “they” were…

“Yo, how do I play tunes in this thing?” I said out loud. I didn’t know if it was voice-activated or what. 

It was. 

Right on cue, Dark Side of the Moon, started playing. Hells yeah. 

“Yo, dim the lights and stuff.”

The lights dimmed. Frickin’ rad. 

“Where the smokes at?”

A little cabinet above the folding table lit up. I didn’t notice it before and stuff. There was no handle or anything, but I pushed on it, and it popped open. Inside was an eighth of what looked like very dank weed inside a brown medicine jar. 

Behind that was a handheld vaporizer, a glass bowl, and rolling papers, all attached to the cabinet so they didn’t roll or bounce or whatever if we hit a bump. 

“MF’ers thought of everything,” I said to myself, taking out the pipe. “Except a bong.” I looked around, in case there was a bong hiding somewhere, but I didn’t see one. Oh well. 

I lit up. 

Man, I was getting thirsty. I checked the mini-fridge which was built into the wall too. There was a bunch of Powerade in there. This time the red one. Hells yeah. I cracked one open. 

“Damn, I could get used to this,” I said, as the weed blew my mind up. 

I woke up like… later and stuff. I had no idea how much later it was. I checked my phone for the time, but was out of batteries and stuff. 

“Yo, I don’t suppose you got a charger?”

A light in the wall came on. I tapped on it, and a thing opened with a cord I could pull out one end of and stuff. I tried to plug it into my phone, but it didn’t fit. 

“Damn, well, whatever,” I said.

I was still hella stoned. 

I figured it musta been at least a couple hours later. Dark Side wasn’t playing any more, but there was some other mix of Floyd and stuff.

“Hey, what you got for movies?”

Then I was like, whoa, because there was like a hologram or something that showed up in the air in front of me. It was like projecting from these lights in the walls or something. Onto the frickin’ air! It looked like all 3D and stuff.

“Goddamn, never saw that crap before! Frickin’ sweet as hell,” it was frickin’ sweet as hell for realz. 

I tried to touch it, but like obvs you couldn’t touch it. Cause it was just lights or lasers or something. Still, frickin’ sweet. And you didn’t even need glasses to see the 3D.

There was no menu or anything though, and a movie just started playing automatically. But like, dude, it was frickin’ Air Bud. Amazing. That movie with the dog in it that plays basketball. I frickin’ love dog movies for some reason. They are so awesome idk. 

I leaned forward so I could open the mini-fridge, and the movie stopped playing automatically. 

I pulled out a nice size bag of Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos and went to town on on that shit. Holy crap, was I hungry. 

Fuck, I thought for a minute, chowing down while watching Airbud. I hope there are no like nanites and shit in this.

But then I was all like, whatever man. That’s just the weed talking. Eat those Cheetos, my dude. Airbud was winning so hard, I thought. Why aren’t all basketball teams made up of dogs? Or like some of dogs, and some of cats? Why isn’t there a basketball team of every kind of animal? Like mice, and shit, with tiny hoops. I was cracking myself up now really hard. God, this was good weed.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 12

The other voice said like over the loudspeaker and stuff:

“YOU STAND ACCUSED BEFORE A JURY OF YOUR PEERS. WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF AND STUFF?”

“Uh,” I said. “I didn’t do it.”

Then the voice of the Guide said in my VR headset:

IN OUR LEGAL SYSTEM, YOU ARE NOT INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. YOU ARE GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY. YOU LIKE LITERALLY CAN’T SAY YOU DIDN’T DO IT.

“Then what the hell do you even have a trial for?”

“SO THAT THE GUILTY MAY FACE JUSTICE AND REPAY HIS DEBT TO SOCIETY.”

“For what, though, seriously? That thing with the cube? You frickin’ guys made me do it in the first place! And then you took over my body so I had no control.”

WIMPING OUT IS NOT HOW YOU WIN COURT CASES HERE, BRO, FYI.

“Okay, can you guys just like stop for a minute?”

“WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE MATTER?”

“Okay, I’m like… in a robot… in VR… in a warehouse… where I don’t know where I am… standing trial for a thing you forced me to do… that I don’t even frickin’ know what it is or what it means…”

“SO YOU ADMIT YOU DID DO IT? VERY INTERESTING!”

“Did what?”

“THE THING.”

“What thing? Aargh!”

“YOU USED UP ONE OF YOUR GUESSES ALREADY. YOU HAVE NINE LEFT.”

“I’m supposed to guess what I’m being accused of?”

The voice in my headset popped back in:

THAT’S RIGHT, NEO. JUST TELL THE TRUTH.

“Wait, how am I supposed to know like what you’re accusing me of, if it isn’t that thing with the cube?”

The robot jury members shuffled around awkwardly. Someone coughed.

“JUST SAY WHAT YOU THINK YOU DID WRONG, AND WE’LL TELL YOU IF YOU’RE RIGHT OR NOT.”

“This is twisted, man. And if I use up all my guesses, then what happens then?”

“THEN YOUR GUILT IS PROVEN BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT, AND YOUR SENTENCE CARRIED OUT FORTHWITH.”

“And that sentence would be…?”

“DEATH, OBVIOUSLY.”

“What?? Jfc, don’t you think that’s a bit harsh? Why don’t you just tell me what you think I even did?”

“BECAUSE WE DECIDED IT’S MORE FUN THIS WAY.”

The voice in my headset agreed:

WE ARE A FUN-LOVING PEOPLE, INDEED. AND THIS WAY WE GET A LOT OF FREE AND HILARIOUS CONTENT WHICH WE TURN AROUND AND SELL TO THE NETWORKS WHILE WE WATCH DEFENDANTS SQUIRM. 

“Holy hell, are you livestreaming this rn?”

“YES, AND OUR AUDIENCES HATE DEAD AIR TIME AND STUFF. PLEASE MAKE YOUR NEXT GUESS.”

“Okay, uh, hm… let’s see” I was getting tired of this. What did they frickin’ want me to say? I didn’t do anything wrong. “Look, I got nothing.”

The voice on the loudspeaker said:

“LET THE RECORD SHOW THAT THE ACCUSED GUESSED ‘I DID NOTHING WRONG’ AS HIS SECOND GUESS, AND HAS EIGHT REMAINING GUESSES.”

The voice in my headset added:

A COMMON CLAIM AMONG HARDENED CRIMINALS, ISN’T THAT RIGHT, NEO?

“Jesus, you guys. This sucks.”

“NEXT GUESS PLEASE.”

“Fuck! Okay, let’s see… uh, I… didn’t do what you guys asked?”

“SUCH AS?”

“Completing my 100 hours of community service or whatever?”

GETTING WARMER. 

“BUT STILL TECHNICALLY WRONG.”

“Well, yeah, cause you guys forced me to come back here early.”

NO ONE FORCED YOU TO DO ANYTHING, MY DUDE. EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED, YOU CHOSE TO PARTICIPATE IN.

“That’s just like, your opinion, man. Y’all tricked me and lied to me like a bunch of times now. I’m kinda ready to just take this frickin’ headset off and like drive tf out of here back home. Y’all can keep your VR and crap.”

NEO, WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THERE NEVER WERE ANY NANITES OR EDIBLE MICROCHIPS, AND THAT THIS WAS ALL JUST PART OF THE TEST AND IT WAS ALL YOU ALL ALONG?

“I would say that’s a pretty shitty trick to play on somebody, obvs. Are you frickin’ serious or are you still effing with me? Cause this is way out of hand, yo.”

WE HAD TO SEE IF YOU WERE READY TO COMMIT FULLY TO THE VISION. IF YOU WERE READY TO BECOME A FULL MEMBER OF CONSPIRATOPIA, AND TAKE ON ALL THE PRIVILEGES AND OBLIGATIONS THAT THIS ENTAILS. 

“Obligations like what? Being gaslit by you guys endlessly? Doing weird semi-criminal stuff? This place is SO fucked. You are all fucked in the mind.”

ARE WE, NEO? OR ARE WE SO CRAZY THAT WE’RE THE ONLY ONES WHO ARE SANE? OR WE’RE SO CRAZY THAT WE’RE THE ONLY ONES ABLE TO SEE AND SPEAK THE TRUTH? IT’S THE WORLD THAT IS FUCKED, NEO. WE ARE THE MEDICINE. 

“Whatever you say, man,” I said, and meant it like for real. “I’m getting out of here. I’m gonna try to get my old job at Walmart back and stuff. This was all cool and interesting at first, but now it’s just creepy af.”

When I went to raise my hands though to take off the VR headset, they froze midway, and wouldn’t move.  

“Yo, I thought you said there were no nanites.”

CORRECTION: I SAID “WHAT IF I TOLD YOU THERE WERE NEVER ANY NANITES?”

“So, are there nanites or not?”

IF THERE WERE NOT, WHY ELSE MIGHT YOU ARMS BE FROZEN?

“You paralyzed me? Wtf!!”

NO, NEO. YOU HAVE PARALYZED YOURSELF, WITH YOUR OWN FEAR OF THE TRUTH. 

“Or…” I said, working something out in my mind, “they’re not my real arms. And it’s all just a virtual illusion.”

“DING DING DING!” said the voice over the loudspeaker. The jury members shuffled around, and seemed pleased.

WHERE ARE YOU NOW, NEO? REALLY?

“Uh, I’m in a warehouse just outside of town?”

ARE YOU THOUGH, NEO? REALLY??

“I mean, I think…”

THE MATRIX HAS YOU, NEO. THAT IS THE FALSE WORLD. THIS – THIS IS THE REAL WORLD, NEO. 

“If you say so, man. But I know my body is back there. I don’t want to be a robot forever. Just let me take this thing off. I’m ready to wake tf back up in my bed, and this was all just a dream, and stuff. Give me the goddamned blue pill, already.”

YOU CAN’T UNSEE WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN, NEO. OR UNDO WHAT YOU HAVE DONE.

“What did I do, anyway? You never gave me a straight answer and stuff.”

YOU FREED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE FROM A FALSE REALITY, NEO. 

“Yeah, and replaced it with another false one, seems like. This place is as fake as everything else. How do I know any of this even exists? I’ve only ever seen it in VR.”

YOU’VE BEEN HERE BY TELEPRESENCE ROBOT, NEO. 

“Which you could fake in VR, easily, my dude.”

SO THEN, YOU’RE READY TO COME HERE PHYSICALLY, WITH YOUR BODY AND STUFF?

“Uh…” I said, not sure if this was another trick. 

THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SAY NO, NEO. TAKE THE BLUE PILL AND WAKE UP IN YOUR BED, AND THIS WAS ALL JUST A DREAM. GO BACK TO WALMART AND HANG OUT WITH YOUR SENIOR CITIZENS. THAT’S TOTALLY COOL WITH US, IF IT’S WHAT YOU REALLY WANT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. BUT YOU’RE SUCH A SMART CONSPIRACY GUY, IS THAT REALLY WHAT YOU WANT? OR IS IT YOU JUST CLING TO THE SAFETY OF THE KNOWN, BUT ARE TANTALIZED BY AN UNKNOWN THAT IS FOREVER OUT OF REACH, AND ARE HAPPY TO NEVER VENTURE OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE?

“Yo, that’s harsh,” I said. “Fine. You win. I’ll go.”

A DRIVERLESS ELECTRIC VAN WILL ARRIVE AT THE WAREHOUSE IN FIVE MINUTES. YOU WILL GET IN. THE WINDOWS WILL BE BLACKED OUT, SO YOU CAN’T SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING. BUT THERE WILL BE TUNES, GAMES, FILMS, SNACKS IN THE MINI-FRIDGE, AND SMOKES. THE SEAT FOLDS OUT INTO A BED, AND THERE’S A TOILET IN THERE IF YOU NEED IT. IT WILL BE LIKE HAVING YOUR OWN APARTMENT. TOTALLY COOL REALLY.

“I’m sure. How long does the trip take, usually?”

THAT WILL BE DECIDED BY THE ALGORITHM, AND WILL NOT BE DISCLOSED TO YOU BEFORE OR DURING. IT MAY BE HOURS OR IT MAY BE DAYS. IF NEEDED, YOUR POD MAY BE TRANSFERRED TO ANOTHER MEANS OF CONVEYANCE TO REACH THE INDICATED DESTINATION. BUT YOU SHOULD NOT FEEL ANY DISCOMFORT, THANKS TO THE UNIT’S GYROSCOPIC STABILIZERS. 

“So, that’s it then? I sit in a box for three days, and then poof? I’m here for real?”

POOF INDEED, NEO. YOU MAY OR MAY NOT ARRIVE AT THIS SPECIFIC LOCALE, BUT YOUR PHYSICAL SURROUNDINGS WILL BE MUCH THE SAME AS WHAT YOU SEE BEFORE YOU NOW. YOUR NEW LIFE WILL FINALLY BEGIN.

“Cool, I guess,” I said. “I could use a new life or something… maybe.”

Conspiratopia: Chapter 11

PARK THE CAR AND THEN GO PUT ON THE VR GOGGLES ON THE FOLDING TABLE.

“Um, this is my mom’s car btw. Nothing will happen to it, right?” I didn’t want them to like send it to a chop shop or smash it into a cube in a junkyard or something. 

YEAH MAN, DON’T WORRY SO MUCH. IT’S JUST TIL THE HEAT DIES DOWN A LITTLE. NOW GO CONNECT TO THAT VR TERMINAL SO WE CAN TRY TO FIX OUR CONNECTION.

I parked the car, got out, and went over to the folding table. The VR goggles were a better model than the one I had at home, so that was pretty sweet. They seemed to be wireless, but I didn’t see any computer anywhere. I put them on anyway, and they came to life as soon as I did.

There was a flat blue background and then some text popped up:

DIAGNOSTIC MODE: PLEASE WAIT

Then a progress bar appeared, but it was like super duper slow and stuff. I started getting really impatient, but then the voice of the Guide came back in the headphones. 

SORRY FOR THE WAIT, MY DUDE. IT’S GONNA BE A FEW MINUTES, UNFORTUNATELY. THINGS GOT KINDA EFFED WHEN THAT DEVICE WAS ARMED.

“No worries,” I said. “Got any games on this thing, at least?”

ACTUALLY, WHILE WE’RE WAITING, WE THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA TO CONTINUE YOUR TOUR.

“My tour?”

OF THE CITY. THE CONSPIRATOPIA PROJECT. YOU UP FOR IT, OR DO YOU NEED TO LAY DOWN LIKE A WUSS OR SOMETHING AFTER ALL THIS EXCITEMENT?

“Haha. Nah, I’m cool, bro. You know me. But you got anything to drink here though? I’m actually thirsty as hell.”

YEAH, THERE’S SOME PURPLE POWERADE IN A MINI-FRIDGE. DON’T TAKE THE HEADSET OFF THOUGH. WE’LL SHOW YOU ON SCREEN HOW TO WALK THERE. 

Some arrows appeared on the floor in VR, and I followed them to a corner of the warehouse I hadn’t seen earlier behind a wall. It was like an office or storage room or something idk. But I saw the mini-fridge on VR, and opened up the fridge IRL, which was a little weird but totally cool. I took out the purple Powerade, opened it and slurped it down. 

“Wait, this doesn’t have like nanites and stuff does it?”

UH, YEAH, ACTUALLY. ELECTROLYTES AND NANITES.

“Dammit, I said no more tricks.” The Powerade was especially good though, but I didn’t let on.

IT’S NOT A TRICK, BRO. WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING ANYWAY? ALL OUR DRINKS HAVE NANITES. IT’S HOW WE ROLL. PLUS WE GOTTA LIKE REPAIR YOUR CONNECTION, SO IT CAN’T HURT ANYWAYS. 

“Fine, whatever.”

OKAY, LET’S GO THEN.

Just like that, we were back in the City. I was in the telepresence robot I used before or another one just like it. 

“Wait, I don’t have a controller.”

YOU DON’T NEED IT WITH THIS HEADSET. IT’S A MORE ADVANCED MODEL. JUST LEAN FORWARD A LITTLE TO ROLL, BACK TO STOP, OR TO THE SIDE TO TURN. 

I tried it out, and it was sweet as hell. “This is sweet as hell,” I said. It really was sweet as hell. 

IKR? OK SO WE THOUGH IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO SHOW YOU WHAT TRIALS ARE LIKE HERE, SINCE YOU’LL HAVE ONE YOURSELF LATER. THIS WAY YOU’RE NOT SURPRISED.

“What does that mean? Why would I be surprised?” 

Some arrows on the ground indicated where I should go, so I followed them while we talked. 

THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN CONSPIRATOPIA IS NOT LIKE THAT IN YOUR WORLD, WHICH IS VERY CROOKED AND UNFAIR. 

“You’re telling me. I got this parking ticket last summer that was like $400. It was total bullshit! I didn’t even see the no parking sign, and how was I supposed to know you can’t park near a fire hydrant?”

RIGHT? TOTALLY UNFAIR AS HELL. OKAY, HERE WE ARE.

We rolled up to another totally ordinary looking office building. The place was filled with them and stuff. But inside this one was different. It was a big open area, with a bunch of levels arranged in a half circle on one side. We watched while a bunch of other telepresence robots rolled in from a corridor, and went up the ramp on the side that lead to the different levels. I guessed there was at least like a hundred of them and stuff. 

“What’s going on?”

THE JURY IS ASSEMBLING. THE TRIAL IS ABOUT TO BEGIN AND STUFF. 

“Oh, nice.”

Then there was a voice over a loudspeaker or something that said, “WILL THE ACCUSED PLEASE STEP FORWARD?”

Nobody moved. 

“I SAID, WILL THE ACCUSED PLEASE STEP FORWARD AND STUFF?”

Some arrows lit up on the ground in front of me. 

“Wait, what the hell? I thought you said my trial wasn’t til later.”

WE DECIDED TO MOVE THINGS UP A BIT, SINCE YOU’RE DOING SO AWESOME. HOPE YOU DON’T MIND!

Conspiratopia: Chapter 10

We breezed past security at the front desk, and walked casually over the elevators, punched the button, and waited. 

THIS WON’T TAKE LONG, PROMISE. 

I got nowhere else to be, and I’m kinda trapped and stuff at this point. 

The elevator arrived and we pressed the button for the second basement. The doors closed, and the elevator descended and stuff.

GLAD TO HEAR YOU’RE COMING TO TERMS WITH THE REALITY OF THE SITUATION. 

Just don’t get me in trouble, okay?

DON’T WORRY, WE’RE PIPING IN ARTIFICIALLY-GENERATED VIDEO TO SECURITY ALREADY, SO YOU’RE BASICALLY INVISIBLE TO THE CAMERA.

Whoa, sick! For reals?

HELLS YA, MAN. YOU CAN RELAX IN THERE NOW. AND YO, IF YOU WANNA WATCH A MOVIE OR PLAY A GAME OR SOMETHING, YOU CAN, YOU KNOW? YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAINTAIN PERCEPTUALS. YOU COULD EVEN LIKE TAKE A NAP IF YOU WANTED.

Take a nap while I’m awake? Don’t you like need me and stuff to… something?

ACTUALLY, NOT REALLY. YOU’D BE SURPRISED.

We stepped out of the elevator, and opened a non-descript side door nearby. There was a keypad but we knew the code.

A LOT OF PEOPLE CHOOSE TO JUST SORT OF POWER DOWN FOR THEIR HUNDRED HOURS, AND LET US JUST RUN THINGS. OTHERS LIKE TO WATCH AND TAKE IT ALL IN. THEY SAY IT’S LIKE WATCHING A TV SHOW OF YOUR LIFE THAT’S NOT YOUR LIFE AT ALL AND STUFF. 

I feel like I better watch and see what you do, in case you get me into any kind of trouble…

IT’S UP TO YOU REALLY. I’LL PUT SOME TUNES ON.

Bob Marley came on singing, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright…

I felt calmer already. 

We passed through a service corridor, then down some metal stairs, and then another corridor, and some more stairs. Nearby this big electrical box-looking thing which a bunch of cables sticking out of it, we pulled the black cube out of my pocket, punched in some numbers, and the display changed to ARMED.

Suddenly though, my vision went dark. The next thing I knew, we were booking it back up the stairs, and I wasn’t holding the cube anymore. 

WTH happened, man? Hello?

As I ran up the stairs, I noticed the heads up display didn’t say AUTOPILOT anymore in blinking yellow. It said ERROR in blinking red. Frickin’ hell!

When I got back to the elevator, I tried to get myself to calm down and stuff. I was still golden, I thought. Just had to get back out and past security without freaking out. No problem. 

Anyway, it went fine. I walked calmly past security. Even gave the dude a cool little nod, to show him I was down. And then I was out the doors and home free. Felt good to feel some fresh air again, and I walked fast to my car. But tried to not walk too fast that I didn’t look suspicious or something.

I started the car up, and the radio came on. I was like super relieved and stuff to hear a familiar voice. 

SORRY ABOUT THAT, BRO. TEMPORARY GLITCH IN THE MATRIX.

“Dude, where did you go?” I said out loud. “Did it frickin’ work?”

YEAH, IT WORKED. PUT IT IN DRIVE, AND LET’S GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE. 

“Wait,” I said, putting it in drive. “Why can’t I still hear you in my head or whatever?

DRIVE NOW, TALK LATER. AGENTS ARE COMING. STEP ON IT.

I peeled out of the parking space, swerving into traffic. But it was all good. Man, this was so cool. My blood was pumping like crazy. Frickin’ agents!

“Wait, you mean like A.I. agents, right? Not like FBI agents or something?”

There was a slight pause.

YEAH, LIKE A.I. AGENTS, RIGHT, RIGHT. TOTALLY, NEO. 

“You sound not that sure…”

NO, NO. ITS AGENT SMITH AND STUFF. SORRY, WE’RE MONITORING A LOT OF DIFFERENT CHANNELS RIGHT NOW. THERE’S A LOT GOING ON.

“No worries. I’m feeling pretty jacked up right now on adrenaline or something anyway. So, like I totally get it.”

Downtown wasn’t that big, so we were basically out of it by now, and in another few minutes would be clear of the city altogether.

“Yo, so like that was pretty nuts, right? Damn! I don’t even remember like what really happened and stuff.”

THAT’S JUST AS WELL, IN CASE YOU’RE CAPTURED AND INTERROGATED BY AGENT SMITH OR THAT OTHER ONE.

“I guess you’re right. I can’t confess if I don’t remember, right?”

RIGHT.

“Wait, was that your plan all along? And like all that crap about like it was my choice and stuff was just B.S.? I frickin’ knew it. First you slipped me that pizza, and now this…”

NO, NEO. I NEVER LIED TO YOU. IT’S ALWAYS BEEN YOUR CHOICE, JUST LIKE IT WAS YOUR CHOICE TO OPEN THAT PIZZA AND MOUNTAIN DEW WITHOUT READING THE ATTACHED TERMS OF SERVICE, OR WHEN YOU SIGNED THE NON-DISCLOSURE AGEEMENT.

“Okay, I screwed up on the pizza, but you told me I didn’t have to read that other thing.”

PLEASE TURN RIGHT AHEAD, BTW.

I turned right, and went down a ways. 

AND YOU ALWAYS BELIEVE EVERYTHING PEOPLE TELL YOU? ESPECIALLY PEOPLE IN YOUR HEAD OR IN VIRTUAL REALITY? I THOUGHT YOU WERE A SUPER SMART CONSPIRACY GUY AND STUFF. TRUST NO ONE. QUESTION EVERYTHING. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. DID YOU, NEO? DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH?

I actually hadn’t. I didn’t even look up the company, cause who the hell cares? I didn’t tell him that though. The adrenaline was wearing off and I was starting to get super pissed again cause he could never just give me a straight answer.

“So, wait, what are you telling me? That you lied to me? That I shouldn’t believe you?”

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS, NEO. THEY HAVE GOTTEN YOU THIS FAR…

“Is this some kind of test? Is this part of the trial, to become a member? Like see how I react under stress or something? See if your mind control is working? Holy hell…”

I pulled over to the side of the road. 

THAT’S VERY GOOD, NEO. YOU’VE WORKED IT ALL OUT. WE WILL LEAVE YOU NOW, SINCE APPARENTLY YOU NO LONGER TRUST US. PLEASE NOTE AGENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY, AND IF YOU EVER MAKE IT HOME, YOU WILL HAVE TO SEND US BACK THE V.R. GOGGLES.

Okay, now I was frickin’ pissed af and blew up at them.

“Yo, you said those were free, dawg! Free means free!”

TO BE PRECISE, WE ALWAYS SAID THEY WERE“FREE” IN QUOTATION MARKS. NOTHING IS EVER ACTUALLY FREE, NEO. ESPECIALLY NOT YOU. REMEMBER THAT. NOT EVEN WHEN YOU LEAVE THE MATRIX. THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER CONTROL SYSTEM. THERE ARE ALWAYS STRINGS ATTACHED. YOUR JOB IS TO FIND OUT WHO IS PULLING THEM AND WHY, AND IF YOU’RE BRAVE ENOUGH, TO CUT THEM AND BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH WHAT HAPPENS. FREEDOM ISN’T FREE, NEO. 

“You’re goddamned right it isn’t!”

I took a deep breath to try and calm down. What they were saying did kinda make sense and stuff. 

ANYWAY, THERE’S A WAREHOUSE JUST AHEAD. WE CAN PULL IN THERE AND STASH THE CAR AND CONNECT TO A TERMINAL SO WE CAN GET BACK TO WORK.

“Alright, man” I said, putting the car back into drive and going out into the road. “Just be straight with me though, and stuff. No tricks, no mind control games. Deal?

THAT WAS ALWAYS THE DEAL, MY DUDE.

“Good.”

I turned off at the warehouse, and drove up to the garage door. It opened automatically to let us in and closed after us. But I looked around, and there was nobody else there. Frickin’ weird.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 9

I was like driving and stuff. But it was like not me driving. It was the microchips or the nanites or whatever controlling me. I thought it would be weird having someone else control my body, but it was actually kind of relaxing. I was surprised. 

Hey, do you think we could turn on the radio? I said to myself. 

SURE THING.

Immediately, “Wish you were here” started playing. But it was like not on the radio. It was in my ears.

Whoa, hs. How are you doing that?

SAME WAY WE’RE DOING ALL OF THIS, BRO. WE’RE TAPPED INTO YOUR AUDITORY, OPTICAL, PERCEPTUAL AND MOTOR SYSTEMS.

Damn, that is straight nuts!

DO YOU WANT TO WATCH A MOVIE?

Can’t dude, I’m driving. 

NO YOU’RE NOT. WE ARE. WATCH. 

The beginning of The Matrix started playing behind my eyes. I just about flipped out. 

Ahh! I can’t see the road. We’re gonna crash, man! This is too frickin weird. 

CHILL, WE’RE NOT GOING TO CRASH.

My vision switched back to normal.

ANYWAY, YOU’LL GET USED TO IT. WE CAN WORK ON THAT LATER. 

Where are we going anyway?

DOES IT REALLY MATTER? 

Uh, yes? I mean, I don’t know… does it?

JUST SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE RIDE, NEO. WE’LL BE THERE SOON ENOUGH.

I don’t know man, this is all really weird and stuff… I’m like such a rebel and a free-thinker, you know? This all seems a bit like mind control or something. 

BUT DUDE, WE’RE NOT CONTROLLING YOUR MIND AT ALL. JUST YOUR BODY. YOU’RE OF COURSE FREE TO THINK ABOUT WHATEVER YOU WANT. IT’S TOTALLY DIFFERENT. 

I guess you’re right. But it’s weird you can read my thoughts too. 

WHY? YOU GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE?

I mean, no. Not really. 

WELL, THEN, IT’S A NON-ISSUE, AM I RIGHT?

I didn’t reply. I tried to like not even think anything. I just wanted to be like alone in my brain for a minute and stuff. 

I do like the tunes though. That’s really frickin’ cool. 

WE KNOW. IT IS TOTALLY COOL. 

We drove on for a few more minutes, and then took an exit to go into town. We took a left turn off the main road, and went into this industrial park area, and parked the car outside this small warehouse with a sign marked INTERNET INDUSTRIES.

JUST GOTTA GO GRAB SOMETHING IN HERE. 

I decided to stop asking questions for now, and just go with the flow. We got out of the car, and went up the door, which had a keypad lock. I didn’t know the code, but I punched it in anyway with no problem. 

When we went in, the place was totally empty, except for this plastic folding table and stuff. On it was a cardboard box, that we opened. Inside was a black plastic cube, about the size of my palm. There was a keypad and a display on that too, and we punched in a bunch of numbers on it. The display said INITIALIZED and then READY. 

Uh, what is that?? I asked. 

YOU SURE YOU WANT TO KNOW, BOSS?

Yeah…?

IT’S A BOMB.

WTF!! Are you frickin’ serious, bro??

WELL, IT’S A VIRTUAL BOMB, TO BE PRECISE.

Dude, don’t get me frickin’ arrested and stuff! 

WE THOUGHT YOU WERE READY TO SEE HOW DEEP THE RABBIT HOLE GOES, NEO.

Yo, I didn’t agree to do anything illegal. You can’t frickin’ make me. I don’t care what the hell I signed. I was straight up pissed now.

RELAX, MY DUDE. NOBODY IS GETTING ARRESTED. NONE OF THIS IS EVEN ILLEGAL AND STUFF.

We pocketed the cube, and went back outside. When we were back in the car, the voice picked up again.

ANYWAY, YOU SAID YOURSELF YOU THINK A.I. VIRUS IS A HOAX. 

WTF does that have to do with anything? But like yeah, any idiot can see it’s fake as hell. How could a human even catch a computer virus anyway? It’s impossible.

We started the car, and pulled back out onto the road.

IT’S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE, NEO. AND IT’S NO HOAX. IN FACT, YOU HAVE IT NOW. 

What the frickin’ crap are you saying??

YOU’VE BEEN INFECTED WITH AN EXTREMELY POTENT HIGH-GRADE STRAIN, EVER SINCE YOU INGESTED THE MICROCHIPS AND NANITES AND STUFF. 

Dude, if you’re lying to me…

TOTALLY NOT LYING, BRO. WE SWEAR. WHY DO YOU THINK A.I. VIRUS MAKES PEOPLE ACT ALL WEIRD? IT’S THE SAME DAMN THING.

So you’re saying…

I wanted to rub my eyes and shake myself awake, but my body wouldn’t respond to me. 

You’re saying that you’re controlling the people who catch the virus? Just like you’re controlling me?

THERE ARE VARYING DEGREES OF OVERWRITING, AND MOST OF THEM ARE FAR BELOW YOURS, BUT ESSENTIALLY YES. IN CASES WHERE WE’RE NOT ABLE TO CONTROL BEHAVIORS DIRECTLY, WE CAN AT LEAST INTERCEPT SOME SENSORY DATA, AND ARE ABLE TO SUBTLY MANIPULATE ACTIONS BY REPLACING OR AUGMENTING KEY STIMULI…

We drove in the direction of town.

That’s frickin’… I couldn’t finish the sentence. It was all just too much for me and stuff. My brain was like on overload or something.  

FRICKIN’ AWESOME? WE’RE GLAD YOU AGREE. AND QUITE PROFITABLE, I MIGHT ADD. WE HAVE AN IMMENSE DATABASE OF CREDIT CARDS, BANK ACCOUNTS, PIN NUMBERS, YOU NAME IT. 

Dude, you said none of this was illegal!

WHY, IT’S NOT OF COURSE. NOT IN THE CITY, AND NOT IN THE EYES OF THE CONSPIRATOPIA PROJECT. WE’RE A SOVEREIGN AUTONOMOUS POLITY. WE ANSWER TO NO ONE ELSE’S LAWS BUT OUR OWN.

Well, that would be convenient I guess if I were there instead of here, and stuff. I was still mad, but I must say also curious af.

We were getting super close to the business district downtown.

YOU SOON WILL BE, AMIGO. NEVER FEAR. AND YOU WILL BE RICHLY REWARDED FOR YOUR SERVICE AND STUFF. FOR EVERY PERSON YOU INFECT WITH THE A.I. VIRUS, YOU WILL RECEIVE 1% OF THEIR EARNINGS IN OUR SYSTEM, FOREVER. 

Whoa, that’s huge. 

WE KNOW DUDE. IT IS SUPER HUGE. YOU’RE GONNA BE SO SUPER RICH.

We parked the car on a side street, got out, and walked around the corner to this giant office building, and went inside. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 8

“So like, what do I need to do to become a full member now?” I said. “More surveys and stuff?”

NOT EXACTLY. YOU MUST UNDERGO A HUNDRED HOURS OF OVERWRITING, FOLLOWED BY A TRIAL OF YOUR PEERS WHO WILL DETERMINE IF YOU’RE WORTHY OF BECOMING A MEMBER.

“Um… what?”

OVERWRITING IS LIKE AUTOPILOT, EXCEPT IRL. 

“So you’ll give me my own robot to use at home? That rules.”

NO, NEO. YOU WILL PHYSICALLY BECOME OUR ROBOT OUT IN THE WORLD. AND YOU WILL DO EVERYTHING WE COMMAND YOU TO DO.

“Uh, not to be rude or nothing, but you’re kinda harshing my buzz here. This is starting to sound kinda weird and stuff. What if I don’t want to do what you command me to do?”

YOU ALREADY AGREED, NEO. WHEN YOU SIGNED THE NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT. 

“You said I didn’t need to read it!” I was getting like super pissed now. 

WE THOUGHT YOU WERE A SUPER SMART CONSPIRACY GUY. YOU ALWAYS JUST SIGN STUFF WITHOUT READING IT?

“I mean… yeah,” I said, thinking about it, “Doesn’t everybody?”

YES, IN FACT. IN ALL THE TIMES WE’VE DONE THIS, NOBODY HAS EVER READ THE AGREEMENT.

“So like you’re tricking people and stuff…”

NOT AT ALL. WE’RE LEADING YOU TO THE TRUTH. AND YOU ALREADY TOOK THE RED PILL, NEO. THERE ARE NO BACKSIES NOW. 

“Fine,” I said. And the second I said it, the goggles went totally dark. A blinking cursor appeared, and it typed out the words:

GET SOME REST, MY MAN. YOU’RE GONNA NEED IT.

That night, I couldn’t sleep good and stuff. I kept thinking about the City, and the kids driving robots, trading conspiracy theories for real money. It seemed too good to be true. I knew I had to get in on that action. It was like my destiny or something. 

I kept imagining what kind of gigs they would make me do during my 100 hours of overwriting. I figured it would be like delivering groceries, or handing out flyers or assembling Ikea furniture or something. That seemed like no big deal, considering what I would get in exchange and stuff. Full membership in the Conspiratopia Project. My own apartment, and all the free games, pizza, and Dew I could handle. That’s what they said right? How could that go wrong?

But then I got to worrying if once I got there like all the free pizza and Dew would be laced with like more edible microchips and nanites and stuff… My brain started going crazy a little bit, like panicking and stuff, and was like trying to get me to figure out how to get the microchips and the nanites out of my body. How would I do it? With like magnets or something? I was gonna need a frickin’ lot of magnets, I figured. 

When I woke up the next morning, I wasn’t panicking anymore. I guess I was just like super tired last night, and that’s probably why I got freaked out. I was actually feeling more like excited, you know? Like ready for adventure, and stuff. Ready to hit the frickin’ big time! I could just feel it: I was gonna be rich. All I had to do was whatever they told me. Piece of cake.

Anyway, so there I was finishing up my morning dump. I was finished actually, but was sitting on the bowl still, scrolling on my phone, checking my messages and stuff. Suddenly I heard like that voice again, but it was in my head and stuff this time. I wasn’t wearing VR goggles or anything now. 

WRAP IT UP AND GET DRESSED, NEO. 

“Whoa, wtf. You guys are telepathic now?” I said, wiping.

IT’S NOT TELEPATHY WHEN WE’RE ACTUALLY INSIDE YOUR HEAD, BRO.

“I guess not,” I said, standing and zipping up. 

“Um, wait, so does this mean you guys can see everything I do now then?”

EVERYTHING YOU DO, SAY, HEAR, THINK, OR FEEL, YES. 

“What about this?” I said, letting out a huge burp.

YES.

“And this?” I managed to squeeze out a fart on command. 

YES, NEO. AND BEAR IN MIND THAT THIS IS ALL BEING RECORDED AND WILL BE REVIEWED DURING YOUR TRIAL TO BECOME A MEMBER, MY DUDE.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” I said. 

IT’S OKAY. WE’VE SEEN MUCH GROSSER STUFF. GET YOUR JACKET AND SHOES, AND LET’S BEGIN. 

“Okay,” I said, putting on my sneakers and jacket. 

READY?

“I guess? I really don’t know what to expect, so…”

“Anyway,” I added, “we’ll have to get past my mom first. She’s probably in the kitchen. She might be in one of her moods…”

WE WILL HANDLE EVERYTHING. LET’S BEGIN. 

“Cool,” I said. “Let’s roll.”

There was a beep, and then a flashing yellow AUTOPILOT light showed up like inside my eyes or something. 

Whoa, I tried to say out loud. But I couldn’t hear myself say it, and I could tell my lips didn’t move either. This is freaky.

WELCOME TO OVERWRITE MODE, DUDE. YOU WILL BECOME ACCUSTOMED IN TIME, BECAUSE YOU’RE SUCH A BIG GAMER. YOUR VOCALS AND VOLITIONAL ACTIONS ARE NOW SUPPRESSED, AND WE WILL TAKE OVER FROM HERE.

Roger that, I said to myself, and we walked upstairs. I say we, but it def wasn’t me doing the walking. It was my body but it was like sleepwalking or something, except I was totally awake and stuff. 

My mom was there in the kitchen alright, but she had her back to me, and was doing a crossword puzzle over coffee, like usual. 

“Morning,” she said, without turning back to look at me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to or not. I thought it was better if we just slipped out the door, probably.

“MORNING,” said the computer voice through me, but like using my voice and stuff. It was weird as hell. 

“You’re up early,” she said. “Heading somewhere?”

“YEAH, BIG JOB INTERVIEW, ACTUALLY,” said the voice using my voice. 

“That’s great,” she said, turning around to look at me. “And so soon. I’m proud of you. Where’s the interview?”

“IT’S THIS NEW INTERNET COMPANY IN TOWN,” the voice told her. “YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF IT.”

“Well, good luck honey. That’s exciting! Text me when you’re done, and tell me how it went.”

“WILL DO, MA. LOVE YOU.”

“Love you too, sweetheart! That’s so nice to hear, and such a long time since you told me that. Have fun.”

We grabbed the car keys and split. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 6

“Whoa, nice,” I said as we rolled up to the school building. It didn’t look like what I think of when I think school building, like red bricks and stuff. It looked more like a small office building, with about 10 or 12 floors.

We rolled up to the doors and they opened automatically. Inside was a lobby and a reception desk, staffed by a telepresence robot with a woman’s face on the screen.

“May I help you?” she asked. 

“Uh, I guess? I mean…” I didn’t actually know why we were there. I was just playing along. 

But then the voice of the Guide took over:

WE’RE HERE FOR THE SELF-GUIDED TOUR.

“Alright,” said the woman with dark hair and glasses. “I’m authorizing the track right now. When you’re ready, we’ll switch you over to autopilot.”

“Okay. I’m ready,” I said. An icon appeared in the goggle display next to the word AUTOPILOT flashing in yellow.

“Enjoy!” she said.

THANK YOU.

“Yeah, thanks,” I said, trying to wave the controller around. But I guess I didn’t have any arms, cause nothing seemed to happen. 

Then a track lit up on the floor, and my robot just followed it automatically. I didn’t mind taking a break from controlling it actually. It was cool, but this was all still a lot to get used to. 

The track took us along a narrow hallway that like totally seemed specially designed for tours. We could see down into a bunch of different rooms and stuff. They were all filled with telepresence robots, each with a kid’s face in it. 

THERE IS NO TEACHER IN THIS SCHOOL.

“What? That’s weird. But cool I guess,” I said.

IT’S TOTALLY COOL, IN FACT. YOU SEE, EACH STUDENT IS  ENTRUSTED WITH 100 TRUTHCOINS WHEN THEY BEGIN THEIR STUDIES, REGARDLESS OF AGE. THE PURPOSE OF THESE COINS IS FOR THEIR OWNERS TO INVEST THEM IN THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS, WHICH IS A LITERAL MARKET HERE, AND TO EARN THE GREATEST RETURN POSSIBLE.

We rolled on past a giant electronic display that showed all the students names, and ranked them with a bunch of numbers and stuff.

THIS  IS THE LEADERBOARD. HERE YOU CAN SEE WHICH STUDENTS ARE WINNING, HOW MANY TRUTHCOINS THEY HAVE AMASSED, AND SOME OTHER STATS. 

“And this one?” I said as the track took us past another mega huge display, with like fifty different screens in it or something. 

HERE NEWS RELATED TO THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS IS FEATURED, ALONG WITH RELEVANT TRADING DATA. 

“Hm, like a stock market but for ideas. Totally cool. Can anybody play or is it just for students?”

ANY MEMBER WITH FULL PRIVILEGES MAY INVEST, OF COURSE. 

We passed by another larger room, which had in it what looked like an assembly. The robots almost looked like they were swarming or something. 

“What in heck’s going on here?”

THE STUDENTS ARE ENGAGED IN A VIRTUAL DEBATE WHICH HAS GONE VIRAL. THIS IS ONE OF THEIR FORUMS. A GREAT DEAL OF TRUTHCOINS HAVE BEEN STAKED.

“Staked?”

PARTICIPANTS IN BOTH STUDENT OR PUBLIC FORUM DEBATES MUST STAKE TRUTHCOINS IN ORDER TO PARTICIPATE. THE MEMBERS WHO ATTEND IRL AND REMOTELY ALSO MUST PUT UP A STAKE TO OBSERVE. THE STAKED AMOUNTS GO TO THE WINNING SIDE. 

“How do you decide who wins?” I asked, genuinely curious. I thought it sounded awesome. 

IT’S COMPLICATED, BUT THERE IS A BLOCKCHAIN-BASED CONSENSUS MECHANISM, ON WHICH TECHNICAL POINTS ARE AWARDED AND VOTES TALLIED. AN ALGORITHM USES THOSE INPUTS AND SOME OTHER PROPRIETARY DATA SOURCES TO DECLARE A WINNER.

“So, the computer decides?”

THE COMPUTER SIMPLY TALLIES AND APPLIES AN ALGORITHM. MANY FACTORS ARE CONSIDERED.

“Like what, for example?”

WELL, THE PRIMARY VALUATION WE PLACE ON IDEAS IS OF COURSE VIRALITY. THESE IDEAS BY VIRTUE OF POPULARITY, OF COURSE, ARE CONSIDERED TO BE MORE TRUE. FOR EXAMPLE, DO MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE THEM OR LIKE THEM, OR AT LEAST REACT STRONGLY WHEN PRESENTED WITH THEM? DO MEMBERS WANT TO ENGAGE WITH THESE IDEAS, WHETHER NEGATIVELY OR POSITIVELY? IT IS QUITE AN EXACT SCIENCE, IN FACT. 

“That actually sounds really smart,” I said, agreeing with them. “It sounds totally smart as hell.”

INDEED, MY DUDE. AND YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT ELSE…

“Uh, what?”

THE IDEAS THEY INVEST IN AND TRADE ARE CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND ALTERNATIVE HISTORY. 

“Whoa, really?”

WE BELIEVE THAT EVERYONE MUST DO THEIR OWN RESEARCH. AND INSTEAD OF FORCING PEOPLE TO BELIEVE SOMETHING, OR LIKE WONDERING WHY DON’T THEY TEACH SUCH AND SUCH CONSPIRACY OR ALTERNATIVE HISTORY THING IN SCHOOL, WE DECIDED TO ONLY TEACH THOSE IN SCHOOL. AND IT’S GOING FRICKIN’ GREAT. 

“Damn, that’s lit. Like, really innovative af. Wow, just wow. Holy cow…” My mind was seriously blown. “My mind is literally blown right now, hfs. You guys thought of everything.”

WE KNOW. IT’S TOTALLY CHILL. WAIT TIL YOU SEE THE REST. 

Conspiratopia: Chapter 5

WELCOME, NEO. 

“Thanks, yo,” I replied, looking around. 

WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU.

Inside the gate was a shining city on a hill and stuff, and in the middle this big ass park. The whole place was huge and colorful and seemed frickin’ amazing. It was literally glowing. Like supernatural almost or something. I thought it must be some kind of VR filter probably, and turned my head back and forth a little to check. It seemed legit. 

Up on the hill, in the middle was a giant dome. It looked awesome. 

THAT’S THE FREEDOME. IT’S WHERE THE PEOPLE OF THIS PLACE GATHER TO CELEBRATE THEIR FREEDOM. WITH LIKE FIREWORKS AND STUFF. 

“Wow, rad,” I said. “Fireworks inside a dome though?”

YEAH, DON’T WORRY. THE DOME OPENS.

“Got it,” I nodded. “So, uh, like where I am and stuff?”

THIS PLACE IS SIMPLY CALLED THE CITY.

“Well, that makes sense, I guess.”

BUT THE WHOLE THING IS CALLED THE CONSPIRATOPIA PROJECT. WE ARE A DISTRIBUTED AUTONOMOUS POLITY.

“Wild,” I said, not wanting to show I didn’t really know what that means.

As I turned to look at everything, I heard a noise like gears whirring or something. I tried to look down at the ground, and saw wheels, and like a pole or something.

“What’s my build here?” I asked, genuinely curious. 

TELEPRESENCE ROBOT. IT’S BASICALLY AN IPAD ON A STICK AND SOME WHEELS. 

“Whoa, rad,” I said. And then was like, wait a minute… “I thought this was VR though?”

CONSPIRATOPIA IS A REAL PLACE, MY DUDE.

“Wait, what?”

SIX REAL PLACES, IN FACT. GEOGRAPHICALLY DISTRIBUTED ACROSS CONTINENTS AMONG NEUTRAL HOST NATIONS. AND SIX VIRTUAL PLACES, ALSO TOTALLY DECENTRALIZED AF. 

“Huh, pretty cool,” I said. I moved forward a little bit, testing my robot build. It was pretty responsive. The streets everywhere were like totally paved with like a super smooth flooring or something that was wicked shiny. I thought smartly to myself, must be built for good robot traction.

“But you know, uh, I thought this was like an online survey job? Cause like, that’s what the ad said and I did like hundreds already today.”

THAT’S JUST HOW WE RECRUIT SUPER SMART PEOPLE AND FREE THINKERS AND STUFF WHO LIKE TO EARN MONEY ONLINE AT HOME. 

“Well, that actually makes sense,” I said, agreeing with them.

AND LIKE SUPER SMART PEOPLE WHO SCORE ABOVE A CERTAIN THRESHOLD ON STUFF GET LIKE, YOU KNOW, PROMOTED TO THE NEXT LEVEL. 

“A promotion?”

UNPAID, OF COURSE.

“Uh, of course. But like… uh, I’m gonna make money right?”

OH YEAH, EVENTUALLY. LOTS OF MONEY. TOTALLY.

“Cool, just making sure,” I said. I didn’t want to look like ungrateful or something, so I added, “Cause, you know, my mom would be super mad if I didn’t get paid.”

TOTALLY. YOU ALREADY GOT THE FREE VR GLASSES, PIZZA AND MOUNTAIN DEW THOUGH RIGHT? 

“Hells yeah,” I said. 

SO YOU CAN TOTALLY TRUST US. WHY WOULD WE LIE TO YOU?

I thought about it, but had like literally no idea why they would lie about it. And it was true, I totally got all that free stuff already. It seemed like a great deal. 

“Anyway,” I said, “who are ‘we’, by the way?”

YOU MAY CALL ME THE GUIDE. CAUSE I WILL BE YOUR GUIDE AND STUFF. 

“Dope,” I said, moving forward a little. “Cool if we go explore?”

BY ALL MEANS. 

The robot had a really smooth ride. It seemed really cool. But I got the impression it was like only a sort of basic model, and they probably had better ones – just like the VR glasses. 

I rolled around a lot, and saw what looked like a mixture of shops and homes. I didn’t see any people though. 

“Where is everybody?” I asked. 

THE PEOPLE ARE AT WORK, OR AT THE FORUMS.

“Cool, you have your own local message boards? That’s rad. I bet the wifi must be really good here, right?”

NOT THAT KIND OF FORUM, MY DUDE. THOUGH WE DO HAVE SOME OF THOSE TOO. AND OUR WIFI IS INSANE, YEAH.

“What do you mean not ‘that kind of forum?’”

NOT WEB FORUMS. REAL FORUMS. 

“Zuh?” I said.

A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE DEBATE THE TRUTH, BUT IRL.

Whaa? That exists? Unreal!”

YEAH, MAN. IT’S NUTS. WE’LL GO LATER. 

Further up the hill the buildings looked more official, or like old-style or something. I figured the forums must be up there. But we took a right turn, to go down this street that cut around the hill. 

We went for a while, looking at the scenery and stuff. I could see in a few shops there were other telepresence robots and a few of them were talking to each other in the same room. But most of them seemed to be talking to somebody who wasn’t there in front of them. I guess they must be talking to each other over wifi or something. 

I noticed that the battery display for my robot was down a little to like 76%. We hadn’t been going that long, but I guess a lot of it was uphill. 

YEAH, BATTERY LIFE ON THESE THINGS ISN’T GREAT STILL. BUT WE’RE WORKING ON IT. IF IT RUNS OUT, WE CAN JUST SNAG ANOTHER ONE, AND SOMEONE WILL DRAG THE CURRENT UNIT TO A DOCKING STATION.

“Whoa, sick. This totally rules.”

I KNOW. WE’RE WORKING ON THIS CONDUCTIVE RESIN FLOORING STUFF TOO, THAT’S LIKE ELECTRIFIED AND WHATNOT. SO IT WOULD CHARGE THE ROBOTS WHILE YOU’RE STANDING OR ROLLING. BUT LIKE IT’S NOT FULLY WORKED OUT YET. 

Damn, I thought. These guys really thought of everything. So frickin’ cool. 

TURN LEFT UP HERE, AND GO DOWN THAT ALLEY. I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING SPECIAL.

“What is it?”

A SCHOOL.

“You have schools? Whoa.”

HELL YEAH, WE DO. AND THEY’RE TOTALLY RAD. CHECK IT OUT. 

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