Why did I ever agree to the implant? I know, of course: Lacy’s medical bills. I couldn’t sit and watch my little girl suffer from VR sickness. Her uncle Gabe had offered to pay, naturally. That’s just the kind of guy my brother is.
I remember the day I watched the ad in the back of an Uber, on my way back from the hospital. A hyperactive and annoyingly chirpy salesbot rolled out its spiel: "Crypto short? At ImplADS we guarantee a regular income simply by accepting our free iSee implant. Benefits include free interpersonal communications, crypto wallet instant access, worldwide marketplace, Internet access, a shareable schedule and an AR appstore. All you have to do is watch carefully selected ads a few times a day!" It sounded too good to be true, but I was too tired and desperate to care.
I reprogrammed my destination and within ten minutes my auto Uber dropped me off at the nearest clinic. Sign up was quick and easy: I filled out a questionnaire, provided my crypto wallet address, signed the contract with a retina scan and was ushered into a small sterile room ready for my implant.
A too-young looking blond with a vapid smile introduced herself as Mae Jenkins and talked me through the procedure as she pushed my hair back and disinfected behind my ears. "Lie back and relax Ms. Rasmussen. We simply place your head in this brace, target the area just behind each ear and pop! Over in a flash. You may feel a slight discomfort, but it shouldn’t hurt…unless I select the wrong target." She gave a well practiced chuckle and a smile I wanted to slap from her face.
Instead, I indulged her humor by returning a half smile, clenching the arms of the cream leather chair as I braced myself for what I was sure to come. As it turned out, all I felt was a faint tingling. The real shock came when nurse Jenkins switched on the device. As the iSee synchronized with the network, my vision was filled with diagnostic and account sync messages accompanied by beeps and bells I’m sure only I could hear.
"You may experience a little dizziness as you acclimatise yourself to the iSee, but this usually passes within a few days. Feel free to contact ImplADS with any concerns."
The dizziness only lasted a day as I got used to navigating my wallet and schedule. I made my first iSee call to Gabe. His video feed hovered in a little window in front of me as I washed the dishes. He was anxious about my implant, but I explained that as I now had a regular income, the hospital was happy for their fees to be taken weekly from my crypto wallet, and Lacy was improving daily.
The first few ads popped into sight as I walked through the shopping district. As I looked at the various shops, relevant ads overlaid real life. They showed me the latest sale items, suggested similar stores or simply ran a featured ad. As long as I watched them all to the end, a little ping signified I got paid.
Within days though, their frequency increased until almost every five minutes or so I seemed to be getting ads. I looked at my kettle, I got coffee ads. I went to my wardrobe and clothing ads popped into my head. If I gazed into a mirror, a perfectly made up vision of myself would appear, advertising cosmetics. Of course, I could stop the ads, but when I did I would find my wallet going down in value. Lacy was still in hospital. I had to get her well enough to come home, but the ads were getting incessant.
Desperate to make it stop, I called Gabe. Not on the iSee, as I felt sure my calls were being monitored. My first attempts to call him had all been cut off as I explained the problem. I finally got him on my videophone.
"What’s wrong, Alice?"
"This motherfragging implant! It won’t shut up. I can’t turn it off and ads are keeping me awake throughout the night. The iSee seems like it’s picking up on my dreams. I dreamed of that little cove we used to visit as kids and ads for vacations woke me up last night."
"Have it removed. You owe them nothing. I said I would pay for Lacy’s treatment."
"No Gabe, I will pay. I just have to find something else."
Gabe looked distracted, lost in thought.
"What is it?"
He hesitated at first.
"Well, I have been looking into a new startup called Alterlife. It sounds promising."
"I’ve heard snippets. Aren’t they that fully immersive VR setup?"
"Yes. Another implant I’m afraid, but you can unplug at will. The more time you spend plugged in, the more you earn."
"But I don’t play games, Gabe. You know that."
"Not just games, sis. They need content creators. That’s right up your alley."
ImplADS claimed it was a glitch in my iSee and promised to replace it with a fully functional unit. I insisted on having it removed. They seemed to be spying on every facet of my life. The crypto was good, but it wasn’t worth losing my privacy over. After forcing me to sign a nondisclosure agreement, they eventually complied.
The next day Gabe took an Uber with me to Alterlife, where we were were both going to have our implants fitted. A likable fellow called Vince met us in the pristine foyer of white marble and clean lines. Gabe was taken in first, emerging just five minutes later.
"Sis, you’re not going to believe it! The implant was painless, but when you’re in? Oh my God! It’s so real. I spent the afternoon relaxing on a beach. I could smell the sea air, feel the breeze cooling my sun blasted body. I was…there!"
"But, you’ve only been gone five minutes."
"That’s what’s so great! It felt like hours. When I came out, I had no idea only minutes had passed. You will have the time to spend with Lacy when she is all better."
Vince, wiping his hands, emerged just then wearing a satisfied look.
"Are you ready, Alice?".
"Lead the way, Vince."
The procedure was similar to ImplADS, only this one attached into the base of my skull. Vince numbed the area with local anesthetic, placed a device on the back of my neck and, with a hiss, my implant was embedded in place. He tapped a few keys on the console before asking me if I was ready. I nodded and as he flicked a few more switches my reality shifted when Vince dissolved before my eyes, replaced by the same beach scene Gabe had spoken about.
Gulls flew lazily above the undulating sea. My sense of smell felt highly tuned as I tasted the sea air. The sand beneath my feet was warm as I wiggled my toes.
I heard someone shuffling across the sand behind me. Turning to look, a creature with the body of a man and the head of a dog approached.
"Hello Alice. I am here to welcome you to Alterlife. My name is Sobek and this is my avatar. Don’t let it alarm you."
Oh frag! I guess I’m not in Kansas any more.