Nesson 1.1: The Store

Nesson is a biweekly serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more.


The silver coin spun on the table catching beams of light and hurling them around the bamboo walls. It rotated too fast to see the profile of a thin faced man wearing ovular glasses and a turtleneck. A breeze crept in through the open windows; though open may not be the word when there is no glass to close. There was no reason to seal off the elements here. The weather, save for a few rain storms, was always perfect. The breeze rolled around the aisles, and lightly pushed the coin so that it fell flat showing a symbol with three arrows circling each other. Marcus looked down at the clink before letting his eyes drift back to the open doorway. He did not bother to start the coin spinning again.

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Nesson 1.2: Market Day

Nesson is a biweekly serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more.


Monday. Monday was market day. Time to restock and, more importantly, catch up on wins and losses. Some Mondays Marcus needed to hide a bit, but on this particular Monday, he had winnings to collect. Overall, for the past few months at least, he had been ahead. No small feat considering the odds when using an unlicensed bookie. Under normal circumstances, the volume of bets Marcus placed might reflect compulsive behavior. If you asked him though, he would tell you that his fervor for gambling stemmed more from boredom and excess currency than any thrill it afforded him.

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Nesson 1.3: The Drive

Nesson is a biweekly serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.


It was a long drive from California to Hawaii, not at all helped by the lack of freeways. Helen had plenty of time to think, locked in a car with three like-minded, but higher-ranking youths. It was strange, she thought, to have a hierarchy. Her cell-leader explained that they were against the government, not authority altogether. “What’s the difference?” She asked once or twice; she got little more than question begging. Sure, the chain of command made since when they were organizing horticultural activities and raising buildings, but what was the point of putting Mike in charge of this trip?

Nesson was impressive. She could not help but admit it was an engineering feat; they were able to cruise along dry land where once there was not but ocean. Before the sprawl spread to the pacific, it was always something of a wonder to her that Hawaii was a state. She knew that at some point the island was historically and geographically isolated from North America. It was in no way proximal to the US; Alaska was at least accessible by land and Puerto Rico was reasonably close. Was it something about a war? Whatever the reason for statehood, the geography of it was hard to grasp. Of course, for Links Corp, Hawaii made an anchor for the Nesson development.

The three-day ride meant meandering through subdivisions, Midwestern conglomerations of large houses on several acre plots. The houses were plopped in the middle of the pacific and were accessible by bullet train. Deep gray alloy rails pointed directly from settlement to settlement. Helen imagined that, viewed from the sky, they would look like old stylized interstate maps. They ran along the coast never interrupting the flow of traffic on the interior of the island. Was it an island? On a map, it looked more like a tether linking America’s fiftieth state to the continental forty-eight. Not a string pulled taught, mind you, but a loose wiggling worm, as if Hawaii were on the world’s longest leash.

While the train tracks came in and out of view, Helen longed to be propelled faster to her destination. Progress was slow in a manual driven car on neighborhood roads. Helen rode in this fossil of a vehicle practically pressed into the other passengers; the experience was a world away from the mobile living rooms that normal cars were. What few car trips she had taken were in auto-driven busses that could sleep a family of four comfortably. Alas, such cars depended on technology that made them easily tracked. Of course, a rail ticket, too, is traceable. There was no question about how they would have to travel, but still, shaving a few days off the trip would be nice.

The idea of the post Hawaii travel was too much. She had never been on a boat, not outside of a holoroom anyway. She certainly did not know how to swim. The thought of floating in the middle of the ocean filled her with a sort of dread. Sure, she wanted to protect the ocean; it did not mean she wanted to be on it.

Helen’s companions were three men, or more accurately large boys. Only one surpassed her twenty years, and that could only be by a year or two. Before her involvement in Ecocomunism, Helen imagined it as a romantic movement. Traveling to the commune wearing a sturdy button-down shirt, old jeans, and a canvas pack on her back, she imagined sitting around tables discussing philosophy and politics for hours. What work she imagined was joyful playing outdoors and more conversation while placing perfect seedlings in rich soil. What she found was people as passionate as she imagined, but not the tender joyful culture. It turned out that making a subsistence living was hard work. For a bunch of kids raised indoors, there was no romance in the sweat, mud, and blood it demanded.

She found little personal romance either, especially in this car. The high school sweethearts seated behind her were nauseating and the group leader was too in love with politics to be interested in anything else. Is this why she rushed through college? To live on a farm pulling weeds for a few months before packing into a car with a bunch of anti-establishment guys who did not make it through high school, supposedly because it was too “authoritarian.” She had better be fast tracked after this assignment.

“Hey! Hey Helen. Wake up!” she was shaken out of her trance by Patrick. The slow rhythm of houses and ocean views outside of her window must have hypnotized her.

“Let’s get something to eat!” Al was saying as he pulled her by the arm and towards a waiting restaurant.

“Oh no! You’ve got to be kidding me. Mike, are we really going to a Slathers? I can’t believe they’re even out here.” Helen said. She was turning green.

“What do you mean? We never left California, why would the businesses be any different?” Mike answered, almost amused by her disgust. “Anyway, think of it as research, a sampling of Nesson County’s finest fixings.” He attempted a twang, but having no exposure to whatever rustic dialect he was imitating, his voice came out more stiff than usual. They boys entered while Helen took a moment to submit to the situation. The building itself was generic, prefabricated but the facade was redbrick and rural. The food she knew would be the same generic reality hidden behind a Classic American veneer. Yeah, definitely need a promotion when I get back, she thought.

Inside, the restaurant was spacious and vacant. Dining out was not exactly uncommon, but demand only allowed for maybe one restaurant per twenty-five mile radius. Slathers had long ago cornered the market and was essentially synonymous with the word restaurant. The food was actually significantly worse than what the average family could replicate at home, but there was something about the experience of going out to eat that had not yet worked itself out of the American psyche.

Helen pushed the wilted lettuce and watery tomatoes around on her plate. The side salad was her only option on the menu and even then, she had to ask them to leave off the chicken. The server gave her an odd look and said she would have to check with the “Chef” about that. “I can’t believe you guys are eating all that,” Helen was pointing the prongs of her fork at each of their plates in turn. “Won’t you be sick?”

Through a mouthful of ribs Al replied, “Research.”

“Best not to draw attention to ourselves. Eat like the Romans do, or whatever.” Mike said. He punctuated his sentence with the screech of his knife hitting plate after sawing through a half inch of steak. Helen only sighed and turned her head to the next table. What she found was a middle age couple, chins glistening while chewing fried something or other, looking perplexed at her plate.

Patrick dabbing grease off his chicken breast said, “yeah, Salad Queen.”


Leaving Slathers Helen saw a train pass behind the restaurant, heading for the continent. Despite running through several populated areas, the train rarely dropped speed below two hundred miles per hour. It was close enough that, despite the friction free propulsion technology that allowed the train to glide just above the rails, the disturbance in air pressure made the non-functional shutters nailed to the restaurant vibrate against the imitation wood siding. She could see the faces of several passengers, or rather the blur of their faces. The windows were something of a relic; no one looked out from them. They were staring at screens and gesturing at their mobiles. The walls could easily have been video walls, but trains, much like cars, kept windows because the abstract concept of a vehicle required them. A few companies tested windowless cars, but the prospect of entering solid metal boxes proved unappealing.

Helen was thankful for these near emission free trains. Thanks to these and the energy advances of the past few decades, air quality around the world was finally improving. Still, environmentalism was about more than pollution, as was often discussed back on Open Acres. The Ecocommunists believed that advancements in renewable, clean energy were a threat to existential sustainability. The very foundation of what it means to be human had eroded, smoothed by decades of easy living and passive entertainment. Saving the species meant roughing up those polished edges and bringing struggle back into everyday vocabulary.

The ends to which the residents of Open Acres were employed gained Helen’s sympathies and allowed her to distance her moral sensibilities from their questionable actions. Perhaps if the world would stop producing the likes of Richard Links there would be no need for this, as the media branded it, ecoterrorism. Helen watched the end of the train. It left only a soft hum, slightly lower pitched than the one that preceded the train. She could not stop the longing she felt for those plush seats and electric diversions.

The others were in the car waiting, had been for several minutes. “Come on Helen! Hawaii awaits.” She did not know who called her, but she woke from her daze. They would not make it to the original chain of islands that once defined Hawaii until tomorrow night, but they would cross the state line by late that evening. Deciding the new state lines had been easier than anyone predicted. Anyone except the developer, Links. In a statement before the Senate, he expressed his opinion that until two landmasses met, anything protruding originally from a given state should be the property of that state. E.g., when Helen and her associates crossed the state line, they would transition to development that had originally extended from Hawaii, even though now no one could tell the difference. It appeared as a continuous bridge between states.

The arbitrary nature of such a standard was address by plenty of politicians and pundits. What if a developer started in California and built a strip of land northward until hitting Canada, following the coast and effectively land locking Oregon and Washington? Link’s answer boiled down to, “so what?” Let the states do what they must to extend their territory. The Ocean was the new frontier and the phrase “Manifest Destiny” should regain its positive connotation. So far, there had been little conflict because only Links himself had enough resources to develop new land. The question of how future international situations might be solved, should some other nation start dumping trash in the ocean and letting its people live on it, had not been answered.

Helen’s awareness of conversation around her gradually increased as Patrick snapped his fingers in her ear. “Yoohoo, what’s your deal Helen? You’ve been spacing since we left the restaurant, did you not eat enough or something?”

Al turned to Patrick, “What are you talking about? She’s been like this the whole time, right Mike?”

“Wha..? Sorry wasn’t paying attention.”

“Well at least he’s driving, that’s some kind of excuse.” Patrick said.

“Whatever, they’re both a drag.”

“Hey!” Helen said, not sure why she was offended.

“Where are we staying tonight, Mike?” Al asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Like where are we going to stop? What kind of hotel. What city or whatever?”

“I’d assumed one of you would drive when I got tired. Anyway, a hotel is traceable.”

“Uh. Drive?” Patrick let out a little whine, “I don’t have a license.”

“Yeah… Neither do I,” Al said.

“Are you two serious? Driving without a license should be the least of your worries. Do you think I have a license?”

“I can drive,” Helen said.

“Finally some reason! I’ll be fine for a while though.”

“Really Helen? Have you driven before?” Al Asked.

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything…” In fact, Helen had driven once. For many teenagers, it was something of a rite of passage to enroll in Driver’s Ed upon turning sixteen. The course consisted of three hours covering the history of automobiles and fundamentals of manual driving followed by two hours to practice driving circles around the school. For many students it was the only time they sat in a classroom with other students outside of a Holoroom.

“Great, we’re all going to die.” Al said.

“Shut up Al.” Mike and Helen said simultaneously.

Al sat looking dejected and bored; Helen could hear his feet shuffling on the floor mat. After a few minutes, his face brightened and he called out, “Hey Mike? Can we smoke in here?” as he withdrew a long mentholated cigarette.

“What? No!” Helen answered.

“See, no fun,” Patrick said.

“How about you can smoke while you’re driving,” Mike said into the rear view mirror.

“Uh, I don’t think you want me to smoke this while I drive.”

“What,” Helen said, “you can’t hold a cigarette and drive?”

“Well, it was a cigarette.” Al said.

“You idiots,” Mike said rubbing his face.

“Ooh, how’d you do that?” Helen asked, “Can I look at it?” Al handed her the white paper tube looking both proud and suspicious, a look that turned to shock when the repurposed vessel flew out the window. “Oops!” she said.

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Nesson 3: The Convention

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.


The annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Peak Sprawl and Existential Insustainability (ASPSEI) convened in Honolulu. Helen was not sure if this was an intentional irony or if the members just wanted a Hawaiian vacation. Whatever the reason, getting there was a multi-modal affair. There were no direct flights. Continue reading

Nesson 4: Moving Day

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology, sprawl, and consumerism in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.

As he folded he flaps of the last box shut, Marcus surveyed his store. He felt ambivalent pride when he saw the whole contents of his business and personal life in so few boxes. He slid the one he had just closed until it softly collided with the other four. The floor looked convincing; by sight, you might really believe it was rough unfinished wood, but the texture gave it away. The planks were too smooth, the box glided across the store with next to no friction. Between the boxes and the appliances haphazardly coated in plastic wrap, he guessed it might take half a pickup truck to haul everything.

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Nesson 5: At Sea

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology and sprawl in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.


“But I can’t stay in here,” Helen argued as the group entered their hotel room. In response to the blank expressions she added, “There’s only one bed and you’re three men.” She knew two of them had not the slightest interest in her that way, but that was not the point. Actually, this was an issue she had to confront regularly on Open Acres. Communal living gave people the idea that there was no such thing as “your room” or “my room.” Helen agreed from a philosophical standpoint, but growing up in a typical sprawl household, she felt a physical need for privacy and personal space. The thought of being around other people while she slept, changed clothes, and attended to hygiene nauseated her. Continue reading

Nesson 6: New St. Louis

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology and sprawl in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.


The old man rose early in the morning to ferry water down. He liked to think he was not unlike a lone monk waking before the rest of the monastery to ring the bells. These days even monasteries were on electronic alarms; the bells probably rang themselves now. Why was he here at the top of the middle of nowhere? Could some robot not do his job just as easily? Maybe “the middle of nowhere” was not accurate. How many million souls lived in these few miles? No one had bothered to count, but as far as he was concerned the number was too. Too many. Certainly too many to go on feeding this way. Still, an island in the middle of the pacific, especially one that was not there when he was young, was the middle of nowhere. Most of the islands inhabitants may as well not exist to the rest of the world. Yet they were numerous and needed to eat. Continue reading

Nesson 7: The Ferry

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology and sprawl in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.


The water was hot and unusually calm. Did he take a wrong turn? The current was supposed to continue this direction for a full day’s swim, but here he was tiring from flipping. Something was ahead, something big. Actually it was two things, an average size humpback and an oversized something he could not make out. It would be a few moments before he could set eyes on it, but he called out to the whale. Continue reading

Nesson 8: Sprawl

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology and sprawl in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.


It was a short trip. They left Shack Island, as Helen had named it, a little after dawn. Their shadows were still long and narrow when they set foot on their destination. It had only been an hour, maybe two, but they were a world away. Helen looked left and right at her awestruck companions. A horrified admiration laid plain on their faces. Helen set her countenance hard, determined.

They had driven through the haphazard sprawl of pacific California and Hawaii, walked beneath the towers of New St. Louis, and watched a wilderness in between. When she added Open Acres and her childhood in the sprawl, Helen was sure she had seen the full spectrum of existence. Now she found this fully built, unoccupied city. It was not that the place was finished and empty, that was common in Nesson. It was the houses themselves and their surroundings. So much wood and metal, rock and brick. It was generally considered that recycled and raw materials were identical, but it was clear now that people only believed this because they had never seen homes built from raw material. Only the wealthy bothered to use non-recycled materials in any capacity. These were usually accent pieces, not full construction.

This place was unattainable. It was nonexistent on a map, so there was no way to get here. There was no telling how much the houses cost to build, let alone for how much Links was selling them. Yet here they were. She guessed she owed Mike some credit, and maybe she owed Earl her thanks. Earl, for all his rough edges, was a good guy. Helen felt her stomach turn when she thought about how they had lied to him and used him. Even if he was working to build something they wanted to destroy, he was one of the most welcoming people she had ever met. That was not saying much, but his generosity was important to her nonetheless. Open Acres, despite its name, offered none of this graciousness, if that word could apply to a man like Earl.

There was no motive in Earl’s charm; he barely acknowledged that Helen was a woman; he was just naturally accommodating. In contrast, Mike had become increasingly friendly the past few days, but not in a way Helen enjoyed. It was one thing if they had made some connection from the start, but until recently, he had shown nothing but distaste for everyone. A distaste he still seemed to have for Patrick and Al. It was not that Mike was unattractive; he had a prickly quality that usually interested her. In fact, he reminded Helen of a boy she dated in college, Hunter. Hunter was always half unshaven and three quarters clean and dressed. He liked to speak about ecology and communal living. If she thought about it, he was probably why she was here. Whatever resemblance Mike had to Hunter though, Mike’s demeanor was naturally repulsive. His artificial kindness was almost as hard to take.

Memories of a past relationship mixed with the realities of the people who currently surrounded her. An icy regret was rolling in her stomach. In an attempt to turn from her guilt and frustration, Helen focused on the city before her. It had a sort of polite charm, warm hominess beneath its affluence. Of course, no one had ever lived on this island, except for a shopkeeper in the central store. Earl said he knew the guy and figured he must be going out of his mind living alone.

“Then again,” he said, “Mark never did care much for people.” Earl asked if they had everything they needed and headed for the center of the island, leaving them at the dock.

The good feelings this place evoked had to be a manufactured, right? Helen could not help liking the island. The whole settlement was walkable. On foot, they could travel the whole island in a day. The houses were close; whoever lived here would have neighbors and the appearance of community. It had potential to be a real town. The place was hard to hate. It actually encompassed many of the principles of ecological living. So why was she still angry, why did she still feel it needed to go?

Over the course of the trip, Helen had developed some doubts. Her heart had not turned, but her mind felt like it was swimming. She was grasping at the source of her beliefs. What was wrong with a place like this or one like New St. Louis? Sure, the land bridge was harmful, shameful; it enabled an unsustainable lifestyle. Did that mean they could not keep the good? Maybe this island was where the bridge would connect and whence Links would plan further development, but did they have to destroy something beautiful? What was her responsibility as a journalist? She could not help but be involved, but how far should she go? Would it be ok to try to talk them out of their plan? Would it be right not to?

“Dibs on that one!” Pat called.

“On what?” Mike asked.

“On that house. That’s where I’m squatting.”

“What about me?” Al asked, pretending he was not already invited to join Pat. The house was three stories and looked like a page ripped out of Modern Housing and Right Angles Quarterly.

“No one is calling dibs,” Mike said, “We’ll pick one house for all of us.”

“But no one else is here and there’s all these new houses. Why shouldn’t we have our own?”

“What do you mean, have your own? We’re not on vacation here, I don’t even like the idea of breaking into any of them. We’re certainly not breaking into three houses. We should probably sleep outside.”

“Who’s breaking? Look.” Al ran up to the front door of a home that looked to be fifty percent raw wood and fifty percent glass. He pushed the door open with one finger and looked back to Mike.

“Not locked?”

“Come on Mike, why would they lock these places when there is no way to get here?” Al said, still hesitating between the threshold of the door and returning to the street.

“We’re here,” Helen said, “maybe they should have locked them.” Al’s eyes widened and Helen smirked.

“Alright, ok. But still just one house.” Mike put a hand over his eyes and began scanning the distance.

“Aww.” Said Pat, “Can we still stay in that one?”

“What? You want the first one you see?” Mike asked.

“So now we’re being selective? I thought you wanted to sleep outside.” Al said.

“Yeah, well, if we are going to break in…”

“But we’re not breaking in!” Pat corrected.

“Ok, if we are going to sneak into a house that is not ours, shouldn’t we pick a nice one? What? Why are you all looking at me like that?”

“So…” Helen interjected, “Who has the food? I don’t want to go house hunting on an empty stomach.” The guys all looked at each other and shrugged.

“I took that can of ham from that last island,” Al said. At the time, this had been a great source of humor to them all. If the concept was not bad enough, the packaging was worse. The picture of the food on the cover was not even close to appetizing.

“I found some dried noodles,” Pat said, “but I ate those on the boat.” Helen looked at Mike.

“Don’t look at me.” Mike said.

“Great. So we go to that store Earl was talking about?” and so they did. It was easy enough to find the way. The island had been designed so that the store was at the absolute center. It mattered little where they wandered, the store was always visible, being three stories taller than the houses and always a straight shot via one of the boulevards.

“So much for our low profile,” Mike muttered.

“It’s just one guy managing a store Mike, what’s the big deal?” Al said.


“Justinian! The villagers are demanding grain and more housing.”

“Forget them! I need a new wing on this castle.” Two young men stood on a hillside overlooking a village surrounding a modest, relatively modest anyway, castle. Both concealed their healing acne with two months’ worth of overgrown hair. The houses below were arrayed in an organic serpentine pattern with meandering roads running between. They were huts made of mud, stone, and whatever debris was adjacent at the time of construction. On top of them were thatched roofs of surprisingly clean and yellow hay. Some had tendrils of smoke flying from earthen chimneys. The two boys wore leather vests and tight pants. They each sported embroidered, gilded crests on their chests and swords on their hips about as tall as themselves. Though they had shaggy hair, each was oddly well gelled for a medieval lord.

“But Justinian, they’ll riot.”

BlOOP them!”

“Wait… what? Did you just make a bleep sound? How did you do that?”

“Oh,” Justin flushed, “my mom put a language filter on our holoroom.”

“Lame,” Art said, checking the direction of his waving hair then resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“No kidding, it BLOOP BLOOP.”

“Hah hah.”

“Arthur! Look out!” Justin cried. At the base of the hill opposite their town came marching a band of warriors led by Rob and Becky. “It’s Robert and Rebecca on a raid.”

BLOOP them!” Art said, “They agreed to a truce. Remember when I gave Becky the answer to that question in class the other day? Now they want to attack my city!”

“Your city? You mean our town.”

“Yeah, that’s what I meant.”

<Justin, time to get out. I’m expecting a call.>

Justin could see Rob and Becky giggling in the distance, why did his mom always have to use the public channel? He tilted his head about thirty degrees. “Mom, ok, just a second,” he turned to Art, “So embarrassing.”

“Aw, it’s alright, most parents don’t have a clue about how to use holorooms.”

“Why can’t I just have my own, like you guys?” he was pointing to Art, Rob, and Becky with a sweeping motion. Before Art could offer any commiseration, an arrow flew between their heads.

BLOOP!” Justin said.

BLOOPBLOOP,” Art said, “hah hah, BLOOP BLOOP BLOOP.” Laughing and cursing they ducked from the arrows while Art fumbled for his bugle. Rolling down the hill towards the town he let forth a mighty blast. As they stumbled towards the village, fleeing the arrows of Rob and Becky, Justin began to look agitated.

“Say, what’s taking so long?”

“Told you, you should have built that granary.” Art said. A moment later saw a band of AI villagers emerging from the town, still tightening their armor and adjusting their swords.

“AI, finally,” Justin muttered. “YOU, MEN, CHARGE!” and charge they did. Rob, Becky, Art, and Justin approached each other on the sidelines of the ensuing battle. Over the clang of men’s swords could be heard the juvenile japes.

“Dude, we’re totally taking your town.”

“Nuh uh, we’re kicking your BLOOP out of here.”

“Wait, what was that? Justinian, do you have a language filter on?”



“Totally lame.”

Justin was about to agree with his friends’ assessment of his mother’s lameness when the world turned sold green and his mother’s hand was on his shoulder. “Come on mom!”

“I told you, I’m expecting a call from your sister.”

“What? From Allison? You didn’t say that, you just said ‘a call.’”

“And that should have been enough.”

“Ok, you’re right. When is she calling? I want to see her.”

“Mmm. Not this time.”

“What? But we haven’t seen her in months, not even virtually.”

“And maybe there is a reason for that. If she asks for you I’ll get you.”

“Fine. I’m going out then.”

“Sure, not past the front gate though.”

She had always treated him like a kid, but since Allison left, she went into overdrive. It was like being twelve again. “What? I was going to take the car.”

“You will do no such thing. Where do you think you’re going to go anyway?”

“Does it matter?” Justin knew that there was really nowhere to go. It would take fifteen minutes to get to the next house, maybe an hour to see something interesting. “Whatever, there’s nothing to do anyway.”

“Oh come on, I’m going to be on one call. You’ll get the holoroom back in less than an hour I’m sure. Just be glad you have one, when I was your age…” a synthesized musical chime sounded on the house intercom, eliminating the need for Justin to interrupt his mother’s story of her youth. “Oh, I bet that’s her.” She patted Justin’s head and closed the holoroom door behind her.

Justin Fahr walked upstairs to his room and closed the door. He waved his pass-pattern at the wall. His arm floated here and there as if fencing while the look on his face was bored. Where there was a wall covered in science fiction and fantasy themes, there was now a wide screen, full depth display. A medieval village, surprisingly still intact, was before him. He had a three quarter view from a tall hill. It was enough to see his town but not his rivals’. It looked like Becky and Rob failed in their attack, despite his interruption.

“Enter legacy mode,” he said. The village disappeared and the display flattened. Video streamed across the wall and Justin flipped his fingers to change “channels.” It was a rising trend for teenagers to mimic, as best they could, their great-grandparents’ television habits. They ran scripts to create channels from hundreds of programs streaming simultaneously. Justin and countless others wanted to recapture a spontaneity from the past. They sought an element of randomness, a lack of control. Technology allowed people to mold their lives into whatever shape they wanted. Traffic and distance penned them so that nothing outside their designed lives could penetrate. Justin’s generation was discovering chance as something desirable. The aleatoric din created by rapid changes in music, voices, and sound effects drove most parents insane. They were unaccustomed to it, found it distracting. Parents were continually yelling at their children to shut the door and keep the racket down.

Justin found that channel surfing allowed a sort of trance state. One both watched and did not watch. It was watching for the sake of watching or “meta-watching.” The term started as a joke, but it became standard usage. Full attention to one program could not be granted for the thought of what else might be on that could be missed. Attention to the outside world diminished such that it might as well be another channel. People became absorbed in the art of watching itself, an expression of pure sensory utilization. Justin and his friends just called it ‘channel surfing.’ American youth could not understand how streaming supplanted this kind of experience.

No one could really change channels like people did in the days of Television sets. There was no more broadcast, no more use of radio waves to disseminate the same shows to all. Entertainment had shifted from enjoying whatever happened to be on, something with mass appeal, to choosing something. Usually that something was highly idiosyncratic. Here inlay the problem with recreating channel surfing. The channels had to be composed of programs designed for streamers, programs that would appeal to a niche market. Hundreds of channels could be made of these programs, but there may only be one or two worth watching from any individual perspective. The general feeling was that you might as well stream, if that was the case.

VJs had recently emerged, looking to create a true channel surfing experience. They create channels based less on subject and more on spirit. Some of these VJs even started creating original programming; viewership for these shows was exclusively under 30 years old. A universal favorite was VJ Analog’s Retro Broadcast Network (RBN). Analog’s Network could only be streamed live, no on demand viewing. Even recording was locked, not that channel surfers would record anything. Only the most flippant would joke about it.

Allison used to watch RBN with Justin. They could chuckle along with a laugh track on old sitcoms. They would nod their heads to new dramas satirizing Holodrama, the stuff of his parent’s generation. He was used to her commentary, as if it was part of the television experience. Now the news was on and he was alone with no one to gossip.

<.. ening sanctions if efforts to claim islands developed by Links Corp are not ceased immediately. China’s Foreign Minister claims no foul play.>

“As if anyone wants piles of trash in the ocean,” Justin said to no one. Who cared who owned remote islands with nothing but road, tracks, and a few scattered residents housed on them? China still has large living cities. If anything, the US should be after those.

Justin imagined living in a city: walking out of his door to find other people on the way to work, to school, to restaurants, doing these things in person with other persons. He imagined being able to walk to his friends’ homes, the way kids did in the old shows. He even got a little thrill thinking about the dangers of crime and staying off certain streets, fearing people instead of cars. Physical crime was as much of a relic as the city. Some of his classmates claimed to have family in the cities that they even visit sometimes. These stories were exaggerations at best. Perhaps they had been to a large suburb, denser than average but no New York City. New York, once considered a sort of world capital was rarely mentioned anymore. One heard of the vast spread of L.A., but what people were doing in Manhattan? You may as well ask what people did out on those trash islands. Justin promised himself that he would see for himself someday. There had to be places left where people bumped into each other on the street, strangers surrounded you, and your neighbors might show up at your door unexpected. A mode of life could not just disappear completely could it?

The pseudo window on his wall showed it was not yet dark, the sun had set but a faint glow fell from the clouds onto the grass, turning the lawn purple. It was not actually his yard; he did not think it was anyway. It was somewhere in the neighborhood though. Of course, he had not actually gone outside in a few days. Justin could not be sure that it was really dusk out there, maybe it was noon. He trusted the view that his video wall gave him and the clocks on every screen. The screens told him what time of day it was and when it was time rise, eat, and sleep. It was 7:36 pm, too early for bed, but Justin grew tired watching a 1990s sitcom about nothing in particular. His head nodded twice and his eyes slid shut. That night he dreamed that The City welcomed him into its void and he would never be heard from again.

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Nesson 9: Interruptions

Nesson is a serial novel about living with technology and sprawl in the near future. Learn more or start from the beginning.

“That was quick.” Mike said, watching Helen exit the holoroom. He had been against the call in the first place. What was the point of all their precautions, the effort they went through to be under the radar, if they were just going to make calls when they felt like it? After Helen entered the room, his concern shifted to suspicion.

“Yeah, I’m not much on the holocalls actually, but my mother insists on it.”
“And you needed to talk to her now? Why again?”
“I told you, she worries. She might call on a search if she doesn’t hear from me after a few weeks. We don’t need a search committee out here do we?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got it. Anyway, keep quiet in front of the hopkeepshay.”
“The what?” Helen blurted a little too loud. They had left the apartment and were now in the sporting goods section of the store where Earl and Marcus were admiring a kayak. They began to turn at the sound of Helen’s voice, but Mike had already pulled her aside with a scolding look.
“Didn’t you ever learn Pig Latin?”
“What? No. Why would you assume I know some kind of Latin? Do I look like a classicist? Actually, don’t answer that.”
“Not Latin. Pig Latin. Its wordplay. You take the first part of a word… you know what, nevermind. My family had old-fashioned games I guess.” They walked on, giving Earl and Marcus a nod and thank you for letting them use his holoroom as they passed. They were looking for Pat and Al; naturally, they headed for the grocery.
Marcus was not prepared for more customers. He thought Earl had traveled alone and was not sure whether he was hallucinating when what looked like four college kids strolled in. He was like a cloistered monk asked to host a dinner party. He was gracious and accommodating, but also tense and unsure. Any peculiarity Marcus showed went unnoticed; none of them had much experience with storeowners, or stores for that matter.
Something about Marcus endeared him to Helen. She felt an urge to talk to him, to learn more about him. What was he doing out here? What path does one take in life to end up alone in a store on an island that may as well not exist? She wanted to know, but she knew she should avoid interacting with others. Fortunately, Earl occupied most of Marcus’s attention, removing any opportunity to start a conversation.
“There they are!” Mike pointed to the refrigerator aisle where the other two members of their party were deliberating over different kinds of breakfast sausage. Helen made a small shutter. “What? Are you cold?” Mike made a move as if to remove his over shirt.
“No! no.” Helen flushed, afraid she spoke to quickly. While she did not want Mike’s chivalry, it would not do to have him upset with her. “Just the sight of all that processed meat is all. Anyway, do they have any money for that stuff?”
“Not really, no. I’m holding the purse I guess. We got a little traveling money from Rick, but don’t worry, it’s not going to that stuff.” They did buy plenty of meat, just not those particular sausages that Helen so reviled. They bought some vegetarian meals for her as well. Al found a bottle that Mike pretended to disapprove of, but put into the cart with plans to help consume anyway. When they were ready to check out, they called up to Marcus, who was still in sporting goods with Earl, now discussing fishing rods.
“Connie!” Marcus called, yelling more for their benefit than the computer’s.
<Yes Mark>
“Make them an account, would you?”
“Actually,” Mike said, “we have cash.”
“Nonsense,” Marcus replied, “take what you need and pay me later. No interest. Hell, I don’t even need your UBNs, just one of your names is fine.”
“Put it under Helen Rose,” Helen said. Mike started to open his mouth before she pinched him. He hushed, but seemed a little too happy about the pinch.
<OK, Helen, that’s: three pounds ribs, six pounds chicken wings, four pounds ground beef, one loaf white bread, one head lettuce, one pound tomatoes, one block tofu, seven chocolate bars, one liter dark rum, sixteen ounces cheddar cheese, forty pounds fertilizer. Will that be all?>
“Yes, that is all,” Helen said looking over at the over laiden bunch beside her. The forty-pound bag lay beside her on the floor. Nice, she thought.
<That’s one hundred seventy three credits billed to your account. See you next time!> The men were already out the door as Helen grunted over the bag. She waddled out with it draped over her shoulder.
“That was generous of you Mark,” Earl said.
“Well Earl, any friend of yours is a friend of mine.”
“Friend? I don’t know those people, they just hitched along with me from New St. Louis. They seem alright though.”
Marcus rubbed his brow. “Great, nice way for me to start a business, ‘here strangers, take what you want and pay me later!’”
“Wow Mark, that sounds like a terrible start to me.”
“Thanks Earl.”
“Sure buddy. Say, you got a video wall around here?”
“… On the docket is Resolution 1066. Chairs will yield the floor to the representative from South Africa to discuss said resolution.” Spoke the freckled redheaded chair of the UN Council. Her wavy, strawberry curls rested on her nearly bare shoulders just above the skirt and blouse that were about two sizes smaller than professional. She pushed her rimless glasses up from where they had fallen to the top of her nose as she sat. Approaching the podium was the mocha skinned representative from South Africa wearing what appeared to be a traditional African wrap dress, pulled tight to reveal a flawless figure. Her hair was pulled back loosely with erratic streaks of almost blond mixing with her dark hair.
“Good evening. As we are all aware, the Links Corporation has dramatically changed the landscape of our planet…” Her just too sharp to be English accent was cut by a few seconds of repeating muzak. A disembodied, glistening, head floated before Chester’s eyes. The meeting continued in the background as if nothing were happening.
“Rob! What do you want? I’m watching the UN here.”
The head turned and surveyed the room. “I’ll say. When did ambassadors get so hot? You know the difference between the UN and Miss UNiverse right?” Rob loved to troll his friends’ holorooms. It did not matter what you were doing; he liked to ruin it.
“Ha. ha. It’s a new feature I just downloaded. It’s called HotSwitch.”
“Nice!” It was not a particularly new feature. Every teenager that discovers it thinks he has found something illicit. As these things go, the plugin quickly spreads to all his friends, their friends and their friends. In fact, this “Hot Switch” concept had been around since Chester’s parents were his age.
Cable news channels developed the first version of the module to make politics more palatable. They originally used it on streaming video, but the conversion to Holovision was not that difficult. It was controversial at first, but no one could argue with the correlating rise in civic participation. Never before had teenagers and twenty-somethings been so well informed.
A new seat materialized next to Chester and the rest of Rob plopped into it. “… have to be stopped. We cannot allow the unrestricted colonization of the ocean. The ocean is out last…”
“Dude, this sucks, even with the filter on.”
“Shh…” It was too late; the South African ambassador was walking back to her seat.
“Hey,” Rob said, “want to go on Siege? Becky and I were just at Justin’s village, the whole place is in revolt.” The ambassador from Japan was walking towards the podium, wearing a kimono closed just enough to pass the parental filters.
“You go siege if you want. I’m staying.”
“… cannot impede the freedom of developers…”
“We can turn this thing on the Game. We can storm Justin’s Castle with a bunch of bikini models. If his content filter allows it, that is.”
“… No legal president concerning international waters…”
“Later man.” Chester had been following the development of the Links Land Bridge and was starting to feel unexplainable anxiety. He did not care that much about who own an artificial island. He had no intention of traveling to Nesson, or any other place really. Something about the lack of clear ownership stayed with him, but he lived on solid American soil. Why was he worried?
“Uhg. You’ve been so boring lately. Fine, I’ll see you later.” and Rob was gone. The Japanese ambassador was already walking back to her seat. For just a moment Chester wondered if it really was a woman.

Curiosity won out and with the wave of a hand Chester found a room full of old men wearing funny headsets. The chair was occupied by a turkey-necked man with a five o’clock shadow. Chester watched for a while longer with the plugin off, but little of interest was discussed. It was too bad, Rob’s interruption. Chester was pretty sure he was really interested in the broadcast.
The concept of the islands seemed kind of nice to him. To have some space, nice weather, and fresh air. Sprawlers derided their own lifestyle in public forums; Chester knew many of the kids out in the sprawl romanticized the city, but he did not get it. The city, in his experience, was grey and just as isolated. There was more pollution and less quiet. No romance to his mind. His parents seemed to love it though. They had been born there, in Chicago, as had both their parents and theirs before them. The city was real. Proximity meant something: connection to your fellow man and on and on. They, in fact, left their holoroom less often than Chester did his. Between work and entertainment, they more or less lived there. At times, he had to call from his holoroom to theirs just to talk to them.
Chester’s friends were not even in Chicago. Most lived exactly nowhere, in huge houses. Meanwhile Chester and his parents packed in a downtown flat, being urban for the sake of it. What Chester needed now was some civic destruction; perhaps he would go on Siege after all. He was sick of Justin’s bragging about the “architectural integrity” of his village. He could tolerate Rob’s presence, maybe Becky would be there too.

The boxes lay haphazard and teetering on top of each other. Marcus took the time to drag them inside and even brought them to the proper departments, but they remained there unopened. Their presence did not bother him; he was nearly blind to them.
Since Earl’s stowaways came and left, there had been no more new customers. Marcus’s eyes never strayed far from the door, but no one walked through it. He was not sure what those four, or however many there were, were up to. Where were they staying? Were they still on the island? It was probably better not to think about it. Ever since they came, though, Marcus felt obligated to watch the store. No more hiding out in the apartment relying on Connie to alert him of new arrivals. The past few days he wandered from department to department while always watching the entrance.
Earl returned to work the same day he brought that group led by Helen. With him left any hope of business or conversation. The returning to solitude after interruption was far more disturbing than if no one had come. Now his thoughts revolved around when the next person would arrive. Marcus wanted to convince himself that Earl and the others had never come in the first place. If he could believe that, he could go back to the slow void in which he had spent the past few weeks. Maybe it was a dream. Could the isolation be blurring the lines between dreams and reality? That one about the dolphin still floated at the back of his consciousness, but he knew that was not real.

They had been there. Earl was gone, but maybe the others remained somewhere on the island. It was a strange comfort, thinking they were out there somewhere. It was a pleasant paranoia. Thinking about whatever unpleasant things they might be planning at least relieved boredom.
“Connie, would you drop a screen over the first floor?” He had considered having real conversations with Connie, but never could bring himself to it. All he managed to convey to her were commands.
<Certainly Mark.> A theater sized high definition screen appeared before him, projected from who knew where. <What should I tune it to?> Tune, that was a strange word. When was the last time anyone truly tuned a television set or radio?
“News, I guess.” Marcus was not really a news guy. News media was a thriving industry, though. Why did people want to know about the world when nothing outside of their front door truly affected them? It had to be a morbid curiosity. For Marcus it was morose and infuriating. Especially since the advent of Holorooms, news aimed to fully immerse the viewer in the mayhem. If they wanted that kind of experience, virtual reality was sufficiently advanced, but it was something about the news being real that drew people. It never seemed real to Marcus. He experienced real disgust and horror, but he never thought of news broadcasts as real. Even if they were real events recorded by real people, something about the act of recording and transmission changed the meaning.
Marcus hated the news, and hated himself for choosing it, but he craved connection with the outside world. The screen showed Percival Wolff sitting behind a glowing desk, his face illegible:
Today at the UN, South Africa and Japan debate the actions of Links Corp. Links, the company behind the California Landbridge, has furthered their Pacific expansion by starting to build from Japan. Links Corp hopes to accelerate the connection of the US and Japan, and ultimately Asia, by land. The South African ambassador accused Links and Japan of quote “recklessly intruding on international waters” and that the oceans should remain quote “unspoiled by development.”
Japan cited the immense benefits of uniting the globe by land. There was no vote on the resolution to condemn the actions of Links Corp. The date of the vote is yet to be determined.
In related news, a conglomeration of environmental protection agencies calling itself Pacific Peace has condemned Links and threatened action if the governments of the world do not step in.”
The image behind the reporter resolved into an unrelated story as Wolff swiveled to look at another camera. Even in the days of the holoroom, twentieth century journalistic norms endured. In between being thrust into war zones, natural disasters and political rallies, everything pulled away and the viewer was no longer a participant. A reporter sat behind a desk, reading off a prompter the viewer could not see, smirking before a soft gradient background. A square box to the left of the reporter illuminated the story. For the immersive elements, the viewer would see this box enlarging as the reporter’s voice slowly trailed away into a deep whisper. The viewer would be sucked into the box and become part of the story. For viewers using a screen instead of a holoroom, these scenes were simple video.
On the screen now was Surveillanet footage of a bear terrorizing an upscale shopping center. Terror was of course relative, most of the video showed the bear roaring at passing humans but when left alone simply sitting inside a candy store pawing in the establishment’s stock of honey flavored chews. Marcus could feel the story’s chord rumbling through Middle America. The bear was the protagonist, a karmic agent humbling the wealthy shoppers. Viewers wanted to see the lifestyles of the rich. They wanted to see them outside of their homes shopping, going to restaurants, having parties. They wanted to see them having real human interactions mediated by money and status, but they wanted equally to see them fall.
The video faded and a new anchorwoman appeared. She had big blonde hair and heavy eye makeup. She was young, not past thirty for sure, but styled herself like a much older woman. Marcus always thought reporters were aesthetically locked in his great-grandfather’s era. Not the typical style of the late twentieth century, just that of the news reporters.
“The bear was captured unharmed and is being transported to a wildlife reserve in Alaska. Injuries were limited to two cases of panic attack, and a few scrapes and bruises suffered while fleeing the area. Residents are relieved that they can once again shop in peace. Returning to our continuing coverage of the controversial election results in the Georgia…”
“Ok Connie, that’s enough.”
<Certainly Mark.> The screen irised-out. Marcus always liked that effect, not just the image, but the entire projected screen disappeared in the wake of a shrinking circle.
The world shook. Marcus, already burdened and unbalanced, toppled and spilled the load he carried. His shoulder hit first and a splash in the eye followed as the pail of ice cream smacked to the ground. The top dislodged and scattered flecks of melted cream while the more viscous, still frozen portion flowed like lava. A tremor rolled in the cryogenic flow. The remaining contents of the bag had rolled across the floor but at least remained in their own packaging.
The items Marcus had been carrying were gifts for the stowaways. Isolation grated at him until he no longer cared what their purpose on his island was; he needed the presence of others. Probably they really were Links employees. Something about them did not seem corporate, actually, nothing about them seemed corporate, but otherwise he did not have a reason to doubt them. He had hoped they were still on the island. Now he was sure they were.
The presents lay scattered before him, some still rolling away. The second blast rang out and this one he heard. During the first, he had been too busy falling to process the sound. Now the reverberation shook Marcus and he had an idea of what was happening. Marcus pushed himself up and ran back whence he came, back to the store, leaving the gifts behind.
Helen was just sitting down, yawning and picking crust out of her tear ducts when the first blast sent water rushing up her back. She fell forward and caught herself by pressing her palms and knees against the bathroom door. Despite the explosion she could not help thinking thank God I hadn’t peed yet. Only then could she focus on the sound and the earthquake and wonder what was that? She heard her companions scrambling around in the hall, making an unintelligible racket: “Whaa.” “oooohaaahh” “huuh?”

She needed to check on them and the house. Probably she should leave the house, but she really did need to pee. The second explosion shook her as she settled back on the commode, this time not forcefully enough to disturb her.
Helen pressed handle unconsciously and without slowing her movement to the door. Her hand was on the knob when Al burst in, knocking her back on to the seat. At least this time the lid was down. Al ran to Helen and shook her by the shoulders as he cried “Shit! Shit shit shit!” Tears speckled his face. Helen had nothing to say and walked past him into the hall. Pat appeared at the other end and almost bowled Helen over on his way to comfort Al. She found Mike in the living room pacing back and forth, moving his lips and pounding his right hand, knife shaped, into his left.
“Mike?” Helen ventured.
“We didn’t do it!” he threw his hands in the air.
“I know that. What should we do?”
“We were going to but we didn’t. Now someone else has!”
Helen’s first thought was so what? Who cared about who did what or the irony of the situation? The island was, at least potentially, exploding all around them. “We’ve got to get out of here!” she said. Mike did not need to say a word; the look he gave was enough to ask simultaneously how? and are you nuts?. “Ok so we can’t get out of here. Let’s at least find out what’s going on.” So she said, but was it really a good idea? Was staying put a good idea? It did not matter, she was a jitter and needed to move. She wound her way to the front door and stepped out to a sunny, otherwise calm day.
Marcus was back at the store staring in surprised relief. He was sure the explosion came from his store. What else was there to target? Some empty houses, pristine unused streets? This store was the only thing of consequence on the island. Could it be an accident? A natural disaster of some kind? A construction flaw? He knew that landfills could build up caustic gases, perhaps there was a methane pocket somewhere on the island. A careless spark anywhere could ignite such a thing. Yet he knew thoughts of accident were fantasy. Not one of these garbage islands had exploded before.
On his way to the store, he saw two plumes of smoke coming from opposite direction. How would both be accidents? So close in time and so far in distance. Sure, stranger things had happened but his instincts told him this was planned. To what end, who knew? Marcus guessed who might know. There was only one group of people on this island.
<Yes, Mark?>
“Are you able to detect the presence of people on the island?”
<Not exactly, but I can review camera footage.> That was odd, she would not do that before. Marcus decided not to press the issue.
“Ok, did you see anyone on the island besides Earl’s stowaways?”
<One moment… … … No. Mark, there are still fires burning at the points of explosion, shall I call emergency services?>
“Sure… wait. Who would service this area?”
<Links Corp keeps rescue boats within three hours of all developments.>
“Of course, yes, please, call them. And…”
<Yes, Mark.>
“Keep track of those four if you can.” Three hours to wait while terrorists run loose on the island. Great, why did he leave that little bamboo shack anyway? Mark drifted into fond memories of his last store as he wandered into the sporting goods section of the new one. The gun case shone, casting a glare over his eyes. He felt a thrill of nausea as he opened it. The rifle looked harmless laying on the velvet lining. It was never meant to be bought or used; it was an aesthetic choice. What kind of sporting goods section did not have a rifle somewhere in view? Marcus closed the case, leaving the firearm behind.

Helen watched twin smoke clouds billowing from opposite ends of the island and wondered to which she should go. Reason told her to go back inside, to hide with the others. She was thinking lucidly and knew exactly what the prudent choices were right now, but instinct was pulling her. There was something creeping below the surface. She thought she had been heading towards the center of something; she was not sure what that something was, but knew there was a story there. Now she knew Mike, Al, and Pat had not been taking her to the center but to a point of tangency.
Gratitude washed over her. For all the annoyance they caused, her companions from Open Acres brought her closer than she could have gotten on her own. Now, though, she needed to break away before their path carried her away from the story she sought. The smoke rose in her peripheral vision, stilling Helen’s thoughts. The black clouds were not calling her to their source, they pointed to the center.

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Nesson is an ad free serial fiction project. If you like what you have read, please leave a comment and share! If you’re feeling extra generous, donate to help me keep the story going and build this site!