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Out of Body Universe - Part One

 

Out of Body Universe

Part One

 

Copyright © 2016 Martin Chu Shui

 

Shakespir Edition

Chapter 1

 

“What’s his name?”

“Nathan, Nathan Jenkins.”

“Are you sure he’s an OBU virgin?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Okay, keep a close eye on him. Let’s hope he is the one the prophecy predicted; if he is, we hope to finish this soon.”

“Let’s hope so.”

***

Nathan sat there alone, pretending to watch the girls’ show ,
but his attention was really on the guy that he thought was a girl,
a very attractive one that he just couldn’t get his mind off.
Nathan was sure that he had seen her real face, together with all
the people around her; surely if he did it once, he should be able
to do it again. Nathan concentrated and focused his mind’s eye once
more, but saw nothing different when he opened his eyes. Anyway, he
kept watching her, and he noticed that she was glancing at him as
well; each time Nathan looked at her, she quickly moved her gaze
somewhere else. It intrigued him: why would a girl, disguised in a
man’s mask, be interested in him, a stranger? Nathan really wanted
to confirm that he had seen that she wore a guy’s mask; otherwise,
he would have a series problem on his hands.

A group of around six young men walked into the bar, talking loudly, and headed towards the girl’s table; there was nothing unusual in such a group moving in and out of bars, but the unusual thing was that Nathan could sense their hostility; he somehow knew that they were going to hurt or kill someone. He had no idea how he could know such a thing, but looking at their bulging clothes, he guessed they had weapons concealed underneath.

Soon the girl and her group also noticed the upcoming group; from their reaction, Nathan immediately realized something was going to happen and sure enough, at the same time as the newcomers withdrew their concealed weapons, the girl and her friends also jumped to their feet, lifting up their chairs and bottles; a mass fight was about to burst out in the crowded bar.

 

The people sitting near the girl’s table were screaming and trying desperately to get away. The sounds of shouting, screaming, swearing, and glasses and bottles smashing filled the bar. Nathan never took his eyes off the girl who was in the centre of the struggle. It was apparent that the girl and her mates knew how to fight, but their enemies were better trained and equipped, armed with knives, daggers and short swords. Before long the girl and her friends were all sporting stab wounds or slashes, and there was blood everywhere; it would not be long before they were all killed.

Nathan looked around and noticed the wall of people watching the fighting from a distance, but nobody was willing to get involved. The police were nowhere to be seen, although he had seen people ringing the authorities on their mobile phones, and they’d be too late to save the girl if they didn’t turn up soon.

The girl was thrown to the ground not far from Nathan, and for a split second she looked up and her eyes met with his. He could see her plea for help in her piercing blue eyes; she was looking right at him, so there was absolutely no doubt. Nathan didn’t know how he managed it and would not be able to figure it out afterwards, but in that moment he launched into action.

 

It was almost like his body knew what to do without any assistance from his mind; one attacker leaped forward with his short sword out, trying to stab the girl, who was in the process of getting to her feet. Nathan’s arm flashed out, gripping the attacker’s wrist, and he pulled, twisting the man’s arm; from the pained scream coming out of the attacker’s mouth, Nathan was confident that he had just dislocated the attacker’s shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, but he had never done that move before and hadn’t known how to do it. He heard a sound burst out of his own mouth: “Tai!”

Nathan’s body lurched forward at high speed; he twisted his body, just in time to allow the next dagger to miss him narrowly. Still in the turning motion, his elbow jutted out, cracking the guy’s rib cage. He lowered his body, landing gracefully on the floor, and kicked at the next attacker; the unmistakeable sound of bones cracking indicated the attacker’s leg would be out of action for a long time.

He almost felt like he was watching himself carry out all these amazing stunts, like an
out of body experience. In less than sixty seconds, Nathan had
beaten every one of the attackers to the ground, leaving them
painfully screaming about broken bones and dislocated joints.

“Don’t move! Put your hands over your head! Otherwise we will shoot!”

Nathan looked up; a group of police officers had arrived, and all of them had their guns pointed at him. Glancing around, he saw that the girl and her friends were nowhere to be seen. Nathan slowly put his hands up.

The police officers moved forward, handcuffing Nathan.

“Nathan, what happened?” Gary
shouted. He walked towards Nathan but a police officer pushed him
back.

“This must be a mistake, Officer.”

“Back off.” The police officer put his gun up, forcing Gary to step backwards. And then Nathan was pushed out of the bar, into a police van, and driven away.

 

In no time at all the van pulled into a high walled yard, but Nathan wasn’t surprised; he had to remind himself that this was still OBU . Wordlessly, he was dragged
out of the van and pushed into the building, along a long corridor,
and then into a room.

Nathan was forced into a metal chair, and his hands were cuffed behind his back; from the restriction he felt, Nathan assumed that the cuffs were attached to the chair as well. He tried to move the chair, but realized that it was fixed to the concrete floor.

Without a word, the escorting police officers walked out of the room; with a clunk the heavy metal door closed, leaving Nathan inside the isolated, cold, and highly secure cell. He scanned the room and deduced that he was inside an interrogation room, where a few people would presumably be watching him from behind the large one-way glass window on the opposite wall.

Nathan could not believe what had happened in his life recently. As he stared vacantly at the glass window, his mind went back to only yesterday, according to his memory, but fifteen years ago according to everyone else.

***

Nathan walked into the bakery and said nothing; he didn’t even look at Amy. In the back room, he changed into his uniform in silence, and then came out and stood beside Amy behind the counter.

“What’s the matter, Nathan?” Amy asked carefully.

Nathan stared outside, past the door, not focusing on any particular object. He didn’t turn to look at Amy whilst speaking. “Sorry for being rude to you, Amy…Cathy sent me a text this morning saying she’s breaking up with me…”

“What? Cathy broke up with you by text?” Amy realized her voice had risen and quickly apologized.

“Yeah, Cathy is very tech savvy, even with a breakup.” Nathan laughed bitterly.

Amy thought for a while. “Nathan, did she give you any particular reason, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Nathan turned around and looked at Amy’s chubby face for the first time. “Well, this is the best part: Cathy said in the text that I am too polite and too gentle for her, so I’ve become boring; she wants to be treated rough, to be with a ‘real’ man. I never would have thought that being ‘too gentle’ would be the cause of our breakup.”

Amy pushed a strand of her short brown hair away from her sparkling brown eyes, and then patted Nathan’s arm. “Nathan, not every girl is like Cathy, and many like a gentle-mannered man, and that’s why they are called gentlemen.”

Nathan forced a bitter smile. “Thanks, Amy, I do appreciate it…”

He broke off as two guys rushed through the door .

“Hi, Amy.” Dave turned to Nathan. “Is it true that Cathy broke up with you?”

“Yeah, but how did you find out about it so quickly?” asked Nathan.

Gary leaned his slender six-foot-two body against the counter to steady himself. “It’s all over Facebook; everyone already knows about it.”

Nathan nodded, but said nothing.

Dave glanced at Amy, and then turned to Nathan. “We all knew that Cathy has been online dating for a while, so it’s not really a surprise to me.”

“What? Did you all know she has been seeing other guys all this time? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you were my friends.”

Gary shook his head, speaking slowly, his words accompanied by alcohol fumes from last night’s party, and maybe some from this morning as well. “We didn’t want to damage your relationship…” he started, but Dave interrupted him.

“Nathan, forget about Cathy; she’s just another slut. You know what, tonight I’ll take you to a party and introduce you to a few new girls. You know, there are plenty of lovely girls out there and it’s time for you to get some fresh meat anyway…”

Nathan shook his head; he didn’t know what to think, and all he wanted to do was get away, away from everyone.

“Amy, I can’t stand it anymore…I have to get out of here.” He turned to Dave and Gary.

“Get out of my way; I thought you were my friends.” Without another word, he walked to the back room.

As he left, he heard Amy calling after him, “No problem, Nathan, leave everything to me, just go. I am so sorry about what happened to you today…”

 

Chapter 2

 

Nathan tried to walk in a straight line. It was getting late, but the crowded streets were still packed. He couldn’t remember the last time he was drunk. Cathy’s face flashed in and out of his spinning brain, and he was unable to push the images of her pretty eyes out of his mind. His stomach felt hollow, despite the fact he had just filled it with vast quantities of alcohol.

Since entering the dating world when he was fifteen, he had experienced a few breakups with a few girls, but never like this. Cathy was his first serious relationship ever, and he had been with her since starting university two years ago. Everyone, including himself, believed that he and Cathy were a perfect match and completely happy. Hundreds and thousands of questions kept popping up in his not very clear head. Why would she do this to him? Why…

Turning around the street corner, Nathan saw an unusually dressed man sitting beside his board game. During the last week while passing by, Nathan had seen him lay the board game out in the same spot each day. He was dressed in a long blue robe, a bit strange in the hot weather, and his long hair was tied up in a ponytail at the back of his head. Beside him, there was a note, written in both Chinese and English: it only cost ten dollars to play, and the prize was one thousand dollars if anyone beat him at the game; the challenger could choose to play with either the black or white pieces.

As the Taoist
was about to pack the game board up, Nathan croaked, “Wait a
moment, Taoist Master…I want to challenge you.”

“Oh, I see.” The Taoist looked at Nathan in a calm manner for a second. “It is very late; why don’t you come back tomorrow?”

“I don’t want to come back tomorrow; here is my money.” Nathan took out a twenty-dollar note.

“I don’t think it’s fair to play the game with you tonight.” the Taoist refused to accept Nathan’s money.

Nathan shook the bill in the Taoist’s face. “Are you afraid of me? You know I will beat you at your own game. We have to play tonight, right here.”

“What’s your name?”

“Nathan; my name is Nathan.”

“Okay, Nathan, I will play with you, but not here. If you really want to play, you’ll have to come with me to my place.”

“That sounds okay to me,” Nathan said in an even less clear voice.

“It’s a long walk to my place. Are you sure you are up to it?”

“The further away from the city the better; please lead the way.” Nathan staggered forward, following the Taoist and heading away from the city.

 

Nathan tried to walk in a straight line as he followed the Taoist; they had been walking for a very long time. They were basically following the waterfront, passing each bay. Occasionally looking back over his shoulder, Nathan could still see the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge but his surroundings were very unfamiliar; he couldn’t remember there being so many bushes and so much forestry close to the Rocks area, but his spinning head didn’t let him focus too much at the moment.

Nathan had lost track of time; they could have walked for an hour, even three hours. He didn’t really care and felt quite relieved to be this far away from his life, leaving the mess behind.

Finally they stopped in front of a straw-roofed hut among the thick forest. Nathan didn’t even question that there was no forest within walking distance of Sydney’s city centre. The Taoist opened the simple wooden door, used a match to light a couple of candles, and then signalled Nathan to come in.

 

It was surprisingly spacious inside the humble hut, at least the size of a four-bedroom house. There were no internal walls or separate rooms; the whole interior was a large hall furnished with simple wooden tables and chairs. The Taoist put his bag down on the floor of packed clay, and lit a log campfire in one corner of the hut. He hung a kettle over the fire and said,

“Nathan, I have to say it’s a surprise to find a white kid like you who knows how to play Weiqi (Go in Chinese). How did you come across it?”

Nathan collapsed into a nearby chair. His legs were stiff and sore, as if he had been walking for weeks. After taking a deep breath, he said,

“I am studying ancient oriental philosophy at university and my major is Taoism, so it’s not that peculiar for me to know something about Weiqi.”

“Studying Taoism? Nathan, you surprise me even more. Why would a white kid like you choose to study Taoism?”

“Could you please stop the ‘white kid’ stuff; you should know that the majority of the students in my Taoism class are ‘white kids’. The irony is that there is not a single Chinese student in the class.”

The Taoist put two mugs on the table. “Would you like a cup of green tea? I should think you need it.”

“Yes, please. Thanks.”

 

After they settled down at the table with a cup of green tea each, the Taoist said slowly, “Nathan, you are right, nowadays, not many Chinese kids are interested in Taoism. It’s the main reason why I am here, to find some non-Chinese persons who are seeking Tao, the way.”

Nathan sipped a bit of the green tea. It helped to clear his mind.

“Master, are you telling me that you are seeking a student so you can teach him about Taoist magic?”

“Magic? There is no magic in Taoism. Is that what you have learnt in your classes?”

“Oh no, not in my classes, but I’ve read tales and legends about Taoist magic. You know, the stories about immortal Taoists, that kind of stuff.”

“Glad to hear that. Nathan, tell me, what have you learnt about Taoism?”

Nathan put his mug down on the table. “Master, what’s your name?”

The Taoist thought for a moment. “Wuwei. My name is Wuwei.”

“Wuwei? Isn’t that the fundamental Taoist principle of inaction, or doing nothing?” Nathan asked.

“Yes, it is, but Wuwei does not mean either inaction or doing nothing. It means following the natural laws, not fighting against them to find solutions; it means resolving conflicts without relying on violence; it means accepting people as what they are without judgment; it means accepting change as part of life. I could go on for the whole evening, but hopefully that will give you some idea as to what Wuwei is really about.”

“Okay, Master Wuwei, I sort of know what you are talking about and I did learn something about Taoism. In Tao Te Ching, Laozi (or the Old Master in English) said the greatest sages get things done effortlessly; is this the same thing you are talking about?”

“Yes, the greatest efforts seem effortless, but it would require ultimate knowledge and skill to make those efforts seemingly effortless; anyway, enough of that topic. Nathan, did you just break up with your girlfriend?”

“How could you tell?”

“Well, it’s not that hard. The fact you were drunk was the first clue and I can tell it is an unusual event for you; you are not the type to be getting drunk regularly. Based on your age and your education, it’s most likely related to relationship issues.”

“Yes, my girlfriend texted me this morning to break up with me, because I am too gentle and too polite and she wants to be treated rough, and wants to experience a ‘real man’. What’s wrong with this world?” Nathan tried very hard to control himself and not swear or use the worst words he could think of to describe Cathy.

“There is always something wrong or right about the world. Nathan, tell me what you think is wrong about this world.”

“To start with, I believe I behaved like a real gentleman, but she wants to be treated rudely and roughly. Don’t tell me you think there is nothing wrong with her.”

Wuwei didn’t respond immediately. He sipped his green tea and then said slowly, “Nathan, to be treated gently may not be what she wants, and there is nothing wrong about that. You can’t judge her based on your own point of view.”

“All right, let’s talk about her being a slut.” Nathan didn’t feel guilty about using the word to describe Cathy now. “I have been faithful during our two-year-long relationship but she slept with others behind my back, finding guys online.”

“Nathan, to be faithful to her was your choice and you can’t force her to do the same; she has the right to decide what she wants to do.”

“Let’s forget about my relationship problem and focus on her being a slut.”

“Do you mean she’s had sex with many men?”

“Yes. There is a reason that slut is a negative word. Women generally are more careful about choosing whom to have sex with, because they are genetically designed to ensure their offspring have the best genes; therefore, women don’t normally sleep around. In other words, slutty behaviour is against her nature and that’s why she is wrong.”

“What you said may be the case, but there is nothing wrong with her behaviour if she doesn’t want to have children.”

“Okay, what about the risk of disease associated with sleeping around? She is abusing her body, don’t tell me that’s right.”

“Nathan, she is an adult and has the right to use her body any way she wishes. Tell me if there is a huge difference between her using her body to sleep with others and you using your body to get drunk. From a Taoist point of view, there is nothing absolutely right or wrong.”

“That is the concept I just can’t grasp about Taoism. We all know that something must be right and something must be wrong; you can’t make that statement.”

“Nathan, it’s also common knowledge that one person’s angel could be another’s evil; one’s terrorist could be the other’s freedom fighter. Right or wrong all depends on where you are standing. People regard others who don’t agree with their views as enemies. For example, the reason you think your girlfriend is wrong is because you feel hurt that she broke up with you to sleep with others. It’s wrong from your point of view but it’s right for her to break up with you to avoid you getting hurt more.”

Nathan was usually quite good at debating in classes, but not tonight; it had to be because of the alcohol he had consumed earlier. Nathan decided to change the angle.

“All right, let’s talk about what’s wrong with modern females. There are very few real women left in this world. The girls in the West are more and more like men; they don’t know how to cook, sew, or retain any of those feminine skills and qualities; they swear, drink, smoke, and try to be equal to men in as many ways as possible. This is wrong.”

Wuwei nodded at Nathan, smiling.

“Nathan, I don’t want to debate with you about feminist movements, but all of your comments are from a man’s point of view. A girl would say she really wants to meet a traditional man who knows how to hunt, fish, and build huts with his hands, who does not care to tell everyone about his feelings, and wants to drag a woman by her hair to his cave; so from a girl’s point of view, there are also very few real men left in the modern world. Nathan, the only thing that remains unchanged is change. We have to change ourselves to adapt to the changes.”

“I don’t want to discuss this anymore. Should we start the game?” Nathan decided to call off the debate. It was not his best day.

“Do you still want to play the game?”

Chapter 3

 

After the green tea, Nathan found his head was much clearer. “Maybe another time . Master Wuwei,
I’ve always fancied learning how to fight, the Kung Fu stuff, you
know. Could you please teach me?”

Wuwei stared at Nathan for a second. “Is that all you white kids think about Chinese people; that everyone knows how to fight?”

“Oh, no, of course not, and I know much better than other ‘white kids’ because I actually know something about the Chinese. Master Wuwei, I know Taoists are generally good at Tai Chi; it’s part of your meditation and training to gain Tao, so please teach me something about Tai Chi.”

“If you have learnt anything about Taoism, you must know that Tai Chi is not designed to fight against others, but only as a meditation exercise.”

“But I also heard that some kinds of Tai Chi can be used in combat, right?”

“Yes, some forms of Tai Chi can be used in combat, but it would take years of meditation to train one’s mind, it’s not a quick learning experience that can be done overnight.”

Nathan knelt down the way a Chinese student saluting his master would; he had learnt the move through his studies. “Please, Master Wuwei, please just teach me something about combat Tai Chi, and I can practice it in my lifetime.”

Wuwei thought for a while, and then said, “In that case, I would need to test to see if you have the talent to learn Tai Chi. Although everyone is able to learn Tai Chi, someone with natural ability would be able to learn it much faster; the key is your ability to understand Tao, the way. Okay, put your elbows on the table, and put your two palms facing each other at shoulder width.”

Nathan did as instructed.

“Now imagine that your palms are two magnets and they are attracted towards each other. Can you feel it?”

Nathan concentrated, imagining there was a magnet attached to the back of each of his hands; slowly he felt his palms moving towards each other, without him intentionally moving his muscles.

Wuwei smiled. “Okay, now imagine that the magnets are rejecting each other, and then alternate them between attracting and rejecting.”

Nathan was amazed that his two palms were moving towards and away from each other, without his muscles controlling them at all.

After a while, Wuwei asked Nathan to stop. “That’s a very simple exercise to give you an idea about meditation and mind control. Okay, let’s start with the basic steps of a Tai Chi lesson.”

 

In the following hours, Nathan couldn’t remember how many, he learnt how to concentrate and use his mind, not his muscles, to move his body. Just as Nathan felt hungry, as if knowing his mind, Wuwei gave him some dry fruit to eat, with some rice wine to wash it down; after that, he felt neither thirsty nor hungry anymore.

Finally, Wuwei said, “That’s enough for today. I am going to cook rice porridge, would you like some? I am quite hungry and you must be too.”

Just then, Nathan did feel a bit hungry. “All right, I will have some. Thanks.”

Nathan watched Wuwei hang a pot over the log fire and put some rice and water into it. It wasn’t long before the fragrant smell of rice porridge filled the air. Nathan felt very tired, hardly able to keep his eyes open and his head got lower and lower to the table…

 

“Nathan, wake up, the rice porridge is ready.”

Nathan opened his eyes, and noticed the sunlight shining in through the windows. He must have been asleep for a long time. Feeling embarrassed, Nathan said, “Sorry for falling asleep.” He glanced at his watch.

“Master Wuwei, I have to leave right now; otherwise I’ll be late for work. I do appreciate your hospitality, particularly teaching me about Tai Chi. Will I be able to meet you again?”

“Unfortunately I am leaving this city today.”

“Will you be back? Or will I ever see you again?”

“Nathan, I am not sure; but you have learnt the basics of Tai Chi meditation, so you can practice in your own time. If you’re persistent with it, you will achieve something in the end.”

“I will, and thanks again.” Nathan put his left palm over his right fist, saluting Master Wuwei in Chinese Kung Fu fashion, and walked out of the hut.

 

Nathan walked through the bush, which consisted of a few trees. It surprised him what alcohol could do to one’s mind; last night he thought he had walked through a forest. As he reached the edge of the bush, he realized that he was not far from the waterfront. A question slipped through his mind: how could Master Wuwei build a hut inside such a small patch of bush? But he didn’t have time to think about it, because he needed to hurry to get back to the bakery in time.

Again it wasn’t that far from the city centre, quite different from his memory based on last night’s experience; he remembered having walked for ages, but he had been drunk then so his memory wasn’t very reliable. However, Nathan noticed one thing that was unusual: the Rocks area, which was normally crowded with thousands of local residents and overseas tourists around the famous Opera House and Harbor Bridge, was now like a ghost town. Apart from a few road-cleaning motor cars, and a few gardeners working, there was not a single tourist in sight. Nathan glanced around but couldn’t figure out what had happened; however, he didn’t waste too much time wondering about it, instead quickly walking towards the bakery.

 

It was Sunday morning, normally the busiest time for the bakery, but there were no customers and the girl behind the counter was not Amy.

“Excuse me, you must be new. Where is Amy?” Nathan asked.

“I am not that new, I’ve worked here almost a year now. Who is Amy?” the girl said.

Nathan stepped back a few steps to double check the shop front, making sure he had arrived at the right place. He was afraid the alcohol had affected his mind. It was Croissant Classic, the bakery he had been working in for over two years. After confirming that he had come to the correct place, Nathan said, “I am Nathan and I have been working here for the last two years, how come I haven’t ever seen you?”

“Nathan? Hang on, don’t tell me you are the Nathan.”

The Nathan? What are you talking about?”

The girl stared at Nathan intensely for a few seconds, and then said,

“The first day I started working here, I was told about a guy called Nathan, who used to work here but he just disappeared one day, and that was fifteen years ago. His body was never found. Everyone, including the police, believe he died; so are you telling me you are Nathan, the Nathan, who worked here and disappeared fifteen years ago?”

“What are you talking about? I never disappeared; I was working here only yesterday.” Then Nathan noticed the calendar hanging on the wall. The thick letters stated that the girl had told the truth: it was now the year 2028. Fifteen years had indeed passed since the last time he had worked here.

Chapter 4

 

Nathan didn’t know what to think. How was it possible? He even wondered if he was in a dream, or still suffering the residual effects from last night’s alcohol consumption. Looking at the girl’s suspicious expression, Nathan knew it was impossible to explain anything at the moment.

“Sorry, I think I made a mistake and came to the wrong address.” Nathan quickly walked away but could still hear the girl’s voice as if she was talking to herself. “He’d be lucky to still remember his own name.”

Nathan almost ran the whole way to where he had stayed last night. Walking into the patch of bush, among the thin group of trees, he saw there was no hut; in fact there was nothing except a picnic table with two benches attached to it.

Did he hallucinate last night under the influence of alcohol? Did his mind trick him by inventing the Taoist character? Nathan sat on the bench for a while, thinking really hard; of course nobody would believe his story.

After careful consideration, he decided it would be better to tell people that he’d had an accident and lost all of his memories about where he was during the last fifteen years. And it was almost close to the truth. With some more thought, Nathan decided to go home first. After being missing for so long, his parents must be worried about him.

 

Nathan took the buses back home. His SmartRider didn’t work, naturally, so he paid for the bus ticket with cash. It was lucky the bus routes hadn’t changed that much, but again it surprised him that there were so few people around. He couldn’t wait to find out why, however he didn’t ask the bus driver or any of his fellow passengers at the back of the bus, because he was still unsure about what had happened to him.

Looking through the bus windows, Nathan noticed another fact about the city: the streets looked much cleaner than he remembered. It may be related to there being so few people around, thought Nathan. The city landscape hadn’t changed much; the old buildings he knew were still there and there wasn’t really anything noticeably new. It was much the same as fifteen years ago.

 

Nathan pushed the doorbell and waited but got no response, so he walked past the side fence and went into the backyard through the side gate. The overgrown backyard, however, was different from his memory. His mother always kept the garden tidy. Walking through the overgrown weeds, Nathan saw his mother sitting at a table under the pergola, staring at the backyard motionlessly.

Her hair was totally white. She was an old mother and had given birth to Nathan when she was forty, so adding the missing fifteen years to her age, she should be in her mid–seventies by now, Nathan calculated. Looking at her fragile body and aged face, Nathan felt sorry for not visiting her more often before.

“Mom, how have you been?” Nathan spoke softly as he walked towards his mother.

As if she had been hit by lightning, his mother’s body shook, and turned. “Nathan, is it really you? My Nathan has finally come home.”

“Yes, it’s me, Nathan.” Nathan bent down and hugged his mother’s thin and fragile body.

“Oh, it really is my Nathan.” Tears filled her eyes as she clung onto Nathan tightly, as if he would disappear if she let him go. “Where have you been for so many years, Nathan?”

“Mom, it’s hard to explain. I will tell you later. Where is Dad?”

“Nathan, we all believed you were dead; your father died five years ago…” his mother sobbed.

“What? Dad died?” Nathan couldn’t believe his ears. He hadn’t really had a good relationship with his father then; he thought he was a
total idiot and said the most stupid things all the time, but now
he was gone, Nathan felt like he really didn’t know much about him
at all.

“Nathan, have you had lunch yet? Would you like me to make you a sandwich?” His mother walked to the house.

“Yes, please, I am really hungry.” Nathan sat on the high stool next to the kitchen bench, watching his mother making him a lettuce, tomato, cheese and ham sandwich, a super large one.

“Nathan, where have you been all these years? Why didn’t you contact us at all?” His mother passed Nathan a large glass of milk.

“To be honest, I don’t know myself,” Nathan said in between bites of his sandwich. “I literally woke up this morning and found fifteen years has passed. I have no memory at all about where I was or what I did during all of that time.” Nathan was telling the truth, but he would not mention the Taoist, because nobody would believe his story.

His mother looked concerned but at the same time so happy to see her son home. “Nathan, you could have had an accident and it may have caused your memory loss, but I am so glad you’re now home safely.”

“Me too, Mom, I am so glad I came home. I should have visited you more often before.”

 

Nathan cleaned up after lunch and made a cup of tea for each of them. Sitting in the living room, Nathan asked, “Mom, how did Dad die?”

“Lung cancer, smoking too much for too long,” Nathan’s mother said.

“Did he suffer in the end?” asked Nathan.

“No, he didn’t.” His mother sipped her tea. “Five years ago, he went to see the doctor for something else and they discovered the cancer by chance. Nathan, he was so sad at losing you that he lost his will to live. He refused to have any treatments, and died a few months later…”

Nathan felt a heaviness in his chest; he hadn’t got on well with his father since high school, and it had gotten worse in university, because his father wanted him to study medicine, but he had chosen to study philosophy, a subject that his father regarded as a useless degree. Nathan moved out soon after graduating from high school, and had rarely visited his parents during the two years he had been in university, before his ‘disappearance’.

Nathan’s father was from one of the original settlements in Australia; despite working as a manual labourer his whole life, Nathan’s father hadn’t spoken a single swear word in front of Nathan and had also taught him to be gentle and respectful to women, because he and his mother (Nathan’s grandmother) were badly abused by Nathan’s alcoholic grandfather. Nathan’s father really wanted Nathan to become a medical doctor; he spent his life savings putting Nathan through private school. Now for the first time, Nathan actually started to understand his father’s feeling of disappointment when Nathan told his father that he didn’t want to study medicine at university. Before today, Nathan only thought of him as an uneducated, unsophisticated, know-nothing idiot.

Nathan felt tears fill his eyes; he sobbed quietly. “I am so sorry for disappointing Dad…I should have studied medicine as he wished…”

His mother said, “Nathan, before your father died, he said to me that, if he could see you again, he would want to tell you that he was very proud of you for studying at one of the best universities in Australia; he wanted to tell you that he was happy whatever your choice was. So Nathan, please stop blaming yourself; your father had forgiven you. He loved you very much.”

 

Nathan cooked dinner and also washed the dishes afterwards. His mother stared at him, full of happiness. Nathan did all of this because he still felt guilty.

“Nathan, will you stay with me for a while before you move out again?” his mother asked hopefully.

“Mom, yes, I will stay home for a while. I need to figure things out for myself before I can leave; are you sure it’s all right to stay with you?”

“Nathan, this is your home and I am your mother; of course you can stay home as long as you wish.”

Someone knocked on the front door. Nathan went and opened the door. Standing there were Dave and Gary.

“It really is you, Nathan,” Dave shouted. He hugged Nathan. “We heard the news about someone turning up at the bakery, claiming to be Nathan, so I told Gary we needed to check it out.”

“Hi, mate, where have you been all these years?” Gary patted Nathan’s back.

Nathan didn’t smell alcohol fumes on Gary’s breath and that was new to him. Nathan told them the same story as he had told his mother about his lost memory.

“Man, that sucks.” Dave thought for a moment. “Nathan, you haven’t changed one bit, you’ve still got the look of a twenty-year-old second-year university student. How did you manage that?”

“It may have something to do with your lost memory.” Gary offered his opinion.

Nathan looked at them both, and said, “You both look pretty good for thirty-five years old.”

Dave patted his stomach. “Well, we are looking more and more like potatoes each day.”

“Nathan, why don’t you come and stay with us?” Gary asked.

“You guys are still sharing the same old house? I thought you must have got good jobs and be married by now,” Nathan said.

“Oh, no. Who would bother to get married nowadays?” Dave glanced at Nathan’s mother, and then spoke in a quieter voice. “Nathan, you have no idea what has happened in the last fifteen years. Come with us, and we will educate you about the new world.”

“Thanks, mate, but I think Iwill stay home for a while before figuring out what to do with myself,” Nathan said.

“All right, that’s fine with us, but you should at least go out with us to celebrate your arrival home,” Dave said.

“All right.” Nathan turned to his mother. “Mom, I’m going to go out with Dave and Gary tonight; please don’t wait up for me.”

“Nathan, don’t worry about me. Go and talk to your mates,” his mother said happily.

Chapter 5

 

Outside, the Sydney summer night was much cooler than it had been during the daytime.

“Where is your car?” asked Nathan.

“Car? Nobody drives cars anymore. I ordered us a taxi,” Gary said. Then Nathan saw a taxi pull over and stop beside them.

“I noticed there are hardly any people on the streets, and no tourists at all. So what happened?” Nathan asked after they got inside the taxi.

“It’s because they are all in OBU,” Dave said mysteriously.

“OBU? What is that?” asked Nathan.

Gary spoke over Dave. “Nathan, is it for real that you have never heard of OBU, O, B, U, OBU?”

Nathan shook his head firmly. “No, mate; never heard about it.”

Gary looked at Dave and laughed. “In that case we will have a hell of a lot to tell you.”

“And lots to show you.” Dave spoke with enthusiasm.

“What’s all this about?” Nathan felt more frustrated by the minute.

“Be patient, Nathan; when we get to our place, you will know.”

 

The taxi stopped in front of a high-rise residential apartment building. Gary led the way through double glass doors, while nodding to the two armed guards standing at each side. Nathan couldn’t believe that Gary and Dave would live in a building that had armed security guards, but he didn’t ask because everything would make sense to him soon enough, at least he hoped so.

They walked into a lift. Gary inserted a plastic card into the slot, and then pushed their floor number. Their apartment was on the thirty-third floor.

The heavy, framed security door on their apartment surprised Nathan again. Maybe this was the standard arrangement in the future, Nathan thought.

After everyone was inside the apartment, Gary made sure all the locks on the doors were latched, both inside and outside of the two-layer security doors.

“You guys seem really big on the security,” said Nathan.

‘You will know why soon,” Dave said. “Anything to drink?”

“No drinking here; it’s far better to drink in OBU,” Gary said.

“What hell is this OBU?” asked Nathan. He couldn’t wait any longer to find out.

“Sit here, make yourself comfortable; it’ll be a long night.” Gary sat on the sofa in the living area.

 

Nathan looked around; it was just like any other apartment he had been to fifteen years ago. But he did notice the heavy, framed security windows. Security seemed like the priority in the future; maybe the crime rates were very high.

“Nathan, have you ever heard about OBE, out of body experience?” asked Gary.

“Of course I’ve heard about OBE.” Nathan wondered where the conversation was going.

“Do you know exactly what OBE is?” Dave asked.

Nathan thought about it for a few seconds. “Isn’t that when someone experiences their mind leaving their physical body, so they can see their own bodies from above or from a distance?”

“Yes, it is,” Gary said. “People have been obsessed with OBE throughout history in all cultures and religions around the world. There were so many documents and reports about people’s OBEs. Religious people thought they got calls from their gods; dying people thought they were flying to heaven; but in fact OBE is quite simple in scientific terms.”

“Come on, Gary, we don’t have the whole night to go through these boring theories,” Dave said.

Gary put his hand up to silence Dave, and then turned to Nathan. “It is very important for you to understand OBE. People may experience their mind or soul floating out of their bodies and watching themselves from somewhere else, but the truth is that it is just a trick of the mind.”

“What do you mean?” asked Nathan.

“Well, your mind hasn’t left your body and isn’t watching you from outside of your body. It’s your mind creating this illusion that, in an imaginary world in your mind, you are observing your own body from the ceiling or the corner of the room…” Gary said.

“Stop it, Gary; just let Nathan see it for himself.” Dave went through one of the bedroom doors and came back with a helmet in his hand.

 

It looked almost like a normal construction site safety helmet to Nathan, except there was a socket at the back and an eye-shield at the front of it. Dave pulled out a cable from behind the sofa and plugged it into the socket on the helmet. He put the helmet on his own head, and flapped the eye-shield up and down a few times. “After you flap the eye-shield down, you’ll be in the Out of Body Universe, OBU, right away.”

“But first make sure you are sitting comfortably; in fact it’s better to lie down on the carpet, because you don’t want to find out that you have strained your muscles while you are away from your body.” Gary watched as Nathan lay in a comfortable position.

“Here you go, enjoy the ride, my dear OBU virgin.” Dave mounted the helmet on top of Nathan’s head.

 

Apart from wearing the helmet, Nathan hadn’t felt anything special until Dave flapped the eye-shield down and plunged him into complete darkness, until a tiny light appeared in the centre of his eyes. The light spot was enlarging fast, and soon flooded the room with bright light, so bright that Nathan had to put his hand in front of his eyes to shield the blinding light. Just as he was doing so, he saw his body lying right on the carpet beside the sofa, and he was watching himself from the corner of the room. Nathan turned around, scanning the room; he saw Dave and Gary standing where they were before his helmet was on.

“This is fantastic, guys. Look, I can see my own hands, legs, arms, everything; I am walking around outside of my body…” Nathan suddenly stopped talking; from Dave and Gary’s blank expressions, they could neither see nor hear him at all, as if he was a ghost, but then Nathan heard Gary’s voice.

“Nathan, Dave and I will join you right away.”

Nathan knew that Gary was unable to see him because he was looking in the wrong direction while speaking to him. He saw Gary and Dave go into their bedrooms, and then come out with a helmet each. After dragging two more cables from behind the sofa and plugging them into their helmets, they both lay on the carpet beside Nathan, and then flapped their eye-shields closed.

In no time, Gary and Dave stood in front of Nathan.

“How is this possible?” Nathan rubbed his hands together. “I can feel my own hands touching each other; I can feel the cool air from the air-conditioner; I can feel my feet touching the carpet, while my body is lying right in front of me. Is this my soul that’s left my own body?”

Gary walked over and sat on the sofa, right beside the three bodies that belonged to the three of them. “Come here, and touch your own body.”

 

The concept was just too strange for Nathan to contemplate; staring at his own body only a few inches away, Nathan couldn’t believe that’s where he had been residing for his whole life. At that exact moment, he suddenly understood people’s belief in the separation of soul and body; for many religions, bodies are just temporary hosts for people’s souls.

Nathan put his hand out slowly, and poked at the cheek of his own face; he didn’t feel anything himself, just like touching someone else’s skin. The best and closest experience Nathan could come up with was when, after he had his tooth extracted, half of his face was under local anaesthetic, he had poked his face and couldn’t feel anything, as if it was just a piece of rubber sticking to his face. That was exactly what he felt right now: the body in front of him, although he knew it belonged to him, was just like a corpse.

“I would have believed in heaven and hell if I’d had this experience without your explanations,” Nathan said to Gary.

“Tell me about it,” Dave said. “We were all astonished when entering OBU the first time.”

“Nathan, the body you are in now is not your soul, but your self-projection; the image of you as you perceive yourself…” said Gary.

“Come on, Gary, I am getting bored with all this talking; let’s take Nathan out and show him around OBU for real,” said Dave.

Nathan walked towards the door, but Dave stopped him. “Where are you going, mate?”

“Aren’t you going to show me around in OBU?” said Nathan.

“Yeah, but we are not going to walk through that door to OBU,” said Gary. “I suppose you could if you really wanted to.” Gary waved his arm and a large screen appeared in front of them. A transparent screen that hung in mid-air, displaying something like the Internet Nathan was familiar with, that’s the best he could describe it.

Gary moved his hand and brought a few different screens up, like navigating the web, and then the globe of the world was floating in mid-air. “Nathan, where would you like to go?”

“Nathan wouldn’t have any ideas; let’s just go to Little Amsterdam,” said Dave.

“Amsterdam? Are we going to visit the Netherlands?” asked Nathan.

“What’s the big deal with visiting the Netherlands? It’s OBU age, and we can go anywhere in the world, it’s all just a click away,” said Dave.

“Dave is not entirely correct; we are not going to Amsterdam, but ‘Little Amsterdam’. In other words, we are not going to visit the real Netherlands,” said Gary.

“I am confused; what’s the difference between Amsterdam and this ‘Little Amsterdam’?” asked Nathan.

“It’s all to do with costs. You see, it’d cost a lot to maintain the giant databases and also refresh them regularly so they are exactly like it is in the real world. As a result, we would have to pay quite a bit to visit the real Netherlands in OBU, but on the other hand, ‘Little Amsterdam’ is only a replica of the real Amsterdam, a snapshot of the city, and does not need the expensive refreshing and updating all the time; maybe twice a year, so it’s much cheaper to visit there,” said Gary.

“I see, like a theme park, rather than the real thing,” said Nathan.

“Well, better than a theme park because it’s a snapshot of the real thing, just not updated as regularly as the real city in OBU,” said Dave. “But who cares about the city; it’s the people we are going there for.”

“Okay, it’s fine with me; I am happy to go wherever you guys want to go,” said Nathan.

“Before we go, you had better put this mask on.” Gary took a mask from his jeans pocket. It was a skin-coloured face mask. “Quite simple, you just put it over your face and it’s done.”

 

Nathan watched Dave as he also took a mask out of his pocket and put it on his face; in the blink of an eye, not only had Dave’s face changed to a much younger and more handsome face, but also his body. The large midriff was gone and replaced with a well –developed, muscular, athletic body. He was now wearing a black suit like secret agent James Bond; it must have been Dave’s secret inner desire, being an ultra-sexy, famous spy. Turning around, Gary was now a longhaired hippie with tattoos and sunglasses; maybe a rock star from the last fifteen years Nathan had no idea about.

Nathan put his own mask on. He didn’t feel anything on his face, as if the mask had melted into his skin; he quickly went to the large mirror in the living room that must have been put there for this exact purpose. In the mirror, Nathan saw a stranger staring back at him: a blond beach surfer boy. It seemed the mask had left his body untouched, only changed his face and hair colour.

“Well, a spy, a rock star and a surfer boy. Let’s go and have some real fun.” Gary spun the floating globe in mid-air, zooming in on Amsterdam, and then touched the dot of the city gently. Like switching scenes in a movie, Nathan found he was no longer in the high-security apartment in Sydney. Now he stood in a large field, like a giant car park, except there were no cars, only countless shiny metal poles as far as Nathan’s eyes were able to see, sticking out of the ground like a forest.

 

“Where is this place?” asked Nathan.

“It’s nowhere; just like the place you go before you get to heaven or hell,” Gary chuckled.

“It’s the entry point, like in the olden days when you had to log in for the paid websites.” Dave put his left wrist close to the metal pole. A green light beam came out and scanned his wrist. Before Nathan could blink Dave had disappeared from their sight.

Nathan turned, looking at Gary who said, “All masks have their own unique ID, and you load money into its account, and then you can spend it in OBU, including the entry fee.”

“Like the multi-riders for the bus, or rail passes for the train,” said Nathan.

“Yes, just like the passes, mate.” Gary was about to put his wrist against a pole but Nathan stopped him.

“One last question: why are there so many poles for only three of us to log in?”

“Well, it’s the privacy law requirement. Because we could randomly log in from any of these poles, it’s impossible for anyone to trace our login origin. See you there.” Gary also disappeared.

Nathan stared at his own wrist; there was nothing on his skin as far as he could see, so there must be some invisible barcode or imbedded chip of some sort. Anyway, he decided there was not much point wondering about it at the moment, so he put his wrist against a pole next to him; the transition was similar to how he had been transferred from the apartment to the login area. In no time, Nathan found he was on a street among millions people walking around him.

Chapter 6

 

Nathan had never been to Amsterdam, so he was not sure if he was in the famous city; the buildings around did look very European, but, based on the conversations around him, most people nearby seemed like tourists from the USA. Well, that was not too surprising to Nathan, as the Americans were everywhere even before OBU.

Dave led the charge, Gary and Nathan followed. Looking at the tree-lined canal in the middle of street, the typical Amsterdam postcard scenery, Nathan felt quite excited that he finally had the chance to enjoy the exotic city he had always wanted to visit. Then, after noticing the red-light-illuminated buildings and the half-naked girls in the window displays, he realized that they were right in the middle of the famous red light district; he now understood why Dave was so keen to get here.

The bakery Nathan used to work in fifteen years ago was not far from Kings Cross in Sydney, supposedly Australia’s equivalent of the red light district in Amsterdam, but it had no resemblance to the real thing. “Gary, is the real Amsterdam exactly like this?”

Before Gary had opened his mouth, Dave said, “This is actually much better than the real city; if you were walking on the real streets in Amsterdam right now, it’d be like a ghost town because everyone is here, in OBU.”

“I thought people would prefer the real Amsterdam in OBU, rather than a cheaper version of ‘Little Amsterdam’,” said Nathan.

“For tourists, it’s true, but for what most people are looking for, this is better; in fact, ‘Little Amsterdam’ is much more popular than the real city, so the Netherlands’ government has been increasing the entry tax to visitors here each year,” said Gary.

Dave waved his arm to indicate the countless windows of girls. “You know that what we are looking at now is not the exact same dimensions as the physical city area, but the digital extension, easily a hundred times bigger; and the girls are from all over the world, a true global red light district.” Dave stopped beside a large window; inside there was a blonde girl who smiled at them. “Nathan, would you like to have fun with this girl? It’d be my shout for your homecoming.”

“Thanks, mate, but I’ll give it a miss today,” Nathan said. “Do you guys do this quite regularly?”

“Oh no, for a charming guy like me, why would I need to pay to get girls?” Dave said. “This is just giving you a tour, a sightseeing; the real action is at the bars if you want to catch girls, the real girls you don’t have to pay.”

“Yeah, let’s get to our favourite bar; I am tired of this boring window shopping, and I also need my fix,” Gary said.

“Nathan, do you know Gary has a secret lover in OBU?”

“Really, a secret lover, Gary?”

Gary waved his arm to dismiss the question. “Dave is joking.”

Dave turned, looking at Nathan. “Mate, are you done with the red light district?”

“Sure, I am easy,” Nathan said.

 

The bar was right in the thick of the red light district, so it was no surprise that the waitresses were in extremely short skirts and tank tops. Inside, patrons were speaking all different languages, a true global gathering place of drinking, dope smoking and meat-swapping.

The biggest difference to Nathan between this place and the normal bars he was familiar with, apart from the near-naked waitresses and girls around, was that all the patrons looked beautiful, handsome, elegant, young and fit; if he didn’t know about the secret of the masks, Nathan would have believed these people were actually themselves.

They sat down at a corner table; the waitress spoke English with a British accent—a part-time job during her university studies, Nathan guessed. She took their orders. Dave gave her a very generous tip after she brought their drinks, and dope for Gary. It seemed that they visited this place quite regularly.

 

Nathan swallowed some of the Dutch beer; it was pretty good, just like drinking the real thing. He watched as Gary lit up his dope, and blue smoke filled the air around them. Nathan turned around, seeing many were doing exactly the same thing as Gary. “Gary, I know this sounds silly, but does smoking dope in OBU feel the same as in the real world?”

“Better, much better.” Gary closed his eyes, keeping the smoke in his lungs as long as possible, and then blew it out.

“How so? I mean, despite it looking like you are smoking, we all know it’s just EMRT interpreting some computer data in your brain,” said Nathan.

‘That’s exactly the reason, mate,” Gary continued after blowing more blue smoke into the air. “Normally when you smoke dope, the chemicals would have to be in your lungs, absorbing into your bloodstream and then flooding into your brain, and only then can you feel high, but this shit cuts all the middle men out, and jumps straight to the final stop. Nathan, you should try it, pure heaven.”

“No thanks,” said Nathan. “I suppose that, smoking in OBU, you at least don’t get lung cancer; getting high without the negatives.”

“Not always.” Dave pulled his eyes from the girls and waitress and back to their table. “Some dope is better than others, but if you smoke the dodgy stuff, you could get a brain tumour or memory loss.”

“Really, do people get brain tumours from smoking a piece of software?” asked Nathan.

“Unfortunately it has happened, more and more actually,” Gary said. “Although your brain only accepts signals, the repeat stimulation sometimes causes damage to the brain, particularly the cheap and illegal dope in OBU.”

“Well, it seems nothing is totally positive after all.” Nathan swallowed more beer.

“That’s why I don’t smoke dope, and don’t drink much alcohol either,” said Dave. “But girls are the must. There haven’t been any reports about brain damage related to orgasms, so sex is the way to go, mate. Gary, what do you think about the girl on the left, four tables down?”

“I would have to put my sunglasses on.” Gary took a pair of sunglasses out and put them on. Dave did the same.

 

Nathan turned around, looking at the girl Dave was referring to. She looked like she was in her middle twenties and in Nathan’s opinion was quite plain, not really to Dave’s taste.

“She is definitely pretty and attractive, but seems a bit shy, that’s why she chose the mask she is wearing,” said Gary.

“I agree with your assessment; I love a shy girl. You know, she could be a virgin,” said Dave. “I’ll see you guys later then.” Dave stood up and went over to the girl.

Nathan looked at the girl again; to be politically correct, he wouldn’t say she was ugly as such, he would say she was average at the most, but definitely nowhere near pretty or attractive. Nathan couldn’t imagine that any girl in the world would choose a mask that made her look less attractive than her real body. “Excuse me, Gary, have I missed something about this girl?”

“Yes, you have indeed.” Gary took his sunglasses off, shaking them in his hand. “What do you think this is?”

“A pair of sunglasses.”

“No, it’s more than just a pair of sunglasses.” He lowered his voice. “They enable you to peel off people’s masks and see their real faces and bodies.”

“Really? You are able to see people’s real faces?”

“Ssh,” Gary said in a low voice. “It’s illegal to possess these type of sunglasses theoretically. Only law enforcement officers have the privileges; they’re called ‘seekers’.”

“Theoretically?”

“Well, it’s against the privacy law, but it’s not enforced; still, you don’t want to tell everyone in public that you have seekers.”

“How do they peel off one’s mask?”

Gary drank a mouthful of whisky in between dragging on his dope. “Whatever you see here is just computer data, so seekers strip off the extra data to show people’s real bodies; having said that, it’s not as easy as it seems, as there are always new versions of masks coming out, so there are also new seekers.”

“Like computer virus and anti-virus software?”

“Yes, it’s the same principle; both masks and seekers are software after all.”

“Where do you get the seekers?”

“You can’t buy them in normal shops the same way you would buy your masks, for obvious reasons, but you can get them if you know where to look; anyway, this is the latest version so they’ll be able to see through most people’s masks.”

“Gary, can I have a look through your seekers?”

“Of course you can.” Gary passed the sunglasses to Nathan.

 

They looked just like a pair of ordinary sunglasses to Nathan. Apart from everything getting darker, all the people around him looked just the same. He gave them back to Gary. “I don’t see anything different.”

“It’s because they’ve been set up for my eyes only, just in case the police by chance want to check on them. Don’t worry; I can help you to get a pair later.”

“Thanks, mate.”

“No worries, that’s what friends are for.”

“Gary, what’s the point in knowing what someone’s real body is like? I mean, as long as you don’t wear seekers, you would only see their masks anyway.”

“Masks are good for looking at, but when you have sex, it’s better to take them off.”

“Do you mean the mask desensitizes one’s physical sensations, like wearing condoms?”

“Not like wearing condoms, more like having sex through a pair of winter pyjamas,” Gary said. “Believe it or not, people do keep their masks on just because they don’t want the other person to see their real bodies.”

“That wouldn’t work, as the other one would know, just because he or she wouldn’t take their mask off.”

“Not if he or she wears two sets of masks.”

Chapter 7

 

While Gary closed his eyes and enjoyed each deep drag of his dope, Nathan scanned the people around them. A couple of girls climbed up on top of the counter, crawling and twisting their bodies, obviously part of the attraction of the bar. Men, and some women, were cheering and whistling.

Nathan was not used to this kind of situation; although he had been to skimpy bars before, he had never been comfortable. He lowered his gaze and concentrated on his beer; suddenly he had a feeling that someone was watching him.

Nathan turned around, scanning the crowd. He could see nothing unusual, but he was certain a pair of keen eyes were observing him somewhere in the crowd. Nathan looked up, pretending to stare at the girls crawling on the bench top, but really busily scanning the crowds: still nothing.

Nathan closed his eyes, concentrating and focusing his mind’s eye, the technique he had learnt from Master Wuwei. After feeling his heartbeat slow down, the noises around him seemed to disappear from his ears; he opened his eyes and what he saw took his breath away: the patrons were not what they appeared at all. Instead of the glamorous, young and fit-looking people, there were men with bald heads and protruding midriffs, aged and overweight women, and obviously under-aged teenagers.

Nathan turned to Gary and saw him in his real body, rather than in the rock star mask. Then Nathan’s eyes caught the person who was watching him: a very attractive woman in her early twenties. The pair of blue eyes under her red hair were electrifying; Nathan felt his heart skip a few beats. He could feel the chemical attraction he had towards this girl.

Nathan blinked his eyes and everything went back to normal. He didn’t know what had happened; maybe it was just a delusion. However, he did locate the person who was watching him, except she was not the attractive girl he had seen a moment ago, but an ordinary guy, holding a beer bottle and sitting among a group of young guys. There were six of them in the group, cheering and whistling at the show girls. Nathan closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, hoping to reproduce the same effect, but without much luck: the young guy remained a man.

“Gary.” Nathan patted Gary, who opened his eyes, blowing out a large cloud of blue smoke.

“What’s the matter, mate?”

“Gary,” Nathan whispered. “Look at the guy, at the third table to the left, the one with the checked short-sleeve shirt and jeans.”

“What about him?”

“I don’t know how but for a moment I saw him as a very attractive girl.”

“Let me have a look.” Gary put his sunglasses on. “Well, although his real body is quite young and fit, he is definitely a man, not a girl.” Gary looked at Nathan, very concerned. “Nathan, have you turned gay, maybe as a result of your lost memory?”

Nathan shook his head. “I am not gay, mate. I swear that I saw him as a girl, red hair and blue eyes… Never mind.”

“Yeah, enjoy the show.” Gary stood up. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

“What? How can you go to the bathroom in OBU? And why do you need to go to the bathroom anyway, because you haven’t eaten or drunk anything real.”

Gary sat down again. “Mate, people’s bodies in the real world still need to go to the bathroom. Instead of peeing your pants there is a specially designed software in OBU that synchronizes your projected body in OBU and your real body, so you can relieve yourself in the real world; of course you would need to have a toilet to go to in your home first.”

Nathan though for a moment. “In that case, one could synchronize other activities, such as drinking real water and eating real food, so you could actually live in OBU for a very long time.”

“Indeed you can, and most people are doing exactly that; so now you understand why we live in a high-security apartment building. See you later, mate.” Gary left.

***

The sound of the metal door opening dragged Nathan back to the present, the OBU. A beefy police officer walked in; he pulled the chair out from underneath the desk, and sat opposite Nathan. He lit up a cigarette and blew a large cloud of blue smoke at Nathan’s face. Well, it seemed everyone was smoking dope in Amsterdam, including the police interrogator, thought Nathan.

“What’s your name?” He spoke English but with a strong Dutch accent.

“Nathan. Nathan Jenkins.”

‘Okay, Nathan, my name is Bart; Bart Vos, your interrogator.” He blew another cloud of blue smoke. “Nathan, who are you really?”

“Mr. Vos, I’m only a tourist from Sydney, Australia. You know Sydney, don’t you?”

“Of course I know Sydney, the place with the seashell Opera House. But Nathan, you are not an ordinary tourist. Please tell us your real identity; it will save us all the trouble of having to find out.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about; I am just a normal tourist and this is my very first time visiting Amsterdam.”

“Well, let’s talk about what happened in the bar today.” He dragged on his cigarette a couple of times in quick succession, and then pushed a button on the desk. “Watch it yourself. Quite an astonishing performance, I have to admit.”

 

On the large one-way glass window, a video began playing: a recording of Nathan fighting against the attackers in the bar.

“They were trying to kill the tourists. I merely did my duty as a citizen; I stopped the killing and saved the innocents.”

“Innocents? We will get to that soon, but you are no ordinary tourist if you can beat up six armed guys with your bare hands; so tell us, who are you really?”

“I have told you that I am just a normal guy from Sydney.”

“Normal guy; where did you learn how to fight like that?”

“Today I saved a lot of lives; you should be giving me a medal, not interrogating me.” In his mind, Nathan was also wondering if his newly discovered fighting skills were the result of his meeting with Master Wuwei.

“Okay, let’s talk about the ‘innocent’ people you saved today.” The interrogator pushed the button again. An enlarged photo of a young guy appeared on the one-way glass: the girl in the male’s face mask. “Is this the guy you saved?”

“Yes, he is one of them.”

“But he is not what you think he is.” The interrogator pushed the button again; beside the guy’s face, the girl’s face appeared.

It was a high-resolution photo; Nathan could really see her long red hair and blue eyes clearly. Yes, it was her, exactly as he had seen her in the bar, so it was not him being delusional; he had seen her real face, but how could he see through people’s masks? Besides, Gary didn’t see the girl’s real face with his seekers. While Nathan was wondering, the interrogator spoke again.

“You can see that he is in fact not a him, but a her. Her name is Mary O’Brian, an Irish woman and the most wanted terrorist in the world. You have heard about her, no?”

“No. Never.”

“Nathan, normally we would think you were a member of Mary O’Brian’s group, but because we haven’t witnessed fighting skills like you demonstrated tonight before, we are giving you the benefit of the doubt that you didn’t know who you were dealing with. Tell me, Nathan, where have you been during the last five years if you have never heard about her?” He used his cigarette to point at Mary’s photo.

“Well…” This was actually the question that Nathan kept asking himself since he had found out he was fifteen years in the future. “Well, I woke up this morning and found that I had just gone fifteen years into the future. I suppose that I must have had an accident and lost my memories.”

The interrogator thought about it for a few seconds, and then blew more smoke rings at Nathan. “I suppose that’s possible.” Just then, a light began to flash on the desk beside the button. He stood up and walked out of the room without a word.

Very soon he returned, followed by another police officer.

“Nathan, we believe that you didn’t know who Mary O’Brian was and acted on good faith to save the innocents.”

“Thanks. By the way, Mr. Vos, who were the attackers in the bar?”

“They were the special field agents of Interpol.”

“Oh, I am so sorry I injured police officers.”

“Don’t worry about that too much; with some healing software, they will soon get over it, even forgetting about the pain altogether.”

“Why didn’t they use guns when they were hunting the most wanted terrorist in the world?” asked Nathan.

“We don’t want to injure or kill bystanders, do we?”

“What happens if someone is killed in OBU? Would he die in the real world?” asked Nathan.

“So you are really an OBU virgin; if you are killed in OBU, the violent signals would cause your brain permanent damage, so yes, you would die.”

“It’s very fortunate I didn’t kill anyone in the bar.”

“It’s your lucky day, Nathan; if you had killed someone, you would be in big trouble. For now you are free to go, but you need to inform us immediately if Mary O’Brian tries to contact you.”

“Of course, Mr. Vos; I will do my best to assist the police in the fight against terrorists.”

Chapter 8

 

Nathan walked out of the police building and saw that Gary and Dave were waiting for him.

“Nathan, was it really you that beat up six armed guys with your bare hands?” Dave asked.

“I did, although I have no idea how I did it,” Nathan said.

“Mate, we have lots to talk about when we get home,” Gary said seriously.

“How do we get home?” asked Nathan.

Dave pointed at a flashing spot nearby. “There are exit points everywhere. Even though they are in different shapes, materials and colours, they are easily identified: by flashing lights in the night and by their shine during the day.”

The spot Dave had pointed to was a shiny metal box mounted on the wall of the building along the street. Nathan guessed that they would just scan their wrists against it, the same way as when they logged in. Sure enough, that’s exactly how Gary and Dave exited, so Nathan followed suit, and in no time he was back at the apartment again.

 

Nathan climbed up from the floor, then slumped on the sofa, feeling exhausted. All he wanted to do was go to sleep, a long, deep sleep; he felt like his brain was overloaded.

“Nathan, where did you learn to fight like that?” asked Gary.

“Yes, tell us, mate,” said Dave.

Nathan thought for a while, and decided it’d be better not to tell them about Master Wuwei. He didn’t know why but his instincts were telling him not to.

“I don’t know. It may be part of my lost memories.”

“Man, you are awesome; next time we go out I’ll let you play the cool spy,” Dave said. “But don’t snatch my girls.”

“Nathan, you told me that you saw through the girl’s mask; was that also caused by your lost memories?” asked Gary.

“I did see her real face, but only once. Anyway, the police showed me the photo of her real face, and she is Mary O’Brian,” said Nathan.

“What? Are you telling me you just saved the most wanted terrorist in the world, Mary O’Brian?” shouted Dave.

“Yes, at least that’s what the police told me. Who is this Mary O’Brian anyway?”

“Oh man, you have missed so much.” Dave looked extremely excited. “Mary O’Brian is one of the leaders of SOH, Salvation Of Humanity, and has been on the top of the most wanted list for the last five years, but the authorities never seem to be able to get her. But today you actually saved her from the government’s secret agents, holy shit! My God, this is big!”

“Well, I didn’t know who she was, and I didn’t think to ask, I just acted when those agents tried to kill her.”

“Was it because she was attractive?” said Gary calmly.

Nathan thought about it, and then said, “I suppose I am attracted to her. Very much so; I’ve never felt like that in my whole life.”

“Man, way to go.” Dave patted Nathan’s shoulder. “Imagine that, having the most wanted terrorist as your girlfriend. By the way, how come the police let you go so easily? Considering that you not only let the most wanted terrorist slip away, but also beat the shit out of their agents?”

“I don’t know; I suppose they knew that I didn’t do it intentionally. Besides, I fortunately didn’t kill any of the agents,” Nathan said. “What exactly has she been doing to earn the most wanted title?” asked Nathan. For some reason he didn’t use the word terrorist.

“You would have to ask Gary about her and SOH; I only know that SOH claims OBU is destroying everything about our civilization and eventually the human race, so they sabotage OBU utilities around the globe and vow to completely eliminate OBU altogether.”

“Has she killed many innocent people by doing that?” asked Nathan.

“I don’t know if she has been personally responsible for killing anyone, but SOH as an organization has definitely caused the deaths of many innocent people as collateral damage in their war against OBU,” said Gary.

“How come you didn’t see through her mask?” asked Nathan.

“I supposed that her mask must be a newer version than my seekers,” said Gary.

“Tell me more about Mary and SOH; I want to know more about her,” said Nathan.

“It’s getting late, and you look exhausted. I suggest we continue this conversation another time,” said Gary. “More importantly, what are you going to do? I mean, are you going to get a job?”

“I don’t know; I need time to think this through. Don’t forget I only woke up this morning.”

 

Nathan went back to his mother’s house. The next morning, he helped her to tidy up the backyard, getting rid of the overgrown weeds, cutting unruly tree branches off, trimming the climbers along the garden fences and repaving the footpaths. His mother watched Nathan with a big smile on her face.

Nathan went back inside and had a shower; meanwhile his mother made him lunch. As he came out of the bathroom, someone rang the doorbell. Nathan opened the front door and to his surprise, the person standing in front of him was Cathy, his ex-girlfriend.

 

Cathy, with her slender, six-foot, model-like body, looked as striking and sharp as Nathan remembered. The last fifteen years had left traces on her face, but she was still absolutely stunning.

“Hi, Nathan, it’s so exciting that you finally came home. We all missed you so much.”

“Hi, Cathy.” Nathan was surprised by his own reaction. He thought he would feel angry and demand explanations as to why she dumped him for no apparent reason. He should even shout at her and tell her to get lost as revenge, as many people would do in his situation, but he didn’t feel angry. Nor did he desire any explanations. He supposed that the conversations and Tai Chi training with Master Wuwei had helped him get over the breakup, and he was very pleased with himself.

“You are looking as beautiful as ever,” Nathan said in a very relaxed manner.

“Thanks, Nathan.” Cathy pushed her blonde hair away from her eyes. “I have to say you look exactly the same as you were fifteen years ago; you haven’t aged one bit.”

“That’s what they tell me.”

“Are you going to invite me inside, or are we just going to talk in the doorway?”

“Of course, please come in.”

“Nathan, could you please help me carry this box inside?”

Nathan then noticed a large box lying on the ground behind Cathy, so he carried it inside.

 

“Oh, it’s Cathy; I haven’t seen you for a very long time,” Nathan’s mother greeted Cathy.

“Yes, Betty, it’s been a very long time. I’m sure you are happy that Nathan is finally home.”

“Yes, I am so happy…Cathy, I was just about to make lunch for Nathan and myself, would you like to join us?”

“I knew that I was coming at the right time, and I am more than happy to have lunch with you, but today I’ll cook,” Cathy said.

“I don’t…I mean I didn’t know you could cook,” said Nathan.

“Nathan, that was fifteen years ago, people can change a lot.” Cathy opened the large box that Nathan had just carried inside, taking three helmets out.

These helmets looked identical to the helmet he had worn to go to OBU in Gary and Dave’s apartment. Before Nathan could open his mouth, his mother asked first, “What are these for?”

“Betty, please be patient for a moment, and I will show you a few tricks,” Cathy said as she took some vegetables, bread, and fruit out of the box.

Nathan watched Cathy in awe; she prepared the food in a very sleek style, as if she was in a TV show. Cathy washed the vegetables, peeled and boiled potatoes, and in a very short time she had got the food organized.

“Now comes the fun part.”

 

Cathy asked Nathan and his mother to sit at the dining table. She then put a helmet on each of their heads, and put the last one on herself. “Now flap your eye-shields down; right, just like this.”

Nathan was expecting the same out of body experience as he had just yesterday with Gary and Dave, but, instead of observing himself from outside his body, Nathan was still looking at the same dining table, or rather, to be exact, the same table covered with different things.

Nathan turned his head around; in front of his eyes the room had transformed. It was no longer his mother’s humble kitchen and small dining table, but a splendid modern kitchen with a snow white tablecloth set up with silver knives and forks. Nathan heard his mother’s voice.

“Cathy, what happened? Where is my kitchen? Where are we?”

“Betty, please don’t panic. We are still in your kitchen. It’s only a mind trick this helmet is doing to you.”

Nathan didn’t see helmets on either Cathy or his mother’s head. He used his own hand to touch his head. Yes, the helmet was still there but he no longer felt it, just like the paper hats people wore during Christmas dinners.

Cathy stood in front of the sparkling new kitchen counter. “Betty, would you like to have a roast for lunch?”

“Roast beef? Oh I would love to have some right now but where did you cook…”

Even before his mother finished her sentence, Cathy opened the stove and brought out a tray of steaming roast beef; the wonderful smell of the roast immediately filled the air around them.

 

The lunch was wonderful, a five course meal ending with an exotic desert, in true French style. During the whole meal, Nathan’s mother kept commenting on how lovely the silver knives and forks were; how tender the roast beef was; how fresh and delicious the fruit salad was; and how wonderful the real French champagne was. Although not sure exactly how Cathy was pulling off the tricks, Nathan knew it had something to do with OBU, but he didn’t say anything, deciding to just play along.

After lunch, Cathy suggested they all remove their helmets.

“Cathy, where are the roast beef and the champagne?” Nathan’s mother asked.

Cathy grinned.

“Betty, it was the helmet playing tricks on your mind; it created an illusion that we were eating a five course lunch.”

“So what was the roast beef we just ate?” asked Nathan’s mother.

“Boiled potatoes.”

“The champagne?”

“Tap water.”

“The dessert?”

“Mashed potatoes and fruit salad.”

“Oh, Cathy, this is just wonderful. You have to teach me how to use this helmet.”

 

While Cathy patiently explained how to use the helmet to his mother, Nathan couldn’t stop admiring this magic technology. With the help of this helmet, people could indulge themselves with whatever they liked, but still only eat simple, basic and healthy food; the potential applications were endless, and so joyful and healthy.

During the lunch Nathan had looked out through the back door and found that the backyard still looked the same as it always had, so the illusion was limited to the kitchen area only. Besides, he also remembered hearing bird sounds; he felt better about the application because his mother was still able to see and hear what was happening outside of her illusion.

After everything was cleaned up, Cathy said to Nathan’s mother, “Betty, this afternoon I would like to show Nathan around since he hasn’t been home for so long.”

“Cathy, thank you so much for looking after Nathan.”

“No problem at all. Before we leave, I would like to show you another function of this magic helmet.”

Nathan watched as Cathy talked to his mother and showed her how to access the main menu and navigate to the next; it took a while for his mother to become familiar with the system, but she eventually got there.

“Betty, now I would like you to go to the travel program. Yes, you are doing great; right, click that, and now you are in London.”

Nathan heard his mother’s excited voice.

“I can’t believe I am walking along the Thames; I can see Big Ben…”

Nathan dragged Cathy away from his mother and whispered, “We can’t leave her alone; there is no security around this house.”

“Betty is not in OBU; she is just experiencing a high-definition 3D video and surround sound. She is still able to hear what is happening around her; not much different from watching a normal TV in the olden days.”

“What happens if the sound is too loud and she’s unable to hear the doorbell?”

“This helmet is quite intelligent; when it senses a sudden noise, it pauses the video. Let me demonstrate for you.” Cathy walked towards the front door and rang the doorbell.

Sure enough, Nathan’s mother flipped her eye-shield up and looked at them.

Cathy said. “Betty, Nathan and I are leaving now. Enjoy your tour of London.”

Chapter 9

 

Cathy told the taxi driver to go straight to the Rocks, where the Opera House and Harbour Bridge were.

As the car cruised leisurely along the main streets, Nathan was still amazed to see that there were so few cars around; apart from the occasional bus, taxi, or delivery vehicle passing by, he hadn’t seen a single passenger car, or any pedestrians.

Cathy looked at Nathan’s expression and seemed amused. “You must be wondering where all the people are on a Monday afternoon.”

“Yes I am, indeed. I know people are crazy about visiting places all over the world in OBU, but surely one has to work in order to make a living?”

“They do, and they are doing exactly that right now.”

Nathan looked at the ghost town through the car’s window, and then turned back to Cathy. “Oh, don’t tell me they are all working in OBU?”

“Nathan, that’s exactly what is going on.” She pointed at the buildings that had been occupied by large businesses and corporations, as Nathan recalled.

“Almost every single building is empty, and they may be converted to apartments later; we have driven past a few that still have corporate logos and business names, but they are shop fronts only. In fact, apart from the few activities that have to happen in the real world, most business activities are conducted in OBU.”

Watching the familiar streets and buildings pass by, Nathan felt sad; everything was so familiar but still so alien at the same time. He was a total stranger in his own hometown, the place he had spent the first twenty years of his life. Soon they arrived at the Rocks; the normally crowded, must-see location for all tourists was now still and empty, like a no-man’s land.

“It’s such a strange feeling to see nobody around,” Nathan said, getting out of the taxi.

Cathy smiled but didn’t say anything. She led the way to a nearby high-rise apartment building. Nathan followed. It seemed that she had done quite well to be able to afford to live on the prime real estate in one of the world’s most expensive cities; at least it was before OBU.

 

The armed security guards at the foyer and heavy security doors and window frames in Cathy’s apartment were much the same as Gary and Dave’s.

“I suppose that we should get the ball rolling.” Cathy gave Nathan a helmet that had a cable connected already. “Shall we?”

Nathan put it on his head and flipped the eye-shield down and soon he was looking at his own body sitting on the coach a few feet away. In no time, Cathy was standing beside the window. She signalled for him to get closer to her.

“Look down there.”

Nathan looked through the window; although he had anticipated what it might look like, what he saw still took his breath away: twenty stories down on the ground, millions of tourists were jammed into almost every inch of ground between the seashell-like Opera House and Harbour Bridge. In the air there were cars flying at different levels over the city, a picture from a true futuristic science fiction movie.

“Flying cars?” said Nathan.

“Nathan, it’s OBU age,” Cathy said. “Flying cars are just a piece of software to intrigue your mind, there’s nothing strange about it.” She paused, and then said, “I suggest we take a ride in my helicopter so I can show you around.”

Your helicopter? But Nathan managed to swallow the sentence before it came out of his mouth, because Cathy would tell him it was just another piece of software.

He kept quiet while Cathy pushed a button on the wall, and a panel of the wall slid open; inside there was a lift. He said nothing and just stepped inside it after Cathy.

The lift took them straight to the building’s rooftop. Nathan followed Cathy out of the lift and walked towards a helicopter parked not far from them.

 

“Why don’t you just drive a flying car?” asked Nathan as he climbed into the co-pilot’s seat.

“Put those on.” Cathy indicated the headphones in front of Nathan. She started the flying machine efficiently and professionally; it seemed that she had done this quite regularly. “We all know that cars can’t fly in the real world, at least not yet, so driving a flying car is just a joy ride on a piece of software, but flying this helicopter is the real thing.”

“The real thing? Are you telling me this is like a flight simulation?”

“Yes, Nathan, but it’s much better than a simulation because I am actually flying the real helicopter. Even though it’s in OBU, the altitude, air temperature, wind speed, weather conditions and the machine’s mechanical performance all match the flight in real time; in other words, there is no difference between me flying it in the real world or in OBU.”

“This is fantastic!” exclaimed Nathan. “It means that people can do all sorts of real training in OBU without the costs or dangers in the real world. There’d be no danger of them killing themselves in training accidents .”

 

Cathy flew over the Harbour Bridge, towards the zoo, which was on the slope of a hill, a fair distance by boat but a short ride in a helicopter.

“The standard businesses that were already heavily represented on the Internet even before OBU, such as media, education, fashion, finance, and entertainment, have all naturally moved to OBU; the other businesses, such as heavy industry and military training, travelling and sightseeing, and hospitality, including hotels and restaurants, are also now thriving in OBU as well.”

“I can’t believe this.” Nathan just couldn’t stop mumbling the same words over and over. He looked down as they flew over the zoo, seeing the elephants and other animals. “Are they real or just digitally generated?”

“Some are real and some aren’t.”

“Cathy, I know I have been saying this ever since I got into this helicopter, but I just can’t believe this is really happening. Look, that’s the bakery I used to work in.”

“Yes, it is. I intentionally flew over it for you.”

“Thanks, Cathy.”

“Nathan, do you still remember in our uni days when we protested and fought against mining corporations?” Cathy said softly.

“How could I forget? I remember clearly when we went to the north of western Australia, to stop the building of that oil refinery that would destroy the rocks with old aboriginal paintings from tens of thousands of years ago, and million-year-old dinosaur footprints. We fought shoulder to shoulder with environmental activists from all over the world, and aboriginal youths and elders…” Nathan’s memories flooded back to his life fifteen years ago, but he stopped when his breakup with Cathy came to his mind.

Cathy turned, patting Nathan’s arm gently.

“Nathan, we don’t need to protest and fight anymore; we won. Forests won; animals won; everyone won, all thanks to OBU.”

“Right.” Nathan was thinking and digesting Cathy’s words.

“Nathan, you see, because of OBU, people don’t need to cut down forests, or kill cows so that they can produce burgers; orangutans can finally survive because we no longer need to use palm tree oil; the Americans no longer need drugs from golden triangles and Mexicans; the Japanese no longer need to harm whales for their meat; the Chinese no longer need the ivory; people no longer need to breathe in polluted air, and Earth’s temperature is no longer rising. Nathan, OBU has saved us, saved the environment, saved us from global warming…” Cathy said this with tears shining in her eyes.

“That’s wonderful!” Nathan said. “But how could OBU help with reducing pollution? Don’t we still need to burn fossil fuel to drive cars and generate electricity?”

“Yes, the world is still dependant on fossil fuel, but at a much reduced scale.” Cathy waved her hand at the city below.

“You have seen with your own eyes that there are hardly any cars on the streets because almost every possible business and private activity that can be conducted in OBU is being conducted in OBU. Air travel, luxury goods, hotels and resorts, fast food, you name them, all disappeared from the real world; as a result, the usage of fossil fuel is now only a fraction of what it was before OBU, and so is the pollution.”

Cathy pushed a button on the instrument panel; in the blink of an eye, underneath, the endless red desert in the middle of Australia replaced the scenery of Sydney.

 

“How did we fly so quickly from Sydney to the middle of the desert?”

Cathy made the helicopter turn and they were soon close to the most famous landmark, the Uluru Rock.

“It’s just a matter of changing the data set, so it takes no time at all. By the way, I don’t think you have been to Uluru Rock before. Would you like to climb it now?”

“I thought it wasn’t allowed anymore,” said Nathan.

“Nathan, we are in OBU, and therefore won’t be able to damage the real Uluru Rock.” Cathy landed the helicopter beside the giant red rock.

Nathan was completely lost in admiration of the beauty and magnificence of the natural wonder.

Cathy was agile whilst walking on the rock. The weather was quite hot, which was understandable for being in the middle of the Australian desert.

Cathy took two pairs of sunglasses out of her pocket and passed one pair to Nathan.

“You had better put them on.”

After going full circle around the giant red rock, Cathy turned around and walked back towards the helicopter.

“Nathan, I am a bit hungry, let’s go back and have some afternoon tea. What about getting something to eat in your little bakery?”

“What a good idea.” Nathan was looking forward to seeing what the old bakery was like in OBU.

Chapter 10

 

Cathy landed the helicopter right outside of the little bakery, Croissant Classic. After they had climbed out of the machine Cathy waved her arm and the helicopter disappeared into thin air. Nathan neither showed any surprise nor asked any questions.

It was the same humble bakery Nathan knew so well, but at the same time it wasn’t; there were some changes in this digital version of it. The street outside was nice and quiet, lined with trees, and had a spectacular bay view looking right at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. With its proximity to the neighbourhood of Kings Cross, the little bakery was a tourist hot spot in OBU.

They walked inside the door of the bakery; the bakery’s exterior was merely fifteen feet wide, but the inside of it went back as far as one’s eye could see. It seemed that the contents of the business were far beyond the basic croissants and cakes; one could find every possible French delicacy that had ever existed.

“What would you like?” asked Cathy.

“Cathy, you should know exactly what I like.”

“Well, that was fifteen years ago, people change. Anyway, let’s order the lot and spoil ourselves.”

Nathan watched as Cathy made the order.

“Nathan, why don’t we sit outside? I’ve always liked the bay view under the trees, just like the good old days.”

“Sounds good to me.”

They walked out and found a table right in front of the store. No sooner had they sat down than a waitress brought their order out on a trolley. Nathan looked at the dozens of different kinds of delicious cakes, wondering how it’d be possible for them to eat them all.

“This is a bit overwhelming,” Nathan said after the waitress left.

Cathy picked up a piece of cake and put it onto her plate. “Although these cakes are just software, they still cost money to create, so nothing is free in OBU but the price is just a fraction of what it would be in the real world, and a hundred times more delicious. The biggest benefit of all is that you can eat as much as you like, but never gain weight.” Cathy started eating her piece of cake.

 

In no time, Nathan had tried dozens of the French delicacies; it was a wonderful experience, a true treat to one’s taste buds without needing to worry about either your weight or stomach complications; he could keep eating for the whole day. Of course one had to have the money to pay for the luxury.

Cathy put another piece of cake on her plate. “One of the biggest benefits of OBU is food revolution.”

“Like you demonstrated at lunch time that we could taste whatever fancy flavour we wanted while only eating basic food in the real world.”

“Exactly.” Cathy finished eating the piece of cake and then continued. “Fast food and junk food are completely gone, and slow, local and organic food dominates today. Nathan, you see, because most foods are produced locally, they are not only healthier, but also reduce the carbon footprint dramatically, and all of this is again thanks to OBU.”

More and more people came and joined them sitting along the riverfront, so it got noisier. Even before Nathan suggested that they went somewhere quieter, Cathy signalled to the waitress. They exchanged a few words, the waitress nodded, waved her arm, and Nathan found the nearby tables, together with the people, had simply disappeared, leaving Cathy and him alone.

‘Wow, this is much better, but how did you do it?” asked Nathan.

“It’s quite easily done in OBU, digital compartments, but it costs a bit more money; it’s their marketing trick to get people to pay more for the privilege.”

“Well, no matter where you are, making profit is still the goal for businesses,” said Nathan. “It seems that software is able to create almost everything out of the real world, but why would people bother to use OBU cameras to replicate it all?”

“Regardless of how fantastic the world the software is able to produce is, people still like the wonder of nature, the real thing, and that’s why people come to visit Sydney in OBU, rather than just seeing a theme-park-like replica,” said Cathy. She pushed her plate away, her taste buds finally satisfied.

“Nathan, I heard Dave and Gary took you to Amsterdam, how was it?”

“Well, we only walked along the streets in the red light district and visited a skimpy bar there,” said Nathan uncomfortably.

“Trust Dave and Gary to do that for you on your first OBU visit,” Cathy laughed. “But there’s no need to feel embarrassed about it, everyone is doing it. OBU brought true sexual liberation for women, men and the world.”

“I can see that,” mumbled Nathan.

“Nathan, you have no idea how much OBU has done for all women around the world. They don’t need to worry about sexual abuse, diseases, violence and they can use their bodies in whatever way they like. They don’t need to worry about how society views their behaviour; they have finally been liberated from the male-dominated society in OBU.”

Nathan didn’t want to contradict Cathy; while agreeing with her points, he could still see that there were still a lot of body image issues and that’s why everyone wore masks. He wasn’t quite sure about the violence issue either because he had experienced one such issue himself. Nevertheless, women did have more sexual freedom in OBU.

“I agree that people have more sexual freedom than any other time in human history, but at the same time, doesn’t all this causal sex destroy relationships, family and even turn love into a meaningless act?”

Cathy stared at Nathan, smiling.

“Nathan, it’s not a surprise that you would reach that conclusion but you are still inexperienced with OBU. Casual sex has always been there throughout human history; however the majority of men and women in OBU are still looking for affection and relationships despite their casual sexual encounters from time to time.”

“Cathy.” Nathan felt the words were getting harder to force out of his mouth; he paused a bit, and then decided to proceed with it. “I suppose that you have found your real man by now.”

‘Oh, Nathan, over all of these years, you still haven’t got over it?” sighed Cathy.

It had been fifteen years for the rest of the world, but only a couple of days for Nathan. He had been asking himself the same question since coming to the OBU age. Looking at Cathy’s striking face, Nathan felt relief. He had got over their breakup, thanks to the conversations and Tai Chi training with Master Wuwei. He could look straight into Cathy’s eyes in peace, and not feel the hollowness and pain in his heart and stomach.

“Yes, I have got over it; maybe I didn’t realize that I had, but I have. Anyway, I was just wondering how you are getting on with your life.”

“Well, I think I am doing quite alright; I work for the international environmental protection agency (IEPA), the kind of job I am passionate about and love. I get to travel all over the world in OBU, and I also get quite well paid, so I can’t complain too much.”

“That sounds great. What exactly are you doing? I mean since almost everything is conducted in OBU, how much can you do to protect the environment?”

“You would be surprised to know that there is plenty more to do, even more in OBU than in the real world.” Cathy drank some coffee. “For example, to inspect the impact of OBU cameras on the environment and wildlife. Apart from monitoring the old industries in the real world, like mining, construction, agriculture and the others, we also run educational campaigns in OBU as well.”

“Obviously you guys have done a fantastic job in protecting the environment,” Nathan said. “What about your private life? Are you married and have you got any kids?”

“Married and kids? Oh Nathan, I haven’t had either the time or energy for that. Times have changed; the concept of family has changed radically in the last fifteen years. We are in OBU age after all, Nathan.”

“Changed? Are you telling me that people are no longer getting married and having kids anymore in OBU age?”

“No, people are still getting married and having kids. You know what, Nathan? I don’t think I am designed for monogamy, and that’s why we broke up.” After a brief awkward silence, Cathy said again, “Anyway, I am in a polygamy relationship, and am much happier.”

“Polygamy? Are you living with multiple partners?”

“Why so surprised? Yes, I am living in a commune, consisting of a few guys and girls; we all love each other and are in quite good and stable relationships.”

“I am really glad that you have found your happiness,” said Nathan genuinely. He was even surprised by how much he really meant it; he no longer felt jealous or judged Cathy for her choice of lifestyle.

“Nathan, you are a decent man, and I still like you very much. You know, despite the ultimate sexual freedom in OBU, it’s really hard to find real relationships. A genuinely good and reliable guy is very rare. Nathan, why don’t you join our little commune? I know you would like and feel comfortable with the guys and girls; they are from all over the world and all work for IEPA. Join us and we can work together to protect the environment, like the olden days. Please, Nathan.”

Cathy’s soft voice triggered Nathan’s memories; he had so many fond memories and experiences with her. Looking at her pretty eyes, Nathan really wished he could simply said yes to her, embracing her again.

A chilly breeze rippled the water’s surface, distracting him; although it was still summer, Sydney’s weather could be very unpredictable. The cool breeze dragged him back to reality, or OBU to be more accurate. Nathan blinked his eyes and focused on Cathy’s face again.

“Thanks for the invitation, but I need time to think about what I am going to do; I only got back yesterday.”

“Of course you need time to settle down. Nathan, can I ask where you learnt all those martial arts skills?”

“How do you know? Oh, it was Dave, wasn’t it?”

“You should have known he would tell everyone. I believe every single person who knew you fifteen years ago knows about the fight in the bar by now. So where and when did you learn fighting skills like that?”

Nathan shook his head. He didn’t want to mention Master Wuwei to anyone, because not only would nobody believe his story, but he also had an instinct that it’d be wise to keep it a secret; even he had no idea why. “As I said, I woke up yesterday morning and found that I had gone fifteen years into the future, so I may have learnt the skills during the past fifteen years sometime, somewhere, but I have no memories of it.”

“I’d go and see a doctor if I were you.”

“I will once I’ve settled down a bit first. Thanks for the lovely afternoon, Cathy. I think I’d better get going.”

“No problem, Nathan. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help you at all. We are still good friends, aren’t we?”

“Of course, you will always be my good friend.”

 

Chapter 11

 

Nathan asked the taxi driver to drop him at the park, a short walking distance from his mother’s house; he felt like he needed some fresh air. It was fantastic to enjoy the spectacular stuff OBU could offer but Nathan still preferred the natural beauty, even the basic freedom to breathe fresh air. However, there was one point Cathy had made that did make sense: if pollution hadn’t been reduced dramatically, there wouldn’t be much fresh air for everyone to breathe.

On one hand, OBU was great for reducing pollution, getting rid of global warming and protecting the environment; but on the other hand, people had built an invisible cage to pack everyone inside. Nathan wasn’t sure the approach of using one technology to solve the problems that were created by other technologies was the ultimate solution. He didn’t have the answer; therefore, Nathan kept walking in the large park.

The park, like Nathan’s mother’s house, was far away from the oceanfront, the rich eastern suburbs of Sydney. Nathan had grown up in a sprawled out, flat, ordinary western suburban neighbourhood, and he had enjoyed this park throughout his life until he moved out of his parents’ house when studying at university. Nathan had very fond memories of this park, with the large grassy oval where he had played cricket for many of his teenage years.

Nathan wasn’t a fan of Australian football as he found it too aggressive for his taste. He was not a confrontational guy, and maybe that was the reason Cathy had broken up with him, because he lacked the male aggressiveness and roughness. While other male teenagers and university students were punching each other to fight for the girls they pursued, Nathan had never bother to get involved with that kind of stuff. It was fortunate he found Cathy, who loved him for what he was, but she eventually drifted away from him.

Through Nathan’s life, until meeting Master Wuwei, he had never had a single fight with another guy. He knew it was quite unusual for a young white male like him in the highly sport-orientated, binge-drinking and aggressive Australian society. The night he had met the Taoist master was the first time he had ever gotten drunk in his life .

He told Master Wuwei about his problems with Cathy and his wish to
learn how to fight, and the next morning, not only he was fifteen
years in future, but he also had this fantastic super fighting
skill. He had beaten six big guys who were armed with daggers and
short swords singlehandedly, without inflicting even a cut on
himself. How did he know those graceful moves and how to break or
dislocate a guy’s joints without thinking, as if it was part of his
second nature?

One thing was sure, that Mater Wuwei had some kind of power, so if he had the ability to send him into the future, it’d be no big surprise if he had also implanted these wonderful fighting skills in him. Nathan supposed that the ability to see through people’s masks in OBU could also be the by-product of his mind training, although it had only given him a brief glance of Mary’s pretty face and he hadn’t been able to replicate the ability ever again since being in OBU. However Nathan believed, for some unknown reason, that his ability to see through the masks would return to him one day.

As soon as thoughts about Mary entered his head, her piercing blue eyes immediately burst into his mind. Even with his eyes open, he could still remember meeting her eyes vividly. He was sure that her eyes were pleading for his help; somehow she knew that he was able to help her. Mary and her people were in danger; if he hadn’t defeated all of the attackers, apparently government field agents, as he was told later, Mary and her group would have been killed.

Nathan understood the environmental benefits OBU had brought to the world, particularly after Cathy’s tour and their conversation this afternoon, and knew he should feel disgusted and angry towards Mary, who wanted to destroy OBU and bring pollution and global warming back, but he didn’t.

Nathan had always been a good boy. He had never broken any school rules, or put one foot wrong in his entire life, but now he just couldn’t get Mary, the most wanted terrorist, out of his mind. Nathan shook his head in disbelief; what was wrong with him?

Nathan was in such deep thought that he almost bumped into another person.

“Sorry,” he apologized but then shouted out immediately, “Amy, is it really you?”

 

It was Amy, his co-worker at the little bakery before his ‘disappearance’. Amy had changed; the fifteen years had sculptured her into a stunning woman. Her chubby teenage appearance was replaced with a sharp and absolutely beautiful face.

However, Amy didn’t seem surprised at all.

“Hi, Nathan. How have you been? I heard that you came back yesterday and I thought about visiting you, but here we are, bumping into each other right on my doorstep.”

“Your doorstep? Amy, I didn’t know you were living around here.”

“I only moved here a few years ago; that flat over there.” She pointed at a greyish building right on the edge of the park. It must have been built recently because Nathan couldn’t remember ever seeing it before.

“What a surprise! Amy, we are neighbours now.”

“Do you live nearby as well?”

“Oh I grew up in this area; my parents’ house is only a five-minute walk that way.”

“What a coincidence,” Amy laughed.

“Amy, how did you know I was back so quickly? I haven’t had time to talk to or meet anyone yet.”

“Nathan, it’s OBU age. Any local news can be spread out instantly the second it’s on OBUK.”

“What’s OBUK? I assume it has something to do with OBU, right?”

“Yeah, the equivalent of Facebook in OBU; it’s really called OBU book, but for short most people just say OBUK,” Amy said. “Talking of Facebook, it’s ancient history. I still can’t believe fifteen years have passed since your disappearance. Nathan, what happened to you?”

 

Nathan offered the same explanation to her as to all the others.

“Memory loss,” Amy said thoughtfully. She looked at Nathan, gazing into his eyes for a long time. It almost felt like an eternity to Nathan, but in reality it’d been only a second or so. Although they had worked together in the bakery for almost two years, this was the first time Nathan had looked into her eyes. He sensed that there was something else behind the brown eyes; he wasn’t sure what it was, and didn’t want to guess either.

Amy put a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear, and then said, “Nathan, I am so glad that you finally came back. We all thought that we had lost you…you know, you treated me so well, like a real gentleman in the bakery, and I was really sad after you disappeared…”

Nathan didn’t know what to say; he patted Amy’s arm. “Thanks, Amy. It was you who looked after me in the bakery.”

A moment of awkward silence fell.

“Amy, what do you do now? I assume that you are working in OBU, right? It seems like almost everyone is working in OBU nowadays.”

“Yeah, I am working in OBU.” Amy regained her posture. She looked at Nathan again, back to the way she had looked at him in the olden days. “I work for an international charity organization, OBUarity that stands for OBU Charity. It was founded by the OBU Corporation, the largest corporation in human history. I suppose that OBU has made so much money that they decided to share some with the poor countries.”

“Wow, that sounds great. So what exactly are you doing for OBUarity?” Nathan found it much easier for their conversation to flow now.

“Well, we do move around a fair bit, but during the last few months I have been working at a school in Africa to help the poor kids from local tribes. Nathan, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet; remember I only came back yesterday morning, so I have to settle down first and think about it.”

“Nathan, there are lots of perks to working for OBU, like visiting all of the places around the world for free.”

“I thought one could do that in OBU anyway.”

“Yes but only in theory. Although it’s much cheaper to travel and visit other countries in OBU compared with travelling in the real world, it still costs a lot if one wants to travel frequently. For an average person, it’d still be a struggle to have more than a couple of holidays each year; but if you are working for OBUarity, you’d have an unlimited permit to visit any place in the world.”

“When do you have time to travel whilst you are working in African schools?”

“Nathan, it’s OBU age; I could have a lunch break in Paris and be back at work in the African school afterwards. Travelling in OBU is just a data set switching, requiring no time at all. Of course one would have to be able to pay for them, but in my case, it’s free.”

“It does sound really good, but I am not sure if I would be qualified to be a teacher because I haven’t finished my uni studies.”

“Nathan, you have done two years of uni, and I am quite sure that’s enough to get you a position as a teacher in OBUarity; they need more hands than they have at the moment so anyone putting their hands up would have quite a good chance. Plus, you had quite good marks at uni.”

“It’s really tempting.”

“Nathan, leave it to me, I’ll make some inquiries and I’ll get back to you very soon. You can always decline the offer, or try it for a short time to see if it suits you. You have nothing to lose.”

Nathan thought about it for a moment and then said, “Thank you very much, Amy; I do appreciate your help. You know I have been worrying about whether I’ll be able to get a job in the OBU age at all.”

“So it’s settled then. Nathan, I am so glad you came back, and it’s so exciting to think we might work together again,” Amy said after they exchanged contact details.

 

Looking at Amy’s back as she walked away, Nathan felt quite good about the opportunity, but at the same time, he felt a bit uneasy with Amy. He sensed that there was something more than just friendship and the anticipation of being co-workers in Amy’s tone. They had started working at the bakery almost at the same time but back then the three-year age gap had been huge for Nathan. Amy was basically a kid to him, therefore, during the two years they had been working together, he had rarely paid much attention to her. Amy could have had a typical high school girl’s crush on him, an older brother type crush, thought Nathan, but that was fifteen years ago, and now Amy would be thirty-two years old. Even though he hadn’t asked her if she was married or had any children, he knew by instinct that she was single and had no kids, just from the way she talked, her clothing and the way she walked. He didn’t know why or how, but he found he had an increased ability to observe others, like how he had known the attackers in the bar in Little Amsterdam were hostile as soon as they had arrived. Maybe it was the violent energy around them.

Turning his thoughts back to Amy, Nathan thought it was ridiculous to think that she could still fancy him now even if she had had a high school crush on him all that time ago. After another moment, Nathan chuckled to himself and dismissed the thoughts. He remembered reading an article stating that in work situations, male colleagues always overestimated their attractiveness to their female counterparts, and it was exactly his situation right now. Who did he think he was, Prince Charming? Nathan laughed at himself; Amy was just genuinely concerned about him as a colleague, a friend, and nothing more than that. Nathan looked back at the grey building one more time, and then turned, walking towards home.

Chapter 12

 

After dinner, while his mother was watching some TV (yes there were still TV programs for those outside OBU), Nathan sat in front of the computer and logged on to the Internet. It was a double surprise to Nathan that the seventeen-year-old desktop PC was still functioning and the old Internet was also still in service. He typed ‘Mary O’Brian’ into the search box, and then hit the return key.

He selected the images page and hundreds of Mary’s photos appeared on the screen. Gazing at Mary’s blue eyes, Nathan felt his heart beat faster; he felt as if he had fallen in love with this young beauty. Blinking rapidly, he just couldn’t link this pretty face to the ruthless terrorist the police had described to him in Little Amsterdam. Maybe her dazzling beauty had deceived him. Nathan clicked another link and started reading details about Mary.

Mary O’Brian was born in Northern Ireland twenty years ago, a whole fifteen years younger than him, but Nathan didn’t feel his age at all. In fact, he really hadn’t aged over the missing fifteen years. He was still twenty years old, even though to everyone who knew him he was actually thirty-five. Anyway, the thought made him feel a step closer to her; he was the same age as her, thanks to Master Wuwei’s magic.

Mary’s grandfather had been an active member of the IRA in the seventies, and the authorities believed her father was also heavily involved with SOH; some even guessed he was quite high-ranking in the terrorist organization but there was no proof because nobody had seen him for years.

SOH had emerged about ten years ago as the major entity carrying out terrorist activities aimed at sabotaging OBU. They claimed that OBU had destroyed society’s morality by making casual sex so readily available, stating that it had made marriages and family a concept of the past. As a result civilization and most importantly the human race itself was in danger. As simple as it sounded, nobody wanted to have a family or children anymore.

Some articles stated that over the years, SOH had bombed many OBU data centres and regional hubs. As a result, many OBU staff and innocent civilians had been killed as collateral damage. Despite SOH constantly expressing their regrets and sympathies about the loss of lives, they blamed the deaths on the government and OBU Corporation.

Nathan refined his search criteria, focusing on Mary’s track record. Mary had joined SOH five years ago at the age of fifteen. Unlike the hard line of old-fashioned SOH members, she and her young comrades were much more techno savvy, and started targeting the software rather than the hardware. Mary’s main activities involved introducing viruses to the OBU systems. Even less violent in the real world, her group had caused a few major OBU regional hubs to melt down and had caused a large amount of financial loss to the relevant governments and OBU Corporation. Mary and her comrades had inflicted much more damage to the government and OBU Corporation than the old-fashioned bomb attacks in the real world, and that was why she was at the top of the most wanted list. The rumours said that what the government and OBU Corporation feared most was that, if Mary and her comrades could gain access to OBU’s HQ and release the virus there, it would destroy OBU entirely. The consequence would be the largest global financial crisis the world had ever seen, making the great depression in the thirties and the GFC in the nineties look like mild hiccups; uncontrollable inflation, global bankruptcies, world poverty, regional and even world wars could follow.

Nathan turned the computer off. He felt too tired to think anymore. He had only been back less then forty-eight hours, and needed time to adjust himself to the future time he was in. He decided to go to sleep and deal with tomorrow when it came.

 

***

 

In a room at an unknown location, an image of Nathan and Amy standing face to face in the park was frozen in mid-air.

One voice asked, “Has anyone got any idea as to why Mary O’Brian took such a risk to turn up in Little Amsterdam?”

“The only plausible possibility is that she wanted to meet an extremely important person there.”

“Do you mean Nathan Jenkins?”

“Yes, and we believe that she might intend to recruit him.”

“But he is nobody. Although he’s shown some extraordinary Kung Fu fighting skills, she wouldn’t have known that beforehand. I doubt even Nathan himself knew of his fighting ability, based on the interview he had with our Dutch police officer. So the question is why she risked her life to meet some guy, a nobody.”

“Don’t know. One theory is that she believed the prophecy that an OBU virgin would help her to bring OBU down.”

“OBU virgin? An interesting theory. Anyway, how could we only have placed six agents without firearms on site when attempting to arrest Mary O’Brian? It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get her.”

“We had no idea she would be there. It was pure chance that our security program cracked her mask and the automatic facial recognition software spotted her.”

“Why didn’t you get the special forces onto it?”

“To tell you the truth, nobody believed it could be remotely possible that Mary O’Brian would be there, in a strip bar in Little Amsterdam. We have had too many of these kinds of computer errors before so we just sent the unit nearby to check it out.”

“Who is the woman Nathan met in the park?”

“Amy, his co-worker from the bakery he worked at before his disappearance.”

“Is she clean?”

“We think so as she is working for OBUarity. It means that she passed the background check when she joined the company. She also promised to get him a position in OBUarity.”

“Good, make sure she is successful with his application.”

 

***

 

In a room in another unknown location, a voice stated, “It seems that Nathan is going to work for OBUarity.”

“Yes. Let’s hope that OBU hasn’t realized how important Nathan is to us, them and the whole world.”

“If Nathan is the one the prophecy predicted, the struggle will come to an end soon.”

“It won’t be that easy, but let’s keep our hopes up. Keep watching him closely.”

 

Chapter 13

 

“Good morning, Nathan,” Amy greeted him as he walked out of his bedroom.

Things had happened quite rapidly in the last week. Amy had helped Nathan launch an application to work for OBUarity and he had gotten approval the next day; they needed extra hands, as Amy said. It was even better that two of Amy’s roommates had moved out a couple of months ago, and she had been struggling to find someone to share the costs of renting the three-bedroom apartment, so Nathan moved in.

Amy commented that it’d be best if her roommates were working for the same company, so at least they would have some human interaction in the real world. Plus, the apartment was so close to Nathan’s mother, he couldn’t really get a better deal.

Nathan had initially felt a bit awkward when Amy suggested that he share the apartment with her. Though he tried to think that Amy must have got over her high school crush on him long ago, if she had ever had one, Nathan could still sense that Amy had feelings towards him. He might be completely off the mark, but if he were right, sharing a flat with Amy wouldn’t do either of them any good. However, he couldn’t really decline the offer either. Let’s face it, for a guy like him with an unfinished tertiary education degree in oriental philosophy, what were the chances of him getting a job in the OBU age that he knew nothing about? The conclusion was quite simple and straightforward: if Nathan wanted to get employed, this was the only opportunity. Besides, Amy was quite open and frank towards him; she told him jokingly that, despite the fact she was supposedly three years younger than him, because of his much younger appearance, she should be his big sister. Nathan took it as a subtle hint to him not to worry about any complications in their relationship. So a decision was made and Nathan spent his first night in the apartment.

“Good morning, Amy,” Nathan said. “It smells wonderful. Wow, bacon and eggs for breakfast. Why don’t we just have some cereal, and enjoy it as bacon and eggs in OBU?”

“Well, we all need to spoil ourselves occasionally, don’t we?” Amy put the bacon, eggs, fried mushrooms and tomatoes, and toasted bread onto Nathan’s plate and her own. After sitting down, Amy said, “Little brother, tomorrow morning it’s your turn to cook breakfast.”

It seemed Amy was quite enjoying playing this elder sister role. Nathan smiled. “No problem, big sister; I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.” In fact, he didn’t have much choice. He knew nothing about this new OBU age, and Amy would be the perfect guide. He fully appreciated her help.

After breakfast, Nathan did the washing up. When everything was done, Amy said, “See you in OBU,” and walked into her bedroom.

 

It was OBUarity’s standard policy that all employees wore masks during their working hours for security reasons; they supplied the latest version of anti-seeker masks. Of course the employees were able to alter their masks to suit their individual needs. The adjustment and alteration of masks were in fact relatively easy, sort of like using Photoshop to change a photo in pre-OBU age, at least that was the best way Nathan could describe it.

Amy didn’t bother about her look that much, she simply changed her hair to black and slightly altered the shape of her nose and eyes enough to make her look like a different person, but she left her body untouched. Amy was very fit and her body was in good shape so there was no need to change it at all.

Nathan, on the other hand, liked the blond surfer boy image Gary had created for him when he had visited little Amsterdam; he felt like he was watching the world from behind his mask, the way normal sunglasses would offer.

“Wow, a blond surfer boy. I didn’t know you were a surfer, but I didn’t really know you that well,” said Amy.

“No, I wasn’t a surfer. It’s just a mask Gary created for me during my first visit to OBU; I’m just too lazy to change the design.”

“Okay, let’s go to Africa and start our adventure of the day.” Amy brought the floating globe forward into mid-air, and zoomed in to their destination. In no time at all they were in the login area. Following Amy’s lead, Nathan scanned his wrist against the shiny pole.

 

The school was located in Africa, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The students attending the school were also from the tribes of those neighbouring countries. In theory there was no reason why these poor kids couldn’t easily go to Europe, the USA and other western countries to get educated but in reality, it was still much easier to establish the schools where the students were due to financial, political, and cultural considerations, not to mention immigration reasons.

The digital version of the school campus was designed to follow local dwellings, the typical round mud walls and thatched dome-shaped huts, but inside they were very spacious, and contained modern computers and other educational facilities including libraries.

Nathan kicked the dirt on the ground, seeing the dust fly as the wind blew it away quickly. He knew that it was just a simulation of the real grassland. If one stood in this exact location in the real world, there would not be a single piece of evidence that there had been any human activities, just the vast grassland and wildlife.

 

It was still early for the students so the campus was very quiet. Amy showed Nathan the classrooms. As they were walking into the library, Nathan saw two more European-looking people also stepping inside the door.

“Good morning, Amy,” a brown-haired woman said with a strong French accent. “Is this Nathan, our new teacher you were talking about?”

“Good morning, Lucie and Pierre,” said Amy. “Let me introduce you to each other. Nathan, this is Lucie, our science teacher, and Pierre, the geology teacher; they are both from France.”

Nathan shook hands with both of them.

“What are you going to teach, Nathan?” asked Pierre.

Amy answered for Nathan. “Nathan is going to take English, philosophy and world history. I am so glad Nathan is here so I can concentrate on teaching math. To be honest, English is not my strength.”

“We all know you have done a wonderful job teaching English,” said Lucie.

Soon the students arrived. Nathan then understood why he had gotten the job so easily: there were at least three hundred kids ranging from eight to eighteen years old, so they did need any extra help they could get.

 

One of the advantages of a digital school was that you could expand the classroom to be as large as required. Looking at his class of over seventy kids, Nathan started his first English lesson. Amy had done a good job getting these kids started with basic English.

Even though Nathan hadn’t got a teaching qualification, he did have some tutoring experience from his two years of studying at university. Of course he had never tutored such a large group; nevertheless, he managed to get through the first class and he enjoyed himself very much. He loved the kids who were so eager to learn. He made fun games for them to play, sang simple English songs, and utilized any new technology OBU could offer. Combining a mix of visual and sound aids, Nathan was satisfied his students had learnt something from the class.

Time passed quickly when one was busy; it barely felt like he had blinked before it was time for all the students to go home at the end of the day. Only then, after saying goodbye to the last student, did Nathan feel exhausted. Soon the other three teachers stepped into his classroom.

“How did the first day go?” asked Amy.

“A bit of a struggle and quite stressful, but I’ll manage,” said Nathan.

“You seem to be doing great, much better than my first time teaching,” said Pierre.

“Nathan, why don’t you come with us to Paris? We can have a few drinks together, and I can also introduce you to a few new friends,” said Lucie.

Nathan thought about it and then said, “Thanks for the invitation but I’ll give it a miss today. I feel exhausted so I think I’ll have an early night.”

“Well, too bad you’ll be missing out on all of the fun.” Pierre turned to Amy. “Amy, are you sure I can’t persuade you to come to the party even once? I have failed for the last twelve months, but today may be my lucky day.”

Lucie held Pierre’s hand, dragging him towards the door. “Come on, Pierre, Amy is not interested in partying. Good night, we’ll see you both tomorrow.” They walked out of the door.

“Amy, why don’t you like to go to their parties? It seems that Pierre was quite disappointed about it.”

“Well, I am not into their ‘‘all for one and one for all’ French-style love party.”

‘Oh, do you mean that Lucie and Pierre have multiple sexual partners?”

“I think it’s a bit beyond multiple sexual partners; they are basically large daily orgies for OBUarity volunteers from all over the world.”

“Wow, I never imagined that. Amy, what do you normally do after work?” Nathan was going to ask if Amy ever went on dates but decided against it.

“Apart from attending fitness classes and taking a few recreational classes for fun, I have been travelling lots, making the most of the perks I get from OBUarity.”

“It sounds great. What kind of fitness classes do you go to?”

“Why don’t you come with me tonight and see for yourself?”

“Okay, let’s do that.”

Chapter 14

 

The gym was in the basement of their building. According to Amy, all of these OBU-age apartment buildings had a gym like this one, usually in their basements. Unlike the kind of gym Nathan was familiar with, this style of gym was rather alien to him and he wouldn’t have had any idea what it was if Amy hadn’t told him beforehand. In the huge hall, there were rows and rows of glass cylinders.

Some cylinders were empty, and some had a person inside in his or her swimsuit. As Nathan passed an occupied one, he could see the cylinder was filled with some kind of clear liquid, and the person inside was totally immersed and wearing a helmet and a mask with a pipe attached, like a diver, so the pipe had to be used for breathing, Nathan guessed.

Looking further, Nathan could see more people inside cylinders, and they seemed to be doing all kinds of different activities. Some were walking, jogging, jumping on the invisible ‘liquid treadmills’, while others were boxing against non-existent punch bags; the strangest of all was one woman who was actually climbing up a set of invisible stairs.

Looking at Nathan’s expression, Amy laughed. “Nathan, go and get changed into your swimming trunks; meet me back here and I will show you what to do.”

 

“Push the button to open the cylinder,” Amy said after they had both changed into their swimsuits. “When you are inside, put the helmet and mask on, like you would to enter OBU.”

Nathan followed Amy’s instructions.

The cylinder was about ten feet in diameter. He noticed there were holes, large and small ones, on the lower part of the cylinder. Nathan picked up the helmet and the mask from the floor and put them on his head; the mask changed and adjusted to seal his nose and mouth perfectly, and then he felt air flowing into the mask. The difference between this helmet and the other one he used to get into OBU was that here the eye-shield formed part of the mask.

As the mask sealed over his face, through the eye-shield, Nathan saw clear liquid springing out from the holes, filling up the cylinder quickly. He looked at Amy, who was inside the cylinder next to him, and she raised her thumb. Nathan also raised his, assuming it meant he was okay.

It didn’t take long for the liquid to cover his head. It felt slightly cooler than his body temperature, quite pleasant, and then the eye-shield became dark, then completely black, and then he was in a room flooded with bright lights: he was in OBU.

Nathan looked at his body, now clothed in sporty shorts and a T-shirt, and then at Amy, who stood next to him. “Please explain, Amy.”

“No need to explain very much; you are in OBU and can engage in any fitness activity you like.”

Nathan looked around, seeing all the standard gym equipment he was familiar with spread out in the vast floor space: treadmills, weights machines, a boxing ring, punch bags and more. “I understand that all of these are software, simulations of real-world machines, but how do they simulate these activities in that cylinder?”

“Oh, that’s the trick of the liquid you are immersed in now.” Amy waved her arms around her in a circular movement. “The liquid has a very unique property: its density can be controlled by electrical voltage. It could be as liquid as water, or as hard as rock.”

“So the software controls the hardness of the liquid so our bodies can feel and carry out all of the fitness programs?”

“Exactly.” Amy turned and pointed outside of the glass door. “We don’t have to do this boring gym stuff. What about climbing up mountains?”

“Climbing up mountains?”

“Why so surprised? Anything is possible in OBU, and just a click away. Which mountain would you like, the Swiss Alps, the Andes, or the Himalayas?”

“I don’t think I am up to Mount Everest yet, so let’s start with the Swiss Alps.”

“Winter or summer?” asked Amy.

“Winter. I have never climbed up a mountain covered in snow.”

Amy waved her arms and brought up a few screens in mid-air; after a few clicks and waves, Nathan found he was no longer inside a gym, but inside a room with many cubicles, like a changing room.

 

“It’d be too cold to climb in just sport shorts and T-shirts, obviously. Get some warm clothes from inside the cubicles and I’ll see you outside.” Amy disappeared into one of the cubicles.

Nathan found a warm jacket, pants and snow boots and put them on. After pushing the door open and walking outside, he found that he was standing on top of a mountain peak. He moved his legs, used his snow boots to stamp on the pure, powdery snow, and then took his thick gloves off and picked up a handful of snow. He put the snow into his mouth and enjoyed the cold, fresh taste.

Amy walked out from the cabin clad in a blue mountain-climbing suit. “I love the crisp, powdery snow so much.” She threw herself backwards so she was lying flat on top of the blanket of thick white snow. Amy moved both her arms up and down and her legs opened and closed. “I am making a snow angel.” She laughed loudly and happily.

Amy’s laughter was so contagious that Nathan couldn’t help but also throw himself onto the snow. “I am making an even bigger snow angel.” He had never felt so relaxed. He let go of all his worries, enjoying the pure air and cold, soft snow and all that nature could offer. He felt like he had gone back to his childhood and wished this moment could last forever.

Finally, they got up. Amy pointed at the next mountaintop on their left. “Ready to conquer that peak?”

“Sure, let’s do it.”

 

Nathan had settled into his new life at a relatively comfortable pace, thanks to Amy’s help at each step. Each morning during the last week, he and Amy had taken turns to make their breakfast and then eaten it together in their apartment. Apart from the occasional special treat of bacon and eggs, they mostly ate cereal and enjoyed it as whatever they fancied in OBU. One morning they even made it into ice cream in the cyber space—yeah, ice cream for breakfast. Anything was possible in the computer world.

Nathan and Amy had developed quite an interesting schedule for their after-work hours, combining fitness activities with sightseeing: climbing all the way up to the top of the Eiffel Tower; hiking towards Monte Rosa in the Swiss Alps; tracing the crumpling ruins of the Great Wall of China. There was so much to experience and see, and they both enjoyed their adventures and each other’s accompany. Though Amy’s face always wore friendly smiles, Nathan could tell her smiles these days were from genuine happiness; he felt happy for her and also for himself, too.

Meanwhile, teaching classes was also becoming easier each day. Nathan had got to know the kids quite well, particularly James, the eighteen-year-old son of the chief of a bushman tribe. James was slender and slightly shorter than Nathan. When Nathan asked him why he chose James as his English name, he said he liked watching 007 movies.

Based on his background reading about bushman tribes, Nathan was fascinated that the bushman tribes, although much less frequently now, still used the walking-hunt method to hunt, basically chasing their prey until the animals were exhausted to death. During one conversation, James told Nathan that their tribe’s men gave up the practice long ago because the government had forced them to adapt to an agriculture-based lifestyle. Looking at James’ face, Nathan couldn’t help but sigh inside. More and more traditional customs and practices, together with many heritage sites, were disappearing around the world; he wondered how long it would take for everyone to speak English. Even though he agreed with Cathy about the food revolution in the OBU age that had ended hunger, junk food consumption and starvation and had instead moved towards slow, local, organic food, OBU had enforced and sped up the elimination of cultural diversity.

After all the students had gone home, and Lucie and Pierre had gone to one of their love parties, Amy came to Nathan’s classroom. “Nathan, Vicky came to talk to me today in private; she has a serious problem.”

“Who is Vicky?”

“She is sixteen years old, the daughter of the chief of a Zulu tribe; I mentioned her to you a couple of days ago.”

‘Oh yes, I remember her now. What’s the problem?”

“Come on, Nathan, you can’t remember anything I told you,” Amy said. “Vicky had her eye on James; actually the feeling is mutual.”

“It’s ringing a bell now; so they fell in love with each other. Is that the problem?”

“Yes, it is. The Zulu and bushman tribes have been enemies for a while. If her father finds out, Vicky is afraid that there could be a tribe war. She asked for my advice. I told her that I’d think about it and talk to her tomorrow.”

“It is a serious problem and quite a tricky one too. We all know Zulu tribes are very tough and good at fighting,” Nathan said. “What about suggesting Vicky goes to study in the West?”

“No, it wouldn’t work. I have talked about it with her. The problem is that her father has already made a promise to marry her to a chief’s son from another Zulu tribe, and the wedding is at the end of this year so there is no way her father would allow Vicky to study overseas.”

Nathan thought very hard for a while but still had no idea how to solve the problem. “Amy, there is no simple solution here. Why don’t we both talk to Vicky and James tomorrow and find out more details about the arranged marriage and the hostility between the two tribes.”

Amy nodded.

 

The next evening, back at their apartment, Nathan and Amy sat down to talk. “Amy, what did you found out about the arranged marriage?”

“Well, not surprisingly, considering how beautiful Vicky is, many chiefs’ sons proposed marriage. I suspect, in addition to her beauty, it’s also because Vicky’s father’s tribe is the most powerful one in this area. Anyway it’s little surprise that Vicky is to marry the chief’s son of the second most powerful Zulu tribe.”

“How many chiefs’ sons of Zulu tribes proposed to Vicky?”

“Three in total.”

“It means the chiefs of the other two tribes can’t feel very happy about the result.” Nathan thought deeply.

“What’s James’ story?”

“He told me his father was against the affair, too, because he is worried about a tribe war. There are never marriages between bushman and Zulu tribes. He also told me the details about the relationships among tribes in this area, which is quite interesting actually.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you one more thing. Vicky told me that she is six weeks pregnant.”

“What? How could she get pregnant in OBU?”

“Not in OBU; they have met in the real world.”

“Oh shit, this is now a real problem.” Nathan thought about it for a long time. “The only solution I can think of is to get both James and Vicky to the West. If they are not there, the tribe chiefs may decide to forget about it.”

“I wish it was that simple.” Amy wasn’t convinced.

“I know, but at least Vicky and James could escape any harm that might come from the potential tribe wars.”

“How could we do that? I mean how could we get them to the West?”

Nathan thought about it for a few seconds. “Why don’t we ask the OBUarity field staff to help us? I believe that there are quite a few of them in that region. If OBUarity could offer them scholarships to study in Europe or the USA, James and Vicky could sneak out and escape. When they return with their newborn baby, Vicky’s father might forgive her and James when he sees his own grandchild.”

Just then, the phone rang. It was Dave and Gary inviting Nathan on an outing.

“I don’t have time to visit the strip bar in Little Amsterdam right now.” Nathan covered the phone with his hand, speaking to Amy.

Amy thought for a second. “Nathan, I think your idea of getting Vicky and James to the West is a possible solution, and I’ll get on it right away. You wouldn’t be able to help me arrange it anyway, so why don’t you just go ahead and have some time off.”

“I don’t feel comfortable leaving it all to you.”

“Nathan, you have worked out the solution, so just go out and enjoy your time without me; you must be sick of being with me all the time by now.”

“Amy, please don’t say that. I really enjoy your company, and all of your help.”

“I know that, little brother.” Amy smiled; somehow Nathan sensed a slight bitterness behind her smile, but it disappeared immediately. “Nathan, you can’t be with your elder sister all the time; you need to spend time with your mates. Go, enjoy your evening out.”

“Thanks, Amy. But please keep me informed.”

Chapter 15

 

“Nathan, here are your seekers.” Gary passed a pair of sunglasses to Nathan.

They were walking along a crowded street in Little Amsterdam. Sure enough, with the seekers, Nathan was able to see through most people’s masks around him.

“Pretty good shit, eh?” Dave patted Nathan’s shoulder.

“You had better put this on as well.” Gary passed another item to Nathan.

It was a wristwatch, similar to a waterproof electronic watch, with a wide strap and many buttons. “Why do I need a watch?”

‘Dude, it’s not only a watch,” said Dave. “It’s called a jumper, the mobile phone of OBU.”

“Jumper? But I saw people using mobile phones in OBU,” said Nathan.

‘You can call it whatever you like,” Gary said. “They function as mobile phones in OBU, but much better. Because everything in OBU is already sending signals directly into your brain, a jumper enables you to both see and listen to others who are also using jumpers.”

“Jumpers come in all different shapes; people wear them as hats, jewellery such as necklaces, rings, bangles, accessories like gloves, shoes; you name it,” said Dave.

“Why don’t they just combine seekers and jumpers together as a pair of sunglasses?” asked Nathan.

“Mine is just that but it’s much more expensive, so I just got you a cheaper version of each one; I hope you don’t mind,” Gary said.

“I appreciate it, mate,” said Nathan. “Why haven’t I got a jumper from OBUarity? They provide us with the latest masks.”

“God knows; maybe you don’t need one whilst working in a remote village in Africa,” said Dave.

“That’s exactly why we need jumpers there. Gary, I have to get one for Amy,” said Nathan.

“I am certain Amy has already got one,” said Gary.

“How can you be so sure?” asked Nathan.

“Because I have talked to Amy with my jumper a couple of times,” said Gary.

‘I wonder why Amy didn’t mention jumpers to me; anyway, Gary, can I talk to Amy’s jumper? I mean right now?” Nathan was worrying about Vicky’s problem.

Dave stopped walking and looked at Nathan. “Have you fallen for Amy?”

“Oh, no; we are just friends. The reason I need to ring her is because…” Gary interrupted Nathan. “You don’t need to tell us the reason. Push that button on your jumper, and a screen should pop up in front of you.”

Nathan did as instructed. A large screen popped up in mid-air, right in front of his face.

“Don’t worry, you are the only one who is able to see the screen,” Dave said.

The screen was much like the mobile screen Nathan was familiar with, so it was not difficult to navigate it to make a call. All he had to do was use his hand to pull one screen after another. He found Gary’s number in the contacts, so he pushed the dial button.

As soon as Gary answered the call, Nathan saw live pictures appearing on his jumper’s screen, like a video camera’s stream feed. It was obviously from Gary’s point of view. “You can see why I chose that particular jumper for you; it works like the old mobile phone.”

“You can switch the visual signal off if you don’t want others to see what you are doing,” said Dave.

“Nathan, here is Amy’s number,” said Gary.

 

Nathan turned the visual signal off first, and then dialled Amy’s jumper. He didn’t feel comfortable letting Amy seeing the red light district in the background.

“Hi, Amy, it’s me, Nathan.” It seemed Amy had also switched the visual signals off.

“Nathan?” He could hear Amy’s surprise. “You’ve got a jumper.”

“Yes, Gary just gave it to me. How come you didn’t tell me about it before?”

“I suppose that we were together all the time so there was no need to have a jumper, so I completely forgot about it. I am so glad you have one now.”

“How is it going with contacting OBUarity field staff?”

“I have talked to one of them already; since the situation is quite serious, OBUarity has agreed to help get Vicky and James out as soon as possible; nobody wants to have a blood bath of a tribe war.”

“Great. Please keep me informed.” Nathan hung up.

“All settled? Should we get to the bar? I desperately want a drink,” said Dave.

“I thought you didn’t drink much; it’s the girls you are so desperate for,” said Nathan.

‘You know me well, mate,” said Dave.

 

The bar was as noisy and crowded as Nathan remembered from their last visit. With his seeker sunglasses on, Nathan could see most people’s real faces, but there were a few that still remained young and beautiful looking, so they were either wearing more advanced masks, or were genuinely young and good-looking people. Gary slouched into his chair, blowing clouds of blue smoke, and Dave’s eyes scanned the surroundings, looking for his prey.

Nathan sipped his beer and observed Dave; it would be interesting to see how long it would take him to find a girl. Once again, Dave didn’t disappoint Nathan; he found his target in less than five minutes.

Gary’s eyes were closed, deeply enjoying smoking his dope. Dave turned to Nathan. “Look at the girl at the fifth table on the left; yes, the one with the white jacket and short black skirt. What do you think about her?”

Nathan could see through her mask and was surprised that her mask hadn’t changed her appearance much. She had a good body, full boobs, long legs and a flat stomach. The blonde hair was dyed—you could see that from the dark roots. Her face was quite attractive, obviously Dave’s type. “I think you both suit each other.”

“Wish me luck, mate.” Dave stood up and walked over to the girl.

 

It was quite noisy so Nathan couldn’t hear the exchange between Dave and the girl, but based on Dave’s facial expression, Nathan was afraid the situation wasn’t going as smoothly as Dave had hoped. After another few words, the girl stood up and walked to another table where two guys in suits sat. Dave came back seconds later and sat down beside Nathan angrily.

“What happened?” asked Nathan.

“What a bloody slut she is,” Dave said.

“Isn’t that what you are seeking here?” asked Nathan.

“Yeah but she is particular slutty; she wanted to get two large guys together and have rough sex,” Dave said, looking back at the girl.

Nathan looked at the girl more closely. She seemed to be about in her mid-twenties. The two guys she was talking with were quite large in their real bodies, easily a few inches taller and a fair bit thicker than Nathan and Dave; normally Nathan would think they were rugby players but from the way they dressed and talked, Nathan imaged they were lawyers or businessmen. He looked back at Dave. “There are plenty of other girls out there and you may have better luck later.”

Dave looked up. Following his line of sight, Nathan saw the girl walking out of the bar with the two guys.

“There is no other girl I am interested in in this bar. Let’s get out of here.” Dave was not in a good mood.

“All right. I’m done with my fix.” Gary stood up and they all walked out.

“Where are we going? Another bar?” asked Nathan.

“Not another bloody bar. To tell you the truth, I have been here so many times but we always end up stuck inside the bloody bars. Why don’t we walk around outside of the red light district and have a good look at Amsterdam,” said Dave.

“That’d be a first,” Gary laughed.

“Good idea, let’s go and have a walk,” agreed Nathan.

 

They passed the crowds and walked towards the main street outside the red light district. There were fewer people around the further they walked; soon they were the only people around. It was very quiet, and Nathan enjoyed the fresh air very much. Suddenly they heard a girl screaming; it was from the dark alley on their left.

“A girl’s screaming,” Dave shouted. “Come on, Nathan, let’s rescue her.”

Nathan didn’t say anything, but ran towards where the voice was coming from. It was a dark alley; Nathan could make out three figures in front of them. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he could see two large guys holding a girl up against the wall.

“Let her go,” Nathan said calmly.

“It’s none of your business; we are having consensual rough adult sex as she requested,” one of the large guys said in a southern American accent.

“Please help me; I want to leave now,” the girl screamed.

“Shut up.” The other guy slapped her cheek. “You asked for rough sex, but want to stop now. You can’t do that, bitch. Bad luck, you have to stick with us until we are done with you.”

“I said let her go.” Nathan raised his voice a bit.

“Buddy, are you looking for a fight?” One of the guys walked towards Nathan, while the other still held the girl.

“I am not looking for a fight, but I am asking you to let her go,” said Nathan.

“You forgot to say please.” The large guy swung his huge fist at Nathan’s head, the movement fast and powerful.

 

Nathan measured the angle and speed of the oncoming fist; he moved his body slightly, just missing the punch by half an inch. His own hand flashed out and grabbed the guy’s wrist; with a twist and a jerk, he heard the man’s pained scream as the bone cracked. Nathan knew the man wouldn’t be able to use his arm for a while. But Nathan didn’t stop there; he kicked at both the guy’s knees to dislocate his joints so he wouldn’t be able to walk either. “You son of a bitch…you broke my arms and legs…”

The second guy threw the girl to the ground, rushing towards Nathan like a raging bull. He made a noise like an animalistic roar.

Nathan didn’t move but watched him calmly; in the split second before their bodies clashed, Nathan swiftly shifted his body sideways. As the guy’s body passed him, he used the edge of his palm to chop at his neck. With a heavy thud, the large guy crashed face down onto the ground, unconscious.

The first guy writhed on the ground, screaming loudly. Nathan kicked at his arm and legs a couple of times to ease his pain, so he stopped screaming.

Nathan walked to the girl, who had put her clothes back on as best she could. “Are you all right?”

The girl held her torn clothes to cover her body, and cried, “These two bastards raped me, beat me…”

Dave stepped forward, recognizing the girl as the one who rejected him in the bar. “You are the slut from the bar. Isn’t this what you were asking for?”

The girl whimpered. “Yes, I agreed to do it…with them initially, but soon I regretted it and asked them to stop, but they kept raping me and beating me and wouldn’t stop even though I was begging them to let me go…”

Nathan stopped Dave before he could make another comment. “What’s your name? Where are you from?”

“Ava; I am from LA, in the United States.”

“Ava, could you please wait here for a moment.” Nathan walked to the first guy, who was holding his arm, swearing and cursing. He looked up at Nathan, and then shouted in a fearful voice, “Who are you? What are you going to do to me?”

“I’m just doing a citizen’s duty, stopping you from attacking an innocent victim,” said Nathan.

“You broke my arm and legs…” the guy said.

“What’s your name?” Nathan asked.

“My name is Jacob and he’s Aiden. Is Aiden dead?” said Jacob.

“No, Aiden is alive, and your arm and legs haven’t been broken, just dislocated,” said Nathan. He then turned around and kicked the unconscious Aiden in the back a few times. With some groans, Aiden swore, then tried to climb up.

“You had better share the pain with your friend.” Nathan kicked at Aiden’s legs and arms; Aiden started screaming.

“Shut up. It’s not that painful,” Nathan said. “So now you know what your victim’s suffering feels like.”

Gary tugged Nathan’s arm. “Can I have a word with you?”

Before Nathan could respond, Jacob said, “We are both lawyers and we will sue your ass off.”

“Have you lost your mind?” said Nathan. “You are the bloody criminals here.”

Jacob shouted, “We were having consensual adult sex, and you attacked us. Call the police and we will sue you and send you to jail…”

Aiden interrupted Jacob. “Mate, you are from Australia, right? If you fix our legs and arms and let us go, we are happy to forget all of this; what do you say?”

 

Dave dragged Nathan away from the two guys; Gary followed. After they were out of earshot, Dave said, “These guys are right: if it goes to court, they could sue you for bodily harm.”

“What about their assault on the girl?” Nathan said.

“It’d be very difficult to prove the case because she willingly engaged with them in the first place; let them go and forget about this mess,” said Dave.

“Dave is right, Nathan. We don’t need the extra trouble,” said Gary.

Nathan turned, looking at the whimpering girl against the wall, with her torn clothes wrapped around her naked body. “What about her rights? I can’t let those two leave without any punishment.”

“Nathan, you have punished them enough,” said Gary.

“Not nearly as much as they deserve. They have to feel the suffering their victim felt.” Nathan suddenly had a good idea. “Gary, can jumpers record people’s voices?”

“Yes, they can. What’s on your mind?” asked Gary.

“Leave it to me.” Nathan walked back to the girl. He took her away from the two guys, and then said softly, “Ava, under the circumstances, it’s unlikely we can prove the case easily in court, but I don’t want to let them leave unpunished. I believe in the old laws, teeth for teeth and blood for blood. You have a jumper, right? Good, so connect it to my jumper. Now I want you to try to remember every detail of how they abused you and speak it out loud. I know it’s a hard thing for you to do right now, but please do it for yourself and other possible victims in the future. I will record your words and force these two thugs to listen to it over and over; meanwhile I will dislocate more of their joints to make them suffer, so they will always remember the pain whenever they are thinking of abusing another woman in the future. Will you do it for me, Ava?”

Ava nodded. She thought for a moment and then started to tell him about her terrible ordeal. Nathan listened to her voice, feeling angry and enraged about how nasty and cruel these two animals were to her. For a moment, Nathan almost couldn’t stand to listen to her words anymore, but he forced himself to finish recording her voice.

When it was done, Nathan took Ava close to the two guys who were sitting on the ground cursing and swearing. “Ava, look them right in the eyes; it’s your turn to return their favour.” With Gary’s help, Nathan connected his jumper to Jacob and Aiden’s; he then pushed the button to upload Ava’s words to their jumpers. He pushed the repeat buttons on both their jumpers to play her voice in a loop; almost immediately, both guys started screaming again.

Chapter 16

 

“Shut up.” Nathan was about to dislocate their joints, but stopped. Their screams were too real to be faked. Even Gary was concerned. “Did you accidently break some of their bones?”

“No. I planned to do it but haven’t even started yet. It may have something to do with the jumper?” said Nathan. He walked over, put one foot on Jacob to stop him rolling around on the ground, and then pulled his jumper, a wristwatch, off him. His screaming stopped immediately. Jacob panted hard. “Mate, please stop torturing me like that; I’ll go to the police and confess, I’ll do anything you want but please stop…”

Nathan put the jumper back on Jacob’s wrist and he started screaming again.

“What the hell is going on with these two?” Dave asked.

“It seemed that they are allergic to their victim’s
words.” Nathan pulled the jumper off Aiden, and he stopped
screaming. “Please, mate, I’ll do anything you ask, just don’t put
it back on me again.”

Nathan was puzzled. He passed the jumper to Gary. “You tell me what’s going on with this jumper.”

It only took a second or so for Gary to rip the jumper off him as quickly as he could. “Shit. It’s painful.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Nathan.

“I don’t know how but the recorded voice is not only a voice, but a replay of the real encounter; in other words, whoever is on the receiving end of these jumpers is experiencing the victim’s suffering in every detail, the raping, the humiliation and the violence,” Gary said.

“Holy shit,” Dave shouted. “So these two can fuck themselves.”

 

Nathan went over and put one of the jumpers back on Aiden and the other on Jacob; they both started to roll around on the ground and scream again. Nathan waited until they were screaming so much that they lost their voices and then took the jumpers off them; they both collapsed on the ground, panting heavily.

Nathan said to the girl, “I have dislocated both of their knees so they are going nowhere. You can call the police and give them the jumpers with your recording on; I am sure they will go to jail for what they did to you.”

Gary seemed worried but said nothing.

Ava thought for a while. “Thanks for all you have done for me, but I have decided not to get the police involved. I think they have suffered enough and will remember the pain enough not to abuse another woman in the future.”

Gary let out a deep breath in relief.

“Well, it’s your decision.” Nathan turned around, kicking at their legs and arms to put their joints back in. They tried to climb up unsuccessfully. “Just stay where you are for another half hour, and your limbs will be back to normal,” said Nathan.

Gary got the girl, Nathan and Dave away from the two guys, and then said, “Ava, I would really appreciate it if you never mentioned what happened tonight to anybody. We saved you tonight so it is not such a big ask for you to return the favour.”

“But why?” asked Ava.

“You don’t need to know. Please promise us you won’t mention this to anybody under any circumstances,” said Gary.

“Okay, I promise,” said Ava.

Gary turned to Nathan and Dave. “You had better escort Ava to an exit point so she can get home as soon as possible.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Dave.

“I’m going to have a chat with those two guys,” said Gary.

So Nathan and Dave walked with the girl towards the main street.

 

Ava asked Nathan, “I won’t tell anyone but could you please tell me your name so I will at least know who saved my life tonight?”

Nathan smiled. “Never mind my name. Let’s get you home first.”

They walked along the main street and found an exit point. The girl thanked Nathan again; after swiping her wrist on the metal box, she vanished into thin air.

Soon Gary also came out of the dark alley and joined Nathan and Dave. “Dave and Nathan, particularly you, Dave, please don’t mention what happened tonight to anybody. I am not joking; it’s a matter of life and death.”

“Dude, what are you talking about?” asked Dave.

“I can’t explain it to you right now, but trust me; if you tell anyone about it, it could cost you your life,” Gary said very seriously.

“You must be crazy,” said Dave. “All right, I will keep my mouth shut about it.”

“Please try, Dave; I know it’s hard for you to do,” Gary said. “But remember it could save your life in the end.”

“What happened to those two thugs?” Nathan tilted his head towards the alley.

“I talked to them and they both agreed not to contact the police about what happened; in fact, they’ll be too embarrassed to mention it to anyone,” said Gary. After that the three of them swiped their wrists against the metal exit box, and also disappeared into thin air.

They arrived back at Dave and Gary’s flat, still in OBU. Nathan was going to ask Gary what happened to the jumpers, but received an urgent message from Amy, who wanted him to contact her immediately.

 

Nathan rang Amy on her jumper; soon he not only heard her voice, but also saw her face and her surroundings. He could see many people walking on the street and many stalls were jammed along the footpath. Amy seemed to be in a market.

“What’s happened, Amy?” asked Nathan.

“Oh my God, Nathan; you had better come here immediately. All hell has broken loose.” Amy looked so stressed that she was practically screaming.

“Calm down, Amy. Tell me where you are and I’ll be with you in a second,” Nathan said. So Amy did. “Mate, I have to go; it’s an emergency call.” Nathan brought the screen up in mid-air, selected his destination and logged in to the town in Africa.

 

Amy stood on the dirty road at the edge of the town, adjacent to a large food market, the one that Nathan had seen earlier. Beside her, a couple of European-looking guys were gathered. Nathan assumed that they were OBUarity field staff.

“Nathan.” Amy spoke breathlessly. “We organized a way of getting James and Vicky out, as by chance there is a fleet of trucks from OBUarity that are scheduled to leave the area today, so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity.”

“Something went wrong?” asked Nathan.

“Yes, it couldn’t be worse than this; it backfired. Vicky’s father, somehow, found out what was happening. He interpreted this as the bushman tribes trying to kidnap his daughter, a premeditated plan to attack his tribe, so he collected all of his tribe’s warriors and swore that they would kill every last man in James’ father’s tribe.”

“That’s bad.” Nathan turned to the OBUarity field staff next to him. “Hi, I am Nathan, a colleague of Amy’s.” It was strange that they were neither looking at him nor responding.

“Nathan, they are not in OBU; you are looking at their images.” Amy waved her arm, which went through the figures as if they were ghosts.

“So they are ghosts in OBU.”

“No, we are more like ghosts to them, because we can see and hear them, not the other way around.”

“Are we able to talk to them?”

“Yes, you can talk to them on their mobiles via your jumper; oh shit, here are the Zulu tribe warriors.”

Nathan turned around, his jaw dropping as hundreds of Zulu warriors, carrying spears, clubs, and machetes, almost crashed into him. It was such a strange sensation, like watching an army of ghosts passing through his body; in fact, he was really the ghost, watching the real-world event unfolding in front of his eyes. The two OBUarity staff members were snatched by the Zulu warriors, taken with them to join their march to the battle. In the middle of the marching crowd, Nathan saw Vicky walking alongside a tribe elder, presumably her father, the Zulu tribe chief.

“Come on, we need to get to the front if we want to stop the blood bath.” Amy and Nathan ran as fast as they could, bypassing the Zulu army. Soon they arrived at the square in the town centre. Opposite stood the bushman tribe; although they were not as well armed as the Zulu warriors, they did have the numbers to match. James and his father stood in front of their tribesmen.

“What are we going to do now?” asked Amy.

“I assumed that you had contacted the police and armed forces near the area,” said Nathan.

‘Yes we did, but it would take at least a day for them to get ready, if by any chance anyone is interested enough to interfere with tribal conflicts.”

“What did OBUarity say about this?”

“They promised that they’d provide whatever they could to be helpful, but in this situation that’s the same as no help at all.”

Nathan heard Vicky’s father shout at James’ father in their native language. As such, Nathan had no idea what they were saying, but from their expressions and angry tone, he had no doubt that they were accusing, insulting, and threatening each other; the blood bath was sure to begin any second.

Chapter 17

 

There was not a moment to lose if he wanted to stop the fight, but he was thousands of miles away. Even if he was at the site, what could he do? Despite being good at hand-to-hand combat, confirmed by the two fights he was recently involved in, Nathan knew his skills were useless when trying to stop hundreds of armed tribal warriors attacking each other; therefore he had to think of something else, and quickly.

Since using force to stop the fight was impossible, Nathan had to think outside of the box. His mind wandered back to his conversation with Master Wuwei. Wuwei, as the fundamental principle of Taoism, is to solve a conflict without force and that’s exactly what he needed to do right now. As soon as the idea entered his brain and he started thinking, he turned to Amy. “I need to talk to Vicky’s father right away. Can you organize it?”

“Yes, I can ring Vicky’s mobile.” Amy dialled the number and then passed her jumper, actually a mobile-like item, to Nathan.

“Vicky, it’s Nathan, your English teacher. I need to talk to your father. Could you please translate for me?” said Nathan.

“No need to translate; he can speak English rather well,” said Vicky.

 

“Most respected chief, my name is Nathan, your daughter’s English teacher,” Nathan said as he looked at the Zulu chief a couple of feet away from him, although the chief wouldn’t be able to see Nathan.

“Okay, Nathan; what do you want?” said the chief in an impatient voice.

“Thanks for talking to me, sir. Could you please kindly advise me as to how I should address you? Please forgive me for not remembering your surname,” said Nathan.

“No problem; just call me Paul,” said the chief.

“I appreciate it, sir. Could I please ask what you are intending to do?” said Nathan.

“Nathan, I don’t know if you knew about or were involved in this conspiracy to kidnap my daughter and use her as a hostage to attack my tribe, but it doesn’t matter anymore because I am going to get them all to pay for it and get what they deserve, right here and right now.”

“Sir, dare I ask if you have considered the consequences of doing so?” asked Nathan.

“If you mean that I should worry about the government’s army and police, you are completely wrong. Do you know what, Nathan, my ancestors had wars with your British army and beat them. Our Zulu warriors are afraid of nobody; besides, this is self-defence,” said the chief.

“Sir, I admire the bravery and fighting spirit of your Zulu warriors very much, and I also think you are right about your decision,” said Nathan. He saw the confusions on the faces of the Zulu warriors. They must be wondering what was going on with the Zulu chief, who was talking to a mobile phone.

“So you agree that I should kill these bushman tribesmen?” Obviously the Zulu chief was taken by surprise.

“Sir, it’s not me, actually a Chinese sage said you were right about two and a half thousand years ago; his name was Laozi, or the Old Master in English,” said Nathan.

“Nathan, you are bullshitting me; how could this old master know me that long ago?”

“Sir, it’s true that the Old Master didn’t know you in particular, but he said that there is no absolute right or wrong, it just depends on which side you are standing; therefore, from your point of view, you are absolutely right,” said Nathan.

“I like this Chinese Old Master; Nathan, please stop calling me sir, just call me Old Paul,” laughed the Zulu chief. “So Nathan, you are not going to stop me attacking the bushman tribe?”

“Okay, Old Paul; the old master also said that, even if it’s the right decision, you shouldn’t do it if it’s not the right time.” Nathan could see the dubious expression on the Zulu chief’s face.

“Nathan, what do you mean?”

“Old Paul, please excuse me for digging for a bit more information about your tribe; I understand that two other Zulu tribesmen proposed marriage to your daughter but you refused them, and they were not happy about the result.” Nathan saw the Zulu chief nod, so continued.

“I have no doubt that your Zulu warriors would be able to beat the bushman tribe today, but you would have losses on your side as well; the Zulu tribe your daughter was supposed to marry into would be likely to refuse the arrangement because of the fact Vicky and James have been boyfriend and girlfriend already. As a result, you would be very vulnerable; if the other Zulu tribes were to attack you right afterwards, you would be in a no-win situation. Besides, the government’s police force and army would arrest you for the conflict too.” Nathan stopped, watching the Zulu chief’s expression.

“So what’s your suggestion then?” asked the chief.

“Like the Old Master said, you can understand others better if you are in their shoes; Vicky and James love each other very much, so if you love your daughter, you should know what is best to do. By allowing a marriage with the bushman tribe, not only are you cementing your position as the strongest tribe around, but also thawing any threats from other Zulu tribes without one drop of blood. Old Paul, you are a wise Zulu chief, so you know your best option,” Nathan said carefully.

The Zulu chief laughed loudly; just as Nathan started worrying whether his efforts had backfired, the chief passed the mobile to his daughter, and then spoke loudly to James’ father, the chief of the bushman tribe, in their native language.

“My father said…” Vicky tried to translate her father’s words, struggling with her limited English vocabulary. “He said…that he knew…agreed…with the Chinese Old Master…that one should wear others’ shoes…to know them better…I am, no, he is happy that his daughter found her love with this handsome young man, the son of the chief of the bushman tribe…and he…with all of his Zulu warriors…are to send his daughter to marry James today. What? It’s my wedding day today?” Vicky forgot to translate any more. She cried and hugged her father, thanking him, at least that’s what Nathan guessed from their interactions.

Only then did Nathan collapse to the ground, feeling like he had just used all of his life energy.

Amy knelt down, holding Nathan up against her chest. “Thanks, Nathan; how did you pull it off like that?”

Nathan took a deep breath. “It’s called Wuwei, one of Taoism’s fundamental principles. Solve conflict without using force; follow the flow rather than fighting against it. It’s a bit difficult to understand it at first but you will eventually get it if you think about it all the time. As Taoists believe, there is no absolute right or wrong, it all depending where you are standing.”

“No absolute right or wrong, it all depends on where you are standing.” Amy mumbled the words.

“Amy, please don’t forget to say congratulations to Vicky and James.”

Nathan and Amy jointed the tribe members from both the Zulu and bushman tribes, celebrating Vicky and James’ wedding, although nobody could see them. There was plenty of food on the street for everyone to eat; people were dancing and singing in their native styles.

Nathan enjoyed every moment of it.

OBUarity sent Amy and him plenty of drinks and food in OBU, so Nathan could invite the chiefs and tribesmen to celebrate in OBU as well by using the mobile OBU helmets provided by the OBU field staff. Old Paul, the Zulu chief, loved OBU so much that he decided that he would attend Nathan’s English classes sometimes, and wanted to know more about this Chinese Old Master.

After a long day of drinking, talking, singing, dancing, and wrestling, Nathan and Amy returned home, completely exhausted but extremely happy; they had really enjoyed themselves.

 

It was Nathan’s turn to make breakfast. After he was all done he called Amy and then turned the TV on, tuning it to a news channel.

“Nathan, I still can’t believe what you did yesterday.” Amy sat down at the table, picking up the teapot and pouring Nathan and herself a cup of tea each. “Just a matter of a few words and you completely averted a potential blood bath.”

“Well, as the old say, wisdom is sharper than blades; I merely demonstrated the point.”

“You are too humble about yourself, my little brother,” Amy laughed.

Just then, Nathan’s attention was caught by the news; the reporter said that two lawyers from the US were found dead in Little Amsterdam. The TV camera switched to the alleyway off the main street. Without waiting to finish watching the news, Nathan stood up and dashed to his bedroom.

He quickly put his OBU helmet on, and used his jumper to dial Gary. Gary didn’t enable the video signal.

“Gary, have you watched the news about what happened in Little Amsterdam? Yes, two American lawyers were found dead; do you know anything about it?”

“It was reported this morning actually,” said Gary. “If you watched the whole news, you would know that the police found traces of drugs in their bodies. The deaths were initially suspected as drug-related. Those two thugs well deserved their ends.”

“Okay, thanks. Sorry to wake you up so early,” mumbled Nathan.

“Early? Mate, it’s two in the afternoon; I have just finished my lunch,” said Gary.

Just then Nathan remembered he was living on African time, more than half a day behind Australian hours.

“Talk to you later.” Nathan hung up.

“What happened?” asked Amy after Nathan reappeared from his bedroom.

“I just asked if Gary had heard the news about the two US lawyers’ deaths; you know we were there yesterday.” Nathan didn’t know why he decided not to tell Amy the details of their involvement with the two lawyers.

“Nathan.” Amy paused and then said, “After work today there will be a party for all OBUarity staff involved in the African regions. The party will be in London, on a river cruise boat along the Thames.”

“Oh, one of these ‘all for one and one for all’ French-style orgy parties.”

“Might be, but it’s organized by OBUarity officially, so we have no choice but to attend.”

 

Nathan had never been to London before in either OBU or the real world, so it was quite exciting to see the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and all the other old buildings along the Thames.

The cruise boat was quite spacious. Nathan and Amy stood on the upper viewing deck, enjoying the historically significant buildings along the way.

Beside them, since their journey started, Pierre had been persistently trying to persuade Amy to go to the lower deck so he could introduce a few new friends to her. Lucie was nowhere to be seen. Looking at Amy’s expression, Nathan couldn’t help but grin secretly; he could guess what happened on the lower deck—a sexual feast and large scale ‘all for one and one for all’ orgy for the hard-working colleagues from all over the world. He supposed that the people who remained on the upper viewing deck were the ones not into these comrade-sharing events.

It seemed that Pierre had finally run out of steam, giving up and walking away.

“He really tried; I have to give him credit for the effort,” said Nathan. “Maybe you should give him a chance.”

“He is so sweet, but I doubt that he and I actually want the same thing,” laughed Amy.

“Excuse me, are you Nathan?”

Nathan turned around. The voice was from a blonde girl. She was very attractive, five foot ten, with long legs and full boobs; beside her stood a handsome young guy.

“Yes, I am Nathan. Do I know you?”

“Not yet, but you will soon, and that’s why we are having this gathering,” the blonde girl said. “Let me introduce everyone. My name is Eve, and this is my friend, Peter. Peter, this is Nathan, the famous old master who prevented the potential tribe war yesterday, and this is Amy, Nathan’s co-worker.”

“Oh, no, I am no old master,” said Nathan.

“The young master then. It’s an honour to meet you both.” Peter shook Amy’s hand, and then Nathan’s.

“Amy, Peter is very knowledgeable about the Thames cruise; you know he has read the famous novel, Three Men in a Boat, many times over,” said the blonde girl. “So Peter, why don’t you show Amy the river you know best?”

“I’d be glad to. Shall we?” Peter offered his arm to Amy, like a gentleman from the age of Three Men in a Boat.

“Thanks; see you later, Nathan.” Amy put her arm in Peter’s, and they both walked towards the tail end of the viewing deck.

 

“Nathan,” the girl who called herself Eve said, “I would like to have a few words with you in private. Why don’t we go to the lower deck so we can have some privacy?”

“Well, Eve, you know, I am a bit old-fashioned; I am not into comrade love-sharing parties,” said Nathan awkwardly.

The blonde girl stared at Nathan intensely; only then did he notice her piercing blue eyes. They were so familiar but he couldn’t remember where he had seen them before.

“Nathan, have you been to one of these love-sharing parties before?”

“No and I am not planning to.”

“Nathan, in order to know the truth, you have to get firsthand experience, not judge based on what you’ve heard. Come on, let me showing you the party, and you will find it’s just another social occasion.” She looped her arm through Nathan’s and started walking downstairs.

Nathan had no choice but to follow her lead. From the corner of his eye, he could see Amy glancing in his direction.

Chapter 18

 

Eve was right; the lower deck was nothing like Nathan had imagined and there was no orgy going on anywhere he could see, just a normal social party.

“Ah, Nathan, you finally decided to join the party,” Pierre said. “Where is Amy?”

“She is talking to a new friend about Three Men in a Boat,” said Nathan.

Eve led Nathan through the noisy crowds towards the tail end of the deck. “So do you believe me now?” asked Eve.

“It seems that way, but are you telling me that there is nothing going on here?” said Nathan.

“Well, Nathan, these are all adults and they decide what they want to do; of course there is plenty going on here, you just can’t see it.”

“Really? But where?”

“Nathan, this is a digital world. Let me show you the secret.” Eve took him to another flight of stairs and went down to the lower deck.

The scene took Nathan by surprise; a hundred men and women were crowded in the large hall, talking, hugging and kissing; some were one-on-one but many were involved in a multiparty embrace. Frequently, these entangled bodies would bump the panel door opening and disappear inside. So here was the comrade love-sharing party.

“Sorry, Eve, it’s too crowded for me here and I need some fresh air…” Nathan was cut short by Eve’s lips. She held his neck tightly and sealed his mouth with a true French-style kiss.

“Oh…please stop…” Nathan tried to get free from Eve’s embrace, but her grip was quite strong, and then she pushed forward, sending both of them crashing through a door on the panelled wall.

 

Inside the door, there was a room like a hotel suite. Nathan hadn’t had time to survey the surroundings because Eve was still holding him tightly and kissing him passionately. Their bodies crashed forward, bumping into the wall; the wall opened up another panel door. Before they fell inside, to his surprise, the corner of his eye caught two other people in the room. They were tangled together, kissing each other the same way he and Eve were doing, but that wasn’t the surprising part. The surprising part was that these two looked exactly like Eve and him, a copy of each of them.

Nathan didn’t have time to think. Their bodies landed on a double bed in another hotel suite-like room. As soon as they were settled on the surface of the bed, Eve pushed Nathan down and straddled him. She put her hand to her face, and pulled her facemask off. Nathan couldn’t believe his eyes: in front of him, the blonde Eve had suddenly changed into the red-haired girl in his dream. She was Mary O’Brian.

Mary didn’t give Nathan much time to think. “Take your mask off,” she commended with a throaty voice.

Nathan did as he was told, showing no resistance at all; this even surprised himself. Before he managed to take a deep breath, Mary sealed her lips over his. Staring at her blue eyes just an inch above him, Nathan felt heatwaves starting to boil up inside him; he held her cheeks with both hands and kissed her back with equal force, and soon they had both sunk into their own world.

 

Nathan lay on the bed, still in a state of shock; he couldn’t believe what had just happened. The girl he had dreamed about since he had seen her in the bar in Amsterdam was actually right in front of him, in the process of putting her clothes back on her naked body. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever met in his life, with an almost Barbie-like body, full breasts, thin waist, long legs, but not her face. The piercing blue eyes under the red hair emitted toughness and determination, absolutely nothing like a doll.

“Hi, Mary.” Nathan felt a bit awkward speaking her name for the first time. “That was a wonderful experience, the best in my life.”

“Me too; I also enjoyed it very much.”

“You know what? It’s also my first sexual experience in the last fifteen years.” Nathan knew it wasn’t completely true, because from his personal viewpoint, it’d only be a couple of weeks, despite the fact fifteen years had passed for the rest of the world. He said it to impress her.

“Really? How?” Mary just put her jeans back on.

“Well.” Nathan thought for a moment. Although desperately wanting to impress her more, in the end he decided not to tell her about Master Wuwei; he told her the same story as he had told everyone else.

“Oh, that’s why you are an OBU virgin,” Mary said thoughtfully while putting her last piece of clothing on.

Despite the fact that they had just made love, the atmosphere had changed, not like the romantic aftermath Nathan had imagined. Looking at Mary, who was now fully dressed, Nathan rolled off the bed, and put his own clothes back on as fast as he could manage.

“Sorry, Nathan, for being so abrupt,” said Mary. “What just happened was not part of my mission; I just couldn’t restrain myself. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. As I just said, it’s the best thing that has happened to me in my whole life.”

“All right, Nathan, I assume you know something about who I am and what we are doing.”

“Yes, I have done some Internet research, so I have some rough ideas.”

“Yeah, right, trust your little Internet research to tell you the truth,” Mary said.

“Well, of course I don’t completely believe what I found but it’s a starting point.”

“Nathan, do you want to know the truth?”

He didn’t say anything, simply nodded.

 

“Nathan, tell me what you have found out about me.”

The question made him feel a bit awkward. “I searched and they all said you are…”

“A terrorist, right? Please don’t feel awkward about it; I am used to people calling me that.”

“All right.” He felt the words flowing more easily. “You belong to an organization called Salvation of Humanity, or SOH, that claims OBU will eventually destroy humanity, so the only way to save the human race is to totally destroy OBU.”

“Go on,” said Mary.

“SOH has carried out terrorist activities around the globe to sabotage OBU utilities, and has caused innocent casualties along the way.”

“What about me?” Mary gazed at Nathan.

“Well, it seems that your group’s methods are quite different from the old bombing and shooting tactics. Instead you employ high-tech attack strategies, such as releasing computer viruses into OBU, and those have appeared to be relatively successful.”

“Anything else?” Mary stood up, pacing a bit in the confined space.

“Well I found thousands of threats, but those are the main points.”

“Okay, what’s your view on me?” Mary stopped pacing, coming to a stop standing right in front of Nathan.

“Well, it’s rather difficult and awkward to say.”

“All right, this may make it easier for you: tell me your opinion about OBU. Do you think it’s good or evil?”

“As I mentioned, I have only really known about OBU for the last couple of weeks, so my experience is very limited. However, from what I have seen, heard and experienced, although OBU is not a perfect world, it has solved the biggest threats to modern society, such as global warming and other environmental disasters.”

“That’s totally understandable, particularly from your background. So you think it’s wrong for us to try to destroy OBU?”

“Well, from an environmental and especially pollution-focused point of view, I think OBU has done a marvellous job.” Nathan avoided answering her question directly.

“All right, let’s discuss that more later. Nathan, do you think that people now have more freedom than before?”

“It seems that people are free to go anywhere and do anything as long as they are within the boundaries of the law.” Nathan didn’t look Mary in her eyes while speaking these words.

‘Illusions. What you perceive is what they want you to perceive; none of that is the truth but distorted and censored information.”

“Please explain.”

“On the surface, OBU is a paradise that gives people ultimate freedom to say and do anything they like; whilst most people are using OBU to realize their sexual fantasies, and I have to agree it’s the biggest sexual revolution in human history, fewer and fewer people know or care about what is going on behind the scenes.”

“Behind the scenes?” asked Nathan.

“Yes, everyone is being closely watched and monitored. OBU is like Big Brother, it’s the perfect world to get everyone in check.”

Nathan thought about it for a moment. “I suppose that it’d be necessary to monitor unlawful activities.” He looked away from her.

“But it’d be a different story if they were using OBU to censor different opinions and crush freedom of speech.”

“I haven’t heard about that.”

“No, you wouldn’t have, and that is exactly the point,” said Mary.

Mary sat down next to Nathan, so close that he could smell her body fragrance. Nathan was embarrassed to sense the reaction from his body, so he adjusted his position to hide his awkwardness.

“It’s true that people are free to say whatever they like anywhere in OBU without bearing any consequence for two reasons: one is that freedom of speech guarantees people this right; the second and the real reason is that it is impossible to monitor everyone’s activities and every word they speak—the amount of data required would make that task unattainable. As a result, OBU would only be able to check on some limited targets, not the general population.”

“So we do have freedom in OBU after all,” said Nathan in relief.

“Don’t be so fast to draw your conclusions,” Mary said. “When you talk in a bar, at a party or in a gathering, you are only able to speak to a limited audience, but when you put your opinions or ideas on the Internet, news sites, blogs, or any of these mass message sites, Big Brother can flex its powerful muscles. They can filter and censor every single thread, news article and conversation on these sites. Which is relatively easier compared to people’s personal interaction data in OBU.”

“Are you telling me that people can say whatever they like in OBU to other people but are unable to spread their messages to a large-scale audience?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what has happened in the OBU age.”

“What would happen if someone tried it?”

“Depending on the seriousness of the message, the message would be eliminated immediately and the person would be interrogated, imprisoned or even assassinated if required.”

“Assassinated? Are you telling me the government would assassinate their own citizens?”

“Who would know the truth? Every day there are thousands of people who die of drug overdoses or in various other accidents, so it’s not so difficult for the secret police to kill a few dissidents and hide the deaths among those incidents.”

“Do you have any evidence to support your claims?”

“It’s difficult to collect evidence from others, but we do have firsthand data related to our organization. I know you would say it’s a different story because SOH is a terrorist organization, but doesn’t every citizen have the basic human right of a fair trial and presumption of innocence? I can tell you countless cases where the secret police killed first and asked questions afterwards.”

“Were the people attacking you in the bar the secret police?” asked Nathan.

“Yes, they were OBU field agents, elite assassins who are equipped with the latest deadly weapons and technology in OBU.” Mary paused; Nathan didn’t ask any questions so she continued. “That’s why you haven’t been able to see or hear anything from SOH, the reason why we are trying to destroy OBU. Anyway, the lack of freedom of speech and the censorship are not our main reasons to launch this war against OBU.”

“What’s the reason then?”

“Nathan, OBU is slowly destroying humanity; if nobody does anything to stop it, in a few decades, the human race will be wiped from the surface of the earth.”

 

 

 


Out of Body Universe - Part One

After Nathan is dumped by his girlfriend, he encounters a strange Taoist priest, and has many interesting debates throughout the night, but the next morning he finds that he has been transported fifteen years into the future. A revolutionary technology enables people to live and work in cyber space. People no longer want or need to drive cars, fly overseas, take drugs, smoke, eat junk food or worry about casual sex, because they can now do all of these things in a digital paradise. Nathan has a difficult time adjusting to the new world order. During a night out in a bar in cyber space a group of people attack a pretty girl and her mates. Nathan helps the girl fight off her attackers and discovers that he not only has super fighting skills but the girl he saved is Mary, the most wanted terrorist in the world. Now Nathan’s life is in turmoil. He has to decide whether to help the government destroy the terrorist organization that is responsible for the threat of global warming returning, or assist Mary in destroying the digital world that could ultimately lead to the end of humanity. The line between right and wrong is no longer clear and Nathan possesses the ultimate power to change the future. This story blends adventure, Kung-Fu and gun battles, and a heart-wrenching romance all mixed together in a new science fiction romance like you have never read before. Experience Nathan’s happiness, sadness, self-discovery and the struggle between life and death in this astonishing futuristic world.

  • ISBN: 9781311695376
  • Author: Martin Chu Shui
  • Published: 2016-05-24 12:20:12
  • Words: 33656
Out of Body Universe - Part One Out of Body Universe - Part One