Soon I saw Harry and three other men with baskets on long handles moving along the rows from the back forward. Everybody is putting a token or silver into the basket. I put mine in when it’s my turn. They empty the baskets into a small chest at the front of the room that is then pushed under the table when they finish. The halfling man then raps a gavel on the table, “I call the public meeting of the Explorer’s Association to order. Officers officiating are Treasurer Gilden, myself, Secretary Mason”, and he nods at the elf, “President Grumpy64 presiding.” There’s immediately some snickering – including me.

“Laugh it up, chuckleheads. I got that name because I’ve been in Nirvana longer than most of you have been alive – in both lives! It’s a badge of honor.”

Mason speaks, “While he says it every time, it’s true. His experience is why most of you are here tonight. He doesn’t mind the teasing, and he could mop the floor with anybody here, including Gilden or myself. So, don’t let it go too far. We don’t need him demonstrating his skills on an excessively rude newbie.”

“We hold these meetings and share some of the same information every time, during the beginning of the meeting. After that, we answer questions from the floor and may share more sensitive information. Everything has value, but that doesn’t mean you must suffer death to learn it. We’ll help a little, and we hope you will join the EA and share what you learn with us.”, Gilden says. “We’ll give you the sales pitch at the end, and you don’t have to stay for it; we just ask that you close the doors when you exit.”

Mason starts up again, “We like to start with a question that will help put some perspective on what we will soon cover. Anybody physically born after 2200, please raise your hand.” About 40% of the audience raises their hands, and then she asks, “Anybody born after 2150 but before 2200 please raise your hand”, and about 40% of the room responds. “I am sure you can see where this is going, 2100 and 2150?” and about 20% of the room, including her, raise their hand. “Ok, between 2050 and 2100?”, and only Grumpy64 raises his hand.

Grumpy64 then looks at me and accuses, “Furball, you didn’t raise your hand.”

“That’s true, geezer! I think I am the oldest one in this room. I was born in 1970.” And with that, the volume of the room goes up.

“Holy shit! You’re one of the experimentals! You stay after – I wanna talk to you!”

“You gonna pay a silver to me?” I asked while smiling.

“Shit – I’ll pay you a gold! You sit tight.” And the volume raises another level while I think about that.

Rapping his gavel on the table, Gilden calls for order, “Quiet, please, it’s more than a novelty – and you’ll soon understand why.” Soon the room settles, and he continues, “As most of you know, Nirvana is connected to the Net, and she can’t be disconnected from it. Attempts have always failed, and some spectacularly. Our society has grown dependent upon her, and she us. Nirvana consumes all of the public content on the Net and scrubs it for cultural references. Some of these things she integrates into her dream, usually as Easter Eggs, for us to find. Finding an Easter Egg usually means something special for one or more people. Some eggs can be found multiple times, some only once.”

Mason picks up the lecture, “You don’t have to find them yourself, but it’s one of the things Explorers do. Easter Eggs fetch a good price, and it can be fun to find them. The challenges are that cultural references change over time and by region of the world. Things important in 2200 are not always important in 2250, and further something important in the east of North America may not be important in the west, or even heard of in Australia.”

Grumpy64 jumps in, “This is part of Nirvana’s social engineering program to make the human race better – and it’s working. There’s far more tolerance and understanding when people are working together from different times and cultures to find advantages in Nirvana. Wars and Hate Crimes have been an easy-to-follow declining trend since Nirvana started incorporating the Easter Eggs. It’s not 100%, but most people find it harder to be violent with somebody they know, and assumptions and prejudices are harder to keep when you understand someone. Even if you don’t care about what you had to learn to find an egg, you still learn something that changes you a little.”

Mason picks it up now, “If the finder of an egg opens it, then they may get a chance to talk to Nirvana’s avatar, and they get the contents of the egg. Most of the time, the contents can be sold; they hardly ever automatically affect the opener. If the egg is given to someone else without opening it, the opener will not get a chance to meet Nirvana – the exception is if you are in a group at the location where the egg is found. One party member may give an egg to another, and the chance to meet Nirvana will pass with the egg. Being in a group when opening the egg also has a chance to increase the contents of an egg, up to the number of members in the party plus one. Nirvana may also talk to the whole party, not just the one who opens the egg. She’s usually pretty friendly; just don’t count on it.

Do you see why Grumpy wants to talk to our celebrity? He’s going to offer a different perspective than any of us, which may lead us on some exciting new adventures.”

The murmuring in the room started up again.

Harry spoke up, “I work here at The Weather Vane and was able to talk to Jeb during dinner. He’s staying here for a few days and is a nice guy. Look for him in the common room instead of ganging up on him here.”

And I jumped in right after him, “It’s kind of funny being famous because I’m old – especially when I don’t look or feel it. I’ll entertain friendlies at my table when I’m in the common room. Come by and have a drink or meal with me.”

It got a little louder for a moment and then quieted back down. Mason got out of her chair, and Grumpy started to speak, “Usually, after we have covered Easter Eggs and the importance of working with others to search for them, we like to do some practical things to help out. Mason will gift those in the first row a Basic Explorer’s Manual. The rest of you will have to join or cough up another silver for it. You can buy them from Gilden after the meeting or join the association. The basic manual covers some of the things you can do with your interface and ways to add functionality to it, sometimes cheap and easy. It’s not hard to find the information, but having it all in one book to browse through can save you weeks of effort.

In addition, each of the officers and members in attendance at tonight’s meeting will share with you one cantrip and the second level of that cantrip, if they know it. Cantrips come in two levels: basic, which typically uses a single point of mana, and advanced, which normally uses ten times the basic amount of mana. If you haven’t built up a core or mana pool, an advanced cantrip can wipe you out for a short time – this is because you probably only have one mana point. When you don’t have enough mana, magic draws down stamina and then health. Most of you would die casting a tier one spell as most of them have a base cost of a hundred mana.

Anybody can learn any spell they want, just like you can learn any skill you want. Why? Because it’s you learning it, your brain keeps the knowledge of how to do the work, move your body, and such. That’s why you can’t lose skill levels, that and there aren’t any. Nirvana doesn’t puppet your avatars – there’s no auto-build mode or such foolishness you might find in games. If you want something, you have to find it, buy it, build it, steal it, whatever. Things inside Nirvana have only sentimental value outside of her, and Nirvana is the only one who can bring something in from the outside, the exception being knowledge. No money or other ‘resources’ are exchanged between Nirvana and the physical. The things that are exchanged are knowledge, data, and information. Physicals can pay others to do things in Nirvana, like data processing or building and making things for use in Nirvana. This money stays in the physical, so it only has value to those who are still physical or can interact with the physical. New digitals can’t interact with the physical, so there’s no value in this exchange for you. When you can interact, you will be able to form a binding contract and reduce the likelihood of being cheated. Nirvana’s economy is based on the scarcity of resources, including labor. You can make any agreement you want with somebody in Nirvana, and you need to be able to enforce it yourself if you don’t have a society backing you. Nirvana can change the scarcity of resources, but I haven’t heard of her doing it since she tied resource scarcity to block-chain algorithms and natural cycles over 1,000DY ago.

There’s also no mind control. Nirvana can’t access your brain; she can stimulate and interpret nerve signals, audio, olfactory, optical, and spinal, to name the most prominent groups. Unless you are still meat, you don’t have a circulation system, so any hormones or things that would interact with receptors in your brain will also be where there is a disconnect from your new digital reality. Over time your brain will learn to interpret other signals from your body to simulate acknowledging changes to the state of your body that should induce flight or fight responses and things like that. Many emotions start in the brain and introduce signals that change the state of the body. Ones that travel the spinal cord will impact your avatar, while ones that move through your bloodstream, like hormones, will not.”

Wait…that means Bob lied to me. There was no sedative because that would have had to change my brain chemistry. He used words as a placebo, and I dismissed the lack of shock symptoms in my body as an effect of his words. This also means I may not experience an adrenaline rush or similar things. I need to be very careful until I can really learn the differences in my new body-brain interaction.

Grumpy had continued talking, and I missed part of it. “…illusions very effective. You can still be hypnotized, and truth detection works on body language and physiological symptoms – so you can get caught, and judges and the courts almost all use some magic to help identify lies. Psychology still works – you can be brainwashed, but not with chemicals that work directly on the brain. You can be tortured- unless you are under the physical age of 21 or some other protected group. If your brain loses connection with your avatar, then it’s dead, and your brain will be doing the death penalty time-out. Asleep isn’t losing connection to your avatar; it’s your brain resting and sending your avatar autonomic signals. You still need sleep; becoming digital only changed the natural chemical processes into digitally simulated ones. The human mind and brain still work essentially the same way – and don’t ask me anymore about that; I wasn’t one of the scientists that figured that crap out.

For those of you who are meat, when you are in your gear and connected to Nirvana, it’s just like the medicos said, “The gear interrupts all the signals being sent down the spinal column, and only continue to send steady autonomic signals to your body. Heart, lungs, and such will not change activity rates due to anything in Nirvana – so you can’t have a heart attack because you just fell off a cliff. Your avatar can, and you will then suffer a death time-out. Since you are meat, you can suffer heartache since the bloodstream introduces that. You have just as many advantages and disadvantages as us digitals; they are just different.

You should all act with care until you have become very comfortable with your differing reality. Nirvana won’t stop you from doing something stupid to yourself or someone else. In fact, she feels like this is about the safest environment for humans since there is no permadeath unless you are a digital and you ask for it. She generally will NOT interfere with you or your time here. She doesn’t issue quests; the only storylines are the ones you make up. She doesn’t act like a god, so praying to her does nothing. She is concerned about the long-term survival of the human race, but she isn’t out to save or control us. Like any other civic-minded citizen, she supports policies and organizations that make a difference. If you think about her as a slightly nosey little sister, it’s probably for the best.

Let’s talk about some cantrips, and I’ll go first. Don’t do this unless you have mana to spare. Just listen to what I say and memorize it. Hold your right hand over the center of your chest with your pointer finger extended like you are pointing at something on your left breast and say, “Name Tags.” This will cause name tags to appear on everyone’s left breast for 10 minutes. The individual controls the data that shows on their tag, should they know how to change it. It can be a lie, so don’t overly rely on it.

The advanced version of my cantrip requires that you act like you are holding a magnifying glass, either hand is fine, and then say, “Elementary.” This works on things in addition to people. It will stay active for about an hour, and you will have to stare at anything you want details on for three seconds. The details revealed depend on what’s considered public for an item or person and may include a value on things.”

While Grumpy was talking, Gilden walked up and handed me a book about the size of a paperback novel but with thicker paper. He started speaking after Grumpy finished.

“My cantrip requires that you have a container no smaller than a tablespoon in one hand and use the other hand to act like you are pouring something into the container. While doing so, say, ‘Spice Rack’ and any single word that indicates a spice, seasoning, flavor, or such. This will create up to a tablespoon of seasoning. The advanced version is exactly the same, except you say ‘Spice Islands’ instead, and you may use up to three words, like ‘Orange Blossom Honey.’ Whatever you say for either cantrip must exist in Nirvana, and you will get less the more valuable the item you request is. The most I have ever seen it produce is one cup, and it produces nothing when I ask for something that would have cost more than an iron coin in the market.”

Then Mason speaks up, “And now it’s my turn!”

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