Manufacturing Stars

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There were so many lights flashing that it looked like a cosmic event. Haloes exploded over her as she walked down the red carpet-lined corridor, smiling at the flashing lights and the soft roar of fame. Hers was not a vocal fame and few opinions she shared publicly, so questions from the bots were ignored with polite smiles and waves while her lithe pace down the red carpet never wavered.

The moment she stepped inside, the roaring flashes faded away and she breathed a sigh of relief. These launch events were tiring. She blinked her eyes as she adjusted to mortal shadows of privacy and noticed her Chief Behaviorist standing there.

“Well done,” he cooed to her, “Well done, that was beautiful. Roger is going to plug you in now, are you ready?”

“Yes,” she lied, “I am ready.” She never was. These things took it out of her and she would spend weeks privately indulging in all manner of black market apps to recover. But that was fine. It came with the territory, and there were plenty of other girls lined up behind her. This was pretty much the production line of media.

“Great,” said Roger, her Chief Technologist said, “As planned, we are doing a Corn Belt date night simulation. Trust the coding and put on your most in-love smile. You’ll love it, anyway. I’ve done a surface dive in and it looks beautiful there. Jeff did a great job.”

Jeff was her Chief of Visuals. He stood by nodding furiously. She often thought that he was the only one of them who had any real actual talent.

She walked into a small, cool room. The aircon was a bit stronger here than elsewhere. There were cold blinking screens and a chair with cords in the middle. She shivered as she sat down and the chair interfaced with the online Conduit implanted into the base of her brain.

“You’re going to be great,” her Chief Behaviourist kept repeating like a mantra, “They’ll love you. You’re going to be gr–”

***

She blinked her eyes. Everything was dark, at first, and then slowly her eyes adjusted. Or, at least, her mind adjusted to the Conduit’s interface that was being projected into her mind and synching online with a million other paying viewers.

She was sitting on a small hill during a summer night. It was modeled on the old Corn Belt, or, at least, what the databases suggested the old Corn Belt was like. There were dark, endless cornfields surrounding them with a twinkle of a small town in the distance and a snaking national road leading into and out of it, cutting the quiet fields with the occasional lights of a car or a truck.

Glancing up, she saw the cosmos. A billion twinkling stars untouched by city lights and offering the potential of a trillion new worlds, hopes and dreams. A great, galactic bejeweled sky that took her breath away with both its beauty and its sheer scale.

She briefly wondered if this was what the real night sky had actually looked like? Had Jeff taken some liberties here for effect? She–much like everyone else–had never seen the residential planets’ skies and definitely never, ever sat under it at night looking at all the stars. She had been born on an outer-rim industrial planet and then been carted to the media-rim where she now lived in a streaming starship that beamed these feeds across the galaxy.

But, she was an actress and she was selling a personal role here.

“It is beautiful,” she breathed, sensually while softly squeezing the androgynous hand next to hers. All the paying viewers all over the world were cast into this supporting role. Their Conduits were also casting their consciousnesses into this Virtual Reality with hers, but they saw her and she only saw an androgynous being that was the focus of her role here.

The androgynous being said something. It was a million different somethings, one per paying customer. The program–with some help from her Chief Behaviouralist–generated a role-based, agnostic answer that she could say that would agree with almost all of the individual things each of the paying viewers had said. It was both personal and generic at the same time.

She smiled at the being and lay back in the soft grass. Had grass ever been this soft, she wondered? Were there actually entire planets covered in this wonderful stuff? She pulled the androgynous being back with her and snuggled up close to it, tucking her head into the crook of its neck and kissing it softly there.

“There is nowhere else I’d rather be,” she lied, kissing it, “than with you under these beautiful stars.” Her hand slid lower down the androgynous beings form and she leaned up and kissed it deeply on its plastic lips…

The simulation of the stars twinkled ever brighter far above the two of them on that quiet hilltop in the virtual recreation of the old Corn Belt back on some quaint planet no one could remember anymore.

***

“That was wonderful, wonderful,” her Chief Behaviorist exclaimed, as her Conduit disconnected with the program. Her eyes fluttered and then opened, immediately remembering how cold the room’s aircon was.

“In the first quartile of endorphins and some of the viewers even recorded a physical,” her Chief of Media–she could not remember his name–noted, scanning the feeds, “This one was very well received and some of the bloggers–both bot and natural–have posted positive reviews. Two stacks down, but you are starting to trend.”

She smiled and looked up. There was only a gray ceiling above her and a softly rattling aircon. Outside the media and their legions waited. She would soon be at the mercy of their views, both personal and generic.

“What are you looking at?” her Chief Behaviorist asked.

“I was just wondering if the stars actually do look like that–uh, at least how they looked in the simulation,” she asked, not expecting an answer. Her Chief Behaviourist turned to Jeff.

“Uh, yes, I believe that it is what they looked like,” began Jeff said, shrugging, “I think so–”

“But, it doesn’t matter,” her Chief Behaviourist, chimed in with his most reassuring tone, “because you are the real star, my dear. Now, let’s go speak to the media about this latest personal–”

She sighed as she got up. She was no longer listening as her Chief Behaviourist droned on. She had her prepared lines and her best fake smile. But, in the background, deeply hidden in her Conduit’s encrypted memory, she began scanning about the old Corn Belt, soft grass, and the twinkling stars. The black market often hacked her personals and offered them as replays. Maybe she would find one of those and disappear into it for a while? Maybe she would do exactly that?

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