Outside The Hotel Gallipoli
The Brick
SecondWorld
Time: Before CountDown.

On The Brick; it was still and quiet, clean, a perfect picture, just as he'd always imagined it in his mind.

It would soon change. The clock was running down before the WeekEnders hit, before they came tumbling onto the street, a trashcan of restless humanity dumped into the calm world he'd helped create.

But for now, it reminded him of childhood days on those California beaches, watching the water get sucked out in the undercurrent, seeing, for a brief moment, the clean sifted sand bare and pure - beautiful clear levelled sand - just before the next wave crashed in and brought the debris and turmoil and driftwood as it always did.

He'd once calculated that The Brick was more than forty thousand earth miles long. And even now, after it had grown beyond where people, including himself, imagined it would, it had used less than twenty percent of its capacity.

The Brick was the alternative world, the escape route out of the reality of life.

While RealWorld, where people really lived and worked and fucked and died, staggered along under the weight of nearly nine billion people, SecondWorld had become the great escape, the place where dreams and reality merged. AlphaWorld before the turn of the last century, then SecondLife, places where alternative cities and homes had been built on the Web by the internet pioneers. But, by 2007, it all started to change. It became wildly popular and groups formed and bought about the nasty excesses of RealWorld. Groups formed to rape and plunder and hurt their neighbours. But they were harmless days, a time when the only person who got hurt was an unconnected avatar, a cyber image, on a computer screen. There was the odd divorce, the occasional group suicide, but these were in a minority. For most it was just a giggle on the net.

Virtual Reality changed all that.

The ability for people to switch on their computers, connect up their SensoLinks, sit back in their chairs and just glide into a virtual reality parallel world in the Web. The SensoLinks caressed their sensory nerves, touch, feel, sight, sound, hunger, every sensation that ran though people's bodies. A Web meal was as enjoyable as the real thing, often tasted better, except it left the users still hungry when they returned to RealWorld. Every sensation, from sex to sadism to sentiment, was now catered for in The Web.

At a price.

Nothing was free.

Apart from just walking on The Brick.

It was an easy system to navigate.

One long wide road, yellow, lined with boulevard pavements and buildings that ran as far as the eye could see. Tall buildings, modern buildings, one-storey buildings, churches, vast entrances to Theme Parks, shops, beauty parlours, restaurants, the paraphernalia of everyday life.

Open to all, as long as they had the entrance price.

Then governments had taken over The Brick.

It was that which disappointed him the most.

He, and the others, had built it because it was their dream.

They built it so that the great melting pot of humanity, under the strait-jackets of life in RealWorld, could join each other in friendship and fun and togetherness, outside the ever binding tethers of governments and bureaucrats and officialdom.

But nothing that created freedom was ever left alone.

That, he shook his head, was the most unnatural rule of nature.

Set up by the United Nations in 2011, each country had access to areas of the cyber network, the old World Wide Web, the 'www' of the defunct internet days.

The fibre optic-based broadband networks soon proved too slow for information retrieval, and after a series of missed turnings the quantum network eventually superseded the old atom-based optic network, which in turn revolutionised the Web.

For a fee, paid to the UN to support their world-wide humanitarian policies, each country leased out their section of the network to companies and individuals. The more advanced the country, the higher the price. The more usage a country took, the greater was its coverage on the network.

It was a never-ending world of computer software; a graphics protocol that didn't exist in reality, but was as real as the RealWorld on which it was based. Its complete potential exploded when Virtual Reality and real time avatars became the currency of The Brick.

The network providers started to build on The Brick in 2115. It grew rapidly as more companies came on board. The French Zone redesigned its section of the superhighway as the Champs Élysées Boulevard, the English Zone copied Oxford Street with the Globe Theatre at one end and Marble Arch at the other. The Europeans, with their traditional values, insisted that all new builds must have governmental planning permission, in a copycat manner that still dominated RealWorld. America, with few zoning problems and a more robust approach to life, just let it rip and allowed developers to build whatever they wanted. Some created small side streets and built their own community zones, others simply slapped something up on The Brick and offered whatever services they had to the public.

Used to be in the old days that avatars could fly; it was a great way to move around. But that stopped. People could still fly, but only in the safety of a game park. On The Brick, people either walked or got a transporter, which was automatically charged to your credit account. Even cars using The Brick were eleven credits per six million cubits.

Only twenty percent of the network was developed; those areas still not utilised were known as the DarkAreas. They hadn't been mapped out, were just areas of empty digitless space, without light or energy, its sound just a vacuum of silence.

In time, as The Brick grew, as power and services were laid to them, the network expanded into them and created fertile areas where Web developers would move in. But, for now, the DarkAreas didn't exist because they hadn't been invented.

Most of the megacorps, the larger network providers and developers, had options on these DarkAreas, working on the premise that one day they would be valuable and need to be developed.

It was an simple system, made possible by massive investment and technological wizardry.

He watched the CREEPs go about their business, cleaning and repairing The Brick, ready for the next onslought.

He saw the WebCam, high on the side of the building, swing round and focus on him. He turned and walked away, as if he were a WeekEnder who had arrived early and was just exploring the neighbourhood. He realised his step had quickened. He calmed his anxiety, slowed his step.

Now was not the time to be noticed.

He looked at his watch; it was set to BrickTime, the same as Eastern Seaboard Time.

The moment was approaching, the Convention Hall would be filling up, billions tuning in to meet The Man. The elections were over, electronic votes counted, and it was 'Good Ole Bill Dixon' for another term, President of the United States which stretched from Canada to halfway down South America. The Leader of a billion people.

He shook his head.

He headed for a local café.

He looked forward to a fresh, hot cappuccino.

He'd watch it on the café TV screen.

He'd watch the action on the digital information that poured down the wire from RealWorld to SecondWorld.

He'd watch and know he was about to change the world.