Dash is a Service Technician for Solar Panels and Data Receivers at Takayna Plains, an isolated farmed goods exporter and Outpost.
Dissatisfied with his current life and direction, he again has a long and uneventful day at work. Feeling jaded, he heads to his local bar for a drink.
He takes to sitting alone in a booth to enjoy his beer and a notification comes up saying that he has been rejected for another date; 12 months has passed without a date. He flicks through a full list of failed dates on his Social. Disgruntled he selects to “Opt-Out” and cuts the feed to it. Defeated, he slumps back into his chair, mutes a Personal Wellbeing Warning from his wrist watch and stares aimlessly off into the distance. Off to the side, the cackle of a group of women catches his attention. As they pass through the room towards the bar, Dash catches the eye of one of them. Time slows and a connection is made like he has never felt. He ponders what to do. To sit there and remain in the melancholy he is in would be his normal response but not this time. He collects himself and goes over to introduce himself.
Thinking over how he would start a conversation, he fails to pay attention of his surroundings and falls over a stool, crashing to the floor. The woman, who has spotted his advances, rushes over to help him back to his feet.
“I honestly didn't know how to start up a conversation with you so I guess this will do the job!”
The woman introduces herself as Hadley. The two start chatting and are getting along like a house on fire. Despite this however, she informs Dash that she is only visiting Takayna Plains overnight as she was lucky enough to be granted a leave pass to go off world the next day to Europa to study atmosphere creation and is only here to say goodbye to friends and family.
“We have about and hour before I need to head back to my parents place, let's get out of here and do something fun”
Dash and Hadley leave her friends and head to a local digital Pool and connect to a classic Pacific island. They spend their time wandering through a forest, on the beach and frolicking in the water. The two go to kiss but their session disconnects as they have run out of time.
Dash walks Hadley to the closest metro stop, the two say their goodbyes, kiss and Hadley leaves.
Dash heads back to his apartment and watches back over the session he had shared with her at the Pool and falls asleep to it.
Over the course of the week, his mood is better and he continues each night to go home and watch over the session; fixated and infatuated with the moment.
A few days later he reconnects to his Social to see in the vain hope whether he can locate her profile with no avail so he then decides it would be best to delete the Pool session recording and to move on. Just as he is about to confirm the deletion, a call comes in… it's Hadley.
She tells him that she has been madly trying to find him but he was nowhere to be found on Social until that night. The two chat for hours, Hadley telling him how lonely she is on this new world and expressing how much she wished he could be there.
They agree to save some money up so they can spend a Pool session together in a month's time as that's the best they can hope for to share time together as travel off world is limited and expensive.
Hadley and Dash stay connected via calls over the next month as if they were dating, sharing meals, sharing their lives and stories.
The day comes for their Pool session and Dash heads down to his local Pool, empties his savings to pay and connects. The two meet on the same island they shared together on their first time and they go off to adventure. Making their way to a candle lit beach hut, the scene is set for them to continue their romantic encounter.
“I know this isn't us touching in person but nothing has ever felt so real in my life.”
Hadley and Dash embrace and proceed to consummate their love only for the session to error out and abruptly end. Startled, Dash demands to be reconnected again but the operator can't get a connection and so refunds a small amount of the fee to Dash and he heads home.
A day later, Dash manages to call Hadley and the both express how disappointing it was for the session to be cut short. They both agree to save again and connect in a couple of months time.
Over this period however, strange things begin happening. It starts with voice tonal changes from Hadley during phone calls to even on one call what appears to be two calls crossing each other and Hadley momentarily being a completely different person.
Concerned, out on the job one day with his supervisor, Dash tells him what has been happening.
“It sounds like you're being phished in all honesty.”
Dash says that it's not possible, the two had met in real life before and nothing else other than the errors seemed out of the ordinary. His supervisor lets him know that being a Service Technician for Data Receivers could come in handy if he wants to hack into the back end of the calls and tells him to see a friend of his called Gant that could help.
Dash goes to see Gant down a back alleyway in the Takayna CBD. His location is discrete and for good reason. Gant is a hacker and the tech he has is unlike what Dash has seen previously with other backyard hackers.
Dash explains his story to Gant and reaffirms what his supervisor has said to him. He says that he has a program that Dash can run on an illegal Pool session right there at Gant's. Dash is hesitant but agrees and decides that in a few days time he'll surprise Hadley with a fully set up connection claiming he has taken out a loan to pay for the two of them.
Days pass and Dash returns to Gant's and hands him what his refund is from his last pool session to pay for Gant's help. They set up the session and Dash calls Hadley.
The two connect and meet on the island. Hadley exclaims that she can't believe that Dash would be so reckless and take out a loan to connect but at the same time found it foolishly romantic.
Visual glitches start to occur and Dash takes a step back from Hadley.
“What are you doing?? What have you done?!!”
Hadley's data dematerialises and the setting changes to a black void with data streams following off in the distance all around. The logo “Social” prominently sits it what seems like the middle of the void.
An unfamiliar voice states:
“Error - CS307J442beta. Unauthorised disruption of feed and simulation."
“Dash. You have breached your service authority and are accessing an unauthorised area of the Social program. This is your warning to cease your activity before further action is required.”
“What is this?!” Dash exclaims “Where is Hadley and what have you done with her!”
“Dash. To ensure the health and well-being of users, Social will keep users connected with those who mean the most to them in their lives whether it be via liaison, call and Pool connection or simulation. Your health and well-being is our priority.”
Fearing the worst, Dash demands to see Hadley's profile so he can make sure she is okay and nothing has happened to her.
“You have no connections with any user that has either the first or last name ‘Hadley’.”
Confused, a realisation dawns on Dash. This whole time, Hadley had been a simulation by Social. All the errors, the Pool session that had abruptly ended, all a fabrication by the application.
Terminating the Pool session, Dash approaches Gant and asks him if he can trace a ‘Hadley’ on Social that had just recently relocated to Europa. Gant does so and tells Dash that he has found her, that they aren't connected on Social. Gant tries to connect the two but a firewall is around her profile meaning that the two are hidden from each other and Social has blocked all routes from the back of the service. With that, Dash leaves, a lost soul.
Dash makes his way to the perimeter fence of the Takayna settlement, sneaks through a dilapidated building, a hole in a fence and into the scrub and bushland. He makes his way to an old shed, heads on inside and throws a tarpaulin cover off an old motor vehicle he had rebuilt. Personal motor vehicles are banned in Takayna as like every other Outpost but Dash had managed to salvage and rebuild this one.
It was in times when a drink or sitting watching entertainment at home could not ease his mind that he came to this shed.
Opening the shed doors, Dash fires up the engine, revving and then bursting out into the bush land down tracks under the cover of trees and a slowly setting sun. Tearing through the bushland, he reaches a beach far enough away from the outpost that he can see it and all the corporation owned farm land on the horizon.
Parking and sitting on the bonnet of his car, he ponders the events, the revelation of the last couple of months and the dissatisfaction and want away feelings all too familiar.
Despite all this, in this place, he is content.