Teagues never does get to play raquetball today. The scene in the court ends up with him helping the other lab workers carry the injured player to FAIT's infirmary, where he receives proper medical attention for what turns out to be a mild concussion. By the time he returns two new players have the court, although this time there are no DEMONs in evidence. He decides a quick workout in FAIT's Weight Room will satisfy his daily exercise requirement, and heads down the hall.
Waiting at the door to the Weight Room is the new Trainer, who greets him, "You look as though you could use a good upper-body workout! Hi, I'm Derek Thorpe, the new athletic facilitator. Might I suggest some high-energy pec work with our brand-new SoloFlax 5000 machine?"
Teagues wonders where the Trainer came from. After all, FAIT isn't exactly featured on the Nevada roadmaps - no Jehova's Witnesses have ever come knocking on the door, although two Mormon bicyclists did make it as far as the motor pool parking lot one time. After being picked up on the video surveillance system trying to figure out the nasal scanner's purpose, they were "volunteered" on the spot and immersed in "Hindu World" for some much-needed religious reconditioning.
Something about Thorpe makes Teagues wary. Not just his muscular build, or his vaguely aggressive posture. Not even the strange glow that seems to pulsate from the surface of his skin, although that in itself is a bit unnerving as well. Thorpe looks almost too healthy - that glow almost looks... Noooo, it can't be... Teagues' malaise is one of those undefinable intuition things, the phenomenon New Agers and Flower Children call "Vibes". He keeps his third eye open as he approaches the device to which Thorpe is gesturing.
As far as exercise equipment goes, the SoloFlax is relatively simple, consisting of a bench with a vertical bar mounted at one end supporting a reconfigurable horizontal resistive yoke assembly. The arrangement is vaguely reminiscent of a crucifix, a thought which provides Teagues little additional comfort. The machine's moving parts have been fitted with rotational sensors, and there is a small headmountable display dangling from one arm of the yoke. A small control panel is mounted behind the yoke, and a bundle of wires coming out of the base of the SoloFlax trails along for a couple of feet before disappearing into a floor conduit.
Wary, but still intrigued, Teagues allows Thorpe to strap him into the SoloFlax yoke assembly, as Thorpe explains the virtual reality augmentation concept of the exercise equipment. "The idea behind athletic VR augmentation is to provide the user with visual and auditory feedback, something more compelling than staring at a gym wall. Each exercise has its own custom-tailored virtual world associated with it, accentuating its inherent physical characteristics. For example, in this pectoral workout, you will become a honeybee, flitting from flower to flower in your quest to collect pollens for the hive. As you flex your pecs, you will be moved forward in the direction of your viewpoint, which is controlled by the orientation of your head, allowing building of the neck muscles as well. You'll be fighting wind resistance to stay on course, but I'll be monitoring the session, controlling the machine's resistance so you won't over-extend yourself. I think you'll find the experience very interactive and exciting."
With this, the setup is completed, and Teagues hears Thorpe step behind him to the system's control panel. "I'll need you to pull your arms forward and back a couple of times to calibrate the machine," the disembodied voice of Thorpe instructs through the earphones. As Teagues complies, he feels a momentary stiffening in the yoke, followed by 2 short beeps. Suddenly his display lights up, and he finds himself hovering over a colorful flower garden. A small bar graph in the upper right corner of the display shows that his pollen load is empty. After briefly surveying the scene, he flexes his arms, and finds himself propelled forward toward an arbor overflowing with honeysuckle. As Teagues gets the hang of coordinating his head movements with his arm movements, he finds he can zero in on a particular flower with ease, and notices the pollen count increase with every landing. He marvels at the complexity of the world; although each flower's basic form is similar, there are variations in position, color, size, symmetry, pollen content, and stamen/pistil length. He also notices that when he tranfers from a stamen to a pistil (thereby pollinating the flower), he hears a tiny beep, and the pistil changes color. The process is fairly simple, except for the fact that often when he makes his approach, he is swept aside by a sudden gust of wind and blown off course.
As fascinating as this simulation is, Teagues begins to tire, and asks Thorpe to end the session. As Thorpe is removing the yoke, he asks, "would you like to try another exercise? There are several other simulations available." Teagues looks around the room at the other machinery, and notices a woman on a treadmill wearing a headmounted display and walking very briskly, waving her head around and slapping various parts of her upper body every few seconds. Feeling sufficiently tired, and still wary of Thorpe, Teagues decides to save any further workouts for another day.
Going back to the locker room to retrieve his clothes, Teagues decides to go home, change into some suitable evening attire, and go to The Pit for a drink. As his locker door goes through another open/close cycle, hundreds of virtual vultures begin their slow descent in Mr. Ralph Kudgel's world. Sadly, Kudgel is in danger of becoming one of FAIT's forgotten experiments.
Out on the rotunda again, things are picking up, as FAIT's day crew members return to their Level 3 homes after work. The Pit's outer ring of tables is becoming moderately populated with people in lab coats playing chess or backgammon over drinks with soft jazz being piped in through a network of overhead speakers. For many, The Pit is their first stop on their way home. When Teagues first arrived at FAIT two years ago, The Pit was his nightly stop as well, but when he found himself slipping into a pattern of alcohol dependence at the tender age of twenty-two, he forced himself to avoid the lounge scene for a while. Now, a year later, he can take it or leave it; he often chooses FAIT's delicious iced sun tea, brewed underground using an ingenious system of fiberoptic conduits which conduct sunlight from collectors on the surface down into the kitchen's Solar Containment Vessel, where the tea is brewed in ten-gallon glass bottles twice weekly.
Teagues makes his way past the elevators along the rotunda toward the eastern edge. There, he makes a right turn into a corridor leading into the Residential Wing, heading for the Third-Tier Section. The living areas of the various FAIT workers are separated by security clearance, not so much for the purpose of social segregation as much as it is an attempt to provide incentives for those who wish to move up through the ranks at FAIT. While non-security staffers are by no means deprived in their living conditions, there is a certain amount of prestige associated with living in a upper-security borough, increasing proportionally with one's level of clearance. Teagues' third-tier clearance allows him access to seventy-five percent of the research projects currently underway at FAIT; the rest are the closely-guarded territory of "The 22" and of course Doctor Flaxon himself, who lives in his own private residence up on Level 1.
Third-Tier living isn't bad, although Teagues yearns for the day he can become one of "The 22". He still revels in the fact that he merits the third-highest security clearance in the world's most secret research laboratory, and wears his white lab coat with the FAIT emblem proudly. The standard dress for all lab workers, these "colors" show all others that one has made the grade and is on the inside track with the notorious Doctor Flaxon. No FAIT worker takes this honor lightly.
When Teagues gets to his apartment, he closes the door and makes his way to the small kitchenette, where he pours himself a tall glass of spring water, pumped up from the aquifer deep beneath the desert's surface. As he sips the cool, refreshing liquid, he ponders the day's events. Before his 3-hour round-trip to Mercury, Teagues had been charged with the task of admitting the lab's most recent group of "volunteers", which took up most of his morning with paperwork and the minutiae of overseeing Leviatron interfacing procedures, a tedious task for anyone connected with it. At least he didn't have to perform the sensor placements himself - those days are long behind him, now.
The desert drive, however mindless in itself, still seems like a chore, since he's been making the run for almost a year now. He reminds himself that, although mundane, it's a vital part of FAIT's daily activities, and he's part of the working team. The scene in the raquetball court -- just more daily madness, in the world of a genius scientist. But that new weight trainer, Thorpe - he'll definitely need some closer attention, in the future... Something about that experience has Teagues a bit rattled.
Teagues finds himself wondering whether he really wants to go to The Pit after all -- it's been a full day, and he's thinking he can use some relaxation, alone. Finally making his mind up to stay home tonight, he opts for some virtual meditation, utilizing some equipment on whose design he and Dr. Flaxon collaborated last month.
Consisting of a compact HMD with a wireless receiver and Flaxon's proprietary omni-directional headphones, the system provides a soothing environment whose gently pulsating lightforms and soundwaves sync with the brain's natural alpha rhythms, inducing a relaxing, euphoric state.