Coffee Break Read – Virtual Illness

I was tired, my ankle was aching, and I had an incipient headache of the monster variety, and then I got a message from Salt Lake City. My employer, Daniel Smith, variously known as The Boss and His Nibs, wanted to talk privately, which meant me remaining at work and sending everybody else home. I wasn’t happy, but I owed the man, so I put the best face on it I could.
Promptly at five, my phone bleeped and his face came up on the monitor in my skinny office. He looked at me in some concern.
“Alysson, you look like hell.”
“Thanks, boss.”
He grinned, showing two fine rows of perfect American dentistry, then shook his head.
“Have you been burning the candle at both ends, young lady?”
“No. Just the one. But we’ve been snowed under.”
He frowned.
“I wasn’t told that. My information is that your workload is currently light.”
“Somebody is telling you porkies. And it ain’t me.”
“I don’t for one moment think it is.”
This time his smile reminded me of an alligator I saw one time in a swamp in Louisiana. I was very glad I had a clear conscience.
“Okay,” he said biting off his words very precisely. “I shall have that little discrepancy looked into. In the meantime, I need your very particular expertise.”
“In which area?”
“Computers. Or to be more specific virtual reality. There would seem to be a problem which may or may not have something to do with some of the new generation VR headsets.”
“What sort of a problem.”
“People are getting sick.”
“What sort of sick?”
“Headaches, uncontrollable twitches, unexplained rages, gaps in memory. Just unimportant stuff like that.”
It was my turn to frown.
“If people are getting sick and you know it’s the VR making them sick, why’d you need me?” “We need you for two reasons. The first being that VR is only one of the common factors between the people who are ill. And not all the VR headsets come from the same company. The second, and even more important, thing is that if VR is the cause of the problems we need to know why and how to fix it.”
I could see the logic to that although it didn’t make me particularly happy. I nodded.
“Okay. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to get on an airplane and make your way here. We can decide our next move when you arrive.”
I couldn’t think of a valid reason not to go, so I nodded.
“What about the office here?”
My nice Mormon billionaire boss showed his teeth again.
“Oh, I think the kids could do with a vacation, don’t you? Full pay of course.”
We shared a grin.

From ‘Vicious Reality’ by Jane Jago, one of the stories in Challenge Accepted an anthology of speculative fiction, featuring people with disabilities who rise to the challenge. 

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