by Derek Schachter
<10:14 Electronic message started, Encryption disabled>
One of my and Naos's favorite pastimes was to go outside during a meteor shower and point out all of the shooting stars that we saw. We would find a nice patch of grass, lay out a blanket or two, and cuddle up with each other while we gazed at the bright, night sky. Most of the compound had plain old dirt on the ground and didn't irrigate the land, but I said most. There is one area that is irrigated though, the garden. The garden is a small area of land, about twenty meters in length on each side, with heavy patches of grass, small shrubs, and flowers. It could be found on the side of the buildings where we lived, periodically watered by an automated underground sprinkler system, which is run by Cygnus, of course. Oh the joy of having that tiny spice of real life at our fingertips, the feel of real organic botanical material at our fingertips, not counting those creams I use to keep my face so nice; it was a real treat! All sarcasm aside, firstly, we were lucky to have it at all, and secondly, it was actually quite nice. There were about ten different species of flowers and shrubs planted there for our pleasure and our encouragement for our minds to grow and get more experience in life. I mean, no matter how smart and developed our minds were, you couldn't fully explain the rich aroma of a red rose to us. The flowers were beautiful and the shrubs were beautiful, and there was nothing like sitting on fresh, green grass. It was just nice. So when there were meteor showers, Naos and I would snuggle up and watch the shooting stars, pointing them out as we saw them. It was one of those few moments in which we felt like we were in the real world, that we weren't inside huge walls and laser fences, but in our own backyard, or on a grassy knoll.
Those are the times that you have to remember, being pressed against the one you love, outside, on a dark, humid night, being able to detect the small traces of his scent through your nose. Your arms would be wrapped around his waist tightly, seeing the outline on his face against the night sky. Those are the few times that you have to remember forever, during the times in which you need them the most, a look back at better times, events, and feelings.
Those were the good old days, the very good ones. And what of these days? Well, I didn't only start speaking of meteor showers and shooting stars just for the sake of conversation. You see, WAY out in the solar system is the Asteroid Belt, which separates the inner planets from the outer ones. Now when asteroids come into contact, smaller remnants and pieces of the asteroids break off in the form of meteors. Those meteors will have a brand new trajectory all their own, and will most likely meet their demise burning up in the atmosphere of a planet whose orbit is in the way of those meteors' paths. Do you see where I'm headed here? That is how most meteor showers occur, because they get pulled in by Earth's gravitational pull and burn up in our atmosphere; a little Astronomy 101 for you all. My point is that everything is relative; while something may look cool and awesome from your point of view, it could be extremely horrible from mine. I have seen both. Oh yes, when we were all young we would gaze up in awe at the meteors, wishing they would cross Earth's orbit, because we all knew that they would burn up during entry, and never once thought that they would strike the planet, creating a crater. But out here in space? There ARE no barriers to protect us, and it was only a matter of time before one colossal piece of rock struck us not in weapons, not in shields, not even in radar, but in our one of our fusion energy cores, rupturing it! We had to eject it before it blew our whole ship to pieces; we were lucky enough that it didn't explode on impact, but the shields stopped that from happening. Our ship runs on three whole energy cores, at once! Three! We lost one third of our power, and since a planet that shall remain nameless is blocking the Sun, none of the solar deck instruments and power collecting devices will work, that is, until we get a source of sunlight. And those were the very backup devices that would be used to auxiliary power when something like this happened. So in the meantime we had to adjust and reroute what our precious power would be used for, and what we would have to do without.
There were three checklists: crucial systems, conditionally needed systems, and the other crap that we don't need to survive. The crucial systems we needed AT ALL TIMES, and could not compromise any of them for something in one of the lesser necessary systems lists. These were the crucial systems: life support, shields, propulsion ram scoop engine for flying in space, and high-fuel efficiency combustion engine for flying in a planet's atmosphere. Since we needed all of those and couldn't sacrifice the use of any, we rerouted most of the power to those systems. The conditionally needed systems were things that were of very much use, but not strictly necessary for regular flying. They consisted of gravitational controls, environmental controls, real-time communications relay, short-wave frequency communications port, and direct Cygnus and ISA connections. All of us had a nice, lengthy debate about what to keep and what we didn't need. I know I sure as hell wasn't ready to do without gravity, even if it was just artificial gravity. The others, though, opted for environmental controls, or else is would be too hot on in the rear of the ships where the engines where, and too cold in the front, because space was really cold, almost to absolute zero in some places. Well, it was all of them against me, and we couldn't have both, since that would cause our two remaining power cores to overheat, and that wasn't good, not good at all! Because of that, we most definitely lost our connection to Cygnus, for the time being anyhow, but getting a fresh connection might be too risky once we get all of our power back. And lastly, we had to get rid of most of our, shall I say, luxuries aboard the fine ship, which we wave farewell to with much despair and reluctance. Those were: heating facilities (including heated water [but who cares about trying to shower without gravity anyhow]), television, radio, voice command modulation, camera systems, electronic doorways, motion sensors, heat sensors, main lights [we still had emergency lights], and of course, room sterilization!
As you may have guessed, because
I can use neither my camera systems, nor motion or heat sensors, I have
to type out my story, strapped and buckled into my chair so I don't float
away. This is temporary I hope! Of course, I also thought things back on
Earth would remain only temporary too, but that, among other things was
all due to wishful thinking...
Our lives after that afternoon were awful, utterly terrible. Nothing was quite the same anymore after that. I mean everything really WAS the same on the outside, but on the inside...things were different. I started looking behind my back more often than I should have, being more aware of the hundreds of thousands of cameras that spied on me everyday, taking extra time to examine people that I met or knew. It was impossible not to, how couldn't I? There was something more out there, in here, that I couldn't even begin to fathom or theorize what was going on. What WAS going on anyhow? What plan did Gemini have for us? Was there really more to the experiment than what was top secretly given to us? Isn't THAT why the whole project is top secret in the first place? There were so many questions and fears, not just in my mind, but in all of our minds, the four of us. We agreed not to tell Iris or Nylin about what we stumbled upon, that last thing we needed were two blabbermouths telling everyone that we were on to them when we didn't even know what was going on in the first place. It was our job though, Naos, Helios, Sarin, and me, we agreed that we had to find out, at all costs and taking all risks, just as long as we didn't get caught. We almost did get caught, too, when the repairmen came to fix the camera and speaker that `blew a fuse'. We logged off the server the very moment that they walked in, unbeknownst to them of our newfound suspicions. Not that I was surprised, since they believed our story about the camera and speakers. Stupid workers, nothing breaks anymore in this day and age!
After that stunt, the four of us, trying to relieve some of our newfound tension and fears, agreed to meet up at the Tech Lab, that was next to our building, and attempt to play a game of Crossfire. Our parents were still at the meeting, which I didn't care to even think about what they were discussing there, so we had plenty of time to kill before dinner. It was a kick-ass virtual reality game, one of the first in its kind, to use real life weapons, scenarios, and random variables. Also, the game boasted surprisingly realistic accuracy in almost all elements of game play. I felt as if I wasn't really playing a game at all, but that it was surely real life. It helped the four of us forget our life's problems, helped us to relax, and also honed our knowledge with the real world; the game was charted with a 99% accuracy level of realism. The U.S. Army was also just starting to use the game for combat training, and foreign anti-terrorism units were starting to assimilate the idea as well. One of the game's most remarkable features was it's use of AI players, which could also be mistaken for real people, because they acted so natural, all had different personalities, and did everything any normal human being would do. The Cygnus computer was partly responsible for the realistic AI design. When the game was developed, the super computer ran the game without using any parameters and no limit on how the artificial intelligence acted. The computer ran about seven billion test runs of the game in a matter of five days (yeah it's a hella fast computer). It created and ran just about any and every real life scenario and human function and thought process imaginable, while it's developers studied and fine-tuned the AI system for their own external use for the game, since the game couldn't always be run with the Cygnus computer connected to it.
"Game. Now." Sarin demanded as he and Helios entered the room of the game in the Tech Lab; Naos and I were already there ahead of them and already scheduled a game for us.
"When these guys are done." I remarked to Sarin, pointing to the two men who were already playing the game. The men were suspended with light, movement sensitive pads on their bodies. There were goggles over their heads that projected the game environment directly into their corneas, having it look as if they were really there, and simply not watching it from a television screen. And in order to fully escape from reality and be fully entrenched in the virtual world, a chip, about a nanometer in size, had to be embedded in your inner ear. When the game was turned on, a signal would be sent to the brain that played with the brain waves a little bit, and in made you think you were actually in the real game and not in some room. The chip also induced feelings such as heat, cold, pain, smell, taste, and fatigue, but only in small proportions, just for realistic and playability value. It wasn't dangerous because the feelings weren't really there, it was all in your head, and it was tested (at the expense of a few lobotomized technicians) to be completely safe and humane. The motion sensitive pads actually detected minute pressure and impulse changes in the body, which would register into the computer and allow the player to have movement, because the players aren't really moving, but their brains have them believe they are moving.
"They're almost done guys, trust me." Said Nick, the head developer of Crossfire and the technician who ran the game at Gemini headquarters. His full name was Dr. Nick Powell, but was one of the very few Gemini employees that we had befriended during our stay, or lifetimes. He was a pretty cool guy and never wore standard uniform while in the game room or even the Gemini insignia, so while with him it was like being with a real human being and not some stuck-up, Gemini employee.
"It doesn't look like it to me." Helios commented as he looked over the visually rendered game screen on the wall, which showed what all players saw, even the AI players. "I mean look, they have two choke points, the only choke points, secured. There is no other way into their compound that could lead to the flag. The computer lost man.
"Don't be so sure." He whispered as he rolled over to his computer screen and brought up the scrolling game play window, which continuously logged every action and event in the game in code. He brought up a timecode screen from five minutes ago and placed his finger to an area on it. "See this?"
"Is...is that what I think it is? That's so cool!" Helios's mouth dropped open while he had a huge grin on his face.
"What? What is it?" Naos asked confusedly. None of us knew what they were talking about since we couldn't read the computer language code.
"Guess you have to see this." He giggled and pointed to some random letters on the screen.
"Damn it Helios, we don't know what you're talking about. Not all of us spend every night reading up on stupid, useless computer code.
"Hey, that's advanced useless computer code to you, and is isn't useless." Helios shot back angrily. "It's not the 1800's anymore. If you want to be able to understand anything that's happened since the Technological Revolution started then you'd at least need to be able to follow simple computer code." Sarin rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, you can get by more with computer knowledge than with physics and chemistry knowledge." Sarin noted sarcastically.
"You can!" Helios snapped at him. "Quantized pulse and continuous beam weapons and tools wouldn't have been able to be invented correctly without the computers to compute the equations in order to theorize whether the basic idea would work or not!
"Quiet down guys." Nick instructed, ending the rising heat and tension between Helios and Sarin. Naos and I were left once again in an awkward position while the two of them fought. During the silence I nervously glanced behind my back to look at the camera that was watching us, studying us and our every move. Our lives went from abnormal to weird and then to just plain crazy.
"Game over." Cygnus said as the game modules turned off and the two men, who looked as if they were Gemini foot soldiers, were brought back into reality.
"Fuck! What the hell? I mean what the hell was that, PROFESSOR?" One of them said with an angry look on his face, the other one looking not the happiest either.
"It was a virus, what can I say?" Nick shrugged his shoulders.
"Where the hell did they get a virus from?" He asked in a loud tone to him while ripping off his motion pads.
"Well, it looks like there happened to be an underground anarchist group developing the virus, and your enemies were a fully functional part of that group." Nick responded with a smile. "Pretty net, huh?"
"That's such a load of bull,
they would have died too if they threw a virus at us."
"Two of them did die, they died for their cause, for the better good. Martyrs they are called, you might have heard the term before. Example would be Joan of Arc..."
"Don't get smart with me, I outrank you!" He loomed over him while yelling, pointing a finger in his face.
"I don't have a rank! Now if you don't mind, I have other players waiting." Nick looked at the four of us, causing the mad soldier to look at us. He eyed us for a moment, taking us in, maybe realizing who we were, having never seen us before. He paused and just studied us, not moving or saying a word. I didn't think we were that much of a site to behold.
"Get a good enough look, retard?" Sarin said to him. "Get out so we can play our game! Technically I outrank YOU and you have to do what I say and can't do anything about it. Any damage or vandalism inflicted upon Gemini property would cost a minimum of 500,000 credits plus the wholesale value of the material. Do you even want to know how much we cost?" Sarin stepped right up to him, causing the soldier to take a step back. His other soldier friend was standing behind him and seemed even more intimidated. The two of them stood there for even longer until the mad one mustered up the strength to open up his mouth.
"I don't particularly like your game...doctor." He said, then walked out of the room slowly, his friend following closely.
"Don't let the automatic, sliding doors hit you on the way out!" Sarin called out right before the doors closed behind them, then turning back to Nick. "Game. Now."
"Aye, aye, captain." Nick sighed and started to set up another game. "Ok who will you be fighting this time? Arab terrorists? A New York gang? A New Jersey Mafia? Communists..."
"No." Helios cut him off. "We want to play against each other."
"We do?" Naos asked, taken back by the notion.
"Wait, we've never played against each other before." I said.
"Yeah, well times change, buddy boy." Sarin said and took my arm. "Come on, you're on my team. Don't worry about it." I looked over at Naos.
"Sorry babe..." I smiled to him, knowing we'd have to be enemies yet at the same time wanting to get in there and kick his ass. I was planning on rubbing his shoulder in condolence but Helios pulled him away before I could.
"He'll be fine. I mean he IS on my team." Helios smirked at Sarin and turned back to Nick who was setting up the game. "Don't put any AI in the game, not even animals. Got it?"
"Got it." Nick said as he entered more commands into the computer. "Present time I assume? What location? We just uploaded the Venusian city Nezaria into our database. Actually it's a compressed version since it requires an entirely new planetary layout schematic. The whole Venus planet, with average temperatures, weather, rotation, atmosphere, etc, is on another hard drive; that's how big it is. . Hey, you've never played anywhere on Venus have you?"
"Hell no! It's too hot up there and you can't breathe." Sarin said as we all put on our motion pads.
"Correction." Nick rebutted. "You can breath, but only with help from a respirator, unless you have the lung capacity of a...a..."
"A dolphin maybe or a fish maybe?" Sarin finished Nick's thought. "We'll play on Earth, thank you, present day, any scenario." The four of us sat on the seat-shaped platforms, which would elevate when the game started, and placed our goggles over our heads. I didn't know what was scarier, knowing a beam was going to shoot into my cornea or that the two beam transmitters inside the goggles looked like needles that would poke me in the eye like some medieval torture device.
"Everyone ready? Testing procedures are starting." Nick said. We all gave him the thumbs up. "Goggles test." Then at once my vision was halted by a blinding white light, which gradually began to disintegrate as colors and objects started forming amidst the light. It was at if I had just stepped outside after being locked away in a coffin for fifty years. The light was hitting my eyes as they were slowly adjusting for the image that was being projected. I could faintly make out the outlines of buildings, cars, and trees. Then there was color: blues, greens, reds. Also appearing was light differential and contrast. I could no longer see the room I was in even if I tried. "Can everybody see a city?" Nick asked as I began to discern more and more of the surroundings, and I could definitely tell that I was in the city.
"No, I'm at Disneyland." Sarin said sarcastically as everyone gave another thumbs up. What WAS his problem all of a sudden? As if I had to guess...
"Hey! Cool it or the only virtual weapon you'll be wielding will be a baseball bat, got it?" Nick said with anxiety in his voice.
"Yeah, yeah." Sarin said, in a decent voice this time. All of a sudden another image appeared on my screen in the form of text.
"I wouldn't complain if you killed off your team mate." It said. I smiled and tried to keep from giggling to myself at the thought. Hey, maybe I'd get extra points. I could see the city almost perfectly now. It looked so real, I couldn't tell it apart from reality. It got me every time. I loved living in this day and age. A few more seconds passed and I could see my surroundings precisely. I was on a sidewalk and across the street was a bank with two maple trees in front of it, along with a car parked, with it's wheels down, on the sidewalk, while another car was hovering past the bank. Everything was still because the game hadn't started yet. It was like looking at a paused version of reality, creepy if you ask me.
"Implant check." Nick said, and not one second later I felt the room get very cold. "Ok everyone should be feeling something different."
"I feel cold." I said.
"Hot." Helios said.
"Sleepy." Naos said and yawned. How cute.
"I feel...I feel nauseous." Sarin moaned out.
"Great, just what I made it
do for each of you." Nick chuckled and switched the feelings off. I heard
Sarin sigh in relief. "Everyone ready now?" We gave him the final OK. "Well
let's rock and roll!" Suddenly my perfect image became blurry and then
to white again. I felt a sudden rush of fatigue and dizziness set in, replaced
by numbness throughout my body. I could no longer feel the seat that I
was sitting in or the goggles over my head or the clothes on my body. I
couldn't feel my heartbeat or tell if I was breathing or not. I could not
feel one thing, as if I was in a coma. This must be what a vegetable must
feel like. It was hands down the creepiest feeling in the world, because
you knew that you were alive but you could not do anything about it. Everything
turned to darkness then, there was no light. And the fun hadn't even started
<10:31 Camera Activated, Recording On, Heat Sensor Off>
Ok, we got some power
back up. I don't know for how long, but for the time being I'm going to
take advantage of the imaging capabilities, because frankly, my fingers
hurt from typing. So let me take the opportunity to tell you this. Crossfire
was not only some game, it was THE game. Developed by lowly mortals and
perfected by AI computer. It was good, really good. This wasn't just a
realistic game, this was like...scary realistic. I could never tell the difference
between reality and the game and I still can't. I swear, that 99% realistic
margin does not even come close to doing it justice. If only you could
see, for one measly second, that you could experience anything and everything
that you've ever wanted to, every thrill, feat, task, event, and fantasy
in your own mind. Not something vague that you dream about, but the next
best thing to tangibility. You could live out those scenarios and not be
able to tell the difference. The extent of playability would not be at
your fingertips, but would involve your entire body, which makes use of
every single real world element known, which are all customizable for taste.
Do you want to be a task enforcer trying to uphold the law in a sleazy
town, or maybe a bounty hunter trying to track down a serial killer? It's
possible! With minimal risk you can have it. Right now! I mean, it's so
real the army uses it. The army! It's just...wow...wow...that's all I really
have to say about that. I'll keep talking like this while power permits
but...I could be forced to use the alternative at any point so...my fingers
will be crossed.
"Incoming Message. Incoming Message." Said a voice that sounded exactly like the Cygnus computer. That's all I heard, over and over again; it was the only thing I was SENSING. I couldn't see anything, only hear that faint message. What was wrong with me? Was I in the game yet? Maybe there was an error; something had to be wrong. No! My eyes had been closed. Open your eyes Aurora. Open your fucking eyes! I opened my eyes. I was staring up at sky blue, the sky no doubt. "Incoming Message. Incoming Message." I should probably answer that message. It was coming from my watch, which doubled as a messaging service. Oh, I couldn't see it, and barely reach it. My head felt heavy when I tried to move it. No wonder, I was lying on the ground. I sat upright and shook my head. What a rush. I stood up and looked around. I was still on the sidewalk, across the street from a bank with two trees in front of it. Something was different though. I felt a whoosh of air as a car flew by me. I jumped back in fright. Damn it! You can never hear those things coming until it was too late. Combustion engines, though noisier, at least alerted you of their presence. The trees moved by the wind caused by the car as well. Ahh, movement! I was no longer staring at a frozen picture. But cars? I thought we agreed no other AI. Oh well, they were only for show anyhow. I'm sure it wouldn't affect the game in any way. "Incoming Message. Incoming Message." Damn it, what could be so important?
I pressed the button on my watch to receive my messages. I was spooked once again by a loud horn being honked incessantly from far away. Apparently we got a scenario with attitude induced motorists. I looked down again on my watch and selected the first of three messages.
"Message one. Welcome, Aurora, to Crossfire, the first fully interactive and realistic virtual reality game. This is a deathmatch game. The team with all of their players remaining alive will be declared the winners. Your location is Boston, Massachusetts, the metropolitan capitol of the state. It is present day. Your randomly selected firearms and equipment have been placed in your main headquarters. You have one piece of bonus artillery, a Tritium blast grenade. Your main headquarters is in the bank. All simple firearms are up to and including level five energy weapons." I looked across the street to the bank. It was a First National Bank, pretty small if you ask me, but most of the fighting would be going on outside anyhow, this was just a starting and planning stage. As I listened to the rest of the message, I heard the same honking of a horn, but it was closer now. "You have been placed five yards from your starting location. You have one teammate, Sarin, who was placed approximately 460 yards from your main headquarters and 465 yards from your starting location. Your opponents, Helios and Naos, have their main headquarters placed approximately 1270 yards from yours. Good luck!"
As the message ended I heard a third time a horn beep in the background, along with what sounded like a small crash, then the sound of a car alarm going off. Then I heard a distant voice yelling. I guess there were more AI's placed than I thought. Not wanting to waste time, I quickly selected the second message. "Your opponents have both located their main headquarters." Great, thanks for the notice! I immediately went to the last message. "You and your teammate have both received Global Positioning Satellite, GPS, augmentations, which you may use to locate your position and your teammate's. It will be turned on now." The message ended then another message came on again. "Your GPS has now been activated. You may find the location of your teammate at any time now. Would you like to do that now?" I pressed the `yes' button while muttering `Come on, come on!' to myself anxiously.
Before the message read I noticed a red sports car flash in the background, hovering at top speed on a street parallel to the one I was on. I stepped forward curiously, watching the car as it went by. "Your teammate is eighty yards from your starting location and is coming towards you at a velocity of seventy-five miles per hour." Wow, I knew Sarin could run fast but...seventy-five miles per hour?" As the car passed through the intersection it turned around and started speeding up the road that I was on. "Your teammate is driving a red sports car." Uh oh. I squinted my eyes and noticed Sarin waving wildly to me and yelling to me. He wasn't close enough so that I could hear him, but at the speed he was driving, I would be able to hear him any second. He sped closer and closer to me, signaling to me. I shrugged my shoulders, not knowing what he was saying. Eventually I just waved back, not knowing what else to do. He raced closer and closer to me, his voice getting more and more distinct, but I still couldn't make it out perfectly.
"You have one unread message remaining, would you like to open it?" My watch said. I looked down for only a moment and decided to open my last message. In the one second that I looked down and pressed the button on my watch, Sarin overtook my position and came to a halt. He flung the door open and literally tried to pull me inside.
"Get in the car, now!" He pulled at my shirt harder, almost tearing it off at the seams. I looked up in confusion to see his red, sweaty face, he looked like shit.
"You look like shit." I commented as I got into the car. "What's your problem anyh...OW!" Not sooner could I finish my sentence did he speed off in the car, sending all of the blood from my fingertips to my back. I had to desperately shut the door so I wouldn't fall out. "Man, what's with you? The game just started!" I felt my body hit the side of the car as he took a sharp left around the corner. "Ahh!"
"Yeah, the game just started going all to hell! Don't you listen to your messages?" He said, exasperated, while weaving in between cars, beeping his horn, causing a very wobbly ride. I thought I was going to be sick.
"Yeah, I was listening to them when you picked me up!" I said back when I found a break in the craziness. "Why? What's the rush? We should be in ours headquarters...like they are!" Sarin then grabbed my wrist and held it up to my ear. I heard the message on my watch playing. It had been playing the whole time...
"...leave the area immediately. I repeat. A meteor of approximately two yards in length is heading for your headquarters. It will arrive in three minutes, five seconds. Take all necessary precautions. One suggestion is to leave the area immediately."
"Oh shit! Go go!" I yelled as he ran a red light, much to the anger of many other drivers.
"That's what I'm doing man, that's what I'm doing!" He responded. Without warning a gray streak of smoke streaked across the sky, with a flaming ball leading the way. It flew across our heads like a sonic jet, causing the trees to move in its direction due to the wind generated by it.
"Whoa did you see that?!" I shouted and looked behind us to see the meteor about to hit the earth.
"Here it comes! Hold on!" Sarin braced the steering wheel as he intricately whizzed by more cars. I saw the piece of rock sink below my plain of view with a loud crash, followed by small blast of red, yellow, and white light. "The Tritium grenade! Cover your ears, now!" Sarin screamed. Not one second after, I covered my ears I thought an atomic bomb had just gone off. There was an explosion ten times more powerful than the initial one. I was blinded momentarily by the blast, which looked as if a huge geyser of fire had gone off somewhere. The windows to the car shattered, along with the windows to every building. The whole ground quaked. An enormous fireball began to race towards us, engulfing and destroying everything it could devour with its immense power. Cars, trees, and traffic lights were being swallowed by the intense blast wave. I could feel the heat of it on my body as it neared closer and closer.
"Step on it, it's gaining on us!" I screamed as Sarin jerked the car between moving cars in an intersection.
"I'm going as fast as I can!" He responded as he elevated our height to hover above public traffic. I looked at him awkwardly and he looked back puzzled. "I know it's against the law but this is a game and I can do whatever I want in it!" I looked under us to see the blast go under our car and destroy the cars under us. It was so close I could almost touch it. Sweat dripped from my body in clumps that started to get larger and larger. Sarin elevated us higher into the air just as the wave hit the back of our car. "That's it I can't go any higher. Hold on!" I held onto the seat, unable to take my eyes off of the red horror. We spun out of control and started declining in altitude. We would have been goners by that point if the blast hadn't begun to reach its limit and recede. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing we wouldn't end up in that natural kiln. We had other problems though. It appeared that we couldn't slow down as we accelerate toward the ground. Sarin frantically reached for the automatic seatbelts and pressed it, but to no avail. We both made one last effort to put on our seatbelts manually as Sarin tried steering us in a safe direction, to keep us from landing on other vehicles. He kicked the tire release pedal. His exclamation following it told me that it didn't work; we would have to land without tires. We were now below the hovering cars, even the parked ones. We hit the ground and felt and large jolt, propelling our bodies forward in our seats. Good thing our seatbelts were fastened. Sparks began flying everywhere as the metal kept bouncing off the pavement and onto it again. We did our best to evade oncoming cars, but we knew we were finished as the street started to come to end, for we were about to go off a bridge and into the water. Right before we started passed the bridge and over the banister, Sarin turned to me in defeat. "We're fucked." He said to me softly and looked down. I looked on ahead and saw that there was still time to take action. I waited one second for us to hit the ground again and bounce back up. I felt the collision with the ground and opened up my door. "What are you..." Sarin couldn't finish his sentence when I pulled off both of our seat belts and pulled him out of the car with me. We traveled only half a foot onto the ground, but rolled in pain about ten feet as the car, free of our weight, flew back into the air and cleared the banister, plunging it into the water. I ended up in the same position as I had started, lying on my back. I flipped over and crawled to where Sarin ended up, his arms and face scratched up. He was breathing heavily and losing consciousness.
"I don't say it's over, until it's over." I spoke weakly as I sighed a breath of relieve and passed out.
I felt scraping against my body. Something was pulling at my clothing and I sensed friction on my back. This hurt, and passing out was not fun at all. I slowly opened my eyes, trying to adjust to the sunlight. I was moving; I could tell I was being dragged now. I looked to find Sarin clearing a few shards of broken glass out of the way and dragging me against the side of a building, into the shade. He propped me up so my body was in an upright position, then sat across from me, looking at me worriedly.
"Are you ok, bud?" He spoke softly. "Cuz I really want you to prove me wrong about this whole `being fucked' thing we got going on here." He smirked and looked away. "And I want to prove Helios wrong also." He sighed. "Damn it. I have to prove him wrong, he's just about beaten us already."
"Wha...what?" My voice crackled as I tried forming words in my mouth. "What are you talking about? He hasn't even done anything yet!" Sarin smirked at me again and shook his head.
"You have no idea what that boy is capable of. I bet you ten credits he was awarded control of NASA, Cygnus, or the ISA, or anything like that. The point is...he had to have gotten control of the computer." Sarin looked behind him as an ambulance passed us. "Helios is fast, really fast. If he can get a hold of a computer, then within three minutes he can access anything he wants, ANYTHING. So what's he going to do? I'll tell you what he does. He take control of some of our Star Wars defense satellites equipped with lasers and finds a nice asteroid to blast a nice large chunk off of. Then he calculates a nice trajectory for it, sending it into the atmosphere and to land right in our base. Doesn't that makes sense?"
"For Helios? I don't know...really. I mean, come on..." I chuckled. "This is Helios, can he really do that?" Sarin just stared with a blank expression and nodded.
"Yes he can. And if he's half as smart as I think he is he'd use our GPS transmitters to find us, which means..." Sarin pressed my watch to deactivate my GPS. "We'll have to make due without them for now...unless you want a laser fired up your butt now, do you?" He grinned at me.
"Yeah, I bet you'd like that you little pervert." I giggled and he hit me over the head.
"I really need a gun." He blurted out.
"Sorry it was just a joke." I said as I tried to stop my laughter.
"Not for you, dummy. Come on." He got up, pulling me up with him. "We're going to win this game and I'm going to show Helios that my kind of smarts is better than his." Suddenly there was a voice behind us, a shrill voice, but a voice that you could do anything but take seriously.
"Not so fast!" Helios ordered. Sarin and I looked at each other then turned around to see Helios pointing a rather large weapon in our direction. I couldn't see what it was exactly because the sun was in our eyes. Sarin took a step forward and Helios fired a quick shot, sending a small orange blast in front of his feet and digging into the gravel of the street. It charred Sarin's sneakers somewhat, but there was no damage.
Class one, series one, pulse pistol. They give those things to cops, and if I do say so myself, they didn't do much. Firstly, you had an enormous cooling rate for the weapon, about five seconds. Large cooling rates meant piece of shit. Or in more specific terms, the heat generated by the energy cells, which powers the weapon in order to propel the photons out of the weapon and to whatever you want to die, builds up and if you fire your weapon too many times in too short a time, then one of three things may happen. One: your energy cell becomes unstable and explodes. Depending on the type of energy cell, whether it be plasma, nuclear, or electric, determines what kind of explosion would ensue and how powerful. Two: Your energy cell or internal lens may melt, rendering the gun useless. Three: The safety system may not allow you to fire until your weapon has cooled down enough to prevent combustion. The heat sinks in the weapon will also work overtime to cool down the weapon faster, which drains power from the cells. This third scenario is standard in most federally issued weapons, but many black-market weapons, though few, and some Third-World country weapons, may not bother putting that feature on the weapon. To save money is the reason for that, money to spend on the heat measuring device and money to be saved by keeping heat sinks from being overused and thus wasting power. Because of the large cooling rate, you can only fire a maximum of twelve shots per minute. That's per minute! Those beefed up rapid-fire pulse rifles (or class one, series two, pulse rifles) shoot twenty shots per second! Babies like those barely need to cool off because the job is finished so fast.
The second reason the police pistols are terrible is the plain fact that they are PULSE pistols. That is pulse, meaning one shot at a time. How we so efficiently enforce the world's laws are beyond me and any one of my friends. So because of this trait, police may fire one shot every five seconds. Yippie...
The big third, the shots don't even do that much damage. There is only one rate of fire setting on the gun and blast charger, which increases the power of your shots while compromising rate of fire. The weapon is not meant to be lethal, unless someone is hit in the forehead or something, but other than that it is meant to serve the use of a long-range baton.
All of those combined and what do you get? That's right! But to be fair, there had to be a lowest form of weaponry. It IS class one, series one, so luckily weapons don't get much lower than that. On the plus side, they are quite compact, take little energy to power, and are so cheap and simple they can be mass produced by the billions.
"Tsk, tsk, I said not so fast!" He was shaking his head disappointedly. He began pacing in pride, waving his small gun at us. Helios was one to have seen way too many action films. May too many! He immersed himself in the game too much sometimes, which just made it tacky.
"Don't threaten us with that; you couldn't kill a fly with that thing!" Sarin taunted him.
"Oh really?" Helios replied with a huge grin on his face. "Well then maybe I can threaten you with this!" Helios glanced behind us, we turned our heads to find Naos standing, glittering in the sunlight, not twenty feet away from us, sporting a much larger weapon. The hum of the energy cells, which could be heard from our position, just made my stomach flutter. It was just so beautiful, making me drool for the chance to operate another weapon as big as that. Who knew such a lovely sound could come out of something so dangerous? Boy, I needed help. But it was a class one, series two, pulse rifle, so powerful and efficient; it was my weapon of choice. And now Naos had one in his hands, ready to fire at any given moment.
"Fair enough, although this seems a bit UNFAIR if you ask me." I said. Helios thought for a moment and made a half-grin.
"You'd be dead in real life, but I'll let the baby have his bottle. Naos, give Sarin your rifle." Helios ordered.
"My...my rifle? But it's my bad ass killing machine!" Naos complained, clutching it to his chest. Sarin stepped up to him casually and grabbed it out of his hands. Naos reacted by kicking him in the butt when he turned around. Sarin quickly turned around, prepared to shoot him, when a shot hit him in the leg.
"Man! That stings!" Sarin clutched his leg and glared at Helios, who was pointing his weapon at his leg.
"My Cat (nickname for the weapon) may not be as fast or as powerful as yours, but I can still make it pack quite a punch if I wanted." Helios grinned. "Save your ammo, too. This is just between you and me." I ran up to Naos and pulled him aside, away from the imminent battleground.
"I think we should let them take their frustrations out in peace." I whispered into his ear. "Let's just go back home, ok?" He took my hand and led me down an alley behind a building just as a heard a large array of gunfire and explosions; Sarin and Helios at work once again. I was about to comment when he thrust me against the building and kissed me on the lips fully, smiling at me, flashing his pearly white teeth and olive green eyes at me. Yes even a realistically digitized Naos looked hotter than ever.
"I love you." He muttered as you wrapped his arms around me tight.
"Are you, ok? You're usually not so forthcoming..." It was true, too. Most days Naos would play hard to get and tease me a little. This is how I knew something wasn't right with him. It's just one of those things you pick up. I am the boyfriend remember.
"No, Aurora, I'm not ok." He responded and sighed. More blasting could be heard going on in the background. He pulled back and looked at me, his eyes becoming red as if we were about to cry.
"What's wrong, baby? What is it?" I asked concernedly, stroking his cheek softly.
"You know damn well what's wrong." His voice started cracking up. "We're going to die!"
"We are NOT going to die. I would not let that happen..."
"But that message, this whole thing, this cover-up and withholding of information. Aurora what are they keeping from us? I don't think I want to be a part of the project anymore and I don't know what's going to happen to us if try to...escape..." The word ran off his lips, after slight hesitation, so smoothly, it appeared as if he was giving this as much though as I was. Escape. Escape. Maybe we all were thinking of escaping. Helios had the right idea by accessing tiny tidbits of the compound just to see if he could bypass insignificant password stations, because now he knew he could find a way to leave; his information was reliable. We wanted to go further; I could feel it, meaning he wanted to leave. If that was true, then Sarin felt the exact same way as the other three of us. And Iris and Nylon? Who knows? We didn't care much about them anyhow. If we escaped then John Remus would still have two perfectly healthy subjects. The project wouldn't be completely dead. That is, if we truly knew what the project was. By the looks of things, it appeared as if we had no clue at all what its real intentions were.
"You want to leave?" I asked as I tried comforting Naos as best I could.
"Only if you want to. I'd never think of leaving you."
"Well what?" I asked. He shook me hard.
"Do you want to leave?" He pulled back and gazed at me again. His eyes pierced my soul. What else could I say? If my Naos wanted to leave...
"What about, Dad?"
"Professor Ellis, you mean?"
"He's still our dad."
"Actually he's not, not biologically anyway."
"He's ACTED as one and he loves us."
"Are you so sure?" It's times like these where I forgot that Naos had a fifty-point advantage over me in logic and geometry skills. He rarely took anything at face value, always the suspicious one. I think in our situation that was a good quality to have. "He's paid to love us."
"You don't know that. I mean, he is paid yes, but as a scientist. He's lived with us for sixteen years, how long can you fake love for? What would be the purpose? It's futile...
"Why did Hitler commit genocide, huh? It had a point! Our father has a point. Aurora, this is Genome X, a top-secret project! Dr. Ellis wouldn't lie to us unless there was something big to be had, something that would cause everyone to lie to us. And the Cygnus computer? What about that? Gemini is going to use Cygnus and all of us for something and I don't know what."
"You're crazy. We've been spending too much time with Helios and Sarin." I pulled back and began to walk away. Naos grabbed my arm harshly; his eyes were red, almost bloodshot.
"You're in denial. We haven't been spending enough time with them, don't you see? They might be our only allies. Three-hundred to four. And the only reason we're not dead is that they don't suspect us, not just yet. I hope to God not just yet. And I've only said all this now because they can't hear us in the game. They are concentrating on the big fight anyhow back there." There was another big explosion followed by loud yelling.
"You're mine now, mother fucker!" Helios's voice screamed as blasts were fired repeatedly. I noticed that one of them shot through the building, right above our heads. I took Naos's hand tight and ducked us down low.
"Ok, so what's the plan?" I asked, knowing the answer. It's what I wanted to do in the first place.
"We leave, just like I said before. We pack our bags and leave."
"And go where? Huh?" I asked, then answered, bluntly. Naos then looked at me sternly.
"Off this planet."
<11:06 Heat Sensor Activated, Caloric Identification On -- 78% Accuracy Yield, Scanning Subject One...Identified: Aurora, Scanning Subject Two...Identified: Solar Annihilator>
Aurora: This thing works great, but please change your identity.
Solar Annihilator: Oh! You're no fun you know!
Aurora: Just do it. I'm trying to finish the story!
Solar Annihilator: Ok, ok. Frankly I don't know why you're even bothering with this. The past is past...
<Identity Two Deleted...New Identity: Helios>
Aurora: Yes, but if we get caught we still need our story told, out there; we need evidence. Besides, it gives me something to do to take my mind off things.
Helios: I know, bud, I know. Anyhow, we have all the evidence we need! Don't forget that we have the Cygnus computer at our disposal, which has in its database all of the ISA tapes not even the government can delete. We have higher authority remember! Here, play this tape. It should give whoever is watching your display some proof that something fishy was going on with Gemini. Just play it, I'm gonna go to bed.
Aurora: Yeah, Sarin is waiting for you, lover boy! He knows you're coming.
Helios: Yeah, and I'll have my eye on him too.
Helios: Oh, shut up, man. You know, Sarin and I aren't even like that with each other. We're just friends.
Helios: And don't wink like that! Goodnight. Oh...and Aurora? Try to sleep tonight, please?
Aurora: I'm not used to sleeping alone, I'll be fine.
<Subject Two Image Lost>
Aurora: Ok...ok...ok, let's see if this works now.
<Prerecorded Video Loaded, Playing>
Inside the main headquarters
lies John Remus, the director of Gemini, the creator of the Cygnus supercomputer,
and the brains behind the Genome X Project. He lives within the walls of
the compound, just as everybody else is, but is not confined by its walls.
His bedroom is inside of the main headquarters building, which is all the
way on the other side of the compound from where the subjects reside and
are educated. When he's not taking advantage of mistresses and the loyalty
of his men, he mans the whole program, making sure everything is in order
and that all of his dreams and ideas are coming together.
Remus spends maybe six to eight hours in his conference room, almost as large as a suburban-type house and can hold approximately two hundred people inside of it at once, although that maximum occupancy theory has never fully been tested. There is a long, mahogany table in the shape of and isosceles triangle in the center of the room; the base of the triangle is ten feet long, while each leg of the triangle is thirty feet long. The base of the triangle is the head, where John sits; anyone he is conferencing with would sit at the legs of the triangle, or if those seats are taken, then the sharp point, which is quite unconformable. The conference room also holds a number of screens that allows him to talk to up to fifty people at once long distance. The room as a whole is modeled in a Victorian style, which red carpeting and drapes along the curtains, which highly contrasts the dark, evil fortress that the main headquarters resembles on the outside.
John Remus was conducting a very important conference on a seemingly average Friday afternoon. He thought he had everything in control. He was justified in thinking that though, since it was his job to keep everything in control. He sat with a glass of water in his hand, the water rippling as his hand shook, indicating his paranoia. To his left were the three head scientists and parental guardians of the experiments: Dr. Xenon, Dr. Ellis, and Dr. Cornialski. A seat was vacant next to Dr. Cornialski, which used to be held for Richard Rowland, a head scientist who recently died of a heart attack. To his left were his three top advisors, no-name yes-men and the like who were either in it for the money, were recruited when they graduated at the head of their class in college, or both. Two guards stood at the doors with read-to-fire and rapid-fire weaponry in their hands. That makes nine souls, but there were ten in the room. Standing behind Remus ever so nobly was his right-hand man, Patrick Duncan. Duncan, you might say, did all of Remus's dirty work for him, and then some. If anything had ever gone wrong then Duncan would be the one to take care of the problem. Being only thirty-six, about half the age of John Remus, he was young, agile, and, since he was with the project from the beginning, was assumed to be the successor of John Remus when he could no longer control the project by his own accord any longer. He sported black gloves and boots, each with the green Gemini insignia on them. Around his waist was a holster, which held an extremely powerful and accurate pulse gun. With curly red hair he stood completely still, looking ahead and flashing his insidious Irish grin.
The doors to the conference room slid open suddenly and a young man barreled into the room, short of breath, the doors closing behind him. Everyone in the room turned to him and anxiously awaited what he had to say. He held up an electronic data-keeper, showing it to the room.
"My data report is...complete, sir!" He said under his breath.
"That report was due over a day ago, Johnson. Do you know how much a hacker could accomplish in just one day? I hope that you are still competent as chief technician." John Remus grumbled and took a drink of water. Duncan looked down at Remus, as if awaiting a certain order, but Remus, noticing Duncan, shook his head slightly.
"A hacker, sir?" Dr. Ellis asked innocently.
"Doctor, please." Remus replied, then directing his attention back to Johnson.
"It's thorough, sir. Everything we have on the situation is laid out in here." Johnson said nervously, pointing to his data-keeper. One of the advisors, the one at the end of the table, turned to Remus in confusion.
"John, what is the situation here?" The advisor asked. "Is there a reason to increase security in the compound? Or put the project on hold?"
"We must never put the project on hold!" Remus yelled out, slamming his glass on the table, causing the bottom to shatter. A few shards broke off and the guards at the front began to move up, but he gestured them to stay put. "I'm sorry for that, I have been a little bit on edge lately." He wiped the few shards of glass away and put the remains of the cup aside, wiping up some spilled water with a red handkerchief. "All of your questions will be answered if you'll just bear with me here. Johnson, read what you have so far, please." Johnson began reading from his device.
"Well, firstly, here are the facts for those of you not filled in so far. In the last two weeks there has been increasing activity in the Communications Relay, simple building schematics, and other arbitrary password protected systems, even in some hidden emergency ones. The main problem is that all of this activity has been traced back to the account of Dr. Rowland. Now we don't know if someone is using his account as a joke or if someone, somehow, retrieved his password. The coincidence is that five days before Rowland died, he had not accessed anything in the Gemini mainframe, but approximately two days after he died this user or users then started accessing his account. The Cygnus computer did not detect any attempted or successful security breach, which means that whoever obtained Dr. Rowland's password, got it either from Dr. Rowland himself, from a security technician, or stole it. Since the doctor's palm pilot was found on the ground, probably accidentally left there after he was found dead, and had on its screen all of his information, including his username and password, we are leaning towards the third theory in which someone simply copied down the information."
"Do we have any leads whatever?" Remus asked desperately. "Video footage? Fingerprints? Pressureprints? Heat signatures? Anything?" Johnson read further.
"Our current video footage in inconclusive. Fortunately for this person or persons, the palm pilot was in an area in which the corners of two buildings came together and blocked any clear sighting from any angle. It was too dark even if we did have confirmation of a figure. All fingerprints and pressureprints were removed. The palm pilot was found too late to get any heat signature, as well."
"God damn it!" Remus was losing
control. "This is the 23rd century and we can't solve this crime? I mean
come on Johnson."
"What about checking records of who went out that night and came in?" Dr. Xenon asked. Johnson checked his device further.
"Three hundred and twenty five people could have theoretically taken that device. That data is faulty since we can only track the personnel who physically used their keycards, etc. For example, if three guards were going into the same building, only one would have to use his keycard to bypass the system; well, that's two guards we can't officially have tracked. We're looking at over seven hundred suspects here. Sir, if I may be blunt, this investigation could take weeks, and by then it could have been a joke all along." John Remus thought for a moment, then spoke.
"This user didn't access any major systems or passwords, such as the main gate or the project's information database, am I correct?" Remus asked.
"Yes, that's correct sir. Dr. Rowland had maximum access to all of Gemini's online systems and this user only accessed level one, maybe level two at best, systems." Johnson said.
"I'd like to know where our three professors were after this tragedy occurred." Duncan spoke up. "You know, just to be on the safe side. Remus looked at Duncan in shock.
"Patrick, these are our top scientists." Remus said harshly. "They are vital to the project. How could you even think they would do such a thing? Look let's clear this up right now. Mr. Johnson, are either of these three men on your list?"
"No, sir, actually we know for a fact that they were working in the Tech Lab during the entire window in which they could have theoretically stolen the information." Johnson explained. "It wasn't them."
"Mr. Duncan, please. I do not want to jump to any wild conclusions. I'm sorry about that, excuse him, please."
"Perfectly understandable, sir." Dr. Ellis said with a smile, then looking up to Duncan, who glared back at him." John Remus then turned to his left.
"Gentlemen, I'm putting this entire situation in your hands. We may have a security leak. Someone may be working against us from the inside."
"I say we keep tabs on this user." Advisor number one said.
"Yes, it's quite possible that if we don't cancel Dr. Rowland's account and keep track of what this user accesses, we may be able to find a pattern of some sort that will enable us to pinpoint who he or they are exactly." Advisor number three said.
"I agree." Advisor number two nodded. "Let's not call this a security breach or a "leak" quite yet. This person is just playing games so far. If it continues and he starts to access higher level systems, then we have a major problem, and a threat to the project."
"Very well, gentlemen." Remus said confidently. "Let's see where this is headed; I like that. If it gets worse, then do everything necessary to catch him, Johnson. Duncan, if we catch this person, you're in charge of how we should deal with him." Duncan grinned in excellence and leered with conviction at the three scientists to his right, then spoke.
"Don't worry, sir. I promise to not disappoint in the punishment these no good culprits shall receive!"
<Prerecorded Video Stopped, Ejected>
That's the end of the second chapter. I hope you all enjoyed it and that it was a decent follow-up to the first. If so, then you'll really enjoy the third chapter when things really start to heat up for Aurora, Naos, Helios, and Sarin (Plot-wise; get your mind out of the gutter!). As always, I would love to hear what you thought of this, because the third chapter will be coming out soon ;)
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