A cyberworld adventure
The cerebral interface has revolutionised society. Need a ride? With a thought, the cab is on its way. Want an adventure? Enter a VR 5 computer game nearly indistinguishable from reality.
Amanda arranges for her Big Sisters Program little sister, Rachel, to spend a day gaming as a fourteenth birthday present. Amanda never suspects that her insane ex-boyfriend, Jim, will use a computer virus to trap her and her companions in the game.
A pleasant diversion becomes a life and death struggle as her party seek a way to come back to the real world without triggering a program that will cause nanobots to rip their brains to shreds. To complicate matters, in the game scenario the adventurers have been transformed into cats.
Will the party survive? Will Amanda admit that Rachel’s older brother, Tyrell, might just be her future? Will the computer virus Jim used to trap them become a cyber plague that could kill thousands?
Tropes: Cross-Species Friendships, Fish Out of Water, Found Family, Humanity is Dangerous, Mad Scientist
Word Count: 52,500
Setting: Ontario Canada
Languages Available: English
Tyrell carried the dead squirrel in his mouth. He glanced around the alley, then bolted into the open area behind the bar’s garbage bin. Several of the bricks in the building’s wall had crumbled leaving a hole large enough for him to squeeze through with his prey. The passage opened into the storage room. He dropped the squirrel and cleared his throat.
“Come and get it.” Tyrell licked his paw and started washing his face.
“Oh Tyrell, thank you. I’m so hungry. I almost had a mouse, but I’m telepathic. I couldn’t kill something that was talking to me.” Amanda walked out from behind one of the boxes. She marched up to the tabby and rubbed her muzzle against him before turning to the squirrel.
“At least you didn’t slam into a fence and fall in a puddle.” Rachel leapt out of one of the other boxes.READ MORE
“Rachel, suck it up. You were the one that insisted we all go into a game for your birthday. It’s all part of the scenario,” said Tyrell.
“So far this is a good one. Did anyone else notice the quality of the graphics?” Amanda ripped free a section of squirrel and swallowed.
“I’d expect that. It was made by Fiona Summerfield; one of her first efforts.” Tyrell scratched behind his ear with his hind leg.
“How’d you know that?” Amanda looked up from eating.
“She told me during my interview.”
Amanda sighed. “Great. I can’t even get away from her here.”
“What?” asked Tyrell.
“Never mind.” Amanda continued eating.
“Hi guys,” called the American Blue in Cal’s voice. He climbed out of a box and stretched. “Glad you left me a cool NPC version to take as my PC. Precog abilities sound neat.”
“Cal, you made it.” Rachel walked over and rubbed muzzles with the blue-grey cat.
“I have a message from Don. Something’s gone sideways with the game’s exit codes. He wants us to stay in until he gives the all clear. He’s on with tech support right now.”
“We were about to take a bathroom break,” complained Rachel.
“The only way out is the nanobot override command. Don says that will leave us all with migraines. He said he’d have clean clothing ready for us to go home in and replace anything that gets ruined.”
“Ick. You mean we’re supposed to… in our pants.” Rachel’s tail shuddered in disgust.
“It’s that or a migraine,” said Cal.
“I won’t. I can’t.”
“Oh f-- ‘rating substitution, fornication’, this is scary. I agree with Cal,” said Lars as he crawled out from under another box. “I took a dare and jerked out of a football scenario once. It felt like my head was going to explode for two days. I wonder what’s up with the code?”
Tyrell closed his eyes for a long moment. “Amanda, take a look at this.”
Amanda stepped away from the squirrel carcass and closed her eyes. “It’s as if the exit coding was systematically erased. If this was done by a virus, it shows real skill. I wish Jim could have a look at this.”
“That guy is a jerk. I’m glad he’s not here,” said Lars.
“He was creepy and took the games way too seriously,” agreed Cal.
“Lars, Cal, it’s not the time or place,” cautioned Tyrell.
“It’s all right. Jim wasn’t always like he is now. For him the games became more real than reality. When we first started dating, he was really sweet. When I realised what he had become, I broke it off. I have to give him credit. No one I know is better with game code than him,” Amanda sighed as her tail dropped between her legs.
“Sorry Amanda,” said Cal.
Saffron climbed through the passage with a pigeon in her mouth, her jet-black fur blending with the shadows. She dropped the bird beside Tyrell’s kill. “Hunting this way is so cool. The stealth, the stalking.”
“Savage,” countered Cal.
“Oh man up, pussycat,” sniped the black cat.
“I’m a lover, not a hunter,” said Cal.
“Not much of anything then, right? I’m glad you made it, Cal. Game wouldn’t have been the same without you.”
“Thanks, Saffy. Just so you know. We’re sorta stuck.”
“No bathroom breaks until Don gives us the all clear,” added Rachel.
“Wonderful, we get to sh-- ‘rating substitution, defecate’ in our pants while they fix the mess. What the f-- ‘Rating substitution, fornicate’ was that? What the he-- ‘Rating substitution, unpleasant afterlife region’ is going on?”
“It’s an older game. They used to be really strict about the ratings.” Tyrell turned to stare at Rachel where she stood beside Lars. “You should remember that unless you want to get kicked out. Language substitution is the mildest level of censorship.”
Rachel stuck her tail straight into the air and sounded disgusted. “Right, have to keep it PG for the children in the audience.”
“Really,” said Cal. “I mean it’s not as if we don’t hear the words and worse at school five days a week.”
“What kind of place is that school?” gasped Tyrell.
“Ty, they’re teenagers. Remember how we were. Let it go.” Amanda unconsciously brushed up against his side.
“Fine. Since we’re stuck here we should eat, so the game powers us up.” Tyrell’s tail twitched uncomfortably. Silence fell as they all tore into the squirrel and pigeon. They swished their tails as the game-induced gnawing in their bellies lessened then vanished.
Rachel sat back licking her chops; then began grooming the fur of her haunch. “If we’re going to play this through, what’s the next step? A cat’s life may be fine for a cat, but I’m not in the market for tuna and a basket in the corner. I have an essay on medieval history due next week.”
“Any chance that our resident computer geniuses could fix the code, so we could go to the bathroom?” asked Lars.
“It’s worth a try. A basic exit program is simple enough. We should be able to whip one up from memory. I didn’t see any firewalls preventing us from working the game code from this side of the interface. Did you Amanda?” queried Tyrell.
“No. It’s probably worth trying. I’ll go in. You watch me. If I set off anything, get me clear. Sound good?” Amanda curled up on a piece of cardboard and closed her cat eyes.
Tyrell followed her example.
They mentally touched the game’s code. A second passed; Amanda howled. Her cat body arched in agony.
Facing the code, Tyrell heard her cry. He rushed to break her free of the game’s adaptive interface. As he did this a bolt of pain coursed through him. He was braced for it and kept his concentration long enough to get them both clear.
“What the he-- ‘Rating substitution, unpleasant afterlife region’ was that!” snapped Rachel.
“Oh G-- ‘Rating substitution, female divinity’,” breathed Amanda. “Ty, are you okay?”
“I’ll live, but I wouldn’t want to try that again.” The grey tabby clambered unsteadily to his feet from where he’d collapsed. His fur was still on end. He flexed his claws, shredding the cardboard he stood on.
“What happened?” asked Cal.
“The exit code is rigged. If you come at it from inside the game, it sends pain into your game form. My guess is that the code for the pain can only be accessed from outside the game, while the exit codes can only be accessed from inside the game,” said Amanda.
“F-- ‘Rating substitution, fornicate’! That is getting really irritating. Why would anyone want to keep us in a game?” demanded Rachel.
Amanda’s tail drooped, and she hung her head. “I think I recognised the programming style.”
“Who did this?” asked Cal.
“I think, Jim. He’s trapped us all here.” Amanda shook her head. “He probably thought that giving us all headaches would be a proper punishment for me breaking up with him.”
“You can’t know that,” soothed Tyrell.
“Who else uses a modified go-to data extraction command paired with an execute marker?”
Tyrell moved beside the ginger tabby and nuzzled the ruff of her neck. “It’s all right, Amanda. We’ll find a way out. How do you think Jim pulled this off?”
“He’d have to have a presence in the game. It’s the only way he could stop outside programmers from repairing the exit ports.”
“We find him and make him let us go,” snapped Lars.
“As a bunch of cats? I mean, not the most convincing argument makers,” remarked Saffron.
“She’s right. We’re stuck in this game. We have to play by its rules, at least until the tech support people can get us out of here. Unless?” Tyrell let the tip of his tongue push past his teeth and curl, as he thought.
“Unless what?” Rachel swished her tail impatiently.
“Maybe we can tweak the nanite crash code to ease us out of the game. It’s a separate coding. I don’t know about you, but I think getting out of this right now is worth a headache. If we do it right, it won’t be that bad. We don’t know what else Jim has set up, and I want to have a few words with him in the real world.” Tyrell’s tail swished back and forth as his lips curled back from his teeth.
“I don’t enjoy being stuck in here either. It feels claustrophobic. Does anybody object to us triggering the fail-safe? We’ll make it hurt as little as possible.” Amanda stood by Tyrell.
“This is not the birthday I wanted. Do it. Then I’m going to scratch your boyfriend’s eyes out.” Rachel swiped her claws against a box, opening a paw-sized gash in it.
“I’m sorry, Rach. We’ll do your party another day; and it’s ex-boyfriend.” Amanda closed her eyes. Once more lines of code filled her field of vision. She reached out to touch a code thread, then stopped herself. She examined it carefully. “Ty, look at this. Now!”
Amanda felt the mind of her friend focus on the data in front of her.
She heard Tyrell’s voice in the game itself. “Oh f-- ‘Rating substitution, fornicate’! No one can leave this game. The coding for the nanobot crash has been tampered with.”
“What the f-- ‘Rating substitution, fornicate’ does that mean. That is really beginning to pi-- ‘Rating substitution, urinate’ me off,” snapped Saffron.
“He’s corrupted the crash code with parts of the hack virus. What he’s put together could do a lot of damage to us if we crash the connection,” explained Amanda.
“The same hack virus that killed my mother? Are we going to die?” Cal sat on a collapsed cardboard box, his tail quivering.COLLAPSE
Well written gamelit story for young adults. I enjoyed the.language filter in game. The players/friends spend most of the game as cats which I enjoyed. A nice easy PG read.