I always thought virtual reality would be safe. After all, it is only in your head; a perfect manipulation of our two major senses, sight and sound. We finally developed an alternate universe, a place where we could truly live another life. No disease, or judgement, or war, or any of the other thing that really screw our world up. Just us, and paradise.
Then the virus came.
My roommate and I were two of many people that discovered the virus after we bought our first and only headgear. We ripped open the package and installed all the necessary components, and stared at the computer screen, waiting for all the downloading to be complete so we may try the headgear out. The loading bar slowly filled making steady progress, when it stopped at eighty two percent.
"Ah, man! What are we going to do?" Mark groaned, as I flipped through the set up manual.
"I don't know man! You're the one getting a B.S in computers!"
"Computer graphics! Not programming!'
"Well I don't think my B.S in marine biology is going to help either. Here, you look at this," I grumbled as I shoved the manual to Mark.
"Please, just work!" I whispered to the frozen screen.
"Oh wait wait wait! I got it, I got it. Move over," Mark began to explain what he had to do as he clicked other icons on the computer screen. I pretended to understand what he was saying as I messed with the lifeless headset. Finally the loading bar continued to move at a snail's speed until it reached one hundred percent and menu popped open.
"HAHA! Now you just have to put on the headgear so we can calibrate it," Mark said. He had already used a headset in his classes, and he really wanted to share the experience with someone outside his class. I put the bulky thing in my lap while Mark clicked more stuff on the screen.
"Its going to be amazing dude," Mark said, swiveling in his chair towards me. His mouth opened, then popped shut as his brows drew together in confusion. Then his fingers snapped and his eyes lit up. "I just remembered! There is a very specific way to leave the virtual reality. You have to go to the menu and shut down the program before removing the headgear. There is a risk of shock and seizures if you remove it before the game shuts down, so whatever you do, don't just rip it off! There should be a clock around there somewhere, so you won't lose track of time. It should be safe though as long as you keep that in mind." Mark picked up the helmet and plopped it on top of my head, and I eagerly stared into the blank, black screen.
"Can you see anything?"
"No, its all black."
"Oh for the love of..." I heard Mark moving around, then a snicker of laughter. "You forgot to plug it in, that's why!"
Suddenly the screen blazed to life, and a myriad of saturated colors assaulted my eyes before they gradually toned down. I felt Mark adjusting the ear pieces, and a pop song started to play. Simple instructions appeared, telling me to move my head in a certain direction, then the other so it could calibrate. At last, all the set up was done, and I was teleported into another world.
I entered a beautiful house, where a crisp gentleman in a suit and tie greeted me.
"Welcome, to the virtual reality. In order to move around, all you have to do is imagine yourself moving. Your headgear will read your brainwaves and translate them into the game. To set your avatar, simply picture a person in your head, and, like movement, the game will translate it into the game."
"To do anything else in the virtual reality you simply need to be able to imagine it, and it will be translated into the game. If you are having trouble getting the game to operate correctly, pull up the menu and see our trouble shooting section. Have fun." The gentleman dissolved into computer pixels before disappearing. Curious, I looked around at my surroundings. I was in a grand foyer, with priceless impressionist paintings adorning the walls along a sweeping marble staircase so polished it was like a mirror. Exotic perfumes like myrrh hung heavy in the air, and a light tinkling sound overhead drew my gaze to an intricately wrought iron chandelier bedecked with crystals. I took a tentative step forward, imaging my legs lifting and rising before falling back to the earth. I began to move forward, and then my bare feet sunk into a furry carpet, the fibers softer than the feathers of a baby bird.
I turned to look over my shoulder, and a mahogany door, deeply varnished, beckoned invitingly with its small window revealing more wonders. As I moved across the slick marble floor, I glance down and noticed I was a generic avatar. That had to change, so I closed my eyes and pictured myself, only without the acne, the scars, and a bit more muscle. I opened my eyes and looked down at my reflection to see myself staring right back up at me. Satisfied, I reached out to the door knob, clutched it in my hands and slowly pushed it down. The door swung open, and I stepped into a world so incredible, I gasped, for the air in my lungs was snatched away by the beauty of it all.
A magnificent city, like in the movies with special effects, rose all around me, the streets bustling with people, real and non- player characters, more commonly know as NPCs. Gamer tags were above all the players, displaying information the players wanted to show. All sorts of transportation raced up and down the streets, like hover bikes from Star Wars and undead skeleton horses. Old castles butted against slick skyscrapers, while other buildings popped up out of the blue on growing roads. It was like the game Minecraft on steroids, with all the mods and texture packs and better graphics.
There was so much I could do that my mind was a creative blank. What should I start with? I could only stare in wonder and awe at the world.
I wandered up and down the streets, occasionally looking into shops that lined the sidewalks. A crazy assortment of ancient and magical creations mingled with modern technology. The scent of spicy Chinese food sifted through the air along with tantalizing Italian pastas. One stand was selling deep fried chocolate and I stepped into line, wondering if I would really taste virtual food.
"Here you go," the vendor said, and he handed me a bucket of chocolate nuggets. "Virtual food is so great! You can eat as much as you want and it won't affect you in any way!"
Other customers shoved me away, and I was pulled down the tide of people. Finally I found a park filled with tables that was relatively quiet. I sat down with my bucket, and stared at the beautiful flowering trees that scattered petals into the wind. I eyed the bucket, before I dubiously popped a deep fried piece of heaven into my mouth. Chocolaty goodness melted in my mouth, sending a surge of devilish pleasure down my throat. Soon I was stuffing them in by the handful. How on earth could I actually be tasting this? All too soon, the bucket was empty, and I sat back to breathe in the sweet air.
After lounging around for a bit, the blaring of cars and screaming of people grew too much. I couldn't even hear the melodious song of the bird on the table in front of me! Obviously the city wasn't for me. I needed a quiet haven, far from other people, but how would I get away?
The roar of a passing airplane answered my question. I would fly! But I wanted to feel the wind, and see the world crawl under me. The bird on the table gave me an idea. I would fly a griffon, like all the great heroes in books and legends! I walked to the edge of the park and imagined myself encountering a griffon. Then, from the trees and behind the bushes, a proud black eagle head rose, its golden eyes piercing. Slowly, with dignified grace, the griffon glided out of the shade, its muscles rippling as the clawed and taloned feet, the forelegs that of an eagle and the back legs that of a lion, came into view. Fifteen foot wings of a glistening black unfurled like sails, and the wing tips gently touched the ground. With grave acknowledgement, the griffon bowed its proud neck towards me.
"Wow," I whispered. Truly, this was the king of all beasts, in reality and myth. I cautiously approached it, until its feathers were in reach. Tentatively, I reached out my hand, and stroked the feathers. They were smoother than silk, stronger than steel, yet flexible like blades of grass. I could feel the griffon's gaze on me as I placed both of my hands on its broad back, slowly applying pressure. The griffon gave an almost imperceptible nod. I vaulted onto the back of the griffon, and without another word the griffon launched itself into the air. The steady surge of the wings beneath me gradually lifted us into the air, until an air current filled the griffon's wings. The flapping stopped, and the griffon hung motionless as the air carried it. The wind whipped the hair out of my face, filling my lungs with a thrill. Diving and spinning through the clouds, I thought I could do this forever. Then a head splitting static buzz reverberated through my head, blocking out all other sounds. Pressure started building up in my head, and I clutched it desperately. I thought my head could explode at any minute. Then it was gone as soon as it appeared, and it left only a dull ringing in my ears. I shrugged, and soon forgot about the whole ordeal. We soared far, far out into the empty plains, until the griffon slowly began to descend in a corkscrew to an undeveloped part. We landed with a thud, and I slipped off the griffon's back. I gently hugged the griffon.
"I'll call you Eboncrest," I whispered. Eboncrest bowed again, and I turned to begin building.
After about two hours, I had built myself a mountain range that encircled one solitary mountain. A house was perched on the solitary mountain, with an enclosed path leading to an aviary for Eboncrest. A road stretched out from the bottom of the mountain, and it lead to a garage containing my cherry red Ferrari. After all of this was accomplished, I was flying around on Eboncrest when I noticed something strange. In the distance, the world just stopped, and numbers and codes scrolled up and down, like a computer animation for TV shows. It wasn't there before and I was pretty sure the developers didn't want it there. I figured it was just a glitch, so I shrugged before returning to my little paradise. The television I had inside my house was off, so I decided, what the heck, let's see what's on.
The TV blared to life, and a sweaty reporter clutching a handful of papers appeared. A small line folded between his eyebrows, his lips tight in a grim line. A picture of the codes I had seen earlier was behind him, with the words 'Glitch or Virus?' scrolling underneath.
"... people have come to call, world holes, an area where the codes for the game are visible. Some are saying it is a glitch in the system, and that the developers are working right now to fix it. Other professionals say it is a virus attacking the system, and that everyone should shut down the program immediately. Until we have more information though, the choice is all yours. Now on to our next story about the newest building..."
I shut off the TV, and considered what to do. I don't know much about computers, so I didn't know what the virus would do. One time I was playing a game on the computer and a virus got in, causing the game to crash and it prevented me from ever playing it again. Another virus caused the NPCs in my game to give me everything they owned, which was actually pretty cool. Truth is, there was no way to predict what the virus would do.
I went out to create some giant trees with Eboncrest following along behind me. As I was in the middle of materiliazing a huge oak, I heard a startled squawk behind me, and a drilling static sound. I whipped around, just to see Eboncrest dissolve into pixels. My jaw dropped, and tears cloud my vision. There was nothing left, not even a feather. Eboncrest was just gone.
I sniveled, before I remembered that I could probably imagine him back. I turned back to my work, when a dark shadow slowly started to creep over my tree. Rain lashed down from the sky, and I retreated back into my house. Soon lightning streaked across the sky, lighting up the mountains and the trees. I went to turn on some lights to drive back the gloom, but the lights only flickered before burning out. I frowned, before I went to the sun room. If the lights didn't work, the sun room was the lightest place in the house.
The storm raged, and reminded me of a game I played, Five Nights at Freddy's Three. In the game, you were in a dilapidated office with a door to the right, and a window in front of you, showing nothing but a hallway. You had to moniter the movements of these animatronics, rotting and creepy teddy bear robots that could move on their own. Then they would pop out of nowhere, and all I can remember is their lifeless eyes, with one point of light deep within their depths. But that wasn't the creepiest part. The game would show you these newspaper clippings about the animatronics, reporting a 'rotting, corpse like smell and dark fluids leaking out' as well as a report about a bite. The game gave me nightmares for weeks. I could almost hear the carnival music the game plays when the animatronics are about to kill you. The simple melody was playing vividly in my mind, but when I remembered it stopping, it continued to play, only behind me now. A foul odor assaulted my nose, like someone had opened a grave, and a drop of something landed on my shoulder.
No way, I thought. I looked over my shoulder into the lifeless pinpoint eyes of one of the animatronics from the game.
I screamed, before I quickly ran downstairs to where my Ferrari was parked. I leaped into the car, firing up the ignition as the garage door slowly crawled up on its rails. The Ferrari jolted forward as I heard a noise behind me, startling me and causing me to hit the gas, but the door was only half way up. In the mirror, I could see the animatronic slowly climbing down the stairs, only now it had its friends. They reached the bottom of the stairs when the garage door had a fourth of the way to go. Close enough. I slammed the gas, and a high pitched whine came from the tires as the Ferrari paused before rocketing out. I drove back to the city, passing many others flocking to the haven. They were running from their own nightmares. Checking my rear view mirror, I see the 'world hole' had expanded, and it was slowly getting closer. I don't know why, but the sight sent a shiver of fear down my spine.
I entered the city, thinking it would be a refuge from the crazy glitches and nightmares, but it was the exact opposite. The NPCs morphed into horrific nightmares, and began attacking the players. I ran over one, destroying it into pixels as it reached for a girl. Some of the war game nerds were fighting back, with sword, light saber and guns. I saw a few player characters get overwhelmed and dragged away to who knows where. I kept driving, hoping to find a relatively safe haven to stop and think. I pulled into a huge parking lot, where the only nightmare was a zombie walking into a wall. I checked the rear view mirrors to make sure the animatronic weren't there, before I collapsed back into the soft cushions of the car, weeping in horror. I keep telling myself everything is fine when I remembered, it isn't real!
Suddenly I had a brilliant idea. I could just shut down the game! I don't know how I didn't think of it before. I opened up the menu and clicked the shut down button.
ERROR PROGRAM NOT RESPONDING
It felt like my jaw dropped all the way to the floor. How could the shut down not work?
There was only one way to get out of the game. I had to pull off the headgear. I reached up with my hands and to grab the headgear. Only, my virtual hands moved, and then I was grabbing my head. I pulled, hoping that my hands also moved in real life, but all I could feel was the pulling of my scalp and hair. I tried harder, and harder, until it felt like I was about to rip my head off.
There could only be one answer to this. The virus has reprogrammed the headgear to intercept my brain signals. As in, those signals never reached my body, therefore I can't really move. I was effectively cut off by the virus.
Carnival music began to play again, faintly. I looked in my mirrors, and I saw the animatronics advancing. I began to punch the gas, but the car stuttered, before finally, with a gasp of exhaust, it died. The smell hit me again, and the music was louder. I tried to jump out of the car, but my seat belt is stuck, restraining me in my chair. I could see the otherworldly light in the animatronics eyes in the mirror, and then they were upon me. The smell was overwhelming, and I nearly fainted from the stench alone. Then a metal maw of sharp glistening teeth opened before me, advancing until it entirely engulfed my vision. Then blackness took me.
I woke up to a white light and for a moment I thought I had died. Then, gradually, the sound of a constant beep and soft voices reached my ears. An overly clean, chemical smell filled my nose, and the weight of a blanket pressed down on me. I can now see the ceiling, with its fluorescent lights and tiles. I sit up, looking around. I appear to be in a hospital.
"Dude, you're back! Ah man, I thought you were a goner!" I turn to see Mark seated at my bedside with dark circles under his eyes.
"A psycho maniac hacked into the game, and planted a virus. Apparently, the guy's idea was to cause a malfunction in the headgear, sending an electric wave into the brain. Already a thousand people have died! As soon as I heard about it, I raced back and yanked the headgear off you. Just in time too. It sent a small electric shock through my hands, and I thought I was too late because you collapsed onto the floor. That was when I called the hospital. It turns out you had a seizure, but the doctors said you would live. You are a really lucky man."
I was indeed. I never thought I would miss reality, but the alternative has definitely changed that. Never again will I do a virtual reality, or an alternative universe. I have enough problems with my dreams teleporting me to weird places, but at least I can wake up from those. With a glitchy virtual reality, I wouldn't be so sure...