(Going to give Nanowrimo a shot this year and attempt to write an original piece)
Prologue: The Pony Massacre
The little girl, who couldn't have been more than five or six, jumped excitedly holding her prize in her hands. It had taken nearly all her will power, but she had done it and now as promised she held the latest installment of the My Little Pony: Virtual Friends. Today she would finally be allowed to log into The Sphere. She ran to the counter as a rather annoyed older brother was dragged along besides her.
"Hi there!" The teenager behind the counter said smiling down at the girl.
"Two Dives in Ponyland." The brother said with a shudder.
"Ponyville!" The young girl corrected as the brother rolled his eyes.
"Can't believe mom's making me do this with you." He said eying the cover of smiling barnyard creatures with distaste.
"Will that be partial dive or full?" The teenager working behind the counter asked.
"Full!" The young girl exclaimed as the brother shook his head.
"Partial, Becca, remember? Full dive has needles." He said eyeing the holographic displays of the latest games that were released. He stared at the image of the latest zombie game with longing. Why did he have to go in the little kid game with his sister? She'd be fine. She'd go in, play with the animals, fly in the sky. So what if it was her first time? What could possibly go wrong in a kids game? "Actually, Let's do one partial for Ponytown and one full for Brains, Tasty Brains." He said before eyeing his sister. "Think you'll be fine by yourself?" He asked hopefully. She looked up at him with wide blue eyes in wonder. He was letting her be alone? "Look, don't tell mom, and I'll take you back next week." He said before she eagerly nodded her head.
"Alright, have you two been here before?" The girl working the counter asked.
"I have. She hasn't." He answered slipping his wrist underneath the scanner as the total was deducted from his BitCoin account.
"Is this your user?" She asked as a holographic image of a teen boy decked out in weapons and gear appeared.
"Yep." He said.
"That doesn't look anything like you." Becca said looking up at the image and then back to her brother.
"It doesn't have too, you'll see. It's The Sphere, you can be anyone you want to be." He answered as the girl led them behind the counter towards the back.
"You can go in room one whenever you want, Brian." The girl said.
"I better stay and help her out first." He said leading the little girl towards the scanner.
"How'd she know your name?" Becca asked as she glanced at what appeared to be a blank wall. Her eyes went wide as an exact replica of herself appeared in front of her.
"Because she scanned my chip." Brian answered. "Pretty cool, huh?" He said smiling a little at her amazement. It would be kind of fun to see her first Dive. Oh well. He'd rather be shooting zombies than playing with ponies. "Now all you have to do is think about what you want to look like. Yeah, like that." He said as the image immediately changed outfits and hair color.
"Woah," Becca said imagining herself with different shades and styles of hair. After several minutes of giggling at the sight of herself with a Mohawk, afro, mullet, and other assortment of different things she finally settled on just long brown hair and blue eyes. "This is what I want."
"So ordinary." Brian said before shrugging. "Now all you have to do is name her."
Welcome, Sasha Brindey
"You guys all set?" The teenager asked as Brian nodded his head.
"Have fun, we'll be out about the same time." Brian said before waving and leaving towards the first room.
The teenager led Becca towards the back hall, around the corner and towards room number twelve. As Becca walked she craned her neck and turned her head in all directions checking out all the latest advertisements for dives available. One image showed a boy and a girl decked out in chain mail carrying swords with a giant fire breathing dragon in the background glaring menacingly. Another image showed a deep sea dive with all kinds of fish and sea life swimming around a girl in a scuba diving get up. The guide nearly had to physically pull her away from one display of two girls with black cat ears and tails standing in provocative posses.
"Kitties! I wanna go in the kitty one!" Becca said frowning in confusion at the teenagers reaction.
"Noo! Not for kids, sorry." The teenager said giggling and motioning her forward into the nearest room. Becca looked around the room. It wasn't at all what she had been expecting.
"Where's the ponies?" She asked taking in the plain room with a single chair and strange helmet.
"Don't worry, there's ponies." The guide said motioning for her to take a seat. "Now since this is your first time, let me explain how this is going to work. We're going to put this helmet on you and count to ten and when you come to you'll be in Ponyville." Becca sat down in the leather recliner as the guide leaned her back down. "You ready?" The little girl nodded her head eagerly as a large spherical helmet was brought down over her eyes. "Now if you want to log out for any reason, all you have to do is say the words I want out and a screen will appear asking you if you want to log out. You can say yes or no." She explained. Becca nodded her head in understanding in the complete blackness of the helmets interior. She hoped the lady would stop talking soon so she could hurry up and start. Her friends at school had talked endlessly about how you could ride a Pegasus in the game and that was the first thing she wanted to do. "Alright, I started the program. It might feel a little scary at first, but it will be over real quick. I'll count down with you. 10, 9…"
Becca gripped the armrest as many different colors began floating in her vision. "8, 7, 6…" A strange lightheaded sensation caused her to lean her head back against the headrest as she closed her eyes. "5, 4, 3…" She clutched the armrest tighter as she felt the room around her beginning to spin. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. It'll be worth it, she told herself. "2, 1.." The teenagers voice began to fade away as she counted down the last of the numbers until all was silent. A gentle breeze on her face caused her to slowly open her eyes as she let out an audible gasp. No longer was she in the chair in the Sphere Center at her local mall, but in the heart of Ponyville as groups of ponies trotted around the city paying her no mind.
"So cool!" Becca said with her shining eyes alight with excitement which only grew with every passing second as she slowly walked around the town taking in all the shops and different colored ponies.
"Hi there! I've never seen you around before." Becca heard turning around to find a purple pony with wings.
"Princess Twilight!" Becca squealed.
"Hi, Sasha, it's nice to meet you. Is this your first time in Ponyville?" The princess asked.
"Yeah!" Becca said excitedly. Sasha? She wondered until she remembered that was the name of her avatar.
"We're glad to have you here! Umm, don't take this the wrong way, but, well, what exactly are you?" She asked looking Becca up and down. "You're not a pony, or any other kind of animal I've ever seen before."
"I'm not a pony." Becca said giggling. "I'm a human!"
"A human?" Twilight asked confused. "No way! Wait till Lyra get's wind of this! C'mon, Sasha, let's go meet everyone." Becca eagerly followed along craning her neck this way and that while Twilight made her pre-programmed speech about the every day life of the town. She could see Applejack at her stand in the market selling apples, Rarity was in her boutique, Pinkie Pie was inside the bakery licking a bowl clean while Mrs. Cake stood by with a disproving glare. It was when they got to the Apple farm that things took a turn for the worse.
"So, Sasha, is there anything you want to see?" Twilight asked.
"Cloudsdale!" Becca said eagerly. "I want to see the flying ponies and ride one!"
"So us earth ponies aren't good enough for you, are we?" A voice full of resentment asked.
"W-What?" Becca stuttered as she turned around only to be looked down upon by the entire Apple family. A strange flash of light could been seem coming from their cutie marks on their flanks.
"Everyone always wants to see the flying ponies while us simpletons are left to work the fields. Don't even get me started on those damn unicorns with their magic. They can command anything and everything, but do they help us? No! I'm sick of it!" AppleJack said glaring into Becca's eyes as the little girl trembled. What was going on? It was then that BigMac came rushing towards them, pitchfork in mouth as he rammed it into the princesses chest. Blood splattered onto Becca's face and shirt as she let out an ear piercing scream. This wasn't happing! They just killed princess Twilight! There was so much blood! Wasn't this supposed to be a kids game?
"I want out!" Becca yelled as a menu screen popped open.
System Error: Cannot Log Out
Becca let out a scared whine as the ponies slowly began to advance each carrying some form of weapon in it's jaw. Their once kind and friendly eyes now glowed a deep red color. The little girl finally found her feet and took off running towards the village once she was sure one of them tried to take a stab at her. She ran while gasping for air. This wasn't supposed to be a scary game! Becca stood frozen in fear once she reached the town. Thick smoke hung in the air obscuring her vision. Buildings were on fire and she could feel the flames heat on her face. The unicorns were stabbing the earth ponies repeatedly with their horns in a large massacre as hordes of bodies littering the ground. Peagusi were dropping heavy rocks and other sharp objects onto the unicorns below crushing their skulls. Becca stood rooted to the spot wide eyed as her little body trembled and felt her bladder gave way, but no liquid emerged from her avatar. "I want out! I want out!" She screamed repeatedly only to have the same error repeating itself. She ran behind a building to take cover as she sat on the ground hugging her knees to her chest and covering her ears. No matter how hard she pressed her palms against her head she couldn't drown out the screams of dying ponies. All she could do was cry tearless wails and wait for her time to be up.
Brian stood around the corner of a wall in the abandoned laboratory with gun in hand. He slowly peeked his head around the corner to check whether or not the coast was clear. The dim florescent lighting that blinked on and off gave the place an eerie feel even if he knew the place wasn't crawling with zombies. Sweat trickled down his face and mixed with the dirt that clung to his cheeks from pressing his face against the walls. He limped forward as fast as he could dragging his bit leg along the floor. Maybe a full dive wasn't the best idea in a game where injuries could happen. Oh well, that's what made them more fun. In a full dive you could feel things, not just in your face, but your whole body as well. You could feel the weight of the gun in your hands, along with the kickback when fired. The things your body learned in a full dive stayed with you. Anything that involved muscle memory. Running, jumping, swimming, martial arts, skate boarding etc.
Although it was definitely more fun to feel, it came with it's downsides as well. Brian let out a silent moan as his leg ached. He could feel the virus coursing through him with every step. Nothing was permanent of course. He'd be fine as soon as he awoke out of the dive, although sometimes it takes a few minutes for your brain to adjust. Even though there's no real wound there, your brain thinks there is for a short amount of time and sends signals of pain to the afflicted area. For some unlucky few with extreme sensitivity, there really will be a wound for a short amount of time. The Nocebo effect some called it. Once in a while Brian would came out of a dive with red and mildly irritated areas where he had been shot, but that sort of phenomena was normal. It's when you wake up with a hole in your chest that's a problem.
"Hallway three clear." Brian whispered into the microphone on his vest. "What's your position?" Nothing but silence greeted him for a full minute. "Sebastian, where are you?" A blood curdling scream could be heard coming from the hallway up ahead that bounced and echoed through the hallway sending all the hairs on Brian's body sticking up like the Eifel tower with goosebumps along his skin. They got him.
Brian blinked as he found himself strapped to a table by his wrists, chest, legs and feet. His time shouldn't have been over already, should it? I guess time really does fly when your having fun. A dull pain in his leg let him know he got off easy. That other guy would be sore for a while.
"Sorry to log you out before your time is up, but there's been a situation." Brian heard wincing a little as the probes were removed from the back of his head.
"Huh?" He mumbled squinting from the light as his helmet was removed. He turned his head to the right to find the girl who had led him in getting the alcohol swabs ready to administer to the back of the head to disinfect the puncture wounds from the connectors.
"Something's gone wrong in the game your sister was in." She said quickly patching up his head and helping him to his feet.
"What? What happened?" He asked in concern springing to his feet. Mom would kill him if anything happened to Becca. She didn't trust these games after all and he was supposed to have been in there with her.
"Someone re-wrote the game and all the characters are killing each other." She said. "I've tried to log her out several times, but an error keeps popping up."
"What? It's a little kids game!" he said as he was led over to a viewing monitor to witness the bloodbath that was now Ponyville. He quickly scanned the screen to find his sister curled in a ball in the corner rocking back and forth as the mayhem and chaos surrounded her. "What happened?"
"She must have said a key phrase to trigger it. It's never happened before." She said biting her lip and nervously tapping her fingers on the counter. She typed a command into the holograph projected keyboard only for another error to appear. "There's nothing I can do until her time is up. It's not letting me log her out manually."
"What if you just took the helmet off? She's only in a partial dive." He suggested.
"It could hurt our system. You can't just pull it off without properly shutting it down first." She explained.
"You think I care about your system? Get my sister out of there! Look at her!" Brian shouted angrily jabbing his finger to the image of the five-year-old huddled in a ball. He could feel his blood boiling with every second. Maybe it was his fight-or-flight reaction kicking in or maybe it was from training his senses from so many full dives in The Sphere, but he could faintly hear laughing coming from another room somewhere. He stormed down the hall as the sound grew louder and louder until he came face to face with a door marked Employee's Only. "Open it!" He demanded as the teenager stood by nervously.
"I can't let you go in there." She said. More giggling erupted from the other side of the door.
"Dude, dude, make them go after her now." He heard before turning on the employee.
"I. said. open. it." He growled at her with gritted teeth and clenched fists. She cringed slightly before reluctantly pulling out her I.D and swiping it under the sensor as the door opened to reveal a control room with two employees typing commands into a certain My Little Pony world and laughing about the results.
"Hey, Victoria, check it out. This little girl is freaking out over my pat-OOH" He grunted as Brian's fist smashed into his face before he even knew what was happening.
"Log her out NOW!" Brian demanded.
"It was just a joke calm down!" He said before getting his face smashed into the console. "Okay, okay!" He grunted as the other boy quickly entered a command to shut off the over ride and shut down the machine. Brian sent him another warning glare before taking off down the hallway in search of the room Becca was in. He could hear crying coming from the door to his left and quickly opened it to find his sister curled in a ball trembling. Brian quickly undid the helmet straps and pulled it off her head to reveal the terrorized child underneath. He once bright blue eyes were completely blood shot as tears and snot ran down her face. Her pants and the chair were soaked with urine as she babbled incoherently about what had happened.
"Shh, it's okay, it's over now." He whispered picking her up as shook and balled in his arms. He gritted his teeth in anger as he held her and tried to calm her down. She'd probably never go in The Sphere again. Who knew as a result she'd grow up to protect it.
Becca Strokes sat on her bed gripping the paper in her hands with nervous anticipation. Today would be the day to start the trials for the Sphere Protection Program or SPP. It was a school dedicated on training soldiers using virtual reality to stop cyber crime. She had wanted to become a cyber officer for as long as she could remember, and now she held in her hands to first steps to making that dream come true -an acceptance letter. While it wasn't an acceptance letter to the school itself, it was still a step in the right direction.
After writing a kickass essay (in her opinion) as to why she wanted to become an officer, she had passed the first, and easiest, test. Now it was on to the next. Only she had no idea what kind of test she'd be facing. All that was given to her was an IP address with a note congratulating her on making it to this next step in the selection process. 1:100…Those were the odds of making it this far. Actually getting accepted into the program… 1:10,000. There was a rumor that most people failed at the final challenge because it was something so horrible and painful, but the only people that really knew were the people who failed and no one was allowed to talk about what goes on for fear of getting disqualified permanently.
Becca stood up and made her way down stairs in the hopes of getting some form of reassurance from her parents. She could smell the dehydrated bacon capsules boiling, but the butterflies in her stomach prevented her from eating anything. Whoever thought of the term butterflies clearly didn't have their future on the line she thought as she sat at the table. It felt more like genetically modified wasps having a fight to the death in her insides rather than something as gentle as butterflies.
Becca shook her head when her mother offered her various dehydrated capsules ranging from toast, eggs, bacon, cereal, pancakes, French toast, waffles, and oatmeal. She felt so nervous she thought she might hurl if she ate anything. She didn't know if there was a rule against puking during the test, but there's no way it would help her that's for sure.
"You'll do fine." Her father said in between scenes of the news as the holographic image of a newscaster no larger than a cereal box projecting in the middle of the kitchen table listing off various current events.
"I hope." Becca mumbled sipping some orange juice and bouncing her knees. Before she knew it the time to leave for the testing site had fast approached. With a hug and kiss from her parents, she headed back upstairs to her partial dive connecter. With trembling fingers, she typed the IP address of where she wanted to go and leaned back on her bed before slipping the helmet on. Just about everything was done via avatar nowadays since they came out with a home console a few years back. Full Dives you still had to go to a center for, but partials you could now do from the comfort of your own home.
The imagery blurred on the screen as Becca closed her eyes and slowly counted down in her head. She always hated this part even if it only lasted a few seconds. When she counted down to four, a flurry of imagery flashed in the screen as she felt the lightheadedness of zipping past millions of other IP addresses to get to her destination. She squinted her eyes to make sure it was over before relaxing and standing up.
"Can I help you?" a voice asked causing her avatar to spin on the spot as she came face to face with a professionally dressed blonde woman who couldn't have been out of her 20's. At least that's the way she made herself appear to others in The Sphere.
"I'm here for the SPP exam." Becca said scanning the building she found herself in. She was a little disappointed to find herself in an ordinary looking office. People sat behind desks, sipping coffee for the taste and talking amongst themselves.
"Come with me." She said turning on her heels as Becca swallowed and followed her through various plain looking hallways until they entered into a large conference room with about a dozen or so others sitting in chairs. "Please wait here for further instruction." Becca sat down in the nearest chair across the table from a pale looking girl with violet eyes and green hair who seem preoccupied with gazing out the window. Becca sat nervously glancing around the room, but there wasn't much to look at. The room had plain white walls, with only one picture of a sunset above a mountain range. There was a potted fern behind her chair and a single window overlooking the virtual town slightly obscured by the navy blue curtain.
Awkward silence hung in the air while each person imagined what horrors they would be facing. Or at least that's what Becca was doing. She fiddled nervously with her long brown hair and imagined what sort of things they would be doing. She had imagined the IP address leading her to some sort of battle arena where all SPP hopefuls would be forced to fight to the death. She had never imagined it taking her to some ordinary looking office. She felt sort of silly now for equipping her avatar with knives and other concealed weapons. She should probably put them back in her inventory before she got into some kind of trouble. It's not like anyone could actually get hurt though; they were all avatars after all. Becca went back and forth in her mind about what she was carrying on her before finally deciding to keep everything where it was. She didn't want to cause a scene pulling it all out.
In order to pass the time, she glanced around the conference room and at each person sitting in it. She always liked to imagine who was really there behind the avatar. She highly doubted the man sitting next to her had those kinds of muscles, and the set of perky boobs he seemed to be transfixed on across the table from him probably belonged to some 50-year-old-man, not the twenty something redhead who looked like she shouldn't even be able to sit up with that kind of weight attached to her chest. Becca blinked in surprise when her eyes fell on the girl from earlier. She could have sworn she had green hair, but now it was a deep blue and her expression showed a mixture of fear and doubt. She glanced around in confusion, but no one else seemed to have noticed the change so Becca chalked it up to her over imagination. You could only change your appearance in your home screen or in designated areas anyway that sold clothes and whatnot.
After another hour of waiting the room began getting restless. Mr. MuscleHead stood from his chair and began pacing the room while another groaned loudly about being forced to wait. Becca locked eyes with the green haired girl again. Wait, wasn't her hair blue just a minute ago? Her hair color had changed she was sure of it. She really did have green hair, so then why was it blue a minute ago? Had she figured out a way to bypass the system lock on changing the way you look? The girl seemed to smirk at Becca for a second and roll her eyes. Was she rolling her eyes at her because Becca noticed her hair changing colors? Perhaps she shouldn't stare at her; it was rather rude. The girl jerked her head sideways as Becca turned her attention to Mrs. TopHeavy . She seemed to be causing a commotion about the wait time. Some people gave their agreement, while others like themselves rolled their eyes at her over dramaticness of the situation. Becca nodded and smiled to the girl who appeared to be slightly older than herself. After a quick glance back up Becca had to cover her mouth so she wouldn't laugh out loud and draw attention to herself. The girl with the changing hair was silently mimicking the red head with her lips and hands.
Mrs. TopHeavy finally announced she was fed up with waiting and rose to head home but froze. The door everyone had come in through was gone. There was nothing but a solid beige painted wall in its place.
"Where's the door?" She demanded pounding her fist on the wall. All heads turned their attention to her. Becca could see a faint sparkling light where the door had been when she looked at it through her Sphere Vision mode; A sign that the room had been tampered with. Sphere Vision was mostly used in-game, but you could use it anywhere in the Sphere to view user names, send and view messages and of course checking to see if things had been altered by outside forces.
"Guess they don't want us leaving before hand." A twenty something year old looking man calmly said. He wore a navy blue fedora and his face had a five o'clock shadow. Becca wanted to call him Anthony; He just seemed like an Anthony to her. She was disappointed when she viewed his User Id and it listed him as Arnold. He'd make a better Anthony she thought.
Mrs. TopHeavy sat back down in a huff as a few people glanced around the room anxiously. A hand wave from the girl across from her earlier caught Becca's attention. She blinked in surprise to find her hair not green or blue, but jet black. Her hair really was changing colors. Becca pointed to her own head and mouthed your hair to her. She cocked her head to the side in confusion before Becca mentally opened up her in-game messenger and thought up a quick sentence before thinking the words Send Message. The girl across from her moved her eyes as she read the text in front of her invisible to everyone else.
A blinking red light a few seconds later in her upper vision notified Becca of a new message. Open Becca thought and the girl's response displayed in front of her. That's the fifth thing that's changed since coming here. Becca blinked in surprise as she quickly gave the room a once over. Other than the door disappearing Becca didn't notice anything at first until she spotted the potted palm tree behind her. Wasn't it a fern before? And the picture of a sunset; it had been replaced by a picture of a sailboat. That's three things, she thought scanning the room more closely. The glass see through desk was the same, but Becca realized the color of the carpet was not. Where's the fifth thing? The walls she realized. They were white before and now they were beige. She sent a message back to the girl stating her observations. I didn't notice the carpet or picture. Look at the window; there's now blinds instead of curtains. Clearly they are testing our observational skills. Interested in teaming up? My name's Crystal by the way.
Becca read the note before smiling and nodding her head in agreement. Two pairs of eyes were better than one she thought. She made up a quick introduction and sent it to her along with her username, Sasha, but she probably already knew that. The two spent the remaining time checking out their surroundings and sending their reports.
What color was your hair supposed to be? Becca asked to kill time.
Green, what color is it now? Crystal asked.
Hot pink. Becca responded smiling as Crystal's violet eyes widened as she searched for a mirror. Just kidding. Becca sent causing the other to roll her eyes playfully. They sent further messages back and forth. Some were other differences they had spotted while others were simple observations, like the guy sitting to next to Becca's right that was pretending to scratch his nose while actually picking. Definitely not fooling anyone. Anything else change?
The ceiling fan is turning clockwise instead of counterclockwise, the smoke detector disappeared and Sasha has turned into a man.
WHAT? Becca sent in a panic patting her lap for anything that shouldn't be there. A just kidding appeared but Becca looked down the front of her shirt just incase. This room was changing everything from decorations to physical appearance. Maybe it was possible to change someone's gender as well. They were all just avatars after all.
"Hello, and thank you all for waiting." The lady who had walked Becca to the room suddenly appeared. She breathed a small sigh of relief to see the door back and that she was no longer trapped inside this room full of strangers. "We are ready to begin the testing process. We will call you back one at a time for a quick interview and then you are free to go. First I must ask that if you are carrying any weapons, please put them back in your inventory as they will not be needed during this portion of the test."
After a few seconds of silence people began pulling out a few guns and knives they had kept holstered to themselves and placed them on the table before scanning them back into their inventory. Becca sighed before standing up and removing her coat. She was afraid that this was going to happen. She pulled her semi-automatic and 9mm she kept tucked into the back of her skirt. She then un-tucked her shirt and pulled out the shotgun she had slung around her shoulder, two black hunting knives around each ankle, and removed the utility belt of ammunition she had strapped around her waist that also contained a few grenades and smoke bombs. Once those were on the table she reached into her blouse and pulled out a small stun gun and canister of pepper spray.
Someone whistled at her growing pile of weaponry as Becca looked up to find everyone in the room staring at her wide eyed including Crystal. Becca smiled anxiously as she pulled out a few shotgun shells out of each pocket.
"Are you done?" The secretary asked raising her eyebrows.
"Almost," Becca said grimacing apologetically as she upholstered a glock from her right thigh and a revolver from her left along with two switchblades, and a bone saw. "I think that's everything." Becca laughed anxiously.
"All of it please, you'll be going through a metal detector." The secretary said.
"Fine." Becca grumbled reaching up the back of her blouse and retrieving a Smith and Wesson along with a silencer before upending her purse as various forms of ammunition spilled out onto the table.
"Damn, girl." Arnold-better-known-as-Anthony-said as the room fell completely silent.
"I'll need to go somewhere private to remove the rest." Becca said apologetically as everyone stared mouths agape.
Becca slid the glowing red palm of her hand across the last of her artillery before it vanished back into her inventory. Scanner off.
"Now that everyone is sorted out." The secretary said with a hint of annoyance gazing towards Becca as the cause of the hold up. "We will now begin calling everyone back one at a time for the interview process." Becca nodded her head in understanding as everyone listened to the welcoming speech. Becca tried to remember everything that had changed in the room. Crystal's hair was first wasn't it? Or was it the plant? Or the picture? Why did she have to sit with her back to the plant?
An incoming message snapped her from her thoughts as she read it through.
What's with the Rambo get-up? Crystal asked.
I kind of thought this was going to be a fight to the death to be honest. I wasn't sure what I needed to equip so I kind of, well, equipped everything. Do you think it was overkill?
Crystal snorted out loud as her eyes danced across the invisible words in front of her. Six guns, four grenades, nine knives, a bone saw, three smoke bombs, a silencer, AND a shotgun. Yeah, I think you went a little overkill. Do I even want to know what you pulled out in the back room and from which crevice you evacuated it from?
If this was a full dive Becca's face would probably be glowing bright red right now. Probably not. She sent back.
How did you even manage to conceal all that? I knew you had a something big across your back by the way you were sitting, but I never would have guessed you were packing that much.
Practice, Becca sent with a shrug.
"Sasha Brindey," A voice rang out as Becca gulped. Why did she have to go first? She took a few deep calming breaths and stood up. If this was reality she was sure she would puke. "Come this way, please." The Secretary said leading her down another hallway covered in mundane portraits of nature. Becca could never understand why they tried to make virtual reality look so much like, well, reality. You could do anything and everything. So why have ordinary, plain boring offices?
What annoyed Becca the most were the rules against using her in-game settings in non-designated areas. She knew it was to keep people in full dives safe, but c'mon? Who'd waste the money in a full dive here? It all really boiled down to appearance. Using hyper speed in an office tended to look unprofessional. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
"Please allow me to scan your chip," she said as one of her palms began to glow bright red as Becca stuck out her forearm for the woman to scan. The woman quickly waved it over Becca's wrist as an image of Sasha appeared on the wall. After all these years it still seemed strange to see herself as Sasha and not as Becca. She always expected to see black hair and green eyes when looking at her reflection, not brown hair and blue eyes. She still got her two selves confused sometime as she sill introduced herself as "Becca" in game and "Sasha" in reality. "Is this correct?" The woman asked as a picture of Becca appeared on the wall after Sasha disappeared.
"Yes." Becca answered as she shifted nervously from foot to foot once she confirmed everything in her Sphere profile.
"Please have a seat." She said directing Becca to a group of armchairs in the corner. "What I'm going to do is ask you a few questions of how the Sphere came to be to check your history." Becca frowned. A history lesson? What about the changing room? What about fighting to the death? "In your own words, why did we create the Sphere?" she asked gazing sharply at Becca with her hazel colored eyes.
"It was originally created so that people could re-learn how to communicate with each other face to face after becoming dependent on the anonymity of technology. The human race began losing needed social skills due to its reliance on communication from behind a screen, so we developed a program to try and integrate humanity back into real person-to-person meetings, but still giving them a way to remain anonymous."
"And do you know what year that came out?"
"Around the 2200's." Becca answered.
"Now please send me a message." The woman said. Becca was a little taken a back. Why was this so easy? Everyone could send a message. All you to do to was think. Open Messenger. Becca turned on her Sphere Vision to see the woman's username. Victoria Malteese. Hi, I'm Sasha. Send "Alright. Good." Victoria said. The way her eyes moved rapidly back and forth told Becca she was also writing a message, but after a few seconds she realized she wasn't writing to Becca, she was writing about Becca. "Now I have a few questions about the room you were waiting in. Including yourself, how many people were in it?"
"Fourteen." Becca answered after a moment to reflect.
"Did you notice anything unusual about anyone there?" Victoria asked.
"One of the girls hair changed colors several times, and one of the girl's chests defied gravity." Becca said. Victoria ignored her comment about Mrs. TopHeavy and proceeded with the interview.
"How many times did it change?"
"Four times. It was green when I first entered, but changed to blue, back to green, and then black to brown."
"Can you name as many people as possible that were in the room?" Crap. She only knew two or three. She was paying attention to changing environment, not the people she was in the room with.
"Crystal, Arnold, Sasha…" Becca said trying and failing to think of others. Should she make up names? No, Victoria would know if she was just making stuff up. "That's all that I know of."
"How many things are you aware of that changed?"
"Seven," Becca answered feeling more confident about this question as she listed the differences her and Crystal found.
"How many weapons was Sasha concealing?" The corners of Becca lips turned upward in a slight smile. So that's why they didn't check her before entering the waiting room.
"Twenty three that I pulled out in front of everyone, and four in private. I feel much better now that those are out of there." Becca said in an attempt to make her laugh. Victoria remained as emotionless and stone faced as ever causing Becca to shift uncomfortably in her chair. Laughter was her defense mechanism for when she was nervous, which sometimes led to her saying inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Like now for instance. Awkward silence filled the room causing Becca to inwardly cringe.
"How long did it take you to conceal all of those weapons?" Victoria finally asked.
"Why do you want to join the SPP?"
"To make it safe for everyone to join, and to stop cyber attacks against children."
"What is the most common sign something has been tampered with?"
"A dim flashing light appears."
"That's all for this interview. Someone will be in touch with your results later on today." Victoria said standing to her feet and straightening out the hem of her skirt. "It was nice meeting you, Sasha." Becca frowned as her thoughts waged war in her head. How was that interview supposed to make her stand out from the rest? She let out a heavy sigh in defeat. There was no way she would make it after that. She had only remembered two names. Why hadn't she just stayed in Sphere Vision? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! She was so frustrated she just wanted to kick something. Guess all there was left to do now was logout and drown her sorrows in zombie brains. Nothing soothed Becca's nerves quite like blowing holes in the heads of zombies.
Before she knew it she had reached the lobby where she had arrived and after thinking of a few commands, she found herself at her home page. An image of Sasha's current look displayed in the middle of the room. The first thing she'd do is change out the business professional attire and slip into something more comfortable. With every wave of her hand, a new outfit appeared on the image of her avatar. Swimsuit. Nope. Skirt. Nope. Hideous bridesmaid dress from her cousin's wedding last month. Definitely not. Becca finally settled on a red T-shirt and cargo capris, before repeating the process for hairstyles.
Perfect, she thought as she equipped herself with her chosen outfit, now to pick a game. What would help her take her mind off everything? Shooting zombies? Racing hovercrafts? Martial arts? Becca flicked through her collection of playable worlds before glancing at the countdown timer on the wall. She had two hours left before the system would automatically log her out for safety reasons. When the Sphere first became available for in-home use, there were a few cases where people never logged out and starved to death. Even Becca herself had a few embarrassing incidents where she had logged out only to find she had wet herself from being in games for too long. A few years later they had programmed a fail-safe to automatically log you out after six hours of continual Sphering as a reminder to take care of yourself. Rumor had it that there was a drug on the market that allowed you to stay in a full dive for weeks at a time, but was only available to the rich. Somehow it slowed your metabolism way down along with your sense of time. A day in the Sphere would only be an hour or so in reality. One of the main users of the drug was the SPP; it was how they shoved a year of training into less than a week in real time. The thought of getting to live full time in the Sphere sounded amazing to Becca. Too bad she blew the interview.
Sure, she didn't actually KNOW she blew it, but with as tough as the selection process is, Becca assumed they were looking for perfect scores. Her performance was average at best. 1:10, 000, no way they would accept average Becca. She sighed as she continued flipping through her list of games. She'd drive herself crazy if she kept dwelling on this. The corners of her lips turned in a smile as her eyes rested on the image of game she hadn't played in years. She used to love it when she was younger. It was a game where you could be a superhero and choose from several superpowers while fighting crime.
"Load Heroes of Justice."
"Whoooo!!!" Becca yelled as she flew in and out between the clouds feeling the wind whipping her hair back. How many years had it been since she last played this? She flew over the town enjoying the scenery. How awesome would this be if she was in a full dive? She wondered what it would be like to feel the sensation of flying in her whole body instead of just her face where the helmet was. Would her stomach do flips when she nosedived towards the pavement? Would she hurt herself punching criminals in the face? How much would it hurt getting sucked into a jet engine? On second thought, she was fine with a partial dive.
Becca slowly floated through the virtual clouds parting them with her hands and drawing designs. She could see the sun beginning to set as she hovered in the sky to watch. There's always next year.
You've reached your time limit for the day. Logging Out.
Becca groaned as she reached up and took the helmet off to reveal the walls of her bedroom. She slowly sat up in bed as lightheadedness took hold from lying down for so long. A beeping noise coming from the other end of her room caught her attention. She slowly made her way to the other side of the room to her cell phone sitting on her desk. She had three new emails she hadn't checked before logging out. Junk Mail, junk mail and more ju-She froze as her fingers trembled on the screen. It was a message was the testing site. Becca took a few deep breaths before hesitantly clicking on the message expecting a rejection email. She quickly scanned the email looking for the words "We regret to inform you," but they never came. She read and re-read the message several times before it finally made sense and she wasn't just imagining it.
Congratulations, you have made it to the next phase of testing. Please report to address 134.853.134.0897 Tuesday, November 17th at 8 am. Please see below for results of testing.
Observational skills: Average
Additional notes and comments: Never seen anyone come with so much ammunition before. Wasn't sure if she was there for the SPP or to wage war against the establishment.
After looking at the email for nearly ten minutes in disbelief, Becca ran down the hall as fast as her jellified legs could carry her screaming in excitement the entire way to the kitchen.
An hour later a piping hot dehydrated chocolate cake sat on the kitchen table as means of celebrating after Becca's mom boiled her favorite capsules for dinner. Becca talked a mile a minute in excitement not even stopping between bites of food. Her parents of course knew all about the SPP having had to hear all about from her since she was at least 10-years-old, but they smiled politely anyway knowing how important this was to her.
Becca couldn't help, but stop and ponder the results for a minute. It was obvious the trial was meant to test her observational skills, but teamwork and preparedness? What did those mean? She thought back a moment at the ever changing room and its inhabitants. She didn't remember saying anything to Veronica, the lady interviewing her, about teaming up with anyone. Did Crystal mention anything during her interview perhaps, and if not how did they know? Was it because their answers matched? Or maybe they knew because Becca answered questions correctly about things that were out of her line of sight and they assumed someone told her.
The real reason hit Becca like a ton of brinks. It was because they were watching her in the waiting room. Of course! They could probably see her messages as well. Crystal had literally sent her a message asking to team up and Becca had agreed despite knowing they were actually rivals. She never would have guessed they would be checking for teamwork in that situation, but the more she thought about it the more sense it made. They would be partnered with someone for three years of school, not to mention however long they'd be partnered with someone on cases. Sp's always worked in pairs.
All that was left was to figure out preparedness. What did that mean? Her answers about the Sphere's history? Everyone knew that though. How would they be able to judge preparedness based on questions you didn't know would be asked?
Becca narrowed it down to all of her weaponry. That had to be it. They did ask for everyone to pull everything out and put it on the table. If they were watching her take everything out in the conference room, were they watching her in the supply closet while she pulled out paralysis gas canister she had hidden up there. Hey, if she couldn't feel anything from the chin down she was going to take advantage of every natural pocket her body created although now she was regretting it a bit. Frickin Nacrebo effect. Get shot in the chest twice? Totally fine, but shove a kunai up her butt and she felt like she'd never be able to sit comfortably again. She may have even lied slightly about the time it too to get it up there as well.
"Any idea what happens next?" Trevor Strokes, Becca's father asked.
"No idea," said Becca. "It just said to go to the address."
"Honey, why are you hovering over the chair like that? Please, sit down." Becca's mom, Heather, insisted.
"I can't, It hurts." Becca whined.
"Get shot in the butt again?" Trevor asked with a laugh.
"No, I ran out of pockets." Becca moaned.
"Lalalala," Trevor said covering his ears.
"So I had to…"
"Stick it up my…"
"You know, normal people just carry a purse." Heather said frowning at the strange entity that was her teenage daughter.
"Has anyone seen the remote?" Trevor asked searching the tabletop. "You'd think after all these years they'd come out with something remote less."
"Yeah, just a sec," Becca said pretending to reach into the back of her pants as her parents shook their heads. "Sooo…" she said after a couple of minutes once all the remaining dishes had been cleared.
"Yes?" Trevor asked looking at the suspicious smile that spread across his daughters face. "What do you want?"
"Keys?" Becca asked holding her palms out and scrunching up her face.
"So I can go to Brian's." She explained.
"So I can tell him the good news."
"Please," Becca begged.
"I don't know…last time you didn't obey curfew." He said dangling them in front of her face.
"I will this time; I promise." Said Becca as she reached for them only for them to be pulled away from her grasp at the last minute.
"And you promise you won't lose them?"
"I promise! I'll keep them safe where no one can get to them."
"Seeing as how you've been unable to sit properly all night; that sentence concerns me." Heather said causing Becca to playfully stick out her tongue.
"Home by midnight." He said handing over the keys.
"Thank you!" Becca yelled already hallway to the garage.
Snow fell in large waves from both sides of the hover bike as Becca floored it in the wide open field. Virtual reality was fun, but nothing beat the real life thrills of having cool air whipping through your face doing 200mph in an empty forest. She breathed in the fresh smell of the nearby growing pine trees that surrounded her on all sides. Her village was already setting up Christmas lights and decorations in the trees and as a result the night sky was filled with many reds and greens that illuminated Becca's path. She zipped around, taking a few sharp turns and enjoying the thrill of feeling her heart beating rapidly in her chest.
Too bad the Sphere couldn't give her this kind of a rush. Well, nothing in her price range could anyway. The Sphere could try and imitate life all that it wanted, but she always knew deep down it wasn't real no matter how badly she wanted it to be. The Sphere was an escape from reality; nothing more. As fun as it was, sooner or later you had to log off and come back to the real world.
Becca pulled to a stop as she admired her handiwork of different designs she had made by flying over the snow. There was a figure eight in one corner and a smiley face in the other. So she wasn't an art major by any means, but she still had fun and that's what counted, right?
She breathed in deep lungful's of the fresh mountainous air and sat on the still rumbling bike between her legs. Becca glanced at the clock on her dash that read 8:27pm. She should probably head over to Brian's like she said she was seeing as how she'd already been out here for two hours goofing off. If she left now she'd reach her brothers place in 15 minutes from where she was, but first Becca decided she needed to make a pit stop once she noticed herself jiggling up and down on the bike.
After turning off the ignition, she shivered in the chilly night air once the heat shield left with the engines power leaving her to brace the icy elements. She quickly hopped off into the snow as her legs wobbled unsteadily from riding for too long. Becca hobbled over to an old metal pole her village used to use to get electricity back in the day. She leaned her back against it to support herself in her unsteady state as she slowly shimmied her pants down.
"Guys have it so easy," She softly complained exposing her bare butt to the elements before relaxing and allowing her bladder to empty into the white powder below. It wasn't until she had finished and began trying to tug up her pants that she realized there was a problem. She squirmed this way and that as she tried again and again to free herself but to no avail. Becca's butt was completely stuck to the frozen pole she had leaned against. "No no no!" She moaned tugging and pulling, but her skin remained frozen in place. She had always remembered the warnings about never licking a frozen pole, but she had never heard of anyone getting their butt stuck before.
When Becca tried everything she could possibly think of to free herself short of ripping the skin off, she sighed in defeat and fished her cell phone out of her pants pocket.
"Hey, Brian…" Becca said in a suspiciously cheery tone when he answered after the third ring. "How much do you love me?"
"What did you do?" a male voice from the other end asked with a heavy sigh. He knew that tone of voice all too well. That was the, I did something stupid and I need help pitch.
"You remember that field you used to take me too when we were kids?"
"Yeahhh… You didn't crash into a tree again, did you?"
"No nothing like that. It's just, umm, kind of embarrassing."
"Just say it, Becca. What kind of trouble are you in?"
"I'm stuck to an electrical pole." Becca blurted out only to be met with silence on the other end. "Brian? Are you there?"
"And by stuck to an electrical pole, what exactly do you mean by that?" Becca sighed as she heard the strain in his voice as he tried not to laugh.
"Can you just come get me please? And bring some warm water!"
Brian sat hunched over his hover bike unable to contain his laughter, his little sisters scowl only making it increasingly funnier to him. When she had said she was stuck to a pole he had envisioned many different scenarios ranging from her climbing up and being unable to get down (it wouldn't have been the first time) to her getting her pant leg stuck on something. Never had he imagined pulling up and seeing her with her pants around her knees and her butt cheeks completely frozen to a pole. This was priceless.
"Can you please help me? It's cold!" She complained using her hands to cover her front.
"I'm sorry," Brian said advancing closer with the thermos that contained her freedom. Hopefully. He cracked up even harder once he had gotten a closer look as she hung her head in shame. "You so owe me for this." He said pouring the hot liquid over her backside in order to thaw it free. Becca winced as the warm water came in contact with her tender skin, but after a few wiggles she was able to pry herself free and pull up her pants.
Steam began to fill the entire bathroom fogging over the bathroom mirror as hot water filled the old-fashioned looking porcelain tub. 18-year-old Becca Strokes shivered as she waited impatiently for it to finish as she slowly stripped down. Unable to take the cold any longer, she gingerly stepped in and sat down in the warm water that barely went halfway to her thighs. She closed her eyes and leaned back while continuously scooping warm water with her hands and dumping it over her chest until the tub finally filled up all the way as the sensor automatically shut the tap off.
"Much better," She mumbled to herself while enjoying the sounds of the local nightlife right outside the bathroom window. Becca could her an owl hooting somewhere in the nearby trees as wind gently swept through the forest causing a cacophony of rustling leaves. She'd stay in the tub all night if she could. The tub's built in heater kept the water at optimal temperature like a mini Jacuzzi so the post bath sprint to dry off and get warm was even less ideal than Brian's taunting she was sure to face. Why'd she have to go and get herself stuck to an electrical pole? Who the hell even does that?
"Are you going to stay in there all night?" Becca heard coming from the other side of the door a half hour later.
"It's tempting." Becca responded.
"Don't you want to see what I've been working on?" Becca frowned as she debated her options. She didn't come all the way to Brian's to sit in his tub all night. She really did love getting to see his projects. Sometimes he worked on various patches for the Sphere and sometimes he developed games. Other times he did sciency stuff that sent Becca's head spinning with terms and ideas that went right over her comprehension level. Lately though he had been very secretive about his recent project and no matter how many times Becca asked to see or hear about it, Brian always said he couldn't talk about it. Was he willing to share it now because he was finished or was it because he felt bad that she spent nearly an hour with her butt frozen to a pole?
"Not if I have to go out there." She answered after a minute.
"Then I'll tell you all about the different brain hormones that get released during Sphere dives while you're trapped with no where to go."
"Did you know that during a partial dive…"
Ten minutes later Becca sat in front of the fireplace gripping a mug of hot chocolate while shivering from her wet hair. For someone who worked on such futuristic designs and proto-types he sure liked to live in such a primitive way. He didn't even have a full body dryer in his bathroom! He had these primitive things called towels that you had to wrap yourself in to absorb the water off your body. He even had a fireplace! A fireplace! That burned things! Where in the world did he even find someone that was willing to build him a fireplace? The cottage certainly wasn't originally designed that way.
"Sometimes it's nice after a long day of virtual reality to sit back and enjoy just regular reality." He'd say. Becca wondered if living in the past actually counted as living in regular reality. Other than that, she supposed he was right, but after tonight's mishap, it only confirmed her love for the virtual world.
"So how familiar are you with full dives?" Brian asked after returning from his basement that he used as a laboratory.
"A bit I guess in theory. I've never actually been in a full dive before." Becca admitted. The prospect of feeling pain never appealed to her seeing as she spent most of her time in virtual reality playing with guns and other weapons. Sure, there so much more to it than just pain. You could feel, touch, taste, sweat and actually build muscle since your body was convinced it was actually happening. It was also way out of her price range. The last thing she needed was to get addicted to something that expensive. Not everyone in this room had fancy high paying jobs since they hit puberty.
"What? You've never done a full dive before?" Brian asked shocked.
"Why would I want to do a full one? Hurts enough after just doing a partial."
"What?" He asked cocking his head to the side a bit in confusion. "It hurts?"
"Yeah, that Necebro effect or whatever it's called." Becca said frowning at Brian's smirk that began spreading across his face.
"That only exists in full dives; you can't get hurt from a partial." He said.
"I'm serious! My butt hurts!" She insisted.
"Yeah, because you froze it to a pole." He said as Becca glared.
"I stuck a kunai up my butt today and now it hurts!" She complained
"Please never say that in public." He said shaking his head. "Should I be more disturbed that you are sticking things up there, or that you are admitting you stuck something up there as nonchalantly as if you told me what you had for lunch?"
"I was in the Sphere. It's not like I literally stuck something up there." Becca said. "Mom told me I should get a purse."
"Yeah, you might want to look into that." Brian said grinning.
"So what are you working on?" Becca asked hoping he'd finally reveal his top-secret project. Brian shifted forward in his chair before pushing his glasses up his face.
"You have to swear not to tell anyone." He said getting serious. "Not mom or dad, not anyone at the Sphere testing center. No one."
"I promise." Becca said leaning forward in her chair.
"I've been trying to figure this out for months and I finally made a breakthrough." He said as his eyes danced with excitement. Becca realized the reason he was telling her now wasn't because he felt bad for her; he was too excited with his progress to keep it to himself. "You know that drug used to manipulate your sense of time and slow your metabolism?" Becca nodded as Brian continued with his explanation. "It cost me an arm and a leg, but I managed to get a hold of a vial of it last year and I've been researching its chemical components." Brian continued on for some time talking about the drug in his fancy science lingo that zipped right over Becca's head. She just nodded wide eyed and pretended she understood. Finally he came to an end to his speech while his voice rose a bit in excitement. "Do you know what this means?" He asked as his eyes shined.
Becca nodded her head but the words, "No," quickly came out.
"The government has kept this drug hush hush to the public for years to keep people from reproducing it. Only the rich has ever been able to afford it, but now that I've managed to find a way to reproduce it about a thousand times cheaper…" He said with a wide grin.
"So you made like a generic version?" Becca asked finally catching on as Brian nodded before glancing around the room and removing a small vial from his pocket.
"This could change so much, Becca. It could-" Brian paused mid sentence as someone began pounding on the front door. They exchanged curious looks before Brian got up and headed to answer it. How weird, Becca thought. Who'd be knocking on the door 11 at night? She craned her neck around the headrest of her chair to get a good look as Brian approached the source of the commotion.
"Hello?" Brian called out from the closed front door.
"Can you help me?" A single male voice answered. "I crashed in the forest a little ways back and have been wondering around on foot for the last hour. You're the first house I've found." Brian visibly relaxed as he peeked through the hole in the door causing Becca wonder if he worried about something. He opened the door only to freeze in place. "Back inside." The voice from earlier ordered, only now more forceful and harsh instead of pleading and desperate. Brian backed up slowly with his hands up as two men approached from the side with ski masks covering their faces and guns drawn pushed passed him.
Becca immediately jumped to her feet only to be met with the barrel of a gun. "Sit back down! Put your hands where I can see them!" She quickly let her self plop back down in the chair with her hands up as her eyes shifted from Brian to the gunmen in front of her.
"Where is it?" The average looking man from earlier asked. Becca recognized his voice as the one who had asked for help. She couldn't blame her brother for answering the door for him. He didn't look very threatening to Becca in his jeans and grey zip up hoodie, but his voice was forceful and demanding. She quickly tried to spot any kind of incriminating feature on any of them, but everything about him screamed plain and ordinary. He had the kind of face that could easily be overlooked in a crowd of people while the other two were covered head to toe.
"Where's what?" Brian asked shifting his eyes from the man in front of him to his sister. Becca sat in the chair feeling powerless to stop them in the mix of all the chaos. She couldn't understand what they were after, until one of the gunmen began tearing the cottage a part searching for something.
"You know perfectly well what I mean!" The man in the grey hoodie shouted. "Give me the drug!" Becca's eyes widened in understanding; they were after her brother's research. She jumped up in anger, but froze when she found a gun in her face for the second time in the manner of minutes. Her heart beat madly inside her chest like she had never felt before as her legs wobbled. Sweat began to bead from the top of her hairline and slowly make its way down her face from the high-pressure situation.
"There's a lab down here!" One of the men called from the basement as the guy in the hoodie ordered the other to keep an eye on her and Brian before making his way down the stairs.
"Get over in the corner!" The second gunman said pointing his gun at the back of Brian's head as a thick hand forcefully pushed him over towards her. "Both of you sit down and don't even think about moving." He threatened. Brian flashed her an apologetic look as if to say he knew this would happen.
"Why don't you stop them?" Becca whispered. He could easily take them down in a matter of minutes, hell; even she could probably take this one by herself. An elbow to the groan here, an upper cut to the chin. All she needed to do was stun him long enough to get the gun and…
"No, Becca." Brian whispered sternly. "This isn't a game! This is real life! You can't just re-spawn if something happened! When the first moment presents itself I want you to make a run for it."
"No one's going anywhere until we get what we came for!" The man said moving the gun back towards Becca.
"Look, I'll give it to you, alright? Just leave my sister out of this." Brian said slowly moving his hand towards his pocket.
"Keep your hands where I can see them!"
"Ok, look, what you're looking for is in my right jacket pocket." Brian said with his hands in the air motioning with his chin. "Just know it's only a prototype and it's untested."
"What are you doing?" Becca asked as the man searched Brian's pocket and retrieved the vial Brian had been so excited about minutes before.
"Just let them have what they came for. It's better this way." Brian said. Becca clenched her fists in anger. If he wasn't going to do anything to stop them than she would. She could take him down. The sneer on the man's face as he held the vial in his hands was the last straw for Becca. She wasn't going to just sit back and let someone steal what her brother had worked so hard on. She charged and elbowed the 6-foot man in the gut before he even had time to register what had happened. She grabbed hold of his wrists and tried to yank the gun free from his hands, but a loud pop caused her to let go in surprise. The last thing Becca remembered before loosing consciousness was the sounds of gunfire and Brian clutching his side while blood spilled over his hands.
Becca was in and out of consciousness all through-out the night. The first time she came too was when her father began shouting her name. She briefly opened her eyes and made contact with his. Trevor was kneeling over her on the floor wearing an expression she had never seen before. He was ghostly pale and his green eyes were wide with fright as they moved all up and down her body. He seemed to be unsure of what to do with his hands as they hovered over her line of sight before retracting and repeating the process.
"Becca," He said softly before she closed her eyes again unable to withstand the pain in her back any longer.
When she opened her eyes the second time she was lying on a gurney while bright lights everywhere forced her to squint. Becca could hear voices, but couldn't make out what they who they belonged to or what they were saying. The amount of pain she was in was so extreme that if it wasn't for lack of strength she probably would be screaming. She was far beyond using a Numeric Pain Scale and if there were a facial representation to express her discomfort, it would be holding a gun to its head and puling the trigger.
Someone in a surgical mask appeared in front her and began speaking, but she didn't understand much of what was being said. "Hurts," She finally managed to get out.
"That's good," They responded. What was possibly good about what she was feeling? She felt hands beginning to roll her over on her side, before something hard was slid underneath her. "On the count of three," The same voice said before she felt herself get lifted and slid onto a table. "This will help." They said injecting something into Becca's back as she moaned and clutched at the sheets before gladly falling back into unconsciousness.
When Becca finally woke for the third time she heard something she hadn't expected- the sound of waves crashing on the shore. She slowly opened her eyes to find herself lying on her back in the sand of what appeared to be a beach. Becca slowly sat up feeling surprised to find she could fully move without any pain. How had she ended up from snow to sand, she wondered.
"You're awake." Becca heard turning to find a black haired lady in green scrubs stretched out on a beach towel next to her. "Just relax for a bit." She said when she saw her confused expression. Becca moved her head to side and caught a glimpse of long brown hair growing out of her head instead of her normal black. She was Sasha? So that's what was going on; this was virtual reality.
"Where am I really?" Becca asked.
"Recovering from surgery in the hospital." The woman answered. "Do you remember anything that happened? Becca tried as hard as she could to remember, but all she could come up with was the sensation of pain and nothing else. "Hmm, let's see." The woman in scrubs said as she searched for something in her field of vision. "Becca Strokes? Is that correct?" Becca nodded. "Or would you prefer to be called Sasha here?" The woman continued without waiting for a reply. "You're a lucky one. Says here you were shot in the back."
"How does that make me lucky?" Becca blurted out.
"You're alive; that's something to be thankful for. Also says one inch closer to the right and you would have spent the rest of your life paralyzed from the waist down. Sounds pretty lucky to me." Becca nodded her head in agreement; she couldn't argue with that logic. What was she doing when she was shot though? And why would anyone want to shoot her outside a game? Would she be ok in time for the SPP? It was coming up in a few weeks. Either way she'd be ok if it was only a partial dive, but how would this affect a full? Would they disqualify her for getting injured? Brian would be so disappointed in her- Becca's eyes went wide as she began remembering the previous night. The drug, the break in, getting shot in the back and …Brian! Was he here too? She craned her neck this way and that to get a better look, but all she could see was sand and water. They were the only two people on what appeared to be an island.
"My brother, what happened to my brother Brian?" asked Becca. The woman seemed to be checking something, but after a moment she shook her head.
"Sorry, hun, it doesn't say. Did he get hurt too?" Becca nodded before letting out a worried sigh. "I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. There's plenty of time to meet up later. Right now you just relax, until it's time to go back to reality."
A flashing red light in Becca's vision stopped her from arguing further. She opened up her messenger and breathed a sigh of relief. It was from Brian. He must be recovering in virtual reality too, but the message made Becca scratch her head. It didn't sound like someone who was recovering.
"What's his name? I'll look him up in the system and tell you what room he's in."
"Brian Strokes," said Becca as she stared at his message again.
"I don't see any record of anyone with that name having been checked in recently." She said. How strange, Becca thought. She could have sworn he was hurt. Oh well, as long as he said he was ok that was good enough for her at the moment she thought as she picked up a handful of sand and watched it as it fell from underneath her closed fist.
"Are you my nurse?" Becca asked after a moment of silence.
"No, I'm not a nurse. I just watch the patients and keep them calm when they wake up here."
"Oh, I see." Said Becca.
"Not everyone is as familiar with virtual reality as you are. Some of our older patients complained after thinking they were dead- so here I am."
"Why a beach though?"
"We live in a cold climate, so we wanted our patients to feel like they were on a vacation, but apparently we went passed that and went for an after-life theme." She said with a laugh as Becca smiled. "My name is Susan, and I will be your guide to the after-life. Please enjoy your stay."
Becca scanned the horizon and watched the waves crash down onto the shoreline. She had never been to a real beach before, so this was kind of nice. She stood up, stretched and walked around knowing it might be a while before she was able to again if what she had been told was true. She walked up and down the shoreline for a bit before standing in the tide wishing she could feel the waves wash over the tops of her feet. She found a grouping of tide pools and amused herself with the creatures inside. For a hospital beach simulator it was pretty detailed. There were purple and red starfish along with a few sand dollars. She even found a few crabs scurrying in between the moss-covered rocks. After a while though she grew bored and began to head back towards Susan and sit with her in the sand.
"No one told me the after life would be this boring." Said Becca.
"Would you rather be lying in a hospital bed in pain?"
"Shutting up." Becca said planting her butt in the sand. "Is it usually just you in here all day?"
"There's normally more than one person, but you're the only one in recovery right now. Once you get out of here you can interact with other patients. Looks like they will be waking you up in about thirty or so more minutes." Becca nodded as she stared out at the horizon for a bit longer. "You look worried about something." Susan said sitting up on her beach towel. "Are you scared about waking up?"
"A little bit," Becca answered honestly.
"We all have to face reality sooner or later. Just think less than ten years ago people had to stay in their hospital beds when they recovered. Now we can just send their consciousness somewhere else while their body does all the work for them. Cut's down on the amount of painkillers we have to give out and lowers the chance of addiction."
"Ugh, I couldn't imagine." Said Becca cringing. While this certainly was no paradise, it certainly beat the reality of post surgery recovery. The two talked for a little while longer until Susan informed her it was time to wake up.
Becca grimaced a bit when the helmet was lifted off of her and she was met with the sight of a different woman in scrubs. Her back painfully throbbed underneath all the bandages that wrapped around her and it was all she could do to keep from tearing up. She glanced around the room and found her mother asleep in one of the chairs.
"She hasn't left for three days." The nurse told her. Three days? That's how long she was out for? She was only at the beach for a few hours, wasn't she? Heather slowly began to stir after a few minutes and opened her eyes to find Becca looking at her. She sprang to her feet, wrapping her arms around her neck as Becca moaned in pain.
"Sorry, honey, I'm just so relieved you're ok." Heather said pulling back and wiping her watery eyes. Becca saw the dark circles and bags underneath her mother's eye lids and her face seemed paler than usual. "I thought we were going to lose you too."
"Lose me too?"
"Becca," Heather said lightly cupping her daughters' cheek in the palm of her hand. "Brian didn't make it."
Becca sat in stunned silence as she let her mom sit on the bed and wrap her arms around her while Becca rested her head on her mom's shoulders. She stared blankly at the wall as tried to digest that latest bit of information, but no matter how hard she tried to comprehend what the words and what they meant, it just wouldn't sink in.
It wasn't true, she finally told herself. He had sent her a message in game. The more she thought about it the more she was convinced he was alive. His message hadn't made sense before, but now it was clear as day. Becca, I'm ok; no matter what anyone tells you. For whatever reason he wanted everyone to believe he was dead. The only way to get to the bottom of this was to ask him
"I have to go back in the Sphere." She said amongst the noise of her mothers sniffling.
"Becca, no!" Heather said gripping her a little too tightly.
"I need to go, I need answers!" Becca said trying as carefully as she could peel herself away.
"Becca, running away isn't going to solve anything. We need to talk about this."
"No! He's alive! I need to go talk to him!" Becca said looking up at the helmet and wondering how she could get it down. She refused to believe he was dead…he couldn't be.
"He's gone, Becca…" Heather whispered as her eyes changed from bright green to red as tears began pouring down her face only serving to cause Becca's own to burn with hot moisture. "He was already dead when we found you." She said breaking down in heavy sobs resulting in Becca doing the same. "What happened that night? Please tell me; I need to know." Heather said once both had felt completely emotionally drained and exhausted.
This was the last thing Becca wanted to think about. She shook her head and tried to lie back down, but her mom insisted on information to the point of starting one of their many arguments.
"Some people broke in." Becca said softly barely over a whisper.
"Why? Were they people Brian knew?"
"I don't know." Becca said numbly.
"Did they take anything?"
"I don't know. They were after something Brian was working on." She didn't want to think about it, but images of that night kept flashing in her mind. If she had just listened to him he would still be alive. If she hadn't charged at them and tried to fight one of them, the gun never would have gone off. That's what the popping noise was. It was the shot that hit him. She killed Brian. It's all your fault. Either she killed him or he was alive somewhere laying low for some reason.
"What were they after? What did they look like?" Heather continued.
"I don't remember." Becca said growing more agitated. She just wanted to be left alone.
"Well how many of them were there?"
"I don't remember." Becca said again in a monotone voice to keep herself from yelling. She didn't want to talk about it, she just wanted to sleep and never wake up.
"Were they young or old?"
"I don't remember." Becca said lying back and closing her eyes.
"Becca, answer me seriously, damn it! Someone killed Brian and you're the only witness. Show some fucking sympathy!" Heather yelled.
"I said I don't remember!" Becca yelled back.
"Are you saying you can't even remember a single detail, or you just don't want to?" Heather said rising from the bed. "I've been here for three days worried out of my mind without a single clue what happened."
"I don't want to talk about it." Becca said.
"Tough, my son is dead so start spilling everything you know."
"I don't want to talk about it! I don't want to think about it! I don't want to remember! I just want to sleep!" Becca yelled.
"Please," Heather said dropping her voice. "What did he die for?"
"Mrs. Strokes," the nurse said pulling Heather aside. "She just survived a traumatizing situation. Give her some space and let her rest."
"But the longer we wait-"
"The police will come and question her later today." The nurse said guiding her out of the room. "Why don't you go down to the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee while I get her cleaned up?" Becca sighed in relief when she saw the nurse walk her mom out of her hospital room. She thought maybe she could get some sleep now, but she was wrong. All she could think about was how she was responsible for Brian's death.
"Everything all right?" The nurse asked after knocking on the door once and letting herself in. Becca remained silent and stared ahead at the blank white wall in front of her. "You two always fight like that?" she asked pushing in a cart full of plastic tubs.
"Sometimes." Becca mumbled.
"Death of a loved one affects everyone differently." The nurse said removing one of the tubs and filling it with warm water from the sink.
"I guess," Becca said closing her eyes, but she quickly opened them when she felt hands beginning to undress her. She groaned a little in pain as her arms were physically manipulated out of her hospital gown. When that was finally off she glanced down and frowned at her underwear. Some kind of absorbent butt sponge she thought as she poked at briefly. She supposed it was necessary if she had been unconscious for three days, but she was more than happy when the nurse removed it even if she was now completely naked save for some bandages.
In any normal circumstance she would have felt more than weirded out that a complete stranger was giving her a sponge bath, but she was too numb at the moment to care. "The wounds healing nicely." The nurse commented as she gently removed the bandages in order to clean underneath them and put them to the side in Becca's line of sight. Becca cringed as she saw all the blood. It was one thing to see pretend wounds in the virtual world, but it was completely different to see her real blood. She assumed the wound had split open at some point, but the nurse seemed completely un- phased by it. If this is what it looked like when it was good, she hated to know what it would have looked like when it was bad.
Becca had been meaning to ask if she could go back into the virtual world, but by the time she had been washed, changed and helped with other personal matters at the nurses insistence, she could barely keep her eyes open. She hadn't even complained when she had been put into another butt sponge and forced to lie on something that resembled a puppy pad. The last thing she saw before drifting into the sweet land of unconsciousness was her mom coming back into the room while the nurse covered her with a blanket.
The next couple of days seemed to be a repeat of each other. Soon they just completely blurred into each other until Becca couldn't even remember how long she had been here. Was it a week or a month? Was it day or night? Someone came once a day and helped her walk around the room. It hurt like hell, but every step made her a step closer to her freedom.
The police had come and taken her statement, but with her mom hovering over her and hanging on every word, Becca couldn't say the real reason Brian had died. The guilt of what she had done was suffocating her to the point that it hurt worse than the pain in her back. So she took the cowards way out and lied. She told them she had been shot first along with what little information she had. As the days progressed she feared they would catch the intruders and they would point her out as the real culprit. Would they believe her if they told her it was an accident? Would her mom and family ever be able to forgive her?
Becca spent as many hours as she could sitting on the beach and watching the waves. Sometimes Susan sat with her and sometimes she sat alone. She religiously checked her messenger every five to ten minutes hoping for some sign of life from him. She sent him dozens of messages a day only to be met with silence. She was starting to believe he really was gone and that she had just imagined the first message until one day there was a sign of hope.
I'm okay; just need to lay low. Don't tell anyone about anything.
Her heart soared in her chest. He was ok! He was alive! Was he upset with her? She'd deal with that later though. She could now focus on getting better. The second half of the SPP exam was fast approaching.
Although she felt like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders; it was immediately replaced by another. Her burden of guilt may have been partially relieved, but the misery on her parents face remained. Brian had specifically told her not to tell anyone and she assumed that meant her parents as well, but it hurt not to share in her joy and relief. As a result Becca felt herself pulling away from her parents. She couldn't bear to see their misery any longer so she spent more and more time in virtual reality once she had been released from the hospital. Even when her time limit had been reached for the day, Becca chose to sit in her room instead of joining her family in the living room. The small amounts of time she did see them was often spent fighting over the smallest of things.
"Why are you spending all of your time in your room?" "Don't you roll your eyes at me!" "Why aren't you helping around the house?" "Your rooms a mess" "Don't sit like that; it's bad for your back." Almost no matter what was said led to some kind of argument.
Finally fed up with the way her family's relationship was falling apart, Becca soon found herself sitting on the couch of psychiatrist's office. She wasn't happy that her mom had scheduled her an appointment behind her back. Why did she even need to see one anyway? It wasn't even a shrink, but a full on you're crazy please take these pills for all of us physiatrist. After being reassured for the hundredth time that everything said would be confidential, Becca finally broke down and revealed to him the real reason behind her stress. Everything was her fault. Not only was it her fault, but now her brother, whom everyone believed was dead, was in hiding for some reason.
"So you're saying you believe your brother is alive?" The Dr. said scribbling on a note pad as Becca sat awkwardly in a chair staring at his bookshelf.
"Yes, he has to be." Becca said. "He sent me messages telling me he was ok, but that I couldn't tell anyone. You won't tell anyone, right?"
"No, I won't tell." Dr. Finnick said writing something more down. "What did you feel when you first found out about your brothers death?" Becca frowned, she had just told him her brother was alive, so why was he still talking like he was dead?
"Guilty." Becca admitted. "It was my fault he got shot." She said feeling the emotions beginning to rise in her throat. "He had told me to run, but instead I tried to fight them."
"And what happened?"
"I tried to fight for the gun, but it went off mid struggle and hit him."
"That must be hard to deal with. How did your parents react to that?" He asked without looking up.
"They don't know. It was hard to deal with, but I know my brothers alive, so it's not so bad now." Becca said playing with her shirtsleeve.
"You know, one of the first stages of grief is denial." He said casually. Becca's eyes narrowed. He didn't believe her?
"They found his body, Becca. You have to come to terms with the fact that your brother is gone." He said finally looking up.
"No, he's alive!" She insisted. "He was smart, he could have just made a double or something in his lab. Or maybe it wasn't even him! Maybe he just-"
"Listen to yourself, Becca. You're grasping at straws here. I think you're under a lot of stress as a result and have created these messages as way to cope with the guilt you're feeling." Dr. Finnick said looking up from his notepad. Becca remained silent gripping the armrest with her fists. He thought she was crazy! She could feel her temper beginning to boil with every casual glance he made up at her. Holding on to the belief that her brother was alive was all that was keeping her going. Why was he trying to take that away from her? Not to mention there was no way she had imagined those messages! "I'm going to write you a prescription for some anti-depressant medication to help take the edge off."
He handed Becca a prescription and she took it and jammed it down in her pants pocket. She felt betrayed. She had finally told someone about all these feelings she had been harboring only to be told she was crazy.
"I'd like to see you back next week." He said. No way, thought Becca as she got up to leave.
The day of the next testing portion couldn't have come soon enough for Becca, but this morning was different compared to her last test. There was no round of "good luck," and "you got this". Instead, Becca waited alone in her room where she had spent mostly every day so far, propped up against a few pillows on her bed. She waited impatiently for the minutes to pass while trying to resist the urge to log in early. She didn't want to run out of time, but surely the test wouldn't be longer than a few hours. Just in case though she wouldn't take any chances.
She groaned in pain while she stood up and slowly walked to the bathroom for what felt like the tenth time that morning just to have something to do. She carefully unbuttoned her blouse and slowly twisted her neck so she could see the scar on her back in the mirror. It was amazing how something so small could cause her so much pain. She lightly traced her finger over the incision wincing slightly as she did so. There was still a good few inches around the wound that was sensitive to the touch. After putting her shirt back on Becca dug in her medicine cabinet for a pain pill, before popping it back and chasing it down with a handful of water from the sink. After making sure the door was closed, she took one of the pills the psychiatrist prescribed out from the bottle and did what she always did with it- she flushed it down the toilet. She refused to take anything from someone who thought she was crazy. Who knew what that pill was going to do to her? After another fight with her mother about them, Becca had caught her dumping the pills out to count them to make sure she was taking them so just leaving the bottle in her medicine cabinet was out of the question. She was so sick of being asked every morning, "Did you take your medicine?" during breakfast that she simply stopped coming down in the morning. Mostly because she was a terrible liar. The last thing she wanted was her mom to know she wasn't taking them, yet there were still pills disappearing.
Finally after pacing her room, adjusting and re-adjusting her pillows, and planning what weapons to equip on her avatar; it was time. Helmet in hand, she lowered the keyboard attached to the side and typed in the IP address of where she wanted to go. She hoped it would have something to do with combat this time, after sitting on the beach for a week she was itching for a fight.
Becca wobbled a bit on her feet when she arrived at her destination still a little woozy from the trip, but quickly found her footing as she looked around and found herself inside a waiting room. She blinked in surprise as she headed towards the closest door and read the nameplate. You've got to be kidding she thought. She was at another psychiatrist's office.
"Hi, are you checking in?" Someone behind the counter asked.
"I'm not sure I'm at the right place." Becca said. She must have goofed and miss-typed the address.
"Do you have an appointment with Dr. Bastov?"
"Not that I know of, I was trying to get to the SPP testing site." Becca said awkwardly. She hoped this goof wouldn't make her late.
"You've come to the right place." The lady behind the front desk said. "Can I get your name, please?" Becca frowned. Why was she here? Was it a trick?
"Which name?" Becca asked unsure of whether to give her real name or her avatars. Mostly everything in the Sphere operated under her avatars, but she wasn't sure in the case of something official like this.
"Avatar is fine. We'll scan your chip to get your official records." Becca gulped. They were getting her medical records? That would mean they'd know about her getting injured.
"Sasha Brindey," Becca said while hesitantly sticking her forearm out so her chip could be scanned. She heard a quiet beep when the secretary slid her palm over before being directed to have a seat. After a few minutes she tapped her foot impatiently as she wondered what this was all about.
"No need to be nervous; it's just a standard mental health evaluation. He'll just ask you a few questions off a list and make sure you're not crazy." The girl said with a wink. Becca gulped. If that was supposed to make her feel better, it didn't work. "You can come on back now." She said now appearing through an open door leading down a hallway.
Becca followed her until she was told to wait in another room with comfy looking armchairs. She figured they were more for looks than anything since no one would be able to feel a difference compared to if they were sitting on a wooden bench. The office looked suspiciously like Dr. Finnick's office. So much so she had expected the grey haired man with the double chin to come waltzing in himself. Instead she was a little surprised when a beautiful bronze skinned woman with brown hair knocked on the door before coming in, but then again this was the Sphere, everyone looked like supermodels.
"Hello, you must be Sasha." Dr. Bastov said shaking Becca's hand before taking a seat on the opposite side of the desk. "So you are applying for the Sphere Protection Program, is that right?" Becca nodded her head as the Dr. read some kind of text in her field of vision. "What we're going to do is ask you a few questions, tell you a little bit about the conditions of the program and see whether or not you're a good fit." She said. Becca nodded again while sitting up a little bit straighter. "Alright, so let's get started. First I want to go over your medical history."
"O-ok." Becca said nervously.
"Since this job is in virtual reality, we don't require much from the user. All we really want is for applicants to fall into a certain age range and that their health is ok. Disabilities are fine; we've had many members of the SPP wheelchair bound, blind etcetera. We just look for major illnesses like heart function and things like that. We obviously can't accept anyone who's at risk of passing away anytime soon." She explained as Becca breathed a sigh of relief. It didn't sound like her back injury would cause any kind of problem. "Our biggest concern of course is mental health since the mind is what's transferred from the user to the avatar." Becca nodded to show her understanding.
"So do injuries transfer over in full dives?" Becca asked. "Say someone was disabled, would their avatar also be disabled in the Sphere?"
"Only if we need them to be." Dr. Bastov answered causing Becca to tilt her head in confusion. "Say you were injured and needed to do physical therapy in a full dive because your physical body couldn't; we could alter the avatar's data in the Sphere to make the injury less severe. If we took it away completely the brain wouldn't believe you were working it and the users body wouldn't heal, but by keeping it difficult but no more than the user could handle, the brain is convinced you are strenuously working the effected part of the body. Of course in the SPP, we would take the disability away completely, because if we didn't then yes, it would transfer over." Dr. Bastov explained as Becca's eyes went wide. "So essentially, as long as the person is in no danger of dying and is mentally sound, we can proceed."
"Wow," Was all Becca could think of to say. No wonder the drug that allows people to stay in the Sphere long term was so valuable. You could literally have a life disability free there as long as someone could alter their avatar on the other side.
"Pretty amazing, right?"
"Yeah, seriously." Becca said. "What if it was in the brain though? Like if it affected someone's mental health?"
"That, unfortunately, we can't fix since the consciousness is linked between the avatar and user. We can only trick the brain; we can't fix the brain itself. Not yet, anyway."
"Oh, I see." Becca said.
"So what I'm going to do is ask you a series of questions and I want you to answer them as best as you can on a scale of one to ten." Dr. Bostov explained. Becca found the questions to be fairly simple and easy to answer. On a scale of one to ten how quick are you to anger? How positive are you? Are you confrontational or passive? Becca thought the questions were more to determine who would be a suitable partner versus an actual mental health exam. After twenty more minutes, the Dr. finally stopped as she noted the last of Becca's answers down.
"So there's just a few more things I want to ask you about in your file. You had a bit of a scare when you were a kid and needed some counseling it says. How did this effect you growing up?"
"Heh, yeah. It's kind of what made me want to be in the SPP as soon as I heard about it. It took me years to go back into virtual reality, but once I finally did I could never look back." Becca explained.
"In your own words tell me what happened."
"Well, It was my first time going into the Sphere; I think I must have been about five. My brother took me to a local Sphere center back before the home consoles came out. I picked a kids game and went in by myself, but someone tampered with the game and made all the characters start killing each other."
"And you're ok now?"
"Not a big fan of ponies or horses now, but yeah, I turned out ok." Becca said laughing nervously.
"And it says here you recently lost a family member." She said as Becca's face fell. Ok this was it, she thought. Hide the crazy. Don't tell her anything you told him.
"How are you dealing with it? Are you struggling with any kind of depression or suicidal thoughts?"
"I guess I'm a little down." Becca said. She couldn't totally say she was fine with it. That would either trigger her as a psychotic or a liar.
"That's to be expected; I'm sorry for your loss. In your opinion do you think it would cause any problems in the future if you were to be accepted?"
"No, if anything I could use the distraction. Keep myself busy, you know?"
"Alright, Sasha, you pass. From here you'll go straight through that door, take a left and you'll be meeting with the other candidates for the final exam." Dr. Bastav explained. Becca smiled widely as she heard the news she made it to the next round, until she realized the next round was right this minute. And didn't she just say final?
Becca hadn't expected to find a room quite this big in a place that seemed like it was just Drs. offices. It had to be five or six times bigger than the place she was in just a minute ago. A flash of green caught Becca's attention as she smiled glad to see a familiar face in the crowd of people that had gathered.
"Hey, you made it." The green haired girl from before said spinning something glowing on a string in each hand to a rhythm only she could hear. "Sasha, right?"
"Yeah, and you're, Crystal." Becca said watching her with mild curiosity. "What are you doing?" She asked after a minute once the girl stopped spinning the primitive looking glow sticks.
"Glow stick dancing. Apparently my great, great, great, grandparents did it. I think it was some kind of ancient ritual to ward off spirits or something." Crystal said.
"Really? huh? Interesting." Becca said only to see the older girl smirk.
"You're so gullible." Crystal said. "I don't know why they did it, but its kind of fun. Keeps me calm when I'm nervous. Want to try?"
"Uh, what do I do?" Becca asked doubtfully holding the two green sticks in her hands.
"You just dance with them and spin them around." Crystal explained as Becca moved around and spun the strings.
"This is kind of fun." Becca said swinging around and moving her legs and hips only to stop and see Crystal cringing.
"I'm going to have to take these back now and ask that you never to do that again." Crystal said with a grimace. "You could be a toothpaste commercial; your slogan would be noticeably white."
"Umm." Becca said looking at Crystal's pale skin.
"I'm not that white." She explained as Becca shrugged. "So are you ready for the next test?"
"What is it?"
"The fear simulator." Crystal said, "You go in pairs and it scans your brain for your deepest fear and projects it inside a room and everyone outside can see what you're doing. If you chicken out everyone will know. It's supposed to test how brave you are when you're scared."
Becca made a small squeaking noise in terror. "Please tell me you're joking." She pleaded. She couldn't decide what was worse: being forced to face her fears or knowing everyone would know what she was afraid of.
"Nope, not this time." Crystal said. "I'm probably going to get spiders. I really hate spiders. What about you? Sasha? Uhh, are you okay? You don't look so good."
"Everyone will see my deepest fear…" Sasha said eyes wide. "There's no way they'll let me in if they know what I'm afraid of."
"What? It can't be that bad. Is it clowns? Oh, god, its clowns isn't it. Those freak me out. It better not be clowns." Crystal said, but Becca only shook her head and whispered something barely audible. "I didn't catch that what?"
"It's, umm, I'm scared of…"
"Yes, what is it?"
"I'm scared of My Little Pony!" Becca blurted out.
Crystal stood transfixed on Becca who stood awkwardly waiting for a response before the green haired girl broke out in a wide grin. "You had me going there for a second. But, seriously, what are you afraid of?" She asked but frowned when Becca looked up at her with a hurt expression. "Wait, you're serious? My Little Pony… as in the kids show?" Becca slowly nodded her head and looked down at the grey carpeting. "Umm…why?" Crystal asked, but after a second threw in a "If you don't mind me asking."
"My first dive into virtual reality was a My Little Pony game when I was five. Someone working there manipulated the game so that the characters would start a full on war if someone said they wanted to see the Pegasus's." Becca said. "That's what my brother told me when they got me out."
"What happened? Like in the game, what freaked you out so bad? Ponies aren't exactly…scary." Crystal said.
"They were killing each other with their horns and stuff." Becca said with a shudder. "I love violent games, with guns and weapons. Bring on the gore! But…every time I think of that scene of the princess getting stabbed through the heart with a pitchfork in front of me. It just freaks me out and gives me the chills." She explained.
"So what happened after that? Like did they ever catch who did it?"
"My brother said he punched the guy in the face and smashed his head on a console." Becca said with a weak smile before her eyes began to mist over. "After that happened, we were really close. He was a bit too over protective of me though." She said with a weak laugh.
"He, umm…" Becca stuttered trying to think of the right words to say. "He moved away recently. I just really miss him, sorry."
"Then why not meet in the Sphere? He might not physically be there, but you can always see him here, right?" Crystal asked as Becca's eyes went wide. She was right; she could meet Brian in the Sphere! She hadn't even thought of that! Becca quickly opened her messenger and sent Brian a message asking to meet. Hopefully he'd respond. In the meantime though she'd have to figure out a way to sort out her current predicament. "So, uh, if we're going to partner up again, please tell me you're packing?"
"A few things here and there." Becca said with a hint of a smile. It was nothing like last time, but she did have a few knives, a pistol and her shotgun strung around her shoulder with a strap.
"Anything that can kill a few spiders?" Crystal asked as Becca opened up her coat to show her an assortment of tools that could get the job done. "At least one of us is prepared." She said. "I only brought my bow and arrow, great for large targets, but small ones…" She said with a grimace.
"You're an archer?" Becca asked surprised. "I took you as more of a chemist."
"Nah, poisons aren't really my thing. I can make a rough health potion though, but that's about it. Pretty basic." Crystal said. "Now that I think about it, I wish I would have experimented with it more…. I could just gas the little bastards."
"Maybe they will be bigger in the fear simulator," Becca suggested, but immediately took it back when she was met with a dark stare from Crystal.
"Do not speak of such things." Crystal said darkly. "They're creepy enough being small."
"But if they were bigger than you'd have a target to hit." Becca said. "Wouldn't it feel better knowing you could plunge an arrow into the heart of the thing you fear most?"
"I suppose." Crystal said as she quieted down and seemed lost in thought for a moment. "No, no big spiders! Now I can't stop thinking about big spiders! If there are big spiders in there now because you suggested it than you no longer have to fear ponies. It's me you should be afraid of." She threatened. Becca swallowed nervously and sat down in an uncomfortable looking chair glad for once that she couldn't feel anything. "What's your specialty?" Crystal asked after a moment of silence and people watching.
"Small weapons and hand to hand combat mostly. I do like to keep a variety of things stocked just in case, like my favorite shot gun." Becca said sliding it off her shoulders and showing it off. "We've killed many zombies together."
"Can I please have everyone's attention?" A tall buff looking man with a shaved head yelled out into the crowd. "Now that everyone is gathered we're about to start." People all of all sizes, shapes, and genders appeared. Apparently species as well once Becca noticed the lady with long brown hair in front of her had pointed elf ears. She had never thought of changing her personal appearance like that before. For whatever reason she had always just stuck with what she had imagined when she was little. Sure it was plain and ordinary, but it had its advantages in game. People tended to not take her seriously and when they least expected it… She'd take them down before they even knew what hit them. "For anyone who arrived after my earlier explanation, I'll go over it one more time. This will be the last and finale test. We will hook you up to a few sensors that will monitor your heart rate and blood pressure. For those of you thinking, 'but I don't have a heart or blood in game!' these sensors monitor your real life stats. We don't want anyone dying of a heart attack. It wouldn't be the first time it's happened. If your blood pressure falls into any dangerous category you will immediately be woken up and you will be disqualified. Any questions?"
Becca glanced around the room as many people nervously fidgeted in place. How exactly would this work? Virtual reality inside virtual reality? The man scanned the room waiting for someone to speak up, but everyone remained quiet so he continued on with his explanation.
"Each of you will step in front of this lens one at a time so the computer can scan you." He said motioning his hand towards a plain looking wall with a single partition to stand in front of. "By doing so it will examine your mind and put together a reality to project behind this door. Becca's eyes went wide. She thought those were just a rumor. To actually project a personal reality for people who enter, too bad it was set to scare them to death. "Each of your realities will have a goal you must accomplish, usually resulting in some kind of flag. Bring the flag back in order to pass. You will each have 15 minutes to accomplish this. If it's too much for you, you can come back by opening the door, but just know leaving without the flag will result in disqualification. Anyone want to go first?" Everyone remained where they stood staring back at him wide eyed. "No one ever volunteers." He mumbled. "Steven Halberg. Go scan yourself." He ordered.
A twenty something year old guy stepped forward wearing jeans and a t-shirt gripping his crossbow nervously. Taking a deep breath he walked in front of the partition as a white light shined into his eyes before stopping.
"Go on." The instructor said motioning towards the door.
"You said earlier we get a partner." Steven said, but the instructor shook his head.
"Sorry about that, just got a message from the higher ups, apparently that's what the sensors are for. The buddy system was to drag out a fainted person, but now they'll automatically be ejected from the Sphere. Sorry, you're on your own."
"We still get to watch though, right?" Someone spoke up from the crowd. Suddenly the plain wall from earlier began to rise up revealing a large screen. Becca at first thought it was off, but a timer in the upper right hand side showed 15:00. It was merely nothing but blackness on the other side of the door.
"It's my favorite part." The instructor said. "There's sensors inside the room that monitor whoevers in there; that's why it's only one at a time now. The clock will start as soon as soon as you enter. Go on." He said once he put what looked like a little silver bracelet on Steven's wrist.
After taking a slow deep breath, Steven gripped his crossbow as tightly as he could with one hand and slowly opened the door to reveal the blackness inside before stepping in as the door shut behind him. Everyone turned their attention to the screen, as Steven stood rooted to spot before taking a few tentative steps forward in what looked to be an empty department store. Clothes hung on racks and mannequins posed wearing the latest fashion. How strange, Becca thought. She had never seen a real life mannequin before. Everything in her life had been digital, so to see a plastic imitation of a person standing in place staring blankly at the wall left an eerie image on the screen. Becca wondered where he had seen them from, a movie perhaps?
Steven walked slowly around the ill lighted room that left an even creepier feeling to the abandoned store. Trash littered the broken tiled floor and ceiling fixtures were hanging precariously overhead by rotting beams and wires. A sudden movement to his right caused him to freeze in place. Becca watched from the safety of behind the screen and as the numbers correlating with his heart rate begin to steadily rise. Everyone stared unmoving as they watched. The room had fallen so silent you could hear a pin drop.
It seemed like a full minute before Steven found the courage to keep walking as he checked and double-checked over his shoulder while continuing his trek through the store. Becca wasn't quite sure what it was exactly that Steven was afraid of. She kind of wondered if he had been left alone after hours in a store at some point when he was a kid, but she wasn't 100 percent sure. She continued to watch him walk amongst the broken racks and debris and wondered what exactly was his mission. It was when he had gotten to some kind of black staircase with strange looking metal rails that she noticed a flag flying at the top. That was it, Becca thought? A stroll through a primitive, albeit strangely creepy, store?
Steven tentatively reached for the flag when he had gotten to the top of the strange staircase that things changed on the screen. As soon as he touched the flag, all at once the twenty something mannequins turned their heads towards him fast as lightening. He stood frozen to the spot with fear noticing that they were all now staring at him with their lifeless faces. He audibly gulped before putting the pendent in his pocket and slowly made his way down the staircase while tightly gripping his crossbow. Becca could tell his arms were shaking the way his weapon bounced in his hands. The closer he got to the bottom of the stairs the more the mannequins facial features changed. The once plain and uninterested faces that had been staring off into the void were now grinning wickedly and watching every step Steven took. He paused before sucking in a mouthful of air and took the last step onto the first floor.
Becca's jaw nearly dropped as she watched what happened next on the screen. It was when he took that finale step that the statues charged at him leaving behind their pedestals. In a wave of panic Steven turned tale and dashed back up the escalator away from the exit as the mannequins followed behind streaming into the narrow broken down escalator as they each tried to climb over each other to get to him. He nervously looked back as dozens of white plastic arms reached for him. He ran blind until he was forced to stop at a crossroad pausing only for a second before heading towards his right; the clanking of plastic legs on tile right on his tail.
Becca audibly gasped as he was forced to stop running once he came to a dead end in a dressing room. She cringed when he decided to lock himself in a stall only to have them crawling under and over the door as he screamed before they climbed on top of him until all you could see was a pile of plastic limbs and muffled shouts. A beeping of a timer was suddenly heard as Becca glanced up to see he had run out of time. Suddenly the mannequins vanished and all that was left on the screen was Steven curled up in a ball in the darkness sobbing. The instructor had to poke his head in the door and tell him it was over.
Everyone in the room stood quietly in shock holding their breath as Steven walked out with his head hung low before he exited the door and disappeared knowing he had failed. Becca exhaled once the door closed behind him. She hadn't realized she had been shaking until she looked down at her hands. What was hers going to be like? That wasn't even her fear, but it had freaked her out this much just watching from the safety of behind the screen. Just what had Becca signed herself up for?
The room remained still and silent as everyone glanced nervously about. The room beyond that door was capable of projecting horrors beyond any of their imaginations. Becca felt thoroughly creped out and she hadn't even gone in yet. A quick glance to her left revealed Crystal, normally cool and composed, seemed to be thinking the same thing. Her lips were pursed tightly together in a scowl as she bit at her bottom lip anxiously. Would they all be like that? Becca couldn't help but wonder what had made Steven so afraid of mannequins, even though she had to admit they were creepy as hell now.
"CreamCheese…Vador?" The instructor called out looking at his list puzzled before glancing up and asking, "why?" at the next guy who approached. It was pretty much un spoken rule that you don't name your avatars moronic things due to the professional nature the Sphere had outside of gaming. Every once in a while though Becca would still come across people like CreamCheeseVador who thought the Internet was still a large cesspool of the uneducated and uncouth as it was hundreds of years ago. It was still somewhat acceptable in game, but why didn't he change it before coming here? "Yeah, I'm just gonna call you Greg." The instructor said as the now dubbed Greg stood in front of the scanner before opening the door and stepping inside. Everyone quickly turned their attention to the screen as the once inky blackness illuminated a bright white light to reveal…absolutely nothing. It was just a white plane with nothing else. Becca couldn't imagine what would make this scary whatsoever especially compared to what the person before him went through. Greg looked up as text began to form mid air. Remain for fourteen minutes to receive flag.
"I don't get it," Becca whispered to her friend. "What's so hard about this?"
"I think he's afraid of complete isolation. Look, you can't even see the door anymore." She glanced up to confirm that the door he had come from had seemed to vanish leaving him alone in the white plane with no way out. Greg seemed to have noticed the missing door as well as he stared nervously at the spot where it had once been. Becca thought he'd be able to do it no problem; all he had to do was sit there after all, but as the minutes slowly ticked by Greg began fidgeting more and more. His movement began showing a more panicked feel to them as he paced back and forth. At the seven-minute mark, he shouted that he gave up and the door re-appeared. Greg quickly went through without looking back and made a beeline towards the lobby without making eye contact with anyone.
It went on like this for quite some time each caving before their quest was complete. Becca felt a little more at ease when she realized no one was laughing at anyone's fears as strange as they might seem as each persons scenario differed from the next. One woman was tasked with trekking through a cave full of snakes, (she didn't even try) while another had to endure standing in a small room where the walls were slowly moving closer and closer. Becca thought he might actually make it, but shouted, "I give up!" when they were about a foot from his face.
She was starting to notice a pattern. It seemed when faced with the thing they fear most, people forgot that nothing could hurt them. The woman who refused to walk through a pit of rattlesnakes could have strolled through, picked up the flag and been on her merry way without feeling a thing. Steve could have lured the mannequins chasing him to the 2nd floor and jumped off the balcony without a scratch. He could have also just pushed right through them instead of allowing himself to be trapped in a dressing room.
It was then Becca fully understood the purpose of this test. It wasn't meant to scare and humiliate for the instructors amusement, although he did seem to be enjoying himself immensely. The true purpose was to be able to make logical and rational decisions even under the most stressful circumstances. All Becca had to do was think her way out. Every obstacle had an obvious solution if the person could just keep calm.
Becca realized all of this during Anthony-Arnolds test. She never would have guessed he had been afraid of heights, but then again she seemed to realize she was terrible at guessing things about other people. His mission was to cross a very very narrow path in what appeared to be a natural made bridge in a cave. Becca didn't believe he'd be able to do it once he was halfway across and had made the fatal error of looking down. He stood frozen on the bridge staring at the many sharp looking stalagmites that formed sharp looking spikes on the caves floor. Finally after a minute or so he was able to snap himself out of the trance and very carefully take small deliberate steps and inch towards his goal. He hesitantly reached towards the flag, but after what had happened with Steven everyone was expecting some kind earthquake or cave in. He looked around nervously waiting for some kind of sign something terrible would happen, but nothing did. Maybe he had already made it past the hard part.
It was when Arnold -Anthony turned to leave is when everyone saw what had changed. The bridge was gone. There was nothing there but two edges of a cliff and a large gap about a hundred yards wide. He stood there flabbergasted and unmoving. What could he do? He peeked his head over the edge of the cliff to see the many spikes that were waiting to castrate him should he fall. How was he supposed to get across. He wasn't like he could just run across and… Becca's mouth fell open…he wasn't actually going to do it was he? Oh god, he was.
Arnold- Anthony backed up as far as he could before taking off in a mad sprint before leaping into the air. What was wrong with him? He was going to die! He was going to…land safely in the air? What in the world… He landed on what appeared to be an invisible floor before casually walking towards the exit flag in hand as if he had known all along. There wasn't a drop… it was all an illusion… The room was deathly silent until he appeared in the doorway before everyone burst into mad applause and shouts as soon as he came through. Someone had finally done it! He was the first of ten people to actually pass!
"Alright, alright calm down." The instructor said after many rounds of "congratulations" and "good jobs" as Arnold- Anthony held the pendent over his head in victory to the crowd. "Let's see, whose next….umm umm…let's go with… Sasha!"
At first Becca didn't even realize he had called her name. She stood in place looking through the crowd until Crystal pushed her forward towards the scanner.
"Don't chicken out before you even get in there." She joked as Becca gulped and slowly commanded her feet forward even though they wanted to run towards the lobby. She stood in front of the partition as a bright white light shined into her eyes as she tried her best to resist the urge to cover them. After the silver-blinking bracelet was slipped onto her wrist her heart rate appeared up on the large screen.
"If I don't make it out alive tell my family I love them." She said to Crystal as a few people let out a small chuckle. She turned her attention towards the door that held her fate. This was it. This was the only thing standing in her way of joining the SPP. Fifteen minutes; she could do this, she thought slowly reaching towards the door handle and stepping inside.
Everyone watched the screen slightly confused to see the bright and cheery town of Ponyville as Crystal just shook her head in disbelief. Part of her still thought Sasha had just been joking, but this proved that she wasn't.
The instructor grumbled before heading over to the console. "Damn thing." He muttered as someone asked what was wrong. "For whatever reason it switched from deepest fear to deepest desire." He said when he saw the brightly colored Pegasus flying into view. "Didn't think she was into that kind of thing, but whatever."
"Sir, look!" Someone shouted. "I don't think the machine broke." He peeked his head up and glanced at the screen unsure of what he was looking at until his annoyed frown turned into a smirk. Becca's heart rate was going through the roof, 150 beats per minute, and now 160, 165!
"Can't say I was expecting that." He said watching amused with his arms crossed.
Becca stood rooted to the spot was she gazed at the town that hosted her childhood trauma. It had probably had changed over the years, but this was how her brain had remembered it and so it was projected in front of her. She glanced up at the timer realizing she had been standing in place for over a full minute just wasting time.
"Move!" She yelled at her legs before slowly taking a step towards her destination. "It's just a image; it can't hurt me. This isn't real." She chanted as she grimaced making contact with the first resident.
"Hi there!" The princess shouted behind her as Becca jumped a foot in the air. She tried her hardest to resist the urge to run, but her feet had other plans. She took off like a bat out of hell running as fast as she could through the town. "No no no! Stop!" She yelled at herself. "You have to stop and think!" Finally her feet co-operated with her. Find the flag; you need to find the flag!
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." Twilight said landing in front of her as she tucked her large purple wings to the side. "My name is Princess Twilight and-"
"I know who you are! Stay back!" Becca shouted backing up as the princess frowned in confusion.
"I'm not going to hurt you. You look lost; is there something you're looking for?" the purple alicorn asked. Maybe she knows, Becca thought for a moment. It wouldn't hurt.
"I'm looking for a small, blue flag. It should be somewhere in this town." Becca said keeping her distance.
"A small blue flag?" Twilight mumbled to herself. "Does it say SPP on it?"
"Yes! That's it! Do you know where it is?" Becca asked eagerly, but her heart dropped when she heard the answer.
"Yeah, It's flying on the top of the Apple Family barn!"
The Apple Family. Becca gritted her teeth. They were the cause of so many childhood nightmares and what she needed to get was there. Of course it was, Apple Jack and Big Mac were the things she was terrified of, so where else would the flag be?
"I can take you there if you want to see it." Twilight offered as Becca checked her remaining time. Becca agreed with a sigh and so she half-ran and half walked as the princess trotted along by her side. Should she tell her she was going to die? Becca felt a small pang of guilt knowing she was ultimately leading the princess to her death, but Becca reminded herself that it wasn't real and soon they arrived at their destination as Becca spotted her prize flying high above the barn just as the princess had described. "Well here we are." Twilight said cheerfully as Becca stopped in her tracks.
There they all were waiting for her: Apple Bloom, Granny Smith, Big Mac and worst of all…Apple Jack. Their eyes looked just as Becca had remembered from her childhood; Evil and red and they all glared daggers into the two of them making their murderous intentions known. Becca couldn't allow herself to get caught up in their fight and just as before Big Mac rammed his pitchfork into the princess's chest as blood began to spray every which way. Becca ran away as if on auto-pilot and took cover behind a nearby building. She could hear the explosions as an all out war began taking place due to the princess's assassination. Maybe I should have come alone; it would have prevented all this extra commotion I don't need.
Becca stood in the shadows of the building staring longingly at her flag. How was she supposed to scale a barn without getting caught? It's not as if she could fly… A sudden thought popped into her head, no more of a memory. What had started all of this in the very beginning when she was little was saying she wanted to ride the flying ponies… She could ride one of the Pegasus up to the barn and snatch the flag. Could she be brave enough to pull it off? The only pony she had spoken with so far that had wings had just been pulverized by a gardening tool. She looked up at the figures gliding in the sky. Who would let her ride them? She couldn't even remember their names… There was the really shy one with the animals…but she was probably more scared of Becca than Becca was of her. She was probably cowering somewhere so that was out. What was the other one? Becca scanned the air above her as a rainbow streaked across the sky. That one! Rainbow…Dart? No, Dash.
"Rainbow Dash, Rainbow Dash!" Becca shouted as she saw the multi-colored pegisi loop in the air. "Rainbow Dash!" She shouted again.
"I ain't Beetlejuice." The rainbow colored pony said landing. "Who are you? I'm a little busy, as you can see this place has gone to hell! We're fighting the earth ponies, and the unicorn are fighting us and-"
"I need a favor!" Becca shouted. "I need a ride up to the top of the barn." She pointed to the flag flying at the top.
"What's in it for me?" Rainbow Dash said eying Becca. "What are you anyway?"
"I can help you fight afterwards." Becca lied.
"How can you help?" Rainbow Dash said disbelieving.
"With this." Becca said showing her the shotgun.
"How's a funny looking stick going to hel-" Rainbow Dash started to say, but immediately shut up when Becca pulled the trigger and blew a hole in the building she was standing by.
"Hop on!" She said as Becca paused for a moment before climbing onto her back and gripping her colorful mane in her hands. After a running start, Rainbow Dash soared high into the sky before slowly gliding past the flag as Becca ripped it off the stand. She held it in her hands with glee for a moment before she realized she was being flown towards the battle scene and away from the door.
"Where are we going?" Becca shouted. "Put me down!"
"Not until you use your weird stick to blow a hole in Apple Jacks head!" Becca looked at the clock. She had seven minutes left and was being asked to assassinate to thing that had caused her so much torment as a child. She smiled widely and leaned forward after shoving the flag in her pocket. "There! Get them!" Rainbow Dash shouted as she circled above the running Apple family. Becca aimed her gun and fired, but missed and quickly reloaded she fired again as Apple Bloom fell to the ground. Another two shots and Granny Smith was face first in the ground eating dirt. It took another four to take down Big Mac and then all that was left was Apple Jack, the only problem was she was out of shotgun shells and she doubted her pistol would work. She didn't come prepared like she had last time. You can't get hurt.
"Take me down lower! I'll jump on her back and slash her throat with my twin blades!" Becca shouted pulling them out of their holsters on her thighs.
"I like your style!" Rainbow Dash shouted and took a nosedive down towards the sprinting pony that ran over the landscape. Becca jumped after trying her best to time it and landed on Apple Jacks back. The orange pony jumped and bucked as hard as she could sending Becca flying, but not before Becca had managed to injure the ponies leg so that it limped.
"You know what they say about horses when they have a broken leg." Becca said aiming her pistol at the struggling animal. "You were always my least favorite background pony." She said before putting the creature out of its misery with a shot to the head.
When Becca stepped back through the door flag in hand with thirty seconds remaining she had expected to be met with rounds of applause like Arnold-Anthony had. Instead she was met with an eerie silence as everyone stared at her with mouths agape and one guy to her right was even doing a Hail Mary! Becca looked at the crowd in awkward silence before the instructor finally broke the ice.
"What the hell was that?" He said staring at her. "All you had to do was get the flag and bring it back; you didn't have to kill them all! It was just a kids show!" He said as Becca hung her head in shame. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but, you pass." He said after a sigh. Finally the room erupted in cheers as Becca smiled wide and threw her fists in the air. She even ignored his comment that sounded an awful lot like, "you need help."
"What does this mean?" Becca asked finally coming down from her high.