Scott pressed the tip of his gun into the back of Fatboy’s head. He was getting impatient. Nobody was making any sense this morning. Fatboy’s Deli seemed to be a dead end like the rest of the leads he and Missy had chased in the past few hours.
“What do you know about Jayne going missing, Fatboy.”
Fatboy paused before answering. “Nothing, but my people say she’s been asking around about some sort of special upgrade. Not the sort of stuff we do here, some sort of Alienware, that’s all I know.”
“Aww not that bull shit again about Alien upgrades, she was last seen coming into your shop two days ago. Ain’t that right Missy?” Scott said looking over at his partner.
“Erm fuck ye. My sources don’t lie, or should I say they dare not lie? They also reported he’s been pushing VR headsets on minors, getting them hooked early. He’s on our watch list.”
“Should I just shoot this Fucker and have done with it? What do you think Missy?”
“I’d love to see his brains all over the place but his Deli makes the best subs in the sector. You know I need a good sub now and then, and there’s no one around that does real food these days. Goddam VR Junkies put em all out of business, so just give him a warning. Blow the tip of his ear off or something, be creative for fuck’s sake.”
Scott pulled the trigger and the Fatboys ear exploded into red paint. It was only the tip of the ear, as Missy had suggested, but there was blood everywhere. Fatboy collapsed and fell into a puddle of his own piss. He lay there twitching.
“Wow – nice work Major Scott,” Missy said. She glanced at Fatboy with a smile, “We’ve got a contender for wet work of the week, ha ha.”
Scott gave Missy a smile to acknowledge her grade A humor and then headed towards the back exit of the Deli.
Missy brought up the rear. It was her thing. She liked to keep his 6 o’clock safe, an old throwback from the Corp Wars, and she was good at it.
“So what now?” That’s five leads and five guys you’ve tagged in the last hour.”
“Now we found out all we can about this so-called upgrade.”
The scene on the street was chaos, which was normal for sector 12, the poorest area of town. Everything was a contrast of gray and red or green neon. Advertisements popped up everywhere trying to draw peoples limited attention. The noise was deafening. Millions of people thronged the street 90% of which were VR Zombies with VR headsets plugged into their own and shared virtual worlds. They moved about on autopilot doing their daily tasks, mechanically, mindlessly. They were as good as dead. Pieces of meat no longer relevant in the real world. He and Missy moved into the throng and activated their military grade audio and visual simplification fields. The noise level dropped and their vision cleared. They could now hear and see only the things they needed. Like a clear path through the crowd and any oncoming dangers. Perfect for combat and for the poor streets of Cyberpunk city.
A few steps into the street as Scott’s senses adapted he felt Missy’s hand on his arm, the firmness and confidence of the grip were unmistakably hers. She never did anything that wasn,t deliberate. He looked over at her and she looked up wanting to draw his attention to something above them.
He looked up and saw an advertisement on the bottom of a city blimp for the VR Palace. A hot spot for VR Junkies, a place where the so-called best virtual worlds and games were created for its patrons to take part in. The advertisement said Join the new adventure called the upgrade at the VR Palace.
Enter the VR Palace
The VR palace was the last place Scott wanted to be right now. He hated VR technology and he had good reason to as well. When he joined the forces years ago to help win the war against the aggressive corporations from a neighboring solar system. He had been a young idealist with a righteous cause and a family to protect. 10 years later, after the war ended, he went home to find his family and most of the world’s population had become VR Zombies. The government had taken drastic measures to feed a starving population during wartime and turned to a government software contractor called Virtutech for a solution. Virtutech forced most of the population into VR warehouse to feed them on intravenous drips as they played out their lives in a so-called happier safe virtual reality, while they waited for the war to end. Long-term VR was addictive and Scott’s family were unable to adapt to normal life again when he returned home and were plugged back into a VF warehouse full time – like the ones at VR palace. He was told it was the humane thing to do.
At the entrance to the VR Palace, they lowered their simplification fields, and with a glance in each other’s direction, they put themselves in combat mode.
Inside they were greeted by a flamboyant humanoid looking Android.
“How long will you be staying with us today and what adventure would you like take part in?” asked the Android as stools and desk rose out off the floor and virtual menus displayed a multitude of options.
“We won’t be here long. Just a couple of hours and we’d like to take part in the Upgrade. We’ve heard such good things about it,” said Scott.
“An hour -mmm, I’ve heard that before, you’re just going to check things out right? Well, the minimum period is 24 hrs and you’ll have the option to roll into a further week or month or more when you’re plugged in. Follow the green arrows,” said the Android who then went off the greet an eager group of VR Junkies behind them.
The green arrows appeared from nowhere and he and Missy followed them into a twin VR booth whose door sealed shut behind them. The whole booth was then transported at high speed to the VR warehouse itself where it parked alongside millions of other booths already plugged into the game.
Inside the booth, they silently undressed and then donned their VR suits. Scott took the time to admire Missy’s breasts, They were real, not fake, and spectacular. She’d refused to have them removed and replaced with armor plating during the war. They were a sight to behold.
Dressed in the VR suits and locked into the VR seats and harnesses they were all set. Scott’s hand hovered over the Go button which would instantly transport their consciousness into the shared reality of the VR Palace. He glanced over at Missy, who gave him a reassuring glance back, she remained silent since their decision to come here. She knew his history and knew that he wanted off this planet and that Jayne was his and her ticket out. She was his unwavering unquestioning support. He hit the Go button.
Around them, the hustle and bustle of Cyberpunk City disappeared, so had the VR Junkies. People were walking past them smiling as if they knew there were fresh in. The sun was shining and Scott could feel the heat on the top of his head. As he looked up his view of the sky was not blocked by a million transports racing by, he could see everything. He’d seen pictures of a place like this in a book when he was a kid. From a world light years away, where his ancestors originated. A world where people lived free and technology had not been used to enslave the masses.
“So this is weird,” Missy said. She spun around, mesmerized. “It’s not what I expected.”
“Let’s stay on point. We need to find out as much as we can about this upgrade business and what it’s got to do with Jayne going missing.”
“Let’s head over there,” said Scott pointing towards a large building that looked like a hospital.
Scott took one unsteady steady step after another and finally got his VR legs after a few hundred yards, he also got the feeling that Jayne was nearby.
Without warning, he was back in the darkness, falling this time, the feeling of pressure and wind around him. After what felt like hours the falling sensation slowed and he was placed on the ground by a giant unseen hand, his vision slowly returning.
This time he was on the deck of a spaceship, which looked empty at first and then he noticed Jayne in his peripheral vision. He tried to move and speak but was froze on the spot and mute again. Thousands of images flashed in front of him, and then he blacked out and awoke back in the VR booth with Missy slapping him in the face.
“Finally you’re awake. Where the fuck did you go?”
“Cool it, just give me a second – I’ve got it.”
“You idiot! You’ve been in there for 24 hours. I was only in for 30 mins before I got spat out and I’ve waited here for you ever since.”
“Give me a second will you for fuck sake, I’ve got a message.”
Missy looked confused and worried. “A message from who?”
Jayne had given him a package of information, a VR download, but it was layered. The first part of the download put his mind at rest, and convinced him she was ok, and to trust the process but the rest of the layers were only just starting to percolate through. Something was different, in order for him to take the download Jayne had cleared out some of the shit his mind was carrying around that he didn’t need. Cleared some blockages. He had shut down every background process his nanites were running to a baseline of his normal bodily functions and senses. His instincts were now far superior to his combat senses and philology that his military Bioware gave him, he just instinctively what to do. Jayne had given him the upgrade.
In the ruins of Sector 17 was the crash site of the planetary cruiser that Scott and Missy had served on during the war. Its last attempt to break orbit had been unsuccessfully and the crash site and the ship itself had become the headquarters for the underground’s secret base. It felt more like home than the VR Junkie hell their world had become. Over the last few years, they had worked tirelessly to get it space worthy again. Jayne had been his chief engineer, a key figure in the underground and his lover for the last few years. She dealt with the civilian recruits that had been able to break away from VR naturally and adjust to life again while he surrounded himself with his old crew, the ex-military. When he and Jayne got friendly so did the two groups, and together they almost finished the ship until Jayne went missing a few days ago. Everything ground to a halt. Everyone was looking to him for answers and up until an hour ago, he didn’t have any.
Inside the ship, he gave Missy orders to assemble everyone in the main rec hall while he went to his private chambers.
“Major Scott, You’ve got to tell me what the fuck is going on. What’s happened to Jayne?”
“Missy, trust me I know what to do, Just get everyone ready for an announcement in 15 mins.”
Inside his quarters he slowed for a minute and sat on the end of the bed. A pile of Jayne’s clothing laid on the floor. The room was still full of her smell. He missed her and knew it would be a while before he saw her again, and when he did it, would not be the same. Because when Jayne came back, so would his family. A thing he never thought possible, but now he had the key, the upgrade still working inside his own Bioware, plus the access codes to files in the ship’s computer where Jayne had stored the upgrade code and the plans to deploy it in every VR Centre in Cyberpunk city.
Jayne kept quiet about the final repairs to the ship’s FTL because it was in fact broken beyond repair. She’d instead been working on a programme to bring all the VR Junkies back to the real world safely. Street name – The Upgrade. To deploy the upgrade she had taken up long-term residence in The VR Palace amongst the masses. She had done it without telling him, because he’d have never have let her go. But that didn’t matter now, he understood. She was there slowing spreading the upgrade under the noses of Virtutech. Slowly but surely more people would come out of VR for good and join his team in the underground and Virtutech would lose its hold on the population. Their regime was coming to an end. Jayne had given him a silver bullet.
He decided, before he entered the mess hall, to keep it simple. He’d fill Missy in with the details eventually.
Two armed guards stood on either side of the mess room door and saluted him as he entered. Everyone had assembled and Missy was already on a makeshift stage made out of ammunition cases trying her best to answer random questions from the crowd.
She looked relieved when he entered the mess and went quiet as did everyone else.
He stood beside Missy and made his announcement.
“We’re not running anymore we’re going to war!” He shouted into the crowd, “are you with me?”
The ship shook with the roars of delight and battle cries.
He felt missy’s hand on his arm again.
“It’s about fucking time,” she said grinning from ear to ear.