Lyla stared across the table, meeting the squirrel’s green eyes. Both of them were scowling, enmity going across time and space. Papers had been shuffled around, and although neither had known of the other’s presence in Alenkas, all others had been keen to get out of the way once the two learned of the other.
Simon carefully put a paw up, and casually grabbed a small pawn. He moved it forward two spaces, starting into Lyla’s eyes as if daring her to voice her plan. Or daring him to voice his own. “Pawn to E4.” The board had been one of the few things Simon had been able to find in Alenkas, and while he enjoyed playing with Sam this was a match that would not have been missed.
Lyla grabbed a black pawn, and after thinking for a few moments, moved it forward one. “Pawn to d6,” she said carefully. “I’m surprised you found a chess set here, truthfully, Simon,” she continued. The squirrel shrugged. It had been in the library ages ago, and since no one except him and Cal had even gone into the library, as Sam had vanished, he picked it up and thought to bring it with him.
He and Sam had gone down to breakfast earlier, at one of their more favorite places. The food was decent, and it catered to all types. The booths were usually empty, but at the time there were quite a few others. A red fox, a vixen based on the way she was flaunting her nude body, two grey wolves -one female, also nude, and one male- and a white female rabbit. The rabbit had on a dirty green dress, as if it was used to getting undone quickly.
Simon didn’t doubt it. The last few weeks had been hell on his conscience, knowing that whatever bug was happening with the system was probably either his fault or he had the ability to fix. Sam and Cal had both told him that it wasn’t, that it was something that nobody could’ve found earlier, but Simon wasn’t about to believe that. Not until he looked into the code itself.
The nude grey wolf quickly got up, and cheerfully introduced herself as Emma. Simon had blushed and looked away, trying to keep his eyes from staring at her bouncing breasts or voluptuous hips and pussy. Sam introduced both him and herself, and that was when the red fox looked up from some papers on the table.
“Simon? As in the head designer of Alenkas, Simon?” she had asked. She asked in a tone that beget curiousity, as if she was trying to figure something out and just had all the final pieces put into her lap. Simon raised an eyebrow, and attempting to keep his eyes from her nude form slowly nodded. She smiled quickly and rose up.
“I was wondering who all was in here. I didn’t know you got into the testing groups too. Lyla, from the sense teams,” she said quietly. Simon blinked for a moment, before remembering the name from the outside world.
“Wait, he’s the head designer!?” the other wolf said quietly. Sam shrugged, as if trying to say it wasn’t a big deal. “Won’t that mean he knows exactly what’s going on with all the…” he continued.
“The heat, you mean?” Emma interrupted. The other wolf sheepishly nodded.
“That’s a good name for it. Unfortunately I’m in the dark as much as you are. I’ve been trying to find the internal debugging module, the thing that’ll show all the error codes of Alenkas, but so far I can’t find it,” Simon had said quietly. The other wolf sighed and shook his head, but smiled in a way to let Simon know he didn’t blame him. The squirrel didn’t believe him.
“So you think it’s an error then?” Lyla had asked him. He nodded, and the fox looked as if she had filed that away. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the thick board under his arm.
“Oh, it’s a chess set. Sam said she didn’t know how to play, so I thought I’d teach her. Before we go out again looking for the IDM,” Simon answered meekly. Lyla nodded, and the others seemed to go along with his answer.
“Then how about we play a game? We can show her the ropes, and this way we can talk. It’s nice to be able to put a name to a face, even if it is in Alenkas,” Lyla had said. She sat back down and cleared her table a bit. Simon gave a glance over at Sam, who shrugged and motioned as if he wanted to move forward.
“Alright, I guess we have some time…” Simon had said. The board was quickly set up, and Emma, the rabbit, named Mia, and the other wolf named Alex quickly took other booths to watch the carnage fly. Sam watched with fascination as both of them suddenly turned into different people.
“Pawn to d4,” Simon said. “It was in the library, and as it seems no one had been in the library I figured no one would miss it,” he said quietly. Lyla nodded, pondering her next move.
“Knight to f6,” Lyla announced after a moment. “Do you ever know who did end up winning that NuVO chess tournament a few months back?” she asked. Simon shook his head. It wasn’t actually a chess tournament, but rather a break from Alenkas. The goal was to create a chess-playing AI in as few statements of code as possible. It had only run for a month, but Simon hadn’t partaken. As far as he knew most of the other heads hadn’t either.
“Knight to C3,” Simon said quietly. Lyla said nothing, just staring at the board. “What do you think of the whole…heat…thing?” he asked.
“Honestly, I’m kind of enjoying it. Pawn to g6,” she said after a moment. “I was one of the those that always looked down on sex in the real world, so it was horribly embarrassing here. But then…I learned to cut loose a bit.”
“A bit?” Simon asked sarcastically. Lyla raised an eyebrow and smirked, and quickly moved in such a way that it pushed out her breasts. The squirrel growled, a very interesting sound to hear from a squirrel, as he grabbed a bishop. “Bishop to e3.”
Lyla laughed. “You are fun to tease, you know that? Bishop to g7. What about you? It can’t be that easy for you, you were practically married to the computers,” she said. Simon shrugged.
“I still have these things called morals. It’s…difficult, at times with the heat affecting us. Queen to d2,” Simon said. “You sounded unconvinced when I said it was an error. What’s your take on it?”
“Too many variables aren’t lining up. The reports have been unanswered, despite it being three days ago that we turned them back in. And the heat strikes every four to six hours. It varies, both in time and intensity, but it always strikes then. Even when we’re sleeping,” she said. She looked down at the board. “Pawn to c6,” she said after a moment.
“I didn’t think it was that consistent. You’re saying there might be a malicious intent then? From who? Pawn to f3,” Simon said. His mind was working a thousand miles a minute, and although there were still hundreds of pieces missing in this puzzle it was starting to come together.
“I’m not sure. Obviously someone at NuVO. I don’t think it’s just one though. Although it would only take one to write a quick script for the heat. Pawn to b5.”
“Well, think of it this way,” Sam said from behind them. Both Simon and Lyla blinked and looked at her. “What would they have to gain? In a crime, there’s always four things; A perpetrator, a motive, the crime, and a victim. If we can figure out the motive we might be able to gather the perpetrator,” she said. Lyla looked at the board again and nodded.
“Knight to e2,” Simon said. “You have a point, Sam. What possible motives are there that you think of?” he asked.
“There’s plenty. Getting us out of the way for something, keeping us silent, using this as blackmail…there’s a lot that you can do if you monitor Alenkas,” Lyla said. “Knight to d7,” she continued after another moment.
“It’s possible. Unlikely, but possible. I know there was a team dedicated to making a recording function, but only in the sense of someone seeing it. I don’t think they ever got anything else to work. Did they talk to you about it? Bishop to h6.”
“Yes they did. They did get it to work, actually, but it took a a lot of jury-rigging. Bishop to h6,” Lyla said. She smirked, only to lose it Simon gave her a quick smirk of his own.
“Queen to h6,” Simon said.
He got interrupted by Sam behind him, “Everything in programming is jury-rigged. There isn’t much that isn’t.”
“She has a point. Alenkas isn’t though, it’s rather well-formed if you ask me.”
“Certainly not biased. Bishop to b7,” Lyla said. Simon chuckled.
“Pawn to a3. Of course, to check any of this, whether it’s an error or malicious intent, means that we have to find the internal debugger,” Simon said.
“If it’s malicious, what makes you think there would be one? That’d be the first thing I’d take out if I wanted to trap someone in a VR world,” Lyla said. “Pawn to e5.”
“That’s impossible. It’s in the kernel, and with all of us here they can’t recompile the kernel at all. I made sure of that,” Simon said with alarming seriousness. “Castle, long side.”
“What if they did it before putting us in here? Queen to e7. They could’ve done it at any moment.”
“It takes at least three days to recompile Alenkas’ kernel, and I have to check off on every single change before it recompiled. That wasn’t a NuVO thing, that was an Alenkas thing,” Simon said. “King to b1. There is an IDM, somewhere.”
“But how would you find it? How many places have you checked already? Pawn to a6.”
“Knight to c1. We, that is Sam, Cal, and myself, have checked about a quarter of the west side so far,” Simon said. Lyla nodded, quickly jotting that down in a small page on her journal.
“What if they move it around? The locations team could do that, right? Castle, long side.”
“They could, but they wouldn’t. The IDM was designed to stay hidden, but it also wasn’t designed to be able to move. It would take time. Knight to b3.”
“Why would you design the IDM to be hidden? It’s a necessary component. Why not just add other security clearances?” Lyla asked. “Pawn to d4.”
“Because not making it hidden could allow crackers, or people that want to test themselves. Same with the security, of course it has those too. I know all of the possible passwords though. Rook to d4.”
“So the only problem is finding it. And what if they change those passwords? Pawn to c5.”
“Again, kernel. The IDM is in the kernel, along with all the passwords. They’re not data-driven, they’re hardcoded. You think we’re trapped here then? Rook to d1.”
“Yes, I think we are. There was a thing they gave to all the leads, you probably remember it. It was a guide to Alenkas, and it even included ways of ’emergency logout’. Well, all of those ways didn’t work. We tried, every single one, multiple times. Knight to b6.”
“Pawn to g3. I remember that paper. I also remember throwing it away as a piece of trash. Almost all of it’s information was wrong, so it wouldn’t surprise me that the emergency logs wouldn’t work. Again, we need to find the logs, and for that, the internal debugger.”
“King to b8. I know a few people who have been trying to introduce themselves to everyone. What if we get everyone to go to a certain place at a previously appointed time?” Lyla said. “That way we’ll both get chances to talk, because it’s sounding that no matter what happens, we’ll have to find that debugger.”
The squirrel nodded. “We will, yes. Alright, that sounds like a good plan. Maybe the next week? By the way, Knight to a5,” Simon said. “Reports are going slow because of the time dilation. They should be back to us by next week. Maybe next week thursday then, for the meeting?”
Lyla nodded. “Sounds good. That gives us a little over a week to try and find everyone, and for you to find the debugger. Good game,” she said, putting her hand over the board. She and Simon shared a small smile, and shook hands. She quickly rose and started to walk out.
Alex bumped her on the shoulder, “What was that all about? I didn’t know you were buddy-buddy with the head designer.” Lyla chuckled. Emma and Mia also looked interested by her response.
“I’m not. No one was. But he does play a damn mean game…always did. You know how sometimes there was a chessboard in the break room? That was Simon and I’s game. We’d take weeks to play one game. I’m pretty sure I was the closest thing to a friend he had,” Lyla said, quickly walking out with the small entourage of Alex, Emma, and Mia.
Emma looked back at the bar to see the squirrel and cat playing, the squirrel taking every moment slowly to explain how each of the pieces moved. “I don’t think you can say that now. So then, now we try and find everyone?” she asked. Lyla nodded.
“They were talking about you, you know,” Sam said quietly. “Lyla thinks she was the closest thing to a friend you had.” They were still in the booth, and Simon had just started to reset the board before he looked at it some more.
“She probably was. But now, there’s you, Cal…Alenkas was a world of new beginnings. It only stands to reason it’d give everyone an equal second chance,” Simon said quietly. Sam nodded her agreement, before attempting to listen to Simon’s explanation of chess.