Aftermath: Episode 4

Haley had always wanted to know the differences between Alenkas as an Influxxer, and an Alenkan. So those first few days she was often seen wandering around the city, accompanied usually by Cal or by Sam, as she did so.

The black cat was too young to usually have gone into Alenkas; barely twelve when she first came. Then a house fire broke out in her house, and in her questioning haste went to Alenkas for advice and help. The three Alenkans of the Tree, Simon, a squirrel who was the lead programmer on the virtual reality city, Cal, an orange tabby cat whose curiosity sometimes got the better of him, and Sam, an albino white cat with a long drape of hair over one side of her face who was only an intern on the project yet one of the smartest ones there, gave Haley the most help she could.

But they could only stand on the sidelines. Finally, after realizing that they hadn’t helped as much as they could, nor had they bought enough time, forcibly activated Haley’s VR headsets dead-man switch, copying over her memories and personality into the data shell, effectively transferring over her life into Alenkas.

She had become one of them, now.

Sam had lent the young girl a few of her clothes, mostly small shorts and still covered her up to her knees from her waist, and a few shirts that were way too big for her. She growled as once again the tanktop battered against her neck and legs, getting in the way and almost making her trip; again!

She growled, getting a small chuckle out of Sam and Cal next to her. This was one of the few times that both of them had come with her, as no emergencies had been needing to be sorted out, allowing Simon a bit of a reprieve. The growl was high pitched, and sounded more cute than anything threatening, a small trill of a kitten.

“Gah!” she finally shouted. She sat down on the ground straightaway, preventing the shirt from messing with her too much. “That’s it, I’m done. This thing keeps messing with me!” she said, struggling to pull it off while sitting. Sam watched in eager fascination as she attempted to pull the shirt she was currently sitting on off her head.

“Once we get some actual money flow, we can take you to get something that actually fit you. Sound ok?” Sam asked, consoling the girl with what they could. She had thought that NuVO, the company that sponsored Alenkas, would have fixed the economy thing, adding in credits or something similar. And they had…for the Influxxers.

Not for the Alenkans.

Which left them in the place they were; having to adjust with what they already had. Fortunately for them, Haley considered herself a master of getting by. Although half of that was going without because she felt she didn’t need it.

“Sounds fine, but that’ll take some time. Will I even grow in Alenkas?” she asked, looking towards the sky and clouds. The skybox was actually incredibly intricate, she knew. She had Simon explain to her once; how the sky could look the way it does, almost like it was from the real world.

“Simon says probably, last time I asked. And you know, we could just cut that off at the base, so that way you can still move,” Cal pointed out. Haley shot him a look, and he merely raised his hands, “just saying we can. Nothing saying we can’t.”

“But…can that even happen here? Ripping clothes, cutting them? I haven’t seen any signs of that!”

“Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Here, I’ll show you,” Cal said, reaching down to his pants leg, and gripping it carefully between his hands, he suddenly ripped it with all his strength right down the middle. It was only a few inches high, but it was enough to prove his point; it was possible.

“But then…” Haley said, before trailing off. She suddenly glared at him. “You cut it with your claw, didn’t you.” she said. She didn’t ask it; she already knew the answer and just wanted to prove to them that she knew it. Sam gave a hearty chuckle, as Cal nodded with a large wide shit-eating grin. “How can the system even handle something like ripping or clawing something?”

Sam shrugged. “There’s a powerful physics engine in here dedicated to look and feel exactly like the outside world. It creates a modifier at a certain point, telling the system how to texture and model it. Feel the seams; it doesn’t quite feel the same as the outside world,” she explained. Haley went down and felt the ripped sweats. Sure enough, it felt more like just extensions of the material and fabric, rather than parts of what once made it up. Even though she could see the strings of fabric, it certainly didn’t feel like it.

“Physics or not, this thing is just getting in the way. I kind of want to try going without, like Lyla or Emma. Or the majority of the Influxxers, I guess,” Haley said suddenly, trying to pull off the way too large shirt. Sam rolled her eyes while Cal averted his, looking up and whistling innocently.

The albino cat shot him a minor glare, before looking at the discarded tanktop. “Haley…” she said quietly. The black kitten was already free, but starting to shiver within moments. “You need clothes the same way we all did out in the real world,” Sam said quietly.

“No, I can do this! The rest of you can do it, why can’t I?” Haley said, trying to stand as straight as possible. “Cal, how come I can’t do it? And yet you’re standing there shirtless without a problem!?”

“A, your fur is shorter. That’s the answer to about half of it right there,” Cal muttered. It stopped Haley’s tirade short, almost before it could really begin. She blinked in surprise as Cal knelt down to her. “Here, feel my chest, right where my heart would be. Notice how long the fur is, almost like it’s actual cat fur. A harder layer supported above a softer layer. Right now, you only have that softer layer. As you get older, you’ll get that harder layer in later on.”

“Why are there two layers?”

“Ask Alex. He’s the biologist. I know one of them is for protection, and one of them is for keeping warm. Pretty sure it’s the rougher outer layer for protection, whereas the softer inner layer is for keeping the heat in. With time, I’m sure you could get used to it, but on the other hand…why bother right now, when you’re going to get to it in time?”

“Oh. Ok,” Haley said, going back to cheerful in an instant. Sam idly handed her the tanktop, taking care to not notice when the kitten went to town on it, shredding it and shortening it to keep her modesty intact.

“You know, Cal, you’re pretty good with kids,” Sam mentioned quietly. They followed Haley, and let her set the pace for how quick they wanted to go, where they wanted to go, gave her the imagination of complete freedom.

The city wasn’t bustling near here; in truth hardly anyone ever came near the original Alenkans section anymore. Most of the Influxxers had either left, or had found their own place somewhere in the city. Sam had known this would happen, as had Simon and the majority of them. It was just one thing to know instinctively it would happen and another to see it happening.

The start area of Alenkas was still generally the busiest, and they made sure to corral Haley away from that general area, although the black kitten didn’t really need any incentive to avoid it. She remembered how she felt that first day here, when she’d gotten lost by running away.

Hell, she hadn’t even gone through puberty yet (she knew of it though) so most of them wouldn’t blame her for running away.

“Hey, I’m gay not a bastard,” Cal said derisively. “You’d be surprised. Just because I can’t have kids on my own doesn’t mean I never wanted any. If they had made it possible, then I assure you; I would want some.”

“That must’ve been…difficult, at times.”

“Putting it lightly. At least here no one cares, no one tries to tell me it’s not ‘natural’ or quote a book at me. I’ve found Alenkas much more pleasant than the outside world, haven’t you?”

Sam shrugged. “It has its upsides. The lack of people trying to keep me down, for one. But it has its downsides too, don’t get me wrong. The fact I feel like I can barely walk down the street without getting propositioned, and the fact that I want to accept…”

“I’ve noticed it too,” Cal muttered quietly. “Despite the system trying to mimic the outside world as close as possible, there’s some fundamental differences. But I talked with Simon about it a couple of times-“

“He just says that there’s nothing we can do. It’s all built into the kernel. And only three people know how to access that, and only one of them is interested in doing so. Haley!” Sam called out after a moment. The kitten had walked down an alleyway well in front of the other two, only to peek her head out a moment later. She tilted it out inquisitively, before going back down it. Sam rolled her eyes.

“At least it kept her in one place for a bit,” Cal said quietly. Sam rolled her eyes, and rushed to keep up with the young child.