Simon, Sam, and Cal waited with baited breath. There was nothing they could do to help Haley from their side. The twelve year old had tried on Alenkas for fun, and been sheltered by the three ever since, all while strangely unraveling the tale of her hard life. Abusive parents, adults that don’t care…to the three of them, it was the perfect opportunity for her to turn bad.
Instead she was one of the smartest people that the three had ever met. She was practically a genius in some things, and her ability to look at things from a unique perspective had helped them out an absolute crapton during the Great Hunt.
However, right before they were about to go out to join the rest of the Alenkans in their attack and assault, Haley had bumped into them, crying and hysterical. The girl’s house was on fire, and her first instinct was to run to her room -she couldn’t run back outside because that’s where the fire was- and her second instinct was to go into Alenkas.
Knowing what she did about Haley’s home life, Sam didn’t really blame her. Her life in Alenkas wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as bad as it was out there. Simon had come up with a simple plan; should she come back and need more help, or was entirely trapped inside her room with no way out.
The Alenkans had died. In their testing pods at NuVO, they had died, but their consciousness, their memories and their personalities, had been transferred to their avatars. Simon’s proposal was, that if Haley couldn’t get out in the real world…they could transfer her life to Alenkas. It wasn’t a good sign, and it wasn’t the best thought that any of them had, but it was the best they could do.
They couldn’t just trust the system, not when one of their own was failing like this. That was why they initiated the Great Hunt. That’s why they sought out the IDM. To be able to make a difference, to be able to save others and their own lives.
Haley occasionally popped in and out. Each time she updated them on what she was currently doing, everything from throwing more towels underneath the door to calling the emergency lines. Each time, Simon thought about telling her what they could do, but each time he backed down. Haley was able to hold on hope, each time coming back with an update that eased their worries that they wouldn’t have to.
It was until she came back once more, and simply fell to the ground, that Simon knew that most of her previous updates were lies. Or not entirely the truth. Sam knelt next to the black kitten, slowly running her hand down her back. “Hey, it’s going to be alright,” she tried to reassure.
“No it’s not. I’m going to die, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it,” she responded. Her voice was even, her tone quiet. She had either almost given up, or had entirely. It was far too cynical for the usually optimistic child, and it made Simon’s job only that much easier.
“Yes, there is. We can’t help you out there…but we can help you in here,” Simon said. Haley immediately looked up, her green eyes matching to Simon’s. The unspoken question rang loudly, the unspoken ‘how!?’.
“I found another option on the IDM. To pull you in, to bring you here…to be an Alenkan,” Simon said quietly. Haley didn’t blink much as she looked to the ground. The others knew she was thinking, the various consequences of such a thing. Alenkas was a sex-filled world, and she was a minor. No wonder they hadn’t brought it up to her earlier; that normally wasn’t a decision a kid could make.
But this was Haley. This was someone who they knew had grown up faster than many others, who knew full well the consequences. “I’d live here…with all of you?” she asked after a moment. Sam shot her a small smile.
“Of course. Where else?” she asked with a hesitant tone.
She was unprepared for the giant hug of a person freed from despair and hopelessness. “Oh thank you thank you thank you! Yes, I’d love to! How, how how!” she called out, the kitten jumping up constantly.
“Well…we have to send a command from here. That would turn off the automatic shut off switch. That way during a surge it wouldn’t do a whole lot besides fry itself,” Simon said, bringing up some commands on the IDM’s screen. He brought up a quick diagnostic of the virtual reality helmet that all of the Influxxers wore, showing the shutoff.
“Wait, there’s supposed to be a switch there?” Haley asked, looking at the screen in earnest. Despite the fact that her life was shattering around her, she always had time for questions.
“There isn’t!?” Sam asked suddenly. Thoughts wormed their way through her head. ‘If there was no shutoff switch, then the system will always do to others what it did to us…if they couldn’t log out. So if they couldn’t log out…then…’ “Simon!” she shouted.
“Cal, get on it! Tell the others that those girls are Alenkans! They’re not going to be able to log out!” Simon shouted at the same time. He and Sam swapped glances, and it became obvious that they thought the same thing. Without that shutoff switch, which Alenkas had been designed around and promised that it would be there, the chance of others becoming Alenkans had suddenly skyrocketed. And there were others that were already guaranteed, as they most likely hadn’t been able to log out during the last few weeks.
It would have only taken three days.
The orange cat took off immediately. They could hear his voice tell someone, probably Kara by the way the feminine voice responded, what had happened. And without more shouting the two were off. Simon turned back to the IDM, hitting commands as quick as he could.
“They turned off a lot of the IDM’s power once we grabbed it. Otherwise this entire thing could have been solved instantly with us just logging people out left and right, or banning them entirely. But no, NuVO had to do tell us we were a ‘financial’ risk otherwise. Dumbasses,” Simon growled out, hitting more commands.
“I don’t think I need to tell you my answer, do I?” Haley asked with a small smirk.
“Nope,” Simon said. He hit a few more, keeping track of dozens of numbers as they flew past his screen. “Found you. Right…so as soon as I type this, it’ll take a flash picture of your mind as it is. Right now. All memories, all personality traits…all of it. It won’t hurt, but I figured I should tell you. Obviously the thing you don’t want to do right now is ‘take off the helmet’.”
Haley nodded, and Simon pressed the enter key with barely a flair. Haley stood there, looking around with earnest. Her avatar didn’t flash, and she didn’t really feel anything happen. It took a minute before she asked, “Is it doing anything?”
Simon looked at her with the sad smile. “Yeah. It worked. I don’t think you can log out now, even if you wanted to.”
“Let’s find out. Log out!” Haley called out expectantly. She smiled as she waited for the inevitable flash of light that always was logging out of Alenkas. Instead she stood there, her vision not changing at all. “Ha! I’m one of you now!” she called out. She met two sad smiles from Simon and Sam.
“You are,” Sam responded quietly.
“Will I still grow? Or am I going to be this size forever now? Probably a question I should’ve asked, but I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Haley asked suddenly a moment later. Simon blinked, taken aback by forgetting that very simple information.
“Uh…lemme check. I designed the system to ensure that all factors like that are kept, but depending on the changes that NuVO made…” Simon answered, scrolling through more of the IDM text. Sam looked over and took the other console, checking through some of the other files.
“She should. I mean, I’m looking at some of the comments saying that it should take into account everything like that, but seeing as how this was supposed to be an adult thing only, they never thought to test it. Especially because something like that would require long-term service,” Sam mentioned.
“Yeah, well, we get our test now. I hate testing in production…” Simon muttered. Haley went up and hugged him tight.
“Even I stay this way, you saved my life. All of you did. Not just now, but throughout the entire last month or so…I’ve seen so much more, met so many more people than I could have thought. You may regret giving me that option, but I disagree. It was the only thing you could do, and here we are. You should’ve known I would’ve grabbed on with both hands,” Haley muttered.
“Now we just have to wait for the others to come back,” Simon responded. “You’ll figure out that this isn’t such a good thing soon. Besides, we’re still going to make you study.”
“Ew, you’re going to give me homework!?” she said, making a face of disgust. “Wow, could I go back?” she said jokingly, her grin giving it away instantly. Still, it made Simon and Sam exchange glances. If she truly did want out at any point…that wasn’t possible anymore. She truly was one of them, living in the system now.
“I just hope the attack is going well,” Sam muttered as she flopped her legs and feet onto the table. Haley blinked in surprise at the sudden change in the albino cat.
“Wait, attack? You mean you found them?” she asked excitedly.
“Yeah, we found them. Well, Emily did at least,” Sam answered. “But they were planning on moving in a few days, and most of us didn’t want to wait. So we called everyone here the second we found that information, and went crazy. Most of them are on their way, if not proceeding as it should be,” she muttered.
“It has been about an hour or so. We said, what, two hours? I bet they couldn’t wait and are already going. If you hadn’t caught us when you did, we’d probably be joining them,” Simon said. Haley blinked in surprise.
“I didn’t think you two were all that violent. I mean, I never saw any signs of it,” she responded.
Sam unsheathed her claws. “We aren’t. Doesn’t mean we don’t have the instincts thought. That’s something you’ll find out in a year or so. That’s about how long we’ve been here, hasn’t it?” she asked.
Simon nodded, “Yeah, something around there. Some of us have more of those learned abilities than others. Cal went crazy when he found out we aren’t going to be able to go home again. You know those scratch marks a few blocks from here, the ones that go from the ground to six feet off the ground? Those were from him.”
“Wow…I hope everyone’s alright.”
“So do we all,” Sam exclaimed simply. She looked out the window, sighing a small breath as she did. “So do we all…”