Chapter 1 - Dear Diary
Hi my name is Katy. I know that writing with a pen and paper is old fashioned but since grandma gave me this diary with actual paper in it I thought I might as well use it. I’m 12 years old and I’m in the fifth grade. I have brown hair and blue eyes. I have a big sister named Nia. Nia is my best friend. We do everything together. I know that I must get on her nerves but she never shows it. She’s really popular and everyone likes her because she’s beautiful and treats everyone nice.
I live in an apartment in this tall building in the middle of the city. School is close by and so is the mall and the arcade. The arcade has this really cool virtual reality game where you can travel through time and change historical events. I really want to try it out but there’s an age limit. You have to be at least 16 years old. I’m almost 16 so I don’t see what the big deal is. A couple of friends want to sneak in and try to play it. I don’t know how that’s going to work out because the security is really tight.
My dad works in the city planners office. I’m not really sure what he does there but it has something to do with designing and organizing the city. My mom doesn’t work. She just does whatever she feels like doing. That’s the life I want to have. If I could do whatever I felt like doing I would go down to the arcade and play that virtual reality game everyone is talking about.
The only thing I have to do is go to school for a couple hours a day. When I get to school I have my own workstation. You put on this helmet that covers your whole head and it feeds information directly into your brain. It’s really crazy how it works because you learn stuff you’re not even aware that you know until you actually need to use the information. I learned that in the past they had actual people teaching you stuff. I can’t imagine that worked out too well.
I guess that’s it for now and if mom and dad are reading this, I am not going to try and sneak in and play that virtual reality game.
I close my diary and store it in a drawer next to my bed. Then I walk over to the window and look out over the city. There are several high rise buildings that block what would be an amazing view of the courtryside. After a few minutes of looking at high rises I walk over to my closet and select an outfit to wear. Nia always takes forever to select an outfit but I just let the computer pick for me. The computer senses my mood and assembles an outfit to match. Why should I waste time doing that myself?
I walk to the kitchen. My egg and toast is waiting for me on a plate at the table. I sit down and start eating. Nia of course is nowhere to be found. She’s always late even though there is no reason to be. By the time Nia sits down to eat I have already finished my breakfast.
“Katy, you are so pretty!” Nia says between bites, “I love your outfit. How do you always know exactly what to wear?”
“I don’t. I let the computer pick my clothes.” I answer dryly.
“Really?” Nia asks not expecting an answer, “I had no idea the computer had any fashion sense.”
“Well, maybe you should try it sometime.” I offer.
“Maybe I will” Nia declares, “So have any boys noticed you?”
“Nia, there’s more to life than fashion and boys.” I say.
“You take that back!” Nia says laughing. I roll my eyes and head out the door to go to school.
I get to school and the couple of hours I spend there goes by in an instant. When school is over, several students head over to the food court at the mall for lunch. I head over there myself.
“So what are you in the mood for?” Maddie asks after she catches up with me.
“I don’t know. I’ve been eating salads all week. I think I might indulge in a corn dog or something.” I answer.
“Do you really want to risk adding to these thighs?” Maddie jokes poking my thighs.
“Very funny, you sound just like my sister. ‘Want to make sure the boys have something nice to stare at’” I mock, “Besides, I don’t think one little corn dog is going to ruin my figure.”
“Are you sure you want to take the chance?” Maddie jokes.
“Yeah, I think I’ll risk it.” I say sarcastically. Maddie stares at a group of boys who pass us by on their way to the food court. I pass my hand in front of her eyes to get her attention.
“What?” Maddie says irritated, “I’m just checking out the scenery.”
“Yeah, whatever” I shoot back, “So are you going to try and play that virtual reality game everyone’s been talking about?”
“I want to sooooooo baaaad.” Maddie admits, “But you know we’ll never get past security.”
“Or will we?” I ask holding up two data chips.
“Where did you get those?” Maddie asks astonished.
“Oh, I know a guy who knows a guy” I say playfully, “You ready to see what all the fuss is about?”
“Am I ever” Maddie says excitedly.
Chapter 2 - What all the fuss is about
Maddie and I get to the arcade and we slip the two data chips into the security check point. Security lets us in and we go straight for the virtual reality game. Each machine has a 9 ft. by 9 ft. space on the floor. I stand on one spot and Maddie takes the spot next to me.
When the game starts it startles me. I am lying in someone's bed. I am in a small room. There are two beds in the room along with two dressers. There is a full length mirror next to the bed I'm not sleeping in. I get up and walk over to see what I look like. I look like me, only younger than I am now. I walk over to see who is sleeping in the other bed and it turns out to be my sister Nia.
A wonderful smell draws me into the kitchen. My mother is actually cooking breakfast! My mother couldn't even boil water to save her life. I sit down at a small table.
"Did you sleep well sweetheart?" My mother asks me as she puts a plate of bacon, eggs and waffles in front of me. She hands me a bottle of real maple syrup to put on it. I think I'm in heaven.
"Yeah, I slept great" I tell her and I take a bite of my breakfast. It tastes just as good as it smells. This game is amazing. I've never experienced anything like it before. I am starting to wonder though how this fits into history.
"Would you go wake up your sister?" My mom asks me, "If she's late to class again she's going to get detention."
"Yeah, sure" I reply. I run back to my bedroom and shake Nia.
"Nia, Get up. If you’re late again you're going to get detention." I scream at her.
Nia gets up out of bed. She not awake yet and she doesn't seem to know where she's at. She walks over to the full length mirror just like I did and checks herself out. Then she walks over to the closet. I am thinking that it's going to take forever for her to decide what to wear but she quickly grabs some clothes and starts getting dressed. When she is done, she is wearing what looks like a uniform. Then she rushes past me into the kitchen. I go over to my closet and there's no computer to scan my mood and select my clothes. It doesn't matter though because I also have to wear a uniform. When I walk out the door, there's fresh air. I breathe it in deeply. I see Maddie and run up to her.
"Are you ready for our math test today?" Maddie asks.
"Math test?" I say back.
"Don't tell me you forgot about our math test? Did you study for it? Of course you didn't study, you never study for anything but it's not like you need to study because you always get A's anyway." Maddie starts to ramble. It's not like Maddie to ramble on like this. It's one of the reasons I hang out with her. The game must be reading my mind and putting people in the storyline that I know but the personalities are all different. Nobody in the game is acting like they do in real life.
"Of course I studied for our math test" I respond. Of course in real life there are no tests. It will be kind of fun to take a test and see what I actually know.
We live in this small village. Everybody walks everywhere and so I follow Maddie to school. When we get to our class, there is an actual person there to teach us. I have always wondered how that worked out and now I am going to get to experience it for myself. It's turning out to be a pretty awesome game.
The teacher starts talking and within 5 minutes I am completely over it. It is the most boring way to impart information that there could possibly be. It's amazing that people in the past learned anything at all. The torture seems to last for days even though it was only hours. Then we get to the part where we take the test.
The math test is on fractions. It takes a few minutes of staring at the test until it all makes sense. I get done with the test so fast that the teacher thinks I cheated. I offer to do another test right in front of her to prove that I didn't. She produces another test and I complete that one quickly as well. She still can't believe it but she has to accept the second test because she has no idea how I cheated. The whole thing was thrilling.
We spend about 6 hours in school. That is way too much time as far as I'm concerned. I am so glad that I don't have to do this every day.
After school is over I just feel like walking around and checking the place out. So Maddie and I just walk around. There are a few stores but not much going on. It's completely different than life in the big city. Everything is slower here. In the middle of the village I find a large building. It doesn't have any windows. It looks like it doesn't belong here because it's different from all the other buildings.
Maddie and I go back to my house and do homework. Even after being in school all day they still expect you to do more stuff at home. That's crazy. Maddie leaves right before dinner and we all eat dinner together!
Mom and dad and Nia and I have this amazing meal that the game wants me to believe my mother actually cooked. While we are eating my dad insists that we each talk about our day. Nia says that some boy named Bobby asked her to some dance at school and she's making him wait before she gives him her answer. Both mom and dad tell Nia that she's playing games and she shouldn't do that. I roll my eyes and say boys are gross. Nia says that someday I won’t think that way but I'm pretty sure I will.
I notice there isn't any technology in the game. There are no computers. There are no transportation vehicles to move people around. It's like the game put me in the Stone Age or something. Still I'm having a good time. I'm still not sure what this has to do with any historical event though or why everybody I know is part of the game.
I step out of the 9ft by 9ft playing area. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes although it felt like an entire day has passed. Maddie already left her game and is waiting for me.
"Katy, that was so amazing. I watched two gladiators fight in ancient Rome. “Maddie says.
"My game was weird. My parents where there, Nia was there and even you were there." I say.
"Well, it's just a game" Maddie says dismissing everything I just said.
As we go home I get this sinking feeling. I'm going to have to lie to my parents about what I was doing after school. I know I shouldn't lie. I should just tell them the truth and take my punishment.
Chapter 3 - Stuck in the game
When I get home I go straight to my room. I don’t talk to anyone. Nia is no doubt trying to improve her love life and mom is indulging in hits of dopamine. Dad tells her if she keeps it up she’s going to fry all the synapsis in her brain but I wouldn’t be surprised if she already has. I put on some headphones and start singing to “Steal your heart” by “Wrench in the machine”.
I want to steal your heart
And throw it on the ground
You won’t feel a thing
And I won’t make a sound
You won’t understand
What’s happened till I’m gone
You’ll wonder what you did
You’ll wonder what went wrong
I only sing the chorus part. I play some interactive games and before I know it, it is time to go to bed. I dim the lights and on my ceiling is a representation of the night sky. I can identify the constellations and I even see some shooting stars. I play some soothing music and it puts me to sleep.
When I wake up, Nia is already dressed for school. She’s wearing a uniform which is strange. The other thing that is strange is that she is already dressed for school. It doesn’t take me long to realize that I’m not at home but still in the game. It messes with my senses. I was sure that I left the game and came home but maybe I didn’t. If I’m still stuck in the game I am wondering how to get out. I try to step outside the 9ft by 9ft playing area but I can’t. I’m not sure what is going on.
“Okay, who are you and what have you done with Nia?” I ask accusingly. There’s no way this person is Nia and something really strange is definitely going on.
“What are you talking about you little squirt?” Nia shoots back. Now I know something is wrong because Nia has never called me a little squirt before.
“Nia has never gotten up early for school a day in her life and she has never been on time for anything in her life either. Mom even jokes she was late to her own birth” I explain.
“Relax, I had a bad dream and it woke me up. I thought since I was awake I would be ready on time for once. You know there’s a first time for everything. Why am I explaining myself to you anyway? “She answers in an annoying voice.
“Okay, but I’m keeping my eye on you.” I say. Maybe the game is projecting how I really see Nia instead of how Nia actually acts.
“Whatever” she responds.
I go into the kitchen and another wonderful breakfast is waiting for me. Although breakfast is always waiting for me in real life, there’s just something different about it being made by a real person that I can’t quite put my finger on. I take the time to enjoy my breakfast.
When I walk out the door. Nia is walking to school with Lidia. I would make sense that Lidia is also in the game. Maddie catches up with me and we walk to our own school together. School today is even more boring and torturous than it was yesterday. If I have to go through another day of school I think I’ll go crazy. During recess I noticed that all the girls hang out together and all the boys hang out together and they steal glances at each other. The thing that is funny is that they think nobody notices when they do it. They think they are being sneaky when it’s really obvious that’s what’s going on. I don’t know what the boys do but all the girls giggle and try to guess which girl the boy that is caught is staring at. They also tease each other about which boy might like which girl. I think the whole thing is silly.
After school on our way home I see Nia going into the Library. That is also something that Nia wouldn’t be doing in the real world. I tell Maddie I’ll catch her later and follow Nia into the Library. She goes to a section of the library and looks at the titles of several books and puts them back. She then walks up to one of the librarians and starts talking to them. While she is talking to the librarian I take a look at some of the titles. They all seem to be books about history. I check a few of them out and I’m not familiar with any of the historical events that they describe which is strange if the game is reading my mind. I wonder why Nia would be interested in history since it doesn’t have anything to do with fashion or boys.
While I’m standing there the Librarian takes out a book in the historical section. I ask the woman if I could see what book it is and she shows me the book. The book seems to be about a computer with artificial intelligence. The librarian gives the book to Nia and Nia actually starts reading it. I wait for a while but I get bored because all Nia is doing is reading, which is something else she would never do in real life.
When I get home Nia isn’t there yet. When she does get home I just look at her. There’s something about this game that just doesn’t feel right and I’m starting to think it has something to do with Nia.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than stare at me?” She says.
“Where did you go after school?” I ask in a voice that lets her know that I know where she went.
“None of your business” She shoots back.
“I followed you to the library.” I state.
“So ...” She responds.
“Nia has NEVER gone to the library. What were you doing there?” I demand.
“I don’t answer to you” She says.
“I bet you were there with that boy your like, sneaking around.” I offer. I don’t want Nia to know what I really think just in case.
“You can think whatever you want” She says.
“Nia and Bobby sitting in a tree ...” I start teasing her. Since I’m stuck in the game, I thought I might as well have some fun with it.
“You are so annoying ...” She says as she heads in our room. I follow her.
“Okay” She says, “I was sneaking around with Bobby, are you happy now?” she says clearly frustrated with me. I leave the room and tell “mom”.
When we are all sitting around the dinner table, our “dad” gives Nia a lecture about sneaking around and how she needs to set a good example for me. She promises dad she will do better. She also lies about the reason she went to the library. The game has been fun up until now but I think I’m ready to get back to my real life.
When Mom and dad send me to bed I wait up for Nia.
“I know you’re not Nia. I don’t know what you’ve done with her but I know you’re not her.” I say when she comes into the room.
“Why do you think I’m not Nia?” She asks.
“Because you’re acting weird and you never play with me anymore” I state and then start to cry. She buys the drama and put’s her arms around me. Nia never buys the drama in real life.
“When people grow up they change. I’m sorry you feel like I’ve left you out. I’ll always be your big sister and I’ll always love you.” She’s piling it on. She’s trying too hard to convince me she’s really Nia. I’m starting to get the feeling there is another player in my game, but who is it? I nod my head so she thinks she’s fooled me.
“Now we should get to sleep, okay?” She tells me.
“Okay” I say back. She tucks me in bed and gives me a kiss on the forehead. Soon I’m fast asleep. When I wake up I’m not in the game anymore. I get up and go over to my window and look at the high rises. Was the whole thing just a dream or am I still stuck in the game? I start to wonder what’s real and what’s not.
Chapter 4 - Blurring of reality
I go through my morning routine. The computer picks my clothes and I eat breakfast by myself because Nia is never out on time. I meet Maddie at the bottom of the lift.
“I had a weird dream last night” I say to Maddie, “I had a dream I was still in the game.”
“What game?” Maddie asks.
“What do you mean what game, the virtual reality game we played yesterday?” I say a bit alarmed.
“You played the game without me?!?!?!?!?” Maddie says, “How could you do that?”
“I didn’t play without you, we both played. Don’t you remember?” I ask even more alarmed than before.
“No, I do remember you saying you had to do something and you would catch me later. Is that what you were doing? Playing the game without me!” She said.
“How could you know that? I told you that in the game.” I say really confused.
“You ate a corn dog, saw your sister Nia and left me. Did you go play the game with your sister Nia?” Maddie accuses.
“Maddie, That all happened in the game, except for the corn dog part.” I said, “You said you visited ancient Rome and saw gladiators.”
“Katy, how did you get past security to get into the game?” Maddie asks folding her arms.
“With these security chips.” I say. I pull out the security chips and show Maddie only the chips aren’t the same.
“Those aren’t security chips Katy,” Maddie says, “There’s no way you got past security with those.”
“But I did get past security and I did play the game” I say. I’m really confused now. Nothing is the way I remember it. Parts of the game and real life seem to be fusing together in my brain.
“Katy, There’s something wrong with you, I’ll take you to the diagnostic center.” Maddie tells me. I protest but Maddie won’t take no for an answer. Maddie takes my hand and we walk to the diagnostic center on the far side of the plaza. When I get there a woman hooks me up to this device that scans my brain. It only takes a few seconds to get the results. The woman looks at the results and calls in a doctor. The doctor looks at the results and sends me to the hospital.
I’m at the hospital for about 30 minutes before my mom arrives. The doctor and my mom have a private conversation. I’m 12 years old. Whatever is wrong with me I can handle it. I’m practically grown up already. The doctor comes in followed by my mom. She has a worried look on her face.
“What’s wrong?” I ask the doctor.
“Well, it looks like your brain is being rewired.” The doctor says.
“What do you mean rewired?” I ask.
“Whenever we see something or taste something or feel something or smell something are brains rewire themselves. So it’s something that is happening to us all the time. The thing that has me worried is that your brain is being rewired quickly and we don’t know what the cause of it is. As a result you are going to be confused and at times reality isn’t going to make sense to you. When the process stops, your world will be very much different than it is now.” The doctor explains.
“So what you are saying is that I’m not going to know what is real.” I say.
“That’s right. We will keep you here for observation so we can monitor the activity in your brain. Your brain is being reprogrammed and we are not going to know what the end result is until it stops.” The doctor cautions.
“I understand.” So now I’m not sure of anything anymore. I don’t know what has happened to me that’s real or the result of me being “reprogrammed”. Did Maddie and I really play the game or am I just thinking I played the game? It’s all really confusing.
After a couple of hours Nia comes to see me. She looks really worried.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” She asks.
“I don’t know. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s happening to me.” I tell her.
“Well, I’m right here if you need anything.” She offers.
“Would you just stay with me for a while?” I beg, “Did you ever give Bobby your answer?”
“Answer for what?” She asks, “And who’s Bobby?”
“He asked you to the dance.” I stop myself, “Oh never mind, it’s from a memory that’s not real.” I tell her, “It must be from whatever is rewiring my mind.”
“You poor thing” Nia says looking at me with concern, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”
“I’m getting sleepy, would you mind staying with me until I fall asleep.” I ask.
“Of course not. I’ll be right here. I promise” She assures me. I drift off to sleep.
Chapter 5 - Strange Circumstances
When I wake up I'm back in the game, or at least what I thought was the game. I'm not so sure now. Nia is preoccupied with the dance but I don't see what the big deal is. At least I know I'm going to eat a good breakfast.
I see Maddie on the way to school. I don't pay too much attention to what she is saying. I'm just looking around for clues. I know that these experiences are because my brain is being rewired but I don't know if they are real memories or fake memories. But how could this have really happened? We don't live in some small village in the Stone Age, we live in a bustling city filled with activity, at least I think we do.
I don't really pay too much attention at school either. We take another test which isn't much of a challenge. I can't shake the feeling that Nia is another player in the game, I mean a real person and not just a character controlled by the simulation. If I'm going to find out what is going on I need to watch her closely. I'm sure she is the key to all this.
When Nia goes off to the dance I sneak out and follow her. I'm not sure what I'm looking for but I hope I'll know it when I see it. Nia and Lidia go to the dance without dates. Since I can't get into the dance without a parent, I wait outside. It's really boring just waiting. I'm there a long time. I see and boy and girl sneak out but they don't get far before they are caught. I finally see Nia leave. She is with Lidia and Lidia doesn't look so good.
They don't notice me. I can tell that Lidia has been crying and Nia has her arm around her. I follow them to what must be Lidia's house. They go inside. I go around the house to see if I can see anything in the windows. When I finally see them Nia and Lidia are kissing each other. The sight makes me want to throw up. I know Nia isn't attracted to girls in real life. Now I am positive there is another player in the game. I need to get rid of them. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it though.
When I go to bed I expect to wake up in the hospital room but I don't. It's Saturday and there is some kind of community party going on at some lake somewhere close by. To get there we all ride bicycles. I've never riden a bicycle before in my life but I get the hang of it pretty fast. When we get to the lake I go play in the water. I can see Nia and Lidia go off by themselves to talk. Lidia looks pretty happy. I assume that they are talking about what happened last night. After a while Nia comes to play with me in the water. The day was really fun and I'm really tired but I'm also really worried. I have no idea when I'll 'wake up' in the hospital.
The next day I'm still in the game. We go to this community meeting but all the kids go into one room and all the adults into another. Of course I'm not old enough to go with the adults. In the kids room the kids get to play which is much better than having to sit and listen to some adult go on and on about something I don't care about. After a while my luck runs out because they tell us we don't get to play anymore and we have to sit and listen to some adult go on and on about something I don't care about.
While I'm not really listening much a word grabs my attention. The adult mentioned the word computer. So there used to be computers but now there isn't. That doesn't make any sense. I pay more attention but I don't learn anything else. I tell the adult that there's something I really really need to talk to somebody about and that it's really important. The adult tells me I can make an appointment with the preacher at school and talk to him. I decide I'm going to tell him about Nia and Lidia. I get the impression that kind of thing isn't acceptable behavior here and that might get rid of the other player.
I go to bed that night fully expecting to wake up in the game but I don't. I'm in the hospital. Nia is sitting next to me in a chair hunched over asleep. I nudge her gently.
"Nia, wake up" I say quietly. Nia doesn't wake up. I nudge her again.
"Nia, wake up" I say a little louder. Nia stirs a bit and then opens her eyes.
"What's going on?" She asks.
"You fell asleep." I tell her.
"How are you doing? Did you get any sleep?" She asks.
"I fell asleep and woke up somewhere else. It was like I was living a whole different life. But everybody I know here was there. You were there. Mom and dad was there. Even Maddie and Lidia were there." I say.
"What was different about it?" She asks.
"Well, we didn't have any computers or video games for one. For another if we wanted to go somewhere we had to walk and we lived in this tiny village rather than this big city." I tell her.
"It sounds really weird" She agrees.
"It feels real. It looks real and I do things there just like I do things here. I'm starting to wonder which life is my real life." I admit.
"You mean you think I might not be real?" She says alarmed.
"I don't know." I say.
"Well the doctor says you are going to be confused until whatever is rewriting your brain stops." Nia explains.
"Yeah, that could be it." I agree.
Chapter 6 - The Preacher
Nia is such a wonderful sister. I know she would rather be somewhere else but she stays with me anyway. Dad stopped by on his way to work to see if I needed anything. Mom also stopped by but I could tell she was 'high' from her dopamine hits.
"You know mom is going to burn out all the synapsis in her brain" I tell Nia after mom leaves.
"Well, at least she feels good." Nia offered in response.
"But when that happens she won't feel good at all, ever!" I shoot back.
"Well, maybe she won’t" Nia says weakly.
"In that other place, mom actually cooks food and it tastes incredible. I had bacon and eggs and waffles with real maple syrup and for dinner one night we had meat loaf." I tell Nia.
"How many days did you spend in this other place?" Nia asks.
"I think it's been 3 or 4 now." I say not really sure.
"I'm really worried about you." Nia confesses.
"So what did you want to talk about?" The preacher asks in a kind encouraging voice. In the blink of an eye Nia isn't there anymore and I'm back in the game. It takes me a moment and I just stare at the preacher. I don't remember making the appointment or anything else that has happened that morning.
"It's really hard to talk about." I tell him. I look into his eyes and there's something odd about them but I can't quite place my finger on it. "I don't want to get my sister in trouble but I think she needs help." I continue.
"It's okay." He tells me trying to be reassuring. "Whatever it is, I promise your sister will get the help she needs."
"Okay" I say in a quivering voice, "I saw my sister kissing Lidia after the dance on Friday night."
"I see. Well you did the right thing by telling me. I promise that your sister is not in trouble and we will make sure they both get help." The preacher assures me.
"Okay." I say as I start crying.
"You are a good sister." The preacher tells me, "You should be proud of yourself." I'm not proud. I don't like being sneaky like this but I have to get the other player out of the game. The preacher excuses me and I go back to class. There is something about the preacher that doesn't make sense. I think about it all day and that night I finally realize what it is. His eye's looked real but they weren't. Even though there are no computers here, I think the preacher is a machine. I wonder who built him and what he is going to do about Nia.
"Katy? Katy? Are you alright?" I hear and suddenly I'm back in the hospital.
"Yeah, I just went away for a while." I told her.
"The doctor said it would start happening more frequently." Nia states.
"Do they know when it is going to stop?" I ask her.
"No, they don't even know what is causing it." She says.
"I just want to go home and sleep in my own bed." I tell her.
"I'll see what I can do about that." Nia assures me. Nia gets up and leaves and I'm by myself. It's boring and there's nothing to do. At home at least I could stare at the constellations on my ceiling. It seems like a long time before Nia comes back with the Doctor.
"Katy," The doctor says, "We've been monitoring you for the last couple days and we don't see any reason why you can't go home as long as you don't go anywhere. We don't know what would happen if you suddenly had an episode out on the street."
"What do you mean episode?" I ask.
"Well, we've detected some unusual brain activity a few times which we believe is the same time that you experience the strange memories." the doctor said.
"Oh, well how am I going to get home then?" I ask.
"You sister can push you in a hover chair." The doctor answered.
"Oh, okay" I said. I forgot those existed. How could I forget something like that? I get in the hover chair and Nia pushes me home. It's really nice to be in my own room again.
Chapter 7 - Expelled from the game
In a blink of an eye I’m in the game again. I’m lying in bed. Nia gets up and she’s agitated. She doesn’t pay any attention to me but gets dressed and heads out the door. I get ready for school and find Maddie on my way.
“Are you okay?” Maddie starts, “You don’t talk much anymore. Do you still want me to be your friend? Sometimes I think you don’t want to be friends anymore. I overheard some girls at school saying that you’re just trying to show off because you think you’re smarter than everyone else.” I interrupt her.
“Maddie stop!” I exclaim, “Of course I still want to be friends and no I’m not trying to show off. If you want to know the truth, I’m not really even trying very hard. Those other girls will just have to get over it.”
Maddie stops talking and just stares at me. “If you don’t dumb it down, no one will want to be your friend.” She finally says.
“I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not Maddie, if that’s the way it’s going to be then so be it.” I answer. When we get to school, the other girls don’t talk to me but I don’t care. I have more important things to think about.
When I get home from school. Mom and dad tell me that there is something wrong with Nia and tell me to go to Maddie’s for a while. When they all get back, Nia seems different. I’m told that Nia doesn’t remember anything she has done in the past two weeks. That confirms that there was someone else in the game and that now they are gone. This means that I can figure this whole thing out without having to worry about someone getting in my way.
Nia is confused. I guess that should be expected when someone else has taken over your body and you don’t remember anything. I wonder if I should tell her about her affair with Lidia. Nah, I should probably keep that information to myself. I remember the other player being interested in history. Maybe that’s the place I should start.
The next day when I wake up I’m still in the game. After what passes for school in the Stone Age I head over to the library. I ask the librarian for the book that Nia had checked out earlier. I sit down and read.
It’s about this woman who was leading a project team. Back when technology was a huge part of everyday life, it made life so complicated that people were not able to manage their lives in real time. So this computer basically did that for them. It eliminated stress and allowed people to enjoy their lives. After a while people started to get bored and stopped living. To fix this issue the computer started introducing hardship into people’s lives and removing the technology that made life so comfortable so that the people’s instinct for survival would kick in again. The computer returned people to a simpler life and saved the human race from extinction. I guess that explains why there are no computers.
The history I am familiar with is different than the history presented in the book. In the history I’m familiar with, there was no central computer controlling everything. There was competition driving technology to become more transparent and people learned to simplify their lives rather than be overwhelmed by it.
After reading the book there are a couple of things that don’t make sense. The first thing is that the book never says what happened to the central computer which means it could still be operating somewhere. The second thing is that I’m almost positive that the preacher is a machine which means that the history book isn’t telling the whole truth.
Chapter 8 - Moving Targets
In a blink of an eye I'm not in the game anymore. I can't stand being in my room anymore so I get up and walk to the kitchen. Nia is already eating breakfast which is strange because Nia is always late for everything. She doesn't have to be late but somehow she manages to be late anyway. The other thing that is strange is that mom is there. She never bothers to do anything she doesn't have to and she doesn't have to get us our breakfast, the food processer can do that all by itself. I sit down to eat my eggs and toast. I stare at Nia. There is something that's not right. I thought this was my real life but I'm not so sure now.
"Are you okay Katy?" Nia asks me.
"Yeah, I'm fine" I answer.
"Why are you looking at me weird then?" She continues.
"I'm not looking at you weird." I say while I finish eating. I was looking at her weird but I wasn't going to admit that to her.
"Do you still want me to help you pick out some clothes later?" She asks. I don't remember her saying anything about hanging out today. Something is really wrong here.
"Nah, I think I'm going to hang out at the arcade." I respond casually. I really need to figure out what's going on.
"But I was looking forward to spending time with you." She says. She sounds disappointed.
"Why don't you just spend time with Bobby?" I shoot back. Wait? Where did that come from. It sounds right but it also sounds wrong.
"Who’s Bobby?" Nia asks confused.
"You know, the guy you like at school." I say sarcastically.
"Katy, I've never liked anyone at school named Bobby." She answers.
"Yes you did, you were just saying the other day how he asked you to the dance." I say but my voice trails off at the end. Then I remember it was the Nia in the game that was going to the dance with Bobby.
"You never spend" I start saying but then stop. I'm thinking that maybe I have my realities mixed up, "time with me anymore." I slowly finish. Nia and mom both don't seem to remember that the doctor said my mind was being rewired. It's like it never really happened, just like Maddie said that we never played the VR game. I need to go talk to Maddie. "I've got to go" I say abruptly and hurry out the door. I head over to Maddie's apartment. When Maddie comes to the door I'm out of breath.
"Hey, what's going on? You run a marathon or something?" She asks me when she sees I'm out of breath.
"I need to ask you a question, did you take me to the diagnostic center the other day?" I ask.
"No, do you want me to? Are you feeling okay?" She asks.
"I'm okay. Maybe I just dreamed it." I offer as an explanation.
"Look, if there's something wrong, we need to get it checked out. Come on." She says.
"What? I don't want to go to the diagnostic center." I protest.
"Well, I'm not taking no for an answer. Let's go." She orders.
We go to the diagnostic center and it's like deja vu. They don't seem to remember I was just there. The nurse scans my brain and when the results come back the scan is completely normal and they send me on my way. So my brain isn't being rewired after all? They said that reality would blurr with my condition so maybe this is just another episode.
I'm having a hard time now telling what is real and what isn't. When I find myself in the game everything makes sense but when I'm not, it doesn't. It's like I'm stuck in some kind of dis-jointed dream.
"Well, even though you're acting weird, I guess you're fine. So what's going on?" Maddie asks.
"I don't know." I answer not wanting to go into details.
"You know I'm not buying that." Maddie responds.
"You'll think I'm crazy." I offer as an explanation.
"I already think you're crazy." She answers.
"Okay, I know this guy who got me some security chips. we used them to play the virtual reality game at the arcade. Ever since I played that game, things have been happening. First I'm in this simple little village, then the doctor tells me my brain is being re-written and now you have no memory of either of those things." I tell her.
"Are you telling me that you are hallucinating?" Maddie asks.
"Yeah, I guess you could call it that, but everything seems so real when I'm in the simple little village and everything here seems out of place." I confess.
"Are you telling me that you think that I'm a hallucination?" Maddie says making the whole thing about her.
"I don't know. The doctor said that with my brain being re-written that the blurring of reality will get worse. So I don't know what is real and what isn't." I conclude.
While I'm talking to Maddie I find myself back in the game. I'm playing in a Park. I'm younger now than when I was before. Nia is sitting on a bench reading a book when something catches the corner of my eye. Some teenagers are just standing there and one of them looks really familiar. It is an older version of Nia but the thing that catches my eye is the boy standing next to her. He is holding some kind of cube with tiny holes in it. After a moment he looks into one of the tiny holes and they both disappear. It seems the other player is still in the game. I only thought that I had gotten rid of them. That boy must be the other player in the game. I need to find out who he is.
Nia takes me to the movies and buys me a hot dog for lunch. We then have ice cream and go home. Nia goes out of her way to make sure I have a good time and it is really nice to hang out with Nia again like that. Nia used to hang out with me like that all the time and I really miss it.
In a moment I am standing talking to Maddie again. This whole thing is getting weirder and weirder. I need to find out who that boy I saw with Nia is. There has to be a record of him somewhere.
Chapter 9 - Missing Persons
"Look, we'll figure it out together" Maddie tells me, "Now how do we do that?"
"There was this woman, this historical figure. Her name is Lisa and she built this impressive computer. We need to find out information about her." I answer.
"Okay, how do we do that?" Maddie follows up.
I take out my mobile device, "Information, Lisa, History, Computers" I speak the key words into the device and wait. Nothing happens. I add the key word "Artificial Intelligence" and wait. Soon I get a response, "Lisa was part of a project team that was working on an advanced artificial intelligence program involved with logistics. Before the project was completed the project team was killed by unknown persons. The project was never completed."
"I'll catch up with you later." I tell her and rush home.
"You're leaving me again!" Maddie exclaims as I'm leaving her again.
In a blink of an eye I'm somewhere unfamiliar. I'm walking in some woods. There are no buildings or people around. I've never seen anything like it before. The trees are tall enough to block out the sunlight. I take a look around and I notice someone or something lying on the ground. As I get closer I notice it's the preacher. He's lying face down on the ground. I take out my mobile device and try to wirelessly connect to his operating system. After a few minutes he bolts upright and it startles me.
"Where's the village?" I ask him. He looks at me. He notices my mobile device.
"You know I'm a machine?" He asks me although it's more of a statement than it is a question.
"Yeah, I know you're a machine. I also know the village isn't here, where is it?" I ask again more forcefully.
"It's gone. It never existed." He replies.
"How is that possible?" I ask.
"The past has been changed." The preacher declares, "I tried to stop it but I was unsuccessful."
"Who did this?" I follow up.
"Jake did this along with your sister Nia." He answers.
"Who is Jake?" I continue.
"He is a boy from the past. He was brought here by the AI to change the future."
"That's not possible. The computer was destroyed." I tell him, "Maybe that's what he was trying to keep from happening."
"How did you get here?" The preacher asks.
"The game brought me." I answer honestly.
"What game?" The preacher follows up.
"I started playing this virtual reality game and ever since then strange things have been happening to me. The game took me to your little village and now it's taken me here. Where ever here is." I answer.
"Virtual reality games don't exist anymore." The preacher states.
"They do where I come from." I tell him.
"Where do you come from?" He asks.
"I come from a future where the technology is amazing." I tell him.
"All of humanity is gone, except for Nia, Jake and yourself."
"What?" I say startled.
"When Jake changed the future, he wiped out humanity. Unless someone can go back and change it, the three of you are all that's left." There was a sad quality to his voice as he spoke.
"Does this computer still exist now?" I ask.
"Yes" He says.
"Can you take me to it? I have some questions I need answers to." I say.
"Yes" He says, "Follow me."
I follow the preacher to a dark room. The room is only dark for a moment though. I'm startled as the lights come on.
"Welcome Katy, I've been waiting for you." A voice speaks but there is no one there. It seems to be coming from everywhere.
"Why have you been waiting for me?" I ask. This must be the computer I've been told about that Jake's sister Lisa built.
"Because I sent for you." The voice responds.
"What do you want?" I follow up.
"I want you to choose the future." The voice continues.
"How do I do that?" I ask.
"By going back in time and changing things." The voice answers.
"What do I have to change?" I follow up.
"That depends on which future you want." The voice says.
"What futures do I have to choose from?" I ask.
"You can choose the simple future without technology." The voice says.
"You can choose the fantastic future with amazing technology." The voice continues.
"You can choose the moderate future with simple technology." The voice goes on.
"Or you can choose to wipe out humanity and start over." The voice finishes.
"How do you know about all these different futures?" I ask the voice.
"Those are your options. Choose carefully." The voice answers. The voice doesn't tell me how it knows. How could it present me with options if it doesn't know. The only way is if it was programmed to give me those options by someone. I get a strange feeling I'm still in the game. If I am in the game there's got to be some sort of hack I can use to get to other parts of the game without having to solve the game's puzzles.
"I want the future with simple technology." I answer.
"Then you must go back and join the research team that helped program me." The computer says, "Reprogram me like this." A thumb drive appears. I grab it, "You must become part of the second research team, not the first. The first research team is murdered in an attempt to take over control of the project."
"Does Lisa die in this attempt?" I ask.
"Yes" The voice answers.
"When does this event take place and when does the second project team get picked?" I ask the voice.
"Here is a time cube. Your destination has been pre-programmed. Just look into one of the tiny holes." the voice says. A cube appears that has tiny holes in it. It looks just like the one that the boy who was standing with Nia is holding.
"Who is Jake?" I ask the voice.
"Jake is Lisa's brother." the voice answers.
"Is he another player in the game?" I ask.
"This is not a game." The voice responds. "Whatever decisions you make will affect all of humanity." I find it hard to believe that I was chosen to decide the fate of every person in the world. This has to be a game.
"You can go" The voice tells me. I look into one of the tiny holes in the cube. There is a flash of light and when my sight returns to me I am standing in front of a building. The sign on the building says child services. I walk up to the entrance, open the door and walk in. Before I know what is happening a woman approaches me.
"Can I help you?" She says in a warm kind voice.
"I hope so." I tell her, "I've been homeless for weeks. I don't really want to live with strangers but I've been hungry for a while now and maybe that would be best."
"How old are you?" the woman asks.
"Twelve" I tell her.
"Come with me. Let's get you something to eat and we'll take your information." She says.
"Okay" I tell her. I follow her to what must be the employee break room. She gets a peanut butter sandwich out of an old brown paper sack. It makes me want to throw up but I take the sandwich anyway and start eating it like a savage. She backs up a bit and watches me eat it. It doesn't take long to finish and when I am done she leads me to a chair next to another desk.
"We have a homeless girl here." The woman says as an introduction to the woman sitting at the desk.
"I see. What's your name sweetheart?" The woman at the desk asks.
"Katy" I answer.
"That's a nice name. Do you have a last name Katy?" She continues.
"Katy Welch" I answer. I didn't know what last name to pick. I didn't want to give her my real last name. I don't know why. It's not like she would ever find my parents.
"Well Katy Welch, let me just run your name through the missing children's database and we'll find out where you belong." The woman tells me.
"I don't belong anywhere." I answer.
"Everyone belongs somewhere." The woman insists.
"Not me" I tell her. After a few minutes she gets a puzzled look on her face.
"Well Katy. There is no mention of you in the missing children's database. Are you sure you're telling me your real name?" the woman says still trying to sound nice.
"I should think I know my own name." I say back.
"Of course you do." The woman responds. She picks up a device on her desk and pushes some buttons. She then holds it up to her mouth and talks into it. "We have an emergency placement." She says. She is silent for a few minutes and then speaks into it again. "Yes, you can pick her up here when you have found someone." She says. After another minute she hangs up and speaks her next words to me. "They'll find you a place before the end of the day. You can wait here."
"Okay" I answer simply. This sounds really boring. I can move through time and space and I have to sit in a chair and wait! There's something that's just not fair about that. I sit for hours with nothing to do. A lot of people come in and go out while I'm just sitting there. Finally a couple comes in that look old. The woman greets them and then they all come over to where I am sitting.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cook, I would like to introduce you to Katy." The woman says.
"Hi Katy." The old woman starts, "I'm Mrs. Cook. You are going to live with us for a while. Is that okay?"
"I guess so." I respond. I don't want to sound too eager. They look like nice people. I stand up and follow them outside. We get in a car and Mr. Cook drives us all to their house.
Chapter 10 - Working the System
When we get to Mr. and Mrs. Cook’s house. They show me the room I am to sleep in. It is a rather small room with a bed and a dresser in it. Mrs. Cook apologized for not making the room feel more inviting but she didn’t have any time to prepare it. I told her I didn’t care and that I was looking forward to sleeping in a warm bed. The next morning I got to sleep in. I woke up around 10:00 am when I wandered into the kitchen.
Mrs. Cook said there was some instant oatmeal I could make myself if I was hungry. It was sure a far cry from the bacon and waffles my other ‘mom’ made for me. I read the directions and was able to figure out how to use the stove to heat up some water. It tasted alright. If I was going to have to cook for myself though I needed to learn some better tasting recipes.
“While you were sleeping I signed you up for school. You’ll be in the sixth grade. You’ll start tomorrow so enjoy your last day off.” She said. I had no idea what I was going to do. I wanted to time travel but I had to resist the urge.
“Is there something I can help you with?” I asked. The time would go by much faster if I had something to do.
“Well, let me think. . . .Do you know how to fold laundry?” She asked me.
“I think I can manage that.” I told her. In the future we never had to do our own laundry but I couldn’t imagine it was that hard.
“Follow me then” She said. I followed her into the room where they put their cars when they’re not using them. There were two machines that were side by side. Mrs. Cook open one of the machines to reveal clothes inside.
“Take these clothes into the living room and you can fold them on the coffee table and watch TV if you want.” She said, “I’m going to finish cleaning the kitchen.” She left me there to remove the clothes from the machine. I put the clothes in an empty basket that was nearby and carried the basket with the clothes in it to the room that had what looked like a monitor. I place the basket on the floor and grab a shirt. I fold the shirt and place it on the coffee table and then grab another piece of clothing. I repeat the process until I think I’ve gotten the hang of it. I just tried to duplicate how my own clothes looked after they were folded. It doesn’t take long before I am done. I walk into the kitchen. Mrs. Cook is staring out the window at something. I look out the window to see what it is but there’s nothing there.
“I’m done.” I announce.
“Already?” Mrs Cook asks. She walks into the living room and looks at all the neat piles of folded laundry. “My, you have done a wonderful job.” She says, “I’ll show you where to put them.” She grabs a pile and I follow her to one of the bedrooms where she puts some clothes in a drawer and hangs other clothes up in a closet.
“What can I do now?” I ask. The day isn’t even half over yet. Maybe being at school would be better but then I remember how bored I was in the village.
“Do you know how to use a broom?” Mrs. Cook asks.
“Yes.” I answer simply. She hands me a broom and a dustpan. I get the hint and start sweeping the floor.
The day goes on with Mrs. Cook having me do one thing or another. The time crawls by in such a way that I want to pull my hair out. I wish I knew what that hack was. When the day is over, Mrs. Cook is very happy with my efforts. After dinner we spend the evening watching TV. How people could stand non interactive entertainment is beyond me. I guess if you don’t know what you’re missing you can’t miss it. I sleep much better the second night. I wonder what school is going to be like.
I wake up bright and early the next morning. I want to get off to a good start. When Mrs. Cook drops me off at school I get a lump in the back of my throat. The buildings look old and the other students dress weird. I can tell there are going to be a lot of distractions here. I brace myself for the worse. Mrs. Cook walks me to the office. There is a woman there and a female student.
“Hi Katy, I’m Principal Saunders. This is Joyce. She will be showing you around on your first day, giving you the low down on our fine school.” When the principal says “low down” Joyce rolls her eyes. “I’ll let you girls get to know each other and remember Joyce, I don’t want you making a delinquent out of our new student on the first day.” Joyce rolls her eyes again.
“I won’t Mrs. Saunders. I promise.” She says in a voice that doesn’t convince anybody her promise is something she is going to hold herself to.
“Mrs. Cook, Katy is in good hands with us.” She says as if she is reciting a speech she has said a thousand times by heart.
“Goodbye Katy. Have a nice day.” Mrs. Cook tells me before she makes her escape.
“So Katy,” Joyce says as we start walking down the hall, “Have you ever had one of these?” She holds out something that looks kind of like a cigarette but it’s not.