Jan 9, 2013
Anthony Elmore

Flash Fiction Challenge: Spin the Wheel

By the Wendigo’s command. The Fates assigned me three elements: Superhero, virtual reality world, a vigilante. Yet, like delicates thrown in a dryer set to High, they came out as something else.

“The Rapture Virus”

“Don’t panic,” Frank said, calm. He sipped his store brand cola, cupped the mic while he swallowed. Hopefully, this won’t need an escalation team.

“I can’t land!” the young man, username: InvinciBill, said. “I’ve flown over the world for three hours.”

“I’m disabling the FeelieWare.” Frank typed up the case, alt-tabbing through the required fields.

Game: Apocalypse City

Player Username: InvinciBill

Summary of issue: Player is flying, but is unable to land. May be related to know bug discussed in Team Track 20233.

“Hellooo…” InviciBill said.

“I’m just typing up the case.” Even though the FeelieWare had been disabled, the player still felt the resonant effects of panic. The FeelieWare enhanced the player’s experience by lightly triggering emotional responses to stimuli. The brain reacted to threats accordingly.

“InviciBill, what were you doing when you started flying.”

“I was chasing MasterMime down after he massacred a Smartcar full of clowns. He mimed flying a chopper so I flew after him, but I kept going up and up. I think I stopped when I hit the ceiling.”

“I’d like to have closer look. Do I have your permission to enter your game?”

“Ok. Just hurry.”

Frank lowered his telepresense goggles, slipped on the interaction gloves took a sip of cola and jacked in. The warrens of gray cubicles pixelated then his vision became a vortex of colors. With a volt of panic, the FeelieWare enabled, stimulating the empathy and logic centers of his brain. Apocalypse City came into resolution like an ancient polaroid, its colors bright and crisp.

He’s standing over the world, feet planted in air. It scrolled below him, the tips of buildings looking like piled carpet. InvinciBill lay next to him, his body in a diver’s aspect, hair swept back by virtual inertia. The sound of a jet’s afterburners roared in an infinite loop.

“You’re here. How do I get down?”

“Have you tried pressing “A” several times?”

“Done that”

“Hm, try hitting “start”.

“Nope.”

“Alright, I’ll have a look at your settings.”

“Hey, did you hear about that plane?”

Frank ignored the question and swept his hand and his desktop appeared. He punched up InvinciBill’s AC’s setting console. He fanned through the tabs, inspecting each radio button and drop-down field. Nothing seemed amiss. Several floating objects snared his attention and he swooped the console aside.

Thousands of small objects rose from the city, like released balloons. As they came into view, he realized they were characters, both live a stock. The players flailed their arms, ran in place, shot energy bolts, jumped and moved manically to escape the pull toward the sky. The stock characters, policemen, hot dog vendors, pedestrians, cabbies, pantomimed their behavior loop. The hotdog vendor dropped slaw on a hot dog. The cabbie sat in a driver’s position, steering his invisible car. A man with a briefcase walked along the nonexistent sidewalk.

The laws of gravity, as the game went, had been repealed.

A player rose near him, bouncing twice against the ceiling. “O-M-G. I’m on hold. I’m like the 231th in the queue.”

Frank paused the call, swallowed, and IM’d his coworker. Yet, before he could send, his team asked the same question, worded differently – Is everyone floating? Why isn’t Julie and Rich picking up calls.

Everyone was, Frank knew. A meter maid floated through. Now they were merged and it looked like he had an extra pair of hands. A few lingering floaters joined the growing carpet of characters.

The call queue indicator showed more than 1000 calls and ticked upward.  His co-worker’s spoke with tense courtesy, but a few phones rang on, unanswered. He stood, slid off his headset and goggles. After a flash of panic, he scanned the cubicle farm. Julie Neder shared the cubicle next to him, but there was only an empty chair where she should be sitting. Her coffee mug emblazoned with a comic sans quip “I’m not perfect, just Saved” rolled on its side, coffee streaming down the desk and one the floor.

Many of his co-workers were Asian or East Asian, and a few were fervently atheist. Each of them were present, calming customers and unaware that the Rapture has, or may have, occurred. During the previous year, a crank preacher, Rev. Abraham Duncan, claimed that the Rapture would occur on July 10. Even Christians like Julie discredited him. When the date passed and all Christians were present and accounted for, he said his predictions were off. He failed to make adjustments for the Gregorian calendar, since his Bible-based calculations were Julian based.

“One way or another, both of us will know for sure,” Frank’s  Holiness grandmother would say when his family dismissed her End Times claims.

Fighting intermural storm surges of skepticism and revelation, Frank put on his headset. “Sir, may I ask you a question?” Without waiting for a response, he asked, “Are you a Christian?”

InviciBill gasped and he answered, “Who are you to ask me that? Is this some kind of weird upsell? I want to speak to your manager.”

Characters spoke to each other in the background about outside world affairs. “Did you hear about that plane that crashed into the ocean? They say the pilot was gone,” Someone said.

He picked other incidents from the crosstalk. Driverless cars crashing. Empty hospital nurseries. Relatives gone missing. Empty playgrounds.

But how did it explain why the live and stock characters were floating? Empty playgrounds and nurseries. Pure, unblemished souls. The FeelieWare was like consciousness-lite. Its algorithm mimicked neurocircuitry and brain activity, however stripped down.

When the clock struck “Rapture”, even God couldn’t tell the difference between a babe and a virtual character, who only collected fictional kills, loot. No true harm done. They were without sin.

Frank closed the call, whipped off the headset, and phoned his wife, and hoped she was kidding about going back to Mass.

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