The Flying Comradeearliest post first | most recent post first
We buried Chuckles at sea the next morning. We would have preferred to return to land, but we're currently weeks from home and had no way to preserve his giant guinea pig body. There was a storage locker big enough for him though, which we tipped out of the open cargo hold and watched splash and sink into the water below.
Scruffy paces the deck. Skies are clear. The water calm.
"WEEEEEEK WEEEEK WEEEEEK?" asks Ruth.
Scruffy doesn't respond. Apparently he still hasn't set a heading.
Are we defeated? Is the giant guinea pig crew really ready to return to a life of robbing banks and Timothy Hay fields and spreading Marxist revolutionary literature? VR seemed like a natural home for them, a place to truly achieve what man's world would deny them forever. But now they were marked, never able to return without their particular brainwaves being noticed immediately and fried on the spot.
Yul held the computer core in his giant buck teeth, dropped it, and rolled it across the floor to Scruffy with a flick of his nose.
We hadn't come back empty handed.
The Flying Comrade is lurching out of control, listing hard larboard and DOWN as the struts groan from the pressure like the whole ship's going to snap.
"WEEEEEEEK WEEEEK WEEEEEK WEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!"
The entire Giant Guinea Pig crew is disoriented and listless, crawling out of their meat-unit beds and tearing off the skull caps. After so long in our virtual dank web hideaway, it's a rude awakening for the crew to find themselves back in the stubby reality of their guinea pig forms. Giant they may be, their short arms and huge heads aren't ideal for flying airships.
Scruffy's right. It isn't a coincidence that our VR hideout was compromised at the same moment The Flying Comrade was apparently hacked. It's a coordinated attack, but we're in a much better position to protect ourselves here, outside of the VR world.
"WEEEK! WEEK WEEK WEEK WEEEK WEEEEK WEEEEK"
Yul and Hermione pop the core from the Comrade's mainframe. It flies out of the dash and spins on the floor of the bridge. Monkey Magic shuts down all the existing sub-processing, returning the ship to fully manual control. Handsome Becky and Ruth man the conn and the flaps and stabilize the ship, bringing us level and steady, just a few hundred feet above the relatively calm surface of somewhere over the Western Ocean. It's night, cloudless with a half moon.
Scruffy stares out the big windows in the front of the control room and makes no squeaks.
We're back on the beach, but it's ugly now. It's like there's been an oil spill and a toxic airborne event all at once, and it's lit up by the greasy lights of a nearby refinery. A refinery that didn't used to be there.
Scruffy said it was the result of our collective spirits, that this VR hideaway within the already hidden-away psychic dank web was directly tied to our neural nets, and that this poisonous darkness was a reflection of our hearts.
Because we lost Chuckles at Big Data Bank.
"weeeEEEEK! weeeeEEEEK! weeeeeeEEEEEEEK!" Ruth started squealing and popcorning around in the sand. Which was especially strange back in her beach bod, which was an Ester William's era flapper in a one-piece and a bathing cap.
"Ruth says it isn't our spirits," said Beefy Ray Cakes. "I mean, not that we're not sad. We're crushed. Devastated. But we've been hacked. That's what all this Dead Kennedys nightmare California beach scene's about. Somebody knows we're here."
Scuffy stood stock still for a moment, in his perfect chiseled blond hair surfer-ness. He was accessing the grid.
"We've got to pull out now. Everybody unplug."
We speed through light beams, camouflaged as innocent data.
Time spent on the virtual beach hadn't prepared me for this. There it was all sunscreen and pita bread sandwiches, sand between our toes, sunsets and gulls. It was just virtually created sensorium too, but so realistic you never thought about it.
Now we were as close as we could be to the reality of data. Binary constructions moving at the speed of light, a flotsam of packets getting routed and tossed through a series of interchanges. We pass our forged credentials at firewalls and proceed, interrogated by vicious, unfeeling robots as the path becomes more and complicated.
Scruffy gives me a virtual wink.
Pretty soon we find ourselves alone at a great slate wall. It seems to have no top, or bottom, or side to sides. Not even a door knob, or whatever the equivalent would be in this pure-data world. Handsome Becky, Yul, Hermione, Chuckles, Beefy Ray Cakes, Monkey Magic, Ruth, Scruffy and I float before it, our logic trees slowly rotating like mobiles in the ether.
"Do your thing, Handsome Becky!" Scruffy says. Or transmits. Or whatever. We all get it.
The data avatar of Handsome Becky turns in the darkness, glowing gold and sparkly through her own energy, then reforms into concentric rings of razor sharp teeth rotating in alternate directions. She dives into the wall and begins to grind.
Apparently a brute force attack.
We all wait for what seems like an eternity (especially after spending the last several seconds at light speed) until finally there's a *pop* and the pressure drop makes me want to clear my ears.
"In we go!" says Scruffy.
Within are seemingly infinite rows of well-lit shelves, filled with boxes, all identical. We've each memorized the coordinates of the packages we've been assigned. Each one is individually encrypted in its slot, but we've got keys for that. In no time (virtually) we're back at place we came in, each package absorbed into our seemingly innocuous data-schemes.
"Time to shoot the tube!" cries Scruffy.
We begin to slip through the hole that Handsome Becky breeched, but suddenly things are different. Directions seem to change, scale and relative speed become elastic. We're bumping into each other, crashing into things... with shifting walls of blinding light I'll have you know.
Scruffy's voice is sounding mechanical, but he's able to screech DIAMOND 4K AC/$AD/$AE: FETCH ADDR/IO and we all speed through the hole in the wall, shooting back the way we came.
We think we're clear and don't look back till we sense a deafening THUMP as the hole closes up.
"CHUCKLES!!!!!" Scruffy cries.
But we can't stop now.
Life on the virtual beach passes idyllically. The sun is warm, the beers are cold, and the surf is up!
I realize I never knew the gender of the Giant Guinea pigs. They all just seemed the same. I mean, some are long haired and some are short, and they display the full range of different colors and combinations of white and brown and black, but I guess I had just assumed they were all boys. Now, in their virtual hideout, they've taken on various emulations of male, female, and non-binary roles, wearing everything from trunks and bikinis to old 1920's one-pieces and, in some cases, nothing at all. Though I suppose none of these representations in the VR world are necessarily related to their physical forms.
Speaking of which, we make sure our resting "real" bodies remain in good condition as well. "Gotta keep the Earth Units in order, bro!" as Scruffy puts it. We take turns "unplugging" (their term) to wake up back on the Flying Comrade, making sure our auto-pilot path over the uncharted wilds of the Western Ocean remains undetected and that each of our resting bodies is safe and sound. And relieving ourselves. It's the only time we go to the bathroom.
Scruffy leads the team through our plan, drawing diagrams in the sand with a piece of driftwood as we gather around the bonfire at night. Parts of the plan I miss, as they revert to guinea pig communication methods when the conversation gets heated.
"WEEEEK WEEEEEEK WEEEEEEEEK!" they occasionally exclaim, popcorning around the sand in their buff and tanned surfer bodies when they get particularly excited.
"Dude. Tomorrow, WE RIDE!!!" Scruffy tells me, with a wild look in his eyes.
The giant guinea pigs have purchased a chunk of VR rackspace, dankweb addresses, redundant air-gapped power sources, and some surplus reality generator equipment from the Psychic School District. It's easier for them to make appointments and video calls from inside the interface, since translation and avatar creation comes with the system, so they've had no problem turning their pet-store mined cryptocurrency into a legion of bankers, network hardware sales techs, and international logistics firms getting things DONE.
And finally, they're ready to flip the switch.
"Hey Ben. Yo."
There's only one guinea pig this greasy-haired surfer kid could be.
"In the virtual flesh, my man!"
I instinctively respond to his high five.
Around us, who can only be the crew of the Flying Comrade sits on the beach, cracking beers, waxing boards, heading off into the surf. The sun is bright, but I find I have sunglasses on.
"Are you ready for the really big heist, dawg?"
The giant guinea pigs blend right in at the Nemo’s, the underground cyberpunk bar. Everybody’s just an avatar, of course. But either it hasn’t occurred to the crew that they could take another form, or it’s some kind of deep-seated strategy. They’ve built their own mods into google voice translate so the rest of the motley patrons just accept them as a pack of giant guinea pig hackers.
And they seem content with the virtual hay and pellets. So it looks like we can stay for awhile.
Scruffy takes the lead in the negotiations. What have the guinea pigs got to trade? Their earthly treasure consists of an aging airship, some network wetware interfaces, and whatever food and water remain.
"Crypto?" Scruffy answers a purple mowhawked hacker wearing a fishnet shirt. "We're loaded. Been mining it for years in the POS computers at pet stores across the country for years."
Scruffy then digs into his fur with his boney fingers and produces a thumb drive.
"I have a taste right here if you'd like to take a look."
The giant guinea pigs have really taken the to VR--they're already programming their own games! I've been spending time in their virtual world (I have to remove my giant guinea pig mask to get it on my head, but none of the others noticed because they've been spending all of their time jacked in).
I'm making my way in right now... a real classic cyberpunk virtual landscape, with long neon blue lines running like a freeway through the darkness, to some kind of group of skyscrapers constructed out of pale green polygons. Is that where they've all congregated? Turning my body to light to ride the blue rails now.
Getting the VR headsets on the giant guinea pigs was easier than I’d guessed. At first they popcorned around a bit when I tried to fit it over their heads, but Scruffy has always been the most curious and interested in trying new things. Maybe that’s why he’s their shaman.
Once everybody else saw Scruffy taking to it, they all lined up and got fitted and properly jacked in. I put the ship on autopilot while they get their bearings. I’m starting them out with Misty Baggington’s Magic Maze, just because it’s totally low stakes, and don’t guinea pigs connect well with mazes?
Before giving up the remote connection and joining the crew of giant guinea pigs on The Flying Comrade, I was concerned about their ability to pilot the ship on their own. But did you know that guinea pigs have better color perception than cats and dogs? And that they can see 33 images per second (as opposed to only 22 images per second like humans) and that they have a 340 degree range of vision?
That's right--they would be awesome at video games.
As I swab the deck of the bridge, I watch them navigating rush hour around the world's busiest airports, dodging and dipping their large, unwieldily airship around commercial jets and single engine planes. They're partial to airports because of the tremendous amounts of hay growing in the surrounding fields.
Perhaps if we can enter a gaming event, we can take the prize and upgrade The Flying Comrade to something more modern...