The Flying Comradeearliest post first | most recent post first
"Is this, uh... what we expected?" Handsome Becky asks.
Stage three, the smash and grab, seems to have taken a turn.
A shard of pure information slices past us. It's the size of a semi truck but in only two dimensions.
And it's one of the small ones. All around us, as far as our infinite-seeing eyes can see, it's a cathedral of crystal. More like a canyon, really. There isn't exactly "color" here, but it somehow presents itself as white-on-white layers of mathematics. Look in any direction too long and you can feel the tug of its seductive algorithms, integrating with your own fragile definition.
"Eyes sharp," says Scruffy. "There's got to be a pattern. Concentrate on the data coordinates in envelope C.
Everyone sorts through their survival kits. Each step of our heist has been carefully planned out, but also carefully NOT committed to memory in case any of us were captured on the way. We each carry a range of possible targets and instructions, all of them decoys. Except one.
As each of us reads the contents of envelope C, we seem to log in to a shared network. And as we do, a path begins to present itself through the fractal landscape ahead of us.
Scruffy leads the way, leaving a wake of cast-off ones and zeros in his wake.
Stage two, the Lightning Run.
Only the highest priority data gets the big highway. That’s part of what the Giant Guinea Pigs got from the boards and syndicates of the earth.
And let me tell you, it is a big highway.
We’re all ensconced in diamond lightning form, identical to all the packages shooting down the highway. It’s so big — to facilitate the quantum buffering — that all the packages are at great apparent distance. By “apparent” I mean you can see too well. The edges of the Lightning Run stretch to a horizon extending for every digit emerging from an infinite decimal point.
And you can see every one.
I mean, you can’t even count that high, but you can SEE every ONE.
And when the Great White Antibody Patrol starts coming your way upstream, you can see every fractal detail on their multi-purpose q-foam hulls, antennae growing back through your eyes into your brain and takes you apart byte by byte—
“Looks like we got what we paid for,” says Scruffy.
Protected encryption? Payoffs?
The multiplicity of creation continues to unfold before my eyes.
Stage one, we're back at Nemo’s, the underground VR cyberpunk bar. This time the crew's all in off the shelf Scene Kid avatars, which means they blend right in with the e-boys and cool girls and the occasional full blown electro-goth.
"Yeah, we got some keys we can trade..."
They work their way up various ladders, probing for the right kind of mark.
"Ooooh, I dunKNOW! That kind of hardware is like, military restricted."
Until eventually the right doors open. Pixels of air folding back into themselves lead to invasive scan DMZs, opening into smokey back rooms of the boards and syndicates of the Earth.
That's when the giant guinea pigs drop their masks and pull out their claws.
"How did you discover this information?"
"We've been tracking you capitalist pigs for years. Raiding your banks and Timothy Hay fields has been merely a distraction as we gained control of your networks."
"What do you want?"
In the end, the capitalist fat cats have no choice but to oblige. The lesser of two evils, though just barely. And now the giant guinea pigs have upped the ante, shown a card.
But in the end, they've got what they need to initiate stage two.
The original reason I got the giant guinea pigs into VR was because I thought they'd be good at games, and we could enter some eSports tournaments and make enough money to upgrade The Flying Comrade. But, these particular giant guinea pigs took it as an opportunity to attempt the biggest heist of their career.
But things went south. And Chuckles died.
Now it's personal for the guinea pigs. They want payback.
We've put The Flying Comrade back on autopilot, circling the wilderness of the Western Ocean, avoiding all contact, charging up the solar batteries by day. We've gone over the simulations hundreds of times, every single moment choreographed, every possibility mapped and accounted for. The reality generators have been recalibrated, and our extensive shadow network silently reactivated.
We slip the headsets back on, and enter the dankweb in stealth mode, quiet and dangerous as black glass spiders.
The entire crew has been working hard on the coding for our assault. We've remained in a connectivity blackout zone in the wilderness of the Western Ocean, living off the staples in our stores. Among those stores was a bushel of Cuties, those tiny mandarin oranges, which we busted out for a Christmas feast. Not only is the vitamin C crucial for the health and nutrition of the giant guinea pigs, but provides a huge morale boost for the holidays.
We'll need that vitamin boost for the final phases.
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.