The Flying Comradeearliest post first | most recent post first
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...
I have successfully joined the crew of The Flying Comrade! Using the remote interface, I directed them to my location and, wearing my full Guinea Pig suit, scrambled up the ladder when they dropped it.
Guinea pigs are naturally social, and when confronted by another one their own size, they immediately took me into their fold, sniffing me minimally and popcorning to express their delight!
But it seems Giant Guinea Pig society--even radical Marxist Giant Guinea Pig Society--has its pecking order. I've been relegated to cleanout duty on the ship--pushing the old used bedding out the open bombay doors and spreading out the fresh.
It's everything I've ever dreamed of!
I've decided to forego the remote connection, and actually join the crew of The Flying Comrade as one of them. That is, a giant guinea pig. Or, in my case, a man in a giant guinea pig suit.
There's no way we can truly act as a team unless I'm right there with them, claws on the deck. I need to drink from the same stainless steel tube, eat the same pellets, and yes, use the same bedding for my biological functions. Then we can really bond, and I can take the crew to the next level.
I'm also refreshing myself in revolutionary Marxist theory, just so we can be sure of speaking the same language.
I will say the mobile interface for commnicating with the giant guinea pigs is not ideal. I mean, it’s not like some game where you can just drive the ship—it’s all about human-animal communication, and if you can make a real CONNECTION with the critters, and it’s hard when all they can see is a FaceTime-sized closeup. It’s better when they have a bigger view, and can see my whole guinea pig costume and I can communicate with body movements, popcorning around and stuff. I’ve also created a life-sized habitat for me to broadcast from, which I keep stocked with hay and a cardboard maze. I think it really helps them trust me.