I was waiting on the park bench. He'd come; I had left him a message he couldn't ignore. And he'd be here in person. I still had a few minutes. I sat back, breathed the clean air, looked around the large, lightly wooded grounds. Off in the far distance, behind the absurdly straight trees, I could barely see an INDIGO giving orders to an entire herd of REDs and INFRAREDs as they busied themselves about, constructing something-or-other with their jerking motions.
The Simulation was, in concept, a good idea. Some poor sap in R&D who hadn't been taking his medicine was beginning to wake up to how dreadful the Complex was to most clones of his security clearance, and how much more people dreamed of doing than their Computer-assigned service firms and Computer-assigned leisure activities allowed them to do. He reasoned: we have cerebral monitoring devices, we have sensory overload devices, we have more computational power than even ULTRAVIOLETs knew what to do with, why not create an online world where citizens could live out their desires and mold a persistent world, one that didn't have the problems of limited resources and Communist invaders and faulty reactors? Why not create an online paradise? Why not create a Simulation?
And somehow, beyond all logic, the Simulation got approved. Scientists and engineers created the special booths that would allow clones to interface with the online world. High-clearance behavioral scientists and psychologists created fantasy worlds for citizens to live out their dreams in. And the inventor's clone successor smiled as his idea was being brought to life.
But the Simulation was a flop. Across every Simulation right now, there are only 58 clones online. 58 out of the entire Complex. Part of the problem was that many citizens realized that whatever they did in the Simulation would be instantly funneled through IntSec programs looking for any sign of treason or secret society membership. It was the ultimate surveillance system; every thought, every action was digitally and perfectly recorded and analyzed.
But the real problems were the cost and the restrictions. The development costs for the Simulation were huge, so every use of a Simulation booth carried an exorbitant charge, far out of the range of the lower clearances. In addition, many of the Simulations were restricted, even this one I was in; knowledge of the Outdoors at all was RED, knowledge of its habitability and any specifics was YELLOW, and you had to be at least BLUE to get away with any thought of wanting to be Outdoors. But when you were BLUE or above, you could get these very fantasies in real life. Why log onto an Outdoors Simulation for 500,000 credits when you could arrange a trip Outdoors for "military defensive purposes" with only a 25,000 credit bribe? Why pay to get a bunch of digital followers when your jumpsuit's color gets you real followers for free?
That left the Simulation with two small audiences: the high-clearance clones who were feeble and weak-willed enough to not be able to get their fantasies in real life but still useful enough to someone that they didn't get demoted, and the hackers who could break in and enjoy the Simulation at any clearance for free. I felt decidedly out of place; no ULTRAVIOLETs would be caught in the Simulation for the social stigma it carried these days--especially not Takyn-U-RUN, High Programmer of Alpha Complex. But I had a purpose.
Finally, I saw him approaching. Of course, I didn't recognize him by his features; he didn't look a thing like the photoimage I found of him back in the day. I recognized him because none of the pathetic saps who used the Simulation legally would be seven feet tall, wearing a flowing black trenchcoat, flanked by two shorter but similarly dressed men. The completely opaque, black sunglasses completed the look. I snorted in derision, but I was also glad I had decided to wear one of my nicer ULTRAVIOLET ensembles. It wouldn't do to not look the part.
They approached to about twenty-five feet. As they stopped, I held out my hand, and a small orange butterfly immediately darted over and alighted on my finger. A pre-programmed response, of course, but I could tell it made the impression. I stared at the butterfly, moving my fingers as it walked across them, as he began to speak.
"DevNull," I replied, not taking my eyes off the insect.
"You made your handle your name, huh? Well, I suppose you can do that when you're an ULTRAVIOLET."
"You're not doing so bad for yourself either. Head of Computer Phreaks activities in the whole sector group." The butterfly took off and flew away. I turned to face him, though I remained seated. I didn't concentrate on his face; it was fake. Instead, I listened to his voice; it was scrubbed, modified, but it was still his.
"It's been a long time since you left us. Left us and sold out to the Computer." His face was static, but his companions' were not. They were angry. I wondered if I knew them.
"I had learned all I was going to learn from the Phreaks or you." My reply was sharp, condemning.
He hesitated. "I got your... message. What do you want?"
I finally stood up and cracked my knuckles dramatically. "I want to end you."
Looking back on it, it was probably the cheesiest thing I could have said. But it did the trick. I heard his rage even though his face never changed. The battle began.
As hacking masters in a digital space, our attacks took physical form around us. DoS attacks became missiles; exploit attempts became energy blasts. A partial hit would make our digital image partially faze and desync; a misaim would cause glaring damage on the landscape. One missed attack struck some of the digital REDs in the distance and warped them into inhuman shapes; the INDIGO screamed and disappeared as he disconnected from the Simulation.
After twenty minutes that seemed an eternity, we were both worn down but not out. I was better than him, and we both could tell it, but his comrades kept me from having time to code up a finishing blow. Something would have to happen to break the deadlock.
And something did. Without warning, both of his aides screamed and vanished. As he stepped back in shock, I smiled grimly. The plan had worked. "Don't disconnect from the Simulation if you want to survive," I told him as I walked toward him. Beside us, a ten foot by ten foot screen suddenly materialized. We both looked at it.
Tons of computer equipment was visible in the background. The lights were dimmed, with nearly all of the illumination coming from the dozens of screens and consoles strewn about the messy room. Pizza boxes were stacked to the ceiling. Vulture troopers stood around, weapons at the ready. Two bodies, still linked into the consoles with a hard neural-to-silicon cable, lay on their bloodied keyboards. In the foreground was the DevNull that reality knew: pale, fat, in a grimy ORANGE jumpsuit that probably hadn't been changed for days. And behind him, holding a machine gun to the back of his cabled head...
"Good work, Farg." I nodded at my fellow ULTRAVIOLET. "Nice disguise."
"It's not my fault they didn't have a uniform that fit me," Fargmania replied, grabbing a slice of pizza with one hand as he held the weapon in the other. Admittedly, the PrestoPie pizza delivery service firm's uniforms were probably designed with a more... standard body configuration in mind, but I still couldn't help but chuckle at the ill-fitting costume.
"Th-th-th-the link was totally secure... our hideout was re-re-removed from the re-records," DevNull stammered. I was no longer paying attention to his trenchcoated avatar; I was looking at his sweating, pudgy face, fully betraying his nervousness, mouthing the words he was speaking on the Simulation.
"Chocolate chip pizza," I explained. "It's your favorite. You had me order some for you back then, remember? Almost no one else in the Complex likes the stuff."
"B-b-but the orders and addresses were faked... the charges and names were ID theft victims..."
I sighed. "I didn't trace you from the records, Dev. We interrogated all the actual deliverers of pizzas from every service firm in the sector. That's your problem, Dev. You thought every problem had an online solution. We're ULTRAVIOLETs. We are the solution." He started to stammer incoherently. It was time to end this.
"Adrian-O-NMR," I read the name off of his jumpsuit, "You have been found guilty of conspiracy to overthrow the Computer, conspiracy to overthrow one or more ULTRAVIOLETs, unauthorized access to electronic resources, digital assault of an ULTRAVIOLET, and leading a secret society. Your clone template is erased and you are terminated."
The trenchcoated man phased out as Farg fired, blowing DevNull's head into pieces. "Have a nice day."
"He's not going to be having any more nice days, not spread all over the floor like that," Farg said as he picked up another two slices.
I sighed. "It was supposed to be a dramatic moment, thank you very much. How can you eat that stuff anyway?"
He shrugged. "It's not that bad. Kind of a weird aftertaste."
"Whatever you say. Who's next on the list?"
This story is set in the world of the PARANOIA role-playing game. I orginially wrote it for the ULTRAVIOLET Diaries, which are a part of a fan site I am an administrator at, Paranoia-Live. It has been modified for e2. The images that are linked to by Takyn and Fargmania were created by the owner of Paranoia-Live, Jazzer, who gave me permission to use them for this node.