Monday, October 29, 2007

Chapter 5: Commuters

~ Jaden walked to the subway with Andrew in companionable silence. He buried his hands deep in the pockets of his thick fleece jacket. The air was getting colder every day. Later in the morning it would be beautiful out but this early, in the lee of the skyscrapers, with the mist still earthbound, it was downright chilly. He shivered and tucked his chin deeper into his collar.

Andrew began talking about something. Something to do with a vector and an impermeable field force or...something. Jaden tried to understand it, nodding and murmuring assent occasionally, knowing full well that Andrew didn't really need, or expect, him to actually process it all. He just wanted to talk it out, and he looked less crazy talking to Jaden than if he were just chattering away to himself.

Soon enough they were descending into the darkness and boarding their transport. Jaden wished the walk was a bit longer and the ride was a lot shorter. It was tedious and tiring and crowded and it always smelled like a mixture of really old french fries and dirty socks. At the other end, after an eternity of jostling, they were spit out along with everybody else and they rose into the light once again. By the time they were back up on the street Jaden had already sealed up and put away any personal thoughts he might have been indulging in and fixed his attentions on the work that they had to do that day. The transport stop was only two blocks from the Live-ulator lab buildings, in a much classier part of town than where Andrew and Jaden's apartment was.

Jaden judged the wealthiness of a place by the size and number of windows it sported. Live-ulation International Inc. Office Headquarters were made primarily of windows. Tall and tinted and continuous but for flashy chrome frames all around the building. Arranged in back of that building were more buildings, slightly smaller, with slightly fewer windows, but still impressive. Those were where the actual Live-ulation labs were.

The inventor and patent holder to the Live-ulator still held offices here, though he didn't spend a lot of time in them anymore. Most of his time was taken up with figuring out new ways to spend the fortune he'd made. He was stuck between a rock and hard place because it just kept growing every day. A sad tale indeed.

With his invention Warren Bilken had revolutionized the world. A simulation that was real. A constructed alternate mode of being if you will. What went on within a Live-ulation was as real as when it was experienced outside. Since the system actually interfaced with a subject's brain it essentially had control of their body. If you fell in a Live-ulation, it hurt. If you had sex in a Live-ulation, well, hopefully you'd brought a tissue. If you died in a Live-ulation, you were dead.

The only appreciable difference between the live-sims, as they were known, and real life was that in a sim you had a safeword. If you had the sense to use it in time, you could actually be let out if you got into trouble. Obviously the use of Live-ulators required extensive waiver signing.

They were expensive to rent, but not so much so that an average middle class family couldn't go on a "vacation" at least once a year. That was, in fact, what the the live-sims were most employed for. Warren Bilken had single-handedly put more than a few tourist-dependant countries out of business. ~

Friday, October 26, 2007

Chapter 4: Close Quarters

~ That night Jaden fell into bed with a sigh of pure exhausted bliss. He lay awake for a moment, listening to Andrew clattering about in the bathroom. He didn't know how the hell one man could make so very much noise with one toothbrush, but Andrew always did.

The rooms that they shared were small and far from luxurious, but Jaden was happy with the arrangement. He had a bed. And he had food. Beds and foods were good. Andrew exited the bathroom in pajamas, set the alarm clock, and clambered up into the top bunk.

"Night Jaden."

And he had a friend. Friends were good.

"Night Andy." The last thing Jaden was aware of that night, was a warm and fuzzy feeling. Possibly from the coziness that Andrew's big brotherly attitude inspired in him, possibly because of the flannel sheets that he'd just gotten out of the dryer 15 minutes ago.

The first thing Jaden was aware of in the morning was Andrew kicking him in the face as he disembarked from the bunk.

"Ow! Andrew! Be careful!" Jaden clutched his nose and swung out with one fist in retaliation. He barely clipped the back of Andrew's leg, who didn't even seem to have noticed.

"Sorry about that Jay. Oh well, time to get up anyway." Andrew proceeded on his way to the little kitchenette without another glance at Jaden, who was left to roll about in the covers and feel his face gingerly to see if anything was missing. Nothing was, so he got up.

He staggered into the shower thinking, as always, that if someone really had to feel as grumpy and awful as he did every morning, then they should have at least had a really good time the night before. He glimpsed himself in the mirror and saw a dark shadow quickly forming under his left eye. Wouldn't you know it? He'd been proud of getting through both sims yesterday without actually getting hurt and then someone goes and gives him a black-eye while he's still in bed? You can't make that kind of stuff up.

All wrongs in the world were forgiven however, when he finally got to the kitchen and found that Andrew had made blueberry waffles for breakfast. He even had whipped cream.

"Andy," Jaden said between mouthfuls of sweet, fluffy, savory, toasty, sticky pure awesomeness. "If I were gay, and you were gay, I would marry you." Andrew shrugged and rose to rinse his own plate off.

"Eh, if I had a dime for every time I've heard that."

Jaden, busy as he was floating between levels of heaven, didn't ask Andrew what he would do with all of those dimes. ~

Monday, October 22, 2007

Chapter 3: Hierarchy

~ Jaden stood in front of his rented locker toweling himself off. Andrew sat on one of the benches to the side, already fully dressed. He was always done before Jaden, and Jaden wasn't completely sure how.

He turned self consciously to his locker, painfully aware of his scarred back. Jaden had plenty of scars, but those were different. Most of the rest he'd gotten in the Live-ulator. The ones on his back though, those he hated. Those he had reason to hate. Andrew broke into his thoughts with a chuckle.

"Dude, you look so manly with all those scars." He put special emphasis on the word "manly", deepening his voice considerably and grinning in a singularly admiring way. Jaden quickly pulled a clean shirt over his head and turned to face Andrew.

"They're all from mistakes Andrew. They're not something to be proud of." Andrew shook his head and, putting the subject aside, stood.

"Ready to hit the cafeteria then? Takyle will join us there." Jaden snatched up his jacket.

"Yeah, let's go." At the door he faced Andrew.

"Hey can I bum five bucks from ya?" Andrew let out his deep, and Jaden thought, sincere, laugh and kept going. Jaden took three running steps to catch up with him outside.

"What am I going to do if I ever really need money from you?" Andrew's face got comically serious.

"You'll beg," he informed Jaden. "Or give me some type of sexual favor. If you were good I'd pay you for that."

"Oh gee whiz, thanks a lot. Good to know that I've got options. Incidentally," Jaden added after a pause. "You act like I've never serviced a man before." Andrew quickly raised one finger to stop him.

"Ok, that's just awkward." Jaden grinned again, and this time it seemed a bit more natural on his face.

"Awkward is what I do best Andrew."


Takyle was already at the cafeteria and had claimed a table by the time Andrew and Jaden made it through the line. Jaden approached her confidently, at least on the outside.

"Hello again Takyle." She nodded curtly in response. He sank into a seat across from her. Not out of the line of fire yet.

Takyle Carlyle (and Jaden knew for a fact that she cursed her parents every day for saddling her with that name) was as tall as Jaden with a commanding eye and black hair. Next to her, Jaden's hair looked dirty brown. It was so black that it looked a little blue sometimes. Jaden always had the urge to touch it whenever he saw her. He had suppressed that desire successfully thus far. He wondered briefly what exactly would happen to him if he did do that. He looked up from his sandwich when she addressed him a moment later.

"So today was a bust...again."

"Yeah," he agreed. "Sorry about that," he added as an afterthought by way of repentance. Takyle remained cool.

"I have to leave for a meeting with the Wellcraft Association in less than an hour. Are you going to run the simulation again this afternoon?" It was worded like a question, but her tone suggested otherwise. Jaden shared a split second look with Andrew. The latter cleared his throat quietly.

"If I may Takyle? Being in the live-sim for very long stretches of time is tiring at the least, and possibly damaging, as well you know. Are you sure it's a good idea for us to give it another run today?" Takyle's eyes were fixed on Andrew but Jaden got the distinct impression that she was not addressing him alone. Quite the contrary.

"Of course I know the dangers. I also know that we are nowhere near ready. I can only afford to rent the Live-ulation lab for another week. It's not cheap you know. We have to get as much time in with it as we can. Any risks you take in it will not be greater than what we'll experience in the real thing. But if you're having second thoughts...?" Andrew never blinked. He gazed back into her eyes and in Jaden's mind the image of a mongoose and a viper, mutually locked in a stare rose to the forefront. Andrew spoke with more seriousness than Jaden had thought him capable of.

"Of course boss. We'll try it again and see if we can get farther this time. Of course that'll be hard without your skills though." He cracked a tiny smile and Takyle turned her gaze on Jaden. He silently nodded his assent to his dish of applesauce and once again wondered why he put up with this. Once again he reminded himself.

"For the profits." ~

Friday, October 19, 2007

Chapter 2: Saving Grace

~ Jaden desperately felt all around the panel one more time before giving up. There seemed to be only one thing to do. He said the safeword, "Kennedy", and his field of vision was flooded with white light. After a moment his eyes adjusted to it and he saw someone moving towards him.

"Way to go Jaden. Way to completely back yourself into a corner. If you'd waited in the room for two more minutes, me and Carlyle would have gotten to you and we might have won for once."

Jaden still sat on the floor, shirtless, drenched in sweat, waiting for Andrew to shut up. He was compact and lithe in build, longish hair dark enough brown that it was often mistaken for black, penetrating brown-green eyes rimmed by thick lashes. His features were memorable and on the strong side. Largish nose, full lips, high cheekbones, wide jawline.

Andrew was (in more ways than just physically) comfortably opposite. Tall, skinny, freckled, with red auburn hair, a long nose, and ice gray eyes. He stared down at Jaden for a moment.

"Well aren't you going to say anything?" Jaden raised an eyebrow in response.

"Not until you help me up, that's for damn sure." He held up a hand and Andrew took it and hauled him to his feet. Jaden walked over and retrieved his shirt from where it had landed across the empty white room.

"I don't regret it. I couldn't have known when, or even if, you'd get to me. I had to do something."

"Jaden, that's your problem. That's what's stopping us. You're part of a team now. You have to learn to trust your mates and remember that you don't have to operate alone anymore." Jaden nodded absently.

"Carlyle very angry?" he asked. Andrew shrugged his bony shoulders.

"Eh, no more that usual. Wanna get some lunch?"

Yes, Jaden decided that he did want some lunch. No reason to face up to Carlyle on an empty stomach if it could be avoided. He nodded again and pushed the dagger he'd been holding the entire time into the sheath on the back of his belt.

"Yeah, yeah actually I do." As they made for the door Andrew shot him the look that, without fail, foreshadowed a joke.

"Nothing like clockwork precision teamwork to give you an appetite, ey Jaden?" Jaden's mouth turned up in an awkward kind of grin.

"Well if that's the case, then I'm starving!" ~

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chapter 1: In a Cold Dark Place

~ Jaden McAllister slipped the knife back into its sheath and finished pulling the ropes from his ankles. He didn't know why the hell he'd been left his dagger, or why his hands had been tied so loosely come to think of it, but he got the impression that he'd find out quite soon. Too soon.

A short panel in the wall began to slide open and he rose to his feet in one fluid, continuous motion. Disconcerting scratching noises were coming from the other side of the quickly widening gap. He used his last free second to scan the room again. Nothing to take cover behind, nothing to climb. Jaden once again unsheathed his dagger. Looked like he would have to stand and fight.

A lioness came gliding out of the little door, as silent as a shadow, hugging the wall. The opening closed behind her as she circled Jaden. He turned with her, his thoughts racing.

"What is this, the dark ages? Am I to be martyred? What's next? A gladiator match? I can't kill this; it's a protected species!"

Just as Jaden decided that the lone lioness probably wouldn't attack him another panel began to grind open. His decision was split second and final. As soon the second lioness slunk out to join the first Jaden ripped off his shirt and flung it up at the moving camera head high above that had been tracking him all this time, hoping to God that it would catch on something. With a silent Hail Mary on his lips, Jaden threw himself at his only hope for escape.

What he heard behind him was the scuffling of the lionesses, who had deduced the escape plan of their only potential prey and had decided to make a last ditch effort at conquest. The muffled bump of the panel closing shut them off abruptly, leaving Jaden in absolute darkness. He groped around himself to try and establish bearings. He could feel the blood thudding in his face and neck and realized that he was breathing quite hard. He felt hot all over and his bare chest was slick with sweat.

Knife still to hand he began crawling along the tunnel he'd dived into. It turned out to be quite succinct, ending perhaps eight feet later in a cool metal door. He ran his hands over and around it. No handle, no gaps. It occurred to Jaden that he'd be royally screwed if another lioness was let through this way.

"Or if they let the two in the room back in," the voice of logic reminded him dismally.

"Well this is just fan-damn-tastic," he said aloud. ~