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No Rime or Reason
Chute was reclined with her eyes closed and the transplanter discs behind her ears. Her
red ponytail was hanging over the seat. Streeter had already crossed over. He was lying back
with a grin on his face and his fingers laced over his belly. I stuck the transplanters behind my
ears. They sucked at the soft skin under my earlobes. My small hairs stood up and a spot
quivered in my head like a tuning fork. The numbing took over.
There were no lights in the darkness behind my eyelids. No colors. A deadening sensation oozed down my neck and consumed me. Sound faded and the outside world drifted away. Temperature became non-existent. I left my skin behind and my awareness�whoever I am � was drawn into the Internet and transplanted into virtualmode.
For the moment, I drifted in darkness with the falling sensation. This was the place where most people failed to enter virtualmode. They couldn�t handle the drifting. Virtualmoders knew how to ride the in-between like a wave.
I entered my sim that looked pretty much like my skin, except for the hair. I liked my sim bald. Back in the skin, my hair was past the shoulders and white as snow. Don�t know why it didn�t have color.
Darkness took form. First, there was an empty room with lumpy, colorless furniture. The gray walls turned into wood paneling with frosty windows. Cheap sofas, frayed rugs covered the floor and monstrous deer heads looked down from mounts, their glassy eyes reflecting the fire in the hearth. Above the fireplace was an enormous moose head.
The flames flickered over the dry wood, occasionally licking the old stone around it. The top of the mantel unfolded and a tiny woman, blond hair and sweeping curves, stepped out and crossed her perfectly smooth legs.
�Can�t feel the heat?� she asked. �Upgrade your gear with Dr. Feelers� tactile attachments. Dr. Feelers puts you in control of the nervous system inputs, you can feel as little or as much as you like. Fire too hot? Turn it down by��
�Off.� Chute�s sim was taller than her skin. It was leaner and more dangerous. �Dr. Feelers don�t work,� she mumbled, even though she was rubbing her hands in front of the fire. A giant barbarian came out of the next room with a wooden chair that looked tiny in his hand. Streeter�s sim was ten feet tall, muscles bulging off his neck and rippling down his arms with a bloody axe dangling from his hip. I always thought he should just go the whole nine and wear a loincloth. Dude was four feet tall in the skin, the shortest high school sophomore who ever lived, but in virtualmode he was a god.
He kicked the sofa away to make room and sat in the chair that groaned and splintered but somehow held him. Control panels emerged from the floor and wrapped around him like mission control.
�What�re we doing here?� I asked.
�We�re going to get our kill on.�
�I just got pardoned for fighting. We get caught, just stamp my suspension.�
�Don�t worry, Buxbee�s out of town.� Streeter�s rich voice vibrated off the walls. �That substitute has no idea where we�re going. I set up a false scenario. As far as anyone�s concerned, we�re reliving Desert Storm for history class.�
I looked at Chute. �Did you know we were doing this?�
�He didn�t tell me. If you were in class on time, he wouldn�t have told you, either.� She turned her head, the ponytail whipping around. �That�s the way he does it.�
�All right,� Streeter sang to himself. �If you�re wondering where we are, I hacked us into a world��
�Whoa, wait a second.� Chute held up her hand. Her sim looked like it had never seen the sun. �I don�t think we need to be hacking into anything, Streeter. You got caught last time and we don�t need to be wandering around some protected world while we�re in class!� His bushy eyebrows knitted together like enormous caterpillars. �First of all, I didn�t get caught last time, someone ratted me out. And they couldn�t prove I hacked anything so, technically, I wasn�t caught. Secondly, stop being a wuss. Right, Socket? Right?� He smacked me with a fist the size of a basketball. �We�re in, we�re out, no harm, no foul or whatever else jocks say before a game. We�re not getting caught. Besides, this place is one hell of a ride. I hacked in the other night just for a little taste and me likey.�
I didn�t care one way or the other. I never wanted to admit it to Streeter, but I was getting a little bored of virtualmode battles. So was Chute, I could tell. But Streeter lived for it so I shrugged.
Streeter smiled. �All right, good. This place is called the Rime. It�s a bunch of twelveyear olds with rich parents. I say we vaporize their asses down to bare data and harvest all their experience points. They aren�t worth shit, but who says we can�t have a little fun.� �Twelve-year olds?� Chute said. �Seriously?�
�Yeah, seriously. We ain�t got time for a real battle. It�s just a little quickie, come on.� The monitors lit up. Streeter scanned them, mumbling to himself as he surveyed the environment outside the cabin. Chute was already sitting on the couch with her arms locked over her chest checking her emails. She wasn�t going to talk, so I figured I�d check mine, then changed my mind. There�d just be a thousand unread emails and I wasn�t going to read them. Besides, there was likely a video message from Mom with the worn out face telling me she wouldn�t be home tonight. Again. So I sat next to Chute and zoned out for a while.
�You all right?� Chute said.
�Yeah, I�m all right. You?�
�Something�s bothering you.�
Life was bothering me, but I couldn�t explain that to her. It was just one of those days, but I could never hide it from Chute. She looked right through me.
Streeter clapped his hairy-knuckled hands that sounded like paddles and smiled, his teeth big and square and chipped. �Let�s shred some twelve-year-old ass.�
�Don�t say it like that,� Chute chimed.
Our clothes shifted and changed, turned white, speckled with browns and blacks and hung like rags. A battle staff appeared in Chute�s hands. Evolvers materialized on my belt, simple handles that looked less threatening than Chute�s pole but, once activated, transformed into any weapon I visualized.
A clean-cut kid appeared at the door. �Are your weapons weak? When you need to destroy and do it fast, think the Canonizer.� He held up a pistol with an oversized barrel. �It�s rapid, compact, and requires a fraction of the code��
We walked through the apparition and his cheesy weapon onto the front porch. The boards were gray and weathered like the sky. The cabin was buried in a dense forest. A narrow path at the bottom of the steps carved between the snow-crusted trees. My breath came out in long clouds.
I could feel all the way back to my skin and it felt cold. Maybe it was my imagination or maybe I was just nervous. Or maybe things were about to get really weird.