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The city is so noisy sometimes.
The city is so noisy sometimes, so I indulge in virtual reality to escape the commotion. I live on the forty-fifth story of the Hubble Apartment buildings, the floor-to-ceiling windows providing me with a bird’s eye view of Hubble City. Pressing my face against the glass, I see cars, motorcycles, and LeviBuses gliding over the concrete road four hundred feet below me, pedestrians flooding the streets. Even at night, neon lights provide comfort for those afraid of the dark.
When I was small, I thought I could step through the glass and fall into the abyss of Calyce Street to be consumed by the chaos down below. My sister Raina would just laugh and tell me what a silly little boy I was; the glass was solid. I couldn’t fall through. But the city is so noisy sometimes.
Raina sits on the sofa, her eyes glassy. It really unnerves me when people do that. They look like corpses, the only things showing that they are alive the rise and fall of their chest and the occasional blink. The Portal implanted in her right temple glows green, indicating that she is immersed in her own virtual reality experience, staring at things no one in the offline world can see. I’m bored, so I try talking to her. “Raina?”
“Stop it,” she hisses, snapping out of this strange trance. “I’m trying to have a conversation.”
Undoubtedly, she’s on the Metropolis - the most popular social media app of the day. Advertised as the most realistic virtual reality game on the Portals, users can play games and chat with friends in the virtual city. Like most fourteen year olds, she’s hooked.
I sigh and sit down beside her. My homework’s done, I have nothing to study for in school - I’m only twelve, and my sister claims that my workload is nothing compared to hers, but from the amount of time she spends in the Metropolis, I figure her workload isn’t that much more than mine.
I close my eyes and open my Dashboard. Immediately, several icons appear before me in augmented reality - I select the Metropolis app and dive in.
It’s funny how I like to drown out sound with more sound.
The Metropolis is like Hubble City, but bigger and brighter. The chip implanted in my mind programs signals into my neurons, overloading them. My sister doesn’t see why the city overwhelms me so much, but it’s the color. There are colors everywhere. Where I see letters, I see colors. Where I hear music, I hear colors. The Met’s opening theme is a soft tan. My screen name, QwkSzn13, seems like keyboard smash but is actually a combination of my favorite shades of blue and green. The city sounds around me provoke flashes of bright pink, lime, and gold. It’s beautiful. It’s chaos. It’s a beautiful chaos.
The city is so noisy sometimes.
But I don’t linger in the city for too long. Offline, I live in the city. I don’t need to see any more of it. I don’t need to enter any chatrooms - I have no friends to share them with - or participate in MMORPG games either - they’ve never interested me.
No, I’m a hacker.
It’s simple ROM hacking, really, but rarely anyone does it. You need a strong mind to access the Portal’s code - most people are so easily drowned in the fake sensations their Portal feeds them that they don’t realize it boils down to just 0’s and 1’s. Simple binary. But once you realize that, you’ve unlocked an infinite set of possibility. Some use this ability for malicious behaviors, hacking money into their online accounts or manipulating other users to do their bidding, but my purposes are benign. I’ve built my own domain in the Metropolis, and that’s where I like to hide when I’m trying to relax. My favorite songs will always play from the speakers, my favorite books will always line the shelves. My favorite colors will always fill my mind.
I make my way towards the small, discreet building I call my virtual home. It’s invisible to all Met users but me - even my sister. I like to think that someday, I’ll have a friend to share it with.
I wonder what I’ll code today. I’ve always found it relaxing to delve into the code - just close my eyes and remember that none of it is real, and then I’ll see the code behind my surroundings. I flop onto my bean cushion as I’ve done a thousand times - it’s so comfortable, but it’s only pixels and programming. I pull up the code and all its colors. The colors baffled me at first, but I use them to remember the functions and commands. Maybe I’ll change the lighting a bit. Maybe I’ll…
Suddenly I’m falling into blank space. My avatar is gone, I can’t see myself. The code is empty, the colors gone. Destroyed? Wiped, somehow, from the server? My mind is blank; I panic. I try pulling up my Dashboard but it doesn’t appear. I can’t log out. What if I’m stuck here forever?
Adrenaline fills my veins, but not because the Portal programmed it. No - my fear is real. It’s very real, and in my real body, I’m scared. None of this is real. It’s not real, it’s all programming, and if I focus hard enough, I can override it with my mind. It’s not real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not -
My eyes snap open.
I’m sitting on the sofa, sunlight flooding through the apartment’s windows. My sister is beside me. Her Portal is blinking in a funny pattern - white lights, on, off, on, off. I touch my Portal and find the chip is searing hot. Has it overheated?
I approach the windows and find that no light emits from my Portal when I see my reflection. It must be broken. But as I look around, I see blinking white lights - just like my sister’s Portal. Portals everywhere, malfunctioning.
A Denial of Service Attack?
I’ve heard about hackers destroying popular Portal apps, leaving those currently using the apps dangling between virtual reality and the offline world, unable to escape this empty void unless they forced themselves out of it with their mind. And if their mind wasn’t strong enough, someone would have to cut out their chips. I never imagined it happening to the Metropolis, though, with its strict network security protocols.
All I know is that my sister’s mind is certainly not strong enough to escape. We’ve both had our Portals installed since birth, like most others in Hubble City, but if you don’t train your mind to be stronger than the programming at an early enough age, your brain will grow like that - inflexible and weak. And I’d learned to see through the code. She hadn’t.
I’m not sure how safe this is, but I get a kitchen knife and approach my sister’s still form. She is still breathing - DoS attacks won’t kill their victims immediately, but would put them in a comatose state. If someone doesn’t cut their chip in time, they would wither and die eventually. I kneel beside her, and as gently as I can, cut out her chip.
Raina’s eyes flutter open. When she turns towards me, her eyes are wide with fear and confusion. “Ren, what happened? Everything went blank, and then -”
In response, I hold out her Portal.
Raina puts her finger to her temple. A light flow of blood trickles from the cut, but it’s nothing too serious. Understanding fills her eyes. “A DoS attack,” she murmurs, glancing outside.
Nothing has changed, in reality. Vehicles still move, their automated systems unaffected by the attack. Small white lights blink rapidly from Portals everywhere, their owners unmoving, but they would have been still anyways as they used their Portal. Somehow, though, I sense the vast amount of people that were stuck between two worlds.
The city is so noisy sometimes, but today, it is strangely silent.