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Code: Beyond the Screen

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Programs and Propaganda

   In the first version of a game, things are never perfect. The game was full of imperfections, but the gamemasters were young, patient, and determined; they had the time and money to invest, and they were going to do it right.
   After about a month of carefully formatting, planning, and painstakingly long editing, program Aster was born. She was made to track down viruses and find everything about them, their origin, their habits, and how complex they were, so that when she gave the gamemasters the report, they could quickly and easily find a way to eliminate them and then find ways to prevent more of them from happening. Aster worked efficiently and well from the very day she was made, and the gamemasters were delighted. As the game grew larger, more popular, and more complex, soon the gamemasters found a way to block many of the viruses that tended to terrorize the game, and so for a long time, Aster remained dormant, almost forgotten. But she didn’t mind. During the time she spent alone, it became clear that she was unique; not only was she smarter and more efficient than the newer virus seeking programs, but she had time to develop a personality similar to the humans who created her.

   One day, she encountered an oddity. There had been signals and rumors of a small bug that had been creating mild abnormalities in one of the game’s minor servers, and because viruses were nearly obsolete in the game, the gamemasters offered a hefty reward for the program who gave a detailed report of it. Aster was determined to catch it. Never had any program been as faithful and diligent as Aster, and when she had her mind set to something, she was unstoppable. She didn’t care about the reward, just the chase would be enough. She concentrated on the hunt with a ferocity and vigor that no other program could muster, and soon she tracked the elusive virus to the Snowy Mountains. It had taken the guise of an avatar and was walking slowly through the thick drifts of snow, stepping so lightly it didn’t make any tracks. I wasn’t wearing the suitable sort of clothing, and it had done absolutely nothing to camouflage itself, besides taking the humanlike form of an avatar, so Aster was surprised that no one had found it yet.
   Aster scanned the virus, positive that she was going to be the first to report it. The results took less than thirty seconds to process. The identification code screamed virus, but other than that… it was completely empty. Aster rescanned it. Nothing. Refreshed the results page. Nothing. In a fit of desperation, she went meticulously through all her databases, dreading the results. Still nothing.  She felt like screaming. She had been able to her job for years now, with a completely prefect record, and then this happened. Her codes must be slowing or even failing. The gamemasters had considered replacing her with one of their other programs but never had because she had done so well, but now….
   She had failed. She was going to have to hand over the reins to a younger program and face the consequences. With a heavy heart, she prepared to send the incomplete report to the gamemasters, but something stopped her. She looked at the virus, whose childlike eyes were filled with wonder at the snowy landscape. The virus twirled around and laughed, oblivious to Aster, and probably oblivious to other programs like Aster who were seeking it. Aster felt a sudden protectiveness toward it. It was different from all the others. Aster could understand it, she was different from all the other programs, and because of that was occasionally at risk from deletion, but she was lucky, lucky because the gamemasters were willing to overlook her differences if she continued to do her job. The virus wasn’t as lucky; if she turned in the report, the virus would probably be eliminated, and she would be eliminated too, for not doing her job completely.
   Alright. She wasn’t going to turn in the report just yet. It didn’t seem fair to send the virus to its death without it knowing anything. She turned to it, cupping her hands around her mouth, and hollered, “Hi! Hello! I’m here to help you!”
   She wasn’t sure how it would respond, but she definitely did not expect it to pass out, falling slowly like an old tree that was being knocked down by stronger winds. God. She was just trying to inform it before she might report it, but she was not expecting, was not suited for this kind of situation. God.
   Without realizing it, the virus was in her arms, wrapped in furs to keep it warm. Aster contemplated her decision. This was insanity. She should turn it in. That’s what she was programmed to do, her purpose. She was supposed to analyze viruses and then… send them to their deaths. Aster swallowed, realizing for the first time, her impact on a lot of innocent lives. That shouldn’t be a problem though. That never had been her problem. This was risky, it could risk her job.
It’s just a job.
My life.
You’ve never truly enjoyed your life; you just did as you’re told.
That is what I was programmed to do.
Do you think it’s fair?
I’m a program. I shouldn’t have these feelings.
Is that your fault?
Aster had no real answer.
I’m here to persuade and guide you, Aster. But I can’t make your decisions. What you decide to do is all you.
Her visible conscience smiled and dissipated into a flurry of snow and stinging ice.
Aster bit her lip in serious thought. A single drop of blood fell on the crisp, white snow.

   Aster was eventually deleted like she expected. She never did quite get over her fear of being caught, though her exterior never showed it. Her heart was pounding like crazy, she assured me though, when the gamemasters were gone.
   Aster. My guardian, my protector. I was that Virus who she protected. I was the child she never had, she would tell me.
   Even after she was deleted, she was looking out for me. I was linked to a player like all the other avatars, and eventually the gamemasters did stop searching for the “missing Virus.” They said deleting Aster was due to cumulative propaganda, and said they were sorry for the inconvenience. They apologized profusely about the whole incident, and they lamented about the loss of a beloved program. She will always be remembered, they said.
   Aster’s face was so peaceful during the whole thing, Lilith said. All the programs were there. Lilith said she didn’t know who it was that turned Aster in, but she said it didn’t take a genius to guess it was probably one of the younger programs. They all were jealous of Aster and suspicious when she came empty-handed.

   When she was gone, I fell into deep depression. I had no will to live. I tried to kill myself, but in a game with infinite lives, it’s kind of hard to die and stay dead. My player was probably beyond frustrated. Every time he sent his player to the frontlines, his avatar always seemed to die without cause in the first wave. It drove him insane. I’m lucky he didn’t report it to the gamemasters then and there.
   With Aster gone, the game fell into a Virus heyday. The game seemed to be struggling to keep itself together, as Viruses bent on destruction ravaged every single server. For awhile, I became inspired to see if any other Virus was like me, but no luck.
   The darkest time in my depression was when I nearly gave in to Virus-like cynicism. When my player was gone, I would wander aimlessly about, wreaking havoc. I saw no beauty, only imperfections and ugliness. I wanted to destroy everything and everyone. Each time I went, the codes binding my personality grew looser and looser, until nearly none of me was left. I couldn’t remember Aster, I couldn’t remember anyone.
   Lilith brought me back to my senses when she was able to forward to me a message Aster had tried to write to me before the execution:

Dear 01000011 01101111 01100100 01100101,
I don’t know if this will reach you soon enough or reach you at all, but I’ve instructed Lilith to give it to you, regardless of cost or incompleteness. I know you well enough to realize you probably feel guilty or responsible in some way to my death. Don’t be. I regret nothing. Saving you was the best thing I’ve ever done. It saved me from being like all the other programs, which have no sense of humanity. I don’t blame them. In their minds, they’re doing the right thing, because it is much easier to do as your code tells you than to follow your emotions, what you believe is right. I’m sure you’ve realized by now, that you’re different. Don’t think of it as a burden, think of it as a gift. Embrace it. Do what your heart tells you to do, be reckless with your emotions, learn from your mistakes. Never forget who you are.


   Hearing her voice again in that small moment, realizing she wasn’t really gone, made me feel whole again. I completely melted. “Aster! Aster!” I cried out, beating my hands on the glass table in my room, which completely shattered, probably under the weight of so many emotions.

Chapters:   « Previous 1 2 3 4 5 Next »

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This book has 30 comments. Post your own now!

CaseyChickenWang This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 22, 2015 at 2:23 am
Dude, I loves this! It's so captivating and original. The biggest problem I see in teen writing is that they have a great plot that lacks detail but you don't seem to have that problem at all! I do agree with @CNBono17's comment on your characterization though. But other than that, this is an amazing piece of work and I hope you write more!
-L.k.R- said...
Feb. 7, 2015 at 7:07 am
Dear, @Jtatsu Despite all of what I've said, this story is beautifully written. I loved it. As in a matter of fact, I'm excited and anticipating the other chapters release. Again, cheering for you louder as I can. Peace.
Jtatsu This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 29, 2015 at 2:31 pm
@MalaikaJ Thank you! I really enjoyed reading your work, so I am glad my work has pleased my readers.
MalaikaJ said...
Jan. 29, 2015 at 9:20 am
This is really interesting and unique! I would love to read the rest of the story. You could expand the beginning, it would be great to learn more about the game-world. In the beginning, she was worried about tormentors coming into her room, but you never really tied that in. Those are just a few pointers, but it is already amazing! Great job!
Extraterrestrial said...
Dec. 8, 2014 at 8:16 am
Hi! This was something I thoroughly enjoyed; your story is original, creative, and a nice blend of fantasy and reality. It's a fresh take on the video-game formula, and it's so relatable to your readers. As an FPS and occasional RPG player, your story provides an interesting what-if scenario. (Although fortunately, it's only a what-if scenario. It's not real. Right? ...Right?) Anyway, I was pulled in by the very first chapter by your vivid use of imagery and description. Love t... (more »)
Liv.HarrisThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm
Really great imaginary, and interesting story line! The whole gamemasters and id thing reminded me of an anime called SAO, which made me enjoy this piece so much more :) Your voice in this writing is quite profound, and I enjoyed this piece very much! ^_^ You should continue your writing, it is so wonderful :) 5 Stars!
Jtatsu This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm
Thank you! I'm happy I was able to create an enjoyable piece of writing for the first time :)
SparaxisThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. replied...
May 9, 2017 at 5:38 pm
I'm still trying to do that. I'm deciding if I should write this one story I'm planning on (yes, it's about gaming), or if I should write a fanfiction first just to make sure.
Jtatsu This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 9, 2017 at 6:32 pm
@Sparaxis You can do whatever you want! This is literally the first full length story I've written, so it means a lot that so many people liked it. Looking back on it, it isn't the best, but I can live with that because it shows me how far I've come. There's no need to be afraid of writing anything, because writing's full of uncertainties and it's really impossible to be sure of anything. The important thing is just to write.
CNBono17 said...
Dec. 4, 2014 at 9:41 am
Wow. This has an originality rarely seen in a piece of writing. I would have liked a little more detail about what Code (Martha?) does on a daily basis--who she fights, what her player does with her, what her story is in the game, etc--but that's my only issue. You did a fantastic job with this, and it's a great debut:) Keep up the good work; you've got the imagination for it!

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