The little girl, who couldn't have been more than five or six, jumped excitedly holding her prize in her hands. It had taken nearly all her will power, but she had done it and now as promised she held the latest installment of the My Little Pony: Virtual Friends. Today she would finally be allowed to log into The Sphere. She ran to the counter as a rather annoyed older brother was dragged along besides her.
"Hi there!" The teenager behind the counter said smiling down at the girl.
"Two Dives in Ponyland." The brother said with a shudder.
"Ponyville!" The young girl corrected as the brother rolled his eyes.
"Can't believe mom's making me do this with you." He said eying the cover of smiling barnyard creatures with distaste.
"Will that be partial dive or full?" The teenager working behind the counter asked.
"Full!" The young girl exclaimed as the brother shook his head.
"Partial, Becca, remember? Full dive has needles." He said eyeing the holographic displays of the latest games that were released. He stared at the image of the latest zombie game with longing. Why did he have to go in the little kid game with his sister? She'd be fine. She'd go in, play with the animals, fly in the sky. So what if it was her first time? What could possibly go wrong in a kids game? "Actually, Let's do one partial for Ponytown and one full for Brains, Tasty Brains." He said before eyeing his sister. "Think you'll be fine by yourself?" He asked hopefully. She looked up at him with wide blue eyes in wonder. He was letting her be alone? "Look, don't tell mom, and I'll take you back next week." He said before she eagerly nodded her head.
"Alright, have you two been here before?" The girl working the counter asked.
"I have. She hasn't." He answered slipping his wrist underneath the scanner as the total was deducted from his BitCoin account.
"Is this your user?" She asked as a holographic image of a teen boy decked out in weapons and gear appeared.
"Yep." He said.
"That doesn't look anything like you." Becca said looking up at the image and then back to her brother.
"It doesn't have too, you'll see. It's The Sphere, you can be anyone you want to be." He answered as the girl led them behind the counter towards the back.
"You can go in room one whenever you want, Brian." The girl said.
"I better stay and help her out first." He said leading the little girl towards the scanner.
"How'd she know your name?" Becca asked as she glanced at what appeared to be a blank wall. Her eyes went wide as an exact replica of herself appeared in front of her.
"Because she scanned my chip." Brian answered. "Pretty cool, huh?" He said smiling a little at her amazement. It would be kind of fun to see her first Dive. Oh well. He'd rather be shooting zombies than playing with ponies. "Now all you have to do is think about what you want to look like. Yeah, like that." He said as the image immediately changed outfits and hair color.
"Woah," Becca said imagining herself with different shades and styles of hair. After several minutes of giggling at the sight of herself with a Mohawk, afro, mullet, and other assortment of different things she finally settled on just long brown hair and blue eyes. "This is what I want."
"So ordinary." Brian said before shrugging. "Now all you have to do is name her."
Welcome, Sasha Brindey
"You guys all set?" The teenager asked as Brian nodded his head.
"Have fun, we'll be out about the same time." Brian said before waving and leaving towards the first room.
The teenager led Becca towards the back hall, around the corner and towards room number twelve. As Becca walked she craned her neck and turned her head in all directions checking out all the latest advertisements for dives available. One image showed a boy and a girl decked out in chain mail carrying swords with a giant fire breathing dragon in the background glaring menacingly. Another image showed a deep sea dive with all kinds of fish and sea life swimming around a girl in a scuba diving get up. The guide nearly had to physically pull her away from one display of two girls with black cat ears and tails standing in provocative posses.
"Kitties! I wanna go in the kitty one!" Becca said frowning in confusion at the teenagers reaction.
"Noo! Not for kids, sorry." The teenager said giggling and motioning her forward into the nearest room. Becca looked around the room. It wasn't at all what she had been expecting.
"Where's the ponies?" She asked taking in the plain room with a single chair and strange helmet.
"Don't worry, there's ponies." The guide said motioning for her to take a seat. "Now since this is your first time, let me explain how this is going to work. We're going to put this helmet on you and count to ten and when you come to you'll be in Ponyville." Becca sat down in the leather recliner as the guide leaned her back down. "You ready?" The little girl nodded her head eagerly as a large spherical helmet was brought down over her eyes. "Now if you want to log out for any reason, all you have to do is say the words I want out and a screen will appear asking you if you want to log out. You can say yes or no." She explained. Becca nodded her head in understanding in the complete blackness of the helmets interior. She hoped the lady would stop talking soon so she could hurry up and start. Her friends at school had talked endlessly about how you could ride a Pegasus in the game and that was the first thing she wanted to do. "Alright, I started the program. It might feel a little scary at first, but it will be over real quick. I'll count down with you. 10, 9…"
Becca gripped the armrest as many different colors began floating in her vision. "8, 7, 6…" A strange lightheaded sensation caused her to lean her head back against the headrest as she closed her eyes. "5,4,3…" She clutched the armrest tighter as she felt the room around her beginning to spin. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. It'll be worth it, she told herself. "2,1.." The teenagers voice began to fade away as she counted down the last of the numbers until all was silent. A gentle breeze on her face caused her to slowly open her eyes as she let out an audible gasp. No longer was she in the chair in the Sphere Center at her local mall, but in the heart of Ponyville as groups of ponies trotted around the city paying her no mind.
"So cool!" Becca said with her shining eyes alight with excitement which only grew with every passing second as she slowly walked around the town taking in all the shops and different colored ponies.
"Hi there! I've never seen you around before." Becca heard turning around to find a purple pony with wings.
"Princess Twilight!" Becca squealed.
"Hi, Sasha, it's nice to meet you. Is this your first time in Ponyville?" The princess asked.
"Yeah!" Becca said excitedly. Sasha? She wondered until she remembered that was the name of her avatar.
"We're glad to have you here! Umm, don't take this the wrong way, but, well, what exactly are you?" She asked looking Becca up and down. "You're not a pony, or any other kind of animal I've ever seen before."
"I'm not a pony." Becca said giggling. "I'm a human!"
"A human?" Twilight asked confused. "No way! Wait till Lyra get's wind of this! C'mon, Sasha, let's go meet everyone." Becca eagerly followed along craning her neck this way and that while Twilight made her pre-programmed speech about the every day life of the town. She could see Applejack at her stand in the market selling apples, Rarity was in her boutique, Pinkie Pie was inside the bakery licking a bowl clean while Mrs. Cake stood by with a disproving glare. It was when they got to the Apple farm that things took a turn for the worse.
"So, Sasha, is there anything you want to see?" Twilight asked.
"Cloudsdale!" Becca said eagerly. "I want to see the flying ponies and ride one!"
"So us earth ponies aren't good enough for you, are we?" A voice full of resentment asked.
"W-What?" Becca stuttered as she turned around only to be looked down upon by the entire Apple family. A strange flash of light could been seem coming from their cutie marks on their flanks.
"Everyone always wants to see the flying ponies while us simpletons are left to work the fields. Don't even get me started on those damn unicorns with their magic. They can command anything and everything, but do they help us? No! I'm sick of it!" AppleJack said glaring into Becca's eyes as the little girl trembled. What was going on? It was then that BigMac came rushing towards them, pitchfork in mouth as he rammed it into the princesses chest. Blood splattered onto Becca's face and shirt as she let out an ear piercing scream. This wasn't happing! They just killed princess Twilight! There was so much blood! Wasn't this supposed to be a kids game?
"I want out!" Becca yelled as a menu screen popped open.
System Error: Cannot Log Out
Becca let out a scared whine as the ponies slowly began to advance each carrying some form of weapon in it's jaw. Their once kind and friendly eyes now glowed a deep red color. The little girl finally found her feet and took off running towards the village once she was sure one of them tried to take a stab at her. She ran while gasping for air. This wasn't supposed to be a scary game! Becca stood frozen in fear once she reached the town. Thick smoke hung in the air obscuring her vision. Buildings were on fire and she could feel the flames heat on her face. The unicorns were stabbing the earth ponies repeatedly with their horns in a large massacre as hordes of bodies littering the ground. Peagusi were dropping heavy rocks and other sharp objects onto the unicorns below crushing their skulls. Becca stood rooted to the spot wide eyed as her little body trembled and felt her bladder gave way, but no liquid emerged from her avatar. "I want out! I want out!" She screamed repeatedly only to have the same error repeating itself. She ran behind a building to take cover as she sat on the ground hugging her knees to her chest and covering her ears. No matter how hard she pressed her palms against her head she couldn't drown out the screams of dying ponies. All she could do was cry tearless wails and wait for her time to be up.
Brian stood around the corner of a wall in the abandoned laboratory with gun in hand. He slowly peeked his head around the corner to check whether or not the coast was clear. The dim florescent lighting that blinked on and off gave the place an eerie feel even if he knew the place wasn't crawling with zombies. Sweat trickled down his face and mixed with the dirt that clung to his cheeks from pressing his face against the walls. He limped forward as fast as he could dragging his bit leg along the floor. Maybe a full dive wasn't the best idea in a game where injuries could happen. Oh well, that's what made them more fun. In a full dive you could feel things, not just in your face, but your whole body as well. You could feel the weight of the gun in your hands, along with the kickback when fired. The things your body learned in a full dive stayed with you. Anything that involved muscle memory. Running, jumping, swimming, martial arts, skate boarding etc.
Although it was definitely more fun to feel, it came with it's downsides as well. Brian let out a silent moan as his leg ached. He could feel the virus coursing through him with every step. Nothing was permanent of course. He'd be fine as soon as he awoke out of the dive, although sometimes it takes a few minutes for your brain to adjust. Even though there's no real wound there, your brain thinks there is for a short amount of time and sends signals of pain to the afflicted area. For some unlucky few with extreme sensitivity, there really will be a wound for a short amount of time. The Nocebo effect some called it. Once in a while Brian would came out of a dive with red and mildly irritated areas where he had been shot, but that sort of phenomena was normal. It's when you wake up with a hole in your chest that's a problem.
"Hallway three clear." Brian whispered into the microphone on his vest. "What's your position?" Nothing but silence greeted him for a full minute. "Sebastian, where are you?" A blood curdling scream could be heard coming from the hallway up ahead that bounced and echoed through the hallway sending all the hairs on Brian's body sticking up like the Eifel tower with goosebumps along his skin. They got him.
Brian blinked as he found himself strapped to a table by his wrists, chest, legs and feet. His time shouldn't have been over already, should it? I guess time really does fly when your having fun. A dull pain in his leg let him know he got off easy. That other guy would be sore for a while.
"Sorry to log you out before your time is up, but there's been a situation." Brian heard wincing a little as the probes were removed from the back of his head.
"Huh?" He mumbled squinting from the light as his helmet was removed. He turned his head to the right to find the girl who had led him in getting the alcohol swabs ready to administer to the back of the head to disinfect the puncture wounds from the connectors.
"Something's gone wrong in the game your sister was in." She said quickly patching up his head and helping him to his feet.
"What? What happened?" He asked in concern springing to his feet. Mom would kill him if anything happened to Becca. She didn't trust these games after all and he was supposed to have been in there with her.
"Someone re-wrote the game and all the characters are killing each other." She said. "I've tried to log her out several times, but an error keeps popping up."
"What? It's a little kids game!" he said as he was led over to a viewing monitor to witness the bloodbath that was now Ponyville. He quickly scanned the screen to find his sister curled in a ball in the corner rocking back and forth as the mayhem and chaos surrounded her. "What happened?"
"She must have said a key phrase to trigger it. It's never happened before." She said biting her lip and nervously tapping her fingers on the counter. She typed a command into the holograph projected keyboard only for another error to appear. "There's nothing I can do until her time is up. It's not letting me log her out manually."
"What if you just took the helmet off? She's only in a partial dive." He suggested.
"It could hurt our system. You can't just pull it off without properly shutting it down first." She explained.
"You think I care about your system? Get my sister out of there! Look at her!" Brian shouted angrily jabbing his finger to the image of the five-year-old huddled in a ball. He could feel his blood boiling with every second. Maybe it was his fight-or-flight reaction kicking in or maybe it was from training his senses from so many full dives in The Sphere, but he could faintly hear laughing coming from another room somewhere. He stormed down the hall as the sound grew louder and louder until he came face to face with a door marked Employee's Only. "Open it!" He demanded as the teenager stood by nervously.
"I can't let you go in there." She said. More giggling erupted from the other side of the door.
"Dude, dude, make them go after her now." He heard before turning on the employee.
"I. said. open. it." He growled at her with gritted teeth and clenched fists. She cringed slightly before reluctantly pulling out her I.D and swiping it under the sensor as the door opened to reveal a control room with two employees typing commands into a certain My Little Pony world and laughing about the results.
"Hey, Victoria, check it out. This little girl is freaking out over my pat-OOH" He grunted as Brian's fist smashed into his face before he even knew what was happening.
"Log her out NOW!" Brian demanded.
"It was just a joke calm down!" He said before getting his face smashed into the console. "Okay, okay!" He grunted as the other boy quickly entered a command to shut off the over ride and shut down the machine. Brian sent him another warning glare before taking off down the hallway in search of the room Becca was in. He could hear crying coming from the door to his left and quickly opened it to find his sister curled in a ball trembling. Brian quickly undid the helmet straps and pulled it off her head to reveal the terrorized child underneath. He once bright blue eyes were completely blood shot as tears and snot ran down her face. Her pants and the chair were soaked with urine as she babbled incoherently about what had happened.
"Shh, it's okay, it's over now." He whispered picking her up as shook and balled in his arms. He gritted his teeth in anger as he held her and tried to calm her down. She'd probably never go in The Sphere again. Who knew as a result she'd grow up to protect it.