Reality Checks In: Part 1

The flash fiction challenge this week from Chuck Wendig over at was to write a superhero story and roll for a sub-genre. I got Cyberpunk and created the following superhero origin story:

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When Bernadette accepted Reality’s terms and conditions without reading it, she hadn’t realized how dangerously she was living. She wasn’t alone. The average user view time on this 16,000 word legal document was under six seconds. So when Bernadette and the other 123 million users who were logged in at 11:03 AM (ET) were infected by the hack later to be known as the Boost Upload, she had no legal recourse. Section 16.7 clearly stated Reality would not be held liable for any cerebral damaging caused by outside operators. But it wasn’t section 16.7 that Bernadette came to fear. It was 16.8.

In the event of any outside errors, Reality will exercise all options necessary to reestablish program normality.

Bernadette wasn’t one of those who noticed her Boost immediately after logging out. It seemed like any other normal work day. She had plugged into Reality at 8:00 AM sharp for her secretary position for a transport conglomerate, specializing in hard data transfers. Her construct (which was not the petite, white brunette she was in real life, but rather an overweight, elderly asian) had greeted the few people who had scheduled online meetings with her supervisor. She spent the rest of the day sifting through the instant chat room. Originally, her construct was identical to her actual looks. But after dealing with users who would pop into her work’s chat room and then try to private message her later, she had gone with a stock image instead.

Like the other 123 million users, she had blacked out in the chat room when the hack had occurred. But as her boss refused to upgrade their data package, she had simply assumed that they were experiencing connectivity issues. When she logged out for her lunch a few minutes after the black out, she stretched her unused muscles, got out of the lumbar support seat she had splurged on last month, and removed the helmet that encased her head completely. Once she smoothed the static out of her split ends, she opened the door to her apartment and walked to the town square for lunch. When she reached her sandwich shop, the one she visited every Tuesday, she made her usual order. She sat in the back corner booth, watching people walk in with helmet hair and the same clothes she had seen on them last week. One man came stumbling in with a beet red face; she uncomfortably wondered what kind of program he had been hooked into. Still, everything seemed normal, until the cook called out her order.

“Corn beef on pumpernickel with two large pickles and a glass of milk.”

She made it halfway to the counter before she stopped. “Excuse me?”

The well-known angry cook, a Spaniard named Javier, shoved the plate further toward her, causing it to teeter at the counter edge. “Don’t make me say it again.”

Bernadette stared at his mouth. In her mind, she heard his words as English. But his lips and voice were still speaking Spanish.

She tried to reason it. Maybe she had come here so often she could just understand Spanish as easily as she could English. But as she tried to recall certain words, all she could think of was corned beef (Carne en conserva) and hurry up (Ándale). She touched her lips, then her ears; frozen. Javier grumbled, grabbed the plate, and appeared ready to dump it either on her head or in the garbage. But all movement came to a stand still when the red faced man standing at the register exploded into flames. Only seconds after that, the woman behind the register started screaming so loud, it caused her own head to explode. Bernadette sat down on a chair while everyone else ran away. Javier extinguished the remains and called the police. The line was busy for over an hour.

That night, when Bernadette was beneath her favorite purple blanket and curled into her dipped suede couch, she finally gained the courage to turn on the news. Every channel was reporting the end of the world. Plants strangling a busload of children. Meteors falling from the sky, all hitting the same spot on an apartment building. Teenagers rapidly aging from pimples to dust in a matter of seconds. A gravitational anomaly sucking a nursing home into itself.

It was a nightmare.

But for Bernadette, the horror was in the words of the newscasters in China, Japan, Russia, Italy, and every other country she had on her channel network. She understood them all. And not just their words, but their body language. Their speech, carefully crafted to not exhibit panic, was betrayed by their shoulders, their eye movements, their smallest finger twitches. She knew which ones were hiding secrets like her own. Which ones had seen a death before their eyes. Which ones were certain the world would end tomorrow.

The next morning when Bernadette logged into Reality, she was notified of a system update. As always, she skipped over the terms and conditions. She leaned back in her chair as her helmet turned on. A low hum sounded and she realized they were running a diagnostic on her neural pathways—normally reserved for those creating new user accounts. When it ended, it didn’t log her in. Instead, a message popped up in front of her eyes.

A representative will be contacting you shortly.

That is what she read. What her brain registered, was this:

You have been infected. We are coming for you. 

Slowly, Bernadette took off her helmet. She set it on it’s padded post next to her chair she had yet to pay off. She stood up, exited the upload room, and grabbed the purple blanket she had left on the couch, placing it over her shoulders like a cape. When the buzzer rang only a few minutes later, she opened the door to find a plain clothes stranger. Not a police offer or representative from Reality like she had expected. But he nodded seriously, which read to her that he was here for a specific mission. She folded the blanket tighter around her shoulders.

“Ma’am, you’ll have to come with me.”

Is what he said. But what she heard was this:

“Come with me before they find us.”

He held out his hand, his eyes wide with knowing and knowing her. And for no other reason then that, she dropped the blanket, grabbed his hand firmly, and followed him out the door.

To read part 2, follow this link.