“Tom, it’s been three weeks. When are you going to beat this game and move on to the next one?”
“When I catch ‘em all.”
“You HAVE caught them all.”
“No, I just have one of each species. I need to evolve them so I can fill out my Pokédex.”
“Which is necessary because….”
“Because I need to be a Pokémon master.”
“Because you need to be a Pokémon master,” mimicked Rick perfectly, “of course. “ A variant of this conversation had occurred between the two every day for the last couple of weeks. Despite Tom’s promise to the contrary, he had become utterly consumed by the Pokémon game he was in. Every time Rick checked in Tom was either raising a new Pokémon or challenging another trainer or developing new strategies to obliterate his opponents, all despite the fact that he could easily go beat the game and move on to the next one. Although Rick was frustrated with Tom’s lack of progress, he found it hard to stay mad at his friend; after all, being able live out fantasies was one of the reasons Rick had built I.D.E.A.S. in the first place.
After a few minutes of watching Tom, Rick decided to get back to work deciphering what was wrong with his system. Poring over his notes for the hundredth time, Rick quickly grew frustrated and threw them down in anger. He had spent weeks researching what had gone wrong with his system, but he was no closer to a conclusion than when he began. How am I supposed to figure out what is going wrong, he thought to himself, when the very nature of the problem seems to defy all the known laws of science? Rick knew his current state was not helping him come any closer to a solution, but he could not help himself. For the last few days he had been completely unable to sleep; any time he tried, bits of code would swirl in front of his eyes, taunting him and prompting him to get back to work. Warm milk, liquor, and pills only succeeding in making him groggy, never providing any respite. This, compounded with the strain of the other new duties he had assumed after Tom entered I.D.E.A.S., had left the man a wreck.
An unfortunate side effect of Tom’s consciousness being sucked into I.D.E.A.S. was that it left behind an entire human being that, without Tom in it to feed and exercise it, relied entirely on Rick to maintain it. Three times a day Rick would feed Tom’s body a pureed mix of vitamins, carbohydrates, and protein, and for about an hour over the course of the day he would move Tom’s limbs so that they wouldn’t atrophy. Diapers had become a necessity as Rick’s new diet made anticipating bowel movements unpredictable, and when Tom’s smell became truly unbearable it was time for a sponge bath. Needless to say, Rick hated all of these things, but he especially hated the sponge bath.
As he began to pace about the room angrily, Rick realized that he was at the end of his rope and would never make any progress until he could come at the problem with some rest and a fresh perspective. Fortunately, that was when Rick’s entire world went black. What Rick could not achieve on his own had been done for him by a lowly support pillar, something he would have avoided in his pacing were he not frustrated and sleep-deprived. A solid hit to his head sent him reeling backwards, landing on a convenient pile of bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts with a loud thud. (Rick made a lot of his money on eBay, but ever since Tom’s incident, his shipping supplies had been sitting unused in his basement).
It was hours before Rick awoke. Suddenly his mind was awash with possibilities and, as Rick sat down with his notes and data, he was able to take a fresh look at the situation. Neural pathways that had been exhausted now fired in rapid succession, and Rick’s eyes blazed across the pages of information. In a sudden spark of brilliance, Rick noticed a security loop that would allow him to get back into the system. Hooking up his laptop, Rick was able to hack I.D.E.A.S. with a few keystrokes, but noticed that much of the system was still under the control of the automation. Some of the diagnostic files were open to him, however, and without any other recourse, he decided to take a look at them. From what he could tell, there was another person in the system besides Tom and himself who seemed to be directing things. Hmmm, thought Rick to himself, maybe this user is the entity Rick encountered. Weird…I know I didn’t create it, and I’m not hooked up to any outside connections down here, so unless someone managed to sneak in here when I wasn’t around, the system must have created this user itself. But how? Rick still had doubts about Tom’s claim that it was indeed the computer behind all of this, but he had to admit this new data certainly added credence to the theory.
“Hey Rick!” Tom’s shouting interrupted Rick’s thoughts. “I think I’m finally ready to get out of here.”
“Uh…what? Really? Are you sure you don’t want to stay in Pokémon for a little longer?”
“Rick, it’s been like three weeks. I thought you’d be jumping for joy to hear me say that.”
“Normally, yeah, but I just got back into the system, and you being in a Pokémon game gives me a chance to focus on this instead of making sure you’re safe.”
“You got back in? Find anything good yet?”
“Maybe. There’s another user here that I don’t recognize. I think it may be what you encountered back in Resident Evil. But I have no idea who it is or how it got there.”
“How much time do you need to figure that out?”
“I don’t know, maybe another day or two?”
“Well I guess I could kill time until then. But you owe me.” Tom couldn’t explain it, but he swore he could feel Rick glaring angrily at him. “Anyway, guess I’ll just train a few a more Pokémon.”
“You do that. I have work to do.”