The Quantum Leap meets Captain N story of a gamer literally sucked into videogames.
A month had passed since Rick had successfully retrieved Tom and Alli’s consciousnesses from I.D.E.A.S., and life was beginning to assume a normal routine again.
At first, Tom and Alli could barely move. While Rick had done all he could to help keep their bodies from atrophying while in the machine, it was still no substitute for actual activity. Over the next couple of weeks, Alli and Tom slowly recovered, while Alli proceeded to drive Tom crazy by repeating the line “wiggle your big toe” over and over again. Rick, on the other hand, succumbed almost immediately to fatigue, having had practically no sleep over the previous weeks. Whereas before it had not been uncommon for Rick to be working on I.D.E.A.S. for over 20 hours straight, his schedule was now reversed, and he woke only when Alli or Tom needed his assistance with something.
Once he had convalesced, Tom returned to his home and job, which Rick, in a shining moment of forethought and self-sacrifice, had managed to save. Tom’s boss was an old friend, and Rick had placed a call to him, explaining that Tom had a “family emergency” that he needed to attend to and would require the use of his large cache of vacation days. Rick then placed a call to Tom’s landlord, gave him the same explanation, then proceeded to mail him a check for Tom’s rent. For Tom, it was odd settling back into his old life, the humdrum daily routine that did not constantly involve inhabiting new bodies or having his life threatened. Still, he found himself enjoying the peace.
Alli had not fared quite as well, unfortunately, since Rick didn’t know where she lived or worked. As such, Alli had been fired from her job and evicted from her apartment, so she was staying with Rick while she got back on her feet. In between looking for jobs, Alli had been helping Rick clean up and put his house back into working order.
After Rick had caught up on his sleep, he went back to work on I.D.E.A.S. and began to clean up the mess that had been made. He also started to converse with the Source more, learning what he could from it while it learned what it could from him. Tom, Alli, and Rick were pleased to find that a portion of Emmi still resided in the Source; but she now existed as a part of the greater whole, and she had retained none of the individual traits that had made her the Emmi the group had known, a fact which made the organic trio mourn their digital companion. The Enemy seemed to have disappeared completely, having deleted itself for reasons unknown, although Tom had a few guesses. In its place, other intelligences seemed to be developing within the system, some coming from the architecture of the system and others rising from the programming of the games. They acted like children with the mental faculties of adults, able to comprehend and reason extremely well, but completely innocent in their approach to the world and ecstatic with each new discovery.
Rick had decided to keep I.D.E.A.S. disconnected from the outside world, and had taken the additional step of dismantling and removing any equipment that might allow remote access to I.D.E.A.S. This way, the artificial intelligences developing in the machine could grow without becoming a threat to the outside world; and there was no chance that another human could gain access to the system and copy it, misuse it, or fall victim to it should another incident occur. Alli’s ex-boyfriend, who had experienced firsthand the dangers of such tampering, remained in a vegetative state at a nearby hospital due to his intrusion, and despite Rick’s best efforts to locate him within the machine, it seemed like he would remain there indefinitely.
One evening, after Tom had finally gotten caught up on his real life and had some time to spare, he decided to pay a visit to Rick and Alli.
“Tom!” beamed Rick as he opened the door. “Long time no see!”
“Not really,” replied Tom, “but considering how long we spent in the same room, I can see how you’d say that.”
“Good point. Anyway, come on in, I’ll grab you a beer.”
Alli was on the couch, drinking a beer and playing Jet Grind Radio. “’Sup, nerd,” she said, keeping her eyes focused on the television.
“Hi Alli,” Tom said dryly. “Congenial as ever, I see. Sort of surprised to see that you’ve gone back to playing videogames so soon.”
“Being unemployed leaves you with a lot of free time. That, and I’m not a pansy like you.”
“I should have left you in that machine.”
“Psh, like you would have made it out without me.”
Rick returned, beer in hand. “Here you go, buddy.”
“Thanks. How’re things?”
“Good, I think. I’m really glad you and Alli are better; and I’m awake, so that’s a good sign. I’ve been working on I.D.E.A.S., although for now, I think it’s best to keep it offline.”
“Wouldn’t it be safer just to shut it down?”
“Oh, infinitely so. But I don’t think it would be the right thing to do. It’d be like murdering everything in that machine. The way I see it, they have just as much of a right to exist as we do.”
“Fair enough,” Tom said, taking a sip of his beer. “But if this is the beginning of the end of humanity, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Then again, if I.D.E.A.S. turns into something more, it could be the beginning of something incredible.”
“I know. When I try to think of the possibilities, I get a headache. I can barely grasp it.”
Tom turned to look at the TV screen. Alli had been trying for the last minute or so to make a rather difficult jump, and it was beginning to annoy him that it was taking so long.
“Do you want me to do that?”
“Because it looks like you can’t.”
“I’ll get it, jackass.” Another futile minute went by, and finally Alli threw the controller at Tom in frustration. “Fine, you do it!”
Tom picked up the controller and, as he looked at it, felt the entirety of his experiences in I.D.E.A.S. come rushing back to him. The victories, the near defeats, the friends made and lost, and now, the new possibilities that now faced them all. Tom thought about all these things, then tucked them away and turned to the task at hand.
“All right, let me show you how it’s done…”