Reality Game
Sample

Chapter 1

This would make the fifth raid this month. Jeremy sighed. Why did he act like a terrorist instead of a superhero? He shifted to Astro Man's night vision as he and Mickey hovered at 2000 feet in the sky. The Pacific island lit up against the moonlight as shimmering waves rolled in from the ocean. On the five-mile-wide land mass, amidst a dense jungle of trees, a compound sat in a clearing.

Jeremy zoomed in until he could see the uniform insignia. "Mick, it's ESEL all right."

ESEL, Earth Security Enhancement League, a super-national military organization bent on gaining the Stuian's virtual technology that interacts with reality. That ended when Natalie successfully collapsed the wormhole between Earth and Zori. Yet Jeremy never found out how far along their own virtual program had advanced. Did ESEL get enough info on Zori's virtual machine before the wormhole collapse to build their own?

Mickey nodded. "What's the plan, Bucko? Go in with guns a blazin'?"

Jeremy rubbed his chin. "Sort of your style. We did that last time to destroy the facility. What we need is information. How extensive is ESEL's network? What nations are supporting them? Now that Zori is out of the picture, what do they plan on doing with the virtual power they've gained, however much that is?"

Mickey raised his arms into the air. "If we can find a complete list of all their locations, it would speed up this process. But what if there are hundreds all over the world? We'd never find them all."

Jeremy grunted. "Sort of like roaches." Jeremy looked Mickey over. "Are you wearing the same jeans as yesterday?"

"It's not like I have a huge wardrobe with me. Any idea when our costumes will be ready?"

"Any time now, Uncle George said. Maybe by the time we get back from this mission."

"Plan?"

Jeremy ran his fingers through his hair. "Let's walk in through the front door. I'll protect us with my shields. They don't have anything that can get through that."

"Let's do this, then." Mickey pulled the mask over his face.

After Jeremy did likewise, he adjusted the gravity field around him to dive toward the island. Mickey followed. Within a minute, they landed outside the door of the main building, shields engaged.

Soldiers jerked in surprise and raised their guns. Bullets threw sparks as they ricocheted off the shield. One group moved between the pair and the door, firing their weapons.

Jeremy stepped toward them. The shielding threw the soldiers several feet back upon contact. Jeremy tried opening the steel door. The knob didn't move.

Mickey held up a hand. "Allow me." Using G-Man's gravity power, he pulled the door off its hinges, then reversed gravity to toss the object to the side. They stepped inside.

After dispatching a few more soldiers with stun rays, they found the hive chamber. Rows of extended virtual insertion cylinders filled the small warehouse-like room. Every facility had such a room. Tapered on both ends and wrapped in a transparent, plastic casing, bodies could be plugged into the virtual world when placed inside them.

Since the wormhole had been destroyed, however, the cylinders had been empty. Until now.

Mickey gazed over the room. "Why are ESEL soldiers plugged into virtual reality? They can't be on Zori."

"Remember, Natalie had been inserted into a virtual reality? They learned how to do that much. Maybe it is some type of virtual training program."

Someone moved out of the corner of Jeremy's eye. He moved down the rows until he spotted a soldier with his back against a cylinder.

Jeremy lifted his hand.

"Wait!" The man held his palm toward Jeremy. "I have a message from Commander Fisher."

Jeremy glanced at Mickey. "For me?"

"You are Jeremy Goodhue, are you not?"

Jeremy just stared at him. "What's the message?"

“Commander Fisher wishes to meet you at the original site where your bodies were held in New Mexico, and discuss terms of a truce."

Mickey frowned. "A truce! And I suppose you have some used glazed donuts you'll make us a good deal on?"

The soldier shrugged. "That's all I know. He put out a broadcast to everyone to give you that message if we ran into you."

Jeremy let his hand lower. "What would you think in our shoes?"

"Just delivering the message, sir. I'm expected to bring back an answer."

Mickey shook his head. "Don't do it. Probably a trap."

Jeremy smiled. "G-Man, we're standing in the middle of their compound without one scratch. What kind of trap would be successful?"

"Uh, you do have a point."

Jeremy focused on the soldier. "Tell Commander Fisher this. G-Man and I will meet him at the plateau tomorrow at 1600 hours. We may not show up, but if we do, that will be when.

"Now, open your database so we can download it."

"Sorry, sir. I cannot do that."

Jeremy jerked his hand up and fired a stun ray. The man crumbled to the tile floor. Jeremy scanned the control panel along one wall. He sat at a console and typed in a command. It beeped and asked for a password.

Mickey shook his head. "No way we'll be breaking into here without help. Want me to scramble the database?"

Jeremy wiped the sweat from his forehead. Why did the bad guys operate in jungles. "No. We don't know what it will do to the people connected to the VR. We might find out more info from Commander Fisher."

Mickey scanned the room. "Seems a shame to come all this way and not take the place out. But you're right. We don't want to kill all these people."

Jeremy headed toward the door. Then let's get back to headquarters and plan our next move."

Mickey grinned. "And try out our new superhero costumes."

_______


Jeremy spotted the city of Helena as they flew over Montana. "There's the city." Jeremy used his finger to draw an invisible line. "That means Uncle George's house is on that mountain." Jeremy flew toward it. Mickey followed.

Jeremy missed one feature of being a virtual superhero: near-instant transport. Now he had to fly everywhere. While he could zip along pretty fast using Earth's gravity field, it still couldn't beat instant.

"I see it." Mickey pointed at a house nestled among tall pine trees. They angled toward it.

The rust-colored house, trimmed in yellow and topped with a green metal roof, barely fit among the trees. It added to the secrecy of their hideout.

They landed in the front yard and entered. The living room exuded a lodge vibe. A mounted elk head graced the wall over a brick fireplace. Curtained windows abounded, interrupted with knickknacks and pictures. A leather couch sat in the center of the room, surrounded by two matching recliners, and a bear-skin rug between them and the fireplace.

Bridget bounced in, wearing her new Comet Girl outfit. A silvery green leotard covered her torso and a matching half mask, rising to points on its corners. Silver gloves, boots, and a back-length cape completed the ensemble.

She halted her bouncing upon spotting Jeremy and Mickey. She smiled, threw up her hands, and spun around. "BJ, Mickey, what do you think?"

Mickey whistled. "Nice job, Uncle George."

Jeremy rubbed the cape between his fingers. "Looks pretty much like the virtual version. Except before you didn't have a cape."

Bridget stood with her feet apart and her hands on her hips. The cape spread out behind her. "I wanted to look superheroish when I flew. Uncle George said sure, especially since today is my birthday."

Jeremy rubbed her hair. "You do look cool. Is Uncle George finished with my and Mick's suits?"

"I most certainly am." Uncle George appeared from the hallway holding two bags. A grin beamed underneath his mustache and long beard. He wore his usual overalls with a blue shirt.

Natalie, in jean shorts and a T-shirt bearing a graphic of a pine tree over the words "Ponderosa Pine," popped into the room from the kitchen. "I helped, in between cooking dinner."

Jeremy and Mickey both received the bags from Uncle George. Jeremy opened the bag and looked in. "Cool."

Mickey pulled orange material out of the bag. "Most excellent! I'll go try this on now."

"Hold on, Mick. Since we have everyone's attention, there's something I need to get your input on."

Uncle George motioned toward the couch. "Let's have a seat, then."

Everyone sat except for Natalie. She pointed a thumb toward the kitchen. "Timer will be going off soon."

Jeremy nodded. "Something is up with ESEL. For the first time since closing the wormhole, we spotted extended virtual reality insertion cylinders filled with ESEL soldiers."

Natalie frowned. "Doing what? I'm sure they're not getting eaten by a virtual monster over and over again like I was."

"Not likely. But that's the thing. We don't know if it was some type of virtual training exercise, or something worse, like they've figured out how to create virtual people in this world. And if so, what is their plan for it?"

Mickey grunted. "Whatever they're up to, I'm sure it isn't good news."

"But that's not all." Jeremy paused for dramatic effect. "We received a message from Commander Fisher. He wants to meet with me and negotiate a truce."

Natalie gasped. "You're not going, are you?"

"I've set up a time tomorrow, at four."

"Are you crazy?"

Mickey raised his hand. "I'm supposed to be the crazy one, and I didn't like the idea either."

Jeremy rubbed his forehead. "The way I see it, it will be our best chance to find out what they are doing, what they know."

Natalie shook her head. "And Commander Fisher's best chance to take you out. One sniper bullet and you'll be dead. You ain't virtual no more."

"I'll take precautions."

"You can't trust him. He has an ulterior motive."

"And we'll never find out what his motives are by breaking in and destroying their facilities. It might slow them down, but we aren't stopping them." Jeremy sighed. "We've got to do something more."

Uncle George cleared his throat. "Seems to me they could also want to cooperate. After all, their main goal, to protect Earth from future invasions, seems good. Now that you don't have to worry about Zori, why not see what he has to say?"

Natalie raised a finger. "Maybe Zori is no longer in danger—"

Beeps sounded from the kitchen. Natalie banged her fist on the back of the couch. "But Earth might be. Hold that thought. I'll be back." She scampered off to the kitchen.

Mickey nodded. "I'd have to agree with Natalie. If they progressed far enough to create virtual people on Earth, no telling what they might try. That kind of power can be too tempting in the wrong hands."

Uncle George leaned forward. "Like an over-protective mother ruining her child's life by trying to save it."

Mickey pointed at him. "Exactly."

Natalie's voice echoed from the kitchen. "I said, hold that thought!"

Mickey frowned, then crossed his arms and flopped his upper body against the couch's back.

Bridget giggled at Mickey. "You look like you did when Natalie flew the Raven on Zori." The corners of her mouth drooped. "I miss our friends there."

Jeremy wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "We all do, Sis." The one big downside to losing the wormhole was no more trips to Zori. No more contact with Holbreth or Jornash. Despite all the drama they had created in his life, knowing he'd never see them again left an empty hole.

He'd thought losing the wormhole would get rid of that drama. But no. Virtual superhero powers became attached to their real bodies in the nuclear explosion. He still couldn't live a normal life. Ever.

Natalie stepped back into the living room. "As I was saying, Earth could be in danger. Think about it. With the wormhole closed, the threat from an alien invasion like Lorian delivered is practically nil. So any preparations and use of a virtual reality can't be to protect Earth."

Jeremy rubbed his forehead. "They might try to protect Earth from itself? Maybe. Could also be they'd use the virtual reality to explore our system, maybe even our galaxy."

"So they could find a new wormhole to conquer new worlds."

"Aren't we being a little too cynical?"

Natalie crossed her arms and leaned against the door post. "What does a world-wide military organization with no mandate or political affiliation do?"

Bridget raised her hand. "Try to take over the world."

Mickey grabbed Bridget's arm. "We have a winner!"

Jeremy glanced at each face. "That may be. We can't rule anything out right now. But we're not going to find out by raiding their compounds either. Talking to Fisher may be our best opportunity to learn what they're up to."

Natalie shook her head. "You don't think they'll tell you what they're up to, do you?"

Jeremy smiled. "I'll get more info from what they don't say than the line they'll dish out."

Bridget stood up. "Speaking of dishing out stuff, is the casserole ready? I'm hungry."

Natalie stepped out of the doorway and swung her arms toward the dinning table. "Come and help yourselves."

Chapter 2

Jeremy slid the belt's end into a holding strap. "I've got to hand it to you, Uncle George. This suit fits well and is almost identical to Astro Man's virtual suit."

Uncle George held out a helmet. "Mostly. Couldn't find an exact duplicate of the helmet. This is a used racing helmet, modified. Including . . ." He tapped the visor. "Mirrored and light-filtered glass. Not only to protect your identity but also to shield your eyes when you use your light blast."

Jeremy received the helmet from Uncle George. "Nice job. Thanks."

Uncle George smiled and nodded. "Nothing to it."

Bridget yanked on Jeremy's pants. "Hey Astro Man, I should go with you this time."

Jeremy tucked the helmet under his left arm. "I would, Sis, but I have no idea what Fisher plans on doing. If this is a trap, best only one of us gets caught."

"BJ! What has happened every time you've gone all Lone Ranger on us?"

"Saved the world and come back home in time for dinner?" Jeremy grinned.

Bridget stuck her tongue out through a smile. "Hardly. You get caught in a trap."

"Not every time."

"Most of the time."

Jeremy scratched his head. "But one of those times I saved Earth."

"Natalie was with you." Bridget crossed her arms as if to say, "Checkmate."

Uncle George chuckled. "I'm afraid she's got you there."

Jeremy sighed. "I just don't want you to get hurt."

Bridget uncrossed her arms and placed a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. "I'm a big girl now. I can take care of myself."

Jeremy stifled a laugh. "Sis, you're only eleven."

"And how many eleven-year-olds have done what I've done and lived to tell about it?"

"Jeremy," Natalie called out from the living room. "Quick, you've got to see this."

Jeremy ran down the hallway and into the living room, followed by Bridget and Uncle George. Natalie and Mickey's eyes stared at the TV. The President of the United States sat behind his desk in the Oval Office in the middle of an address to the nation.

President Carlos Santiago leaned forward in his chair. "Again, I plead, if Astro Man can hear this, please come to me. I have a matter of utmost importance about which I must speak with you." He leaned back in his chair and let out a breath. "Please, come."

The screen went dark and an announcer said, "We now return you to your regularly scheduled program."

Jeremy palmed his forehead. "The President wants to speak to me?"

Mickey shook his head. "Go figure. I talked with him last time. Why would he be calling Astro Man instead of me?"

Natalie smirked. "He knows you're not the brains of this outfit."

Mickey eyed her, frowning. "I'm being serious. When you and Jeremy were off playing around on Similaris, Bridget and I invaded the White House to prove our point that they needed to prepare for the coming war. I was Blue Nova at the time, and Bridget was . . ." Mickey snapped his fingers.

Bridget raised a finger. "Rainbow Girl."

"Right." Mickey held out his palm. "It's logical. We were their main contact. Why would they ignore Blue Nova and call specifically for Astro Man?"

Jeremy ran his fingers through his hair. "It is suspicious, I'll give you that. But I don't see how I have any other option than to go see what he wants."

Natalie grimaced. "One further problem. Of course the president would not know this, but his public announcement will be seen by ESEL too. That could make your meeting with Fisher more risky."

"Yes, it does complicate things."

"Might be too risky. Maybe you shouldn't go. I have a bad feeling about this."

Jeremy gazed into Natalie's pleading eyes. "I have to get more info. Unless we can hack into their computer systems, this is our best shot."

Natalie bowed her head. "As Sensei I could have. That hero had mind-reading abilities whenever I touched someone."

Bridget stood up and stepped next to her brother. "Don't worry. Comet Girl will protect him."

Jeremy glanced between Mickey and Natalie. Even with Uncle George around, he didn't feel comfortable leaving them alone after their affair ended a little over a month ago.

Jeremy focused on Bridget. "Sis, I—"

"He has a secret mission for you." Natalie broke in.

Jeremy swung his gaze toward Natalie, his mouth half open. "I do?"

She winked at him. "Sure. Don't you remember, sweetie? The secret mission for Comet Girl?"

Mickey laughed. "It's so secret apparently I don't know about it either."

Jeremy relaxed. She could see his concern and covered for him. "Oh, yeah. That secret mission." Jeremy placed a hand on Bridget's shoulder. "Sis, Natalie knows all the details. Do what she says. Hopefully by the time I get back, you'll be done too."

Bridget sat back down and crossed her arms. "Okay, but it better be good."

"Ready, Mick?" Jeremy met Mickey's eyes.

"Just let me suit up." He leaped to his feet and launched himself down the hall.

Jeremy caught Natalie's grin. Something about her eyes said she was up to something. "Should I be worried?"

She released a maniacal laugh. "What? That us girls might try to take over the world?"

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "Are you?"

Bridget clapped her hands. "Now that would be good. When do we start?"

"Right away." Natalie waved her hand, beckoning Bridget to follow her to her room.

Bridget bounced off the couch and sped down the hallway, leaving a slight trace of comet dust lingering in the air behind her.

Natalie mouthed, "I love you," then disappeared to follow Bridget.

Jeremy lay back into the couch. Surely she didn't really mean it. She only wanted to distract Bridget. "That has to be it."

"What?"

Jeremy's body jerked. He'd forgotten that Uncle George never left. "Uh, nothing , Uncle." He nodded his head toward the hallway. "Keep an eye on those two. I don't know what they are up to, but they're up to something."

"When are they not?" He smiled.

Mickey walked in, suited up. The G-Man he'd always known stood before him. An orange body suit, thin blue spirals winding their way around him, covered his body. A yellow cape hung from his shoulders. A yellow full-face mask hid Mickey's auburn hair.

Mickey opened the front door. "After you, Bucko."

Jeremy strapped on his helmet. Then he ran out of the house, powering his way into the sky using his gravity ray. Mickey zipped up behind him.

Jeremy adjusted his course toward New Mexico. His mind focused on dealing with Fisher. If he was lucky, Fisher hadn't seen the President's message. But he had to plan as if he had. And pray Fisher didn't have any new tricks up his sleeve.

_______


Natalie closed the door to her room. Bridget, in her Comet Girl outfit, sat in a corner chair next to the wooden, oak dresser. A large mirror on it reflected Natalie's unmade bed ten feet away. Natalie ignored the chore begging for attention. She had more important matters to deal with.

Bridget crossed her arms. "So, what is this mission? Or was it merely a plot to keep me from pestering BJ about going with him?"

Natalie grinned. "That's what he thinks it is."

Bridget frowned. "Just because I'm a kid, he thinks I can't do anything. Well, I'm growing up."

Natalie sat on the edge of her bed and brushed her bangs back. "I don't think it is that." Natalie paused. "Though I'm not saying it has nothing to do with it. I think he is mainly more protective of you. Remember when you got shot rescuing me? I think that makes him think twice about taking you on missions."

She nodded. "Still not fair. All this power and . . ." Bridget's face froze. She blinked twice. "What did you mean, 'he thinks it is'?"

Natalie winked. "I do have a couple important missions for you. Ones I didn't want to tell Jeremy about."

Bridget's forehead wrinkled. "Are you sure it is a good idea to keep secrets from him after what happened?"

"That is the reason for the first mission, and also why he doesn't want to take you along on missions. It isn't that he doesn't want you to come. He's uncomfortable leaving Mickey here with me."

"I can see that." Bridget twirled the end of her cape around a finger. "But what would Comet Girl do to help that?"

"It's more a mission for Bridget than Comet Girl. I want you to convince Jeremy to marry me."

"Marry you!" Bridget's eyes widened.

"You make it sound like a bad thing."

"No, no." Bridget stood up and started pacing. "Was just expecting something different. Like spying or taking out a bad guy." She stopped pacing and turned to face Natalie. "What makes you think he'll listen to his little sister?"

Natalie shook her head. "I don't mean directly tell him to do it. Just plant the idea in his head. Tell him how close we've become. Tell him your worried that I'll eventually find someone else and leave." Natalie stared at Bridget for a couple of seconds. "Tell him the truth."

"Why don't you just tell him you want to get married?"

Natalie sighed. "I don't want to push him, especially after what I did. But I did what I did in part because I'd grown tired of waiting. We've been dating for over a year and our relationship is stuck at saying 'I love you' and kissing. Why is it taking him so long to move to the next level?"

Bridget giggled.

"What's so funny."

"BJ is a manual reader. Always has to think everything through."

Natalie grunted. "So you're saying I need to write him a manual on how to develop a relationship with a girl?"

Bridget grinned. "I'm sure that would do the trick, knowing him."

Natalie chuckled at the thought. Ironically, Bridget was right. "Will you give it a try at least? Plant the seed?"

Bridget let out a sigh and sat down. "Okay. I'll see what I can do. Now, what is the Comet Girl mission?"

Natalie rose and pulled a drawer out from her nightstand. She reached in and pulled out some cloth. She unfolded it and displayed it to Bridget.

Bridget's mouth fell open. "Your virtual mask? Where did you get that?"

"Jeremy found it in one of the ESEL labs they had raided. Took it back figuring the less they had, the better. Our masks are more developed than the Mind Game helmets. He stored it with the rest of the masks. I sneaked it out."

"But the mask don't work now that the wormhole's been destroyed. What are you going to do with it?"

"I'm operating on a theory. When I was trapped in their virtual reality, it was inside their computer. So we know they've got that far in using it. But I'm betting they've developed more than that.

"When Jeremy reported he saw virtual insertion tubes full of ESEL soldiers, it confirmed my suspicions. I think ESEL is able to project virtual people wherever they want and are doing so right now."

Bridget nodded. "Okay. Where do I come into this?"

Natalie put the mask on the bed. "I want to use the mask to test my hypothesis. If they have created a virtual machine here on Earth, my mask should be able to pick up on it and take me into it. If not, nothing will happen."

"Maybe I should use my own mask."

"No good." Natalie pointed a finger at her. "All three of your masks were connected to ESEL's piggyback onto Zori's virtual energy for more than a year. It is too likely as soon as one of them were used, it would show up on ESEL's system. My mask was never connected."

"They did have it for a few days. When did Jeremy retrieve it?"

"About a week after he rescued me."

"They could have connected it during that time.”

Natalie nodded. "It is possible, but not likely. But that is why I need you. I can't use it here, for fear they can track it. We don't want to give away our hideout. Plus, I'll need a superhero to protect my body while in VR if indeed I go there. So I need you to fly me to a safe location to attempt this."

Bridget flapped her cape for a moment while staring at her feet. She met Natalie's eyes. "Sounds reasonable. But why not tell BJ?"

"What do you think Brother Jeremy would say if we did?"

Bridget smiled and said in her best imitation of Jeremy, "Too risky until we've studied all the angles."

"Exactly. I bet I'll find out more about their intentions in one visit than Jeremy does in several raids and talking to Fisher."

"Just one thing." Bridget stood. "I need something to eat before we do this."

Natalie grinned. "You've got it."