#KillSwitch excerpt: “SoulTaker 2.0”
by Emerian Rich
As technology takes over more of our lives, what will it mean to be human, and will we fear what we’ve created? What horrors will our technological hubris bring us in the future?
Join us as we walk the line between progressive convenience and the nightmares these advancements can breed. From faulty medical nanos and AI gone berserk to ghost-attracting audio-tech and one very ambitious Mow-Bot, we bring you tech horror that will keep you up at night. Will you reach the Kill Switch in time?
A sneak peek inside…
Tory swigged a Red Bull too fast, causing pain to ripple down his esophagus. He twisted in his lopsided office chair as the massive gulp of carbonation traveled down. Pain wasn’t a stranger to him. Like most his age, with his coding skillz, he had tendonitis, carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, neck strain, you name it. His swelling hands throbbed with the inevitable ache from running out of Naproxen.
Drilling his fingers into the keyboard at an inhuman pace, he noticed an error in the hardcoding fifteen lines up on his screen.
“Fuck!” He clicked up into the jungle of text and typed over his error. With only an hour left to complete the project, Tory berated himself for such a newb mistake.
His Bluetooth headset buzzed, scaring the bejesus out of him. It seemed like every time the earpiece buzzed, a spark of electricity zapped into his ear. His grandpa was probably right, the thing would give him cancer one day.
“Tory,” his employer’s masked voice trilled the “r” and chilled his bones.
“What are you doing to the code? Why are you altering it?” The voice dug into him, scraping at his insides like a cheese grater.
“I… I messed it up. I had to redo that part.”
“You’re behind schedule.”
“I know. It’ll be done by midnight, I swear.” Tory glanced at his digital clock, blinking a few times before his tired eyes made out the neon green numbers displaying 11:17.
“Imbecile!” the voice bellowed, making his ear ring and his whole being shudder. “Delivery by midnight means it has to be complete by ten till to push it out to the servers. Are you fucking kidding me? I paid you well for this job and you better damned well come through or there will be hell to pay. You hear me? Hell to pay!”
The line clicked dead before Tory could respond.
Tory stood, his legs stiff as he walked. He tripped over empty pizza boxes and pitched forward, into the bathroom. His place needed a bulldozer to carry away all the food delivery trash he’d amassed during the week he’d been tied to his computer. Unzipping his fly, he relieved himself, not really caring if he hit the target or not.
The gamer podcast he’d been listening to while working, caught his attention.
“You hear those money hungry bastards over at Dullahan Games are rolling out their new add-on pack, Reaper, without beta testing?”
“This is the most anticipated add-on pack since the creation of multi-player games. They made two million dollars the first twenty minutes of pre-orders and stand to top thirty mill by release. These gamers are willing to pay to be the first to see it, glitches be damned.”
Paid. Yes, think of the money. Still, Tory couldn’t remember what he’d be paid. Dollar signs mixed with hashtags, until he realized he was remembering a hex color code instead of a payday.
In less than an hour, he’d be set for life. He could sleep or get high or go to Sandra’s Halloween party. Shit. Halloween. The life of a hacker used to be much more fun, back in the day before special character passwords and cybercops, when his bot could crack a system code in under twenty minutes. When Halloween consisted of scamming credit to treat his crew to a night of drinking and lap dances.
But now he was legit, working on the most popular MMORPG on the planet, SoulTaker. The concept was simple. Gamers signed over their digital souls to live out their wildest fantasies in a suped-up cyberland where supernatural powers were norm. The add-on pack, Reaper, would be legendary. ‘Course his name wouldn’t be on it, but he had already let slip a viral email to gamers with his hacker handle so they would know.
Slumping back into the ancient desk chair, he squeezed his blurry eyes and smiled. Only three rows of code and he’d be done. His tired fingers flew across the keyboard. The guillemets and backslashes blended into a puzzle of sorts. Greater than, less than, equals. Only a code junky knew what the maze said. At his last keystroke, the zap came again in his ear.
“It’s done,” he said before Mr. D. could say anything.
“I don’t see…” A computer bleep interrupted his speech. “Ah… Very good.” The line clicked before Tory switched over to his bank and saw the funds wired in. All the stress from the endless hours of coding crippled him. His hands were like giant claws, his body wouldn’t move. The clock flipped to 12:00.
Toggling over to the game, Tory logged into the server to watch players devour his newest creation. Just a few minutes basking in his glory and then he’d hit the hay for a well-deserved sleep.
He watched as character after character rezzed and speech bubbles exploded on the screen.
Severed13: Whoa! Awesome!
CallMeHeaven: I can’t believe we’re in!
HellBoot: Fuckin’ epic!
The upgrade included a “soul reaping” that would cause your character to gain even more supernatural powers. Little red flags appeared over each avatar in turn.
SOUL OFFICIALLY REAPED
& EMERIAN RICH
H.E. ROULO, TIM O’NEAL, JERRY J. DAVIS, EMERIAN RICH, BILL DAVIDSON,
DANA HAMMER, NACHING T. KASSA, GARRETT ROWLAN, DAPHNE STRASERT
PHILLIP T. STEVENS, LAUREL ANNE HILL, CHANTAL BOUDREAU, GARTH VON BUCHHOLZ