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System Update

by Mr.RMA

Mr.RMA A sort of long-winded introductory post for my character in the Digimon-centric Cloaked in Myth RP currently in development. Ended up turning into something of a short-story prologue-type thing, so I figured I'd post it as such.

Rupert Alinejad, a somewhat-reserved English teacher, is brought in by his employers to help demonstrate the many features of the advanced VR system known as HOMEROS, for the express purpose of implementing it in a school setting. However, things very quickly turn south as he's tricked into helping launch a massive attack on the virtual world.
Not too far off, a temperamental Digimon, freshly betrayed by his team of nefarious demons, seeks a means of retribution, finding opportunity in the form of a certain stranded and helpless human.
Rupert Alinejad had taken the Joban Line train to Tokyo numerous times by now, but he hadn’t had this nervous feeling for quite a while, sitting there in a packed car as it began to chug along the tracks through the Japanese countryside. Not since that first Spring semester did he feel a similar sort of butterflies in his stomach. He liked to think he could handle whatever this job threw at him, even though he’d really only been employed as an assistant language teacher for about a year and a half. In retrospect, that relatively short duration of time was proving just how quickly something could still throw him for a loop. It wasn’t like he could have predicted the technological world would have changed this drastically… How could anyone guess something like HOMEROS would storm onto the scene so suddenly?

He’d forgotten just when news broke out on the new VR network for the first time, perhaps it had been years prior and he simply didn’t pay it much mind back then. One way or another, it didn’t feel like it had been so long ago when virtual reality was still just a gimmicky, expensive toy for simulators, with the occasional rhythmic sword-fighting game or some other short-lived fad that blew up streaming services with fleeting rises in views. People talked about one day truly feeling like they were in another realm of existence. They debated the possibility of having all one’s senses get transmitted to another place, in an avatar they could control just as if it were their own organic body… but that was sci-fi fare. At best it was speculative science, a dream of a distant future no one in the present would survive to see… or at least Rupert’s rationality had tried to convince himself as much. That was before he first paid the new virtual world a visit; before he was quite literally transported to another place, with entirely different rules of reality to go along with it. It was more than just being in a computer game, it was like his computer monitor had turned into a literal window to another world, and he’d found a way to climb through to the other side. It simply didn’t get more immersive than this.

He’d only just recently been able to afford the more basic model of VR gear that could connect him to the network (and even then he was going to be stuck eating some budget convenience food for a while to make up for the dent in his wallet), so all of it was still quite the novelty to him. Still, he was registered in the system and his avatar was scanned in. He was very much planning to familiarize himself with HOMEROS a lot more in his future free time… but now, ironically enough, it seemed he’d be doing a lot of that learning on the clock.

All this was running through Rupert’s mind as the train made stop after stop on its gradual journey southward through Ibaraki, past Chiba, and finally to the metropolitan behemoth that was Tokyo. It was always a little jarring to him whenever he arrived in the famous city after a long duration in his simpler, rural residence. He was surrounded by massive skyscrapers and colorful lights and displays; Waves of people constantly moved here and there in a commotion of hustle and bustle. Taking his place in the human maelstrom, he followed the map on his smartphone to the coordinates of his company’s office.

Once he arrived, he signed his name on the employee checklist, took the badge with his identification printed on it, and took a seat at his designated spot. A few of his co-workers, some familiar, others less so, were also there, some still coming in as the starting time for the meeting drew nearer. At the far end of the room, there was a row of booths lining the walls with somewhat fancy, if nonetheless plainly obvious VR gear contained within, each labeled with the company logo on the base of the helmets. Along with this, there was a singular computer connected to a projector, a spectator camera to keep track of everyone from the outside, most likely.

“Y’know, I’ll admit I kinda expected there to be more of us…” one of the others seated next to Rupert said after a moment of observing the small collective.

“You’d think so. I mean, with HOMEROS being as popular as it is…” another remarked in agreement.

“Well you know how much we get paid, I’d say it’s something of a miracle any of us have it at all,” a third chimed in.

If anyone had somehow forgotten why they were here, it was clear as day from how everything was laid out in the conference room. The teaching company in which Rupert and his peers had been employed under was looking to expand their range when it came to useful education resources. Someone in the top brass evidently thought HOMEROS could be used as an advantageous means to that end, and thus, a survey had gone out asking each employee if they owned a VR device that connected to the aforementioned network. Those who’d responded ‘yes’ were given the follow-up request to meet here. It had been a request to demonstrate HOMEROS’ functions and versatility, to help those still unfamiliar with the actual program get a better understanding of what could be done with it. It was the knowledge that this demonstration would likely be witnessed by many other higher-ups, and subsequently countless teachers, that had gotten Rupert so nervous in the first place. He was still pretty green to the whole thing himself; it didn’t seem likely that he’d be the best to showcase such a complex system… so why the hell did he agree to it? Evidently despite the pressure, he figured this would put him in good standing with his superiors, if he could just manage to not come across as entirely incompetent about it. So, ultimately, it came down to him being an exemplary bootlicker… as usual…

“Good morning everyone!” a familiar man in a black suit and blue tie greeted the group energetically as the time for the meeting arrived. He was one of the regional managers, the boss of Rupert’s bosses. If he’d been called to conduct this test, then it was clear the company saw this as a big deal.

The manager went through the whole obligatory lecture about the purpose of the VR experiment. He explained what everyone frankly already knew, that they wanted those familiar with HOMEROS to tackle the first few machines specifically built for the company. Provided there weren’t any glaring bugs, they would distribute the devices to various interested school districts around the country, and the footage of the tests would, in turn, allow those unfamiliar with the super-advanced VR to see the process play out before trying it themselves.

“We sincerely believe this technology will play a major factor in education moving forward, so this is very important for us to get right. Now… regarding how we’ll carry out the tests…”

Once the proceeding lecture wrapped up, Rupert ended up being part of the first group to go into the booths, placing the VR helmet on his head as the computer booted up, making sure he was in the proper seated position, along with all the other various safety concerns. Though it was certainly more fanciful-looking than his model, the routine seemed otherwise the same. Still, his nervousness had remained, perhaps spiking at this point. He wanted to make sure he did a good job, didn’t somehow make a fool of himself demonstrating the various functions within HOMEROS… and that all served to really ramp up the anxiety levels. Even worse, there was this faintest concern that something could go wrong… but then, he always feared that… Surely it wasn’t warranted though…

Just as he was about to have his consciousness transported into the digital environment… something popped up. What was that… a message?

“Uh… Sorry, I’m getting something on screen about a system update?” He called out, informing the staff just why he hadn’t logged in yet, as the others didn’t seem to be having the same problem.

“System update? Hmm… must be that particular machine. Ah, just accept it, Rupert, that’s fine!” The manager responded. Well, this was already a stumble out of the gate… but at least it wasn’t something he could’ve predicted. Shrugging it off, Rupert did as instructed and accepted the system update… After all, what was the harm in such a menial thing?

As soon as he accepted the update, he felt the VR machine go to work, just like that he was now consciously operating his avatar, flying through the plethora of environments and servers HOMEROS hosted before descending down to a fairly plain, featureless platform, offering quite the view of a future-tech landscape that managed to put the reality-bound Tokyo to shame. The flawlessly lifelike avatars of Rupert’s associates were already there, waiting for him. They were all wearing suits similar to what they’d brought with them to the meeting, with little emblems embedded on the front of their jackets just to make it clear as day who they were working for. Each of them also had a smartphone in-hand, representing their user-interface which allowed them to do any number of things from traveling to another server, logging-off, or, appropriately enough, communicating with someone at a distance. Generally these were customizable, but, the present group all had fairly uniform, matte-black phones. It was company policy to look and dress professional, and that rule didn’t just vanish because they were taking things virtually.

A few moments passed as they waited for their instructions. It wouldn’t do to just wander off if they were expected to do their jobs showcasing various features. At first the delay seemed reasonable, the staff were probably just briefly delayed, or perhaps there was just a lot of traffic at the moment and it was slowing things down… but after a while longer it got a little more disconcerting.

“Wonder what’s the hold-up,” Rupert spoke aloud, though as another worker went to respond, he didn’t hear anything. His mouth had been moving, but no sound… Another tried to speak, with similar results, and before anyone else could give it a try, everything around them started glitching out and distorting. Colors flickered from normal to their respective negatives and back again, the city’s buildings started to contort and break apart, and most sounds were reduced to bit-crushed dins of nonsense. Rupert clutched at his forehead in shock from the rather jarring turn of events, looking down for a moment at the platform beneath him before looking back up just in time to witness his co-workers starting to disappear. Pop. Pop. Pop… With a distorted popping noise, it seemed all the other avatars were vanishing instantaneously en masse, yet he remained exactly where he was. Something was wrong… something was very obviously wrong. A wave of panic washed over Rupert as he scrambled to log off and get back to reality, but his phone’s interface wasn’t responding. Nothing he did was working. No fail safes… No emergency functions… Desperately he was left merely trying to mime taking his helmet off in hopes that his semi-conscious body would react in turn, but that wasn’t working either.

“Hey… HEY! Someone, turn this thing off!” He shouted, hoping someone was still watching all this from the other side. Unfortunately for him, the spectator camera hadn’t been spared from the purge.

“Get me out of here! Come on! Something’s wrong! Shut it down!” he kept shouting, but it wasn’t getting him anywhere. It took all of his dwindling sanity to not just start screaming incomprehensively, just to get someone’s attention… He didn’t have much time to do so anyway, as he suddenly felt a sharp jolt run up his back, everything going pitch-dark. He briefly felt himself falling before the rest of his senses switched off at once. His one lingering thought had been a futile hope that someone was still out there working to bail him out.

Someone… Someone like who? There wasn’t anyone there… Everyone else was gone…

But of course, as far as the real world saw it, it was just the opposite.

Back at the conference room, the rest of the VR testers were awkwardly stumbling out of their booths in confusion. Everything was being looked over by the manager and several other staff members who’d rushed onto the scene, some in a panic, but all of them looking quite concerned in their own way. Evidently word was getting out that this was hardly an isolated incident. HOMEROS was booting out nearly every one of its users in the face of what appeared to be a massive DDoS attack. The keyword here was nearly… Rupert for instance, wasn’t coming out of his booth.

“Can’t we just unplug him and get him out of there manually?” One of the staffers asked, though the manager quickly moved to shoot the idea down.

“You can’t fiddle with these things like that, not while he’s still plugged in… You do that, and there’s a chance he’s not gonna be coming back at all.”

“How are you sure that’s not already the case?” Another questioned, looking pale in the face from the possibility.

“I’m not… Best we can do is get a technician to look this over… Best call a medical team while we’re at it…”

~~~

HOMEROS had been breached. This isolated corner of the digital world, thought to be impassibly secure, had finally been broken through, and scores of creatures of every shape and size were flooding into the system once completely walled-off to them. These were digital lifeforms, of a somewhat monstrous semblance, not simply avatars like the former human occupants of the area, but creatures of data, native to this computerized realm. Of the bunch, the one who should’ve been happiest of all at the recent turn of events was instead laying face-down in an otherwise fairly isolated corner, consciousness only just starting to fade back into his being. The small purple humanoid with a clownish white face, pointy, devilish ears with a wicked tail to match, and a toothy-grinned smiley-face on his belly, looked almost like someone had taken a certain iconic cartoon mouse and combined him with both a harlequin and a Satan costume from a budget Halloween shop, all before dunking the whole ridiculous combination in violet paint. Essentially what this brought about was the least imposing sort of imp imaginable, and as he picked himself up off the ground and looked at his red-gloved hands, he seemed more than a little disbelieving of the whole situation.

“…Nah… I’m still dreamin’… Gotta be…” he muttered, shutting his eyes tight and rubbing at them for good measure.

“…Alright… Now I’m gonna wake up for real, and it’ll all be back to normal…” he said, though as he opened his eyes, nothing had changed. The disbelief very quickly gave way to confounded rage.

“Oh, you gotta be goddamn KIDDING me here!” he shouted, looking down at his diminutive state in disgust. “What kinda disrespectful garbage is this? Bringin’ me back as a rookie? Like I’m some green-horned tenderfoot? That stupid, stupid mutt… if I see him again I’m gonna tear those dumb wings of his right off!” For as hazy as everything preceding his awakening still was in his memory, he could plainly recall the sight of Anubismon before him… He couldn’t remember what the guardian of the Dark Area had said, if anything, but if he was standing here, in a living body, not trapped as data in that hellish landscape, then clearly he’d been seen as worthy of revival… much as he wasn’t too pleased with certain details. “Literal son-of-a-bitch just had to make me work for it…” he grumbled, but soon after, the target of his anger changed as he remembered the fight that had landed him in that position to begin with.

“Those phony-baloney backstabbers! ‘Oh, don’t worry Beelze, just keep ‘er distracted for a bit! We’ll send back-up! We’re right behind you!’ I’m so freakin’ STUPID!” he said as he smacked himself on the head multiple times. The other Demon Lords had left him for dead. Evidently to them he was nothing more than a patsy, the fall-guy they could sacrifice for their own benefits. They could’ve sent someone to help him, surely they weren’t all that busy at the moment, and his battle with Venusmon had been all but a stalemate throughout. Just one assist would’ve tipped the scales… but instead, they just didn’t care. All along he was expendable to them… All along it was as if his place amongst the Demon Lords amounted to nothing in the end.

“…Well alright then, if that’s the game they wanna play, then we’ll play that game!” He proclaimed with a newfound sense of determination, clenching his gloved claws into fists. His thirst for revenge had sprung an idea as he recalled the details of the plan that had broken through the barrier of HOMEROS in the first place. As one “admin” was brought down, a virus was distributed to a certain few users… an “update” as it were. They wouldn’t have any reason to believe such a thing was malicious, so they’d all undoubtably allow the supposed update to happen, unknowingly uploading the disguised malware they had planted, infecting the users’ systems first… then everything else. Even now he still smirked a little at the plan and how it had completely pulled the wool over the eyes of those autocrats of the Olympos XII, the aforementioned admins, furtively digital monsters themselves. The satisfaction was fleeting, considering he’d been made just as much of a victim in the whole scheme as well.

Those users we targeted… They gotta be somewhere ‘round here… Just gotta find one… Then I’m gonna take all of those tricky little bastards down! Then we’ll all see who the real chumps are!’

He broke out into a sprint, but the truth of the matter was he had no idea where to start looking, and once he realized this, he awkwardly slowed back down to a brisk walk. All the Digimon he passed hardly gave him a once over. It was humiliating… Mere moments prior, he would’ve been striking them all with fear if they even so much as passed through his line of sight, but now he was just another Impmon, a dime a dozen… Well, not for long, not if he could just find…

There it was… laying there prone much like he’d been, a humanoid in a grey suit with short brown hair. Some Digimon had pretty shockingly human features, admittedly, but he knew one of his own kind when he saw them, and this unconscious figure didn’t fit the bill. The other Digimon didn’t seem to know what to do with the unresponsive creature and just made it a point to avoid it, but this only made it easier for Impmon to get to him.

“Wonder if the poor bastard’s still alive though…” he thought aloud as he made his approach. It occurred to him that they never really discussed the fate of these users. Whatever happened to them once they unwittingly did their jobs was irrelevant… There was a good chance they were just rendered a bunch of digital corpses waiting for someone to come around and delete them. Who’s to say what happened to a human avatar in such a state? There wasn’t exactly a precedent… Well, no matter, there was one way to find out for sure.

“Hey… Hey, buddy, wake up,” Impmon said as he nudged at the human with his foot. At first it didn’t seem to do much, but then he noticed the man beginning to mumble something incoherent… Not dead then. That’s a start.

“Right… I don’t got time for this, you lazy bum. Wake the hell UP!” At that he gave a much firmer kick to the guy’s side, very quickly proving the claws on his feet weren’t just for show, causing the human to let out a yelp in pain as he rolled around and scampered to his feet, looking around in befuddlement, his gaze eventually landing on the little purple demon glancing back with a toothy little smile in amusement. He couldn’t help it, even with the seriousness of the situation, the trickster instincts of this form made it difficult not to at least crack a smile at people making complete asses of themselves. “That’s more like it. Now that I got your attention, we can get to talkin’.”

“…Talking? What… Wait… what the hell happened?” One minute, Rupert had been shouting for someone to get him out of his VR device as all of HOMEROS seemed to be crashing down, and then the next he was having a thoroughly unpleasant awakening, complements of this… weird-looking little fellow in a purple onesie and a red bandanna.

“A good question, my friend, and I’d be happy to help enlighten ya,” Impmon replied as he pointed a clawed thumb back at himself.

“…Who… Or… what are you supposed to be?” Rupert asked, all the more breathless as he noticed the plethora of other outlandish creatures milling about, some of them looking right back at him in similar bewilderment.

Impmon hesitated. Again he felt the urge to announce himself as the great and terrible Demon Lord he’d once been, but rationality prevailed. Perhaps that was a secret worth keeping for a while…

“I’m… just your run-a’-the-mill Digimon lookin’ for a few answers of my own,” he said, going for the always reliable half-truth.

“Digimon…?” Rupert repeated, perhaps unsurprisingly quite unfamiliar with that term.

“Ah… Right… Okay, pal, try to keep up with me here an’ I’ll do what I can to explain…”