my docs cover the synth-tatami with a fine spoor of undercity dust. “tadaima,” i grumble as i hang my fedora interface on the hook by the door and undo my sash, allowing my monodachi to clump heavily to the floor. “okaerinasai!” chirps AVINA, smoothly thrumming from standby into her waifu subroutines. Anime Vocaloid with Independent Neural Architecture— smart, beautiful, and illegal under nexus-govt anti-anime digilaws. i had cyber-heisted her software from a yamahacorp mainframe, and she had been living in my apartment’s datanet ever since. originally meaning to sell her off to the highest bidder, i had instead kept her around for company. she was less complicated than real females.
“onii-san…” she begins in a saccharine voice, calling me by the name i’d instructed her to use. “not now,” i interrupt using my gruff voice, which is my normal voice. “i’ve important business to attend to.” speaking of damnable females. i’d encountered a particularly choice one on the maglev ride home from the undercity, and was merely partaking in the capture of a few images for later perusal using my g-shades when she’d had the temerity to get upset about it. like i’d really wanted to look at her anyway.
i jacked the shades into my cyberdeck and began upload. the female on the train had been wearing g-shades of her own (as if she knew how to use them, i had thought) and had responded to my compliments by activating the device’s built-in optical datalight. it’s normally used for wireless transmission of files and programs between g-shades, but apparently this vapid was trying to use its bright light to blind my camera. not likely, sweetie. i suppressed a heh and continued uploading the photos to neo-reddit.
suddenly, the house AI gives a startled yelp and alarm klaxons blare from my cyberdeck. a virus has somehow gotten through my firewalls and is chewing through my data nodes faster than any countermeasures i can deploy. i shriek and pound the desk, scattering figmas and empty cans of jolt. years of collection and archival work melts before my eyes. how could this have happened? how could a virus like this have gotten past my security measures? i tear my hair and rend my prized vintage haruhi shirt, undone.
it dawns on me, creeping slowly like a legitimate photographer through the dormitory bushes. i try frantically to warn neo-reddit not to open the photos, but it’s too late. the virus has propagated wildly and the sub-neo-reddit is already baying for blood. my blood. i dive heavily under my desk and grab my bug-out bag, hoping that i can escape in time before ten thousand angry candid photo aficionados break down my door. pounding out in the hallway. muffled sounds of heavy breathing. my heart drops like a discarded hard drive.
“onii-san!” chirps AVINA. “you have visitors!”
When I was a kid, I used to get bored and sit around hacking game files. Now, before you get any ideas, I’m not a programmer by any stretch of the definition, so when I say “hacking,” it mostly amounted to opening game files in hex editors to see if I could replace the in-game text with my own perversions. Usually, it just made the game corrupt and refuse to start.
But occasionally, I’d get lucky. And I don’t know if it was me trying to express myself creatively or destructively, but few times have I experienced more personal glee than the times when I could bend a game to my will and make it behave the way I wanted it to. Even if it just meant forcing the game to play the wrong opening movie or replacing the protagonist’s name with something sophomoric, often of a phallic nature.
And then, every once in a while, you’d get a surprise of your own as you were trawling around garbage characters looking for something resembling English language text.
One such surprise was the little-known British adventure game Universe, which my brother had picked up on a whim, played the first couple of screens of, and quickly resigned to the shelf in his room where mistaken purchases went to collect dust.
Seriously. What is that?
Universe was one of those spectacularly flawed games where the controls were so broken you’d often get stuck on a clipping sprite and the puzzles were so fantastically obtuse that getting anywhere quickly became a frustrating exercise in trial and error.
The spinning asteroid in the first part of the game comes hauntingly to mind. The game had no opening cinematic or anything; it just spat you onto an asteroid in outer space and sat back, waiting for you to collect a dizzying array of meaningless objects that had been left on the surface and somehow figure out that you were supposed to jump onto a passing asteroid — using inhuman timing, thanks to the bewilderingly complicated interface — and jump off onto a bridge suspended in space leading to some sort of space city.
Once you got that far, everything started running on a timer punishable by insta-death and I quickly gave up in exasperation, never getting any further than the next couple of screens.
So, naturally, a gaming experience of that caliber deserves some tinkering with. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the game’s .exe file and found this little gem hiding in the code:
Seems I wasn’t the only one disgruntled by working with Universe.
I have no idea who wrote the above message, but he deserves my everlasting thanks for leaving that piece of commiseration behind for future generations to find.