The Virtual Guard
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by Robert Ferrier
Category: Young Adult/Mystery/Crime
Description: A budding video game aficionado, Chuck is forced to turn detective when his friends begin to disappear. Ferrier has packed the pages with imagery, action, and sensory stimuli enabling the reader to participate fully in this adventure into virtual reality. So sit back, put on your imaginary helmets, and prepare yourself for a virtual battle royal as you read The Virtual Guard.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, 2001 SynergEbooks
eBookwise Release Date: June 2004
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [80 KB]
Reading time: 47-66 min.
Chuck Roberts pulled back on the control stick.
The YF-22 tactical fighter clawed through a cloud, and Chuck felt the G-force pressing his body against the seat. Now, he thought. I'll loop back and fire a missile.
"Nice try, Chucko," said Duke Carlyle's hoarse voice through the helmet speaker.
A red light flashed on Chuck's control panel: AIR-TO-AIR MISSILE TRACKING AIRCRAFT.
He jerked the stick right and back, hurling his fighter into a twisting loop. When he pulled out, the enemy missile streaked past his left wing.
"Missed!" he said into his helmet mike.
He dove down into a cloud, losing altitude. Then he climbed and turned.
But when he broke through, the red light flashed again.
This time he dove straight down. He sought the cloud again, but saw only the patchwork of eastern Oklahoma earth, rising fast.
Waiting as long as he dared, he pulled hard on the stick and flattened out at 1,000 feet, streaking west toward the sun. MISSILE TRACKED AND LOCKED! EVADE! The panel flashed.
Chuck rolled the fighter twice.
"Not good enough, Chucko!" said the voice. "Bye!"
The fighter shuddered, and the stick felt loose.
Frantically, he worked the stick, but it felt like spaghetti. No foot controls either. The ground rushed toward him: lakes, pasture, cows.
Then he felt another shudder--a jolt, really--and he saw nothing. So this is how it feels to die, he thought. Except Duke wouldn't be standing outside waiting for him.
Chuck unlatched the cockpit and climbed down a ladder. He looked up at the virtual reality pod. He heard sound from the Virtual Reality Arcade: pistons hissing as they shifted under the pods. He smelled popcorn from the Cheese Corn stand, and he heard people laughing. As soon as his feet touched the floor, Chuck wanted to climb the ladder and feel the virtual world again.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned.
"Should I call for a body bag?" Duke Carlyle said.
Chuck looked at Duke: blond hair, blue eyes, flashing smile. He twirled an empty key chain. Chuck knew Duke wanted a car, but he would have to wait four years until he was 16 to add a key to the chain. Everything came easy for Duke, Chuck thought: playing virtual reality games, quarterbacking the sixth grade Poe Buffaloes, speaking at pep assemblies.
"Let's do it again," Chuck said. "I like that feeling."
Duke looked at him. "What feeling? Dying?"
"No. Flying," Chuck said, looking up at the pod. "That feels so real."
"You like it too much," Duke said. "Let's get some popcorn. I've got a lead on a propeller for your collection."
Chuck collected model airplane propellers. He owned one of the largest collections anywhere: Sturdy Birdys, Scat Cat 500s, P-51 Mustangs, Lazy Bees, Tigersharks, Spitfires, Goldberg Ultimates, Ultra Sports, Pitts Little Stinkers. His mother tolerated them. His dad had liked them, before he died. Chuck liked to look at them in his bedroom, the smooth lines catching moonlight. He liked to feel them. If people thought his collection weird, Chuck didn't care.
They wandered out into the mall, toward the Cheese Corn stand, bought popcorn and Cokes, then strolled through the crowd.
Chuck knew that this time tomorrow, he would be lining up against the Longfellow Tigers. Chuck and Duke always met at the Virtual Reality Arcade the night before a football game. To Chuck, the world inside the pod seemed so exciting that he never wanted to leave it.
Chuck looked over his shoulder at the arcade.
Duke said, "The real world's better, Chucko."
"Look, maybe for you," Chuck answered.
Duke tossed the empty popcorn sack and Coke cup into a trash can. He faced Chuck. "Why?"
"Well, like tomorrow."
"What about tomorrow?" Duke said.
"When you speak at the pep assembly? You'll talk without freezing up."
Duke twirled his key chain, but he didn't say anything.
"They'll go to the game because you asked them to," Chuck said. "If I tried to speak, I'd freeze," Chuck said. He hated admitting it.
"Who writes my stuff, Chucko? Who helps Samantha Cramer through her stuttering?" Duke continued. "With song titles!"
"Me," Chuck admitted, sipping his soda.
"Right," Duke said. "Want to trade? You get my speaking ability. I get Sam." Duke said.
"No way," Chuck said.
They ambled along without saying anything, Chuck thinking about Sam. He liked her, and he pictured her in his mind: red hair, blue eyes, freckles, little bits of M&Ms stuck in her braces. He and Sam looked so different together, he knew. He saw his reflection in a store window: stocky Choctaw build, dark hair, brown eyes. She liked his propeller collection, he thought.
"You said something about an airplane propeller?" Chuck asked.
"Oh yeah," Duke said. "Tommy Jeter crashed his Cessna Skymaster last Saturday, and he--"
"You guys hear about Tucker?" yelled a girl from Chuck's sixth grade class at Edgar Allan Poe Middle School.
Chuck looked at the girl and her friends. "What about him?" he said.
"Where've you guys been?" she said. "Tucker's missing!"
Chuck and Duke stopped. "Missing!" Chuck said. "He was at football practice!"
"Duh!" she said. "He never made it home. You guys been doing the pods again?"
Chuck watched them walk away. He felt numb.
Chuck sat down on a bench. Tucker Fredericks: African-American, straight A student, fourth member of the Cyberspace Club, along with Duke and Sam Cramer. The fastest wide receiver in Harmon, Oklahoma. Missing?...
Chuck looked at Duke; his eyes seemed glazed.
"Look, we've gotta go to Tucker's house," he said. "Talk to his mother."
"Let's go," Duke said.