HAM0102012019-06-16T14:40:53+00:00

01.02.01

The vehicle in the center of Anya’s menu was called the V-187, and it looked like the love child of a stealth plane and a classic car. Anya didn’t know a lot about car models, but it wasn’t Cadillac classic. Some kind of European classic, like a Jaguar or a Mercedes, maybe. The menu identified it as a “long-range, planetary stealth craft with room for a pilot and five passengers, primarily used for quick insertion and extraction of small teams while remaining undetected.”

It could go as high as the mid-stratosphere, go as fast as Mach-3, and its propulsion was anti-gravity instead of any kind of combustion engine. It didn’t produce any heat, and could take-off and land vertically and in total silence or hover in place.

It also had a sleek, cozy looking interior and Felix told Anya that she could get it in red if she wanted. When Anya pointed out that cherry red paint seemed counter-productive to a stealth craft, Felix pointed out that the vehicle could turn mostly invisible despite its outer color. It cost 110,000 RAC but could be upgraded to include an all leather interior and other comforts and assets for an additional 500 RAC, and Anya really wanted it.

She’d never owned her own car, so suddenly having the opportunity to get a stealth hovercraft from another planet delivered within milliseconds was dizzying. More so were the options Anya had passed up while she browsed the vehicle catalog of the RAC store. There were tanks with laser cannons, flying saucers, golden chariots pulled by mythical beasts, mechanical walking fortresses that would tower over most of the buildings in Manhattan, transforming fighter jets, and honest to god space-faring battleships. The latter category of vehicles were all marked with “sub-light speed,” along with all other spaceships she saw.

“Are there faster-than-light ships?” Anya asked Felix. Her orange, holographic AI floated around her in a lazy orbit as she perused the menu. Felix was under a foot tall, and resembled a pudgy, malformed baby with an over-sized head shaped like a blossoming rose. Felix’s simplistic facial features brightened at the opportunity to dispense information.

“Yes, but you can’t buy them!” Felix said. Anya glared at him.

“Why not? I mean, they’re obviously gonna be expensive. But this sub-lightspeed battle cruiser is over 10 million RAC and even though I can’t afford it, I still have the ‘buy’ option. I don’t even see any faster-than-light ships.”

“Hmmm,” Felix said and rubbed the rounded edge of their chin. “All faster-than-light vessels are currently locked away. I can see the section they’re in, but I can’t access it or figure out how you unlock it.”

“That’s odd,” Anya thought. “Problems for later. We don’t need to get to South Carolina at the speed of light anyway.”

Anya switched to the map that showed the estimated positions of all the other menu hosts and enemy aliens as of late last night. Her fellow hosts, the surviving ones, were indicated by orange circles of various size and brightness that indicated a general position rather than an exact one. The bigger and darker the circle, the less certain a host’s position was; the smaller and brighter the circle, the more precise.

The smallest, brightest host location was a single dot in Columbia, South Carolina, and it hadn’t moved at all since the menus attached to their hosts. They were practically begging for one of the hostile enemy aliens, indicated by precise red dots, to come and kill them. She had watched four people get slaughtered last night, and she wasn’t about to just stand by and let it happen again. She didn’t want to fight, but she could at least convince the other host to run.

Anya had managed to save a single police officer, a young man named Ramierez, but only just. Carl, the only other host she had met, had been killed within moments of encountering their first enemy alien. She had tried to get him to back away but the alien had been too fast, too brutal.

Felix had said not all the menu systems had been activated following integration on Friday night. It had been a few days since then, and it was possible the host in Columbia had no idea they were a target for hostile alien forces. The nearest enemy alien had been in Atlanta last night, near several other vague orange circles. Anya didn’t want to go on a wild goose-chase all over the country, but tracking down the host in Columbia seemed easy enough. It was small, just one person, but it was a start.

Anya returned to the V-187’s store page and decided it would be perfect, not only for getting to South Carolina, but for any quick and speedy get-aways she needed to make in the future. The enemy alien that had almost killed her last night had been in Prospect Park, not far from her home in Bushwick. If any other aliens decided to sneak up, she wanted to be able to be gone in an instant. She was about to confirm the purchase when her finger froze above the “BUY” button.

“I kinda assumed there is, but just to make sure: there’s a skill for piloting this thing, right?” Anya asked.

“Of course! It’s a mental skill,” Felix replied. Anya still had quite a few points in that category, and she could afford to spend a few on something like this.

Confirming the skill for piloting the V-187 hadn’t been the only reason her finger froze over her purchase. When she’d purchased a pack of crackers and some clothes, it had all just appeared in her apartment. Buying something like the V-187 indoors would cause it to smash through the wall or floor or both.

Anya dismissed Felix as she left her apartment and went up to the roof. The roof of her apartment building was spacious, and more importantly, empty. Save for some small flowerbeds and brown, clay kimchi pots tended to by her neighbor Mr. Kim, she had enough room for a small bus. The building was tall enough that being on the roof hid her from the street below and other, shorter buildings around her. The V-187 wasn’t a huge vehicle, judging by the description, and would fit easily on the roof.

“Okay, just gonna…buy an alien special ops hover-car, I guess,” Anya said. She decided to spring for the upgraded interior, but stayed with the basic black exterior. She took a deep breath and confirmed her purchase.

The menu system built the nigh-infinite number of items in the RAC store by assembling them “off-site, wherever that was, and transporting them to Anya’s location. Felix had tried to explain the basic assembly process to her: something about using base elements within a vast range and constructing molecules while in transit within a few milliseconds.
Anya found it easier to just think of it as magic.

There was a whoosh of air, a flash of light, and then the V-187 was there in front of her. It hovered a foot off the surface of the roof, steady and silent. It was sleek, black, and bigger than Anya had anticipated but still not much bigger than a large sedan. Instead of wheels, it had had three circular metal discs the size of manhole covers that emitted a dull humming noise. Two were in the front near where normal wheels would be, and the third was underneath the rear of vehicle. The windshield was almost entirely opaque from the outside, and didn’t reflect the late-morning sun at all.

“Holy shit that’s awesome,” Anya said. She approached the left side of the V-187 and a beam of pale light emitted from a slit along the side and went up and down Anya’s body twice before turning off. Then the side of the vehicle popped open with a hiss and rose like a raven lifting its wing. A large leather chair with an X-shaped harness in it turned to the side and swung out automatically as if to welcome her into it.

“What was that light?” Anya asked as she slid into the pilot’s seat. The seat retracted back inside, thankfully with plenty of clearance for her legs. She’d gained more than a foot of height since she’d acquired the menu system, and filled out like an Olympian. The legroom was a necessity. Felix appeared beside her when the door closed and they were alone inside the vehicle.

“Scanning the primary pilot,” Felix said.

“Handy that an alien vehicle has the basic layout suitable for a human,” Anya said as she looked around. The pilot’s seat was in the center of the front row, and control panels with readouts and displays and plate-sized silver discs rose up on either side of her before stopping at just above the level of her waist. There were two seats directly behind the pilot’s chair that faced the rear, and another three seats opposite those that faced forward.

“That’s me!” Felix said and waved his tiny mitten-shaped hands. “I filtered out any non-humanoid vehicles that would require amorphous shapes, multiple limbs, or other problematic features that would pose difficulty to somebody of your body type.”

“Aww,” Anya said. “That’s the kind of forward thinking we need, Felix.”

“Happy to help!”

“Okay, let’s see how this goes,” Anya said. The interior of the V-187 was impressive, but it all meant nothing at all to her. She no more knew how to fly it than she did how to fly a 747. She opened her mental skills list, found the “V-187 PILOT” sub-menu, and plugged in 3 points.

Felix had tried to explain how the menu relayed information to her brain, how increasing her skills with the various points she had acquired rewired her neural pathways, her body, her muscle memory. But much like watching the V-187 appear out of thin air, it was still pure magic to Anya.

“Ow,” she said and shook her head once the pain passed. The cockpit was a little more familiar now: the silver discs at her sides were for her hands, and they were the steering mechanisms that controlled the pitch and yaw of the V-187. The footpads on the floor controlled speed and also converting the vehicle from flight to hover modes. All the displays on the control panel were…

“Uh,” Anya said as she studied the control panels. She felt like one of them was wind speed, she knew one was definitely for power. The rest she was unsure about. Furthermore, while she knew what the silver discs and footpads did, she now knew enough to know that she wasn’t very good at moving the discs accurately and in a timely manner. She put another 2 points into the skill and winced as the changes happened.

The control panel was no longer a mystery, but showed her wind speed, weather patterns, a topographical map, radar, geographical coordinates, engine status, power levels, and other information that meant nothing a moment ago, but now told her everything she would want to now about her new ride. She was also moderately confident in her piloting abilities, but only under optimal conditions. She could fly the V-187 from Point A to Point B, land and take-off no problem. But that was only if there weren’t any other problems. If there was a high wind, if she was under fire, if there was a malfunction, she would be in trouble. Anya sighed and put in 2 more points, and brought her total skill for piloting the stealth craft up to 7.

Another split-second headache and Anya saw the cockpit through new eyes. Seconds before, the whole interior of the vehicle had been familiar but a little intimidating. But now it was as familiar to Anya as her microwave. She knew she wasn’t an ace pilot, but she could handle quite a bit under pressure. That would be good enough for now. She could fly under most conditions now, good or bad. If she ran into troubles later, she could always upgrade the skill again.

Anya touched the screen of the topographical map and selected the location of the host in Columbia, South Carolina. A heads up display appeared on the windshield in front of Anya, the blinking orange dot now visible on the horizon.

“Just gotta fly towards the dot,” she said and started to raise her hands to lift the V-187 into the air when her phone rang.

It was Tori. Anya’s friend had promised her she’d call as soon as she could. While she was eager to get to Columbia to meet and hopefully save another host, she didn’t want to ignore her friend.

“Hey,” Anya answered. “What’s up?”

“What’s up? Are you serious? You tell me what’s up!” Tori practically shouted. “Are you at your place?”
“Yeah,” Anya said. “Well, the roof, but close enough.”

“Why are you on the roof?” Tori asked. Her voice echoed and Anya heard the heavy stomping of her friend’s shoes on a hard surface.

“Look, Tori, I promise I will tell you everything, but I’m kind of in the middle of something right now so——”

The door to the roof swung open and Tori stepped onto the roof. She froze in place and dropped her phone as she beheld the V-187 before her. Anya sighed and lowered the pilot’s window.

“Or I guess we could talk now,” Anya said. “You, uh, want a ride?”

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