Alpha Mode

Graham, Samie, and Jamesy meet in a multiplayer session of a new 3D game, and things are going well for this new companionship... until they decide to cheat.

Chapter 1

Cheat Code WARP

The entire condo was empty, save for one boy lying on a bed upstairs. With the coming of dusk an eerie quiet had settled over the entire neighborhood, and any noise of the cars on a nearby highway was quickly absorbed by drifts of fresh-falling snow - a rare pleasure in rainy England. The environment was peaceful, quiet. And it was this deep silence that allowed Graham Masron to hear the high-pitched ping of the Xbox as it finished loading his new game, three floors away.

Graham shot up, excitement overtaking him. He flew downstairs, lighting on the couch, and shoved his headset on, clipping the 3D goggles in place. As the credits rolled, he shivered in anticipation. Reclamation II, the continuation of last year's intense 3D post-apocalyptic role playing sim, was the coolest new thing on the market today - and Graham was sure he was the first kid he knew to try it. The start screen had just loaded and already he was practically jumping in his seat.

Until he pressed "play" and the screen prompted him to select a multiplayer session.

"Are you kidding me?" he moaned, leaning back in defeat. Social anxiety weighing heavy on his chest, Graham selected the game with the fewest players - two - and logged in. As the server loaded, it prompted him to recustomize his character from Reclamation I, which he'd created as a spear-wielding street fighter with upper arms the size of Graham's skinny torso. Graham fiddled with the colors of his fighter's bandana for about five minutes, before curiosity won over nerves and had him press "start".

He was immediately overtaken by awe. The 3D was incredibly realistic. The graphics were ridiculously cool. The sound quality was perfect. And the pleasure of spearing the first zombie was almost orgasmic. Graham laughed aloud, before remembering he was in multiplayer - with two strangers, nonetheless. Red hot embarrassment had him back in his living room in seconds.

And no sooner had he blushed than a deep American voice echoed through his headset. "Hey, stranger."

"We're up on the bridge. There's a huge horde." The second speaker was a girl, also American. "Come see if you can get to us before this one kills me."

"Uh, okay." Graham muttered, bushwhacking with his spear until he saw water. He panned the camera, and further along the shore a bridge came into view - and two purple lights for two purple players. "Alright, I see you. Coming in." It would have taken 17-year-old Graham Masron almost an hour to run to that bridge. However, his fighter was maxed out for speed, and he was there in seconds.

There was indeed a horde on the bridge, and it was scary huge. Graham swallowed, equipping health tonics and the best spears he had before rushing in, clicking furiously. The other players soon fell back, allowing Graham's character to deal deathly blows to his undead attackers in peace. Perspiration hung in beads on his forehead as he left-triggered the zombies off, finally x-deploying a cherry bomb to finish the last ones off.

"My hero." came the girl's voice again, dripping with sarcasm. The other man laughed.

"She's joking. We really do owe you one. Hey, got any spare tonics? I'm dyin' here."

"Sure." Graham muttered, panning to face his new partners. "Hey, I'm Graham. Pleasure to fight with you." He friend-mailed tonic to the one he assumed was the man, a ten-foot-tall knight with a longsword. The girl (human-jaguar hybrid in a leather bikini with a machine gun) chuckled.

"Pleasure's all mine. Samie."

The on-screen knight downed the potions, sparkling briefly as health was restored. "I'm Jamesy. Let's see if we can't get that left pass this time. Manhattan's not gonna reclaim itself."

Graham watched Samie's character dart ahead, cat tail flying behind her. "Let's go, then. I have school tomorrow." He looked down at his own watch. It was almost three AM.

"Same." he said with a low chuckle, making his fighter follow her.

He was not prepared for the flash of red that lit up the screen, signifying loss of health. "What was that?" Jamesy barked. "Are you hit? Where did that even come from, man?" Samie unleashed a very realistic 3D spray of bullets across the screen, hitting nothing. Graham panned around and around, but saw nothing. The blows kept coming.

"We got ghosts." Samie groaned, a bullet piercing her character's chest. She cursed loudly. "Hey, Graham, any chance you can mail me some tonics?"

Graham double checked his inventory, but he knew he'd come up dry. "Sorry." he offered, and she sighed.

"I didn't want to have to do this." she murmured, and the bullets stopped.

Graham was bewildered, and he could tell by Jamesy's silence he was just as lost. "What just happened?"

"Cheat code SHIELD. I can only do it once per session and it won't last long. But since we're already cheating... wanna warp?"

"What's that?" Jamesy asked.

"Cheat code WARP. We all have to do it at the same time if it's gonna work. Hey, I'm gifting you both this book called 'ALPHA MODE'. Open it three times and you'll warp, hopefully all to the same place."

A bubble containing his gift popped up on Graham's screen, and he sighed, choking back the guilt that came with cheating. He clicked it, closed it, clicked it, closed it, clicked it, closed it...

And a burst of white-hot pain ripped through his body.

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