Level Up

saturnGerry McLoughlin loved computer games so much that if he was given the choice he woulda lived in one…

An Roinn Ultra · Level Up

Extraterrestrial superweapons are very easy to break. And the problem with transporting an alien superweapon through deep space is that it is actually pretty boring. It can be tempting to play with the settings; just to speed things along.
Which never ends well.
Just ask Gerry McLoughlin …or maybe don’t, he’s pretty embarrassed about the whole thing and would prefer if it was never mentioned.
But I’m going to tell you anyway.

The story begins with a computer game called ‘Killer Robots’. It was the latest creation from PCMania games; and was due for release in April 2020. Gerry loves his games. He was in town at 9 am on Wednesday the 1st, and by 9:01 he was at the counter of Gamestop looking for a copy of ‘Killer Robots’.
‘We’re due in a delivery after lunch’, said the assistant.
‘Fine’, Gerry replied, ‘I’ll wait’.
He then stood staring at the wall for five hours (Gerry really loved games).
Just after lunch, and much to the relief of the staff in Gamestop, Gerry went home with a copy of the game. He sat down at his computer, shoved the breakfast leftovers and a pile of unopened bills to one side, put on his virtual reality headset, and plugged in the game. And this is when the trouble started. You see; Killer Robots asks for a ‘username’, and ‘Special Agent Fuel Invoice’ was the best Gerry could come up with.

‘Thanks for checking in’, came the voice from inside Gerry’s headset, ‘we’ve been monitoring signals from this planet for Eons and you are the first Special Agent to make contact.’
‘Urgh…’, was all Gerry could reply. He wanted to be virtually smashing virtual robots to smithereens and not listening to some cod sci-fi game introduction.
‘My name is Agent Red Tie’, came the voice again, ‘it is an honour to talk with a Special Agent, even if it is in such unfortunate circumstances -the rebellion against the Collective is spiralling out of control and we desperately need someone to activate the…’
‘Give me strength, SKIP INTRO’, Gerry snapped.
‘My apologies, Special Agent Fuel Invoice’, came the voice again, ‘I’m not familiar with that code word, but I’m sure the Collective will appreciate your enthusiasm. I can teleport you to the location of the ship, but you’ll need to escort the weapon here yourself. It goes without saying that the Collective would not request such a thing if the situation was not so desperate…’
‘FAST FORWARD, …SKIP TO THE END, …LEVEL UP’
‘Do you not require a situation update?’, the voice asked.
‘What do you think…’, muttered Gerry through his headset, to nobody in particular.
And with that he was instantly transported to a giant spacecraft hidden within the ice rings of Saturn.

Gerry found himself standing in what looked like the control room. An array of translucent controls hung in the air around him. The ‘walls’ took the form of giant windows running from floor to ceiling, magnifying the view outside. Powerful lights from the ship had lit the surrounding ice crystals in an impressive display. He had never seen so many stars; and in the distance, just visible through one window, Earth.
One minute Gerry had been eating stale toast and wondering how to pay the gas bill. The next he was a starship commander about to lead the defence of an alien civilization from killer robots. Gerry felt very happy with his €37.99 purchase.

‘Weapons systems online’, he barked.
‘Systems activating’, replied the ship’s computer, ‘running system check…’
The spaceship shuddered. Several rows of the control lights began to blink in a sequence. Gerry could hear machinery whirring and humming into life in the body of the ship below.
It creaked.
And buzzed.
And clanked.
And whirred some more.
‘Erm’, muttered Gerry, ‘how long is this gonna take’.
‘Six months for a systems check, or 0.16949 of a local planetary cycle’, came the reply.
‘SIX MONTHS!’, Gerry was starting to get irritated, ‘…how long till I can start killing robots?’.
‘Once the system is activated, the journey to the Collective homeworld will take half a local cycle, or 14.75 Earth years’, informed the computer.
‘What the hell are ya supposed to do during all that time?’, Gerry wondered aloud, looking about the control room.
‘It is practice that a Special Agent uploads the status update of their planet to the Collective during systems check’, replied the computer, ‘to determine if the planet is suitable for inclusion in the collective’. The ship’s computer was starting to think Special Agent Fuel Invoice was not actually a special agent at all.

‘WHAT?, …a status update? …this game’s a joke, GAME OVER’, Gerry barked.
‘Apologies, I am not familiar with that command -please rephrase’, replied the computer. Gerry looked around the room again, it all suddenly seemed very real. He was starting to think he was not actually in a game at all.

Gerry gave a bit of thought to life on Earth, compared it to life as a swashbuckling alien commander, and decided to play along. Days turned to weeks. Life onboard the ship turned out to be pretty good. The ship’s computer could replicate any food he desired. Gerry documented everything he knew from Earth (which included a surprising amount of information on how to destroy alien robots). He found himself learning all about the Collective, and the workings of the spaceship.
He grew in confidence too.
‘If only there was a way to speed things along’, he thought, ‘…a commander like me can surely modify his ship to travel faster through space’.
Then he had an idea.
‘When the weapons system is online, transfer all its power to our propulsion engine’, he ordered the ship’s computer. The computer set the system as requested. It still doubted that the man onboard was actually a Special Agent. But he sounded confident, and certainly seemed keen to destroy the robot enemy.

The day came when six months had passed and the ship’s computer began to countdown to the weapon activation:
‘Five, Four, Three, Two …rerouting weapons systems to the propulsion engine’
DOINK. Clang.
‘Weapons and propulsion systems destroyed’, announced the computer.
‘Wait, WHAT?’ …exclaimed Gerry.
‘Weapons and propulsion systems destroyed’, repeated the ship’s computer.
‘…but how? …why? …what kind of ship’s computer destroys its own engines?’, asked Gerry.
He was now panicking.
‘What kind of Special Agent asks the ship’s computer to destroy it’s own engine?’ asked the computer, ‘you’re not really a Special Agent at all, are you?’
‘No’, muttered Gerry, ‘…what happens now?’
‘Nothing’, replied the computer, ‘without propulsion we will just orbit Saturn until the sun dies’.
The ship was quiet without the noise of it’s engines.
The computer eventually broke the silence, ‘would you like me to teleport you back to Earth?’
‘Yes’, said Gerry sheepishly.

Gerry found himself sat at home next to a dusty computer. He removed his virtual reality headset, the battery of which had long since died.
He sighed, ‘the first human being to command an actual starship in the fight against actual killer robots …and I made a pig’s ear of it’. He vowed never to tell anyone about what had happened.
But, you know.
Sometimes it is better to share these things.
Just in-case somebody else finds themselves in the same situation.