- U get it?
- Yep U still good for half?
- How much?
- $500 total. $250 U
- I know its $$$. We All Access.
- Don’t be a little bitch, U know you want it.
Kyle sat back, looking at the message stream while he did the math on the two-hundred and fifty bucks he now owed Ryan. It was twice as much as he’d spent on Cyberpunk, hell, it was almost triple what he spent on Witcher 3 even with all the DLC downloadable content – but he figured it was worth it. Plus, he could use his VR surround goggles and really get into it big time.
- It better be worth it.
- Dude, it’s fuckin sick. I’m in.
Kyle Venmo’d the cash to Ryan and waited for their new shared password to pop up. They’d both VPN in, of course – making sure their real names, web identities and even where they were in the world remained anonymous as they went. Nobody in their right mind would want to publicly admit to being part of this underground MMORPG. Even if it was make-believe. It was still one sick fuck of a game and just the hint that you were playing it could result in major trolling and flaming online by all the snowflakes and Libtards who took offence. He couldn’t see the problem all these sensitive assholes were taking a fit over it. It wasn’t like they’d be doing it in real life, right?
The message window on Kyle’s computer popped up with a long multi letter and number combo password that he immediately saved. He rapid-fired back a message to Ryan, as he flipped open the Reddit board dedicated to Victim. It was time to brag about getting in.
- Okay, Got it.
- Signing off at 0000. U got it until 1200
- Yeah, yeah. Whatevs
- Jelly much?
Kyle sighed, knowing that he’d lost Ryan until midnight and until then he’d be jonesing to jump back on with the same ID. There was no way they’d be able to afford a month membership each and they’d figured they’d piggy-back on the same sign-in code. The guys running Victim wouldn’t care. They already got the cash. So, what it their account stayed up for twenty-four hours? It wasn’t like they could prove they were scamming them. Plus, five hundred bucks for a month was rich. Really rich and Kyle barely had his share. He had no idea where Ryan was IRL or if that was even his real name.
They’d met on Reddit, the front page of the web that hosts bulletin boards for like-minded gamers, fans and nerds and bonded over the bullshit rush-to-street date on the Polish developer’s CD Projekt Red and their futuristic open-world game, Cyberpunk 2077. Billed as the most realistic in-world simulation, it was supposed to be everything that Ready Player One’s worldscape, The Oasis promised. Of course, it wasn’t. Huge bugs, corrupt files and millions of noobs clogging bandwidth had crashed the game multiple times in the first month – and now sixteen months down the line, the place was still a mess of patches and fast fixes that sucked balls. Ryan and Kyle had bonded over trash talking the developers of the game and ended up bouncing from Warcraft to Elder Scrolls looking for new gamers and even established clans they could fuck with once they both got banned for life for flaming the Polish creative team with ‘racist behavior not suitable for the platform’ according to the tersely worded letter they got from the lawyers. Whatevs.
Kyle was fifteen, going on thirty living not-so-large in his Dad’s trailer here in Mobile. He’d grown up with his older brother Duncan, before he shipped off to Raghead land, popping his cherry online back in the day with him. He’d learned everything he needed to know about sex thanks to Pornhub, watched the old Bumfights wino vs. wino street fight videos even his Pop’s enjoyed and he had no love lost for anyone not white or American once they sent Duncan back home in a small box because they couldn’t find all of his bits.
So, when Ryan pinged him way late just as he was going to crash about this new MMORPG out of Romania, he figured that is was going to be for another fire-run at trash talking the ex-Commie assholes or messing with their IP’s. Kyle was blown away with Ryan’s IT chops, he ate code all day and night – and he’d taken Kyle under his wing as a student. Kyle didn’t know how to chop it up anywhere near as tight as Ryan did so he just did the coding grunt work as Ryan planned their major commissioned hacks and attacks.
- U hear about Victim?
- Fucking tight. I’ll send U some screen grabs. DW snags
The pictures Ryan sent over to Kyle were like nothing he’d ever seen before. Choice.
Whoever was behind Victim was a genius, a deep web covert artist clearly coloring outside the lines. Kyle slugged back the last of his warm hi-test cola as he stared at the assortment of pictures Ryan had nabbed.
- Subs Crypto only. Deep Web grabs.
Ryan had snagged an assortment of shots of a room that looked almost like the garage bay where his Pop’s worked. Industrial car lifts in the back, oil smears and shit everywhere with a ratty old desk chair next to a steel table full of cutting tools. Except these tools were coated in sticky black goo staining the pitted aluminum surface. Blood.
The next few images showed a before-and-after shots of some hippie-looking guy, just some joe, tied to the chair with a Mortal Kombat 8-bit graphics overlay asking something in Cyrillic text. Kyle didn’t have a clue what it said, but it didn’t look good for the guy.
As Kyle flipped through the shots, he realized that whoever these guys were that built this game, they’d done it up right. Projekt Red had gone too big, too soon – promising the world to everyone – and got caught by the sheer size of their space and the ravenous demand of the online players. Here, the guy in the chair looked real – really real – with the latest Unreal metahuman models working overtime. They’d spent all their time on the actor model, every pore of his battered face clean and clear. None of the janky video mannequins that were still the norm in real-time game play. The cut scenes always looked good – but the in-engine playable stuff was usually stiff and fake. These guys were smart. They spent their money where it mattered. The whole world just seemed to be a one-room shithole. Not a ton of processing needed for that.
And the dude in the chair was like he was really there.
- This shit looks real real.
- IK, right?
- I ran Google translate on the text OS. Sending.
Onscreen, even with the crap quality of the screengrabs, clearly designed to look like some old-school found footage movie, the hippie guy was shit scared. And really hurting. There were closeups of his bloody eyeballs and smashed teeth once the pliers started tearing his face apart. Someone had rearranged his face drastically and a clock onscreen and a hit counter tabbed up the damage. Not a hard interface to work out.
Kyle felt his Cola kick back in his throat, the hard acid reflux gagging him as he scanned the final photos and found out that you could pull someone’s eyes out and leave them dangling on their cheeks as you started to mutilate their genitals. Very fucking cool.
Onscreen, in another window, Ryan’s decrypted text unspooled for Kyle.
- How long can you go? Pick a player and your tools. Longest life onscreen wins. Use avatar and design your Victim. In-Engine purchases apply. Rape module now available. Upgrade now?
The indicators to the left of the guy showed time elapsed and the variety of tools used on the guy. Upgrades to hammers, knives and even chainsaws were available for keeping the person in the chair alive the longest. Looked like the dead guy has stuck it out for four hours and seventeen minutes. A red AMATEUR badge was overlaid onscreen. No rape.
- Can U pick the Victim you want?
- Yep. Costs more though. VIP only.
And like that, Ryan and Kyle were in. It didn’t take long for the rest of the web to catch on once the developers moved the prototype out of the deep web and into the mainstream with ads on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on Discord before they all got shut down for community violations. Hell, even Colbert talked about the game late night along with that fat baby out of LA right after him. All of them looked shocked and disgusted and freaked out about the idea of torturing an avatar online for points. But Kyle could bet that they all probably signed up – especially the LA guy. He looked like he’d enjoy torturing someone for points. Victim went mainstream, like porn, and everyone wanted in. Of course, there was a large majority of overly-sensitive folkx who complained about the fact that the number of women being tortured and raped was disproportionally more than men and that coloreds were also much more likely to be bound and beaten and killed than white males. But how would they know that if they hadn’t signed up and played?
All Kyle and Ryan could bitch about was that the cost of playing was so high. And that now that Victim was semi-legit, they’d put a locked and secured paywall and ID verification that required all of their players be at least eighteen or whatever passed for being an adult in their country of origin. Anonymous leaderboard stats were published online on Reddit and on the official Victim homepage (which you had to be a member for only $500 a month) with video feeds and downloadable pix but nobody knew what to expect unless they were legit signed up. Even the pictures Ryan had got from the deep web had gone. Nobody knew anything. Unless they paid.
Victim went public within the first year of being online with an IPO. NASDAQ shit the bed.
E-Sport leagues, the corporate dickwads that played Fortnight and League of Legends all complained once Victim petitioned to be included in their championship events. With the amount of money kicking around the torture MMORPG, it was only a matter of time and beaucoup bucks before they made the cut. No pun intended. A special black site was created for Victim participants to compete in and both Musk and Branson plus a few other rich techno dweebs had promised huge cash prizes for the new leaders every month.
It was Ryan’s brilliant idea to mod up a false adult ID that he and Kyle could use to get on. It took most of that first-year backtracking and establishing banking and false ID credentials that he swapped for IT work to create a proper footprint. He farmed the repetitive code stuff out to Kyle as they established their digital grownup to join up.
And now they were in.
When Ryan logged off at 0000, Kyle almost texted him just to get an idea of what it was like. After all, they both knew what they’d signed up for – a chance to torture a digital human being for the longest time possible. Victim guarded their own private feed seriously with banishment the price for revealing any of the secrets as to the length of time ‘in-game’ and the actual number of attacks or implements used. Video and screen grabs were an instant fail. The folks that posted on Reddit that claimed to have been actual past subscribers turned out to be mostly bullshit artists, Kyle figured. A woman in Jersey said she’d kept an ex-husband avatar alive for forty-two days with a combination of slow razor cuts you-know-where and limited dirty water rations – but she was quickly shouted out as a liar once web detectives found out she’d never been married or even had an active account with the service. There were rumors out of China of super-extreme torture and interrogation techniques from Red Army veterans who’d done this stuff but it was unofficial. Only top-ranked AOPs – artists of pain as they were known knew the real truth. And they weren’t saying anything here on the open web. At $500 a pop per month, it was a high-price to pay for messing someone fake up – but people paid because it looked so real and they could make up anyone they wanted if they paid extra. Of course, people paid extra in game. Who wouldn’t?
Kyle signed in via his VPN and used the code he shared with Kyle to log in. He flipped on his VR headset to connect as a staccato flashing light surrounded him. He was online.
Lights, hard white lights shone in his face as he shook his head, his tongue thick in his mouth. Kyle couldn’t move his arms or legs. The room stank of blood, thick and meaty as he squinted against the harsh brilliance surrounding him. Sitting across from him was an old-school video monitor, smeared and dirty but still readable in the vivid kill room.
To his left, the tray thick with the hooks and the cruel tools of the Victim artist. He tore at the bonds strapping him to the chair he had recognized from the pictures Ryan had sent him and the other images he had heard about. He was in-game. Locked down. Stuck.
Onscreen, the rapid typing of an incoming text message cascaded down the monitor.
- Hey, K. U made it in.
- I’m sorry U had to wait…
- But U be happy to know Ur part of the next DLC. Had to keep things fresh
Kyle screamed as the video feed changed to a wide shot of himself strapped to the chair. Onscreen his health counter winked on as a stopwatch ticker started. Two floating hands, an operator’s control rig selected a scalpel from the tray lying on the table and moved slowly towards him.
- Ur Phase II
- I think this is gonna be MEGA. Subs have been asking 4EVR
- Thx. For playing. R. xoxo
Julian Grant is a filmmaker, educator, and author of strange short stories, outlaw poetry, full-length novels/ non-fiction texts and outsider comix. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work has been published by Dark Fire UK, Quail Bell, Avalon Literary Review, Crepe & Penn, Alternative History Magazine, Granfalloon, Altered Reality, The Chamber Magazine, Dark Lane Books, Clever Magazine, Peeking Cat Literary Journal, Danse Macabre, Fiction on the Web, Night Picnic, CafeLit, Horla, Bond Street Review, Piker Press, Retreats from Oblivion, Free Bundle, Filth Literary Magazine, Horror Sleaze Trash, The Mythic Circle, Murderous Ink Press, Superlative Literary Journal & The Adelaide Literary Magazine.