Friend for a Day

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Miss Manuela is a sociology professor that pairs her students up according to different social standings. It all goes well, until Dale and Grant.

Submitted: July 02, 2014

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Submitted: July 02, 2014

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Friend for a Day

 

Miss Manuela was looking at her Sociology 101 course the same way she did at the beginning of each semester. Those that knew and liked each other sat together. Those that knew and didn’t like each other tried to ignore each other. Everyone else just instinctively grouped together into typical cliques. No matter how long the students had been out of high school before starting college, those cliques seemed to be life-long, and it baffled her. That was why she started the Friend for a Day study.

It was aimed at breaking down the walls of those cliques, and helping her students see that they all had things to offer beyond what was obvious from across a classroom. Really, it had been a successful program overall, save for when Rachael ‘accidentally’ outed Carley a few years ago. Miss Manuela knew that putting those two together was going to be trouble, but they were the only ones left after all of the other pairings. She was lucky that Carley was kind enough to let it drop. Carley could have made a fuss and gotten Miss Manuela fired, beat the hell out of Rachael, or both. Luckily, neither happened.

Since then, the study had been successful in breaking down the cliques, at least for the duration of the class, and she had heard that some of the friendships that started with not-quite random pairings were still alive and strong today. That was as much of a reason for her to keep doing the study as any, but shaking her classes up helped, as well. Each semester, when she revealed the study to her students, invariably one student would ask if this was the old assignment where they would have to sit with someone and find out their age, favorite color, and least favorite tree.

Miss Manuela was use to this question by now, and included the answer on the front of the release packet that she provided her students. They were all welcome to opt out of the study, but luckily none of them had. Yet. As they say, there’s always a first time for everything. But looking at this semester’s students, she didn’t think any of them would fail to sign the release. She had a good feeling about this class.

After Miss Manuela explained what would be expected, and they had all signed the releases, she took out her prepared list and started assigning ‘friends’. She liked to create the strangest pairings, or at least those that would appear strange to the untrained eye. She would pair the country with the city, the popular with the overlooked, the brains with the jocks, and the quiet with the loud. She could tell with the way that the students looked at each other that each pairing had one member that was expected to be dominant, with the other being the submissive. However, she had assigned the pairs with this in mind, and had made sure that the seemingly meek in each pair had enough backbone to surprise their counterpart.

That quality, if no other, was largely to blame for the study’s success. Through the act of speaking up, the mouse tended to gain the lion’s respect, and the mouse had learned that the lion could be respected for more than its roar and bluster. Of course, there were deviations on this theme. Sometimes the pairs ended up with two lions, and they would either be at each other’s throats or become good friends. And the same thing happened when a pair ended up with two mice. It was truly interesting to watch how the interactions developed, and see how the class transformed itself by the end of the semester. After all, even though the study went on for 24 hours, the conversations and questions raised during that time could be counted on to echo through the rest of the semester.

Miss Manuela finished naming the pairs, and let her students go early so they could get to know one another. She had learned that if she kept them in class after making the assignment, all she’d hear would be the same questions repeated over and over again. At least by letting them all go to wherever they chose to, each pair might be able to go off and learn more about each other with making sure they were all asking the same typical questions. After all, the entire purpose of this study was to get their minds away from typical thoughts.

Dalbert, or Dale to his few real friends, stood outside the door waiting for his new ‘friend’ to emerge from the classroom. He expected the guy, Grant, to ask Miss Manuela to switch his partner, since he could hear a few other people asking the same thing. After all, Grant was the typical B.M.O.C. (Big Man on Campus) while Dale was the campus geek. But Grant surprised him by walking right past that small cluster, coming out into the hallway, and walking right up to Dale. Grant surprised him further by laughing and asking if Dale could believe those morons, and saying that it was a hell of way to start a ‘friendship’ by asking to get away from the person at the get go. Dale surprised himself by laughing and agreeing with Grant. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

After the typical getting-to-know-you chit chat, they decided to continue their conversation at the local pizza joint for calzones. When the waitress came bopping over, Grant motioned for Dale to go first. When Dale ordered a soda and a Stromboli with extra pepperoni, Grant looked at him for a second before breaking into a grin and asking for the same. After the waitress left to get the drinks, Grant said that he thought he was the only one that ordered extra pepperoni on those things. Dale just shrugged and said that they aren’t very good unless you could peel paint after eating one. Grant thought about it for a second, and very sternly agreed. This was enough to send both of them into gales of laughter. They managed to get themselves under control when the waitress returned with their drinks.

Their conversation then turned to their interests, and they found that their eating habits weren’t all that they had in common. Their tastes for comics and literature were oddly similar, but for different reasons. Dale liked the character dynamics, and the interpersonal conflicts, while Grant liked the art and the action sequences. However, their taste in music was different, with Grant going for hair metal, and Dale going for mellow rock, they each said that their music helped them got out of their own heads and helped them see the world differently. When Grant said that he liked playing video games in his free time, Dale said that he tinkered with games from time to time.

The conversation between them flowed in an almost eerie fashion, because it was so smooth that they could have almost been friends before this assignment. Neither one commented on it, but both could feel the stirrings of an actual potential friendship. There might be something to this, after all. Grant noticed that Dale kept turning the conversation back to video games and game systems. When he asked Dale about it, after a moment’s hesitation, Dale asked if Grant would like to see a game system that he was working on.

Grant jumped at the idea of seeing a game he’d never played before. Grant followed Dale to his apartment, and was amazed by the system that Dale had set in his living room. The system was much smaller than anything that was currently on the market. Dale explained that this was because he didn’t have a mostly empty plastic box surrounding a few circuit boards like most every other system did. Dale’s system utilized every inch of interior space for computing power. The controller was completely new, as well. Instead of having a typical controller, the controller was a small headset and what appeared to be fabric bracelets.

Dale had Grant sit in front of the TV, and asked him if he liked war games. Grant said that he loved them, and played each one that he could get his hands on, but they all felt limited. Dale said that he knew exactly what he meant, and that this should help. Dale then put the headset on Grant, and placed the bracelets halfway up each of Grant’s arms, making sure that a small patch of circuitry was against the exposed underside of each arm. Dale then turned on the system.

Grant didn’t know what to make of it. On the screen, he could see a typical videogame urban battlefield, but it was so vivid that it looked like it was as real as the street outside the apartment. In fact, it looked so much like the street outside that he realized that Dale had programmed it to look that way. It seemed that Dale stuck with what he knew. The headset wasn’t quite like any headset that Grant had tried before in that instead of showing him what was on the screen, it enhanced what was on the screen, giving him extra options, and opening up peripheral vision. That was one of the things that he had always hated about other games: the limited vision. He turned his head and realized that the view changed, as well. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the TV screen still showed the original view, but if he turned his body, the view on the TV changed as well.

Grant loved the visual interface, but still had no idea how to play the game without a controller, so he asked Dale. Dale smiled and said that he already had the controllers. Dale told him to think of how the game knew that he had turned his head, but not his body, and then how it knew he had turned his body. Grant looked down at the bracelets and realized that the game must read the relative position of all three devices in order to function. Grant was thoroughly impressed.

Grant pulled his arms up like he was holding a rifle, and sure enough a rifle appeared on screen. The barrel moved with his movements, and when he made the motion of pulling the trigger, the rifle fired. Grant put his arms down and brought them up as if to hold a pistol. There was a pistol on the screen. He then raised his right hand as if to drop the clip, and the clip dropped from the pistol on the screen. At this point, Dale had to tell him to ‘pull a clip’ from his belt and bring his hands together. Grant did, and a clip slid into the pistol on screen. He didn’t need to be reminded to cock the weapon before using it.

However, he had no clue how to move around the environment, since half of combat was movement. Dale told him to lean the direction he wanted to go. Lean a little forward to walk, a bit further to run, and to lean back to back-up. He could even lean down to crouch, and raise up to jump. After about ten minutes, Grant was completely absorbed in the game, and wondered how he was ever going to go back to the other games. Ah well, he thought, he might as well get as much out of this as possible. The purpose of this game seemed to be to defeat the invading enemy, as was typical of this sort of set-up, but the environment was almost infinitely adjustable, and could be manipulated to set up traps for the enemy.

Half an hour passed before Dale said that he had to get ready for work, and excused himself to change into his work clothes. When he returned, Grant had taken off the headset and the bracelets, and was looking at the system box. When Grant noticed Dale, he stood up and said that it looked like Dale had a real winner there, but what would a person do if they were missing and eye or a hand? Dale said that he honestly had no clue, and that it was an interesting question. Dale then ushered Grant out the door and went off to work at his office assistant job.

When Grant got home, he pulled up the information for the local patent office on his computer, and then pulled the papers that he’d taken from Dale’s apartment and placed them on the desk. After all, it’s not like Dale really knew what he had. It was his own fault for leaving the schematics just laying there. He probably hadn’t even considered getting a patent, so why shouldn’t Grant make a move on it? He smiled as he filled out the paperwork, and was granted a preliminary patent on the device. He knew he’d get something good out of hanging with Dale, but he had no clue that what he’d get was rich, which was surely what this system would do for him. He was glad that he hadn’t been able to drop that boring-ass sociology course now. He might even be generous and cut Dale in for ten percent… well, five, anyway. Anything could happen.

Dale got home from his shift feeling really good for the first time in weeks. His boss had mentioned a possible raise, and his game had received a really great review from Grant. Speaking of the game, he guessed it was finally to the point of being ready for a patent. After all, he couldn’t show it off to his tech friends without worrying about one of them trying to steal it from him. He didn’t think Grant was that much of a threat, since he probably didn’t know much about patents, and probably would care more about gaming than patents, even if he did know about them. Dale sat down and started filling out the patent applications on his computer when he got a notice of a similar patent that had recently been filed. After a moment’s shock, Dale screamed out Grant’s name, knowing that he was the only one to see his system. He hadn’t even mentioned it to anyone since coming up with the initial idea. After fuming for a good hour, trying to decide which lawyer he would hire to destroy Grant, another idea came to him. A much more satisfying idea.

He would find out the answer to Grant’s questions.

It was nearly midnight when Grant received a call from Dale, saying that he had just written a bonus stage for his war game, and asked if Grant would be willing to test it. After all, Grant had much more experience with those types of games than Dale did. After giving it a moment’s thought, Grant decided that there was no way that Dale would know what he had done, so it was probably safe to go over. Besides, maybe Dale had a few other inventions that Grant could get his hands on. Grant said he’d be right over, and hung up with visions of dollar signs dancing in his eyes.

Dale set his phone to the side and loaded up the new level to the system, then wiped down the circuitry of the bracelets so they would be ready. Grant knocked on the door twenty minutes later, and even smiled when Dale opened the door for him. Dale suggested they get right into the game, and Grant couldn’t agree more. Dale explained that for this level, Grant needed to get higher up than normal in order to see the full battlefield, and the position of all the enemies.

Between shooting enemies, reloading, changing weapons, and doing lifts to get his character to climb and jump in order to reach the desired height, Grant was sweating. When his character reached the window to see out at the battlefield, there was a sign outside saying, “You Betrayed Me!” and Grant knew that he was caught. He turned to face Dale, but nothing happened. He just sat there. He could shut his eyes, but that was about the most control he had over his body. He had positioned himself in a way that he sat up without any effort in order to play the game, so at least he didn’t fall on his face. That was about the end of the good news.

Dale came into Grant’s view and sat on the coffee table in front of him. Dale just looked at him and snapped his fingers in front of Grant’s face. With each snap, Grant flinched, but that was about it. Dale said that he was glad he didn’t use too much paralytic on the bracelets, or else he could have stopped Grant’s heart. Nope, this way they could answer Grant’s questions, and both be satisfied with the veracity of the results. At least, Dale could. He doubted Grant would care one way or the other before long. As Grant sat there, Dale stood up and lifted the top of the coffee table, revealing a hidden compartment full of many of the weapons that Grant had been using to dispatch the enemies in the game. Thankfully, he could see the orange tips on the firearms, but the knives and other bladed instruments looked a little too real for his comfort.

Grant kept trying to move and get away, because he was finally learning a simple truth of the world: Never cross a person that’s smarter than he is. They will find out, and they can think of things that he’ll never even consider. Should it be any wonder that some of these things would be dark? Not at all. However, no matter how much he tried to struggle against the chemicals in his system, he was just increasing his own heart rate, increasing the effectiveness of those very same chemicals.

Dale lifted a bayonet from the drawer and asked, “Okay, ‘friend’, which should we test first: the effect on the game when we factor in the loss of an eye, or the loss of a hand?”

Grant found he couldn’t even scream.

 

The End


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