Note: This is a sequel to VRansomwear. To start at the very beginning, click here.
1: The Prisoner And The Picnicker
The prison cell is not large, maybe ten feet by twelve. There is a long extension at one corner, almost a hallway, at the end of which is a toilet and a sink. The walls are rough-cut stone, dank and dripping with moisture, spotted with lichen and streaked with mineral trails left behind by centuries of trickling water. The air seems like it should be clammy and cold, but instead it is clammy and hot and Bill often finds himself pressing himself up against the stone to try to have it suck some of the excess heat out of his body.
The lighting is dim. Any color that might exist is washed into formless shades of grey. The light comes from nowhere in particular, which is odd because the cell has no windows and there are no light fixtures anywhere that Bill can find. Yet somehow, he can see, though in a limited, gloomy, dismal way. Depressing as it is, at least he’s not stuck in complete blackness.
He has been locked in this cell for what he believes to be more than a week. It is hard to measure time, of course. He is fed occasionally, though on no schedule he can predict, and there is never any change in the light level to draw a distinction between day and night. The only thing keeping him from going insane from boredom and isolation is the occasional arrival of… well, call them “visitors”. Like the food, the visitors arrive at unpredictable intervals and for as long as they are there in the cell with him, boredom and isolation are very low down on his list of troubles. After the visitors leave, after an initial period where he appreciates and enjoys the restored peace and quiet, that’s when the boredom and isolation start to nag at him once more.
He has tried to find a way to escape, of course, but every attempt so far has been unsuccessful. His last serious effort was some unmeasurable amount of time ago. Perhaps two days, maybe three. Since that failure, he has been unable to think of anything to try next. There is one main reason for that:
Not only does his cell lack windows, it also has no door. The bare stone walls, floor, and ceiling form an unbroken shell that completely surrounds him on every side.
As family get-togethers went, it was absolutely typical. Jeff’s Aunt Peggy had arranged for a spot in Rockaway for everyone to meet up at and his uncle had brought along his grill. There was no grilling on the beach, of course, but Uncle Kenny was able to find a spot in a nearby parking lot where he could operate tailgate-style out of the back of his van. He soon had a good bed of coals going and then there was a steady stream of burgers and dogs being ferried from the van to the beach where Jeff and forty-five cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, nieces, nephews and who-the-hell-knows-how-they’re-relateds downed them as fast as they came out. Potato salad and pasta salad and broccoli salad, baked ziti and garlic bread, chips and dips and sodas, pies and cookies and even some ice cream that someone had somehow managed to preserve from the July heat joined the burgers in the trip down hungry gullets. It was just like every other Carcarini family gathering, the kind that happened every summer and that everyone came to.
Everyone except his no-show brother, that is.
His being a no-show wasn’t entirely unusual. Jeff had lost count of the number of times he’d received a last-minute text message with some lame excuse for bailing out of a movie or a double date or a commitment to help a friend move. Half the time, there wasn’t even a text message, just a mumbled sorta-apology whenever they next saw each other. Jeff had long since accepted that his brother was a flake. A great guy with a great sense of humor who would do anything for you (if he was there when you asked him) … but a flake.
Still, to have missed the family picnic… that wasn’t like him. Back in June they had been both rhapsodizing about how much they were looking forward to Aunt Mary’s blueberry pie (which she had to start preparing for that far in advance, given the quantities that would be consumed a month later when the Carcarini clan and its numerous adolescent and young-adult males descended on the beach in a horde). For him to not show up without a word of explanation was, well, not totally out of character, but certainly unusual.
But such thoughts were banished to the back of Jeff’s mind when his sister Lynn pulled him into a game of kickball with the cousins, and soon he was scuffing about in the sand with Carcarinis aged 5 to 67 all hooting and running and laughing and shouting in a game where the rules were more like suggestions and no one cared who won.
A bag of food appeared in the cell. The food always arrived like this but Bill still found it unnerving every time. One moment, an empty patch of floor, the next: a delivery from a takeout place, usually Asian but sometimes Mexican or Italian. Since the meals appeared at unpredictable intervals, most of the time the food arrived without him noticing and might sit there for minutes or hours until he happened to spot it, although usually the aroma clued him in pretty quickly. Once before, though, and again just now, he happened to be looking right at a particular patch of floor at the moment when the bag materialized.
There was no Star Trek-style sound and light show, no whoosh of displaced air, no buzzing of some teleportation machine. One moment, the bag was not there; the next, it was. No fuss, no drama. If only the old bags could be magicked out of existence the same way. Instead there was a steadily-growing pile of them in one corner of the cell.
This time Bill knew what to do. He hurled himself to his feet, windmilling his arms and grasping at the empty air above and around where the bag appeared. He may be living in an illusion, but the real world was out there somewhere, and in the real world physical objects did not just appear from nowhere. There must be a person making these deliveries, a person who was being masked from his sight by the techno-magic of the VRealWorld interface he was wearing. If he could just grab hold of that person, he could maybe piggy-back a ride to the door that must exist somewhere even though he had so far been unable to find it. Or he could perhaps force that person to take him through.
But his arms encountered nothing but air. Either the VRealWorld programmers had figured out a way to make objects untouchable, or there was nobody there to touch.
As he sat and ate (Italian this time: chicken parm sandwich, fries), he figured out what must be happening. Someone – possibly his jailer or possibly just a random delivery guy – was entering his cell with the food, both of them edited out of the sights and sounds that the interface passed along to Bill. He set the bag down and left through the door that had to exist even though Bill could never find it and only then, once he was gone, did the VRealWorld allow Bill to see the bag.
If he could just get out of this damn suit, take off the hood with its complicated array of electronics that intercepted and controlled every bit of light that reached his eyes and every sound that reached his ears, even every touch that reached his skin, he’d be fine. He could walk out of here – wherever here was – without a backward glance.
But the suit was locked on. The only way to get it off was to get the little number that sometimes appeared at the top of his vision to climb all the way up to 1,000. He blinked it into view to see just how far away that milestone was.
The little yellow digits slid down into his field of view, three of them: 243. As he watched, taking his first bite of sandwich and trying not to smear tomato sauce on the rubber around his mouth, the number dropped by ten.
Four days after the picnic, on Wednesday, Jeff happened to find himself making a delivery in Bushwick, only a few blocks from where his brother lived. He realized he still hadn’t heard a word of explanation about ditching the picnic and decided to stop in. He knocked, waited a few minutes, then let himself in with his key. He called out to announce his presence but got only silence in reply.
The place had its usual look of well-lived-in disarray. Nothing disastrous or unsanitary, just a few dirty dishes in the sink, some clothes tossed at random over various bits of furniture, an unmade bed in the apartment’s other room. With just the two rooms, it didn’t take long to search the place, and Jeff let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding as he reassured himself that the thing he had not been allowing himself to imagine he might find – a body lying blue in the bed or surrounded by dried bloodstains on the floor – was not here. No crime had occurred in this apartment, no horrible accident or sudden illness. His brother had not come to an untimely end, not here at least.
Although, as Jeff looked closer, he noticed a few other details. The dishes in the sink were not just yesterday-old, but food-bits-dried-on-for-days old. And the sheets on the bed actually had a thin film of dust on them. Likewise the shirts and pants draped over the chairs and piled on the floor. Even the tube of toothpaste in the tiny bathroom had clearly not been touched for a while. The conclusion was unavoidable, but it opened up a whole new set of uncomfortable possibilities.
No one had been inside these rooms for at least a week. So where the hell was Bill?
Visitors. Three of them this time.
Bill felt the blood surging through his body and the adrenaline pumping into his veins. The familiar conflicting emotions raced through his head, just like every previous time. Excitement and delight that the long hours of boredom were about to be briefly relieved tinged with fear and dread about what might take their place. Some of the visitors played rougher than others.
The visitors materialized in the cell the same way the food did – one moment nothing, the next moment a trio of leathermen waiting for him to notice them and pay them the respect they were owed.
Bill did so, tagging each by gently grazing his hand across the front of each leatherman’s pants. As he did, thought balloons popped into view over each one’s head and Bill’s score number descended into his field of view and climbed up a total of seven points. He got two for the one whose thought balloon labeled him “Wrazzle78 Leatherman” He was dressed in a WWF-style outfit, bright with vivid colors that Bill’s eyes almost didn’t know how to process after so long in this drab, dreary cell. The man was thickly built with a powerful torso and arms and legs to match.
He scored another two for “TMJRW45387 Leatherman” who wore the generic outfit of the game’s default avatar – leather pants, boots, gloves, jacket, and hat, studded with bits of chrome here and there but mostly plain black. This guy was either new to the game or didn’t care much about personalizing his appearance.
The third gained him three points. “NY_Yankers Leatherman” appeared as a leathered-up version of a baseball player complete with the trademark pinstripes. Crotchless baseball pants and a codpiece? Really? Bill snickered – silently, to himself – at the thought of anyone trying to actually play baseball in such a costume. Imagine trying to slide home in that! Then he took a second look at the balloon and noticed the spelling of “Yankers”. Suddenly the outfit made more sense.
As he had done with all the leathermen who had visited his cell before, he dropped to his knees and held his hands out, wrists together. It didn’t take long.
Wrazzle78 Leatherman wishes to control your suit. Permit this?
The pop-up appeared in Bill’s vision as an overlay, opaque enough to be visible over the background but not completely obstructing his vision. Bill blinked “Yes” and waited to see what would happen.
The stone walls of the cell faded away and the light brightened. The floor beneath them transformed into a mat, the ceiling flew up and away, and all around the walls were replaced with rope fences, beyond which were rows of seats filled with cheering, jeering fans. It was a scene straight out of a WWF match, very consistent with Wrazzle’s name and outfit. Bill glanced down – the rubber suit was gone and the body he wore (a much more bulked-up one than he actually possessed) was dressed in shiny, gauzy shorts and nothing more.
Wrazzle came at him and the two began grappling, genuine physical contact mostly unenhanced by any of the techo-tricks that the VRealWorld made possible. Bill was willing, but knew that this was not going to help his score much. Past experience had taught him that the more physical laws his tormentors violated, the more points he would earn from the ordeal. More pain also tended to translate to more points. This wasn’t going to be worth much – wrestling was something anyone could do any time, no need for goggles or a rubber suit. Bill carefully avoided looking at the yellow numbers that kept dropping into the top of his field of vision, not wanting to see how much this was or was not helping his cause. At least he was out of the cell for a while and into some bright light and a simulation of open space. It was nice to hear the voices of other people, even if they were only NPCs generated by the game engine. The crowd roared every time Wrazzle got Bill into a compromised position, which happened often. Wrazzle was evidently really into wrestling and Bill was only able to come close to bringing him down once. He spent much more time pinned and rendered helpless by his opponent’s superior skill.
There was quite a bit more crotch-grabbing than you’d see in a typical WWF match, but Bill was OK with that. Under normal conditions, the suit prevented him from touching his own dick and held it tightly confined in a space that prevented it from getting stiff. But that confining cage was wired up to simulate sensations on his skin the same way as the rest of the suit was. If his controller allowed him to have a virtual dick, as Wrazzle was doing now, that virtual dick could get hard and it felt enough like the real thing to be convincing. Even though he could feel his real dick locked away, soft and stifled in enforced chastity, he could also simultaneously feel the sensations from his rock-hard virtual cock. It was a real mind trip, and the ability to have a chastity hard-on was just one of the blurrings of the real/not-real, pain/pleasure boundary that Bill found so addictive about the game.
Of course, having a virtual hard-on was another thing that wouldn’t help his score much; things that brought you pleasure never brought you points. But it was what Wrazzle wanted from him, so it would help some. And the virtual chair that Wrazzle smashed over his prone victim’s body at the end of the scene – targeted right at that raging virtual hard-on – had to be good for some points, for sure. Damn, that hurt so much Bill had to remind himself it wasn’t real as he curled up on the floor clutching his crotch.
The wrestling arena faded away and the stone cell walls returned. Bill recovered enough to climb to his knees and hold up his wrists again. Somewhat to his surprise, NY_Yankers wanted a turn next. Usually higher tag values tended to correspond with higher status in the game, which in turn tended to correlate with higher status in real life. This guy should either have been first or last.
Yankers further surprised him by not taking them to a baseball-themed scene. Instead, they remained in the cell where this seemingly sports-minded average Joe revealed a brutally sadistic streak by delivering a fire-flogging. Yankers chained him up against one of the stone walls, magicking manacles into existence around Bill’s wrists and then lighting into him with a virtual whip that glowed with electric blue light and seared every point it touched on Bill’s back and shoulders. It hurt like hell at first, the combination of blunt impact and fiery heat, but the knowledge that it was all simulated and that he wouldn’t have any scars or third-degree burns afterward made it easier to sink into subspace. Soon his shouts of anguish turned into grunts and moans. It still hurt, but damn, it sure felt good to be utterly at the mercy of a sadistic stranger! He tugged at his wrists and was amazed at how securely the imaginary chains held his real body fixed to the wall. Best of all, this would really boost his score. He kept his eyes shut, focusing on the sensation of the sizzling hot whip crackling against his skin and resolutely not looking at the yellow numbers that would be visible if he opened them.
Not soon enough and yet all too soon, the flogging ended and Bill was released from the manacles, crumpling to his knees and gasping from the ordeal. To his relief, the third guy, the one with all the letters and numbers, didn’t take a turn – definitely either a newbie or just a cheapskate. Instead, Yankers kept control and the cocks came out. Bill’s arms were pinned to his sides, held in place by coils of rope that Yankers conjured into existence with a swirl of his hand. He was compelled to deliver blow jobs (not that he was objecting) to each of the two leathermen who had used him, accepting their loads with grateful lips. The third merely watched.
Sated, the three left, fading from Bill’s sight. Presumably, the real men beneath the digital costumes were now walking out through the door that Bill could never find, and he wouldn’t find it now because every time visitors left him he found himself blind, deaf, and immobilized for about half a minute. He waited, still kneeling, hoping his position was stable enough that he wouldn’t fall over and whack his head on the floor. When the thirty seconds were up, his senses turned back on and he was free to move once more.
Now it was time to check his score. He eyed the yellow numbers down into view: 763. That felt about right, a hundred-ish for each blow job plus the foreplay… that fire-flogging must have earned him a bunch.
But it wasn’t enough, not even close. He needed to get to 1,000 and at this rate, it was never going to happen. For whatever reason, a reason he couldn’t figure out, his score constantly dropped whenever he was sitting idle and not entertaining visiting leathermen. Even as he watched, the 3 morphed into a 2. The only way he was going to get out of this cell was if one of the visitors worked him over hard enough to him to lift him up to that thousand mark… but none of them ever did! It was like they were all in on some conspiracy to edge him, bringing him close enough to freedom to think it might happen this time but never actually letting him get there. Over and over and over. And because he was trapped here, he was at the mercy of his visitors and couldn’t go out seeking other leatherman to earn points from. He could only wait for them to come to him, and they never seemed to come in bunches so their points would accumulate. Instead, they left him alone for hours after each encounter, during which time the points he had earned steadily trickled away like sand in an hourglass.
Not to mention that he was horny as fuck and couldn’t do a single thing about it.
Bill got up and went to the sink to rinse his mouth out, then lay down on the coolest part of the floor he could find and tried to will some of his excess body heat out through the suit.
3: Sipping On A Brick
No one else in the family seemed to be worried. Well, except his mom, but “worry” was her baseline and “haven’t heard from Bill in a while” was soon bubbling in her mental stewpot along with “gotta remember to water the herbs on the porch” and “Sarah really needs to settle on a career” and the innumerable other things she spent her mental energy on, each just as critical as the last until the next came along. Bill had been known to disappear without notice before, taking off with some friends for a concert in Boston or a rafting trip in the Poconos or, once, to go all the way out to Burning Man. Still, as far as Jeff was concerned, more than a week seemed like a long time to go without a single word to anyone in the family.
But, you know, life. More appliances had to be delivered and installed, and then his buddy Carlos needed help with the ongoing project of his Thunderbird, and Lynn wanted him to watch the twins for the two hours between when she needed to leave for work and when Eric would get home, and all of a sudden it was Friday, almost a week after the picnic. That was when Jeff’s phone rang.
The call came from a number he didn’t recognize. Usually he let those go to voice mail, but this time, perhaps with Bill in the back of his mind, he decided to pick up.
“Hello, I’m trying to reach Jeff Carcarini,” the voice on the other end said.
“You got him,” Jeff replied.
“Jeff, my name is Martin and I got your contact information from a Bill Carcarini. Is he a relative of yours?”
That got Jeff’s attention. “Yeah, where is Bill? Is he OK?” The words tumbled out of him in a rush, even by Brooklyn standards.
“Bill is… fine. I’m sorry, you’re probably worried and I’m not helping. He’s alive and healthy but he’s, well, I guess ‘stuck’ might be the best way to describe it.”
That didn’t help ease Jeff’s mind at all. “Whaddaya mean he’s stuck? Where is he? Who are you and how do you know this? And why isn’t he calling me himself?”
“Whoa, slow down! Look, this is not something I want to talk about over a phone. I just… well, I happened to come across a guy who seemed like he might have gotten himself into something a little over his head and I thought I might, you know, be a good neighbor, try to put him in touch with someone who could help him. If that’s you, great. If not, I’ll try someone else.”
“Yeah, that’s me. Where can I find him?”
“Jeff, trust me, you don’t want to go rushing in to where he is unprepared. Come talk with me first. Meet me downtown. I’ll tell you where he is and a little about what to expect. Can you get to Chelsea by seven tonight?”
7:00 was three hours away – plenty of time to take a train into the city. Martin gave him an address on 16th street and, after several more questions about Bill’s status and reassurances that he faced no immediate threat to life or limb, they hung up.
All on the train ride Jeff’s mind ran in overdrive. Was this some kind of elaborate ransom demand? A white-glove kidnapping? Some kind of drug deal gone bad? Trouble with the law? Jeff found it hard to reconcile Martin’s assurances that Bill was fine with the fact that Bill hadn’t called himself and didn’t pick up any of the times Jeff had called him.
The address in Chelsea turned out to be a bar called Terra Nova. Martin was evidently watching for him because the moment Jeff walked in the door, while his eyes were still adjusting to the dimmer light inside, he felt a hand take hold of his elbow and guide him to a booth. Martin was tall, dressed in nondescript black clothing.
“So where is he? Where’s Bill?” Jeff asked as they were still in the process of sitting down.
“Queens,” Martin replied, getting himself settled. “Elmhurst. You want something to drink?”
“I want to find my brother.”
“And you will. But like I told you on the phone, you don’t want to go rushing in without all the facts. Which I am about to give to you, and it’s going to take a little time, so you might as well get ready to stay a while. You want something to drink?”
Jeff sat back and put his hands in his lap. “Sure. A beer. Whatever’s on tap.”
Martin signaled for a server and placed the order for Jeff’s beer and something called a brick for himself. “OK, drinks are on their way,” Jeff said the moment the server’s back was turned. He was not here for small talk. “So why isn’t Bill picking up his phone?”
“Bill is playing a game and it’s taking up all his attention right now. Like I told you, he’s fine. But while playing this game, he got himself in over his head. Think of it… think of it like poker. Anyone can play, but if you are a novice and you find yourself at a table of sharks, you’re going to find yourself skinned pretty quick. That, in a sense, is what I believe has happened to Bill.”
“Wait… you believe that’s what happened? You don’t know?”
“That’s right. I don’t know Bill at all, never spoke to him. I just happened to catch sight of something that caught my attention. Something didn’t feel quite right about it, so I investigated – discreetly – and learned enough to confirm my suspicions. Now, I’m not the kind to intervene unless someone asks for help, which Bill did not do. Grown adults are free to make their own choices in this life and live with the consequences of them. But I don’t mind passing word to someone who has a more vested interest than I do – you, in this case – and letting them make the decision whether an intervention is needed.”
“So what’s this game? He’s at a casino or something and they won’t let him leave?”
“Not quite. The game he’s involved in isn’t a card game. Have you heard of VRealWorld?” He pronounced the word with two syllables, the first sounding almost like the word “free” but with a “v” sound in place of the “f”.
Their drinks arrived. Jeff shook his head and took a swallow of his beer. Martin’s drink, true to its name, consisted of a glass containing what looked like a miniature brick, dark red with a rough and lumpy exterior doused in rich deep amber liquor. He made a show of poking at it with a thin plastic straw, dislodging tiny bits of the brick into the drink.
“The brick is frozen fruit puree and various other extracts and flavorings,” Martin explained. “It’s a unique experience to drink one. As time passes and the brick melts, it infuses the bourbon with amazing richness and depth and complexity that constantly changes. Every sip is different than the one before.”
“Are you trying to drive me nuts?” Jeff asked. “You know the only reason I’m here is to find Bill. You think you could maybe speed this up a bit?”
Martin lifted his glass to his lips, sniffed, and took a slow sip, letting the liquid bathe his tongue before swallowing it down. “Of course. So.” He resumed gently poking at the brick with his tiny straw. “VRealWorld is an augmented-reality game. You remember Pokemon Go from a while back? Much like that. There are all kinds of augmented reality games aimed at various audiences. Harry Potter fans, anime lovers, train spotters, bird watchers, you name it. This one is targeted at adults.”
He lifted the glass to his lips again and looked straight into Bill’s eyes. “Specifically, gay adults,” he said, then took a sip.
“Bill’s not gay,” Jeff said flatly.
Martin swirled the bourbon around in his mouth again and swallowed. “Well, you would know better than I would, of course. Nevertheless, that is the game Bill is involved in. Whatever his reasons may be are no business of mine.”
“This is nuts. No way.” Jeff’s beer sat forgotten on the table, icy droplets sliding down the sides and soaking into the napkin.
“If you say so. I only know what I saw.”
“Yeah? Why don’t you tell me what you saw, then?”
“What I saw was this: your brother was on his knees in an apartment in Elmhurst. He had, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, a stiff dick in his mouth and he was working very hard on it with his lips and tongue. He was under no duress. No one was forcing him to do what he was doing.”
Jeff’s hand came down on the table with a loud slam. “No way,” he said again. Then a thought crossed his mind and immediately came blurting out. “Was it yours? The dick in his mouth?”
“No,” Martin said, pausing to take another sensual draw from his brick. “It was not mine. I was only a spectator to the event.”
“You just get off on watching then, huh?”
“Jeff, please. Your hostility is misplaced. I’m the guy who is trying to help you help your brother, remember? I don’t have to do that. I’m under no obligation to you or to him. You might want to take a long pull on that beer and think about how pissing me off is not likely to work in your favor.”
Jeff closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had been working on learning to control his temper lately, trying to compensate for a longstanding tendency to let it run out of control. The man was right – Jeff was letting his worry come out as anger and aggression. Martin’s story could be a pack of lies… or he could be telling the truth. Jeff didn’t have enough information yet, so for the time being, he could withhold judgement and take the man at his word. For now. If at some point he collected evidence that contradicted that assumption, well, at that point Martin would discover just how far Jeff would be willing to go to piss him off. For now, though, he needed to get himself under control. He took a gulp of the beer and apologized.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m worried about him, and what you’re saying makes no sense to me. It doesn’t sound like the Bill I know at all. Look, I just want to get him out of wherever he is. What’s the address of this place in Elmhurst?”
“I told you already, you can’t just go rushing in there.”
“Yeah, you said that. But I think I can handle myself. What’s the address?”
“Don’t do this, Jeff. Hear me out first.”
“I was willing to do that when I came in here, but you keep not telling me anything helpful. The address.”
Martin sipped his brick again, savoring this mouthful for as much time as each of the previous sips. Jeff quietly ground his teeth. At last Martin swallowed. “Fine,” he said. He gave an address and an apartment number. “Please remember this,” he added as Jeff rose to go. “When you fail to retrieve him – and you will fail – come find me again. I’ll be here tomorrow night any time after 8:00.”
“Yeah, good to know. Thanks. And thanks for the beer.” He left the remaining two-thirds of the glass on the table as he headed out the door, barely registering the two men he passed on their way in, one dressed head-to-toe in leather with what looked like a motorcycle helmet over his head, the other completely encased, including his head, in thick black rubber.
4: The Empty Apartment
By the time Jeff got to Elmhurst it was after 9:00. The sky was deep purple and the streetlights were on. He found the building he was looking for and only then thought to wonder whether he would be able to get inside. The buildings in the seedier neighborhoods tended not to have the elaborate security systems of the better-off parts of town. Or if they did, the systems either didn’t work or the residents had deliberately disabled them, figuring that the increased risk of an intruder was more than offset by even the faint hint of a breeze through a propped-open door on a sticky summer evening.
In any event, Jeff was able to walk in without trouble. He climbed the steps to the fifth floor two at a time, breathing slightly more heavily at the top but still pumped with energy. 513 was a short walk down the hall and on the left. He knocked and waited.
Here, now, standing at a door when he had no idea what might be on the other side, he began to second-guess his decision not to bring a couple of friends along with him on this trip. He had considered it, but decided against recruiting any helpers under the reasoning that if Martin had been telling the truth – wildly improbable as that seemed – it would be best if he and Bill handled this without any other eyes watching. Not that it would be a problem if Bill was gay, even though he’d never dropped any hints along that line. But if he was, he probably wouldn’t want his “coming out party” to happen when Jeff and half a dozen friends came busting in on him mid-blow-job. So went Jeff’s thinking at the time, at least.
Now, in front of a silent door that no one was coming to open and that he would probably have to force his way through in another minute or two, he couldn’t help thinking that having a friend or two along for moral support sure would be welcome.
No. Can’t be helped. He knocked once again, more sharply this time. He let another minute pass and then started thinking about how difficult it would be to pick the lock and whether he might need to resort to the less-subtle, less-undoable approach of busting in the door. He gave the knob an exploratory turn and to his surprise, it spun easily and the door swung open.
The inside of the apartment was darker than the hall. Jeff closed the door and stood there for a few minutes to allow his eyes to adapt to the gloom. Better that than announcing his presence by flipping on the lights. The place was warm and stuffy, definitely not air-conditioned. Soon enough, his vision had adjusted and he could see well enough by the glow of the streetlights that filtered in from the windows in the next room.
He was in the kitchen, though there was no one in it. In fact, there was nothing in it at all, no appliances, no cookware, not even a table. He walked straight ahead to what looked to be a living room but again, there was no furniture. This place was empty.
One more room to check. At the far end of the room were two doors set opposite one another, both open, with a narrow spot too tiny to be called a “hall” separating them. Through the one on the left was a cramped bathroom. The one on the right led to what was presumably the apartment’s bedroom. Jeff walked in and thought at first that this third room was as empty as the first two.
Then he saw the dark figure lying on the floor.
Oh, God. “Bill?” he called, then again, louder. There was no response.
He stepped closer and knelt down next to the prone figure. “Bill, is that you?” The window here was covered in a shade, but enough light to see by still came in around the edges and from the living room. Bill nudged the figure on its arm and was somewhat surprised to feel rubber instead of fabric. There was no response; he pushed again. “Bill, c’mon wake up.” Just as Jeff was beginning to get nervous, the figure startled awake and sat up.
“Who’s there?” It was Bill’s voice. Jeff felt relief wash through his body. Whatever weirdness was going on, it was over now. Done.
“Aw, man, Bill, you gave me a scare, y’know? Let’s get…”
“I know you’re there,” Bill called out, not looking in Jeff’s direction. In fact… Jeff realized he couldn’t tell where Bill was looking. He couldn’t see Bill’s eyes, which were presumably open and should be visibly white even in the dimness of the room. But they weren’t, and Jeff realized that his brother looked more like a shadow than a person. Not just his eyes, but his entire head was black. So was his whole body.
Bill arms began to grope around. Though they brushed against Jeff’s arms and torso several times, Bill seemed not to notice. “Bill, dude, it’s OK. I’m right here,” Jeff said, but Bill continued to thrust blindly about as though he hadn’t heard. “Dude, what’s going…”
“GET OUT OF HERE!” Bill shouted with a blind flail of his fists, startling Jeff backward off his heels, sending him backward crab-style on his hands. “Bill, c’mon, it’s me!” Bill climbed unsteadily to his feet and Jeff did the same, fishing his phone out of his pocket and turning on the light. He shined it at his brother.
Bill was encased from head to toe in a black rubber suit that clung tightly to his body at every point. The only parts of his skin that were visible through the opaque covering were his lips. “What the hell…” Jeff mumbled. Bill continued to attempt to fight off one or more imaginary assailants, grunting and thrusting his fists in random directions.
Enough of this. “BILL,” Jeff shouted. “Knock it off! It’s me. It’s Jeff.”
“I know you’re in here,” Bill replied, still swinging. “Get the hell out, I’m tellin’ you.”
Jeff danced backward again, out of range of the flailing fists. “Dude, enough already! I’m trying to get you out of here!” The suit, that was the problem. Martin had said he was involved in a VR game… the suit must be showing him things that weren’t there. Jeff had no way of knowing what Bill was seeing and hearing, but it was pretty clearly not Jeff or the words he was saying.
The suit had to come off. Jeff set his phone down with the beam pointing at the ceiling and diffusing the light throughout the room. He walked around behind Bill and grabbed him from behind, tackling him to the floor. Bill exploded in a panic, thrashing and flailing and shouting. “Hang in there, man, I’m doing this for your own good.” He wrestled Bill into lying on his back and sat on his belly. “Lemme get this thing off you and you’ll be good as new… STOP FIGHTING ME!” But Bill’s efforts to fight Jeff off only intensified.
There. At the neck of the suit was a zipper. Jeff reached for it, got his hand batted away, grabbed for it again, and discovered that it was padlocked shut. He fumbled at it, fighting off Bill’s attempts to stop him, but there was no way to undo the zipper without removing the lock first. He yanked on it, hard, hoping to snap either the lock or the zipper handle. He tugged again, and a third time, and suddenly Bill shrieked in pain and went limp.
Jeff slid off him. “Bill? Bill, you OK? What happened?” Fuck, nothing about this was going right!
Bill stirred, rolled onto his side and folded up into a ball, hands tucked into his groin. He moaned while Jeff continued to fuss over him. “Please…” he whimpered. “Please just go away…”
Dammit, he had to get that suit off! He didn’t have any way to cut through the lock here, but he could do it at home. He was going to have to drag Bill home with him just as he was. The thought of trying to wrestle an unwilling, combative, rubber-clad brother through the subway system was not appealing. Maybe it was time to bring someone else into this? He could call Carlos or Lynn and ask for a lift home… but first, he needed to get Bill out of this creepy, sweltering apartment.
He took hold of Bill by the shoulders and began to drag him toward the door. Bill began struggling again, feebly at first but growing increasingly frantic as they neared the door. “Please, no… no, no, NO! Let me go!” He lunged and broke free of Jeff’s grip, lurching to his feet. He stood and faced a spot about two feet to the left of where Jeff was standing. “I swear to God,” he said, “I will find a way to kick your ass if you don’t get the hell out of here and leave me alone. Now beat it.”
Jeff sagged against the wall. “Bill,” he pleaded. “C’mon, man. Game’s over, ‘kay? Turn that thing off, huh? Please?”
And then he realized what Martin must have meant about Bill being stuck. It wasn’t a matter of being physically stuck – locked – in a room or even in the rubber suit. He was trapped in whatever virtual world he was in. And it was clear that he didn’t want to leave. Jeff had walked right into this empty apartment through an unlocked door; the door to the bedroom wasn’t even closed. Bill could walk out any time he wanted. But due to whatever fakery the suit was feeding him, he didn’t want to leave and would fight tooth and nail if Jeff continued trying to force him out.
Jeff sank down and sat on the bare floor, his back against the wall. He stayed silent and merely watched. Bill remained standing and alert for five, ten, long minutes, occasionally making groping motions in random directions. Then he made a circuit of the room, walking meticulously all around the perimeter, one hand brushing the wall and the other groping about to the front and side. At one point on his circuit he crossed the narrow gap into the tiny bathroom and came back, walking right past the open space that led to the other rooms of the apartment with his hand placed up against the empty air as if there were a wall there too. When he neared the spot where Jeff was sitting, Jeff scooted forward into the center of the room until he had passed, then slid back. When Bill had convinced himself that Jeff – or whoever he imagined Jeff to be – was gone, he sat down as well, returning to the exact spot in the room where Jeff had first found him. He sat cross-legged doing nothing at all while Jeff watched, desperate to help but unable to think how.
Jeff sat and thought for a long while. Eventually he stood up and explored the rest of the room, staying away from Bill and keeping quiet, though he suspected he could bring a brass marching band into this room and Bill would only notice if they stepped on him. There was a window, open, letting some air in but doing little to cool the room down. There were large metal panels riveted to two of the walls and a large section of the floor. These served no purpose he could guess at – why would a room need to be partially steel-plated? In one corner he found Bill’s phone, battery completely drained. He thought about taking it with him for safekeeping but then thought that if Bill – somehow – got himself out of this, he’d want to have his phone. In another corner there was a pile of takeout bags, at least a dozen of them. That wasn’t right, that was just going to attract rats.
He had to get Bill out of here.
He scooped the bags up, picked out the largest one and smooshed the others down inside it. At least he could do something to help Bill in the short term until he could figure out how to get him out of here for good. When he stood to go, Jeff had to blink back wetness in his eyes. It occurred to him that this was not too different from addiction. His brother needed help, needed an intervention, but could not ask for it and would fiercely resist any attempt to help him against his will. He was in over his head in this VRealWorld thing and so was Jeff. They were going to need help.
He was going to have to talk to Martin again.
Thank god. The intruder seemed to be gone. Damn, it was terrifying to be trapped inside this suit when something like that happened. It was one thing to be visited by random leathermen – there was a script for that. But when someone who wasn’t in the VRealWorld came by this place – wherever it was outside the game – there was no telling what could happen. Bill never had any way of knowing how much the suit was altering his perceptions, but sometimes something happened that the suit couldn’t completely hide – a hand shaking his body, grabbing him, dragging him. A voice shouting at him loud enough that the suit couldn’t completely cancel out the sound, could only mask it and distort it and muffle it.
The suit had conditioned him to never speak to leathermen. Groaning, shouting, screaming… those were all OK, but saying words was punished by an intense electric shock to his nuts. All communication had to take place through the game’s interface. He’d been wearing the suit long enough that it took an effort to overcome his conditioned aversion to speech, and it turned out OK this time – since the intruder wasn’t a leatherman, there was no penalty for talking to him, for pleading with him to leave Bill alone even though Bill was totally helpless. He couldn’t run away, couldn’t see the intruder, couldn’t hear anything he said, couldn’t touch him, not even when the guy was obviously sitting on top of Bill and yanking at the zipper on the suit hard enough to trigger the anti-tampering punishment: an even harsher zap to the balls.
The whole episode was disturbing and distressing and Bill sat awake and alert for long hours afterward, never wholly convinced that the intruder had really gone away even after searching the cell as best he could multiple times.
It wasn’t until hours later, after his next meal, that he noticed that the pile of old takeout bags was gone.
For the next part, click here
To read the story this is based on, VRansomwear, click here
Disclaimer: This story is a purely fictional account. Any relationship to any real person living or dead is coincidental. The narrative contains semi-consensual male-on-male sex and pain. It is intended for mature readers who wish to view such material, and for whom it is legal to do so. The author in no way condones or promotes such acts in real life.
Copyright © 2020 by POW. For spam prevention, an animal name has been added to the author’s e-mail address. Remove the animal name to get the actual address: POWauthor zebra at yahoo dot com. This story may be freely copied and distributed so long as it is copied in its entirety, unchanged, including the author credit information and disclaimer. Other POW stories are available at https://powauthor.blogspot.com. The author welcomes feedback.