The next day was rather uneventful. Everyone woke up in the morning and was given a tour of the HUE. The HUE consisted of three main floors that could be accessed freely by participants in the program. The first, as the group had seen on their initial tour, was the cafeteria and lounging area. The food was very good and healthy and didn’t seem to be typical cafeteria food. There were lots of options to choose from that could fit in just about anyone’s diet. The lounging area consisted of TVs and pool tables. There were movies to watch, but there was no access to live television, as no contact with the outside world was permitted. The second floor was the gym, and state of the art equipment was arranged neatly throughout the large space. Quin immediately took a liking to the room and knew that he would be spending a lot of time there. The third floor was the arcade. The group entered a small control room with glass walls. On the other side of the wall was a white room, similar to the large room they’d waited in when they first entered The Prism. There was no furniture, nothing but white walls, floors and ceiling. It was unclear exactly how it worked, but Karen informed them that it would be a place where they could use The Prism technology for entertainment without any of the risks that The Prism brings with it. She told them that they would learn more about how to use it once they’d been calibrated for the technology.
After the tour, the group returned to their room. Quin and Blair hadn’t spoken to Timothy and Jordan at all during the tour, and Timothy had still been very quiet and had gone straight to his room after getting back to the room. They had been told that everyone had to gather at 8:00 PM in an auditorium on the fifth floor of the HUE which would only be used for special occasions and could not be accessed outside of designated meeting times.
It was time to for them to head to the auditorium. Quin and Blair were ready, but Jordan and Timothy hadn’t yet emerged from their room. Blair tapped lightly on their bedroom door and said, “Hey guys, we have to get to the meeting. Are you coming?”
“Yeah,” Jordan said from the other side of the door. “You guys go on. We’ll catch up, promise.”
Blair shrugged and walked with Quin out the door. Once they were in the hallway, Quin said, “We’re supposed to be getting close to them. We were told we’ll need to rely on each other, and I don’t think we could be farther apart at this point.” Quin sighed in frustration. “We need to win this, but we’re doing poorly before it’s even begun.”
“Give them time,” Blair said. “They’ll come around, I think,” she said in an unconvincing tone.
Quin and Blair were the only ones in the elevator. They still had fifteen minutes until the meeting began, so Quin assumed everyone else was going to come at the last minute. When they reached the fifth floor, they realized they were actually some of the last to join. The place was packed by nearly five hundred people. It was very loud, as people were carrying on conversations and the auditorium was built to transfer sound efficiently. Where did all these people come from? Quin felt naive for assuming that those in his small group were the only people here. They must have been the last group to arrive.
The auditorium was triangular, with a triangular stage in the center. There were rows and rows of seats that went up on an incline from each side of the triangular stage. The seats were all black and dimly lit. The floor of the stage was made of lighted panels, most of which were white and freckled every so often with different colors of the rainbow. Three clear glass panes hung from the ceiling near the center of the stage, acting as a screen for each side to see. Currently the screens only showed the PYKSEL logo and the time: 7:57 PM.
Quin and Blair struggled to find two seats next to each other but managed to find some on the very back of one side. Shortly after they sat down, Quin noticed Jordan and Timothy sneak in and disappear up a different side of the triangle.
As soon as the clock changed to 8:00 PM, the stage floor dimmed, and ceiling lights shined down upon the stage. Karen appeared in a corner of the room and walked to the stage, wearing attire similar to what she wore the day they’d first seen her. This time, both of her eyes were normal, her left eye the same piercing blue as the right. When she reached the center of the stage, the room became quiet. Her presence was commanding.
“Hello again, everyone. As you should know by now, I am Karen Ross, the Senior Director of The Prism.” A picture of Karen showed up on the screens above her, her name below. The PYKSEL logo was relegated to the top left corner of the screen. “I am sure you are ready to hear just what The Prism is all about and what your role is in it.” There were a few claps from the audience, but the applause quickly died when it wasn’t reciprocated by everyone else. Karen turned to face each side of the stage. She held her hands at mid waist and occasionally used them to emphasize her speech. She talked smoothly and slowly, as if each word was carefully chosen. “You were all selected because we believe you are the best candidates to test our program. We tracked applicants’ medical, criminal and educational history. The Prism is designed to put your skills to the test. PYKSEL is, of course, the name of our company. However, it is also much, much more than that. PYKSEL is what we strive for.” She pointed up, and her picture was replaced by the word PYKSEL written vertically to emphasize each letter as an acronym. The word associated with each letter filled in as she said it. “PYKSEL stands for
Each of you, through careful observation, have proven to our company that you possess and excel in at least three of these categories. All of you qualify under “Youth,” as we only accepted applicants between the ages of 18 and 28.” She smiled as if she had just given them a huge compliment that everyone should be thanking her for. “Now, what is The Prism? The Prism is a government program that will change the way we conduct warfare.” As she talked, the screens above her started to cycle through various graphs, pie charts and other statistics that were hard to follow. “This program is designed to minimize the cost of warfare. Studies have been conducted for almost three decades to obtain an accurate census on every aspect of warfare. These aspects include, but are not limited to, the cost of war materials, the cost in lives, injury recovery time and debt accrued. This is a virtual reality program that incorporates real life consequences. Each country at war will be assessed according to their total worth. Simply put, how much money do they have? That answer will determine what they can spend for soldiers and equipment. Soldiers will be able to purchase materials such as ammunition, guns and other supplies as they need them, but they will need to budget the money that they are given. They may be awarded more by the government proctoring their account depending on what their mission is, but all funds come out of the country’s account as a whole. The death of a soldier returns their remaining funds back to their country. We do provide a small incentive for eliminating enemy soldiers, as you will have access to their gear and weapons and get ten percent of the funds they had left. But the simulation currency is not real money. It cannot be collected or lost outside of the program. It is meant only to reflect what that country could afford in a real war.”
The screen changed to a video of a room resembling the simulation room of the HUE, a pure white room, but the floors moved in this one. The material of the floor rose like putty and formed objects of different shapes and sizes. Some objects were human-shaped. Karen continued, “What you see here is our simulation room. The floors, walls and ceiling are built with a very special material that can be molded on the spot with the use of very powerful and precise magnets. Any terrain can be built here. When you are inside the simulation, you will see a realistic version through certain technology that will be calibrated to you. Everything can be moved and interacted with just like in real life. The enemy army will be in an identical room that is linked to yours. Avatars of your enemies will appear in your room that you can touch and feel as if they were actually there.” The video changed. The stark white walls were replaced with real-life scenery, or at least it looked real. Smoke rose from crashed vehicles, bullets flew through the air, and people fell to the ground, dead. It all looked real.
The video ended and was replaced on the screens with a picture of two outlines of the human body, one male and one female. There were small blue dots scattered throughout the body, even covering the eyes. “What you see here is where you will be receiving implants.” There were some gasps in the audience, and a few people shouted in outrage. As if on cue, figures in black emerged from each corner of the room and marched to the stage carrying assault rifles. They lined the short walls of the stage and stood in formation with the barrels of their guns facing the ceiling. The room became quiet again. “Each dot you see is a pressure plate. They will be placed in vital points on your body and will be connected to diodes in your brain to produce accurate neurological responses and pain using a fraction of the damage that caused it and also allowing us to record your brain and muscle activity on a computer.” She looked up at the screen. A 3D image of a body suit that covered everything but the face showed on the screen. “You will be wearing these suits while in simulation. Each of you will be fitted for one after you receive your implants. Magnets on the suit will attach precisely to the implants in your body. This suit connects all of the plates in your body to provide a near perfect sense of reality when it comes to physical stimulation.”
Next on the screens there is an image of an eye surrounded by a white shell, just like Karen’s left eye had been. “The optical aspect of the virtual reality system lies within this ingenious piece of technology: The Shell. The Shell is precisely measured for each individual eye. It attaches to the back of your eye. It will extend to cover the front of your eye so you have a lens to look through. It connects to the optic nerve in your eye and is also connected to the cerebellum so you can retract it. It can be used outside of a simulation as a computer to take notes and also has a few other capabilities that you can play around with. Because it is connected to the cerebellum, you will be able to control it as though it were any other muscle in your body. The technology is very safe and reliable, and it will not hurt you. I have been installed with a set as well.” Both of her eyes go pure white for a few seconds as she turns around to show each side. The screens above her show a live closeup for the people in the back to see.
“Inside of a simulation, you will not be able to retract your Shell. It will remain on until you have completed a session or you have been eliminated, which brings me to my next point. This program has not yet had a live test. You are here to test it for us so we can work out kinks and glitches before we put this out for actual use. There is the possibility of death. We don’t know how likely it is. Each individual is different, and we have no way of testing the dangers any other way. The plates in your body could emit shockwaves that are too strong and potentially break bones, cause internal bleeding or stop your heart. We have a very good medical team here to support you if anything happens.” A few people in the audience were sobbing. Blair was one of them. “Now, once a soldier is virtually injured, the recovery time for that injury will be assessed, and that will determine how long the soldier will have to wait before they can return to the fight. In the meantime, they will be able to perform administrative duties. If they are killed virtually, they must either wait two years before re-entering the fight, or their country must pay a fee equivalent to funeral costs and a hiring bonus to re-enter in only three months. A soldier’s virtual death only applies to the specific war they were fighting. If a country is in more than one war, they may transfer dead units to a different war at half the price.” Statistics filled the screen once more.
“That is what the final product of The Prism will be. You all, however, will be testing a less sophisticated version. Everyone will have the same amount of virtual currency to use. Your roommates will be your team. Any leftover currency of defeated enemies will be split between the four of you. Once you are virtually dead or injured to a point where a real soldier could not reasonably be expected to continue, you will be removed from simulation and will not be allowed to return until the next battle. Phase One of The Prism will determine who moves onto Phase Two. Only half of you will qualify. The other half will be eliminated from the competition. Details on what follows for those individuals will be briefed to them once they are out. Details on Phase Two will be explained to the winners after Phase One is complete. Each room will be given their team’s Prism schedule which will include dates, times and which simulation room they will go to. There are only two simulation rooms. Everyone will participate in five Prism simulations during Phase One, but don’t worry about that right now. The next step is for everyone to be calibrated for The Prism by having your Shells and plates installed and getting your suits tailored. Your surgery appointments should be posted on your doors when you return to your rooms. If there are no further questions, then I would suggest you all grab something to eat and get some rest.” Karen turned around and walked out of the room, and the soldiers followed in a line behind her. She didn’t even wait to see if anyone had a question. The screens changed back to the PYKSEL logo and the ceiling lights shut off. Everyone sat in silence for what seemed like eternity. Eventually someone broke the silence by shouting, “We could all die!” Then chaos erupted in the auditorium.