The alarm clock went off at five a.m. on a Monday morning; I hit the snooze and began the long process of waking up. Video game tester, great summer job right? Wrong! For one thing there are a million and one people opting for your job, you have to be downtown at the Nintendo building at six SHARP, if you don't show up or call in sick too much they can more than afford to fire you. So with heroic effort on my part I struggled out of the comfy sheets and went to my sink to splash some water on my face. Our house is a large one and has the Jack and Jill style split bedroom, with two sinks on each side and a center bathroom with one toilet and a shower/bathtub. Since I got up earlier than my eleven year old sister there was no rush to the shower like there was during the school year. I stopped a moment to look at myself in the mirror and assess what I was going to do that day, a little thing my mother does and asked me to start doing to build my self-confidence, no results so far, I look like roadkill in the morning.
I then began my patented thirty-minute morning "speed" routine:1. Shower
4. Brush Teeth
5. Out the Door
After a quick shower I dressed in my usual summer outfit, shorts and a T-shirt (When you're a game tester, every day is "Casual day"). No one was up this early so I fixed myself some cereal and gobbled it down, brushing my teeth thoroughly afterwards. When I was finished with all this it was 5:30, perfect timing. I grabbed my keys, wallet, and sunglasses (I was known as "Shades" by the other testers), and walked to the garage. The car I got with my own saved money on my sixteenth birthday a year ago was an old well-worn Dodge Dart, made back when alcohol was a new medium in fuel and it was one of the first cars to run on it. I squeezed inside the small car, (if I shrank a foot bellow my 5'11" size I would still be able to reach the pedals) opened the garage door, and backed into the recycling can. Wincing, I remembered it was plastic and wouldn't dent anything. So I carefully maneuvered around the can and headed off east toward downtown.
St. Louis was a city that had been hit very hard by The Plague; its recovery had amazed the rest of the country. As a result several World and United States headquarters were there, including the U.S. branch of Nintendo. I saw the sunrise behind the skyline as I drove on the highway leading into its heart, complete with the outline of the stainless steel Arch. The Arch had been erected in the sixties partially acknowledging the midwestern city as the Gateway to the West in the time of the pioneers, but it was primarily built celebrating the astounding bounce back from its devastation after The Plague killed off most of its population. Because of the resurrection during the "Science Boom" St. Louis rivaled Silicon Valley in high-tech businesses and labs, I was reminded of this as I passed Washington University with its mixture of old style brick and futuristic metal structures. My car pulled into the municipal twelve story parking garage and got the luxury of parking on the ground floor being one of the first ones there. I walked out of the garage and strode the two blocks to the Nintendo of America building.
The metal and glass tower didn't look special, but some of the best minds and highest tech equipment in games were housed there. I took the elevator to the 6th floor where the testing rooms were and came across Jeff, my resident buddy and pal.
"Hey Jeff, what's up?" He looked up with his usual grin on his tan face, "Hey Mike, didja hear?"
Jeff looked excited; he only looked excited when something major had happened in the world of games, "You've been selected to try out…." He glanced around and whispered "Dolphin VR." I froze; you know that feeling when all the blood drains out of your head?
"You mean Virtual Reality?!?"
"Shhhhh…" Jeff looked around again, "Not so loud, the execs don't want this to get out, but the Dolphin system is to be programmed with VR technology." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I grinned; the competition was in for a big shock.
After squeezing into a static-free jumpsuit two Nintendo employees in lab coats, male and female, led me into the VR chamber; this was beginning to feel like a secret government project. The entire room was padded about three feet thick, and it did little to ease my nagging fear. One of the people walked out, leaving me alone with the woman. She smiled reassuringly, "My name is Dr. Grey, and I will be the one monitoring the testing, so you have nothing to fear Mr. Young."
I was really more eager than nervous, "What makes you think I'm worried Doc? I'm just as anxious to try this as the next video game crazed guy."
Dr. Grey smiled, "I admire that." The man who escorted me came back in with a lightweight headset, two armbands, and two leg bands, just plain gray with a "Property Of Nintendo Inc." stamp on them. He handed the helmet to me while Dr. Grey snapped on the bands.
The man handed me the helmet, "Put this over your head, we will communicate with you through the speakers in the headset."
"Can Do." I slipped the headset on and was totally cut off from the outside world.
A minute passed and I heard the voice of Dr. Grey, "Can you hear me Mr. Young?"
"Loud and clear Doc, it's kind of dark though." I was uncomfortable with no eyesight; I guess it comes from a fear of the dark in my young age.
"That will be taken care of shortly Mr. Young,"
"Call me Mike."
I heard a laugh, "OK Mike, the program we are going to run is not the usual "Mario", we will be starting you off with "Starfox VR"."
"Wow!" I thought, "Starfox was one of my favorite games on the N64; I just hope they carried it through."
"Unlike the games in the past Mr.…Mike, you will not be spending most of your time in the arwing, the bands on your wrists and legs enable you to do a little land fighting." It took all of my self-control to resist jumping up and down for joy,
"Great! Anything else I need to know?"
"Yes, during the game you will be cut off from me to be allowed the full experience, but we will monitor your vitals every step of the way."
I cracked my game master knuckles, "Let's go Doc."
Dr. Grey turned off the connection, and I was left with a mild elation. "Test information" flashed in front of my eyes, "June 17th, 1996, 6:56 A.M. Central Standard Time" Then the copyright, "Copyright 1996, Nintendo Inc.". I was left in darkness for a few moments and then a giant "N" raced straight at me! I acted on reflexes and ducked. I swear I could almost hear Dr. Grey laughing her socks off. The "N" stopped in front of me and it was soon joined by an "i", "n", "t", etc., finishing with an oval circling the letters and a cool sparkle effect. I felt like a complete idiot. The corporate logo dropped out and was replaced by the "Starfox VR" startup screen, not too different from the "N64" version. This is what floored me, the characters looked believable! I could see every hair on Fox and Peppy, and it looked like I could reach out and pluck Falco's feathers! It was then I noticed I could see my hands; they looked exactly like Fox's. I touched my hand and immediately realized the VR experience was not foolproof, I had no hair there in real life, and hence felt none. I stopped gawking at the graphics just long enough press the 3D "Start" button in front of me.
I heard the same old story, but this time there were live action scenes! I almost hit the deck as Andross' forces bombed planet after planet in the Lylat system, and behold "It was once again up to the Starfox team to stop him". I felt a strange itching all over, but ignored it as I downed ship after ship in my arwing. Finally Fox decided to be shot down and marooned on a planet, forced to find his way off. Punch, kick, kick, punch, it was fun using these karate moves to finish off robots. I suddenly felt a stab of pain in my tailbone area. Afraid it was caused by sensory overload or some such I shut off the helmet and took it off my head with my…hands?
I glanced down and saw my hands covered in black fur. Feeling another extreme pain, I looked behind me to see a red, white tipped, bushy tail burst out of the thin static-free material. At this point I should have been reaching panic stage, but all I thought was "Wow…"
"You ain't seen nothin' yet kid."
"Who was that?" Before I could ponder where the voice came from, a wave of transformation hit. My feet changed shape and slipped out of the static-free booties they made me wear, ears crawled up the side of my head and became pointed, and face pushed out slightly, my jaw reforming to house a new set of sharp teeth. I could hardly believe what was happening, but I had a feeling somehow that it was over for me, I was complete.
"Well kid, looks like we're finished." That voice again.
"What do you mean "We"?" I heard him, or her, or it, laugh.
"This is going to take some getting used to, I am you, and you are me."
"You mean…you're the fox part of me?" The voice sounded pleased.
"That's right kid!"
"Holy shit…this will be an interesting week."
I had no idea.
(W.T.: This is my first attempt. Good? Bad? Terrible? Excellent? I'd like as much feedback as possible on this, Thank You!)