For a man in a wheelchair like Francis Niedzwiecki, virtual reality was heaven, especially when it interfaced with the electronic gnat, the Dipteridot 3. The microbug’s two video feeds were enough to create the three dimensional effect, transmitted back to the BNS rendering systems.
He flew over Tyson’s Corner toward the Nanovatio offices, his mission to infiltrate the building, find Huang Lau’s office, and position the gnat to record his computer screen. Corporate espionage—the second oldest profession. He came in low, looking for any fixture that might offer an opening. Everything went black.
Francis removed the headgear. “What happened?”
“You wrecked my Dipteridot,” said Robert Aldrick. “That’s what.” The CEO of BNS had been hovering during the setup, but Francis had forgotten he was there while he was goggled up. “What’s it say, Colleen?”
The tech tapped at her keys and scanned her screen. “It looks like it ran into an electromagnetic field and crashed.” It didn’t matter if she meant the cpu crashed or the gnat did, either way they lost it.
“You’ll have to go through the front door,” said Robert. “But be careful. I’ve only got two of these left.”
They waited for gnat number two to be dropped off a block away from Nanovatio. As soon as they let it go, Francis took control of it and flew it about twenty feet off the ground, circumventing trees to cross over to the front entryway. He landed on the lintel and waited for about five minutes. A man in a green, collared pullover tugged a lanyard with several badges attached and pushed open the door. Francis jumped and caught flight, following him into the security lobby. He flew high in the atrium, over the metal detector, looking down on the man showing his ID.
“All right,” said Robert’s disembodied voice. “Find your way to the sixth floor.”
Francis followed the man into the elevator and clung to the ceiling. The man got off on the third floor. Francis clung to the elevator ceiling for several rides until an employee finally stopped on level six. Francis dropped to get through the door. The man’s hands shot upward towards him and came together in a loud clap. Everything went black.
The experience stunned Francis.
“Look at the bright side,” said Robert. “Now you know exactly what it will look like in real life if you don’t make it next time.”
They dropped off the third. Francis managed to get through the front, into the elevator and onto the sixth floor without getting squashed. He followed the directions he’d memorized from the architectural drawing and found Lau’s office, but the door was closed. Colleen superimposed the ductwork on the image so Francis could go a few offices down and find his way out Lau’s intake vent.
Francis could see light coming through the grille. “Almost there,” he said. He was feeling giddy. He landed on the side of the duct and crawled onto the grille so he could creep through. He walked along the bottom of the vent, focusing his eyes up at the desk, Lau slouched, peering closely at the screen, and typing. By his left forearm sat a desk lamp. When Lau gave him a chance, Francis would park the Dipteridot 3 on it’s base, orienting the eye-cameras at the screen.
Francis was dispirited that this would be his last flight for a while, but he’d thoroughly enjoyed himself. Even just sitting and waiting gave him a sense of freedom that he didn’t have in the real life of his wheelchair.
Lau picked up his coffee cup and left the office. Francis jumped and took flight, then jolted, stopping in midair. “What the heck?” he said.
“What happened,” asked Robert.
“I don’t know. It’s like I’m stuck in hover mode.” Francis gave his wings more power, but it only made the gnat quiver in midair. “This is the queerest thing I’ve ever—”
The gnat shook harder, even though Francis had eased off the power.
“What is it?” asked Robert.
“Uh, oh,” said Francis. Diaphanous webbing shot onto his eyes, covering most of the vision, but enough was uncovered for him to see the gaping jaws and legs of a spider as it tumbled the gnat, wrapping it in webbing.
Francis ripped the goggles from his head. “I don’t want to play this game anymore.”