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			TEST PILOT
	      )> A TWI Fiction Presentation <(
		    T E S T    P I L O T
		T  E  S  T	P  I  L  O  T
	    T	E   S	T	 P   I	 L   O	 T
	T    E	  S    T	  P    I    L	 O    T
	     Originally Written by: John Vornholt
		 Brought to you by The Bishop
I fingered the laser blaster.  Something about it felt unreal.  But there was

nothing unreal about the two Garanian warriors who had rounded the slanting pile of rubble in front of me. Had that building once been a tram station or a detention hall? I couldn't remember.

My attention returned to the two Garanians who were, I knew, looking for me.

In the cobalt blue of the Lipidus sky, they stood out like two giant brown tree trunks–all and legs. They moved slowly, due more to the heavy atmosphere of Lipidus than to any fear of me. They were easy targets, but I had to supress my urge to blast them; a shot from my laser might catch a gas pocket, resulting in a huge fireball. I had seen that chain-reaction twice now and had seen it melt both my companions. I didn't want to see it again.

How, then, to get rid of these two gorillas?	I tried to think back over

everything that I had learned in my two days on Lipidus. The Garanians were strong, much too strong for hand-to-hand combat. Besides, I was outnumbered. I couldn't shoot them, for fear of a fireball. Then it struck me! What good was this damn laser blaster anyway? Not any good that I could fathom. I turned the weapon over in my hand, looking desperately for an over-load switch. I knew it had to have one – every blaster that I had ever seen had had one. Finally, I found a pin on the bottom of the pistol grip. I yanked it out and the damn thing began to hum and vibrate.

All right, I thought, let's hope it has at least a sixty second delay.  I set

the blaster gingerly on the sidewalk (yes, Lipidus has sidewalks), and backed slowly away while counting to myself. At fifteen, I decided to let the Garanians see me. I quickly darted out into the street and pretended to look startled when I saw them. One of the Garanians lifted his weapon to fire at me, but the other knocked his hand away and growled. I ducked back into the alley and they gave chase on foot.

I ran like hell, and it wasn't pretense.  Being lighter than the tree-trunk

Garanians, I wasn't afraid that they might catch me. But I did know something horrendous was about to happen when the laser reached melt-down. I hoped that I would be far enough away for it not to happen to me.

The sides of the narrow creepy alley shined black, like the skin of a seal.

Oblong openings about three feet across lined the slippery walls. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know where I was going and, that I might end up in worse trouble than I'd left. At that moment, a tentacle whipped out from one of the openings and slammed me across the face. I went down – hard. The damn thing was curling around my neck before I regained my senses. As I ripped at it with my gloved fingers, I thought, great, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain I remembered that the denizens of

Lipidus disliked light. I fumbled in my holster for my flashlight (the handiest utensil to have on Lipidus), flipped it on, and drew it out with one quick motion. The monster squealed at the powerful beam and recoiled instantly. I staggered to my feet, leaned against the wall for support, and tried to catch my breath.

Then it happened.  There was a soundless sound, and a huge force suddenly

sucked me off my feet. The blast came a millisecond later, singeing my face and beard. I looked back down the alley just in time to see a monstrous fireball completely engulf the two frenzied Garanians, turning them into limpid pools. I got to my feet, thinking that was a more dignified position from which to meet my maker. I paused in reflection for a moment, watching the fireball rush towards me like a glowing freight train. Not a bad game – not bad at all.

I, of course, died without any pain and found myself back in the chamber.  I

pushed open the door, and Peterson warmly grabbed my hand.

"Great game, Mitchell!" he shouted.  "Great game!"
"Thanks," I mumbled.  I was tired.
"Forty-nine hours!" Peterson screamed.  "Forty-nine hours!"
I was beginning to wish he'd shut up, or at least lower his voice.  "I've got

to sit down," I said, "and get a drink of water."

"Real water?" Peterson smiled.
"Please."
Peterson fetched me a tall cool glass of H2O.  No matter how much they

improved the opticals, I mused to myself, they never got anywhere with the savories. Game food and drink was at best, lousy and to be avoided at all cost. I usually didn't bother with it anymore, since training myself to go up to seventy-two hours without food or drink. I still got thirsty sometimes, but never hungry; no food was preferable to that pasty protein disguised in the mind as real grub. My body wasn't that easily fooled. Besides, eating and drinking slowed down the play of the game.

Peterson watched me eagerly.	"So what did you think?"
"You'll get a full report," I answered between gulps.
"Aw, can't you talk about it a little bit?" he prodded.
I set the glass down and wiped my lips.  I knew it was not a truly great game,

because I didn't feel emotionally or physically spent, as I did with the truly great ones. That would be in the full report. On the other hand, there were some nice things I could say about "Lipidus."

"Great opticals," I said.  This was no great surprise, as Peterson's company

was noted for its visual effects. "The planet and inhabitants were very realistic. And the sensory effects were quite good too. When that damn tentacle hit me across the face, I thought it had broken my nose. I'll never figure out how you do that with just changes in air pressure."

"The negatives," Peterson said, very seriously.  "We know what's right with

it. What's wrong with it?"

"To begin with," I asked, "what's the deal with the laser blaster?"
"The laser blaster?"
"Yeah," I replied.  "What good is it to have a laser blaster when you can't

use the damn thing?"

"All games have laser blasters," Peterson said sheepishly.
I nodded.  "That's just the point.  You put it in because all the others have

it, even though it not only serves no useful purpose, but is downright dangerous to use. It works against other features of the game. If anyone was really going to Lipidus, knowing about the gases there, they would never take an incendiary weapon. A crossbow would be better."

Peterson looked stunned.  "A crossbow...  in a space game?"
"Then invent a new weapon," I said.  "I'm only a test pilot.  My job is to

play 'em and spot the flaws – I don't design them. But that laser blaster never felt right to me. I think whoever designed it, knew it belonged in another game; not this one."

Peterson was thin-lipped.  "I designed it myself."
"Well," I muttered, "I had fun blowing it up." I stood and stretched, ready to

call it a day – or should I say – two days.

"You didn't like the game at all, did you?" Peterson asked gravely.
"You'll get my full report," I yawned.
Peterson's eyes narrowed behind his horn-rimmed glasses.  "I'm ruined with the

company if that game doesn't pass," he said.

I yawned again, mumbling, "That's not my decision."
"It can be, depending on what kind of report you turn in."
I was getting irritated now and turned toward the engineer with a weary frown.

"Look, Peterson, if you…" It was then I noticed the needle gun in his hand.

"Get back into the hologram chamber," he commanded.
"What?"
He waved the Ngun, poiting it toward the chamber.  "Get back in.  You're going

to try it again."

I tried to summon some authority to my voice.  "You can't do this, Peterson.

Besides, playing the game again won't make me change my mind. It's not a bad game, and I was never going to give it a bad report."

But the crazed software engineer wasn't listening.  "Back into the chamber,"

he hissed.

As Peterson's gun hand was shaking rather badly, I decided not to test him.

Re-entering the holo-chamber, I already had my strategy worked out. Peterson couldn't stay awake as long as I could – nobody could – and I would simply manage to get myself killed every now and then on the chance of finding him napping or out of the testing room. The worst he could do to me while I was in the chamber was to restart the game.

I watched him fumbling with a cartridge in the game slot, then the door

closed.

The first few seconds in a holo-chamber were always strange.	The walls,

ceiling, and floor were a combination screen projector made up of millions of tiny glistening refractor chips – it was like the walls were covered with sequins. Then, colors began to emerge, blending and folding in with one another like an old-fashioned kaleidoscope. The walls melted away, the colors becoming definite hues, and shapes to take distinct form. I expected a laser blaster to appear in my hand, as my spaceship hurtled out of control toward the planet Lipidus. Instead, I found myself in…

A cocktail party!
Yes, indeed.	Some very hip synthesized msuic was blaring from the floor, and

twenty or thirty cool people were milling around with drinks in their hands. I looked down at my own hand and saw some tall orangish concoction, with a little pink umbrella sticking out the top of it. I also seemed to be dressed better than usual, in a blazer of some purplish color. While still taking in the surrounds, a beautiful – almost impossibly beautiful – blond strode up to me and stopped two inches from my chest. At least her most forward aspects stopped there – the rest of her stopped some distance back.

"Hello," she said.
All right, I said to myself, I'm in some kind of erotic adventure.  I didn't

know if Peterson had gotten the cartridges switched, or even if he was aware of it, but I knew my plan was out the window. It's very difficult to get yourself killed in an erotic adventure. Practically anything, though, was possible.

"You're shy," smiled the beautiful blond.  Of course, she had been programmed

to say that to anyone who didn't talk very much.

I ignored her and just kept on thinking.  My experience in these kinds of

games was limited; I usually found myself avoiding monsters and peculiar aliens. I didn't know who tested erotic adventures, but it certainly wasn't me. I suspected it was the president of the company.

I studied the girl.  She must have been given a fairly complex artificial

intelligence, I decided, in order to hold a conversation with a complete stranger. Maybe if I asked the right questions, she could help me get out of this jam.

"What's your name?" she cooed.
"Mitchell," I said.  "What's yours?"
"Alice."
Funny, she didn't look like an Alice.  More like an Inga.
"How do I exit this game?" I asked her.
"Exit?" she smiled.  "But you only just got here." She batted her eyelashes

and gently touched my chest.

"But it's important I leave now," I answered back.  "I have a phone call to

make, then I'll come right back."

"It can wait, I'm sure," purred Alice.  She suddenly grabbed my free hand and

began swaying to the music. "Let's dance!"

"No!" I shouted.  I grabbed the vacuous blond and shook her violently.  "I

want to get out of here, understand?"

A look of understanding did come into Alice's eyes.  "Maybe you'd like to meet

my roommate, Marsha. Or my other roommate, Trisha. She's an airline stewardess."

I swore under my breath.
"If that doesn't suit you," Alice continued, "there's my hairdresser friend,

Felipe."

"Excuse me," I said, walking away.
I got about eight steps before a sultry brunette grabbed my arm.  "Got a

light?" she asked, waving what looked like a hand-rolled cigarette or a joint in my face.

I started to say no, then I realized that my purple jacket probably came

equipped with a few choice utensils. I reached in and drew out several objects: one was a set of keys to God-only-knows-what, another was a small vial of white powder, and a third was a gold-plated lighter. I lit her cigarette.

"You don't like it here, do you?" she asked.
I declined her offer of the pot.  "No.  I'm looking for a way to get out."
"My apartment is only a few blocks from here.  My car is right out front." So

is mine probably, I thought to myself. "Who knows how to exit from the game?" I asked.

She pointed toward a large man with a completely bald head.  "That's Hubert.

This is his place and his party. He knows everything."

I strode over to Hubert.  "Hello, Hubert," I said.
"Hello, Mitchell," he replied.  "Glad to see you could make it."
At first I was stunned he knew my name, then I realized that I had told it to

the blond. By now, everybody in the place knew my name.

"How do you exit the game?" I asked.
"Don't you like it here?" Hubert asked smugly.  "Everybody finds my parties

so… interesting."

"Interesting is not what I'm looking for right now," I answered.  "I'm tired,

and I want to go home."

"Go home then.  You live just down the street."
"Home, Hubert.  My real home.  How do I exit the game?"
Somebody passed Hubert a joint, and he took a big hit.  "You automatically

have that option after an encounter."

"I want to go now," I repeated, emphasizing the "now."
"Out of the question," Hubert replied with a toss of his head.  He gave me a

very fruity grin.

I hadn't been playing action-adventure games as a living for six years for

nothing. I merely picked up a bar stool and smashed it across Hubert's idiotic face.

Hubert lay on the floor in a pool of real-looking blood.  It suddenly dawned

on me that a little sado-masochism might be written into this game, and I wasn't wrong. Two musclemen-types quickly came at me. One I dispatched with a whisky bottle, but the other one landed a left hook to the side of my face. My ears buzzing, I rammed him in the gut with my head, then dropped him with a knee well below the belt. Gee, this game was sort of fun.

There were no other takers.  In fact, everyone froze as a voice came from the

stereo, saying, "If you wish to continue the game, please be seated. If not, please remain where you presently are."

I remained standing.	Apparently, beating somebody to a pulp, in this game,

was the same as an erotic encounter.

Within a few seconds, the walls around me began to dissolve, and the

curvacious blonds and brunettes became, once more, mere refracted light beams. Gingerly, I pushed open the door of the chamber and stepped out.

Peterson's back was towards me, and he was immersed in watching figures dance

across a computer video screen. Apparently, in his madness, he thought I really would play his silly game all over again. And just as certainly, he must not have known about the switch of the cartridges.

The gun lay beside him, on top of an oscilliscope.
In two bounds, I was across the room and had the pipsqueak programmer by the

throat. He scrambled for the gun, but I was able to drag him out of his chair and half-way across the floor. It was then that Peterson surprised me with a swift bony elbow to my ribs. I doubled over and just managed to catch him by the scuff of the neck, as he hurried back toward the gun. They say that madmen have the strength of ten, and I was beginning to believe it. Peterson and I thrashed about on the floor for awhile until I realized that he was more than I could handle. While still able I maneuvered him to the door of the hologram chamber, kicked it open, and hurled both of us inside.

I pinned him to the floor as the door slowly shut.  Closing the door activated

the game, and the door would remain shut and locked until the game was over. This wasn't for the player's sake, but to avoid damaging the circuits.

Peterson jumped to his feet and threw himself against the door, howling like

one of his Garanians.

"Calm down," I said.  "You know you can't get the door opened.  Sit back and

enjoy the game."

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