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The Mind Hack

Acknowledgements

My thanks to my wife Petua who pushed me and gave me courage. I would be lost without her. My thanks to Clancy, Mccaffrey, Fiest, and Hobb for awakening my imagination and helping me escape to another world better than my own.

Thanks to my mother who gave me advice and allowed me to believe that I could do anything, thanks to my father for giving me the discipline needed to master my craft. Thanks to all those who have given me advice and pointers.










I dedicate this book to my wife

Petua who has stood by me through and through.


Chapter 1


Tolbert squinted, leaning towards his computer screen, as if by his closeness he could force his desire onto the screen. He fought with the avatar creation kit for Dragon Hunt, a new game he had discovered online. After hours of tediously setting the precise angle of the jaw, the width of the nose, and the size and colour of the eyes all he had achieved was athletic blond.

Sitting back into his chair he sighed with relief as he completed his creation, and worry and stress leaked out of him. The monotony of real life could now be escaped and he could immerse himself into the virtual world of gaming where he could find real connections.

A shriek from a woman down the hall made Tolbert cringe; the neighbourhood was better than the last by far, no gunfire, but the screaming was doing his head in. First she would scream at her husband and then the rest of the building would start on each other. At least they weren’t using a gun. Thank God for small mercies but the noise was horrid.

The game finally loaded; Tolbert found himself in a ruined New York–buildings had collapsed and rubble littered the road side. Holes had cratered the road exposing water mains, sewerage and subway lines. His first mission blinked on the screen, he must kill a raptor, a short reptile with yellow and green patchy skin, long talon-like claws and a large snout-like nose. Several other people meandered about the streets including a redhead wearing bikini armour. Tolbert chuckled to himself as he watched the avatar of the redhead carrying a broadsword come out of an alleyway and stop, facing him.

“Hey, what’s happening?” Tolbert spoke into the microphone, sending his voice into cyberspace.

“Hey,” a husky voice replied.

Yep, totally a dude; no self-respecting woman would wear a bikini so revealing. Tolbert was concerned that she would fall over from the triple E breasts. Here could be a decent human being. If he got too loud he at least could turn down the volume.

A roar bellowed from down the street. Tolbert jumped, his heart in his mouth. A large green troll with six arms was beating its chest under the streetlight half a block away. The monster stood two and a half metres tall.

“Sweet, a troll,” the large busted redhead observed. “Can you help me with this one, mate? Been trying for one of them for three hours.”

“Sure,” Tolbert replied. He checked his name that hovered above his head and added Striker to his friends list. Tolbert drew his fifty-calibre sniper rifle with an optical scope mounted on the barrel. “Let’s get started,” he bellowed, a sweet rush rippled through Tolbert. Could this be what it is like to have a friend?

Striker ran forward, sword drawn, screaming into his microphone.

Tolbert crouched down and aimed at the head of the troll, firing off a single shot. He felt in control, completely at ease with this weapon. It made him feel like God to be able to control his own destiny.

The bullet whistled past Striker’s head, hitting the troll right between the eyes. The troll, dazed, paused a moment, and then charged at Tolbert.

As the gap closed between the troll and the scantily clad Striker, Striker swung his sword, slicing off one of the troll’s six arms.

The arm dropped to the ground, spurting blood; however, the troll continued barrelling towards Tolbert.

Tolbert cursed, reloaded and aimed up another shot. The shot cracked out, hitting the troll right between the eyes.

Stunned, the troll shook its head and continued its charge towards Tolbert.

“Run!” screamed Striker.

Tolbert ripped his head from the scope as the troll filled his view. His heart began to race; the troll was right on top of him. Shit. Tolbert scrambled away, his long legs eating up ground, his spurs jangling with each step, the ground hard underneath his feet, the pounding in his ears echoing with each footfall. Glancing back over his shoulder, Tolbert saw the troll bearing down on him.

With two outstretched hands, the monster picked up Tolbert’s lean frame and began beating the ground with him. The sickening crunch of bones and the splatter of blood drowned out the rest of the world.

The world went black; the silence deafened Tolbert.

Tolbert sat up, a scream escaped his lips. Trembling, he felt sweat run down his spine, chilling him to the bone. The room was lit by the light from the full moon streaming through the open window. He breathed a sigh of relief. Tolbert swept his eyes around the room, assuring himself that everything was safe, and that there was no monster hiding in his small room. His computer was on standby on the desk in the corner, the cupboards all closed, his computer chair covered in a mountain of unfolded clothes. Just a bad dream, it wasn’t real. His breathing slowed to normal. Lying back into his bed Tolbert closed his eyes to sleep. With his sheets sticky from sweat, he fell into a dreamless slumber.


Striker sat at his computer and sighed to himself. Looking around the room, he sighed again; everything was in its place, perfectly within reach if needed. Swinging his chair back to the computer and pressing his bulging belly to the desk, he surfed the web. A banner advertisement with a redhead contorting provocatively, its borders flashing on the side of the screen, caught his eye. He scratched his balding head as he contemplated the ad with disgust, and then he fled from the page with a sneer.

He searched for a combat game he hadn't already played. Sighing forlornly over the results, he moved to the next page. Since his failed attempt to hack into the neon signs at Times Square he had been laying low. Nothing quite compared to the thrill of hacking, but living in a prison cell was not what he wanted to do. Sure, the payout had been tempting to post that slogan on the signs but not enough to risk prison time.

Down at the bottom of the third page, a monster-killing genre game caught his attention. Maybe a new game could provide some diversion. While reading the description, he smiled with delight. He normally didn’t play this type of game; however, the reviews said it mixed martial arts with firearms nicely. Striker downloaded the game and installed it. Logging on, he recreated the redhead on that distant page. He exaggerated all her proportions mocking the disgraceful beer advertisement.

The simple and elegant gameplay surprised Striker as he quickly became proficient with the blades. As he started off into the ruined streets of New York, the stark contrast with his memories made him wistful for a return visit to the bustling lifestyle he had left.

Striker’s objective flashed on the screen– ‘troll’ –followed by a short description of a six-armed green monster standing two and a half metres tall.

When he strapped his broadsword onto his back, his skin pricked as the cool metal slapped against his bare flesh. As he moved forward the sword blade of the broadsword became a counterpoint to the bouncing of his avatar’s breasts. Striker chuckled. No wonder this game got great ratings; the bounce of breasts then a slap in the rump with his sword.

His laughter attracted the attention of a small monster. A bipedal creature stood growling at him. It had two mouths and was covered completely in black fur. They stared at each other.

Striker drew his broadsword, the blade flashing in the sunlight.

The black creature emitted a guttural gurgle and charged him.

Striker smiled to himself, tensing. The creature closed. Still gurgling it opened both of its mouths and a putrid stench of rancid meat and puke assaulted Striker. A wave of nausea overwhelmed him, distracting him from the creature charging him. Striker pushed aside the sense of hurling and swung his sword, hitting the black monster square in the upper mouth and sliced its head in two.

The monster stopped mid-stride, collapsing as its brain and blood showered Striker.

Lifting the sword in both hands Striker laughed mightily, blood and brain dripping off the sword and his skin. A shiver of pleasure ran down his spine. What a thrill.

Striker smiled as a sense of excitement washed over him and he searched for another monster. Turning the corner, he spied what appeared to be a cowboy. Stetson hat, leather jacket, flared trousers – even the spurs. The only thing unusual about this cowboy was the fifty-calibre sniper rifle on his back. Striker chuckled to himself as a greeting came through his speakers. The cowboy had turned at the sound of his footfalls.

"What's happening?" the cowboy called out.

Striker chuckled to himself then replied, "Hi."

A roar came from down the street; a troll had sounded its own greeting. Striker and the cowboy turned to face the monster. The troll was two and a half metres tall and glowing a faint green from its six arms and large muscled torso. It had a small head and its mouth was open in a roar.

"Sweet, a troll," Striker bubbled excitedly, "Can you help me with this one, I have been looking for one of them for three hours."

"Sure," the cowboy agreed, unlimbering his rifle and aimed down the huge scope.

Striker ran forward sword drawn, as a sharp crack rang out across the street.

Hit in the head, the troll was dazed.

Striker raised his broadsword above his head as between them distance shrank.

The troll turned and ran towards them.

When Striker got close enough, he swung his sword in an expert slice, severing off one of the troll’s six arms.

The troll roared, pain etched on its face as its neck muscles bulged, its eyes widened and its brow furrowed. The troll brushed passed Striker and charged at the cowboy.

The cowboy noticed this and fired off another shot, hitting the troll once more right between the eyes.

Stunned, the troll closed the gap between itself and the cowboy. Stretching forth two large hands, it grabbed the cowboy, lifting him off the ground. The troll began to rapidly pound the ground with the cowboy’s body. Sickening crunching and squishing sounds echoed off the destroyed buildings as the cowboy died.

Striker, with blood splattered over his skin and bikini armour, watched in horror as the cowboy was pounded into the ground like a rag doll. Leaving the green arm where it had fallen next to him. Striker charged towards the troll and embedded the broadsword completely into the troll’s back. The sword passed through its heart like a hot knife through butter.

The troll dropped the cowboy and fell to its knees dying in a pool of its own blood.

Striker stood over the body of the troll and his eyes took in the sight of the broken and dead body of the cowboy. Arms and legs bent at unnatural angles, bones stuck out and the cowboy’s head was caved in, oozing blood and brain. Striker reached out and grabbed the broadsword and pulled it from the troll’s back. Covered in blood Striker walked over to the cowboy’s body and said a quick prayer. Standing he wiped the blood off his forehead and it came off sticky. He raised it to his nose and, the smell of iron and sweat filled his nostrils. The sticky blood ran down his fingers before drying. This is a little too real. What is going on here? Did I just witness a real death?


Displayed on a large screen, the busty redhead prayed over the tattered remains of the cowboy. Three computer screens lit the room. A man sat in front of the screens who watched and frowned at the scene before him. On the left-hand screen a line of green text drew the man’s attention as it scrawled across the screen.

He chided into his headset microphone. “Gaby be nice.”

The line of text stopped briefly and then continued.

“Better,” he approved.

After another line of text scrawled, he chuckled to himself in response.

“We can’t be ready for human testing already?” he questioned, musing to himself.

A line of text on the screen indicated an affirmative.

“Do you have subjects in mind?” he continued, raising an eyebrow.

The screen in front of him flicked and a face of an ethereal woman coalesced on the screen smiling sinisterly at the prospect of beginning the test.

“If you think we are ready for human trials, we can go ahead,” the man mused more to himself than to Gaby.

“What traits do we need for our test subjects?” he asked.

Gaby responded with a list of traits running down the screen.

He leaned forward and perused the screen.

He raised his eyebrows at the list. “We can’t get everything in one person; some contradict each other.”

Gaby responded with a single query asking on how many she could test.

“Hmm, I believe you could pull this off with two people,” he mused.

Green words flew across the screen, and then scrolled down, a profile and playing statistics.

“I believe he would work out nicely,” he commented, looking at the profile of the cowboy who had just been brutally killed.


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