A Simple Twist, Part 6
"Clouds on the Horizon"

Thunder resounded throughout the house, causing fourteen year old Karla Rage to wince. 'C'mon, Karla. You're almost fifteen now. Scared of a little thunder?' a small voice nagged from the back of her mind.

She tiptoed down the hallway of the main house, sneaking her way toward her Uncle Benton's--'Uncle Ben' Karla thought, and snickered, visions of her unofficial relation hawking rice dancing through her head-- office. She quickly shook off her amusement, and with lingering giggles, poked her head through the door. The room was empty, as Karla knew, because she had just left her extended family watching 'The West Wing' in the lounge.

"Iris, it's me. Security access for Karla Rage. Password, Responsible use of resources." Karla rolled her eyes at the adult mentality. "I'm just here to use the computer."

"Acknowledged. Actions logged." Iris responded.

"Wait, wait! Oh, shoot." Karla slapped her hand against her forehead for forgetting the standard security protocols for the room. Muttering some choice words that would get her grounded for quite a while by her parents, she went about her task. Moving past Dr. Quest's desk, she went directly to where completed prototypes lay. Then she spotted it.

Sitting on the table sat a streamlined "Q", sleek and shiny, with inset buttons that created an organic feel to the lightweight piece of equipment. Styled in silver and gold, it was extremely cool looking.

Questworld Hardware, 2.0. Not scheduled to be on the market for another two years. It fit all the hardware of the 1.0 version into just the headpiece, with a wireless connection fast enough to preclude the built in optical drive that carried its predecessor's software. Unfortunately, its current incarnation also cost five times the original's price.

Karla grinned. 'It's good to have the president and designer of Quest Enterprises as my uncle.'

Karla picked up the prototype and was about to head for her room when:

"And just what do you think you're doing?" Meach asked, her voice coming from the speaker on the ceiling.

Karla winced again. "Ah, um, er..." she stuttered.

"How eloquent." Meach responded, with a grin in her voice. "Now, I assume by the fact that it took you eight minutes, forty-seven seconds to walk down a twenty foot hallway that you're trying to keep your actions a secret, so I take it that you are not authorized to take that Questnet package in your hand?"

"Um, no, but-"

"So should I call your parents and the Quests to this location?" Meach continued, still with a teasing tone in her voice which Karla missed in her panic.

"Meach, please? I'm just going to give it a spin... Dr. Quest was showing it to us earlier and he said it was perfectly up to and exceeding spec and fully functional so it'll be safe and I don't have even the 1.0 version yet because Dad insists that he'll give it to me as soon as he's done with it but he's been hogging it _forever_ and-"

"Karla, calm down. Sensors show that your heart rate is accelerating rapidly."

Karla took a deep breath. "Meach, Pleeeeeeese?" Karla pleaded, giving the nearest visual center her best puppy-dog eyes. Meach was silent for a moment, then gave in. "Oh, all right. But no mischief, or a report is going straight to every terminal in the compound."

"Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou! I would hug you if you had a corporeal body!" In its stead, she gave a quick peck to the nearest sensor panel. Then blushing because she just kissed the wall, she ran through the house, down the short covered path to the second house, and into her room.

"Kids." Meach said, dimming the lights in Dr. Quest's office, echoing the sentiments that the four adults in the lounge were thinking at the teen blur that ran past them.


Hadji Singh sighed, wiping the sweat from his brow and sinking into his favorite chair. Last week he was contacted in Questworld about a proposed hit on a local terrorist group's treasury, a much larger undertaking then he had ever even thought about before.

Shifting in his seat, he winced, and started bandaging a cut he received when being grazed a bullet when he pulled off the theft a few hours before.

He pondered the operation. Whoever contacted him was well-informed and well-equipped. Possibly the only reason Hadji was able to succeed at all had something to do with the echoing gunfire that rang out from the entrance of the terrorist building, some hundred meters and several floors below the treasury room. Hadji had managed to virtually empty the room of funds into a small robotic aircraft that his benefactors provided before one of the terrorists with a semi-automatic came upon him and he had to make a break for it.

He got away cleanly, rendezvousing with the robotic container a few miles from the building. It's communications screen came to life, calculating the contents of its hold. It would be deposited into a Swiss bank account and then 75 percent of it would be transferred into Hadji's account. Even the 25 percent that his benefactor's received was a mind-boggling amount, but
Hadji's take was staggering.

Hadji rubbed his temples, trying to relieve the pressure building there. He knew he could do a lot of good with that money, especially since a majority of it he would donate anonymously to a number of charities that he knew were legitimate. But he was still bothered by his mysterious sponsor. He didn't like working with people he didn't know, and thus couldn't trust. Everything
he did tonight was flawless (excepting the bullet) and he was untraceable and unrecognizable, thanks to the top quality stealth equipment he was provided. Just another thing that might put him in their debt, whoever they were.

Hadji sighed again. 'This is not good. Not good at all.'

His watch alarm went off. 'Oh, shoot. I'm late to meet Jessie and Jonny! And I haven't been able to call Lesli for days! She's going to kill me!'

Deciding to try and placate his girlfriend (who could hurt him physically, while his friends could only hurt him virtually) he picked up the phone and hit the speed dial, ready to beg.


Jonny and Jessie were waiting in a lounge in Questworld, waiting for their friend. At the moment, they were deep in discussion about a new Graffiti game recently released by Sega, and whether it was wrongly influencing kids who played it. Jessie was also trying to act like she wasn't too into staring into Jonny's blue eyes. As always, Jonny was oblivious.

Despite being a third generation artificial intelligence, or maybe because of it, Jonny had many of the limitations of a normal human teenager. As such, once he learned of his uniqueness among the crowds of people logged into Questworld, he had hidden his special abilities, including intuitive control of the virtual landscape. Not even his closest friends in Questworld, Hadji and Jessie, knew that he was not able to just log off into the real world. He existed wholly in virtual reality, but he had the human need to fit in.

"Oh, hey!" Jessie exclaimed. "Kris told me they're going to be screening that Steven Spielberg flick over in the Entertainment zone. Supposedly it was Stanley Kubrick's pet project. Want to go see it?"

Jonny, knowing all too well the subject of "A.I.", the movie Jessie was talking about, smiled uncomfortably. "Um, sure Jess. We'll ask Hadji when he comes around."

Jessie's face fell imperceptibly, but before she could respond, someone's voice broke in.

"Do I know you?" A petite blond had come up to Jonny and asked, brow furrowed.

Jonny turned to the newcomer. "Uh, I don't think so..."

"You look really familiar for some reason... Oh well. Hi, I'm Karla."
"I'm Jonny. This is Jessie." Jonny responded with a friendly smile.
"Hi." Jessie said with an expression that was not-as-friendly.
"Jonny, huh?" Karla said, something pulling at her memory. "I could have sworn I've seen you before... Anyway, hi. What is there to do around here? It's my first time on the International Questnet."

"There's tons of stuff around. Right now we're waiting for a friend of ours, but once he comes on, we'll probably try some games in the Action district. You're welcome to wait with us and then we can show you around..." Jonny offered.
Karla glanced at Jessie. "Are you sure you guys don't mind? I wouldn't want to intrude."
Jessie opened her mouth but Jonny beat her to it. "Oh, it's cool. The more the merrier!"
Jessie sighed and gave in. "Sure!" she said, trying to be enthusiastic.
"Maybe I can get more competition this time. Heaven knows I get no challenge from Jonny here..."
Jonny's grin never wavered. "Suuure, Jess. And who got the most points in the last capture the flag game?"
"That was mostly Bandit, if you'll remember correctly. That is how he got his name, remember?" Jessie retorted.
Karla grinned. She knew Questworld was going to be fun. She sat down next to Jonny, across from Jessie. "Bandit?"
"Oh, Bandit's my 'dog.' He's prowling over there somewhere. I think he's looking for our friend, who's pretty late."
"I didn't know that we could have pets in Questworld..." Karla said, puzzled. She thought Uncle Benton told her most of the features of the system that would interest her.
Jessie answered, "Me neither. He seems to be unique in that respect," she said, jerking her thumb at Jonny's now-blushing figure. Jessie grinned, Bandit was a really lovable pup, and a valued member of their team. Her grin wavered a bit when she noticed the intent stare that Karla was giving Jonny, who was talking about Questworld features that had popped up nearby.
'Blondes.' Jessie thought with an inward sigh, before joining the conversation.