Pastel Mirror: Patch

Patch v1.19.1.6.5

BZZZT

New York had seen better days. Skyscrapers were little more than burnt out ruins since the bombings; anything of even remote use had long since been scavenged and salvaged. Traffic, such as it was, no longer existed. Automobiles served as bullet riddled barricades, hurdles, occasional hidey holes, and more often, coffins, after the war spilled out to the streets. And the subway? Fuck the subway. The subway was where people went to die. When the majority of the machines gained sentience, that was pretty much it for the subway.

Then there were the Hell Drums, the little riff that played over the speakers all around Queens- god knew who set them up. When the Hell Drums started playing, the neo-savages poured out of their rubble huts and hovels, ready to sacrifice anyone they could get their hands on. Fortunately, most of the neos were so mutated that their limbs were more akin to tumorous masses, and they weren’t that smart to boot. If they got ahold of you, though…Casey had almost been captured by neo savages, and she preferred not to think of it.

No one knew who started the war that ended the world, or why, but that wasn’t important anymore. The only thing that mattered was survival: The Living Wyrms versus the Dead Apple. Man against Mutant. Green Faction vs. Yellow Faction. Caught up in a war for territory, resources, and survival, your ability to think quickly on your feet, and your accuracy with a gun was more important than your ability to make a spreadsheet for a sales report. Casey liked it that way.

She looked over to Dan, decked out in blood-and mud-specked urban camouflage, stolen off the body of some unlucky yellow faction. Ahead of them were three more such unfortunates, all scavenging the wreckage, trying to beat the Hell drums, same as them. The difference? They weren’t going to survive.

“You ready?” she asked. Dan nodded, a thin grim smile on his lips. “Then let’s do this.” Like the samurai of legend, she grabbed the hilt of her trusty blade- Mournsinger, she called it- and charged into battle, blade still sheathed.

Like so many deadly skirmishes before this one, Casey let out her own particular brand of war cry. “I am the very model of a modern Major-General, I’ve information, vegetable, animal, and mineral-!” Patter songs were better for battle, anyways. High tempo. Blood Pumping. And they just caught the enemy off guard.

Their heads turned toward her, not quite sure if she were a member of a rival faction or some bizarre, possibly mentally unstable new breed of neo. Meanwhile, Dan swung around their flank. He was faster than Casey, but that allowed him to circle ‘round while she charged straight ahead. The moment of impact on their targets would be in almost perfect sync. Dan wasn’t nearly as showy as she was, but that’s what made them a great couple. Her theatricality complimented and provided cover for his stealth.

Too late, the yellow faction maggots drew their own blades, glowing golden in the twilight. Neat effect, honestly. Casey ducked low and drew out Mournsinger. Green energy poured out in the shape of a katana from the hilt. “Wha-?” Casey said out loud as she halved her first opponent. Dan’s own sword impaled the furthest enemy, its own blade something more out of science fantasy than science fiction.

No blood. That was new. Normally Dan’s strikes were real gushers. What was going on?

Together they finished the final target. Under most circumstances, this was where they started looting bodies and making their way back towards Manhattan in a mad dash to beat the Hell Drums, but Casey was decidedly preoccupied.

“What the hell?” she asked, turning the energy blade over in her hand. “What the hell is this?” she reiterated.

Looking at his own laser sword, Dan replied, “Looks like it’s a new patch, or something.”

“My sword is green, Dan!” Casey was decidedly not happy. “Glowing energy swords don’t mesh with post-apocalyptic wastelands.”

As if ignoring her complaint, Dan commented, “I think I read somewhere that some people died a few days ago playing this. The AVR was too much for them. They died in game and died in real life.”

“So they’re ruining our immersion because some people’s brains are gullible?” Casey sniffed.

“I dunno,” Dan said, “I kinda like the glowy laser swords.”

“Can we have this talk in the real world?” Casey asked. “My immersion is already broken.”

“Sure.”

BZZZT

Casey took off the Infinitech AVR thinking cap and got up from her spot on the couch. The ringing went out of her ears about a second later, as Dan took off his own and got up off the recliner. “What’s the problem?” he asked. “We were still kicking ass.”

Kicking ass they were indeed. What they were specifically kicking ass in was “Crysis”: The flagship program for Infinitech’s new Altered Virtual Reality thinking cap technology. The virtual tech had set the world on fire, with feats of techno-neurological chicanery that made Gene Rodenberry and George Lucas’s dreams seem quaint by comparison. Over ninety percent of the world owned an AVR thinking cap, and they used it for anything from games to business meeting conference calls, all held in virtual reality via the comfort of your own brain.

Casey wasn’t entirely sure how it worked, beyond having to chug a little nanite filled bottle that came with her cap. There was something about how the nanites nested harmlessly in a person’s brain, and transmitted and received signals via the thinking cap. It sounded dangerous, but every agency under the sun had scrutinized the party.

It really helped the immersion experience though. When Casey put on her thinking cap, the data, backstory, and even “memories” of her character were beamed directly into her head. For a short time, she actually felt like she was another person. This data- and that’s what it was- never actually overwrote her own memories, but it was definitely a more intense feeling than anything playing simple video games caused.

It was for this reason why Casey, consummate gamer, thrill seeker, and show-tunes enthusiast that she was, had been so disturbed by the drastic change in the game’s software. “Yeah,” Casey conceded, “but I was kinda hoping for post-apocalyptic kung-fu sword fight. Not off-brand Star Wars.”

“Patches happen,” Dan shrugged. “There was a glitch with the data, and the easiest work around was adding a little more realism to it to make it safer for everyone.”

Casey opened her mouth in rebuttal, and stopped herself. Was she really about to advocate real danger in the name of cheap virtual thrills? “Yeah. I guess you’re right. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. A little bit of fantasy.”

“Come on,” Dan said, “Let’s go to bed. We’ve got work in the morning.”

Casey crossed her arms and pouted a little. “Fine,” she huffed. Then, to make herself feel better, she rattled off, “I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical, from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical.”

“Let’s just go to bed,” Dan pleaded.

BZZZT

Patch v2.19.3.8.15.15.12.

BZZZT

The laser sword swung down on Casey’s head. “Cheap move!” she called blocking the swing, and pushing her attacker off balance. “At least wait till I’ve had a chance to log in before you-“ the gamer girl stopped.

“This is new,” she said. “What ruins are these?” They weren’t ruins though. Instead of dingy gray and smoke-filled ruins of a post-apocalyptic New York City, Casey found herself fending off attacks in a brightly lit but incredible disheveled little room. School desks littered the area. A whiteboard had black scorch marks where laser katanas had been deflected.

A school. Instead of the Helldrums, the Bing-Bong of a Xylophone playing discordantly chimed through overhead speakers. Just past the doorway, other students ran through the halls, their laser swords humming, hungry for the flesh of opponents.

It was a school, but it was also a warzone.

She parried another strike at her opponent- the yellow sword buzzing harmlessly off her green one. “Please…newb, I’m trying to think.” A third attack from her desperate foe, and Casey lost her patience. They were in what was supposed to be the common area. With incredible speed, she sliced through the mangy yellow faction cur…and shook her head in disappointment as the body dissipated and scattered into nothingness, like a Lego sculpture knocked over to the ground.

“Pixels?” she scoffed. Talk about going forward by going backwards.

Still. New setting. And a blood…er…pixel-bath…in the middle of a school. That had potential. Tre-edgy. That almost made up for the laser sword. Time to work the playground. “My oh myyyyyy” she sang out in the hallway, dragging her sword along the walls, leaving a scorched trail behind her. “That word’s so moronic. I could crryyyyy….I want words that lame. Semper fiiiiii, I feel supersonic!” It was her own little call to “come out to play”.

BZZZT

Dan tapped her on the shoulder as the scorched school melted away from the inside of her brain. “Casey, wake up.”

“Huh?” Casey asked. “What’s up?”

“It’s almost eleven.” Something in Dan’s voice had a hint of urgency.

“So?”

“It’s a school night.” There was more than a hint of condescension in Dan’s tone. “And playing that game doesn’t count as sleep.”

Casey bit her lip. It was no use arguing with Dan. She’d have to settle for going to her regular classroom, before tearing up the virtual one. Maybe there’d be a mod at some point in the future where she could tear up her own school. That’d be kinda cool.

“Now, young lady,” Dan all but growled, sending Casey to her room.

“Life is random and unfair,” she muttered. “Life is pandemonium.”

BZZZT

Patch v3.5.19.3.15.18.20.

BZZZT

Laser sword in hand, and ready for the kill, Casey charged at her target across the street. Crysis had gotten so popular among her age demographic that the map had expanded with the latest update. Tearing up a school was too crowded, and so now would-be hooligans (such as herself) were also given an adjoining playground and park to fight to the virtual death in.

“Hyaaaaah!” she screamed, running towards the yellow team player.

THUNK!

Like a dumb puppy that hadn’t figured out how the pet store’s glass doors worked, Casey’s face was left smooshed and pressed uncomfortably against the air. “Forshfield?” she said, more to herself than anyone else.

“Noob!” Her target taunted. “You gotta get safe passage.”

How was she supposed to get safe passage? The AVR wasn’t giving her the exact updates like it usually did. Using her laser sword as a pointer, the yellow faction cur motioned to a statue about thirty feet away. Only it wasn’t a statue. Statues didn’t move.

From the distance, Casey could still tell how big the thing was.

“I gotta fight THAT?!” Casey shouted, more to herself than her chosen enemy, who was now putting distance between the two of them. Then Casey framed it from another perspective. “I get ta fight that!” THIS was what AVR was all about: getting to do the impossible things that you couldn’t do in real life. Escapism at its best.

Glowing green katana in hand, she marched herself up. “Oooh we ain’t gotta barrel of money, we may be ragged and funny-“ She’d kill this NPC by slicing through its ankles, then laugh as the thing pixelated into nothingness.

“Safe passage?” the giant cyclops asked, its voice rumbling.

Casey came to a halt. Singing her approach might be a good intimidation factor against other players, but it probably wasn’t a good idea against an unknown enemy NPC. “Excuse me?”

“Safe passage?” The titan repeated again. “Does little one need help crossing the street?”

Seriously?! Crossing the street? Little one? (Come to think of it, she couldn’t argue against the little one part, comparatively thinking.) She was about to protest, but then she thought of the smarmy little twat calling her a “noob” on the other side of the street.

“Why yes,” she said reaching up and taking the giant’s massive finger, “I do need help crossing the street.”

BZZZT

“I’m going for a walk”, Dan said. “I need some real exercise. Wanna come?” Casey scratched the back of her head where the thinking cap was moments ago. Could people go bald from wearing thinking caps too often? Immediately, she dismissed the thought. No way would Infinitech put out a product with that major of a side effect. “You comin’?” Dan repeated.

Ever competitive, Casey opted to answer by rushing for the door. Then, like hitting a brick wall, she froze. The thought of going out alone and unprotected terrified her. Agoraphobia at its finest. Pulse racing and a cold sweat breaking on her brow, Casey had to stop and close her eyes.

“Um…one question,” she said, voice trembling “Can we hold hands?” Dan laughed at that, but it was good naturedly. He gave his answer by taking her hand in his and leading her out the door.

And together they sang, “We’ll be walkin’ along, singin’ a song’, siiiiide by siiiide!”

Patch 4.16.15.20.20.25

BZZZT

“Casey…” Danny called out, a tinge of sternness in his voice, “Are you doing your homework or are you playing games in there?” From her bedroom, Casey looked at the addition and subtraction sheets she’d torn out of her workbook spread out on the mattress. Each sheet was about half done…so that meant she was about half done with her homework…right? Right. And the story she had to read didn’t have a worksheet, so she didn’t really have to do that, right? Right. Michelle would tell her what happened in the story on the bus ride tomorrow morning anyways.

In her hands was the thinking cap and an itch to see if she could beat Richie in a Crysis sword duel. “Almost done,” Casey called back through her locked door. Half-way was “almost”, right? Of course it was.

“Mmmmhmmm…” Danny called back, a sound that meant ‘I don’t quite believe you, but I can’t prove it.’ “Just make sure you go to bed. That AVR stuff will rot your brain if you do it too much.” Casey rolled her eyes. Danny played AVR games just as much as she did. He just did it before he picked her up from school.

“Yup yup,” Casey called back, turning the AVR thinking cap over in her hands.

“What was that?” Danny called out.

Again, she rolled her eyes. “Yes, Danny. I love you.” Big brothers were such a pain. “Aaaaahhhwww,” she faked a yawn. “In fact, I think I’m gonna go to bed,” she said, lowering the cap onto her head. “Right. About. N-“

BZZZT

“What the heck?” Casey demanded, looking at her hands. They were glowing green for some reason. Gone were the super cool laser swords that they had been dueling and swashbuckling with. Now their palms just doubled as night lights.

Richie’s own palms were a fluorescent gold. “Must be a new patch, or something” Richie said, looking around. The virtual school building, once a wasteland of burning laser sword marks was pristine. Desks were all perfectly in a row, now, a virtual sunshine outdoors. What remained was the sound of heavy footsteps and shouting as players ramped themselves into action.

Casey touched a heavy oak teacher’s desk, hoping that the outline of her palm would be singed onto the desk. Acid fire touch; how boss would that be? She was disappointed. “What are we supposed to do?” she wondered aloud, looking at her useless green hand. “Slap box?” A mischevious grin came over Richie. Regret settled into the pit of Casey’s stomach. Getting smacked in the face by her friend seemed a lot less than fun. “No way. You wouldn’t hit a girl, would you?”

“Technically, I’m not hitting you if it’s AVR, is it?” Richie raised up his hand, palm open, licking his lips. Casey clenched in fists, satisfied that the green light was glowing through the cracks between her fingers. Richie’s eyes widened a bit when he saw the fists and he lowered his hands. “I’m kidding! I’m kidding!”

They stared at each other for a long hot minute before Casey unclenched her fists. Despite the intense nature of the stare down, Casey was very much aware of the sound of happy children playing all around them: clomping feet going up and down stairs, and squeals coming from outside.

“Weird new patch, huh?” Richie asked. Together they went over to a nearby window.

A long, not-quite exasperated sigh leaked out of Casey. “Looks like they’ve still got the street crossing thing.” Then she added, “I was hoping they would have gotten rid of that one.”

“Why?” Richie asked. “The hand-holding thing makes it more realistic.”

Casey’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I was just hopin’ to get away from reality for a bit. Sometimes it sucks not being a grown-up. My big brother bosses me around.”

Her friend joined in on the sulking. “Yeah,” he said. “mine too. What about your Mommy and Daddy?”

“They…” Casey started and then came to a crashing halt. “Huh…I don’t know, now that I think about it.”

Richie cocked his head to the side. “Huh…me neither.” Again, there was silence as they stared out the school window together, their silence contrasting with the shouts and giggles of the other kids. “

“I think the grown-ups are the only ones who get the super cool games.” Casey broke the silence. “Kids are just stuck with Crysis.”

“Yeah.” Richie stretched his hand out. “Bein’ grown-up is gonna be awesome.” Casey felt his hand come down on her shoulder.

BZZZT

Casey looked around the playground. Kids her own age were in the most heated battle of tag ever. Jungle Gyms and monkey bars were being turned into mountainous metal escape routes. Kids were shimmying up swing sets to avoid each other’s touch and flipping down to get the drop on one another.

“What in the?” Casey exclaimed. This wasn’t quite laser sword fighting, but there was some serious ninja stuff going on here. What was that fancy word for running and flipping all over the place? “Parker!” she yelled. That was it!

Delight turned into wide eyed wonder when she saw a green handed kid tag a yellow handed kid. One moment, the yellow kid was there, in jeans and sneakers and bejeweled t-shirt, the next she had vanished in a flash of blinding yellow light.

That’s when she connected the dots. “Teleport Tag!” she squealed. With that, she sprinted towards the nearest crossing point to put distance between Richie and her. No telling when someone would tag him and he’d pop up here.
“A fish is an animal that lives in a brook,” she sang, “it can’t write its name or read a book.”

BZZZT

Her session out of time, Casey came back to the real world and found herself dressed in her hot pink Barbie pajamas. Even in the complete and utter darkness, her jammies seemed to glow. She stole a look at the palm of her hand to make sure it wasn’t glowing; this might be some new patch, for all she knew.

Her hand did not glow, and thus she reasoned she was back in the real world. Game Over. But what time was it? A strange crinkle followed her as she stumbled toward her bedroom door. Non-glowing hands clumsily probing, Casey found the light switch, squinting as the light flicked on.

After her vision cleared, she glanced on the wall across from her bed. The little hand of her kitty-cat clock was on the…nine! It was nine o’clock. It was waaaaaay past her bedtime. She made a move back for her bed so that she could peel back the comforter, and heard the same quiet rustling when she took a step.

Stopping, she looked down at the floor. Perhaps a piece of paper was stuck to her foot. She moved again. Crinkle. Step. Crinkle. Step. Crinkle. Step, step. Crinkle, crinkle.

Finally, she noticed that something felt strange about her panties. Checking first, as if someone could see her, Casey pulled out the waistband of her jammies. “Goodnites,” she declared. But she didn’t need…oh wait…she was already a little wet. Maybe she did need bed wetting pants, come to think of it.

Something still bugged her, though. Casey was very sure that she had put the thinking cap on in regular clothes. That meant someone would have had to have changed her into her jammies. Looking over to the thinking cap, still on the pillow where she’d laid her head, was a sticky note that answered her question.

It read: “We’ll talk about this when you wake up. Sweet dreams.” Then there was the kind of fancy squiggly writing that grownups used when they were writing their names. It looked like D-a-something-something-y. Danny maybe? That wasn’t right. Casey didn’t know anybody named Danny. Grown-ups sometimes called her Daddy “Dan”, though.

Daddy! Of course! It was Daddy who had come in and dressed her for bed! Daddy…who had distinctly told her not to play with the thinking cap so much.

A lump settled into the bottom of Casey’s stomach. She was going to be in so much trouble tomorrow. Defeated and dreading school in the morning, Casey turned the light back off and crawled into bed, crinkling all the way. As her eyes closed, she sang to herself: “To fool the people is it’s only thought, and though it’s slippery, it still gets caught.”

BZZZZT

Patch 5. 14.1.16

BZZZZT

“This,” Casey panted. “Is…too…hard…”

“Whaddya…mean…?” Jane asked, also panting.

Both girls were bent over, their hands on their knees, with their tongues practically waving out of their mouths like dogs in heat.

“This is…” Casey began, “supposed…to be…a game…isn’t it?” To make her point, she held up her single, green glowing hand. Only one hand glowed at a time lately. Casey thought it had been a glitch, but as far as she could tell from talking to other kids at school, it was supposed to be a feature.

In an attempt to make the game more of a challenge, the latest patch made it so that you could tag an opponent with one hand, but not the other. If you tagged someone when it wasn’t your team’s turn to be “It” or if you tagged them with the wrong hand, you lost. Not exactly a “Crysis” but whatever. Right now it was the right hand. Sometimes it’d be the left. Either that or she was forgetting how to tell the difference. That didn’t seem likely though, being in Kindergarten as she was. She totally knew her left from her right. Totally.

Around them, the sounds of pattering foot steps echoed through the empty sim hallway. Likely the yellow team. The game was afoot. But Casey couldn’t muster the energy to do much more than walk.

“Should we…go get ‘em?” Jane said. It might’ve been a whisper, or it might’ve been that she was too winded to talk louder.

Casey started to ask, “Why am I…?”

“So tired?” Jane finished the sentence. “I think it’s…a feature,” she said.

“Feature?”

After another ten seconds of heavy panting, both girls were able to stand up right. Their hands were starting to blink. That meant that soon it’d be their turn to run away from the yellow team instead of toward.

“It’s like…” Jane paused, no longer out of breath, just “to make it more challenging. More realistic, too.”

Casey pouted her lip out. “I don’t want THAT kind of realism. I want explosions and junk.”

“But this feels really real,” Jane pointed out. “If our hands weren’t glowing, we wouldn’t know we were at preschool.”

Casey didn’t catch the “preschool” part, but instead honed in on the lack of flash the current game had. “Yeah,” she said. “But this is basically virtual tag. The cool part about virtual reality and video games and stuff is that you can do things that you’d never be able to do in real life. If I wanted to get tired while playing tag, I could just play real tag.”

Jane held her chin for a second. “Good point. I’m gonna go play real tag.” Jane faded from the scene, becoming not so much invisible, but see through- like cellophane- as she removed the thinking cap from her head in the real world.

“Wha’?!” Casey yelped. “No! That’s not what I meant!” She dove through the still vanishing silhouette of her classmate, her arms pinwheeling as she crashed to the AVR rendered floor.

BZZZZT

“NO!”

Casey called out in the darkened classroom, sitting straight up, cold sweat dripping down her brow. All around her, the other boys and girls slumbered peacefully on their nap mats, blankets drawn up to their chests and their thinking caps still on their heads. Casey’s own thinking cap had teetered off and came to rest where her head had been moments before.

A pair of long and slender legs strode up besides the now wide-awake girl. “Everything all right?” Teacher asked. “Did you have a bad game?”

“Huh?” Casey said, quite confused. Something was off, and it wasn’t just her thinking cap. “Where’s Jane?” She shifted her weight. Were her panties thicker or something? It felt like she was wearing several layers of Goodnites all on top of each other…and they were wet, to boot…all of them.

Teacher squatted down, patting the little girl on the shoulder. “Casey,” Miss Teacher explained. “There’s no one in our class with that name. You were probably talking to another little girl in another class.”

“Oh yeah,” Casey said, realizing how silly she sounded. That was one of the points of AVR. To be able to play with other kids all over the world.

“Do you want to go back to sleep?” Teacher asked. “Maybe you can go tag Jane again.”

The little girl frowned, feeling the squishiness in her bottom. “No thank you, ma’am. She’s gone.”

A strong, gentle hand rubbed Casey’s back, not so much trying to soothe Casey back to sleep, but to show empathy. Casey appreciated that. “Well, if you’re up, you’re up.” Teacher decided. She took Casey by the hand and stood up. Casey followed the lead and started to stand up. “Let’s get you changed before the others, and you can help me color while we wait for the others to wake up.”

Changed?! As Casey rose to her feet, her Velcro laced sneakers muffled by nap mat, she felt her underwear sag down towards the ground, almost like it wanted to lay back down for naptime with the crumpled blanket on the floor. “Where are we going?” Casey asked Teacher in a hushed whisper, her neck craning up a bit, even though she didn’t need to to look the grown-up in the eye.

“Bathroom,” Teacher said, her voice an equally hushed whisper. “We always get you cleaned up after nap time, sleepy head.”

“Oh…yeah,” Casey said, feeling like the kid who didn’t get the joke but laughed anyways.

By “bathroom”, Teacher had really meant a tiny little room with just one toilet and a sink. It was barely big enough for two people- one kid and one big person- to comfortably fit in; yet in they went. “Pull down your pants like a big girl,” Teacher said, her instructions echoing off both the bathroom tile and around Casey’s brain.

“What?” Casey asked, feeling a sudden surge of anxiety. Teacher wanted her to what?!

“Be a big girl and pull your pants down for me,” Teacher repeated herself. “Or do you need me to help you?” A beat passed. “Are you sure you don’t wanna go back down and finish your nap?” A lump forming in her throat, Casey slipped her thumbs into the waistband of her teal leggings and bent over as she shimmied her pants down past her ankles.

The thing left drooping from her hips was hideous. It puffed out like a sponge that had had too much to drink, the smell of her own urine mixed with perfume suddenly very, very present in her mind. The lame baby cartoon characters, all in sleepy little night caps, snoozing on crescent moons and their faces distorted by swollen up pulp didn’t make the white-tinged-with-yellow garment look any better. Awful. An abomination. It was kind of cold, too.

As Casey stood there, almost mesmerized by the site of the awful thing she’d apparently peed in, Teacher wasted no time. She grabbed the tapes of Casey’s diaper (eww….that was a gross thought) and ripped them off one at a time with one hand and caught the diaper between Casey’s legs as it fell; throwing it away in a nearby wastebasket without even bothering to ball it up.

Embarrassed, Casey hid her face in her hands. What the…? Casey pulled them back when she caught something out of the corner of her eye. Why was her right thumb so wrinkly and red? Had she been sucking on it?

A cold, wet cloth found its way into her upturned hands. “Here,” Teacher said. “Clean up.”

“Clean up?” Casey asked, looking at the wet wipe. “Aren’t you supposed to…?”

Teacher snorted. “Nope,” she said. “You’re a big girl. You can wipe yourself.” Brooking no argument, Teacher turned around and exited the bathroom, giving Casey a moment of privacy.

She shuddered at the cold touch of the wipe, at first, but then felt a kind of itchy tingling down below. The reality at what she’d done was only now beginning to sink in. She’d peed all over herself, and if she missed a spot, she’d get an itchy rash all over. Using the wipe to get into every nook and cranny of her delicate skin, Casey began to sing to distract herself and keep a kind of rhythm with her work. “Cellophane,” she sang, “Mister Cellophane, should have been my name, Mister Cellophane. Cause you canlook right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m-“

“That’s very pretty,” Teacher said, her sweet voice causing Casey to jump, booming as it was off the quiet of the bathroom wall.

Casey threw the wipe away and bent her head. “Thank you,” she mumbled.

“Take off your pants,” Teacher told her.

“What?”

“How else are you going to step into your Pull-Ups?” Teacher asked, holding something much thinner than a diaper in her hands.

“Phew,” Casey said, seeing the welcome sight of the light lavender colored training pants. “I thought that was gonna be another diaper.”

“You’re getting to be a big girl,” Teacher assured her. “You only wear diapers at nap time, silly goose.”

BZZZZT

Patch v.6.5.1.20

BZZZZT

“Cut the blue wire.”

“I’m not cutting the blue wire.”

“Why not? Cut the blue wire.”

“It’s never the blue wire.”

“That’s what they want you to think.”

“They want me to think it because I’m right.”

Casey and Bobby were on the pre-school floor, playing their favorite game: Cry Sis. It was a box with a count down timer that started the moment you lifted the lid. Then you and a friend had to cut the wires with the special safety snippers in the right order. The real trick to it was that the order that the wires had to be cut changed every time, and if you so much as brushed against the wrong piece, it was enough to lose the game and send a giant burst of silly string into the air.

A bomb toy: So big-kid. So cool. Casey couldn’t believe that Teacher let her play with it. Daddy would have a fit if he knew. Good thing Daddy didn’t know.

Why was it called Cry Sis? Casey had no clue. Probably because it made somebody’s baby sister cry when the silly string blew up.

At present, Bobby was doing everything he could to try and psych Casey out. Easier said than done, though. Casey never lost at these games.

“Don’t touch the sides,” Bobby said, pretending to advise her while trying to unnerve, yet only succeeding in mildly annoying her.

Leveling the play snippers at her friend, Casey said, “Don’t worry. I won’t. See how steady my hands are?” With the ease of a surgeon she held the snippers perfectly parallel to the ground. “Now hush before I run out of time.”

Down, down, down, the snippers went, aiming for the red wire, the good ol’ red wire.

“Do you have to potty?”

Casey froze. Damnit. She kinda did. It was one of those things where if she wasn’t thinking about it, it wouldn’t bother her, but now that she was… “I hate you so much,” she stated flatly. “You are such a meanie head.”

“You could always go potty,” Bobby suggested, thumbing to the open bathroom door in the classroom. Teacher always made sure the bathroom door was open if nobody was on the potty, so that little ones who were still learning could just run if they needed to. Casey was one such little one.

Casey stared at the countdown timer. It was hard to tell what the little blinking lines meant (she hadn’t learned all of her numbers yet), but she had the distinct feeling that if she went to the potty, she’d run out of time and lose the game. As if reading her thoughts, Bobby said, “Orrrrr, you could have an accident.”

The world went side to side as Casey rattled her head with a resounding “no.” They were big kids. They weren’t supposed to wet their Pull-Ups on purpose like they were diapers. Diapers were for babies, and Pull-Ups were for “Justin Case,” whoever that was.

“Then you better go.”

Gritting her teeth, and ignoring the now painful buildup in her bladder, Casey reached down with the snippers and went straight for the red wire. Good ol’ red. “Pardon me boy,” she whisper-sang to herself, steadying her hands and her nerves, “Is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?”

Just.

One.

Snip.

BZZT

“Well darn.” Bobby crossed his arms a few moments later, snippers still in his hand, and silly string dripping off his face. “I thought I had you for a minute there.”

Casey had the biggest smirk on her face. “For a minute, I thought you did too.”

“Really?”

“Nah,” Casey giggled. “I’m great at this stuff. The bestest.”

It had been an intense game to be sure. Literally down to the wire. It had been so unbelievably intense that Casey had…had…oh no!

Casey raised herself from her spot on the floor, praying that the papery, dry, crinkle meant that her training pants were still dry- or at least just a little bit wet. Looking down at the floor, she craned her neck as lifted her pastel pink dress to check the status of her Pull-Ups.

The sigh of relief was immediate and audible. “And I still have all my stars,” she said. She looked at Bobby, clad in overalls. “What about you?”

Bobby bit his lower lip, grinning sheepishly. “I’m probably wet.”

“Probably?” Casey snorted. Then she remembered that being in overalls, Bobby probably couldn’t check as easy. That’s what he meant…probably.

Her playmate was quick to disabuse her of this notion. “Mommy and I are taking a break,” Bobby said.

The little girl felt like a parrot, but she couldn’t help herself. “Taking a break?”

Bobby spread his legs wide and pointed to the inseam of his pants. All up the legs and into the crotch were little brass buttons. Casey’s eyes went wide from shock. If she weren’t such a big kid she would have had an accident right then and there. “I’m not wearing my big boy pants,” Bobby said, blushing.

“But that means you’re a…you’re a…” Casey just couldn’t say it. She was too embarrassed for her friend.

“A baby?” Bobby asked. “So?”

“A dirty cheater!” Casey shouted. “You were tryin’ to get me to worry about going potty when you didn’t have to! No fair!” They both laughed at that.

Bobby picked himself up and waddled over to the computer table- the bulge of his wet diaper widening his gait- bringing back two of the fancy thinking caps. Teacher said that there were special educational games on there, with letters and everything. “Wanna try a different game?” he asked, slipping one over his head and offering the other one up.

“First I gotta go potty,” Casey said, finally remembering to let the hem of her dress cover her big kid undies. “But then you’re -“

BZZT

“Okay pumpkin,” Daddy said, slipping off the fancy thinking cap. “Game time’s over. You’ve had enough for one afternoon.”

Casey blinked. She’d just been at pre-school, hadn’t she? Or was that the game? Casey couldn’t tell anymore. The special “thinking cap” that played games with her was so fancy it got hard to tell when she was playing the game or not.

She looked around. Where were they? The light “walla-walla” of people talking softly all around them, coupled with the electronic buzzes and dings of pinball machines and old 2-d games filled her ears. An arcade? Smells of bread and cheese and tomato sauce permeated the air around her. A restaurant? Both?

“Wait a second…” Casey said, taking in the scene. “…this place is for little…” All around her, boys and girls her own age sat at tables with their Mommies and Daddies cooing and talking to them as if they were just dumb babies, and from the smiles on their collective faces, they were loving it. One girl, her hair pulled back into pigtails and face smeared with pizza sauce was clad only in a big disposable diaper as she bounced around in her high chair, her breasts bouncing with her while she clapped her hands and shoved more food into her mouth. But she was the same age as Casey. That meant….?

“No,” Casey whispered to herself. The little miss snapped her head down past her own (thankfully covered) breasts to examine the state of her own undies. She was still in the same dress she’d been wearing at school; that much had been real at least. But when she lifted up the hem of her dress, it wasn’t a Pull-Up that was staring up at her.

No stars. No fade-when-wet designs. No big kid decorations like Sophia the First; just Sesame Street characters. Two yellow tapes were very firmly and obviously on the landing zone; she didn’t even get the dignity of “easy tear sides” so that it looked more like big girl panties. Definitely a diaper.

She was only supposed to wear these when she was sleeping. But there were no pictures of cartoon characters dozing peacefully with little nightcaps and pillows. This was a daytime diaper. This was what ba-

Her own inner monologue was interrupted as a plastic tray slid into place, clicking as it separated her top half from her bottom. Frantically and still in a state of denial, Casey tried to bring her legs together, but found she couldn’t quite make her knees touch through the bulky padding. The diaper (not her diaper, though) was out of sight but far from out of mind.

“Dinner first,” Daddy said before stepping around to fasten a bib around her neck. . “Then we’ll play a little.”

A waitress gave Daddy a little wink as she dropped off a plate of undoubtedly microwaved lasagna. “She’s a real cutie,” the server said, indicating Casey. Daddy grinned as he stirred around the kiddie meal with a plastic fork. “Reminds me of my little girl at home.” Little girl? Little girl?! She was a big kid, darnit! She didn’t need to be fed or wear a bib, let alone a diaper!

There was so much wrong with this picture that Casey wasn’t sure where exactly to begin. Daddy made the decision for her, when he scooped up a heaping pile of pasta and cheese and began moving it along an invisible track straight for her mouth. “Open up. Here comes the choo-choo. Chugga chugga chugga…”

“Daddeeeeee,” Casey whined, “I’m a big girl. I can feed myself!”

Daddy stopped the fork train, and chuckled a bit. “Oh really?” he asked as if she had just said the cutest thing in the world. “Well okay, pumpkin, if you think you’re big enough, you give it a try.”

Carefully, and with deliberate slowness, he turned the fork around, offering Casey the handle. Using both hands, the big girl reached out and took the utensil. It wobbled and bobbed in her grip. So light on one end, and so heavy and clumsy on the other. The snippers for her game at preschool were so much easier.

Mouth and eyes wide open, Casey caught Daddy trying to hide his laughter behind his hands while she fed herself like a big girl. The lasagna didn’t even make it to her chin before the plastic fork went tumbling down onto her bib and sliding safely down on to the plastic try…maybe she wasn’t so big after all.

“But…but…”Casey stuttered. Where had she gone wrong? Maybe she was gripping the fork too hard. “Let me try again.”

“Oh, I think once is enough for tonight, baby.” Daddy said, reloading the fork. “I think your hands are still a little too shaky for forks, still.”

“But I diffuse bombs,” Casey insisted.

For the first time in a while, Daddy looked confused, like he didn’t quite understand. Then he stole a glance at the special cap he’d set aside on the table. “Oh, Casey,” he said, “that’s just an AVR game. In AVR’s you can do lots of things you can’t do in real life. Just because you can do all that neat stuff at daycare-“

“Preschool” Casey corrected him.

“Daycare,” Daddy insisted. “Just because you do that stuff at daycare, doesn’t mean you can do it in real life, yet.”

“But I’m not a baby!” Casey pressed, realizing just how much of a baby she sounded like. “I had Pull-Ups and everything!”

Daddy didn’t say anything. Instead, in reply, he bent over and his hands disappeared under the tray pinning Casey into her seat and under the hem of her dress. She felt the distinct squish as his finger pressed against the front of her diaper, giving it a little squeeze to be sure. “Sure feels like a wet diaper to me.”

He was right. But the Pull-Ups? Going potty? Beating Bobby at Cry Sis? Was that all just a part of the thinking cap game, too?

“Yeah, honey,” Daddy said, dangling a big pink diaper bag from off the floor, “I think we’re still a ways from getting rid of this.” Casey sulked, even as she felt another trickle enter her already wet diaper. She didn’t even feel it first. How in the world could she have managed to keep Pull-Ups dry? “I’ll change you right after dinner. Now open up. Here comes the choo-choo.”

Casey just blushed hot, barely coming to grips with the situation, and opened her mouth for the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

BZZZZT

Patch v.7.2.1.2.25

Casey sat at in the breakfast nook, playing with her pancakes, cutting the remains into smaller and smaller pieces until they resembled a kind of sugar-sweet mash more than flapjacks. They had long since passed that critical point where the cakes had absorbed the syrup, destroying any semblance of crisp fluffiness with butter and syrup on top. The desecrated pancake remains would, more than likely, find themselves in the garbage disposal. Playing with her food wasn’t the most “grown-up” thing in the world, but it was easily the most childish thing she’d done in a bit, and it was a glorious relief to think that.

“Damn, it feels good to be back to normal,” Casey said to herself as much as Dan. Sitting across the table, an equally stunned and relieved Dan had already devoured his pancakes- a luxury he had now that he no longer felt the need to cut up his girlfriend’s food- and fiddled with his napkin. Anyone lacking context might assume it was a simple nervous tick- the way he wrung the cloth paper in his fists, but Casey suspected he was quietly resisting the urge to wipe her mouth.

The news said that side effects of the reprogramming might linger for a bit in all of “the affected”- a nicer, more politically correct term than “victims turned into freaks,” but in time even those little quirks would fade.

There’d been talks about a class action lawsuit against the company responsible- Infinitech- but how big could a class action lawsuit get when it involved roughly 92 percent of the world’s population? Even the people who profited claimed that their perceptions had been altered with the rest of the globe. With all the craziness that happened, no one noticed that the diapers were being manufactured in bigger and bigger sizes until it was too late- not even the manufacturers.

That was the story that every other corporate entity was going with, and they’d likely get away with it as long as they stuck to their stories. And to think, it all came crashing down thanks to some rando named Jim, or John, or Jeff.

Infinitech wouldn’t have any money left after the world’s governments were done with it, anyway. Casey likely wouldn’t get back enough money to recoup their losses from all the diapers she’d gone through. At least she had her dignity and her mind back.

Her boyfriend shared her sense of relief. “You think you had it bad?” he chuckled dryly. “I was the one having to do all the dirty work. You’ve got a cute little ass, hon. But that doesn’t mean I wanna wipe it.”

A warm pink flush came over Casey’s entire body. God, she missed this. The flirting. Being looked at as something other than a simpleton or a child or whatever those damn VR signals were doing to everyone. That hokey little showtune was right: How lovely to be a woman. The wait was well worth while.

“But you were so good at it,” she teased from her seat across the table. “I didn’t even get a rash.” Almost unconsciously, she wriggled in her chair, reveling that there wasn’t even the hint of a crinkle as she did so.

Dan’s adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed hard. “You know,” he said, his voice a little hoarse at first but picking up strength as he continued, “so much of what’s happened seems like some kind of freaky dream.”

“Tell me about it,” Casey agreed. “Near the end, it got hard to tell what was real and what was AVR.”

“But,” Dan continued, licking his lips. “You know what I never got to do?”

“What’s that?”

A sly, fox-like grin spread over his face. “I never got a chance to spank you for being naughty.”

With deliberate slowness, the young woman stood up from her chair and walked, sashayed even, not waddled, to her man and sat in his lap. “Yeah?” she asked, already knowing where this was headed.

“Yeah,” he whispered back. She could already feel him getting hard through his khakis.

Leaning close into his ear, sensually, seductively she whispered. “Can I still call you Daddy?”

“Oh yeah” he groaned softly. “Call me Daddy. Call me Daddy anytime. Who’s your daddy?” This was a little quirk she could live with.

“You are.” she said, her hand caressing his chest, before snaking down towards his belt. If she had her way, neither of them would have their clothes on by the time they got to the bedroom. Casey might not be a big baby anymore, but that didn’t mean that she and Dan couldn’t try and ma-

BZZZZT

Casey woke up in her crib, the funny little hat that Daddy put on her head at bedtime to help her go night-night still attached and secured, the strap under her chin. Like so many dreams with the special hat, what she’d been dreaming about had faded fast, going wherever dreams went when somebody woke up. This one had seemed important, though. Apprehensively, she sucked on her paci, building up a steady rhythm.

Her apprehensive paci sucking turned into relieved paci suckling as Daddy’s face came into view. “Did you sleep well, baby girl?” he asked. She had, she supposed, but chose not to respond. That question was something Daddy asked every morning, and as long as she wasn’t crying, he assumed she had. The baby girl giggled a bit as Daddy reached down, his big strong hands tickling her cheeks a bit as she unstrapped her special hat and put it back in its special spot on the dresser. “Let’s get up, sweetie pie,” he said.

She rolled over, and gripping the pretty pink bars of her crib- a perfect match with the pretty pink walls of her nursery- pulled herself up to her knees, steadying herself on the mattress. “Good girl!” Daddy praised. “You’ll be walking in no time. So big!” He flipped a latch on the outside and lowered the railing. No matter how many times he did this, Casey was always caught off guard and she fell face first into Daddy’s arms. “Awww,” Daddy cooed. “You just can’t wait for your morning hug, can you?” Casey favored him with a giggle. “Now up we go.”

With a slight groan, Daddy scooped her up and pivoted around to the changing table. A muffled squelch came from Casey’s diaper as she first sat, then was laid down on the padded table. Like every morning, she playfully tried to hold Daddy’s hand to the front of her lavender onesie and lifted her hips into it. Also like every morning, Daddy would give a good natured series of “No-no-no’s”, before unbuttoning her onesie and sliding the bottom of it up past her curvaceous hips; then thanking her for being such a good little helper for her morning diaper change.

Diaper change? The thought left a bad taste in her mouth as the sound of Velcro tapes ripping off their landing zone rang out in her ears. Why was she getting a diaper change? Hadn’t she been wearing Pull-Ups just a few days ago? But why would she be wearing big kid underwear? She wasn’t a big kid, was she?

Casey’s own wonderings came to an abrupt halt as Daddy began to wipe her down with baby wipes, the cold, wet towelettes, pressed forcefully into her tender flesh. Once again, she was a good little helper as she lifted her legs so Daddy could wipe her hiney and slide out her wet diaper from underneath her bum-bum.

Fancifully, she wriggled and kicked her legs in the air while Daddy balled up and threw out the old diaper before reaching underneath the changing table and getting out a fresh one. Yup. No Pull-Ups. Definitely another diaper. Definitely not a big girl. How silly would that have been?

As if to reinforce her own thoughts, Daddy slid the new diaper under her and grabbed a bottle of baby powder. It wasn’t called big-kid powder, was it? Nope. Yet as Daddy rubbed the powder in and the sweet smelling aroma wafted into her nostrils, making her smell as pretty as she felt, a very unchildish groan came behind the rubber nipple still in her mouth.

“I know, I know,” Daddy cluckled, pulling the diaper up between Casey’s legs and pulling the sides up- first one tape, then another. “You’re hungry.” Come to think of it, she was hungry. Casey lifted her hips again, so Daddy could re-button the snaps of her onesie. She didn’t try to grind up against him, this time. She was hungry. Besides, it was never as good when she was dry.

All snapped up, Casey was scooched off the table and down onto the soft carpeting on the floor. Her fingers curled, toes wiggled in unison, while her knees wriggled; luxuriating in every fiber beneath her. On impulse, she felt the need to drop to her belly, nuzzling the soft floor with her face. “Come on, baby doll.” Daddy’s voice called her back to reality.

He had walked over to their rocking chair, (how did grown-ups do that anyway?) her morning bottle already in his hands. He must have brought it in with him and left it nearby. Gosh, he thought of everything. “Come on, Casey,” he said. “Crawl to Daddy.”

A smile on her lips, and drool starting to pool at the corners of her mouth, Casey pushed herself up from the carpet to all fours and began to crawl for her breakfast. The dry, rustling crinkle of the fresh diaper didn’t even register in her conscious mind; it had always been there, it was the soundtrack of her life.

“Up we go, again,” Daddy welcomed her as she climbed up onto his lap. Within seconds, one nipple was out of her mouth as another was slipped in; her paci being swapped out for her ba-ba. A bit of wriggling later, and she was sitting comfortably, cradled, loved, and safe like always.

Greedily, unabashedly, she guzzled down the baby formula as Daddy gently rocked them back and forth in the chair, the wooden squeaking and soft swaying just being another part of her life up to that point. Speaking of soundtracks, while Casey drank, Daddy softly, tunelessly sang to her. It was a silly song, but Daddy liked silly songs. “How lovely to be a woman, the wait was well worth while,” he half-whispered, half-sung to her. “How lovely to wear mascara, and smile a woman’s smile.”

Casey didn’t know what this masked kara stuff was, but she knew how to smile. She slid her lips off the bottle, and gave him a big toothy grin. A hearty, heavy belch followed, and they both laughed at that…though Casey wasn’t entirely sure what was so funny.

“Who’s your Daddy?” Daddy asked. What a silly question!

For the first time that morning, Casey spoke. “You are,” she said, her hand caressing his chest, before snaking down towards his belt.

Casey froze. Something was wrong about this. Something familiar. Like from a dream. But that was the point of dreams, wasn’t? They were filled with stuff that didn’t happen. Something was wrong. Something was definitely wrong, but Casey couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Something was different, but what…?!

What?!

Whaaaaaaaat?!

As Casey froze, drowning in her own ponderings, Daddy’s nose wrinkled. He’d already figured out what was different, apparently. “Uh oh,” he chuckled. “Looks like you weren’t done when I changed you.” Casey shifted her butt on Daddy’s lap. He was right of course, but that wasn’t what she was thinking about. Something besides her diaper was bothering her.

Or maybe it was the diaper. Something inside her brain told her that she shouldn’t be wearing one at all, but in what world did that make sense?

“No big deal.” Daddy said, picking her up and giving her padded bottom a loving pat. “That just means we get to do it again.” Something was wrong with this. Something was very wrong with this. But what?

She didn’t know. She just didn’t.

As she was laid back down to get her second diaper change of the morning, Casey started crying. And like most babies her age, she wasn’t exactly sure why.

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