John stood in the living room wearing a virtual reality headset, controllers in both hands. It was a Thursday evening and the smell of roast filled the room with delight. His mother, Lisa, had been preparing dinner since two o’clock that afternoon. She hoped to have the table set and food served before her husband, Michael, returned home from a long day’s work. He worked as an accountant for the bank downtown, having been employed there for sixteen years with no sign of retirement in the foreseeable future. Lisa worked as a nurse at St. John’s Hospital, just one town over. She worked part-time (mostly nights) three days a week to allow herself time with her son and to keep up with the daily ins-and-outs of being a housewife.
Just shy of 6:30 P.M, the front door swung open and Michael stepped into the foyer. With coat wet from the rain, he held his briefcase close to his chest in an attempt to keep it dry. It had been raining for four days straight, but the weatherman promised it would stop within the next hour or so.
John remained glued to the new hit VR game; he had been playing “Robot Realm” on and off for the past week. He waited months for it to be released, and now he just couldn’t get enough.
Lisa made her way into the foyer to greet her husband. “Michael, my dear, how was work? I made a roast for dinner; I know it’s your favorite!”
He shared a smile with her, quietly gave her a kiss on the cheek, and made his way upstairs to shower.
Once the shower was ended, Lisa called to Michael from the kitchen, “Dinner’s ready!” In response and with a smile on his face, Michael made his way downstairs. He was hungry and the flavorsome aroma made his mouth water.
“John, did you not hear me? Supper is ready and your father is waiting.” Lisa stood watching John from the door to the living room with arms crossed. He never moved so much as an inch in response to the sound of her voice. “John?” Eyebrows drawn up in concern, she reached out to touch him. “Are you okay?”
John stood as motionless as a figure cut from stone. His arms lay flat on both sides. His controllers dangled from his now empty hands, still attached by the safety straps secured around his wrists. He stayed breathing, even as his mind wandered elsewhere.
The television displayed his view of the game. There, in the ring where opponents would build their robots and challenge each other to fight, a new breed of robot stood at the ready. It stood motionless and tall in the middle of the circular enclosure, speaking in a language they could hardly comprehend. Lisa began to shake John vigorously, trying to rouse him from the trance that consumed him. Michael even went so far as to unplug the television from the wall, but the displayed picture remained intact.
Suddenly, John opened his mouth to speak. It became immediately apparent that their son was repeating the words of that digitized robot. They watched in horror, powerless to make it stop.
John turned to face the foyer. He headed for the door. The wand-like controllers swayed with the motion of his steps, and the headset remained firmly seated over his face. He moved in a marching manner. His limbs swung perfectly synchronized with one another. John opened the door with one powerful motion and started onto the porch. Lisa placed herself in front of him, hoping it would deter him from moving any further, but this proved ultimately unsuccessful. He shouldered her aside with previously unseen strength.
In the road, Lisa and her husband watched as their neighbors’ children moved in the same manner, all marching in one direction, toward the opposite side of town. There were dozens of them, all consumed in this seemingly virtual reality.
Lisa approached her friend Mary, who occupied the home opposite theirs. For as long as Lisa could remember, Mary had lived in close proximity to them. She was frantic, trying to get her son, Kyle, to cease his forward progression. Lisa grabbed Mary’s arm, stopping her advances and urging her to come back home. They needed to make some sense of this phenomenon. After a few failed attempts, Mary relented.
Meanwhile, Michael set about gathering the masses at their home. Some opted to follow their loved ones, but most were all too willing to cooperate in this regard. They all wanted to get to the bottom of what had happened.
By eight o’clock, the rain had stopped. Lisa and Michael managed to gather a large group of neighbors; there were more than they could comfortably seat in their cramped living room.
“Does anyone know what’s going on? I mean, one minute he was fine- playing his game. The next, he just wasn’t there anymore,” Lisa described her own experience. Tears streamed down her face, as Michael tried in vain to console her.
“Don used to spend days playing that stupid robot game and now look at him,” another neighbor, Jeff, spoke with a hint of anger permeating his every word.
They began to talk amongst themselves, and Lisa noticed one thing in common; the runaways had all been playing that new VR game. “Whose kids were playing when it happened?” she asked, holding the game’s packaging up for them to see. “John was playing this, and I noticed something weird on the screen. A robot that spoke in words neither Michael nor I could understand.”
The general consensus sided with the game bearing some responsibility for what happened, so Lisa brought out her laptop and began digging for anything she could find on this game. After a few searches, she came across the phone number and address for the corresponding developer. It wasn’t far from their neighborhood. Only twenty miles to the north.
They decided to split into two groups. Lisa’s group sought to locate the servers responsible for maintaining the game. At the same time, Michael’s group would head off in search of their children and loved ones.
Before heading out, they gathered a collection of tools they thought they might need for their journey. This included some flashlights, water, and an assortment of provisions provided by the various neighbors participating in the operation. Michael and Lisa provided a set of walkie-talkies they originally bought for John. They were military grade and capable of reaching one hundred miles from one another. Lisa took one and Michael took the other. This would serve as their singular means of communication.
Lisa and her crew sent off for the control center. There were eight of them in total, driving two separate cars. As they drove, Lisa looked to Mary in the passenger seat. Her expression reflected her growing unease.
“Are we close?” Lisa asked as Mary checked the GPS.
Mary nodded her head. “It’s just one mile down on the left,” Mary replied and proceeded to turn to the others sitting behind her, “What’s the plan, guys?”
Lisa began to slow down as they neared their destination. There was a sign that read “Robot Realm Industries.” It stood before a long path that led up to the building. She pulled off the road and put the car in park. A few moments passed before the other half pulled in behind her. Lisa got out of the car and approached the second vehicle. “We need a plan to find our way around,” Lisa explained, and they gathered together to formulate their next move.
Michael and the others drove for what seemed to be forever. They were outside of town now. “Michael! Look to your left!” Mary’s husband David shouted. “It’s my boy!”
Kyle was moving towards a wooded area, holding a metal object in his arms. There was a light coming from that direction. “Kyle!” David shouted out the window. Jeff, who was seated beside him, grabbed onto his jacket and pulled him away from the window, as Michael closed it.
“David, you need to calm down. We don’t know what we’re dealing with here,” Jeff explained as his hand closed over David’s mouth.
Michael parked his car across the street, as they observed dozens of people carrying metal objects into the woods. Each one wearing a headset and marching synchronized to one another. They got out of the car and silently approached the woods. Michael turned on his walkie-talkie and called Lisa.
“We found them, Lisa. They’re in the woods about thirty miles south of town,” Michael said in hopes that she had turned on her device.
“We’re at Robot Realm Industries now. Mary and I are figuring out a strategy to get us in,” Lisa’s voice rose from the other end of the walkie-talkie. “Are they safe?”
Michael described to Lisa what was occurring, and they both agreed not to approach until the coast was clear. After a short while, the last of the brainwashed children vanished into the woods. The coast was clear. From the road, they could see the light glowing brighter, and they heard the distinct sound of metal clanking and drills revving.
“Did you hear that?” asked Michael. Jeff and David nodded their heads.
A loud rustling of trees rose somewhere deeper in the woods. They stood still, watching as the trees began to move around the center of that glowing light. They crossed the street to get a closer look at what was happening.
“Keep your heads down,” David demanded, as they hid behind the first line of trees. They could see their loved ones consumed by the game welding and piecing together a massive structure. They advanced deeper into the woods, running from tree to tree to get a closer look.
The structure was beginning to resemble a human, with two arms, two legs, and a head. Once the work was done, they stopped building, put down their tools, and stood back to admire their work. Machinery whirred inside the structure, and two rounded blue lights appeared like eyes on its face.
“Is that… a robot?” Michael asked, as his voice shook with fear. Jeff and David stood with jaws hung in disbelief.
Jeff suddenly leaped for the tree closest to them, but as he did, he tripped over a branch and fell to the ground. The workers stopped what they were doing and looked in the direction of the noise. They saw him lying on the ground. They all turned to face Jeff. The robot began to stand, towering over the trees, knocking them down as it turned to face in the same direction as the others. Both the children and the robot advanced on them.
Lisa and her group made their way into Robot Realm Industries. It was quiet and the halls were well lit, so they needed to take extra precautions to not bring attention to themselves. They advanced further down the hall, looking into the rooms through the windows on the doors.
“Excuse me, may I help you?” a guard stood before them, wearing a headset like the others. He must have come around the corner or out of a room they hadn’t yet observed.
Mary came forward, trying to explain to the guard what had happened. She explained the events leading up to her own son being controlled by the game. The guard remained silent, standing in front of her as she broke down and fell to her knees. “Can you help us?” she asked. “Please, my son is out there.”
The guard reached out to her and placed one hand on her shoulder as she began to cry. “Stand up and leave. You don’t belong here.” Two more guards appeared at his back. “If you don’t cooperate and leave the premises, we will physically remove you.”
Mary looked over her shoulder to Lisa and the others, tears continued to stream down her rosy cheeks. “No,” Mary told them. “We aren’t leaving.” She wiped away her tears and clambered back onto her feet. She stood face to face with the guard. She cleared her throat and turned to the group behind her. “Now,” she yelled to them, and they charged at the guards.
A few stayed behind to fight and keep the guards preoccupied. Meanwhile, Lisa and Mary snuck around the guards and continued down the hall. With her walkie-talkie, Lisa called to Michael in a panic as they ran from room to room, seeking the server they needed to destroy.
Michael responded immediately, pleading for her to get out before she got hurt. Lisa declined and asked what was happening on their end. Michael also found himself in a panic, breathing heavily, while Jeff and David were yelling in the background. “Call me when you’re safe,” he told her, just before the connection went dead.
Jeff was limping from the fall and clearly still in pain. Michael and David grew tired from having to pick up the slack on Jeff’s behalf. They had to keep moving. The robot was in pursuit, marching behind the controlled humans. They repeatedly looked over their shoulders, only to see the distance closing between them and their pursuers.
Michael noticed his son marching close behind them. He attempted to yell to him as they continued to run. “John! Stop this!” Michael pleaded.
Exhaustion nearly consumed them, with Jeff now being carried by David. They wouldn’t be able to maintain this pace for much longer.
Lisa and Mary continued looking for the server. They opened every door and turned every corner. Suddenly, the alarm rang above them, and an automated voice repeated the message: “Warning. Breech. Warning. Breech.”
“Watch out!” Mary shouted to Lisa, “Guards!” Lisa turned and realized they were spotted by two guards. Their hearts pounded faster in their chests, as they started running. Lisa and Mary were beside one another, approaching a bend in the hall. It led to an annex-like addition to the building. They neared the corner, but Lisa grabbed Mary and pulled her into the room directly after they made the turn. The lights were off, and they sat against a wall behind a row of shelves. Several minutes passed, and Lisa decided the guards must be gone by now. She stood and looked around the darkroom.
“Mary, come look at this.” Lisa looked to Mary as she sat against the wall. “I think we found it.” Mary stood and joined her.
They found it. The main server stood before them, large enough to fill half the room. As they looked for a weapon to destroy the server, the door swung open. It was the guards. Mary charged at them, as Lisa grabbed for whatever she could get her hands on.
Meanwhile, Michael, Jeff, and David were completely spent. Their legs shook with no sign of relief in sight. In an instant, they turned to run deeper into the woods. Their only hope was to hide and try to lose them. The controlled people and the robot weren’t slowing down. Not a drop of sweat appeared on their faces. Something needed to happen soon, or else they were going to be found. They ducked toward a downed tree and laid beside it, hoping it would help conceal them.
At first, it seemed to work. The sound of marching grew more distant and continued to soften as time went on. “We did it,” David said. “We lost them.” They shared a moment’s respite, seated and hugging one another. Michael turned to survey the dark woods behind them.
As it happened, their robot pursuer had been standing behind them this whole time. In defeat, Michael, Jeff, and David looked to one another and decided to climb atop the tree they had been hiding behind. They surrendered.
Mary continued her struggle to hold the guards at bay, as Lisa picked up a wooden chair. With one powerful motion, she hurled the chair at the main server. It made contact and the server began to spark and the attached lights flickered. The guards stopped fussing with Mary, and they all looked at what Lisa had done. The lights went dark, and it became apparent that Lisa had successfully destroyed the server.
Instantly, the guards released a deep breath and removed their headpieces. “What happened?” one guard asked with a look of confusion. Mary began to explain everything to him, while other guards crowded around to hear.
At last, Lisa fell to her knees, pulled out her walkie-talkie, and called Michael. “I did it,” she said. “Are you okay?”
“We’re okay. Close call, Lisa. The robot was about to get us just as its eyes went dark. He fell to the ground and the people around it took a deep breath and removed their headsets.” Michael made arrangements to meet up with Lisa and the rest of their group.
Michael searched amongst the crowd of people and noticed his son, John. He was visibly confused and dirty from his efforts to build the giant robot. As he made his way through the crowd, he looked up and there, Michael stood still and let out a sigh of relief. He was finally reunited.
Lisa and Mary found those that stayed behind to fight the guards gathered around the cars. No one was injured, and they were finally going home. Michael, David, and Jeff would join them shortly, along with their reconciled children.
Families were reunited and the National Guard assisted in destroying the robot. The creators of Robot Realm were arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Peace had been restored that evening, and the days that followed were spent in joint gratitude for each person’s contribution.
Global Cloud Robotics Market Outlook to 2025: Strategic Business Report with Major Applications (Industrial Robots, Customer Robots, Military Robots and Commercial Robots) with CAGR of 29%.” M2 Presswire, Jun 21, 2018. ProQuest, https://wilkes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.wilkes.idm.oclc.org/docview/2057314596?accountid=62703.
“Hololens and Vive Pro: Virtual Reality Headsets.” Journal of the Medical Library Association, vol. 107, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 118–121. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5195/jmla.2019.602.
“Kaplan Boris Applies for Patent on Computer System of an Artificial Intelligence of a Cyborg Or an Android, Wherein a Received Signal-Reaction of the Computer System of the Artificial Intelligence, a Corresponding Association of the Computer System of the Artificial Intelligence, a Corresponding Thought of the Computer System of the Artificial Intelligence are Physically Built and a Working Method of the Computer System of the Artificial Intelligence of the Cyborg Or the Android.” Global IP News.Information Technology Patent News, Jun 27, 2019. ProQuest, https://wilkes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.wilkes.idm.oclc.org/docview/2248304577?accountid=62703.