Virtually True by Paul Stewart
1. The newspaper headline screamed ‘Sebastian Shultz’. It was an unusual name to make the headline.
2. The person reading the newspaper was a woman whose face behind the paper. She was an elderly woman who apparently breathed with a little difficulty.
3. The newspaper story was about Shultz, the 14-year-old London school lad, who had come out of his coma the day before. His miraculous turn around had baffled the doctors, who had assumed the near-dead medical condition to drag on and on indefinitely.
4. I was curious because I had met a boy of this name before. I leaned forward to read the story in the newspaper in the woman’s hands.
5. A motor accident six weeks ago had nearly killed Shultz. From the accident site, he was carried to the General Hospital battling for his life. The doctors did their best to revive the boy, but he defied all their efforts. As he lay unconscious in the hospital bed, the doctors had no way but to inform Shultz’s parents that their boy had slipped to coma.
6. In the press conference, Mrs. Shultz, the mother profusely appreciated the untiring efforts of the doctors to resuscitate her son, but, at the same time, she admitted that his condition could only revive through a miracle.
7. It now appeared that the miracle had happened. …..
8. As the woman’s hand moved to clear the view, I could see from the photo that the boy was none other than Sebastian. I was soon lost in thought trying to figure out how such a tragedy had come to pass.
9. I pondered the travails of Sebastian Shultz in the hospital bed where he had remained immobile for days clinging to the last thread of life. His struggle made me anguished.
10. I stared out of the train window and began to imagine the sequence of events that had led to the tragedy.
11. A month ago, I had spent nearly the whole of a Saturday afternoon going round the Computer Fair.
12. My father is a computer enthusiast. He has a Pentium computer that can paint, play music, create displays, and even help me in my homework.
13. The most exciting features it has are the games – Tornado, Mebabash, Black Belt, Kyerene’s Kastle etc. When I played, it made me feel I was in the midst of the real action.
14. My father had a strong fascination towards the many new ideas, products and gadgets the fast-changing world of computers was churning out in quick succession. To have a first-hand feel of all these, we had been to the Computer Fair. We bought an array of gadgets with mind-boggling capabilities. Among them were the virtual reality visor, gloves, and some inter-active psycho-drive games. The visor and the glove offered very astonishing visual effect besides manipulating our mental faculties.
15. We later realized some of them were ‘used’ items.
16. But, that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. No sooner had we got home, than I began to explore my high-tech toys. The first game I played was named, ‘Wildwest’.
18. The computers have an uncanny ability to tell us about our past. The more advanced they are, the truer the picture they unravel about past. The game I was playing virtually transported me to the Powerbase from where I cruised along the dusty town roads. A sheriff badge was pinned to my chest.
19. I felt highly elated and thrilled in my new role.
20. Then, I barged into a pub, and ordered ‘Sarsaparilla’! A glass of fizzy red liquid was promptly served to me. As I took a sip, a big bang broke the silence. I turned around to see what had happened. The notorious gun man known as the Black-eyed Jed stood at the entrance. He blurted out, “This town isn’t big enough for both us Sheriff Dawson, and challenged me to a shooting duel outside the pub.” The swagger in his tone was palpable. But Jed made a quick departure by the time I had finished my drink and banged my glass with my blood racing. Everyone in the pub eyed me intently. I began to wonder how I had emerged from the fleeting encounter.
21. Suddenly the game took an unpredictable turn as a second sheriff came in through the back door throwing his weight around. I was puzzled. I realized the game was going to be no walkover for me.
22. The second sheriff ordered me not to leave.
23. I shot back, ‘Who are you?’
24. He looked somewhat different from the other guys in the pub. Although he looked similar to the ones the computer generates, he was not really so.
25. He appeared to be in a hurry. He ordered me to follow him.
26. I followed him walking past customers along a corridor. We crossed two doors.
27. The sheriff commanded me to follow him.
28. We kept walking crossing door after door along our way. But, we were back in the saloon we started from.
29. He appeared to have landed where he had not intended to. He went to the back of the saloon and dived through a window, and landed on the back of a waiting horse. He ordered me to be seated in the same horse’s back.
30. We sped off in a jiffy.
31. I demanded to know who my intriguing escort was.
32. He kept mum as the sight of a few men on horseback appeared to follow us. He appeared to be worried, and asked me to keep my head down.
33. Suddenly, from nowhere a shot was heard. The second sheriff grunted in pain and slumped on to me. A neon sign flashed ‘Game over’.
34. One by one, I unburdened myself of the many devices I had donned. I was back on the Powerbase. The score on the screen read 21095. The printer had swung into action by then. A printed paper came out of it.
35. The paper carried a strange message. There was the photo of the sheriff, but he wore a jean and a T shirt. Under his photograph, it was written, ‘I am stuck. Please help to retrieve me. Try ‘DRAGONQUEST’. Sebastian Shultz.
36. I wanted to go into DRAGONQUEST right away, but it was already late by half an hour.
37. I got up the next morning and rushed to the game. I found myself inside the huge studded doors of the dragon’s dungeon.
38. My mission was clear. I had to rescue the trapped princess Aurora from the dragon’s clutches and on my way out with her, I had to pick up as much of the dragon’s property as possible. The Princess was confined to the top of the tall tower. She was tall with long plaits. By the time I reached her4, I had collected a good amount of the dragon’s valuables.
39. On seeing me, Princess Aurora pleaded with me frantically to be freed from the incarceration. She was restless and in the background, I could hear the dragon’s frightening roars.
40. I was thunderstruck to find another captive. It was a knight who emerged from the wardrobe asking for deliverance.
41. I was taken aback to see that the second captive was Sebastian.
42. He asked me to hurry up. With a pair of scissors, he chopped the long hair from the princess’s head. He tied one end of the plaits to the bedpost and hung the rest through the window.
43. He escaped through the window with the help of the dangling hair. And asked me to follow him.
44. Just then, the dragon appeared and made me very nervous. I began to follow the seco0nd night to escape.
45. As I lowered myself, I could hear the dragon breathing down me.
46. It was a moonlit night. We ran along the battlements down a spiral staircase. We crossed a secret passage. The dragon was pursuing us closely with his evil intent.
47. Sebastian said that the dungeons were the only place we could scamper to for safety.
48. As we were making our steps through the cold stone steps with swords in our hands, the dragon stood there confronting us menacingly.
49. I flaunted my sword, but to no avail. The dragon grabbed Sebastian.
50. The printer showed a new message. BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME. PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP, MICHAEL. OTHERWISE I’LL HAVE TO STAY IN HERE FOR EVER. TRY ‘JAILBREAK’. I THINK IT MIGHT JUST WORK! CHEERS, SEB.
51. I got going right away. Without reading the instruction manual of Jailbreak, I proceeded to run it. I had a single mission. It was to rescue my cell mate: prisoner 02478 Shultz.
52. Sebastian was desperate to flee. He asked me if I was ready to help.
53. I readily agreed and asked him if he had any plan for escape.
54. It was so easy. With the help of skeleton swipe-card, we came out of the prison cell and raced down the corridors. Our running set the whole place aflutter. Sirens were set off, dogs howled, security guards came charging at us and people closed their steel main doors shut. Skirting our pursuers, we reached a staircase and began to climb it with all the speed at our command.
55. On the roof, Sebastian scanned the surroundings. He appeared to be looking for someone.
56. I was curious to find out.
57. He pointed to something overhead.
58. I excitedly told him that it was a helicopter hovering overhead.
59. Sebastian appeared to become optimistic suddenly. It seemed things were proceeding the way he had wanted. He wished the helicopter flew a little faster.
60. Suddenly, The door behind us opened with a bang. A dozen security men stood there with their ferocious dogs. It was an utterly frightening sight. Sebastian stepped back in horror.
61. A chill raced down my spine. I screamed in horror.
62. But, in the wink of the eye, the boy telescoped into the concrete surface below.
63. I took out the visor and looked at the printer tray for some instruction. But, it was empty. I felt somewhat dejected for having abandoned Sebastian. The memory began to recede from my mind. But, it dawned on me that Sebastian was the game.
64. I retraced my path through the games – Dragonquest, Wildwest and Jailbreak. But, Sebastian was nowhere to be found.
65. Finally, yesterday I got to hear from my elusive friend. The printer threw out a paper with this message.
66. CAN WE HAVE ONE LAST TRY? it said. I THINK THE HELICOPTER WAS THE RIGHT IDEA. THERE’S GOT TO BE SOME KIND OF AN ACCIDENT … GO INTO ‘WARZONE’. IF THIS DOESN’T WORK I WON’T BOTHER YOU AGAIN. CHEERS, SEB.
67. This mention of ‘war zone’ was a weird idea for me. It was a city somewhere. Its buildings were tall and windowless, puck-marked with bullet holes. The city appeared to be rattled by machine gun fire. Explosions seemed to be ripping apart the story. I realized that somehow Sebastian and I had to proceed to the helicopter unharmed.
68. We made our way through a stretch of no-man’s-land, all the time avoiding being hit by shrapnel. We passed through a door in the wall to find the waiting helicopter.
69. We began to race to the helicopter, but had to retreat to avoid the tank shells bursting before us.
70. Sebastian pointed to a jeep standing by the road side.
71. Sebastian jumped into the driver’s seat, raced the engine and asked me to get in.
72. I occupied the passenger seat and we drove off.
73. We found a tank chasing us.
74. Sebastian jammed the brakes. The vehicle turned around and swerved to a side dangerously before falling into a ditch. I jumped out carefully and leapt into the helicopter.
75. I asked the pilot to wait a while.
76. I looked back, but couldn’t find Sebastian.
77. Sebastian stood inside the jeep virtually frozen.
78. The speeding tank ran over the jeep. The collision threw Sebastian out of the jeep.
79. Sebastian rolled over many times, but approached the helicopter nonetheless. I virtually lifted Sebastian on to the jeep.
80. I patted myself for having rescued Sebastian. The helicopter flew into the thick cloud. It became totally invisible until the sign ‘Game Over’ flashed on the screen.
81. When I removed the visor, the screen was showing a score of 40,000,000!
82. I had emerged triumphant. I had cracked the game.
83. That was my conclusion then. I reasoned that Sebastian existed in flesh and blood as I had read about him in the newspaper.
84. But, it left me more puzzled as I alighted from the train.
85. At home I browsed the Net to learn more about the Miracle Recovery story.
86. With a little effort I stumbled upon the answer I was looking for. It seemed that Sebastian was playing the same psycho-drive game on his laptop that I had got. Coincidentally, he was playing the game when the accident happened.
87. I was gripped by a strong feeling of inquisitiveness. When Sebastian banged his head in the accident, his brain was occupied by the intricacies of the game’s maneuvers. The computer, because of the inter-active software, had saved his memory in its own. I wondered if it was possible that the games that had fascinated me so much were, in fact, my subconscious attempts to retrieve that memory.
88. I had learnt from my dad that the computer never loses any memory on its own unless someone erases it.
89. But, I still could not understand how Sebastian’s memory captured by his computer could affect me.
90. In a press conference in the hospital, Sebastian’s father, Mr. Shultz had stated that he was going to buy some games. Some miscreant had stolen the games. Mr. Shultz never bothered to trace the games.
91. I said to myself that the games had found their way to the Computer Fair we had bought them.
92. I got out of browsing and checked my mail. There was a mail from Sebastian.
93. With a great deal of nervousness I read the mail.
94. DEAR MICHAEL, it said. THANK YOU! I’M NOT SURE HOW IT HAPPENED, BUT THANKS. YOU SAVED MY LIFE. LET’S MEET UP SOON. CHEERS, SEB. P.S. KEEP THE GAMES. YOU’VE EARNED THEM.
95. I was both relieved and surprised. I had read the message from the ‘real’ Sebastian. Out the ordeal of re-living the accident, something spectacular had emerged. I concluded that everything was possible in the domain of computers.
96. Now I can affirm that my account of what happened was true, albeit virtually.
[Detailed question-answer, vocabulary practice etc. pertaining to this lesson will be available in the Value Pack soon.]