INVOLVED What the hell?! A grey plastic surface was right above my face and something cold and hard was pressed into my ribs. Not having the strength to move, I turned my eyes to the side and saw the metal leg of a seat, one from a row of them. Therefore, I thought, I am lying under the seat. Oh, yes, conference! The last thing I remembered was loud applause, after which everybody moved towards the exits. Yet I kept sitting, looking at the last page of the conference booklet with a meaningless set of numbers. Something there attracted my attention, but I couldn’t determine what it was and then… ooh, and that was it… I don’t remember anything afterwards. I had fainted. “How awful”, flashed in my mind. “My mum will deal with me later for sure…” Not only that–I didn’t take medicine (that’s why I fainted actually and am laying on the floor), but also, I failed in buying the new batch of them at discounted receipt, because I spent all the money on the conference ticket. But what luck, game conference in our backwater town! Boys now will die of envy, knowing I was here. Before, they always considered me lucky having diabetes cause mum never scolded me for spending all the time with the computer since I am not able to run and play in the yard with others. The important thing is to take the medicine on time and then get back to the screen! Yeah, whatever you say: every cloud has a silver lining, even this illness of 21st century, which became common even among kids. Fast food, sweet drinks and all that kind. Oh well. So, how many computers in the neighborhood I will need to fix? The thing is that at first of course, I will need to interfere with their work, and then, when folk or companies will ask me for help, I will fix them at below market prices. I certainly do not abuse it–I only use it as a last resort–when, for example, I need to buy additional points or weapons for the next level of a game. Or, like in this case, when medicine, even with a discount, costs a lot, as well as the conference ticket. Ha-ha. Thoughts were swarming in my head and I don’t know why I kept lying on the floor. It was very quiet in the hall. It seemed everybody left and the whole building was silent, when suddenly I heard the approaching sound of voices, footsteps and also someone talking on the radio. Maybe cleaners came to prepare the hall for tomorrow? With a radio? No, it must be something else. Suddenly, I heard door open and, judging by the footsteps, two or three people came in. I thought by surprise and fear, that they heard me because my heart was pounding so loudly, spreading to the whole hall, as it seemed to me. They will find me and then they will… “Scan it again”, a person ordered, with a low voice rich with metallic notes. I heard the distinctive sound of IT-devices’ detector, I saw it on TV. Just recently they have appeared at all the airports, stations, stadiums and other public places. Now it’s not a problem to detect and control all the devices whether they are on or off, defining all the details like serial number and brand of device, serving company and the identity of the owner. I thought mum was worrying terribly because I had accidentally left my mobile at home, but phew, what a relief that I did it… “Silver lining, silver lining”, was turning in my head. “Well, how did everything go?”, asked Low Voice. “Everything was OK, Sir. Everything was according to the plan”, replied young Voice. “However, some guests complained about the insufficient condition and service of the local hotel”. “The quicker they will get out of the city, the better”, said Low Voice. “Remember how it was after the conference in San Francisco in 2019, when participants were prowling there approximately for a month?!”, exclaimed Low Voice. “Our agents were happy to hang out in that nice city. Of course, it’s not for them to think about the budget!” I felt something extremely important and secret was going on there, but I had no desire to reveal myself to the audience. “Ok, let’s get to the business. All the parties are on place, ready I hope?”, Low Voice asked severely. “Yes, Sir! Shall I switch on the Flex-V-Net?”, asked Young Voice. No answer followed but a blue glow spread around the hall. “Let’s get started. Hello to everyone!”, said Low Voice without any pause. Flex-V-Net! I heard about it, but was sure it was just a rumor. It stood for Flexible-Virtual-Network, allowing someone to connect and project an image on any surface or holographically in the air anywhere, independently of the location of initiator of the connection and of the participants! And due to the polymorphous connection, it’s absolutely secured! Numb muscles didn’t allow me to move and I was dying to see what was happening there. At least my ears weren’t numb, though. I sighed humbly.

“I heard the greetings of several people”. They apparently were those parties Low Voice asked before about. “The conference showed sustainable and rising size of audience and interest to the games and also good statistics for the last period. Games are becoming more enthralling, developers are thriving, and everybody is content– except parents, of course. But all these are good for us! Everybody knows the forbidden fruit is sweet. Otherwise we, by no means, would be able to persuade this huge army of gamers to invest so much time and money to support and maintain the Big External System generally and fire and battle activity particularly. Our external frontline would be under the threat. Recent cases of Jackals’ activity – these new-age terrorists – in all the hotspots of the Globe are showing us, that we have considerable security breaches and also some moles or leakages in the system. So, I order you to conduct personally extraordinary internal checking and connection access transcoding, so gaming activity will be synchronized with external battle points and be absolutely secured. After our meeting special couriers will pass on you the access keys and protocols, start at 11pm”, – Low Voice ceased talking. In the hall silence fell for a few minutes and then someone asked: “What shall we do now with space programmes? Russians are due to launch soon to the full capacity the new Space Center “Vostochny”, despite the corruption and squandering of money. Will we again secure their spaceship launches?!” “Yes, nothing is changing, NOTHING. No sanctions, diplomatic wars, real war conflicts or revolutions, scandals and other mundane problems can’t change our strategic plan and aim. We are above all of it, remember please. We can’t jeopardize our activity now, we’ve been keeping it hidden for 25 years. We can’t betray and discard all the efforts done”, – Low Voice replied. “And what will be our actions on America?”, – asked another one. “If everyone believed before that the US is the world centreon all possible contacts with extraterrestrial civilisations and aliens, and we actively have been supporting and promoting this idea, now no one would believe that current President could not tweet to all the world about what he knows about it and what was behind seven seals and was passed from one President to another as the greatest secret! What should we do to continue keeping conspiracy theories lovers’ attention riveted to America that allows us to act freely under cover of games giants?” “Leave the problem of public attention to the President, he has mastered this very well so far without any help”, - said Low Voice with a tint of irony. “How do matters stand on the external frontline? Whether any relief is expected? Or they continue attack us from all the sides of the sphere?”, - the third one asked. “I can’t tell you anything optimistic. I wish I could say in 5-7 years we won’t need help of all those involved civilians … So far, they should continue playing, otherwise our combat units, fighting without sleeping and resting, would become easy preys of attacking beasts”, - Low Voice replied. “But what about the ethical side of it? After all, involved civilians spend their money, time and health even not suspecting about the real meaning, aims and results of their activity?”, - the second one joined the conversation again. “It’s a small price to pay for still being alive, and in addition they enjoy playing, even become addicted. More questions? No? You will be informed about the time and place of the next meeting on standard protocol. Buy!”, - Low Voice cut down the meeting very abruptly. “Switch off your equipment–let’s go! I have to get prepared for tomorrow’s meeting with the British Prime Minister on the new set of cyber security laws. Thank God I won’t need to discuss Brexit outcomes since they haven’t influenced our business at all. “Oh, and the flight”, he grunted. “I hate flying long distance”. Low Voice kept telling something, but it was hard to make out what he was saying from afar… I was shocked but at the same time I was calm and my head was absolutely clear. Well, I thought, therefore there is some supranational, world, supreme organization, power, which is engaged in the protection of our planet from alien attacks! Wow! We live on the sly and don’t know anything, we even don’t suspect that reality is different! We see everyday news about wars and revolutions happening somewhere, scandals, political exposures, multi-million pound embezzlement and this has become somewhat ordinary, usual, even normal, we stopped reacting on all of this kind long ago. But behind mundane scene, apparently global war is going on! War on the survival of the planet itself! My God! And we, by playing the games, are controlling firing points somewhere on the sphere and thus helping the involved military, that’s how they probably call professionals participating in the war unlike us, involved civilians… They built a protective screen, like a shield, sphere around the Earth, I was ruminating. But why neither we never see anything in the sky, nor astronauts from the spaceships? Interesting… Different theories popped up in the head. Once I have read an article about small asteroid that was explored by scientists soon after falling, and apart from the traces of bacteria they discovered in it something that they couldn’t see or describe. They determined it by weighing asteroid before and after research, the weight was different despite it was concealed in protected container. And after that episode that lab was closed due to some insufficiency in building maintenance as article says. Very suspicious… Maybe hostile aliens don’t look like we think thanks to movies, horrible and disgusting. It might be, they are small and invisible?! And their form of life isn’t a carbon one as ours and can’t be detected by earthly research methods. No, if we have been fighting them for some time, that means we know who or what they are and how confront them. That lab certainly found something, and then they made study secret. Interesting, what type of weapon do we use against them? Laser or another type of light, I thought. I have drawn in the head a picture of Earth, dotted with cannons, artillery and missiles, headed to the space and firing from time to time, attacking invisible enemy. I chuckled from amusement, don’t know why it reminded me some cartoon from Tom and Jerry.
And if there is Big External System, so there should be Big Internal System, I continued ruminating… Ah, those numbers on the conference booklet! Thoughts were spinning very quickly, I even outlined a range of sources where I will dig the needed information. When, oh, I remembered I forgot about mum, I absolutely lost track of time, just like with gaming. Ok, I will deal with this idea later. And I need to earn money for medicine. But now I need to rush home before she called the police and they organize searches for me, and then THEY will know I was here and heard everything. A chill ran down my back and I tried to crawl out from under the seat. Stiff, numb arms and legs did not obey me, when I tried to make my way along the row. But I left the building unnoticed. Fresh, cool air outside refreshed me and I rushed as quickly as I could home not knowing how to explain to mum my long absence and most important, absence of the medicine. Surprisingly there were no lights in the windows. When I came home, there was still the aroma of mum’s perfume. It was quiet and warm inside. I switched on the light in the kitchen, sat on the chair and realised how I was tired of all this information and from all I went through. I was hungry, too. I grabbed something from the table and started nibbling on it, when I heard the sound of a key scrolling in the door lock and mum came in. Having looked at me, she said, “I know, I am sorry, you are upset and worried because of me. Mobile battery got flat just before an operation. Patient was in very serious condition and so of course, operation overrun and I couldn’t warn you I would be late”. “Well, nothing has to be explained, at least at the moment”, I thought tiredly, pecked mum on the cheek and went to my room. “I will think it over tomorrow”, I said to myself. I was sitting on the bed and didn’t remember how I fell asleep. The last thought was, “What if I dreamed it all while I was fainted? What if…”