Sam never saw who did it. All he knew was that the sky seemed to explode in a hell of fire and lead. He was soon blinded and mangled by the shrapnel that tore down from the furious hell storm that had been his family’s automatic guard. The hovering sentry must have been destroyed long before it could react. All he could think of was escape as he heard the cries of anguish of his friends and family. Occasionally he would hear the tromp of one of their assailants going past the ditch where he huddled. Soon the pain took away the rest of his energy and he passed out knowing for certain that he would soon be dead at fifteen. That didn’t bother him so much as the fact that he would never be able to avenge his family…
Sound was all that he could get his mind to connect to. It was the sound of the turbines of some huge aircraft. He didn’t know anything but agony and darkness. Life was now agony. The sound felt like somebody was shaking his skull so hard that the bone itself would disintegrate. He faded from consciousness again…
Someone was standing over him. He could hear their breathing. The fearful sounds were gone now. He could hear someone shuffling their feet in the dirt as something poked him in the side. He tried not to react in hopes that whoever it was would leave him to die in peace. The fire that lanced through his torso was too much. The last of his strength left him with a whimper as he passed out again.
The light from the blue sky bathed him with warmth. Looking along his body, Sam found himself whole and lying in a warm patch of blue tinted sunlit grass. As he slowly stood, he could not help but marvel at the sensation of everything. He felt so aware of each blade of grass that touched his skin. He felt odd. Everything about his body seemed to be differently proportioned than he remembered. All of the parts seemed too big, as if swollen, but somehow balanced. A bird passing overhead gave a cry and flew away towards a small cluster of trees. The wispy clouds overhead seemed to race toward the horizon at dizzying speed. A finely dressed gentleman strode from the trees. When he reached Sam, he calmly seated himself on a chair that seemed to come into being just as the man sat.
“I am Lord Thornsburry,” the man said in a crisp english accent. “My men found you while you were still alive and I have had you pulled into this virtual environment while my medics try to save your life. I’m sorry. I was not able to save any others of your group.”
“Why? We don’t know each other. What reason do you have for helping me?”
“Let’s just say that we have common enemies.” he said with a knowing smile. “I think you may be able to return the favor by doing some work for me. Before we start working together, we must first develop the skills you will need.” Standing up, the gentleman extended his right hand and grasped a doorknob that was not there. Pulling the nonexistent doorknob towards him, a small blue room was slowly revealed. In the room was a small figure wrapped from head to toe in black cloth. “This gentleman is Master Lam. You will refer to him as either Teacher or Master.”
“What kind of training is he going to give me?”
“Master Lam will be training you to fight in several martial arts He will also be teaching you gymnastics. In the next few days, you will also meet your teachers in electronics, computer infiltration, and toxicology, among other things…”
“How is training in a sim’ world going to help me in the real world?”
“You just worry about the skills, I’ll make sure your body can perform My techs will be using the latest technology to make your body something truly special.”
Even though he was in a simulation, Sam got tired after several hours of training with Master Lam. The teacher finally left after giving Sam some exercises to perform in the interim. A small cottage appeared as the teacher left. Inside was a table set with a nice meal. After eating, (it did strike him as odd that he still had to eat, but it was a comfort anyway) he discovered that the cottage was also equipped with a comfortable bedroom and a nice bed. He went to bed after the meal that somehow, the contents of which he could no longer remember.
As the shadows lengthened, Sam wondered about how much to trust this strange gentleman. He found it hard to trust anyone who would go to this much trouble for him on such a flimsy premise. As he slept, he dreamed of the legends his grandfather used to tell him about the coyote. In his dreams, the trickster/teacher was always too clever to be tricked and knew a way out of everything. Nobody ever got the better of Coyote for long… In the middle of just such a dream, there was a loud knock on the door of the cottage.
Startled out of his sleep, still muddled and confused, he answered the door. The man just outside had long black hair and deeply tanned skin. The smile lines and crow’s feet in his face seemed to have been engraved with a coal chisel. His dark eyes spoke of long journeys in the desert and had a twinkle of mischief. “Hello cousin!” he said and calmly pushed his way into the room with a smile that warmed Sam’s heart.
“What do you mean ‘cousin’? I’ve never seen you in my life and as far as I know all of my family just died in a raid.”
“Cousin, all who are born with native American blood are my family. Really, all of humanity is my family, as it is also yours… I always greet those who are of the tribes as ‘Cousin’ though, because I feel a close kinship with you all. After all, only your peoples told so many tales about me.”
“OK, who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing in this simulation?”
The man calmly found himself a comfortable seat on a couch that had not been there before he began to sit down and with a sly grin said, “Why cousin! I am hurt that you would not recognize me! Didn’t you ever hear stories about Coyote when you were growing up?”
“Are you nuts? Did Thornsburry send you here to bug me?”
“Thornsburry? That fool has no idea that I am in here. I have blinded him and his people to anything connected to me. They see you at rest in your bed right now. I have no idea how I got to be in this computer system, but I assure you it was no idea of that Thornsburry character!”
“What are you then? Some kind of smart hacker-bot?”
“Cousin! You are not listening! I am Coyote. I am neither Thornsburry’s toy nor a hacker’s tool. I am who I say I am and none other. I felt drawn here to you so I came on a hunch that it might be fun… How I got here is not actually anything I care about. I am here and I am dealing with that fact to the best of my ability.”
“Are you telling me that you have administrative access to the system?”
“Cousin! This is getting on my nerves! Of course I have admin access. Coyote would not be in a system like this without being able to do whatever he likes. I am nobody’s ‘toy’, ‘tool’, or ‘stooge’. I am a thinking being that happens to be in a computer system, like you, who just happens to also be Coyote.” This time the man spoke through clenched teeth as his face reddened.
Sam quickly backed away a step bringing his hands up in a placating gesture before his face. “Hey, hey, hey, relax! So far this day I have woken up from what I figured my last sleep to find some crazy rich guy treating me like his new partner and training me into the perfect killing machine in an imaginary world contained in a computer. Then, just as I finally get a chance to get some rest, some guy comes waking me up telling me he is my ‘Fairy Godmother’. So, you can see why I would be a little freaked out just now… I’m just trying to make sense of what is going on right now.”
“I understand cousin. I’m just saying that I only know who I am and where I am. Why is a question I have no answer for. I do know that Thornsburry is not dealing honestly with you. I don’t know what he is hiding, but I know he is not telling you everything.” With a sigh, Coyote got up. “Now, I need to get going so you can get some rest and I can learn more about the system we both seem to be residing in. Don’t worry, if you need me, just call and I will hear you. By the way, I like to see myself more as Robin Hood than a stupid pink bunny!” And with a deep bow, Coyote was gone.
The next morning came more than soon enough for Sam. After a workout with Master Lam, Dr. Weiner showed up to teach the fine art of poison. By then he was ready for another imaginary meal. After lunch, he had the pleasure of meeting Flashburn. He appeared to Sam as a human figure comprised of swirling lava. This was his teacher in computer and electronics hacking. After a full afternoon of working a virtual computer system, Flashburn informed Sam that the next day would entail hardware and electronics design and alteration.
That night Coyote materialized as soon as Sam stepped into his cottage, startling Sam. “Boo cousin! Now we start your education in real hacking!”
“What do you mean? I just finished today’s lesson in that with Flashburn.”
“Cousin, cousin, cousin! Real hackers and system pirates hate guys like Thornsburry. He could never get a real one to work for him, and even if he managed to force one to work for him, they would never teach you all they know in case you were to use it against them or their friends.”
“What would you know though? You told me last night that you didn’t even know how you ended up in this system. That seems like a pretty basic concept.”
“I am Coyote. Tricks and cleverness are my forte. Besides, if philosophy can’t come up with a good answer for ‘Why are we here?’ why do you expect me to? Since you need sleep and I seem not to, I spent the last 24 hours finding a way to contact outside networks and the internet and learning all I can about hacking and forced entry to computer systems and networks. You would be surprised at the amount of information that can be gotten easily on the internet…”
“Great!” responded Sam with a sidelong glance that spoke of much less zeal than Coyote seemed to be possessed of. “You mind if I get in the door and eat before we begin? I may only be here virtually, but I am still starving!”
“No problem!” said Coyote as he stepped out of the way. “I’ll even let you sleep six hours tonight!” The last was delivered with a grin filled with friendly humor.
Sitting down to his meal, Sam looked over at his guest. “You are too kind!”
“I do try cousin.” he replied as if the sarcasm was lost on him.
“Is this going to be a routine? Are you going to teach me at night as they teach me during the day?”
“That was my plan cousin. I could not bear to leave you with only the instruction you would get from these inferior teachers. Besides, you are family and I think you are being used in some way by this paleface.”
“I know what you mean. He seems too cold to me. I don’t think it’s anything to do with being white though. I think he is just so rich that he sees people as toys to play with any way he wants.”
“All I know is that he accesses this system constantly. He also has all sorts of deals going in the outside world that involve all kinds of nasty things. Drug smuggling, gun running, and manipulating political figures are the more boring ones…”
The next day went much the same until a diminutive man dressed in black walked over, interrupting Flashburn in the middle of an explanation of how to undermine security systems through their embedded systems. “I am William Snopes. I specialize in forced entry and physical infiltration. Flashburn and I have worked together before, so we will be coordinating our lessons to maximize the usefulness of what each of us teaches you.”
“Thanks! I’m glad you guys have a plan to make everything work out so well.”
“Get your nose out of my ass!” snarled the little man. Shoving his finger into Sam’s chest he growled “I don’t need you sucking up to me with the whole ‘grateful student’ act. I’m here to teach you, not be buddies with you. Your boss and you make me sick. Just because you have access to more money than God, you think everybody should do as you say. If I had a choice, I would not be here. Since I am here, I will do my job. Just don’t suck up to me.” With a final sneer, he turned and vanished before Sam could recover from the verbal attack.
Sam found that things settled into a stable routine of studying with his main teachers in the day and Coyote helping him cram at night on the things missed by his day teachers. Snopes never really yelled at Sam again, but they never really talked about anything outside of the day’s lessons either.
Five long years of grueling training later, Thornsberry came to see Sam. He calmly waited until there was a pause in Snopes’ lecture. “I hope I’m not intruding too badly, but I need to borrow your student for a short while.”
Snopes’ response was summed up in a slight shrug of the shoulders.
“Good! Come Sam! I have something wonderful to show you!” he said as he turned to lead the way.
They walked only a short way down a path leading away from the small building Sam had been practicing break-ins on, but they suddenly seemed to have moved miles away into a dark, wooded area. In the middle of the wooded area was a cave. The cave opening was ten feet high and eight feet wide, with smooth sides, giving it an odd artificial feel. “Come in with me Sam. I think you will find what I have in here very interesting.” the Englishman enthused as he strode briskly towards the cave. Sam followed closely behind anxiously trying to guess what his enigmatic benefactor might be up to.`
Entering the cave, Sam found the interior to be dry and relatively clean. The illumination from the entrance was soon replaced by an antiseptic fluorescent glow. The cave began to curve sharply to the right as the light got brighter. Finally, the passageway ended in a brightly lit twenty-foot square room. On a steel table, in the middle of the room, was a man’s body. The body was Sam’s. It was not as he remembered himself. The body was adult, lean, and well-muscled. “Well, do you like it?”
“Like what? All I see is an older version of myself on a table.”
“The work to save your old body did not succeed. So, something new had to be made to put your mind into.”
“Put my mind into! Do you mean I’m dead and a copy of me will be in THAT thing?”
“No, your body died. Your brain was removed and kept alive. When all is ready, we will put your brain into your permanent body. Can you deal with that?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Not really. I do want to know if you like the look of this one though. If not, we can always make modifications for the permanent one.”
“Permanent one? This one? What do you mean?”
“Let me explain. We will need to grow you a new one. In the meantime, we have come up with a temporary substitute. It has many enhancements to help in our business together.”
“Can’t we wait for the permanent body to be ready?”
“Only if you want to wait twenty years for your revenge.” sighed the brit.