Freeman and his sister Ann were far from Earth aboard a space shuttle.
The interior gleamed white. Ann was strapped into one of two big sturdy
seats anchored to the deck. They were on their way to the grand opening
of Star Park, the world's first virtual reality adventure world on a
space station. Scott's seat was empty because he was floating weightlessly
around the passenger deck.
Scott had been playing with the weightlessness inside the
passenger deck for a while. Now he pushed off from one wall and glided
effortlessly in the opposite direction. He wondered if he could do a
somersault. He tried it but didn't exactly succeed. It was great fun
They were able to see out of a shuttle view port. "Look
at that," Scott said, pointing excitedly. They could see the Earth
they had left earlier. It was growing smaller and smaller behind them
as they traveled deeper and deeper into space. "That's Earth, behind
"Or below us," Ann replied. "What's the right
way to say it?"
"Good question," Scott said.
"Look at the moon, Scott," Ann said, pointing
out of the view port, hardly able to contain her own excitement. "It
looks so different from here!"
"I know," Scott replied. He jabbed his finger
toward the shuttle view port once again.
"Ever think the stars would look like this?"
"From here, they look different somehow."
"Different from what?" Scott asked.
"Than what I've seen in pictures," Ann remarked.
"There's no way I could have dreamed of this. It's incredible to
"And just think," Scott replied, "if you
weren't strapped in..."
"You'd be floating around the shuttle deck with me
Ann laughed. "I already tried it and it was fun. Now
I'm happy to just catch my breath."
Scott stared around the shuttle once more. Everywhere he
looked, he beheld a technological wonder. This very space shuttle was
hurtling them through space. In record time they would arrive at the
Star Park space station. The marvels of modern space tourism now demanded
Just two hours ago Scott had been announced as the winner
of the Star Park contest.
As the first chosen adventurer, he would experience the
first virtual reality adventure on the Star Park space station. The
adventure would be custom-designed for him. One detail had been especially
surprising to Scott. The Star Park system of computers had custom-designed
his adventure so much that it even insisted that Ann be a part of it.
After Scott was announced as the winner, a two-hour whirlwind
of activity had immediately followed. The swift tumult had ended with
Scott and Ann boarding the space shuttle and blasting off.
"Enjoy it while you're here in space and weightless,"
"Why?" Scott asked.
"Some day you'll have to come back down to Earth. But
you have no worries yet."
"Yet?" Scott asked curiously.
"Who knows, in your adventure you could turn out to
be a whale," Ann replied mischievously.
Scott suddenly stopped bouncing around and turned his attention
to the news break on the Internet news channel. The picture screen on
the wall in front of him was alive with action.
"Can you believe this news is only two hours old?"
Ann asked, leaning over.
"Yeah, hard to believe," Scott agreed, and then
"But it's still exciting to watch," Ann said.
"Can you pinch me to see if I'm dreaming?" Scott
On the screen in front of them, Scott gazed at the revolving
space station. "That Star Park space station looks like an engineering
wonder," Scott said. It looked quite state-of-the-art. He whistled
to himself softly as his eyes traced over the sleek design.
Inside the space station, Star Park had created a gigantic
version of their new computer. This gigantic system could create a world-sized
virtual-reality adventure. Scott had jumped at the chance to win such
The only way to enter the contest had been to buy a Star
Park computer. Then with the virtual-reality capability, the contestant
had to make up an adventure and submit it to Star Park. The winning
adventure would entitle the contestant to go to Star Park. Scott had
created an adventure and submitted it along with countless others.
A world-size virtual reality adventure itself sounded exciting.
But to also travel to a space station made the whole idea irresistible.
It was like computers, games, sports, fun, and being in space all together
at the same time.
"Look, the part where they announced you as winner
is coming up," Ann said.
Scott was going to say something else but Ann cut him off.
"Shhh," Ann said. "I want to hear this interview
"Finally, the moment that countless millions have been
waiting for...the announcement of the winner of the Star Park contest,"
a reporter said. "Let's go to our reporter, Jan Francis, who, at
this moment, is inside speaking with the president of Star Park."
The scene faded to an inside shot of Jan Francis and the
president of Star Park seated together in easy chairs around a coffee
Scott could see Jan's excitement and nervousness as she
started. "Hi, I'm Jan Francis. I'm reporting live from the office
of Ms. Catherine Graspar, who is the Star Park president. She is about
to name the winner of the Star Park contest."
The reporter turned to face Catherine. "Catherine,
millions of us are eagerly waiting to hear about the contest and the
Star Park space station adventure. Do you have some good news?"
Catherine turned her face toward the camera. "Yes, I do have some
good news! Star Park is ready to announce the winner of the contest."
Scott thought his heart must be beating just as fast as
the first time he saw this news.
"But first, I have another surprise announcement about
a bonus prize," Catherine continued. "The winner will also,
during his adventure, have the chance to figure out secret code words.
If he figures out the code words and says them aloud so that the computer
hears them, he will be offered the work of being in charge of all following
virtual-reality adventures. This incredible position will be called
the Star Park Adventure Master."
Imagine, being in charge of Star Park's future space station
adventures! Scott couldn't dream of any job that would be more fun.
This was another reason why he really couldn't wait to arrive at Star
"Just think, Scotty, you could become the Adventure
Master, too," she said.
"Yeah, I can't wait to get a chance," Scott replied
Catherine Graspar turned toward the camera as she began.
"Right now, I will announce the lucky winner. The instant this
person is named, they will be contacted and will leave immediately for
Star Park. And the winner is
." It seemed like an eternity
while there was a dramatic drum roll. "
"Ooooh," Ann squealed. "I remember that
went crazy when you heard."
"Hey, listen to this part, Ann," Scott cut in.
"It lets us in on what it's going to be like at Star Park."
"Once inside the Star Park adventure, will it be anything
like on Earth?" Jan Francis asked.
"In many ways it will be as it is on Earth, with cities
and towns, trees and animals, weather, day and night, oceans and land."
Catherine Graspar paused. She smiled thinly. "Plus a few surprises
we don't experience here. The actual adventure will stop if not won
in two days."
"Does the adventurer assume an identity, or disguise,
or be themselves in the adventure?" Jan Francis asked.
"The system of computers could make the adventurer
into any kind of a person or creature. The system of computers superimposes
a holographic suit on top of each adventurer. This gives each person
"What would such a person or creature look like?"
Jan Francis asked.
"Say the adventurer is given the disguise and identity
of a cow that can talk. The adventurer would look, move and sound just
like a cow."
"But how would the adventurer understand 'moo-talk'?"
"The holographic suit has a special language translator
that allows the characters to understand each other's language."
"Do you secretly know what the adventure will be?"
Jan asked. "If so, can you let the world in on your little secret?"
"If I did that, it wouldn't be a secret, would it?"
Catherine smiled. "No, in fact, none of us knows what adventure
the computer will actually create, as each one is different. That's
the mystery of it. Each adventure will be unique to the adventurer or
adventurers. So this first adventure will be especially tailored to
"For any one just joining us, Catherine, can you repeat
the name of the winner once again?"
The view screen switched over to show Catherine Graspar again as she
repeated the big announcement. "Scott Freeman is the winner of
the Star Park contest. The Star Park system of computers has calculated
what his adventure will be. The Star Park system of computers has also
requested that Scott's sister Ann be part of the adventure as well."
Catherine stared directly into the camera, her eyes suddenly
appearing cold and hard. "It will be an experience Scott and his
sister will never forget!" she predicted with something of a devilish
Scott felt the very same chill go down his spine that he
had felt the first time he had seen Catherine make this announcement.
At that moment, he felt as if Catherine was staring right at him through
the camera. He also felt the same uneasy feeling that he had once experienced
when he first met Catherine before she became president of the company.
His body shuddered to shake off the chill.
Scott thought about the sequence of events that had been
triggered by that announcement just a few short hours ago.
Almost immediately, Star Park had confirmed they had permission
from Scott and Ann's parents. Then a robot-controlled helicopter picked
up both Scott and Ann to fly them to the shuttle.
The picture screen switched over to show another reporter.
"Hey, that's Sarah Jalisco," Ann said, surprised.
"How did she get to be on TV? She's in one of my school classes."
Scott was jolted out of his thoughts and back to the present.
Sarah Jalisco began speaking. "Scott Freeman is a sixteen-year-old,
handsome, muscular teenager who likes sports, games and computers."
A picture of Scott showed on the screen. "Here are some interviews
with his fellow students who give the inside story of this friendly
and popular student,"
"Sarah left out 'brown-haired' and 'right-handed',
two of my most admirable qualities," Scott joked.
"Don't you think she's cute?" Ann asked.
"Who?" Scott answered back.
"Hadn't thought about it," Scott replied off-handedly.
Scott and Ann's viewing was interrupted by the booming voice
of the robot who piloted the shuttle. "This is the captain. May
I please have your attention?" The robot spoke over the shuttle's
superb surround sound system. This made it feel like they were right
next to the robot rather than a short distance apart.
Scott had curiously noticed that the robot actually had
two faces. One was on the front of his head and the other was on the
back of his head. Right now, one of the robot's two faces looked forward
with the robot using this set of eyes in piloting. The other face was
directed toward Scott and Ann.
"Hey, you really do have eyes in the back of your head!"
"Yes, of course," the robot agreed. "Many
of the two-faced persons in our company do."
"What's up?" Scott asked.
"Scott and Ann, I hate to interrupt your news program,
but it's time to strap in. Gravity will be turned on inside the shuttle.
You will be served your in-flight meal."
Scott hurriedly moved to his own passenger seat and strapped
From behind them, a robot flight attendant rolled in a cart
full of food. "Time for a meal" the robot said. "Chicken
"Sure," Scott agreed, smiling.
"That's okay with me, too," Ann said.
But Scott didn't have much of an appetite. "Ann,"
he finally said, "do you have your medicine?"
"You've already asked me that twice since we've boarded
the shuttle," Ann answered.
"I know, I'm just nervous," Scott confessed.
"About what?" Ann asked.
"That you might accidentally forget your medicine."
"Why do you think I would do that?" Ann asked.
"It's just that you will really get sick really fast
without your medicine and probably miss the adventure."
"Relax, Scott," Ann said with a smile. "I
know I have a disease and I know what would happen if I were to stop
taking my medicine. But I won't forget."
"Did you take your pill just now with your meal?"
Scott asked anxiously.
"Yes," Ann said. "Just like the doctor ordered.
So don't worry. The adventure only lasts two days. The doctor said I
just have to make sure I take the first pill on the shuttle flight to
Star Park. After the adventure is over, I immediately take my next pill.
Then I'll be okay."
"And you have extra medicine?"
"Just like the plan. In case the shuttle breaks down
"And you brought your prescription bottle so you can
put it in your guest locker once we arrive at Star Park?" Scott
"Yes, the bottle's in my pocket. So please don't have
protective big brother syndrome," Ann joked. "I'm fifteen
and that's only a year younger than you, remember? Mom and Dad thought
it was okay for me to go on this two day adventure with you. Something
like this only comes around once in a lifetime for someone like me."
"You're right," Scott agreed. "Mom and Dad
have already been in space so they felt okay about letting us go, too."
Scott couldn't help but worry about Ann a little. A year
ago, the doctors had diagnosed her with a degenerating illness that
could prove to be fatal. No one knew how quickly it would get worse.
However, Scott had already seen signs of her becoming fatigued. The
doctors had told them that as the illness progressed, longer periods
of fatigue and sickness would follow.
But Scott felt his parents and Ann's doctor had done the
right thing in letting her have this once in a lifetime experience.
It would only be two days. What could go wrong in two days, anyway?
"Look," Scott said suddenly and pointed at the
On the screen a small orange-red speck could be detected
in the distance. It steadily grew larger.
"Star Park," Scott exclaimed. They continued growing
nearer. As they approached, Star Park exploded in size ahead of them.
"This is the captain again. We will make our final
approach to Star Park. You will now see the emergency procedures shown
on your view screen. Please review them to be ready in case of the unlikely
event of there being a problem."
"I guess this is it," Scott said, grinning.
"I guess so," Ann replied happily.
The captain continued. "Two humans on the space station
will greet you near the space dock. All else inside the space station
is empty, awaiting your Star Park adventure to fill it.
"After they greet you, you will start your grand adventure.
The colossal space station will transform into your adventure world.
We have landed. Please stand up and exit through the hatch."
As Scott approached the hatch, a holographic sign appeared
at eye level just in front of him.
Scott stood and took a deep breath. The hatch slid open. Ann joined
him at his side.
As the holographic sign dissolved, they exited the shuttle
and entered Star Park for the very first time.
"Look," Ann said. "There's the guest locker."
She hurried over and stowed her vital medicine safely away.
"See, the locker already has my name on it." She quickly returned
to Scott's side. "That's done," Ann said. "Now you can
In the meantime, Scott was burning with curiosity. Who would
these unnamed, mysterious humans be?
Scott stepped through the hatch into the adventure computer
control area. Ann trailed behind.
No one could have surprised Scott more than who now approached
them. It was none other than Catherine Graspar and her assistant Leonard
"Surprise," Leonard said with a laugh.
"I don't understand," Scott said. "What are
you doing here?"
Behind Leonard and Catherine was a huge glass wall. Scott
peered through it. On the other side of the glass was something like
a skyscraper, towering formidably. It was the largest system of computers
he had ever seen. And it was the only thing besides vast emptiness everywhere.
Scott knew this space station was essentially like a big
empty ball. It had an outer shell but the inside was mostly empty. All
the vast remaining room was available and waiting for the virtual-reality
adventure world to soon fill it.
Leonard gave Scott a snobby look. "See that,"
he said, pointing to the towering system of computers. "I helped
design that system myself. It's the most complex system of computers
in the world." He paused to laugh. "Or should I say...'out
of the world'?"
"When are we going to start?" Ann asked excitedly.
"Soon," Leonard replied with a politeness that
Scott felt sorry for Leonard. He and Leonard had become
rivals in the computer club in high school when both campaigned for
the office of computer club president. Scott had won by a landslide
and he knew Leonard resented that. From that point in time, Leonard
seemed to hold some sort of grudge against him.
"We're going to be in the adventure as well,"
"You two are going to be in the adventure?" Scott
"Yes, and we'll be disguised in the adventure,"
Leonard nodded. "We're going to be your enemies, which I will especially
"The system of computers has quite a bit of information
about you, gathered from interviews of people that have known you,"
Leonard said. "I gave the system of computers quite a bit of info
myself, from being with you in the computer club the last few years."
"And one more thing," Catherine said, giving them
a disgusted look. "Don't believe everything you have heard. You
shouldn't have listened to those Star Park promoters so much. All that
stuff about how safe Star Park is supposed to be."
"Why, how could it be a very exciting adventure if
we guarantee everything to be completely safe?" Leonard asked.
"Yes, but ..." Ann started to protest.
"But what an adventure you'll have," Catherine
said, gloating. "There are no safeguards."
"We've tricked you already," Leonard said.
"Quite right, Leonard," Catherine answered. "Scott,
I've changed the adventure to last twelve days. I calculate that your
sister, due to her medical condition, will die in twelve days if you
haven't figured out the code words by then."
"Scott, only you can figure out the code words to save
her," Leonard said.
"I thought the adventure was to last two days, not
twelve," Scott replied in protest.
"Didn't we tell you that you should stop believing
everything those promoters dreamed up?" Catherine asked.
"But Ann has to take her medicine, she has a disease,"
"I have to take the medicine after two days
Ann added also protesting.
"If you figure out the code words in two days, she
takes the medicine in two days," Catherine said teasingly. "If
you take three days to solve the code words, she takes the medicine
in three days."
"Get the picture?" Leonard asked tauntingly. "No
problem for you, right, Smartboy?"
"But how will I figure out the code words?" Scott
Leonard began to reply. "You must or else you'll-"
"-You'll lose your sister," Catherine cut him
"Then I will succeed," Scott replied. He stared
icily at Leonard. "Leonard, this is entirely your fault. You started
all this. I have to go into some virtual-reality adventure, figure out
secret code words in twelve days, or my sister dies! Well, all I can
say is that you're a pig!"
"So," Leonard replied angrily. "We'll see
who's going to be a pig!" Leonard turned to the computer and clicked
in some information. "There," he announced with a triumphant
grin. "You're the one who's going to be a pig!"
Catherine strode into the launch room.
"Don't just walk away," Scott said, following
Catherine into the launch room. "We're not done discussing this."
Ann, who had followed Scott into the launch room, now stood at Scott's
side. Only Leonard stayed behind in the computer control room.
Catherine smiled and spoke to Leonard. "Leonard, let's
begin, shall we?"
"All your work has been for nothing if you don't go
through with this, Leonard," Catherine warned. "And you won't
have a future with Star Park. I'll see to that."
Leonard suddenly broke his silence. "I have an announcement,"
Leonard said, smiling from behind the glass in the computer room.
Scott, Ann, and Catherine, on the side of the glass in the
launch room, could clearly hear Leonard from an overhead speaker.
"Let me do the honors," Leonard said. "Scott,
I warn you. You must simply follow the adventure, whatever you find
that to be. Continually search for the code words."
Scott watched helplessly as Leonard reached out and pressed
an ominous red blinking button.