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Slouching Towards Niceland

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It had all started so innocently.

Litwak wanted to get in new customers for the arcade, and the best way to keep going was to stay current. The hot new thing was fully-immersive virtual reality. Mr. Litwak bought two systems, shuffling around all the games to make space. Felix had worried, but Ralph was confident they were just shifting locations, not unplugging for good. They moved, and it was fine.

The VR characters weren't like the rest of the arcade crowd. They didn't live inside their screens the same way, instead flickering or oozing inside the massive boxes, towering over the rest of them when they came to say hello.

But the new games did bring in new players, and if the new guys weren't friendly, what was that to Ralph? He had loads of friends these days. He didn't need some enormous buzzing, clicking critter with four arms to be his best pal. Calhoun flat out hated them, spat when they were mentioned, and told anyone who would listen they were no better than Cy-bugs. Ralph wasn't so sure about that, but he was glad she was on his side.

Things were great, or not bad, which was all he usually hoped for.

Then Litwak bought the upgrades for the VR systems just in time for Halloween. No big deal. Extra skins, a few more bloodthirsty adventures for the high schoolers. Yeah, maybe the critter's laugh was more high-pitched now, and its eyes bulged as it dripped pretend plasma all over the white floor of the VR box, but that was all spooky, scary fun for the teens lining up to slide their token cards through the reader.

Fun.

The arcade closed, and the main lights went out.

The staticky outlines of the VR monsters gibbered and muttered inside their boxes, setting the rest of them on edge with their low, guttering laughs.

"I'm sure it's fine," said Felix.

Calhoun clicked off the safety on her big gun. "Sure."

Ralph tried not to worry, tried not to think about it. They were just games, like anybody else. He sat on top of the apartment building, not exactly keeping watch, grateful his friends were still there and one of them was armed.

That way, he knew he wasn't crazy when he saw the door of each VR box creak open. Crackling claws stretched their fingers around the door frame, and the beasts emerged, faces alight in unholy glee as they lurched towards the first game and began to feed.