Warcross (Warcross #1)(9)

“He did it by inventing a thin, wireless pair of glasses with metal arms and retractable earphones. Make no mistake. They’re nothing like the goggles we’ve seen before, the ones that looked like giant bricks strapped to your face. No, these ultra-slim glasses are called the NeuroLink, and you wear them as easily as any pair of regular glasses. We have the latest pair in the studio here”—he paused to put them on—“and we promise, it’s the most sensational thing we’ve ever tried.”

The NeuroLink. I’d heard it mentioned in the news before. Now I listened as the radio program laid it out for me.

For a long time, in order to create a realistic virtual reality environment, you had to render as detailed a world as possible. This required a lot of money and effort. But no matter how good the effects became, you could still tell—if you looked hard enough—that it wasn’t real. There are a thousand little movements on a human face every second, a thousand different quivers of a leaf on a tree, a million tiny things the real world has that the virtual world doesn’t. Your mind knows this unconsciously—so something will look off, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it.

So Hideo Tanaka thought of an easier solution. In order to create a flawlessly real world, you don’t need to draw the most detailed, most realistic 3-D scene ever.

You just need to fool the audience into thinking it’s real.

And guess what can do that the best? Your own brain.

When you have a dream, no matter how crazy it is, you believe it’s real. Like, full-on surround sound, high definition, 360-degree special effects. And none of it is anything you’re actually seeing. Your brain is creating an entire reality for you, without needing any piece of technology.

So Hideo created the best brain–computer interface ever built. A pair of sleek glasses. The NeuroLink.

When you wore it, it helped your brain render virtual worlds that looked and sounded indistinguishable from reality. Imagine walking around in that world—interacting, playing, talking. Imagine wandering through the most realistic virtual Paris ever, or lounging in a full simulation of Hawaii’s beaches. Imagine flying through a fantasy world of dragons and elves. Anything.

With the press of a tiny button on its side, the glasses could also switch back and forth like polarized lenses between the virtual world and the real world. And when you looked at the real world through it, you could see virtual things hovering over real-life objects and places. Dragons flying above your street. The names of stores, restaurants, and people.

To demonstrate how cool the glasses were, Hideo made a video game that came with each pair. This game was called Warcross.

Warcross was pretty simple: two teams battled each other, one trying to take the other team’s Artifact (a shiny gem) without losing their own. What made it spectacular were the virtual worlds the battles were set in, each one so realistic that putting on your glasses was like dropping you right into that place.

As the radio program went on, I learned that Hideo, born in London and raised in Tokyo, had taught himself how to code when he was eleven. My age. Not long afterward, he built his first pair of NeuroLink glasses at his father’s computer repair shop, with his neuroscientist mother’s input. His parents helped fund a set of one thousand glasses for him, and he started shipping them to people. A thousand orders turned overnight into a hundred thousand. Then, a million, ten million, a hundred million. Investors called with staggering offers. Lawsuits flew over the patents. Critics argued about how the NeuroLink engine would change everyday life, travel, medicine, the military, education. “Link Up” was the name of a popular Frankie Dena pop song, last summer’s big hit.

And everyone—everyone—played Warcross. Some played it intensely, forming teams and battling for hours. Others played by simply lounging on a virtual beach or enjoying a virtual safari. Still others played by wearing their glasses while walking around the real world, showing off their virtual pet tigers or populating the streets with their favorite celebrities.

However people played, it became a way of life.

My gaze shifted from the radio to the homework pages lying on my blankets. Hideo’s story stirred something in my chest, cutting through the fog. How did a boy only three years older than me take the world by storm? I stayed where I was until the program ended and music started to play. I lay there for another long hour. Then, gradually, I uncurled and reached for one of my assignments.

It was from my Introduction to Computer Science class. The first problem on it was to spot the error in a simple, three-line piece of code. I studied it, imagining an eleven-year old Hideo in the same position as me. He wouldn’t be lying here, staring off into nothing. He would have solved this problem, and the next, and the next.

The thought conjured an old memory of my father sitting on my bed and showing me the back of a magazine, where two drawings were printed that looked identical. It was asking the reader to figure out the difference between them.

This is a trick question, I’d remembered declaring to him with crossed arms. My eyes squinted closely at every corner of both images. The two drawings are exactly the same.

Dad just gave me a crooked smile and adjusted his glasses. There was still paint and glue stuck in his hair from when he was experimenting with fabrics earlier in the day. I’d need to help him cut the sticky strands out later. Look closer, he’d replied. He’d grabbed the pencil tucked behind his ear and made a sweeping motion across the image. Think about a painting hanging on a wall. Without using any tools, you can still tell if it’s crooked—even by a tiny bit. It just feels off. Right?

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