By Anne Spear <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: August, 2007
Summary: When Lois tries a new computer game, she gets addicted — fast, and Clark thinks something is fishy about that.
"Jimmy, you're coming over to watch the game tonight, right?" Clark asked as he entered the newsroom and approached his friend's desk.
"Oh, that's tonight?" Jimmy responded. "Sorry, CK…I can't. I promised my group I'd help with a dungeon run tonight."
"Is that the new game you were telling me about? World of 'something,' right?"
"Earth of Engagement, yeah!" Jimmy told him, excitement about his new favorite pastime clearly written all over his face. "Ya' know, you should try it."
"I don't know. I've never been a big fan of video games," Clark said, inwardly cringing when he recalled the smoking Atari System.
"You'd love it, really," Jimmy tried to convince him. "It's not just a video game. Since you're playing online, you get to meet people all over the world. The group I'm running with tonight is from Maine, Chicago and Quebec."
"Wow, and you can talk to them while playing?"
"Yeah, there's a chat feature and mail boxes and all kinds of stuff."
"I don't know," Clark still hesitated. "I'd hate to buy it and then find out it's not for me."
"Actually, you can go to their website and download a two week free trial. I can email it to you later…"
"Okay, I'll check it out. Thanks."
Later that evening, Clark decided to check out the game that held such sway over his friend. He sat at the dining room table with his open laptop and typed in the website address. Just as he clicked the link for the trial, Lois exited the kitchen drying her hands on a towel.
"Dishes are all done," she announced.
"I told you that I don't mind doing them," Clark told her.
"No," she insisted. "You cook; I clean…that's the rule! Unless you *want* me to start cooking…"
Clark grabbed his wife by the hips and playfully pulled her into his lap. "Honey, I love you dearly, but you are no Julia Childs," he laughed.
"Yeah, I thought you'd say that." As she started to get up, Lois noticed the laptop. "Is that the game you told me about?"
"Yep. I…uh oh." Clark stopped and listened for a moment. "Overturned tractor trailer on the interstate… I'd better go," he told her.
Lois stood and nudged her husband. "You go, and just because I am such a nice person, I'll set up your account on the game."
Clark stood and kissed her quickly. "Thank you sweetie," he said as he headed for the back door. Lois smiled and sat in the chair that Clark had just vacated. On the screen, the game was asking for some information. She entered Clark's name, address, phone number and email address into the appropriate boxes, and then stopped when it asked for a user name and password.
<Hmm,> she thought. <What can I use that he'll remember?> "Ha! F-A-R-M-B-O-Y," she said each letter as she typed. "Now, password…K-A-L-E-L-1…and submit! There." As she read through the rules on the next screen, one of them stood out: Each trial player may create up to 3 characters. <Well, he's not going to need that many so he won't mind if I try one,> she decided as her curiosity rose. She hit the link marked 'create new character' and looked at her options. <Okay, first choice is easy…definitely female! Let's see what's next…race? Ew, zombies? Why would anyone want to look like *that*?! No, human…definitely human! Next choice…class? What's a class? Hmm, wizard, hunter, priestess? No. Fighter! That's it! Okay, skin color is fine, hair color…a little darker. Good! Hairstyle…short. There! Oh, now I need a name…L-O-I-S.> A message appeared on the screen that read, "That name is not available." She released a heavy sigh, thought for a moment then entered, L-O-I-S-E-T-T-E. This name was approved and her new character was born.
Just before midnight, Clark returned and flew directly into the bedroom through the open window, expecting to find Lois asleep. Righting the overturned truck hadn't taken more than an hour, but he'd heard about an oilrig fire in the Gulf of Mexico that took the rest of the time. On the way home, he took a quick dip in the Mississippi River to get most of the soot off.
Not wanting to wake his wife, he changed into his pajamas in the dark. As his eyes adjusted, he realized the bed was empty and still made. He opened the bedroom door and saw a light coming from downstairs. Heading down, he found Lois still in the dining room facing his laptop, muttering to herself.
"You stupid furball! Why'd ya' have to attack me? I was nowhere near you!"
Clark decided to stay behind Lois and see what she was doing before she saw him. He heard a female voice from the computer say, "I need more anger to do that."
"You want anger?" Lois replied, hitting a key a little harder than necessary. "Do you really want to see anger? I'll show you anger!"
"Lois?" Clark spoke quietly, not wanting to startle her.
"Hi, honey," she acknowledged him while still hitting keys and moving the mouse. "That didn't take long…"
Clark was shocked. Lois hardly ever even watched television, except the news right before going to bed. She had even stopped watching that soap opera. He moved to stand next to her. "Have you been playing this game the whole time I was gone?"
"Yeah, Jimmy was right. It's a lot of fun! He says 'hi' by the way. He answered a lot of my questions when I first signed on but then he had to go help his other friends. He did say he's available tomorrow night. I got the names of his other characters and added them to my Ally List, which lets me know who's online. Just let me kill this one more wolf then I can get to a safe place…"
Clark watched as a cartoon character, which looked remarkably like Lois, swung a large two-handed sword at a ferocious looking wolf. The wolf was trying to bite and claw at the female fighter and two small gauges showed how quickly Loisette was killing the wolf and that the wolf was also doing damage back. Loisette gave one more big swing and the wolf suddenly stopped its attack and fell to its side. As Clark was watching, he noticed that the screen blinked every minute or so. Loisette was reaching down to loot the wolf's body and Clark saw the blink again. "What was that?" he asked.
"I'm collecting wolf fangs for another mission," Lois answered, as if it was the most normal thing to do.
"No, that blink," Clark clarified.
"I didn't see anything," Lois told him
As Loisette was turning to leave the woods, something hit her from behind. She turned and started swinging at a very large bear. "Damn," she swore, quietly.
"Its level is three above mine. I don't think I can win this one," she told him as Loisette turned and ran away from the bear. It continued to hit her until she stopped short, groaned and fell. Seeing the blink again, Clark lowered his glasses to look closer at the next one. The scene changed and Loisette appeared as a ghost in a cemetery.
"Is the game over now?"
"No, I just have to run back to the body and I can reanimate…no big deal," Lois explained as Loisette ran across a pond. "The main thing to remember is to wait until whatever killed me is gone. Sometimes they hang around."
Clark listened to Lois but watched the screen, seeing each frame separately. As Loisette ran across the terrain, a new frame was inserted. That one was white with gray words in the center, saying, "Dead is not done."
"What was that?" Clark asked as the scene changed back.
"Oh, that. Some of the monsters are humans mixed with animals. They *are* kinda weird looking."
Realizing that Lois didn't consciously see the message, he kept watching with his 'vision gizmo,' as Lois liked to call it. The next time the screen blinked, the message read, "Convince your friends to play." Lois had been explaining some of the workings of the game when she suddenly decided that she would call Lucy in the morning and tell her how much fun this was.
"Honey, I think you need to get off now," Clark told Lois.
"But I only need to get to my body, then run to town and turn in these missions and I'll reach level 10! Then I can start choosing my ability points…plus, if I get to a tavern before I log off, I get an extra rested bonus when I sign back on and I'll get to the next level faster!"
"Lois, please trust me. Sign off now."
Lois looked up at her husband for the first time and saw the determined look on his face. She knew better than to argue with him when he had *that* look. She immediately signed off and rose from her chair. "What is it?" she asked him.
"The game is using subliminal messages to keep your interest," Clark explained.
Lois was outraged. "Why would anyone do that?!"
"There's the price of the game at the very least…" Clark suggested. "Men have done worse for much less."
"I suppose," Lois agreed, then looked at her watch. "Why didn't you tell me it was so late?"
Without answering, Clark suddenly lifted Lois, threw her over his shoulder and headed for the stairs. She screamed playfully and pummeled his back.
"Silence, woman!" he ordered her. "I'm saving you from the evil sorcerer."
"Oh, my hero," she swooned in a fake-high voice and they both laughed as he kicked the bedroom door shut behind him.
In the morning, Lois did not call her sister. However, when she and Clark arrived at work, she grabbed Jimmy by the arm and propelled him toward the conference room.
"Hey!" the younger man exclaimed. "Perry needs these pictures."
"Perry can wait," Lois told him as Clark shut the door behind the trio. "Okay, this game…"
"EoE?" Jimmy supplied.
"Yeah. How did you get involved with it?"
"My friend Billy told me about it and gave me the trial version on a disc."
"Where did he get the disc?" Clark asked.
"It originally came with the game before they put it on the website," Jimmy explained.
Lois looked at Clark. "They could reach more people with the website…" she commented.
"Exactly," Clark agreed.
"What's going on?" Jimmy asked.
"We think something's fishy in the game," Clark explained.
"And we're not talking about the mermen on Sparrow Island," Lois finished, referring to one of the missions from the game. Jimmy snickered.
"Lo-is," Clark groaned.
"What?" she replied, acting innocently.
Clark shook his head then addressed Jimmy. "Could you find out everything you can about the game — who created it, who owns it, how many people are playing it…"
Once Jimmy was gone, Lois sighed. "I don't know what came over me…"
Clark stepped closer and enclosed his wife in his most comforting embrace, the one where her head fit perfectly beneath his chin and she felt completely surrounded by his love. "Someone messed with your head," he told her. "It's perfectly natural that you'd be a little…off."
"But I sounded like one of those 'D & D' geeks that I made fun of in high school."
Clark took a step back and held Lois's shoulders at arms length. "But you were in the chess club. Wouldn't that make you a geek, too?"
Lois looked down at the floor. "I only joined because I thought it would look good on my college applications."
Clark just chuckled and hugged her again.
That afternoon, Clark was standing behind Lois's chair as they finished up another story they'd been working on. Jimmy came over with his arms loaded with files, dropped one on Lois's desk and hurried off again. Lois opened the file and started sifting through the information.
"Okay, the company that owns the game is called Nor' eastern Industries but I haven't seen this many dummy corporations since Leslie Luckabee," Lois commented.
Clark flipped through the pages that he'd taken from the folder. "It was designed by Alec Turner."
"Why does that name sound familiar?" Lois asked him, then went back to the folder. "Wow."
"What?" Clark looked up from the page he was reading.
"There are five million active accounts and each account costs the player $35 per month to maintain. Per year, that would be…" Lois reached for her calculator.
"2.1 billion dollars," Clark supplied.
"Plus each player paid $75 for the original game, which is…"
"Another 375 million. That's a *lot* of motive."
"Okay, we definitely know the why and the what and we can probably figure our the how…"
"We just need proof," Clark pointed out.
"Right, and we need to find out more about who."
Clark was still flipping through pages. "And I found the where. Their office is here in Metropolis, in the Jacovelli Building."
"I wonder if Jimmy can hack into their system to get the proof we need," Lois wondered aloud.
"Doesn't hurt to ask…"
"Jimmy!" they called simultaneously.
About an hour later, Lois and Clark were riding the elevator in the Jacovelli Building to the seventh floor. "Tell me again why we don't just wait and break in tonight?" Lois asked her husband.
"Because sometimes the direct approach works better than the illegal one…"
They moved down the hall glancing at each door until they found the one marked 'Nor' eastern Industries.' Lois opened the door into a small waiting room with an L-shaped receptionist desk against the back wall and three more doors leading to inner offices. There was a twenty-something blonde woman sitting at the desk, noisily chewing gum.
"Can I help you?" she asked them.
"Yes," Lois answered. "We'd like to see the president of the company."
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No," Clark replied. "We're from the Daily Planet and we're writing an article about your game 'Earth of Engagement'."
"Cool! Um, let me see if Mr. Turner is available." She lifted the telephone receiver and pressed a button. "Two reporters would like to see you," she spoke into the phone. "Oh, let me see." She placed a hand over the receiver and spoke directly to the couple standing in front of her desk. "And your names are?"
"Sorry," Clark said, producing a business card from his jacket pocket.
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent," the receptionist read into the phone. "Okay." She hung up the receiver and spoke to Lois and Clark again. "I'm sorry, but Mr. Turner is not available today. If you like, I can email you a press packet."
"Thanks, that would be helpful," Clark answered, propelling Lois to the door.
By 8:00 that night, Clark, Lois and Jimmy were hiding in a closet waiting for the building to close. Two hours later, Clark told the others that the guard had just left and the coast was clear.
"How do you know?" Jimmy asked.
"Bad eyes — good ears," Lois explained.
Jimmy nodded and followed Clark out of the closet. They made their way down the hallway to the correct door and Lois pulled a lock pick kit out of her bag. It only took her a few seconds to unlock the door and open it. Once they were all inside with the door closed and locked again, they each turned on a flashlight and looked around. Seeing the three other doors, Jimmy asked, "Eeny meeny miney mo?" with a grin.
"That one," Clark said, indicating the first door from the left.
Jimmy turned the knob and pushed the door in. "Jackpot," he said, and then looked at Clark. "How'd you know?"
"Lucky guess," Clark answered, with a shrug.
In the center of the large room were four desks gathered together in a square, facing each other. Each desk contained a flat screen monitor and a telephone along with different personal items. The walls were covered with posters of scenes from the game.
Jimmy sat at the first desk and turned on the computer. A "user name" screen came up and asked for a password. "Uh oh," Lois worried.
"No problem," Jimmy assured her, pulling a mini disc from his pocket. "I wrote a program that goes through every possible letter and number combination in no time." He loaded the disc into the CD driver and they watched as it tried hundreds of combinations in seconds.
"I know someone else who can do the same thing," Lois whispered so only Clark would hear. He smiled at her and held her hand while they continued to watch the screen. Within minutes, the correct password was accepted and the desktop appeared showing a map of the game.
"Cool wallpaper!" Jimmy said, but before his friends could say anything, he added, "I know, I know, find the proof and let's get outta here!" Faster than it would take to explain it, Jimmy had found the code which included the subliminal messages. "I don't believe it!" he exclaimed. "Why?"
"About 2.5 billion dollars," Clark answered.
Lois placed a hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "I know how it feels to find out that someone's been messing with your head, but we can deal with that later. Can you load the proof onto this?" she asked, handing him a small item about the size of his thumb.
"A flash drive? Sweet!" Jimmy plugged the portable drive into the USB port and started downloading. When it finished, he removed the flash drive and handed it back to Lois who replaced it in its case.
Once Jimmy had turned the computer off, Lois suggested they check the other rooms. "I'd like to know more about this Alec Turner guy."
The next room was a little bigger than the first. There were shelves containing office supplies along the left wall, a conference table in the center, and a television in the right back corner. "Nothing sinister in here," Clark announced.
The last door had a plaque on it that read, "Alec Turner, President." Clark opened the door and stepped in, shining his flashlight around the room. There was a large desk in the center with a big leather chair behind it and two smaller chairs in front. There was a wide screen television and DVD cabinet against one wall and a refrigerator and sofa against the other. On the back wall, open shelves had been attached and these were covered with various toys, including a Superman doll that had pins sticking out of it. Clark settled his light on one particular small yellow toy. "Honey, does that look familiar to you?"
Lois turned to see a wind up duck staring back at her. "That's why the name sounds so familiar!" she exclaimed. Alec Turner was the head of Dino Corps Board of Directors whose son was kidnapped…"
"By Harold Kripstly," Clark finished.
"The Toyman?" Jimmy asked.
"He was charged with twenty-four counts of kidnapping and Wendy's murder," Lois pointed out. "Shouldn't he still be in prison?"
Clark started to answer then stopped as if he heard something. "C'mon, let's get outta here before the guard starts his rounds again," he suggested.
Once out in the hallway, they heard someone whistling around the corner and ducked back into the same closet. After the whistler had passed, Clark opened the closet door just a crack and all three peeked out. They waited silently as Harold Kripstly, aka Alec Turner, unlocked the office door and entered.
"Wow, it's a good thing we left when we did," Jimmy whispered.
"Yeah," Lois agreed. "Now let's get going quick."
"Great exclusive," Perry praised Lois, standing next to her desk with Jimmy. "But I don't get how you knew to look into the game to begin with."
"Well, Clark said he kept seeing the screen 'blink' while I was playing," Lois answered truthfully. "Add that to the fact that I was completely hooked on something that I normally wouldn't have even looked at twice and we just knew something wasn't kosher."
"So, how *did* Kripstly get out of prison?" Jimmy asked.
"That's what Clark is trying to find out now," she replied, indicating her partner at his desk. "He's on the phone with Warden Sisco."
As if on cue, Clark hung up the receiver and approached the group. "The warden tried to insist that Harold Kripstly is still *in* prison until I assured him that we'd seen him with our own eyes and suggested he double-check. It turns out the inmate they found in Kripstly's cell is really a sophisticated toy…like a robot. They have no idea how long he's been missing. Henderson also called to let us know that Kripstly has been picked up and is on his way back to prison." I also talked to Constance Hunter, who's agreed to file a class action suit on behalf of all the accounts who wish to sue Nor' eastern Industries.
Perry held the hard copy of the story up to his forehead and closed his eyes. "I see multiple follow-ups and an editorial calling for prison reform in the near future," he intoned, then more seriously he said, "You'd better get working."
Everyone chuckled as they went back to work.
Author's Note: "World of Warcraft" is owned and operated by Blizzard Entertainment. Any similarity between this game and "Earth of Engagement" is purely intentional. However addictive "WoW" may be, I do not believe that subliminal messages are now, or have ever been, used.
I hope you've enjoyed this completely fictional story.