Loud, overly-cheery ukulele music rang in Payton’s ears as she slowly woke up. Her head throbbed and it felt like the world was spinning.
“What?” Mumbled Payton as she heavily blinked. Her brain quickly started to panic as she remembered what she had been doing moments before. She started to look around, only to realize that she couldn’t seem to move any of her limbs.
“What is going on?” Shouted Payton, only to realize that her voice wasn’t making a sound. She was seemingly in the classroom once again, but this time she was on the other side of the room.
Payton was confused, her head was swimming, all of her thoughts were jumbled and broken up, it was like she was overly-caffeinated but to an extreme level.
“I’m so excited!” Giggled Nana. “So many new classes today! Are you excited Name?” She asked as she looked towards Payton. After a few seconds, the older women entered the room and stood by the blackboard.
“Today, we’ll be starting classes, however, this first period is dedicated to selecting your clubs for the year. Please remember, Sagi Acadamy policy demands all students join at least one club. I know some club heads and representatives are here so I will give them each a few minutes to speak.”
“Yes,” said Micchi’s voice as Payton’s eye level slowly rose. “The school newspaper is always looking for photographers, reporters, writers, editors, circulation managers, and typesetters. If you would like to apply our clubroom is always open.”
Payton’s vision fell again as Akiko rose from her chair and started to speak. “Our club based on the poetry. Your membership would make us exult. Together we will commune with poets, from brightest morning to darkest coasts. For an experience that is almost spiritual, we request you join our circle.
Suddenly Payton realized what was going on, she had somehow ended up in Micchi’s body. Except she wasn’t playing as Micchi, she was just floating in her, unable to move or control her.
The other girls smiled and clapped politely as Akiko sat back down and smiled to herself. Once the ripple of applause had died down, Yui stood up and bowed.
“Hello, I’m Yurin and I’m the representative for the Good Deeds club. We aim to make the world around Sagi Acadamy a better and happier place.” She said gently, her shyness poking through her rehearsed words.
Payton continued to struggle, doing her best to move something, anything. To exert some control over her situation. But she couldn’t seem to do anything, nothing seemed to respond to her, it was hard to work out if she even had limbs, she felt disconnected from everything.
“The Art Club is looking for members,” said Kirika as she stood up. “All of you are likely aware that the Fine Art club and the Art Club merged last school year and thus all art styles and mediums are welcome in the new unified club”
After another ripple of applause, all of the girls turned away from Micchi. Payton was able to see herself out of the corner of her eye, sat at the desk at the far end of the room.
Payton mentally kicked herself. The girl was not her, it was Purin. Payton had spent so long in Purin’s body, that she had totally forgotten how silly the girl looked, she was nothing more than generic fantasy fulfillment.
“Hello, I’m Purin and I’m the head of the Cookery club!” Exclaimed Purin in an overly cheery tone. “Last year we were the Home Management Club, but the decision was made to change the name to better reflect our activities. I look forward to you joining us so we can make all sorts of delicious meals together and learn an important skill that is key to a successful household!”
Payton cringed, she couldn’t believe she had been acting that preppy before, it was so unlike her. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Purin wasn’t subtle about her making eyes at Nana, her cheeks were bright red and she was basically staring at Nana the entire class.
As Payton looked away, she spotted the two debug menus hanging in the air. They were overlaid over each other, but slightly off, making it very hard to make out all of the text.
However, Payton could just about make out the warning at the top of the menu. “Purin Imprint in progress,” it declared in flashing red letters. Payton’s eyes went wide as she looked around, half expecting Err.or to appear behind her and mess with her brain again.
However, this didn’t happen. Payton’s world went dark for a few moments before she woke up in the common room, back in the scene where all of the girls and the blurry student discussed the clubs.
Payton struggled again, only to find she was still stuck in Micchi, unable to influence the girl’s actions, only able to float along with her as a disembodied consciousness.
As the girls talked Payton could only watch with horror as Purin continued to act like a stereotypical housewife. Payton couldn’t stand Purin, she was everything that Purin didn’t want to be.
Purin just stood there, twirling a lock of hair around her finger and gazing lovingly at Nana. If anything proved to Payton that this game was written by someone who had never had a date, it was the fact that Purin could constantly stare at Nana so obviously, but not get called on it.
Payton tried to block out the other girls so she could think, but she ended up just falling into silent despair. She couldn’t think of anything, this was so far out of her understanding that she couldn’t even work out what she should consider, let along what she should actually do.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t even notice the world change to the corridor. Payton let out a soft sigh as she looked around, watching girls mill around in their clubrooms.
Through the window, she could see Purin working on her cake, a massive smile on her face as she skipped from worktop to oven and back again. Payton could only think of how focused she was when she was the one making the cake, she didn’t want to admit it, but part of her wanted to be like that again.
“No,” mumbled Payton to herself. She partially understood her own reasoning, right now she was terrified so the idea of being a carefree Purin was nice, but she knew she couldn’t indulge thoughts like that, the game wanted her to do that, and she couldn’t let the game win.
The blurry figure approached Micchi and stared at her. After a few moments, a box opened in front of them. Payton presumed this meant the figure was trying to choose which club it went to next, however the options were too blurred to read.
Out of the corner of her eye, Payton could see that both Micchi’s debug menu and her own were open. The warning had seemingly changed but Payton couldn’t seem to make out the text, due to both menus overlapping and flickering.
Payton tried to work out what she could do, it seemed that her attempt at editing the code had caused the game to fall apart and corrupt itself.
As the figure walked away, Payton focused herself. She had to do something to break the game again just so she could get a new body. She preferred being Purin to just floating around with no control over anything.
Payton gritted her teeth and tried to feel or move one of Micchi’s limbs, but it felt like some invisible force was holding her down. It was like there was an invisible straitjacket wrapped around her body, preventing her from even moving a finger.
It felt like an utterly futile struggle, no matter how hard Payton focused nothing seemed to do what she wanted, she felt trapped like she was locked inside a box, forced to watch as Micchi guided the figure around the clubs.
After a while, Payton watched Nana skip across to the cooking club and talk to Purin about the cake. After a few minutes, Nana called the other girls over so she could share the cake with them.
Micchi started to robotically move towards the door. Payton seized on this moment, she didn’t need to do anything big, she just needed to make sure that the Micchi model didn’t get to where it needed to be, that would be enough to break the game.
Payton focused, she put all of her energy into trying to move her body. She screamed out, putting more effort into this than she had put into anything before.
Suddenly, Micchi wobbled as she missed a step and Payton’s heart skipped a beat. “I did it,” she grunted as she continued to fight. “I just need her to fall over!”
The small success motivated Payton to keep struggling, to keep doing anything she could to make sure that the game broke again. With a surge of effort, Payton was able to get control of one of Micchi’s legs and mess up her step, causing her to stiffly fall to the floor.
“Please don’t have a way to get up, please don’t have a way to get up,” prayed Payton as she waited for the game to fail.
“Cake for everyone!” Echoed Nana’s voice down the corridor. “You should get a picture Mi,” started Nan only for the familiar ring of static to engulf the area.
Payton’s heart pounded as she waited for it to happen. She wasn’t totally sure what her plan was, but right now this was better than nothing, at the very least she might get a body of her own again.
The walls melted into bright pulsing colors that seemed even more jagged than before. Payton saw Err.or standing in the distance, however, this time her sign was messy. The text was blocky and scrambled, almost as if she was looking at it through a broken bottle.
“Come on,” huffed Payton. “Just do it.”
She tried to move again, however, Micchi’s body refused to do anything. Out of the corner of her eye, Payton spotted the debug menu, still flickering in and out of the air.
However, due to the vanishing textures, the box was slightly easier to read, in fact, if Payton squinted she was almost able to make it out. The text was declaring a whole laundry list of errors about missing models, broken animations as well as another failed imprint.
The colors grew more and more intense by the second. Payton tried to keep her gaze focused on the text, but it was so hard, something about the colors kept drawing her eyes back.
Suddenly the voice whispered into Payton’s brain. But rather than being clear, it sounded as if there were two voices talking over each other. It felt like Payton’s thoughts were grinding together as if the two internal monologues were fighting in her head.
Parts of it were the same things it always whispered to Payton, telling her she was someone else, however, whenever a name came up, the tracks clashed and formed pure noise.
“What?” Slurred Payton as the crossing audio tracks grew louder and more dissonant. The contrast made both parts of the experience worse, a noise as horrible as the one she was currently experiencing, should have made her turn her head or try and move, but she couldn’t as the colors were just too pretty to pull her eyes away from.
She also knew that she shouldn’t stare at the colors, that she should look away or shied her eyes, but the cacophony in her brain kept distracting her so her eyes kept wandering back to the swirling pattern.
Payton’s mind was swimming, she had no idea what to do, the noise was growing louder and louder, almost as if both whispers were trying to shout over the other. The colors grew more jagged as the patterns became more complex, Payton could feel her eyes watering as her whole body froze up fear.
“Please,” she groaned as she started into the pattern. “I don’t know.”
As the noise grew louder and louder, Payton could start to make out several words in the mess of voices. She could swear that she heard the word “Dancing” from one of the voices as well as “Cooking” from the other but she couldn’t understand the context.
Payton tried to think it through, but her thoughts were drowned out by the clashing voices. The colors started to pulse and flash, almost like something in the game was growing angry at Payton and her resistance, but Payton couldn’t help it, the shouting match in her head made it impossible to submit.
The flashing and shouting grew to a crescendo, the pain feeling like it was moments away from ripping Payton’s head in two. Payton screamed as her brain throbbed and a heavy wave of darkness washed over her, she could feel herself falling down into an infinite void, but she couldn’t muster the energy to care, the pain felt far away and at that moment that was all she wanted.
Payton opened her eyes and instantly started to scan her surroundings. It was becoming almost routine at this point. She quickly worked out that she was lay on the common room floor, staring up at the very basic ceiling.
She braced herself and took a deep breath, silently hoping she had a body. She pushed down against the carpet and let out a sigh of relief as she felt her arms perform the action.
As she rose up off the floor, Payton tried to work out which girl’s body she was in. She spotted the girls talking to the blurry faced figure and quickly worked out that Purin was once again missing.
“Back to housewife princess I guess,” sighed Payton, both relieved and defeated at the same time. She walked over to the other girls and got herself into position, deciding to play along with the game for a while so she could think.
However, as she got into position she spotted her debug menu floating in the air. Payton was slightly surprised, she had presumed that she would have lost the menu due to jumping into Micchi and then back into Purin, but apparently, she had done something right.
The menu was once again listing off a whole litany of errors. Most of them were the ones that Payton had seen before, however she did spot that apparently two different imprints had failed.
“Was I being imprinted twice?” Blinked Payton as she thought back to the strange room. It would have explained why there were two voices, but surely they would have been in harmony if it was just two copies of the one imprint.
Suddenly Payton gasped. “Dancing, Purin doesn’t dance!” She said as turned to face the other girls. “Nana dances! It was clashing as it was two different names, its why it hurt my head so much! Her dumb stage name makes my head hurt!”
Before Payton could move, the world went dark and she was once again thrown into the cooking club’s kitchen. Payton’s brain was racing as she threw the fridge open and grabbed the frosting can she had seen while cooking.
She yanked the lid off and ran to the window before quickly dipping her finger into the frosting and using it to write on the window. “Nana is the dancer, the game was doing two imprints at once, it isn’t just trying to make me Purin, it can also try and make me into Nana.”
Payton continued to mumble to herself as she wrote her notes on the window. Thankfully, the frosting didn’t seem to drip, allowing Payton to keep the whole thing legible.
Once she got all of her thoughts out, she looked over it all and tried to make sense of it. “The game can try and make me into Nana, but it doesn’t. It only tries to make me into Purin.”
Payton’s eyes danced over the information, trying to sort it into some logical narrative. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Nana coming in to get her cake, Payton quickly moved over to the oven and grabbed the cake and put it down on the counter, her eyes not leaving the window for a second.
Nana called for the other girls and waited for them to come in before starting to distribute the cake. As she passed Purin a slice of cake Payton had a revelation.
“This is terrible game design! How are you meant to know to do anything! At least give me a hint if you expect me to copy a girl I’ve never seen in my life!” She shouted as she watched the girls stiffly eat cake.
Payton quickly ran to the window and started to draw on the glass, linking up several of her bullet points. “I’m not meant to be Purin!” She shouted as she gestured wildly to the girls. “The game is meant to have me be the protagonist and it messed up!”
The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. The helmet couldn’t shock every person who used it because if it did, Lin wouldn’t have let Purin use it. Furthermore, the game couldn’t be this obvious about trying to mess with people, if it was this obvious then people would call foul at the convention. It made too much sense, the game was broken from the start.
Of course, while this explained some of the issues with the game, it didn’t give Payton a way out, or explain what the game was actually trying to do. Suddenly, the world started to go black again, Payton struggled on for a few seconds, keen to try and memorize as much of her writing as possible, however, the sudden revelation and her deliberations had drained her and she quickly surrendered to the void.
“So name!” Smiled Michi as she sat on a chair in the common room. “What club did you want to join?”
Payton couldn’t help but chuckle at the new scene. All of the girls were stood around a table in front of the blurry faced figure. It had an almost threatening aura to it, almost like they were going to attack the figure if it made the wrong choice.
The figure’s head moved as Yui posed and smiled at the end of the line.“Come do good deeds with me! We’ll make this year super special!”
“Join me if you want. I don’t mind either way,” huffed Kirika from the other side of the line.
“We will do many wonderful poems together,” smiled Akiko as Payton realized they were working towards the middle of the line where she and Nana stood.
“Let’s inform, educate and entertain!” Grinned Micchi as she tugged on her hat.
“Let’s ride this year like a bucking bronco!” Shouted Ashley as she stuck her arm out and gave the figure a thumbs up.
“We’re going to have a L-O-V-E lovely year!” Cheered Nana as she threw her arms into the air.
“Save me from this hell!” Smirked Payton as she posed. She wasn’t sure if she needed to, but at this point playing along was a good way to hold off her feelings of dread.
A box suddenly appeared in front of the figure. Payton could easily guess that this was a selection menu listing each of the girls. As the highlight moved, Payton counted the options only to suddenly get confused.
The box had seven options, which would mean that there was one for each girl. However, Nana and Yui shared a club, Akiko’s was obviously cut and Ashley didn’t appear at all during the visiting segment, meaning that there seemed to be more options than there were clubs.
Did this mean that there were more cut clubs floating around in the game files? Payton waved her hands around until her debug menu appeared. Interestingly a lot of the errors were gone, leaving only the original handful that talked about Purin.
As Payton opened the Path State option she noted that while “Nana’s Big Show” was still in progress, several other options were gently pulsing.
“This would be a good place to branch paths,” nodded Payton to herself. She started to tap at the menu, keen to see if she could use this scene to force the game onto another path.
However, girl location and loaded areas showed nothing unusual, the Common Room was the only place loaded in and all of the girls were present there.
The “Other” option was still broken beyond belief, but the Brainwave Implementation sub-menu was even worse than before. It was listing off hundreds of imprint errors, including one that said the “Subject is out of parameters”.
Payton sighed and shook her head as she backed out of the menu. She was still unsure what any of that meant and it seemed to be the key to getting out of this whole situation.
She felt the world changing again, darkness quickly wrapped around her as new rooms loaded into the world and the old ones faded away into nothingness.
“Purin! Purin!” Whispered Nana theatrically. Payton let out a sigh as she looked up at the cute girl. She was apparently lay on a bed, meaning that she was once again in the dorm rooms.
“Purin!” Whispered Nana again. “Name and I are going to sneak down to the kitchens and make some food, want to come with us?”
“What so I can cook for you?” Snarked Payton, only for Nana to cut her off.
“Oh, it would be awesome if you could cook for us!” She giggled as she waved for Payton to follow her. Payton sighed and got up off the bed, knowing that lagging behind could send her crashing into the void.
As she walked out into the main dorm lobby Payton wondered just how much of the game was loaded in. It seemed unlikely that they would have modeled the entire route from the dorm to the kitchens, especially as there didn’t seem to be a logical way for them to link up.
Nana stopped near the door at the far end of the lobby and looked around. Payton quickly waved her arms and opened her debug menu, keen to sate her curiosity.
According to the menu, five rooms were loaded in. Three of them made sense, those being the dorm’s lobby, Nana’s room, and another bedroom. However, the game also said that both Akiko’s bedroom and Kirika’s bedrooms were loaded into memory with their respective girl stood inside.
Payton looked around, trying to work out if she could tell which room belonged to whom. However, as she looked, the blurry headed figure emerged from one of the rooms and walked up to Nana.
“Candy! Awesome!” Smiled Nana. “Purin is going to come to help us cook! She is a super good cook!”
As Nana stood still, Payton spotted something out of the corner of her eye. One of the doors had opened a little and Kirika was peeking out. To the player she would be at the very far side of the frame, suggesting that the developer was foreshadowing something.
“She was painting blurry earlier,” mumbled Payton. However, before she could do anything, the world started to alter, confirming her suspicions that they hadn’t modeled a route from this area to wherever the clubrooms were.
Almost instantly the kitchen came into focus. Payton sighed and watched as Nana and started to fiddle around in the cupboards, grabbing various pans and utensils.
Payton considered her next action. It seemed like this area was exactly the same one that had been used for the previous scenes and that meant Akiko’s clubroom and the newspaper room would be in their loaded but broken states.
She quickly pulled up the debug menu to check her theory, doing her best to keep an eye on Nana as she did. Thankfully, it seemed that Nana was too busy eating and talking at the blurry faced figure to really care about Purin, not that Purin would care, she would likely be happy to stare at and listen to Nana all day.
The menu instantly confirmed Payton’s suspicions, this was the exact same environment as before, just with a few new triggers to produce the food objects the girls would be eating.
“I’ve always wanted to be an idol since I was a little girl. I remember watching Pixel Sunsets on TV and I just wanted to be exactly like them. I started practicing singing and dancing with my every free moment.” Rambled Nana as Payton plotted her next move.
She knew full well that she was risking getting trapped in a body again if she tried to edit the code. However, her previous attempt had caused several breakthroughs and it seemed to be the only way to find a route out of here.
Payton sighed and steeled herself. She was going to have to do it, she couldn’t think of any other way. She quickly walked out into the corridor to grab the table, only to realize the door to the Good Deeds clubroom was closed.
“Crap,” mumbled Payton as she quickly looked back to make sure Nana was still talking. “I need to find another way in.”
Suddenly, Payton spotted Nana pulling things out of the oven. An idea quickly formed in her head. Payton ran into the kitchen and lay on the floor near the oven, lining herself up with the door handle.
“Please don’t hurt,” she mumbled to herself as she pulled the oven door down with all her might. Thankfully there was no pain, but Payton could feel a strange sensation in her hips.
She took a deep breath and slammed the door into herself again, feeling the sensation get more intense. As she did it a third time she felt her butt tingle as she clipped through the floor.
Payton smirked to herself as she started to walk down and through the floor. If she was honest, she felt slightly smug about breaking the game this way, even though she realized it had a chance of horribly backfiring.
As she floated under the level she spotted the Occult clubroom hanging in the void and started to move towards it. This time she found it much easier to move quickly as she was much more used to the strange sensations.
After a short while, Payton rose up into the Occult clubroom and looked around. Thankfully, Akiko hadn’t been loaded in, allowing Payton to walk around without constant creepy comments.
Payton moved towards the corner of the room and looked at the broken mirror, watching the code fly past her. It was very similar to last time, with the same errors and the same broken bits.
She wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do, or what she would be able to do in the time she had. While Nana could ramble for days, she wouldn’t talk forever and sooner or later the game would break again.
Payton started to move bits of code around blindly, hoping to build something usable. As she worked a small plan formed. Maybe she could attach this broken area to her debug menu. That would mean she could peruse the whole thing at her leisure rather than having to do it in a mad rush and would let her edit code on the fly.
As she adjusted everything Payton felt her body tingling, it was almost as if she could feel the changes as they happened. She kept turning to look behind her, knowing that eventually Err.or would appear and she would have to withstand another assault.
However, as Payton moved a block of code, she saw a new menu flicker into life next to her debug menu. This one showed a constant flow of code that mirrored the stuff Payton could see in the mirror.
“Perfect!” Grinned Payton as the walls started to flicker. “And my ride is here,” she sighed as the walls started to dissolve again. Payton focused on the flow of code, keen to see this happen on a code level.
“Hard Error: Model Missing. Loading Reset Point. Beginning Imprint,” flashed the text as Err.or appeared. “Erro.or loaded, redrawing node graph. Refreshing Events Manager.”
The walls started to pulse and spiral as Payton did her best to focus on the text, keen to get every bit of information she could. However, Payton’s attempts at ignoring the colors just made them flash brighter and more violently.
“Purin Imprint Begining. Brainwave Synchronization In Progress” declared the errors in flashing red text. Payton blinked as the colors started to burn her retinas. The colors seemed even more intense than usual, their patterns even more complex and mesmerizing.
“Hase Purin,” whispered the voice in Payton’s brain. “Hase Purin the girly-girl.”
“Not that,” groaned Payton. “Not her.”
“Hase Purin loves to cook and bake. Hase Purin loves to cook cakes for her crush Nana.”
Payton continued to struggle and fight against the flashes, but they seemed to come closer to her, filling her vision as her eyes were helplessly drawn to the center of the patterns.
It felt like her brain was melting, the flashing colors were just overwhelming her. It didn’t seem to matter that she had been in this situation before, they always found cracks in her armor and drilled right into her mind.
She tried to resist the words, however, they refused to stop whispering into her brain. “Purin loves to cook. Purin is a girly girl, Purin has a crush on Nana.”
“Please. No, I’m Payton,” she cried as she tried to focus on her memories and block out the whispers.
She knew she just had to endure, this couldn’t go on forever, but it felt so hard. The colors were so pretty and so deep, if she just let herself go for a moment, the pain would stop, the whispers would grow quiet. But she also knew that would make her back into Purin and she didn’t want to be that person.
“Hase Purin is the girly girl, Hase Purin is so feminine.” Cooed the voice as Payton stumbled around. She could hear her own brain echoing the statements.
The spiraling colors dragged her deeper and deeper into them. They seemed to never end and that made them even more beautiful, the more she looked, the more she found to admire and gaze at.
Payton’s mind twisted and turned as the patterns and the words worked in harmony. She couldn’t fight it, she couldn’t even remember what fighting was, why was she fighting?
“I’m Purin,” giggled Payton as her mind collapsed in on itself. A bright flash illuminated the world like a supernova, turning her thoughts into dust.
“Purin! Purin!” Whispered Nana, shaking Purin from her sleep. Purin stretched and yawned as she looked up at Nana.
“What is it?” Asked Purin with a smile.
“Name and I are going to sneak down to the kitchens and make some food, want to come with us?” Grinned Nana.
Purin gasped, she couldn’t believe she was going to get to be naughty with Nana, it was like a dream come true, it was going to be so romantic! Of course, Name would be there, but that didn’t matter, it was going to be such a romantic evening!
“I would love to! I can even cook us some desserts!” Smiled Purin as wiggled with excitement.
“Oh, it would be awesome if you could cook for us!” Grinned Nana as she waved for Purin to follow her.
Purin skipped behind Nana, her heart floating on a cloud of joy. This joy only grew more intense when Name came out of their room with a load of imported candy that Purin had never seen before.
By the time they arrived in the kitchen, Purin was bubbling over with excitement. She quickly started to make some pancakes for Nana and Name, whisking up the batter as she listened to Nana talk.
She didn’t whisk as hard as she normally did, as she didn’t want to drown out Nana. As the future head of the Nanapon♥ fan club, she would need to know each and every detail of Nana’s life and likes.
Once the batter was at the perfect consistency Purin opened one of the cupboards and produced a small box. This was her personal stash of ingredients that she kept for the most special of occasions, and tonight certainly classified as one of those.
She pulled a bottle of pink food coloring out of the box and added a few drips into the pancakes, turning the batter a deep pink. Purin smiled to herself as she hid the box again and started to cook, safe in the knowledge that Nanapon♥ was going to love them.
“Oh my gosh!” Squealed Nana as the pancakes were put on the table. “These are the cutest! Thank you Purin! I love them!” She grinned as a warm wave pooled between Purin’s legs.
She was so happy, she had pleased Nana and that’s all she wanted to do. Nana’s happiness made her feel wonderful. As she watched Nana eat the pancakes and talk, Purin couldn’t help but feel better than she had ever felt before.
Once the food was done, Nana let out a giggle. “Purin is the best cook!” She cheered as Name nodded in agreement.
Purin blushed a deep red as she waved her hand dismissively. “I just like to help out!” She grinned. “Do you want anything else, Nana?”
“Well,” giggled Nana as she tapped on her chin. “I’ve been craving cheesecake for the last week.”
“On it! Cheesecake is my specialty!” Interrupted Purin as she jumped out of her chair and headed towards the oven. In reality, Purin had only made a cheesecake once or twice before. However, if Nana wanted it, then Purin would make sure she had it.
As Purin put a bowl down on the counter, she tried to remember a good cheesecake recipe. The last time she had made one, she had ended up in a debate with Ashley , who had insisted that cheesecakes had cookies on the bottom.
Purin shuddered at the thought. Ashley wasn’t a cook and no matter what she said, Purin was totally sure that cheesecakes did not have “Slim Mints” in them or on them.
As Purin racked her brains for the recipe, she spotted some text out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head and spotted a cookbook next to her. The text was slightly blurred, but that didn’t matter, she only needed a memory aid, she could work out it from there.
Purin reached out and turned the pages, trying to find the baking section. Some of the headings in the book were weird, but Purin brushed it off, presuming the author liked to give dishes silly thematic names.
Not that Purin minded that. When she made the official Nanapon♥ cookbook, she was going to give all of the recipes super cute names that fit Nanapon♥’s cute and wonderful personality.
However, as she continued to scan through the book, Purin started to feel odd. It was almost like her arms were tingling, like every surface in the kitchen was coated in static electricity.
Purin soldiered on, determined to please Nana. However, every time she touched the book the feeling grew more and more intense. Suddenly a shock ran through Purin, she felt her eyes flutter as her whole body tensed up. She tried to focus her eyes on the recipe for “Personality Frameworking” but another sudden shock caused her eyes to roll up into her head.
Micchi blinked and shook her head. She wasn’t exactly sure what she had been doing, it was like she dozed off for a moment. After a few moments, she remembered that she was helping Name try out all of the different clubs while gathering some stock photos for the paper.
She lifted her camera up and took a few snaps of the corridor before looking around for Name, only to spot them walking towards her. “Hello, Name! Before you finish picking clubs, would you like to come to see the newspaper’s office?”
Name nodded quietly as Micchi smiled. “Wonderful!” She said as she quickly opened the door and led the student into the room. She had to admit, the room didn’t look as good as it usually did, several of the bulbs had burnt out and she hadn’t gotten around to replacing them, leading to some of the walls looking darker than they actually were.
“So, this is the base of our operations,” smiled Micchi as she pointed to the computers around the room. “Sorry for the mess, we’re in the middle of printing a new issue.”
As Name walked around the room, Micchi spotted that she was logged into one of the computers and that her folder of Ashley pictures was open. She gasped and quickly ran towards the computer and turned the screen off, hoping that Name hadn’t spotted it.
“So yes, this is where we print the paper,” smiled Micchi as she tapped her hand on the printer. “We print over forty copies per week!” She grinned as she watched Name, hoping they were impressed by the operation.
As Name stood silently Micchi decided to show off the last issue. She quickly went to her desk to grab a copy. However, she couldn’t seem to find it, she looked under her keyboard and under all of her other papers, only to spot one sat on another desk.
“Why did I leave that there?” Mumbled Micchi as she turned around and grabbed the paper. Something about it felt weird, but Micchi just wrote it up to the new paper stock they were using, she wasn’t a fan of it, but the academy wanted to use recycled paper so they could get some eco-friendly credibility.
Micchi moved over to Name and held out the paper, flipping between the pages to try and give them an idea of how the paper was formatted and the type of reporting they did.
As she turned the pages, Micchi felt her hands tingling, however, she pushed through, keen to sell the paper to the new student, wanting to make sure they joined her as she could really do with the help.
However, as Micchi tapped on the sports page, she felt an intense pain in her head, it was almost like her brain was vibrating. She let out a groan but continued to try and pitch the paper.
“Look at this page,” grunted Micchi as she forced a smile onto her face. “This is our column on, Personality Database Imprinting Markers!” She smiled as another wave of pain crashed over her.
Something about the headline didn’t sound right, it made her brain feel funny, almost like the air was giving her an electric shock. Micchi looked back down at the paper only to realize that her hands were very obviously shaking.
“I’m sorry, I misread that,” she mumbled. “I meant our column on Thought Wave Shaping Algorithm, no I.” Suddenly, her tongue went numb as her jaw dropped open. The world started to sway as she felt herself slowly crumple to the floor.
Kirika held her head in her hands, digging her nails into her forehead. She couldn’t think straight, her head hurt. Part of her wished the pain was more intense, it would be proof that she was becoming delusional.
She couldn’t believe the new student was off with Nana! Nana! She was always in the way, always stealing dates from her, but this time she wouldn’t let it happen.
The new student was going to love her, she knew they would. They wouldn’t have a choice. She was kind and sweet and loving, all she needed to do was show the new student this.
That and keep Nana away from them.
Nana always did this, she was always the center of attention, she was always shouting over everyone else to make sure that no one else could get a single second in the spotlight.
Kirika was seething, she could hardly keep control of herself. She was going to make sure that Nana didn’t steal her date again if it was the last thing she ever did!
She panted and reached for her journal, hoping to write her plan down before she exploded. However, as she opened it, she felt electricity run through her.
“I didn’t write this,” mumbled Kirika as her head started to spin. Her journal was describing something about programming, about a system that would stimulate the brain and cause a waking dream state. But she didn’t know how she knew it, she didn’t know the first thing about programming, she had never taken a class on it, so how was she understanding it?
Kirika tried to work out what was going on, but suddenly her head felt like it was made of lead, and before she knew it she slumped forward onto the desk as her eyes slammed shut.
Akiko groaned and shook her head, she needed to keep focused, even a momentary slip could cause this whole thing to go wrong. She focused her eyes back onto the ouija board.
“Spirits, come to me!” She shouted as she watched the world twist and warp. She knew this energy, this feeling, but this time she was going to go all the way, there was no circle to protect her and there was no way to cancel it. There was no going back.
She watched the glass move as the board started to flicker in and out reality, her room was shaking, she could see the spirits pushing in through the walls, dragging the whole area into the astral realm.
“Yes! The spirits are with us! The spirits are with us!” Laughed Akiko as she put her hands onto the board. The second she did, the letters on the board started to move and form words.
Akiko looked at them, keen to see just what the spirits had to say to her. However, the spirits seemed to be talking in riddles, telling her about “Mental Repatterning” and “Electro-Cranial Stimulation”.
“Spirits, what is it you ask of me?” Groaned Akiko as she felt electricity run through her hands. “I am your vessel! Use me as you need!” She screamed as the words changed again.
“Dreamstate Formation” declared the board as Akiko looked on with fear, she couldn’t understand why the spirits were talking like this, they were usually so clear.
She pushed down on the board, hoping to help the spirits commune more clearly, however as she did another shock ran through her body, the walls flashed with bright intense color as she felt herself slipping into darkness.
Ashley felt like she had been tackled on the fifteen-yard line by a quarterback who was built like a truck. She shook her head and pulled herself up off the floor and groaned.
“That wasn’t radical,” she mumbled, only to realize she wasn’t in a place she recognized. The walls of the small room were spiraling with various colors that seemed to make her eyes sting.
“Well this is quite the disco,” mumbled Ashley as she swayed a little bit, the colors dragging her eyes deeper and deeper into their pattern, her head growing fuzzier and fuzzier, almost like she was thinking through cotton wool.
She couldn’t string her thoughts together properly, whenever one started it got sucked up into the spiral and became impossible to recover or remember.
A bright purple flash caused Ashley’s eyes to cross as her knees trembled. She could hardly remember who she was or which way was up anymore. Her body rocked from side to side, her feet clumsily trying to correct her balance.
However, as another flash illuminated the room, Ashley crumpled to the floor in a heap, her eyes not leaving the colors for a moment.
Suddenly, a switch flipped in Payton’s brain. She yanked her eyes away from the colors for a moment, only to see the debug menu next to her. Half the box was filled with flashing red text.
“Script not found! Animation not found! Model not found! Corrupted node! Resetting!” It declared as Payton let out a drowsy giggle, her memories reforming in her head.
She had been so convinced she was those other girls, she had been poking at the debug menu at random, rearranging code and altering the game. She had altered it so much she had jumped into unfinished girls and unfinished scenes so the game had just ground to a halt around her.
As the lights continued to flash and spiral, Payton found herself becoming more and more giggly, her brain was full of rainbows and glitter and she couldn’t seem to shake them out. She knew she was in danger, but she couldn’t motivate herself to do anything about it, everything was just too funny to worry about.
As the text continued to scroll, Payton did her best to focus and read it. She pushed herself up off of the ground and moved closer, forcing her eyes to uncross every few seconds.
In the center of the screen, Payton could see some text documents flickering under the errors. She smirked and giggled to herself as her brain tingled.
“Documentation,” she chuckled as she pressed on it and watched as hundreds of text files opened up around her. Payton started to read as quickly as her crossed eyes would allow her, keen to get in as much as she could before everything broke. The documents seemed to detail how the process worked, how the game could synch up to someone’s brainwaves and alter them.
However, Payton’s eyes were drawn to the massive notes at the top of each document. These notes said that both the system and the documents were classified and top secret. The more Payton looked, the more she realized that this documentation looked like a research paper or a government document. Compared to the rest of the code this whole thing seemed very professional and very cutting edge, way beyond what a single programmer was capable of.
Deep in Payton’s brain, a small part of her was reeling in confusion. This made no sense, why would a government agency want to make her think she was Purin? Or Nana? Who would want hundreds of either of them running around?
And even if some government department did want a load of Nana clones, why would they debut it at a convention and do so in such a sketchy manner. Which government department could afford all of this stuff and yet not afford a VR headset that wouldn’t try and fry the user?
Payton couldn’t work it out, the colors made it hard for her to think straight, this was so confusing and every few seconds her eyes would re-cross and she would find herself staring at the spiraling pattern once again.
She felt like she was on the cusp of a revelation, however, just before it could come to fruition a massive warning flashed up over all of her menus. “Full reset in progress!”
Suddenly another bright flash illuminated the room as the colors started to intensely strobe. Payton’s eyes and brain stung, she wanted to close her eyes, but she couldn’t. The bright lights were making it impossible to think.
Payton saw Err.or stood at the side of the room. She knew this was bad but the colors wouldn’t let her look away, something about this new pattern was utterly mesmerizing.
As Payton continued to watch, she felt a tingling running through her body. Something about the colors felt good. They were making her feel absolutely euphoric. After all the stress of the last few days, this felt heavenly, it felt too good to resist.
Payton’s brain tried to scream, but the scream was instantly muted by a bright flash that caused her whole body to light up with bliss and joy. The pleasure grew more and more intense as Payton felt herself being pulled deeper and deeper into the spiral. And however much she hated to admit it, she was loving every second of it, it was the best thing she had ever experienced.
Her eyes fluttered as a wide smile formed on her face, the pleasure overriding everything. Even her sense of self was vanishing, replaced with only the pattern and its never-ending joy.
Another flash pushed Payton over the edge, a fireworks display started in her brain as she felt herself falling backward, her eyes slowly closing as everything dissolved into the warm fizzy pleasure of the colors.