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STELLARPOV
Unplugged 
22 Jul 2013
fall
Title: Unplugged
Author: miss_circle
Pairing: Baekhyun/Tao, along with minor Kaisoo, Xiuhan, Krisyeol, and Krischen
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Virtual reality!AU
Length: Almost 7k words
Warning: Angst? Inaccurate scientific references? FML
Author's Note: I wrote this a very long time ago, but I forgot to post it. Inspired by a certain episode in the last season of Eureka. Anybody else watched the series? Let me hug you ♥


PLUGGED

Baekhyun stopped in his track and stared at the rock in front of him. The big rock blinked in and out of existence as though there was a minor glitch in the universe he was living in, like a bad game out of a bad, dirty cassette he hadn’t played for a very long time. Furthermore, this rock wasn’t the first glitch he had run into.

“Did you see that?” Baekhyun asked. Kris, a few steps ahead, turned around and looked at the rock Baekhyun was scrutinizing.

“It’s a rock.”

There was nothing wrong with the rock.

“A few seconds ago, it disappeared.”

“You need to get some rest. Come on. We don’t have much time. The drone is getting away.”

Baekhyun looked at Kris, who looked as perfect as he always was. There was something wrong with this world, but Baekhyun didn’t want to sound like he couldn’t accept reality.


UNPLUGGED

“Did he notice the glitch?”

“He must have.”

“We need to fix this right now. We can’t let them find out that it’s not real.”

“I’m trying my best, but the core system is overheating. We might lose all of them.”

“Well, fix that too!”


PLUGGED

Tao welcomed Baekhyun’s return with a big, warm hug upon the former’s success in catching the escaping drone. The headquarter cheered at the heroes bringing the drone, now switched off, down to its metal container, almost like a survival game trophy put in a glass cabinet for a display of pride. Baekhyun rubbed his eyes and nodded at Kris who kissed Chanyeol on the cheek even though Jongdae was looking.

“After a daily routine of saving everyone’s ass, you need to get some sleep,” Tao said, taking Baekhyun by the hand.

“How is Jongdae doing?” Baekhyun said, once they were out of the headquarter.

“Coping, I think. It’s not exactly easy to find out that you’ve been gone for four years and when you’re back, the love of your life is in somebody else’s hands.”

“But we’re still together.” Baekhyun smiled and enveloped his hand round Tao’s waist.

“Our world is forever perfect.”

Tao sent a knowing glance to Baekhyun, to which the latter immediately guessed that there was more to what Tao was saying.

“Isn’t it?”


UNPLUGGED

“Tao is getting dangerous. We need to stop him from feeding Baekhyun ideas.”

“You promised not to hurt anyone.”

The man in the suit looked down at his subordinate in the white coat.

”Our world doesn’t work the way their world does. Stop being so naive.”

Not far from where they kept the kidnapped scientists, Kris and Chanyeol ran over through their rescue strategy, making sure that every possibility was accounted for. Kris had agreed to be jacked into the system and gather the brilliant minds of their friends, while Chanyeol would retrieve their physical bodies. Junmyeon reminded them that they needed to hurry. Time was a luxury they didn’t have.


PLUGGED

Tao was working with Jongdae over their last experiment on a sunbeam laser reactor. Tao had been drilling himself with the equation of what might be the most important invention of his career, but Jongdae was an expert in plasma conductor. He had been entertaining Tao’s idea of incorporating the plasma into the reactor, they had worked on it for days. Jongdae was quiet most of the time, which was very out of character. Tao couldn’t help feeling bad.

“Have you talked to Kris?” Tao asked after some consideration.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Jongdae said without taking his eyes from the electron microscope.

“Maybe it’ll help?”

“I’ll manage.”

“You know...”

Jongdae took off his lenses and smiled weakly at Tao.

“You don’t have to, Tao. Thank you. I was missing for four years. I can’t really blame him for... It’s Chanyeol anyway, so... Never mind.”

Tao sighed and put down his pen, absent-mindedly staring at the blue print of his reactor design.

“I can’t imagine if it happened to me and Baekhyun.”

“Don’t,” Jongdae said, patting Tao’s back lightly. “You two are perfect for each other.”

“Yes. Perfect. It’s so perfect, it starts to feel weird.”

The second Tao finished his sentence, Kris barged into the lab without any announcement, sending Jongdae flying from his rotating chair.

“You surprised me!” Jongdae complained.

“Don’t I always?” Kris replied, then turned to Tao. “Get up. I need you to see something.”

Tao looked at Jongdae who replied with a shrug. Tao followed Kris outside the lab and they both descended the elevator to Section 5 miles below the ground.

“Any luck on the reactor?” Kris started the small talk.

“Funny, I’ve been thinking of requesting another supply of titanium, do you think Junmyeon will approve it?”

“I’m sure he will. He’s very invested in your work.”

Tao chuckled at the reply. The elevator was still descending without a sound.

“What?” Kris asked.

“In the past, there would always be lack of resources and funding. But now, it’s so easy. Everything is so easy.”

“What do you mean?”

Tao thought Kris looked a bit uneasy, but that was also weird, because the commander was usually stoic.

“Do you ever feel like the world is just too perfect? This world is too perfect. But there are also the glitches that Baekhyun’s been seeing too. This morning I saw Minseok walked through the wall, can you believe it? Not to mention last week when you and Kyungsoo were off chasing that dragon.”

“But you saw the dragon.”

“I did. And dragons aren’t real. Don’t you think it’s funny that the dragon appeared right after Kyungsoo jokingly wished for one?”

Kris took a step closer to Tao, face turning grim. They had just passed Section 3.

“What are you saying?” Kris urged in a low voice.

Tao crossed his hands across his chest, a gesture he always took when he was thinking.

“There are a number of possibilities. The dragon could be a loose genetic experiment from one of the departments, or maybe there is a number of curious projects on the loose across the whole station, but I don’t know. Baekhyun and I tried to catch a breather the other day, but somehow something -or someone- always stopped us from going outside, like we weren’t allowed to go there. Then from the corner of my eye, I saw the town rendering. As strange a sight as it was, it was quite a pretty thing to see truthfully. So I’d say the most plausible theory is that we all might be in a virtual reality where everything feels so real and there are non-player characters that keep you away from finding the truth, then of course it would explain the glitches and dragons, cos I bet the mindframe is overheating because there’s no way a system can ever hold human brains, at least not mine. My intelligence is too much for anyone to handle, let alone a computer. What?”

Tao frowned at the weird way Kris was behaving, in which the taller man put gentle hands around Tao's cheeks and gave him a short, sad smile.

"I wish you haven't said that," was the last thing Tao heard.

They never made it to Section 5.


UNPLUGGED

"You can't pull him out, you're gonna kill him!"

"He's become a liability the minute he's aware of the virtual reality. I can't keep him there any longer," the man in the suit said while he pulled the thick cables and wires plugged to various crucial spots of Tao's body.

"But he's a brilliant scientist, we need his mind!"

"Not anymore. Please retire Huang Zitao respectfully and securely," he said and pulled the last plug in Tao's head.


PLUGGED

Baekhyun ducked from the rain of bullets shooting at him. Ahead of him was Kyungsoo, frantically exchanging locations with Jongdae through the communicator.

“Hurry!” Jongdae shouted through the loudspeaker.

"What about Luhan?" Kyungsoo said, then he screamed as a bullet grazed his shoulder.

Baekhyun pulled Kyungsoo by the hand, telling him to keep running. Kyungsoo was still screaming over the wound on his shoulder.

"Focus, Kyungsoo, it's not real. Where is Luhan?" Baekhyun snatched Kyungsoo's communicator and demanded to Jongdae.

"He's here. Safe. You two hurry up."

"Baekhyun, I can't- it hurts!" Kyungsoo cut, stopping the two of them in the middle of the corridor. Baekhyun saw an army of characters in the shape of securities were not far behind them. Kyungsoo fell and pressed his shoulder with a trembling hand. "It hurts."

"Kyungsoo- look at me- Kyungsoo! It's not real!"

From the end of the corridor, Kris appeared and Baekhyun fought the instinct to run away.

"It's me," Kris announced in hurry. He put his gun above his head as a sign of no harm. "I'm also a player now. We have to hurry up. I won't be jacked in much longer."

Kris heaved Kyungsoo by the latter's good arm and the three of them escaped from firing range. They ran through a set of corridors until one of the doors suddenly flung open and they were pulled inside by Luhan.

"We need to get out right now," Luhan urged.

"Minseok is working on it," Kris said. "He's hacking us out."

Baekhyun did a quick headcount and found no Tao, much to his horror.

"Wait! Tao isn't here yet!"

"He already got out."

“Are you sure he made it out?” Baekhyun urged.

“Yes.”


UNPLUGGED

There was no time for Baekhyun to confirm further, because when he opened his eyes, all he saw was the black ceiling. He was laying on a rickety bed and his muscles ached when he tried to move. Sehun’s face appeared in front of him. He looked pale and worried.

“Are you alright? Can you hear me?” Sehun demanded.

“Tao...” Baekhyun croaked. Sehun didn’t seem to hear him. The younger helped him to sit up. Sehun looked heavy in full armor. He was covered in a bulletproof vest and not once he let go of the rifle in one of his hands. When he had sat properly, Baekhyun looked around. He was in some kind of abandoned warehouse, a high-tech facility where cables and computers were scattered around. However, there was no one manning them. Next to him, Kyungsoo, Jongdae, and Luhan were recovering as well. The first thing Kyungsoo did was sobbing in Jongin’s arms, who was as fully armored as Sehun was. Then Baekhyun remembered that they were taken by force and jacked into an engineered reality for a motive that was still a mystery to him. He should’ve known. Besides, Tao had already suspected as much. Then he remembered Tao.

“Where is Tao?” he asked Sehun, but Sehun only looked blankly at him. “Where is he?”

Chanyeol was approaching and Baekhyun asked his best friend, voice getting stronger.

“The rest is coming,” Chanyeol told Sehun, who took it as a cue to leave them. Somewhere Baekhyun heard Jongin barking orders to the defense line of their research organization, the Global Inventions.

“Kris said he got out already. Please let me see him,” Baekhyun begged, beaming up hopelessly to Chanyeol. However, the deputy of defense gave him a solemn look in place of the manic grin he usually had on his face.

“Baekhyun, let’s talk outside. I’ll help you.”

Chanyeol helped Baekhyun to stand up, but the shorter guy was still not strong enough, so he leaned on Chanyeol and the latter supported all his weight. Chanyeol took him out of the facility and the fresh air of the sea greeted him. Above him was the sound of choppers and he saw familiar faces climbed out of them. Kris was hot on his heels as he barged into the warehouse and kissed Jongdae full on the lips the minute he found him. Baekhyun gasped and looked at Chanyeol out of reflex, then he realized that he was out of the computer.

“Tao,” Baekhyun demanded. Baekhyun knew that conflicted face Chanyeol was giving him. His best friend was thinking of something to say. A couple of times Chanyeol opened his mouth but said nothing. In the end, he only shook his head and took Baekhyun’s hands. Baekhyun lost all the strength in his knees and fell to Chanyeol’s chest. Not even the roaring sea could drown the sound of him howling and crying from the sudden loss of someone he held so dear in both real life and dream.

***


It took them a few days to reorient themselves back into reality. Kyungsoo and Luhan had it easier with their respective partners than Jongdae. Jongdae was glad to know that he still had Kris, but he flinched every time the chief commander appeared. As the director of Global Inventions, Junmyeon had requested to make the reorientation everyone’s top priority. The abduction was an ultimate breach of defense and Junmyeon equalized the forced computer-plugged-in to virtual genocide of free will. Yixing, the head physicist had put most of the department’s resources to conduct various brain tests to make sure that Baekhyun, Kyungsoo, Jongdae, and Luhan were alright. Through the whole tedious process, Minseok filled them in of what happened.

They were taken by a rogue organization a couple of months ago, who schemed a replica of Global Inventions in the virtual reality in order to steal their ideas and inventions. Unfortunately, the thieves fled before Chanyeol could knock down the warehouse’s door. They left everything behind, including the machine that held their minds hostage. Minseok was studying it to find out more about the incredible technology despite its previous ill usage. In return, Luhan told him what they experienced in the machine.

“Everything was exactly the same, with minor differences,” he said, stealing a glance at Jongdae. The most horrible thing about the virtual reality was how big of an antagonist Kris’ non-playing character was in the game. It took awhile for them to remember again that Kris was their friend, much to Kris’ disappointment. Kris understood that it was difficult. But as much as Kris was keeping a safe distance to them during the reorientation, Baekhyun’s soul seemed to have stayed in the abandoned warehouse, where Tao supposedly had slept next to him when they were plugged in. They’d never found Tao’s body.

Chanyeol tried his best to be there for Baekhyun, but the latter responded to nothing. They all went back to work even though Junmyeon insisted they take a holiday. Baekhyun locked himself in the office, spending hours staring at a picture of Tao on the wall. He cried knowing that their last kiss wasn’t even a real one. As a tribute to Tao, Jongdae realized the blue print of Tao’s sunbeam laser reactor to real life. He worked days and nights on it as an excuse to avoid Kris. His trauma was deeper than he’d expected. Luhan dedicated his time to help Minseok with the virtual reality machine. Kyungsoo and Jongin decided to get married without further ado. Baekhyun was still looking at a picture of Tao, unmoving like a stone.

It was Junmyeon’s worry that brought Kris and Chanyeol to tamper with Baekhyun’s locked door, so that they could see how he was doing. After some considerations, they decided that Jongdae should go in and talk to Baekhyun. Jongdae dragged a chair next to Baekhyun. Both of them sat in silence looking at a smiling Tao on the wall.

“You look awful,” Jongdae finally said.

“You look no better,” Baekhyun replied, to Jongdae’s surprise.

“We seem to be the only two having a hard time adjusting.”

“At least Kris is not dead.”

Jongdae sighed and turned Baekhyun’s rotating chair to face him. Baekhyun looked pale. His hair unkempt and he could use some proper shaving.

“Listen,” Jongdae said. “I know that it’s not easy, but you -we- need to move on at some point. Tao was a precious friend as well as scientist. All of us loved him. We want to pay our respect. We want to give him a nice wake if you’re okay with it.”

Baekhyun didn’t say anything for a long time.

“You owe him at least that much to Tao,” Jongdae continued.

Baekhyun gave him a weak yes.

Everyone had something to contribute in the preparation of Tao’s wake. At the day of the wake, Kyungsoo had cooked all of Tao’s favorite food in his memory. Chairs were arranged in the middle of the rotunda and the giant sunbeam laser reactor was standing next to the podium. Jongdae had finished it according to Tao’s design. He also talked about how much fun they had building the technology in the virtual reality.

“Even in dreams, Tao still came up with the most brilliant ideas that would turn the life of mankind for the better. I miss him. My only regret is that he and I got to be closer when we’re already in the computer rather than in real life. But just because the variables weren’t real, it doesn’t mean that our friendship wasn’t. Our minds were the only constant through the whole unfortunate experience and we all know nobody could ever fabricate Tao’s brilliance. To Tao.”

They all raised their glasses and drank to Tao’s name. Chanyeol took the stand next. He didn’t say much other than that Tao wouldn’t want them to be sad. As a tribute, Chanyeol had prepared Tao’s favorite song. He pressed a button and out of the sound system, GD’s ‘Crayon’ was playing in full volume. Junmyeon asked Baekhyun if he’d like to take the stand, but Baekhyun was too far gone in his misery. Junmyeon told Yixing to proceed with the next agenda, so they turned on the sunbeam laser reactor. The big machine hummed and whirred to life. Everyone gave an applause as it shot a single laser up to the blue sky. Baekhyun left and returned to his office.

After the wake, things slowly went back to normal. Jongdae was adjusting better and he’d moved back in with Kris. Kyungsoo finally took the offered time off and went on a honeymoon with Jongin. Luhan and Minseok were still studying the machine. Baekhyun was still motionless in his office. Chanyeol visited him from time to time, trying to coax him into taking a breather outside or just to simply play a game like they used to. However, Baekhyun wouldn’t budge. Chanyeol finally turned on Baekhyun’s computer and plugged in a classic game console into it, playing by himself. Slowly, Baekhyun nodded off to sleep. He only woke up when Chanyeol startled him with a cry, throwing the game controller out of his hands. Baekhyun thought he must have lost or something, but Chanyeol was looking at the computer screen, horrified.

“What is that?” Chanyeol blurted out. On the computer was a sliver of hand, palm outward as though a ghost was trying to reach out. Baekhyun could make no heads nor tails out of it. Chanyeol swiftly took his communicator and informed Kris as well as Junmyeon of the incident. Instantly, Junmyeon requested a full system check up on every department, fearing another breach. All projects were to be suspended until it was confirmed that they weren’t under a digital attack.

In the midst of things, Luhan came storming into Baekhyun’s office, urging the still mourning man to come with him. He only said that Minseok found something. They walked to the elevator and descended to Section 4, where Minseok’s lab was. Minseok was typing something on the keyboard. His many monitors flashed with numbers and graphics.

“We’ve been working on this machine for awhile now,” Luhan explained. “We realized we wouldn’t get anywhere unless we turned this thing on, so we did. We’ve learned a lot from this thing. We’ve been turning it upside down, inside out. Then Minseok found a brain wave.”

Minseok went to one of the monitors and turned it for Baekhyun to see. There was no mistaking the EEG wave he was so familiar with because of Yixing’s tests.

“There’s someone inside,” Baekhyun gasped. Minseok looked at him gravely.

“I think that someone is Tao,” Minseok said.

Baekhyun looked at Minseok, suddenly struck with anger. He was mad at Minseok for feeding him such hope, and yet he found himself clinging so eagerly to it.

“How is that possible?” Baekhyun asked, his voice was barely above a whisper.

“I don’t know,” Minseok admitted.

“Maybe he’s plugged in somewhere. Maybe he’s not dead.”

“It can’t be. The machine works locally, within a certain perimeter to maintain a connection. Since we’re in Section 4, which is a very secure area, you have to be plugged in here to get into the particular reality of this machine.”

“But-”

“Baekhyun,” Luhan cut. “I’m afraid whoever is in there is trapped forever.”

“There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there? Plug me in.”

“No. We can’t have human try outs without Junmyeon’s approval. It’s protocol.”

“Junmyeon doesn’t have to know.”

Baekhyun was already figuring out the wires and cables to plug himself. Luhan turned to Minseok, but the latter confessed that it was indeed necessary to plug in. Luhan argued, but Minseok’s hypothesis was clear.

“We’ll be monitoring everything. It’ll be safe,” Minseok assured Luhan. Luhan threw his hands in defeat, shooting a string of complaints in Chinese, which none of Baekhyun nor Minseok understood.

“Fine. But we’re pulling you out after ten minutes,” Luhan gave up.

“Fifteen,” Baekhyun bargained.

“I’ll give you five! Now plug in already and get it over with.”

Baekhyun took deep breaths all the while Minseok was wiring him.

“Are you ready?” Minseok asked. Through his eyes, Baekhyun could see that he wasn’t the only one afraid.

“No.”

Minseok jacked in the last cable to Baekhyun’s head.


PLUGGED

Baekhyun was standing alone in the rotunda. It was quiet in Global Inventions. No one was in sight. He turned around in an attempt to see or hear anything. Then in the dark side of the circular hall, he spotted Tao sitting on the floor with his head buried in his knees.

“Tao?” Baekhyun called, unsure. Tao looked up and their gaze met. “Tao! It’s really you!”

Tao stood up and ran to Baekhyun’s arms.

“Where were you?” he sobbed. “I looked everywhere, but everyone is gone! I’m alone, Baekhyun, where were you?”

“I’m here. I’m here, oh dear god, Tao, I’m here.”

Baekhyun kissed Tao all over his face and hugged him so tight, tears welling up in his eyes. He didn’t care if it wasn’t real. He didn’t want to let go.

“Are you alright?” Baekhyun asked, fussing all over Tao.

“I’m fine. Just a bit lonely.”

“I’m here. I’ll never leave you again. We’ll-”


UNPLUGGED

“You said five minutes!” Baekhyun yelled at Luhan.

“No choice. Junmyeon is coming. Quick, untangle yourself.”

Minseok hastily pulled all the wires and piled them under the bed, hoping they didn’t look suspicious. Through the CCTV, they saw Junmyeon and Kris. A second later, the director and chief commander walked into the lab.

“Baekhyun?”

Junmyeon was surprised to see him there.

“Hi, I thought I’d help them with this thing, you know, trying to make myself useful,” Baekhyun lied. Junmyeon looked doubtful for a moment, then patted Baekhyun on the back.

“How’s the system check up?” Junmyeon asked. Minseok started to stutter, but Luhan quickly interrupted.

“Haven’t got to it yet. These softwares are taking forever to backup -standard precaution before a check up. We’re still on it.”

Junmyeon glanced at the monitors sharply, which were back to displaying numbers and charts. Minseok, Luhan, and Baekhyun tried their best not to look guilty.

“Alright,” Junmyeon concluded. “Let me know if there’s anything.”

As soon as the three scientists were left alone, Baekhyun demanded to be plugged in again. Despite Luhan’s disagreement, Minseok plugged Baekhyun in.


PLUGGED

“Where did you go?” Tao cried when Baekhyun reappeared in the virtual rotunda.

“Sorry, I was-”

“Don’t you ever leave me unannounced like that again.”

Baekhyun closed his eyes and tried to straighten his thoughts.

“Tao, do you know where we are?”

Tao looked at Baekhyun like the guy was crazy.

“We’re at Global Inventions,” Tao stated.

“Do you know in what universe we are?”

Tao didn’t answer and returned to his dark place instead.

“Tao, I know you know we’re in a virtual reality,” Baekhyun said at last, finding no excuse from the truth.

“Which explains why I haven’t had the urge to pee for days nor I am hungry.”

Baekhyun chuckled at the reply.

“Right, cos none of this is real.”

Baekhyun threw his arms wide to emphasize his point.

“Then why are you here?” Tao asked the inevitable.

“I came here to check if you’re real or not.”

Tao didn’t say anything. All of a sudden, he stood up and punched Baekhyun in the guts. Baekhyun choked at the pain, too out of breath to scream in protest.

“Why did you do that?” he shouted at Tao.

“Is that real enough for you? Do you think I’m real now? Am I real because I think I am? Or because you decide that I’m real? Do you have any idea how I feel being trapped all alone in this place, wondering if I’m real?”

Baekhyun was rendered speechless at Tao’s series of questions that he hadn’t the slightest idea to the answers himself. He touched Tao’s tentatively and the taller man leaned into his touch. He felt as solid as Baekhyun’s smarting abdomen. He pulled Tao and kissed the latter so forcefully, as if trying to prove to themselves that all of it was real. Tao kissed him back as passionately, and it was all a manifestation of longing and loneliness, of not wanting to be apart again. But they were apart. And Baekhyun knew the grief was real.


UNPLUGGED

Baekhyun opened his eyes and looked up to Luhan’s face. The wetness on his face told him that he was crying.

“Your heart rate went up, so we unplugged you,” Luhan said, his voice was as soft as the wind.

“What happened?” Minseok asked, but Baekhyun was too shaken to answer.

“I don’t think you should go there anymore,” Luhan told Baekhyun.

“No,” Baekhyun said in a surprisingly firm tone. “I must go back. He’s alone.”

Baekhyun sounded so desperate.

“Ok, but not today. We need to check the machine again, because the way your heart beat spiked earlier freaked me out.”

Baekhyun agreed and left the lab. He ascended the elevator back to the main ground. But instead of turning right to his office, he went straight to the entrance. He went home, to a place where all of Tao’s belongings were still left untouched. For the first time in weeks, Baekhyun could sleep.


PLUGGED

“Do you really have to suddenly disappear like that all the time?” Tao said and pouted the next day Baekhyun jacked in. Baekhyun grinned and told him how paranoid Luhan was. “When you get out again, can you ask Minseok to program a new scenery? I’m bored with this place already.”

“What do you do when I’m unplugged?” Baekhyun asked. They were laying down on the empty rotunda. Baekhyun was playing with Tao’s fingers.

“Mostly trying to see if I can conjure something with my mind.”

“Can you?”

“Not yet, but I think I know where the mainframe is. I can tinker with it.”

“Hey,” Baekhyun said, looking straight at Tao’s eyes. “You hang in there, ok? I will get you out of here.”

“How?”

“Yixing’s department has this project going on. I don’t know how to explain this, but practically, they’re sort of growing body parts. You know, for transplants and stuff. If I help him, maybe we can make a whole body out of it.”

“And how long do you think it will take for the research to finish?”

Tao gave Baekhyun a sceptical look.

“I don’t care if it takes a century. You have to be here when that body’s ready,” Baekhyun insisted. Tao crossed his hands across his chest.

“Alright. Just don’t make me ugly.”

***


“So you ask Minseok to change the scene to our first date. Neat,” Tao said.

As promised, Baekhyun visited Tao whenever he could. They were strolling along a quiet coast under the perpetual night sky.

“I thought this place would be less depressing.”

“Maybe,” Tao commented as he kicked the white sand.

“How did things get this way?” Baekhyun sighed. Tao hugged him and they stayed that way for quite awhile.

“I’m sorry,” Tao apologized.

“For what?”

“For being unable to give you more than this.”

“What do you mean?”

Tao pecked Baekhyun on the lips.

“This flesh isn’t real,” he said. Baekhyun sighed again. He sighed a lot that night.

“I thought we’re past this discussion. But if you must, I’ve thought about it. And I’ve decided that real is here,” Baekhyun touched Tao’s head, “and here,” his hand slithered down to Tao’s chest. “What is real anyway but neurons firing signals to your brain and the brain translates them for you? We’re maybe in a program, but my neurons are working just fine. I see you, I feel you, I love you.”


UNPLUGGED

“You have to cut your visit short today,” Luhan announced.

“There is a sudden influx of power surge and Junmyeon has ordered a massive energy saving in the whole station,” Minseok added.

“How much this machine consumes?” Baekhyun asked.

“A lot,” Luhan answered. “Really a lot. I have to check the fans’ temp regularly to prevent it from overheating.”

Baekhyun pulled his two friends in a big hug.

“I really appreciate what you’ve done for me. I’ll jack in for a quick visit and tell Tao what’s going on. Then I’ll check on Junmyeon to see if I can help.”

Baekhyun spent no more than twenty minutes in the machine. After that, he went to Junmyeon and offered his assistance.

“Thanks, Baekhyun. I’m really lost this time. We can’t seem to pinpoint where this burst of energy is coming from, because it seems to be happening in all of the departments. We’ve already turned off one third of our experiments, but the energy consumption is still increasing.”

Baekhyun typed away on his laptop, examining the structure of electricity distribution in Global Inventions. Junmyeon was right. The consumption rate was increasing by the minute. If it continued, they could have a total power shut down, including the security system. They couldn’t let that happen. Baekhyun told him that he was going to look at it.

Look at it, he did. He spent hours trying to figure out what the problem was, while Junmyeon was forced to turn off and halt the projects one by one. Baekhyun pretended not to notice that Minseok’s lab was still alive and kicking. It was a good thing that the lab was on Section 4. The lower the lab was, the higher of a priority the project was. Junmyeon had only gotten to Section 2, so the virtual reality machine was safe for now.

However, stranger things started to happen. As weird as it was, some projects resisted the shut down, while some suddenly turned off by themselves. It was as though the electricity was flickering on and off in random places. On the other hand, the energy consumption rate was still not decreasing. They started to panic when Sehun announced that one of the security layers was down.

“I couldn’t get it online,” Sehun informed.

That tight hole was enough for any smart criminals to sneak in and steal their research. Minseok had even left his lab to deal with the situation, leaving the virtual reality machine with Luhan. Fortunately, Global Inventions’ firewall was so strong, Minseok was able to patch the wormhole up. After the incident, Kris declared the second stage of defense in order to fight off further attack. But then a lot of files were found to be downloaded to unknown locations and many of the scientists started to panic over the theft. Junmyeon was furious. He ordered all the computers to be shut down and all the research to be disconnected from the intranet. He wasn’t prioritizing anymore. All research must be offline. Baekhyun ran as fast as he could to Section 4 and found Luhan pacing back and forth in Minseok’s lab.

“Don’t shut it down,” Baekhyun begged.

“I don’t have any choice, Baekhyun. I think the source of energy burst is this machine. Minseok’s hidden it pretty well, but I think Jongin will find it soon. I must shut the machine down,” Luhan yelled in frustration.

“No! What if we lose him forever if we turn it off?” Baekhyun argued.

“I don’t know what else to do, Baekhyun. This machine keeps heating up, I’m afraid it will blow up. We need to tell Junmyeon about this.”

But it seemed like Junmyeon wouldn’t listen to them right now. The alarm was blaring through the whole station, meaning that Kris had declared the first defense. They must cut everyting from the outside world, including the core system in case it was hacked. Junmyeon’s face appeared in one of the monitors and Luhan almost jumped out of his skin.

“Why are you still online?” Junmyeon demanded. Luhan, who was usually quick with his wits, couldn’t find anything to answer.

“Junmyeon, listen to me,” Baekhyun urged. “We can’t disconnect the virtual machine from the core system, because-”

”The virtual machine is on?” Junmyeon cut, his face was reddening with anger. “How long has it been on?”

“A few weeks, but-”

”A few weeks? That machine is a problem! Has it occurred to you that it’s an enemy’s machine and that they may have planted an advanced virus in there-”

“Junmyeon, listen to me! There’s-”

“Turn it off now! Or I’ll disconnect it myself from the core system.”

Junmyeon disappeared from the screen. Baekhyun kicked the nearest chair flying across the room in frustration. He turned to Luhan and said, “Don’t turn it off. You make sure it stays online.” Then Baekhyun sprinted to the core chamber to stop Junmyeon from killing Tao.

Baekhyun punched the elevator button down to Section 5. The core chamber was located at the end of the corridor and Junmyeon was already there, jamming a series of codes into the mainframe.

“Don’t do it! You’re killing Tao!” Baekhyun yanked Junmyeon away from the keyboard.

“What are you talking about?” Junmyeon pushed Baekhyun down to the ground. Baekhyun swiftly got up and pulled Junmyeon backward violently.

“You don’t understand! Tao is in there! He’s alive.”

“You think I would belive that? Whatever character you see in that damn machine could be a residue -a temp file!”

“No, it’s really Tao! You can’t shut it off!”

Junmyeon grabbed Baekhyun’s collar and shook him hard. Louder than the blaring alarm, Junmyeon shouted, “Baekhyun, Tao is dead!”

Then the strangest thing happened. Through the sound system, GD’s ‘Crayon’ was suddenly playing in full volume, competing with the alarm. Both Junmyeon and Baekhyun gasped in shock.

“Oh god, it’s him,” Baekhyun muttered.

“Who?”

“It’s Tao. He’s telling us that he’s here.”

“Kris, what the hell is going on?” Junmyeon snapped to his communicator.

“You’d better come up now. The reactor’s on,” Kris said.

Baekhyun and Junmyeon hurried to the rotunda. Kris had set up a perimeter around the reactor as the machine growled and burst laser shots to random directions. Sehun was evacuating the station, while Jongin and Minseok were still trying their hardest to keep their research from being downloaded.

“Step back. It’s dangerous,” Kris told Junmyeon and Baekhyun.

“It’s Tao! He’s trying to say something.”

The reactor was shooting lasers on the floor now, and Chanyeol was worried it would shoot through the whole sections. Baekhyun’s communicator rang, but he ignored it. He was sure Tao was reaching out to him. Then Minseok called and Baekhyun was forced to look at a laptop. There was Luhan crying and sobbing desperately.

“The machine blew up. I couldn’t save it.”

“But Tao got out,” Baekhyun pointed.

“He wouldn’t survive for long. He’s overloading all the system. He’s killing himself by existing.”

As if to prove Luhan’s point, the laser stopped shooting. Through the smoldering ashes of the burned ground, two words were embossed in large letters that no one could miss. Help me.

Everyone in the rotunda was stunned silent as the power slowly shut down one by one. Baekhyun lost his strength and fell down to the floor, somehow feeling disconnected to Tao. It was Junmyeon that broke the silence.

“Can you find him?”

Baekhyun looked up and saw Junmyeon apologizing through his eyes. Minseok typed furiously on the laptop, trying to find where the biggest burst of energy was, for that was where Tao would be. The search turned out to be harder than expected, because every time Minseok hit a spot, he’d be disconnected as the system died from Tao’s overloading. On another laptop, Jongin was still trying to stop the digital robbery from reaching the core system.

“I can’t find him,” Minseok said in despair.

However, a message popped up on his screen. There was no mistaking from whom it was.

I’m in the core system.

“Oh, no,” Chanyeol commented. “If the core system overloads and explodes, this whole place could collapse.”

As if to answer Chanyeol, Tao wrote another message.

Get down quick to the core chamber and cool the system down. The temp has shot through the roof. I’ll stop the research download.

Jongin jumped in front of his laptop and whooped in the air.

“He did it! Look! He even retrieved the stolen files.”

“We need to get to Section 5 now,” Junmyeon said. “Everyone grab anything that can cool the core chamber down.”

Nobody forced Baekhyun to get back on his feet as they scrambled to Junmyeon’s order. He just sat there, staring at the increasing degrees of temperature displayed on Minseok’s laptop. He was alone in the rotunda and he felt disconnected from everything. He didn’t even hear the blaring alarm anymore. He typed on the keyboard and a sentence appeared under Tao’s message.

Are you still there?

He waited, but there was no answer.

Tao?

Still no answer.

TAO!

I’m here. Multitasking consumes a lot of energy. I need to save the projects.

What’s going to happen?

I’m suffocating. The space for me to move is getting smaller. I need to retrieve the projects before the core system is damaged.

They’re cooling it down now.

They are, but then they have to shut it down to cool it off completely.

But you will still be there when they turn it on again, right?


Tao didn’t reply.

HUANG ZITAO, ANSWER ME!

No, Baekhyun. Once the system is off, I’ll be gone.

DO NOT LEAVE ME!

I’m sorry.

DON’T LEAVE ME!

I love you.

NO! YOU STAY HERE!

Goodbye, Baekhyun.



REAL TIME. REALITY.

There is a lot of legal and political consequences following the catastrophic misfortune in Global Inventions. A series of court martials are carried out, but Kris argues that the scientists are civilians despite their working on military projects. All in all, individuals involved spend their time under tight supervision until the lawyers, the government, and the military reach a consensus on what to do.

Baekhyun hasn’t moved from his position on the couch since it sank in on him that Tao died on him twice. He can’t decide which is better, that at least they got to be together again once, or Tao should have just gone on in the first place. His phone won’t stop ringing, Baekhyun pulls the land line violently to make it stop. The second his communicator shrills, he throws it across the wall and steps on it to make sure it is effectively dead. He is done with technology.

The next day, someone is banging on his door. Baekhyun stays put. The banging gets louder and louder, to the point where it seems they are trying to hammer the door down. Hammered down, the door is. Baekhyun shields his eyes from the incoming sunlight and curses at the intruders. When his eyes adjust, he sees Luhan, Minseok, and Jongdae judging the state of his cave. Green light is beeping on their ankles, much like Baekhyun’s. The ankle cuff will stay green as long as they stay within the legal perimeter. Luhan and Jongdae proceed to the kitchen to coax something edible, while Minseok takes a seat next to Baekhyun. He has his laptop and is clicking at a number of folders. When he finds what he is looking for, Minseok sets the laptop in front of Baekhyun. There is a single file there.

To Baekhyun.

Baekhyun gives Minseok an accusatory look, but the latter quickly explains.

“It wasn’t there before the shut down. It’s from him. He left it for you.”

“What is it?” Baekhyun croaks, voice hoarse from days of disuse.

Minseok shrugs then joins Luhan and Jongdae in the kitchen. Baekhyun takes a deep breath and buries his head in trembling hands. Maybe this is it. The answer to why Tao asked for help, but then decided to sacrifice himself. Maybe it is a suicide note. Maybe it is whatever left of Tao. Maybe it is Tao.

Baekhyun takes the longest time to stare at the single file. Then he takes another deep breath and opens the file.
Comments 
16 Nov 2013 (UTC)
No. NO. You shouldn't have done that, no.

I loved all those 'fill in the blanks' language in the whole story, making reading this much more awesome. But Tao's last note shouldn't have been left blank. YOU'RE DESTROYING US WITH SAD FEELINGS AND DON'T EVEN TRY TO RETRIEVE THEM.

I can't believe I waited MONTHS to read this though. It's pure awesomeness at it's best.
16 Nov 2013 (UTC)
Omg you read this TT___TT I thought nobody read this, and this is one of my fav to write, thank you so much <3333
Your comment means a lot to me TT___TT
I'm glad you enjoyed it! <33333
31 Jan 2014 (UTC)
Oh I know that feeling, my favorite writing too is probably read by no one *sob*

And I read it MONTHS later than when I bookmarked it, I genuinely apologize for that but IT REALLY IS FUCKING AMAZING HOW THE FUCK I AM THE ONLY ONE COMMENTED.
27 Feb 2015 (UTC)
Please don't let him die a third time... *Goes off pretending Tao came back to life*.
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