An American, Cooper, is in his bedroom room and packs his things. He slips out, being careful not to make any noise, and gets into a waiting car. He gets a call from his mother and ignores it,
On the plane to Europe, Cooper is playing a video game. The stewardess asks him to turn it off as they come in to land. When Cooper notices a young girl looking nervous, Cooper tells her that it's like a roller coaster, relaxing her. He travels around the cities, taking selfies of himself. At a cafe, he sees a couple kissing and checks an app of girls looking to hook up, and finds one.
That night, Cooper meets up with Sonja, a girl at a bar and talks about his travels. through Australia, Asia, and Europe. he says that he's trying to get away from family at home, and he's going home in a week. They flirt and eventually end up going to her home to have sex. The next morning, Cooper wakes up next to Sonja. As they talk, his mother calls and he ignores it. They go downstairs and she makes breakfast, and he notices all of her games. Sonja says that she's a gamer, and Cooper notices that there's a book titled Singularity. As they eat, Cooper's mother calls again. Sonja suggests that he answer it but he says that it's just a can of worms. He explains that his father died a year ago from Alzheimer's and in his last few years, he couldn't remember who Cooper was. Cooper doesn't know how to talk to his mother, and he went on his trip just to get away. He figures that he'll have to talk to her eventually, face-to-face, and Sonja kisses him sympathetically. She tells Cooper that he's a good guy and that he should call his mother, and walks away.
Later, Cooper goes to an ATM and discovers that he's out of funds. He calls the bank and discovers that the bank has made an error. It'll take them more time then he has to get the money to him, and Cooper considers calling his mother but can't bring himself to do it. He calls Sonja instead and meets her at her apartment, and says that he'll use an app to find odd jobs to raise enough money to get home. He finds an ad for playtesting for Saito Gaming, and Sonja says that they're huge. She shows him a cover with a photo of the owner, Shou Saito, and says that Shou is a genius and they're working on a big secret project.
The next day, Cooper gets a ride to the company outside of London and a woman, Katie, greets him. She has him leave his backpack behind and takes him through the company offices. Katie insists on taking his phone before she takes him into the lab, and she turns it off before going into a white room. Cooper fills out a NDA and Katie warns that there's a small medical procedure involved. The signature page is missing and once she leaves, Cooper grabs his phone and looks inside her case. He takes photos of the contents and then sits down as Katie comes back in, forgetting to turn off his phone.
Once Cooper signs, Katie explains that they're testing a VR-like system. She puts the headband on his head and fastens it to the head rest, and then injects a "mushroom" implant into the back of his neck. Katie says that isn't permanent and lays out five disks in front of Cooper, and then initializes the system. Cooper's phone rings and Katie turns it off, thinking she had turned it off earlier. Once it's done, Katie removes the headband and the disk targets drop into the table and an animated gopher comes out of the hole. Katie increases the resolution and explains that it's a mental projection that Cooper can see but she can't. She has him give it a whack and it dumps back into the hole. Cooper continues playing, trying to hit the gopher, and it finally "surrenders." Katie says that it's a demo and offers him more money to test the full game, and Cooper agrees.
Katie takes Cooper to see Saito and the American assures him the demo was excellent. Saito talks about the adrenaline rush after someone is scared, and that the person is relieved because he faced his greatest fear and survived. As Katie adjusts the mushroom, Saito says that they're working on the most personal survival-horror game in h story, and it works out how to scare someone by scanning their mind. Katie plugs a wire into the mushroom and says that she's uploading a neural net package, and tells Cooper that it learns from what he does and adjusts. Once they begin the game, Katie removes the headband and asks Cooper how he's feeling. He says that feels normal, and Saito asks Cooper if he's ready to play.
As night falls, Katie drives Cooper to the gameskeeper's that the company used to model the Harlech Shadow House from one of their games. They go inside and Katie explains that Cooper just stays in the house and continue until he's scared enough to leave. She gives Cooper an earpiece so that they can stay in contact, and assures him that nothing he sees can harm him. Cooper gives her the safe word "stop" and she leaves.
Copper looks around the kitchen and Katie contacts him. He opens a bottle of non-alcoholic wine and starts a fire in the fireplace, and complains about the lack of a TV and his absent phone. Copper finds a book of Poe and starts reading, and sees a spider crawling across the floor. Katie says that she doesn't see it, and the spider crawls up on the armrest. It crawls across the carpet and Cooper stomps on it... and it disappears without a trace.
As Cooper starts reading the book again, the lights flicker. he notices a painting of the house and says that there's a light on in one of the windows. A silhouette of a man appears, and then he disappears and the light goes out. Something moves upstairs, and Cooper comes to a stern-faced man in 19th century garb. The "man" doesn't move, and Cooper tells Katie what he's seeing. He realizes that it looks like Josh Peters, the bully who beat him up in school. The image doesn't move or react, and Cooper walks right through it to get some more wine.
In the kitchen, Cooper talks about his travels in France. Katie points out that he's talking a lot to help deal with his fear, and points out that he 's alone. Cooper finds some ginger snaps in a cupboard, and figures that Josh will be right behind the door when he closes it. He closes it and see Josh's silhouette... and then a giant spider with Josh's face comes around the corner. Cooper describes it to Katie and her voice breaks up.
As Cooper insists that he's bored, not scared, someone pounds on the front door. He opens it and finds Sonja there. She comes in and warns Cooper that he's in danger. Cooper assumes that she's a projection until he discovers that he can touch her. Sonja says that they have to go, and discovered that the photo he sent her earlier was part of some kind of computer-brain interface that Shou developed a year ago and people said that it was dangerous. He figures that she's in on the test and goes to the kitchen to get her some wine. As they go to the kitchen, Sonja explains that five tourists have disappeared in the last year and they all registered with the app. He wonders how she found him and she says that she tracked him via the GPS on his phone. Cooper points out that they took his phone earlier and it's in another building.
Sonja takes out a kitchen knife and points out that she drew his attention to the job. She advances on Cooper, who turns to leave... and finds the spider blocking the door. Sonja stabs him in the shoulder and struggles with hi. After a moment, Cooper throws her off. but she leaps back on him. She shoves him on the floor and the knife in his shoulder goes all the way through. Cooper grabs her faces and it comes off in his hand, and he manages to pull her head onto the knife blade.
Screaming in pain, Cooper realizes that the knife and Sonja's body is gone. He calls to Katie and describes what he experienced, and Katie insists that nothing can hurt him because there's no physical sensation. She admits that the neural net could have worked out some way to inflict pain on him, and Cooper tells Katie to take him out of the simulation. Katie says that they'll commence with deactivation and tells Cooper to go to the access point.
Following Katie's directions, Cooper goes upstairs to a door at the end of the hallway. He says that he can feel something personal on the other side, digging in his head, and says that the neural net knows that he has issues with his mother. Katie insists that whatever is inside can't harm him and Cooper enters the bedroom. There's nothing there, and Katie laughs and says that there is no access point. She claims that they've been screwing with him to see if he would obey orders without question, and they have.
The door disappears and Katie asks him to describe his mother. Cooper can't remember his mother or anything else, and Katie says that the neural net is overwriting his memories. She has him look in the mirror and asks if he can recognize himself, and Katie says that Cooper is going nowhere. Cooper screams at him to get out of her head and punches the mirror, screaming. He grabs a piece of glass and tries to cut out the mushroom, just as Katie, Shou, and the security guards run in and stop him. Katie takes out a laptop and tries to shut it down, but discovers that she can't. She tells Cooper that the interface has grown roots in Cooper's brain. Cooper has no idea who he is or who she is. Shou apologizes and tells the guards to put him with the others.
The simulation in Shou's office ends, and Katie removes the mushroom. She says that it was one second, and warns Shou that the software might be too powerful. As Cooper leaves, he remembers Shou apologizing for the experience and asking for his forgiveness.
Later, Cooper goes home, braces himself, and walks inside. He calls to his mother and gets no answer, and goes upstairs. Cooper finds his mother in the bedroom, crying. She ignores Cooper and says that she has to call him, and wonders where Cooper went. Cooper screams at her...
... and in the white room, Cooper yells for his mother as she calls him on his phone. He goes into convulsions as the phone rings. Shou comes in and points out that the phone signals interfere with the neural net. Katie insists that she turned it off, and suggests that Cooper did something when she left the room. Shou figures that the phone interfered with the uploading routine, and Katie confirms that all of Cooper's brain synapses lit up and then went dead. Once he leaves, the technicians take Cooper's body away, and Katie notes that the test time was 0.04 seconds and the cause of the crash was phone interference.
Written by Gadfly on Oct 23, 2016