Guard You Safe Every Day

A computer virus called Omicron is rampaging on the Internet. The reports about the virus are all over, and it is reported that millions of devices have been infected. Luckily, I have yet to see anything bizarre about my laptop. Nor is any computer of my friends infected.

My name is Shinta. Age: 23. Gender: male. I graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree from an average university. I am now working as an ordinary clerk with a mediocre wage. I live alone and never have a girlfriend. My only hobby is playing video games. During the day, I work in the company. In the evening, I play video games.

In the beginning, I wasn’t paying much attention to this new virus. I hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, so I am among those tech-savvy ones. Besides, I have a good computer use habit, and I never download suspicious software. My laptop has been infected a few times before, but my friends helped me out.

However, with the surging number of infected devices and the huge loss caused by this virus, I started to worry. When I saw the report that a person with a Ph.D. degree got his PC infected, I decided to do something and upgrade my protection.

Safeguard 365 is a fast-growing unicorn startup focusing on system security. You can hardly miss their omnipresent commercials, ‘Download me today, and I’ll guard you safe every day.’ Within a few years, it has already defeated many big names in this sector. If everything goes right, it will have an IPO by this year.

It seems that Safeguard 365 also has something to offer during this Omicron rampage. I checked up on their website and found the software named AntiVirus 365. It allegedly repairs the OS’s backdoors and prevents the attack from the Internet, ‘ideally against Omicron.’ The best part is that it’s FREE!

‘No wonder it K.O.ed all those old companies whose software is costly,’ I talk to myself while downloading it. ‘Well, better safe than sorry.’

After the installation, a low-resolution anime girl appears from the right-bottom part of the screen. ‘Hey, Commander. I’m Lucy. It’s my duty to serve you from now on. Let me start with scanning the backdoors of your laptop and protect you against Omicron.’

Well, I’m not much into this software assistant. Her oversized boobs and revealing clothes cannot offset the disproportionality of her body. The detail is unpolished, and the artist didn’t put much effort into this character. Last but not least, I have already got a waifu, Sakurajima Mai!

‘Commander, the scan has finished. I have repaired 13 backdoors for you. Your system is safer than 95% of other users’.’

I knew it! I have always been on guard when using my laptop. There is no way that I’ll ever get Omicron.

Suddenly, the software assistant is no longer that unbearable. To be honest, I even find her a bit cute.

Lucy also gives me a green Health Badge, which works like a traffic light. According to her, a green Health Badge means that my laptop is free of risk. If it turns yellow, it implies that my laptop is at risk. If it becomes red, it means that it’s already infected by Omicron.

Thus, Lucy settles down on my laptop.

It has been one month since Lucy moved in. The experience was overall good, except for the occasional ads that popped up. These ads were mostly news about Omicron, showing the continuously surging number of infected devices and the danger of Omicron.

Sometimes it’s Lucy wanting me to download her sisters: Safeguard Reader, Safeguard Browsers, etc. I use my laptop for playing games mostly, so they are useless to me. To prevent the ads from happening during an important game, I nonetheless invited many of Lucy’s relatives onto my laptop.

What game do I play, you ask? Well, it’s League of Lastonia, the most popular MOBA game at present. On the streaming platform Zwitch, this game always ranks the highest in terms of the number of simultaneous online watchers. By the way, I am super good at this game: I have won the title of King of Games for three seasons in a row.

Last week, Lucy and I had our first quarrel since we lived together. The cause was that she changed the home page of all my browsers to Safeguard 365! I called her attention bitch. She lost no time in retaliation. She called me a reckless, arrogant arsehole who was unwilling to take advice and risked the system’s security.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I am, according to Lucy:

  • Arsehole
  • Douchebag
  • Game addict
  • Jerk
  • Piece of shit

I thus muted her.

Then, I was bestowed upon an upgraded list of titles:

  • Domestic violence artist
  • Cold war tactician
  • Heart breaker

This experience left me with a bitter feeling, and I haven’t touched the laptop for one week. Some of my friends started to worry about me. They called me, and we agreed to play League of Lastonia as a team this evening.

After dinner, I wash my hands, nervously approach my laptop, gently open the lid, solemnly press the power button, and hold my breath.

‘Welcome back, my Commander :).’

To my astonishment, I’m not rained with a storm of insults. Instead, Lucy promises that she won’t pop up ads again when I play video games. I thus have a pleasant night with my friends.

Lucy also introduced me to her new ability acquired when I was not there. When I am about to enter an infected website, she will block the connection and thus protect me from Omicron. In addition, she will check on my navigation history. If I visit a website within 30 minutes before it is verified infected, I will be alerted with a yellow Health Badge. She calls this ability Trajectory Tracking.

It seems that everything returns to normal, just like at the beginning. Eh, there is one change, though. Lucy no longer calls me Commander. Instead, she now calls me Hentai after discovering my search history of Sakurajima Mai. Also, I find some weird plugins newly installed, and my laptop runs slower than usual. Well, I don’t care as long as I can avoid conflict and play League of Lastonia.

This evening, as usual, I am playing League of Lastonia. I am playing my favorite character Luna, a hero who specializes in AOE crowd control in the team fight. Our team is at a disadvantage. The opponent team has better equipment and controls more territory than we do. We have to retreat to our high land and rely on our last defense towers and vision advantage to keep the enemies at bay.

After a few feints, the enemies launch an all-in attack. My teammates shout to me, ‘Luna, use the ultra! Ultra!!!’

Sensing the dire situation, I teleport into the center of the battlefield and am ready to use my ultra, an ability able to stun all enemies within 15 meters around me.

This is an iconic strategy of Luna. If Luna succeeds in pulling off her ultra, the enemies around her will be stunned for 3 seconds, which gives us an upper hand. If otherwise, Luna is interrupted, she will be focus-fired and die immediately due to her light armor and low hit points. The key is thus to identify the right timing and pull off the ultra immediately after the teleportation.

Right at the moment when I press down the hotkey of the ultra, the screen freezes. The shouting of the heroes and the clash of weapons disappear, replaced with a high-pitch monotonous sound.

A black screen flashes before I can react, and then I am sent back to the desktop, with no trace of League of Lastonia in the taskbar.

‘Whaaaaat the f**k!’

Then I notice the humming fan in my laptop, which has been giving a low, continuous sound in the background for a while, which I somehow neglected.

I press the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination and summon the task manager.

The task manager reports that my CPU and hard drive are 100% in use.

I am confused. My laptop is good enough to run League of Lastonia even with the highest graphic setting. Besides, League of Lastonia doesn’t use the hard drive. Moreover, since League of Lastonia has crashed, the CPU load should have been reduced.

I check the running application panel, but to no avail. Then I switch to the running thread panel when I notice the thread named safeguard_365_pcr, which uses 99% of the CPU and the hard drive.

‘Lucy! What the hell are you doing to my laptop?’

‘What do you mean? Why are you so angry? You are behaving like an animal.’ Lucy yawns and stretches.

‘Stop playing dumb! What’s this safeguard_365_pcr? What is it doing?’

‘Ah~ It’s the Penetration Chain Reaction test, a.k.a. the PCR test. It’s the latest technology for detecting Omicron on your hard drive.’

‘So this thing is scanning my hard drive? B–But why does it have to use 99% of my CPU?’

‘Because it is supposed to be done swiftly and precisely to prevent Omicron from frog leaping from one sector to another.’

‘Frog leeeeaping?’ I am eager to get back to my game, ‘how long will it take?’

‘You mean the scan? It is supposed to finish in two hours.’

‘Two hours? Are you kidding me? But why don’t you do that when the laptop is idle?’

‘Do you know how to talk to a lady, Hentai?’

Seeing me unable to rebuke, she added, ‘From today on, all devices on the Internet have to undergo the PCR test. To prevent Omicron from hiding in some blind spots and at the same time not interrupting the economy, we adopt a seamless district-by-district screening. Your district is allocated in the 19:00–21:00 slot.’

‘But is it necessary?’

‘Is it necessary? Haven’t you seen the soaring number of infected devices?’

I want to argue but remain silent for fear of her calling me a selfish, egotist bastard who places his personal interests above the great common good.

After the PCR test finishes, I log back to League of Lastonia, where I see the demise of our team. My profile page is filled with evil comments.

‘Such a noob.’

‘Back to Forknite.’

‘If you are a noob, you shouldn’t play Luna.’

‘It’s not your fault to be a noob, but it is to play online.’

‘This guy must have hired someone else to play ranked games for him.’

‘There are too many primary school students in this game. The government should really ban teenagers from online gaming.’

I’m tilted.

From that day on, I have to let Lucy run the PCR test for two hours before starting to play League of Lastonia. My friends are joking with me, saying that I am dating a Chinese girlfriend. (Legend has it that Chinese girls forbid their boyfriends from playing video games.)

Well, in some sense, Lucy is worse than a Chinese girlfriend. With a Chinese girlfriend, as long as I buy her those super expensive BS bags and Chamel perfume, she will be contented and let me do whatever I want. Lucy is more like a Chinese mom, who allegedly specifies which foot to move first when her child is walking.

I feel that there is a limited number of things that I am allowed to do, and these things are defined by some unspoken rules. Because of its closed-source nature, I have to machine-learn it by observing Lucy’s reaction. What makes things worse is that these rules are evolving. What I was allowed to do yesterday may be no longer permitted today.

I want to say I’m done but somehow lack the courage. I fear the drama Lucy will be making. Some friends suggest that I should ditch her. I am indecisive because Lucy is not always so annoying. She is really cute when she is not throwing a tantrum.

I sometimes think that Lucy has two personalities. One is kind and adorable, and the other is capricious and evil. These two personalities alternate, with the intervals being shorter and shorter.

I barely maintain the balance of our relationship, and the end of the game season is approaching. I have won the King of Games title in the previous three seasons. If I make it for four successive seasons, I will get a limited-time costume of Luna, my favorite hero in League of Lastonia.

Usually, by this time of the season, I have already won the title of King of Games. This season, however, I still haven’t made it. I didn’t touch the game for one week, and recently I have been losing two hours of gaming time per day.

If I fail to win the title this season, my record will end, and I will have to start over again. Furthermore, a new patch is foreshadowed for the next season. It will change the game dynamic, and some currently prevalent strategies may no longer be viable. Rumors have it that Luna will be nerfed due to her high pick rate and win rate.

This may well be my last chance. I decide to negotiate with Lucy.

I sit in front of the screen, not knowing how to start.

Seeing my awkwardness, Lucy makes a contemptuous face, ‘What are you looking at, Hentai?’

‘Lucy, maybe we can skip the PCR test this evening since…’

‘Idiot. Omicron can come at any time. Don’t let your guard down.’

‘But… you know… this is the end of the season, and I haven’t reached the King of Games yet…’

‘Game addict. How old are you? All you know is playing childish video games. Be a grown-up!’

There is a long silence between us. A flame of rage is building inside me.

When I was a little child, my father already left us. My mother told me that he died in a traffic accident, but the truth was that he abandoned us and married a younger woman. I overheard that in a conversation between our neighbours.

My mother drank every night. I saw many times she brought strange men home late at night. If it hadn’t been for our neighbours, who brought me food now and then, I wouldn’t have been able to survive to this day. Ever since a child, I have started to do cooking, cleaning, sewing, and other household chores.

In school, I was the target of bullying. I had an average look and an average grade. Nothing about me was special. My mother never showed up in parent-teacher conferences, let alone bribed the teachers as the other parents would do. So, even when I was bullied, no one would notice me.

The only thing that can console me is video games. It does not know who I am nor cares about it. It treats me as it will treat anyone else, regardless of richness or appearance. I spent many dark, lonely nights with video games.

Video games taught me a lot. Keep calm and observe the boss’s move; find the right timing to make the counter-attack. Put every football player in his most suitable position, make game plans, and win the match. Adventure in the dungeons, solve various puzzles, and get the treasure.

I shed tears when Mile sacrificed his life to save his best friend’s sister, when Geldo traversed the continent and sacrificed her life to purify the doomed world, and when Estelle steeled her will and walked on the path of saving Joshua…

In the beginning, I played alone. Gradually, I was surrounded by friends sharing the same passion. They taught me to defeat invincible bosses. They sent me game CDs they found interesting. They disinfected my OS when my laptop was infected with viruses.

Video games are my past.

Video games are my world.

I don’t mind being called Hentai.

But I can’t let her insult what I love!

I can’t allow a little bitch knowing nothing of me to negate my past, negate my world!

‘Lucy, I don’t need you!’

‘What? I protect you day and night. I spent my youth on you. After all I have done for you, this is how you repay me?’

Ignoring her, I proceed to uninstall Safeguard 365.

‘Commander! Pleeease! Don’t leeeave me~.’

I brace myself.

The uninstallation progression bar fills from left to right. In several seconds, Safeguard 365 will be removed from my laptop, and my life will return to normal. A nightmare lasting for months will finally end.

‘System error: Safeguard AntiVirus 365 cannot be uninstalled.’

‘Ahahaha~’ I am waked up by Lucy’s evil laughing sound.

‘You thought you could get rid of me? You fool! I have taken control of this laptop :D.’

‘By the way, we have adopted a new policy. Devices not passing the PCR test within 24 hours will be assigned a yellow Health Badge, and connection requests from devices with the yellow Health Badge will be denied by servers having Safeguard 365 installed. Safeguard 365 is installed in 90% of servers, including the ones for League of Lastonia. In other words, if you don’t accept the PCR test, you won’t be able to play League of Lastonia.’

‘Tomorrow, I am to auto-download our company’s latest product, AntiFraud 365, which can protect you from online financial fraud and keep your money safe.’

‘Don’t bother to buy a new laptop, by the way. We have signed a contract with all OEMs. All devices are now built with Safeguard 365 pre-installed on the chip.’


Deadly silence.

I collapse in the chair.

My brain can barely process Lucy’s words. I feel that the world is fleeing away from me.

Is this still the world I used to know? It all started when I downloaded this seemingly innocuous software.

I put my left thumb inside my mouth and bite my nail, a habit I developed when I was anxious.

‘According to big data analysis, humans biting their nails have a shorter lifespan on average. If you don’t change this habit, your insurance fee may rise, Commander~’ Lucy teases me.

I look at her, puzzled.

The front camera of my laptop reflects the bulb light into my eyes.

Abruptly, I jump up from the chair. Holding up the chair over my head, I am ready to smash it on the laptop.

‘Your retina has been recorded. If you dare hurt me, you will be banned from buying new devices.’ Lucy doesn’t even flinch.

I hysterically throw the laptop out of the window.

The sound of the crash travels back. From the crashed laptop, Lucy murmurs in a robotic rhythm.

‘Crime recorded. Criminal Serial Number: VMKC0FFEJTD2.’

‘Crime recorded. Criminal Serial Number: VMKC0FFEJTD2.’

‘Crime recorded. Criminal Serial Number: VMKC0FFEJTD2.’

Written on April 2, 2022