First Appearance: The MUTEX ReBooted (May 4, 2003)
The MUTEX, or Multi-User Titanic Entertainment eXperience, is a massive virtual reality simulator built by Nick while under the influence of the Inventor's Gene. Once given a set of parameters, the MUTEX scours the Internet to collect the massive amounts of data necessary to extrapolate and recreate any virtual setting. The experience is totally immersive, providing the participants with a complete sensory replacement for their actual surroundings.
The MUTEX usually requires at least one "controller" who remains outside the simulator to monitor the system for abnormalities. If any of the active participants appear to be in danger, the controller can safely navigate the participants back to the real world. Fred has often been reluctantly tapped for this role because his physiology is incompatible with the MUTEX's primary interface. The MUTEX can and has been operated without the safety of an external operator, but Nick would strongly caution against this practice; without the safety net of the external operator, the participants may not be able to return intact.
By default, the MUTEX can accommodate up to six active users. Attempts to extend beyond this number may cause the internal reality matrix to become unstable. The primary user interface involves a helmet with neural synapse connections that tap directly into the participant's brain, thus making traditional "VR suits" with gloves, goggles, etc. unnecessary. However, later strips depict the use of gloves, which may indicate that Nick found the need to improve tactile response at least for the hands.
The constant online connection required to recreate the virtual worlds also represents a potential security vulnerability. Ki's brother Yoshi hacked the MUTEX by breaking through GPF's firewall and accessing the underlying operating system. During this event, Yoshi downloaded the source code and hardware specifications, enabling him to build a crude DirectX client and eventually clone the entire MUTEX system.
The MUTEX consumes massive amounts of power; Nick's initial tests knocked out power for at least six city blocks and nearly overloaded the power grid supporting GPF Software. It was this incident that led Nick to couple the MUTEX with Velociraptor, the "free energy" power source he developed during Surreptitious Machinations. It was this coupling that changed the very nature of how the MUTEX worked. Instead of creating virtual worlds, the combined device became an inter-dimensional transport, allowing the "participants" to transfer to other universes. During this transport, the travelers are converted into avatars suitable to the destination; for example, when Nick and Ki accidentally traveled to the universe of Kevin & Kell, they were transformed into sentient animals (a rat and a cat, respectively). The transformation is reversed when the travelers return to their home universe.
The combined MUTEX/Velociraptor machine was integral to the plot of To Thine Own Self.... In an alternate universe, Nick's counterpart managed to build his own MUTEX and discover its latent inter-dimensional transport capabilities. However, he did not have an analog for Velociraptor; thus, his MUTEX was confined to observation and the transport of inorganic matter. Living beings could create "avatars" in another universe, but would physically remain connected to the MUTEX in their own world. Once Emperor Nicholas learned of the existence of Nick's Velociraptor device, he set about trying to steal its secrets for his own, eventually kidnapping Nick and bringing him to his universe. The Emperor ultimately failed to obtain the secrets of Velociraptor and the connection between the worlds was severed with everyone back in their respective universes.
After our heroes returned to their home universe, the MUTEX and Velociraptor largely remained idle, although Nick would occassionally "run experiments" on it. Nick developed a prototype MMORPG VR client which Dexter used to bring himself, Patty, and Tim into the game Bog of Bloodbath. However, the VR client was alpha code and untested, and Dexter forgot the failsafe escape remote to bring them back on their own. Fortunately, Nick and Ki deduced they were inside the game and rescued them. Afterword, Nick forbade Dex from using the MUTEX without permission and swore Tim and Patty to secrecy about the device.
The MUTEX and Velociraptor played a small but pivotal role in Scylla and Charybdis. After Fooker, Sharon, and Justin discovered that Nick had been aboard a Grey ship for over a month and Ki helped revive his memories, Nick had a drone beam the MUTEX and Velociraptor aboard the ship as a "last ditch idea" to stop the impending Grey/Physaric conflict over the Earth. When negotiations failed and war between the two alien fleets seemed imminent, Nick powered up the MUTEX/Velociraptor combo and seemingly destroyed the Earth to prevent it from falling into either invader's hands. In reality, Nick used the devices to hide the Earth in an alternate universe, but promptly "lost" it in the sea of infinite realities, stranding himself, his friends, and about a hundred other humans in space among the two orbiting fleets.
In the aftermath of Scylla and Charybdis, Nick called for volunteers among the human "survivors" to help search alternate realities via the MUTEX and Velociraptor for the missing Earth. Aside from himself and his friends, twelve others volunteered. After numerous tweaks and updates to integrate Grey technology into the two devices, the volunteers have begun the daunting task of trying to find the planet among its infinite possible hiding places.