Once logged off, I turned away from Proton and scanned my shell of a room. I knew this might be my only opportunity for a while to grab something to eat. I stood up on my fragile feet and limped over to one of the corners of my claustrophobic room. Without much space to move around in and the constant sitting at my computer, I had developed a rather severe case of neuromuscular weakness. It basically meant that the force exerted by my muscles is less than would be expected. Occasionally, it took me an hour or so to gain my full mobility back. The consistent lack of exercise over the years had taken its toll on my body. It never concerned me too much, because after an hour of walking around, my mobility would return and I’d be able to walk without the limp again. That was until my next long session online. To be honest, it wasn’t just me. The world collapsed on the outside and everyone took shelter in a virtual world where the only limits were your imagination. News feeds and online newspapers started to warn the population that they needed to become more active. As the decline in jobs rose, so did the health issues. When the online world became more than just a hobby, people started to shut themselves indoors, sitting in darkness for days at a time and whilst they may have been levelling up their digital selves, their bodies in the RL were starting to shut down. Vitamin D tablets were issued out with food rations to help fight the increasing lack of sunlight. Cramps became a common problem and majority of the population couldn’t afford to see a physiotherapist. We, the whole human race, were failing and the only thing we knew how to do was to joke about it. ‘Muscle Lag’ became the online joke about our insecurities and it diverted our attention away from the problem at hand. If we could learn how to laugh about it, the issue never seemed as serious. I was in that majority. If I could make light hearted fun at myself then the problem seemed minuscule compared to the real issues at hand, like earning Luva. I hated the RL. I hated what it had become. I read stories of how we used to play sports on the weekend as a social activity. How we could afford to go out and have massive dinners. It seemed impossible. I only existed in this time. A time where riots and food shortages are an everyday occurrence. A time where humanity lived in sectors and how freedom meant living in a small cubicle of a room. This was my reality. This was what I had to show for my life.
I limped over to a small outline of a cabinet and pushed firmly on it. I could hear the wall click and a cabinet opened up revealing some daily rations and a couple of containers filled with tablets. ‘Muscle Lag’ tablets to be exact. That, and other multivitamins that I managed to trade for a week supply of rations. I opened up the dwindling supply and swallowed a couple of the contents whole. What was on the menu for tonight? I lifted a couple of dry food stacks and looked at the stamp impression on them. Although the food was supposed to taste like food, they all tasted the same. They tasted like chalk. The food was the same texture as a bar of soap and the only indication that they were different flavours was the different colour of the bars. That, and the light stamp on top trying to trick your taste buds into what taste they were about to consume. Apparently, I was holding beef casserole with mashed potatoes. The bar was a faded brown colour and I cringed as I took a bite of it. The dry texture left an unsettling taste in my mouth and I needed to wash it down with something. I clicked another outline and a small basin came out from the wall. I quickly turned on the tap and drank some of the filthy water, trying to dissolve the chalk taste from my dry mouth. It was something I could never get used to. I took another couple of bites and pre-emptively helped it along with the water. My mind was continuously racing over the events that had occurred and I was trying to figure out what our next move would be. I limped back over to Proton and pushed a different button on the back. My screen flickered a couple of times and a giant smiley face appeared directly in the centre of the screen.
“Good evening Lucas” a robotic voice came through my speakers. “How can I be of assistance?”
“Please CT my Luva into my account” I projected, talking slowly and steadily, for the computers artificial intelligence to understand.
“Sure thing, pal.” Proton replied. “Seems like you earnt a lot tonight” He congratulated me.
“I got lucky” I smiled, realising that the high level Ogres kill was equivalent to playing for a whole week.
“Luck has nothing to do with it. You’re a god amongst men” Protons compliments were always encouraging, even if it was just in his programming. All Sensor computers came with an Artificial Intelligence ever since Siri became popular with the Iphones long ago. The difference now being you could set the mood of your Sensory Intelligence, giving them somewhat of a personality. Protons mood was set to Upbeat and positive, something that I constantly needed and, over time, had become accustomed to.
“Thanks Prot’s.” I smiled. Maybe I’ll treat you on a vacation sometime?” I joked. Protons monitor jumped to a picture of a cruise liner in the middle of the Caribbean.
“Hint, hint, hint.” He switched the monitor back to the smiley face. “Maybe I’ll meet a beautiful printer and we will make sweet, sweet binary together.” I laughed at the thought.
“Can you please bring up the current news?” I asked.
“Sure can” His face flicked and began channel surfing over different media files and band waves. The screen stopped on a news reporter sitting at a desk. Above her was a small translucent screen showing riots on the streets. I listened to the broadcast.
“..whilst the authorities still fight back. I repeat Sector 7 Riots have claimed more lives today, tallying up to 9 lives lost over the duration of six hours. Authorities are still pushing back the civil disorder, in an attempt to remove the confusion over dwindling food supplies. Sector 7’s Chief of Justice Spokesman, speaking out about the recent events described the civil unrest as stupidity, as the limited supply is only short term and will be rectified in a day or two. When will the food…”
“Next.” I projected at the monitor. The screen flickered and instantly stopped on another news station. A small Indian man talking about political change appeared on screen in front of me.
“Now, with the new political agenda up for debate, the laws regarding online currency are the hot topic with the new party claiming that we need to stop allowing the conversion of the digital dollar to actual currency. They stated we need to rebuild a failing society and stop letting billionaire Shergord manipulate the dollar. Whilst the opposing parties decision remains that Shergord has helped the society thrive with his cashing out of Luva to dollar and that without it society will continue to dwindle. Where do you stand?”
“Next.” I shook my head negatively at the bad press about One Life. It seems there was always someone out there hoping to delete it from existence. Another news station appeared on my monitor. A young lady who was nervous and deeply saddened flicked up on Protons screen.
“It seems like another attack on downtown Sector 12 today was once again funded by Luva. The terrorist group calling themselves ‘The Shadow Prophets’ have once again caused mass panic when, at 2pm today, they released a statement taking credit for an explosion leaving hundreds of people injured and homeless. The target building was reported as the last known residence of philanthropist Derrick Shergord, however there has been no confirmation that Shergord’s body has been pulled from the wreckage and his current status is missing as authorities continue to check the rubble for any signs of life.”
“Off.” I stated, angered by the news broadcasts. Shergord was definitely taken by the Shadow Prophets. They just don’t want to admit it yet. “Proton, take me to the forum pages.” If there was going to be any more info on the topic, this was the place to go to. Without replying Proton flicked my screen to the current forums that I saved on my profile. A brief rattle could be heard as Proton quickly got me to my favourite forum page. One Life’s database of knowledge. The headlines completely different from earlier.
Shadow Prophets extreme measures.
Hidden Quest blocked by Prophets.
Hope is Lost.
I finished my Chalk stick and grabbed my mouse. All the headlines seemed important in some way but I quickly chose the one that seemed most important to me. I already knew that Shergord was taken hostage. I assumed that was what the ‘extreme measures’ header would bring up, so I quickly double clicked on the second header down. Hidden Quest blocked by Prophets. My screen flickered and brought me the chat feed replies.
>ToothlessLeia: Prophets have now turned three sectors into PvE Zones.
>Giantman: They are blocking the start quest by eliminating the Avatars trying to kill the two headed Ogre.
>Killz: There must be more Ogres out there?
>Rameriez: Only single heads. They are stopping anyone from going past whilst flooding their own men through.
>R Newts: We must join together and attack as one.
>Killz: How? They are extremely high level?
>Frogger: My party just got slaughtered before heading down the Cavern. They have it all blocked off.
>Homer772: Has anyone got through yet?
>R Newts: We must make a coordinated attack. Read my feed.
>Jules8876: Rumours are a group got through before it was blocked off. Anyone know that for a fact?
>Quidditchlove: If so, they may be One Life’s only hope.
>Adel8ter: This blows.
It was about this time that it hit me. No one else has managed to get down to the start of the quest. They were all killed by the Shadow Prophets who were guarding the entrances. We snuck in just before the secret was revealed to the public forums. I felt my stomach sink, partially from the chalk taste residing in my mouth, but mainly because the pressure of responsibility laying its heavy burden on my shoulders. I looked down at my watch. Six hours to server reset. Our lead was slowly declining. I was about to start looking into the other headlines when Proton flashed a note on screen informing me that I had a direct message. I loaded up my personal inbox to see that it was a message from Jett.
Sacul – Private room passcode is 1138. Dos Chat up and running now.
I exited the message and promptly loaded up Dos Chat. I was greeted with the old dial up networking sound of computers from the past. It sounded like lasers bouncing around inside Proton before entering into the Dos Chat prompt screen. There, I was greeted with a forward slash and arrow that slowly blinked, awaiting my command.
I typed, before hitting enter. I wanted to make sure that the line was secure. After a second of the processor thinking I was greeted with a reply.
/>Secure Network Achieved
The line was secure. I quickly typed my way into the chat room.
/>private room pass code 1138
It was easy as that. I was now greeted with what looked like a chat room of the past. A small box to type in was displayed in the lower corner of the screen whilst the majority of the screen was filled up with sent messages. I could see that Jett was already chatting to Jambo and Chaotika.
Jambo: I’m in
Chaotika: That’s what he said.
JettSteele: Just waiting for Sacul to join now.
I typed letting them know that I was now a part of the room.
Sacul: I’m here.
JettSteele: Great, we’re all in. Sacul, I have some great news. Chaotika and Jambo have agreed to party up and help us.
The news filled me with hope.
Sacul: That’s great news. Thanks guys.
Chaotika: Hey, anything that might get us into the history books of One Life.
Jambo: Yeah, no sweat. Always have wanted to stick it to the Prophets. Did you guys see the forums at all?
Sacul: Briefly. Before jumping on.
Jambo: Seems the Online world has gone to shit.
JettSteele: It has. As of now we are the only avatars that have access to the hidden quest. The Shadow Prophets have managed to change areas into other combat zones but, as yet, haven’t worked out a way to change the server reset times. This gives us a window of approx six hours before they know they have to head for Fest.
Chaotika: Bad news is, after our last little rumble, we are all wanted by the Prophets and nothing is stopping them using a spell of identity scroll, revealing where we are.
Jambo: True, unless someone has a scroll of confusion.
I typed, questioning.
Sacul: What will a scroll of confusion do?
Jambo: If they try to locate us, it will scramble our location and put us somewhere else on the map. In theory, it would send them on a wild goose chase.
JettSteele: You have these Scrolls?
Jambo: I just purchased four before logging off.
Chaotika: I could kiss you on the face.
Jambo: I’ll remember that if I ever meet you in RL.
JettSteele: How long do they last for?
Jambo: Not long. One hour.
It really wasn’t that long. So, if we were going to use the scrolls, we were going to have to know exactly where the prisoner was kept.
Sacul: Any idea where the prisoner may be located on Fest?
JettSteele: I brought up a map and it’s not a massive zone. However, it’s a Frazzer zone.
Curiosity took the better of me.
Sacul: What’s a Frazzer?
JettSteele: Nothing we can’t handle, as long as we stick together.
Jambo: I hate Frazzer’s.
What could it be? Surely it couldn’t be as bad as the Ogre.
Sacul: What’s a Frazzer?
Chaotika: Just so I am clear… We get to Fest. We fight our way to the prisoner. We rescue the prisoner and then he tells us where to go next.
JettSteele: Yeah, something like that.
Chaotika: That’s the entire concept of the Amazing Race. I’m in.
I tried one last attempt.
Sacul: What’s a Frazzer?
It seemed my question was mute.
JettSteele: I’ll send you the coordinates of where to meet up on Fest and exactly what time. As soon as we are all together, we will use the scrolls and hunt for the prisoner. We don’t know what to expect going forward, however, The Shadow Prophets are definitely going to be trying to stop us, so be careful. Remember to level up your Avatar before we head in. We only have one shot at this.
Chaotika: I don’t want to sound like a whiner or anything. But, we all seem pretty high levels except for Sacul. What’s the story there?
I didn’t know what to type. I was about to go on the defensive and explain everything.
JettSteele: Sacul was the lucky one that obtained the quest and decided to share it with us. What he lacks in level cap, he will make up for in wits. As he is the sole quest finder, we need to protect him as if he fails… We all fail.
Jett was right. I kept forgetting that being the Avatar that obtained the quest, I am responsible for completing it. Sure, I can share it and gain help but in the end, if I fail the quest, it will be lost for all of our party.
Chaotika: We will help level him up and he will gain xp in no time. He won’t be a noob for long.
Jambo: We got your back, dude.
Those last comments lowered my stress levels just enough for me not to want to hide under my bed and hope that this was all a dream.
JettSteele: Ok guys, get your load outs prepared and I’ll see you on in around ten minutes. Unfortunately, that’s not giving you guys heaps of time to prepare but I don’t want to lose this head start we have.
I quickly responded.
Sacul: OK, I’ll quickly go level up now and when I log in I’ll be next to you Jett.
JettSteele: Correct. See you soon.
Jambo: Stay safe, man.
Chaotika: See you when I’m looking at ya.
Sacul has left the chat.
I quickly exited Dos Chat and contemplated what I needed to do. I had to level up my character and it wasn’t the easiest of processes. I could simply let One Life level my avatar up automatically, but I always liked selecting the different level up slots that I wanted. I was now a level twelve thief, because I must have gained some levels from Jett whilst we were in the tavern.
“Proton bring up the Level up algorithms.” I hoped I could still access the menus without logging in.
“Sure thing.” Proton replied, loading up the correct screen. I knew I could change the back end and tell the system where to spend my ability points every time I levelled up. By default, it normally got spent on strength, but I was hoping to change that to defence and stealth. The menus appeared on my screen and I could see all the different areas to spend my points on. I thought doing it this way would save loads of time in game. Normally, being a high level character, you would level up reasonably slowly but as I am a low level character and a member of a high level party, I assumed I would level up fairly quickly as I shared in the groups xp. I didn’t want to always jump out of game and level up every time, so if I set the algorithm up now, my character would just obtain extra abilities to suit my load out and play style. I quickly clicked in the menu screens and changed my priorities to defence and stealth and then saved my profile. Already, I could see that I had obtained a couple of new abilities. I quickly read what they consisted of. Mimic was an ability to change my appearance for a short amount of time. Something that could be useful to dodge a nearby enemy. The other was health recovery, which meant my health would slowly regenerate when I wasn’t in combat. This was a passive ability, which meant it stayed on all the time. It was something that could definitely save me using lots of health potions. I took one last look at my newly levelled up avatar and then loaded up One Life. I took a deep breath and calmed myself. One last moment of stillness.
“Wish me luck Prot’s” I begged. Proton replied in his usual manner.
“Luck implies your leaving something to chance. You don’t need luck. You’re the man”
I entered my login name.
G A N D E R
But what happened next I was totally unprepared for.