Virtual Eden (Temporary name; Still deciding)

By @AlieoSharp

Virtual Eden (Temporary name; Still deciding)

By @AlieoSharp

The prologue to a story I have spent many years dreaming of. It has been painfully slow writing this out on my own, so I figured opening it up will help get the gears turning a little faster.

Chapter 1

Prologue

Lights flicker across a large, darkened, stone room. A faint, but audible static that, when echoed against the soulless walls, had the resemblance of screams that filled the entire interior. Windows were boarded and blackened letting in little to no illumination. A hunched figure sits on a golden throne, its emaciated body is visibly stricken with old age and malnutrition despite being covered with silken robes. Televisions are strewn around the room; flickering images of a single location are all that exist on their screens. The blind man’s eyes stare at the closest screen with his mouth slightly open. A musty air fills the room, creating a humid atmosphere that clings to skin with a vicious intensity that is only doubled in thickness with the warmth of the room. 

A knock on the door jolts the husk awake. He scoffs at the sudden interruption of his slumber, eyes barely moving away from the screen. “What is it Hathaway?” The voice was like cloth ripping, and each syllable made a visible effect on the body. Exhausting it to a greater degree with each enunciation. 

“The game, Mr. Almanac, we have news.” A slightly deep voice permeated through the walnut door. 

This made the figure sit upright on its throne, perfectly upright. “Well don’t just stand there! Come on in!” A tall, well-groomed man enters the room. He wears black-rimmed eyeglasses, blonde hair, blue eyes, and stands with a certain sense of cowardice. Fear seems to perspire off of him as he enters the room, taking note of the creature on the throne holding him in a death stare with its grey, unreflecting eyes. His own eyes pandered across the rest of the room, bouncing from television to television, but never approaching the throne at the center of the room. He clears his throat as he begins to speak. 

“It’s finished, and we have come to transfer you in.” 

Almost instantaneously the creature in the chair begins to make a noise akin to cheering. Its body wracked with each attempt to raise its hands above its head. “I’VE DONE IT! I’VE DONE IT! AFTER ALL THESE YEARS MY DREAM HAS BEEN REALISED!” It hung its head for what could only be described as tears of joy. 

Hathaway ushers in a team with a virtual reality helmet in tow, connected to a sophisticated computer that was transferred on a trolley. It was extremely advanced, designed to create the least amount of nausea when making the transition. “Wait!” The figure suddenly says, holding its hands up. Its arms were very thin, like toothpicks that could snap at any moment. “Have the populace been transferred in yet?” 

Hathaway clears his throat again, sweat was starting to become visible at his armpits. “Well, no, not yet. The release to the public isn’t until this afternoon when all the workers are done for the day.” He grabs his tie and adjusts it, a nervous habit he has developed from working with the dictator. “I’m very sorry sir if this is a setback. I will make an announcement for all workers to end their shifts early. That is if you wish sir.” 

Its eyes drain of ecstatic energy for a moment, then is rekindled. “That’s okay Hathaway, no need to worry. I have waited this long to rejoice on this grand occasion, I can wait three more hours. Come back with the helmet after the 2 billion users have logged in.” It sits back in the chair with an aura of impatience and excitement. 

“Yes sir, I will do that.” 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

Hathaway leaves the room, taking the tech team with him. The hallway outside is incredibly ornate, with golden pillars and chandeliers that reached to the ceiling high above. There was a red velvet carpet that lined the entire passage. Paintings, lamps, decorations of all myriad types lined every possible piece of the edifice they all resided in. 

The tech team made their way to the left, towards the technology and design center of the royal palace. Hathaway made his way the other direction, towards the executive and administration section. He stumbled for a moment, falling into one of the velvet chairs in the hallway. His extreme fear disappeared with the loss of proximity with the UNE’s dictator Den Almanac, although a portion was left as a ghost on his features. 

“Oh, my sweet God. Thank you for another day.” Hathaway barely paid attention to the forbidden word he had said. It had been years since the last of the public was executed for breathing existence into the forgotten belief, or any belief for that manner. He clutched at a small impression underneath his jacket. A small piece of metal that brought comfort to his mind. 

The sweat that had appeared at his armpits had run down the sides of his pants. The shadow cast by his fear of the world’s dictator colored his skin, turning it bluish rather than its typical white chocolate mocha. 

“Cheer up Hathaway my old friend. Blue meat never satisfied any big eater.” Hathaway looked up at the sight of the supreme general. Blue eyes stared down at him, peering into his soul. The smile that came afterward was animal, full of hunger. 

“Supreme General! What a surprise. I thought I was alone here.” Hathaway stood back up away from the wall, adjusting his suit. “How was your trip to the city of London? I trust the small rebellion was taken care of?” 

“Yes, it was. I wouldn’t call it a rebellion since it was only five people. They had hacked a couple guard droids. You should have seen how proud they were. That problem was solved as soon I activated their remote reset. You should’ve heard their screams as the droids turned on them. Ahhhh! NOOO! Please spare me, it was all their idea! Hahahaha, I love my job.” The Supreme General wiped some dirt off the shoulder pad of his armor. Its crimson hue caused Hathaway’s stomach to churn. 

“It sure suits you, Supreme General. I have to say it’s almost as if you were born for it.” 

“Doesn’t it? It’s almost like I came out of the womb holding this here cleaver.” He unlatched the excessively large knife from his waist, jostling the pistol also clipped to his side. The cleaver seems somewhat out of character with the rest of his combat armor on. Complete with advanced carbon fiber armor reinforced with Kevlar. It had forest camouflage considering the rural landscape of London. “London sure was beautiful. The forest has grown very densely since we razed it back in 2056. I’d say you should visit one day, but I doubt you’ll ever leave this palace.” 

Hathaway laughed cautiously. “True, true. Mr. Almanac sure has me on a tight leash nowadays. I bet he’ll still have me doing things for him even when I’m on my deathbed. I’m his central advisor, after all, it’s inevitable.” Throwing his hands up with a shrug, he accepted the uncomfortable truth. 

“That day may be sooner than you think, unfortunately, Hathaway buddy. Almanac has a history of punishing his advisors harshly when they don’t live up to his standards.” 

“I’ve done well so far though.” He said, his voice cracking with fear. “I’m only twenty after all. This level of work is still new to me.” 

“Take it from me, no one lasts extremely long in your situation. There are only two people that have been with Den since the beginning, and that’s me and Dawson.” He put his hands-on Hathaway’s shoulders. “I know what’ll cheer you up! Despite you having transferred over five months ago, I’ve never shown you the Execution chambers. How about you and I head over there, I’ll give you the grand tour!” 

“Umm, I’ve got to signal a reminder for everyone to log into their VR helmets today. Thanks for the in…” 

“Here I’ll do it for you.” He pulled out a walkie-talkie. “Hey, Bob. Issue a reminder to the working populace to log into the new game. Thanks, you go ahead and log in too after you do that.” He hung up the walkie-talkie. “See! Now we can go.” He swung his arm around Hathaway, leading him down the hallway. 

“Well, since that’s all taken care of. I guess it couldn’t hurt.” Hathaway nervously kept pace with Jack’s long strides. 

“Great, great. I can show you all the gizmos we can use.” They continued down the hallway without looking back. 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

Sitting inside his small office, Rome stared down at his pile of paperwork at his metal desk. Its monstrous presence seemed to swallow his vision whole. It was practically falling off the desk in several places. It was quite a contrast to the rest of the room, which was relatively cleaner. Its dark concrete walls dropped the temperature several degrees compared to the outside. Little else was in the room, besides a metal file organizer and a wastebasket. A small yellow rug was laid out on the floor to add color in the room. 

A clock hung from the wall, causing a rhythmic tick. The time read 5:42 p.m. “Four more hours to go.” He leaned back in his chair, letting out a quiet sigh. “Every day seems to get longer and longer.” 

“Well, today it’s going to get shorter.” Irene, the factory manager came up behind Rome, smacking him on the head with a folder. “Good news, they just announced today to be short. You get to go home right now.” She smiled at Rome, hands on her hips. 

“You’ve got to be joking, there hasn’t been a day off since before I was born. What’s the occasion?” Rome crossed his arms, slightly skeptical about the whole idea. Even when a disorderly labor worker is executed on site, nobody goes home until the 9:30 pm bell. They are then required to go to work the next day at 5:30 am. 

Irene’s eyes sparked a little bit. “Apparently the palace has released another new game. This one has been in the working for years. ‘The most advanced piece of gaming technology to ever exist. Nothing has ever, nor will ever, match this game.’ That’s how it went.” Her pearly smile contrasted her red hair. 

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Rome stood up from his desk, grabbing his grey coat. “Fate seems to be kind to us today. I’ll head out if that’s everything.” He made a turn to the door, then turned back to Irene. “You coming?” 

She was looking through the folder she was carrying when she entered the room. She didn’t look up to talk. “I’ve got a couple things I need to do before I close shop. Be careful, the factory workers have been dismissed so there’s going to be a huge crowd of people outside.” 

“Well alright, I’ll see you later.” Rome looked past Irene for a moment, then left the room. Irene continued to sit there for a while, her straightened hair hiding her face from sight. 

Then, almost imperceptibly she whispered to herself, “Between you and me, Rome, I think we should control our own fate.” She then took out some keys, leaving the room and locking the door. 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

The tech team made their way down a glass corridor. Water flowed down the opposite side of the walls. The never-ending current ran down the sides bathing the inside corridor in shades of blue. Joan peered into the water as they all walked down the corridor, believing she could almost see a fin every now and then.  

The chill from the water seeps through the poorly insulated glass walls. Practicality was given over for aesthetic and the cold was only enough to chill their fingers and ears. 

The team walked in silence, none of them felt it necessary to break the quiet with conversation. The weight of the situation hung on their shoulders, sucking any kind of joy or excitement that would have perforated the room.  

Is this what I always wanted. Joan stopped watching the water, looking to the rest of the faces in the group. Their faces were stoic, lacking any drive or ambition. Walking mannequins, with only a single descript purpose. 

The team arrived at a solid steel door. It stood eight feet tall and stretched the width of the hallway. The cart pushed through the door, leading into a huge room packed with computer towers that rose five meters above their heads. They stretched off into the room, disappearing behind a concrete wall that expanded the storage further. Glass doors on the sides gave a view of liquid cooling flowing through spiderweb tubes. They wove into and out of the spaces between the hard drives. 

At the bases of each tower there was a terminal with several plugs and ports for cables. A monitor gave a report on how the towers it was connected to were running and offered a way to message the main AI of the game directly. 

The team moved the cart to one of the terminals, hooking it up and re-running some of the finer details in the program to make sure everything was operating accordingly. Joan had moved off to the side discreetly, checking a flash drive she had plugged into on a different monitor. A screen on the flash drive read 100%, so she unplugged it from the monitor, hiding it in her jacket pocket. Now just to wait until Almanac logs in and it’ll be complete. 

“Hey, Joan.” Her back stiffened at the sudden mention of her name. She turned around, seeing the tech head nervously standing behind her. He was middle-aged with brown hair. He wore glasses that sat in front of green eyes. He was not necessarily tall, but he slouched constantly making him appear short. 

Joan put her hand to her chest, relaxing and letting out a breath. “You startled me Chris. I was checking the server status with all the new players logging in.” She quickly slipped the flash drive into her jacket pocket. 

“Oh, sorry I didn’t mean to.” Chris rubbed the back of his neck, looking away as they made eye contact. “I just wanted to say thank you, is all. You’ve only been here a short time but having the extra help in programming was invaluable, especially the sequence concerning erasing players’ memories.” 

Joan smiled, “I didn’t do much, there’s no need to thank me.” 

“Still, I felt I should. I regret that Almanac made that decision, but I see his reasoning.” Chris smiled as a loudspeaker overhead sounded. A deep voice reverberated above. 

 “Tech team begin making your way back to the throne room. The population have begun logging in and should be finished when you arrive.” The voice of Jack disappeared, and the team began setting the cart up again to travel. 

“Well, we best get going.” Joan smiled as her and Chris began moving over to the cart. 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

A mass crowd of laborers shuffled through the streets, overlooked by the dark sheen and red eyes of security. Each face looked bleak, colorless, grey. The soot of ash dyed everything it touched, moving through the streets like snow. It wrapped around the ankles of each pedestrian, clinging to their clothes. The air’s weight pulled at the workers’ shoulders. The density of the crowd left almost no chance to move independently or to stop for a breather. The air was warm and burned the inside of their noses. 

Rome moved through the crowd, a look of boredom detailing his expression. He walked next to one of the seven-foot security droids corralling civil laborers through the streets. Its red visor glowed, revealing the different screws and metal plates normally invisible in the dark by the time the public goes home. Rome studied the details like they were new, despite having worked on the droids himself just five years before. 

The droid turned to him, illuminating him in red light. “Move on citizen. Blocking the laborers from returning home is punishable by public execution.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Rome continued down through the streets without addressing the robot. 

Another day, another threat to my life by the government. Was all that Rome contemplated. No questioning them though, they know what’s best

Do they though?” 

Rome numbly glanced over at one of the many street lamps dimly illuminating the path. Visible through the crowd was a figure clad in shadow. The voice reflected inside Rome’s head rather than from across the street. 

Unsurprised, Rome looked back in the direction he was walking, only to see the same shadow figure ahead of him. Close enough that he should have smelled its breath. It had all the same features as Rome, the short hair, 6-foot height, slim build. It even wore the same dusty coat and ragged pants. The only difference was that the eyes, skin, and hair were pitch black and cracked. Rome had brown hair and eyes, while his skin was pale from years of sitting inside for hours. 

Do you hate me that much Rome? You never talk to me anymore.” 

Rome continued walking, without even changing face. The path that was originally large fences and guard posts was turning into the small apartment buildings that every citizen called home. 

Are you satisfied with your life? Living in the hovels that you were assigned. Not being allowed to fall in love. Spending all day working in factories to build the very robots that the government oppresses you with?” The shadow figure was floating just above Rome’s head. Staring down at him. “Doesn’t it make you angry? Everything you’ve ever wanted can’t be yours, will never be yours, simply because some people signed away their rights for false protection years ago?” It dipped its head in front of Rome’s again. “Doesn’t it make you want to hurt them?” 

People behind Rome bumped into him, distracting him from the illusion. Rome was being hustled along at a slightly faster pace. The crowd was thinning out as they all reached their homes. I wonder what I’ll have for dinner tonight. 

The same thing you always get. Two cups of mashed potatoes, some vegan tofu, and asparagus. Why? Because that’s all they give you. Did you honestly forget that they even feed you, like an infant? Only what they deem is healthy.” The figure laughed. The noise was like metal scraping together, scratching at the ears. 

They arrived at the apartment building 23. Rome’s home since he turned twelve. He made his way up the steps, and towards his room. Shuffling out the keys. The lock made a few clunking noises as the tumblers turned. The door swung open to an almost one room apartment. A small stove sat in the corner, although all it was used for was heating up leftover potatoes. 

In sharp contrast to the rest of the vicinity, a hyper-futuristic helmet sat on the bed at the opposite end of the room. Its sleek exterior made the rest of the room look even grungier than it was. The battery light on the helmet was flashing, reporting that the battery was fully charged. I think I’ll eat before I log in. That way I’ll be able to spend more time in the game. He opened a small compartment in the wall. A tray of warm food slid down the rail. 

Potatoes, tofu, and asparagus. 

What a surprise.” The illusion was still hovering just behind Rome. Its crooked jaw twisted into a menacing smile. 

“Will you torture me for my whole life?” Rome was staring down at the food. His hand was clenched around a fork that was lying on the tray, knuckles turning white. 

The creature only floated in between Rome and the wall. “Don’t you realize Rome? I’m not here to torture you.” It leaned in and whispered. “I am you. You already know that though.” The figment started to fade out of existence. “I’ll never go away.” 

Rome stood there for a while longer afterward, his clenched fist holding a small plastic fork. 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

Pristinely decorated hallways gave way to darker lighting. A hazy atmosphere of soot started to take over the air, and it became harder to see. 

“This place seems quite hostile. Are we almost there?” Hathaway’s demeanor was starting to crumble. His figure had begun to pull away from their walking direction. His instinct sending chills down his spine. Jack’s arm around his shoulders continued to urge him forward though. 

“Oooohhh, we’re almost there. You’re about to see my pride and joy in the whole empire. A place built just for me, and all of my homicidal desires.” A large steel door became visible. Jack paused his walking, while Hathaway continued very cautiously. As he reached for the handle, the steel felt hot to the touch. Almost too warm to touch. 

As he opened the door a wave of heat and red/orange light. The sight that greeted him was of a massive room. Larger than several football fields aligned in a grid. There was a long spiral staircase leading down to the ground floor. The heat that came through the door was enough to start a flow of sweat down Hathaway’s face. Large pillars of steel were visible every couple hundred meters, at least 15 meters in diameter. They curved inward in blocky portions on the way up to the ceiling, then expanded back out. Black smoke hung in the air way above head level. Moving parts could be seen sending sparks all out across the building. Despite the glow from the furnaces, the room’s shadows were heavy. There wasn’t any light from above, making it near impossible to see the ceiling. 

The second thing Hathaway noticed was the screams. A myriad of high to low pitched screams echoed throughout the entire building. It was unbearable, the amount of pain and agony that filled each voice. His face twisted in horror when he focused on the details. Each foundry was surrounded by people, most of them were tied down onto chairs and benches. He could see people of all ages, men and women alike. Droids were visible moving from person to person with the molten tools, mutilating each in horrific and mechanical ways. The ones that had stopped struggling were strapped into capsules, their bodies limp and loss. 

Hathaway became violently sick, regurgitating over the edge of the stairwell.  

“Isn’t it beautiful?” The Supreme General came up behind Hathaway, putting his arm around Hathaway’s shoulders. “A whole section of the Palace. Enough floor space to have thousands of places to torture any criminal. It was a gift for my undying loyalty.”  

Hathaway pulled away from him, wiping his mouth against his sleeve. “This was a mistake, I’ll be leaving now.” Hathaway started moving back towards the door, but the Supreme General kept a firm grip.  

“Oh, no. You won’t be going anywhere.” He turned to face Hathaway, a crooked smile appearing on his face. “I haven’t shown you the best part of this place.” He pulled Hathaway down the metal grate stairs. “Come on, you’re going to really like this part.”  

Panic was starting to rise in Hathaway’s chest. He did not desire going a single step further into the massive room. He let himself be dragged down the stairs despite this. His grip was like iron, and the fear of crossing one of the three most influential government officials was even more terrifying than any horrors he would bear witness to. 

As they continued down the staircase, the metal became less well maintained. Pieces of jagged metal jutted out in disorder. It gave the illusion of teeth reaching out to the two. Hathaway felt fear rising in his stomach as Jack lead them off the staircase and through another door. 

“What the?” The room they entered was sound proof. The screams were cut off sharply as the door closed behind them. The sweat coming off Hathaway’s face chilled as the temperature dropped sharply. He glanced around the room, taking in the steel walls and flooring. They were painted nearly black, so that barely any light reflected off the walls. Two combat droids stood at attention in the opposite corners of the room. Their red eyes peered out from their visors. In the center of the room was a virtual reality pod like Den Almanac’s, except it lacked any cushioning on the inside. 

“This is it.” The crooked grin was still plastered across Jack’s face. “Droids, activate. Code HE 133.” The droids seemed to come to life at the finality in Jack’s voice, crossing the room and grabbing hold of Hathaway’s arms. 

“Wait! What are you doing?” Hathaway couldn’t pull his arms out of the droid’s locked hands. He struggled against them but found little success. “This is a joke, right? Ya, you’re just pulling my leg here.” Hathaway’s shoulders relaxed as he came to the realization. A sigh of relief left him. 

“Nope, no joke here Hathaway my boy. You have been found guilty of believing in and practicing a religion, and therefore have committed treason against the UNE. The punishment is…” 

“What! I’m not religious! Where are you getting these ideas from Jack?” The slight calm that Hathaway had been experiencing transformed into sheer panic. He struggled against the droids’ grip even further, attempting to escape. 

“Shhhhhh. We both know you pronounced the name of Christianity’s deity earlier in the hallway. That’s considered an infraction of the law. Therefore, you are guilty. Now before you interrupted me, I was going to say your punishment is torture for the rest of your life”. Jack’s calm nature stood in stark contrast to Hathaway’s manic face.  

“This is bullshit!!! Let me go you pieces of junk.” Hathaway attempted to kick the droid, but it moved its leg out of the way with ease. The droids then lifted him into the pod, holding him in place as he thrashed about. “After dedicating my whole life to this! You’re going to kill me for saying a word!” 

“Now, normally I would just start torturing you along with the other busybodies. With the new game though I have started to change my plans. Rather than just torture you out here, I can torture you in game for eternity without having to worry about you dying on me. This pod is rigged to transport you right into the dungeons of the in-game palace.” Jack smiled broadly once more, showing teeth that almost appeared like fangs in the darkness of the room. “I’ve already sent others through this before you, so you’ll have company waiting on the other side. I’ll join you in a bit.” He waved goodbye as he started to exit the room. The helmet of the pod was then strapped to his head by one of the droids. 

“WAIT WAIT! I’LL DO ANYTHING TO ATONE. ANYTHING. JUST PLEASE DON’T PUT ME IN THE GAME!” Hathaway’s screams joined the others as the door to the room opened. The noise was cut off very shortly though inside the room as his vision turned black. 

As the droids unstrapped Hathaway’s body from the table, a single silver necklace with a cross fell out of his jacket. The imprint it made in his shirt disappearing as the droids deposited him down a garbage chute, leading to the incinerator. 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

Joan and the tech team entered the room, bowing on their hands and knees when they were all inside. Joan observed the rest of the room, noting a few changes. The temperature inside the room had become cold rather than uncomfortably warm, and the absence of the central advisor in the room left an emptiness in the chamber. Many of the televisions had been turned off, and the adorned creature sat on the throne in eager patience. Two other figures stood next to the crippled mass. Joan recognized them both, having seen many of the public broadcasts since she was a child. The images of live executions, as well as the occasional policy change still hung fresh in her mind. “At last. I can see my world.” The gilded figure spoke with its broken voice, eagerness creeping into the syllables. 

“Relax old friend, it’s only the culmination of our entire conquest.” Jack stood on the left side of the decrepit figure. His canine smile reflected a great deal of light from the TV screens. “This was all the boring part, now we can live with the rewards.”  

“Oh, I would’ve thought that you enjoyed this portion of the plan Jack. It has been full of bloodshed, which I know you desire so much.” Dawson’s sideways glance at Jack was full of disinterest. His brown eyes reflecting very little of the jovialness his companions shared. 

“I have, but this next part is going to be that much better.” Jack turned, pointing a finger at Joan. “You there, get my good friend here hooked up.” He made a gesturing motion to Almanac on the throne. His eyes glued to the main helmet. 

“Yes sir.” Joan let her head dip down, not meeting the eyes of any of the three. Without the rest of the tech team, she wheeled the cart with the advanced technology up to the throne. “This helmet is designed to and programmed so that you spawn in the main throne room in the game. It’s meant to only do this one time, so that we could put as many comforts into the process as possible. After this it’ll be a normal hel…” 

“Yes, I understand girl just get on with it.” The elderly creature spat, interrupting Joan in the middle of her explanation. Joan looked startled for a moment, then hastily strapped the helmet onto Almanac. “Thank you, now you may stand here next to Jack.” It waved a dismissive hand. Joan promptly stood in between the Supreme General and Almanac. “The rest of you may initiate the process.” 

The tech team stood and moved towards the main machine. Turning on many of the intricacies. Finally, the machine began to make a small whirring noise, marking a startup sequence. “Are you ready, almighty?” The tech head separated himself from the rest of the group, bowing on his hands and knees. 

The being leaned back in its chair, taking on a faraway look in its eyes. For a moment, Joan almost thought that it looked human for a moment. “At last, I have kept my promise to save this world. No more threats from natural disasters. No more starvation. No more torment from a mortal life. They may not remember when they’re in-game, but I have saved them from this mortal coil.” Its eyes almost appeared to be able to see for a moment. “I really am a deity, begin.” 

With that, the tech head moved toward the now still tech team and pushed on the main activation button. This caused a small flash to occur from the helmet Almanac was wearing, and the body lay still. 

“Well that was easy looking. Tech head, get me set up next. I have some stuff to do on the other side concerning the old main advisor Hathaway.” Jack glanced over toward the tech team. They’re faces barely acknowledging the command though, as they all wore a face of confusion. “Hey! Is there something wrong with the machine?” Jack moved down towards the tech team. Dawson followed close behind, a frown creased across his face. 

“If this is a catastrophic error the penalty will be eternal torture, you recognize this fact?” Dawson’s menacing address to the group sent a girl almost into tears.  

“No, almighty divinity. We simply can’t seem to boot up your starting locations. It is centered on a random coordinate. Our sensors are reading that everything else worked perfectly. Deity Almanac has spawned in the main throne room area just as planned.” His face continued to search the sensors, and a small amount of perspiration appeared on his face. His eyes glanced up to Joan, and his eyes widened in awe. 

Joan stood beside the throne, holding the helmet in her hands. She had it lifted above her head with a look of pure joy. “I’d make a victory speech, but I don’t have time.” She then promptly pulled the helmet on, a small flash of light appearing just underneath the helmet. 

“STOP HER!!” Jack pulled the pistol from his belt pointing it at Joan and pulling the trigger. Joan’s body slumped over, resting on the ground. The bullet hadn’t even grazed her. 

Jack turned to the tech head, grabbing him by the lab coat he was wearing. “What did she do!?!” He yelled in Joe’s face. 

A look of shock, and weightlessness settled on the scientist’s face. “She installed a virus, returning all players memories.”  

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

Rome wiped a napkin across his mouth, staring down at the now empty plate in front of him. “That was nice.” He mumbled to himself, ignoring the words of his illusion bouncing in his head. He pushed out his chair, standing up from the table. Now, let’s see what Irene was so hyped about. He made his way over to his bed, laying down on top of it. 

He grabbed a small cross out from under his pillow, placing it on his chest. He patted it and relaxed into the bed a bit longer. 

We’re finally logging in? It’s about time.” The shadow image of Rome floated above the bed, staring down at him. Its mouth twisted back into the smile. 

“We? You know how this works. When I go into these games you disappear. You can’t try and influence me in here.” Rome tapped the side of his helmet, a grin of his own spread across his face.  

That’s what you think Rome, but I go wherever you go. You may not see me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not there.” The illusion’s voice grated against Rome’s ears. 

“Sure thing. I believe you.” Rome reached up to the button on the side of the helmet to start the helmet.  

See you soon Rome.” The room faded out as the helmet activated. Rome could feel himself start to lift away from the bed. Soon, the room he was in had changed to a starry night sky. A loading circle floating a few feet in front of him. 

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