Adventure in a Virtual World

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.4) - Disappearances

Submitted: April 14, 2016

Reads: 296

Comments: 8

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Submitted: April 14, 2016

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I don't remember what time I went to bed and I don't remember what time that morning I woke up, the product of my bad habit of gaming through the night. I do remember though, it was a few minutes after 1pm when I came across a news headline on my social media feed. 'Shocking Disappearances Leave the World Baffled.' My curiosity got the better of me, even though I was probably just going to find yet another click-bait article. 

I grabbed my bag of chips and moved to the edge of my chair. A quick glance around my room revealed piles of dirty clothes and an unmade bed. I wrinkled my nose and made a mental note to clean up later. Now for some entertainment, I thought turning back to my laptop.

This article was different however, there was no wall of text with an agenda but a single video. A reporter appeared on the screen, a smirk on her face. She rolls her eyes as someone off camera gives her the cue to start. 

"What started as an ordinary day has quickly turned into one of confusion and panic. Numerous reports of friends, family or loved ones simply disappearing without a trace, have officials baffled. Chemical leak, alien abduction, disease and even foreign weapon testing has been blamed as a possible culprit. The most common explanation though, comes from the gaming community, claiming they have all been trapped within a video game. If you ask me I believe they are just holding on to the hope that the popular Japanese anime Sword Art Online has become a reality. It does appear the majority of the missing individuals were using a computer or electronic device around the time of their disappearance though, so I guess I can see why their overactive imaginations could jump to that conclusion. That's all the time we have for now, more information to come at 9."

I sat there stunned for a moment, entertaining the thought that people may actually be stuck inside a video game. There hadn't been any reports of a gaming system being released that was capable of doing anything like what happened in Sword Art Online, if it was even possible to create such a thing. In the video the woman also said that the majority may have been using an electronic device at the time. Which means it would have had to be a mobile game, but how would that explain those who weren't on their devices at the time? I have to admit it seemed pretty laughable that I was even considering it to be a possibility. Did they randomly get sucked into a game or something?

During our weekly raid session, later that night, the disappearances were all the gaming community was talking about. It wasn't just a sick joke anymore and it was clear to me that something really was going on. It wasn't limited to just the US like I had once thought. It was happening throughout the world.

A gnawing feeling deep in the pit of my stomach steadily grew worse until I finally asked my guild mates on voice chat, "Hey, have you guys paid attention to the news  today?" The seven foot tall half-orc, on the screen, stood still as I took my hands off the keyboard. His gargantuan broadsword hung uselessly by his side.

"The middle of a boss fight and you want to talk about the news?" asked our raid leader Keith, as if I had just insulted his mother. A nimble halfling thief raced across the arena, a behemoth of a fire demon hot on his trail.

"Don't you think it's strange that no one has figured out how people can just disappear? I don't know how many were gone this afternoon but someone just said that it's almost up to fifty-thousand people." The thief jumped and rolled midair, narrowly avoiding a column of flames.

"Really? A few hours ago it was only like five thousand," said the only female member of the group, with worry in her voice, "how are so many more gone?" A female elven cleric with long, sleek black hair casted a couple healing spells. Distracted though the spells landed off target and bathed the uninjured half-orc in heavenly light.

"Can you guys just focus on the fight? We can talk about this aft- and I'm dead." Sure enough, our dear raid leader had indeed just been brutally charcoaled by the boss' flame attack. Only the faint black outline of a halfling remained on the ground.

"Do you guys smell chicken?" joked one of the guys. 

"Burnt chicken maybe," added another. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all despite my uneasiness. 

With the fall of our main damage dealer, our endeavor was doomed to fail. When the timer finally expired, a tenth of the boss’ health bar still remained. The ultimate attack that followed left broken spirits and no survivors. Begrudgingly, Keith called off the raid for another night when we wouldn’t be so distracted. With the conclusion of the run my guild mates headed off one by one until only five of us remained.

"Shana, you mentioned that this afternoon there were only five thousand missing?" I asked now that we could hold a real conversation.

"Oh, um, yeah. I'm not sure if I have told you guys before, but my dad works for the government. When I asked him, he told me not to worry about it..." Her voice trailed off.

"Are you kidding me? Five-thousand people go missing and we're not supposed to worry about it!" yelled Ryan. He was always the quiet one in the group. It was startling to hear an outburst like that.

"Probably because only forty-three are from here," said Keith. "You should know by now that it's only big news if it's a threat to the U S of A."

"The joke is on them then because I'm watching the news right now. Fifty-thousand  reported cases worldwide, seventy-five percent Americans. Five percent here in the UK and the other twenty percent include those from Japan, Germany, France, and Russia," added Elliot. Elliot is originally from Wisconsin but he and his girlfriend moved to England shortly after his twentieth birthday, two years ago.

A phone started ringing in the background. "I'll be right back you guys, my dad is calling again," said Shana.

"What do you guys think is going on?" I asked. "There are some pretty crazy theories, like alien abduction, but do you think that this could be some kind of attack?"

"I don't care, I just hope it doesn't happen to me," said Elliot half joking. "Honestly though, none of the theories I've heard are logical, but then again what's logical about fifty-thousand people just randomly disappearing? If I had to choose one though, I'd say it's a case of SAO and some evil genius in Japan is laughing maniacally." Suddenly there was a burst of loud static that made me recoil and whip my headset off.

"What the heck was that?!" I heard Keith yell despite my headset being nearly half way across my room.

I walked over to pick them up and put them back on. To my surprise I could hear a hushed conversation between Shana and her dad on the phone. I should have realized, right then and there, something strange was going on when she magically started hot miking.

"Yes Dad, I'm just fine. Yes, I still game, why? Do they really believe this has something to do with a game? No, I haven't played it; never heard of it."

"Are you guys hearing this?" I whisper. All three guys quietly say yes. 

"Of course I won't, I promise. I love you too, bye... alright guys, I'm back. Guys?"

"Uh, yeah, w-we're here. We, uh, your m-mic was still on," Ryan stammered.

"What? I'm pretty sure it was off, since I literally just had to turn it back on..."

"They think it has something to do with a game?" asked Keith. "Seriously, what are they smoking?"

"I swear, my m-mic was off," Shana says nervously, her voice faltering.

"We could hear everything you were saying Shana. What game was he talking about?" I asked. I recalled playing a new MMO beta a couple months before but it wasn't scheduled for release for another two months. "It wasn't Sword Legacy was it?" 

My mind began racing, trying to figure out how the disappearances had anything to do with that game. The graphics were amazingly realistic. It had a fantastic storyline with numerous side quests and the artificial intelligence was like nothing I had ever seen before, but nothing stood out to me that could have implied a connection to the events that were unfolding. I couldn't figure it out at the time why my heart dropped but it sank to the very bottom when that weak voice said yes. She felt guilty for discussing the details of her phone conversation with us and it showed. 

I heard about the game from Zoe, the only other girl in our guild and my long time childhood friend, after she had stumbled upon the beta test. She and I have always had similar taste in video games on top of the magic words "magic and swordplay". I took an immediate interest in discovering what it was all about and played for hours every day.

I told them about the six different starting classes, each with three advanced classes they could branch into and not all of them combat oriented—something completely unheard of in all the games we had played together. I explained how there was a main storyline that all players worked together to progress and each time you logged back in, you had to ask around to discover what events took place while you were offline. As the main story progressed there were side quests that became available. This part of the game created quite a bit of competition as they could generally only be taken by a handful of players at a time and once completed they were impossible to undertake again. The non-player characters, for the most part, actually seemed to know what was happening in the world around them. It was truly a wondrous programming feat, even for the year 2025. 

Ryan had heard about the game as well, a friend of his was among one of the highest levels at the end of the beta. With the help of anxious prodding, Ryan dialed his friend’s number and put the phone on speaker. My heart dropped and I felt like I was going to be sick when a panic stricken mother answered the phone. 

I picked up my own phone and dialed Zoe’s number—no answer. I called her parents, her brother, and even her ex-boyfriend. No one had heard anything from her the past few days and it wasn't like her to miss a guild raid without letting us know ahead of time. 

It had to be connected. It couldn't just be coincidence that the only people we personally knew that went missing just happened to be beta testers, could it? But then why was I still there? Why was I left behind?

I felt like I was going crazy and sleep was hard to come by. How could this possibly involve some random video game that hadn't even been released yet? How could I be crazy enough to think that it's a possibility and yet, clearly, I'm not the only one who had it cross their mind. 

Morning came and I still hadn’t found the sweet escape of sleep. I rolled out of bed and clumsily rushed to my computer. Quickly picking up my headset I joined in the call already in progress.

"-and then she told me to come watch the TV," Elliot said solemnly. "I'm watching the broadcast right now."

"What's going on?" I asked.

Silence fell over the chat, no one daring to speak. After what seemed like an eternity Shana pasted a link into the chat directing to a news article with the latest update of a bad situation growing worse. Again, I was on the edge of my seat as I read. 

‘Twenty bodies had been discovered with wounds of unknown origin in the US alone, three more in France and one in the UK.’ Startled by this discovery I crashed to the floor. Shana let out a small gasp but no one said a word.

Finally after the longest three minutes of my life, Ryan spoke. "I think I know what happened to them."

"How could you possibly know that one genius?" asked Keith condescendingly. He was always treating everyone else like they were inferior, but Ryan especially.

"I did some looking into the game after we talked last night. I couldn't find much, but what I did find were some game play videos. Jake, when you mentioned the graphics you didn't mention that it looked almost like real life. At a quick glance you wouldn't even notice the difference!"

"What are you getting at Ryan?" I asked.

"Well, think about it. We're the only two that heard about it. With graphics like that, wouldn't you think that a lot more people would be aware of it or at least heard aboutthe game in general? You even played it but didn't tell us about it until last night. I think someone is covering up the fact that people made a discovery that they weren't supposed to."

"You aren't seriously saying this is a government conspiracy, are you? That is so ridiculous. The next thing you're going to say is that Jake here was brainwashed into not telling us sooner?" sneered Keith.

"No, that would be giving our government way too much credit. I honestly don't know how or why this is happening, but it clearly has to do with how impossible it all is!" exclaimed Ryan. 

As strange as it sounds, I actually started to believe Ryan was onto something. Even with all the technological advances the past few years, an AI which could mimic a human was far off and yet there had been one in Sword Legacy. I was sure of it. I hadn’t really even noticed it at the time since most of the NPCs were either shopkeepers or quest givers. As a matter of fact, unless they tied into the main story, I barely remember there ever being NPC villagers. But how could they have programmed the story to progress solely on unpredictable inter-player actions? 

"Ryan's right about one thing, it should be impossible. It's as if it were-" I started to say just as Elliot's girlfriend asked him what he wanted for breakfast. "-as if Sword Legacy is truly magic."

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2018 T.J. Little. All rights reserved.

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