Read A Quest of Heroes Chapter Two

For the next five days I was really busy. The feeling of time slipping through my fingers pushed me harder than any number of motivational coaches. Had I lived my whole life as if every day was the last, I’d have been driving a Bentley before I turned thirty. For a start, I raked together whatever cash I had. That included collecting a couple of pretty well written-off debts. One of the debtors was reduced to hiccupping, amazed at my aggressive stance. It didn’t amount to much—about three grand give or take, of which four hundred and a whole precious day were wasted on repeat exams in a private clinic. All they did was confirm the initial diagnosis. The only difference was that their doctor insisted that I be admitted straight away for some proper care and a possible few extra weeks—or months—to live. I told him very nicely that I’d think about it, then legged it. Vultures. I splurged five hundred more on a casino. Actually, I was on the point of winning a couple grand, but that wasn’t what I’d come there for so I kept betting on color doubling up after each loss. In theory, provided there were no limitations to the size of your bet or your wallet, you might just end up in the black if you quit in time. But my particular wallet had quit after having backed black seven times while the wheel kept throwing up just reds. The croupier suppressed a smirk. As if I didn’t know that he could come up with any number he pleased. What he didn’t know was that I was staking my life, not just my money. But it wouldn't have changed jack shit. For three more days I was doing the rounds of the retail stores buying on credit cell phones, game consoles and other such electronic junk. In the evenings, I’d drive to the market and flog it for a third of the real price. Now I sat in a burger joint, my aching legs stretched out under the table, my stomach reluctantly digesting whatever artery-cloggers they had on the menu. Pointless trying to lead a healthy lifestyle. I was entitled to whatever I fancied, be it food or activity. Should I smoke a cigarette? Shame really, considering how much effort I’d put into doing cold turkey only a year ago. Right. What was on my agenda for tomorrow? First thing I needed to pop by the lawyer’s and get a letter about parents not assuming responsibility for their children’s consumer credits. Just in case a bailiff paid Mom a visit after my death. I didn’t like the way it sounded. After my death, bah. From the lawyer I had to go back home and sort through my digs. I had to decide what to give away and what to take to a boot sale. The rest was going straight to the dump. I didn’t want strangers – or Mom even, for that matter – to rummage through my underpants and dusty mementos. I also needed to go through my photos and paperwork and trash the more personal items. Then, back to my retailers to ruin their insurance statements by a few more cents. My iPhone vibrated over the slippery table top, gradually sliding to the edge. I didn’t recognize the number so I kept watching the gadget’s suicide attempt. On the ninth beep it plunged and leapt down onto the tiles. I caught it halfway to the floor giving a wink to the picture of a pretty young mother complete with kid who observed my actions from the phone screen. "Yes." ‘Max? Hi. This is Olga from Chronos." I glanced at the clock. It was well past eight. "You seem to be working long hours. Be careful they don’t run you into the ground." I heard a short polite laugh. "Not at all. I’m already finishing. You’re the last on my call list," her voice grew serious. "So, have you decided anything?" "I’m afraid I haven’t," I shook my head as if she could see it. "It’s too expensive. No way I can afford it. Some other time, maybe? Some other life?" "I see." Was it my imagination or was the sympathy in her voice genuine? Or was it still her sales pitch? "Max, I... I'm not sure you know but our company has access to our potential clients’ medical records. In case something needs checking, you understand..." I winced. In this electronically-controlled world, privacy was quickly becoming obsolete. "So I know all about your situation. My mom died of cancer three years ago, too," she faltered and sniffled. I could see her wiping the corner of her eye with a Kleenex trying not to smear her mascara. "This was what influenced my decision to work for Chronos. But there’s something I want you to know... Max," her voice grew stronger. "Cryonics isn’t the only solution. There’s another option, too." I pricked up my ears. "Which is?"
Tales of demons and gods.
 "Have you ever tried playing computer games? Those online multiplayer ones?" I winced again. "I used to. A lot. Really a lot." "Are you a professional gamer, then? You know all about these things, do you?" "No, I don’t," I crumpled the paper napkin and shoved it into an unfinished soft drink. "You need to earn serious money to be called a pro. You must use your skill to help push the product, or at least to farm elite items to sell, or rush newbies. I was a regular hardcore shithead, excuse my French. Spent twelve hours a day playing. I’ve pissed away my friends, my girl and my studies. Only when my Dad died in a car accident and my Mom was left on my hands handicapped for life, only then did I manage to pull myself away from the monitor. I freaked out and formatted the disks. Since then I don’t even read gaming news for fear of a relapse." Olga sniffled again. I made a mental note not to go ballistic every five seconds. I was getting too easy to wind up. My nerves were like live wires. "I’m sorry, Olga. I’m just tired. And it still hurts me to talk about it. So what’s that option you mentioned? What’s that got to do with gaming?" "Have you ever heard anything about going perma mode? You haven’t. That’s funny. It’s all over the news these days. Even on television. Officially, the problem doesn’t even exist. State TV won’t touch it with a barge pole. But us – despite all our aggressive marketing tactics, our customer database has dropped seventy percent. That’s sensitive information, of course, so I haven’t told you anything-" "Just spit it out," I butted in. "I don’t give a damn about your sensitive shit. What’s this perma stuff you’re on about?" "Please understand, I’m not an expert. I don’t think I can explain it correctly. Look it up. It’s all over the Internet." "I will. Thanks for the tip. I owe you one. Do you like champagne?" "I prefer flowers." "Agreed. Flowers and champagne," I couldn't help smiling. I thanked her some more and mumbled a hasty goodbye. Then I jumped into my trusty Korean tin can and headed back home, the new hope forcing my foot down. In less than an hour, I was sitting in front of my computer screen taking in search results. The Internet community was in a frenzy. Apparently, about two years ago, gaming blogs, portals and clan forums had been flooded with the first scary reports as more and more people had become stuck in a game for good. Nothing could sever the person’s connection with the game server, not even unplugging the Internet and shutting down the capsule. Later, it turned out that the person’s mind didn’t need a connection as it bled into the game world leaving its empty shell outside, devoid of identity. No one was sure of the existence of those unlucky enough to get perma stuck (or go perma mode, or get digitized, as some had put it) within a basic game of chess or Tetris. Nor would you envy those whose mind was locked inside various tanks, fighter planes and other combat simulators. No matter how much you loved your fighting gear, getting burned alive dozens of times a day scorched inside a tank's red-hot hull had become many a gamer’s personal hell—literally. Luckier were those perma-stuck inside full-feature worlds of multiplayer online games. Billions of square miles of their premises offered a well-developed social structure and a life virtually indistinguishable from reality. Apparently, quite a few victims were happy enough to escape there. No need to work or study, no worries about tomorrow, no staring into the mirror contemplating your flabby body and spotty (or, alternatively, wrinkled) face. Within FIVR, you were tough and strong. You were your own master. Certain population categories had come to appreciate a virtual life over their current existence. The handicapped and terminally ill would attempt to go perma mode in the hope of obtaining new healthy bodies for themselves, however virtual. Some of the more computer-literate senior citizens took their places inside FIVR capsules looking forward to immortality, especially desirable when life is already slipping through your fingers. They were joined by those on death row. Star-crossed lovers, too, instead of hurling themselves from a cliff in one final embrace, chose a suitable world to get stuck in. Tolkien’s fans and historical reenactors with their dreams of being reborn as Elves, dwarfs and mages entered capsules in an ecstasy of anticipation. The statistics pointed at a growing suicide epidemic raging among the unlucky seventeen percent immune to the perma mode effect. They craved being digitized. The timing was fatally right. Governments sounded the first alarms. New laws restricted the duration of full-immersion capsule time.

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The state monitored every game server containing even a single perma player. Official statements promised that such servers would never be disconnected. No idea how I’d managed to miss all that hoo-hah. My fingers trembled as I kept digging deeper and deeper into the Internet. Cigarette butts floated in empty coffee cups after I’d rummaged the cupboards for a long-forsaken pack of Camel. I met the morning by the open kitchen window, drawing on the last cigarette. My eyes watered. The coffee I’d drunk was now churning in my stomach. But everything inside me cheered at the news. This was it. This didn’t involve paying a king’s ransom for being deep-frozen like a drumstick. This was an honest-to-God hole to escape into giving the Grim Reaper the finger. I still had a lot to do. There were technicalities to consider: which capsule would allow me to bypass the preinstalled timer restricting immersion type and duration? Numerous freshly-baked perma forum gurus recommended aiming for a week or two of full immersion, but how was I supposed to last all that time without food, water and medication? Lots of people had successfully answered those questions for themselves: all I had to do was dig for more info and process it wisely choosing the solutions that suited my particular situation. A dozen manuals and video guides were already downloading. The links to several dodgy sites that sold FIVR jailbreak chips were already sitting in my Favorites. Open browser tabs glinted with scary-looking pictures of multi-stage IV drips and saline canisters. Things had begun to cook. The technicalities proved doable, after all. I still had to choose the world to go to. I had to decide who to play and how to do it. I had tons of sites and forums to peruse. If you set aside two weeks for the attempt itself, it left me with five to seven days to do the research. Way not enough. It was hit or miss. Time to bet on zero! * * * From Wikipedia: AlterWorld is an MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) first released in May 203X. Number of players: 48,000,000, with an increase of 1,400,000 new players each month. Connection type: 2/3D FIVR capsule. Immersion types: full/restricted. World size: 552,126 square miles, with an increase of 4,633 square miles each month. New territories, NPCs, mobs and quests are generated by an AI group controlled by AI Ray31. World administrator: AI Crimson9 Deposit and withdrawal of real funds and virtual property sales topping $42 billion a year.

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