Chapter 1 – End Online

It was 5 years ago, Autumn 2021 that it was released. The virtual reality headset simply called the V-Link, nicknamed VL for short, created a massive storm around the entire world with its endless possibilities of allowing people to enter virtual space using an avatar that you control as your own body. A simple black helmet with a visor on its face tinted dark enough that you could see out of but nobody could see in, intercepted and blocked all conscious neural signals at top of the spinal cord in the neck. Two strips of LED’s on the right hand side above the ear indicated wireless signal on one strip and the other indicated power, connection and data loading status.

The VL outdated the old headsets that merely allowed you to view virtual space while you controlled your avatar with controllers in each hand, inevitably leaving cables that caused you to entangle yourself and trip if you turned too much in one direction.

However, it only lasted a few weeks. When the hardware became available there was next to no software for it. The company in their excitement of having a working product skipped a lot of product testing, leading to a scenario where all the software for the previous devices was incompatible.

Everyone who purchased the device, especially those who pre ordered up to 12 months prior, felt that they had been given a chessboard with no pieces. The only usable functions were some online chat rooms and other small time software packages provided by the company.

If Virtue, the creators of the VL learned anything from this, it was that grouping all the unsatisfied purchasers into groups to talk among themselves about the new product was a ticking time bomb for PR. Soon enough people grew sick of the device that had little more to offer than chatrooms and board games, starting the rumours of how useless it was.

Demand for the VL plummeted along with its retail price by 40% in less than a month, and most developers halted work on software for a failing product, Thus leading us to today.

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My name is Hollis Sylvester, dull green eyes, 19 years of age, and barely an inch over six feet tall. As for my looks I wouldn’t particularly say I’m overly bad looking, I have near black hair, styled as a loose ball of hair tied up behind my head, and with a few strands of slightly curly hair loose it had its own aesthetical appeal. My face is quite angular and well defined with a little stubble growing along my jaw and lower lip, people have admired my looks before but I would hardly say I was chiselled by gods own hands.

I keep in relatively good shape due to my day job. I work from Monday to Friday with a housing construction company called Jack’s Builders, start is at 8am and finish is sometimes as late as 6pm. It’s hard work but it’s something that needs to be done. I have two little sisters at home.

Since that day 2 years ago when our parents were involved in the accident, I had dropped out of high school and gotten a full time job so I could look after them and prevent us from being separated into different foster homes.

A lot of criticism was sent my way from the students and teachers when I left school, mainly about me being a delinquent and a lowlife, I can’t exactly blame them considering I fit the image quite well.

“Hey Hollis, It’s time to go home! Don’t stick around here, you need to go enjoy your weekend!” My boss Jack shouts at me from across the work site. Yes, it is a Friday evening and I am currently at my job, building a two story house downtown for a newly married couple to live in and start a family, what a peaceful life they must have.

“Okayyy, I’m going now, see you again on Monday!” giving a monotonous shout back I place down the wheelbarrow with the rest of the materials I’ve been cleaning up and putting away inside the house, wiping the sweat from my forehead I start heading towards my car. It’s a two door, five seater car called an Astral Lux, the name is much fancier that it actually is. It is painted a deep red, but that is mostly faded from countless years in the sun.

I bought it in this condition, but it was the only thing I could afford at the time, hidden completely at the back of the car yard under a cloth cover and a price tag cheaper than a month’s groceries.

Fuel prices for it are exponential, considering all the modern cars run off hydrogen fuel cells whilst mine runs off the old gasoline. Demand may have dropped significantly however being a fossil fuel and its limited resources nowadays, the price is an astounding five times higher than what it was five years ago.

Driving home I pass a few convenience stores and bottle shops, it’s only a quick decision that I can’t particularly afford any luxuries this week, I have two hundred dollars left and I don’t get paid again until Wednesday afternoon.

Fifteen minutes and I’m turning into my street, catching a glimpse of the central city skyline. Taile is one the world’s largest cities, yet despite all its splendour, the very outskirts are incredibly poor with homelessness at an unprecedented high. Currently I’m leaving the middle of downtown where my current work site is, heading towards my home in the outer district, one section below downtown and only one above the slums.

Parking on the street in front of the house, I inspect my home. It is a two bedroom flat with a flaky white weatherboard exterior and a light grey tin roof to complete the image. The inside is mostly cream walls and ceiling, but the floor was made from polished wood which was nice. The kitchen and living room are separate which is nice however it’s nothing much more than the basic home.

Also inside waiting for me are my two little sisters, Joelle and Shari.

Joelle is fourteen years old and currently in the second year of high school, she wears her mousey brown hair in a ponytail that extends halfway down her back. Her green eyes that are just like mine, only they seem to contain much more light than mine. Joelle has just started going through puberty, reaching my chest is currently in the middle of a growth spurt.

Shari is twelve this year and in her sixth year of primary school, she has also started her growth spurt but she has some catching up to do on Joelle. She is almost a twin to her sister in looks except the hair style and height. Her hair is incredibly straight hair going a little past her shoulder, clipping her fringe to the side to keep it out of her face.

“”Hollyy, when’s dinner? We’re hungry!”” An irritation over the nickname by the two causes my eyebrow to twitch for a moment, but looking at the time does indicate it’s just about dinner time, “Give me a moment, I’ve just got home, how does beef curry sound?” They both nod with an “unn” noise in response to my question before running off to the bedroom that they share.

I figure I may as well start dinner now before I sit down and don’t want to get back up again. Strolling into the kitchen I grab the apron from the back door and opening the fridge, retrieve some meat, vegetables, and a half empty jar of curry sauce.

After I chop the vegetables and start cooking the meat, I set the rice cooker to prepare the rice. A few spices later the dish was ready, an easy yet tasty dinner. Joelle and Shari must have been able to smell it as when I was serving they basically ran into the kitchen and sat down at the table in the middle of the room.

“So, how was school for you today? I trust that you’re studying hard,” I ask the two girls placing their dinner in front of them, sitting at the end of the table with my own.

“It was really funny! Today, Annie asked out a boy from another class and his entire face went red like a tomato!” Joelle replies first covering her mouth with her hand as she giggles. Shari follows suit with the giggling and I smile to myself listening to these two little girls talking about their day at school. They really know how to brighten up a room with their innocent smiles and laughter.

“Hollis, this curry is a little too spicy,” Shari changes the subject with a pout, “but it’s still really nice though!” I know they lie to me sometimes, but they know how hard I work for them so they do their best.

I managed to keep them in school in downtown, which is a great deal nicer than this area we were forced to move to with our parents gone. It’s sad as the city in all its greatness is pretty much built up of a hierarchy, The centre is where all the major corporations and their families reside, and then broken down into rings extending from that point you have the upper district, middle district, lower district, downtown district, outer district and finally the slums.

We are in the outer district and whilst we are all technically called a part of Taile City, every one of the ten million residents living in this city know where they belong and that it is practically impossible to move up districts, because just like them, everybody is holding onto their current position in order to maintain it.

There aren’t any walls or gates preventing access to the different districts, you can catch a train right into the central areas of the city if you wanted. Joelle and Shari catch the train into downtown for school most mornings after all.

However, most people stay in their area to avoid all the discrimination from the upper echelon against people they see as “below” themselves, there are also many stores that want photo identification as they won’t even serve people from the downtown and lower districts. It is not a nice world but it is the one we live in.

As I come back to reality the girls have already placed their empty plates in the sink and disappeared from the kitchen, probably playing on their computer. I could only afford to get them one to share, I may have one of my own but I haven’t been able to afford a third one. Sometimes one of the girls will use mine so they can play games over the home network together but they are usually fine sharing, the only fights come when one deletes the others save file or such.

The sun had already set and the kitchen is spotless, all the dishes washed and put away, table is clean, no cobwebs or dust in the room. I may look like a  bit of a delinquent but I’m actually quite the neat freak, I can’t stand dirt and anything out of place needs to be corrected, that’s just the kind of guy I am.

There wasn’t much for me to do for the rest of the night, the only noises being the girls chattering in their room about boys or something similar. I decide to go have a shower to clean off the days’ worth of sweat, seeing myself in the mirror as I get out after a good scrubbing and cleaning my little sisters hair out of the drain. My hair is untied and hanging down to about my shoulders, my muscles are quite prominent due the nature of my work. While I wouldn’t exactly call myself large, I am not that small either.

As I get dressed in the bathroom my mobile starts ringing on the bench. Picking it up before the vibrating makes it fall off the edge, I see that Jack, my boss, is calling.

“Hey Boss, you’re calling rather late?”

“Yeah, it just occurred to me I forgot to lock up the property for the weekend, can you drop by tomorrow morning and do it for me?”

“That shouldn’t be an issue. Do I get paid extra for it? you know petrol costs me a bunch”

“Sorry Hollis, I don’t really have much extra money on me to give to you, and it only costs so much because you drive a rundown antique” I can’t even tell if he’s irritated or having a joke.

“Sorry for being poor,” I give a little sigh at my hopelessness, “I’ll drop by tomorrow morning and lock the front door to the house.”

“Thanks for that, I owe you one. Just remember the front door is a bit of a tight fit so you have to pull it shut pretty hard, and don’t forget the back door either” *beeep* He hangs up on me shortly after saying that, not even a goodbye huh. I wouldn’t call him unfriendly person but I wouldn’t exactly call him friendly either.

The time is currently 8pm, no point telling the girls to go to bed this early, it’s not a school night or anything so I may as well let them stay up and wear themselves out. Donning my light blue pyjamas with dark blue stripes I head off to bed thinking that all I need now is some cute teddy bear and surely nobody will consider me a delinquent any more.

Oh who am I kidding, nothing could kill the image that everyone instantly assigns me, my years at school proved that fact,

***************************************************

The sun glares through my window at 7:00am, Saturday morning, I even hear a couple of birds calling out in the early sunshine. It doesn’t take long for me to get up and head to kitchen still in pyjamas, placing a cup on the table and grabbing the milk out of the fridge, I notice something a little off with the milk bottle in my hand. Inspecting it a little I notice that there is about half of what there was last night, there also isn’t any dirty cups in the sink where the girls always leave them. Maybe someone broke in, it’s not uncommon in this area.

I feel a vein start throbbing on my forehead, no robber would drink our milk, the girls have once again been drinking out of the bottle when they know they’re not supposed to. I could bet money that the culprit is once again Shari.

Tossing up whether to go wake them up for a scolding or not, I decide to drop it as they’re probably pretty worn out from a late night. Tying up my hair without even considering to look at the state it’s in, I pick up my keys and head out, leaving a note for the girls that I should be back for lunch, or if I’m not to reheat some of last night’s leftovers.

On the way to lock up the job site I take in my surroundings, the area we live in is considerably run down, not to the point of falling apart but it gives off a ‘shabby’ vibe to it. The weather on the other hand is fantastic, a clear blue sky with only a couple of clouds drifting across.

There was no traffic so half an hour later I arrive at the site. I see a mostly constructed house, the walls have been put on in a rush due to time constraints, but they are to be properly secured next week. All I need to do today is lock the front and back door. Passing in through the front door that was left open and having a quick look around everything appears to be in the place it was left yesterday, nothing stolen is always a relief. The smell of sawdust and cut plasterboard is still hanging around as I lock the rear door and turn around to head back.

It’s surprising Jack still makes houses out of wood, synthetic beams made of a carbon fibre made their way onto the market 7 years ago and revolutionised the construction industry in both its strength and earthquake resistance. I only assume he uses wood to save on money, but at 40 years old he is probably more comfortable with wood anyway.

Locking the front door from the handle inside I exited closing it behind me, except, it jammed and got stuck on the door frame, what a poor fit! I gave it a tug with a little bit of strength, still nothing, something is seriously wrong here. I knit my brows, it shouldn’t get stuck at all, even a little tight could be understandable but this is simply over the top. I pull with all of my strength and *click* the door closes with the feeling of pulling out the entire front of the house. Well at least it’s closed and locked now, time to head home and relax, maybe taking Joelle and Shari out for some ice-cream or something wouldn’t be a bad idea, have some family time together. I try my best to support them even if our parents are no longer around, yeah, since that accident 2 years ago when they were– *crack* *snap*

***************************************************

Huh, why is everything black? Why can’t I breathe? No, wait, I am breathing, I just have this crushing feeling all through my chest. What was I doing before? Oh, that’s right, I just finished up locking the house we were working on for my boss and was leaving, I remember hearing a strange sound..

My memories slowly came back to me, I was walking away from the two story house when I heard the sound of something cracking before finally giving way and breaking, was it the sound of wood?

An idea suddenly occurred to me, no it couldn’t have possibly happened, there is no way.

A source of light starting shining down from somewhere above me, could this possibly be death?

Impossible, you look into the light when you die.

However something grabbed my shoulders, pulling me up into the light.

But is it up? Which way is up? Am I being dragged to hell?

No, also impossible, I have been nothing but a saint my entire life, or could god be judging me a delinquent based off my looks too?

Doubt it.

As thoughts roamed my head the light gradually enveloped my vision, I was rolled around and witnessed the sky, it was dyed in beautiful shades of crimson and deep oranges, and there was even a streak of yellow running across like it was piercing all the other colours. And then it was night, no, that’s not correct, I just passed out.

September 26, 2026… That was the day I had a house collapse on me.

***************************************************

When I opened my eyes again it was morning.

Lying in a bed in an unfamiliar room, judging from the white sheets and the fact nearly everything else was white it is safe to assume I’m in a hospital. I tried to sit up in the bed and found that I couldn’t, were my legs in casts or something, I couldn’t bend or even move them.

Memories began flowing into my head of before I was in the hospital.

Locking up the house…

The sound of breaking wood…

My heart started to feel constrained in my chest, using my arms to prop myself into a sitting position, I pulled the white sheet off of me. I’m wearing nothing except a plain white hospital gown, looking down at myself there are a couple of scuffs and scratches, but I can’t see any abnormalities.

Something however does not feel right at all! Gently I poke my legs, even trying a few pinches.

I stop being gentle, leaving red marks all across them.

I don’t understand what’s happening! A few tears trickle down my face, dripping onto the white gown and leaving speckles of moisture in the fabric.

It feels like I’m touching somebody else, I can feel the skin through my fingers, but not the feeling of being pinched. My stomach twisted up further and further, my breathing gradually becoming more stained with each inhale of air.

Gripping the bed sheets in my hands with all the strength I can muster, the tears on my chin begin pouring down.

“I see that you’re finally awake,” Clearing his throat an unknown doctor in his late twenties entered the room, “How are you feeling?” He cast his eyes to the side away from me. We both knew he already knew, it was just a standard procedure with patients that he is required to ask.

“My name is Doctor Martin, but you can just call me Martin. I’m not sure if you recall, but you were involved in quite a serious accident. A building collapsed on you, a piece of which completely crushing the T11 and T12 vertebrae in your spinal column, consequently severing your nerves and leaving you completely.. Paralysed from the waist down…” Dr Martin then took a deep breath before continuing on.

“Honestly, you must have incredible luck to even survive such an accident, the piece that broke your spine offset the damage from the rest of the collapse, saving your life.”

He’s trying to show me the brighter side, I can see that! However that doesn’t change the current situation, I can’t feel my legs!

“You underwent emergency surgery to clean out the splintered wood and crushed bone from the wound in your back, replacing the missing spine with a solid brace. You also needed significant blood transfusion to replace the blood you lost, the two adorable little donors who provided the blood that have refused to leave your side for the good part of the week you were unconscious,” even Joelle and Shari have been put through all this hardship because of me. How could I do this to them?

It’s not my fault! It’s not! So why am I feeling so guilty!

“They are currently out getting some food, I gave them a little money to use the vending machine on the floor below us, but they should be back shortly.” He still couldn’t look at me in the eyes, I don’t know whether he is feeling my guilt or out of consideration of pretending not to see my tear stricken face as if I wasn’t in such a state.

“As for your surgery, there won’t be any bill. It was already paid by a man called Jack Randall, your boss I believe. However…” He turned to face his back to me, but I witnessed a pained look on his face as he did so, “He has claimed a non-liability clause and that the entire incident is your fault, threatening to sue for damages if it proceeds any further. Also with the government system the way it is nowadays there is no further monetary compensation for your situation…” Martin’s shoulders start to shake a little with his fists clenched.

Turning somewhat towards me but still not looking at me directly he continues, “There is a procedure in modern medicine, it is possibility of have the damaged spinal sections surgically replaced with synthetic vertebrae and regenerate the nerves by harvesting the stem cells found in the human brain… however, the cost is-“

“I-I know! I know al-already!” Choking through tears and snot I practically shout at the futility of my situation. Information about the operation started spreading through population about 6 months ago. It was a complete revolution in modern medicine and science, only that the price tag for such an operation required you to have about $7 million to spend.

“I’ve been through your medical and immediate family records, nothing much in the terms of relatives, both short and distant. I’ve also read the report on your parents… All I can really say is, you shouldn’t completely give up hope.” Martin faced me directly as he spoke these lines despite me being unable to return the gaze.

I want to run away, the urge in me to just run was so incredibly strong I felt I actually might do so, but right now that is probably the one thing I will never do again.

I was looking out the window when the two most precious people to me came in through the door on the other side of the room, dropping packets of potato chips onto the floor they sprinted over to me, their eyes all red and I can see traces of tears. I lean over and put an arm around each of them and pull them close, ignoring the smell of the two who clearly haven’t showered in at least a few days.

“Honestly, have you two even washed while I’ve been gone?” fresh tears tried to stream down my face there seemed to be none left, ”What on earth would you two do without me.”

“Please Holly,” it was Shari who cried out first, “pl-p-please get better and come home!” Joelle sniffled out a few pleases as well. I couldn’t help but give a gentle smile holding these two bright rays of sunshine against me.

‘What I should be saying is what would I do without you.’

“Ahem, sorry to interrupt you,” Martin clears his throat to get our attention, “I also have some stuff for you that the hospital has donated as we can hardly let you leave as you are. First we have a wheelchair, something to allow you to move around, it’s nothing special, truly the basic of all basics.”

“Secondly is a piece of equipment we trialled a few years ago in an attempt to help give people who were born partially paralysed or disfigured a chance to use the parts of their body they never got a chance to before. The box may be a little bit dusty but it is still brand new and should work perfectly fine.” He picks up a box from the corner of the room and hands it to me. It’s a V-Link, the headpiece to allow someone to access virtual reality.

“I don’t understand, how can you just give something like this to me?” I have to ask, there is always a reason or a catch.

“Well,” Martin explained, “to be completely honest the trials we held were for people born paraplegic or disfigured unfortunately ended in a complete failure. We never foresaw that someone who had spent their entire life being unable to move their legs, or never had them to begin with, would be incapable of learning how, leaving them partially paralysed even in virtual reality. In the end we ended up with a whole bunch of those devices in storage.”

“I discussed it with some people and we came to the conclusion that someone like you would need it the most. It’s not a remedy but to be able to retain the feeling of your legs in virtual reality should help you come to terms with the loss slower. Also I recommend you use it to quite some extent that if in the future you end up getting an operation to repair your spinal cord, your brain will still remember how to walk and all you will have to do is train the muscles.”

I see his reasoning, but honestly, how is this guy so kind, am I in a hospital in the lower district or above? Incredibly doubtful, looking outside the window it appears I’m in downtown and there isn’t really any general hospitals further out past downtown.

“That’s about all I have to say for now, you’re pretty much free to check yourself out whenever you want.” While saying that Doctor Martin turns around and exits the room, leaving just the three of us siblings are left in the room, Joelle and Shari a little distance from me.

I notice there is now a wheelchair in the room for me and just like the doctor said, it was really simple, an old fashioned style completely operated by your arms alone, not that I’m in any position to complain.

“Hollis, let’s go, I ca-can’t stand to see you in this be-bed anymore,” It was Joelle this time speaking, there were a few sniffles throughout but overall she had stopped crying and has pushed the wheelchair over next to my bed along with handing over a folded up pair of clothes, “we will wait outside for you to get dressed and ready, co-come on Shari.” She beckons the youngest sibling to follow her out which she doesn’t raise any complaints about and follows quietly.

With the door closed I grab the clothes and try to pull them over my legs, this is so much harder than it appears to be, getting my jeans past my knees was relatively easy but it was nearly impossible to pull them all the way up, I had to roll around a few times to get them up over my thighs, An embarrassing sight that I wish no one ever has to witness. The shirt of course was naturally the easiest to get into, just a plain grey t-shirt absent of any designs.

I sat there for a moment, staring into black space as emotions of turmoil and loss waged war inside of me.

Forcing my head to become clear, I move across the bed like a crippled crab to get to the wheelchair. The height of the seat is a little lower than that of the bed, so it’s a little worrisome that I may have to drop into it, and what if I was to miss..

Putting my fear aside, I grab my legs and swing them over the side of the bed, inadvertently causing my upper body to maintain the momentum and topple over sideways. At least I’m still on the bed, correcting my posture and pulling the wheelchair against the bed to where I am.

Getting down doesn’t seem that hard in the end. Leaning my weight forward onto the chair I safely manage to lower myself into it. All the worry was for nothing it seemed

I find moving the wheelchair in a straight direction to be a little out of my skill range, but I manage in the end. Arriving at the door I move a little to the side so I can open it without being in the way. Joelle and Shari are waiting outside with eyes still red, “Joelle, why don’t you push me out of this hospital?” I try to give the best smile I possibly could to cheer them up but it’s hard to make someone else feel better when you’re not feeling even the least bit like smiling.

Joelle silently pushes me through the corridors and we eventually leave what was called Saint Martha’s General Hospital. It was only around lunch time but the sky was completely clouded over and looked like it could rain at any moment.

My entire body feels fatigued, I hope it will pour and wash away my pain.

We arrived at the nearest train station shortly afterwards, with only a short wait for our train I’m a little less worried about the brand new V-Link, still in the box, that is just sitting on my lap.

If you were to look directly down on Taile City’s train network system you would see what appeared to be a cobweb branching out from the city, there are trains that run in and out of the city, and also ones that run around the districts. This way you wouldn’t have to go all the way into the city and then back out in order to go from the south side to the east side of downtown, or any other district, travelling without actually having to leave the district.

The stations that connect these two services are shaped like a + with two opposite diagonal platforms where you decide which train you want and which direction. A mobile phone is all you really need to use these services, but pre-paid cards are available that you can put money onto. There are rumours however that if you travel to the upper districts, quite often they won’t let you leave the station if you from below a certain point in society.

Even the station names help segregate the districts from one another with first a letter corresponding on which face of the compass you are closest to, and followed by an identification number for each station. The further out from the centre of the city you go the more digits that number has, my nearest station is called E_127442.

We arrived home a little into the afternoon, the rain beginning to drizzle down. Placing the VL in my room while the girls are in the shower, the speed that they were out was extremely quick and I had to lock them out afterwards due to their persistence in trying to help me clean myself. A bath seemed much more practical given my condition, so leaving my towel on the back of my wheelchair I slid into the water, steam rising all around me as I let my hair down.

It was a little irritating that I had to pull myself back every minute or so to prevent myself from slipping completely underwater. I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I was drowning and all that was at the bottom was defeat.

I quickly finished washing myself and placed the towel down the side of the bath and along the floor in a |__ shape. Climbing out of the bath and onto the towel wasn’t overly difficult but there is no doubt it would have been painful for someone to watch.

Last was the fun part, clothing myself on the bathroom floor and getting back into the chair.

Leaving the bathroom I could smell something burning, and upon rolling myself into the kitchen there was a considerable amount of black smoke drifting around. Joelle and Shari are side by side at the stove panicking about not knowing what to do about the food on fire.

I come up beside them, turn the stove off and throw some of the flour I picked up along the way in the pan, successfully extinguishing the fire. The girls wouldn’t look me in the eyes as I looked at them, but I know they meant no harm. Honestly, I’m more irritated at how filthy the kitchen is.

“Joelle, Shari. Why don’t we just have some instant noodles for dinner tonight?” I don’t mean to sound harsh or anything but right now this food is no longer even remotely edible, “I’m sure you can cook again another night, how does that sound?” Their eyes seem to light up a little thinking of ideas they can cook, I’m definitely going to make sure I’m with them when they do.

“Okay,” Joelle replied rather meekly, “I will go boil the water, Shari, can you get the bowls and noodles out?” They actually work quite well together, getting dinner ready in about 5 minutes.

The clean-up of the kitchen however was not quick, far from it. Night had long taken over when everything was clean, I had to have the girls help put away the stuff in cupboards that I couldn’t reach. I also got them to do some minor cleaning around the room.

Sprawled out on the living room floor watching cartoons on TV is how they spent the rest of the night, I could easily imagine them being cats the way they are spread out. Heading back into my room there was a great deal going on in my mind, we need money, the child welfare officers are bound to come by soon and try take them away.

No qualifications, didn’t finish school, and now incapable of the grunt labour I’ve been doing up to this point. Maybe something I could do online, write a blog or make videos and receive money off advertisements.

Who am I kidding, I couldn’t do that, I have never done it before and wouldn’t even know where to begin.

I can sell my stuff on the internet, but I don’t particularly have much to sell. The only thing I can really sell is my car, especially considering that now I’m never going to drive again.

Starting up my laptop in my room I go to an a site where you can post free ads to sell basically anything from houses to second hand cutlery.

I decide to put my car into the antiques section doubting there would be a single person other than me who would buy it to drive.

Checking my phone shows one voice message from Jack, I already know what it’s going to be about but I check it anyway, “Hollis, I heard you’re out of the hospital. Look, I’m terribly sorry for what happened, nobody expecting things to turn out that way… Also, in light of recent events, I can’t continue to employ you. I sent through your next pay check but that’s all I can really do for you.” The bitterness I felt hearing that was overwhelming, he’s played the innocent role to save himself the insurance claim and basically left me buried six feet under.

Lying in bed, the events are once again playing out in my mind. Resting one arm over my face, a tear escapes thinking about the most likely scenario of the girls being taken away.

I can’t let that happen! I can’t! I know I’m being incredibly selfish, but I want them here with me!

And I know I probably can’t stop it from happening!

Why did this have to happen? I want my legs back. Please, give them back…

 Through these thoughts I slowly entered oblivion.

***************************************************

The next morning I fell out of bed trying to stand up before realizing I couldn’t. It was a little painful to fall, but everything from the waist down it was similar to a falling rag doll, absolutely nothing. Checking my back to make sure it didn’t reopen the surgery wounds, I was lucky there was no blood. Good, that meant I’m safe, I will have to be extra careful as I can’t afford to go back to the hospital.

Turning my laptop back on I see that I have mail, an offer for my car. Well, it obviously can’t be all that much. Opening up the message it appears to be someone like me, no money to buy a proper car, and searching all over for something cheap. $650, it’s not too bad, that was about what I would earn from two weeks of working. I was about in the middle of replying my acceptance when another mail arrived in my inbox.

!!.. My eye’s just about dropped out of my head.

Dear Hollis, 
I'm a collector of antiques and odds. I saw your car you 
are currently selling as an antique. I would love to purchase 
this off you so I can  turn into a project of restoring it 
for a vintage display. My offer for this is  $14,000

Regards
Tyr

This is it, the way to turn everything around! I’m sorry for the guy who needs my car but I need this money. I immediately erase the other reply and send one to this collector. The reply coming straight back saying he would like to pick it up today, the sooner the better as his excitement is causing him to want to begin immediately.

He agrees to come down in at lunch time with all the paperwork ready and the money pre-paid into my bank account, what an efficient person, I don’t even want to try guess which district he is from.

Two hours later the money is in my account and there is someone knocking on the front door, I open it to see what appears to be a very wealthy businessman of around 30 years old. Parked on the street is a tow truck and his personal car which… My god it’s the latest model by HMC! That thing is probably worth more than this entire street with a retail price of nearly two million!

“Hollis, I presume. The name is Tyr, pleasure to meet you.” He doesn’t seem that interested in me to be honest, glancing over the wheelchair as he handed me the paperwork to sign directly after his introduction.

“Please, the pleasure is mine. My apologies for having you come out all this way.” I do my best to give the politest response possible, after all this guy has just saved me with his money that will last me at least 6 months if budget properly.

Signing the paperwork and handing it back to him my two little sisters came outside to see what the commotion was, hiding behind my back after Tyr’s piercing glance. Yeah, this guy truly has a heart of ice, however that is probably how he made his money, I’ve heard it’s a world where only the ruthless thrive.

It all happened faster than I could take it in. As soon as he got the paperwork back, giving the people in the tow truck a signal, the car was loaded up and gone before I could take it in.

“Holly, why did they take your car?” Shari asked innocently with a tired yawn, “Well, I had to sell it for some money. I don’t exactly need it anymore.” I respond putting my hand on her head, Shari casting her eyes down on hearing my response.

“Now that’s over, your big brother has some money so why don’t we go out and have something nice for lunch. You two, go clean yourselves up,” I gave a warming smile towards the two as they run back inside to get ready. An hour later we were in a large shopping centre call “The Fort” in downtown. I got them some ice creams first, and we walked around all the stores looking at their goods.

Joelle pushed me into a ladies clothing store to look around with her. Shari got a turn when Joelle went to try some clothes on, pushing me in circles around the store. She had the happiest expression on her face at finally getting to wheel me around.

They were out of control, but I ended up buying them two dresses each before we left.

The joy showing on their faces was truly refreshing, brightening the entire atmosphere of the trip. Stopping by a couple more little vendors I got them some little sweets you can eat with your fingers.

By the time the light of the day started to fade, even these two endless sources of energy seemed to be starting to tire out.

“Joelle, Shari. Let’s go into that store for a bit,” I point to a large gaming store on a corner. We head in and see quite the display of games lined up on shelves everywhere. Shari seems quite excited at all the games but doesn’t pick out any in particular, most are for gaming systems we don’t have anyway.

“Good afternoon, is there anything I can help you with?” A nerdy looking store clerk with large glasses came up and asked tentatively. Thinking this is a good opportunity I decide to ask for his opinions.

“Actually, I recently got a VL, I was wondering if you have any recommendations for games.”

“Well, there actually isn’t an overly lot of games, after its initial launch 5 years ago not many game developers branched into it.”

“Yeah, I remember back then, the hype and expectations were far too high to be sustained by the lack of software, resulting in a massive amount of negative public opinion.”

“Indeed. However, it was just 3 weeks ago that one developer released a role playing game that is turning around that opinion and building up a significant amount of traffic on the internet. Considering your… well… situation,” he momentarily glances down from my face to the wheelchair, at least he was trying to be polite, “it would give you the chance to explore an incredible world. It was odd though, they didn’t release any information on the game itself, just about getting started and everything before logging in, but after that, nothing. All they said was for you play your way.”

It definitely seems interesting. I used to play the role playing games on my computer when I was younger so I shouldn’t have too much trouble adapting. More than anything though I really want to use my legs again, I feel like I have these ghost limbs that are itching to move.

“You have my interest! Well, I would like to get it, how much?”

“The game itself costs $130,” Ouch, that’s considerably expensive, “And there is a subscription cost of $30 per month, however we do have a deal at the moment for the game and a three month subscription pre-paid for $200. We will also provide the required full body scan and storage card free as well. Everything you need to play the game.”

Well, it was definitely a great deal, but there was a lot to just play the game.

“Okay, I was sold already anyway, but why are you required to have a full body scan to play the game?”

“You actually need it for the V-Link itself, there was a big issue in its production that controlling a body of different proportions to your own took some time to adjust to the differences, and once you were, you would have the same difficulty controlling your own body after leaving virtual space. Now this made some extreme health and safety issues, you can imagine if you were to go driving in a body you’re even little uncomfortable controlling the risk of a fatal accident raises exponentially. That’s just one example, and now you need a scan not older than 6 months to even use the device.”

I never even considered the possibility of such a thing, but it makes perfect sense once I thought about it a little.

“Also, with this game you are actually forced to play a character extremely similar to your own, there are some minor modifications you can make, but how you look in the game is exactly how you are now. Plus, whatever equipment in the game that you wear. There has been rumours of being able to play as an elf or other species, but no one has ever seen it.” He seems to be finished explaining it all, but something still seems to be on the tip of my tongue that I just can’t seem to think of.

“Oh yes, it completely slipped my mind, but what is this game called?” That was it, this entire time he hasn’t told me the name of this game yet.

“But of course, the name of the game is,” He had grabbed a small box off a shelf and held it in front of me, surely that was it, and it was called, “End Online.” The box was rather simple, it appeared to just be a black hole with light emanating from deep within it and the title printed across the middle.

“Allow me to put this through for you, and the storage card for your scan of course” Running the box across the counter and another small case where you could see a tiny card about the size of my thumbnail through the clear plastic on top, “So that will be $200 all up, are you planning to pay with cash or electronically?”

“Electronically,” I replied, tapping my phone against the money receiver.

“Okay now, next is to get you into the body scanner.” Joelle and Shari stood and watched as he pushed me to what looked like a changing room at the far end of the shop. Placing the storage card from the box into the machine near the door, he astonished me by grabbing me out of the wheelchair and moving me into the cylindrical room of approximately one meter in diameter, probably more accurate to call it a capsule.

“Now, it wasn’t intended for the purpose of it, but there are two handles on either side you can use to hold yourself up. Also, for the purpose of the scan in order to prevent any inhibitions,” clearing his throat with a few coughs before continuing, “you are required to be completely naked.”

Hang on, wait right there! nobody mentioned anything about that before now.

I’m not going to go into great detail what happened next but another man stripping me in a very confined space is surely one thing that I shall never forget, especially when he left the capsule. Luckily there were no onlookers passing by or otherwise they would have glimpsed and incredibly horrifying expression of a young man completely nude and holding himself up by his arms.

The scan only took a minute or two hum a light hum running up and down the walls a few times. The nerdy shop clerk didn’t miss the chance to slip back in after it was done to force some clothes on me and help me back out into my wheelchair. The entire time this was happening, another shop clerk appeared to have distracted my sisters by showing them some games aimed at young girls, how devious.

The nerdy shop clerk turns to me and says, “Okay you’re all set, also, seeing the… injury on your back, I fixed that up digitally on the scan so your in game character will look completely normal, it’s a small feature we are allowed to do.” I honestly didn’t know how to thank him enough. I will definitely be coming back here again for his help, despite his forceful stripping.

He thanks me and sends me back to Joelle and Shari, who got to push me back on the way home. After an exhilarating trip home thanks to Shari being overjoyed to be pushing me again, the sun starts to sink onto the horizon.

The game and the girls clothes aren’t all we came back with, we also picked up two medium sized pizzas for dinner that are currently sitting on my lap.

Another hour later and I had the girls go to bed a little earlier due to tomorrow being Monday, a school day. From what I gather they disappeared from school for a week without saying anything to the teachers at all, they really need to be back there now.

I unpack the VL from the box and inspect it over, placing the power cord in the wall and move myself onto my bed for comfort. There’s isn’t a need to plug it in, the VL has a battery life of approximately 12 hours, but you don’t get to use it to its fullest unless it’s plugged into a power source. I find positions in the back of the helmet to place my personal storage card and the game card, I was told that the PSS not only contains data on my physical body but also all the data for my game subscriptions as well.

Placing the helmet on my head and relaxing into a position on my back, I press the power button just inside the helmet on the left hand side. Nothing appears to happen at first. Before I know it the visor gradually lightens to a white, opening up a room that envelops all my vision, I’m standing inside a large empty white room a window pops up in my vision in this large white room.

Welcome, 
this must be your first time using the V-Link, any 
message that appears in front of you can be dismissed 
by pressing any available buttons, or by moving your 
hand next to it and swiping it out of your field of vision. 

Please try this now.

I do so, and surely enough a flick is enough the send the message off to my right, slowly fading away as it moves. Although, another message shortly replaces it where it was.

Good, 
now that you know how to dismiss messages, next is 
leaving virtual reality and returning to the real world. 
To do this all you need to do is look straight forward 
and try to press the power button at the top right of 
your vision. The menu will then open in front of you. 

However this can only be done from your home locker, 
where you are now, and not from inside a game, you must 
first leave the game to do this. In the case of an emergency 
you can say "system command terminate connection" to 
forcefully disconnect at any time, but please refrain 
from doing so as game information can become corrupted 
or deleted.

Thank You

Wow, what a lengthy message. I dismiss that one too and no more pop up, it seems quite simple enough. The size of my locker that I’m in is considerably large, about 30 meters in wide and the same long, The ceiling is about 6 meters high, and on one of the walls there is a panel, walking over to it I-

Wait, walking? I look down to see I’m standing two perfectly healthy legs that move as I tell them to, I don’t even care that I’m completely nude. Pinching my legs revealed I can feel the pain, dulled through the VL sure, but still! It was like being caught in a building collapse and crushing my spine was nothing more than a mere dream.

Yet, at the same time it had a real bitterness to it, reminding me of what I have lost and will never get back again.

My locker is a little boring, it’s just four white walls, but at least it’s clean. I wonder if there is a way to customize it, that would definitely be nice. I move in front of the panel and I can see that there are a few options but the only one I am currently interested in is the ‘Connect to End Online’ button.

Pressing it causes the room around me to dissolve, it was a little weird, because whilst I was still standing, I couldn’t feel a hard surface beneath my feet. A script starts playing out in the bottom right of my vision and before I know it I am standing in an endless grass meadow that extends as far as my eyes can see.

In front of me there is a perfect copy of me, embarrassingly naked still, but me. In front is a menu that allows some minor adjustments to the body, such as muscle tone, hair and skin tan. Playing around I manage to turn myself into a carrot, before resetting the changes and just continuing as I normally am. Hopefully I won’t begin this game naked, surely that must be a massive breach in personal privacy.

Next comes server selection, a list of available servers with my city already preselected comes up, all I need to do is press ‘OK’. A map that I assume is of the game replaces the server list. Three points glow with the names Swordbreak, Grenton and Iceridge. I randomly decide and press on Iceridge and the image disappears. Every strand of grass beneath me suddenly turns into fog, enveloping everything.

It disperses quite quickly however, looking down I can start to see my body wearing a thick white coat, grey pants and chunky brown boots. Once it is completely gone I realize I am lying down on a thick stone alter at the far end of a giant church. There are a few stray icicles hanging down from the ceiling and a I can feel a cold breeze passing over my exposed fingers and face.

Shaking off the disorientation of going from standing up to lying down, I get up and inspect the area. There isn’t anything particularly odd or unusual about the church, but there is a tiny icon of a wolf in a circle at the bottom right of my vision, and no matter where I turn it stays there. It doesn’t take me long to realize if I try to touch it without moving my head it opens up the menu for equipment, backpack, and a large panel for status.

Lvl: 1
Lvl UP: 0% 

Str: 10
Agi: 10
Dex: 10
Int: 10
Mnd: 10
Lck: 10

Fame/Infamy: 0
Alignment: +0
God: -
Belief: 0

Equipped Skills:
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]
[Empty]

Reserve Skills:
[Empty]

Incredible, the log out button is also. I want to stay here forever! Maybe not in such a cold location but I don’t ever want to leave this game!

There was an inventory menu as well, I notice I’m starting with no money and no skills though so hopefully there will be some beginner quests that will help me gain those.

The detail of this room is incredible too! If I inspect the walls real close I can tell its fake, but otherwise I would never be able to tell. That’s it, time to leave this place. I ran, not walked, but ran towards the doors of the church, forcing them open. They didn’t open all the way, but enough for me to comfortably walk through.

Light invaded my eyes and it took a moment to adjust to the brightness. What unravelled before me was absolutely breathtaking. A city spanning about 2km in every direction was around me. An incredible stone keep in the centre overlooking everything, it is all covered by snow and voices were ringing out from unknown places.

A slight breeze rolls past me and I don’t think I will ever leave this place.

But damn it’s so cold!

Next Chapter

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32 Comments

  1. Cool start. Just started reading this and am following. Interesting to see what will happen with Hollis in this new reality and how you intend to deal with the “RPG” elements in the telling of this story. Also, timely that as I started reading this, I also started watching Sword Art Online, LOL.

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  2. Wow this is a very, very good start a like how you explain the little details like that he needs a body scan before playing the game or that the device have an on button, it make the story better and more inmersive.

    I like aswell that is futuristic enough to be interesting and that it makes me want to know more but is not that futuristic that makes things get confusin.

    I like how you explain his situation as well his relationship with his sisters, that makes me feel more emphaty for the MC since i have a little sister of my own and have her taken away from me withouth anything that i can do to prevent it is a scary though.

    Love this first chapter and have high hope for what is comming.

    Ps: i like aswell that its was a long first chapter.

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  3. I don’t usually enjoy crippled protagonist but before that happened I already read half a chapter so I continued regardless. In the end it’s the game part what I am interested in.

    I am writing the comment just to point out the mistake. There is younger sister (12years old) who goes to primary school 6 grade and two years older sister who goes to “high school” second grade. I believe it should be middle school instead, so I am pointing it out. (PS: if your real world has completely slightly educational setting where middle school is renamed as high school then sorry for nagging)

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    1. In my culture, we only have primrary school (Year 1 – 6) and high school (Year 7 – 12).
      It is a little difficult to write about three different stages when I have never lived with it before.

      Well, I probably could now, but it is already written and I would rather not change it.

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  4. When you are writing a web novel series set in virtual reality, then discover a better written, more popular one already six volumes in…

    RIP me.

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    1. Haha I wouldn’t worry too much about it. There are several around, some started earlier, some only published on Amazon etc – I am merely lucky to have gotten in early. Keep working hard and it will pay off regardless of these reasons ^.^

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      Reply

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