“You ever been to the Arena before?” Matt asked Officer Price as they climbed into his squad car that evening.
Price nodded, “It’s a blast. Brings a whole new dimension to the game. I’m headed there tonight. Wanna tag along?”
“Sure!” Matt shrugged, “Why not? I’ve got nothing better to do anyway.”
“Won’t Tiffany be annoyed?”
“She kicked me out last night.” he huffed, “I need something to distract me.”
“Dude.” Price consoled, “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Matt shook his head, “She’s been railing on me for months. It was long overdue.”
“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
Matt let out a heavy sigh, “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
They’d been having marriage problems for years, and having kids had only made things worse. All three of his kids were under the age of four, and each pregnancy had pushed them apart even further. Instead of working out their differences, he opted to drown out his problems by escaping to virtual worlds.
Last year he got a $9,000 bonus from work, and he kept it a secret from his wife because he intended to surprise his wife and kids by taking them on an impromptu trip to DisneyWorld. It probably would have been a much wiser choice considering his marriage would likely have remained intact… but right about the same time he got the bonus, a brand new augmented reality interface had just been released by CyberBolt Entertainment. He had heard rumors of the design for years, and though he was anxious about the required surgery, he couldn’t help but want to be part of the next generation of augmented reality gaming systems.
In his defense, he tried to ask Tiffany for her permission. He explained that the surgery would enhance his performance at work – that CyberBolt was developing tracking and skip-tracing tools for use by Law Enforcement Officers. She wasn’t convinced however, knowing that he’d been drooling over the platform for years. She countered that they couldn’t afford it…
And then the lies began.
He ultimately won the argument by fibbing that the precinct would cover the costs of surgery, and that he couldn’t get his desired promotion to Detective without this latest piece of technology. To this day, CyberBolt has yet to develop the tracking and skip-tracing tools meant for Law Enforcement because they have still been unable to obtain the necessary government approvals.
After the non-invasive surgery that installed a microchip inside his right temple, it wasn’t long before his wife figured out that he had lied. He found every excuse he could think of to jump into several virtual worlds created by CyberBolt. Tiffany often caught him staring off into space during important conversations – whereas meanwhile he was checking various game stats.
So when Matt purchased CyberBolt’s latest game without her permission several days ago, apparently that was the last straw.
“What level are you at now?” Price broke him out of his thoughts.
“Level two.” Matt sighed, “So spill the beans. What’s your secret?”
Matt stared at him blankly, “No, seriously.”
“I mean it.” Price smiled, “That’s my secret. I level up during my sleep.”
“You have a cheat code?”
“No.” he laughed, “It’s a premium service that’s only available to members who visit the Arena. You can activate Sleep Mode, which is a service that allows you to lend out your avatar to those who can’t afford surgical microchips. It gives them a chance to play using their old primitive consoles, and meanwhile you get to level up during your sleep. You also get royalties.”
“Wait… I’m confused.” Matt sought clarification, “But isn’t your body connected to your avatar?”
“Your avatar is synchronized to mimic everything your body does – even down to blinking and breathing.” Matt still didn’t understand, “So if someone else is controlling your avatar… how are you sleeping?”
“Sleep Mode controls your body’s natural circadian rhythm by tricking your brain to believe that your levels of adenosine have peaked. This effectively puts your brain into a temporary comatose state while your rent your avatar for use by other players.”
“So… in other words, somebody has taken over your avatar…” Matt raised an eyebrow in alarm, “Which effectively means that somebody is controlling your body?!”
“In layman terms, yes.”
“Dude, that’s creepy as hell.”
“Nah – you’ll get used to it.” Price smiled as they pulled into the Arena’s parking structure, “I used to wake up sore and bruised, but now I wake up having built more muscle. I’ve also lost twenty pounds, and feel more fit than ever.”
“This is seriously crazy talk.” Matt shook his head in astonishment, “What if you got injured?”
“CyberBolt maintains a full medical staff in their arenas at all times as a precaution, but the injuries are next to none.” he assured as he parked the car, “Wait ‘til you see the arena, and then you’ll understand why. It’s an extremely safe and controlled environment, which is why Sleep Mode is only allowed to be activated inside the Arena.”
“Is any of this even legal?”
“CyberBolt has received full approval from the FDA, regardless of the fact that no drugs ever enter the system.” he nodded, “I’m sure you’ve heard about the protests however.”
“Protests?” Matt shook his head, “No, I haven’t.”
“A bunch of Liberals are trying to get the FDA to classify Augmented Reality as a drug-like state of mind.”
“That’s ridiculous!” he scoffed, “Let me get this straight… they couldn’t keep the stoners from legalizing marijuana, so now they’re going after gamers?”
“Liberals.” Price laughed, “They always need something to complain about.”
They walked through the massive front doors of CyberBolt L.A. Arena and waited in a fairly short line. Above the desk a large screen advertised pricing for single-day weekday passes of $29.99, single-day weekend passes of $49.99, monthly passes of $299.99 and annual passes of $1,299.99. As he eyed the monthly pass figure, an idea struck him.
“How many people actually use this Sleep Mode anyway?”
“You’d be surprised.”
“How do you know?”
“Sleep Mode is pretty obvious to detect in other players.” Price explained, “The avatar’s eyes are always closed. Most of us jokingly refer to them as zombies.”
“And you’re sure it’s safe?”
“Absolutely.” Price smiled, “You sound tempted.”
“Well…” Matt struggled with his conscience, “I kinda don’t have a place to stay at the moment, and $299.99 is way cheaper than any rent I could ever find. I could always take a shower at the precinct…”
“They’ve got showers and lockers here if you prefer.” Price laughed, “In fact, they even have a laundry facility and a food court on site.”
“Yep.” he chuckled as they approached the desk, “Sometimes I wonder how many people do exactly the same thing you’re thinking. CyberBolt had to issue mandatory hygiene requirements prior to entering the arena because some players were going for days on end without showering or even leaving for that matter.”
A very attractive young woman wearing revealing armor at the front desk interrupted their conversation, “Good evening officers. Can I interest you in purchasing our annual pass today?”
“I’ve already got mine.” Price winked at her and held up a card, “But this is my buddy’s first time here.”
“Oh?” she gave a teasing smile as Matt struggled to remove his eyes from her busty cleavage, “How about you handsome?”
“I… uhh…” Matt forced himself to look away for a moment so that he could focus, “Hang on.”
How much do I have in savings?
He pressed his right temple, and after a brief moment of static a virtual keyboard appeared in front of him. His fingers tapped away at the invisible keyboard as he pulled up his bank account.
Damn it. Not enough.
He quickly moved over some funds from their savings account, “I’ll take the monthly pass for now.”
“You got it.” she nodded, “That’ll be $323.98 with tax.”
Matt waved his hand over the NFC terminal to make the payment. He saw the charge get immediately deducted from his account with a Payee name of CyberBolt Entertainment. He cringed, knowing Tiffany would probably blow up his virtual phone the instant she saw the charge, and there was no doubt in his mind that she had set up automatic alerts. As a precaution, he quickly silenced it. He didn’t want any distractions tonight.
The attractive young woman pulled a card out of a printing machine. She then bent down to grab something out from under the desk. Matt couldn’t help but stare longingly at her bust.
Damn, she’s hot.
She glanced up at him with a tantalizing smile, “Do you prefer them large?”
His eyes bugged out of his sockets and his face turned beet red, “I, uh…”
She stood and revealed two packages with gray cloth inside, “Your duds. Large, or Medium?”
“Oh, those.” he felt like an idiot, “Err… large.”
She handed him his membership card and the gray clothing, “Welcome to CyberBolt Arena. Enjoy your stay.”
Matt turned to Price as they walked past a massive set of doors that looked like the gates of Mordor, “Do all of CyberBolt’s employees dress like that?”
“Yes, at least here in the Arena.” he nodded enthusiastically and pointed down the hall, “And there’s also a gift shop where you can purchase a tailored full set of armor for yourself too. I’ve been saving up for a certain set of armor for a while. All of them come with a software package for your Avatar.”
“Man.” Matt looked around at the impressive medieval décor, “Why haven’t I come here sooner? I’ve been missing out!”
“Yes, you have.” he nodded and pointed to the men’s locker room, “Let’s change real quick.”
Several minutes later they both stood before the massive doors wearing matching gray uniforms donned with the silver and gold CyberBolt logo on them. A full party of other gamers waited anxiously with us.
Matt was startled by the sudden sound of a trumpet call, “Welcome gamers! Please silence all virtual phones and messenger apps and log in to your interfaces now. Your quest is about to begin!”
The massive doors began to swing open. Matt held off on logging into the game quite yet in order to get an idea of the interior layout of the arena. As the doors pulled open, a throng of players exited the arena in an orderly fashion. All of them had large grins on their faces, having returned from their various quests. Inside, Matt could see hills, valleys and mountains as far as the eye could see – and all of it was made out of green foam.
Aha. So that’s what Price meant by a safe environment.
He quickly logged into his avatar’s profile on DarkForce. The scene before him morphed dramatically. Instead of the foam, a lush forest appeared before him, teaming with mountains and valleys. The sky above was a clear and brilliant blue. A flock of dragons were soaring high above. In the distance to the left a glorious city rose up higher than a mountain like a gigantic castle with hundreds of beautiful white spires.
He stared in awe at the sight. He’d heard rumors that the glorious city of Atlantis existed in the game, and there it was. Nobody happened to divulge that the city was hidden here in L.A.’s Arena. Two solar giants shined brilliantly in the sky, indicating that he had entered the fabled World of Zion in the game DarkForce. Here he would help his fellow warriors fight off the minions of the Leviathan and gain points to level up. He could gain magical spells and powers, purchase wares and the finest weaponry, fight off demons and dragons… The options were endless. The game was designed to have no end – an alternate life full of endless quests and adventures.
He eyed the virtual armor of @doomsday16, a.k.a. Officer Price, with sheer envy. At only level 2, Matt was lucky to have a shield and a spear to protect his bare skin and loincloth.
“Don’t worry buddy.” Price consoled as together they headed toward the beautiful city, “I’ll make sure we earn you some proper armor tonight.”
Chapter 4 is coming next Saturday!
Augmented Insomnia is a prequel to The SciFan™ Universe Series, which takes place about 10 years prior to the first installment, Conquest (GET IT HERE FOR FREE), which is soon coming to Audible! Check out this Book Trailer featuring a sample narration by bestselling narrator Andrea Emmes:
Here’s the blurb:
A primeval darkness threatens to destroy mankind…
The world’s largest gaming platform in the entire industry is led by a man with many secrets. The popular game DarkForce features the World of Zion which has been plagued by the destructive will of the Leviathan for centuries. What gamers don’t know is that the World of Zion actually exists, and the Leviathan has fed off of the souls of men and his fodder has become scarce. He now turns to Earth with an insatiable hunger. Only a woman from Earth who levels up to discover a divine inner power can challenge Earth’s Apocalyptic Fate.
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