Part 4 – Chance of a Lifetime

“Now,” Alex’s muffled voice said from the other side of the helmet. “We adjust these knobs and we should be ready to go.”
Something cold and metallic touch the skin on my forehead and the back of my neck. I couldn’t say for certain, but I figured they must have been the mechanisms that fed sensory feedback from the game into my mind.
“Do you feel anything touching your skin?” he asked, and after I replied in the affirmative he asked if I was experiencing any discomfort. When I replied in the negative, he flipped the visor down over my eyes.
“As our friend, Jim, experiences the full splendor of the Virtual World System, this monitor will display a limited visual interpretation of his experience. So you may have an inkling of the awe and splendor of the Virtual World Console,” Alex spoke. “Please keep in mind that this, in no way, comes close to what Jim will be experiencing.”
It was dark under the helmet until a blue streak of light flashed across my eyes and exploded with dozens of green and blue squares each of which expanded until they filled my entire range of vision. Black text appeared on screen creating dead-spots where there was no light and I realized that I was looking at a menu. I reached out to touch one option, but stopped when I saw my hand. It didn’t look like flesh, but rather mechanical. Its fingers were segmented and reminded me of something that might have belonged on a crash test dummy.
‘Must be some kind of default avatar,’ I thought to myself.
“As you might have noticed…” Alex said in the distance but I ignored him. I didn’t wait for any prompts from him, but instead I reached my hand out again and touched the menu option that seemed to show game-play. There was another bright flash accompanied by a burst of red and gold tiles which displayed another menu.
Alex made another dumb joke about me getting ahead of myself. I rolled my eyes, chose to ignore him and focused my attention on the menu displayed in front of me. The first thing I saw were several selections for what appeared to be game demos. One had a picture of a very attractive woman wearing a tight form-fitting jumpsuit with light blue skin, almost cat-like ears and a small set of horns in a futuristic setting, another had a bearded wizard with lightning shooting out of a staff, and the last had a Tarzan-esque character in a rainforest.
I debated for a minute, but reached out my hand and chose the science fiction setting. I’d always had a thing for sci-fi, plus the alien, or whatever she was, looked hot. Another bright flash filling my vision, and this time the screen was populated with white and gray tiles. When my sight cleared, I found myself inside what I guessed must have been a spaceship. I marveled at the detail and how it looked real. It wasn’t until I drew near a bulkhead that I realized a few details didn’t look right. I drew my hand up the wall touching it with my hands and snatched it away when in surprise when cold steel contacted my fingers.
I studied the wall and the surrounding area for a few minutes, and I looked at my hand. It was blue like the woman from the preview image, but what struck most about it was that it had six digits rather than the usual five. The nails were short and well-manicured, the fingers themselves were longer, more slender and looked like they belonged to a woman.
My hands drifted to my chest and discovered something I should have expected. I had boobs, or I guess my virtual avatar did, but damn they felt real enough. I grabbed a hold of one and it jiggled on my chest. “Wow,” I heard myself say aloud. “That’s weird.”
This pronouncement brought about a fit of laughter from the crowd, but I ignored it, a little put off by the sound of my avatar’s voice speaking in perfect unison with my own.
“Stop right there,” a new voice said behind me and I spun around to face the intruder.
An NPC, a non-playable character, stood opposite me wearing segmented combat armor that looked almost organic, but what had my attention was the large and dangerous looking gun in his hands. Based on the rounded-glass like protrusion along the weapons front, I was willing to bet it didn’t shoot bullets, but if all my years of gaming had taught me anything it would do major damage to the character I was playing.
“Crap,” I said, ready to spring into action, but stopped when Alex protested.
“Woah,” Alex protested. “Why don’t we back up? While I’m very excited to let you experience the game play of The Rise of the Anthecron, there are amazing features that the audience has yet to see.”
Several loud groans followed this pronouncement, and I was prepared to keep on going, but the game seemed to have taken on a mind of its own. The screen flashed again, this time with orange and green tiles and I found myself in yet another menu, but this one had floating bits of text that instead of hanging motionless circled around me. It surprised me, at first, but then I realized Alex must have had an override which enabled him to take control of the demonstration. I’m not sure why he hadn’t used it earlier, but I guessed I would have to play along if I wanted another chance at playing the game.
“This, is the character customization menu,” Alex said. “You can play with Kalena, the captivating default character or if you like a more customized design, you can choose something more in line with your own personal tastes. Keep in mind that this is a demo version and that the game is still in active development so some features aren’t yet available.”
“Our friend, Jim has done a good job of navigating the system so far, but for the sake of this demonstration I’ll be taking the reigns. Although the character customization menu isn’t finished, there are still a wide range of options. I’m told that in the final version you’ll even be able to scan your own image and play as yourself. As this is a demo that feature has yet to be implemented,” he spoke.
“There are so many options available that with some tweaking you could make a reasonable representation of yourself, but that’s rather boring isn’t it? Now we could play with this for hours, but I’m just going to walk you through some basics. First option, is the species of the character.”
Alex switched between several options, first a human, then some big hulking creature and back to Kalena’s race. He moved on to gender, for a moment my form switched to a male one before reverting to the female form. He tinkered with the settings and various parts of my digital body grew and shrunk as he experimented with the menu sections. When done he started on clothing. There seemed to be a lot of options available many of which seemed to include every form of dress imaginable including silly options like those dorky tropical flower shirts, and even parachute pants, but most of the stuff were futuristic clothes and combat gear.
It was while he was navigating the clothing menu my stomach seized up and I panted for breath. It started with a tingling sensation, like static, that started in my scalp but spread through my whole body. I doubled over, a strange pressure building inside me. My initial reaction was to pull the helmet off my head, but when I reached up an incredible jolt of pain shot through my body as if lightning had struck me. Massive forces rippled through me as if the universe itself were pulling at me. For a moment it seemed that the entirety of my existence began to waiver and I would cease to exist. The darkness came and there was nothing.