Forget the fact that he was many times richer than she was, she wouldn’t even let him use the absurd amount of money his parents had left him. Hemmed in and coddled by all who met him, the thing he wanted the most was freedom, and the idea of being in an adventure game like Nova Terra was an amazing opportunity to get that freedom.
Julia Lee gave a small sigh of relief. She knew her nephew well and it was obvious that Xavier was excited about this idea. After a few more minutes of talking some of the details through, she nodded at the doctor. Xavier would be sent into the game where he would spend the next two years of real time while the treatment worked to repair his body.
The papers signed and a date set for the following week, Xavier and Julia made their way out of the hospital and toward the massive all-terrain vehicle that they drove. However, as soon as they exited the hospital doors, the flash of lights announced the gathering of paparazzi that seemed to follow Julia around like gnats.
“Ms. Lee, Ms. Lee, is it true that you are engaged?”
“Ms. Lee, what are your thoughts on the rising energy costs?”
“Ms. Lee, you are being accused of setting up a hostile takeover of DeHauser Energy. Do you have any comments on that?”
Their security was expecting it, and it wasn’t long before they were able to force their way through to the car. Pushing past the crowding reporters, the leader of the security team opened the butterfly door of their vehicle and pulled down the ramp before guiding Xavier’s chair up into the car and into its place where it locked in.
“Thanks, Henry,” Xavier nodded at the guard.
“Of course, Master Xavier,” the guard responded, his stern face breaking into a smile. All of Julia’s employees adored their giant charge. Glancing back at the paparazzi pushing against the rest of the security team, Henry grimaced. “Sorry about all the noise, sir. Next time we’ll use the private entrance.”
“It’s not a problem, Henry. The pictures are good for my aunt’s publicity.”
Julia, a drop-dead gorgeous blonde with a figure that even gods would kill for, was the most eligible bachelorette in the world, helped, of course, by the fact that she was also a minority shareholder and the CEO of Atlas, the largest energy company in the world. Rich, smart and beautiful, it was no wonder that the tabloids followed her like puppies. Seeing her grumble, Xavier couldn’t hold in his smile.
The majority of the ride home was spent discussing Xavier’s coming immersion. Julia had played Nova Terra since its release and was well established. Combined with the fact that the majority of her business was done in the virtual city of Fantasia, Julia was well versed with virtual reality.
“Xavier, you should join me when you get into Nova Terra. This game is not the same as other games, and it takes a lot of work to get established.” Julia flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“Come on, you know that work is the last thing I’m afraid of,” replied Xavier with a smile.
“I know, I know. But you don’t understand how different it is. It is not like any MMO that you have ever played. There is no grinding, no leveling up, no health bars or anything like that. It’s pretty much real life and it’s as dangerous. To some extent, it is like the wild west. Untamed and lawless. Unless you have the strength to protect yourself, you are at the mercy of other players.”
“What about quests and storylines?” asked Xavier. “Don’t games have to have a story?”
“They practically don’t exist,” grumbled Julia. “Normal games have level progression; Nova Terra only has mastery. There are no experience points or anything of the sort. Want to learn to fight with a sword? Start practicing. Want to learn magic? Figure it out. There is no system assist or any sort of auto-targeting. The same is true of storylines. At least, there isn’t a ‘story’ that anyone has discovered. The game has history, but there is no final boss.”
“Wait, then what do you do?”
“You do what you want to do. You can do anything. You can live in a city and make shoes for NPCs. You can join a pioneering expedition and settle a wilderness town. You can hunt monsters and slay dragons. Well, not that last one. At least, no one has been able to yet. We’re working on it, though.”
“You’ve been playing for awhile, right? What have you been doing?” asked Xavier. He knew his aunt played Nova Terra, but they had never talked about it since he wasn’t able to participate, and she didn’t want to make him jealous.
“Oh man, let me tell you! We have the best mercenary corps in the entire game. Prettiest, too,” replied Julia with a smug look. “But this illustrates my point. It took me four years in real time to build up the Society of Roses. That is almost 30 years in Nova Terra! You can’t step into the game and expect to make quick progress.
“First I had to establish the group and then gather players. I mean, it took countless years for everyone to train to the point where they were good enough at fighting to actually complete the missions! And that is not even taking into account our reputation as a group. We only managed to get a permit to build our headquarters in the capital a year ago. If you take the time dilation into account it actually took us 21 years in game. 21 years of calculated moves and hard work.
“We had to work our way up, managing our relationships with other groups and the powers in the world. Because it is not like a game where each NPC has a couple quests and lines of dialogue. They all have their own lives. To the point that you could accept a quest and then come back and find that the person who gave it to you went and died. Or started a new business. Or got married or had a kid. At the end of the day, Nova Terra is another world. And like the real world, life moves along without you. If you’re serious about going it alone, you’d better be prepared to work for what you want. If you put in the time and effort, you will be okay. Nothing of value is going to come easy, but everything is achievable.”
Furrowing his brow, Xavier thought for a minute, his eyes drifting across the scenery outside his window.
“Then where is the fun? Isn’t the point of a game to provide entertainment? If Nova Terra is so hard, how is that different than real life? There has to be something about it that draws people in. I mean, almost 70% of the world plays.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. It is fun. Really fun. It isn’t as uncomfortable as real life. Like, you don’t sweat no matter how hot you get. Everyone’s hair looks great no matter how much you have been running. It is like life, but with most of the uncomfortable and inconvenient parts edited out. But Nova Terra is more than that. When it first came out, it was a game, but when they built Fantasia it became as important as the real world.”
“Fantasia? You mean the city? Isn’t Fantasia in the Nova Terra?”
“Not quite. It sits parallel to it. So you can hop back and forth. Think same universe, different planet. I do almost all of my business there because of the time dilation. That is the only way I have time to play.” Julia smirked. “Almost everyone in the business world uses Fantasia to handle their business and Nova Terra to relax.”
Seeing the large smile on his aunt’s face, Xavier couldn’t help but think back over the many years he had lived with her. She had gained custody of him from birth after a tragic accident left his parents dead. Julia, only nineteen at the time, had stepped up to play the part of both mother and father to him. Not to mention, Julia had taken on a leadership role in his parents’ multi-million dollar energy corporation.
Xavier hadn’t even made it to the hospital to be born when a drunk driver turned his parents’ joy at the coming birth of their first child to a nightmare. His parents had survived long enough to be brought back to the hospital emergency room, but both passed away during surgery. Miraculously, Xavier survived both the crash and the emergency c-section that followed. His aunt rushed to the hospital only to find her sister and brother-in-law dead.
Xavier had grown at a furious rate, dwarfing other children of similar age. His bones and muscles grew so strong and dense that he was walking by the time he was two months old and was almost four feet tall by the time he was one. This astounding growth left the pediatricians who were monitoring him dumbfounded. His ever-increasing diet fueled his rapid growth, and the doctors could only attribute it to some unknown form of gigantism.
As he got older, he began having problems. His bones, organs, and skin struggled to keep up with his massive frame. Almost daily his skin would stretch and split, leaving bloody trails across his body as his skin cells tried to duplicate. Despite his abnormal strength and the size of his bones, gravity began to prove too much for him. Facing this difficult situation, the doctors were at a complete loss, trying one failed treatment after another.
For the past sixteen years, Xavier had gone in and out of hospitals around the world, trying every conceivable method to solve the issue with his body. His aunt, who had proved to be a successful businesswoman in her own right, had spared no expense. She wasted a veritable fortune on treatment and research no matter how obscure.
Xavier was a gift from the gods as far as medical researchers were concerned. Due to his strange condition that doctors still had not identified, he suffered close to zero cell degeneration in combination with energetic bone growth, which would have been a dream come true if it were not for the fact that Xavier's skin did not share this trait and could not keep up with the massive increases in muscle and bone growth that he experienced.
Normally, an object that grew in size was subject to the square-cube law. In short, the square-cube law stated that as something grows or diminishes, its volume grows and shrinks faster than its surface area. The larger something is, the greater its volume in relation to its surface area. Consequently, most humans with gigantism found that their bones, muscles, organs, and tendons could not keep up with their body’s increased volume, causing them to struggle to support their new weight.
Growing to the same height as Xavier, a person would be at least 16 times stronger than the typical six-foot adult. However, the square-cube law stated that at the same time, the strength to weight ratio would change from 1:1 to 1:4. That is, the person would be four times heavier than they were strong, causing them to collapse under their own body weight.
In this unprecedented case, Xavier’s muscles and bones were almost 32 times stronger than normal, allowing him to move his 840 pound body like a regular sized person. However, despite the fact that Xavier’s body was much stronger than was reasonable for someone with his condition, far surpassing the limits of normal humans, his weight still caused him to struggle to support his body. Unfortunately, the pressure of gravity on his bones had caused numerous stress fractures in his hips and legs over the years, and, by the age of eight, Xavier had found himself unable to walk without a mechanized brace.
To complicate his situation, his medical condition caused him to be threatened by the danger of literally ripping through his own skin. The result of his massive musculature meant that any sudden action would cause his skin to tear open, accompanied of course by lots of blood and pain. Careful movement was still possible, and through technological aids like his electric wheelchair and his mechanized brace, his life could have a modicum of normalcy.
However, the real mystery was Xavier’s synaptic response time. This was a conundrum that left every scientist and doctor in the world puzzled beyond belief. The electrical impulse from the brain to a part of the body travels around 220 miles per hour, causing the average reaction time of a human to be 0.22 seconds. However, due to his increased size, physics would anticipate that Xavier’s response time would fall to 0.98 seconds, under five times slower.
Yet, despite all of this, Xavier exhibited the opposite. His average reaction time was 0.14 seconds, comparable to that of the best athletes in the world. Many theories evolved as to how such a large body could produce such an astounding reaction time. The best theory to date suggested that Xavier’s nervous system was both larger and more robust than the average person's. This meant that the amount of information that could pass through it was greater, allowing for better information flow.
Unfortunately, despite his body performing above and beyond the norm in some ways, Xavier was, without question, handicapped by his extreme weight and his inability to prevent himself from being injured at every turn. Sitting still, Xavier was normal, yet he was unable to live even close to a normal life. He had spent more time in a wheelchair than out of one, and it was only the carefully curated lifestyle that his aunt forced on him that kept him in good shape.
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Bio: My name is Seth Ring and I am a writer. I create worlds and tell the stories of those who inhabit them. I love exploring these new worlds with other people. I post a chapter every Friday around 12 pm EST. To get advanced access to chapters you can support me on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/SethRing.