For the rest of the ride, Xavier listened as his aunt shared some of the stories of her years as the commander of the Society of Roses. It became apparent that she considered Nova Terra to be a parallel life. Knowing her massive achievements in the real world, Xavier was surprised to hear the passion in her voice when she talked about what she had accomplished in this game. Even more surprising to Xavier was the incredible influence that each of Julia’s lives seemed to have on the other. The more she spoke, the more the two lives seemed to blend together.
After getting home, Julia got him settled in his room and reminded him that his Taijiquan instructor was going to be coming over in half an hour. While he waited, Xavier opened up his computer to do some research. From what he knew already, Nova Terra was a gamer’s dream, but it differed from many of the games that existed previously.
“Information on Nova Terra,” Xavier said, watching the computer create a virtual library for him. Seeing the huge amount of information still streaming in, he narrowed the search. “Basic game information.” Soon he had a manageable amount of information in front of him, and he began to browse.
No inherent classes, no visible stats, no damage counters, the game was touted as the first true alternate reality. If you could do something in the real world, you could do it in Nova Terra. The ads boasted unlimited freedom, restricted only by ability and resources. Judging by the variety of posts on the message boards, it wasn’t an overstatement to say that you could do anything in Nova Terra. There were, of course, some restrictions and protections in place to prevent people from committing certain criminal acts.
Xavier had not even scratched the surface of the information on the game when a knock at his door let him know that his instructor had arrived. Clicking open the door from his chair, he moved to the edge of his massive chair and grabbed his robotic frame. Strapping his legs into the supports he pushed a button on the side of his chair, and with a hydraulic hiss, his chair pushed him up into a standing position.
After making sure the leg supports engaged, Xavier attached his chest harness and stepped up to greet the small old lady who walked into the room. Standing at five feet tall, Ms. Chen was dainty, with short hair and a gentle looking face.
Despite the fact that he was almost twice her size and countless times her weight, Xavier greeted her with the utmost respect. She had been teaching him for many years and was more of a grandmother to him than a teacher. The fact that he had once watched her completely thrash ten of his aunt’s best bodyguards at the same time helped, as well.
“You hurt yourself again, child?” Ms. Chen asked in concern as she came over, examining his bound hand.
“It’s nothing much,” laughed Xavier. “Master, did my aunt tell you that I’ll be going into Nova Terra next week? The doctor says I’ll be immersed for two years.”
“Hmmm... Yes, child, she did. I don’t like the idea. One should never replace reality with fantasy. But, if it will help you, then you should go for it,” she replied, patting one of his large hands. “Enough. It’s time for us to practice. We don’t have time to waste if you are going to be locked away for two years. I expect you to continue practicing while you are in, so don’t think you can slack off.”
“Haha, of course, Master. Actually, the time dilation is such that it will seem like I am spending 14 years in there. Who knows, maybe by the time I come out, I’ll be a master,” joked Xavier.
“Hah. As if. It will be enough if you are no longer as clumsy as an elephant,” grumped Ms. Chen, pushing him into his first stance.
With the assistance of the mechanical frame, Xavier was able to move through each of the stances that they had been working on. He had been doing Taijiquan for almost 11 years, but the nature of his condition had made progress rather hard. Ms. Chen often complained that his inability to apply hardness, or explosive power, because of his skin’s condition, crippled his mastery of the art. Much of Taijiquan focused on softness, and in that regard, Xavier was well accomplished.
Passing from stance to stance smoothly, Xavier focused on his breathing, relaxing his body to avoid stiffness and gathering his strength in anticipation of each of the moves. While he never released that power, he could still feel it inside himself. There was a slight clumsiness that could not be overcome due to the mechanical frame, but overall, Ms. Chen was satisfied with his efforts. After two hours of careful practice, she climbed up on Xavier’s massive chair to give him a kiss on the forehead.
Since he was rather sweaty, Xavier moved to his bathroom after saying goodbye to his teacher. He had designed his personal living space so he didn’t have to duck as he walked through the door and into the massive shower. Peeling off his sweaty clothes, he showered and got changed. Each and every one of his actions was focused and deliberate. The more he thought about living in a world free of the danger of hurting himself with a simple movement, the more excited he became. Soon he was back in his chair, browsing about the game again, though he was getting a bit frustrated by the lack of concrete information.
Despite the monstrous number of hits he got when he searched for Nova Terra, it was evident that much about the game was still hidden. There was almost no information on the specifics of the game, only general discussions about players’ activities. After three hours of somewhat fruitless searching, Xavier finally gave up. He would get to experience it for himself soon, so it did not bother him too much.
That night at dinner, Xavier talked with his aunt about his upcoming immersion into Nova Terra. The more he learned about the game, the more excited he was. The very thought of being able to move without restriction made him want to dance. He could not yet, but soon he would be able to act on that desire.
The days passed slowly, too slowly for Xavier, whose anticipation grew every hour. Thankfully, there were tests to do to make sure nothing would go wrong with the immersion process, otherwise, he might have gone crazy. As the day got closer his regular routine was interrupted as the hospital set up his pod and had him try it out.
The first time he went into immersion was only for a few minutes with a headset. Having put on the helmet, Xavier appeared above a three-dimensional house without a roof. Floating next to him was a small ball of energy representing the doctor who walked him through using his mind to control his avatar. Xavier moved things about in the house, selecting and rotating the furniture and turning lamps on and off as he moved from room to room.
Once he had finished that, the experiences began to get more and more involved and challenging. As the week progressed, he started to play small games; a flying simulation, a basic strategy game, a building game. Finally, he moved from the headset to a full body session, lying down in his pod and entering a game with giant robots fighting in a city.
All the games were fun but only stoked Xavier’s desire to play Nova Terra. The doctors could sense his restlessness, but they did not have him enter virtual reality at all over the three days leading up to his full immersion. Instead, they put him on a strict diet, telling him to get lots of rest. Too excited to sleep, Xavier spent most of his time reading about other people’s experiences in the game.
Nova Terra was another world. Not only did people play for fun, but fortunes could be won and lost. Huge amounts of money had been injected into the game and the sheer quantity of people playing tied the game’s economy to the real world’s economy with bands of steel. More and more people were playing, for their livelihood and success in the game could be success in real life.
For Xavier, who had never enjoyed the opportunity to pursue life the way others were able to because of his physical condition, Nova Terra promised a level of normalcy he had only dreamed of. While swords and magic and dragons were not normal, at least he could experience them the same way as everyone else.
Sitting next to the floor-to-ceiling window in his room, Xavier looked over the well-manicured lawn and neatly pruned trees that dotted the southern side of the estate. For years, he had been trapped. Trapped by his body, trapped by the perfection of a life where everything was handled for him. It was almost time to break free.
Two days before he was to go under, Julia informed him that she had scheduled a board meeting for Xavier to deal with some last details. Normally, she would handle all the official business in Fantasia, but there were a couple things that required Xavier’s signature. As Xavier’s guardian, and the owner of twenty percent of Atlas, Julia had an incredible amount of authority, but there were some things that she refused to do.
Despite his dislike for having to deal with the board, Xavier could not get away from the fact that he owned more than sixty percent of the largest energy company in the world. Besides, even if he did not want the trouble that it brought, he could not deny that it afforded him the best care the world could buy. If the price was having to face the pressure of the other board members every once and a while and sign some documents, then it was worth it.
That afternoon Xavier followed his aunt into the car and looked at the documents. Because he would be in treatment for two years, the other board members were concerned that the largest shareholder would not be available to vote, which would impair the company’s ability to react to the market situation. Julia had thought up a plan to deal with it, but it required Xavier’s presence to put it into play.
As the majority shareholder, Xavier had almost complete control of the company. However, due to his complicated condition, he rarely exercised it, letting Julia and the other shareholders handle almost everything. It was only when there was a major dispute that he stepped in. “Even so, I would much rather they never needed me,” Xavier sighed to himself as he read through the file Julia had prepared.
After a twenty minute ride, their car pulled into the private entrance at Atlas headquarters, and Henry helped Xavier navigate down the ramp and into the building. A private elevator took them up to the seventieth floor where the other board members were already waiting around a large mahogany table.
“Sorry for making you wait.” Xavier’s slow, calm voice seemed to have a suppressive effect, easing the nervous energy in the room.
“Not at all, Xavier,” one of the board members hurried to assure him. “We only just got here ourselves.”
Taking his place at the head of the table, Xavier accepted a glass of water from a secretary with a smile, taking a moment to look around the room. Once his aunt was seated, Xavier opened up the document on the screen and pointed to it.
“As I am sure you all know, in a couple days I am starting an advanced medical treatment that will take two years. There has been some concern as to how the company will handle decisions during my absence, so we are meeting to clear that up,” Xavier said in his slow, deep voice, “Please look at the documents provided. Ms. Lee, please go over our arrangement.”
“Thank you,” Julia nodded at her nephew and, standing, she looked around the table. “You are all aware that Xavier prefers to be hands-off, so this treatment will actually work out pretty well. Xavier’s treatment will include full immersion in Nova Terra. He will need approximately three months to adjust to the alternate reality, after which he has agreed to make himself available for virtual meetings in Fantasia. Atlas has substantial property in Fantasia, where he is planning to reside while he is not in the game.
“As normal, I will continue handling any signing he needs to do and he has authorized me to determine what is necessary to bring to his attention. As per usual, everyone is allowed to contact him as normal during the course of his immersion, but for the next three months, you will need to send any messages you have for Xavier to me. Once those three months have passed, he has agreed to keep regular contact hours, as usual.
“Last, but not least, you will notice that there is a non-disclosure agreement in each of your packages. This covers not only Xavier’s medical condition and any details regarding or related to his treatment, but also his participation in Nova Terra and any details surrounding it. The official line is going to stay the same as normal. Xavier is undergoing monitored medical treatment at a private location. As always, you are required to sign these non-disclosure agreements, and I need not remind everyone that, should you spill even a hint of anything regarding Xavier, I will ruin you.”
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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.