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“You bought an apartment?” I all but yelled at her. “You know money is tight! Do you have no place to live in? Why spend that much now? I asked you to wait some two months!”

“My friend found an apartment with a 20% discount. Where else can you get a luxury apartment at just 400,000?” She crossed her arms and straightened up, her eyes burning me through.

Just? 400,000 is just for you?” I could barely contain myself. The news outraged me, making me lose my temper.

I didn’t see that one coming. We had discussed a purchase like that. I hoped that Masha had abandoned her plans of buying real estate after that failed tour.

But here it was.

Your apartment is rather expensive, actually,” she said. “I’ve never brought it up to you. Why can’t I get a place of my own?”

“But I’ve only repaid it recently! It took me seven years of busting my hump,” I said angrily. “And you want to spend all your prize money and savings at once?! You’ll need even more money to furnish it. We barely have enough money to buy food!”

“Let me remind you, dear,” she said venomously, “I’m currently the only breadwinner in this relationship.”

“So that’s the tune you’re now singing? When I was the breadwinner for seven years, supporting you, you took it for granted. And now, when I’m putting all of my earnings into upgrading my ship, you’re hurling accusations at me.”

“A man should be able to financially support his woman,” she declared. “What need of him otherwise?”

“Does love mean nothing to you?” I was totally outraged. Before, we used to laugh at her female friends who believed in stuff like that. I couldn’t have imagined that my Masha would start acting just like them someday.

“Better go make money for your girl than waste your breath here.” She turned around and left into her bedroom, slamming the door.

I shouted a curse to her back. She cursed me in return, disclosing the details of my genealogy that appeared to start with a different creature than an ape.

How stupid she is to listen to them. Still boiling, I sat down onto the sofa, turning on the news, hoping that that would distract me. That must be her mom’s influence. Or, even worse, Natasha’s. That divorced woman is always giving unsolicited advice.

Masha’s BFF had been divorced twice by the age of twenty-five and sincerely believed that this experience made her a relationship expert capable of counseling everyone around. She wasn’t at all embarrassed about the cause of her first divorce—cheating on her husband, which he had eventually come to discover. She then gave her second husband such a hard time that he simply ran away, sending his lawyer to discuss the divorce and refusing to meet her in person outside court.

This woman was now steering all of her friends onto the same path, telling them what to do to keep their men. Masha had been looking up to her since day one, but I was sober and critical enough to point both of Natasha’s marriage faults out when she went overboard. That pissed Natasha off. Since then, she kept making worse comments about me.

Masha’s mom had never been fond of me either, which meant that my girl’s entire social circle was against me. I had never considered that to be a problem before, but now I started to realize the extent of their influence. It was great enough to force her into spontaneous moves like this purchase.

Why now? What’s the point? She could at least buy a fully furnished one and rent, securing a steady income. The one she bought is empty! She’ll have to put in at least five million rubles to make it fit for living. Too much. That’s really too much.

Sitting by the video wall for a while, I calmed down a bit and even felt guilty about having shouted at her. I shouldn’t have worked myself up into such fury. I wished I could undo it.

It’s so quiet in her bedroom. I listened to the weird, unnatural silence behind the door. Is she gaming?

“Home. Can you connect to her capsule?”

“No such function in your new devices, Viktor,” it reminded me of what I had already known but totally forgot about due to the heated argument.

“Right… Otherwise the screenshots and gameplay videos of Galaxy would’ve already been all over the web,” I remembered.

Spending a bit more time in silence, I felt bored and switched the video wall on.

“…continuing the newscast, I would love to say a few words about Galaxy, the game with soaring popularity,” the anchor said. Hearing the familiar name, I turned the volume up.

Since its release, two other games with a similar space theme have closed. Their popularity had plummeted, making it meaningless for their publishers to keep supporting the servers. Looks like the army of Galaxy fans will soon increase by another million players as these other games are completely off.

The Russian government issued another statement yesterday, asking the publisher to put a voluntary cap on the number of hours one person can spend in the game. As we may recall, in China and India, the game has become so popular that the local entrepreneurs started buying out whole buildings to turn them into game clubs, with rows of game capsules as their sole facility. These capsules are then rented by the poor who can’t afford to purchase a capsule. They pay the rent to the club from the money they make in the game. These people spend a lot of time playing, some even die of exhaustion. Unfortunately, low average income in developing countries coupled with high profit margins in this business, have also attracted criminal organizations that are starting their own game clubs. The sanitation there is terrible, but still, they allow people to make a living, although s bulk of their earnings goes to the criminals.

Our Russian businesses are still considering investments in game clubs, but it is already clear that the expanding player base will make the operation of game hostels and clubs more profitable. Not all players can afford paying huge internet and electricity bills. For the poor, the game clubs will provide an opportunity to make a living by honest means, so the governmental initiative of capping the number of gaming hours is being opposed by the industry. The online petition against the proposed restrictions has been signed by…”

“This world’s gone mad.” I shook my head. I’ve been playing too much over the course of the past few days to have had any time for news and real life. With no more urgent tasks popping up, I worked my way to 100 reputation. A dozen of quests remained before I could reach it. I planned to take and complete all of them within a week.

***

With oppressive silence at home, leaving for the game seemed like a great idea. Once done with the news, I dove into the capsule and soon reached the familiar square. It was a bit strange to see lots of people there, like everyone had that day off. All were talking, asking each other if they had an apartment. Some approached me with the same question. Confused about what the whole fuss was about, I answered that I hadn’t, just in case. Hearing that, they immediately left me alone.

I’ll go take a look at the quests. Maybe I find a couple of decent one, I decided, calling a taxi and forgetting the other players’ weird behavior; I could get an explanation later at the game’s forums.

Because of Galaxy’s peculiar nature, its official forum had very little information. Any gameplay advice or hacks were seldom uploaded there. Most of the questions asked were about updates and game mechanics. The developers didn’t check the forum often; the bulk of communication was user-to-user.

Joining a short queue at the quest giver zone, I was surprised to see that the wall and the teleports looked somewhat different than they had during my last visit, although no major updates had been issued in the meantime. When I reached the panel and tried to take a quest, the system flashed a message I had never seen before.

Do you want to get a remote access terminal for your home?

Price: 10,000 credits

Yes/No

“What?” My eyes widened. At last! No more taxi rides and wasting money. I’ll be able to scroll the quests from the comfort of my bed apartment! This explained the commotion at the starting square and everyone’s sudden interest in apartments.

Yes. I paid without hesitation. Although I was saving for a new ship camouflage system, it could wait. This upgrade was worth the money. You can’t spend hours in the general queue, waiting for a good quest to pop up with another list update. But with a terminal at home, you don’t have to grab what comes first. You can wait all you want.

Installation completed. Thank you for your purchase.

I called a taxi to fly to my apartment and check the new feature. The square was just as crowded. When I entered the building, three players waiting in the hall darted to me at once.

“Have an apartment here, man?”

“Please rent a room to us!”

They spoke all at once, pushing each other away.

I snorted and entered the elevator that I had to open with my card. The apartment blocks must have been upgraded, too, to prevent unauthorized visits. The tenants tried to follow, but their faces turned sour once they tried to step into the elevator. I guessed that they got fined.

I had never been happier to see my comfortable apartment. Prohibiting anyone to disturb me, I spotted a tablet on the wall; it hadn’t been there before. By the large screen serving as a window, appeared the familiar teleport.

Plumping down onto the bed, I took the tablet that appeared to be a small copy of the mounted quest panel.

“Good.” I skimmed through the settings, noting at once that the teleport and tablet location within the apartment could be changed by shifting them to any convenient spot, including the hangar. The quest list was exactly the same, but now I could scroll it without any rush, while drinking juice or eating chips.

Scrolling the list down, I marveled at such a wonderful update. The developers seemed to introduce a new feature virtually every week, each of those making the game even better.

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About the author

Dmitry Raspopov

  • Russia

Bio: Dmitriy Raspopov was born on the far edge of Russia in the distant port city of Vladivostok. Its sea and ships, the cries of seagulls, and the endless beat of waves stirred him to write his first fantasy series Master of Blades, which sold 150,000 copies in 2009. The series launched this unknown author from a far-flung province into the same orbit as the titans of his genre. Dmitriy took a break from writing and enrolled at the Siberian State University of Telecommunications and Information Sciences to study technical sciences. As graduation approached, he understood writing was his calling. With diploma in hand, he set off to write several book series set in different genres. One after another they stormed the Russian market, winning critical success and thousands of positive reviews from readers and critics alike. They were drawn to his unconventional way of writing and off-the-wall and unexpected plot twists. Dmitry packed up and traveled across the enormity of Russia by train, landing in his now home of Samara where he writes most often in his favorite genre of LitRPG.

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