“—And welcome back once again to ABC news. Let us start where we left off. Here we have footage taken by a student from the crash site. As you can see, the car crash destroyed—”
Chitra snatched the TV remote lying on the sofa and changed the channel.
Just when she turned the TV on for a bit. Why did her father always leave it on the most annoying of channels? Useless news channels! Why couldn't they ever show anything happy? Always politics, death, accidents!
She pressed down hard on a button, flipping through the channels. It still didn’t seem fast enough.
Where the hell is that music channel, dammit!
Chitra nearly jumped at the sudden sound of thunder. She shrank back into the sofa and pressed her palms against her ears, her body shaking with each rumble reverberating through the living room. As the sound died out, she clenched her teeth and sat back.
Those damn things were too loud. She couldn’t stand them.
The sound coming from the TV was also quite loud. Sounds of explosions, people shouting weird things like “fireball” and stuff. Was it a movie channel? She didn’t need that. She opened and closed her hands. The remote was missing.
“Tsk!” That damn thunder made her drop it.
She threw up her hand in frustration and picked up the book she was reading, it was an epic fantasy book from the early 2000s. Although more than thirty years old, she liked classics sometimes. Her fingers started running over braille letters describing an epic battle between several armies.
On the TV screen in front of her cloudy white eyes, another epic battle was taking place. A battle between man and monster.
It was a giant creature with rough black scales and sharp spines standing straight on its back. Only its size and a huge broad blade at the end of its tail separated it from a regular iguana and made it a monster from fantasy stories, just like the people fighting it. Clad in flashy medieval armours and weapons or wearing robes and holding staffs, they looked like medieval warriors or fantasy wizards.
The creature spewed jets of bluish-green gas from its mouth or swiped its bladed tail at the tiny humans, while they struck back with various mystical attacks like blades of fire, spheres of water, small whirlwinds. The battle would fit right in with any high budget fantasy movie if not for the red bars floating above both monster and men.
“Wow! They managed to chip away almost 10% of Rockborn’s HP without getting hurt. Vista guild really has the best members in Finitum!” the disembodied female voice resembled that of a sports commentator.
Chitra’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “Finitum!” she muttered, leaning a bit toward the TV. Wasn't it the Virtual Reality game her friends were always blabbering about every day?
The first full dive game. From what she’d heard, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding the game and the Cortech capsule that was needed to play it. But it was still the third most popular game with over 43 million players worldwide; though only six months passed after its release.
Arun, Rose and her brother Rahul, her only three friends, were simply obsessed with it. Always talking about how much they were nagging their families to buy the game.
“We are aspiring hardcore gamers! There’s no way we could miss this groundbreaking opportunity.” Arun had said to her.
To that, she could only shake her head. “Oh dear hardcore gamers, use your own money if you want to be so hardcore,” she had told them several times. But those thick-skinned idiots had simply shrugged off her comment.
“We’re still minors,” they had said as if that was a valid excuse.
And why wouldn’t they? Arun’s father Suman Mitra and Rose and Rahul’s father Rabindra Choudhuri were best friends and colleagues of her father, and if she was right, the main culprit behind his spendthrift attitude.
As they say, you are who your friends are. Well, their children could also be considered spendthrift by association, and they were her friends.
Another sound of thunder jolted her out of her musing. This time it didn’t come from outside but from the TV. A man wearing golden armour and a helmet resembling a lion’s head had thrown a spear clad in lightning at the creature.
“It's Arslan’s [spear bolt] attack! That must've hurt! The boss of endless caverns dungeon only has 10% HP remaining. His thunder attribute is awesome! There’s no doubt, folks. Vista guild will be the first one to conquer this one too.”
Thunder was awesome? Chitra’s lips curled in annoyance. She hated thunders! And all other loud noises from the TV too. She couldn’t pay attention to what she was reading. Did the remote increase the sound when it fell?
Chitra reached out and fetched her white cane from the side. It wasn’t the most useful thing like it used to be anymore, but it was still good enough to draw faraway things to her reach. After some tapping and prodding, she located the remote. It wasn’t too far. She could still reach it from the sofa if she tried.
Chitra laid flat on her stomach on the sofa and extended her hand to the floor. No, the remote wasn’t close enough. She could only touch it with her fingertips. She wiggled her fingers, struggling to draw the remote close.
The battle between man and monster and the battle between her and the remote came to an end at the same time. The commentator ended the show by showering that Arslan guy with praises for not killing the boss and leaving the lump of experience for his teammates. Apparently, he was the current highest level player in Finitum.
Chitra sat back up, exhausted from her ordeal. Good thing she had such long fingers; otherwise it would have been a bigger hassle. Really, she should have agreed when her father wanted to fix the broken voice command for the TV.
Another scene appeared, this time in a newsroom with a woman in a suit acting as a news anchor. She looked at the screen and said, “You were watching a clip from the most recent battle of VIsta guild, the biggest guild of Finitum. Now let us head to another one of our agents interviewing some interesting players of the game. Players with special needs.” she emphasized the last two words carefully.
Chitra was about to change the channel but stopped herself. Her brows furrowed. Special needs? Some sort of medical condition?
The image on the screen changed from the generic newsroom to a field of flowers. Eight people wearing various medieval clothing and armour stood there.
“Hi, I’m Mark,” said a golden-haired man wearing a green feathered hat and a harp on his back. “Today in GGN, we are interviewing seven gamers for whom Finitum has been nothing short of a life-changer. The people gathered here today, all suffer from conditions beyond their control, and Finitum has given them the chance to overcome that.” He smiled and bowed towards the screen. “Now, without further ado, let us begin the interview.”
Chitra hesitated. Usually, she would try to avoid or ignore any sort of discussion involving video games. hard thing to do, considering her friends. it would be a lie to say she wasn’t interested, but… it just wasn’t for her. It was an entirely visual form of entertainment that she could never enjoy.
However, her future goal was to be a medical researcher; though most of her interest was limited to a specific medical condition. But what kind of condition can be cured by playing a game?
She sighed and laid the remote by her side. No harm in listening to it a bit, I guess.
The screen focused on a tall, sturdy man with short blond hair. “Hi, I’m Borkhon. Or Erik Demidov in real life,” he said with a smile. Going by his deep voice, Chitra guessed him to be in his late thirties. Slightly younger than her father.
“Hello, Mr Borkhon.” The golden-haired game journalist nodded. “You used to be a part of the Russian military, weren’t you, Mr Borkhon?”
“That’s correct. I was in it for four years starting in 2029. I had to quit after I got seriously injured in a skirmish against Chinese soldiers five years ago. I had to amputate my legs.”
Chitra ran her fingers over her thighs. So that was what they meant by ‘special needs’. Someone like that was also playing the game, huh. But… a game wouldn’t be able to heal that, would it?
“That is a truly tragic thing to happen. How did you cope with that loss?” The golden-haired game journalist asked.
“With prosthetics. Modern prosthetics are truly amazing. I could live my life normally thanks to them. I can even do some light sports now.”
Chitra sighed. Unfortunately, prosthetics won’t help her. The doctor had said her condition came from shock. A mostly mental problem. There was no easy cure for it other than her own effort.
“So, why did you start playing Finitum.?”
“It was my nephew. Three months ago, he introduced me to this game. And I must say, I’m more than thankful to him. If I didn’t enter Finitum, I would have never experienced this feeling again.” he jumped up and down twice. “Prosthetics are good and all, but they are still machines. You can’t feel them. Nothing compares to the feeling of having real legs. Finitum really did change my life.”
A deep frown brought Chitra’s eyebrows together. She tilted her head in question.
The feeling of real legs?
“As long as I’m inside this game world, I’m whole again!” Borkhon declared.
“Inside the game world…” Chitra muttered in confusion.
The journalist started moving from person to person, interviewing them one by one. Each one of them was people who had lost the function of a part of their body. And each one gained them back…
inside the game world!
“I could walk again on my own legs.”
“I can’t believe I could use my hands like this again.”
The thunder roared outside. A low grumbling from the clouds that were beginning to thin. Usually, they made Chitra so jittery, but the voices from the TV struck her harder than any thunder she had ever cowered from. Her nails dug into her palms but she couldn’t notice the pain. Her shoulders hunched and she didn’t notice herself shaking. A thunderstorm of emotions rampaged in her heart and all her attention was glued to the sound of voices that told her,
It was possible inside the game world!
But how? Why was this possible? She didn’t understand! How could such a thing…
“It feels good to see the world again.”
Strength drained From Chitra’s body. She deflated as a strong sense of loss weighed on her heart. “See the world...” She chuckled. A sad little laugh. So it was possible for them.
A memory of what Arun had said to her surfaced in her mind. Unlike usual, he alone had come to chat with her that day and spent the better part of an hour trying to convince her how awesome games were.
“You see Chi, It’s a full dive game, the first one ever!” he had said. “it’s like having your real body inside when you play it,”
It was his usual talk, one she had dismissed as soon as she had heard, but now it all came back to her. It was a touch of hope. A little glimpse of light. But it was too far for her to touch.
This... cure, if that’s what it was, wasn’t for her. She never lost her eyes, she never even had them. How could she regain something she never had? Her world had been dark since she drew her first breath...
And it always will be.
“And now, to our last interviewee,” Mark announced, he gestured towards a lanky man with dark skin and black, curly hair. “Mr Durandal here is someone who is in a worse situation than others. He and Mr Everfire are the only two people playing Finitum who were born with a congenital defect.”
Chitra’s ears perked up. She sat up straight. This…
“It’s a pity we couldn’t contact Mr Everfire, but luckily, we were able to reach Mr Durandal and he has agreed to this interview. Now, if you would, Mr Durandal.”
The screen zoomed in on Durandal. He lifted his hand and started making a gesture before clenching them into a fist.
“Sorry, it’s an old habit,” his words had an awkward, unfamiliar drawl to them. He looked down at his hand that twitched like a tick. “Up until five months ago. I spoke through them, you see. I still do outside, so it’s hard to adjust.”
He looked up, eyes sparkling with unabashed happiness. “Yes, I can actually form words now. I didn’t know how to, since I never heard them. I was born with an auditory nerve defect that made me unable to hear any sound.”
He took a deep breath and let out the words he had prepared in his mind. “Until I started this game, I lived in a silent world.”
“A silent world!” Chitra mouthed the words with a hollow expression as her brain tried to grasp the implications of what she had heard. The concept wasn’t that hard to grasp; at least, not for her. It was all around her. Only in her case, it was an unending field of darkness. Or was it? She wouldn’t know. Darkness was a visual concept after all.
It took a moment for her eyes to widen with realization. Her breath grew shallow, quickening in pace. His silent world had broken! It had really broken! He said he couldn’t hear from birth, just like she couldn’t see! Did that mean there was a chance? Could her dark world break too? Was it really possible for her?
If she could really see with her own eyes…?!
The realization sparked hope inside Chitra’s heart and set it to race. An odd feeling of butterflies fluttered inside her stomach.
But hope! She was afraid of it. It was fragile, easy to break. For three years it had failed her again and again!
Chitra shivered. What if it broke again? What if she still couldn’t touch that light?
She took deep breaths, calming herself down. She carefully considered what she had heard, and what she already knew from her friends.
Frustration gnawed at the hope in her heart like ants, leaving an empty shell full of helplessness. Her lips curved into a bitter, mocking smile that was closer to grimace.
What was she thinking? Playing Finitum?
The only reason even Arun, Rose and Rahul couldn’t get their hands on it was that uncle Suman and uncle Rabindra refused to buy it yet.
They, the overindulgent, spendthrift colleagues of her father, refused to buy it. Even for them, spending 70 thousand USD on a single game was too much. And then there was the case of the monthly subscription fee of 1000 USD.
For her, it was nothing more than a pipe dream.
No, she couldn’t afford to break her world of darkness. At least, not how her friends tried to do it, through their fathers. Her father would do it, she knew. If she just let him know, he would buy it no matter what it took. That’s why she couldn’t let him know.
If she let him waste money like this, she couldn’t forgive herself. Mom wouldn’t…
She clenched her teeth. Her lips twisted, heat rising to her head. Since when had she started craving eyes so much? She had never cared about them… before.
“Damn!” she snarled, lifting her hand in an attempt to throw the remote.
“Chitra? Are you alright?” her father’s voice made Chitra’s heart jump to her throat.
Oh no! He was back from work! Why didn’t she notice sooner? She fumbled with the remote, pressing random buttons here and there to change the channel in panic.