“No. Shut it down,” Chitra answered the capsule’s voice.
She lay inside the capsule, turning her eyes anywhere she could, but bit by bit, her heart began to sink. Everything was dark.
“Yay! I’m back,” she whispered lifelessly.
A bitter smile appeared on her lips. She hadn’t missed it at all. Even the dark forest was a thousand times brighter in the game.
I’d rather go back.
3 hours!. That’d be 9 hours there, wouldn’t it? That was a huge chunk gone from the 24 hours she had to save Marcus.
“I- I don’t think I can save...” the words caught in her throat. Why was the thought so painful? She didn’t care this much about the guy at first. But now...
Frustrated, she raised her fist to punch at the roof, stopping at the last moment. She couldn’t risk damaging the capsule. She had to return it, eventually.
Six months. She had to make sure not to get too attached to the game.
Rubbing her hand over her eyes, she reached out to push the lid open. She sat up, turning her head. Where was her wheelchair? It was so dark that she couldn’t see—
She pressed her palm over her lips, pressing back a giggle rising from her chest.
Hah! Can’t see!
Bloom sighed and closed her eyes. They were kinda useless, and currently, having them open was more of a hindrance than anything. Besides, she still had her other senses. With some effort, she focused on her surroundings. A low snoring sound from her right drew her attention.
That sounded like her father. He was sleeping… where her reading table was.
“Haaah…” Chitra let out an exasperated breath. Doesn’t he have a bed to sleep on? Must have been too restless to go back to his room, the worrywart.
She smiled, lightening her depressed heart somewhat. However disastrous the result turned out to be, he did try surprising her, didn’t he? So why couldn’t she do the same? Right now, she should be able to.
Yes, I should! I can! She raised her palm, putting it over her fast-beating heart. I think, at least.
Chitra pushed her legs off the capsule. She bent forward, her toes edging towards the ground bit by bit. The slightest tingle went up to her spine as the tips of her toes touched the floor.
“Whew! Ok!” Chitra lowered herself more until her feet lay flat to the ground. Her fingers clamped the edge of the capsule, but the shaking of her body wouldn’t stop. A gripping fear overcame her anticipation as she bit her lips and stared into the blank darkness in front of her.
I can’t be like this! I can’t back down.
She took a long, shaky breath, waiting for the opportune moment. No more mistakes! she had to get this right. The passing seconds were excruciatingly long as a drop of sweat trickled down her forehead to her chin, gathering there.
She gritted her teeth, pushing herself off from the capsule.
Vikash jumped up from his sleep. “Huh? What?” Sitting straight on the chair, he looked around in confusion. Wasn’t there a loud sound just now? Or was he dreaming something?
Oh, no! How long did I sleep! Is Chitra still in the game?
He shook his head to get rid of the blurriness of sleep and turned his head. Under the low neon light, the capsule lay empty with its lid open. He frowned. Where was she?
Vikash stood up, spreading his arms to get rid of the stiffness from sleeping on a chair. He took a step towards the capsule but stopped immediately when his feet touched something. A muted moan came from the ground. He frowned and looked down.
“Chitra!” he shouted, hastily kneeling by his daughter.
Chitra lay on her back, her hands clamped on her mouth trying to keep the scream of pain in. teardrops slid down her cheeks and lost their way in her hair.
Her back hurt, she could even feel a lump forming on her head, but the pain was nothing to the hopeless frustration gnawing at her heart.
She had failed!
“How did you fall down? Are you all right?” Vikash asked, his voice brimming with panic and anxiety. “Why didn’t you call for me if you came out?” He reached out, holding her hand. He wanted to help her sit, but moving her now might be dangerous if she hurt her head.
Chitra swallowed down her tears. “Sorry,” she answered in a rough, tear-stained voice. She tried so hard not to disturb him, but he still woke up. She clenched his hand and pulled herself off the ground.
“Be careful!” he placed a hand behind her neck, gently helping her up. “Carelessly moving around could worsen the injury.”
“...no injury,” she said, giving a slight shake of her head.
“You’re all right?”
“I’m—” her throat closed. She was all right. She was fine. Nothing would be wrong as long as she could—
“Sorry!” she couldn’t. She couldn’t stop the tears. “I’m sorry! I thought I could do it. I thought I could! It was so easy in there…” Sobs wracked her back as she rested her forehead on her father’s arm.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry,” comforted Vikas as he patted her back. “What is it? What can’t you do?”
“I was- I was walking there! I could stand…”
“Oh!” Vikas Raised his eyebrows. He nodded, putting his arms around her, and said, “Don’t worry, of course, you can do it! Who says you can’t?”
“But I- I fell down! I couldn’t do it!” Chitra said in a hollow voice.
“That’s nothing to worry about. It’s not your fault. Your legs are ok. It’s just, you haven’t walked for so many years, so you need to get them back in shape a bit.”
“...yeah.” Chitra nodded. Maybe he was right. She sniffed, her face becoming hotter as she calmed herself.
“Come on, let me get you to the bed. These VR games are stressful for the brain, aren’t they? You should rest a bit,” Vikash said, picking her up.
“How do you know?” asked Chitra.
“Who do you think I am? Of course I did my research on them.” Vikash declared.
“Hmm…” Chitra gave a quiet nod. Her head did feel kinda heavy right now. Besides, what could she do even if she went back? Could she even rescue Marcus?
Her quietness stumped Vikash. Shouldn’t she be giving some kind of witty remark? “So, how’s the game? Did you like it?” he asked as he set her down on her bed.
“The game…” Chitra clenched her teeth.
“Nothing happened.” Chitra shook her head. “What could happen? It’s just a game.”
Right, it was just a game. It wasn’t real. Acting like this was too immature for her. Marcus… wasn’t real.
She sighed. That was a repulsive kind of thought. Who was the one to first reach out to help her? Real or not, she overcame one of the biggest hurdles of her life because of him.
I’m so disgusting!
Vikash looked at the wall clock. 12:28 am. he stood up. “Get some rest. You can play again tomorrow after you wake up.”
“Um, can I get back in it three hours later? I’m not really that tired.”
“You want to go back so soon?” Vikash raised his eyebrows. She had such a sour expression, but she still wanted to play again? Didn’t she dislike the game?
For a moment, he wanted to tease her about how she refused to play the game a few hours ago, but he shook his head. No need to make her angry. “Of course, you can. In fact, if you want, you can sleep inside the capsule. It has a built-in sleep mode.” he had gone through the manual quite thoroughly after Chitra entered the game, amassing all the knowledge inside his head. “Do you want to?”
“I don’t mind, but can’t I get to it myself? I don’t want to bother you every time.”
“Oh sure,” he said, tapping the armrest of Chitra’s wheelchair just beside her bed. “Your ride is here. You can also get in the capsule easily. I adjusted the height to be lower than your bed. Just pull yourself up like you’re getting in your bed.”
“Thanks,” Chitra pulled herself into her wheelchair. Vikash gave an encouraging pat on her shoulder. As she made her way towards the capsule, she remembered something. “Father, one more thing. Do we have any books about archery that I could read?”
“Archery? Are you talking about the hunting or fantasy stories you read?”
“No no, not that. Technical things about archery. How to shoot an arrow and stuff.”
“I don’t think so?” Vikash recalled. “Why do you want to know?” “I… just want to learn,” she mumbled. No way was she gonna let him know that she chose archery without thinking. She had made enough of a fool of herself as it was.
Vikash stared at Chitra’s embarrassed expression, thoughtfully rubbing the stubbles on his cheek. He needed a shave.
“Well, there’s nothing like that at home I could think of, but if you want I could buy one for you tomorrow,” he said.
Tomorrow! It’ll be too late by then. Chitra sighed as she reached the capsule and pulled herself up with her father’s direction.
“Oh yeah, you could do that!” exclaimed Vikash, remembering something. “There’s no need to buy a book. You can look it up on the thoughtnet after all.”
“You’re able to see inside the game, right? Then if you use the capsule, you should be able to access the thoughtnet and see things too.”
“Yes, I heard that’s how it’s supposed to work. You could surf information, watch movies, play games!” Vikash’s eyes sparkled. Yes! Not just the game, with the capsule she could do all the things other kids do too!
“Really!” Chitra’s eyes widened. Of course! Hadn’t the capsule’s voice asked her if she wanted to explore other features? She was too upset to pay attention to it before, so she shut Cortech down. That was so stupid! She could do so many things there.
Less than three hours left. Would that be enough?
“Thank you father, I’ll surf for a bit now,” she stretched her hand out and pulled the lid down.
“Hey wait! You need to sleep—” Vikash didn’t get to finish his words before the lid cut him off. “This girl!” he stifled a yawn and rubbed his forehead. He needed to sleep too.
The mostly white screen with the varicoloured words ‘Gurgle’ covered Chitra’s vision. The famous Gurgle search engine! So this was how it looked.
“Search archery,” she commanded, and the response was immediate. Thoughtnet was famous for its zero lag time. Though it had only been two years since it came into the market, it had already replaced its predecessor, the internet, all over the world.
Chitra stared at the rows of blue-coloured letters and pictures leading to various sites under “search result”.
“Hmm…” she considered carefully as she went through the titles. Braille differed greatly from normal lettering. She was getting quite the tunnel vision trying to make sense of them.
“That one!” Her eyes lit up when it fell on one of the ‘Flewtube’ videos.
A man who called himself Justinbadger, a self-professed medieval weapons nerd, was showing off his collection of bows and arrows in a room full of weapons. Some wooden bows looked similar to the one she chose, a longbow, while others had various unique designs and functions.
Chitra poured over his words as he explained how he got them, what eras they came from, the situations they were used in. Just as the video was about halfway done, she woke up.
What the hell was she doing? This wasn’t why she was here.
Reluctantly, she chose another video. A woman in her mid-twenties was shooting a composite bow while explaining the process. Chitra’s cheeks reddened as she put a hand over her eyes. Was there a hole somewhere where she could hide?
Putting the arrowhead to the string, holding the bow like that… she was a moron in the truest sense of the word!
[YOUR FORCED LOGOUT TIME HAS ENDED]
Chitra blinked. Over already? Over two hours, she didn’t even realize how it passed. She went over so many things! Analyzing, simulating those actions in her imagination, and more importantly, she worked out a way to make use of the plan she had; though the chances were she won’t even need to use it if she could gather the village guards. It was more of a desperate measure than anything. But if she needed to…
Well, that was a thought for later. All that mattered now was,
She was ready!