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While Trent was waiting for Steve to stop playing as Bart in SOO, to get off his ass and come talk to him, he thought about what had just happened. He controlled his frustration. Part of him knew it was just anxiety. It might be a while before his friend saw his message and found a good time to log, after all.

When a character was dead in SOO, they weren’t supposed to communicate with living characters. The gag was to prevent cheating–mostly reporting locations of enemy players while playing as bandits or monsters. Of course, Yggdrasil Entertainment couldn’t monitor out of game communications. But the sheer inconvenience of sending and receiving out-of-game communications made lack of PMs a good way to prevent cheating.

Trent leaned his face on his palms. The more he thought about it, the more sure he was that he hadn’t misremembered. He’d used magic in his VR class. So maybe his earlier assumption that Ygdrassil couldn’t monitor communications might not be accurate. After all, Ygdrassil shouldn’t have anything to do with a college classroom program. No matter what angle he thought about it from, it shouldn’t have been possible.

He did a quick web search about people being seen using SOO powers in classrooms, but didn’t turn up anything. There weren’t any accounts of people saying they’d done so, either. This seemed odd the more he thought about it. What about what had happened with him? Nobody had talked about it or had given an eyewitness account to one of the gaming gossip blogs?

What the hell was going on? Actually, what did he even really know about Yggdrasil Entertainment other than they were the super talented and advanced developers of SOO? Their CEO’s name is… Simon Smith or something, right? Actually, I’m not sure.

He suddenly felt like he wasn’t alone and glanced up. Forinia was drying her hand with a towel. She had a small smile and seemed amused that she’d startled him. Trent was already in a bad mood and seeing Florinia didn’t help. He’d had a niggling suspicion for a while that she was a tease, just stringing him along. She always managed to avoid actually being asked out, always had an excuse not to spend time with him one on one. Meanwhile, sometimes she’d just turn up like this when he was alone and act interested. It wasn’t like he always approached her. Trent was aware he couldn’t always read the room right, but he was sure that she only flirted back when others couldn’t see. He didn’t understand why she seemed to be bipolar with how she interacted with him.

Trent wasn’t even swayed by how she’d changed clothes from the last time he’d seen her. She was even showing cleavage now.

“What do you want?” he asked.

Her smile fell and her eyes flickered. “That’s it? No hello? What’s your problem today?”

“My problem is I want a straight answer. No more games. Do you want to go out with me? Yes or no?”

She stared at him for a full three seconds, expression not changing. Then without a word she turned and walked away.

“Well that fucking figures,” Trent muttered under his breath.

He stewed for a few minutes before sighing and letting his thoughts drift again. Trying to figure out girls was something he might never accomplish. Thinking that way helped.

Maybe I should do some brainstorming. He pulled up a word processing program on his persocomp to take notes. Maybe it would help him organize his thoughts or even figure out some sort of pattern. He might have some insights.

Trent hadn’t written anything by the time Steve showed up. He’d been drawing one continuous blank and his finger resting on the keyboard had just made a few lines of “dddd.”

His friend settled in across the table from him and sipped on a bottle of water. “I brought you one, too,” he said. He passed it over.

Trent opened it gratefully, realizing how thirsty he really was.

Steve asked, “So what was so important that you couldn’t just send me an email, or wait until you were alive again? You only have a few more hours. Hell, Abbey died too. She’s just gambling until she can come back. We all figured that after everyone is back we can actually plan our first combat mission. Not get caught with our pants down. Me and Minerva have been practicing with our elemental magic.” His voice betrayed his excitement.

Trent made a brushing gesture with his hand. He paused for a while, trying to decide how to explain what was bothering him. Ultimately he decided to just tell Steve about what happened and let his friend draw his own conclusions.

His friend was silent as Trent talked. After he was done, Steve tapped a finger on the table and looked around to make sure they were still alone. Nobody was in sight.

“I’m not going to ask you if you’re sure. If you weren’t sure, you wouldn’t have told me.”

“Thanks for that, I guess,” sighed Trent.

“So, it kind of seems that none of this would be that big of a deal if it only happened in the game. Like, using one of your player skills as a bandit is weird, and probably a bug, but like… not that big of a deal.” He ruefully scratched his head. “For you, that is. The Deep Ones players probably didn’t appreciate it.”

“Yeah.” Trent laughed. They probably thought he’d gotten some sort of OP random skill.

“The real issue is that it reminded you of what happened before, and kind of created some wacked out questions.” Steve shook his head. “Speaking of questions, how the hell do you forget about using magic in class, anyway?”

“It wasn’t long after that when I got shot at IRL, dude.”

“Oh yeah. Hmmm. See, the thing is, this is not the first time I’ve heard something like this.”

“Really?” His friend had Trent’s full attention.

“Yeah. It isn’t really common, and kind of usually only pops up on conspiracy sites or horror pasta groups, but it’s out there. Back in the day, before persocoms, people were worried about their cell phones listening in on them and giving them ads on social media or whatever. So nowadays if someone online says they were able to do something that shouldn’t be possible in a VR setting, other people usually say it’s just an extension of this old privacy fear.”

“Dude, where the hell do you hang out online?” Trent shook his head. Not only was Steve a gamer, he’s a conspiracy theorist? He was looking at his friend with fresh eyes.

Steve shrugged. “It’s really not that fringe. Like, even though people don’t talk about it as much anymore, the fact remains that deep dive VR tech kind of just sprang up overnight in the past…and was enen safe, ready for prime time. Do you know how improbable that is, much less from some small, no-name company? Everyone just kind of let it pass, calling it a massive achievement from a small, talented team…probably because it has benefited everyone. The news compared it to the big breakout tech companies that popularized smartphones, but it’s really not the same. And the smartphones companies became famous, just like other tech companies with breakthroughs. Their CEOs were household names. Meanwhile, do you even know the name of the company that invented the tech for deep dive VR? What about persocoms?”

“Uh, no. But I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. Other people know, right?”

“Sure, but it’s not commonly talked about, or promoted. Think about that. Some companies get constant news time, but the companies that have transformed communication, business, and entertainment as we know it are MIA. Very little is even known about those companies. Kind of like…” Steve lifted a questioning eyebrow.

Trent got it. “Like Yggdrasil Entertainment.”

“Nailed it. So even though your stories don’t seem really well connected at first, and some people might just ignore you…For one thing, you’re my friend. Second, you’re not creative enough to come up with a crazy story like this–”

“Thanks…I think.” Trent gave him the finger.

Steve smiled and continued, “Third and last, the world has been changing, society seems to be getting worse, nobody has money, but entertainment keeps getting better and better. Think about it. Even though we have huge social problems, regular people aren’t consistently pushing for any kind of change or relief because everyone just always stays home, playing games or watching people play games. And there is so much money involved in the VR industry…it’s insane. The mob and criminals are involved, but politicians need to be, too. The fact that having a literal computer in our brains was approved so fast is wild. It can take years for a single drug to be approved for…stomach cramps or something. Meanwhile: head computers.

“Then there’s the fact that eyewitness accounts seem to be suppressed, like what happened with you. Someone who isn’t online virtually much might not care that you were able to use an ability from a completely unrelated game in your classroom, but the fact you could, if true, means everything is far more connected than anyone knew before. That was a government program you were in. I can come up with dozens of questions just based on that.

“And scariest? This stuff is in our brains. Is it changing us? Can it? Before, the answer was a big no with an eye roll. Like, anyone who even suggested it was called crazy. In VR, you can literally throw around magic in a video game where you play a character, but if you are still able to do the same thing in a separate, older, government program where you are showing up as yourself? People used to be afraid their smartphones were listening to them. Our entire lives are in VR now. Without privacy… If everything is connected, maybe controlled by the same people…” He let his words hang.

Trent stared. “Dude, you’re both scarier, and smarter than I thought,” he said.

“Thanks…I think.” Steve gave him the finger.

The two of them sat for a minute just sipping water in silence before Steve said, “You know what we need to do now, right?”

“No, what?”

“We gotta Dive, join a study program for our college together. We still have access. After I create one and we join, you gotta try to use magic.”

Trent slowly nodded. He stood. “Alright. I’ll go to my room. Let’s do it.”

“I’ll meet you online.”

***

An hour later, Trent had tried many, many times to use wind magic, or any other skills from SOO in a private study room but nothing worked.

Trent was mentally tired. “I’ve tried everything.”

“Yeah, I know. Maybe we can try it again later. Just…keep an eye out. If anything else happens, tell me. And don’t send any emails about it.”

“That’s paranoid.”

“True, but are you in a big hurry to send an email about it?”

“No,” said Trent.

They shared a nod. The two of them Surfaced to take a nap before the rest of their team grouped up again to work.

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The published book is going to be up in a couple of days.  :)  Stay tuned for the link


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