Chapter 0: Prologue
So, where do I begin? I guess I can start with who I am, that’s always a nice way to begin things. My name is John Hulett, just turned twenty and am what many have decided to refer to as a NEET. Unfortunately, this does not mean that I am an excessively clean person, but rather that I am unemployed. A few years back, my parents decided to virtualize themselves, opting out of their physical lives to join the net communities. Legally, that leaves all of their assets to me as their next of kin. I mean, you can’t drive a car if you don’t have a body anymore, right?
Oh, some of you may be wondering what I mean by virtualizing? Well, lately it’s become quite a trend, though the technology for it has existed for decades. Originally, it began during the onset of the VR age, when someone discovered that they were trapped in one of their video games. That discovery seemed to fuel scientific curiosity, until they discovered how to replicate and control such effects. Once it was completed, people were allowed to transfer their minds into an online world similar to a life simulator game.
But just having that was boring, so people began making connections to allow the online communities to connect to others, or even connect to popular games. For a while, there was talk of forcing people to work in games to pay the server maintenance for their communities, but eventually it was just decided to apply a special tax that slightly limited what they received compared to others. After all, they are essentially immortal now.
At first, everyone was scared of this technology, because they saw it more as a death sentence than eternal life. So, it was offered to terminally ill patients as a means to ‘beta test’ it, with overwhelmingly positive results. Soon, the families and friends of the initial testers were all signing up, and it just shot off from there. Nowadays, it is suspected that there are more people in the online communities than in the real world, but nobody has bothered to conduct an exact test.
But I got sidetracked. After my parents virtualized themselves, I was left with all of their worldly goods. And, I won’t be humble, they were pretty well off. While they still have access to their bank accounts, everything from their home to cars was transferred to me. Normally, this still wouldn’t be enough for me to live a carefree life thanks to expenses such as bills and groceries. After all, why should I expect them to pay for services they don’t even need anymore?
As such, I turned my attention to the fastest rising industry around, online gaming. Yup, it was actually a common job for people to play online and sell various items to earn a living. After all, what would the online communities need, since they don’t require food, water, or electricity? They simply need people that will share the items that they have trouble getting on their own.
That plan worked for quite a while, actually. I was able to pay my bills and support myself, but recently that hasn’t been enough. With more and more people going for the same job, the demand has diminished, and so has my pay. Right now, I’ve probably got enough saved up for maybe six months before I have to look into other ways to earn money. Which brings me to what I’m doing now, watching people unload a giant silver casket in my bedroom and plug it in.
Yes… a giant silver casket. The first VR devices actually looked quite similar to this, but nowadays they have been simplified to a small helmet you can wear while you lay down. This device is one of the beta versions of the next generation of hardware, known as Seeds. According to Manifest Industries, one of the leading developers for online games, the Seeds go above and beyond the limitations of Virtual Reality, augmenting the experience to include 100% realism. If their advertisements hold true, these devices(and the initial game released for them) will function so well that it will even simulate the results of your activities on your physical body.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, or else players would die the first time they died in a game, but it does allow them to exercise in the game by playing normally. The main point for me, however, is that this is a new realm for video games, and thus a new market. After spending roughly half my savings, three month’s worth of expenses, I was able to reserve one of the first Seeds.
This is my gamble, my hope to earn enough to keep the lights on. If all else fails, I’ll just virtualize like my parents. They’ve already assured me that they would cover the costs to do so if I ever wanted to join them.
“Alright, Mr. Hulett.” The technician walked up to me with his electronic clipboard. “Everything is hooked up and ready to go. If I can just get your signature here.”
I nodded to the man, taking the clipboard from him and signing it before handing it back. “Thanks… And it comes with the game pre-installed, right?” I had to ask, since it would suck royally if I had to go and buy the game separately.
“That’s right, sir. After ten o’clock tonight, the servers should open up to the net community, and those with a Seed like yours.” After he said that, I glanced to the clock, and saw that I still had about four hours left until then.
“Alright, guess I’ve got a bit to get ready.” I thanked him again and let him out, before going about my nightly routine to take care of my physical needs. The Seeds promised to be capable of feeding the user, and even disposing of waste, but that doesn’t mean I felt comfortable trusting it with such yet. This was a new technology, after all, and still only in the beta stages.
So, an hour and a half later I was back in front of the Seed, staring at the device which looked all too much like a coffin. With a sigh of resignation, I opened it up and laid down inside. The interior was actually fairly comfortable, designed to have the user lay down on a padding that felt almost like a bed. The only unusual part was the mask I had to wear over my mouth, but even that was easy to adapt to. With a thought, the Seed activated itself, triggered by my brainwaves.
|Welcome to the Seed. As you are a new user, do you wish to be registered as the owner of this device?|
Yes. I thought to the machine, which began emitting a high pitched noise for a moment in response to my answer.
|User registered: John Verity Hulett|
Yes… my middle name is Verity, get over it…
|The servers for Neo Life are not yet online. Do you wish to go through the character creation process?|
Yes.. I thought again with a sigh, and that’s when the world seemed to turn upside down. First, there was a bright flash of light, and then I was no longer lying down in my Seed, but rather standing in an empty world. It took me a moment to realize that I had been logged in already, but that thought was drowned out the moment I heard a giggling from somewhere behind me.
Whipping my head around, I saw a woman not far away, wearing a flowing blue robe, with similarly colored hair and eyes. Her proportions were a near perfect hourglass, and she was smirking mischievously at me. It took several long moments before I realized why I was getting that look, as my eyes slowly moved down to look at my own body. Given how it was advertised, I naturally thought it was expected to go into the capsule naked. However, I was now regretting my decision as my attire(or lack thereof), was transferred to this empty world.
“Can we just agree to pretend that this part never happened?” I asked in a somewhat hopeful voice, to which she smirked wider, shaking her head. These days, self aware NPCs like this were fairly common, and in all rights were treated as any other member of the online communities. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when this one displayed such a behavior. “Okay… then can I please get something to wear, miss? There’s a bit of a draft.”
She held her stomach, laughing at that, while at the same time a simple outfit formed around me. A thin white shirt, brown cloth pants, and a rope belt holding it in place. No doubt the starter outfit for Neo Life, depending on the chosen race. “Sorry… Just can’t believe so many people went and did that.”
Well, at least it wasn’t just me, then… .
“Okay… so… character creation?” I asked hopefully, wanting to immediately change the topic away from my previous nudity.
The AI immediately assumed a business-like pose, nodding her head seriously. “Right. So, welcome to the character creation servers of Neo Life. The first Artificial Reality gaming experience. My name is Aria, one of the AIs in charge of the game, and a local deity. I’ll be assisting you throughout your tutorial. If you choose to follow my teachings once present in the game world, I will continue to assist you as possible. Otherwise, it will be the task of one of the other local deities to do so.”
“Right… let me guess, a ton of different gods and goddesses, one for each aspect of the game?” I asked, and she nodded her head with a smile. “And guessing you don’t really choose us, we just ‘choose’ you based on what kind of character we develop?” Another question, another smiling nod. “Alright, then I’ll just worry about that stuff later. Mind helping me out with races for now?”
“As you wish. Are there any special requirements you have for your desired race, or shall I list all available options?”
“Hmm… well, let’s keep it humanoid. Since I’m not virtualized, I don’t want to have to keep switching between two and four legs.” I answered with a nod. “Also, eliminate any races incapable of using magic. This is a fantasy game, after all. It would suck if I didn’t have access to magic.”
As my first prerequisite was listed, a list of several dozen races appeared in front of me. With my second requirement, that list was further narrowed as races such as Clockwork, Android, and other artificial life forms were removed. Right, I said that this was a fantasy game, but really it’s fantasy-scifi. Imagine it as one of those old fantasy games, but fast forward it enough that they have space ships, beam sabers, and teleport pods. Of course, most of these things run on mana, but it is still a vast game.
Looking through the remaining list, I instantly dismissed Human. I spent enough time as a human already, I wanted something new. Though, not THAT new, since I wasn’t going to play a dwarf. In the end, I eliminated all but the various elven races. Even here, there were seven different elf races to choose from. Highlighting them, I asked Aria for a comparison between their differences.
|Woodland Elf||These elves have long since grown attached to their woods. Even those among this race that take to the stars will always prefer to remain in an environment similar to that which they were raised.
+10% All stats when in a ‘Forest’ environment.
|High Elf||Elves which have grown in the presence of others, perhaps these are the closest to humans, aside from the half-blooded kin. Whether they have taken to the stars, or remained on the planet below, they always seek to mingle with others.
+10% All stats when in an ‘Urban’ environment.
|Dark Elf||Elves which have grown in the underground, at first they were believed to be an evil existence, but that prejudice has long since passed. Although they are not often seen among the other races, they are as willing to play their part as any others.
+5% All stats when in a dark environment.
|Stellar Elf||While many races of elves evolved on inhabited worlds, the Stellar elves are those who have spent so much time among the stars that they have evolved to be more suited to living in space ships and stations, or even asteroid colonies.
+20% Growth rate in all space-related skills.
|Void Elf||Further evolved from the Stellar elves, these creatures have again evolved in order to survive in the vaccuum of space. Some Void Elves are even capable of harnessing the natural energies present in the vaccuum of space to aid them in their endeavors.
Ability to breathe and fly in outer space without the need of external devices.
|Core Elf||While others sought the stars, these elves chose to remain behind, fully adapting to planetary life. It is rare indeed to see a Core Elf leaving their planet, and many who do find additional hardships await them.
+10% All stats on home planet.
|Half-Elf||It is not at all uncommon for love to blossom between people of different races, especially given the genetic adaptability of humans which enables them to couple with most any race. As such, this race is the result of a joining between an Elf and a Human. After selecting this race, it is necessary to choose the race of elf which sired the user.
Half of elf racial bonuses/penalties for selected elf race.
I spent a good ten minutes looking over the seven listed races, much to the dismay of the AI goddess in front of me. In the end, I selected the Half-Elf race, with a Woodland Elf heritage. After selecting that, I could feel my body shifting. “Finally, now, onto the next step. Your starting stats will be built on your existing body, and can be increased through the tutorial.”
Looking down to myself, I saw that not much had really changed, aside from my body becoming more streamlined. My hair grew out several inches, turning a light brown color, and although I couldn’t see my eyes, I knew they had changed into a dark green. I still kept the little bit of a belly I had previously acquired from my extended career of playing video games, but with any luck I could work that off fairly easily.
“Now, would you like to begin the tutorial?” Aria asked me with an innocent smile. How can you not trust that smile?!