Short Story 31

Zane in the War

Sometimes, it’s life and death.

There’s this moment, where you know, without a doubt, that it’s the end.

You’re helpless.

But until your last breath, all you can do is fight. Fight for your pride because you refuse to be one of those assholes who give up and leave the battle.

You. Can. Do. This.

Then suddenly, somewhere between standing on your last legs to finally gaining way on the enemy, you realise that not all hope is lost.

There’s a secret weapon up your sleeve that comes from years of experience.

Spending more time thinking about it than you probably should, you realise why everyone else has failed. They’re doing it wrong. The only thing you need to do it trust yourself. You know what to do with every fibre of your body.

You give yourself a pep talk and run through the plan in your head.

No one has managed the feet you’re about to accomplish. As much as the excitement is building up from the pit of your stomach, you never break your focus, even to breathe.

By yourself, you will do the impossible.

You see him plotting his next move, cackling like a madman while preparing for his final attack. Instead of being put off by this, a smirk creeps onto your face because there is no chance you’re going to lose. The moment has come, you see the millisecond waver in his demeanour. You don’t hesitate, moving as quickly as possible. This is your only chance.

It’s going to happen; you’re actually going to do it!

…Until you die.

You sit for a second in shock. Disappointment rushes over you. You feel your heart drop, but then you feel a burning fire start to rage in your stomach.

You rip your headset off and hit the desk.

With hands on your head and in exacerbation, you swear while blaming everything and everyone other than yourself. You threaten to uninstall, but you’re already in the loading screen waiting for the next game. The possibility of a win is coursing through your veins like a drug.

***

Zane had been trying to win this game for weeks. As his skills improved, he came closer and closer each time. Hell, he couldn’t tell if he was enjoying the game anymore. All he knew for certain was that he craved the win. He wanted the validation that he was a better gamer than his friends, and he needed to know that he couldn’t be bested by the ones and zeros of a computer program. Above all, Zane had to prove something to himself, but he wasn’t sure why. Consumed by winning, but not caring about the game made him question why he spent so much time in isolation.

He didn’t understand how it got to this point. Recognising that he spent more time in a fantasy world and rarely left his house anymore didn’t scare him. It made him feel safe and like finally belonged to something bigger than himself. All of Zane’s friends were either distant memories of people he used to know or people online he had never met.

Your first thought might be that it isn’t healthy to be couped up like that, but Zane felt it was the right situation for him. He felt in control, and that’s all that mattered. See, he had always dealt with social anxiety and bullying, and being online helped him interact with other people. The only problem, the online version of Zane was markedly different from the real version. He stretched the truth about his life, forgot to mention that he had no job and lived in his Mom’s basement. He would be active in friendships where he was adored, but as soon as attention was paid to another, he would make new friends.

The internet helped him pick and choose what he wanted people to see and gave him the freedom to cut ties and move on with no real consequences. His reliance on technology was something that he often argued was a choice and not a necessity in his life, but even as Zane would try and reason his claim, he knew that was probably a lie; it was a crutch in his life, and he was comfortable in the space he had created.

Going on 28 hours without sleep, Zane couldn’t remember when he last had a real meal. His desk was covered in rubbish – a potent mixture of coffee, protein bars, and energy drinks. Maybe it was because he lacked food or sleep, but it was becoming harder for him to tell what was real and what wasn’t. He was unaware of the thunderstorm that was angrily drumming above him and lighting up the sky. As he continued to play, a loud crack finally caught his attention.

But it was too late.

A surge of electricity charged through his body. He had never felt more alive.

…Until he died.

***

Zane woke up on his back, delirious and gasping for air. He was paralysed and couldn’t see anything, but he was freezing and could feel his body convulsing. Trying to make sense of what was happening he was screaming for help, but no sound was coming out.

His heart was racing as he struggled to breathe. Suddenly, the lights started systematically turning on from the floor up, and he began to take in his surroundings. The platform he was on started tilting until he was upright. In a round room with mirrors for walls, Zane saw himself, naked with metal straps holding him in place, and tubes coming out of him. Blue warm liquid filled started travelling through the tubes, and as he felt it enter his body, he was suddenly able to breathe and move. The tubes and straps disconnected dropping him to the ground in an awkward heap.

The voice of a female AI system broke the silence, “Welcome back, Agent Z. We hope your virtual holiday was adequate. We endeavour to provide the most realistic and mundane getaways to help our clients experience anything they wish. Please stand for our complimentary re-calibration for your peace of mind and clarity.”

As the AI started counting down, Zane stood on glowing footprints on the floor. He was directed to place his hands on a pedestal, and as he did, he immediately remembered everything. In the virtual holiday Zane had just returned from, he had experienced a life from birth to death. A world so real it mimicked the unlimited variables and nuances of life; nature, love, curiosity, joy, depression, anger, loss, boredom, the unknown…everything.

Zane had lived in the shoes of a version of himself, making decisions and taking actions in the mind and body of a person he could have been if he had certain personality traits and under different circumstances. The three-day holiday was an entire lifetime in virtual reality. The video gamer version of himself was now a vague ghost. It was back to reality, where Zane was an agent with the new regime which was established several years after the final war. Under the new regime, technology advanced exponentially to allow simulations to bring peace. Simulations prevented crimes from happening, controlled others, and helped humanity learn and grow. Infinite possibilities in simulations pushed humanity to reach beyond their potential in all aspects of being – spiritually, creatively, scientifically, emotionally, and physically.

The world couldn’t have survived without it.

So, tell me, is life is real? Are you real?

By Naomi Eleanor

@NaomiEIR on all socials!

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