CHAPTER 2: Dream Deferred
CHAPTER 2: Dream Deferred
February 20th, 2022
I continue pedaling down the street, crossing onto Blakewood Avenue. The wind pops my hood off. It begins coursing through my hair, both chilling and refreshing. It helps skim out the less pleasant thoughts, that's for sure. Once I arrive I can easily make out my mom’s car, it’s small and neon green. It kind of stands out in a crowd for better or worse. I park my bike a few yards beyond the parking lot and run towards the soccer field. The game is in progress and by a quick look at the scoreboard I notice that we’re losing, 6-5.
I pick out Jen on the field, I can tell she’s pulling the most of the weight for the team. She usually does. It doesn't bother her, it's more action for her. That's just how she is. The ball gets stolen from her teammate (I think her name is Kasey) and is launched to the other side of the field.
“Hey! You aren’t going to let them get the best of you, are you Cress?” I yell out, cupping my hands over my mouth.
Our family name, Cress. It's always been our go-to thing to either yell at each other or find each other with. We decided it when we were younger, back when our logic was more malleable. We thought, “There are so many Andrews and Jennifers around, if we call each other Cress in public we'll be sure to know who's talking to who! There's only so many Cresses, right?” Jen suggested, her face lit up in an intrigued smile, gapped by the baby tooth she'd lost a week prior.
That little five year old Jen transforms into the fourteen year old Jen kicking up dirt on the soccer field, she looks my way and smiles. The smile instantaneously turns into a somewhat sadistic grin and she locks in on the ball. It takes her less than a few seconds to reunite with it, and she bobs and weaves between the opposing players. In less than fifteen seconds she’s made a full recovery and is taking a shot for the goal. What can I say? The girl has tiger blood. The ball has a nasty arc on it when she kicks it and it spins just out of the goalie’s reach, sinking itself into the net. The game is now tied, 6-6. My mom spots me and calls me over to sit next to her. I oblige.
I wade my way onto the bleachers and accidentally bump into the kid sitting in front of my mother, he looks sort of familiar. His hair is almost pure white. He turns around and I see that his eyes are a vibrant green, similar to mine, but they're way brighter. They're luminescent.
“Hey! Watch where you’re-” his eyes widen. “Oh, you’re Jen’s brother, right? Andrew?”
The realization sets in. Jen had spoken about this guy before, I think his name is Jake. I’d never actually seen him, so I’m surprised to see who the face behind the name is.
“Yeah and I’m guessing you’re Jake?”
He nods slowly and extends his hand and grins. I shake his gloved hand, he's got a firm grip. He's definitely got the muscle to back up that grip.
“Well, I guess it’s finally cool to meet you, bro,” he says, smiling a big toothy smile.
I laugh. Jake turns his head and coughs. He says something else, but I don’t hear it over the sounds of the crowd. I nod my head, hoping it will suffice. It seems to, as he smiles and turns back around. I continue my wade another step or two and sit down beside my mother. She looks at me, a calm yet happy face, much different than before and all the more pleasing, “I’m glad you came.”
I look back towards the game. The ball starts at the opposing team. They pass it off to the girl with a numbered “9” shirt. She seems to be bigger than the rest of the other players and honestly I’d be afraid to meet her in a dark alley. It seems every opposing team has to have one of those import players that are so much beefier than the others, nine being no exception. She slams the ball from the half point and it goes way past its intended target a good hundred yards away.
The referee calls for a foul. I steal a quick look at the clock, there’s 29 seconds left. The ball is taken back and the girl whose name might be Kasey starts it off. It’s passed in a diamond around number nine who looks like she’s about to be sick as she rotates around trying to keep her sights locked on the ball.
The ball is passed to Jen and three players are on defense for the other team. The odds aren’t in her favor, but then she kicks the ball high into the air. She’s nowhere near a good shot for the goal, but she takes the chance. The clock is ticking. Ten, nine, eight…the ball flies up, she smashes it with her head. Seven, six...and it flies. Five, four, three, two…its trajectory is careening to the left and then to the right madly.
It sinks itself into the goal net and then the clock reaches zero. We all cheer, most of us getting out of our seats. Jen is being shouldered up by her fellow team mates and the opposing players are either giving out high fives or sulking about, mainly the latter. The team celebrates their win and after they finish, the kids prepare to head home. Jen runs over and hugs both Mom and Me.
“Hey, I thought you were busy,” She begins, giving me a hug.
“Plans change. I’m glad I was able to see that awesome head-butt of yours, nice going kiddo,” I pat her head, laughing.
“Hey, until you can do that, I don’t want you calling me kiddo. I’m fourteen,” She says with a pout on her face.
“Well, I won’t be doing that because I’d look really stupid. But I’ll stop if it really bugs you,” I say.
“It doesn’t re-” She’s interrupted by Jake, who walks up and gives her a fist bump, or whatever the kids are calling it these days.
“Hey Mom, the team is going to celebrate at Burger Bash. Can you drive Me and Jake?” She asks.
“Jake and I,” I correct.
She looks to me with her tongue sticking out. “Could you, pretty please?” She asks, that tone entering her voice.
I don't even need to explain it, do I? We all know that tone a daughter has when pleading with a parent, and we all know how effective it is.
“Sure, get in the car. I’ll take you right now.” She turns to me, “And...do you want a ride home?”
“Uh, I rode here on my old bike from the garage,” I say.
“Ah, well, I don't really have room for that in the car, are you fine with riding that back?” She asks.
“Yeah, I’m heading out anyway. I might as well pick up my package from the post office. I missed it.”
My mom gives me a sort of worried look, “I’m sorry dear, I’ll be sure to write an angry letter to city hall for you,” she says, a nervous smile crossing her face.
I shake it off, the irony fading into obscurity and I begin walking towards the bike rack. I hop on my bike and start off on my way back to my house. It’s about another fifteen minutes before I reach my front lawn, I’m somewhat skidding along the grass. The skid marks on the sidewalk are evidence to my inexperience with bikes. I put up the kickstand and walk to the door. On the front porch lays a somewhat large box.
A note is attached to it, “Jen asked me to pick this up for you, here you go. Thought we'd might as well grab it for you since you'll take forever to get home. That last bit was by Jen. Love, Mom.”
I smile and pick up the box. It’s quite a bit heavier than I imagined. I lug it upstairs to my room and set it down on the bed. I remember I left my bike out and groan. I tediously go and put my bike back in the garage and head back into my room. I shut the door behind me and begin tearing open the box.
I let the little kid inside me have a field day. Inside the Adatech rests next to the plethora of cords used to hook it up. It's like I'm hooking up a terminal patient to life support. The Adatech itself looks very sleek, it's an onyx black with a shiny metallic gloss. It looks like a motorcycle helmet that cuts off just at the bridge of the bridge of the nose, the visor extending just past the nose and stopping before the top lip.
I unearth all of the hardware and at the bottom lay the sealed case of Elysium. Opening it up, it looks just like any other game, but inside there is only a small green chip, no bigger than a memory card. The face has the Elysium Logo, a bold font with swords and staves intersecting in the background.
This is going to be a totally new experience. My escape. I hook up the AC adapter to the Adatech and plug in the four different wires from inside of the box, then I slide the chip into the back of the helmet. It’s all set up. I slide onto my bed and slip the Adatech over my head. A moment of struggle before I realize that the visor slides up and down, making putting it on an easier task. I lie on my back and let the silence pass over me, tension and then sudden ease. My first virtual reality experience begins now. Okay, let’s do this. I take a deep breath and turn on the machine. A prompt comes up, showing one command.
Begin Game? [Y/N]
I close my eyes and the words escape my lips, “Here we go.”
I hear a sort of buzzing and then all sorts of colors spill into my vision as if ink blots were spilling onto a painting. I smell a sort of oily smell that turns into something floral in a matter of seconds. I hear all kinds of sounds all around me, close and then far, and then finally close again. The colors all melt onto a solitary platform below me. I feel a sharp pain in my neck, and then everything turns solid.
The platform below begins filling in gray with yellow glyphs running alongside it. I’m now standing on the platform, blackness surrounds me on every other side. Seven pillars fade into existence surrounding the area, their tips shine with colored lights, one for each color of the rainbow and then some in-between them. A command window displays in front of me, with varying options listed on it. It lists empty boxes for me to fill in: Username, Password, and pretty much everything else that a character creator would.
“Let’s see...username…Dex,” I call out loud.
I type the name in and set the character to how I like it. Why Dex? I don't know, it sounds cool, okay? I select around 5’ 8” for the height (I want to give myself a little bit of a boost here) and the hair color as close to mine as possible, Charcoal Black.
There’s a bit more of a selection for hairstyles than I had imagined. I choose one that is short, but not too short. It spikes up in the front and looks slick. I select eye color as green, the natural shade of my own. I can’t choose any other clothes except for the default outfit, a standard navy blue shirt and tan pants. What comes next is the option for the class select.
There are several different classes; Paladin, Cleric, Mage, Archer, Sword Master, but those don’t interest me. I've always been interested in quick and easy damage, something the enemy won't see coming. I slide the options over and then see one that catches my eye, Assassin. It has high Agility and Strength skills, with lower defenses.
I select it and then the options fade to black. The seven pillars around me rotate to all be pointing their lights to somewhere above me I can't see. The lights shoot off seven colored beams that all connect.
A figure appears from the lights, he’s a giant compared to me. He is wearing a large golden robe with red markings on it, his face hidden behind the darkness his hood shrouds.
“Congratulations and welcome to the world of Elysium!” A large voice booms, it comes presumably from the large robed man. “Your adventure begins now. I am the Game Master, Jack Adata. I will be watching over all of your activities and the activities of the other players. I hope you enjoy your stay inside Castle Elysium.”
The hooded figure leaves as soon as it comes and the lights to my side fire off their light once more. A sound resonates through the empty space I am in. It seems to be a sort of rumbling. I notice the ground beneath me starts cracking.
I begin to panic and pieces begin to give way. I trip over one of the fragments still left and I’m tumbling down towards the abyss. I’m falling for what seems like seconds and then I seem to break through the bleak darkness and color returns to the world. I’m surrounded by the blues of the sky around me and the white-grays of the clouds filling the air. I’m headed straight for the green plains below, yet my body seems to be slowing down. I’m falling slower. I turn over so my feet are below me and I gracefully make it to the ground. My body is enveloped in a white light for a few seconds and then it dissipates. I look down at myself and I’m in the default clothes, I’m my avatar now. I’m Dex.
Walls raise above me and to my sides, they rise from the earth itself and forms together. Smaller walls rise and form square little rooms at my side with a single entrance, which is blocked off with iron bars. Within moments I'm standing in what looks to be some medieval dungeon, thankfully, on the outside, and not the inside of the cells. Torchlight illuminates the ground beside me and the ceiling is bent low.
The walls around me are thick and dense, they seem to be made of a dark colored stone brick. I stand in a long stretch of hallway with cell doors lining the left and right sides every few feet. In the distance I can see a light peeking out through the darkness, I think it might be coming from a doorway.
“It’s really dark, right?”
I nearly jump as I look for the source of the voice. To my right I see a figure lying down on a cot in one of the cells. He stands and I can see his full frame come into view. He's got somewhat long reddish-brown hair tucked behind a brown headband he's sporting. He shakes his head slightly, his wide jaw moving from side to side as he adjusts his hair. He also has a scruffy sort of goatee, it's just passed the form of peach fuzz, and it coats his face unkempt-like. He’s a little taller than I. The armor he is wearing is a bright crimson, I can see it sparkle slightly in the torchlight.
“Hey, are you okay? Is there something on my face?” He asks, swatting around his head, looking for an imaginary fly. “Oh, I get it. You noticed my armor.” He says, letting his arms fall to his sides.
“I noticed you are locked up in that cell,” I say, turning to face him.
He looks around himself for a second, assessing the situation, and then back to me, “Well, it seems I am sort of trapped in here, huh. Quite the unlucky spawn, am I right?” He calls, grasping the bars of the cell door, his fingers gripping them tightly, his fingers seem to twitch against the metal.
“You need any help with that?” I ask.
“I would seem to, maybe there’s a key around here, do you mind helping a guy out?”
I look around one more time. In the corner of the hall behind me is a wooden desk, barrels of some kind lay next to it against the wall. I turn to the other side, towards the faint light, but don’t see anything else interesting.
“You would think that a multiplayer game would have more than two people in its spawning locations,” I say, walking over to the desk.
“You thought everybody would be spawning here? That’s crazy. You do know that they have multiple spawning zones set up, right?”
“What?” I ask, turning around.
“If everyone spawned here then it’d be a madhouse in this tiny little hallway. It’d be crazy and we’d all overload the server,” He says, letting go of the bars and sitting down on the metal sheet that is supposed to be a bed behind him.
“I guess that makes sense,” I say, returning to the desk.
“How about that key?”
“I’m looking, I’m looking.”
I peek into one of the barrels, but nothing is inside. I open up one of the drawers in the desk and inside is a small rusted key. Figures. I walk over to the cell and realize there isn’t anywhere for me to insert the key. I seem to be staring at it because the guy behind it waves his hand in front of my face.
“No, no, you’re supposed to tap out in the air, like this,” he says and the points his right index finger out in front of him.
I look at him strangely, mimicking his movements and a digital prompt shows up in front of me.
Locked Door, unlock? Rusted Key x1
“Now you just accept it and it’ll use the key to open the door.”
“How do you know so much about this stuff? And about that armor, didn’t you just start off?” I ask, accepting the prompt.
The door swings open on its hinge, allowing the guy to walk on through.
“I was a beta tester for the game. I filled out a bunch of surveys and applications at my local Technodome. I managed to get an early build of the game about a month and a half ago to test things around.”
“That armor was in the beta?”
“It was, I got it from one of the rare enemy drops,” He says, flexing his avatar’s muscles.
“So, you got a head start?” I ask.
“Well, only about a select few were chosen for the beta test, so it’s not like many are at an advantage. We only got to explore the first couple of floors or so.”
“You’re in the bottom of the bottom, the dungeon of the mysterious Castle Elysium. It houses many varied environments inside of its walls, some of them so large that they even feel like they’re outside,” he says.
I stare at him silently.
“You didn’t even know that? Are you coming into this game totally blind, then?” He asks, looking down to me.
“I guess so, I’m not really a stranger to games, but I wanted to explore and learn everything when I’d started playing.”
“I see, understandable, no spoilers. Okay, well, do you mind if I come along with you then? I’d love to see your reaction to some of the stuff here, then.”
“A genuine reaction. Me, I spoil myself on things before launch and it kind of makes things less than fun when the full thing comes out, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“So, what’s your username?” he asks, walking ahead, but looking behind.
“Huh, like Dexterity? Are you agile like a puma ready to pounce on his prey?” he cocks his head and lifts his arms up like a bear.
I stare at him with a grin that forces its way out and I begin to chuckle.
“No, it’s just Dex. But you could think of me being agile if you want. I did choose the Assassin,” I say.
“I see, I see. The name's Klein. I’m a Paladin, built for heavy defense and heavy offense…not so much for running marathons.”
“And that’s why we play video games,” I add in, chuckling.
“Too true. I like you already, Dex. You’ve got a way of thinking that is just, oh, somehow reminiscent of my own.”
“Be careful you don’t hurt your arm stroking your own ego there,” I warn.
“Why would I…” his eyes open wide. “You did not…oh shit man. I like you ten times better now. The day someone slips an inappropriate joke by me is the day that I die and you sir are the first to see my rebirth,” he says, holding his arms up.
“You are about as weird as they get, but you're funny, so it doesn’t matter I guess,” I say.
“So, where you from?” he asks, stopping to look.
“Let’s walk and talk,” I say, beginning to move ahead of him down the hallway. “I’m from Aurora, that’s in Colorado, by the way.”
“Aurora? Wow, I’m from Colorado too, Thornton.”
“That’s not too far from where I live,” I say.
“Huh, maybe we could grab a slice of pizza once we log out of here?” Klein asks.
“And miss out on sleep? I’m going to need to get back to the game well rested at some point or another,” I laugh.
“I’m actually glad you said no. I was thinking of pulling an all-nighter in here.”
“I would, but I have school tomorrow,” I say.
We near the end of the hall, the faint light coming closer and closer.
“School? That bites.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“School's pointless now man, what are they going to teach you, be great like our greats were? Their greats are dead, and our greats are broken. What great is there to look forward to now? The country is busted.”
“It has its ups and its downs,” I reply.
We walk through the white light and the scene transitions to a large chamber hall. Medieval tapestry lines the walls, and glowing green fire lights the way in torches across the hall. On the opposite side of the room lies a giant metal door, two statues of what seem to be boar-like creatures stand bipedal right before it and before us, about twenty feet away.
“So, this your first experience with the Adatech, Dex?” He looks over his shoulder at me.
“Yes, I just got it in th-”
Klein stops walking and puts his arm to the side, as if to block me from moving forward.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Something’s not right,” he says.
His eyes are darting around. He then jumps to the side to dodge a stray ball of fire that surely would have burnt him to a crisp. I can feel the heat from the trail it left. Actual heat. From the shadows I see a robed figure dart passed, and then another, and then another. I think we're in for a spot of trouble.