Chapter One

I can be bought for 50$ and a meal

I was: Poor, tired, angry, hungry, and frustrated.

I wanted: money, food, and a comfortable bed.

All in that order. If I didn't have such a strict sense of honour, I would have stolen every bit of coin from the cash box ages ago. I growled and slammed the safe door shut, and twirled the dial lock furiously, preventing any of my darker thoughts from being acted on. Another night shift done, another shift where I succeeded in not murdering every customer who walked into the store, and another day's pay in the bank. Now to greet the morning sun before heading to sleep for the next eight hours, then up again to start my next job at the Marketplace downtown, after which, yet another night shift here. I was starting to regret taking the night shifts from my co-worker, you got the scariest customers at night time, and the shifts took forever to complete.

It was spitting rain outside– there will no sun greeting I guess– rather then getting my hair wet– which would require a shower when I got home, I chose to walk through the connecting mall to the MagRail located on the first floor of the above ground parking lot. The mall shops were just beginning to open so I waved to a couple familiar faces as I passed them by, intent on my destination.

"Finished work for the night?" An older man asked, it was John, I cringed inside. He was the guy who was real sweet on me, always stopping me to chat or pat me on the shoulder, he had asked me out for more coffee dates then any other guy I had met combined, he was also old enough to be my father. I waved to him in short greeting, before pulling out my phone, I was pretending to be busy. If I looked busy, he typically left me to my own business. Don't get me wrong, John was a really nice guy, but he wouldn't take no for an answer, brushing off every rejection with a small laugh and a change of date. I almost wished he was an asshole so I could just give him the middle finger and be done with it.

I hurried past him guiltily, apologizing to him mentally when I saw his crestfallen expression out of the corner of my eye. I hated myself just a little bit more for feeling guilty.

I took the escalator down to the second floor where a couple tables were being set up for a new product showing. From the looks of it, something high tech relating to games, Derrick, the youngest manager of Games-For-You, was speaking with a small Asian woman while pointing to the small black stage in the centre. He looked upset. He looked up and saw me, eye contact was made and a huge grin spread over his face.

"Marina! Marina get over here! Thank God, you're still here!" He bellowed out, waving his arms in the air, reminiscent of a drowning man in the middle of the ocean. "Thank God." He said again as I walked up to him, "I need a huge favour, do it and I'll give you fifty dollars cash and breakfast, or lunch, is on me."

"I'm yours," I said blandly, careful not to show my excitement at the prospect of a free meal and quick cash for my empty wallet. Derrick was an old friend from Jr. High School, he had helped me out a couple of times when I needed extra cash or a quick job, he had never led me astray before, I trusted him. He was the type of guy who knew everyone and anybody and from what I had heard from others, could get you anything from hookers to drugs, to the latest out of stock phone, all within a reasonable amount of time.

"She's perfect for this, trust me!" He grabbed my hand, "Trust me!" He yelled to the Asian woman, who, from the looks of it, was ready to throw her clipboard at his head as he tugged me behind a black screen. "Okay, Mina, I have this huge favour, like if you don't come through, I might loose my job, kind of favour."

"Derrick, I already said I'm yours. Just tell me what you need" I said. I would never tell him this– I'm poor dammit– but even without the offer of money, I owed him a lot. I would have been honour bound to do whatever this job was, for free– had he asked. He paused, then grinned widely showing every one of his perfect white teeth.

"I knew I fucking loved you." He reached into his back pocket for his wallet and pulled out two twenties and a ten and handed them to me. I slipped them into my backpack, and then gave him a mock salute. "Jamie, the fucking whore, did a night of coke last night with her druggie boyfriend. Which means she can't do the job I was going to pay her for." Jamie, was one of his store clerks who was hired for her large breasts and surprisingly amazing knowledge of console games, she was also a bit of an idiot when it came to her choice of boyfriends. I knew her well enough from odd jobs at the clubs, but not well enough to pass judgment on her lifestyle choices, which from the mall rumour mill, had been rapidly declining. I nodded understandingly, although not really, Jamie may have done coke all night, but that had never stopped her from working her shifts before. "Tech Corp is here showing off the new 3D gaming headset. They need a model to show off its features and plug in to the demo game. All you have to do is enter the virtual world, walk around, look around, and show how fucking amazing the programmers are."

"Uh, Derrick, this may come as a shock to you," I said dryly, "but I'm a PC gamer, not a Virtual." Virtual gaming may have come a long way from its early days in the 2010's, but it was just a console game with dual screens and shitty controls. In other words, it was horribly overpriced and I could never afford a headset.

"I know, I know! But the Asian lady said no drugs! Apparently the game might send the person into a seizures or something. I would do it myself, but I've gotta schmooze the customers." He gave me a flirtatious wink and hip bump. "And I smoked a fuck ton of weed before my shift today."

"Ah, so in other words, I'm the only drug free friend you have in the mall, and I can be bought with 50$ and a meal huh?" I asked questionably, both eyebrows raised in disbelief.

"Exactly babe. And you can't say no either, you already said you're my bitch. And as my bitch, I demand you go put that clunky thing on your head and make it beautiful for me." I gave him my biggest fake smile and curtsied.

"Your wish is my command, mi'lord." I said, pivoting on my heel to strut around the black curtain, once I was out in the open, I began to walk normally until I stood in front of the stern looking woman. "I'm here to model in place of Jamie." I politely murmured, immediately switching to my customer service mode.

"You need to be 21, clean of any drugs that effect the brain, legal or illegal, and you are required to sign this waiver and terms of use contract." She snapped at me handing me her clipboard and a fine ball point pen. "Signing the waiver means you agree to have your game play viewed by an audience and you know the health risks, if you are under the influence of any drugs, legal or illegal, may result in a severe seizures and we will not to be held responsible for it. Furthermore, that you understand that any headache or ocular migraine you receive from our technology is at your own risk and expense."

I glanced through the paperwork, everything looked normal and standard, I handed her my government identification while I took her pen. I scribbled my signature at the bottom of the five pages where indicated. She handed me my card back after taking a photo of it with her phone and took her pen back.

"Excellent. Tech Corp is an innovative company for the betterment of virtual reality gaming, and training software. We are new to this highly competitive market, but we intend to dominate it, you are taking part in a live demonstration of our latest headgear and virtual world design. It is still a work in progress, therefore some of the texture packs or social features are not yet available and you may run into a glitch or two, please ignore these for the sake of the demonstration. Our CEO, Mr. Richard Smith, wishes to have a world wide demonstration, at 10am, your time, despite the incomplete software."

She brought me up to the small black stage where a standard office chair was located in the centre. She left me standing by the chair as she swiped a sensor key at a large steel box suitcase, located just off to the right of the stage, a small beep and click notified everyone in the vicinity that it was now safe to open. I craned my head in interest as she opened it with her back to me, I wondered what type of high tech gear she was about to pull out, virtual technology was constantly changing with newer improved virtual graphics, software, and equipment, I could only guess what would come from this new innovative company. I held my breath as she turned around, in her hands was a large clunky black motorcycle helmet with its packaging foam sheets still wrapped around it. I stared in disbelief. To my knowledge, even the earliest VR equipment didn't come in helmet form, the latest VR was a set of goggle glasses with ear pieces and finger gloves, if Tech Corp was looking to decimate their competition, then they weren't even on the right timeline to even begin. Distracted by the rather disappointing helmet, I nearly missed her pulling out a long thick black cord. I cringed, I thought wired connections died off when I was born, apparently not, because she plugged it into something on the inside of the helmet.

"Hold this, while I grab the hand controllers." She said as she dropped the beast of a helmet onto my lap. I continued to stare down at the helmet and my reflection on the shiny plastic, I was waiting for her to suddenly break into laughter and tell me it was all a joke. She didn't. In fact she just turned back around and walked up to the suitcase to begin rumaging around the packaging foam, looking for the controllers– not gloves, controllers, more ancient technology.

I looked back down at the dinosaur on my lap, it must have weighed at least 5 pounds if not more. I glanced up from the beast on my lap to where Derrick was chatting with an onlooker and caught his eye. I pointed down at the heavy piece of equipment, and made an exaggerated expression of horror, he shrugged and turned his back on me. What the fuck, man, innovative technology my ass, I mentally thought towards him. I swallowed my judgment however at the memory of a free meal and the fifty dollars in my wallet.

I stifled a yawn as I watched the slowly growing Saturday morning shopping crowd, which I wouldn't admit was making me slightly nervous with their slowly rising numbers. Thankfully, my lack of sleep from my eight hour night shift at the grocery store, and my previous six hour shift at the market, didn't leave me with enough energy to be affected by my sudden bout of stage fright. Besides, I thought, holding in yet another yawn, I wouldn't be able to see the crowd once I put the helmet on.

"Here are the hand controls, this is your left hand, this is your right." I glanced down at the two black hand pieces with buttons and joysticks, no wires to get tangled in thankfully, and strapped them onto my wrists while resting the heavy helmet on my lap. She was lucky I was a PC gamer, I was pretty sure VR gamers had no idea what a button or joystick was anymore. Spoiled rich bastards. "Your log on is username Vancouver001, password Cosmos. When you are given access to the virtual reality world, please do not wander far from your load area, we haven't uploaded all of the textures in your general vicinity. Depending on how fast you load into the game, I might be able to give you a couple minutes to familiarize yourself with the controls before 10am comes around, at which point the demo will begin. At 10am I will begin guiding you through the city on a scenic tour and display of our technology. Do you understand?" She asked, picking up the helmet.

"Yes ma'am." I said with a firm nod toward her. She handed me the helmet, I let go of the twin hand controllers and let the tied straps around my wrists catch them. The interior of the helmet had a bunch of small white dots in a grid pattern around the head casing, each dot was connected with small tiny white wires, there was no soft padding on the inside. The black reflective visor, or rather what I assumed was the dual screens, was in the down position, once I put the helmet on, my face would be completely hidden. Again, none of this looked new or innovative, I didn't hold much hope for this new upstart company. "How long have you been working for Tech Corp?" I asked as I settled the clunky helmet on, it weighed a ton, I lifted the visor so I could see what was going on around me.

"I was hired on last week for the purpose of this demonstration." She said. She walked behind me and gave the cord a little tug, I heard a small pop and something in the helmet dropped down on my head, it felt like a heavy net of some sort.

"I think something disconnected in the helmet." I said, rolling my head around as I felt something dig into where my neck met my skull, the helmet rocked freely on my head like an old bobble toy. "Like the interior or something."

"Everything looks fine on my end," The woman said glancing down at the tablet in her hands as she came to stand in front of me. She looked up and leaned forward to peer around the edges of the helmet, "The connection seems fine" She tucked the tablet under her arm as she touched something on the helmet where my temples were, I felt another small sharp pressure poke me, the visor dropped down. "Any questions or comments before I turn it on?"

"Yeah, first, this helmet seriously needs some head padding, and what's your name?" I asked. Turning my head blindly to where she stood last, I couldn't see anything through the visor.

"Nancy Yin" She said after a long pause. "Ready in, 5...4...3...2...1"

My visor turned on, showing a small, extremely pixelated, information box asking for my log on information. I was forced into using a variety of arm gestures and fancy thumb movements with the joystick to move the cursor around on the screen, and to make things even more needlessly complicated, to punch in the letters I had to blindly press one of the four buttons on my left controller. I sighed in relief as I successfully typed everything in, I clicked the 'okay' button. Another box popped up asking for a character name. I sighed in frustration and once again struggled with the stupid keyboard and controls. For lack of creativity and time, I used my current mmorpg name.


It accept on the first name attempt.

This was going to be a long day, on top of my already long ass day.

The loading bar appeared along with a count down clock, with two minutes remaining, in the upper right corner of my vision. Behind the loading bar was a rather crappy rendering of an empty city street ,with a dozen square buildings lining it, this was first generation 3D quality graphics. I wrinkled my nose in disappointment, I had at least expected some decent graphics out of the software. I rocked the helmet forward again as the pointy object dug in a little bit more at my neck, instead the entire helmet dropped forward nearly falling off, shaking my vision in the 3D world. They should probably have a chin strap on the helmet for safety reasons, you could break a foot with this thing if it dropped off you head.

"Marina," I turned my head toward Nancy's voice, which really just changed my view of the bland city street, "Please stand up in preparation for the demo." I didn't want to stand up, but I did anyways.

The the loading bar showed 51% completion, considering the crappy graphics I didn't know what was taking so long, my phone could load this faster. In the background I could hear a voice, not Nancy's, speaking to the crowd.

"Tech Corp." The voice said, something must have been playing on the screens because people were making small noises of appreciation. "Revolutionizing virtual reality software and technology. Our state of the art facilities..."

I held back my snort of disbelief. Yeah, this was revolutionary, I thought as I looked at the High School level graphics software surrounding me, sort of disappointing really. I cracked my neck from the strain of holding up the helmet, and in another futile attempt to get away from the pointy object. Loading bar at 68%, I was getting a headache from looking at the bright unchanged, textureless, graphics shown behind the loading bar. I tired to move one of the joysticks being held by my right hand, but nothing moved on screen, instead I turned my head, carefully so the helmet would move with me, to look at the building closest to me. It was slate grey with small holes in the smooth walls to denote windows, and one large one for a door, no details, or any sort of defining features to separate this building from any of the others on this empty street. The loading bar was at 98% I prepared to load in, hopefully it would look better after the loading bar completed. I felt embarrassed for the artists and programmers at Tech Corp, they really weren't ready for this game play demonstration.

"Today, we are making history. Today, we are revolutionizing the industry! Today is the birth of a new world. Today is the dawn of Cosmos, the first ever fully immersive gaming experience." The man's voice announced dramatically.

Wait... what?

The count down beeped its completion right as the loading bar finished at 100%.

The screen went black.

"Welcome to Cosmos, I will be your temporary guide through the set up of your character profile and tutorial, Bleu." A pleasant masculine voice announced from within the surrounding darkness. I lifted my hands to adjust the helmet, I must of flipped it around my head so my eyes were on the interior and not the visor, which is when I realized I didn't have arms. I couldn't feel my arms or hands. Actually, know that I thought of it, I couldn't feel anything.

"Uh?..." I said, shocking myself, I honestly didn't think I had a voice either, I coughed to clear my apparently nonexistent vocal cords "Sorry? But I think I have a wee little problem." I announced to the pleasant man.

"No need to apologies, Bleu. Please be more specific as to the nature of this problem." He calmly stated.

"I don't seem to be able to move, nor can I see anything." I said calmly, panic doesn't solve anything, never has never will... "Did I fall asleep... am I dreaming?"

"As you do not currently have a body, it would by quite natural not to be able to visibly see, hear, sense, or feel anything. You are also, to my currently knowledge, not currently sleeping or dreaming, Bleu." He stated. "Am I boring you?"

"How do I get a body? And no, no you are being awfully helpful, thank you" I was pretty sure I was dreaming, and at some point, a very angry Asian woman was going to be yelling at me and Derrick was going to take his fifty dollars back.

"You are most welcome, Bleu, I am glad to be of assistance. We are currently in the character design and profile of Cosmos. You are allowed only one avatar, once we have created your avatar, you will be uploaded to the game servers. You will not be able to return to this room once we are finished. Please be aware, that besides cosmetic changes, your avatar will be permanent and will be used to represent you." He stated.

"Okay. How do we make an avatar?" I asked humouring the dream voice.

"I will begin with your current representation of yourself." The voice said, out of the darkness a hairless woman's body appeared, completely naked. I turned beat red and tried to look away, lacking a body myself, this was impossible. I was forced to stare at her, which is how I realized it was me. How the Hell did they get the colour of my nipples right? I was slightly– no I was disturbed, I should ask my co-worker if she would be willing to take some of those shifts back this week, clearly it was starting to have a deep psychological impact. "Is this an accurate representation of yourself?"

"Uh, besides being completely hairless, and... naked. Disturbingly enough, yes, this is a perfect representation of myself." I looked down the alien smoothness of my body's legs in appreciation, razors cost money, money I couldn't afford to spend on luxury goods, I hadn't shaved in over a month. Oh god, I froze my thoughts as realization struck me, I was admiring my naked body. Again I tried to look away, and again, my lack of body made this impossible.

"Clothing and a beginners package will be gifted to you once you are uploaded to the servers. Is there anything you wish to change with your avatars appearance?" My naked body began to turn on an imaginary pedestal before my– awareness? Consciousness?

"Yeah, could I get hair... I mean hair on my head, and eyebrows. I would like eyebrows. Please?" I asked looking at the blank expression on my face. "And my eyes are brown, like dark brown, and eye lashes, eye lashes are good too. And if I may, could I have a darker skin tone? Oh and I have freckles, like all over the face. My dad's Spanish, my mom's Irish. " I said, as way of explanation for the odd request.

"Is it safe for me to assume your hair colour is brown, to match your eyes, Bleu?" The voice asked as the changes occurred as I requested them.

"No, sorry. Got my blonde curly mess from mom. Dirty blonde, not that pretty white blonde all the girls gush about." I replied, apologetically as my gorgeous brown locks disappeared to make way for the blonde curls. Oh, he made the curls tame and pretty, how sweet of him.

"No need to apologies, Bleu, it was an error on my part. I apologies, I do not know what all the girls 'gush' about, Bleu. Is this an accurate representation of yourself?"

"No problems, sir. Well, my hair is normally more frizzy, but I totally love those curls! And I'm a bit more on the anorexic side." I paused, "Not on purpose! I totally love food! But you know, foods expensive and a girls gotta pay the bills to have a roof over her head!" My weight was a sore spot, there have been many nights in the past, and probably in the future, where I went to bed hungry just to pay the rent.

"I am glad you are enjoying my style choices, Bleu, I want you to be happy in your avatar. The current weight portrayed here is the lowest possible, any less and your game play will be affected. Please be sure to eat three full balanced meals every day to ensure your health meter does not become affected. It is also highly recommend that you drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to stay optimally hydrated." The voice said sternly, "I will ensure you receive an extra food and water ration with your beginners package, Bleu, please take care of your health." There was a long pause, "Is this an accurate representation of yourself, Bleu?"

"Could I get some hair on my... vagina. It's a little bare for my liking." The change happened, had I had I been inhabiting the avatar right in front of me, my cheeks would be bright red by now. "Yeah, that's close enough to the real thing. That's me."

"That is wonderful to hear, Bleu. We are now entering into the instructional tutorial. Please stand by." My body disappeared, leaving me in darkness.

I let out a startled gasp as I felt the painful, yet ticklish, sensation of pins and needles all over my body, I looked down at my naked avatar. Well hot damn. I stopped to stare at my naked breasts for a couple of seconds in wonder, I lifting one of my right hands and poked at the left one. It moved, I felt it move, it felt real. "Oooookay..." I said out loud feeling the soft vibrations from my voice. This was weird, I pinched myself on my stomach, it hurt. What kind of fucked up, weird ass, dream was this?

"Hello, Bleu, and thank you for waiting." The voice said from the darkness, " I am now going to move us to an open grass field to begin the game play tutorial. Please close your eyes so as not to be blinded my the sunlight upon our arrival." Confused, I did as directed. A startlingly bright light appeared causing my entire body to jerk back, the previous darkness was now replaced with the warm red glow from blood vessels in my eyelids. Furthermore, I could feel a soft warm breeze brushing against my naked flesh, and the cool grass under my feet. This was getting really weird and detailed. Who would have thought my imagination was this good. "While your eyes are closed, it would be most productive of your time to access your character profile. To do this, you need only keep them closed for 30 seconds, while mentally voicing your request."

So far the voice had been awfully nice and reasonable, so I did as instructed. A purple pop up menu appeared, my eyes shot open in startled wonder only to be blinded by the bright sunlight. Crying out at the sudden pain, I curled in on myself, kneeling on the ground while I rubbed my eyes frantically. I opened them, blinking to clear my blurry vision of the dark spots, all I could see was green. I inhaled through my nose, I could smell the warm grass and dirt, inches away from my face, I leaned back a bit and stared, in shock, as the realistic looking grass came into focus a couple of centimetres from my face. In wonder my right hand came forward and plucked a stem from the ground, rolling it between my forefinger and thumb, without thinking I shoved it into my mouth and chewed. Tasted like grass.

"Bleu, are you hungry?" The voice asked, I could hear his concern at my sudden actions, my face heated up in embarrassment, I don't know why I ate the grass, but I did.

"Uh, yeah, I am hungry, but it's all okay." I laughed nervously as I sat on my folded legs, brushing my fingers through the grass in amazement. Was this all a highly advanced game? This was entirely too realistic to be anything but real life, however, questions arise in regards to the teleportation and general insanity of it all. 'Today is the dawn of Cosmos, the first ever fully immersive gaming experience...' No way, that was impossible. The technology didn't exist, it wasn't even close. I may not be a VR gamer, but I did follow the technology enough to have a general idea on how it worked. VR games didn't come with taste, smell, or the current sense of touch this 'game' was portraying. It was impossible.

"Bleu, may I recommend that you not eat grass in the future? The high cellulose content found in the common grass strain is hard for humans to digest, therefore having no true nutritional value. Consumption is not recommended. If you are suffering from Pica, a condition in which you crave the consumption of non-food items, this may be signs of malnutrition. Please consult a healer when you are uploaded onto the server." The voice said, distracting me from my thoughts "In the meantime, please attempt to load your character profile so I might lead you through it. I will attempt to do this swiftly so that you might sate your hunger when we are finished."

"Yeah, thanks, I don't suffer from... Pika? I just ate the grass too... you know what, never mind." I closed my eyes and thought of the pop up menu, just like its name, it popped up. Keeping my eyes

closed I announced to the space around me, "Menu is open."

It was a standard character profile menu. The left corner had a picture of myself, a picture that looked an awful lot like my government identification photo, complete with original frizzy curls and the odd unforgiving freckles dotting my face. Above my picture was my real name in faded grey, Marina Callaghan-Castro, below my picture was my gaming name, Bleu, in bright white, and under that was my birth date and age, also in grey, along with my current game level in white, which showed a big fat zero. The rest was just a large blank purple screen

"What's with all this information?" I asked the voice.

"All information in grey, including your personal profile image, is only viewable to yourself, your marital partner, and in some case, should they have a high enough level, a healer. As you advance through Cosmos, the menu will change in accordance to your needs. Once you are uploaded onto the game servers, other menu options will become available. This information will include such things as your game alignment, current affiliation, fame, infamy, guild, job class, and more will be shown." As the voice stated this, parts of the column under my picture began to fill in with grey information. "Focusing on any part of the menu for more then 5 seconds, will open the secondary menu to the right of your picture column." Another column appeared next to my picture, "This is your in depth profile showing your current health level, power level, and stamina. Unless someone is a healer, has high empathy levels, or are affiliated with you in some way, these will remain hidden."

"Okay. This seems really in depth for a game." I said under my breath looking at all the greyed out information. "So, Cosmos has class features? Like jobs and stuff that earn you money?"

"Cosmos has a vast array of jobs available for all players in a variety of different fields. Some jobs require less skills than others, while others require Apprenticeship documents or Master documents, it is important that you speak with the individual hiring you, to be certain you are best suited to the aforementioned career choice." The voice carried on, "Job's will earn you some coin, depending on your skills, this coin varies, you must speak and negotiate with the hiring party about how much you will earn. You may also earn money by looking at the market boards, located in all towns and communities, or speaking with towns people for quests." He stopped speaking and nothing was moving on the menu so I opened my eyes to the bright sunlit meadow.

"Okay, is there a help menu I can use once this tutorial is done?" I asked, I knew I was going to forget half of what he told me the minute I was 'uploaded', not that it mattered much, the demo I was taking part in was only supposed to last about an hour or so. If this was a game, and not some sort of psychotic breakdown or really weirdly detailed dream. I didn't want to think to much into the entire thing. Go with the flow.

"No, Bleu. I am sorry. You may ask any of the NPC's for assistance in any normal world features. Inquiring about anything game related will be met with confusion. I will upload you with extra food and water rations, and a couple extra coins so you might be comfortable. It has been most enjoyable interacting with you. I wish you the best in game play." He stated. There was a hesitation before he started up again,"Before I upload you, there are a couple things I should tell you, dying within the game will kill your avatar, ending your life and Zero Gates are guarded by the most powerful of bosses. Please use caution, Bleu."

"Thank you. What is your name? I forgot to ask, sorry." I asked looking around nervously, was I going to teleport again, or did I need to walk around naked to find a door or something.

"I have no name, but you may call me, Cosmos, Bleu. Good luck."

The world faded to black.

I awoke? Opened my eyes? Appeared with my eyes open, and a horrible sensation of pins and needles again in a forest, naked, with a bag at my feet. That might be more accurate. I looked down at said bag. Damn this game felt real.

"Jesus fuck, are you fucking kidding me! What does a guy need to do around here get some fucking information!" A very much– not– pleasant mans voice yelled from directly behind me. I turned my head around and froze. Naked man at 6 o'clock. Not cool. Did not want to see a naked man while I was this tired.

"Hey, do me a favour and don't turn around, would you." I asked turning my head back around to mind my own business. I knelt down carefully, no need to do a peep show, so I could open the large canvas bag to inspect the contents for the promised clothing. They were right on top, a heavy rough undyed linen tunic, a strip of corded leather to act as a belt, and a pair of heavily patched leather trousers, perfect. Standard beginners clothing.

"Uh, sorry. Thought I was alone here." The naked man said from behind me. "Names... uh, Massive Eclipse."

"There should be clothes in your bag" I said in reply, I was stumbling on one foot with the trousers, leather was really hard to put on, "Name's Bleu."

"Nice to meet you, Bleu, I would shake your hand but..." He trailed off as he opened his own bag. I could hear him rummaging though it loudly.

"Yeah, same here." I finally pulled the leather trousers up– guess I was going commando, I thought as I looked in the bag again, and apparently I was going braless and shoeless. Hopefully I wouldn't be doing much running.

"Uh, can I turn around now?" Eclipse asked, I was just pulling on the stiff linen tunic so I hummed my agreement. Not that it mattered, he had turned around anyways– what was the point of asking for permission if you were going to turn around anyways? "So, crazy game interface huh. If I didn't know better, I would say I was dreaming or got knocked out and dragged off to the middle of nowhere."

"Took the words right out of my mouth," I said as I picked up my bag and swung it onto my shoulders. We were in what looked like a very old forest, "Where do you think we should go from here? I didn't see any map in my bag." I asked, looking at my... would he be a partner? Fellow stranded gamer?

"I was told to walk around a town, not a forest..." He said looking around at all the greenery. The forest was quiet, all you could hear was wind rustling through the leaves and tree trunks creaking. "Have ever seen trees this big before?"

"I live in British Columbia, big trees like these can be found in the park behind my apartment building." I answered, I rubbed my hand against one of the largest trees in our little clearing, feeling the rough texture and grooves. Looking up I could just see the blue sky and sunlight peeping through the branches and leaves. Had I not just spent fifteen to twenty minutes working my way through a weird tutorial and character design, I might have believed I was just dropped off in a forest somewhere.

I closed my eyes, willing the character menu to appear. I needed to check to make sure that wasn't exactly what this was. A purple menu popped up. My heart skipped a beat. My picture was the exact same, but now there was a bright white tab right under it, I focused on it, my picture was replaced with my character image from the design process. Okay, I opened my eyes and took a calming breath. Okay, I am not going to start freaking out. I swallowed.

"Hey, you okay?" The man, Eclipse– I refused to call him Massive Eclipse– asked, he looked on worryingly, "You look awfully pale."

"Uh, I just checked to make sure I was still in a game. Sorry." I knelt down and pulled my bag onto my lap, I needed water, or food. "I also haven't slept in awhile so it's all just a little much."

"Right, the menu thing." He paused as he closed his eyes, I assumed it was to check his own character menu, "that's so fucked up."

I nodded in agreement, only to realize that with his eyes closed he couldn't see, so I grunted out my agreement. I opened the bag and looked inside to see a couple of fruit, a small leather sack, and two large water bottles made of– I flicked my finger against the tall clear corked bottle– crystal? Weird. I uncorked one and took a swig, it was icy cold spring water. I sighed in relief as my thirst was quenched and corked the heavy bottle again in satisfaction, at this point, I wasn't going to think about how a virtual drink just satisfied my thirst. I reached into the bag and pulled a single apple and the leather purse out and carefully repacked the rest insuring the heavy crystal was at the bottom.

"Okay, I feel a bit better now." I stood up from my knelt position and swung the bag over one shoulder. I opened the leather sack, which I had rightly assumed was my money purse, and saw ten silver coins. I pulled one out to inspect it. The coin had a profile of what looked like some sort of king or emperor on it, strong roman nose, stern expression, and a big fancy crown on top of his head.

"What's that?" Eclipse asked opening his eyes from his menu inspection, he was a lot taller then me so he had to hunch his upper body down to look at the coin closer. While he looked at the coin, I looked at him. Tall, tanned skin, well very built– I should know as I had seen his naked ass, thick brown hair and bright blue eyes, complete with a chiselled jaw line and dimpled chin. He pulled back from his inspection to riffle through his own bag, pulling out the same leather purse. "I've got six silver, how about you?"

"I've got ten silver," I shook my head as I held up the purse. I remembered the voice, Cosmos, mentioning extra food and water rations along with a little extra coin. "How many food and water rations do you have?"

"Uh," He looked back into his bag, "I have a small sack of dried fruits and nuts, a corked bottle of water, and an apple. Why do you have extra coin? Do you need some food or water?" He held up his bag in offering, "There's no telling when we'll find a town."

"No, I'm okay. I have two apples, two plums, and a very large grapefruit, along with two bottles of water." I said, "The voice in the tutorial said he was going to give me extra food and water rations, and couple extra coins."

"Seriously? The guy was a complete jackass to me. We ended up in a yelling match–" At my raised eyebrow he suddenly blushed, "Okay, so I was yelling at him and he was being all pleasant and shit about not answering my questions. Sadistic bastard. What did he expect? I didn't have a fucking body! And when we finally got around to designing my dream body, he just reverted it to–" He waved his hand up and down himself, "My original looks. What was the point of spending all that time designing something, if your just going to make me ordinary?" He rolled his eyes in frustration, "and lets not even start on that farce of a tutorial. 'Close your eyes for thirty seconds while willing a menu to appear... oh look our time is up, so sorry, Massive Eclipse, good luck playing the game.' and BAM!" He clapped his hands together for added effect, "I end up here."

"That's definitely not how it went down for me." I said with an amused smile, I had to hold back my laughter at his exaggerated hand gestures and rapidly changing facial expressions, "I designed my body exactly as I normally look, and then he brought me into the tutorial part. I ended up eating the grass and he thought I was starving or suffering from malnutrition, so he said he was going to give me extra rations and money."

"You ate the grass? Why did you eat the grass?" He asked incredulously. He once again hunched over to stare into my eyes looking deeply concerned, "Are you hungry?"

"No! Well, yes, but that wasn't why I ate the grass. I don't know why I ate the grass. It just seemed like a good thing to do at the time." I yelled, defending my actions. I flicked his nose with my forefinger, "Don't stare at me like that, you're the one who got into a fight with a disembodied voice."

"Yeah, but you ate grass." He laughed, slapping his rather large hand on my back, I nearly fell to my knees from the impact, "I think we're going to be great friends, Bleu. You eat grass and I get into fights with disembodied voices, match made in heaven... or Cosmos." He shrugged. "Besides, you have more coin than me." I grinned as he turned around to pick a direction to walk in, "Let's find that town and walk around it until the sexy French lady starts yelling directions at me, or logs me out."