Fife met Beryl when an ancient power station finally failed, cutting off power to the simulations and fantastic worlds of an “Escape from Reality” franchise in San Diego.
When the power cut out, the suspension bubbles had simultaneously triggered their emergency release mechanisms, blossoming like flower bulbs and ushering their occupants to the surface.
Fife had been storming simulated Omaha beach, up to her neck in briny water, machine guns sawing loudly, bullets zipping past her ears when it all went suddenly dark and silent. The transition was jarring, but Fife followed the emergency instructions piped to her optic nerves by the last fading dribbles of electricity and gamely pulled herself up out of her suspension bubble. She pulled out her feeding tube without gagging too hard, removed her feedback headset, and surveyed the new and exciting situation she had been pitched into.
The game, which Fife reminded herself was not a game, played all the tones of a slow-burn horror. With her headset removed and her haptic suit disconnected, Fife stood on the gantry beside her bubble, the only illumination in the broad, but packed, room coming from yellow sunlight slanting through high, rectangular windows. Suspension bubbles, like giant beads stretched from wall to wall in a sixty by one hundred meter rectangle. Atop each bubble floated an unmoving, disintered body.
Fife cracked her knuckles, stretched her neck, and moved to investigate. She removed the headset from the first body she came to and found the dusty corpse of an old man, his papery, wrinkled, skin well-preserved. He appeared to have died of old age, something she would never do.
Though Fife had many identities: spell slinger, zombie hunter, spice smuggler, war hero, she understood that in the distant, and wholly ignorable real world, she was merely an heiress with the best genetic makeup money could buy. She had finely tuned telomerase, regenerative collagen, and anti-plaque teeth, etcetera.
The real world, apparently, had been ignored too long by someone. Automated systems had kept electric fantasies running, but no one had come to clean out the bodies of the wealthy who had perished in paradise.
Fife checked the next suspension pod, and the next, and the next, and found the same result each time. They were all dead and had been neatly preserved inside the gel of their suspension bubbles.
She started at the sound of something thudding against metal. She dropped to a crouch, wishing she had a laser sword, a beam rifle, or even a simple scroll of invisibility. She reminded herself that laser swords were as fantastic as spell-casting scrolls, and the rules of this universe limited the usefulness of beam rifles to a few tactical vacuum sitations at best. If it came to a fight, her hand to hand combat skills would have to suffice. She scuttled into deeper shadow and crept toward the source of the sound.
Someone or something retched then groaned. Fife soon identified the source as another living, former-occupant of a suspension bubble. The person had just pulled out his or her feeding tube and was panting on the metal grating beside their bubble. The person was in no shape to start a fight. Her trepidation evaporated.
Fife stood and stepped into a sunbeam, said, “Ho there, my name is Fife. Care to join my party?”
The other, a man with a bald head and crooked nose grunted then said, “Just my luck to get stuck with some airhead gamer. This is the real world. You can’t just…”
“I get it,” Fife cut in with a swift chopping hand motion. “Permadeath. Effective RNG via incomplete information. Procedurally generated dynamic content. Arbitrary hazards.”
The other laughed bitterly. “No shit, arbitrary hazards. Help me walk and I’ll join your party.” He said the last part with a mocking tone.
Fife didn’t mind. In fact, she smiled. Her first quest partner! She lifted the squat man to his feet and asked him his name.
That’s how she met Beryl.
And Beryl seemed to have a quest of his own in mind from the start, though he shared no details as they traveled away from the “Escape from Reality” franchise, south out of San Diego. But when Fife saw the starship falling from the sky, she knew a side-quest when she saw one.
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