2. Charlie
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Just because I time-traveled, simulation-swapped or whatever, I wasn’t in any better position than yesterday.

If I’ve learned anything from all the sci-fi time-travel movies I’ve seen, it’s that I need to have some sort of plan - usually involving making money. A lot of money and with that fortune I could create a lot of jobs - problem with grim future solved. Right? No more jobs lost because of AI, something along those lines. But how to strike big?

The only thing I remembered about markets was the big cryptocurrency surge in two years. But was it; I didn’t care. Stock market? I didn’t care. Price of wheat or oil? I didn’t care. Super-bowl? I didn’t care. Any other sport? Rimelion PVP, yeah that was my passion! Wait. Rimelion!

I can make tons of money by playing the game. Finally, I can play with other “normal” people, not with other testers!

I was so excited that I went straight into the capsule. It was in the size of my bed, with a silver metallic color. I hopped in and let the system scan my retina; the scan was successful, and I’ve logged into my Rimelion account. 

[Welcome back, John.]
[Error, you cannot create a character, you are part of the development team.]

Oh, no! How could I forget? The time-travel thing didn’t change the fact I couldn’t play. Annoying foul mood overcame me, again, because I was at the crossroads in the past too. Today was that damn day, a launch of Rimelion.

How was it? Lucas promised me he can get me into the game, but I declined. I rubbed my temples in a vain hope that I would remember why, but how to remember every detail after all those years? Let’s call him to get my answers. The solution was only one phonecall away.

“Hey, John! What’s up?”

Lucas was still alive! My heart raced inside my chest. “Lucas, can you get me into the Rimelion?” My adrenalin shot up - if I could get to play the game, I could get rich and save the world!

“What? John just come, as I told you!” Lucas couldn’t hide his anger. “Not over the phone; meet me in three hours at my place.” The line went silent. How could I know I asked him the same thing 20 years ago? Well, it’s not like I could tell him that, right?

 

Okay, one more thing left to do before I can get rich. With a determined will, I logged into my corporate account.

[You are about to end your contract, are you sure?]

“Yes.” My finger lingered near the button, and fear gripped my heart. The company was like a family, and I couldn’t go to coffee-breaks with Lucy to a storage room anymore. No, I have to. With my eyes closed, I confirmed my decision.

Why not? In my head, I was still full of anger about the lay-off in twenty years. Or it was in another simulation? All that mambo-jumbo was bad for my mental health and my head hurt because the stupid phone was ringing!

Wait, what - a call? From the R&D center, no less!

“Hello? What’s going on? You can’t force me to work anymore!”

“Good morning, John. I am calling you because you ended your contract. We are sad that you are not happy with us, so we want to offer you an opportunity. If you enroll in our test program of the next generation of capsules, Mark 3, we will send it right away and you can keep your job ‘tester’ by testing the capsule.”

The lady on the phone was real, because her bored voice sounded so monotone, unlike the lively robotic ones. She must have said the same line over and over. Mark 3? My current capsule was only the first model, and it lacked the nutrition feature and sanitary options, so it was an upgrade.

“Can I play the game?”

“No, the restrictions are still in place, you don’t have an exception from your boss.”

“Then what hell am I supposed to do with the capsule?”

“John, it is not my job to question the directives. I am supposed to offer you this opportunity, and you must say Yes, or No.”

“Sign me up, when I can expect the delivery?”

“Within two hours, can our technicians enter your apartment, and do we have your permission to install the capsule?”

I checked the interiors of my flat and the only thing of value I had was my old television and capsule. “Sure, I have nothing expensive at home.” She groaned at my remark and closed the call.

 

I only got dressed in a plain shirt, jeans and ran outside, Lucas was waiting! The scorching sun welcomed me like any other day, but the last time I walked the same streets, I met only robots. Except for some wolves, everyone was at home playing the game, but this time, the streets were full of cars and people! So many living beings!

The smell of cars’s exhaust wasn’t that great, but whatever. Better than the electric outages in the future. I ran around a busy street like an idiot and grinned at other people. One man shook his head and quickened his pace, but I only smiled back and jumped around. I hopped around the street until I paused in front of the ten-story white building.

Last time I checked, the cheapest apartment there was way above my paygrade. I swung open the door and a usual beige rug welcomed me inside, with a living woman greeting guests at the reception. No way, a real, living receptionist! When I was here last time, I met a robot without an emotion; that was around the time for the funeral.

“How can I help you? Do you have an appointment?” she asked me and glimpsed on my torn jeans. Hey, that’s intentional, I ripped them with a knife by the same time I bought them! Well, I was using them even twenty-five years later, but right now they were only five years old!

We have been friends with Lucas for ages, so I knew firsthand how forgetful he was. With my best smile, I let the scanner to flash my retina and nodded at her. Then I opened my mouth, to tell her about Lucas, or to joke with her, but I couldn’t even say my name.

Right. Even though I wanted to see real, living people, I couldn’t communicate with them. How could I forget about that? My stupid brain refused to work even after the transfer? Every time I talked with strangers, I got a panic attack. I had no problems communicating in the VR. So, perhaps it was a good thing that people were at home all the time?

 

After she confirmed that Lucas miraculously left me a note, I was knocking at his door. Even that simple thing as a door was more expensive and decorated that my entire apartment, with pure gold everywhere. Gold!

The door with a golden “Lucas” plate flung open and Lucas grinned at me. “I thought you’ll just go back to the boring QA.” He looked even better than I remembered, twenty-five years old man with a military figure and hairstyle. I stared at him like I had seen see a ghost. That might be right, because he died ten years ago. “John? You there?”

Only after he pinched my shoulder, I woke up from my stupor. “Lucas, I would never! I’ve been thinking about it and you were right!” Whatever you said to past me.

He let me in, and as usual I had to drink vodka. After he told me everything about his recent crush, we went to his hacking room. Oh, how I missed the old days.

Have you ever seen a hacker? Yes, he had a computer with three screens as in movies, even the VR helmet for 3D hacking, but during hacking he had an enormous cafe and energy drink consumption. That meant that the room was a big energy drink warehouse, with hundreds of them stacked everywhere.

“How should we do this? Do you need to hack my ID or what?” I was still perplexed how would he do it. Could he somehow delete my company records?

“That’s easy, because of the launch of Rimelion, we have a once in the blue moon refreeze of the IDs! I can swap your retina with an ID of someone who died and bought the game…” His voice failed at the end, so my eyebrows shot up, but he quickly recovered and said, “That means, you can play.”

“But wouldn’t that mean I would be that person, no? We use the ID for everything!”

“It’s not that big of a deal. Look at it this way—you can play the damn game and you will be like a king! You said that you know a lot of hidden content, so you’ll be number one in no time!”

After shoving a few bottles of energy drinks aside, I sat on a something that was a mix between sofa and bed. “Right, look, I have a contract with my company, they let me test the mark 3 at home. Would that be a problem?”

“Nah, it’s not like anybody would remember you, right?” He laughed and smashed a few buttons on his keyboard. “Thousands of testers are in the wind, so you will be one of many. They store only the identificator of your ID, so it’s fine.”

“But… I would have another body, right? I don’t want a virtual body of some old bald dude! Can you do anything about that? Scan me again?”

“Nope, the body scan is onetime only; you have that body for the rest of your life.”

That riled me up, and I shot up and walked towards him, arguing, “What about the class, you can’t change that! Stupid decision of Nathan. What if I get a mage? I can’t be a mage! What if the dead person had a debt? What then?” I stopped only an inch from his face, glaring at him.

Now I see why I hadn’t done it. The ID was important for communication with the government, and I wouldn’t be able to change it. I would have to stick with it forever, or face an execution—yes, they would kill me, because stealing ID was the highest of all crimes. Stupid Nathan.

“Don’t worry too much! Just today died over six thousand people, so we have an enormous pool to choose from,” as he said that, comprehensive list of names popped up on the middle screen. “Filtering… Only without debt. You like the classic warrior, right? Let’s filter them too… Hmm, three hundred Warriors, but none of them has your name, John.” 

 

I stood beside him for tens of minutes, searching for the right dude, when he suddenly said, “Hm, 21 years old! What about him? Name’s Charlie.” The file had a picture of a young man with an average body, who was jumping into a pool.

“Yeah! That will work! Choose him!” I said and hit Lucas’ shoulder. Somehow, I pushed his hand, and he scrolled the list and the filter disappeared! Impossible, did he do it on purpose?

“Watch out! Ouch, my hand… Okay, this one looks good. Go to the scanner-”

Yeah, for sure on purpose. I shook my head and said, “Do you think I’ve never seen a movie? I need to see the ID before you confirm that, or I will end up as a grandpa!” His eyes went wide and shook his head.

“Then… Here, see? [No debt], [Rimelion], [Charlie], [21 years old]. Happy? Let’s do it!”

Reluctantly nodding, I walked to his military-grade eye scanner. What? I knew he was rich, but it was that much? He said nothing about that when we were drinking. Well, maybe that’s got him killed - this thing must be super expensive.

The scanner only blipped once. “Done, you are now Charlie, I transferred everything from your old ID. It will be like nothing happened. Except for the name and body. You still have time before the game starts, it’s two hours, let’s drink!” He handed me a vodka with a big smile. Oh yes, energy drinks and vodka; people died for less. But that couldn’t be the reason; he always drank slowly and not too much.

“When you will do some dung, don’t forget to invite your ol’ Lucas! I have the same name in the game.”

Gulping down the glass, I grinned and said back, “You had to log in quick if you got that name, they opened the character creation one week before, right?”

“Yeah! I wanted to be just Lucas, nothing like SuperLucas85. So, after crushing skulls with your sword, don’t forget about a mage Lucas.” He tried to sound excited, but I could see that something weighted on his soul. His dejected look and the way he held the glass wasn’t normal for him. At least as far as I remembered.

“Mage, you say? I pity you because that will be hard. You must learn all the hand gestures for spells, draw runes in the air.”

His jaw dropped as he listened to me and quickly mumbled in disbelief, “Mate! Like what? Do I need to draw something? I thought, I will stand in the back and just wave lazily with a staff! I suck at drawing. Why didn’t you say that earlier?”

I laughed and almost spilled my drink. “Sorry, you didn’t ask! You can still make a good char. When you will do the first quest for your class, just choose magic swordsman and you are golden. Do you really need me to carry you that badly?”

He drank more of vodka before answering me in a serious voice, “I kinda lost a lot of money, you know. That game needs to help me pay off some debts. My friend in community said that the economy in the game will be big and the virtual money will be interchangeable with dollars.” I looked puzzledly at him. Dollars, really? “You know what I mean! Credits, as they call them now, but they are dollars. With them, I will pay off that debt.”

“Can’t you sell the door, or the apartment? Can’t you hack some bank and give yourself the money you need?”

“Nah, mate, I need more than I could get by selling stuff. I don’t know what you take me for, I am a security analyst, not some script kiddie. Tell me, how can we get rich fast in the game?” He had an enormous debt? Why was he living in this ridiculous apartment then? I guess I will never understand rich people, but I could help him with this. After all, the game was my playground.

“We need to get to the level fifteen as soon as possible. After that we can make money, but that will take some time, don’t expect to be rich in a month.”

 

When I arrived at home, everything seemed to be where I left it. Expect for the new shiny sky-blue capsule. Yesterday, in the future, I left behind my bellowed Mark 9, so it was a downgrade. Mark 3 will suffice for now, though.

I checked the nutrients; it was full to the brim. Although they skipped the Mark 3 - it wasn’t for the public market. But I am sure nothing bad will happen. I am sure, right?

Because there was still some time left, I lay down on my trusty sofa and turned on Katherine stream. She was sitting on an edge of her seat in her old room, with a clean bed behind her, and wildly gesticulated about the upcoming game and her plans for it.

This younger version of Katherine already dyed her hair purple and was wearing a cute pink hoodie. Maybe that was the reason I was among the selected few fans, people usually prefer… Less clothed streamers. Thankfully, the devious developers in the game created equipment for girls… differently. Oh yeah, she will reveal a lot. Reaching behind sofa I pulled a beer and opened it with my teeth.

Katherine stream and beer on my sofa. If not for us both being younger, I would never guess I traveled twenty years back. Maybe I should contact her in the game? No, that would be creepy, I will just try talk to her in a shopping center as usual… And fail, as usual. At the same time as Katherine slipped into her capsule, I was already preparing my dive.

[Welcome back, Charlie.]

As I counted the seconds, I closed my eyes and mentally prepared for the grind. If one wants to save the world, one needs to work harder than any other player. With a countdown to 0, the game started.

First thing I noticed was an intensive smell of a pine forest, that was one-of-kind. At first, I could only feel a weight of my body, the rough dirt under me, the gentle wind in my face. Then I opened eyes and saw something that shouldn’t have been there. My hands were a lot smaller than the real ones, but the thing that surprised me the most was a cleavage. Why the hell am I a girl?!

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