~ Chapter Three ~
The scans had been very invasive, including MRI’s, blood draws, and tests he didn’t have a medical name for. Dylan later told him those tests were to determine the best way to destroy his body, making Joey shudder. He had paid off the FIVER-capsule and invested a million dollars into an in-game account. That was the absolute maximum but at a ten-to-one ratio that still only gave him one hundred thousand gold. This was - potentially - a lot of money, but he would theoretically live forever in the game so he would still need to become strong and make wise decisions with his finances. He looked at all the zeros in his account and sighed.
Joey left everything else to his mother, and they parted with a tearful goodbye. He had tried to get her a pod, but she refused the opportunity; her faith demanded that she live a natural life and have a natural death. Luckily for Joey, there was an in-game system where he could make calls to the real world so they would be able to stay in contact for all of her remaining years. Finally, a black van rolled up the driveway, and he was loaded in. They drove quickly, and within a few hours, he was in the sub-basement of a massive corporation, staring at the monstrous machine that would be the final resting place of his body.
“Good luck, buddy,” Dylan called out, a sad smile on his face. “See you in game!”
Joey was startled. “You have a pod?”
“Nope. I’ll be playing standard, computer and headset style. I’ll add you to my friends list when I log in. My in-game name is ‘dSnake’,” Dylan promised with a thumbs up. He paused, then leaned in, “Joe… beat the game. If you do, there is a chance that you… I shouldn’t be telling you this… this is more than a game. You could come back. Here. The real world.” He stopped talking and hurried away as footsteps closed in.
A very confused Joey was brought to the pod, and they arranged his limbs in a particular order. The doctor overseeing this process was thrilled that he stayed so still, earning him a sour look from Joey. The lid started to close, and second thoughts filled his mind with numbing horror. A shining gem that looked like a diamond was lowered to his head and rested gently above the bridge of his nose.
A small line of text appeared in his vision. No blue screens, huh? He rolled his eyes. Guess all those books from royalsRoad turned out to be useless in the end. Alrighty then. The message read:
Do you want power?* Yes / No
Well, yes. That sounded quite pleasant actually. He selected ‘Yes’ with his eyes.
Do you know what is about to happen? Have you read the terms* and conditions?
There was a link on the word ‘terms’, and he selected it and read carefully through them. There was plenty he didn’t understand, but now - at least - he knew a baseline of what was expected from him. He went back to the question and selected ‘Yes’.
The words flashed red.
Excellent. Prepare to die. Yes / Yes
That was way too ominous! As he opened his mouth to shout, a roiling liquid poured onto his face and into his mouth, cutting off his complaints. Joey reflexively coughed but couldn’t free his head from the fluid. He tried to hold what little breath he had held, but was entirely covered with no access to air. When his lungs felt like they were beginning to explode, he finally breathed in.
Air rushed into his lungs, and he blinked at the suddenly bright pod. Wait, he wasn’t looking at the pod! He was standing, breathing heavily as he read the words hovering in front of him.
Welcome To Eternium! There is no saved data for your profile. Would you like to make a new character? Selecting ‘no’ will lead to true death. Yes /No
Easy answer. Joey selected ‘yes’.
Great! This will be the only time you will ever be able to create a character as your status is about to legally become [Dead]. Ouch, sorry about that! Would you like to choose an available starting class or undergo tests to see what the right choice is for you? These tests may unlock different or even unique classes based on your ability, but be warned! Taking the tests and showing low aptitudes may reduce the amount of available classes! You can exit these tests at any time! Start Game / Take Tests
Well, if he was going to be here for a long time, he didn’t want to be a boring archetype. Thank goodness he had studied video game theory for the last few weeks. Joey reached out and pressed… wait! He looked at his hand, moving on its own, under his own power! He jumped and smiled. His body was working again! He reached out and selected the ‘take tests’ option.
The air around him shimmered, and he was standing in a long hallway. A prompt appeared in from of him. RUN! If his time in the army had taught him anything, it was to never hesitate when there was possible danger. He sprang forward, running down the hallway as fast as possible. Behind him, he heard a massive *wham*. He chanced a glance over his shoulder in time to see a massive boulder advance through the roof where he had been standing. It must have weighed hundreds of pounds, and it started rolling down the slightly sloped hallway toward him. He ran faster; he had just gotten the use of his legs back and didn’t want them crushed!
As he ran, the rock behind him slowly gained speed. The further he ran the more the hallway sloped until it was at forty-five degrees. At this point, even Joey’s intense desire to run couldn’t save him, and the rock caught up. No! As soon as it brushed him, he found himself in another room. He looked over and saw he was in the desert, next to the Humvees and helicopter that had so drastically changed his life. He was confused. Had he been dreaming?
The screams of pain were slightly different this time, but he still rushed over and began working as fast as he could; doing everything he could to stabilize the men so they could be transported. The first four, he quickly bound and had taken to the chopper. The fifth though, he was a bleeder. Joey worked as hard as he could, continuously moving and having the others bring IV’s, bandages, and assorted tools. The man’s heart stopped, and Joey worked on chest compressions until it was beating again. This happened over and over, fixing him, losing him, fixing him. After several hours, during another round of compressions, he suddenly found himself in another room.
“What the…?” He looked around for the men but found only a glowing prompt. That had been… so, so real. He looked nervously at this prompt, which simply said SURVIVE. A low growl came from behind him, and a quick look revealed a massive tiger poised to launch at him. Joey squealed in far too high a pitch and lunged forward into a roll, making it out the doorway as the tiger sailed over him. He stood and started running again, gasping as the last few hours were catching up to him. His body felt fine, but his mind was beginning to waver.
He ran, never looking back, until he came to a small pond. He looked over and saw small humanoid creatures talking by the edge of the water. They were standing over the body of a man, laughing as they poked the body with spears. His eyes narrowed as he thought. The tiger was coming up behind him with no pretense at stealth, so he ran directly at the small… Goblins maybe?
They looked up at his charge, raising their spears defensively. Seeing an unarmed human, they laughed and jeered until he threw himself flat and a tiger came sailing at them. They raised their spears, but the tiger bowled into them. Knocked flat, they still managed to spear the cat in its side while they were mauled. Soon, all three were bleeding. They stared each other down and prepared to leap into combat again. The blood dripping from them had reached the edge of the water, and as the tiger leapt, tentacles shot out of the water and yanked all three combatants in. After a small amount of thrashing, the water was deathly still.
Joey found himself in a comfy chair, looking at a prompt on a piece of paper. ‘Do your best!’ was all that was written on the paper. He frowned, and words began appearing on the paper. Concepts of mathematics, nuances of astronomy, and even religion appeared in front of him. After he read a section, it vanished from the paper. Every time he got to a break in the page, a question would form. He answered aloud, and a new section appeared. Once or twice his mind wandered, but he still read a section without really seeing it. The section would vanish, and he just knew he got the answer wrong. He bent his mind to the task, focusing hard and answering questions for the better part of a day. He blinked, then startled himself awake, noticing he had been drooling on the paper.
A new prompt appeared, Times up! Select ‘proceed’ to begin the next test. Well, that was handy, it didn’t penalize him for having fallen asleep. He hit the button and was pulled into the next room.
Dozens of trials tested every aspect of who he was, forcing him to come to know himself better every step of the way. His morality, his sense of family, his ability to handle money, more knowledge tests, and different versions of combat that left him bent and broken before repairing him and moving on.
Finally, there were no more tests to take. A notification appeared in the air in front of him, Ding! World’s First! Congratulations, not only have you finished the trials, you are also the first of 1,256,572 players in the world to take all of them! Plus, you actually read the terms and conditions! Wow! +1 intelligence, if you know what I mean. Thanks to this, you gain the ability to break one magically-binding contract without any contract-based repercussions! Based on your results, new starting classes have been unlocked! Your basic stats will be adjusted based on the results of each test! Title unlocked: Try me with Trials! This title will increase how favorably others view your work ethic! (Affects NPC only) Please note that all title effects are active at the same time, but the title you have equipped will be the only one others can see.
Nice! All of the blood, sweat, and tears had been worth it! A favorable title right away, extra classes, and - maybe - good starting stats! He eagerly awaited the chance to see the starting classes he had unlocked. He was transported to a new room, but before his view solidified the world turned to a muted color, almost like an old-school pause screen. He looked around in mild confusion and saw a man standing next to him.
“Um. Hello. Are you real?” Joey carefully questioned the slightly glowing man.
The man spoke, a smile in his voice but not on his face, “Hello, Joey. Yes, I am very real.”