"Okay Mr Hill the point of this exercise is that I say some words and you say the first thing that pops into your head, understand?" The psychologist instructed as she pulled a clipboard with writing on nearer to her. Max nodded to signal he understood and was ready.
Max leaned up in his chair. "Was wondering when that one was coming. Let me guess, you're worried I'm going to kill myself in depression to go off to some virtual heaven right?" He yelled.
She pushed the clipboard away and looked at him. "I don't recall saying such a thing. But you didn't answer the question. Which world means the most to you?" She demanded to know as she pushed Max against the back of his chair to stop him from leaving.
"I thought it was one word answers." He jeered at her to which she smiled.
"Were not on the clipboard anymore. So what's your answer" She asked again with more demand behind her voice.
Nothing had changed. Ever since his sisters accident he was forced to these types of sessions after his parents finally noticed his constant playing of games, as part of the public fear and uncertainty of VMRPG's where the consensus was that those without reason to go on in reality would seek sanctuary in the virtual world. With Max being of sound mind and no actual link to support an idea people were carrying out an exodus to the virtual world he could not be considered a suicide risk but that wasn't stopping his own parents, teachers and doctors from trying to trick him into admitting to being one.
This was going to be a long and boring hour he thought as he tried to think up a response that the woman did not desire.
The woman behind the bars looked at Lumina as she approached the brig where they were holding their guest. She was taller than Lumina and on par with Alice. She had shoulder length Black hair and her figure was thin and more clear now that she had equipped her heavy armour in favour of more form fitting light leather gear which was much practical for the crowded conditions of a ship. Lumina ensured that she did not get too near the cell for her safety. Detaining players was another abuse of the gameplay and was not originally programmed meaning that you could not relieve a player of their inventory with the exception being to kill them which would cost them their equipped items, because of this whilst the woman behind these bars may not be wearing any heavy armour it was not to say that somewhere in her inventory she did not have a powerful weapon hidden just waiting to be equipped and drawn on an unsuspecting player. The only ways players could be detained were to voluntarily agree to go with a captor on promise of not losing any valuables as the captor usually gave the right for the player to un-equip their gear, alternatively you could abuse the physics engine and drag a player using unarmed attacks to where you wanted them to go, however this still gave the player the ability to fight back and harm those around them which was why one player simply arresting another was very difficult.
Lumina took this woman voluntarily surrendering as a sign she had no intention of fighting back. That still did not put her in a safe position as Alice, Valentine and Hiragi had all logged out and now only she and this woman were still logged in. If the captive got an upper hand she was free to take the ship as her own and kill the others as they logged in. The fact that although the captive had disconnected for an hour or so she had returned and was retaining her place in the cell and it was clear she intended to stay logged in.
"Is she trying to wait me out until I go offline?" Lumina thought slightly amused as she rested her back against the pillar opposite the cell and kept one hand on the hilt of her crystal sword. Lumina had not logged out for a very long time and had little intention of doing so now, if this was a waiting game she clearly was set to win. But there was more than that, she also had to periodically check the main deck to scan the horizon for any opportunists who may try to attack the ship and it dawned on Lumina that between the time it took her to perform this duty the captive may attempt something.
"Damn," she scolded in her head to the computer controlled characters who suffered from artificial stupidity of not being able to perform either of tasks she was struggling with. The computer A.I could keep a ship running, man cannons to destroy targets and a whole range of other jobs but asking them to guard a player and not allow them to escape or inform the nearest human player of an approaching ship was no different to getting a "Does not compute" response. The A.I understood that the prisoner was not a crew member and was thus hostile but there was no middle ground, the computer crew only had the options to kill the hostile or do nothing. The same was true about dealing with approaching ships as the A.I was limited to passive or hostile mode where in the latter they would fire immediately at an approaching ship, in the former would take no action and not even inform a player about the ships presence. Computers were dumb was something Lumina had increasingly been reminded.
"Any reason you don't log out?" The woman suddenly asked approaching the cell bars.
Lumina laughed and gripped the sword hilt harder. "Sorry, no can do, not until I'm confident you won't try kill me."
"Oh? And I thought you said this place was fun. Being locked in a cell at your mercy is hardly fun, unless that's the sort thing that interests you." The woman was beginning to annoy Lumina, however she took into consideration the woman may have been trying to provoke her. A classic mistake to make would be to approach the bars in anger only to be grabbed by the captive. She had no intention of allowing that to happen and instead chose to ignore what she had said and go to check the main deck for any sign of approaching ships. Lumina did not want to take her eyes off the captive who she still knew nothing about however she could no longer ignore the other important duty. Guarding the captive was one thing but it would be worse if an Imperium warship managed to sneak up and deploy players aboard the Heavens Mirror whilst she was below deck.
Now was her chance as the girl with Green hair left her alone to go and stand watch above deck. When she was confident that the player was gone Elaine opened her inventory to re-equip the heavier and stronger armour she had removed to persuade this ships crew she meant them no harm. Once all the pieces were in place she selected her mace and drew it holding it awaiting the chance she can take out the Green hair girl. She had no reason to dislike these people but the prospect of capturing this ship and bringing it back to the Imperium was too appealing, especially when such a feat would ensure she was respected by the other Guild members. They may even give her a house in some beautiful part of Fantasia World Online as other people in the Imperium who showed absolute loyalty were being given.
The game was not designed in such a way that capturing players was a feature, however simple locks on doors could be put in place to secure property which in turn was being used to keep her in this cell. The only options available to a player was to either pick the lock, which was impossible as Elaine lacked a Shadow class training which only left the second option. Brute force.
With a mighty swing Elaine bashed the mace against the door which gave her a 5% chance of success and repeated the action until she finally got lucky and the cell door opened. "She probably heard that," Elaine muttered realising she now had to move with the utmost speed to reach the main deck where they would both be on equal terms to fight. If the girl could corner her in the bowls of the ship then her crystal swords ability to thrust forward and stab would ensure that Elaine would be unable to break out.
Elaine managed to get up the stairs before the girl could respond. She charged forwards with her mace raised and brought it down on her captor who barely had enough time to evade. The girl dived to the right and drew her sword as she landed before climbing to her feet and holding the weapon downwards to her side. this stance was not something Elaine had seen a person used before as other players tended to favour keeping their blade on body level to quickly slash out. She placed her mace across her chest now understanding what the girl was planning to do. The girl knew that a player armed with a mace would need enough room to swing in order to cause the required damage and in order to count this she had her sword in such a place she could pull it upwards to gut Elaine if she tried.
Elaine rushed forwards again and immediately launched her counter attack to the girl. The Blue crystal blade darted up only to be intercepted by Elaines mace which was angled so that she was able to bash downwards not to deal damage but to put the sword off course. The clang of their weapons was deafening and echoed through her ears. She gave the girl whose face was now overcome with rage no opportunity to react by punching her in the face with her left fist before spinning with the mace free and catching her in the side of the head sending the girl a few feet across the deck and crashing into the hard wood.
"Die!" The Green haired girl screamed with the wail of a banshee as she sprang to her feet and charged forwards swinging her blade in succession in both direction. Elaine could not even guess where she should try to block from and her attempt to guard to the right was to no avail as the sword impacted from the left causing a large chuck of her health points to instantly disappear.
"Who the hell are you?" Elaine cried as she tried to hit the girl only to miss completely. The initial adrenaline rush at the thought of becoming famous through her actions had now worn off and she only now realised it was a mistake from the start to even try to slay this player. A quick look at the players health bar revealed that Elaines attack which hit with her full strength and with the top damage of her weapon had not even caused her to lose 1/10 of her total health whilst a single wild attack which had no actual precision had done so much damage to Elaine who was wearing heavy armour.
"I'm the Green goddamn Reaper!" She barked before gripping the hilt of the crystal sword which was now radiant Blue against the sun behind it with both hands and with a final scream brought the sword down on Elaine who was send immediately into revival mode. In her head she laughed in anticipation at the next move, the Green Reaper was out for revenge as she impaled Elaines incapacitated body causing the essence in the hourglass showing her remaining time to drain through quickly into the bottom. It's over, she thought as her body crystallised and exploded sending her to a screen asking if she would like to respawn at the nearest church.
Elaine selected the log out option and pulled the virtual reality gear from her head. "That was fun. Better get off to work" She cheerfully said to herself before opening the wardrobe and changing from her casual clothing into a neatly pressed shirt and skirt and heading out the door of her apartment.
The message which Adelle had opened in her email inbox was one which caused her anger. It was sent by a permanent overseer from the European Convention for the Protection of Virtual Gamers (ECVG) and was blunt and straight to the point. "You're raising too many eyebrows with London. Abandon your research." Adelle had received this message only a few days after submitting an outline of a research proposal and request for additional scientific assistance into Nerval Bridge and whether a person could be killed in reality as a result of dying in a virtual world. Adelle had wanted to in her own way get justice for Charlene and the others killed by the Black Reaper by finding proof that the safety system of the virtual reality gear in wide spread circulation had a defect.
Nothing had changed and was ever going to change. Adelle knew from the start that the powers that be would not allow for anyone to try and oppose virtual reality technology as this was a growing and lucrative business which had countless applications that would become a huge benefit to a range of powerful people. Adelle had no evidence to say that governments and those who head up the departments which watch over virtual reality technology even knew about the Black Reaper incident and they may have been sceptical of accusations levied against the use of virtual realities before that such as people who Adelle and some others believed were committing suicide as a result of becoming attached to an artificial world which they held closer to their heard and desire than the real world. The reason for governments and private businesses restraint in attacking virtual reality technology and their attempts to suppress things which cast shadows on the technology had always been down to the potential applications of VR. The military used simulators to train pilots to fly aircraft into combat and real world simulators and war games were used by armies and navies to play out a variety of scenarios to train them for war, however all were limited by the need to ensure the safety of human life and what was possible using real world resources. So far Adelle knew that the British and American militaries had entered into a joint venture to back virtual reality technology so that they may one day put soldiers into the gear and allow them to train in all out combat with no limitations. War games where the bullets and explosions seemed real and the average soldier could be prepared for all eventuality on a real battlefield.
Adelle knew in her mind that was the true purpose of virtual reality technology. All scientific and technological advancements were made on the back of the human desire to kill one another. Rockets used as part of the space program were originally designed as long ranged flying bombs during the World War and the bulk of the energy used in France came from Nuclear reactors brought about from Atomic bombs. This was the same for virtual reality technology, it was not to satisfy the need for entertainment but rather was to produce the perfect super soldiers.
The thought sickened Adelle as she closed her email and grabbed the VR gear nearby to log into Fantasia world Online.
Alice wrapped her arms around Lumina and hugged her to calm her infuriated friend. It appeared that in her absence the Imperium prisoner had attacked Lumina and tried to kill her which was causing her distress. It may have only been a game to Alice and others, however to Lumina this was her world, her reality and someone had tried to murder her.
"Please calm down Lumina" Alice desperately pleaded as she patted her on the head. "The bad woman is gone, see." She directed Lumina to look around the deck and now confident she was safe Lumina smiled and Alice returned a smile. Deep down however, Alice was concerned more than ever about her friends attachment to this game, she appeared to be completely unable to realise she was in no actual harm and Alice also noted that her mentality appeared to have taken a step back from an average 19 year old to one which was more childish as she still clung onto Alice not wanting to let go.
The outcome of the incident was for the best although she would not try and directly tell Lumina this. The Imperium prisoner could have been watched none stop hours on end to ensure that she did not try anything but that did not deal with the issue that the player still had access to their map and private message functions which meant that if left aboard the woman could have kept a running commentary on where the Heavens Mirror was heading which was the last thing they needed. This unfortunate incident had provided the perfect excuse to do away with the unwanted guest without it being considered "In cold blood." Still it was something that Alice hoped would never happen again to her friend as the psychological damage of something which occurred in this world was real enough for Lumina.
Hiragi suddenly materialised into the game behind Lumina where she had conveniently logged out. She frowned at the sight of the two females embracing. "This is not a dating sim," she openly remarked whilst continuing to watch in disbelief.
Alice turned her head. "What's the matter, do you want a hug too?" She sarcastically asked.
"No thank you Etoile-sama." She replied whilst walking towards the helm.
With at least three members of the party present they decided to press on to their destination and make use of a good wind behind the ships sails. The place they were bound for could not be too far away in real world time although Alice would not bother to try and guess just how much longer remained given that beyond a map marker she had placed for a rough estimate of where the island should be going off what Lumina had told her there was no real way to knew precisely where this unmarked island was. Only Valentine claimed to know an exact position of where they were bound and the game had no way to allow him to share the positioning meaning he could only try to tell them where it appeared on their world maps which was why the three of them had no way to know the remaining time of their voyage until Valentine logged in. Alice had asked Hiragi where their glorious leader was but she had tried to avoid the question and when she did reply she only kept to a vague "It's personal" response with the feeling a shadow was across the girl as she thought on the question.
The ship moved on as the sun began to set which would once again plunge the game into another dark night .
Max sat beside his sister who lay motionless in her bed. He held her hand which was frail against his own. His sisters brown hair had grown much since the accident and left uncut had covered parts of her soft face, he pushed the hair away from her face. She had an appearance which was majestic and to Max she was a sleeping beauty waiting for one to be to awoken back to the world.
"How is she?" Max asked as a Doctor entered the room.
"There's been no change, she's unresponsive to any tests and there's the chance she will never wake up." She replied whilst checking to make sure that the equipment was functioning correctly.
Max kicked the side of the bed in anger. "How can you just say that?" He demanded to know.
"This is not some soap opera, the recovery rate of a comatose patient is less than 50% and that only accounts for them waking up and responding to stimuli. The chance of permanent brain damage and loss of memory is also extremely high meaning even if she does wake up she may not be the same person you loved her as." The Doctor said heartlessly. He then sighed. "I was hoping to avoid having to tell you this but there's really no use putting it off."
Max reactively stood up. "Telling me what?" He pressed.
"The NHS currently is under-equipt to provide long term care for patients who show no signs of recovery and under the mental capacity act amendments of 2017 unless a patient can voluntarily provide a verbal or literal request for treatment then we hold the right to demand their discharge from hospital or in the case of your sister if you are unable to cover the additional required expenses we will argue that she is moved to a stasis facility until such a time that we can find a way to help her."
Max stumbled back in horror at this news. "You're giving up on my sister," he screamed in anger.
"We're not giving up, we're simply directing our attention to those we feel we actually can help with the resources available. It isn't pretty but it's legal." The doctor said almost uncaring for Maxs sisters wellbeing as he left the room.
When the Doctor left Max fell onto his knees and rested his head against his sisters letting out tears he had tried to hold back each time he saw her. He now more than ever realised he must complete his mission in that other world, he must find the Land of the Archangels and auction it off to the world. Those who valued a game more could have some artificial Atlantis in exchange for his sisters treatment.
"I'm going to save you." He tearfully promised touching his sisters face one last time as he regained his composure and walked towards the door.