CAPS – Chapter 3: Barney’s Net Cafe

Shen stopped by a convenience store on his way to Barney’s Net Cafe. He picked up a discount six-pack of Juicybeer and paid the autoclerk with his phone’s eWallet. He opened a can and drank from it as he crossed the bridge that arched over the West Canal, which ran through the southern side of the city.

At Barney’s, Shen found an empty computer station and swiped his membership card that contained a few remaining credits. The net cafe was mostly full. It housed old computers and consoles and catered primarily to an older customer base who still preferred monitor graphics over VR and DR tech.

Shen was one of the younger regulars here. He had been coming to the net cafe every night for two months since his ColoID had been deleted. During this time, he had not entered a DR world once.

Shen decided he’d start the night with a first-person shooter. He loaded up the game and joined an ongoing match between players on the net cafe’s network. It was nothing like a dream reality game, where a SenseDrive neurostrip would have full access to his brain circuitry. This game was simple. There was a screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. Point and shoot. His fingers and hands did all the work. The graphics were rough-edged and unrealistic. When he died, he’d just have to wait until the next round. When nature inevitably called due to a bladder full of Juicybeer, he could stand and walk to the restroom. It was simple and easy and it helped him forget.

A week after his loss, Colossus issued an official statement asserting that during the shutdown an unknown bug had caused all game data, including player data, to be deleted. This was, of course, an outright lie. Shen knew the truth because Maxen Mellinfous, who was the President of Colossus Industries, had told him in the final moments of their duel. Colossus had viciously deleted Constellation’s player data as a punishment to the community for standing up to them. Maxen had personally caused it to happen.

Shen knew the moment he read the statement that Colossus would never retrieve the lost data because they didn’t have to. The terms of the duel both parties agreed to allowed Colossus to do whatever they wanted with Constellation if Chryses lost the match.

Several weeks had passed since Colossus’s statement was released and there had been no new updates since. It began to sink in among the players that the game data wouldn’t return. Shen read rants by former Constellation players about Colossus on blogs and message boards, but it didn’t matter. Those who had lost their data were just the players of a small community in a dead game. What strength could they muster against a multitrillion credit corporation like Colossus?

Shen shot the last opponent in the free-for-all on the computer monitor and downed his second beer. He tossed the can in the waste bin in the gaming cubicle and immediately opened another one. He was starting to feel a buzz, but it didn’t do much to hamper his play. He easily won the next match as well, and the one after that. He was never much of an FPS player, but he had been a gamer his entire life. Precision and reaction times were his strengths, and he was quickly able to reach the top of the scoreboard on the net cafe’s most popular first-person shooter game, Zero Count.

He would have spent more time playing other types of games on the computers, but the net cafe had its own system of allowing players to collect points through select games, like Zero Count. These points could be redeemed for additional time on the net cafe’s membership card. This meant that players could theoretically play games in the cafe for free. Of course, only the top players of the games would get this benefit, while the remaining players spent their money on additional computer time, competing to get a better score. It worked out for Shen though, as he routinely topped the charts.

Once he had filled his membership card with enough points, he’d play decade-old single-player role-playing games. The graphics weren’t comparable to modern titles, but the stories were generally engaging. Best of all, these games had save points. When you died, you didn’t lose everything. You’d get another chance by loading from an earlier save. In Constellation, you’d die and be resurrected, losing some stats and money, but since it was a living world, the game would move on without you. Or if you were Chryses, battling against Maxen Mellinfous, losing meant the end of your world.

Each night, he’d buy a six-pack of Juicybeer and come to Barney’s, spending hours playing the old games. He did not speak to anyone. Every now and then, when a fellow cafe-goer greeted him or offered congratulations when they saw he had topped the charts, Shen would respond with a silent nod, and return to his game without a word.

He was there to forget the costs of friendship, not to form new bonds. 

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