CAPS – Chapter 4: Shame

Shen took large swigs of his Juicybeer as he played the antiquated sword and sorcery RPG. He kept his focus on the game and when thoughts of his friends would inevitably enter his mind, he did his best to push them away. But they never remained gone for long.

It was not that there was no way to find his friends again. He had checked the popular gaming message boards, where former Constellationplayers made posts searching for the contacts they lost. But he had not seen any from Capricorn. Shen knew why. They were waiting for their guildmaster to call on them. They were waiting for him. But he could not bring himself to do it.

He was ashamed.

Ashamed to have lost. Ashamed to have broken their trust. Ashamed to have cost them their world.

In the first week or two, the posts by Constellationplayers searching for their fellow players were numerous. But slowly, as the weeks went by, these dissipated. The players moved on. Playing new games. Joining new communities. Shen told himself it was what would have happened anyway, even if the game had been allowed to continue. Constellation’s numbers had already dwindled to near obsoletion even before Colossus had announced they were shutting down the servers. Chryses’s loss just sped things up and brought the conclusion along a little sooner.

When Constellationwas first released over 10 years ago, it was the first truly immersive dream reality game. It moved beyond goggles and directly tapped into a person’s brain, allowing the game to access all five senses. Being in Constellationwas truly like dreaming a dream shared with others. It wasn’t exactly like the real world, but it was the closest anyone had ever gotten. A lot closer than wearing an awkward, heavy helmet and waving your hands with thick gloves in your bedroom in any case.

In the years that followed, many more DR games appeared. They had even better graphics, better sensory input, better mechanics. Bit by bit, like every game that had ever come before it, Constellationlost its appeal and popularity. But Shen never wanted to leave. Over the course of a decade, he had built a community and a life. His avatar, Chryses was one of the strongest in the game. His level 300 berserker was the best in his class. Although there were some other players of comparable or even superior skill (most of which were active members of his guild), Chryses consistently ranked in the top 10 PVP players in the game. This was one of the three reasons that the vote was cast among Constellation’s players for Chryses to represent them when Maxen Mellinfous accepted the petition for a duel to decide the fate of the game.

The second reason was that he was a familiar player in the world. Capricorn was a prestigious and well-known guild, and Chryses was its guildmaster. On top of that (the third reason), Chryses and Capricorn had led the petition to get Colossus to agree to running Constellation’s servers for two more years.

Looking back, Shen wished that Resz had fought the duel instead. Resz was the one player he knew was stronger than him in PVP. He had even contacted him and asked if he would take his place, but Resz had declined.

“Aren’t you the one who always likes to claim that Capricorn is Constellation’s greatest guild?” Resz responded when Chryses tried to persuade him.

“No,” Chryses said. “I claim Capricorn is the greatest guild.” He paused, then said, “As in the whole universe. And all its dimensions. And afterlives. And time periods.”

Resz revealed a smile beneath his half-mask. “You may not be wrong about that, I don’t know, but I do know that no guild loves this world as much as your’s does. You are its leader, you should be the one who represents us in the duel.”

‘The Greatest Guild’, he had always claimed. Even now he still felt it was true. His memories proved it to be.

There was no doubt Capricorn was the greatest guild, but Chryses was not the greatest guildmaster. He had failed them. And now he would never see his friends again.

He wished he had gathered a list of everyone’s real contact info, but there just hadn’t been any reason to do it before the shutdown. When players wanted to contact each other off game, they would use Colossus’s companion phone app. This was, of course, connected to their in-game accounts, so it too was lost during the wipe. Shen suspected that Colossus preferred its players to maintain their connections through its system to better keep its users tied to their games.

However, for unrelated and very unusual reasons, there were two players out of his 3000+ member guild that Shen did exchange real-life contact information with. Laaysa was the chief strategist of his guild, and Tif was a relatively new member who was still perhaps more stalker than friend. He had not replied to any of their messages and eventually, Laaysa stopped contacting him. Tif, for his part, still sent him messages every day, but Shen never read them.

What could he say to them? What apology could he give that would be adequate for his failure? Even worse, what if they forgave him?Then what? Start over?

No. That was a joke. Then nothing, that’s what. It was the end. Game over, literally. Capricorn was dead. And so was its guildmaster, Chryses.

Shen was halfway through his final can of Juicybeer when a little chime popped on his computer informing him that he had less than 30 minutes of play remaining on his Barney’s membership card. He sighed and logged out of the RPG game, booting up Zero Countagain to rack up some more points to earn credits for free playtime. But by now, he was already fairly inebriated. He lost the next two matches and gave up during the third. He just wasn’t in a condition to keep up. He pulled his card with 20 minutes remaining and got up to leave the arcade, saving the time for the next night when he could win everything back with a clearer head.

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