July 18, 2019
Shen left Barney’s Net Cafe and stumbled back drunkenly towards his apartment. He stopped on the tall, arcing bridge that crossed over the West Canal to look out over the water that shimmered under a sliver of moon.
Each day felt more meaningless than the next. He had decided that he would never return DR again, but he hated the real world even more. He had no job, no family, and no friends. His life depended on government subsidies which barely covered his basic expenses. Since the boon of artificial intelligence, less than 50 percent of the population worked full-time. As a result, the government issued NEC to all its citizens. NEC was short for Necessary Economic Compensation. It was a monthly stipend that covered basic living expenses. NEC provided enough to live on but not enough to be comfortable. Shen was one of the lucky few who found an affordable private room in the city, although he had issues with his landlord.
He leaned against the railing of the bridge, numb and depressed. “What should I do?” he said to himself.
Once again his thoughts returned to Maxen Mellinfous. He had forced Shen into the rage mode that he swore never to use. Then he had taken everything from him.
If you want to see me angry, then I’ll give you the real rage mode and make you pay!
It was a stupid drunken thought. Shen was an unemployed gamer who frequented net cafes and lived on government aid. Maxen Mellinfous was the President of a mega-corporation, multi-billionaire, and son of Colossus’s CEO.
What chance did he have against that?
Shen sighed and pushed himself up to leave. A sudden gust of wind blew past, knocking away the Barney’s membership card he was clutching in his hand. It bounced on the concrete and through the railing of the bridge, landing right on the ledge that extended just a foot past the railing.
“Crap!” He exclaimed. There was still 20 minutes left on the card, and being a neccer, Shen certainly didn’t have the funds to pay for his play-time at Barney’s.
He hoisted himself over the railing and bent down to grab the card. He felt the skin on his back tingle as he looked down, catching the waters below. It was a long way to the bottom, and Shen suddenly wished he knew how to swim.
Just do it. What do you have to live for anyway?
Shut up brain! Another stupid drunken thought. He was unhappy, but not like that. Never like that. Shen sighed once more and turned to hoist himself back over the railing when he heard-
“STOP! DON’T DO IT!”
Shen jumped at the voice and looked up to see a young woman in a grey, striped uniform with a terrified, anxious face just beyond the railing.
“What? No… I wasn’t-“ But the shout had startled him, he had let go of the railing, tipping off balance—
And he began to fall backward…
The young woman’s face dropped as she realized what was happening.
Shen grabbed at the metal bar of the railing, but it was already out of reach.
The young woman rushed forward to take his outstretched hand—
Time slowed down. It felt like the times he faced a skilled PVP player in battle. He saw her hand come out toward him. He saw that she was too late. Inches too late. She leaned over trying to reach him, but then she stopped growing closer and started falling away.
Shen fell. The bridge raised away from him.
In the final moment, just before the water engulfed him, he saw a bright image of a motley group of men and women, clad in shining armors and splendid robes.
He knew each of their names and their smiles.