CAPS – Chapter 6: Level 1

Shen yawned and rubbed his eyes like any other morning. He blinked sleepily at his ceiling. He was back in his room. Then the memories of the previous night flooded into his consciousness and he snapped upright in disbelief.

Had it all been a dream?

No. It couldn’t have been. He looked down and saw that he was wearing the same shirt and pants as the night before. He raised the shirt to his nose. It had a faint musky smell, but it was completely dry, not wet or damp like it would have been from a drop into a canal.

He checked the time. It was 8 A.M. in the morning, about 7 hours since he left Barney’s the night before.

He felt his socks (that were still on his feet) and his pants, and even his underwear. Everything was dry.

It didn’t make any sense. He had fallen into the canal and he could not swim. The last thing he remembered was feeling the hit of the water against his body and swallowing down dirty canal water. He looked around his bed but there were no signs of liquid.

He found his wallet and phone in the pockets of his pants, but the Barney’s membership card was gone. It had been in his hand when he fell…

Then he saw it. The thing that sent his heart racing and turned his attention into a razor’s edge.

In the left corner of his vision, there was a short line of text that read “Level 1”. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. It was still there. He turned his head, changing the background of his vision. It was still there. He went into cramped little bathroom and stared into the mirror, checking to see if there was something in or on his eye. He found nothing, and the text was still there.

“No. Way,” he said, dropping down onto the toilet seat to gather his thoughts.

Was he trapped in a DR game like he’d seen in science fiction movies and TV shows? He felt the back of his neck, but of course there was nothing there. Everything looked normal and it felt normal. It was like waking up any other day. He stood up and moved around his room. His bed had the same lack of cushion. His walls were the same color of uneven paint. His body seemed completely fine or at least completely normal. His lower back felt sore as it always did from spending so many hours stuck sitting or lying down. But he didn’t even have the typical Juicybeer hangover that he’d been experiencing each morning before since Constellation’s shutdown. It all felt entirely real.

He opened his door and went outside. His street had not changed. He spotted his landlor taking her squeaking little dog on a walk as she smoked a cigarette.

Nothing had changed. There were only two things that were out of place. The first was the text that appeared in the left corner of his vision as if he was wearing AR glasses or a HUD display.

The second was that he was alive when he should have been dead.

“I-I’ve been resurrected,” he said quietly to himself.

Resurrected. How could that be? And why? For what reason was he brought back?

He went back into his room and sat back on his bed to think. If this was a game, then what was the goal? And what kind of game was it? Was there a way to win or lose? Was there treasure to discover? Was there a final boss to defeat?

Maxen Mellinfous’s smirking face sprang in his mind. Shen remembered that he had wished to be able to defeat Maxen right before his fall off the bridge, but he had given up on that hope because he knew he didn’t have the skills to do it.

Wait a minute. Skills? If this was a game… then would that mean he could acquire levels and skills?

He went onto his computer and loaded the online university where he had earned his math major. The classes were all open and free and mostly taught by AI. He scrolled through all the different fields and randomly chose something he’d never studied before—accounting.

He went to work, going through the entry-level lessons. Sometimes he’d lose focus, his brain running off on a tangent of what his resurrection could mean, but then he’d pull himself back and return to learning the lesson. An hour passed. Then another. And another. He completed lessons about balance sheets and accrual accounting and income statements. It all went rather smoothly as he already had a strong background in mathematics.

Then, two and a half hours into studying, it happened. The ‘Level 1’ text in his vision blinked and a new string of text appeared.

Skill: Financial Accounting, Level 1 Reached!

Shen’s jaw dropped. The real world was not just physical reality anymore. It was a game, a massively multiplayer game with skills and levels.

He found his a smile widening on his face and a heightened rhythm in his chest. The reason he was resurrected was suddenly clear as day.

He would do what he couldn’t do in Constellation. He would defeat the final boss. He would defeat Maxen Mellinfous.

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