Jules walked through the dark streets, glad that the nearest store that would have Many Worlds wasn’t far. He hated paying for a taxi, and he didn’t have the funds or the need for his own car. Jules sighed, looking up at the sky. Well, what there was. The streets weren’t dark just because it was night time. Instead, it was because of the excessive need for power, and the solar panels that almost blocked out the sun for most cities. The rich lived at the tops of tall buildings, where they could still see the sun. If they even cared.
Jules breathed heavily through his filtration mask. That was another reason he worked and lived at the library. He didn’t have to go outside, into the pollution. Apparently, it had been even worse, before the switch to almost entirely clean power sources had been necessitated for survival. The pollution was caused by massive overpopulation, and the overpopulation had been caused, quite simply, by Earth running out of room.
The dreams of going to the stars, or even other planets, had died centuries before. Sure, there had been several successful attempts to land on the moon, and Mars. However, nobody came back from Mars. The technology just wasn’t available. The last people who had landed on Mars had died several decades before Jules was born.
Jules sighed, thinking about it, and stepped into the store.
Jules arrived to find a very long line. It wasn’t the worst line he’d ever seen, but it was the worst line he’d seen in person. He counted maybe fifty people. He wasn’t sure exactly how many would be available, as there was no indication of what the cutoff would be. Now, Jules was nervous.
Not so much at anxiety that he wouldn’t get the game. If he didn’t get it, he would move on. Well, he’d still try to purchase it again when they produced more hardware, but he hadn’t even known it existed earlier that day. His life didn’t hinge on it.
No, he was nervous because of the number of people. He suffered somewhat from social anxiety. That was another part of the reason he worked at the library, although he did like it there. He would be fine, as long as nobody really talked to him. Talking to new people was extremely awkward. Once he knew them, it wasn’t a problem, as long as there weren’t too many people around at once. Jules much preferred to talk to people via the internet, though.
Of course, it came to pass that someone did talk to him. Directly in front of him in line was a woman, one of the few in the line. There wasn’t too much of a difference in population between the male and female gaming communities, but there was probably a combination of factors as to the makeup of the line.
“So, any idea what class you’re going to play?” the woman asked conversationally.
Jules froze. He could have just responded “no”, but that would have required him to think rationally. His first thought would have been to say, “I only heard about the game today and came here on a whim,” but he didn’t say that either. He just stood there. He actually came closest to running away, but managed to just stand awkwardly for a minute before finally saying, “Sorta.”
This wasn’t true, of course. However, a half-hearted response was all he could muster through his jaw and voice box that refused to work.
That, apparently, was enough for him to be in a conversation. The woman may have been nervous, or bored, but whatever she was, she was talkative. Jules didn’t really hear any of it. He was mostly concentrating on not looking at her. Not because she wasn’t attractive, but because she was. He really would have liked to listen, but he was panicking inside, and keeping a calm appearance was all he could muster.
Somehow, that seemed to be enough. Eventually, it was midnight, and only then did the woman stop talking, as the line started to move. Jules followed along, and hoped there were enough copies available.
It was a somewhat odd situation. There was an employee of the store tracking the purchases, but it seemed like someone else entirely was supplying the hardware. Jules couldn’t tell from the back of the line, but it didn’t seem to come in a large package, whatever it was.
The line moved quickly, as everyone was prepared to pay, and there was no doubt at to what they were there for. As the line got shorter, Jules saw that the hardware seemed to be some kind of wristband. It seemed rather small for the power it was said to have. Maybe this was just a placeholder, and the real system was obtained elsewhere.
Jules watched the packages get opened, and wristbands were pulled out and handed to people. Each box contained ten, it seemed. Five boxes. Approximately fifty people. Was he soon enough?
Down to the last box. Jules counted. Eleven people, counting him. Maybe… maybe there was another box. Or he could have miscounted. No point in leaving just now, but now he was extremely nervous. Five people. Four. Three. Two.
“Last one,” said the employee of the mysterious corporation. Well, maybe Jules would have known what corporation they were if he’d been paying attention earlier, but he didn’t care about such details.
Last one. The woman in front of him stepped forward, and paid for it with credit. Jules just stood there awkwardly. “The last one… huh.”
“That’s right. Sorry, maybe you can get one in the next batch.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that…” Jules said. He was somehow much more disappointed than he thought he’d be. Maybe because he’d just been one person too late. He turned slowly to leave, and started walking away.
“Give him yours.”
Jules paused. That hadn’t been the voice of either the store employee or the man from the corporation. He turned to look.
The corporation employee held his wrist up to his mouth and spoke. “What was that, sir?”
“I said give him yours. We’ll get you a new one,” came a voice from the man’s wrist. He was wearing one of the systems for the game.
The man hesitated only briefly, before taking it off his wrist and handing it to Jules. “Here you go, sir. Have a nice day.”
“Umm… don’t I have to pay for it?”
The voice spoke up once more. “I’ll cover it. The store doesn’t have that one in its inventory anyway.”
“Uh… thanks,” Jules said, more than awkwardly.
He turned around again, and walked away. He kept expecting one of them to call out to him, saying it was a prank, or a mistake, or something else. He felt like he was doing something wrong, all they way home, to his room. Nobody stopped him, though.
Jules arrived back at his room. He realized he didn’t have a proof of purchase or a manual or anything. On the other hand, he hadn’t paid anything for the strange wristband. So, he wouldn’t lose anything if he couldn’t make it work or had to give it back, except time and maybe pride. He set about figuring out how to use it.
Instantly, he was done. There was a single button. So, he put on the wristband and pressed the button. It projected an image in front of him. “Welcome to Many Worlds!” it read. “Please lie down somewhere safe and then confirm the command to start the game.” Well, that seemed pretty simple, he guessed. He lay on his bed. Now, how did he confirm-
His vision was filled with white light, and he threw his hand in front of his face.