Jihan Nichols – No Life

I woke up on the floor again. There was a banging outside my cramped apartment. As I struggle to get up only using the light leaking from my closed blinds, the banging stops. I hear footsteps fading away from the outside of my apartment door as my body begins to barely function. There is a heavy cloud of leftover pizza smell dwelling in the apartment. I open the busted door and peek through the hallway of 429 section B. There is an eviction notice on my door. I rip it off and sigh begrudgingly as I trudge back into the apartment closing the door behind me. Disorientingly, I make my way through the obsolete tech junk scattered across the floor, I grab my half-filled cup of cold coffee and choke it down forcefully. I plugged in the VR module on the side of my forehead and started up MetaLive, a simulation of life in the city.

            My eyes close and my head gets filled with images and new feelings. My mind begins to clear and fill with thoughts of anticipation. In this life, I could be anyone I wanted to be without the hassle that comes with everyday life. Many chose to be the biggest criminal in the city, others tried to fight back in the name of justice. I was a chauffeur. Exciting, right? Well, it was not as bad as one might think. Everyone in this world was all here for different reasons. As for me, I was trying to escape the hell that goes on in real life and drive some nice cars. This was the only freedom I got. There was no place for me in the real world. It was full of new problems to deal with every day. I wanted a break from all of that. Before Meta, I was a failing college student who was struggling to make ends meet. The only way out was signing my rights away to Meta to test their game. But something was off, something was happening in the world outside. I tried to contact them, but Meta had gone dead silent. I suspected there was something big about to happen or already happening. 

My shift ended and I headed to the beach. As I started walking the ground turned into sand and I could hear the seagulls calling me from afar. The sun was at its peak, beaming its solar rays directly on my body. I took off my shoes and let the sand mold around the shape of my feet. My friend, Peter, was supposed to meet me here soon. He was my old childhood friend but we drifted apart over the years. He had a heart condition which made it hard to hang out with him. Luckily, we found each other through meta. I waited on the coastline near the water. He was late. I stared off into the distance wondering where things went wrong. Before I could fully immerse myself in a pit of sorrow, I saw my friend running towards me. I cleared my head. We both greeted each other

“Hey, man how have you been?” I said.

“Ahh, you know me, same old, same old.”

“That’s good,” I said. “How’s your job going?”

Pete worked as an arms dealer. He supplied half of the city’s weapons. He had an idea.

“Hey, ever wonder what’s out there?” He pointed to the ocean where it met the sky. That was void there was nothing there except emptiness past the water. 

“No, not really,” I replied.

“I heard Meta is hiding something back there,” he said. “Something big…Anyways I got a new job for us.” 

I was lost in thought. When he mentioned outside the wall I got a feeling of deja vu like I remembered something but I couldn’t tell what. It was like trying to make out what a room looks like through a crack in the keyhole.

“Hello? Hello, is anyone home?” he said. I snapped out of it.

“Hey yeah sorry about that I was just thinking about something.”

“Ok.. like I was saying I have new intel on a job” 

“Come on man, we talked about this, I said it was done.”  Peter and I had a history of doing crime jobs. I was the getaway driver and a pretty good one at that. For him, it was his favorite. It might have been due to the fact he’s been paralyzed since he was young. I noticed a sense of bitterness in him that he kept under wraps most of the time.

“One more job y’know for old times sake” He looked different than I when I last saw him. The childish glow he once had long since faded away. 

“Ok, fine but just this once,” I replied reluctantly. “What’s the job?” 

“I have intel on a super booster that can maybe get us past the barrier”

“Maybe? What is that supposed to mean.”

“Don’t worry I trust my guy, Gary, he’s an expert on this kind of stuff.”

“But how will that even work in the Meta?” His eyes suddenly glowed. It felt like he was staring into my soul and piercing it with his stone-cold glare. Oh no, I did it again. One of the rules to the Meta is that you cannot mention it while inside. Doing so would be grounds for permanent termination. Pete has always been a stickler for rules. 

“SORRY,” I said quickly. “I didn’t mean to.” He stared at me down for a second longer. Then his expression changed suddenly. After pausing for a bit, he shook his head and smiled.

“It’s alright I don’t care.” I was puzzled by his response. It was unlike him to act like this.

I went along with his plan. The plan to steal the super booster was not complicated, everything went according to plan. It was locked in a warehouse that could be easily accessed from the rooftop with little to no security. We were in and out in a flash and made it back to the beach near the pier. The moon was out reflecting its light across the ocean waters.

“Woo wasn’t that fun?” he said. “Just like old times.” 

“Yeah I have to admit that’s pretty good” I replied. “Now what?”

“We use it of course,” he said as he hopped inside. 

“We?” I said. I was skeptical about this. He gestured for me to get in the car

“Yeah come on, that was the whole plan.”

I reluctantly got in the driver’s seat of the vehicle. Then I hesitated. What was I doing with my life? I don’t belong here. Who is this guy I once knew sitting next to me? All these things rushed through my mind. I look over at Pete and see him pointing a gun at my face. 

“PETE WHAT ARE YOU DOING ARE YOU CRAZY!?” I yelled. 

 “I’m doing what needs to be done,” he said, not even looking into my eyes. “Now start the vehicle.” I started up the vehicle. It gave off a low mechanical hum. I looked at him one more time. I didn’t even recognize him anymore. Pete was too far gone from the sweet kid I knew.

“Drive full speed off the pier,” he said nonchalantly. I was panicking. My heart was beating out of my chest and my head was going faint. Click. Pete chambered his pistol. 

“Don’t make me do this,” he said. 

“Ok ok,” I said quickly. “I’ll do it.” I put my foot on the gas pedal. And we started moving fast. My whole life flashed before my eyes as we sped down the pier. I hit the max speed going off the pier and we were in the air. KABOOM. We came in contact with the barrier. All I could about as my consciousness faded where everything went wrong.

I awoke in a grey room strapped to a chair. There was nothing except a metal table in front of me with a chair adjacent to it. My senses were all disoriented. I tried to struggle my way out of the chair but it was hopeless. I was stuck. I could hear voices outside this room. They sounded distorted but I could make out the word He’s awake. The door suddenly opened and a man walked in. 

“Hi, my name is Michael and I’m here to ask you a couple of questions,” the man said. He was dressed in normal office clothes with a nice shirt and tie. I explained everything to him. I told him about my job, Pete, and how we broke through the barrier.

“And where is this Pete now?” he asked. I told him I didn’t know. “It seems like this Pete guy doesn’t even exist,” he said. “There are no records of him in the database.” I realized that this guy worked for Meta. I realized that Pete used me as a scapegoat. Another person came in and pulled the man out of the room. I was thinking about everything that happened. Why did Pete do this? The man came back in.

“We’ve got some more info on your friend Pete,” he said. “Turns out he does exist but an enemy AI has taken over his character and possibly his real-life body and is trying to sabotage Meta. And Meta has decided to permanently terminate you. Goodbye.” 

I woke up suddenly, taking the VR module off my head. I smashed it in anger on the floor. I was lost but one thing was for sure. I’ll find Pete and bring him back even if it’s the last thing I do.

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