Authors: Wade Adrian
The Proving Grounds:
Copyright © 2016 Wade Adrian
Cover design © 2016 Wade Adrian
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means - except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews - without written permission from its publisher.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2016 Wade Adrian
All rights reserved.
The bar said it was at one hundred percent but somehow it was still not done. God damn it.
Toby stared at the screen. The bar was full. It wasn’t moving anymore. He blinked at it a few times. Inside his mind there were only screams of rage.
He poked the monitor a few times. It wasn’t a touch screen. That didn’t matter.
“Go. Go. Go. I have to be at work in less than an our and a half and it takes me a half hour to get there. This is bullshit.”
If only their stupid server had been up the night before. “Technical difficulties,” they said. His early access was dwindling away while the stupid bar was already full and done. What the hell does one hundred percent even mean if it doesn’t mean the thing is done?
“Oh. Ooooooh. This is some of that programmer math shit, right here. Zero is the first number and we only count whole numbers when they tick over, but our progress bar rounds up because fuck you, that’s why. And somehow one is the second number.” Toby shook his head. “Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. Zero is not a number. Zero is a
of numbers. A number
. A gap where numbers should, nay,
some day be. Yet now they are not. They yearn, and yet their existence is only a dream.”
The screen didn’t seem to care about his perfectly valid and logical arguments.
He had to admit there was
precedent for part of a number not exactly meaning zero… but it had no place in a world where a completed progress bar was not complete.
And the screen kept on not caring. How rude.
He sighed and hopped up from the chair. He was already dressed and ready to leave. There had been plenty of time. He’d had breakfast
lunch while waiting on this stupid thing. If he’d had any sense he would have been asleep until an hour or two ago, but no, he had been up since 6 a.m. He’d set his alarm to try and get the installer going again as soon as possible. And then set it for 1:30 p.m. just in case. He’d passed out waiting on progress bars before. They were his nemesis.
He could work on four hours of sleep. He did it all the time. Nobody noticed. Or if they did, they didn’t care. He worked in a print shop. Lives were most definitely not on the line.
The fancy virtual reality headset was sitting on the floor where he had left it. This had been the “dining room” of his apartment, except that he had never actually dined there. It was closer to the “square space beside the kitchen” room where he had previously stored crap he didn’t have a designated space for. A few bookshelves, a couple plastic totes with decorations… and the latest one filled with all of Molly’s stuff that she hadn’t picked up yet.
No time for bad memories.
This time yesterday he had been shoving all the crap from the storaging room into the living room. It was about the same size except it already had the TV and secondhand couch and was now cramped with all the stuff that had been in here. The only thing left in the storaging room was the computer desk and the VR setup. There were sensors tied into the setup in each corner of the room. Some looked down while others looked up.
His phone beeped and nearly shook its way off of the desk. He picked it up.
Mitchel: you get in yet?
Sigh. He typed back a tirade with his thumbs about downloads and loading bars and all manner of bar shaped injustices.
Mitchel: me neither
Well at least he wasn’t alone in his misery.
He set the phone back down and sat on the carpet in the middle of the nearly empty room. He picked the headset up and plopped it onto his head. Nobody cared how his hair looked, him least of all. He worked in the back… if he could help it. Customer service was not a skill he had invested into heavily. Most people were assholes. He knew from experience, being a person and all.
The headset had cameras on the outside so putting the thing on didn’t alter his view much while nothing was running. It made things seem a tiny bit closer, but he had gotten used to the adjustment while setting up all of this nonsense. The cameras and sensors tracked his head movements. He had a controller for doing things other than looking around. There were optional peripherals to make things more immersive but he couldn’t afford to spring for everything at once. It would be a paycheck or two before he could swing the gloves. They looked neat, though. They were covered in sensors like the headset and the manufacturers claimed they could read individual fingers and track them in real time.
Only two paychecks away from flipping off kill stealing jerks in real time.
What a time to be alive.
A low beep sounded in his right ear. He tilted his head to the right. Oh, good, the progress bar was waiting for him here, too.
“What do you want? We’re not on speaking terms, progress bar.”
It floated a few feet off the ground as he stood up. It was almost in the kitchen. The bar was still full, and the “Play” button beside it was still grayed out… but the words below it had changed. There was no longer a percentage. It was verifying the installation.
Great. Because that could take ages.
The clock on the wall said 12:42.
“Hurry it the hell up.”
He tried to rub at the space between his eyes but his hand bumped into the headset.
Right. That was a thing. This would take some getting used to.
A dramatic drum solo sounded from ahead of him.
“What? Really? Sweet.”
He glanced around the room and snatched the controller from where it lay on the desk.
“Yes, play. Begin. Go. Now, please.”
The main score started up as the loading bar rolled over to reveal the game’s logo.
The Proving Grounds. Dun dun dun.
A wall of black shot out from behind the logo washing the storaging room away and leaving only a void.
Toby turned his head back and forth. There was only darkness. It was him, the logo, and the void.
He was already logged in by the installer, so that was nice. Not using the controller to type was always a bonus.
Connecting to login server… again. Done. Retinal scan? Well that was some funky security. It cleared him and the bar disappeared quickly enough. He hadn’t realized that had been part of the setup process. What he got for not paying attention. Eh, security was always good.
Connecting to world server… today was preferable. Any time now would be good, really. He couldn’t see the clock anymore, but he knew time was wasting away on all of this. The clock mocked him from the other side of the void.
He hung his head and grumbled under his breath. Everyone and their dog was trying to log in right now. The great name grab was on. To the losers would go Lègôläs and ÐríŽŽ†. Or maybe people were actively trying for those. Who knows?
They only had the one login server tying all their other server architecture together, so it all had to make it through that one. They had been touting their server capacity for years of development now. Some internal code thing that spruced up the number of players and mobs it could keep track of.
All well and good… unless he couldn’t find any giant rats to kill in the newbie zone.
Eh, no big. Right now he was more concerned with his name. He could delete the character later, he just needed to have the name tied to his account.
The void faded to become a forest clearing with a bright beam of light falling onto an empty patch of grass. A list floated to the right side of his vision. Empty, empty, empty, empty… That might be a problem in the future. He had touches of altitis now and then.
He mashed the button on the controller and the first space glowed as the character list disappeared.
The default character that walked into the circle of light was… a surprise. He was staring at himself, or at least as near as the computer could get to him with the parts it had available to make characters. The eyes weren’t quite right and the nose was wrong…
Well, all the sensors in the room suddenly made sense. They wouldn’t have high resolution cameras, but good enough to track the sensors on the headset. The thought was mildly creepy. Also his hair was wrong.
He played with the options, but set most of them back to where the computer had put them. His nine to five (or two to nine as the case may be today) hair style didn’t really fit a fantasy world. He needed something more… Conan. Shoulder length. Scruffy.
He left the rest of the character as it had come. He didn’t really care. All of the options used to create it were in the game. And while this one might have been made by the pervy software looking at him, it could have just as easily appeared by a press of the random button. He’d spend more time getting the character right when he had the time.
Class. Hmm. The character was dressed in a gray robe. Very Gandalf.
He’d tried to read over the patch notes while he waited
all damned morning
but they read like stereo instructions for a stereo he didn’t own. This ability was buffed, that ability was taken out behind the woodshed and beaten within an inch of its life, that one had its magical particle color changed… Until he had used them,
memorized their silly names, they didn’t mean anything when written out.
Apparently, not unlike Harry before him, he was wizard. At least by default. He hoped that was a random decision and not the computer commenting on his stature and build. Tall he was not and strong he was not. But prideful he was.
He scrolled through the list of classes as fast as it would go. It stopped when the list bounced after hitting the top.
The character lost its shabby robe and instead sported furs and a chain mail shirt.
Right then, good enough. He accepted the class and was already trying to figure out how to type in “Tobin” when the name prompt appeared. He had to use the controller to type this time.
It hurt his soul a little bit.
He blinked at the second field. “A last name? Umm…”
He had been “Tobin” in games for so long it was second nature. It was what he jumped to get every time… but surnames had never been a guarantee. Most games didn’t use them or assigned one. And occasionally they made all your characters share one. Always a bit creepy, that.
“Uhhh…” He stared at the empty box. It wasn’t helping any. “Emptybox” would be a terrible name.
“Hell with it, I’m starting over later anyway.” He typed in “Ironblood” and moved the cursor to the “accept” button. A spinning wheel appeared for a moment.
Still better than a nounverb name. He knew people that would literally punch him in the nose if he wore “Duskweaver” or something. At least if it wasn’t worn ironically. Mitchel was chief among them. Hmm. Rockchucker. Skullsmasher. Damn, that was a good one. Oh well, too late now.