“…and I’m just thinkin’ like, yeah he’s got NOTHIN’… So, I call, with J4… and you know how it goes from there, baby…”
WE ARRIVE at a diversionary moment, in which FEARLESS space captain Fib Newton is on a date at one of the many franchise locations of the International Mall of the Universe, this time conveniently positioned somewhere between planets 6 and 7 of the MYSTERIOUS solar system our Suites Odyssey has plundered for its POWERFUL SECRETS.
Fib, retelling the story of his controversial poker match to his date, completely unaware of how deeply uninteresting it is, continues on enthusiastically.
Strolling through the mall, a disorienting labyrinth of synthetic aromas, unfamiliar indoor-storefronts and unsavory huddles of alien teenagers, Fib notes subconsciously that retail is well on it’s way towards death and this tones the experience with a strange temporality that verges on the melancholic, the nostalgic.
“What exactly do you… do again?” She asks, morbidly curious.
“Heh well, that’s pretty complicated” Fib begins…
Passing by what seems like a slice of newly renovated mall-space, a giant multicolored sign above the entrance which reads “METARCADE” swirls seductively, as if it’s the only relevant thing in the entire mall filled with a universe’s provision of lackluster offerings.
Fib stops, grabbing her hand. She looks at him, surprised at the sudden purpose that fills his expression.
“…wait, we need to stop here.” He states flatly.
The arcade, METARCADE, a newly introduced entertainment outlet scattered throughout the universe by the technologically dominant Meta Federation, is billed as the first TOTALLY FREE arcade in which players are fully submerged into the METAVERSE, a digitally interconnected world vaguely mirroring reality in which ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE™.
All you need to do is sign up, verifying your identity and checkmarking a suspiciously long agreement which is read by nearly nobody – and once complete the METAVERSE’s wonders are ready to explore!
…Signing up without reading the agreement, they make their way through the bustling arcade beyond the reception desk.
The attention-grabbing sounds of countless digital outputs pour through sleek looking arcade cabinets, and instead of joysticks and buttons there are simply twin electrodes feeding out of the cabinet fronts – attaching at either side of player’s skulls as they stand there comatose and white-eyed, surrounded by various onlookers, controlling digital avatars on screen as they endeavor in filing paperwork, competing in high stakes intergalactic races, experiencing high-school trauma…
All of it free, completely free of charge. No quarters and no credits.
Fib, semi-dragging his date through the narrow pathways between small crowds surrounding the cabinets, chasing the ghostly path of his intuition towards something… When he bumps into a sturdy body striding in the opposite direction.
“…WATCH it, pleb.” The body barks, viciously.
“Grow a brain, bud” Fib snarls back, his instant, petty anger causing his date to sigh resignedly.
They square up, and Fib finds himself staring at a decorated member of the Meta Federation’s space battalion. His tech-bro haircut offset by his genetically engineered bodily frame, a veiny monster of a man with a recessed chin, textbook.
The quarterly report recently released by the Meta Federation was so grim that the battalion member’s viciousness was something of a widespread phenomenon amongst the declining Meta Federation’s contingency. Fib decides to lean into it.
“Whacha doing here friend… babysitting your boss’s next little shitshow?” Fib quips as his date mutters something about going to find snacks.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.” The soldier delivers coldly with a grin.
“Oh yeah? How about we take a little trip to the metaverse and you can give me a tour of the Eiffel tower” Fib, stepping forward, a smile painted on his face aggressively.
“Gladly” The soldier responds, his eyes now glinting with dark anticipation.
The soldier and Fib stand, expressionless with electrodes attached to their skulls, staring forward towards an arcade cabinet screen, one of so many cabinets lining the facility, this cabinet’s title…
“HIT THE FLANK HARD!!! TIGHT FORMATION BOYS, WAIT FOR MY SIGNAL!” Fib yells into the comms.
Leading a V-formation of a mechsuit assault on the enemy position, Fib drives the controls forward at breakneck velocity. Surrounding this helldive are the multicolored lasers and oxygen-deprived explosions characteristic of deep space warfare. The battlefield’s smoldering ruins cascade outward, surrounding the fiery core of continuing skirmishes, and it has been days and days of non-stop violence.
Fib, assuming command of one of the last remaining units of a desperate rebel force in an unnamed star system, battles on against the Meta Federation’s deployed mecha battalions with the fervor of a man long having forgotten he’s playing a video game.
He has formed camaraderie; sharing deep conversations over comms in the face of mortal peril with his rebel compatriots, experiencing profound loss as they fell away one by one in battle. He has experienced life-affirming glory and the vengeful bloodlust which leaves a man hollow in its fulfillment. His soul is older now, his previous existence a distant memory.
At last it has come down to an all or nothing pincer movement to break Meta’s final line and cut off their last reinforcement pathway.
Threading quickly through enemy fire, Fibs mechsuit plunges towards the enemy formation, its sharp visor visibly cracking under the force of speed in the maneuver. To Fib’s left and right, mobile units are struck, drop out of formation and explode, the screams of his comrades piercing through comms in the moments before dense flames envelop their cockpits.
“OPEN FIRE” Fib rips through comms to his remaining units, a number far reduced after charging into the enemy’s heavy volley. Using some of the last of their energy reserves, the rebel unit fires supercharged laser blasts into the enemy line. The beams cut through in thick, electric tendrils with a crackling force, their destruction hangs for moments until various mobile units on the enemy line detonate out of sync, clearing a pathway towards the commanding unit for Fib.
“IT’S TIME TO FINISH THIS” Roars Fib, eyes streaming with tears.
The Meta Federation commander whose experience has mirrored Fibs from the other side of the battle, their real bodies both still standing in the arcade blankly, poises himself for the final confrontation as both he and Fib’s mechsuits lock on to one another in the middle of the chaotic pincer assault.
Drawing an energy sword for the deathblow, Fib flips the hatch over the red button to override his mechsuits energy limitation protocols. Slamming the button down, his thrusters expand dangerously, pushing his speed to near-warp capacity.
The enemy rips his own energy sword from his belt, fires up thrusters to max and moves to clash decisively with Fib, to achieve final victory by decapitation of the rebellion’s last remaining leadership.
IN AN INSTANT. LIGHTSPEED. THE CLASH
Both units spiral out from their point of contact through space…
It’s over… Thinks Fib, his mechsuit slowing… the electrical systems shutting down…
“…hey, pleb…” The comms crackle. “I don’t know if anyone told you this *cough*… if you die in the metaverse… you die… in real… life…”
“Wait a minute… you’re telling me this was… real?” Fib stammers exhaustedly back to the Meta soldier, his mental frame dissolving quickly.
“If it’s free…you’re the… product…” The comms rattle, the last words of a decorated soldier of the Meta Federation. Behind Fib’s field of vision, a bright light erupts as the enemy suit detonates.
Fib’s sight goes dark… his brain begins to retract through digital space towards his own body back in the arcade… but there is a problem, an interruption… and instead his course diverts towards an inner-state limbo.
This is it.. Lost forever… Fibs inner voice echoes through the ideaspace he is now trapped by.
No, this can’t be it… what was I chasing again?
Think… think back…
A flood of memories play themselves in the unspeakable dimensions of thought across Fib’s consciousness.
Suddenly it bubbles up…
What was that one… announcement? That Ian made all that time ago…
Ah, that’s right.
Heh… perfect timing…
BUT THAT’S ALL FOR THIS WEEK.
Will Fib survive his grievous wounds suffered through the all-too-real violence of war in the METAVERSE??
Is his date still hanging around the arcade? Will she be upfront about her feelings that it would never work out?!
And what of this MYSTERIOUS big time influencer who was announced as a potential partner with The Suites so long ago…
A HUGE ANNOUNCEMENT, an unforgettable conclusion to the Suites Odyssey which will thunder through web 3 in an all-consuming wave of glory.
See you next time, friendo, for one last tango with fate.
Fib Newton, CM