When is a game still a game? When does it become more than that? When does it become reality?
For live streamer Axel Becker, he thought he understood the answer to that question when started making his money through playing video games. When terrorists took over and entrapped a million players in a shooter mmorpg, his answer changed.
The hit game, Escape from Valhalla, uses a next generation VR system which inserts a player’s consciousness into the game world. This system is corrupted and a death in the game world means a true death IRL.
Can Axel survive the game? Can he find out why they kidnapped all the gamers?
If you love gamelit novels such as Ready Player One where action, adventure, guns, and explosives are the norm, then you will love Trapped Reality. Book One of the Corrupted Stream Saga by Nathan Pedde.
Chapter One Preview
Axel Becker ran down the street. He was late again for his XFlux live stream. Over an hour late this time and he would never hear about it for the remainder of the stream. His viewers knew him for his handle: Breaker.
Rain plunged from the Seattle sky, pelting his clothes. In his rush he forgot to zip his rain jacket. His shoes splashed through the deep puddles. He was tall, over six feet tall, while he was scrawny in regard to his weight.
The tall buildings of the downtown core stretched up into the gray, murky sludge of a rain cloud. The torrent of water cascaded down into the street, washing away weeks of built-up filth.
A drunk, homeless man stumbled along the sidewalk, not paying attention to where he was going. One moment he was alongside the building, and the next, he was in front of him.
“Got any change today?” the man asked.
Breaker dodged around the homeless man, not wanting the delay.
“Not today,” Breaker said, stopping and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill from his jacket pocket. “Shit. Take this, get someplace dry.”
“Thank you. Wait. This is higher than you normally give me?”
“Then, I guess I won’t donate tomorrow.” Breaker handed the man the money.
“Asshole,” the Drunkard snarled but took the money.
Breaker ignored the man, leaving without giving him a response.
Half a block later, he ran up the steps of an older apartment building. The aged red bricks were chipped and damaged from years of misuse and neglect.
He sprinted through the lobby and up the staircase, neglecting to take the ancient rattling elevator. At the top of the stairs, he paused in the hallway and took a deep breath. Winded from his run, he calmed his breathing.
“Showtime,” Breaker said.
A moment later, he opened the door to his small two-bedroom apartment.
“And here he is,” his girlfriend’s voice said with a bubbly tone, “The man of the hour. Breaker himself.”
Diannah Demary stood in front of the door dressed in a pair of black yoga pants and a crop top. Her long brown hair hung loose to her shoulders, covering her supple figure. She held a small camera attached to a selfie stick with the camera pointed at him. Diannah his fellow XFlux streamer partner, and for this stream, the host of the show. She used his gaming name as he kept his personal name private for obvious reasons.
“Shit, Fixer,” Breaker said, using her gaming tag, “am I that late?”
“Started the stream five minutes ago.”
Breaker shook his head, then stared into the camera lens. “Well, ladies and gents, I apologize for my tardiness. That’s what happens when you live in a busy city. I’ll blame traffic.”
He paused while he threw off his shoes and jacket into a closet.
“Traffic,” Diannah said. “Don’t you always blame traffic?”
“Usually only in racing games.”
Breaker walked past Diannah and into the small kitchen.
“Water bottles in the office,” Diannah said. “You’re ready to go. And once I get back to the chat, I’m sure the viewers are ready to see the new game.”
Breaker turned to face Diannah and the camera. “You didn’t tell them?”
“I did not,” Diannah said. “Though I suspect most of them have guessed the game as it goes live in thirty minutes.”
He grinned. “Today is a special stream. Special for one very good reason. The flagship game of the Verse is being released. You’ve seen me use the technology on my Thursday streams. But today is the day, Escape from Valhalla is going to be dropped. We’ll be playing it for eight hours.”
“Shall we get started?”
Breaker walked from the kitchen out into his small living room, which looked immaculate. Diannah had the habit of following him with the camera, so he kept his apartment clean.
He entered the small gaming room to the side of the living room. It was large enough for a couple desks with top-end computers, but today they only used one. Both machines shared a single T-shaped office with multiple cameras on the positions of the different players. Both systems also had a dual monitor set up, vital for streaming.
Bolted to the wall was a LED counter Breaker used it to keep an accurate viewer count as they streamed. Breaker glanced up at it, and it said, “11,545.”
That’s a new record, Breaker thought. My average daily viewership is around two thousand.
A small couch was the newest arrival in the space. In a typical game, they wouldn’t need the sofa. However, using the Verse Technology was different.
Breaker sat down on the fluffy cushion. A single tripod with another small camera stood beside him, the camera was aimed where his head would be.
Diannah sat on her computer chair, aiming the camera at him, giving a thumbs up.
“For those just tuning in,” he began, “my name is Breaker, and I’m about to log into EFV. What’s the time?”
“Ten minutes till launch.”
“Perfect. I think I’ve time to answer a question or two before I go in?”
Diannah turned in her chair, facing the monitor. The camera on a selfie stick drifted to the side due to her split attention. Breaker crossed his eyes and leaned in to be seen in the camera.
“I have a Felix-the-Dirk who asks, what do you think about the Verse? Is it worth the five hundred dollars?” Diannah read, then looked at the second monitor and Breaker’s funny face in the camera angle,
“Sorry.” Diannah aimed the camera at Breaker once more.
“So far,” Breaker said. “I’ve used it for two months now. At first, it had bugs and issues, like accessing certain controls would make the player glitch. Especially the security concern. However, now it’s well worth the money. They’ve patched it, and with the release of the update 1.15 for the Verse to go along with EFV, it’s only going to get better. If you have the money to drop on Verse, do it.”
Breaker looked past the camera at Diannah.
“We don’t have much time for any more questions,” she said. “But the common one from new viewers is, what is the Verse and EFV?”
He nodded, then turned back to the camera.
“For those who don’t know. The Verse or EFV is,” Breaker grinned, his white teeth glinted in the lights. “Where have you been? Living under a rock?”
“Stop patronizing the audience.”
“Yes, Fixer. As I was saying, the Verse is the newest form of Virtual Reality. Before, I would wear a headset and must wave my arms around like a fool. This technology takes my mind into the game. It allows me to sit in comfort as my mind plays the game. The Verse is the top-selling VR Headset.”
“Speaking of headsets,” Diannah said. “Two minutes.”
Breaker leaned forward in his seat. “Now EFV is Escape from Valhalla using the Verse VR system.”
He grabbed the helmet shaped headset and put it on. A single cable that ran from the left side to the computer. A visor was fixed over his eyes, but it wasn’t for seeing anything game related.
“You’re activated,” Diannah said.
He laid down on the couch and pressed a button on the side of his helmet. One moment he was in the room, and the next, he was in a sea of pure whiteness: the loading window to the Verse.
After five years of being an XFlux streamer, his instincts told him to fill the dead air while things loaded. It was time to read the chat and answer questions. Or to play music. He knew better to talk now, the system had taken control, and if he spoke, his lips wouldn’t move. Diannah wouldn’t hear his voice until after the system loaded.
In the distance, a faint light appeared brighter than the white area around Breaker. The light raced toward him, like a freight train barreling down a tunnel. The first time he experienced it, he got scared. The primitive part of his brain cautioning him it was something big, dangerous and could kill him. Breaker trained himself to realize it was a video game, and he was safe.
The lights changed from a bright white to softer pastel colors expanding around him, filling Breaker’s vision with the reds and yellows, greens, and blues. A moment later, the colors were gone, replaced by the Escape from Valhalla game title. The background was different scenes and situations of the game. Flashes of scenic landscapes of destroyed cities were spread across his vision.
To Breaker, it felt like he was in the images, yet they were far away. In amongst the images was a big and bold timer in the center of his view with a blaring red forty-five seconds on the clock.
“Breaker,” Diannah said from outside the game.” Can you hear me now?”
“Loud and clear,” Breaker confirmed.
“The first-person camera view is up. Third is still blank.”
“That’s cause I’ve no avatar yet, just wait till the counter hits zero.” Breaker turned his attention back to the counter; the time ticked to eleven seconds.
“Ten… nine…” Diannah counted.
“Eight… seven… six…” Breaker counted at the same time.
“Three… two… one…”
The images before him blurred, then shot by him as if he was flying past at warp speed.
More images of the game flashed by Breaker. Scenes of monsters attacking, and players fighting with different types of weapons ranging from primitive, to modern, to alien. A moment later, the main screen popped up. Letters flew by his head, bright red with speed and smoke. They slammed into the scene in front of him, cracking the images like rocks on a car window. One after another, the different letters went by until the words were complete. Written in large letters, Escape from Valhalla spread across his vision. Everywhere he turned his head, the letters moved with him.
“Are you seeing this?” Breaker said. “Please tell me you are.”
“I am,” Diannah replied. “I don’t think the full scale of it has taken hold.”
“Me neither. “Are you talking to the audience?”
“Yes, boss. No dead air here.”
Breaker turned around and his jaw dropped. “Good, because I don’t hear your banter.”
“EFV denied my external talk chat function. I have to use the third-party program to talk to you.”
“Yes,” Diannah said, frustration in her voice, which quickly changed to a poorly done Scottish accent. “I’m a doctor, not a computer expert.”
“You’re not a doctor. Yet—”
“I’ve got a hundred-dollar donation and a question.”
“Starwarrior1899 asks, even though you aren’t in the game yet, is this game any good?”
“This is the main menu,” Breaker answered, “However. It’s better than Zombie Killer Elite and the Battle of the Nine Armies. I’ll reassess when I’m done today’s session, detailing a full report of my experience and thoughts.”
“I’m going to get started with character creation, go ahead and tell them about the draw.”
Breaker raised his left hand and saw he didn’t have one. He could feel his hand. His brain told him he had a hand, and he had just raised it up. He pointed his first two fingers out in front of him and swiped.
A menu of the standard game options appeared with the motion. He clicked on “New Game.” The images around him flashed, disappearing once more. This time surrounding him was pure, claustrophobic darkness.
This is just a game and only the opening cut scene, Breaker reminded himself.
In front of him, a large eight-by-six-foot screen appeared, not attached to his field of vision. On the screen was a series of images. A spring day with blooming flowers and cherry trees. People walking down a park path with a dog and stroller in tow. The congested city streets, full of people heading every which way, cars honking with the revving of engines.
“In the year 2035,” a womanly narrating voice began with a sweet and kind tone like a mother talking to a child, “The world was at peace. Wars were few and far between. Human beings experienced the widest range of freedom humanity had ever seen.”
The woman paused as the entire screen filled with flashing images, floating away from him. A new screen appeared, filled with pictures of alien spaceships, armed to the teeth with advanced weapons. A scene of battle emerged, encompassing all around him. Sounds of battle, bullets ricocheting, bombs exploding from all corners, even though they were only on the screen.
“In March of that year,” the narrator continued, “the aliens of Valhalla invaded and conquered humanity. The battle was swift and fatal, like stepping on ants under a boot.”
The scene swept away as quickly as it had come, bringing forth humans in orange jumpsuits and chains. All of them were being taken to a massive alien building. The purple humanoid aliens walked behind many of them, small red weapons in their hands.
“Humans didn’t face extinction,” the narrator said, “they were rounded up and used as slaves. After twenty-five years, the descendants of those captured were let loose upon the world. For what ends, only the Valhallians know, and they weren’t talking. Yet. Welcome young human, to Escape from Valhalla.”
The screens in front of him faded into a blurry mess, then refocused. Except, he was now dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He stood in front of a mirror in a spartan metal room.
The games, User Interface or UI was simple. A small digital clock sat in the upper right corner of his vision. No time was on it. However, that would change. On the top left was a small heart rate monitor, which Breaker guessed it was all the health monitor he would get.
“Fixer,” Breaker called, “Do you read still?”
“Of course,” Diannah said. “Chat is going nuts, and I can’t keep up with commentary and donations.”
“Do a poll, do they want me to go through character creation or use the preset I bought.”
“I haven’t shown off the preset system yet. And for another thing, this is really weird considering you’re lying on a couch next to me.”
“Has chat been asking you to fondle my body?”
“Resist,” Breaker said, trying not to laugh. “Think about the community guidelines.”
“Of course, I’ve banned a dozen people so far excessively asking for that. By the way, we’re at thirty-five thousand viewers.”
Breaker’s jaw dropped. “The poll?”
“Is up. It’s called multi-tasking.”
“Give me a minute,” Diannah said, her voice even.
Breaker stepped up to the mirror. No image appeared in the glass. Breaker touched a small circle on the right side. Text appeared on the window, “Would you like a random avatar, one generated based on your real-world feature, or a preset.”
“Are you not wanting the poll?” Diannah said.
“I’m playing with buttons,” Breaker said. “Results?”
“Survey says. Eighty percent against using character creator.”
Breaker clicked the button labeled, “Preset.” The buttons disappeared. The image of his avatar appeared. He was taller than he was in real life, his face was chiseled and roughed up with a scar through his eyebrows. He sported a bright red colored mohawk. Breaker looked at his body, the large gut stuck out. Breaker grimaced.
“Do you have to have the gut?” Diannah said.
“Yes Fixer,” Breaker said. “I can lose it by exercising in-game.”
The letters appeared in the window, “Accept the Preset? Yes. No.”
Breaker reached for the yes button. “Last chance. Go with this one?”
“Do it,” Diannah said. “Before the vocal ones demand a new hairstyle. They want you to have pink hair.”
He pushed the “Yes” button.
A door appeared behind him and clicked open. Behind it would be the optional tutorial and then the game.
“Fixer,” Breaker said. “This is it, on the other side of this door is the game. Once over there, I may not be able to respond by chat. Not until I’m done with the tutorial.”
“Roger,” Diannah said, “I’ve got this end. Do it.”