[For Part One, start here]
Grant didn’t know what time of day it was. He wasn’t even curious to check. His eyes burned as he flipped between fifteen tabs open on his browser.
Brainbacker. The basic subscription was a modest monthly fee though some legal fees would have to be paid once the conditions were written into the living will.
A bottle of pain medication sat next to his mouse. It was nearly full, but it should be enough to do the job. His cursor hovered over the ‘Purchase Plan’ button. He clenched his eyes shut but couldn’t bring himself to click. At least, not yet.
The realm of NEXUS was abuzz with activity. The news was out that the event was coded for Morphestus to never die and for every avatar to be crushed under his dark power. The next week, the developers released special Soul Diamonds to be collected in a long chain quest that would enable the players to actually do damage to Morphestus.
Everyone was out collecting these incredibly rare items, leaving the Thornhold empty. Only Xavus and Ipsum were there, standing among the NPCs who could only say scripted things once you clicked on them.
Grant found Ipsum sitting among them.
IPSUM: Hey, man. What’s up?
XAVUS: What do you think of Brainbacker?
IPSUM: I think it’s an incredible product available at such a reasonable price. Technology, amirite?
Grant sighed, and his mage knight seemed to sigh too.
XAVUS: I was thinking of signing up for it.
XAVUS: I was thinking about leaving meatspace a little early. You know what I mean? I got enough pills to pull it off.
The face of Ipsum’s avatar never lost its ambivalent expression. It was a full minute before Ipsum rose from his chair and wandered toward the bar.
XAVUS: Ipsum, did you hear me, you second-rate replicant?
Ipsum turned toward Xavus, opened a trade window and gave him a Thornhold Slow Craft Ale.
IPSUM: Whatever happens, I’ll be thankful for what I was given.
XAVUS: Now you’re just telling me junk that’s on your social media.
IPSUM: Remember when we totally wiped on Morphestus?
XAVUS: What am I supposed to do now? The guild is gone! You’re gone! I’ve got nothing. No job, no girlfriend, nothing. My back hurts all the time. I saw my mom die in that crash. I’m scared to leave my house! If this is life, then I don’t want it.
Ipsum’s avatar twitched like he was being held in place while he was trying to walk. One arm didn’t move along with him and was left behind at the bar, twitching and straining.
XAVUS: Oh, what’s that? Another error?
XAVUS: What am I supposed to do with that? Report your malfunction to Brainbacker?
XAVUS: Okay. It’s obviously a phone number. I’ll call it and I’ll make the life of whoever picks up a living hell.
Grant picked up his phone, dialed the number, and gritted his teeth. After the third ring, someone finally picked up.
“Grant, sweetie?” Aunt Doreen said. “So glad to hear from you. How are things?”
Grant felt his heart drop into his stomach.
“Grant? Are you there?” Aunt Doreen asked. “Did you butt-dial me?”
“Aunt Doreen?” Grant’s voice trembled. There was absolutely no reason he would have told Ipsum his aunt’s phone number.
“Sweetie are you okay?” she asked. “You sound strange.”
Grant looked back at the computer. The pill bottle stood next to his mouse.
“Aunt Doreen,” Grant said. “I’m not okay. Nothing’s okay.”
“Do you need me to come pick you up?” She didn’t ask what was wrong. She was just prepared to run out the door for him.
“I need help.” He sobbed into the phone.
“I’ll be right there.
Grant stuffed his bags with a few clothes and the rest of his Twizzlers. He sat at his desk and stared at his monitor.
“Ipsum,” Grant said. “Thank you. For putting up with me. For being my friend. For everything. Thank you. I gotta go now.”
His face was still and calm as his hands flew over the keyboard. He deleted his NEXUS account just as Aunt Doreen knocked on his door.