Trapped in an online world called iSync, Issa meets a thousand other players from every corner of the world, who all go by their online ID names. Struggling to survive and fighting for a way out, he meets Flower, a mysteriously smart girl. How will a human mind survive in conditions evolution hasn't prepared it for?


12. Chapter 12

Chapter 12


Quaker and I kept our crossbows on Saaler and Thunder, while Flower opened the message. It was a voice message from Safire. Flower pressed the play button.


“Sorry that I haven’t contacted you guys earlier,” Safire’s voice sounded from the AirMenu. “But we’ve had our hands full in Queenstown. Irady and his eight remaining followers still want to kill you guys, but the majority of May Day is against it, so for now you should be safe.”


Flower, Quaker and I exchanged silent glances. This was a relief.


“The reason why I didn’t call you earlier was because there had been some trouble in Queenstown,” Safire continued. “Irady’s group tried to forcefully break out and nearly made an escape, but Soul Driver members managed to capture them again. There was some fighting, damage was dealt, but no one got killed. Right now, Sven is negotiating with Irady, trying to calm him down and talk him out of the manhunt. It is more or less safe for you three to come back to Queenstown.”



The voicemail ended there.


The three of us looked at each other, glad that the situation was at least partially resolved.

Now was the only thing that was remaining was the Praya issue. Was Praya a real place? Was Gavin a developer? Sven should know. Maybe Gavin was part of the team that developed the ZERO Update.


I opened my AirMenu and selected Sven from my contacts list. From among text messaging, voice messaging and short video messaging, there was a fourth function that people rarely ever used anymore: the call function.


I pressed the call button (I might have been the first player in iSync to use this feature) and waited for Sven to pick up. One ring. Two rings. Three rings.


“Issa?” Sven’s voice sounded from the menu.


“Hey Sven,” I said. “Have you ever heard about a place called Praya? Or a developer called Gavin?”


There was a moment of silence. No doubt Sven was thinking about how much to tell us.


“How do you know of those names?” Sven asked.


“We met two surviving players from Praya in Intos. They are with us right now,” I answered.


There was another bit of silence. I could hear Sven let out a heavy sigh. He was probably trying to figure out how to handle this situation.



“I’ll video call you back in a minute,” he said and hung up.


“Who was that?” Saaler asked.


“That was Sven, our moderator,” Quaker answered. “If you guys are telling the truth, then he should be the one who knows.”


“Gavin never said that there were other moderators in this game,” Thunder said in a near whisper.


Surprised, I stared at her. This was the first time I had heard her speaking beyond a shriek and a sob. She had a surprisingly gentle voice.


“There are a lot of things our moderators haven’t told us,” I said. “Maybe they spent so much time writing code, they have lost of the habit of trying to make conversation.”


We looked at each other and had a guilty chuckle. Without a doubt, the developers who created iSync could see this as their life’s work. It truly was amazing.


Sven called and the AirMenu expanded to twenty inches, displaying his head.


“Issa, Quaker, Flower. It’s good to see you,” he smiled.


The three of us greeted him, genuinely glad to see a familiar face from Queenstown. It had been less than three days since we left, but we missed the players already. We were also anxious for more details on the situation with Irady, since Sven was the negotiator.


“A lot has happened since you three left,” he let out a breath while going through this hair with his hands. “But it seems a lot has happened on your end too.”


I nodded and stepped aside so that the AirMenu screen could face Saaler and Thunder. “These two say they are from a place called Praya, and their moderator Gavin got killed by a panicked mob of players.”


Sven’s twenty inch head stared at the two for a short while, scratching his chin. “Tell me what happened in Praya.”


Saaler then told Sven the same story he told us. All the gruesome details of how the players demanded Gavin to log them out. How they deformed Gavin, and then ripped him to pieces. How the ZERO update was seeded, and players grew out of control, with most losing their minds and lives. Later on, we would all refer to this as the Praya Tragedy.


Nodding, Sven listened the entire time without saying a single word. He had no reaction when Sven told him how Gavin got killed.  It seemed as if he couldn’t care less that a fellow developer got killed and turned into a vegetable. I could almost say that by showing no reaction, Sven might actually be glad that this Gavin was brain dead.


When Saaler finished the story. Sven thought in silence for a while before deciding to ask questions.


“Have you seen any other survivors?” he asked.


Saaler shook his head.


“How long did it take you to travel from Praya to Intos? The town where you are now.”


“About four days,” Saaler answered.


I quickly put the numbers together. That would make Praya roughly a week’s trip from Queenstown.


Sven fell silent again. I could hear some mumbling, but no clear words. His eyes were absorbed in whatever he was thinking. It seemed as if there might have been some sort of connection between him and Praya, why else would he be so out of it.


“Alright,” Sven let out a profound breath. “Right now, I want everyone to come back to Queenstown. Irady is under control, May Day members have calmed down, so it will be safe for you to be here.”


He pointed at Saaler and Thunder. “I want to meet you two in person.”


“We could arrive in about two days,” I said.


Sven nodded. “That’s alright. See you in two days then.”


There were a thousand questions I wanted to ask him. But before I could even say ‘bye’ or confirm that they were telling the truth, Sven ended the video call, and the room fell silent. I wonder why his mood suddenly changed. Maybe he also helped develop Praya, except he didn’t expect it to see it in iSync at all? If there is Praya, then did that mean there were other cities with players too?


All those questions were on my mind, but I decided to leave him be. Maybe hearing that another developer got killed shook him up. Maybe he was crying right now and didn’t want us to see him.


Now. Saaler and Thunder.


“We’ll leave first thing tomorrow morning,” I said to them.


I walked over to the two and bowed my head slightly. “I’m sorry about what happened earlier.”


Saaler accepted my apology with a nod. Thunder looked at the ground, not making a single sound. I wonder if she was scared of me.


Without saying much more, we decided that it was time to sleep. After all, we would have a long day tomorrow.


*  *  *


Quaker and I ended up in one room with twin beds, Flower took a queen-sized bed all to herself in another room, and Saaler and Thunder were in a room downstairs.


Before, I was worried that the siblings would run away, and I asked Flower if she could sleep in the same room with Thunder, but Flower long figured out that neither of the two would be trying to make an escape.


“You felt glad when you saw their faces right?” Flower asked me.


I nodded.


“Then the same applies to those two. They witnessed a tragedy, saw everyone kill each other, and then were on the road for four days, not knowing if they would be wandering around until the day they die without seeing another face again. I’m sure they are overwhelmed with relief when they ran into us, even though we got off the on the wrong foot.”


I understood. At the same time I was amazed by Flower’s quick reasoning skills and her ability to think from another person’s point of view.


It made perfect sense. We were the only people they have met ever since the first day at Praya. Even though there was a big misunderstanding at the beginning, by meeting us, we had given them hope.


Once in bed, I couldn’t fall asleep. My thoughts wouldn't stop running. What did Praya look like? Just how many other player cities were there in iSync? What is Sven hiding from us? What were the depths of Flower’s intelligence?


Next to me, Quaker tossed and turned. He couldn’t fall asleep either.


“Hey, you awake?” I asked even though I knew the answer already.


With a grunt, Quaker turned. “Yeah...can’t sleep.”


I decided to ask a question that had been on my mind for a while.


“Hey Quaker, why do you think they picked us?”


I could see Quaker fold his arms behind his head and staring at the ceiling. He let out a long sigh as if he was taking a smoke. “I don’t know.”


“Maybe we all have something in common,” I thought out loud. “Even though we’re all from different places around the world, we have one thing in common that made them pick us.”


“Hmm, maybe. But what could we possibly have in common?” Quaker yawned.


“Let’s just talk about ourselves,” I suggested.


“Alright,” Quaker agreed.


“I’m from the U.K.” I started. “I’m nineteen years old, and I finished my last year of high school.”


Quaker nodded. “I’m from France. twenty-two, and I’m was a second year university student.”


There was a moment of silence before Quaker asked me. “You’re in your final year, right? How come you responded to the invitation then? Shouldn’t you be busy preparing for final exams and applying for universities?”


I let out a sigh. This is where my short story turns into a story of shame.


“I failed,” I said. “During the week where I had most of the exams, I had a strong fever, but I had to take them anyway. The results were terrible, so only third-rate universities accepted me. In the end, I didn’t go to any of them. That’s why I accepted the @gov invitation. I was just sitting at home, without a job, wondering wether I should still try to get into uni, and then the invitation came...”


Quaker mumbled an “alright” and continued to stare at the ceiling. Without me asking, he began to tell me his own story. Or rather, he simply wanted to talk about it.


“I was a second-year student,” he sighed. “Around the end of the first semester of the second year, I just couldn’t see the point anymore of going to class everyday, writing papers for courses and subjects I didn’t care about. So I decided to quit. I dropped out of university, and I had no idea what to do with my life. Around that time, the invitation came, and I accepted it.”


Lying on my pillow, I folded my arms. Even though Quaker and I were of different ages, and at slightly different stages in real-life, there was a common factor linking both of us. Perhaps not a factor, but an emotional state that enabled us to accept this random, and dangerous, invitation.


“Can you see the pattern?” I asked.


Quaker let out a light laugh. I guess he did.


“We all received the invitation when we reached a low point in our young lives,” I said. “We were both quite young, and had no idea what to do. We had both failed the academic ladder that society demands for us to climb in order to have happy lives. We had both failed this system, were wandering aimlessly when we received the invitation. You could almost say that the invitation came at the only time when we would be in the state of mind to accept it.”


“You might have point,” Quaker yawned. “But that’s only us two. We should ask the others what they were doing before they received the invitation.”


“Yeah. Although I doubt that someone as smart as Flower would fail school like we have. Fever or not,” I said.


We both laughed.


In a way, we had both failed at the game of life. We couldn’t work with the rigid path society set out for us, so we...kind of dropped out. The moment when we had reached out darkest depth, when we were as lost as we would ever be, the invitation had reached us.


I made a mental note to ask Flower, Saaler and Thunder about their stories.


*  *  *



The next morning, once we had bought and packed some supplies, we moved out of Intos. Thanks to the inventory function in the AirMenu, we didn’t have the carry heavy packs and could move at a brisk pace.


Flower was right. Saaler and Thunder hadn’t run away. In fact, after a good night’s sleep, they seemed to be in a better mood than before, despite what happened between us last night. Thunder was extremely friendly with Flower, and Saaler didn’t seem as gloomy as he was yesterday.


About two hours later, we decided to take a break. We sat down on the grass and admired the vast green landscape. The daisy flowers were sprinkled here and there, and the sweet tasting spring breeze blew through my hair. I breathed it in, amazed at how relaxing all of this was. How...beautiful.


“Hey guys,” I decided to breach the subject. “Last night me and Quaker were talking about what we were doing before receiving the iSync invitation. We discovered that we had some key point in common that caused us to accept the invitation. What were you guys doing before iSync? Maybe there is an underlying pattern in the selection for the iSync players.”


Thunder asked what I meant by iSync. Flower explained to her that it was the name I had come up with for ‘this world’.


Everyone looked at one another for a moment, waiting for the other person to start first. Eventually, Saaler decided to go first.


“Me and Thunder were both born and raised in Australia,” he began. “I dropped out of university in my first year because I just couldn’t care about law anymore, and decided to follow my passion for music. But...well, it’s been about two years already, and I couldn’t get a record-deal, and even getting gigs in bars was becoming difficult. I was thinking about going back to school, but I wasn’t sure. Then the invitation came...”


Silently, I listened to him. So, he had such a story too. Dropped out of school. Failed whatever else he wanted to do. A misfit. A failure.


“Thunder?” I said.


Thunder averted her eyes and stared at the ground. Flower put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. Thunder looked at her brother. He too encouraged her.


“I tried to commit suicide...but survived,” she spoke so quietly I could barely hear her.


I understood. I decided not to probe any further. Maybe later, she would be ready to tell us why she wanted to die. Whatever it was, it must have been something heart wrenching. To be pushed to suicide, I wonder what life had done to her.


Flower’s turn. She and I made eye contact. She quickly looked away.


“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. She hugged her knees, and it was clear that marked the end of the topic.


Quaker and I looked at each other, amazed by how powerful this girl can be. With one short sentence, she shut all of us up.


*  *  *



A little while later, we moved out again. Along the way, I sometimes wondered if we should jump into the grassland and simply roll around like a bunch of idiots, and lie there, staring at the blue sky.


Such an opportunity was so difficult to have in the real world.


However we didn’t know if there were monsters hiding in the grass, waiting for a chance to fight us. Even with our fighting experience, I didn’t want to risk it, for now at least. Now our first priority was to reach Queenstown, and get more information on this entire Praya matter.


By nightfall we had reached Queenstown. We arrived one whole day early. Maybe it was because we traveled the same path before and were familiar with it, so now the distance didn’t seem to take as long as it did last time.


We entered through the Northern Gate.


I turned to Saaler and Thunder.


“Welcome to Queenstown.”

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