Pete blinked his eyes several times as he woke up to try and adjust to the bright fluorescent lights. After enough blinks, he looked around through slitted eyes. He spotted a young man in a dark suit staring at him.
“Good morning. You’re safe,” the man said. Despite the reassurance, Pete could feel his hands and feet tied to the chair he woke up on.
“Is that why I’m tied up?” he asked the suited stranger.
“It’s a precaution, we can never tell how one of our guests might react,” the man shrugged but he made no move to free Pete.
“Where am I? Why am I here?” The man cocked his head at Pete and gave him an amused smile.
“Playing dumb will only drag this out longer, Pete,” he said.
“The missing gamers…,” Pete said with a sigh. “I’m one now too?” The man shook his head.
“Only if you want to be. The reason we’re calling on gamers is to help beta test a new game,” he said. The stranger began pacing a circle around Pete’s chair. “But it’s all or nothing. If you accept our offer you’ll never return to the life we took you from. If you don’t, you’ll wake up in your bed this afternoon with a mild hangover.
“What the hell kind of game is it?” Pete asked. The agent stopped walking in front of Pete, then turned to give him a smile.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Interested?” Pete nodded eagerly.
“So to avoid any misunderstandings,” the agent asked. “You’ve decided to stay right?”
“What? No,” Pete shook his head. “I gotta learn a bit more before making that decision,” he said. The stranger shook his head too.
“No can do. This is top secret stuff, Petey. Either you’re in or you ain’t.”
“C’mon! You’ve gotta tell me something. Anything.” The man took a moment to think and stroke his chin, then he nodded to himself.
“It’s an MMO. Actually, if you join you’ll get to meet all the other missing gamers. I’m sure they’ll explain things to you and help gear you up.”
“Oh,” Pete said with a hint of disappointment. He’d been excited at first, but he wasn’t fond of MMO style games.
“I can also mention that it’s a Virtual MMO so that you don’t freak out,” the agent shrugged. “We can’t explain the process so if you agree we’ll knock you out again and you’ll wake up in the game already.”
“Wait what do you mean you can’t explain the process? I mean it’s just a headset and a treadmill right?” Pete asked. The man shook his head but did not say anything else.
“Oh. Well, how good is the VR? Is it all low-poly with clunky physics?” Pete asked. The agent smiled and shook his head.
“You know how sometimes people make private servers for older MMO games?” he asked.
“Yeaaah?” Pete nodded but he did not know how that answered his question.
“We have a private server for the game,” he said. He pointed at Pete. “You’re in it right now. The real reason we have to knock you out is to unplug you. Then we connect you to the main game,” then he gave an over-exaggerated shrug. “Or take you home if you prefer. Up to you.” Pete looked down at his cuffed hand. He willed his fingers to wiggle and felt every action on every individual finger.
“This.. this is VR?” he asked.
“It’s a bit more complicated than that, but yeah. Pretty much.”
“I’m in!” Pete grinned.
“Nice. Good luck,” the man said. He snapped his fingers and in the blink of an eye, Pete found himself in a windswept wheat field under a purple sky.
“Welcome to the AlterNet!” a woman’s voice said behind him.