Henry woke up with the sudden realization that he couldn’t see or move. He was in a seated position with something covering his eyes. His hands were tied together in his lap and he could feel a tight cord keeping him in the chair; his mouth was gagged.
“Looks like our ranger’s awake!” Whatever was blocking Henry’s view was pulled off his head; dim light and cool air assaulted his face. The first thing he saw was a pale, portly, stout man’s face. His beard was full, blonde and unkempt. The man gave Henry a yellow smile then moved out of the way to give Henry a better view of the situation.
Of the six people sitting around a dining room table, the bearded man was the only one not tied to a chair and ungagged. Each other bound guest had a book in front of them and dozens of small miniatures stood on a paper grid that took up most of the table. Henry’s met each stranger’s worried gaze. Most of them appeared completely frightened; one of the men was silently crying to himself. One woman, however, seemed bored.
The brunette sitting across from Henry struggled less than the rest of the captured party. Her green eyes wandered lazily around the sparse dining area. Henry got the impression they were in a large apartment; but, their host was obviously a bachelor with no taste. The only walls Henry could see were bare off-white.
“Now that you’re all awake we can play!” the bearded host said with a broad smile. “Play what you ask? Dungeons and Dragons of course!” he held up one of the books from the table for everyone to see. “I’ve already rolled your characters so we can get right to the game, I made a killer campaign that you guys are going to love!” The dangerous DM put the book down, then moved behind the brunette across from Henry.
“Since we need to talk, I’ll take out your gags. If you talk too much, the party will have to find a way to finish the quest without you, am I clear?” he asked as he loosened the woman’s gag.
“Not really,” were her first words. “So, what. If we talk a lot you send us home?” she asked. The pudgy host chuckled. With deliberate slowness, he placed a black handgun on the table.
“If your character dies, you die. Refuse to play and you die. Talk too much,” he placed his heavy hands on the brunette’s shoulders and leaned closer to her ear; he did not lower his voice. “You die,” he said. “Clearer?”
“Yes. But not really,” she said. “We’re gonna do this with pen and paper? That’s boring.” Henry chuckled quietly to himself; the other three captives seemed to be glad for the woman’s added delays. The DM sighed.
“At least you’re not screaming,” he said with a shrug and moved to the woman, a blonde, next to her. “Fun is subjective,” he said while loosening the blonde’s gag. “Let’s just say that dragons and elves are fun to me.”
“Me too, but not with pen and paper. Don’t you guys have AlterNet access on this Earth?” The brunette’s question immediately changed the tone of the room. The DM dropped his hands and his jaw and stared at her. The faint noises of struggling captives whining and crying stopped in an instant. Henry cocked his head in confusion, as did the rest of the bound group; it was the only thing they could do.
“What do you mean this Earth?” the DM asked. “Who are you, why aren’t you more concerned about the situation?” Her casual demeanor unsettled him enough to grab the gun from the table again and holster it in his pants. “Alternate access to what?” The brunette giggled.
“You’d know,” she said. “The AlterNet is a virtual MMO. It’s better than a real version of this,” she nodded at the book in front of her. “I don’t know how to play this version anyway. My AlterNet character is a Spellslinger though, can I be that class in this?”
“That’s not even a real class; there are 12 classes and that’s not one of them,” he said with more than a little bit of defensiveness. The blonde’s gag loosened.
“What’s a Spellslinger?” she asked as soon as it was out of her mouth.
“I’m like a gunslinger, but we shoot magic instead of bullets,” the brunette said.
“You never answered the question,” the DM cut in as he undid the weeping man’s gag. “What did you mean this Earth?” he asked again.
“Alternate universes are a thing,” the brunette shrugged as much as she could through her extension cord bindings.
“You…,” the weeping man’s voice cracked the first time he tried to speak. The DM moved on to the next person, a redheaded woman. The weeping man tried again, “You’ve been to one?” he asked. The brunette smiled.
“Been to one? I’m IN one.” She looked at the gathered group. “Are coerced surprised parties not a normal thing on your Earth?” she asked. Immediately four heads, including Henry, shook, “No”.
“Oh,” she said. “Well do you guys wanna check it out?”
“An alternate universe?” the redheaded woman asked as her gag came loose. The DM moved to behind Henry; he felt the man’s fat fingers tug at the knot behind his head. The brunette shook her head.
“They’re all alternate universes. I meant do you want to play in the AlterNet? We can import whatever campaign you wrote up,” she looked up at the DM.
“And then? How does it work?” he stopped working on Henry’s knot to ask the question.
“It makes whatever you wrote as real as this room we’re in. Oh, except you all have to make new characters; there are 25 classes in the AlterNet.”
“What kind of trip are we talking about?” the bearded DM asked. The brunette shrugged and looked past him to the next room; Henry guessed it was a living room but he couldn’t see a TV or sofa.
“As easy as you walking into that room,” she said. The DM narrowed his eyes at her.
“And I suppose I have to untie you for you to get us there,” he said. Again, the brunette gave a ‘whatever’ shrug. “Not really. Reach in my pocket,” she leaned toward the blonde; the DM left from behind Henry without loosening his gag. The brunette tried to give him as much space to work with as he could. After several minutes of fumbling, feeling, and one stern look from her, the DM pulled out a solid black business card.
“What do I do with this?” he asked.
“Throw it at the wall,” the brunette gestured at the bare wall next to them. He threw the card; the moment it hit the wall it expanded to take up most of it with a black hole. After a second a young man with a buzzcut hopped out of the portal.
“Taxi?” he asked as soon as he appeared. Everyone except the brunette stared in surprise; she took the opportunity to answer fast.
“Yes, but that guy’s trying to kill us!” she shouted. The DM was surprised and turned to the newcomer to protest. He managed to see the newcomer nod at the brunette, then he saw a fist flying at his face.