Zero Murders

“Yeah, that’s about right,” Boone sighed to himself. He raised his drink in a mock toast at the small red logo, then he downed the liquor in one gulp. Detective Boone stopped by the new pub to celebrate his decision; he was giving up.

For almost two months he chased a conspiracy that no one else seemed to notice. One morning he showed up to work ready to continue investigating a murder that took place the day before. Not only could he not find any of his paperwork, no one else remembered the murder happening. He tried searching the database for proof but found none. He returned to the scene of the crime and discovered a new person living in the victim’s apartment.

One threatened landlord later, Boone learned the new occupant had lived there for months. Boone seriously doubted his memory at first, but the situation kept repeating. Murders seemed to be taking place more often than ever; but, no one at the station cared.

After it happened a couple of more times, Boone noticed a card at one of the crime scenes. A white business card with a red scissor logo in the center and nothing else. The scissors were slightly open and pointing in a vertical direction. Without any other markings on the card, Boone couldn’t tell which way was up or down.

Seeing the card triggered vague memories of seeing that same logo at the other crime scenes. Boone found the same logo at several more crime scenes after that; but not every murder scene.

After it kept happening it didn’t take long to see the pattern. Any time he found the red scissors, the murder and victim were forgotten; but, normal murders still happened.

Boone decided the extra stress wasn’t doing him any good. Not only that, he was afraid he might be going crazy and inventing murders that never happened. While driving home, Boone spotted a bar he hadn’t seen before. Mundo’s Pub.

He walked up to the bar and ordered from a lean, green-haired man; his nametag said: Mundo. As Boone reached for his drink a red glint caught his eye.

In the back, through a narrow, dim corridor stood a solid-looking door. A sign on it read: AlterNet Access, and a red scissor logo glowed softly above the door handle. After setting his glass down, Boone reached into his pocket.

“Hey, Mundo,” he called. He flashed his badge at the bartender. “Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure, whatcha wanna know?” Mundo grinned. Boone opened his wallet and dug out a small scrap of paper with the red scissors drawn on it. 

“Seen this logo before?” he asked. Mundo’s grin disappeared and was replaced by a concerned and surprised look. Boone tried to stare into Mundo’s eyes to measure his reaction; but, the bartender’s eyes roamed all over Boone as if searching for something.

“What’s your favorite number?” Mundo asked suddenly.

“Listen, pal. I just want to know about the logo. We don’t have to go downtown; but we can if you’d prefer,” Boone tried bluffing his way to the information. There was no investigation; he couldn’t take Mundo anywhere.

“Wow…,” Mundo mumbled. His eyes sparkled and his grin returned wider than before. “…I found one!” 

“What are you-,” Boone started to ask, but Mundo dashed to the side and into the narrow hall toward the door.

“Come on!” he said and encouraged Boone to follow him with a wave. Boone shrugged. His goal was to find out what was on the other side of the door anyway. He stood from his stool and followed.

By the time Boone reached the door, Mundo was already pushing it open and walking in. The room was bigger than Boone expected; it looked almost as large as the bar. A single counter stood in the center of the mostly empty room. What worried Boone was that dozens of grave-sized holes were dug in rows on the ground. He guessed they were grave-sized because several of them were occupied with sleeping people in next to nothing.

“That logo belongs to a corporation named Sharp Development,” Mundo said as he led Boone to the counter. “Sharp Development is the company that invented the AlterNet, a lifelike VR game.” Mundo gestured at a sleeping man in swim trunks. “It’s what they’re playing.”

“They’re playing a game?” Boone asked. “They look like they’re sleeping.” Mundo nodded. He divided his attention between conversing with Boone and fiddling with a computer on the counter.

“The AlterNet beams your consciousness to an alternate universe and gives you a new body to play with. Their bodies are sleeping, but their minds are, literally, in another universe.”

Up until Mundo explained that part, Boone’s mind was busy trying to fit a VR game into all the ignored murders. Hearing the phrase “alternate universe” gave Boone pause.

“You’re kidding,” he said. Mundo shook his head.

“You can live any life you want in any setting. Prehistoric to futuristic. Family-friendly or murder spree; any kind of game you want to play is out there.”

“Murder spree?” Boone asked. “You mean, I can put my mind in another universe, kill people from that universe, and come back here with no repercussions?”

“Not exactly,” Mundo said. “These are only connected to Earths known as ‘servers’. They’re game servers. The people aren’t real, they’re constructs. Scripted non-player characters and nothing more. The police will mostly ignore or forget about any trouble you cause, just like a video game.” Boone developed a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“What did you mean earlier? You said you ‘found one’.” Boone asked to distract himself from thinking about his co-workers ignoring the murders.

“Every now and then an NPC develops consciousness. It’s a rare event, like finding a unicorn. You know, on an Earth where unicorns don’t exist,” Mundo laughed at his own joke, then presented a small, card-sized pane of glass to Boone.

“Anyway, congratulations on waking up; you’re going to love being a real person.”

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