In the far future, Earth has abandoned large scale warfare in favor of the tenuous peace found inside Paradigm: a global, massive multiplayer online virtual reality environment. Neighbors, coworker, even friends from the other side of the world all compete in a unified campaign built to satisfy humanity's thirst for blood.
Brett leads one of the most elite teams within Paradigm, but when he gets an offer to join the ranks of the developers' leadership, he discovers a dark secret that flips the whole world upside down.
“Jeez, Brett. You’ve been up here for hours. You’ll get sick if you’re linked up that long.”
“You don’t have to get short with me. I’m just looking out for you. Someone has to,” says Kira, my roommate. I look groggily over at her, trying unsuccessfully to focus my eyes. She’s leaning in through my door with a disapproving look on her face.
“I know, I know. Could you look the other direction though? I’m still dressed in nothing but…”
“Please stop talking. Dinner’s ready.”
“Love you too.”
Kira turns and exits the room, allowing me to remove my sheets and get ready. I carefully put my network link down on the desk beside my bed and make my way downstairs where Kira and Red—my other roommate—are waiting for me at the table.
“So, how was it? I saw the campaign ended,” Kira asks, placing bowls of broccoli beef down in front of us.
“Good. They offered me an officership.”
There’s a clang as Red drops his fork on the floor.
“No. Way,” he grovels, looking as if he’s about to drool. “Congratulations! Those are so rare, man!”
Red’s what most people refer to as a Paradigm scientist, someone who never really plays the game for the game-play, but for all its little intricacies and nuances. Someone who prefers to study the world rather than play in it.
“Yeah, well. Thanks. It’s not that big a deal, though,” I say.
To be honest, there are a lot of people who look down on officership, because most of the time it leads to the War Room, where it’s more strategy than actual game-play. It’s like the officers play an entirely different game.
“Uh, yes it is a big deal,” Red retorts. “You know how the game started, right?”
“You’ll remind me no matter how I answer, huh?”
“Paradigm is Earth’s new hope,” Red presses on, unaffected. “It’s our sword to plowshare. You know it used to be the training environment for the Western Alliance Military during the Proxy Wars, right? Though, it wasn’t called Paradigm then. What was it called? Started with an L or something like that…”
“Anyways, when the Proxy Wars ended, they used Paradigm as an environment to wean the world off violent conflict resolution. When they first started, they only took the best and most skilled warriors from each country, so those first few were like Olympians. Of course, it’s evolved into much more than that now, and enrollment is open to anyone, but the legacy is still there. Those Olympians became officers, and and those officers trained the next generation of warriors following behind them, and now you’re joining their ranks!”
Kira chuckles and takes a bite of broccoli.
“You guys are nerds,” she says with her mouth full. “Live in the real world for a change.”
“You haven’t even tried it,” I counter defensively.
“That’s because I don’t want some machine hijacking my brainwaves,” she replies with one hand hovering over her temple. “Besides, why would I even want to play your game? We end wars for a reason. They suck.”
“You just don’t get it,” Red begins.
“No, I really don’t. I’m glad we agree,” Kira interjects, cutting him short.
“In any case, it is just a game, and I kind of want it to stay that way,” I continue. “I don’t want it to become work. It would feel too real.”
“Exactly,” Kira says, gesturing to me.
“Don’t pretend I’m taking your side,” I say with a smile. She gives me a playful disapproving look and returns to her food.
I look at the display on the wall and check the time. Only two and a half hours left before the meeting time in Tokyo, and the flight from Los Angeles alone takes two hours.
“Oh, dang. Hey, save this for me. I want it for lunch tomorrow.”
“Where are you going?” Kira probes, looking up curiously from her food.
“Tokyo? Aww,” she moans with a disappointed look. “It’s popcorn and movie day though!”
“Tomorrow, I promise!” I reassure her. I stand up from the table and grab my bag, then ruffle her hair with my hand and head out the door.
“Look, it’s Myla!” Buck says, pointing at one of the screens.
Everyone at the table looks up and cheers at footage of Myla taking out two rebels from across the length of a river. It’s footage from one of our first missions together in a city on the planet Corinth.
“Where was that action during the Falmouth raid, huh?” Galen gibes with a smirk as he watches the screen.
“Where were you during the Falmouth raid? Oh yeah, still in qualifier trials,” Myla counters.
“I was not! I was in a different unit then.”
“You mean the Red Griffins? The ones who got wiped out by an accidentally dropped grenade?”
“Hey, I’m here now, right?”
“Alright, folks. Who got the Dutch twist?” our waiter asks as she carries a tray full of drinks balanced precariously on her hip.
Logan accepts the drink, and the waiter proceeds to deliver the rest of our orders.
“And the pitcher,” she concludes, placing a large jug in front of Phoebe.
“Hey, pass some of that over,” Micah says, grabbing one of the glasses next to the pitcher. Phoebe slaps his hand.
“What, you think I’m sharing?” she scoffs.
“Jeez, we’re going to be carrying Phoebs home tonight, aren’t we?” I laugh.
“Hunter! You’re the designated!” Buck roars down the table.
“Seriously? Every time…”
“Guys, shut up! Look, look!” Darren says, pointing at the screen. “The next campaign!”
The bar fills with bold music and everyone turns their attention to the multitude of screens scattered around the walls.
“The biggest global multi-player world is about to get much bigger…”
Mechanized boots run urgently across steel grating, each step adding to a cacophony of heavy thuds.
“All new weapons. All new campaign. Same heart-stopping game-play…”
Dozens of soldiers in mech suits jump out the back of an aircraft onto what looks like sand, black matted rifles gripped tightly in their hands.
“A planet never before seen…”
Three aircraft take off from the surface of a ship and bank to the right. The image pans out to show a large, tree-filled tropical island in the middle of an iceberg-blue ocean. Two moons rest near the horizon, both in their waning gibbous stage.
“The battle for freedom begins tomorrow…”
The music swells to a climax, and the scene shifts to a line of destroyers and other amphibious assault ships, all with white-capped wake trailing behind them. They slip through rich, turquoise waters, moving steadily toward an island filled with foreign looking structures.
The screens fade to black, and a silver stylized logo appears reading Paradigm. Seconds later, it too fades, leaving in its stead the AGILE trademark.
Cheers erupt across the bar and excited chatter ripples around the room.
“A naval campaign! Did you guys see that?” Buck says enthusiastically.
“We’ve never done one of those, have we?” Galen asks. Everyone at the table shakes their heads.
"Alright, hurry up and drink! We gotta train!”