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The Barbarian Detective

Summary

Nanoc is playing his favorite VR game 
when a woman comes to hire him to find 
out if her fiancé is cheating on her in the VR world. 
The money she offers is too good to pass up, but Nanoc 
has a sinking feeling in his gut about this case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barbarian Detective

Nanoc thrust his large bastard sword through another wild boar. It squealed in simulated rage before it disappeared in pixelated gore, leaving only its experience points behind.

“And that’s twenty,” Nanoc said, summoning his character information screen to check the number of experience points he had gained.

“Twenty boars; took less than one and a half seconds for each kill, giving me a total of…” Nanoc frowned at the translucent character screen that hovered in front of his eyes.

“200 experience points, which means I’ll be here for the next three hours if I want to level up. Ugh!” Nanoc said, waving away the display screen and sheathing his bastard sword.

“Um, excuse me. Are you Gamersweat69?” a voice said from behind Nanoc.

“It’s Nanoc, please,” he said, cringing at his old username. “All my saves are on this username so it’s hard to change it. Anyway, what can I help you find?” Nanoc said, turning around to see a woman standing in the field. Her eyes kept searching back and forth, not lingering on his body for too long. He was a 6’5” barbarian with tanned rippling muscles that seemed to sweat oil when he moved and the fewer clothes he wore the higher his armor stat went up. Meaning he was only wearing a loin cloth and a sheath for his sword.

 “How did you know I need something found?”

“Because you were searching for my gamer tag, which means you were searching by my reputation. I can also tell by looking at you that the answer is no. I’m not helping you,” he said.

“How can you say that? You don’t know me,” she said.

“Look, I help people find things; usually items, hacked accounts, people’s kids. Small things, things that make people happy when they’re found. Nothing good comes from finding cheating boyfriends. I did that once for a friend and now I’m constantly getting requests from people paranoid about where their boyfriends are sticking their digital dicks. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“How can you know that?”

“You didn’t customize your character, so I’m probably seeing what you actually look like; pretty cute, tall and thin, very unlikely you aren’t in a relationship, but you act like you’re scared of the air around you. You don’t like being in a virtual world and, since you rushed to find me after just creating your character suggests you’re emotional, which means relationship troubles. You’re wearing the tan shirt and jeans you get when you first log in, which means you haven’t put any kind of leveling into the character. Which is weird since we’re in one of the furthest outreaches of Lraylinsoul where even these boars could one shot kill you. If you died, it would just delete your corpse and send your body back to the beginning of the game; with all the random monsters it should be impossible for someone just starting out to make it here. How the hell did you make it here?” Nanoc asked.

The girl stepped closer, showing the tiny gold earrings she was wearing.

“A friend suggested I buy these in order to find you, which honestly took longer than actually finding you.”

Nanoc took a closer look.

“Those are the gold earrings of the god Hathor, granting you 24 hours protection from drawing the attention of world monsters. That’s an SS rare loot box drop. My friends have been trying to get a couple to race through a few dungeons and speed through to the boss. Based on the specs the developers released, you’d have to play close to 400 hours to have a high enough probability of getting the drop or pay 4,000 dollars in the game lottery shop.”

“Three thousand and twenty dollars and some change, to be exact, which is why I think you should listen to my proposal. You may be getting a lot of requests, but I am willing to compensate you generously,”

“OK, I’m listening, Ms…?”

“Jessica, just call me Jessica, and I will pay you 20K if you can find proof of him digitally cheating on me,” Jessica said.

Nanoc started to get an itch on the back of his neck and he rubbed it with one hand. He wasn’t sure if she was lying or just crazy. He used small gestures to avoid her notice and combed through his menus to the buried console commands that turned on biometric information.

When virtual reality was originally being designed, people feared suffering a heart attack and dying in horror games. Game developers responded by adding biometric monitoring into their game for data, like blood pressure and heartbeats per second. It was mostly forgotten, but still available.

“I don’t know. This is starting to sound like a scam; next, you’ll start asking for my bank information,” Nanoc said to test her.

“No scam. You’ll get a payment through the in-game transfer system; half now and the rest when you find him.”

Her heartbeat stayed calm. She wasn’t lying at least, so that just left crazy.

“Why are you willing to pay so much for this? There’s something you’re not telling me,” Nanoc said.

Jessica pinched and rubbed at the bridge of her nose.

“Listen, this is not my boyfriend; this is my fiancé, but not by choice. My father is the CEO of a rather famous company and I’m being pressured to marry Nathan, but my father is old fashioned. If I can prove that he’s cheating on me, even digitally, then I’m free and clear. I have the money, and you have the skill, how about it?” 

Nanoc scratched the back of his neck.

“Ah, what the hell. If you’re willing to pay, I’m willing to help. I just need his username, what his avatar looks like, and his gamertag,” Nanoc said.

“I… I don’t have any of that and, if I ask for it, he’s going to get suspicious. That’s why I need you.”

“What do you have?”

“I have his name and a picture. Here, I’m sending it over to your account with half the payment.”

“That’s not a lot to go on. If he’s played this game for longer than a month he’ll have changed his avatar completely, especially if he’s trying not to get caught.”

Nanoc checked his inbox and saw a message from SoaringOwlBird12, which he assumed was the automatically generated name Jessica acquired when she made her character. He also saw his in-game currency jump up by 5 billion gold which, when he transferred it later tonight, would net him 10,000 dollars depending on how the crypto market was performing. He took the photo and transferred it to a console window. The game was meant to be played as a fully immersive world and the use of a console window giving you access to your computer desktop was frowned on and required a few changes to the game’s installation files, though it had its perks. Right now, it was useful for Nanoc to open a photo editor and an avatar generator. He quickly edited the photo and imported it into the avatar generator, creating multiple images of the different possible avatars that Nathan could have made.

“What are you doing?” Jessica asked over Nanoc’s shoulder, watching intently.

“The game uses your physical body as the base for your in-game avatar. You still have loads of options to change your character, like changing up your face to look like a movie character; maybe a popular bow-wielding elf, a joker-looking bard –  there’s all kind of choices. However, if we take his face, maybe cover up a few imperfections like the crooked nose, moles, and trimming some of the excess weight he looks like he’s carrying around and run that image through the twenty different races that we have in the game, I now have a possible image of what he looks like if he hasn’t changed up his face completely. Just a matter of checking out some places where people who paid for the genitals expansion DLC hangout.”

“Great! When do we leave?” Jessica asked.

“You’re not coming. I’ll get some video evidence and send it to you,” Nanoc said.

“No way in hell! For this kind of cash, you’re going to take me with you.”

Nanoc tried to think of a reason she couldn’t come but, with those damn earrings, he couldn’t think of a convincing one.

“Fine, let’s go,” he said, as he took her hand and pulled out a teleport scroll from his inventory.

The scroll activated, taking them both to the largest city of Lraylinsoul, Sinuol. Nanoc set off through the city’s winding streets with Jessica close behind him. The city had been built in an old medieval fashion but, after the game became more popular, Sinuol turned into an amalgamation of neon lights, cobblestone roads, shops made of stone and hay next to pristine modern business offices.

It was raining when they got into the city and Nanoc turned off his weather perception, so he wouldn’t feel the freezing cold droplets as he darted passed the auction houses, businesses, bars and restaurants, heading further and further toward the Southern part of the city; the seedier parts of the city where people’s game files were so corrupted they glitched and others were walking billboards of ads displaying video game streamers, and different types of sex acts you could experience next to anti-virus software ads.

“Where are we going?” Jessica asked.

“We’ll take a look at a love hotel first. It’s the building that looks like a run-down hospital with the neon heart painted on it.”

“There’s a love hotel in this game?”

“Technically there isn’t. The hospital is owned by an NPC. One of the games generated AI,” Nanoc clarified after he saw the confused look on Jessica’s face.

“That’s how they cheat the system. The owner’s name is SWIM or that’s his gamertag, it’s an acronym for ‘Someone who isn’t me.’ The guy exposed a glitch in the game where only one player could take a quest from the NPC at a time. He took the quest and then never finished the mission. Through some non-regulation tech and other players’ help, he was basically able to create a love hotel. I’m not sure why the Admins haven’t demolished the place yet. Main rumor is that SWIM knows the right people to pay off,” Nanoc said, as he held the door open for Jessica.

The hallways and doors were a little cramped for the barbarian class Nanoc was playing and he had to hunch down as he entered.

“Now sit in the waiting chair and I’ll be right back. We’ll see if your fiancé has been here,” Nanoc said and walked to the front desk.

SWIM’s avatar was that of a giant slug that made you feel greasy just by looking at it. Nanoc didn’t know what his actual avatar was supposed to be, but the grotesque creature in front of him was the byproduct of all the illegal gear and tech that SWIM had acquired over the years to keep his digital whorehouse open.

“Hey SWIM, have you seen anyone that looks like this?” Nanoc asked and slid a piece of paper with the different avatars across the counter.

“Common Nanoc, don’t fuck with me, you little shit. You know my clients want their fucking privacy.” He wheezed a chuckle at his own joke.

“No, no, no SWIM, you got me all wrong. You see that girl in the waiting chair that came in with me?”

SWIM peered over Nanoc’s giant shoulders to get a better look.

“She’s pretty hot. I wouldn’t mind a few hours alone with her, if ya know what I mean.”

“That’s why I’m here, SWIM. You see, this guy is an old high school crush she had when she was younger. She’s been keeping tabs on him and found out that he was using this game and your services. She wants to watch –  gets her off in some weird way.”

“Oh, damn man, that’s fucked,” SWIM said, but Nanoc could read his slimy avatar by now and knew by the way his eyes turned to slits and his body slithered around on the floor that SWIM enjoyed the idea.

That was the secret to working with SWIM; the sleazier the story the more he believed it.

“So, what’s say I pay you the same rate for a room and a peeping fee, if they’re here.”

“Got good news and bad news for you. Dude was here,” SWIM said and pointed a short stubby tentacle at the High Elf class avatar.

The High Elf avatar was only available by purchasing the legendary version of the game. Pay 300 dollars for the game, get the avatar, and wear it around like a fancy pair of shoes.

“But he’s gone now?” Nanoc asked.

“Left less than an hour ago, the cheap prick.”

“What happened?”

“Guy paid for an hour and then when the hour was up he wasn’t done and wanted to be comped for another hour. I told him to go fuck his mother and he walked out.”

Nanoc could get a sense of what had really happened. SWIM had the ability to mess with time in the rooms and probably tried to cheat them out of more cash, since walking around in a High Elf avatar was the same as saying I have cash and I’m an idiot.

“Listen man, think you can do me a solid and give me the same room that they were in? Maybe I can still get this deal sealed if it was the same room he was in.”

“Gonna cost you 300 mil.”

Nanoc grumbled under his breath but did the transfer. He was being taken advantage of, but SWIM hated haggling and, if Nanoc tried, SWIM would give him a different room on purpose.

“Room 302; it’ll be open for the next hour for you,” SWIM beamed, in his most pretentious customer service voice.

Nanoc walked over to Jessica and motioned for her to follow him. When they were out of earshot of SWIM, Nanoc let Jessica know that Nathan had been here.

“We just missed him, of all the luck. What are we doing now? Why are we going to a love hotel room?” Jessica asked, suspiciously.

“I have more than one trick up my sleeve. If this was Nathan, we can track him down.”

“How?”

“Special trait of a barbarian; I’ll show you when we get into the room.”

Nanoc and Jessica walked through the love hotel and up the two flights of stairs until they were in front of Room 302. Jessica and Nanoc walked into the small room with a bed and a bathroom. Nothing much else did people required in this kind of hotel. There were stains everywhere, and the room smelled of a deep musk that made Nanoc cough.

Jessica looked uncomfortable and stood as close to the door as possible.

“I know it looks bad and smells worse, but don’t worry, we’re still in virtual reality. You can’t die or catch anything here.”

“I’ll take your word for it from over here.”

“Suit yourself,” Nanoc said, as he started rifling through his inventory.

First were the brown bellbottom pants, white mages’ shoes with +10 int, orange ascot accompanied by a white and blue colored shirt with +30 int -30 charisma and, finally, a deerstalker hat that gave a 20% increase to Nanoc’s base intelligence stat. Once all the clothes were stretched across his hulking barbarian body, he looked like Dwayne the Rock Johnson dressed up as a seventies version of Sherlock Holmes. Jessica burst out laughing.

“Oh my god, what is that,” she said, after getting back her breath.

“My most flattering suit,” Nanoc said, smiling back at Jessica. “No, barbarians have the ability called Stalker’s Revenge, which lets you track a player no matter where they go. The catch is that it requires a high intelligence stat, which is something that barbarians generally lack. By using all these different types of clothes I’ve acquired, I can use it to boost my intelligent stat high enough to activate the skill.

Nanoc used the skill Stalker’s Revenge and activated it in the room. The entire room changed color into what looked like a heatmap where footprints were highlighted against a dark blue backdrop with neon oranges and reds. Nanoc looked at the footprints leading from the door toward the bed, bathroom and against the windowsill that looked out into the city night. He carefully picked out the largest set of footprints and activated his skill on it. A notification appeared in his vision, letting him know that his ability was activated.

“I’ve got it, let’s go,” Nanoc said, leading Jessica out the backdoor to avoid SWIM as much as possible.

They followed the footprints down a couple of side alleys until they came across an abandoned warehouse. Nothing was really abandoned in the virtual world; it was just a placeholder for digital space until someone posted up the money to claim it. The abandoned warehouse was more of an avatar granted to the space like a bookmark.

“I think we’re about to meet your fiancé. Are you ready?” Nanoc asked, while getting his game recording session started in case it was needed later.

She nodded solemnly, and they walked into the warehouse to find a naked High-Class Elf avatar having sex with a rather busty and hairy Dwarf avatar.

They stopped as soon as Nanoc had opened the door and the girl gave a shriek. Nanoc looked at the man’s face closely to see if he resembled the avatar.

“Nathan is that you?” Nanoc asked loudly, to try and verify his identity.

“Who the hell are you?” Nathan yelled back.

“I was hired to find out if you were cheating on your fiancé. Looks like I got the proof.”

Nathan immediately stood up straight.

“Hey, listen man, we can work out a deal here. You and your friend don’t need to go tell my fiancé nothing.”

Nanoc was confused and turned to Jessica who had pulled out a gun, which further confused him since there were no guns in Lraylinsoul. She fired two shots and bullets exploded out of the gun toward Nathan and the girl he was cheating on Jessica with. Jessica turned the gun toward Nanoc and he pulled out his sword through sheer instinct that came from hours of in-game fighting and sliced down through both of her arms. The bloody stumps still clutching the gun fell to the floor, blood sprayed from her arms while the severed stumps pooled congealed blood out onto the ground.

Jessica screamed, but only for the second it took her brain to realize there was no pain.

“You fucking piece of shit; that fucking hurt,” she said, while the stumps of her arms continued to spray blood with every simulated heartbeat.

“Who are you? Nathan said my friend, not his fiancé.”

“If it wasn’t for this stupid game I could have drawn and shot before he even got a word out, but this fucking virtual world is so asinine it requires an inventory to be opened before I could get out the gun. Yeah, you guessed it, I’m not his fiancé. Although he was cheating on his real fiancé, it’s what gave me the idea to hire you. So really he got what he deserved.”

“You paid all that money just to kill an avatar.”

Jessica snorted and laughed at Nanoc.

“You poor internet baby. Listen, I’m about to be logged out of this system and you will never see me again. I was never here, and I suggest you keep your mouth shut and just forget what happened today. Trust me, and you’ll be able to live your little life in your mom’s basement without having to look over your shoulder,” Jessica said, as she disappeared and logged out.

Nanoc scratched the back of his head, trying to understand what was going on. He looked at the avatars of Nathan and the girl and noticed they weren’t disappearing. A sick feeling entered his stomach as an unimaginable thought entered his mind. He turned on the biometric reader and looked at the still avatars. They were flatlined and dead; no information was being read from them.

Nanoc started to back away from the dead bodies and stumbled falling to the ground where he scrambled to the nearest wall and put his back to it. He had just witnessed a murder; two people were killed in front of him. He looked to where Jessica had stood, his mind screaming to know what had happened. The gun still lay there on the floor; it’s inherent mystery begged to be picked up, but when it was in his hands it was like it didn’t exist. He couldn’t feel it through the game’s sensors, just the odd sensation of his hand being unable to close around nothing. He opened his character information and checked his bank account; the money was still there, but there was no record of anyone having sent it. Instead, he was alone in a warehouse with two dead bodies and the gun that had killed them.

 

 

 

Nanoc thrust his large bastard sword through another wild boar. It squealed in simulated rage before it disappeared in pixelated gore, leaving only its experience points behind.

“And that’s twenty,” Nanoc said, summoning his character information screen to check the number of experience points he had gained.

“Twenty boars; took less than one and a half seconds for each kill, giving me a total of…” Nanoc frowned at the translucent character screen that hovered in front of his eyes.

“200 experience points, which means I’ll be here for the next three hours if I want to level up. Ugh!” Nanoc said, waving away the display screen and sheathing his bastard sword.

“Um, excuse me. Are you Gamersweat69?” a voice said from behind Nanoc.

“It’s Nanoc, please,” he said, cringing at his old username. “All my saves are on this username so it’s hard to change it. Anyway, what can I help you find?” Nanoc said, turning around to see a woman standing in the field. Her eyes kept searching back and forth, not lingering on his body for too long. He was a 6’5” barbarian with tanned rippling muscles that seemed to sweat oil when he moved and the fewer clothes he wore the higher his armor stat went up. Meaning he was only wearing a loin cloth and a sheath for his sword.

 “How did you know I need something found?”

“Because you were searching for my gamer tag, which means you were searching by my reputation. I can also tell by looking at you that the answer is no. I’m not helping you,” he said.

“How can you say that? You don’t know me,” she said.

“Look, I help people find things; usually items, hacked accounts, people’s kids. Small things, things that make people happy when they’re found. Nothing good comes from finding cheating boyfriends. I did that once for a friend and now I’m constantly getting requests from people paranoid about where their boyfriends are sticking their digital dicks. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“How can you know that?”

“You didn’t customize your character, so I’m probably seeing what you actually look like; pretty cute, tall and thin, very unlikely you aren’t in a relationship, but you act like you’re scared of the air around you. You don’t like being in a virtual world and, since you rushed to find me after just creating your character suggests you’re emotional, which means relationship troubles. You’re wearing the tan shirt and jeans you get when you first log in, which means you haven’t put any kind of leveling into the character. Which is weird since we’re in one of the furthest outreaches of Lraylinsoul where even these boars could one shot kill you. If you died, it would just delete your corpse and send your body back to the beginning of the game; with all the random monsters it should be impossible for someone just starting out to make it here. How the hell did you make it here?” Nanoc asked.

The girl stepped closer, showing the tiny gold earrings she was wearing.

“A friend suggested I buy these in order to find you, which honestly took longer than actually finding you.”

Nanoc took a closer look.

“Those are the gold earrings of the god Hathor, granting you 24 hours protection from drawing the attention of world monsters. That’s an SS rare loot box drop. My friends have been trying to get a couple to race through a few dungeons and speed through to the boss. Based on the specs the developers released, you’d have to play close to 400 hours to have a high enough probability of getting the drop or pay 4,000 dollars in the game lottery shop.”

“Three thousand and twenty dollars and some change, to be exact, which is why I think you should listen to my proposal. You may be getting a lot of requests, but I am willing to compensate you generously,”

“OK, I’m listening, Ms…?”

“Jessica, just call me Jessica, and I will pay you 20K if you can find proof of him digitally cheating on me,” Jessica said.

Nanoc started to get an itch on the back of his neck and he rubbed it with one hand. He wasn’t sure if she was lying or just crazy. He used small gestures to avoid her notice and combed through his menus to the buried console commands that turned on biometric information.

When virtual reality was originally being designed, people feared suffering a heart attack and dying in horror games. Game developers responded by adding biometric monitoring into their game for data, like blood pressure and heartbeats per second. It was mostly forgotten, but still available.

“I don’t know. This is starting to sound like a scam; next, you’ll start asking for my bank information,” Nanoc said to test her.

“No scam. You’ll get a payment through the in-game transfer system; half now and the rest when you find him.”

Her heartbeat stayed calm. She wasn’t lying at least, so that just left crazy.

“Why are you willing to pay so much for this? There’s something you’re not telling me,” Nanoc said.

Jessica pinched and rubbed at the bridge of her nose.

“Listen, this is not my boyfriend; this is my fiancé, but not by choice. My father is the CEO of a rather famous company and I’m being pressured to marry Nathan, but my father is old fashioned. If I can prove that he’s cheating on me, even digitally, then I’m free and clear. I have the money, and you have the skill, how about it?” 

Nanoc scratched the back of his neck.

“Ah, what the hell. If you’re willing to pay, I’m willing to help. I just need his username, what his avatar looks like, and his gamertag,” Nanoc said.

“I… I don’t have any of that and, if I ask for it, he’s going to get suspicious. That’s why I need you.”

“What do you have?”

“I have his name and a picture. Here, I’m sending it over to your account with half the payment.”

“That’s not a lot to go on. If he’s played this game for longer than a month he’ll have changed his avatar completely, especially if he’s trying not to get caught.”

Nanoc checked his inbox and saw a message from SoaringOwlBird12, which he assumed was the automatically generated name Jessica acquired when she made her character. He also saw his in-game currency jump up by 5 billion gold which, when he transferred it later tonight, would net him 10,000 dollars depending on how the crypto market was performing. He took the photo and transferred it to a console window. The game was meant to be played as a fully immersive world and the use of a console window giving you access to your computer desktop was frowned on and required a few changes to the game’s installation files, though it had its perks. Right now, it was useful for Nanoc to open a photo editor and an avatar generator. He quickly edited the photo and imported it into the avatar generator, creating multiple images of the different possible avatars that Nathan could have made.

“What are you doing?” Jessica asked over Nanoc’s shoulder, watching intently.

“The game uses your physical body as the base for your in-game avatar. You still have loads of options to change your character, like changing up your face to look like a movie character; maybe a popular bow-wielding elf, a joker-looking bard –  there’s all kind of choices. However, if we take his face, maybe cover up a few imperfections like the crooked nose, moles, and trimming some of the excess weight he looks like he’s carrying around and run that image through the twenty different races that we have in the game, I now have a possible image of what he looks like if he hasn’t changed up his face completely. Just a matter of checking out some places where people who paid for the genitals expansion DLC hangout.”

“Great! When do we leave?” Jessica asked.

“You’re not coming. I’ll get some video evidence and send it to you,” Nanoc said.

“No way in hell! For this kind of cash, you’re going to take me with you.”

Nanoc tried to think of a reason she couldn’t come but, with those damn earrings, he couldn’t think of a convincing one.

“Fine, let’s go,” he said, as he took her hand and pulled out a teleport scroll from his inventory.

The scroll activated, taking them both to the largest city of Lraylinsoul, Sinuol. Nanoc set off through the city’s winding streets with Jessica close behind him. The city had been built in an old medieval fashion but, after the game became more popular, Sinuol turned into an amalgamation of neon lights, cobblestone roads, shops made of stone and hay next to pristine modern business offices.

It was raining when they got into the city and Nanoc turned off his weather perception, so he wouldn’t feel the freezing cold droplets as he darted passed the auction houses, businesses, bars and restaurants, heading further and further toward the Southern part of the city; the seedier parts of the city where people’s game files were so corrupted they glitched and others were walking billboards of ads displaying video game streamers, and different types of sex acts you could experience next to anti-virus software ads.

“Where are we going?” Jessica asked.

“We’ll take a look at a love hotel first. It’s the building that looks like a run-down hospital with the neon heart painted on it.”

“There’s a love hotel in this game?”

“Technically there isn’t. The hospital is owned by an NPC. One of the games generated AI,” Nanoc clarified after he saw the confused look on Jessica’s face.

“That’s how they cheat the system. The owner’s name is SWIM or that’s his gamertag, it’s an acronym for ‘Someone who isn’t me.’ The guy exposed a glitch in the game where only one player could take a quest from the NPC at a time. He took the quest and then never finished the mission. Through some non-regulation tech and other players’ help, he was basically able to create a love hotel. I’m not sure why the Admins haven’t demolished the place yet. Main rumor is that SWIM knows the right people to pay off,” Nanoc said, as he held the door open for Jessica.

The hallways and doors were a little cramped for the barbarian class Nanoc was playing and he had to hunch down as he entered.

“Now sit in the waiting chair and I’ll be right back. We’ll see if your fiancé has been here,” Nanoc said and walked to the front desk.

SWIM’s avatar was that of a giant slug that made you feel greasy just by looking at it. Nanoc didn’t know what his actual avatar was supposed to be, but the grotesque creature in front of him was the byproduct of all the illegal gear and tech that SWIM had acquired over the years to keep his digital whorehouse open.

“Hey SWIM, have you seen anyone that looks like this?” Nanoc asked and slid a piece of paper with the different avatars across the counter.

“Common Nanoc, don’t fuck with me, you little shit. You know my clients want their fucking privacy.” He wheezed a chuckle at his own joke.

“No, no, no SWIM, you got me all wrong. You see that girl in the waiting chair that came in with me?”

SWIM peered over Nanoc’s giant shoulders to get a better look.

“She’s pretty hot. I wouldn’t mind a few hours alone with her, if ya know what I mean.”

“That’s why I’m here, SWIM. You see, this guy is an old high school crush she had when she was younger. She’s been keeping tabs on him and found out that he was using this game and your services. She wants to watch –  gets her off in some weird way.”

“Oh, damn man, that’s fucked,” SWIM said, but Nanoc could read his slimy avatar by now and knew by the way his eyes turned to slits and his body slithered around on the floor that SWIM enjoyed the idea.

That was the secret to working with SWIM; the sleazier the story the more he believed it.

“So, what’s say I pay you the same rate for a room and a peeping fee, if they’re here.”

“Got good news and bad news for you. Dude was here,” SWIM said and pointed a short stubby tentacle at the High Elf class avatar.

The High Elf avatar was only available by purchasing the legendary version of the game. Pay 300 dollars for the game, get the avatar, and wear it around like a fancy pair of shoes.

“But he’s gone now?” Nanoc asked.

“Left less than an hour ago, the cheap prick.”

“What happened?”

“Guy paid for an hour and then when the hour was up he wasn’t done and wanted to be comped for another hour. I told him to go fuck his mother and he walked out.”

Nanoc could get a sense of what had really happened. SWIM had the ability to mess with time in the rooms and probably tried to cheat them out of more cash, since walking around in a High Elf avatar was the same as saying I have cash and I’m an idiot.

“Listen man, think you can do me a solid and give me the same room that they were in? Maybe I can still get this deal sealed if it was the same room he was in.”

“Gonna cost you 300 mil.”

Nanoc grumbled under his breath but did the transfer. He was being taken advantage of, but SWIM hated haggling and, if Nanoc tried, SWIM would give him a different room on purpose.

“Room 302; it’ll be open for the next hour for you,” SWIM beamed, in his most pretentious customer service voice.

Nanoc walked over to Jessica and motioned for her to follow him. When they were out of earshot of SWIM, Nanoc let Jessica know that Nathan had been here.

“We just missed him, of all the luck. What are we doing now? Why are we going to a love hotel room?” Jessica asked, suspiciously.

“I have more than one trick up my sleeve. If this was Nathan, we can track him down.”

“How?”

“Special trait of a barbarian; I’ll show you when we get into the room.”

Nanoc and Jessica walked through the love hotel and up the two flights of stairs until they were in front of Room 302. Jessica and Nanoc walked into the small room with a bed and a bathroom. Nothing much else did people required in this kind of hotel. There were stains everywhere, and the room smelled of a deep musk that made Nanoc cough.

Jessica looked uncomfortable and stood as close to the door as possible.

“I know it looks bad and smells worse, but don’t worry, we’re still in virtual reality. You can’t die or catch anything here.”

“I’ll take your word for it from over here.”

“Suit yourself,” Nanoc said, as he started rifling through his inventory.

First were the brown bellbottom pants, white mages’ shoes with +10 int, orange ascot accompanied by a white and blue colored shirt with +30 int -30 charisma and, finally, a deerstalker hat that gave a 20% increase to Nanoc’s base intelligence stat. Once all the clothes were stretched across his hulking barbarian body, he looked like Dwayne the Rock Johnson dressed up as a seventies version of Sherlock Holmes. Jessica burst out laughing.

“Oh my god, what is that,” she said, after getting back her breath.

“My most flattering suit,” Nanoc said, smiling back at Jessica. “No, barbarians have the ability called Stalker’s Revenge, which lets you track a player no matter where they go. The catch is that it requires a high intelligence stat, which is something that barbarians generally lack. By using all these different types of clothes I’ve acquired, I can use it to boost my intelligent stat high enough to activate the skill.

Nanoc used the skill Stalker’s Revenge and activated it in the room. The entire room changed color into what looked like a heatmap where footprints were highlighted against a dark blue backdrop with neon oranges and reds. Nanoc looked at the footprints leading from the door toward the bed, bathroom and against the windowsill that looked out into the city night. He carefully picked out the largest set of footprints and activated his skill on it. A notification appeared in his vision, letting him know that his ability was activated.

“I’ve got it, let’s go,” Nanoc said, leading Jessica out the backdoor to avoid SWIM as much as possible.

They followed the footprints down a couple of side alleys until they came across an abandoned warehouse. Nothing was really abandoned in the virtual world; it was just a placeholder for digital space until someone posted up the money to claim it. The abandoned warehouse was more of an avatar granted to the space like a bookmark.

“I think we’re about to meet your fiancé. Are you ready?” Nanoc asked, while getting his game recording session started in case it was needed later.

She nodded solemnly, and they walked into the warehouse to find a naked High-Class Elf avatar having sex with a rather busty and hairy Dwarf avatar.

They stopped as soon as Nanoc had opened the door and the girl gave a shriek. Nanoc looked at the man’s face closely to see if he resembled the avatar.

“Nathan is that you?” Nanoc asked loudly, to try and verify his identity.

“Who the hell are you?” Nathan yelled back.

“I was hired to find out if you were cheating on your fiancé. Looks like I got the proof.”

Nathan immediately stood up straight.

“Hey, listen man, we can work out a deal here. You and your friend don’t need to go tell my fiancé nothing.”

Nanoc was confused and turned to Jessica who had pulled out a gun, which further confused him since there were no guns in Lraylinsoul. She fired two shots and bullets exploded out of the gun toward Nathan and the girl he was cheating on Jessica with. Jessica turned the gun toward Nanoc and he pulled out his sword through sheer instinct that came from hours of in-game fighting and sliced down through both of her arms. The bloody stumps still clutching the gun fell to the floor, blood sprayed from her arms while the severed stumps pooled congealed blood out onto the ground.

Jessica screamed, but only for the second it took her brain to realize there was no pain.

“You fucking piece of shit; that fucking hurt,” she said, while the stumps of her arms continued to spray blood with every simulated heartbeat.

“Who are you? Nathan said my friend, not his fiancé.”

“If it wasn’t for this stupid game I could have drawn and shot before he even got a word out, but this fucking virtual world is so asinine it requires an inventory to be opened before I could get out the gun. Yeah, you guessed it, I’m not his fiancé. Although he was cheating on his real fiancé, it’s what gave me the idea to hire you. So really he got what he deserved.”

“You paid all that money just to kill an avatar.”

Jessica snorted and laughed at Nanoc.

“You poor internet baby. Listen, I’m about to be logged out of this system and you will never see me again. I was never here, and I suggest you keep your mouth shut and just forget what happened today. Trust me, and you’ll be able to live your little life in your mom’s basement without having to look over your shoulder,” Jessica said, as she disappeared and logged out.

Nanoc scratched the back of his head, trying to understand what was going on. He looked at the avatars of Nathan and the girl and noticed they weren’t disappearing. A sick feeling entered his stomach as an unimaginable thought entered his mind. He turned on the biometric reader and looked at the still avatars. They were flatlined and dead; no information was being read from them.

Nanoc started to back away from the dead bodies and stumbled falling to the ground where he scrambled to the nearest wall and put his back to it. He had just witnessed a murder; two people were killed in front of him. He looked to where Jessica had stood, his mind screaming to know what had happened. The gun still lay there on the floor; it’s inherent mystery begged to be picked up, but when it was in his hands it was like it didn’t exist. He couldn’t feel it through the game’s sensors, just the odd sensation of his hand being unable to close around nothing. He opened his character information and checked his bank account; the money was still there, but there was no record of anyone having sent it. Instead, he was alone in a warehouse with two dead bodies and the gun that had killed them.

 

 

 

Nanoc thrust his large bastard sword through another wild boar. It squealed in simulated rage before it disappeared in pixelated gore, leaving only its experience points behind.

“And that’s twenty,” Nanoc said, summoning his character information screen to check the number of experience points he had gained.

“Twenty boars; took less than one and a half seconds for each kill, giving me a total of…” Nanoc frowned at the translucent character screen that hovered in front of his eyes.

“200 experience points, which means I’ll be here for the next three hours if I want to level up. Ugh!” Nanoc said, waving away the display screen and sheathing his bastard sword.

“Um, excuse me. Are you Gamersweat69?” a voice said from behind Nanoc.

“It’s Nanoc, please,” he said, cringing at his old username. “All my saves are on this username so it’s hard to change it. Anyway, what can I help you find?” Nanoc said, turning around to see a woman standing in the field. Her eyes kept searching back and forth, not lingering on his body for too long. He was a 6’5” barbarian with tanned rippling muscles that seemed to sweat oil when he moved and the fewer clothes he wore the higher his armor stat went up. Meaning he was only wearing a loin cloth and a sheath for his sword.

 “How did you know I need something found?”

“Because you were searching for my gamer tag, which means you were searching by my reputation. I can also tell by looking at you that the answer is no. I’m not helping you,” he said.

“How can you say that? You don’t know me,” she said.

“Look, I help people find things; usually items, hacked accounts, people’s kids. Small things, things that make people happy when they’re found. Nothing good comes from finding cheating boyfriends. I did that once for a friend and now I’m constantly getting requests from people paranoid about where their boyfriends are sticking their digital dicks. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“How can you know that?”

“You didn’t customize your character, so I’m probably seeing what you actually look like; pretty cute, tall and thin, very unlikely you aren’t in a relationship, but you act like you’re scared of the air around you. You don’t like being in a virtual world and, since you rushed to find me after just creating your character suggests you’re emotional, which means relationship troubles. You’re wearing the tan shirt and jeans you get when you first log in, which means you haven’t put any kind of leveling into the character. Which is weird since we’re in one of the furthest outreaches of Lraylinsoul where even these boars could one shot kill you. If you died, it would just delete your corpse and send your body back to the beginning of the game; with all the random monsters it should be impossible for someone just starting out to make it here. How the hell did you make it here?” Nanoc asked.

The girl stepped closer, showing the tiny gold earrings she was wearing.

“A friend suggested I buy these in order to find you, which honestly took longer than actually finding you.”

Nanoc took a closer look.

“Those are the gold earrings of the god Hathor, granting you 24 hours protection from drawing the attention of world monsters. That’s an SS rare loot box drop. My friends have been trying to get a couple to race through a few dungeons and speed through to the boss. Based on the specs the developers released, you’d have to play close to 400 hours to have a high enough probability of getting the drop or pay 4,000 dollars in the game lottery shop.”

“Three thousand and twenty dollars and some change, to be exact, which is why I think you should listen to my proposal. You may be getting a lot of requests, but I am willing to compensate you generously,”

“OK, I’m listening, Ms…?”

“Jessica, just call me Jessica, and I will pay you 20K if you can find proof of him digitally cheating on me,” Jessica said.

Nanoc started to get an itch on the back of his neck and he rubbed it with one hand. He wasn’t sure if she was lying or just crazy. He used small gestures to avoid her notice and combed through his menus to the buried console commands that turned on biometric information.

When virtual reality was originally being designed, people feared suffering a heart attack and dying in horror games. Game developers responded by adding biometric monitoring into their game for data, like blood pressure and heartbeats per second. It was mostly forgotten, but still available.

“I don’t know. This is starting to sound like a scam; next, you’ll start asking for my bank information,” Nanoc said to test her.

“No scam. You’ll get a payment through the in-game transfer system; half now and the rest when you find him.”

Her heartbeat stayed calm. She wasn’t lying at least, so that just left crazy.

“Why are you willing to pay so much for this? There’s something you’re not telling me,” Nanoc said.

Jessica pinched and rubbed at the bridge of her nose.

“Listen, this is not my boyfriend; this is my fiancé, but not by choice. My father is the CEO of a rather famous company and I’m being pressured to marry Nathan, but my father is old fashioned. If I can prove that he’s cheating on me, even digitally, then I’m free and clear. I have the money, and you have the skill, how about it?” 

Nanoc scratched the back of his neck.

“Ah, what the hell. If you’re willing to pay, I’m willing to help. I just need his username, what his avatar looks like, and his gamertag,” Nanoc said.

“I… I don’t have any of that and, if I ask for it, he’s going to get suspicious. That’s why I need you.”

“What do you have?”

“I have his name and a picture. Here, I’m sending it over to your account with half the payment.”

“That’s not a lot to go on. If he’s played this game for longer than a month he’ll have changed his avatar completely, especially if he’s trying not to get caught.”

Nanoc checked his inbox and saw a message from SoaringOwlBird12, which he assumed was the automatically generated name Jessica acquired when she made her character. He also saw his in-game currency jump up by 5 billion gold which, when he transferred it later tonight, would net him 10,000 dollars depending on how the crypto market was performing. He took the photo and transferred it to a console window. The game was meant to be played as a fully immersive world and the use of a console window giving you access to your computer desktop was frowned on and required a few changes to the game’s installation files, though it had its perks. Right now, it was useful for Nanoc to open a photo editor and an avatar generator. He quickly edited the photo and imported it into the avatar generator, creating multiple images of the different possible avatars that Nathan could have made.

“What are you doing?” Jessica asked over Nanoc’s shoulder, watching intently.

“The game uses your physical body as the base for your in-game avatar. You still have loads of options to change your character, like changing up your face to look like a movie character; maybe a popular bow-wielding elf, a joker-looking bard –  there’s all kind of choices. However, if we take his face, maybe cover up a few imperfections like the crooked nose, moles, and trimming some of the excess weight he looks like he’s carrying around and run that image through the twenty different races that we have in the game, I now have a possible image of what he looks like if he hasn’t changed up his face completely. Just a matter of checking out some places where people who paid for the genitals expansion DLC hangout.”

“Great! When do we leave?” Jessica asked.

“You’re not coming. I’ll get some video evidence and send it to you,” Nanoc said.

“No way in hell! For this kind of cash, you’re going to take me with you.”

Nanoc tried to think of a reason she couldn’t come but, with those damn earrings, he couldn’t think of a convincing one.

“Fine, let’s go,” he said, as he took her hand and pulled out a teleport scroll from his inventory.

The scroll activated, taking them both to the largest city of Lraylinsoul, Sinuol. Nanoc set off through the city’s winding streets with Jessica close behind him. The city had been built in an old medieval fashion but, after the game became more popular, Sinuol turned into an amalgamation of neon lights, cobblestone roads, shops made of stone and hay next to pristine modern business offices.

It was raining when they got into the city and Nanoc turned off his weather perception, so he wouldn’t feel the freezing cold droplets as he darted passed the auction houses, businesses, bars and restaurants, heading further and further toward the Southern part of the city; the seedier parts of the city where people’s game files were so corrupted they glitched and others were walking billboards of ads displaying video game streamers, and different types of sex acts you could experience next to anti-virus software ads.

“Where are we going?” Jessica asked.

“We’ll take a look at a love hotel first. It’s the building that looks like a run-down hospital with the neon heart painted on it.”

“There’s a love hotel in this game?”

“Technically there isn’t. The hospital is owned by an NPC. One of the games generated AI,” Nanoc clarified after he saw the confused look on Jessica’s face.

“That’s how they cheat the system. The owner’s name is SWIM or that’s his gamertag, it’s an acronym for ‘Someone who isn’t me.’ The guy exposed a glitch in the game where only one player could take a quest from the NPC at a time. He took the quest and then never finished the mission. Through some non-regulation tech and other players’ help, he was basically able to create a love hotel. I’m not sure why the Admins haven’t demolished the place yet. Main rumor is that SWIM knows the right people to pay off,” Nanoc said, as he held the door open for Jessica.

The hallways and doors were a little cramped for the barbarian class Nanoc was playing and he had to hunch down as he entered.

“Now sit in the waiting chair and I’ll be right back. We’ll see if your fiancé has been here,” Nanoc said and walked to the front desk.

SWIM’s avatar was that of a giant slug that made you feel greasy just by looking at it. Nanoc didn’t know what his actual avatar was supposed to be, but the grotesque creature in front of him was the byproduct of all the illegal gear and tech that SWIM had acquired over the years to keep his digital whorehouse open.

“Hey SWIM, have you seen anyone that looks like this?” Nanoc asked and slid a piece of paper with the different avatars across the counter.

“Common Nanoc, don’t fuck with me, you little shit. You know my clients want their fucking privacy.” He wheezed a chuckle at his own joke.

“No, no, no SWIM, you got me all wrong. You see that girl in the waiting chair that came in with me?”

SWIM peered over Nanoc’s giant shoulders to get a better look.

“She’s pretty hot. I wouldn’t mind a few hours alone with her, if ya know what I mean.”

“That’s why I’m here, SWIM. You see, this guy is an old high school crush she had when she was younger. She’s been keeping tabs on him and found out that he was using this game and your services. She wants to watch –  gets her off in some weird way.”

“Oh, damn man, that’s fucked,” SWIM said, but Nanoc could read his slimy avatar by now and knew by the way his eyes turned to slits and his body slithered around on the floor that SWIM enjoyed the idea.

That was the secret to working with SWIM; the sleazier the story the more he believed it.

“So, what’s say I pay you the same rate for a room and a peeping fee, if they’re here.”

“Got good news and bad news for you. Dude was here,” SWIM said and pointed a short stubby tentacle at the High Elf class avatar.

The High Elf avatar was only available by purchasing the legendary version of the game. Pay 300 dollars for the game, get the avatar, and wear it around like a fancy pair of shoes.

“But he’s gone now?” Nanoc asked.

“Left less than an hour ago, the cheap prick.”

“What happened?”

“Guy paid for an hour and then when the hour was up he wasn’t done and wanted to be comped for another hour. I told him to go fuck his mother and he walked out.”

Nanoc could get a sense of what had really happened. SWIM had the ability to mess with time in the rooms and probably tried to cheat them out of more cash, since walking around in a High Elf avatar was the same as saying I have cash and I’m an idiot.

“Listen man, think you can do me a solid and give me the same room that they were in? Maybe I can still get this deal sealed if it was the same room he was in.”

“Gonna cost you 300 mil.”

Nanoc grumbled under his breath but did the transfer. He was being taken advantage of, but SWIM hated haggling and, if Nanoc tried, SWIM would give him a different room on purpose.

“Room 302; it’ll be open for the next hour for you,” SWIM beamed, in his most pretentious customer service voice.

Nanoc walked over to Jessica and motioned for her to follow him. When they were out of earshot of SWIM, Nanoc let Jessica know that Nathan had been here.

“We just missed him, of all the luck. What are we doing now? Why are we going to a love hotel room?” Jessica asked, suspiciously.

“I have more than one trick up my sleeve. If this was Nathan, we can track him down.”

“How?”

“Special trait of a barbarian; I’ll show you when we get into the room.”

Nanoc and Jessica walked through the love hotel and up the two flights of stairs until they were in front of Room 302. Jessica and Nanoc walked into the small room with a bed and a bathroom. Nothing much else did people required in this kind of hotel. There were stains everywhere, and the room smelled of a deep musk that made Nanoc cough.

Jessica looked uncomfortable and stood as close to the door as possible.

“I know it looks bad and smells worse, but don’t worry, we’re still in virtual reality. You can’t die or catch anything here.”

“I’ll take your word for it from over here.”

“Suit yourself,” Nanoc said, as he started rifling through his inventory.

First were the brown bellbottom pants, white mages’ shoes with +10 int, orange ascot accompanied by a white and blue colored shirt with +30 int -30 charisma and, finally, a deerstalker hat that gave a 20% increase to Nanoc’s base intelligence stat. Once all the clothes were stretched across his hulking barbarian body, he looked like Dwayne the Rock Johnson dressed up as a seventies version of Sherlock Holmes. Jessica burst out laughing.

“Oh my god, what is that,” she said, after getting back her breath.

“My most flattering suit,” Nanoc said, smiling back at Jessica. “No, barbarians have the ability called Stalker’s Revenge, which lets you track a player no matter where they go. The catch is that it requires a high intelligence stat, which is something that barbarians generally lack. By using all these different types of clothes I’ve acquired, I can use it to boost my intelligent stat high enough to activate the skill.

Nanoc used the skill Stalker’s Revenge and activated it in the room. The entire room changed color into what looked like a heatmap where footprints were highlighted against a dark blue backdrop with neon oranges and reds. Nanoc looked at the footprints leading from the door toward the bed, bathroom and against the windowsill that looked out into the city night. He carefully picked out the largest set of footprints and activated his skill on it. A notification appeared in his vision, letting him know that his ability was activated.

“I’ve got it, let’s go,” Nanoc said, leading Jessica out the backdoor to avoid SWIM as much as possible.

They followed the footprints down a couple of side alleys until they came across an abandoned warehouse. Nothing was really abandoned in the virtual world; it was just a placeholder for digital space until someone posted up the money to claim it. The abandoned warehouse was more of an avatar granted to the space like a bookmark.

“I think we’re about to meet your fiancé. Are you ready?” Nanoc asked, while getting his game recording session started in case it was needed later.

She nodded solemnly, and they walked into the warehouse to find a naked High-Class Elf avatar having sex with a rather busty and hairy Dwarf avatar.

They stopped as soon as Nanoc had opened the door and the girl gave a shriek. Nanoc looked at the man’s face closely to see if he resembled the avatar.

“Nathan is that you?” Nanoc asked loudly, to try and verify his identity.

“Who the hell are you?” Nathan yelled back.

“I was hired to find out if you were cheating on your fiancé. Looks like I got the proof.”

Nathan immediately stood up straight.

“Hey, listen man, we can work out a deal here. You and your friend don’t need to go tell my fiancé nothing.”

Nanoc was confused and turned to Jessica who had pulled out a gun, which further confused him since there were no guns in Lraylinsoul. She fired two shots and bullets exploded out of the gun toward Nathan and the girl he was cheating on Jessica with. Jessica turned the gun toward Nanoc and he pulled out his sword through sheer instinct that came from hours of in-game fighting and sliced down through both of her arms. The bloody stumps still clutching the gun fell to the floor, blood sprayed from her arms while the severed stumps pooled congealed blood out onto the ground.

Jessica screamed, but only for the second it took her brain to realize there was no pain.

“You fucking piece of shit; that fucking hurt,” she said, while the stumps of her arms continued to spray blood with every simulated heartbeat.

“Who are you? Nathan said my friend, not his fiancé.”

“If it wasn’t for this stupid game I could have drawn and shot before he even got a word out, but this fucking virtual world is so asinine it requires an inventory to be opened before I could get out the gun. Yeah, you guessed it, I’m not his fiancé. Although he was cheating on his real fiancé, it’s what gave me the idea to hire you. So really he got what he deserved.”

“You paid all that money just to kill an avatar.”

Jessica snorted and laughed at Nanoc.

“You poor internet baby. Listen, I’m about to be logged out of this system and you will never see me again. I was never here, and I suggest you keep your mouth shut and just forget what happened today. Trust me, and you’ll be able to live your little life in your mom’s basement without having to look over your shoulder,” Jessica said, as she disappeared and logged out.

Nanoc scratched the back of his head, trying to understand what was going on. He looked at the avatars of Nathan and the girl and noticed they weren’t disappearing. A sick feeling entered his stomach as an unimaginable thought entered his mind. He turned on the biometric reader and looked at the still avatars. They were flatlined and dead; no information was being read from them.

Nanoc started to back away from the dead bodies and stumbled falling to the ground where he scrambled to the nearest wall and put his back to it. He had just witnessed a murder; two people were killed in front of him. He looked to where Jessica had stood, his mind screaming to know what had happened. The gun still lay there on the floor; it’s inherent mystery begged to be picked up, but when it was in his hands it was like it didn’t exist. He couldn’t feel it through the game’s sensors, just the odd sensation of his hand being unable to close around nothing. He opened his character information and checked his bank account; the money was still there, but there was no record of anyone having sent it. Instead, he was alone in a warehouse with two dead bodies and the gun that had killed them.