Chapter 0:

Prologue - The Machine

Into The Machine

Well, we did it; we won. Beat down the bad guys, got the girl, or, girls, as it were, we came home alive, and lived happily ever after.Bookmark here

'Course, no good story starts at its end, so, lemme take you back, oh, about 12 years. The name's Kasuga Ryuuto. Kasuga's the family name, or, last name, and Ryuuto's the name that dear old Mom and Dad stuck me with. I've got a younger sister, Ayumi, and a brother-in-law, Jay, but those two will be relevant just a little later down the line.Bookmark here

I was born on October 18th, 2029, in Osaka, Japan. I was a complete accident, although I'd like to think that after everything that's happened, my parents at the very least don't regret me. Mom works at a law firm, and Pops was big in the tech sphere; his workspace nestled smack dab in Japan's own little Silicon Valley. We did more than alright for ourselves, and in 2041, we were among the initial wave of adopters of the latest and greatest in gaming tech: Silverheart's Deep Dive Machine, or DDM, or, as it's more commonly known now, just The Machine.Bookmark here

The DDM was a small pod that contained a myriad of things that made my Dad water at the mouth. The day it was announced, he was practically glued to his chair as he sat on his laptop. For days after, he couldn't stop talking about the specs of the machine, said it would revolutionize gaming.Bookmark here

The DDM was what Silverheart called a TAARS, or, True Augmented Alternate Reality Space. It was a fancy acronym that basically meant that it stuck your mind into a world of its own, a world populated by all of the other users that had a working connection. Web 4.0, it was called, but, the truth was something far greater. It stuck a real time, 1 to 1 image of you on a 5D plane. Any sensation, be it touch, taste, whatever, was processed and sent to your brain in the span of microseconds, damn near the same speed it takes in the real world.Bookmark here

It was more than revolutionary, and it didn't only have an effect on gaming. It propelled nearly every type of tech, business, and institution that had a footprint on the internet forward what felt like a century. Businesses were conducting in-person meetings amongst employees from the comfort of their own homes, nestled in the soft confines of The Machine. Realtors could offer prospective property purchasers the chance to take a look at real estate in real time, and neither would ever have to leave the house, just hop in the pod. Doctors could make home visits, diagnose patients from the Bahamas, or OK a procedure or prescription without having to lift a physical finger.Bookmark here

You could watch a sports event from the same bench as the players, even sit in the middle of the field, chasing a football up and down as the players raced back and forth. Landlocked salary workers could enjoy all the comfort of the beach without ever touching sand in the slightest.Bookmark here

The point is, The Machine is fucking awesome, and the best part was the price. ¥38800, or about $350 USD. Silverheart would even come out to your house and install it, free of charge. The thing was so cheap that they practically gave it away, and, according to some owners, they never even got charged, so, maybe they did.Bookmark here

Obviously, some people were skeptical when it was announced. VR had been hyped up for years as the next step in gaming, but it still hadn't really lived up. Surely this big, glowing tanning bed of a VR rig couldn't be that life-changing, right, and especially not when it was that cheap?Bookmark here

Well, as they soon found out, it was more than just glorified VR. The TAARS was like living in a second body. Silverheart created an entire world, nay, an endlessly expansive universe that all, including the most filthy of the unwashed masses, could enjoy.Bookmark here

To the relief of those who wanted a Machine, Silverheart never seemed to be out of stock. Just hit up the website, place your order, and in the next 2 business days, you'd get a knock on your door, and a Silverheart truck would be right outside, ready and waiting to come in and have the thing set up in minutes. Repairs were free of charge, and even covered intentional damage. Soon enough, 80% of the population in the developed world owned a DDM. You could pull 5 people off of the street and maybe see them in Deep Space.Bookmark here

So, how does it work? To be honest, I still don't know the real crux of its mechanics, but, to put it simply: It sends signals to your brain through lights on the inside of the pod that make your mind tired, then, as you start to slip into sleep, it activates, projecting the Deep Space right into your brain. Everything you do in Deep Space is controlled by your mind, allowing for some wild stuff, like flying, running straight through buildings, and walking on water.Bookmark here

Plus, like I said before, the Machines are all linked together on the Internet, meaning that you could run into anybody. Celebrities would make Deep Space appearances, since it was a hell of a lot safer than going out in public.Bookmark here

Everyone loved the Machine, and, more tellingly, they adored Deep Space. The reason was simple: You could basically do whatever you wanted without repercussion. Pissed off? Head down onto a world filled with ceaseless hordes of mindless zombies and work out your frustrations, or hit up a PvP world and beat the living hell out of each other.Bookmark here

Feeling a little... pent up? Head to one of the dozens of worlds dedicated solely to sex work, mostly performed by Virtual Intelligence. All sorts of kinky shit is available to you for a nominal fee, and sometimes, for free. Want to fuck a mermaid? Make a stop at Oddysia, where every manner of aquatic partner awaits your beck and call. Feel like a roll in the hay with a demon every bit as beautiful as they are terrifying? Jump on over to Gahenna, and they'll set you right. You've also got planets that aren't exclusive to sex work, but are more of a general Hubworld, like Daedalus. You can bet that on most Hubworlds a continent or two is filled with players looking to help the horny de-horn.Bookmark here

Actual crimes like assault, rape, kidnapping, that sort of thing, all of that is still illegal, but, as they often do, people find ways around it. See, nothing that happens in Deep Space can affect you physically, so, people would "employ" strangers to do awful things to them while they were there. Adrenaline junkies and just overall weirdos, if you ask me. If they get caught by the system admins or by police in Deep Space, they just have to show the receipts, and they're then considered to be engaging in "legitimate business".Bookmark here

So, what sort of effect did all of this have on society? Well, crime plummeted at record rates. Not only were potential victims staying inside, but even the perps themselves were using the Machine to employ their new business models. Countries that lacked the infrastructure to effectively use the Machine were quickly funded to be able to. Most countries were up and running on the Machine in a year or less, because every new country added, and all of its people, were potential customers, business partners, or even lovers.Bookmark here

Almost all business became an In-Space affair, if it could. Not having to leave the house was a great incentive for people to be at work on time, especially if not showing up would mean you'd have to come in, in person. Plus, the DDM possesses a translation system that can automatically detect and translate any foreign language to your listed main language.Bookmark here

The need for travel dropped significantly, and those fancy carbon emission reduction milestones that plenty of countries had set for themselves were blown out of the water. Climate scientists proclaimed that, while we couldn't quite stop the effects of climate change, the reduction would halt the worst parts for a time.Bookmark here

So, to recap, it lets people from all over the world meet up in person, in real time, lets the worst of society satisfy their horrid desires without truly hurting someone, and helped humanity stop murdering the only planet capable of sustaining them for more than 5 minutes. So, yeah, I guess you could say The Machine is pretty fucking great.Bookmark here

But, we're not here to tell you the story of The Machine, we're here to tell you our story. The story of how four friends from this great big ball of rock and water managed to become the Kings and Queens of Deep Space.Bookmark here

Now, I can't tell you this story on my own. It wouldn't be fair to the others. So, we've decided that we'll each tell the story, bit by bit, together. Sort of like reading a book as a class, except with lasers and war and lots of other stuff they might not be as cool with you saying out loud.Bookmark here

So, is everyone ready? Got some snacks, hit the bathroom, wrapped up in a cozy blanket? If so, let's take a trip Into the MachineBookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.