1 Inmate 777

    The loud slam of the judge's gavel echoed in the courtroom.  "Mr. Phire, you have been found guilty on seven counts of First Degree Murder, 53 counts of First Degree Arson and not paying taxes... ever.  For these crimes, I sentence you to life in prison without any possibility of parole."

    The yellow-eyed man stared at the judge without expression.  His four-month trial had witnessed countless testimonies of experts and witnesses.  During this time, he hadn't uttered a single word.

    His dark hair was shaved close to his head, a coldly handsome face that hadn't seen daylight in six months, looked like it had been carved out of ice.  Heavy shackles around his wrist, ankles, and waist didn't seem to impede his movement as he followed the Bailiff out of the courtroom.

    He sat quietly in the room they had placed him in.  His wrist shackles were attached to the heavy-duty table by a steel ring.  A copy of today's New York Times sat on the table.  July 14, 2125, he wasn't on the Headline for the first time in weeks. Instead, it was a Virtual Reality Company named Gladis that had purchased tens of thousands of non-violent convicts from the U.S. Government.

    A tall black woman dressed in a guard's uniform walked in the door.  She was someone he recognized, the guard brought him all his meals and would sometimes tell him jokes, even though he never spoke back.

    "Hey, Nix."  Glory had been a guard for more than ten years, she loved to give inmates nicknames.  The media had dubbed him Phoenix Phire, it seemed to fit.

    The man she had called Nix glanced at her, it was all he ever did. Today there was the smallest amount of sadness in her eyes.  As someone who been there for months, he knew what was bothering her.  "Don't listen to them Glory, that idiot doesn't deserve a fine woman like you."

    Glory's face showed her surprise, her dark, full lips curved in a smile.  "So, you do speak."

    "I do."

    "How come you didn't speak to your lawyer or during the trial?"

    Nix shrugged, "the lawyer was a paid patsy, I was never getting off."

    The guard smiled and raised an eyebrow, "so you didn't kill those seven people?"

    "No.  I've killed lots of people, but not those ones."

    Glory grabbed a chair and moved it to the other side of the table.  She opened her E-pad and sat down while scrolling through the screens.  "Want to know where you are going?"

    Nix shook his head, "not really.  They'll have to silence me sooner or later anyway."

    Instead of denying it, she nodded in agreement.  "I'm going to quit my job here, but I still have enough pull to get you a nice meal."

    "My last supper?"  NIx shrugged, "fried chicken I suppose.  Maybe some sex afterward."

    Glory's laughter echoed in his ear as she opened the door.  "I"ll see what I can do Nix."


    Glory's thick but strong body grew blurry causing Nix to shake his head suddenly.  She was getting dressed already.  He looked around for his clothes, his head suddenly feeling heavy.  Nix tried to rise up but fell back into the chair.  "Drugged?"  His last thoughts as he lost consciousness were of her.  "Did Glory work for them?  No matter, the sex was great."


    Vic pushed the stretcher next to the pod and read the information.  "Inmate 943, 10 years, Lifestyle Player in Berentia."

    "Check."  Silas slid Inmate 943 into the life pod and activated the stasis field.  "Cya in 10 years.  Next"

    Vic moved to the next one and stopped.  "Why is this guy naked?"

    Silas tried not to laugh, he had noticed that one of the prisoners weren't wearing the orange jumpsuit.  He grabbed one from the cart and walked toward the inmate.  "Give me a hand Vic."

    A few minutes later Vic read the information off.  "Inmate 777, 100 years, Lifestyle Player in Colonial."

    "100 years?  He must have been a Stock Broker." Silas slid him in the pod and activated it.  "He was the last one?"

    Vic nodded and walked toward the elevator.  Once they locked this level down, no one would be able to enter.  Prisoner retrieval would be done on the first level.  Bringing someone up before their time expired, was strictly against corporate policy."


    [System Processing... please stand by.]

    Nix found himself in a white room, his body was completely transparent.  "What the hell?"

    [System Message:  Employee 777, you have been hired to work for the Gladis Corporation as a Life Style player for the Colonial Virtual Online Game.  Your term of employment is 100 years.]

    "One hundred years?  F*ck off... Where the hell am I?"

    [Character Generation Screen, please choose your looks and gender.]

    Nix watched as thousands of different options for hair and skin color scrolled across the screen.  "You not hearing me jackass?  Open this f*cking thing up!"

    [No Character data has been chosen, using players physical characteristics as default.]

    [Please choose the Life Skill which best suits you.  The following options are currently available.]

    [Blacksmith, Carpenter, Cook, Tailor, Alchemist.]

    "Tailor."  Nix started to focus on his last memories before passing out. Did Glory switch him with the non-violent felons that Gladis had purchased?

    [Please name your character.]


    [Character Generation Complete]


    Strength 10

    Endurance 10

    Intelligence 25

    Dexterity 25

    Perception 25

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    Cold Resistance 66

    Skills: Hunter/Leather Making/ Tailor  [100/100/001]

    [Are you satisfied with this character?]


    [System Message: Welcome to the Gladis Hub in Colonial.  You are bound here and your work station is 777.  Please follow the yellow ball.]

    A yellow ball of light appeared in front of Nix.  It pulsed slightly.  "Nix, follow me to your work station.  I will answer any questions you may have."

    Nix fingered the silver bracelet around his wrist.  "What is this thing?"

    "That is your all-purpose heads up display. Tap it with your fingers to activate it."

    Nix tapped it with one hand, a transparent menu popped up in front of his eyes.  There were several categories, all of them were grayed out except local map.  "Where am I?"

    "You are on the Northern Polar Ice Cap on the Tunis Continent.  The surrounding terrain is uninhabitable."

    "What am I suppose to do here?"

    "You will report to your work station every day.  You have 30 days to raise your Tailor skill to an intermediate level.  After that, you will be given assignments and must meet your weekly quota."

    "What if I don't want to?"

    "Then you will not be fed.  Do you wish to attempt escape at this time?"

    "Um.. what?"

    "The nearest city is 200 miles to the South.  You may attempt to leave here now or at any time."

    Nix gave the ball of light the finger.  "Oh, I see.  Take me to the exit then."


    Three hours later, Nix recovered on the spawning platform.  He was wearing the same generic orange jumpsuit he had been wearing a few hours earlier when he made a run for it.

    The yellow ball of light appeared in front of him again.  "Nix.  Do you wish to attempt another escape?"

    "No."  He shivered slightly at the thought.  The temperature outside was probably fifty below zero.  Within minutes his body had shut down and he could no longer move.  He probably made it less than a mile.

    "Follow me to your workstation please."

    His workstation consisted of needles of all shapes and sizes, and dozens of different materials.  A beginner's manual sat on his desk.

    "Do your best Nix.  Gladis Lifestyle players enjoy certain advantages over their Colonial counterparts.  You may raise your stats easily by performing functions that use that statistic."

    Nix picked up the manual and looked at the cover. "How can I find out about the Colonial game itself?"

    "No information is available about the Colonial Game, I can answer any question regarding Tailoring."

    Nix looked around the empty space his cubicle resided in. "Where are the other employees?"

    "After you reach the intermediate level of Tailoring, your workspace will be added to the Lifestyle Village.  In the village, you will be able to make friends and practice hobbies."


    3 weeks later


    "Employee 777, this is the fourth desk lamp that you have needed to replace."

    Nix nodded, "right.  I'm guessing this cubicle space is bugged.  Will I get a new one when I get to the village?"

    "Yes, you have been working hard.  You only have 9 days to make intermediate level, at your current pace, you will make it in  5 days."

    Nix watched the Light move away.  The small square is where he spent his entire day.  Meals would appear at his workstation three times a day.  A small bed for sleeping would be available for 8 hours each day.  "Display stats"


    Strength 18

    Endurance 19

    Intelligence 25

    Dexterity 25

    Perception 25

    Skills: Hunter/Leather Making/ Tailor  [100/100/42]

    "Looks like the push-ups and exercising is working."  He pulled the freshly replaced lamp off the desk and began stripping it down.  Each light had six feet plastic coated wire along with a small J-Cad battery located in the detachable remote.  He fed the wire into the small gapped layer he had sewn into the pants.  The outside was a light waterproof material and the inside was a lycra composite clothe.  Ideally, the outer layer would act as a windbreaker while the inner lining would keep sweat from gathering on his skin.  He glanced at the pull-over shirt with the built-in hood that he had already completed.  The wires were looped into the clothing every two inches, they would be used as heating coils once they received power. He would keep the five batteries taped together in the breast pocket of his overcoat.

    That evening Nix stood outside and did jumping jacks while watching the night sky.  It was time-consuming, but he would stay outside until he couldn't take it.  Putting up with bone-chilling pain was making his cold resistance stat grow steadily. "Three days to finish the pants, then I will make my attempt."

    Three nights later Nix stood at the door.  Several last-minute doubts crept into his thoughts.  The wind kept the snow from accumulating on the icy tundra, so he hadn't tried to make snowshoes.  What if that changed after traveling a few hours?  Was it a mistake to start at night?  Originally he figured he'd want to be his strongest when it was night, but what about the second night?

    "F*ck it.  I'm running out of time."  He slid on the face mask, pants and pull-over shirt, making sure to leave the wrapped batteries out.  Then he pulled on the leather backpack that contained a blivet for water. Finally, he put on his knee-length coat.  He secured the wrapped batteries in the pocket he had sewn into the coat, it had just enough slack so that the wires wouldn't affect his movement.

    He left the batteries off to start and began a light jog.  He ran for fifteen minutes and then walked for forty-five.  Somehow Nix managed three hours without turning on the battery pack.  Finally, he flipped the switch and activated it.  It seemed like many long minutes before he felt the warmth from the heating coils seeping into his body again, breathing a sigh of relief, he started another fifteen-minute jog.

    Once his body was sufficiently warm, he switched the battery pack off.  He managed another three hours of travel before he had to turn them on again.  It was here that he took his first drink.

    Throughout the night Nix traveled steadily.  He would keep the three-hour battery shifts.  Daylight was just breaking when the first battery went dead.  "F*ck... Did I keep it on too long?"

    Twelve hours of moving southward had taken its toll.  He had no way to gauge the distance he traveled.  It could be anywhere between 35 and 55 miles.  Probably somewhere in the middle of that. His fifteen-minute light jogs were shortened to ten minutes.

    He stumbled as his limbs reminded him it was time to heat up.  Climbing to his feet he noticed that night had fallen.  He walked slowly while letting the last juice of the second batter heat him up.  "Two batteries down, three left."  His voice sounded raspy in the night air.  He sipped water through the straw that he had attached to the inside of his coat.  It was red from his cracked and bleeding lips.  He hadn't made gloves or mittens, but the sleeves were ten inches longer than his arms.  He would bunch the end up with his hands, it wasn't perfect but it worked.

    The second dawn came and Nix was no longer capable of running.  He plodded south with a single-minded will.  He would fall, then get back up.  Each time he fell, he would dream of staying there and waking up in the warmth of his cubicle.

    Sometime during the night, he was certain that he had died.  He stumbled forward, forgetting to reheat his clothing.  Somehow in the moments before death, he remembered to activate the battery.  He collapsed in exhaustion, waiting to wake up.

    The cold woke him, he had been dreaming of laying out in the sun, slowly he climbed to his feet and checked the third battery.  He had run it dry.  For the first time in over a day, he managed to break into a slow jog.  "How long was I out?  An hour?  More?"

    Dawn saw the last of his water being used up.  Even though he had rationed it, there was only so much he could carry.  His body would be dangerously dehydrated given how little he drank the past few days.  He knew without looking that he had less than a day before he would freeze to death.  Stubbornly he forced his legs to move,  he stretched the battery time as far as he could.  Death was coming and it was moving much faster than him.

    Night found him walking once again.  He had switched on his last battery and could no longer run.  During the night he fell countless times.  Each time certain he would just lay there and die but somehow, he would always rise up again.

    He stumbled onward, the face of his dead sister hovered in front of him.  He had burned his way to vengeance many times over.  In the end, he had been captured and sentenced.  He only felt happiness at the trial.  They had paid, it was enough for him to have peace.

    His sister's spirit talked to him close to morning.  Her beautiful voice soothing his pain.  "It's fine Nick,  you can keep going.  Aren't you the strongest?"

    "No,"  the words coming from his broken lips sounded garbled..  "I am weak."

    "No, brother. You've always been strong."

    [You have entered the city limits of Cyphix.  Do you wish to bind here?]


    [You are now bound to Cyphix City.]

    Nix collapsed forward onto the ground, his last battery had been long spent.  He was exhausted to the point where he could no longer move.  "And so it ends here."
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