Eva's eyes opened slowly as she woke. Although everything was a haze, something told her that things weren't quite right.
Her foggy haze dispersed as she realized that she wasn't in her own bed, or even in her own clothes. She was wearing some sort of skin-tight, pressurized medical suit that covered every inch of her from the neck down.
Alarmed, she instinctively jolted upright and BANG!
"What the f…"
She rubbed her head after having accidentally struck a spotless clear canopy. It felt incredibly solid. In fact, it seemed more like metal than glass.
It was curved and covered the top half of whatever bed she was on, while the bottom was a smooth and sturdy metallic shell, but colored white. The two met each other seamlessly, which kept her enclosed in a relatively small, but comfortable space.
The bed itself was about the size of a twin, and it was covered in sterile sheets that reminded her of the beddings found in a hospital. To each of her sides, just where the glass canopy met the bed's shell, were a couple of small touch displays with a handful of readouts.
Condition: Conscious, Stable
Afflictions: None Detected
Beneath the readouts was a button that read OPEN CANOPY, which she immediately pressed.
The readout quickly switched to displaying EQUALIZING. It pulsed at a rate that matched her breathing, or perhaps her breathing matched the pulses. Either way, she found it oddly soothing.
The whole pod hummed and hissed as oxygen from the outside mixed in with what was inside. She could even smell a hint of disinfectant in the air, which further reminded her of a hospital.
After a moment, the glass canopy above her split down the middle and quietly slid down the sides.
Once the canopy was completely withdrawn, she sat up and took a look around. It was a large, metallic, circular room also in pristine white. The walls met the floor and ceiling with smooth curves rather than hard edges, which she found strangely familiar.
The design was sleek and uninterrupted, as though the entire room was formed out of a single piece. She felt as though she somehow woke up hundreds of years into the future, in some sort of high-tech sci-fi hospital.
What surprised her the most wasn't how different everything looked, but rather that she felt she had been here before. A wave of déjà vu swept over her as she continued studying her environment.
There were a dozen pods around the room, including hers. They were ovular in shape and had touch panels on each side, exactly like the one she used on the inside of her own. The pods appeared as though they had sprouted seamlessly out of the floor, with stems that curved upwards smoothly and elegantly.
She noticed that save for hers and one other pod, all the rest had a variety of people hibernating in them.
Well, at least I'm not the only one, she thought to herself.
They were all arranged in a ring facing the center, which was some sort of sleek control station.
Though everything was incredibly familiar, like she had seen this clean, futuristic design many times, she just couldn't place it… Until her eyes came across large, clean lettering on the wall.
It read, "Welcome to Regeneration Center Theta."
A grin quickly formed on her face as she realized why everything was so damn familiar.
I should've known, she thought. I'm just dreaming about the game again, and I just respawned at the cloning center. This explains why I'm wearing a pressure suit…
She hopped out of her pod reluctantly, and expected to enter a dream fall. Whenever she dreamt about the game, she forced herself to wake up every time, then go play the game for a bit.
This time though instead of waking up, her feet simply hit the floor.
The sensation of landing on solid ground coursed up her legs and told her that this was, without a doubt, not a dream. Somewhat shocked, she absentmindedly slapped herself just to double-check. Sure enough, she felt an immediate sting, followed by a spreading warmth.
This was real.
Before she could collect her thoughts, the whole facility shook violently, which nearly threw her down on her knees. The lights turned low and red as klaxons blared around her.
A computerized, yet pleasant voice suddenly filled the room. It spoke in a calm, yet firm manner.
"Emergency," it said. "This facility is under heavy attack. Please head to the nearest emergency lifeboat chamber in a calm and orderly fashion. Thank you for using Tetragrammaton Technologies! Have a pleasant cycle."
Immediately afterwards, the pods around her decompressed and beeped loudly to rouse their occupants. No doubt it was part of the station's emergency protocols.
A door slid open along the circular wall, and revealed the way out towards the rest of the facility.
Meanwhile, the others woke up one after another, equally bewildered as she was. One of them started knocking on their canopy and pleaded for help, seemingly unable to open it.
The thought crossed her mind that it might've malfunctioned, or the guy just didn't understand how control panels worked.
"Not my problem," she said as she went out into the hallway.
Outside, the lights were also low and red, while orange running lights quickly traveled along the middle of the floor in a specific direction. She hopped into a light sprint and followed.
These oughta lead me to the lifeboats, she thought to herself.
Out of nowhere, there was a muffled boom followed by a shock wave that violently shook the station. This time it was clear that something had struck it.
And now that she was out of the room and in this hallway, she was better able to hear what was going on. After a third immense impact shortly after, she was absolutely sure what they were - cannon shells.
Someone was bombarding the station.
She had heard that sound hundreds, if not thousands of times in the ridiculously popular space combat VRMMO Bellum Aeterna. She played it religiously, and often stayed in-game for multiple days straight, with only a few hours in between as breaks.
The longest stretch she had logged in was two whole months, when her desire to escape reality was the strongest.
The world failed her just as she failed it.
Her boyfriend was neglectful and narcissistic, she had so little money that she barely ate, her grandparents were getting more infirm, and their medical bills were skyrocketing.
All of her problems bore down on her harder and harder as the days went by, so she checked out from everything and fell into a massive depression. She needed to escape, and badly. When she found the game, she allowed herself to sink into it completely, and willingly let it take over her life.
She eventually found a way to make a modest income from it by live streaming the game, but it was only enough just to scrape by. Though she had a few loyal fans, she didn't want to spend the time to market her channel and get more.
That laziness hurt her more than she realized, and if she just put in extra effort, she could have been making thousands more than she did. Plenty enough to make rent, live modestly, and pay her grandparents' hospital bills.
As far as actually playing the game, she was great at it. She was a natural at flying and fighting in zero-g space, no matter what she was piloting. She built up her character from the ground up to be one of the richest and most powerful solo players in the game.
Her hideout was both cleverly hidden and highly defensible, which kept opposing players from discovering her base and breaking into her vault. Her hangar consisted of dozens of the rarest ship cores, with thousands of powerful parts from all over the galaxy. Most important was her infamy - she had a reputation as a thoroughly ruthless mercenary who spared no effort to get what she wanted.
Many pilots feared her from her rep alone.
Her in-game self was so much more powerful and capable than her real self, so she couldn't help but escape into it. It was something she wanted to be, but never could.
Her heart skipped a beat when she realized that she was actually living in the game she loved, that somehow she had been reborn into it.
For the first time in years, she smiled genuinely.
She shivered at the prospect of becoming the person she wanted to be, one where she had the ability to overcome all her hardships. A life filled with danger, adventure, wealth, happiness… everything!
She salivated at the thought of flying all her jets and piloting all her mechs, of squeezing the trigger and ripping her enemies to shreds, of rolling in piles and piles of credits, of having a bevy of dreamy hunks to...
Hold on, she thought as she skidded to a stop. In the game we all had infinite lives, but this feels way different. What if... I don't have infinite lives?
She quickly shook the thought away as she launched back into a sprint. Her raven-black hair swung and swished as she ran.
No way, she said inwardly. This is Bellum Aeterna. Dying here means I get to respawn. Otherwise a station like this wouldn't exist in the first place! And if I can respawn endlessly, that means I can do whatever the hell I want. Burn, build, harm, heal. Whatever I want. And they're all right outside - a whole universe worth of desire!
Her heart leapt at the limitless possibilities, and picked up the pace as another shell slammed into the station. There was a whole universe out there just waiting for her, and she wasn't going to waste her life a second longer.