A new Hard Luck story. A bullet with his name on it sends Luck on his last case ever, an investigation into the world of avatar death.
They say that every bullet has two tales to tell. The first concerns its manufacture. The second is the story of how it came to be loaded into that particular chamber of that particular gun on that particular day. These stories stretch back unendingly over generations. It would be true to say that they did once have a beginning, but then the same can be said of the universe.
Gladys Gertrude Griddlington pointed her pistol at my heart and the steel in her eyes told me there was no hope for negotiation. The story that led to that particular bullet being loaded into this particular gun had wandered most recently into the business of her affair with a young bodybuilder and my employment by her husband to provide proof thereof. It’s a sad fact that being good at my job makes me very bad at holding on to good virtual health. Ordinarily I carry my own piece with me at all times as insurance against such moments, but Gladys had waited until I was engaged in the spending of her husband’s paycheck on a brunette called Hazel and she had found me in the midst of a moment uniquely unsuited to the discharge of a firearm. So to speak.
“Goodbye, Mr Luck,” she told me. “I hope there’s nothing but nonexistence in the after for you.” She pulled the trigger.
Death in the metaverse is a variable thing. What happens next depends on what sort of virtual life you led. The first route – the route of the virtuous virtual – gives you the choice of coming straight back into the game or of progressing up to level two. Of course, no-one in their right mind is going to turn down the opportunity to get a free pass to level two. I hear every resident there has at least an acre of free land and that the avatars are so realistic a bite mark on the ass can be traced all the way back to the person who made it. But your record has to be spotless to be considered virtuous virtual – and I mean spotless. Ever since they did away with fines for downloading copyrighted stuff, all that activity instead just got placed upon your iFile. Everything you do gets noted there. Everything.
The second route is a one week ban from the game and a thousand credit fine. The money’s deducted from your account. If you don’t have it, everything in your inventory is put up for sale on the virtual market until such a time as a grand has been made. You get to protect ten items. What’s left at the end is returned to you.
The third route is a month-long ban and a hundred thousand fine, and you can only protect one item. It’s generally accepted that the third route will lose you everything you own apart from your one chosen thing unless you happen to be really stinking rich. Most of the people I’ve put a bullet into myself have gone that way.
That just leaves the fourth route, account deletion. Everything you own is put up for sale permanently. Nothing is protected. That’s what Gladys was hoping would happen to me.
What actually happened was I fell over – bullets don’t send you flying, they just enter into your body – and then I found myself in a white place standing in front of a desk, and a man sitting in front of a computer there looked up and said, “Hello, Mr Luck.”
“Hello yourself, Eugene,” I replied. “How are Nancy and the boys?”
“Doing well, thanks. Adan starts school in September and little Frank’s just taking his first steps. Sorry to see you back here so soon.”
“What can I say? You guys should do bulk discounts for us private investigators; pretty soon revenge killings are going to disincentivise anyone from entering into the profession.”
“I’d help you if I could,” is what Eugene ordinarily said at this point, but this time he wrote something down on a slip of paper and slid it across the desk whilst he told me about the good behaviour course that would knock 500 credits off my fine. It was a set of co-ordinates and a time one hour from that moment and the name of one of my alts.
“Thanks Eugene, but I think the instructor is even more sick of seeing me than you are,” I told him as I nodded. “Besides, I’ve started to include death fees up front in my expenses, so I can actually afford to pay you this time.”
“Just be careful you don’t start misbehaving at a level that means I have to kick you out for longer than a week,” Eugene told me. “Now get out of here. I have a whole queue of other bums to process.”