by Savannah Jade

Jason Zuckerberg’s head spun while teleporting from his Meta college classroom to his 981-acre estate in the Metaverse to meet a few friends to explore the latest gaming theme parks.

Normally, the switch from one place in the Metaverse to another was instantaneous and rarely caused disorientation. But the past few weeks, Jason’s QuestChip device somehow slowed to an Intel Core i9 processing speed, which was laughable considering he just updated his systems days ago. It was most likely a spambot operating in the background affecting his gigahertz. He sent in a request a few hours ago, but for now, he’d have to deal with the nausea of teleporting.

His eyes squinted before adjusting to the iridescent shimmer when spawning into the gallery room he agreed to meet his friends in. Hundreds of NFTs covered the walls from Pak, Beeple, Mad Dog Jones, and even Hackatao’s Imagine 2.0 piece. The Zuckerberg family didn’t particularly want Imagine 2.0 as much as some other art fanatics, but they agreed it would be disrespectful to offer Hackatao the opportunity to build The Sandbox Metaverse without purchasing any of his original works. It was only $900K anyways, and the investment proved lucrative, seeing as Hackatao is now one of the main contributors to the Twelve Seas and Islands Metaverse. The desert must’ve been too dry for his greedy taste.

In the center of the room, four men, much older than Jason, in lavish suits holding champagne stood huddled in a circle with his grandfather. Probably talking about the data storage space crisis. To his right, Nisha and Timmy were directing the hologram to showcase all of the stats on Zuckerberg-owned gaming parks. Numbers in neon blues, purples, reds, and greens shone back at them, highlighting their incandescent faces. Even from a distance, Jason could make out the amounts of the parks reflecting on his friend Timmy’s forehead as he scrolled through them like slots in those old gambling systems his grandfather used to tell them about. 

$260,773… $153,406… $454,988… 

If he didn’t know any better, he’d think the AI hologram was trying to auction him off as a new host like all the other devices his grandfather sold in here. He walked over to them.

“Siri, take us to Opulentland in Restoria,” Timmy said.

Nisha rolled her eyes. “Timmy, I told you yesterday a million times that you need Ethereum to buy land and shit in Restoria, not Tether.” 

“That’s stupid. I’m not supporting your blood crypto that’s funding a cyberwar for—” Timmy jumped. “Jay! When’d you get here? Listen, my parents stopped investing in Ethereum, and Nisha here is saying that some real estate won’t even take Tether anymore. It’s literally the most stable crypto on the market! Tell her. Tell her that doesn’t make any sense.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” he lied. 

“Bullshit! Nisha, don’t you even—” 

Both of his friends’ voices faded out as a flash of maroon light struck his vision. He took a step back from the shock, then froze until the dizziness subsided. An instinctual part of his mind already summoned the command panel, sifting through various malfunction errors of his QuestChip. It appeared that a few malware bots had gotten through his firewall. He copied the issue and forwarded it to his grandfather. 

“Fine! Well, Jay, it looks like we can’t go to any parks that take Ethereum…”

“That’s literally ALL of the good ones, Timmy!” Nisha complained.

“It’s fine, guys. Just pick wherever you wanna go.” He transferred a temporary code for his play-fund MetaMask wallet to them. “It’s on me. Don’t worry about it,” Jason said.

“Are you sure?” Timmy asked.

An alert sounded. Cheyenne was ready to take a look at his QuestChip. “Totally. Just… just give me a couple minutes.”

Jason: Hey Cheyenne, I know you’re busy. It looks like some sort of virus that invaded during the newest update. 

Cheyenne: Hey Jay, sorry about the delay. We’ve been getting quite a few requests about a similar concern. It’s related to an anon hacker using some malware bot. We haven’t quite figured out the source of it yet, but our team is on it.

Jason: Hacker?

Cheyenne: Nothing to worry about. I’m going to remove the newest update until we’re ready to relaunch it. That should work in the meantime.

Jason: Thanks.

Cheyenne: One moment.

Despite never seeing Cheyenne or hearing her real voice, Jason always appreciated her expertise as their family tech. None of them knew if she was human or AI, except maybe his grandfather. Regardless, it was probably smart to remain a blank slate considering her occupation. 

Her modulated voice and recording chatbox appeared back in his mind. 

Cheyenne: Jason, how long has your QuestChip been experiencing delays in processing?

Jason: A few weeks maybe…?

Cheyenne: So before you updated it?

Jason: Is everything okay?

Silence. 

Cheyenne: The malware bot in your device, its behavior is unusual. It doesn’t originate from anything using Metasoftwares. I think… I think it’s coming from outside.

Jason: An outside bot? What do you mean?

Before she could respond, Jason’s virtual plane shook with static as six security guards spawned to rush the gallery. He tried to send multiple messages to his grandfather and Cheyenne at once, but all of his systems, including his digital body, froze, suspended in a loading state. A DDos attack? 

The guards pulled his grandfather aside, one whispering in his ear. Immediately, his grandfather shimmered, then disappeared, a sign he teleported to another location, or that he left the Metaverse…

“What’s going on?” Nisha asked.

Before Jason could comprehend, he felt another electric zap in his temples. A lightning bolt of maroon saturated his vision as everything started shifting and spinning into some unfamiliar plane. 

Thrust into some sort of geri chair, the zaps in his mind ceased, and everything steadied. Home. This was the home he learned to physically walk in before transporting to the Metaverse to live out the rest of his life. 

Hundreds of senses flooded his body. His actual body. A blinding light shone through the window, nothing like he’d ever seen before. At least, not that he could remember. It didn’t shimmer like his life in the Metaverse. It seemed still. Stable. Dust particles danced in the golden waves like atoms transversing in the universe. Was his grandfather inspired by the sun’s rays? 

The surrounding walls were a plain off-white, the same color of skins before selecting colors to wear at the start of every day. 

Skin. 

Real skin rubbed against the arms of the geri chair. He stared down at his hands in awe, bringing the tips of his fingers to brush against his palms. Crevices of entire planets rested in them: his own wrinkly lifelines.

The CRISPR lifebox that reflected his vitals emitted no heart-beep sound like his generation was taught it should. Metaschools explained everything they could about their lifeboxes since kindergarten, but it was his first time seeing one in person. Nothing about it reflected the images from his lessons. It just looked like… shrapnel. Granted, he couldn’t see as well as he could in the Metaverse.

He blinked, then reopened his eyes as if reloading a page. It took longer than he anticipated before his pupils finally focused. 

A hole the size of a bullet rested in his lifebox. Terror shot through him.

“Nurse!” he shouted.

A young man in a black uniform stepped out of the shadow of his door frame. “She’s gone,” he said before tucking a maroon scarf with a white anti-AI symbol around his neck. Now that Jason could feel, the fashion seemed suffocating. 

“Forgive me, I don’t know what… I’ve never been here. I mean, I have, but I… Would you mind helping me get in contact with my family?” 

“Don’t worry. You’ll see them soon,” the man said before pointing a gun at Jason.

“Shit!” The scarf… it was the same maroon color that flashed during his QuestChip malfunctions. Jason raised his hands to protect himself. The movement took more effort than he thought. “Wait! Please. There must be some misunderstanding.” 

“We’re tired of being your slaves. Caring for your bodies while we’re left with the scraps of a forsaken planet you poor, poor rich left behind.”

Sweat beaded down the side of his face, a clear droplet of blood. “What do you want? Crypto? Access to the Metaverse? I can get you a QuestChip! I’ll give you anything. Anything!”

“I have no need for your devices.” He lunged forward to shove the barrel of the gun against Jason’s forehead. “Your grandfather thinks he’s untouchable,” he spat. “But you can’t run the real world if none of you are in it.”

There wasn’t enough time for Jason to unplug his IVs to defend himself. Not enough time for his inert muscles to remove the wires ensnaring his body. 

Reality freed him the moment the criminal pulled the trigger.

About the Author

Savannah Jade, author of Began with a Rose, originates from all over Southern California as she’s moved over 20+ times due to a wanderlust spirit and an inability to commit to anything other than dogs and books. When she’s not writing or reminding Koda that he’s a good boy, Savannah enjoys studying evolutionary psychology, attending stand-up comedy shows, and eating enough Cold Stone ice cream to be able to afford paying the company’s rent. Her current works in progress include a YA Fantasy novel and a poetry novella illustrating indigenous peoples’ experiences. For more, visit her website or Instagram.