Welcome to the first story article for Uprising! The new NBN identity is nestled between two tales about the lure of the gamer lifestyle, so sit back and enjoy…
While We Sleep
By Holly Chandler
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” —Ernest Hemingway
DreamWake’s official release date had finally come. Hoshiko bounced on her heels as she stood in line outside of the GameNET store, knowing that her pre-ordered collector’s edition was mere minutes from her grasp. She clutched Keiko close to her chest, the warmth of the plush radiating against her in the chilly autumn air. There were far too many people around for Hoshiko’s liking, but DreamWake would be worth it. Besides, a good half of them were bioroids picking it up for their owners, not the noisy people that were so intimidating.
“I’m so excited,” her voice whispered against the toy’s head. “Liv even said that you’ll be able to interface with the software and play with me!”
“That’s so cool!” Keiko cheered, unheard to the others surrounding the pair. The dragon spoke directly to Hoshiko through an aural implant; one of Keiko’s ideas to try and give Hoshiko some small comfort in meatspace. The AI scanned the Network for more information about the game. “There’s even a Dracoknight class, right? Or I could be your pocket healer!”
The line moved steadily forward until Hoshiko reached the inside of the store. Holos sparked into being around the waiting customers – last-ditch attempts to get those who hadn’t gotten the collector’s edition to upgrade, or to peddle extra content to those who had.
“Exclusive to this Santa Rosa location, you can add a [Magical Sailor Outfit Skin] to your character for just five extra creds! It even comes with a skin for your PAD!”
Keiko giggled in Hoshiko’s ear. “Sorry love, they pinged your PAD faster than I could keep them out. Guess they know your weak points now.” The young woman conceded and added the extra content into her cart. The holo thanked her before disappearing in a glitch of static, only to be replaced by an ad for Sunshine Junction. It looked cute, but the series hadn’t been the same since Mr. Howard stepped down.
It was a short hopper ride home after Hoshiko had picked up her game. Making her way into her family’s cozy apartment, she rushed to her bedroom and eagerly tore open the DreamWake box. Inside stood a gleaming statue of the game’s mascot Ixis, a majestic lion-headed knight that had been chosen by her goddess to save the world. Hoshiko carefully placed the treasure atop one of her many shelves. Somehow, she managed to find just enough room for the figure in a space already covered in trinkets and prizes.
“Keiko, can you tell me if CT is awake?” Hoshiko darted into her bathroom and rummaged through the medicine cabinet for a bottle of SleepTite. She unscrewed the lid and took a quick swig.
“Yep, she’s online already. We can find her in the Realm,” Keiko replied. Hoshiko nodded as she excitedly hopped into bed. The familiar drone of the city’s nightlife was just beginning to pick up outside of her windows, a comforting white noise with which she was all too familiar. She slid Keiko’s cable jack into the port of her spinal modem.
This wasn’t a normal jack in. Hoshiko had a macro coded that would only interface her with the Net once she’d fallen asleep, in preparation for the first Dream Game available to the public. The technology was incredible, using bioroid brain-scanning software combined with GameNET’s content to let netgamers play DreamWake as they slept in the comfort of their beds. Typical players would need a full-immersion rig that could run them thousands of creds, but her console along with her neural implants let her dive deeper and easier than anything GameNET sold.
She was asleep in minutes. Rather than a typical dream, her consciousness spawned an avatar in the familiar environment of The Realm. The area was a massive hub city that connected all of GameNET’s thousands of fantasy-oriented titles, with lobbies for players to chat, trade, and discover new friends – or rivals. Hardcore Realmers could spend more time in the hub than in the games themselves. Dæmons procedurally generated NPCs and provided no shortage of virtual stimulation and entertainment as players explored. She’d traveled through The Realm plenty of times, though this was the first time she had visited while her body slept in meatspace.
“Oi, li’l girl!” an old woman’s voice called as soon as Hoshiko’s feet came to rest. “‘ave you tried DreamWake yet? Ah’ve got the [Special Launch Content] on sale just fer you!”
She smiled towards the merchant. “On my way to it now! Have you seen another girl, goes by the handle ‘Chaos Theory’?”
“Ah, ye! She was just ‘ere a moment ago. Check by the entry portal, and enjoy DreamWake!” After she made her goodbyes, the NPC fizzled out of existence.
Hoshiko followed the woman’s instructions and made her way through a crowd of hundreds of Realmers towards the DreamWake portal. The entrance was surrounded by spotlights to draw attention to the new title, while the portal itself shimmered with a rainbow of glittery effects. She closed her eyes and stepped forward.
Hoshiko stood in an open field. Rather, a massive red draconic avatar that easily stood close to three meters tall was standing in an open field, and Hoshiko’s kinesthetic sense rapidly scaled up to match her appearance. The figure was clothed in rags and gripped a stick for a weapon.
“Ethryn” floated above the horns that crowned her skull.
Another figure appeared next to her, this one a lightly built human half Hoshiko’s height. “Keiko” matched the new character’s movements above her head, just like Hoshiko’s.
“Wow, this is beautiful,” Hoshiko gasped as she surveyed the area around her. Her eyes drifted down to Keiko, who was already scanning over a map.
“It’s a little weird seeing you as a human,” Hoshiko giggled.
“And it’s a lotta weird seeing you as a dragon.” The healer nodded and rolled up the map. “Looks like the first town is just down the road.”
After just a couple of minutes the pair arrived in Valloki, a beginners’ village. Chaos Theory and Dinosaurus were waiting nonchalantly by a fountain, but perked up once they spotted Hoshiko and Keiko.
“Of course you’re the Dracoknight,” Chaos Theory giggled as she greeted Hoshiko with a hug. Hoshiko’s hefty avatar made her realize just how short the two of them were out in meatspace – CT had elected to make her character look as close to the real her as she could, and Hoshiko’s knight stood twice as high.
“I’m surprised you two are both playing the same class!” Hoshiko exclaimed, nodding to the level markers over her friends’ heads. Both of them had chosen Flame Mages.
“Dino doesn’t learn in the same way as Keiko, so I figured he could copy me and we could maximize our DPS! Keiko will make a fraggin’ great healer, though.” The temporary-human smiled bashfully.
“Let’s get to grinding!”
Hoshiko’s eyelids groggily forced their way open at 6 o’clock sharp, even though she didn’t have therapy today. She felt like she’d barely slept, even though all of the ads had insisted DreamWake wouldn’t interfere with the user’s sleep cycle. She probably just needed to get used to it.
“Keiko, what’s the weather like today?” she asked the seemingly empty room.
The AI mimicked its owner’s behavior and let out a superficial yawn. “Chilly. About 10 degrees Celsius. Wear a light jacket!”
Hoshiko obliged and grabbed the sweater she’d gotten at the 4B concert a few weeks ago. The taxi hopper arrived just on time outside of The Refuge, the apartment complex that Hoshiko and Keiko called home. Even Dracoknights needed groceries, and Keiko had been encouraging Hoshiko to go in person rather than ordering them in.
“MegaBuy, please,” Hoshiko instructed the hopper as she pulled out her PAD. The holo energized into a sparkling pink glow, and the application icons had all been re-themed into DreamWake images. She quickly swiped to her messages app:
[[Welcome to #AlwaysBeRunning! Be safe everyone, shit’s gotten serious after the Fracture.]]
[[Joining room: #gaming]]
[07:33] dinomyte: zzz
[07:33] hoshikomagica: you tired af too?
[07:33] dinomyte: yeaaaaah. got to lvl 19 though before I woke up
[07:34] xXgnatXx: damn
[07:34] hackson.howard: I helped with the marketing on that game before I left. I’m glad you all like it 🙂
[07:34] hoshikomagica: hope we get used to it soon, feels like I barely slept
[07:34] dinomyte: DINO WANT NAP
“We have arrived, Miss Shiro.” The voice snapped her attention back to the world around her. Other vehicles quietly zoomed off and into the mag strip around them and up above.
“Thank you!” Hoshiko climbed out of the hopper and onto the slidewalk leading into the store, her attention still half focused on her PAD. The plascrete beneath her shoes vibrated with the footsteps of the thousands of people, clones, and bioroids surrounding her. “Keiko, please distract me,” Hoshiko whispered with shaky breath.
“Um… what kinda snacks are you gonna get?” the dragon’s voice asked in her head.
As if on cue, a holo ad formed over Hoshiko’s PAD in the same bubblegum pink that covered the device. “Need a pick me up from a night of intense questing? Show this ad to your cashier at MegaBuy for 10% off a case of brand new special edition Dreamy Diesel! Created by GameNET’s own research team, this tasty energy drink is sure to give you the experience points you need to get through your day!”
“Well… I guess that,” Hoshiko muttered to Keiko. “And some MemChips! They released a new flavor for DreamWake too, and each bag has a code inside to get us some extra gold in-game.” Hoshiko’s nerves steadied a bit as she entered through the sliding bioplas doors into the massive store – at least she was out of the crowd. Even if there were hundreds of people in MegaBuy, the spacious aisles and sheer size of the facility helped to keep everyone spread out.
Vidscreens glowing with advertisements hung from the ceilings and plastered the walls, each pushing the newest products the Corps had to offer. MegaBuy prided itself on providing all of the customer’s needs in one place, so PAD accessories shone on one screen adjacent to fresh produce on another. GameNET’s newest full-immersion rig was featured on at least a good quarter of the displays.
While Hoshiko was entranced by the glow of the screens surrounding her, a clone approached from her side. ”Can I help you find anything, ma’am?” she said brightly.
“N-No thank you!” Hoshiko stammered. She smiled awkwardly and turned to walk in the opposite direction. “I know what I’m looking for,” the gamer lied.
She had only been to a massive store like this a couple of times, but at least Keiko could guide her. The AI did her best to soothe her owner’s anxiety through the microscopic speakers in her ears, but Hoshiko just wanted to be back home where she felt safe.
Thankfully, checking out was automatic. MegaBuy had eliminated cashiers entirely several decades ago, instead carrying out transactions based on what the owner held in a cart or basket via their PAD. Hoshiko collected her treats and some basic groceries in her cart as quickly as she could before checking out and calling a delivery drone.
A small floating vehicle approached and Hoshiko could feel her PAD vibrate. “Ah, a noble adventurer!” the drone exclaimed in the heartiest voice its degraded and tinny speakers could muster. “Remember, just like you are doing right now at MegaBuy, you can hire a courier to carry goods bought in The Realm to your player housing in DreamScape!”
“If you’re not paying, you’re the product” is a warning that has withstood the centuries. But why stop there? To GameNET, NBN’s primary gaming service, moments are monetizable, and the fun never ends. Gamers’ every motion and thought as they move through the labyrinth of products is extractable value – and the best part is the rats sometimes pay to run the maze! Whenever a Runner braves a GameNET node, they must take care to not get caught up in the excitement, and let their goals become lost in the game.
GameNET joins other NBN identities in presenting a potent economic threat whilst allowing versatile deckbuilding options. Whether augmenting ice or refunding defensive upgrades, GameNET adds a new dimension to the interaction between sides.
Here are a few things that gain you a GameNET credit:
- The Runner encountering a Turnpike or Tollbooth.
- The Runner paying through a Pop-Up Window subroutine.
- The Runner spending 1 or more credits on your traces.
- The Runner spending 1 or more credits on your psi games.
- The Runner paying the additional cost to steal an agenda while NAPD Cordon is active.
Examples that definitely do NOT give you a GameNET credit:
- The Runner paying trash costs.
- The Runner using their icebreakers.
- The Runner paying an additional cost to make a run—the run hasn’t started yet!
- The Runner spending credits on a trace that one of their own cards initiated.
By Serenity Westfield
“Sure, we can do that for you. Gimme 2 secs… there you go, another 6-month sub and the new Hyperkatana skins have been added to your account. Anything else…? Great, thanks for vidding GameNET customer service. Have fun!”
Jayce leaned back in the cheap, corporate grunt-issue chair, pulled off the sim-goggles and stretched. “Another sucker’s wallet still open, all for a shiny sword that’ll be rare for about three more days. Time for a break, I think. That’s fifteen bailers kept, none lost, and it’s barely two hours into my shift.”
Rich, Jayce’s desk neighbour, copied the motions and stood up. “I think I’ll join you. Anything to get away from these cursed torture devices” he said, kicking his seat. “Christ, Jayce, you look like shit. Another late one?”
“Eh, you know it doesn’t matter. All the mobys see is the first-day face from file. But yeah, I was trying out the new ‘Cave of the Autarch’ raid. I can’t find a group high enough to finish it though, we scrubbed out at 3 so today is a triple-caff day.”
“It matters to Johnson though, she’s pushing to make you a TL…” Jayce rolled their eyes in response. “…and that’ll get you permanent beta access, so don’t pretend you don’t want that. I’ll brew up, you go splash some water in your face and I’ll see you in the hut. Maybe brush your teeth as well. It won’t fix your hair but it might at least make it look like you’ve seen a pillow in the last decade.”
Ten minutes later, caffeine working its magic on their bloodstream and still damp around the hairline, Jayce pulled on their goggles and got back to work. The toys that came with Team Lead access were deeply appealing.
The morning passed quickly, and Jayce spent their lunch in The Realm chat trying to wrangle some high level players for a raid that evening. They were walking back to their seat when the boss, dressed in her usual knock-off designer power suit, rushed over. “Jayce, get to your station now – I need you on this call!”
Dropping heavily onto the seat, Jayce pulled their goggles on and swore – only 5 seconds left of the automated call handling before they would be connected. Quickly scanning the account info on the incoming customer, they swore again… this was an S-rank client for sure, the biggest whale they’d ever seen. They’d got everything, including things Jayce didn’t even know existed.
“Hi, you’re through to GameNET, I’m Jayce – what can I help you with today?”
Please don’t be a cancellation, please don’t be a cancellation…
A young man, late teens, maybe early twenties given a big spend on looking fresh, appeared in Jayce’s vidview. “Yeah, I need to cancel my account.”
Fuck, Jayce winced, glad the face scan the vid was displaying wouldn’t reflect that. “I’m sorry to hear that Thomas – I hope you don’t mind me calling you that? You’ve been such a loyal customer for the last… well, nearly 10 years. Why are you looking to cancel, if you don’t mind me asking?” they replied, absorbing as much of the account stats and metadata as possible.
“Well, it’s my mother. She’s worried my grades are slipping, and so wants me to study. She says she’s paying a lot of money to get me into Levy University, and doesn’t want me to flunk out.”
Yup, he’s rich. Loaded, in fact. 650 credits on skins in the last week? Deluxe packs for every release, several of them for games he’s never played? The 90 credit monthly fee he pays is a rock in the belt compared to the rest of what he pays us! If I lose this, my career is toast. “Oh, okay… “ think Jayce, think… “What subjects are you studying?”
Thomas sighed, boredom written plainly across his face. “Condens physics, psychology and business. She wants me to follow in her footsteps, although it sounds incredibly tedious.”
“Well, I’ve got an idea.” Jayce grinned, rapidly typing on their virtual interface. “If you want to keep your games and she wants you to study… why not do both? We have a special program for prospective LU students – advance copies of the first year teaching materials so you can already be up to speed when you start. It’s 100 credits per month, but because you’ve been such a loyal friend to GameNET I can zero the fees on your game account until your first semester starts.”
“I’m not sure. She’d kill me if she found out.”
“Don’t worry, it’ll appear on your bill as ‘PreStudent Package’, and it contains all the lecture materials for up to three courses of your choice.” Or at least it will, when I pull the data harvested from the LU connection and wrap it in a pretty bow…
“Maybe I should just take the course data, and start playing the games again once I’m out from her control.”
And risk us not getting our hooks into your wallet again? NO CHANCE. Jayce started digging through the whale’s search history for leverage or bait. Either/or… bingo! “I’ll tell you what I can do to sweeten the pot. There’s an exclusive skin for DreamNet rigs, normally just for SenseNET employees, that’s modelled on Katlyn Bubbles… do you know her?”
“YEAH! I love her simcasts!”
Yeah, I’m sure you’re watching those for the content… “Well if you sign up for another year, right now, I’ll drop that skin into your inventory. How’s that sound?”
“As long as there’s no mention of games on my account, you got yourself a deal.” Thomas’ face was practically split in two by his grin. “My friends are gonna be so jealous! Okay… I’ve authorised that payment. Thanks Jayce, you’re a legend!”
“No problem Thomas, you have fun now – and thanks for vidding GameNET!”
Heart pounding, adrenaline making the caffeine from earlier feel like a sed in comparison, it took Jayce several moments to notice the supervisor alert flashing on their display. Uh-oh, hope I didn’t go too far… some of that wasn’t entirely legal. Hands shaking, Jayce walked into their manager’s office.
Her face completely emotionless, Ms Johnson stood up from behind her deck and motioned for Jayce to take a seat. “I’m sure you’ve heard rumours that I wanted to make you a Team Lead. I’m afraid to say that won’t be happening now… start packing your things.”
Jayce’s face fell, and they started to feel sick. How? Why? What else could I have done?
“Don’t look so grim, Jayce, and definitely don’t vomit on my carpet. I piped your call through to my opposite number in New Product, and they’re offering you a much higher salary than I could possibly hope to match. You’re going upstairs, because that was very well done, Mx. Constein. Very well done indeed.”