It was noon. The streets were mostly empty as the inhabitants of the city congregated in various restaurants, eateries and coffee shops for their lunch. Only the Royal Guard of The Master stood on the steps of His abode, the Supreme Court of the Master. They stood there vigilantly in their flowing white robes, rifles held at smartly at ease.
A lone man walked past the Supreme Court, his hoodie obscuring his face. He started to walk up the white, flawless steps, heels clicking on the marble.
The first royal guard tensed, and called out, “Citizen! State your business – ”
He gasped and crumpled to the floor as blood oozed out of his gunshot wound. The hooded man held a smoking gun.
“Cover and fire!” The other guards dashed behind the regal pillars framing the entrance and shot at the hooded figure. With unnatural speed, he ran behind the nearest pillar and shot the guard hiding there. Before the other guards could align their guns towards him, he had already brandished a second pistol and killed two of them.
As he fired at the guards, his hood flew back, revealing a head full of orange hair and a young beautiful face, with grimness in his lips and age in his eyes. As his augmented reality visor scanned the man’s face, the captain of the guard discovered that he was Alexander Patriot, a member of the underground Rebel movement. Before he could transmit this information to the other guards in the Court, he died as a bullet hit his heart.
Alex Patriot stepped over the bodies of the guards and walked towards the huge doors that separated the outside world from the outer chambers of the Supreme Court. He was here on a mission: to kill the Master and release his 60-year-long stranglehold on power, restoring liberty to the Republic.
He put his ear against the doors. He could hear hurried footsteps moving towards the other side of the door as the guards within assembled, ready to shoot him when he came in. Alex set his pistols to ‘automatic’, and attached 9mm chain rounds to his chambers. He took a step back, and gunned down the doors.
The doors splintered into a million pieces as his bullets flew through and killed the guards on the other side. He kicked open the broken doors and shot at the guards who came running down the stairs. With precision and accuracy, he allocated one shot for one guard.
Alex entered a Zen state of mind as the bulletstorm swept all around him, honed after years and years of virtual reality simulations in the Rebel training chambers. He let his anger at the Master give energy to his movement as his dodged the bullets that came flying towards him in slow-motion. His courageous predecessors who had fought and died in their attempt to overthrow the Master came to his mind as he avenged every single one of them with every single kill. He avenged the death of his friend, Evan Wise with one shot at a guard, and avenged the death of his cousin, George Patriot as he killed another.
Soon, most of the guards were dead. but Alex did not let his adrenaline seep away as he sprinted towards towards the inner sanctum of the Master, where He resided.
He bashed open the door, took the neck of the guard on the right, twisted it, and in one fluid movement, threw him at the guard on the left. As the left guard was knocked over by his counterpart, Alex brandished his guns and shot both of them, twice.
He holstered one weapon and pointed the other at the Master’s chair, which was facing the window.
Alex spoke. “Master. You die today. Don’t you want to face your killer?”
The chair spun round, revealing the famous face of the person who appeared daily on the telescreens, and on the ubiquitous posters and banners proclaiming ‘MASTER KNOWS BEST’. He was grinning, his face untouched by fear. “You can try. Many have tried, and many have failed.”
Alex fired one shot at the Master’s head, and the bullet barrelled through the Master’s brain, leaving his grin etched on his face as he died.
Alex breathed out.
“I’m not dead yet,” the Master whispered into Alex’s ear. Before Alex could jump, the Master had already disarmed him, locked his wrist and broken his fingers.
“OUGH!” Alex screamed. “How…did you do that?” Alex laboured under the pain. “I killed you…right there.”
“You did, but that’s not me. At least, not who I really am.” the Master said smoothly as he let go of Alex and stepped back, letting Alex whimper in pain as he clutched his right hand.
“Have you wondered why none of the Rebels who had been sent before you, on suicide missions like this, have ever returned?” he said. “Why do they always disappear, not even able to escape injured? You know that I have supreme power over the Republic. But my power extends beyond that. I have power…over everything in this universe.”
“How…is that possible?” Alex sputtered as blood dripped down his cheek. “You’re not God!”
“Technically, I am God,” the Master replied. “I just don’t like to reveal it. If I showed my omnipotence, it would give you Rebels nothing to live for. But I don’t like to be called God, because that’s not who I actually am.”
“Then who are you?” Alex whispered.
“Many many years before, the world was in chaos. Wars, floods, riots, revolutions, earthquakes…there wasn’t a day in the news that you didn’t see something of this sort happen. But perhaps more surprisingly, while all these catastrophes were happening, youths in rich, untouched countries were apathetic to these matters. Instead, they were busy with crises that were not real, playing computer games where they acted as survivors of a zombie apocalypse, answered the call of duty in a ‘modern war’, or became brave space marines fighting a losing battle against marauding aliens. They saved the world many times over, but only in their computers. Meanwhile, children in Africa cried out for help to these people, for food and water, but these youths did not see or hear them, their ears blocked by surround sound earphones and their eyes fixed to their screens as they drank their 7-Up and ate their microwaved burritos.
“Games were big business. It served as an opiate for the masses who did not want to face the challenges that the real world had to offer, but instead get ‘Achievements’ so they could get a higher gamerscore for bragging rights.
“Some gaming studios in the industry thought, ‘If we could help those in wartorn and impoverished countries forget their troubles through our games, wouldn’t that help to dissolve their problems as well?” Through a successful marketing campaign, with many corporate and NGO backers, the poor and the hungry got games, and food and water too! Soon, everyone was happy. They were playing together. Instead of fighting and killing each other in real life, they were doing so in cyberspace, where they could respawn and no one could die. The dictators were happy. No one revolted, rebelled, held protests, complained, or grumbled, because they were all too busy playing games. This has led to the peace and harmony you experience today.” The Master gestured at the people in the square outside.
“I don’t understand,” Alex said weakly. His energy was inexplicably seeping away. “Everyone isn’t playing games. They’re trying to eke out a shackled existence, under your rule!”
The Master laughed. “You still don’t see it.” He walked back to his chair, where his dead body had mysteriously disappeared, and sat down.
“You’re in a game.”
“No!” Alex cried. “This is reality!”
“No, it isn’t.” The Master crossed his arms. “When the popularity of games boomed, a new device was introduced that allowed players to be fully immersed into a game, not just in mind, but in body as well. The machine would keep the body alive with nutrients so the player could remain fully absorbed in the game world for as long as he wanted.
“An unexpected side-effect of the device was that people were unable to distinguish the game world from the real world. And because their bodies were comatose, they couldn’t unplug themselves. There was no option to quit in the game, so people ended up thinking their existence in the game was the true one.”
“Something those stupid presidents realised,” the Master continued, “Is that the world worth governing was the game world. Many world leaders entered the game world, thinking they could rule it there. But they couldn’t lord it over everyone. They didn’t have true power.”
Alex gasped as he felt his life leaving his body. “Who are you?”
“When a few gaming directors discovered the inability to quit the game, they developed a gaming machine that allowed the gamer to be fully aware of the real world, and – not only that – root access to the game, so we could do whatever he wanted. We realised the potential for this machine. We could be the new rulers of the world we had created. We didn’t let this machine out to the world, and continued to sell the first edition machines. It’s hard to imagine that everyone willingly bought it and got into their machines at the same time, but we had become very popular. Everyone wanted our product on launch day, and we gave it to them.
“In those days, I wasn’t called The Master. In this game, Republic – which we are playing now – I was King Stephen, one of the administrators. But now,” the Master said, “I go by The Master.”
“Anyway, it’s time you died.” The Master sighed. “I am disconnecting you.”
And Alex died.
In the real world, Alex’s machine powered down, and ceased to provide Alex with oxygen and nutrients. Alex’s seventy-year old body lolled out of the machine, limp and unmoving.
In the game, The Master gazed at Alex’s dead virtual body, and erased it off the floor.