In his ears, he could hear the wind rustling vegetation, the chirping of birds, and the chatter of people as they walked by, discussing their plans for the day. As he sat in the grass, he could feel the earth beneath him, his hand wadding up a fistful of the green foliage as he sat up, feeling the earthy texture beneath it and each individual blade. He raised his head, and his eyes were greeted with the friendly gaze of the sun, tenderly caressing the area with its gentle warmth, sending a shiver down his spine. Standing and stretching, he took a deep breath, smelling the faint scents of earth, grass, and leaves, with the wind carrying the soft fragrances into his nose. Sighing, he checked the time and did a two-finger swipe, navigated through the menu, and tapped "Log Out".
Kazuto Kirigaya, otherwise known as "Kirito", sat up in his bed and exhaled. The sun was streaming through the window and casting a warm and sleepy light that gently shook his room awake with a soft, ambient glow. Looking again at the clock as he took off his NerveGear, he lazily rolled himself out of bed and dragged his feet towards his bedroom door and toward the bathroom. Did I really fall asleep in FullDive? I should do that more often…
Ever since the novelty of Virtual Reality was first conceived, no one ever thought it would be possible to fully immerse oneself into a world where whatever you reached for, touched, saw, heard, tasted, or smelled could actually be sensed as such. But Argus took that as a challenge.
After a whole decade of development, Argus developed and produce a device that anyone could buy that would accomplish what tech geeks could only dream of: the NerveGear. The NerveGear did what Neil Armstrong did, what America's Founding Fathers did, and what we all hope to do: achieve the impossible. The NerveGear could send brain waves that could mimic the five senses, as well as it could receive the user's brainwaves to simulate movement inside of a given world. Coupled with the co-developed game Sword Art Online, the NerveGear was a technological revolution that swept the masses. Very quickly, this technology flooded storefronts and homes alike, and soon everyone was in FullDive, as they had called it, experiencing a whole new world.
Sword Art Online was a different sensation in and of itself. For the first time, the masses could experience what it was like to wield a metal sword and fight other people and the monsters that infested that world. 100 floors worth of content later, and SAO was beaten, yet thousands of people still play the game simply out of enjoyment. But, trends come and go, and people were ready for a new way to experience FullDive.
Suguha was at Kendo practice, so he was sitting at the kitchen table and tiredly crunching on cereal. Kazuto browsed tech forums on his phone with low expectations of anything new. That was until he refreshed the page and a new post popped up at the top of the forum, posted about a day or so before. Kazuto's eyes scanned the text and tapped the link to a webpage for CloudNine Games, the team behind the alleged new FullDive technology: the VirtuVisor. Kazuto shoveled the rest of his off-brand Cheerios in his mouth and dumped the bowl in the sink then flew upstairs to his computer.
Pulling up Toogle Titanium, he typed in "CloudNine Games VirtuVisor", clicked on the first link, and there it was, in all of its glory. Ditching the clunky and mildly uncomfortable design of the full helmet of the NerveGear, the VirtuVisor boasted a sleek new design, resembling that of a halo around the user's head. There was a translucent, cream-colored screen on the front end of the halo, which was advertised as augmented reality ready. The rest of the body was a soft white and was lightweight, made of a strong yet comfortable plastic-aluminum polymer, and was secured to one's head with a one-size-fits-all adjustable headband1. In comparison to the NerveGear, it offered significantly less input lag, faster connection times, higher resolution world models, more stable connections, more sensory input and output options, and so much more. Only 20,000 were available for pre-order, due to the VirtuVisor still being quite experimental, and a large, green button hung below the product page and read "Pre-order now!". Quickly pulling up his bank account, Kazuto checked if his bank account could afford to take the 80,000 Yen hit2. Satisfied that there was enough cushion below that (he had worked backbreaking hours in the preceding months), Kazuto tabbed back to the store page and clicked on the looming green button. An order confirmation page loaded up, and Kazuto hurriedly plugged in his bank information. An anxious feeling washed over his body as he clicked confirm. He prayed to every god he could think of, and when the order receipt page came up, he nervously glanced over it. "Congratulations! You were order #14,659! Your console will arrive within 2-3 weeks. Thank you for your investment!" Sitting back in his chair, he sighed a breath of relief. He was one of the lucky people that got to use the new VirtuVisor along with its debut game, Alfheim Online, or ALO for short.
For the next few weeks, Kazuto couldn't concentrate. He was thinking about the VirtuVisor, about ALO, non-stop. His grades had dropped a couple of points as he couldn't concentrate in class, which was a stark contrast to the usual. His knee bounced in class, and his eyes were always glancing at the clock, only to be met with the saddening reality that five seconds of not looking at the clock only moves it forward five seconds. He was always on the internet, checking his email for a delivery receipt and news about the VirtuVisor. That was, in all honesty, not the greatest idea, because it only made him more anxious and more distracted. In SAO, it wasn't much better. Questing was a drag because he couldn't concentrate on anything, and he kept dying in the middle of fights. When it came down to the "clutch or kick", Kazuto typically felt the swift impact of a boot in his ass. So, Kazuto decided to call it quits on VR for a while. Or, at least until the VirtuVisor came rolling into the mail. At the dinner table, Suguha was fed up, having not talked to Kazuto in literal days.
"Alright, what's up with you? You look like you've injected enough liquid caffeine into your thigh to drown a small dog," Suguha questioned, a little annoyed as she set her fork down. Kazuto scratched his head sheepishly and laughed.
"Yeah, sorry. There's a new VR console coming out pretty soon that I pre-ordered and I'm super excited about it. I'm one of 20,000 people that get it right off the bat, and I've been distracted for the past week now."
"Jeez dude, that's kinda lucky. Well, if you're so distracted then, go swim or something. Lose yourself in your own thoughts, that's what it's for. I do it all the time, especially after I finish a show or something," Suguha said, her expression softening.
"Well, the difference is, is the fact that you won't shut up about it for like a month. I haven't said a word to bother you at all," Kazuto weakly retorted.
Well, the difference is, you're a hermit, I'm not," Suguha scoffed.
"I- What're you talking about? I hang out with friends all the time!"
"Give me one in the past month."
"Well, I mean, there was, uh…" Kazuto trailed off.
"My point exactly," Suguha snickered, setting her fork down on her empty plate. Kazuto breathed a defeated sigh and considered her suggestion.
"I think I'll take you up on that offer. How much was it for the pool again? I haven't been there in forever."
"You can just take my punch card, I have a couple of passes left on it. I don't think I'll be using it for a while, kendo has me a little preoccupied for a while."
"That's right, you have a tournament coming up here in a little bit. Thanks, Sugu."
Suguha rummaged through her bag and pulled out her wallet, taking out a small card and flicked it across the table towards Kazuto. "Yeah, no problem."
Inspecting it, Kazuto saw that there was a line of numbers from 1 through 10, and 1 through 4 were scribbled out. "Oh yeah, and once you finish the tenth one, you get the eleventh for free."
"Very cool, thanks Sugu."
"That's such an old meme."
"Shut up," Kazuto laughed as he ruffled Suguha's hair before he left upstairs for the night. He had some classwork to catch up on.
The next day, Kazuto came home, stomach still jumping like a hyena on cocaine. Suguha was still at school and wouldn't be back for a little while, so Kazuto decided to gather his swimming stuff and head to the pool. He had been on the swim team a while back, so he had a pair of jammers3, a swim cap, and racing goggles already. He wondered how he'd do after not having swum for almost a year. Scribbling out a note for Sugu for when she came back, he grabbed his keys and helmet off of the counter and rode off on his motorcycle towards the pool.
Riding his motorcycle was one of his other pleasures in life, aside from gaming. He loved the feeling of air rushing past and around him as he sped down the highway. He could take any number of backroads, as his cycle was small enough to fit into almost any alleyway he wanted. Almost. As he rode on, he watched the world rush past him, he flew past his high school, his old kendo dojo, and past the park with more couples making out than he would've liked. Before he knew it, he had pulled up to the pool parking lot where he parked his bike in the nearest open spot.
Kazuto walked into the lobby and got his card marked off and went into the locker room to change, which was laden with naked old men and fathers trying to wrangle their hellspawn. After pushing his way (awkwardly) out of the locker room, he turned the corner to run face-first into a girl. Kazuto stumbled back onto the dry entranceway into the locker room and the girl did much the same, except that she, unfortunately, went backward onto the wet pool deck, slipped, and fell backward, her elbow breaking her fall. Gathering himself, he looked toward the petite coffee-haired girl and rushed over to help her up, picking up her glasses off the ground as he did so. She and her green one-piece swimsuit was soaked as she had just finished swimming, which probably didn't help for traction.
"Hey, are you alright? You took a pretty hard spill there…"
The girl put on her glasses, shrank, and muttered out "Y-yeah, I'm fi-" before wincing and grabbing her elbow. Upon removing her hand, she discovered that she was bleeding from her drew in a sharp breath before falling forward at the sight of her red-stained palm toward Kazuto, who caught her by the armpits and grunted at the unexpected weight.
"I'll take that as a no, you're not okay," Kazuto grimaced as he brought her to her feet again. She leaned against Kazuto as she clutched her elbow.
"I'm gonna walk you to the lifeguard, is that alright?"
'Mhm', she whimpered, as the pair of them slowly made their way over to the lifeguard chair. Upon arrival, the lifeguard pulled out some gauze from her hip-pack and told the girl to put pressure on her elbow, and roller-taped the gauze to her elbow. The lifeguard sent the two off, and Kazuto helped her to the girl's locker room. He stopped before the door, and the girl looked at Kazuto with consideration. Kazuto opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by a small murmur.
"Th- thank you…"
"Oh yeah, it's not a problem. Just clean it up and stuff when you get home, okay?"
Kazuto again opened his mouth, this time to ask her name, but before he could do so, the coffee-haired girl's face flushed red and she quickly shuffled her way into the locker room, leaving Kazuto in a mildly confused daze. Damn, that's like the third one this month. I suck at women. Kazuto promptly turned around and walked to a lane, as he was getting some weird looks from the other patrons after a girl basically just ran into the locker room, with him staring into said locker room. He dove in and lost himself in the cool rush of water for the next hour.
Over the next two weeks, Kazuto swam at the pool almost every day. And every day, he found that same, coffee-colored haired girl walking from the pool deck into the locker room, and every day, he greeted her with a friendly smile. For a few days, his greeting was returned with a quiet murmur of "hello", but over the course of two weeks, she went from a murmur to a low mumble, which finally evolved to a smile and a return wave.
The last day before the VirtuVisor arrived, however, was quite different than the rest. The girl was coming out of the locker room for once, perhaps she had been late. Nevertheless, Kazuto greeted her warmly and she returned the greeting. As Kazuto put his stuff down by usual lane, the girl watched him, seemingly gazing right through his soul. Approaching him, she set down her stuff at the lane next to Kazuto's, and began to speak.
"You know, I've been kind of curious."
Surprised to hear her speak more than one word, Kazuto was a little startled and turned around to face her. "I-what's up?"
"You don't know me at all, have never talked to me in my, or your life, yet you still make an effort to be nice to me. Why?" she asked, shifting her weight onto one hip with her hand going with it.
Kazuto was at a loss for words. Jeez, going for the throat. "I- well, you needed help that one day, and I guess I feel kind of a connection with people I help? I-I don't know, I've never really thought about it…"
Raising an eyebrow, the girl considered his answer. "Fascinating," she said, slipping on her goggles and diving into the pool. Kazuto yet again opened his mouth to ask her name, but all he got was the sound of a body gliding into the water as a response. Sighing, he slipped on his own goggles and cap, then followed suit and dove into the water himself. He noticed that she was quite fast, so he took it upon himself to race her. By the end of the hour, Kazuto exited the pool and was panting quite heavily, and judging by the heavy breathing next to him, the girl had done much of the same as he did.
"I…" Kazuto started in between pants, "I've tried to ask your name twice now, but you've run away from me before I even say anything."
She looked back at him and processed his statement for a second. "What? Oh, sorry. My name's Asada. Shino Asada."
"Nice to meet you Asada-san. I'm Kazuto Kirigaya." He held out his hand and she took it with a surprisingly firm handshake.
The next day, Kazuto arrived home to Suguha sitting on the couch, lazily changing channels. Hanging his keys up on the nearby key hook, Kazuto said 'hi' to Suguha"Just out of curiosity, why are you here pretty much every day?"
Shino paused as if she was caught off-guard by the question. "Uh… therapy. You?"
"I'm just here to relax. My kid sister was on me about my brain running like a broken faucet, so she threw me her punch card and now I'm here."
"Gotcha," she said as she took her phone out of her bag to check the time. "Listen, I'd love to chat a little bit more, but I have to go. See you tomorrow?"
"Sure! See ya tomorrow," he said as he threw a wave behind his back, walking into the locker room. A 'see you' came from around the corner of the girl's locker room entrance as the both of them disappeared into the locker room to change.
The following day, Kazuto arrived home to Suguha sitting on the couch, lazily changing channels. Hanging his keys up on the nearby key hook, Kazuto said 'hi' to Suguha before noticing a medium-sized box sitting on the counter. "Hey Kazu, a package came in for y-" Suguha started before her words were cut off by Kazuto snatching the box off of the counter and blasting upstairs with a faint "Thanks Sugu!" floating down the stairs preceding a door slam. Shifting in her seat, Suguha sighed to herself and shook her head. I have a strong feeling I won't be seeing him for a while,4 she thought, chuckling to herself.
Up in Kazuto's room, his hands were shaking as he gently set the box on his bed. He opened his desk drawer and took out a box cutter, carefully piercing the tape and allowing the blade to glide across it. Upon opening the box, Kazuto's stomach lurched with anticipation as he saw a small advertisement pamphlet with the CloudNine Games logo on it on top of a piece of protective styrofoam. He tossed that aside and took off the styrofoam and revealed a headband. The VirtuVisor. Kazuto's heart began racing as he took it out and lifted another layer of styrofoam that covered the wires, instructions, and various other miscellaneous parts, as well as the star of the show: ALO. Taking out the wires, he noticed that they were very similar to the ones used for the NerveGear, and he swiftly plugged in the necessary wires, plugged it into the wall, and plugged the bundle of wires into his computer. The VirtuVisor was capable of holding a charge and had a computer capable of massive amounts of information storage, so one could lie down anywhere and enter FullDive.
As Kazuto waited for the VirtuVisor to gain a decent charge, he inserted the disc for ALO and waited for the installation wizard to pop up. He followed all the steps and after 20 minutes, the entire game was installed both on his computer and the VirtuVisor. The indicator light glowed green, which signaled a usable charge, and Kazuto slipped it on. Lying down on his bed, he adjusted the headband to be comfortable as he laid down (although it wouldn't really matter anyway) and relaxed his entire body, heart still racing, butterflies flying around his stomach at Mach 4, and brain still pumping out massive doses of adrenaline. Not wanting to wait any longer before he exploded from giddiness, he took a breath and spoke the famous command: "Link Start!"
Hello! I posted this on Archive of Our Own, but I decided that I'd post this here, as well! Criticism is warmly accepted, just so long as it's constructive and helpful! Thank you for reading, if you did!