Jane sat in place, staggered by the opening speech. In a daze, she looked around at the crowd, many of who were now standing, fearfully shouting at each other, many frantically going through the game menu, trying to log out, to no avail.
Belatedly, she covered her breasts with one arm. Many girls were trying to do the same. And most guys had both hands over their groin. Though there were members of both genders who just didn’t seem to give a damn about their nudity, or were too in shock to really realize.
No one here had any answers, Jane was sure of that. So she stood and pushed her way down the aisle, elbowing her way through groups to get to the stairs and then descended, finding her way outside of the stadium.
In the streets, people were already milling about. Some were bodily pushing down NPCs and tearing the clothes from them. Others were ripping down curtains from stores and homes, or using whatever they could find to cover up.
Disbelief seemed to be the most dominant emotion. Being locked in a video game and left to die was just too surreal for most to accept. Skepticism and anger were growing. Though more than a few people huddled together or sat in corners with their backs to buildings, in tears.
A feminine hand grasped Jane’s arm and pulled her around.
Jane found herself facing a young woman with dirty-blonde hair. She was still nude, as were the three young men with her. Only the girl seemed bothered by it though, and by the situation. The three guys seemed largely unconcerned by events.
“Hey. What do you think? Is this real?” the woman asked, worry on her face. “Are they actually doing this to us?”
Jane shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s all a hoax. Maybe in an hour or two logout will be restored. Or maybe we need to finish some group quest to unlock it.” She felt an instinctive sense of solidarity with these people, despite them being total strangers. It must have been the situation, but they were the first people she’s spoken to in the game and they were all going through this together.
One of the guys laughed. “Those CEOs acted like total supervillains from some anime. Has to be fake.”
One of the others contradicted him with a wave. “This is going too far. The things they said? How do you walk all that back later as a joke or publicity stunt? No way, it has to be real.”
The worried look on the woman’s face only worsened. Jane felt her own heart sink now that she was talking to others who felt as pessimistic as she was inclined be.
The third guy rubbed his chin and studied Jane with narrowed eyes. He smirked. “You’re Beloved Maiden, aren’t you?”
Jane’s head came up. “What?” She felt a flutter of nervousness, and not in any good way.
“Yeah, it’s definitely you, right?” The guy openly ran his eyes up and down her naked body. “Damn, girl. Looks like you got fake tits now, huh?”
Jane felt a sense of unease.
The young woman frowned and looked back and forth between the guy and Jane. “Huh? You know her?”
“Yeah, yeah. Some cosplayer. She was all over the net a while back as a meme. Dressed up in that cat suit, remember?”
The woman shook her head.
The guy continued to ogle Jane. “I like the new look. Way sexier. Hell, I’d follow you now.” He laughed. He raised his hand and pointed at her, then shouted to the crowd growing in the street as people vacated the stadium. “Yo! We got a celebrity. Beloved Maiden!”
Many heads turned their way.
Jane cursed. Even though she was already standing naked in the street, she suddenly felt more vulnerable than ever. Entering the game, she’d assumed that everyone would be behind avatars, not that her ID would be public. Ditching the group, she strode quickly away towards the nearest cross street.
The city had a medieval feel to it. The streets were paved with gray flagstones. Many of the houses and businesses, like the stadium, were of large, gray stone, with wooden beams as supports, wooden doors and wooden window frames. Potted flowers decorated many windows and sat along the sides of the streets. There were streetlights of black iron, though they were unlit, of course, at this hour.
She passed a restaurant and some other buildings and had started to make her way past most of the other players in the area before she glanced back over her shoulder.
The cocky guy who’d recognized her was following, his leering eyes intent on her.
Despairing, Jane looked around for help. And something to cover up with. Spotting a barrel next to some crates, she went over and pulled the cover off of it. It was empty and dry inside. Kicking the bottom out, she stepped into the barrel and pulled it up to hide her torso. Looking up, the guy following had grown closer.
Upping her pace, she looked all over: down alleys, in open doors. Coming to a canal running through the city, she finally spotted a guard and ran over to him. “I need help!”
The guard, wearing full plate mail for some odd reason, and holding a long pike, turned his helmeted head her way. “What do you need?”
“Someone’s following me!”
“The auction house is here. I’ve marked it on your map.”
“No. Someone’s trying to hurt me. I need protection.”
“The armor shop is here. I’ve marked it on your map.”
“Gah!” Jane shouted at the unhelpful NPC.
“I am not familiar with that location,” he replied.
The guy stalking her sauntered up, greasy grin on his lips. “Hey, sexy Maiden. Where you runnin’ off to? Let’s talk.”
“I’m not interested,” she warily told him, clutching the barrel around her. Just her luck she’d run into someone like him. Then again, it wasn’t a total surprise.
Human beings tend to be on their best behaviour when others are watching and there are consequences to our actions. Which is why, on the internet, so many people reveal themselves as jerks. Hiding behind fake usernames and avatars that give them anonymity, they think they can get away with anything, poisoning communities and trolling others. It’s just about enough to make you lose faith in our species.
With no human moderators to oversee player behaviour, and the CEOs having just told them there were basically no consequences to anything, the conditions in the game were already encouraging the worst people to take action.
“Get lost,” she told him, making herself even more clear.
He laughed. “Don’t say that. Let’s get to know each other better.” He reached out as if to shake her hand, then lunged forward and groped her left tit. “Wow!” he exclaimed with excitement. “Even feels real. I thought it might feel like a balloon or something because they’re fake.”
“Fuck off!” Jane backhanded him across the face, sending him back a step.
The guy’s eyes opened wide. “Ow! Apparently you really do feel pain here.”
Surely the guy never would have done this to a woman in real life. But that’s the thing: this wasn’t real life. Even if they all got out of the game at some point, how would you argue sexual harassment or rape as a victim? ‘It’s just a game, your honour, it wasn’t real.’
He recovered and sneered at her. “Pain, huh. Cool. Sucks to be you then, doesn’t it?” He stepped closer and reached for her.
Jane backed up, trying to get the NPC guard between her and this idiot. Her attacker wasn’t huge or anything, and she might be fairly fit for a girl, but she was definitely not going to be a match for him. If only this NPC would intervene!
“Come here!” The guy lunged for her.
Jane instinctively kicked out. She hit him in the hip and twisted him sideways. Then he was on her and they grappled with each other. Her barrel fell from around her torso and dropped around her legs, threatening to trip her.
To her surprise, and from the look of his face, to his, too, they were equal in strength. Jane grinned. While they might look like they had their real bodies, the game evidently based their abilities on in-game stats. And as they were both newbies, they were equal. She punched the asshole in the face.
“Fuck!” He grabbed his face and backed off.
Jane jumped out of the barrel, ran at the guy, and pushed him as hard as she could.
With a startled expression, he fell backwards, tripping over the edging of the canal and landing in the clear, blue water below.
Jane felt a renewed sense of confidence. In this world, she could hold her own in a way that she’d never been able to back home. She thought about tossing the useless NPC into the canal, too, but decided it wasn’t worth the risk. The game might decide she’d violated city law or something and send more guards after her. The guards would no doubt be stronger than she was.
The guy in the canal surfaced and began splashing towards the edge. “Fucking bitch!”
No sense trying her luck twice. Jane took off, running down the street and taking the first corner. To her surprise, she wasn’t as phased by the experience as she might have predicted. Perhaps the fact that they were in a game had taken the edge off. Or maybe she was stronger inside than she’d realized.
After wandering away into the heart of the city a little ways, naked once more, she spotted an NPC with an exclamation mark over her head, denoting a quest. Well, whether this was all a hoax or real, Jane was going to need to level up if she wanted to defend herself or eventually clear the game and get out of here, if that was actually possible. No sense wasting time crying about things. She approached the quest giver.
The quest giver was a worn-out looking woman in cheap clothes and an apron. She had a haggard expression and two small boys ran around her legs, playing and shouting. A small crate sat at her feet.
“Hi,” Jane greeted the woman.
“I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now. I’m so busy.”
“Can I help with something?”
The woman smiled for the first time. “Well, I was supposed to deliver this box to Yelsin Greer across town. But my mother is sick and she can’t look after my boys today.”
“I can take it for you.”
“You can? Oh, thank you! Don’t worry, I’ll give you something in return for your troubles. I really appreciate it.”
Jane nodded. Then she looked down at herself and thought about running around town naked, with more of those losers around. “Um, I don’t suppose you have any clothing you could lend me?”
The woman smiled and repeated her last phrase. “You can? Oh, thank you! Don’t worry, I’ll give you something in return for your troubles. I really appreciate it.”
“Great. So it looks like NPCs are still kind of limited in this world.” Jane cast around for ideas. She glanced at the woman’s apron. Feeling marginally guilty, she stepped closer. “Sorry,” she told the woman, “but I really need this.” She reached out and undid the apron. When the woman didn’t respond, Jane pulled it over the other woman’s head and placed it over her own. She thought about going further and taking all of the woman’s clothing, but for some reason it felt dishonest and creepy, logic be damned. So, with the apron covering her front and leaving her backside bare, Jane picked up the quest crate and headed off.
Thankfully, her destination was marked on the mini-map that she could bring up with a wave of her hand, along with the player menu. Unfortunately, it looked like her destination was just about the farthest point from where she was. And that she was going to have to pass by the stadium again. Hopefully, she wouldn’t run across the asshole she’d fought with, or anyone like him.