Chapter 1: License to Dive
“You dragged me to your lab this late to do what again?” I let out a yawn from my reversed sitting position in the office chair.
Honestly, important news could never happen during the middle of the day, could it?
The small warehouse-like room was filled with computers and machinery that rose to the ceiling, and I bet the power bill for this room alone cost more than my entire monthly paycheck. Maybe I shouldn’t have passed up the offer to work here as an assistant...
My sister pushed her glasses up her face with an exasperated sigh, “I already told you twice on the way over here!” She shoved the pen she was holding in my direction, “But you decided to fall asleep in the passenger seat, remember?”
Eila was my twin sister, but we were nothing alike. She got the brains, I got the reflexes. She liked tea, I liked coffee. I could go on, but at least we shared a similarity in our hobby of being complete nerds.
I groaned, “Cut me a break. You expect me to be wide awake at this hour?”
“No. But I expect you to be excited over my work for once.” Eila continued to move between consoles, her long brown hair flowing this way and that from the quick movements. The white lab coat she wore, an old relic of the past, was once used as a costume.
It suited her nicely, and hung down to her knees as she wrote on her clipboard before walking up to me. “Alright. Shirt off, mister.”
“Uwaah?!” My eyes shot open and I nearly fell off the chair in surprise, “E-Excuse me?!”
“The monitoring nodes need to be directly attached to your skin, baka.” She waved a fistful of wires with what almost looked like suction cups on the end.
“Hey, I'm not an idiot!” I stood to my feet and brought my face right in front of my sisters. She just smirked, unfazed, holding the long cords in her hand in emphasis..
“Oh look, you actually did learn some Japanese after all.”
I stepped back and crossed my arms, looking away. I was nearly a head taller, so it was a noticeable difference. “I told you I was going to.”
“YEAH! REALLY!” I glared down at her. I had really only memorized a handful of phrases and words, namely the basics and a few curses. Because, that's really the first thing everyone tries to learn in a new language.
I rubbed my eyes, “Look, can we get on with this? It may be a Friday night, but I'm exhausted and REALLY need some sleep.”
Eila shrugged, “Sure thing. Now take your shirt off. It's not like we didn't go swimming together growing up or something.” She walked over and began plugging the ends of the nodes into another machine near a table. I reluctantly tugged off my red jacket and black tee, throwing them on the office chair before following my sister.
“Here, lay down and hold still.” She motioned towards the table. There were wheels on the legs of it, so it may have been a gurney or something. Whatever, same ship, different sails. I laid down.
“I'm not having surgery done on me or anything, right?”
I rose an eyebrow, “No needles or knives?”
“NO!” She slapped her hand down on my exposed chest, causing me to sputter. “What do you think I am? A mad scientist? Don't answer that.” She added before I could respond.
She began placing the nodes along my sore chest and abdomen, letting them stick to my skin.
Eila let out a sigh, “I guess I can give you the abridged version since you fell asleep last time.” She glared at me as she said that before continuing, “Basically, my lab has finished developing the prototype for FullDive technology. It’s already been tested and I’ve been put in charge of administering trials to ensure it functions properly. Soooooo, we're going to put your mind inside of the anime, Sword Art Online, and see what happens.”
“Are you crazy?!” I sat up abruptly, “Even if you could do that, why would you pick THAT anime? Isn’t this thing supposed to be for games anyway?” Don't get me wrong, I loved the anime, and I loved most of the characters, but I did not want to die.
That was sort of a major problem in that world.
Eila just waved her hand at me, “It's no big deal. Like I said, we've already tested the machine on a handful of video games already and it worked fine! You have no idea how much fun flying the Gummi Ship with Sora and friends was~!” Her eyes sparkled at the memory.
“Wait a minute.” My eyes went wide, “You went into Kingdom Hearts?!”
She smiled and held up her fingers, “One AND two~!”
I stared in awe as I rethought my stance on the dive. Kingdom Hearts was our favorite game growing up, and I quickly laid down with newfound motivation. “Alright, but after this, I want to go there next.”
“That can be arranged!” She sang and continued preparing the test. “To answer your previous question, we chose the anime SAO because it's centered around a video game, so the data we've collected so far might help with the dive synchronization and…” She paused.
A small smile appeared on her face. “And I figured you’d be more cooperative if it was a series you liked.”
I thought over what she said and shrugged, “Well… you only half wrong. As long as I’m in no danger of dying, right?”
“Of course not! You’ll be perfectly safe.” At that, Eila maneuvered the table to that my head was placed within a small orifice in one of the larger machines. “I’ve already taken the liberty of creating your custom avatar for the dive.” Eila’s voice played over a set of speakers near my head. “I used one of your usual RPG aliases to keep things relatively simple. Well… simple enough for some kid with brown and red hair anyways.”
I raised an unseen eyebrow, “You gave me Hiro? That’s actually very considerate of you.”
“Yeah, yeah…whatever.” I could practically feel her rolling her eyes at me. “I preset all of your settings as well. Right handed, balanced starting stats, full English translation, blah blah blah…”
“Great. Straight to the action then!” I grinned excitedly.
“Alrighty~ Now just sit tight and I’ll start the load-up and countdown.”
I was startled as the machine placed a visor over my face, dimly glowing with a low hum. I could hear the sounds of a keyboard nearby being used rapidly as my genius sister prepared to send me to the virtual world of Aincrad, all the while I found that I was extremely nervous.
Would this work just like in the anime? The device did seem reminisce of a large-scale version of the nerve-gear, so it was highly likely to be the case. I took a deep breath as a countdown appeared on the visor.
“Alright, fifty seconds until synchronization. How do you feel?” Eila asked, still speaking through the speaker next to me.
“Nervous.” I chuckled, “Though, I suppose it’s too late to back out now though.”
“Heehee, you’d be correct.” There was a pause, “Don’t worry, I’ll be monitoring your body and mind while you’re inside, so you’ll have nothing to worry about.”
I shifted around slightly, “Any tips you can give me?”
“Yeah, don’t stay in the dive for too long. Trust me, readjusting to your body gets harder the longer you stay in.”
I let out a weak chuckle, “Hehe… Good to know.”
*WRRROOOOOR!!! WRRROOOOOR!!! WRRROOOOOR!!! WRRROOOOOR!!!--- *
A loud siren tore through the lab, shaking us from our conversation.
I could see red lights flashing from my peripheral vision in time with the sound, whatever had caused it did not sit well in my mind.
“Eila?! What the- what’s happening?!” I cried out. I could hear my sister running to separate consoles assessing the situation, occasionally typing on a keyboard before moving on.
“No. No, no, NO, NONONONONO!!!” I could hear the panic in her voice increase clearly from back in the room, it was no longer coming over the speakers. “Something’s happening! My system access is being denied!”
I tilted my head up to try and get a look, but couldn’t see much more than the ends of my feet and the far wall. “Denied?! By what?! It’s your Machine!!”
“If I knew that I would have fixed it by now but it’s almost like it’s getting worse as-” her voice trailed off.
I gulped, “...as?”
“Take the visor off! NOW!!” Eila screamed.
The command was received without room for rebuttal and I moved to reach for the visor…
...except I could barely move my hands, let alone the arms they were attached to.
“I-I can’t move!!!” I attempted to rock my entire body around with little success, really only managing to shake my head back and forth a bit.
“Frick! The sync is too far complete. The signals from your mind are already being taken by the machine. You’re about to dive.”
My head started to feel much heavier as the counter grew closer to zero, eventually becoming too much for me to hold up before long. I was now unable to move.
“Eila... I can’t move my body!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll try to solve the issue out here while you’re inside. Just... Be careful, okay? Whatever’s happening to the machine might have inadvertently affected the synchronization in some way.”
“Just remember. Nothing in that world is real!”
“I’ll fix this and get you out, I promise!”
The blaring siren and chaos of the lab was replaced by silence in an instant as the feeling of nothingness engulfed my senses. It almost felt as though I was falling, but in more of an upward direction instead of the usual downward one.
The journey through darkness seemed to last forever, and at the same time passed quickly as I soon found myself laying on my back with the sound of wind blowing around me.
I didn’t move immediately, instead choosing to stare at the tree leaves above me for a few minutes.
“Ugh.” I eventually gathered myself and stumbled to my feet, rubbing my eyes and trying to shake the dizziness from my head. Doing so, I caught a glimpse of red from between my fingers. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be part of my own head of hair, which was mostly brown with a specific portion of the front being red.
I let out a knowing smile. Only one character would ever have hair like this, and that character was Hiro. My own creation.
I continued to inspect my entire body, finding that everything seemed to be just as I designed it to be, though in place of the usual outfit I would draw Hiro in, I was instead wearing the standard beginner garb of Sword Art Online. Black pants, a crimson colored shirt, and a brown beginner’s armor and belt.
“This is too cool.” I waved my hand in front of me like they did in the anime, and sure enough, a small console opened with all of my settings, stats, and inventory all set up.
I took notice of the missing logout button, proving that this was, indeed, Aincrad.
AND that the death game had already secured any players currently logged/logging in. Nothing out of the norm here. I was a bit worried about how I was going to get back to the real world though. Er… The REAL real world. Whatever. Back to Eila.
I shook my head and took in my surroundings, finding myself near a trail on a small hill surrounded by wide grasslands and several ‘almost’ floating mesa’s.
They were ALMOST floating, since each mesa had a tail that coiled down onto the mainland below. I immediately recognized the terrain as the same location from the first episode of the anime, where Kirito and Klein fight against a wild boar.
I wonder why I didn’t appear in town though…
The green grass crunched softly beneath my feet, and I could really feel the clothing formed around my body like it was the real thing. Eila really did a great job with this.
I swiped through my inventory and equipped the <<Iron Sword>> I had there. The blade appeared on my back in its sheathe as I perused the rest of my starting items; a few health potions, a handful of throwing picks, and 100 col to buy items with.
“I guess it’ll have to do for now.” I pulled the weapon out in front of me and gave it a few quick swings, feeling the weight of it in my hand. It wasn’t too heavy, but not exactly light either. Perfect for a starting weapon, but not quite unique enough for my tastes.
I probably should have been more worried about the dive malfunction, but really what was there for me to do?
Nothing but play the game really.
I let out a sigh and began wandering in a random direction in search of the Town of Beginnings. I really considered the various weapon options I could choose from based on my memory of SAO. An average sword would get me anywhere I wanted to go, sure, but I was never one to take the “normal” route in any game. It’d be a good backup plan though.
Axes and maces were cool enough, but they never really did it for me either, usually only used for the dual-weapon ability in most games. And if I remembered correctly, the <<Dual Wielding>> skill was only usable by Kirito after getting to floor 60+ or something. So those were out as well.
I guess a rapier would be okay, normally being used by lords or lightweight characters in most games, but the lack of damage they usually dealt was a major drawback. And I was not even considering using a spear. Unless maybe… No. No spears.
I let out another sigh as I tossed the different choices around in my head, being interrupted by a small sound from nearby. Looking over I watched an enemy monster spawn alongside the path I was on. A <<Frenzy Boar>> not unlike the one that Kirito and Klein fought at the beginning of the series.
“Alright!” I smiled and took up a stance with my sword, “Let’s see what we can do here.”
The boar didn’t seem to notice me as I charged in its direction. I had it right where I wanted it.
Unfortunately, even though my attack was a direct hit on its back, the <<Frenzy Boar>> was merely knocked back a few feet, only taking about a quarter of its health away.
“Aww, what?!” I groaned and brought up my sword to block its own charge. The impact caused me to slide back a few feet myself, but I kept myself standing and continued to slice away at the creature. After a few more strikes, the boar let out a cry and promptly shattered into glass-shaped pixels.
I received a victory message with the Exp and Col I had earned, but I was too bummed out at my own lack of strength against the low level monster to care. Thankfully I didn’t take any damage, but the amount of work I had to put in just to defeat it left me feeling less than stellar.
I shook my head and continued along the path. I swung my sword a few more times in an attempt to activate a sword skill of any kind, but I didn’t see any glow in the sword or even a tingle in my arm that would probably accompany its activation. Maybe I should ask someone about it if I get the chance, I bet Eila would’ve known.
I pushed the thought from my head and continued on. I was surprised at the lack of players to be honest. I mean, I knew this world was big and all, but I expected to run into at least SOMEONE along this road.
A few more <<Frenzy Boar>>’s appeared around the grasslands, evenly spaced out for easy Exp hunting. I took a chance at a couple more of the simple mobs and scored another 48 Exp and a handful of Col for my theoretical pocket.
I made my climb over another small hill as the sun began to descend, leaving the sky in a beautiful orange glow. As I reached the top, the view of an impressively massive town came into view. The Town of Beginnings. I had made it.
“Yeah!” I let out a cheer of victory and began to jog down the hill, only to come to the stop at the sound of a loud bell ringing in the distance. I felt a chill run down my virtual spine.
“Ooohhhhh… shit.” I muttered as the ringing continued. I looked down as I felt an unfamiliar tingle course through my body. A blue light enveloped my body from the ground up as the teleportation command took hold of me, sending me through a realm of nothing but light before depositing me in the town center.
Once the light disappeared, I nearly dropped to the ground in nausea. Was motion sickness a thing in SAO? Because it sure as hell felt like I was about to lose my lunch.
Once I calmed my stomach, I stood up once more and looked around. Everything was proceeding as normal. Soon Akihiko Kayaba would announce the beginning of the death game and send the growing crowd into a panic.
I let my mind try and work out the best course of action for me to take based on what I knew. I could either stay here near the Town of Beginnings and work my way up in levels to reach the next town, or I could pull a Kirito and rush to the next town first and risk being underprepared in favor of greater Exp chances. Or, maybe if I could just find Kirito I could convince him to let me tag along with him I could… hmm.
I scrunched my face in uncertainty as the noise from the crowd filled the square. Though, it was strange. Something seemed… off. I looked around and watched as countless unfamiliar faces looked around and conversed amongst each other. I put tried to ignore the strange feeling in my gut but something just didn’t sit right with me…
I eyed a pair of players nearby as the interacted with each other for a few moments before I made a terrible realization. My eyes shot open wide as my mouth fell open in dismay, only for my attention to turn to the sky as the system announcement began to appear above the square.
‘No… There’s no way that…’
I waited impatiently as the red form of Kayaba materialized before everyone. I had to hear his words for myself to be sure… The confirmation made my stomach drop.
“Attention, players. Welcome to my world.”
Those were the words I knew from watching the anime. Only that’s not what I heard. The dreadful realization of this world must have been fate’s idea of a sick joke. Because, well…
Everyone was speaking Japanese.
I could practically hear Eila screaming I-told-you-so’s at me for my lack of learning the language. This whole situation instantly became a hundred times harder with this simple fact. I tried desperately to follow along with the announcement using the memory of the show’s subtitles in my mind’s eye. Damn it, why couldn’t Eila be here right now?!
The announcement continued just as it did before, with Akihiko Kayaba explaining the death penalty and the way to beat the game. This rose the question of whether or not I would be killed as well if I were to run out of HP. I was not about to test that theory though. I choose life.
I racked my brain trying to recall where Kirito and Klein were standing during this, but the anime kept it pretty vague about their location. And with nearly 10,000 players surrounding me, there was no way I would be able to find them. I was on my own.
Soon, the entire courtyard was bathed in a glow of light as players took out the mirrors from their inventory, allowing their real life forms to appear in place of their avatars. Strangely, one did not appear in my inventory. Perhaps being from the real-real world had its perks, allowing me to remain as Hiro and not turn into my normal boring self.
It was a minor victory I suppose, but I needed to figure out how I was going to even survive in a world I couldn’t communicate in. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to get home to the real-real world after the problem in the lab.
Was Eila still trying to fix the problem, or was I on my own in this death game?
I couldn’t so much as help from inside the dive, not that I would be much help outside anyways. The only thing I could really do was try and beat the game, but it would take at least two years to get close to the end of Aincrad. Everything was up to Eila to figure out how to get me home while I simply did my best to survive.
‘Just remember, nothing in that world is real! I’ll fix this and get you out, I promise!’
I shook my head, “May the force be with us…”
I turned my attention to the end of Kayaba’s speech, putting my memory to use, “This concludes the tutorial for the official launch of Sword Art Online. Players, I wish you the best of luck.”
With his final words, Kayaba’s figure dissolved into code, allowing a disheartening silence to spread through the crowd.
“Uh oh…” I needed to move before panic erupted around me.
As quickly as I could I began to dash through the motionless crowd just as a scream broke through the silence, Soon, everyone was rushing about, unsure of what to do.
I crashed into quite a few people on my way out of the square, but I needed to get out and come up with a plan before everyone swarmed the monster spawning areas. If I worked quickly, I might be able to collect enough Exp from the surrounding grasslands before the larger groups of players began their hunts. At that point, I could hopefully push my way to the next town and repeat the process.
If I could stay one step ahead of everyone just by a little bit, I could manage to increase my level enough to survive easily.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best plan I had.
I ‘beat-feet’ out the main gates and rushed to the top of the same hill I had climbed not long ago before taking one last look at the Town of Beginnings. I couldn’t see anyone leaving behind me, giving me the head start I wanted for the time being.
I scanned the horizon, locating several <<Frenzy Boar>> and <<Dire Wolf>> monsters wandering the fields. Perfect for a level one scrub such as myself.
Just as I unsheathed my sword to rush down and start gathering Exp, I spotted a single person heading out of the main gates along a separate road.
I stared off at the solo player with a knowing smile as they sliced through a <<Dire Wolf>> without breaking stride.
“Go get ‘em, Kirito.” I pointed my sword in his direction respectfully. “I’ll catch up to you soon enough, and when I do,” I chuckled, “we won’t be able to understand each other.”
Kirito’s form passed over the opposite hill and out of sight, allowing me to return my attention to my own goals.
“Alright then.” I stretched and popped my neck before sprinting down towards the closest mob, “Let’s see how many of you it takes to level up now! Shall we?”
[CROSSING FIELD ~ SAO INTRO 1]
-One Handed Sword [1/1000]
Next time on, ’A Machine Between Worlds’...
“ Watashi wa… Hiro… desu. Watashi wa Amerikajin desu. ”
“Oh, travellers! What a surprise.”
“ Pardon our intrusion, ma’am. We were simply seeking a place of rest amidst our travels.” ”
“ Hiro-san! ”
“ You want a piece of me you bastards?! ”
[If you’re mad about the whole thing, I understand. But please…
Next time… ‘Stand aside, Rookie Swordsman here!’