Reno was excited. Today was the first day he would be going into Vingaard.
Sure, he had entered Vingaard plenty of other times at home, but those times he had been using the typical set-up for private terminals. Furthermore, the terminals were usually poor quality sets provided by libraries and public schools since it is all they could afford; blase 2D displays through an old-fashioned monitor screen and speakers was the height of his accessibility. Reno’s access to Vingaard, then, was primitive.
Now, though, he was going to experience Vingaard the way it was meant to be experienced, how the rich and elite experienced it— full immersion virtual reality 3D. All the night before he could barely sleep; what started as a slight buzz of ‘hey, I will actually participate in something that I had only dreamed of previously’ exploded to ‘oh my god, I am actually going to experience this technological wonder for reals and I’m freaking out’ once he had time to ruminate on that repressed desire he had to bury so long ago.
Leaving his dorm room, Reno quickly hopped over to the technology commons. Per the norm, it was a busy place, with students milling over hundreds of terminals and an assortment of machines humming and buzzing creating a loud cacophony of modernism. But he didn’t concern himself with it; instead, he took a pod down to the basement floor— cutely nicknamed Valhalla by some of the students— where the virtual reality machines were stored.
Leaving the cramped pod behind, he entered Valhalla, an area exclusively built from some kind of sleek, black material which coolly reflected as well as any mirror. “Reno Finnegan” the machine at the counter announced before Reno even had a chance to say his name. “Your group is waiting for you.” And a pair of phonemic doors slid opened like they were from some kind of sci-fi TV show. Neat, thought Reno dispassionately. Walking through the long hallway that reminded him of far too many final crawls in JRPGs, he finally met his teammates after one final door.
“There you are!” shouted Chad. “We’ve been waiting for you for what seems like forever, where were you?” Most of the members of his group glared at him.
Reno was confused. He was right on time. Why were the others upset?
“Uhhh… I am on time?” Someone chuckled. “This is my first time here…”
Chad and his brother skunked back in resignation. “Listen, freshie, you gotta start pulling your weight, ok?” said Issac. “I don’t know why a first-year is in a Senior seminar but this is a group heavy course and if you are showing up late you are holding everyone back; we can’t go into Vingaard unless everyone from our group is present. Those are the rule and—”
Reno interrupted: “Hey!” he yelled, with a bit more anger than he intended, “I.am.on.time!” he enunciated practically through gritted teeth. “Get off my fucking back!”
Issac steeped up to that almost like it was a challenge but Sora quickly intervened by positioning himself between them. “Enough. Jeez. Go get in your Cloister, Issac, I got Reno.” And with that, Issac waved them off with an exasperated sigh. “Whatever” Issac mumbled, “just get him going soon, ‘aight?”
Putting an arm around Reno, Sora mocked a whisper into Reno’s ear, “The machines take a while to warm-up and initialize. The idea is that you arrive a couple of minutes early to put on your gear and get this process done; in group settings, this can only be done when everyone in the group is signed into the machines that have been assigned to them. It is weird but it’s just how the computer processes the data and links us as a group.”
“Oh,” Reno sighed. “Well, someone could have given a quick heads-up. They didn’t need to yell and glare at me.”
“I know. Sometimes seniors here can be rude and forget what it was like to be a freshman. Ah, here is your machine” said Sora. Arriving at the far end of the room along with the other group members, Reno now stood before a large, jet-black cube. “This, my friend, is the entrance to a Vingaard like you have never before seen it. That’s because you really haven’t! Ha.”
Sora took Reno to the opposite side of the cube where they were alone. “Okay, just follow me.”
Reno did as instructed and watched Sora carefully. Approaching the large cube-structure, Sora took out his student ID and held it up to what was evidently a scanner. The cube-machine beeped and a moment later opened up like a flower blooming; Reno couldn’t make out the insides exactly, but it appeared to be a confined space crammed with more tubes and wiring around a central seat than Reno had previously thought possible. “Now, you,” said Sora, motioning to an area adjacent to his own space.
Giddily moving to an area perhaps no more than a meter away from Sora, he pressed his student ID to the cube, not knowing if he was even hitting the scanner. But, it beeped and Reno felt prouder than he probably should have felt for correctly using this obtuse technology on the first try.
Soon, his own space opened up revealing an identical set-up that Sora had just next to him.
“This,” said Sora “is what is called a ‘Cloister.’ Give you three guesses why it’s named that.” Reno laughed as the tiny space was just large enough for a single person and it immediately reminded him of a confessional or, like the device’s namesake, a cloister in a monastery for monks to contemplate the spiritual. “Okay, get in and strap yourself to the chair. I’ll walk you through it.”
Both nervous and excited, Reno entered.