1 Zack Rivera

"You said you preordered, right?" the female cashier said, after scanning the game's box.

The young man's eyes beamed as he replied, saying "Yeah, did it right here the day it became possible."

"Nice, I did that too actually. Anyhoo, I'm going to need your name and email address to confirm that two year old purchase."

"My name is Zack Rivera, and my email is. . . uh. . ."

Zack's face began to heat up, as embarrassing himself was the last thing he wanted to do, especially in front of the gorgeous cashier standing in front of him.

Regardless, he had no choice but to brave the embarrassment if he wanted to play Conquest Carnival when he got home.

Steeling his resolve, he told the woman his email address as quietly as he could.

Upon hearing the email address, the cashier turned her head from the computer monitor and shot a wary glance towards Zack. All he could do was shrug his shoulders and nod, and their casual conversation became uncomfortably stiff from there.

The other two employees within earshot felt an unbearable wave of secondhand embarrassment, forcing them to walk away as if they had something important to do.

Zack's only defence against the awkwardness was his impeccable poker face, and that made all the difference. The cashier didn't put on a strained customer service act, saving Zack the tiniest amount of clout as he grabbed the box and put it in his satchel.

With a brief farewell, he began walking away. Soon, the lingering embarrassment was overcome by an unmatched hype.

In his satchel was the most highly anticipated fantasy MMORPG to date. Having tried it once before during the final announcement celebration, Zack was unbelievably excited to log on for real.

As the crisp mechanical whirring of the automatic door allowed him to exit the store, he found himself thinking back on the wild ride the last two years had been. From moving out of the orphanage into the college dorms, and then from the college dorms to his own apartment.

Money had been the bane of his existence after the incident, so once his arm had healed, he studied with a renewed vigor the likes of which none of his peers could match. Zack got into college a full two years ahead of schedule, and even then he remained amongst the top.

Because of his unyielding resolve to live a better life, Zack had managed to attain a handful of privileges. Apart from going to college for free, he also got a handful of checks to live comfortably, including an entertainment check.

He had worked hard to get where he was right now, and the game sitting in his satchel was proof. It was with that entertainment check, and almost all of his own savings, that he had gotten both Conquest Carnival, and the latest Immersive Virtual Reality Kit.

To him, it felt as though an important chapter was beginning in his life.

Though, as Zack continued his casual stroll back to Travel Center Tower 2B, things took a turn for the worst. He had heard of incidents like this happening more frequently lately, but he had been positive it wouldn't happen to him.

Unfortunately, it had happened too quickly, and too unexpectedly. The thief managed to rip the satchel out of Zack's grip with ease, and began making a run for it. "Yo, what the fuck, man!? Get back here!"

Rather than wait for the authorities, Zack began chasing after him immediately. When the thief turned around to taunt Zack, the sight of him giving chase caused the thief to turn back around and put more force into his legs.

The thief had become used to people waiting around for the authorities, so the slight shock threw him off his game. He tripped over a crack in the ground, but managed to stay on his feet through sheer luck.

Both of them were closing in on an alleyway, and as such, the thief quickly planned his escape route. He continued running, as if he were going to pass it.

Zack didn't fall for his fake out though, and closed the distance between them by turning into the alleyway a few moments after the thief. He had noticed the slight shift in the thief's gate, and reacted accordingly.

Like this, the chase continued.

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Turning at the last moment, jumping over benches, running into traffic, the thief did his best to throw off Zack. But despite the extreme burning sensation in his legs and the heavy pressure he felt within his lungs, Zack managed to keep up.

'I'll be damned if I let this cunt steal my satchel on today of all days!' was the thought racing through his mind.

Ten minutes into the chase, Zack had begun to become desperate, and was willing to try anything to stop the thief at that point.

When the thief tried to go for another fake out turn, Zack used the last bit of his strength to leap towards him.

It was a risky move, but it paid off. He managed to tackle the thief to the ground and end the chase then and there.

Having landed hard on his right arm, the thief was in no condition to fight back, and laid there groaning when Zack took back his satchel. Luckily, the thief had held it close to his chest when he fell, so the game cartridge turned out to be safe and sound upon inspection.

After catching his breath, Zack slung the satchel over his shoulder. Now that he had it back, he was free to resume his journey to Tower 2B, but. . .

He crouched down, and flicked the thief in the forehead a few times until he responded angrily. "What do you want? You have your stupid purse back, go fuck off would you?"

"Don't act high and mighty with me, ya' damned cunt. I can get you locked up for years with that oncoming traffic stunt you pulled earlier."

The thief gulped at that. Zack was right, and being incarcerated again was the last thing he wanted to deal with. Deciding to play along, he spoke warily, but still managed to come off as rude regardless. "Alright, like I said, what do you want?"

"I want to know why you tried stealing from me, mate."

Zack could surmise the reason already, judging from how worn out his clothes were, and how dirty the man was. However, he didn't want to jump to conclusions.

"You want the long version, or the short version?" the thief asked, while getting up and sitting against the wall.

"A concise version, please."

"A what version?"

A tinge of exasperation appeared on Zack's face, but he quickly shook it off before saying "Long version."

The exhausted thief then explained how he had been struggling to find a job, and how that led to his parents kicking him out of their house. Apparently, he had lost track of how long ago that had been, and was living off of whatever he could steal.

Although the man's rude demeanor made it hard to discern fact from fiction, Zack decided to take pity on him anyway.

"Listen man, the universe is a cold and careless place. While I'd like to give you a motivational speech about how you can turn your life around, I know it's easier said than done. Here-" Zack then handed over most of the bills in his wallet to the thief. "-Take this. Get yourself some clean clothes, hit up a public bathhouse, and do your best."

The thief's hardened face seemed to soften as he took the money, but it went back to being stone cold as he spoke.

"Are you really stupid enough to assume a hundred bills can turn my life around? Aren't you worried that I'll spend it all on booze or something?"

Zack shrugged his shoulders as he began walking away.

"Like I said, it's easier said than done. Whether or not you can turn things around is up to you, and lady luck."

Without turning back to look at the thief, Zack continued on his trek to Tower 2B.

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