The gurney Ben was strapped to, trundled up the all-white corridor. State of the art OLED tiles lined the ceiling; illuminating the white membrane walls and hard polished floors made of faux marble. The corridor was part of a huge complex, located somewhere in the Jiangxi province of China, not usually known for its technological nor military presence. The complex was a data centre, hospital, living quarters and head office all in one, with connected walkways or attached buildings, creating the hive-like structure. Surrounding the complex was an airstrip and acres of clear land encapsulated by a massive concrete fence topped with barbed wire and a network of hidden security cameras with accompanying stealth drones.
This complex was hosting the Qi Worlds Project a simulation program which enabled the participants to be fully immersed in a VR world.
The gurney took its paraplegic occupant, Ben, through a barrage of tests, including probing and every scan known to science while collecting samples of blood, skin and other organs. The technicians rarely spoke to the subject and if they did he probably would not have understood, he was a foreigner in the Chinese facility.
The Qi Worlds Project (QWP) was shrouded in secrecy, it had ties to the Chinese Government and Military, yet it was not shown as one of their direct assets. The only place it was shown was; as a wholly owned subsidiary of the largest Chinese company, which did supply the Chinese Military and was partially owned by the Chinese Government. This same company owned many private enterprises and the QWP was buried like a needle in a haystack. Appearing only as a single line footnote in the Annual Report under the research and development budget.
The inclusion of the foreigner, Ben, was unusual for both his Government and the QWP. Ben was a former member of the Defence force from his country before a Blackhawk training accident, five years ago, left him handicapped without the use of his legs and only partial use of his arms.
The foreign government not only allowed for his inclusion but paid for his care, for his first year, in the program. It was sold to them through diplomatic channels as research into a possible cure for paraplegia. As to why? That was a mystery to all but the powers involved.
The gurney arrived at its final destination, Ben was set up alongside the other participants, in the program, on similar gurneys for the launch of Qi Worlds stage one. This section of the complex was very much like a hospital ward with equipment to put the participants on what was effectively life support. Each participant, eleven in all, had their own array of cables, tubes, drips and monitors, with an additional piece of equipment which must be the highly classified nervous system interface.
Most people would imagine a neural interface that looked similar to what was shown in The Matrix where there was a plug into an implant socket in the back of the head. However, in reality, it was much more intrusive. It didn't actually connect to the brain, but the nervous system. The technology worked through tapping connections, using long fibre optic needles, which would pick up the signals from the nervous system as it transferred information, to and from the brain and throughout the body.
There were thirty men walking around with white lab coats, tablets and serious looks. They were completing checklists, ensuring all the connections were correctly in place and some were offering last minute instructions or advice to the participants in the program. Other than checking Ben's equipment, none had spoken to him. Until one of the white lab coat gentlemen, who was a senior amongst the group, approached the high tech gurney where Ben lay.
"Good afternoon," he said quietly and looked down at his tablet momentarily, "number eleven. I hope you enjoy Qi Worlds." He smiled pausing for a minute before taking on a more serious tone. "Please ensure you learn qi techniques while you are in the simulation. The main goal of this study is that you learn how to qi heal."
"How do I learn qi techniques in the simulation, I have been given very little information," Ben responded, somewhat confused.
The head white lab coat gentleman smiled and said, "the simulation will tell you everything you need to know. Just follow your instincts. Explore."
Whoa, that was cryptic Ben thought. Well, he would find out what that meant once on the inside. From what he was lead to believe Qi Worlds was like a game. However like no other game that has ever been.
Your mind might think it was real, there were concerns that if you died in Qi Worlds then you might, well, just die on the gurney too. This was uncertain. His directive was first to move in the game, survive and if possible develop his Qi. Qi was explained to him to be something like magic, mana or chi. Ben had a passing familiarity with games so he had a general idea what they meant. They also weren't concerned with educating him in the complex or through previous vetting, he was supposed to learn when inside the Qi Worlds simulation.
Preparations were coming to a conclusion. The technicians were hooking up what Ben now knew to be painful nervous system integration system. Well, that's what Ben thought of it as. It had some Chinese name which probably meant death needles with wires on the end. A male nurse came over with, wait where were all the sexy female nurses? No-luck Ben was injected with, what he now knew to be knock out juice... and he went under.
Ben's eyelids blinked open slowly. Well, that was a big waste of time, he was waking up. Man, this gurney is uncomfortable, Ben thought. Wait. Wait. Ben was realising, he wasn't on the gurney. He was somewhere else entirely.