Chapter 1: A PLAGUE-RIDDEN CORPSE

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The bracelet was covered with hypoallergenic plastic but the skin underneath still itched like hell. I pulled the tracking device away from my ankle as far as it would go so I could scratch it. The bracelet vibrated and buzzed in reply.

"Relax, Comrade Major," I quickly said. "All quiet on the western front!"

The tracking device that traced offenders under house arrest was full of various electronic modules such as GPS, GLONASS, Wi-Fi, GSM and even an altimeter, so I was in no doubt that they would have added a simple microphone to it. It did not matter what the actual rank of the controller assigned to me was—a little sympathy goes a long way. At least it was someone to talk to...

It was already my second month of being under house arrest and I already managed to really start missing normal human contact. I wasn't even a hardened criminal or a sociopath—I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I got a job at the wrong place, to be more exact.

It had all started so well! My salary wasn't bad, there was a great package of perks and excellent career prospects, but it all went down the drain when the bank's senior management ended up behind bars accused of money laundering! I was never made part of the illegal scheme, but most of the payments had gone through my department, so the most that my defense attorney could do for me was a concession to get me placed under house arrest. At least it was better than jail.

Ah, here comes my attorney...

I picked up my buzzing smartphone which could only accept incoming calls from a single number and put it to my ear.

"Good evening, Jan!" I was greeted with a clear baritone voice.

"Hello, Boris!"

"Jan, I have good news for you!"

"Are you serious?"

Life hadn't been treating me to good news lately. It was becoming increasingly similar to being repeatedly hit around the head with a hammer.

"Why would I be messing with you? There's been some sort of malfunction in the data center tonight and there is talk that they lost the records of a number of your most dubious transactions. It's unknown whether that's true or not, but the prosecution has finally decided to make a deal. Evidence against Kogan in exchange for becoming a witness instead of one of the accused and complete immunity to prosecution."

"I agree!" I replied without the smallest hesitation as I had no intention to cover for the bank's former chairman of the board.

"I had no doubt!" Boris laughed. "The deal is in our pocket but it's really important not to do anything stupid now. Relax. Listen to music, watch some TV, get into your gaming box..."

"I thought I was not allowed to use the Internet?" I asked with surprise, looking over at the virtual reality capsule.

"The way it works is completely different. I'm telling you as a lawyer—it won't be considered a breach of your conditions. Tomorrow won't be easy, so I would definitely recommend and even insist that you relax and rest. This is only the beginning of this nerve-wracking mess and we have to stay strong until the last."

The attorney disconnected, so I threw the smartphone on the sofa and approached the capsule, which I the bank had given me as a bonus for one of my deals. I chronically lacked the time to have a full virtual reality experience and only managed to walk around the starting location which experienced players contemptuously called the "Playpen". I still managed to get my rogue up to level 9 already. One more level and I could move into the open world.

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