Statement 1: All men are the same.

Statement 2: Chiaki Springs boyfriend is a man.

Combined with statement 3 — It doesn matter the place where we live because home is a person — her overactive, sulky mind could only formulate a conclusion:

Her old place was really not her home.

She added Statement 4: staying single is better than being lonely in a decaying relationship.

Correction, staying single is better than having to live under the same roof, in the pandemic quarantine, with someone whose personality was incompatible with her. And she found out all his flaws she couldn tolerate during the course of five years of living together like this.

Chiaki Spring was a 25 years old Immune female, her scumbag of an ex-boyfriend was Protected. Immune and Protected were the two classes of society in this mysterious virus pandemic era that had been progressing for the past five years. The classes were based on the bodys response to the virus. Immune people, self-explanatory, were resistant to the airborne virus. Protected people were not immune to the virus; they had to stay indoors at all times.

Consequently, Chiakis ex stayed home in their shared flat at all times, 24/7, while Chiaki oftentimes worked a backbreaking schedule from her supply depot office.

This was a curse she didn realise at first when the mass lab test issued a result of her being Immune. Since the human population all over the world had dropped to only a quarter within the first couple of years of the pandemic, there were practically too few people in the workforce to ensure any administration could still run as usual.

The Unified Global Government then stripped all sovereign countries and established one single government, managing the entire world like a corporation. It was somewhat efficient to enforce stability, but Immune people became the foot soldiers who did the groundwork.

Her job mandated her to log the manifests of goods entering and leaving the facility. Being paid very little while doing a demanding task on a daily basis, even at the weekends, she couldn help but fly off the handle upon seeing that ungrateful man drive her up the wall. Day. By. Day.

She didn know where it all went wrong, nor when they started falling out of love. It was just a simple action here and there, snowballing into an ugly, ever-expanding crater that cracked their relationship.

It could be just her ex putting a wet towel on the bed. It could be just another catch-up call between her ex and his ex. It could be just one more stack of dirty dishes he hadn washed since the morning Chiaki left for work, so she had to clean extra piles in the evening.

It could be just another shouting match, heard only by the moon and laughed at by the summer cicadas.

And when he was bored with the cooling interaction, the harsh words turned into slaps.

When they broke up, he kicked Chiaki out of their place. Simply because he was an Immune who couldn leave that sad excuse of a home, whereas Chiaki could practically move to a new unoccupied accommodation left by the dead old renters.

”And now I haven even finished unpacking these boxes after that jerk left my stuff on the curb, ” she cursed through her gritted teeth.

Drowned in the miserable rhythm of an unfulfilling job — she wasn even willing to call that a career — her brain shut down once she reached home every night, only allowing her to numb the pathetic boredom and loneliness in online games, books, and series.

”Im not lonely, ” she whispered at two-thirty a.m. when her head hit the pillow. She woke up to a wet pillowcase, drenched in her tears.

”Im not unwanted, ” she sang off-pitch in the bathroom when the cold water diluted the self-hatred caused by her history of failed relationships.

She was at her happiest every time she logged in to the Dome City game, an action-adventure game where she could be the heroine, saving and protecting the city from the monsters. Brain cells that were almost killed by her monotonous, machinelike job sprung with dopamine when she launched her winning strikes at the fiercest battle.

”Eat that, Lord Hua! ” She yelled as her thumb pressed the command to send raining arrows.

Lord Hua was the commander of the northern territories in this game, the sole evil mastermind whom Chiakis heroine had to defeat throughout the levels. Depicted as a cunning wolf shapeshifter, he had a half furry face and half ugly, contorted old man face. Her current mission to unlock a new area on the map was to defeat one of his henchmen in a small-sized cavalry battle while the Evil Lord was watching.

Of course, because he was the final boss. He would be an NPC until her army could tear down the fortress to his lair.

A pop-up overlaid the game, reminding her to save the progress because an email from the global government had just arrived in her inbox. Sighing and thinking it was another task on her endless mind-numbing grocery list, she swiped open the email.

[Attention to all supply depot workers in all districts.

Those interested in volunteering at the Dome project are welcome to register in the form at the bottom of this email.

This batch is going to be based on the Dome City game.

Please find below the FAQ and terms and conditions.]

Her ramped-up heartbeat pounded as she skimmed only the first three of the questions.

[Q: What is the Dome project?

A: A project sponsored by the government to put the participants inside a metaverse where they can interact with other participants in a specific setting; to put in a laypersons term: a simulation.

Q: Why was this project started?

A: The Dome was established as one key project of the Unified Global Governments well-rounded campaign. Since the vaccine has not been discovered yet, there is a proposal to allow the people, both Immune and Protected, to live freely as consciousness in this metaverse, not being chained by our physical subjugation to the virus.

Q: I still need the money or food coupons. Could I still work while being in the Dome?

A: As you are to be put under anaesthesia, naturally, there is no need for you to work. You do not need to do normal bodily functions such as drink or eat for a prolonged time, as the life-preserving machine will handle them for you.]

Im game!

Looking around at her pathetic, solitary, no-progress life, she clicked Submit on the form page.


[Welcome to the Dome project, serial number SN-XXX.

This is one of the batches in the Dome project initiative, built specifically for those pioneers willing to explore the new realm of possibilities. Your willingness to join this speculative research would not go without reward.

You, a new joiner, could stay here as long as you want, with free mobility unlike in the physical world you are from.

Moreover, you could have a say in the primary mission. System will not assign you random tasks.]

Whoa, this is so great! She almost cried. No loneliness because she could interact with other players physically. It would be fun because the environment was something she was familiar with in her favourite game.

Bring it on, System! Her mind shouted with a disembodied voice.

[Each batch of the Dome project has a specific mission for its society. Since the Dome was founded to promote a harmonious civilisation of humankind and transfer the consciousness of the limited society to live freely inside the metaverse, each and every society member of each batch has to be responsible for doing the actions that are favourable for the Domes sustainability. In the Dome City replication, you have to protect the regions from the threats.]

Yeah, I know! I know! Defeating the Evil Lord Hua and his minions, right? Protecting the cities and yadda-yadda-yadda . . . By the way, how many other batches are there in the project so far?

System ignored her word vomit.

[To pick the number of the missions, solve this warm-up mini-game. The number of the primary missions will depend on this formula: the two beams of the scale to the power of the number of mistakes you make.]

Upon hearing about the mini-game, Chiaki remembered some side quests she took in Dome City. Many puzzles rewarded the player with rare items and boosters. The perk was Dome City allowed the players preference to set the mini-game theme. Chiaki wasn fond of physical violence; she resorted to it only to up her levels since the fantastic magical battles were mandatory. But for the side quests, she picked early on the game configuration that she loved more puzzles than one-on-one combats.

System hinted that this warm-up game was, too, a puzzle.

A holographic two-beam weighing scale was suspended in the air, a brass plate hanging on each arm. A bowl containing nine exactly identical black marbles was presented.

[There is only one marble out of these nine that is slightly heavier than the rest. Find which one is in the fewest steps of weighing. Any extra unnecessary step you make counts as a mistake.]

Two beams to the power of the mistake, she repeated silently. She had to solve this puzzle with a perfect score.

Nine marbles. Two plates.

Nine marbles . . . two plates . . .

Wait . . . System spoke about two beams twice. Was this a hint?

What is nines relationship to two?

Nine divided by two is four and a half. She shook her head.

Nine minus two is seven.

Doesn ring a bell.

Nine to the power of two? Eighty-one.


THREE to the power of two is nine.

She divided the marbles into three groups; each had three marbles. She placed one group on each plate, leaving one group outside.

”If the lever tips, the heavier marble is on the heavier plate group. If the scale doesn tip, the culprit lies in the group outside the scale. ”

”Similarly, whichever group is the heavier, we can split that group into three more groups; each consists of only one marble. ”

She thought out loud while working on the scale as she said. The scale didn tip, so she took two marbles from the group outside the plates.

”This should be the last step. ” She put one of the two marbles on the left plate and the other one on the right dish. The balance tipped to the right beam.

”Voila! ”

[Good job! You solve the puzzle in the fewest steps possible. Zero mistakes were made. The number of the missions then: two to the power of zero. One mission.]


As the holographic projection vaporised into thin air, a series of words appeared on the screen.

[Defend the region from the threats as one of the Guardians.]

Guardians? Her frowned forehead told System she encountered no such thing in the game. Well, perhaps, it was because she hadn advanced that far. No worries, she had practised as a single commander of the aerial and cavalry battles at her medium level. The mission and gameplay would most likely be the same in whatever character she transmigrated as.

[However, we must tell you in advance that—]

Darkness cut in, swallowing the words System wanted to say. It was followed by the patter of falling marbles as if they hit the nonexistent floor. Chiaki couldn see any marbles; her groping hands couldn feel anything other than cold air.


Oi, System?!


But, as instantly as it first came, the absolute static engulfed her minds voice, too.

And the pattering marbles with it; both faded out into nothingness.

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