My fingers tremble. I have to clench my fists to make them stop. I’ve got the shakes. It won’t be long now before the cravings start. There’s nothing I can do, no way to take the edge off. I’m all out of credits and it’s still two days before I’m paid. My only option is to tough it out.

I pull off the connectors and stand. My muscles protest and my joints ache. I haven’t been taking my breaks. How long has it been since I logged out? Time isn’t the same inside, a day can last an hour or a week. A glance at my watch makes my head hurt. It’s been three days. No wonder I burned through my credits. I was only supposed to play for an hour.

I tug the IV out of my arm with a twinge. I should eat something real. I check the cupboards, knowing full well they are empty. I guess I’ll have to leave the house. I sniff through my pile of clothes and find something passable. I wish I could afford those cleaning nano’s, but who am I kidding, if I had that kind of money I’d never wear clothes, I’d be jacked in the whole time. I heard that rich kids never log off, they have machines that stimulate their muscles while they play and doctors to monitor their fluids. Lucky bastards.

I step into the corridor. It smells of urine. It always does. No-one cares, this isn’t the type of place that invites tenant feedback. The only people that live here are like me, too poor to live anywhere else. The only time anyone ever complained was the day the construction crew outside severed the comms line. Twelves hours without a connection. There was almost a riot.

My eyes squint as I step outside. The smog isn’t too bad today, my lungs hardly burn at all. The store isn’t far, I should be able to make it without using O2. My rebreather has seen better days and I can’t afford the repairs. Good thing I don’t get out much.

The store is empty, save the clerk. This isn’t exactly a tourist neighbourhood. I don’t need to browse, my choices are limited by my budget. I drop my purchases on the counter and get the usual concerned glance. She says, “You know we do sell other types of food here besides grasshopper burgers.”

“I’m on a diet.”

She looks me up and down, “You look malnourished.”

“Guess it’s working then.”

I scan my fingerprint to pay, but the scanpad flashes red. Insufficient funds. This is a new low. I can’t afford the cheapest food they have.

The clerk frowns and presses some buttons. She says, “Sorry, that’s been playing up today, try again.”

This time it goes through. How? There’s only one way. I pull out my communicator and check my balance. An anonymous transfer, enough for a few days of food. She smiles, “We should go out some time, it looks like you could use some company.”

I’ve already stopped listening. She gave me credits. Not many, but some. If I ration them out I can make it to payday. I can do this. I catch her hopeful stare and remember she can still reverse the transfer, “Sure, I’d like that, but not today. I have somewhere to be. Thanks for the loan, I’ll pay you back.”

She smiles. “I don’t know what you mean. See you soon.”

I run back to my place as fast as my weak legs and burning lungs will carry me, the entire time doing the calculations. I have eight hours worth of credits that need to last forty hours until payday. Every hour inside means a four hour break. I can do this, I just need to be disciplined. This will get me through.

I skip the IV, I won’t need it. I fall into the well worn groove in my chair and hook the connectors back up. It only takes a moment before my world of grey is replaced with the hyper saturated colours of the game. How can this be the virtual world when it feels so much more natural? Before I forget, I set the timer to an hour. Then I jump right back in where I left off.

Eight hours later, I’m staring at a familiar screen.