“I had to watch you die- over and over and over again,” he whispered, near hysterics despite his forcibly calm demeanor.
“What are you talking about?” She asked. Of course, no matter what he said or did, her memory of the previous plays had been deleted.
She couldn’t know what he was talking about- the game creators made sure of that.
“I’m sorry,” he was getting antsy, shifting from foot to foot, “I know this doesn’t make any sense to you,” it barely makes sense to me, “But just give me 5 minutes and I’ll prove it,” he peered out the one window every few moments in search of their attackers. He knew they would come. The past 42 times, without fail, they arrived through the east gate.
And the past 42 times, without fail, they had killed her.
“You’re scaring me, Aiden.”
He stopped pacing (which he hadn’t realized he was doing) to load his Ruger. He handed it to her.
“You remember how to use it?” he gestured to the safety. She nodded, swallowing hard as she flicked it off.
He was relieved to see that the Creators had taken the time to stock the safehouse before the boss level. He found a pistol lying on the kitchen counter next to a conveniently placed box of rounds. He went to the only bedroom and found a bulletproof vest in one of the dresser drawers. He was sure he’d never put it there. The Creators, again. How thoughtful, he thought sarcastically.
After checking all the weapons and making sure they both had enough bullets, Aiden glanced at the clock.
1 minute, 30 seconds.
“Put this on.” He handed his little sister the bulletproof vest. He hadn’t seen it in the earlier games, but he knew it was meant for him. Which was exactly why he wouldn’t wear it.
“What about you?” she asked, fumbling with the straps to get the vest on. Her fingers were numb with the fear-induced adrenaline coursing through her.
“I’ll be fine.” His eyebrows knit together as he helped her with the rest of the straps. He glanced up to see her look of concern and quickly smiled.
“Trust me, I don’t die that easily.”
Lie. He had already died over 100 times to get to this part of the game. But he was the only one that ever came back. The perks of being the main character.
As the last strap of velcro was put into place, he saw the clock.
“Get down,” he gestured to the table under the window, and she crawled under. It was the only cover close by, and he wanted to keep an eye on her.
5 seconds. Tires screeched outside, and chaotic shouting filled the air. He looked one last time at his little sister, caught up in this sickly twisted game that people play for fun.
The window was shot out first, creating a rainfall of shattered glass. His little sister shrieked, horrified that her brother was right and there were people trying to kill them.
Aiden made a dive for the door in a last attempt to barricade it and buy them precious time. He propped the only chair under the doorknob.
He had already done everything he could think of the past 42 times, including surrender (which admittedly had been a disaster for everyone involved).
Nothing worked. Every single time, no matter what he did, no matter what they made him do, she always died. Always.
And every time, to make sure that he could restart the level, he made sure that he died. Sometimes it was easy- he just held a grenade longer than the player wanted him to, maybe went just enough to the side of where the player directed him to be in the line of fire. Anything to get himself killed.
But what if- what if he couldn’t save her? What if his sister’s death was a part of the game? Programmed in? What if it was inevitable in the gameplay? Maybe- maybe there was nothing he could do to stop it.
He had to wait for an opening in the staccato bursts of gunfire. Nicole was still hiding under the window, just in his field of vision on the other side of the door. She was safe for now, especially with the vest. She was staring at the door now, towards the shouts and taunts outside. The shots suddenly stopped.
Something was different this time.
He dragged the chair away from the door. This was probably a terrible idea. The legs of the chair scratched the floor with finality.
“Aiden,” Nicole’s eyes bored into the back of his head: he could feel her growing panic, “What are you doing?!” she demanded as he opened the door. He moved to shield her body with his own. Just in case.
“Get back here,” she was tugging on his sleeve now like a scared child, “Don’t go out there!”
The gunshots returned as he stepped out of the doorway.
“AIDEN!” his sister shouted. She was trying to get out the door now after him, but he shoved it closed.
“Stay inside and get down!” he said.
Shots whizzed by, and bullets drilled halfway into the thick door behind him. He suddenly realized that his side was wet- red was growing, blooming across his torso. He held his palm to the wound and immediately shrank back at the grotesquely hyper-realistic blood and gore that the Creators, for some reason, considered necessary for the game.
Shots were still being fired. He stumbled away from the door, with one thought running through his mind, Why- how am I still alive? Guns were aimed right at him- he saw the rendered artwork, an orange streak of metal racing towards his face. A bullet raced towards him, almost as if in slow motion.
And then it crumpled right before it hit him and fell to the ground.
Oh, right, he thought. There was that Invincibility perk- now that he was looking closer, he saw the shimmering opaque “border” surrounding his body, an inch thick all the way around.
Agh, he pressed his hand firmer to the wound, grimacing as gore squelched around his fingers, stupid player, getting me shot. You activated the shield too late.
The shield- it only lasted 15 seconds. Or 10? He didn’t know- luckily one of the mobster’s low-riders (seriously, why did they have to pimp up such a beautiful Chevelle?) was only a few feet away. In the last seconds of his waning shield, Aiden was able to approach the mobster, watching his default expression.
He raised his single pistol and shot the man. He was unarmored. To his credit, his generic expression remained generic, but now he fell over like a tree. Aiden took the man’s gun and braced himself against the car. Shots were still being fired: he had to be careful now. His invincibility was worn out, and if he remembered correctly he wouldn’t be able to use it again for a while.
He glanced around the car hood and immediately retreated. There were too many- he’d only gotten to this point a few times in the past. The other times, he’d either waited too long and let the safehouse get stormed, or been completely unprepared.
What could he do?
He crawled under the car, ignoring the jabs of pain piercing through his side. For the player the screen was tinged red, nothing more. For him, his sight was tinged red, but he could still feel.
He could hardly see under the car- just shoed feet and the edges of tires. He shot at the feet, successfully hitting one. The man hobbled on one foot, shouting in pain, using generic AI cursing: the same words, same tone, same voice even. But it was like that every time. It was beginning to get very old.
The mobsters realized where he was and what he was doing, and no sooner did he realize that than the ground in front of his head exploded in a shower of dirt.
He rolled back out from under the car. Now he was safe behind it’s cover again, trying to ignore the knowledge that the mobsters were approaching.
No, he thought, they can’t. I won’t let them. I don’t think I can do this again if they do.
His little sister was still in the safehouse. He had to protect her. It was always his job.
The gunshots were waning. He was directly in front of the window, tens of feet away.
“Aiden?” Nicole called out. Why did the shots stop? Did Aiden just get shot? She poked her head over the windowsill- no, he was fine. He was right there. He was fine.
Aiden saw his little sister through the broken window and yelled for her to get down. She did.
A mobster was right in front of the car. Aiden shot him point-blank, no longer bothering to hold back. The player was controlling his moves now, and Aiden was letting him. Luckily his sister wasn’t watching- he didn’t want her to see him like this. She still saw him as her stupid older brother, completely innocent and not at all caught up in the recent mob takeover of the city. He pocketed the mobster’s mini machine pistol.
There was another not far behind. He had a grenade. An incendiary grenade. Aiden’s eyes widened as he saw the man raise it to throw.
Get away from the car, Aiden thought, if the grenade doesn’t kill me, that explosion will. He dove to the side as the mobster threw it.
But the mobster wasn’t aiming for him.
He was aiming for the broken window.
The grenade arced perfectly over and into the house. He could hear the metal grenade clanking as it settled on the floor. Aiden didn’t care that his Invincibility was gone- he ran for the safehouse, for some reason thinking that he could do something. Save her.
But, as with the past 42 times, it was inevitable.
A second later the grenade detonated. The ground shook. There was a loud clash as the things inside the house were thrown every which way. Smoke and fire billowed out the window. Aiden was thrown onto his back from the blast.
His head was swimming. His ears were ringing. He slowly stood up. He couldn’t think or look at anything but the house. Nicole. No, not Nicole. Please, not again.
“Nicky!” no, no, no, no, no, no, no, not Nicky. He screamed in frustration and anger and grief. He ran towards the door, but there was nothing he could do. Whirling around, ignoring the pain racing through his torso, he grabbed the first person he saw. The murderer.
“Why are you killing her? Why do you keep killing her? She’s innocent, she’s not involved in any of this-!” the man didn’t hear his last words. There were loud popping sounds followed by sickening squelches as bullets hit the man in the back. He slumped over in Aiden’s grip. Aiden hadn’t fired a shot- it was the mobsters, aiming for him.
One of the others. Why were they still alive? Why was he still letting them breathe? He approached the semicircle of cars with mobsters standing behind them. Ironically, they were in the same positions that the police would've use.
He tossed the man to the side with a dull thud. His pilfered guns were in his hands were in seconds. Chaos ensued. He didn’t know who fired more shots- him or them. Every single one of his shots hit their target: half of theirs missed.
The other half didn’t.
Even without his Invincibility, he was able to take a ridiculous amount of damage before he started to feel the effects. He was barely able to see now- his sight was completely red, tinged with blood and anger.
This isn’t real, he thought, none of this is real. I’m not really dying. I’ll come back. If I die, we’ll both come back. It’s just a game. Just a stupid game.
He still wasn't dead. Somehow. Then he realized that the player was using Healing.
He might live. Oh no. He might get past this level.
He slowed down his shooting. There was a handful of mobsters left.
This was the farthest he’d ever gotten.
He looked for the bar that always hovered in the bottom left corner of his view. It told him his health and how much longer any perks he might be using would last.
Both were in the red. Hopefully not just because everything was red. He needed to die before he killed the rest of them. He couldn't get past this level now, or his sister would be gone forever.
He shot down two men- there was only one left. The boss. He could tell from the extra detail put into his character, the heavy armor covering him. If he defeated him, he would get to the next level. So he didn’t. He was on the ground now, riddled with holes, barely able to keep his head up. The boss approached him. The player was urging him to shoot but he didn’t. He was strong- he’d fought back before. He could do it again.
The death scene (or what he assumed was about to become a death scene) was different this time- more dramatic, probably because the boss, not some random AI, was about to deliver the killing blow. Aiden’s eyes, which almost always served as the camera through which the player viewed the game, now weren’t. The camera zoomed out- he could see it, feel it: it was zooming out over his body. Both him and the player were seeing the same thing. He could still move and feel, but it was no longer through his own eyes. The camera zoomed out until Aiden and the players were watching the man on the ground, Aiden, from the mob boss' eyes, just to the side of his head.
Watching as both guns were raised. Watching as fingers were placed on triggers. Watching as they both tried to resist the programming that drove them to kill each other.
Watching as one, the hero, aimed ever so slightly to the side, resisting every ounce of his orders that were telling him to drill the boss in the head.
Watching, and then not, as the first shot was fired. As the camera, the one which only Aiden could see and which the players were seeing through, was driven through with a bullet just as it was zooming back in on his eyes for the final kill scene.
Watching as the camera fell to face him: he knew there were players watching on the other side of the camera. Watching as the controls made by the players, their manipulation of people through a few simple buttons on a video game controller, were made obsolete. The mobster threw his gun to the side. Aiden's gun was dropped from bloody, shaking hands to his side.
He’d done it. He destroyed the game.
The TV flashed black. It was immediately followed by a Game Over screen. There was no option to continue. The brother's sat back, awestruck and albeit confused by the strange ending.
“That’s- that’s it?” One of the brother's stood. His face was cast in the dark glow from the TV screen. The other tilted his head quizzically, then shrugged as he reached for another bag of chips.
“I like how they made it so you can actually be the villain. That was cool,” the other nodded, then reached over from where he sat cross-legged on the carpet in front on the TV to turn it off. He took the game disc out and put it back in its case.
“Their weren’t even any end credits,” he said as he flipped the case over to read the description on the back, “What kind of ending was that?”
“I dunno, man. The controls weren't working at all."
"Yeah- the game's probably broken."