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Author's note: From reading this story, I hope that people will learn that not all things are as they seem. I also hope that they will thoroughly enjoy this story, and recommend it to others.
Everyone told me I was born to be a gamer, but I never thought I would die one too. No game I have ever played has even remotely challenged me until now. I easily defeated my opponents one by one, but not this time. He was too strong, too experienced. I knew the second that I stepped into the abandoned coliseum.
I watched helplessly as he disabled every single one of my weapons, some I didn’t even know were there. He drained my shield as if I were on level one instead of sixty-seven. Why didn’t he just finish me off? What was the point of disabling all of my weapons before killing me?
The blade flew through the air, and stopped right before my helmet. Suddenly, a suit appeared holding the sword. “Dude, camouflage? That is cheating.” The figure turned its head, scanning the arena to make sure there were no other players.
“Where is the creator?”
“Dude, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a hacker.”
“Well to get this far you must have been trained.” His blade withdrew into his arm, and transformed into a heat cannon. “I’ll settle for the location of Player Zero.”
“I told you, I don’t know anything.”
“Then you are of no more use to me.”
I screamed, and faded into darkness. I lay on the floor of the empty arena, only my suit keeping me alive for a few last seconds. I watched as the golden swordsman exited the arena. He looked over his shoulder, and said a gamer’s worst nightmare.
"Matthew, you're going to be late for school!"
"Mom, can I just finish my game?"
"Matthew Andrews!" She warned.
"Fine!" I told the console to shut off, and after it told me to have a nice day, it obeyed my command. I'm glad I designed that part. My dad worked for the company that made it, and he got them to use my idea for voice-controlled power. That means that you can tell the system to turn on and off.
I hated school. I was the class laughing stock. You'd think that all of those hardcore gamers would be my friends, because of my dad. Wrong. They denounced me like everyone else the moment I beat them in one game fifty to zero. To everyone else, I was the nerdy kid who was the perfect target to pick on.
That was all about to change. It all started when Dad burst into English class.
"Dad?! What are you doing?"
"Get your stuff, we need to go. Now." He commanded.
One minute I was in class, the next minute I was on the other side of the city. Dad was dodging traffic left and right, racing down the street at double the speed limit. He kept on looking over his shoulder like someone was following us. I didn't think anyone would be able to follow us, considering the way he was driving, so I highly doubted this.
I thought that then would be as good a time to ask as any. "Dad, what's going on? Who's following us?" He let out a deep sigh.
"What! What's going on? What did you do?!"
"Matt, I can explain." He swerved past a few more cars. "I've been working on a new technology. It is sort of like virtual reality, but you don't need a controller. The Game sets up a connection between the console and the player, but something went wrong. The system had a few bugs, and got confused. Instead of simply connecting with the brain, the Game uploads all the information that was stored."
We were getting close to Dad's building. Pretty soon we were going to have to run. "Can't you just upload the information back into the brain?"
"It's not that simple. The technology is still only in the testing phase. To break the connection you either have to win, or get a game over."
"Well that shouldn't be too hard. All you need to do is lose."
"That's the problem. If you lose, the system doesn't know what to do with the information, so it just deletes the it, and breaks the connection. Then the player's heart stops beating, and dies within minutes."
We half parked, half crashed next to Dad's building. We leaped out of the car and ran inside.
"They will be able to catch us in the elevator. We need to take the stairs." Well that's just great, I thought, because we were headed to the top floor of a fifty story building. It was going to be quite a workout.
"Okay, none of this explains why the CIA is chasing us."
"They want to turn the technology into a weapon. With it they will be able to extract information from an asset, and then simply discard them afterward. No one should have that power."
Before, I thought that Dad just went crazy, but now I knew that this was serious. What he said was happening was all true. This was real.
"If you don't want anyone else to have it, can't you just destroy it?"
"That's another problem. The technology doesn't involve any hardware. It uses code fused into the Game, and it's already online for testing. There are hundreds of people inside. If I pull the server, all of the connections will break, and they'll all die. The only way to get them out is to win the game, safely closing the session, and destroying the Game."
He glanced back at me for a moment. "That's where you come in."
"WHAT! Why me? You've been playing video games since before I was born!"
"Because Matt, I used your game for testing."
"The Game needed to be in first person. When I saw yours, I thought it would be a perfect trial for the Game. You know all of the moves, and the best strategies. If anyone can beat it, it's you."
When we got to the top floor I was amazed at what I saw. It was every gamer's dream. There was every single game, and piece of equipment that anyone could ever want or need. Dad led me past some of the most amazing systems I'd ever seen. None of them have even come out yet. Each one we passed looked cooler than the next. Then he stopped at a very familiar one. It was the system I had in my room. The exact same one.
"Why is my console here?" I asked. He quickly replied.
"The system already knows you, so the uplink will be faster to complete. Also, it just made sense to play your game on the console you helped design."
I sat down at the chair directly in front of the monitor, and picked up the controller. "I'm ready." I told him.
"Okay, I'm transferring the server to a secure location. That should buy you a little more time to beat the Game. I've also sent in some people to help you. They know about everything that's going on, and they've agreed to do anything they can to help you. Once you're inside, find Player Zero."
I made a deep, nervous sigh. "What if someone gets a lucky shot on me? What if I can't win?" I thought. Dad immediately read my expression.
"You can do this Matt, I know you can."
He gave me one last look, and I told him to send me in.
"Play The Game." He said.
Suddenly the screed went dark, and a loading bar appeared. Upload 10% Complete. 20%. 30%. 40%. 50%. 60%. 70%. 80%. 90%. Then I heard the door burst open, and turned around just in time to see a dozen men rush in.
"Drop the controller!" I heard one man yell.
"Put your hands in the air!" Yelled another.
Then a single gunshot rang out. I quickly turned, and ducked to avoid the bullet. I took a quick glance back up at the monitor, then everything went black. I still saw one image flashing in my head.
Operation Disrupted. Transfer 99% Complete.
The first thing I remember is being woken up by a booming robotic voice. "Please select a suit."
Suddenly a spotlight came on in the center of the room, and a dark green suit of armor swung underneath it. It looked futuristic, and high tech. Then the suit transformed. The right arm, from the elbow down, was replaced by a red-hot glowing sword. The left arm turned into what looked like a club, but it was blue, and vapor fell off of it. A blue glow emanated from around the whole suit.
Then off to the side a large screen flickered to life. As I started reading the text, I was disappointed to discover that it only gave specifications on the suit.
What was the point of this? What was going on? I figured that I might as well play along until I could find out what was going on. The screen called the sword a “plasma sword”, and that it could cut through other suits. The club on the left arm was a “cryogenic club” that could freeze the joints on the other suits when hit. The blue aura around the suit was a light force field. Near the top, the monitor identified the whole thing as being only having light armor and light weapons.
I needed to play this the way I did video games. That was my best chance of finding out what was going on. If I was right, then it was also my best chance of survival. I looked down in front of me, and found what looked like a control panel. On it were three buttons. The outer two were red, and labeled left and right. The center button was green and labeled select.
I pushed the right button. The screen momentarily went dark, and a new suit swung into place underneath the spotlight. This one was light armor, medium weapons. That suit looked more like something that I would pick, but not quite. I had to cycle through all of the suits to make sure I found which one I liked best.
Pretty soon I found the one. It was medium armor, medium weapons, and middle ranged combat. You may be wondering why I chose an all medium suit. I chose it because it has a little advantage over everything. My armor was stronger than light, but not too heavy. I didn’t have to be too close to an enemy, but didn’t have to be extremely far away. My weapons could fire faster than heavy ones, but had more stopping power than light.
The right arm was a laser. For some reason I like the concept of cutting through my opponents from a distance. The left arm was a grenade launcher. Finally a weapon I was familiar with. On top of all that, the suit was blue, my favorite color. It was almost like this suit was made for me.
I was pretty confident with my choice. Very slowly, and cautiously pushed the select button. Then the room went dark, and I slipped out of consciousness.
I woke up standing, but only got one or two seconds to take in my surroundings. Then someone in a dark green suit tackled me to the ground, and held their plasma sword up to my neck. We were immediately surrounded by other players, and for a moment I thought I was saved. Then they all turned their guns and other various weapons on me. Then the leader asked me one of the most surprising questions I’ve ever heard.
“Where’s Matthew Andrews?”
“That’s me! I’m Matthew Andrews!” I yelled. He didn’t seem too convinced.
“Prove it!” He yelled. “What’s your birthday?” He nudged the sword closer to my neck.
“April 16th 2032.”
“Anyone could know that.” He snapped back. “What did you help design?”
“The Gamecorp Photosphere 1100, but I also make my own video games from time to time.” He paused for a moment. Maybe he was finally believing my story, or he was just deciding what to do with my soon to be severed head.
“One final question.” He said with cunning in his voice. “What’s my name?”
How could I possibly know that? I barely remembered who I was, much less who those people were. I searched my brain for answers. Then I remembered something. All it was, was a name, but that's all I needed.
"Player Zero." After saying it I prepared for the worst. The chances were that that sword was about to cut through me like a hot knife through butter. So much for trying to stay alive. That would be a new record for me. A game over in less than a minute. Then something different happened. I heard a girl's voice.
"Weapons down." The plasma sword transformed itself back into an arm. My attacker backed off, and offered his hand. Then he took off his helmet. He was actually a she.
She looked around sixteen. Her red hair flowed down her shoulders like a waterfall of flames. Her face was pretty, but pale. She wore a cold expression, which matched her icy blue eyes.
"Well?" She asked. "Aren't you going to take off your helmet?"
"Sure... how exactly do I do that?"
"Here, let me help you." She laughed. She slowly walked over to me. "There's a button right underneath the chin." She pressed it for me, and the helmet popped free from the suit. Carefully, I pulled it off.
"Hmm, not bad." I'm pretty sure that she was complementing me on my face, which was a first. At school, all of the girls looked disgusted whenever I was around.
"Now that you're here, we should be able to win this easily in a matter of hours. Come on, we need to get moving." She turned around, put on her helmet, and started off. Her gang followed, and I did the same. I ran up to the front to get a few words in with her.
"So what do we do now?" I asked.
"You tell me. What kind of terrain are we looking at? Are there any surprises we should know about?"
"No, you tell me. You're obviously the leader here. So tell me, what's going on?" I stepped in front of her, and took off my helmet again. I did my best to look her in the eye through the dark visor. She took off hers as well, and took a moment to study my face. Then a scowl fell across her ice cold face.
"You really can't remember, can you?"
"Does it look like I'm kidding?"
She breathed a deep sigh, and sat down. I couldn't make out what exactly she was sitting on. It looked like a slab of metal that randomly decided to burst out of the scarred earth around it.
"Just let me think." She said as she rested her face into her hands. "What's the last thing you remember?"
"I went to bed, and when I woke up I was here." She stood up.
"If you can't remember on your own, maybe I can refresh your memory." Her arms transformed back into weapons, and she raced at me full speed. I turned and ran, but it was no use. All of a sudden, my right leg locked up, and I tumbled to the ground. Once again her sword was above my neck.
"You know every move in the Game! You created it!" She yelled. "Why won't you fight back?" She was furious, but I didn't care about that.
"This is all just a game?" I said with relief.
"Yes, and it's your worst nightmare." She said coldly. "We're all stuck here, unless you can win. Remember! Just remember!" Her anger almost shook the ground. After a moment which seemed like an eternity, I finally replied.
I blacked out. I seemed to be doing a lot. Hopefully that was the last time. Again I woke up standing. This time there was an all-out battle raging around me. I remembered everyone who was in the group with Player Zero. We were all there, and we were winning. I knew I had to find them and get out of there. I saw a hill not too far away that would be the strongest strategical point.
As I was running, some sort of invisible force knocked me to the center of the battleground. Out of dumb luck, that's for Player Zero was. she was surrounded by any players. I fired and sent four players flying in all directions. The people near them turned around just in time to meet my laser.
Thanks to my help, she finished off the last six, no problem. I was glad that she was on my side.
"What's going on?"I asked as I sent few more lasers through the air.
"We were ambushed. I'm glad you could finally make it." She said as she literally disarmed her opponent.
"Someone hacked the Game. Somehow they found a way to pick players from separate points in the Game, and trapped them for a slaughter." There was a giant explosion off in the distance.
"I don't think that that force field is our biggest problem." Suddenly a mob of players rushed us from behind. Before I time to do anything, they were blown to dust. Player Zero deactivated her weapons.
"Nice shot." She complemented. There weren't very many people still left in the bubble. The rest of the battle would be a cake. Then something hit me.
"That wasn't me." Right on cue a big hunk of metal ripped to the smoke, and was heading right for us. We both barrel rolled out of the way. As it passed, I got a slightly better look at it. We got up and dusted ourselves off.
"What kind of suit was that?" I asked. Player Zero reactivated her weapons.
"Then what was it?"
"The lead hunter, a car with weapons. Whoever made the trap must've thought he might as well get himself a few upgrades while he was at it."
"Well, how do we destroy it?" She started walking forward.
"Let's go find out." She picked up into a run, and chased after the car.
Reluctantly, I followed. Pretty soon we arrived at large, flat, metal square towards the edge of the bubble. The car was still destroying other players. Player zero begin to charge. To her, this was just a fun challenge. She carefully picked her moment to strike. When the car stopped to fire the main cannon, she jumped on the roof, and begin disabling anything and everything it had.
At about that time, the rest of the group caught up with us. I did a quick headcount. Not a single casualty. That was good, because I had a feeling that we are going to need all the help we could get. One of the players in a red suit walked up from behind me, and clapped me on the shoulder.
"That's Player Zero for you, always taking things head on." Whatever weapons weren't completely cut off, the rest were frozen solid. All that was left was to destroy the suit itself. The car was speeding toward her. Just as it was about to hit her, she sidestepped, and swung at the car. Everyone cheered, but our celebration the short lived. The sword glanced off the car, not even leaving the scratch. Whoever made the suit, made it nearly indestructible. Player Zero ran past us.
"Give it all you got!" She yelled.
As she commanded, everyone launched every weapon thinkable at it. Grenades zoomed, lasers bounced, rockets exploded, pulse cannons boomed, and every melee weapon was flung. We waited for the smoke to clear. At first there was complete silence, but then the violent screeching of tires filled everyone's ears. Again there wasn't even a scratch, but I had an idea.
"Hit it with a pulse blast on the left side!" I commanded. Just as the blast hit, I shot a well-placed grenade into the thin gap between the car and the ground. The car flew through the air, and landed upside down. Everyone looked around to observe my handiwork.
The car rocked from side to side, spinning its wheels, trying everything it could to move, but it was no use. It was stuck. As it finally came to this realization, it stopped. Slowly it began to sink into the metal, until the ground gobbled it up. In a few moments, there is no more sign of it. Around us we saw the bubble dissolve into the air. We were free again.
Everyone shifted their eyes to me, and I just shrugged and said the first thing on my mind.
With the killer car defeated, everyone cheered , and slapped me on the back. Player Zero ran up and hugged me.
"How did you know that flipping car would kill it?" I shrugged my shoulders.
"I didn't. I just thought with it immobilized, we could find its weak point. Then it just dissolved."
"That was nice thinking," she said, giving me a high-five. After that, she raised her head and looked off into the distance behind me. "We better get some cover." She said, her voice now setting into a more serious tone."That should do." She pointed behind me. I turned and saw what looked like a forest of metal.
Tall, metal spikes were thrust into the air. It looked almost beautiful, like the skyline of the city. In the background was an ominous green glow, but only I seemed to notice it. Maybe the glow was just for looks, or maybe it was there to trick other players to stay away. I didn't say anything, and just marched on with the group.
It took about an hour to cross the clearing, and get into sufficient cover within the spires of metal. I looked up towards the sky, eying the strange green glow. It looked more solid somehow, and very, very close. I thought I might as well point it out to Player Zero.
"You're right." She said. "Do you have any idea what it could be?"
"Not a clue."
"Well, it doesn't look like it's that far away. Want to go check it out?" Wow, I thought. She was actually asking me to do something with her. I was the first time girl ever asked me to do anything with her. Of course my reaction was: "Sure." She smiled, and grabbed her helmet. "Okay, let's go."
It didn't take very long to get to the source of the glow. As we neared the middle of the "forest", I noticed how tall the spires were getting. They were approaching 100 feet, and climbing . I noticed the shape of the metal was changing too. At the edge, the metal was more flat, and towards the middle, they were pointed at the top. The forest also grew thicker. There was only a foot between each tower.
If it weren't for Player Zero, I would have fallen to my game over right there. Luckily, she pulled me back from the deep glowing crevice. It looked as if the very earth were cracked. Around the hole, there were little green lines of code, floating through the air.
"What is that?" I asked. Player Zero stared at the code. Someone must be trying to hack the Game again, but this time they're trying to shut down the whole thing from the outside."
"Well what should we do?"
She sat down, and thought for a little while. "The Game hasn't detected the anomalies yet, because the areas around it have been inactive. Maybe if you fire something into it, the Game will be alerted and stop a hacker."
"Just fire my weapon into the big scary hole? That's it?"
She laughed. "Yes, that should work."
"Okay," I said as my arm began to transform."Here goes nothing." As I fired, there was a giant green flash. I couldn't see anything, I couldn't hear anything. Slowly, everything faded back to normal. I looked down. The gigantic hole was gone. I turned around and brought my hand up for a high-five. "We did it!" I said. My smile was wiped from my face.
She wasn't there. I looked around, but I couldn't find her. "Player Zero!" I called out. "Where are you!?" After a few minutes of searching, she finally called back.
"Matt, I'm up here!"
I turn my head toward the sky. She was standing on what must've been the tallest pillar. She look like she was losing her balance. It must've been only a square foot of space to stand on. "The Game must of gotten confused and landed me up here." She yelled down.
"You have to get down!" I yelled back up. "Do you think you can jump onto another spike?" She shook her head.
"No, it's too far. You're have to find a way to get me down."
"Come up here." "What!? I can't do that!" "Yes you can Matt.You know how to get anywhere in the game. You can do this."
She was right. I had to do is think of how I would do this. I stood there and thought. Then I had an idea. I positioned myself on the side of a pillar. Then I started. I barely remember what I did. It was a jumble of jumping, running, and shooting.
Well when it was all over, I was standing on the top spike with Player Zero in my arms.
"Wow." She said.
"So?" I gave her smile. "What's next?"
It didn't take very long to get back to camp. When we did, everyone was doing something. Some were repairing their weapons, or meddling with their shields, or practicing on slim, six foot columns. Others were setting traps around camp to make sure that none one from the previous battle followed us.
When Player Zero walked in, everyone's attention shifted to her, and some gathered around. Everyone wanted to know what the glow was, and what happened while we were gone. Player Zero gathered them into a semi-circle, and began the story as if we were all sitting around a campfire.
In the tale of our grand adventure, Player Zero made be sound like Prince Charming, who heroically saved the frightened princess from certain death in the tall tower. It sounded exactly like one of the fairy tales Dad would tell me as a bedtime story.
When the story ended, everyone clapped, and cheered. At the time, I didn't think that I was a hero. I believed that everything that happened was just plain old dumb luck, but the truth was that everything I did happened because I wanted it to. The Game read my mind when I wished Player Zero was next to me, and it made it so. Player Zero ended up on the spike so I could save her. Little did I know that the game was being nice to me, and little did I know that my luck was about to run out.
"Well," I said as soon as silence fell over the crowd. "We better call it a day, it looks like night's approaching pretty fast." I said, pointing to the incoming darkness behind me. Everyone then immediately snapped their gazes to where I was pointing, then gave Player Zero questioning looks.
"Is there something wrong?" I asked. Player Zero put her hand on my shoulder.
"Matt, there is no night here." She gave me a worried look, and then focused on the horizon. "We need to get out of here. Now." She put on her helmet, and then pointed to the other side of the forest.
"Everyone to the other side of the mountains, as fast as you can." She announced. "Let's go!" Player Zero took off into a run, and we all did our best to keep up.
I couldn't quite make out whatever it was that seemed to be chasing us, but it was catching up. I little ways in front of me there was an explosion. One of the players flew high into the air. The traps, I thought. They were all around the camp. With all of us in a big heard, there was no way we could see or dodge them. Right then, that was the least of our worries.
The low, black cloud was less than half a mile away, and was still advancing. By that time, we finally got to the edge of the mountains, but our numbers were dwindling. Eight people were blown up by the traps. There were only fifteen people left, give or take a few.
The stragglers were starting to get swallowed up by the cloud. As the first player was consumed, I glanced back to identify our attacker. It was a swarm of black, ugly, insects, each the size of a baseball. They had large, saw-like mandibles, and large stingers which sprayed a black acid. The first player let out a single shriek as he was dissolved and eaten alive. Then he faded into the silent, black swarm.
After witnessing what the swarm could do, I picked up my pace. In just a few seconds, I was leading the group along with Player Zero. Now, we had to start climbing There weren't very many footholds, and the rock was so soft, it could barely hold our weight. Gradually, we began to ascend.
Along the mountainside, more and more players were meeting their demise. I tried to pick up my pace, but it was no use. The faster I went, the more the rock crumbled beneath my hands and feet. Player Zero reached the top right before me. The peak was a large, flat surface that could fit the remainders of our group.
Some of the players were using their weapons either to fight off the swarm, or to scale the cliff. Fighting was useless. No matter what they threw at it, the bugs moved forward, consuming them at an even faster rate. The only chance we had was to get over the mountain, and escape.
Player Zero ran to the side of the cliff about to dive off, but I held her back.
"We have to help them." She pleaded as she struggled.
"There's nothing we can do If you go down there, you'll die for sure!" It was far too late to help anyone. Almost everyone had been consumed, all except for one. Player Zero looked down and saw him, the boy in the red suit. He was still forty feet below us, and the swarm was close.
"John! Grab my hand!" She called out while extending her hand out over the cliff. He was already working out a plan. His weapon of choice was a flail, so he extended the chain, and made a gigantic swing over his head. The flail stuck into the brittle rock just below us. He used the connection as a grapple, and started to pull himself up.The swarm was directly behind him.
"He's going to make it." Player Zero chanted. "He's going to make it."
Suddenly the swarm took a dive into the mountain. The rock shook, and I struggled to keep my balance. The flail was dislodged, and John fell into oblivion. The swarm was intelligent. It knew exactly how to catch its prey, but I had an idea.Player Zero was lying on the ground with her hand outstretched, still taking in what she just saw. I pulled her to her feet.
"We have to go, now!" I dragged her to the other side of the cliff. "Follow, and whatever you do, don't look back." I instructed her. She nodded her head, and together, we jumped. The swarm was right behind us. If we would have waited another second, we would have been bug food.
We hit a gradual slope, running down the side of the mountain. During the fall, I noticed a small cave near the bottom of the mountain. If my hypothesis was right, the swarm wouldn't be able to find us there. I jumped off the slope towards the cave. I glanced behind me to make sure Player Zero followed me. She did, but so did the swarm.
I landed on my feet, and. Then we dove into the cave. Just after we did, the cave went dark.
All I heard was buzzing. All I saw was blackness. After I regained my footing, and found the wall of the cave, I shouted at the top of my lungs. "Player Zero!" I waited for a response, but none came. I yelled over and over again, but no one yelled back.
I sat down, out of breath and out of hope. I would have to beat the Game all by myself now. I knew that I couldn't do it. Not by myself. Not without my memory. So it was a good thing that I wasn't really alone.
Just then, a warm glow filled the cave. The glow wasn't normal, like from a flashlight or a fire. It was from a plasma sword. Player Zero's plasma sword. Through the buzzing, a voice came into existence inside my helmet.
"Sorry," She finally replied. "It took me a little while to set up a secure radio frequency while I couldn't... see." She sounded sad.
"What's wrong?" I asked. She burst into tears at the sound of my question.
"John... didn't make it." She choked out. "He was my best friend, and now he's... just gone." I ran up, and put my arm around her. I tried to comfort her the best I could.
"Everything is going to be okay." I said. "You can see him again, after we beat the Game. He'll be right there waiting for you." my comforting was only making her cry harder. She kept muttering something in between sobs. I couldn't quite make it out, but I still tried to comfort her. "Everything's going to be okay." I repeated. "Everything's going to be okay."
"BUT HE'S DEAD!" She finally shouted.
"Matt," She sniffled. "I didn't want to tell you this until after all of this was over, but,"
"Tell me what?" I cut her off. She stopped crying now, but now it seemed lie she was trying to comfort me. She took a deep sigh.
"I was going to wait to tell you that if you die in the Game, you die in real life." I didn't think that what she said could be possible,it her face told me that she was serious. I didn't want to believe it at first.
"What? No! That's impossible!" Then she explained everything to me. How I had made the Game. What Dad's technology did, and why it needed to be destroyed. After she finished, she began to cry again. I had to get her mind off of John and the others.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"You already know my name." She sniffled.
"No, your real name, the one that you were born with."
"Really? That's my favorite name." I said, trying to make her feel better. Just then, the swarm passed, and light shined through the mouth of the cave. I looked back at her, and she was smiling. Then after she gave me a big hug, she wiped away the leftover tears. We looked at our helmets, and noticed that they were rendered useless. I threw mine into the cave, and she did the same.
"Are you ready to win this?" I held my hand up for a high five.
"Let's do this." She nodded.
We walked out of the cave, and into the bright light. As our eyes adjusted, I could make out a red figure in the distance. Samantha ran towards it at full speed.
"John!" She screamed. She ran up and embraced him. "How did you escape the swarm? He gave her a smile.
"Probably the same way you did. When they knocked my off the cliff, I fell into a cave, and the swarm never came in. I guess they had to keep moving forward.
"Yea, that's what I guessed too, after you di-," I cut myself off. "fell." I completed. John put his arm around Player Zero's shoulder.
"Good thinking." He smirked. I looked down into the valley before us. There were some small battles between players, but it was nothing we couldn't sneak past. About two miles away, I could make out a large building. The other players seemed to be avoiding it for some reason. That was were we had to go.
I walked over to John, trying not to scowl at the sight of his arm around Samantha. Despite my disgust, I smiled, and tried to sound hopeful. "Are you ready to do this?" I asked him.
"Let's go split some skulls."
I carefully observed the battleground below. There was far too much activity for us to be able to simply waltz up to the front of the arena. I figured we had to sneak around to the back, while being careful to stay a safe distance away where we wouldn't be spotted. There was also tree cover towards the back of the arena that we could use to our advantage.
While I was making battle plans for the arena, Samantha was catching up with John. After a few minutes, they both came over to me, while continuing their conversation. I felt like Player Zero and I had really gotten to know each other in the cave. Now that John was back, it was like I didn't even exist anymore. Nevertheless, I was still glad that he was alive. We needed all the people we could get to beat the Game. My concentration was finally broken when I heard my name.
"John, could I speak to Matt alone for a second?" I quickly looked up to find her hovering over me. I tried to study her face. Her emotions were always hard to read, but I thought that she looked secretly worried, almost frightened.
"What do you need to talk about?" I asked. John wandered away, letting us have our privacy. As he did so, Samantha's eyes followed him. As soon as we were both sure that he was out of earshot, she answered my question.
"It's about John."
"Of course it is." I muttered under my breath.
"He doesn't seem right, ever since we..." Her voice trailed off.
"The swarm?" I finished for her.
"Yes. His entire personality just seems off. It's like he's trying hard to be himself, but he just can't quite do it. Even when I told our inside joke, he didn't get it, like all of a sudden, it just wasn't funny. I don't know what's wrong."
Then I heard faint breathing. It was coming from...behind me. I spun around to find John two inches from my face. His red suit was gone, and was replaced by a black slime, that oozed and dripped from his limbs. Only his face looked the same, still perfect, with the same nonchalant smile.
"Wow." He said. "Discovered already. I was just starting to have fun." Just then his form changed. It looked like all the atoms in his body re-arranged themselves until a completely new person was created. It only took a couple of seconds. During that time, Samantha and I had our weapons out and ready. Unfortunately, so did he. His form was humanoid, but totally black. There was a slit across the face for the eyes. A long, single sided sword grew from his right wrist. There was no secondary weapon, or so I thought. Player Zero quickly pushed me aside, and had her blade at his throat.
"What did you do with John?!" She yelled, but he didn't respond. He simply lifted his left hand, and snapped his fingers.
It took me a moment to take in my new surroundings. It looked like I was in the woods right behind the arena. Player Zero was at my left, but Not-John was nowhere in sight. Samantha shifted her right arm into a hand, just long enough to give me a good, hard punch in the arm.
"What was that for?"
"A ninja, Matt? Really?" I shrugged.
"Ninjas are cool, and deadly." There was a voice coming from deep inside the forest.
"Okay Matt, think," I quietly said to myself. "How would you make this? What are it's weaknesses? We walked slowly through the woods, carefully searching both the ground, and the trees.
"Watch out!" Player Zero yelled as she tackled me to the ground.
"What?" She looked up at the tree behind me. There was a ninja star half embedded in the trunk. As we got back on our feet, we noticed a bubbling noise, and found a giant hole where the star had previously struck.
"Acid." She said. "This stuff will eat through your armor before you even realize you've been hit." She examined the angle. "He's over that way." It wasn't very long until we spotted him perched in a tree, I carefully aimed my laser, and fired, but I was just a moment too late. He snapped his fingers, and again he was gone.
"Got anymore ideas?" She said.
"Just one," I repeated. "but you've got to be quick." We both took our positions, and I readied my weapons. and then I waited for the trap to be sprung. Just as I anticipated, Samantha came bursting into the clearing. She was screaming my name and crying hysterically, without her weapons drawn. I was slightly surprised how good of an actress she was. Right on cue, Ninja solidified in front of Samantha. She ran away, but "tripped" on a root, and tumbled to the ground. The dark figure moved forward, inspecting his prey.
His shadow loomed over her, and that's just what I wanted. In a fraction of the second Player Zero drew her weapons and swung. Her arms made an X as they struck. The ninja staggered backward, and fell to the ground, defeated. I burst out of my hiding place, keeping my weapons locked on it. His left arm was frozen solid, there is no way to escape.His sword was shattered, only one small, sharp piece remained.
Suddenly his head reformed. "Samantha please," John cried. "How could you do this to me?" She froze. I was running as fast as I could to help, but it was no use.
"Samantha, kill him!" I yelled. "He isn't real. That isn't John." my voice broke the trance, and she looked up at me. He was looking for a chance to strike, and I just gave it to him. Just says she lost her focus, he opened his "mouth" and out flew poisoned tipped ninja star. It hit her right in the chest, and in seconds she was gone. "Samantha!" I shouted.
The dark form rose to his feet, smiling. His sword grew from his wrist, now perfectly fine, like nothing happened. He glanced my direction, and saw that I was coming. The ninja realized he needed a new trick, and his face shifted again. This time, it took Samantha's face. With all my power I kicked it in the chest, and with my laser, I cut off all it's limbs, sending it to the ground.
"Matt, don't hurt me." It said in her voice, I walked away. "Game over." I said. I shot a grenade into the air, and the ninja was reduced to dust.
The coliseum was huge. It looked like it could hold a nation, and another one on stage.The arena looked like it had something from every time period. The stage walls were lined with spears, chariots, bows, guns, and plasma cannons. The seating area was made of stone. Along the upper walls there were banners, flags, and giant screens.The rows of seats and benches were empty. The speakers were silent, and the monitors showed only one figure, me. I didn't like that. It reminded me that I was alone.
I walked to the center of the stage, and looked around the ghostly building. There should have been something there. I was sure that this was the end of the game, I just needed to know how to beat it. I let my intuition take control.
"I challenge you!" I shouted. "Now come out of hiding and face your creator! Face your worst fear!"
"Finally a worthy challenger!" A voice boomed in response. I scanned the benches to see where the sound was coming from, but no luck. Then I looked above. There was a small balcony, straight across from the entryway. I looked just in time to see a tall, large figure appear. He was as good twelve feet tall, and wore a shining, golden armor. For a moment I found myself staring at him in awe, but then I remembered that he was going to try and kill me.
The Golden Boss jumped down from the balcony, and I calmly took aw few steps back. He landed in my footprints, bringing up a huge cloud of dust. When the cloud settled back down to the floor, a blue, gridded plane scanned my body, and then retreated back into the giant's head.
"You are the Creator, but you are," His voice trailed off. Goldie seemed to be searching for the right word. "...incomplete." He finished.
"Well," I started to respond. "enough of me is here to turn your body into scrap metal."
His laugh shook the stadium. "Of that, I have no doubt." Goldie apologized. "It's just that I am disappointed that this won't be more of a challenge. Prepare for battle!" He turned, and headed for the opposite end of the arena. The Boss's feet rumbled like thunder as they crashed on the ground.
I turned and walked to my end. I already knew how to beat him,but I would have to be quick, and I only had one shot. If I missed, I was dead. I looked up at the screen ahead of me. PREPARE FOR BATTLE! flashed on and off. 3,2,1, GO!
Quickly I turned and grabbed a razor sharp javelin. As I turned back, a red glow was growing around Goldie's arm. With all my might, I threw the javelin towards the glow. There was a deafening explosion. After waiting a couple of seconds, I opened my eyes, and walked over to my opponent's mangled body.
"How?" He begged. "Why?" I picked up a sword on the wall behind him, and positioned it above his head. Before I made the final blow, I announced my victory.
I woke up in a hospital bed, with more wires on me than Dad's desk. I looked over to see him beside me, typing away on a laptop.
"Dad." I muttered. At the sound of my voice, he closed the laptop, and walked over to my bedside. "Where are we?" I asked.
"Somewhere safe, for now." He answered. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I just got hit by a bus."
"Actually, we did get hit by another car on the way over here. Sorry."
"Thats okay. What happened to it?"
"I underestimated the Game's power. Beating it only shut it down, but now it's in safe hands. All thanks to you."
"Yea, but too many people died while I was in there. I wish that's could have saved them." Dad suddenly looked confused.
"What do you mean? Who?" I sat up.
"All of those people that you sent in there with me, they all died." My head fell. "Even Player Zero." He let out a long sigh and turned back towards his chair. Dad sat down and buried his hands in his face.
"It's worse than I thought." He grumbled. I ripped off all of the wires, and walked over to him.
"What happened in there? What's wrong?" Dad rested his hands on his lap.
"The team never made it. They were intercepted before they could reach the rendezvous point." I sat back down on the bed.
"Who we're they then? Who helped me?" Dad smiled.
"They were just another part of the game. They must have sensed that you were in danger, and rushed to our aid." I couldn't believe it. The girl of my dreams wasn't even real, just another part of my imagination. I laid back down on the bed, pulled up the covers, and closed my eyes.
Dad shifted his attention to the window. "They won't stop, you know. Not until they have the Game, and we're all dead. We have to keep running if we want to live. We must always be two steps ahead of them. You know this don't you, Matt? Matt?" I wasn't listening. I was speaking to myself quietly.
"Samantha." I felt Dad's hand ease its way onto my shoulder. Underneath the beeps of the medical equipment, my small echoes haunted the quiet room.
"She wasn't even real." I repeated.
"She wasn't even real."