“If I give you this, do you promise not to shoot me?” I held out the folded scrap of paper in slightly-shaking hands. I smirked despite myself.
The bearer of the small but deadly weapon tilted his head to one side as if considering the offer, yet his glazed-yellow eyes said the truth: negotiations were over. The Master had given his orders, and the soldier knew only to follow. There was a code, after all, and the humanity had been cast out long ago. In the perspective of this servant (a kind word for what the tortured creature was) the die had been cast, and I’d been cast the loser.
I may have been on my thirty-second Gram, but my confidence remained unshattered. (Well, nearly). I knew the rules, and I knew how to break most of them. The Master owned the game, but I’d built it. Hell, I’d lived it. For twelve years. And I knew there was always a way to cheat—even to cheat death.
A second before the servant’s finger could pull the trigger, mine had erupted in brilliant blue flames. It was a simple flick of the wrist and the explosion hit the attacker, casting his face in a horrible light that quickly melted what was left of him into a cindering ash upon the tiled floor. I kicked the dust aside and looked around quickly before stuffing the paper back into the hidden pocket in the lining of my brown-leather jacket. I picked my pack up off the floor and slung it around my shoulder before pushing through yet another doorway. The servant would re-form, but it usually took a few hours.
I rushed through another set of hallways and counted the barred doors as I passed them.
Twelve years and the Master still hadn’t figured me out, which boded well. I wasn’t done decoding the game. The stuff I’d written had been cast aside long ago, but essences of my design remained, which helped. Every bit and byte of importance I had ever learned in this game was written on the paper I now held closely to my heart. The Master knew of this paper, of course. He was aware of most things in this game, like any god in his known universe. But the contents of my page were thankfully unknown to him. I needed to keep it that way, too, at least until I found my wife. Once I had her, I could care less what the Master took from me. As long as she was safe and far away from this cursed game…
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Sunlight burned my eyes as I pushed them open. A dull ache formed in my temples. I fumbled for a moment on the table near my bed before hooking a finger on the nose of my glasses and gripping them firmly. I placed them over my eyes and blinked a few times before my vision focused. “Good morning, beautiful” I smiled, sitting up.
A woman with short dark hair and blue eyes raised a thick eyebrow at me. “Morning would have been four hours ago. Now we are bordering on afternoon.”
I flicked up my hand and saw the digital tattoo flashing on my palm plain-as-day: 11:43 a.m. I pushed my hair back.
“Another late night?” My wife asked as she set a cup of black coffee on the table and sat next to me with one leg curled under her. “When was it this time? I don’t remember you coming in.”
I reached for the coffee gratefully and pressed it under my nose to inhale the bitter scent. I paused before taking a sip and investigated her reproachful gaze. “Oh, you were out of it by the time I got in…” I said casually.
“Which was what time exactly?” She probed, not unkindly. It had become rather a joke in our household.
“Let’s just say it wasn’t earlier than three, but it was certainly not later than… uh, what time did you get up this morning?”
She shook her head in bemusement and leaned in to kiss my forehead. “You, sir, are a nuisance.” She stood and walked to the door before turning around. “How does french toast sound?”
“Excellent,” I smiled at her, and she began humming a tune as she left the room.
That was the last time I saw my wife whole. This was not the memory to most frequent my haunted dreams.
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This game was created to provide life-like sensations to the players, and in no way reflects real-life events. Any procedures that may occur within the game will not be brought out of the game, nor shall any player be held accountable for anything their Gram may experience. For further game instructions, please refer to the Manual, which has been provided to every player. The rules to the game are simple: survive, live, thrive. Please enjoy your gaming experience, brought to you by Ona Incorporated: “We make dreams a reality”.
“End transmission,” the young man said in a bored voice. He pulled his headphones down from his ears and leaned over the desk to his companion. “Hey, Theresa, you want to get lunch with me today?”
Theresa, a red-head who was only a year or two older than the young man turned to him and leaned back in her chair. “Screw off, Billy. My answer is the same as it will be forever.” She iterated the words carefully. “Not. Interested.”
Billy grunted, stood up from his chair and stretched. “Fine, but I promise that one day, woman, I will wear you down.”
“Not likely,” she laughed.
He winked and pushed through the glass doors out of the room.
Theresa dropped the false smile and put her shaking hands back to her keyboard. “C’mon, c’mon. Hurry up.” She muttered under her breath. “Only six more codes to break.”
With that, she set the timer and began her quick work.
The young man was clueless. Her fingers worked expertly across the keys.
The Master was not so easily deceived.
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I blew off the woman’s head with one shot, and her body collapsed heavily onto the floor before fully disintegrating. I moved quickly, knowing it would only be minutes before she re-spawned. Finally, I reached the end of the long hall of doorways. There were two hundred and eleven doors. I withdrew the paper from my inside pocket and scribbled the number in tiny writing.
Something about my equation was off.