Monday, February 1, 2016

Chapter 12: Magnum Thrax and the Amusement Park of Doom

Post-apocalyptic ambiance...

“The answer is still no,” said Job firmly. He sat in a sound proof room before a grand wall of floating monitors, two stories high, that gently arched overhead. Each showed a different area in the virtual world of Kiss-Ass Kingdoms. Behind Job was a semi-circular table covered with scattered tech and dormant, half-programmed nanopods, half-eaten lunch packets, dirty cups and bits of chips.

But Job’s mind wasn’t on the game. The gun barrel Kal pressed to Job’s temple had all of his attention.

Kal flicked off the safety. The primer began to whine as it charged. “I seriously think you should reconsider, Job. Rethink your priorities. I mean, honestly. Be logical for once.”

“Please,” said Job irritably. “Think I can’t tell the difference between a disconnected primer and a connected one? That gun’s harmless.”

Kal tonked him on the head with the pistol butt.

“Ow!” cried Job, cringing and clutching at his head.

“Mostly harmless,” Kal corrected. Never try to bluff Job, he reminded himself. “Just the same,” groused Job, rubbing the bruise. “We need you here.”

Kal slapped his arms agains his sides and did a pirouette. “What for? C’mon, Job, this is the chance of a lifetime! We’re going to the Nike Monastery! The Nike Monastery, of legend and song and all that shit. I gots to go.”

“I need you here.”

“I’m not giving up the chance of a lifetime to work on Kick-Ass Kingdoms, Job.”

“The final round is coming up.”

“You know there is a post-apocalyptic world out there, full of cool mutants and hot chicks with big guns, right?”

Job waved the notion away with the flick of his hand. “So? Reality has no reset button, no undo. Too permanent for my taste. Look. Kal, we can win this round. I know it. But the team needs your help.”

“Forget it. End of the world is coming, man. I’m not going to miss it.”

“Too late. By about a thousand years,” sighed Job. He grabbed a bag of chips. “So forgive me if I don’t get excited. Listen: council doesn’t want its number one trouble shooter skipping off on a mission that’s got less than a one per cent chance of success.”

Kal froze. Grinned nervously. “Where’d you get that number?”

“Jen Five. Mainframe.” Job popped chips into his mouth and chewed loudly and with satisfaction.

Kal considered. “Victoria agree?”

“Victoria invited Doc Helen for virtual tea. They haven’t come out. But she’s been looking into uploading her consciousness into a migratory nanoswarm.”

“Oh,” said Kal. He leaned against the control console. “That’s not a good sign.” “Nope. I’m thinking of doing the same. Into the Kick-Ass Kingdoms memecloud.”

“Are you kidding me? Into a superficial, corny caricature of real life filled with two dimensional characters? No way. It’s the real world for me.” Kal paced back and forth. “Come on, Job. You’re being a dick. I’ll appeal this,” he finally declared, and tossed the disintegrator onto the work bench. He headed for the exit.

“You do that, yono. Thrax’ll be long gone by the time your appeal’s even heard. Take my advice: get ready for the next game round.”


Like bloody hell, thought Kal angrily.

The air duct reverberated with sound of popping metal sheets. 



Kal awkwardly heaved his lanky body upward, weighted down by a large backpack stuffed to breaking point. He looked up at the light, above. Almost there. Just a few feet more, he thought to himself.

Keep going.

He released the suction cup on his hand, planted it higher.

No one else knew about these ducts. He’d deleted them from the database ages ago in case he’d ever needed an escape route.

That day had come.

There was nothing in the Pit for him, really. Kick-Ass Kingdoms had lost Kal’s interest several tournaments ago, when a ten year old adversary had defeated his supreme ice fortress with fireballs of pitch and hay. Totally bogus: Kal’s ice was magical, so there’s no way it should have been affected. Stupid arbitrary rules. Kal had had enough of that; now, he wanted to explore and see the real world, where things made sense.

Not to mention find out what happened to humanity. If there was anyone else left.

His mom and dad had been killed by raptors while harvesting, years ago. Partly his fault, too, which made it worse. Rather than being on guard, he’d skipped off and smoked snuff with Thrax. Kal felt, deep down, that he should have died with his folks. The lab was more like a tomb now, an emotional crucible of torment and regret and guilt that ran in endless circles of condemnation. He had to get out. If he did something good, something significant, maybe he could atone for what he’d done. Or rather, not done.

Oddly enough, Thrax was the only one he regarded as a real friend. The other scientists in The Pit hated Kal. People cooperated to compete, and as the best, he was the one they were competing against.

He was already outside, emotionally speaking, and had been for some time.

Time to make it literal. And do something big, to prove himself to the others. Real combat couldn’t be much different than the virtual reality simulation games, could it?

Before setting out, he’d uploaded PageTurnerDeluxe into his virtual assistant. It turned life events into a compelling narrative. You could shoe horn your experiences into any classic story structure: quest, revenge, romance, what have you. The software even flavoured it: Hemingway Staccato, Dostoyevsky Gab, Elmore Leonard Jazz. For this, Kal had picked a combination of Hemingway and Leonard, quest format, with maximum settings for action and sex.

He even secretly seeded app feeds into the others members of the squad using their system updates. His virtual writer would include their experiences in the story. Get the full picture. After all, if you’re going to save the world, you’d better damn well document it. Why save it if it isn’t for bragging rights? For security’s sake, he stripped the feed of all mentions of the dodecahedron and Thrax’s virus. Kal thought long term. One day there would be an entertainment industry again, and his ancestors would be armed to exploit it with a kick-ass, first-person historical adventure franchise.

Best of all he had his experimental EMP gun. The one he’d been trying to modify to target nanotech, just in case Victoria went nuts, which seemed increasingly likely. A kind of nanovore gun. It would impress the shit out of everyone. If it worked, and Victoria went nuts, and there were still people alive to impress. Success was such a mind game.

A spot of warmth hit his cheek. Sunlight. He looked up.

In a moment he’d reached the weathered grill. He’d released the seal that concealed it, but forgotten about the analogue bars.

No matter.

He was prepared.

With a tiny laser torch he melted the dozen bolts holding it in place.

No worries.

He shifted about, being careful not to lose his grip. It was a long way down. If he fell, he’d trigger the defenses and be crispified. Then dismantled molecule by molecule.

Gathering his strength, he shoved with his left arm. It was stronger. The grate didn’t budge. Rust.

Planting his knee suction cups firmly, he thrust upward again, this time with both hands and all his paltry strength. The grate gave way, flecks of orange speckled his face. It tottered a moment, and then fell away to the side.

Kal rolled over the top into the long prairie grass.

He was out, and he wanted a cola.

A small robot fly lifted off from his shoulder and dissolved into smoke.

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