Here’s the next instalment of Chosen. If you missed the prologue, you can find it here Prologue
It wasn’t dark any longer. It was bright and warm and playful, like the sun.
The rays were bouncing off the pavement in front of me, and I revelled in my freedom. There was so much colour; crisp and vibrant. As alive as the air around me.
And the smells, such wonderful smells. From the sweet fragrant flowers springing up at my feet, to the hot-dog vendor I couldn’t yet see.
It was a glorious day. A perfect day.
I was right where I wanted to be. Right where I needed to be.
My senses were my guide. I became aware of the sounds, understood how important it was to hold them all in. The children playing; the traffic on the street, and my mother’s musical laughter as we walked hand-in-hand.
I concentrated on the feel of it, fought hard to keep it in my head. But the colours were already beginning to fade.
Suddenly all I could smell was the dirt, and the only sound was silence.
One by one the images faded to black, until I was back again. In the dark.
I could still feel my mother’s hand. I couldn’t let it go. Without the memory, that one small connection to humanity, I knew I’d go mad.
It’s what they wanted. I’d been there for…fourteen hours. I’d lost count.
My trials were complete and I’d been assigned to a controller. At least temporarily.
That person, whoever they were, had to compete for the privilege. The reward – deciding my fate for a time honoured period.
It’s fiction to them; my life. Perhaps I’m not human, but I’m living and breathing and I have the right to autonomy. At least as far as I see it.
The creators of this interactive world designed me for entertainment. It’s a waste. They found a new reality; a pocket in our dimension that leads to a dead space. That dead space is my home.
Instead of furthering science by celebrating this new discovery, they claimed it as their own. Fuelled by greed, and the prospect of dominating a world, no matter how small, Euthoratopia was born.
A place where online interactive story-telling takes on a whole new meaning. Everything has been manufactured; real and yet not real.
Right then, I was in a hole in the ground. A cramped, tiny space, designed to hold me in. The smell of earth and the clawing damp permeating my bones was real. I felt it as surely as you would have done. Yet those participating in the online adventure, whether blown away by how realistic my plight or bored with my responses, they assumed me a figment of someone’s imagination.
In one reality that’s exactly what I am. I was created for a specific purpose. Would it make a difference if they knew I’m flesh and blood? Would they care? Maybe, maybe not.
Can I blame them for their naivety? I’d like to. Yet this is interactive story-telling combined with an element of simulated gaming and it can be a heady combination. Realities are bound to be skewed – and not just mine.
Right then, the controller was testing my reserves. They had a certain number of options at the beginning of the quest and had chosen capture, and more than likely torture, as the first order of proceedings.
I have a certain amount of control in these things. My responses are my own, how I work my way out of the situation is apparently part of the fun. They can’t affect my thoughts, they’re not my puppet-master, but they can put obstacles in my path and provide me with equipment as they see fit.
In truth, at that point I hadn’t decided what to do about my predicament. To a certain extent I was in a dangerous situation. Clever really. The powers that be had me stood on a pressure plate, a booby trap that would rain all kinds of hell on me. Ordinarily I’d have set it off just to be free of the cage. That’s the clever part. The shrapnel was laced with a special kind of poison; wasp venom. You could say it was an incentive to remain still.
It’s what I let them think. The truth is, I’m much faster than they know. I could have been out of the hole and half way back to the support centre before the thing went off. But that would have been too easy, and it would have given the game away.
Why should they hold all the cards?
Still, I knew my controller had to be growing impatient. The adventures are based on role-play; they’re encouraged to imagine themselves in my shoes.
In turn, I’m supposed to help convince them our decisions are the same.
By then I knew they’d received the next set of instructions and were trying to decide what direction the story should take. If I’m honest, a part of me was impatient for a decision too.
They’d chosen the Burrotopians from a list of creatures designed to enter into our pseudo-adventure. Those creatures were gathering above me as I sweated it out in the hole.
They are an interesting creation, the burrotopians. I can’t help but feel a certain kinship towards them. That might sound counter-productive, given that we often do battle, and yet I can’t help but wonder about their experience.
It hardly matters. They were created with one goal in mind. To kill. I doubt they’re even capable of independent thought.
The fact remains, my first choice is never violence.
That said, I’m capable of defending myself. I want to live.
I must also satisfy the needs of my controller. If they want a bloody battle and I don’t give them one, the consequences are dire.
So there we were. I was in the hole, my controller was behind a computer monitor, convinced they were part of a fictional land, when the earth literally moved beneath my feet.
I felt a bead of sweat run down my forehead as I tried to work out if the device beneath me could be activated by outside interference.
It took me a few moments to realise the movement was coming from above. What I’d felt were the aftershocks.
My controller had played their hand; they’d sent in the troops. I judged the severity of the vibrations to mean there were at least two creatures on their way to my location.
The burrotopians have a non-too subtle way of moving through the earth. They have elongated noses, not dissimilar to moles. The physical similarities stop there. They’re not cylindrical for one. These creatures are all hard edges and sharp points. But they do dig in a similar way. They have multifaceted claws, useful when burrowing, or tearing their victims apart.
Their senses are well defined, they can detect their target in a number of ways. Since I wasn’t moving, they were tracking me by smell.
In other words, I was a sitting duck.
I had two choices; try to take them on single-handed, or cut it and run.
That’s as far as I got, because the sudden illumination in my underground tomb added a new element to the nightmare. My brain was having a hard time processing the phenomenon, mainly because I couldn’t detect its origin. Not at first.
I considered the possibility of intervention from my controller, and settled back to wait it out.
Then it hit me. It wasn’t a light, it was an energy source. It had grown so bright it hurt my eyes. They burned with the effort of keeping it in focus. I wanted to witness the moment it transformed, because I knew exactly what it was.
I should have known better than to ignore my training. I was so busy focusing on what lay head, that I forgot for a moment the threat at my back.
The sharp, hot pain across my right shoulder was reminder enough of my mistake. The claws of the burrotopian had torn through the material of my uniform and into my flesh.
I spun, aware of two things happening simultaneously; the burrotopian breaking through the rear wall and Julian materialising at my front.
“Duck,” he instructed, though in fairness I was already hitting the deck. Or, more to the point, the pressure plate beneath my feet.
I’m glad I had the foresight to cover my ears because the sound of his weapon was deafening.
When I looked back up again there was a hole the size of my fist in the creatures head. He pitched forward towards me and I knew without a doubt the decision had been made for me.
I didn’t think. I turned to Julian, gripped a hand around his wrist and high-tailed it out of there.
The earth moved in response to the sheer force of speed I unleashed. Everything blurred around me until it was nothing but sound and light and sensation, so intense it was exhilarating.
When I stopped I was a safe distance from the underground explosion, but not far enough to have taken the reins from my controller.
I’d raised a certain amount of suspicion, but in the end, there really was no choice.
Julian swore under his breath as he disengaged himself from my grip. Then bent at the knees and vomited the contents of his stomach.
“A little heads up next time,” he gasped, trying to reclaim some of his dignity.
“I could say the same,” I threw back.
Julian grinned. “I heard you were in a spot of bother.”
The ground rumbled as he spoke, indicating we had company.
Four of them erupted from the earth, all claws and teeth, and pissed off expressions. At least I assumed that’s what they were feeling. Their mouths are permanently pinched below the snout in an eternal grimace that looks almost painful. The eyes too, are set back. They peek out beneath a heavy brow, like twin lights in a cavern. Definitely an interesting looking creature.
“Don’t suppose you have a spare weapon?” I asked Julian, as he zapped the first and closest burrotopian.
In response he threw his spare piece at me. When I reached up to catch it I felt the burn across my shoulder and remembered my earlier wound.
I didn’t really have time to dwell on it, because two more had popped up to join the party.
It’s a little known fact that they have a soft spot on top of their head, kind of like a new born. When you apply enough pressure, its lights out.
I could have taken the easy route and used the weapon; a device designed for this particular foe. I rarely take the easy route.
Instead I tried to impress my controller with my combat ability, and fancy footwork. I ducked, dived and sprang between them, whilst avoiding the shots Julian fired at our growing enemy.
I managed to down two before the path away from Julian’s bullets took me a little too close to the danger zone and I took a direct hit.
The impact sent me flying into the air and directly towards a group forming to my left.
Annoyed with myself I engaged the weapon and scattered the burrotopians before I came to land with a heavy thud at their feet.
I felt a bone crack, or maybe I heard it. Either way, the pain made my eyes water.
“Look out,” Julian shouted as the group reformed and descended on me.
I had to blast my way out.
The smell of burning flesh and spilled blood was suffocating. A few of them got a lick in, but nothing that slowed me down.
Julian, I saw, was having a hard time of it too. There was a huge gash on his arm, which looked deep and judging from the knife he was brandishing, he was out of ammunition.
I took stock and saw that only four of our enemy remained. Since they were closing in on Julian, his plight looked worse than mine.
“Go,” I shouted, even as I advanced.
This time I didn’t let his shift distract me, though it did have a disorientating effect on the burrotopians.
It was almost too easy. They crumpled like felled trees under my onslaught, and I sank to the ground too, disappointed with the result.
I’d naively started out with the goal of least possible harm, and yet, in the end, I’d shot them in the back.
I sat staring at the spot where Julian had been, before he’d phased out, trying not to look at the lifeless forms of the burrotopians around us.
Then the earth started rumbling again. ‘What next?’ I wondered aloud and, throwing my weapon to the ground, I rose to my feet.
I couldn’t help wishing I was back in my fantasy world. At least there there’d been flowers at my feet.
I hope you enjoyed the read.
Until next time