I blinked my eyes a couple of times as the Lotus earbuds released their hold on my brain, and then I was back in the real world. I took a couple of deep breaths, for all that those deep breaths only brought the familiar smells of stale reconstituted food and the alcohol my dad was no doubt drinking so he could forget about what happened to Diana.
I sighed. The real world sucked. I looked at my earbuds and almost thought about going back there, but I had school in the morning. I’d already been out late as it was, and I didn’t need the headache of teachers or the principal breathing down my neck.
Not when I could wait for another couple of months, skate by on the bare minimum as far as grades were concerned, and then spend all my time in the game world. I figured by then I’d have a nice little nest egg built up and I wouldn’t have to worry about reinvesting all the gold I was raking in on…
I paused. There was an odd humming noise coming from the other side of the wall. I had a small window that was high up on the wall that had supposedly let light in once upon a time, back when there was more than the perpetual twilight of this level, but now it didn’t even do that.
Only there was light streaming in from the thing now. I frowned. How the hell was that happening? The first thing that occurred to me was that maybe Chris was having some fun with me or something shining a light through the window.
“Chris,” I muttered. “I swear if this is you…”
I pulled the blinds open, and my mouth fell open. I was staring out at a state of the art custom drone that was sleek and black, with the exception of the spotlights that were shining through the door and into my window.
“Holy shit!” I said, scrambling away from the window and then letting out a surprised yelp as my hands stopped pulling against my bedding and instead found nothing.
I tumbled back, my ass flying over my head as the room spun around me. Luckily I kept the place pretty tidy, so there wasn’t a mess for me to land on when I slammed into the floor.
I stayed on the floor for a long moment trying, and failing, to breathe. My breath wouldn’t come, and I worried that I’d injured something to the point that I wasn’t going to be able to breathe ever again.
Slowly the feeling came back to me though. At first it was like sucking air through a tiny croaking straw, but then as I breathed in more and more I could get more air to come in. Finally I was sucking in lungfuls of air and staring up at the window.
The light was gone. That didn’t seem good that the light was gone.
I scrambled up. Looked around my room to see if there was anything I needed to bring with me if I was going to get the hell out of here. There was my watch, of course, and then the Lotus earbuds that connected through the watch.
I didn’t like the idea of heading out into the open with my Lotus earbuds on me. That was the kind of thing that was valuable enough that some of the junkies on our level would be more than happy to shank me for the privilege of getting at the things, but at the same time I had a feeling that my own house had just become an area that was a little too hot for me to come back to.
I thought about what Torian had said in the game. That he was going to turn me into Horizon. That he was going to let them know who I was in the real world.
Idiot. I should’ve never revealed who I was to the guy. I mean sure it’s not like it was entirely possible to keep my identity secret given everything that’d happened, but it was still a stupid move.
“Call Chris,” I said.
My watch beeped a couple of times. That was something I was going to have to take care of if I was going to be trying to make it through the alleys incognito. Also, I totally wasn’t going to be able to try and sneak out of this place if I was having a conversation with Chris.
I turned and looked at the window. The thing was small, but I could probably get through there in a pinch. The question was whether or not the drone was still out there watching that exit.
Chris’s head appeared, projected in three dimensions like something out of the old Star Wars movies. There were ways of making those projections look like Chris was a floating head right next to me, but I liked the old school look so I’d kept it this way.
“What the hell man?” Chris said, sounding like he’d already been asleep. “We do have to be up for school in the morning, you know.”
“I don’t know if we’re going to school in the morning,” I said. “Have you had anything weird going on at your house tonight?”
“Weird?” he asked. “You mean like you calling me when we just logged out of the game? Weird like that?”
“There was a drone floating outside my window when I logged out of the game,” I said, whispering so there was no chance my parents would hear what I was saying, and also turning down the volume on my watch for good measure. “It was sleek and black, but with floodlights it was pointing in like it wanted to get my attention and make sure I was in there.”
Chris’s face screwed up in something very close to making me think he didn’t believe a damn word I was saying. Then he looked off to the side, and I saw some light playing across his face as well.
“Shit, there’s something outside my window too man,” he said.
“I told you,” I said. “Wanna take one guess who that is?”
“But why would they only be coming for us now?” he asked. “Trent’s known who we are in the real world for awhile now. Why is he only spilling the beans now?”
“Probably because he thought he could kick our asses on his own,” I said. “And now that it’s become clear that’s not happening, he’s calling in the asshole cavalry.”
“Shit,” Chris said. “So what do we do?”
I thought fast. It’s not like I had much time for thinking.
“Meet on the roofs in five minutes if you can,” I said. “We need to move before they get here.”
“Who, the cops?” he asked.
I thought about some of the rumors that’d been going around about Horizon over the years. Thought about some of the people who’d been involved in the early lawsuits when the Lotus hardware started to go haywire and was killing people or turning them into vegetables.
“I have a feeling we’re going to get a visit from private security,” I said. “Now go!”
I opened the door to my room just in time to hear my dad cursing about some stray or something making noise out in front of the house. My blood chilled as I realized what was probably going on out there, and I opened the door a little wider.
“Dad, no!” I said.
“Go see what the fuck he’s going on about,” my dad growled, loud enough that I could hear him clearly in the small space we had.
Whatever else he might’ve said was cut off as he opened the door, and there was the sound of something hitting the ground out there. I wasn’t sure what was going on there, and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. It couldn’t be anything good.
I slammed my door shut and then looked around the room, desperate for something, anything, that might be able to hold them off for a moment. My eyes came to rest on a bookshelf that held what few prized possessions I had in this life. A few old fashioned paper books. Some trophies I earned playing in the football league when I was younger. Back when there was enough light to play by.
None of the possessions there were prized enough to be worth saving if it came down to a choice between me and whatever jackbooted thugs Horizon was sending to try and take care of me. I pulled the bookshelf down, and it landed with a crash that probably alerted whoever was coming for me that I’d figured out what they were up to.
What the fuck ever. It’s not like they weren’t going to make their way back to my room. There weren’t all that many rooms for them to search in the first place. I sprinted for my bunk bed and practically flew up the ladder. I whipped around and tried to push at the window, but the thing didn’t budge.
Damn it. Of course it didn’t budge. The thing was designed to keep people out. I leaned back and kicked at the thing, and I thought I heard something crack. I also winced at the feel of the glass slamming against my foot. Not a pleasant feeling at all.
That didn’t stop me from kicking the damned thing again, though. It was my only way out of here, and I wasn’t going to let whoever was out there trying to find me get me if the only thing stopping me was some bruising on my foot.
Something slammed into the door outside. Whoever was on the other side of the door didn’t seem to have any issues with breaking the damned thing down.
“Come on kid!” someone shouted from the other side. “This is going to be a lot easier for you if you come quietly!”
I didn’t respond. Like most people who’d been raised on our level where the culture of law breaking was something people learned along with their mother’s milk, even if they weren’t lawbreakers themselves, I was well aware that making the cops’ job easier wasn’t necessarily going to do anything but make their job easier.
It sure as fuck wasn’t going to help me.
And these weren’t even cops we were talking about. No, we were talking about extralegal private security hired by Horizon, which probably meant I was dealing with ex-military at best. Maybe ex special forces who had plenty of experience blowing shit up because they regularly had to travel to the other side of the world to do that shit for their paycheck.
Basically not the kind of badass motherfuckers I wanted to run into in a professional capacity. I had no idea how the hell I was going to get out of here. I had no idea how Chris was going to get away. I mean he…
I slammed into the window again and the thing popped out. Like we’re talking one moment the thing was in its setting, or whatever the fuck it was called, all in one piece. The next it popped out all in one piece, and I heard a quiet tinkling noise in the alley behind my room as the glass shattered.
I winced. That could draw the attention of whoever was piloting that drone, assuming there even was someone piloting the thing and it wasn’t one of the fancy new autonomous models, or it could draw the attention of any junkies who happened to be in the neighborhood.
You were never far from junkies and tweakers on this level of the arcology.
I stuck my head out and looked around. I didn’t see anything, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t anything out there. I didn’t see anything moving in the shadows, so maybe they didn’t have part of their team out here. Maybe I was giving them entirely too much credit. Maybe the team they’d sent to track me down was just as incompetent as Horizon’s employees had proven to be in the video game world.
Either way, the sounds of splintering wood coming from my door told me all I needed to know about my current situation. Which was basically that I didn’t have any choice about what I was going to do. If I wanted to make it out of here in one piece then I needed to get the fuck out of this window.
It was a tight fit, but I managed to push myself through. I didn’t go for the ground, either. For one the ground was covered in jagged glass at this point, and for another I couldn’t be sure that there weren’t Horizon security assholes waiting for me down there. So I did a little situp in the middle of the air and managed to grab onto the lip of the roof.
I’d have to thank Chris for this later. After all, him shining that light into my room all those years ago was where I got the idea to do something like this in the first place.
I pulled myself up on the roof with some difficulty, it turns out a lifetime of playing video games doesn’t exactly get you in top physical shape, for all that I felt a little better now than I had when I started Lotus, and then reached down through the opening and pulled out my earbuds.
I stuffed them in my pocket, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about someone trying to snag a bag that’d be an obvious tell that I was walking around with something valuable, and then turned and made my way across the roof in the darkness.
I crept over as close as I could get to the front door first, thankful that it was dark enough up here that it wasn’t like anyone would be able to see much. When I looked down there was a crowd of dark shadows gathered in front, but there were no signs of the drone, at least.
Then I realized something weird was going on down there. It was a little too quiet and casual. Like the assholes down there were trying to look like they weren’t up to anything.
Maybe it was years of playing games that tipped me off that something was wrong there, but in my experience someone who was trying that hard to look like they weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary was also someone who was trying to hide something.
So I ducked down. Just in time for something to go flying through the air over me. Something hit the side of the house, and then landed next to me. My eyes went wide when I saw a little dart sparking there.
Motherfucker. Those assholes were using tazer darts to try and take me down! I looked up, and sure enough far above me was a dark shape that I was pretty sure was one of those drones.
I couldn’t be sure the fuckers didn’t have tazer darts of their own on them, but I did know that I needed to get the fuck out of there sooner rather than later. At least if I wanted to end this night anywhere but in a Horizon holding cell.
So I turned and ran across the rooftops. It was a bit of a risk. There were literally people who didn’t mind firing shots from their illegal guns through their roofs if they thought there was a chance there was an addict on the other side of that roof ready to come down and take a shot at them.
I could only hope that whatever shot they might fire wouldn’t be aimed well enough to be much of a threat. Or that it was late enough in the night that anyone who might be in a mood to fire potshots at their roof would have to wake up enough to get their illegal weapon before they started firing those shots, which would buy me a little bit of time.
Either way, the potential for getting shot at from some asshole sure as hell beat the surety that Horizon was going to do some bad shit to me if they managed to track me down and disappear me to wherever the hell it was they sent people they didn’t like.
Hi! I'm a working writer who's been doing this full time since early 2015. I got my start in the Kindle romance boom, and I'm finally getting around to publishing stories under my own name!
I live in the Midwest with my wife, kids, and cats. Most days find me sitting in front of my computer typing out stories for your enjoyment!
I'm currently releasing Spellcraft. The tale of Conlan, a gamer who loves finding ways to exploit game systems, and how he uses those unique skills to battle a soulless multinational entertainment conglomerate who killed his sister and is trying to take over the gaming world!
Spellcraft is currently released on a chapter a day schedule.
I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for reading!