Darts landed all around me, and it was only by sliding down at the last moment that I managed to avoid getting hit. The drone that’d been taking a swipe at me flew through the air where I’d been.
“Son of a bitch!” I shouted.
I slid to the edge of the house, and a moment later there was the sound of thunder as something came crashing through the roof. Damn it. It would appear I’d finally landed on a house where the occupant was with it to the point that they could fire a weapon through the roof.
The drone came back for another pass, and I got an idea. The thing was lining up for its run. It was almost there. Almost…
I slammed my foot down on the roof just ahead of me. Right where the drone would be making its run. I also dove to the side, because I wasn’t an idiot.
I probably made an unholy racket as I landed on the roof and then rolled to the side, but that was nothing compared to the noise from another shotgun blast going off and blowing a hole through the roof. Just in time for the drone to absorb the brunt of that blast.
The strange buzzing noise turned into an almost sickly buzzing noise. Like a massive mosquito had suddenly caught a cold and then slammed into the housing unit next to this one with the kind of noise that could wake the dead.
I kept right on running. I might’ve gotten lucky with the person below taking out that drone, but I also knew that every moment I stayed here was a moment when that person might turn their weapon on me. Talk about the last thing I needed!
So I ran and jumped to the next housing unit in the line. I didn’t hear the telltale sign of a drone, but that didn’t mean they weren’t keeping an eye on me. I really should’ve gotten out of my parents housing unit a long time ago. Set myself up in a location where they weren’t going to be able to find me.
Well it was too late for that now. The only thing I could hope for was to get out of here and then figure out a way to log into the Internet, transfer some money, and get myself set up somewhere else.
A beeping from my wrist told me there was a call incoming. I hit accept on it.
“Where the hell are you?” Kara demanded.
“Kinda busy right now,” I said. “They’ve been chasing after me with their drones, and things have been a little hairy.”
“Well you need to get your ass to the elevator, and you need to get here fast!”
“What?” I said. “Why would I go to the elevator? They’re going to have that place covered!”
“Surprisingly they don’t have anything here for the moment,” she said. “But that’s not going to last long.”
I paused and looked out over the level. The place I’d called home for most of my life. Then I looked over to the elevator that was the only way to get on or off this level, though in practice it was mostly a way to get back and forth to school.
I wasn’t going to be sorry to see this place go, but I also didn’t want to walk into any obvious traps.
“You’re sure about this?” I asked. “Where are we even going to go if we manage to get out of here?”
“I’ve got something set up,” she said. “We just have to get to the elevator, and we’ll be good to go from there.”
I wanted to believe her, but it was difficult considering everything that’d happened over the past half hour or so. I felt like I’d been on the run for a hell of a lot longer than that, but that might’ve simply been the adrenaline pumping through my system letting me know what a fucking idiot I was for ever thinking I could take on a company like Horizon and win.
It was idiotic, and I was learning that the hard way having this little run through the ghetto trying to escape them and their fast resources.
“Colin, do you trust me?” Kara said.
I took in a deep breath. Let it out. This was one of those moments for stopping to think about who I really trusted in this world, and when you got down to it Kara was pretty high on the list of people I trusted. Like right there near the top, hanging out with Chris who was also pretty high on my most trusted list.
“Fine,” I said. “I’m heading your way, but I want you to know that if you’re actually Horizon hacking this line with a soundalike I’m going to be really pissed.”
“Just like I’m still really pissed that you didn’t think to call me first when Horizon came knocking,” she shot back at me.
I blushed, though there was no one around to see me blushing in the twilight of late night. I’d called her shortly after I started my run, but I’d been a little preoccupied for a little while and hadn’t thought of calling her first.
It turns out she wasn’t in any danger, though. At least Horizon hadn’t come knocking on her door by the time she got the order to evacuate, which was something. That had me thinking that maybe Trent hadn’t told Horizon about Kara. Maybe he was hoping that with me out of the way he’d be able to swoop in and mend her broken heart or something.
The guy was an asshole, but that was exactly the sort of thing he’d probably think of. The prick.
I moved through the night on the roofs. Normally that was pretty fucking dangerous, the person firing their shotgun and taking out that drone was proof enough of that, but I really didn’t want to be down on the ground level where I’d have to worry about Horizon spotting me.
If they’d been stupid enough to only send the one drone after me then I figured I was going to take advantage of that stupidity. Maybe they were worried that more than one drone would get them noticed. Maybe they were overconfident. Maybe there was another drone hanging up near the top level doing its thing and I’d have no idea until I’d been caught.
It was difficult to tell. I really hoped it wasn’t the latter, but there was no way to be sure until they were on me.
Finally I reached my destination. The elevator. It was a little weird looking at it at this time of night. The thing was set behind a massive door that looked like something Matthew Broderick would rush to get through with Ally Sheedy at his side so they could prevent nuclear annihilation, and all it did was open onto an elevator that went from this level up to the school, and then down to a few other levels immediately above and below this one.
Supposedly there’d been a time when this elevator could visit any other level in the arcology, but these days someone had to go down a couple of levels, pass through a security checkpoint, and then go to another elevator that opened onto the rest of the arcology. Which had always struck me as a bullshit attempt to keep the poor people out of the “better” areas of our arcology, but what the fuck ever.
Sure enough Kara and Chris were standing there peering into the darkness. They looked nervous, and they should be. It was dangerous enough being out and about in the middle of the night with all the addicts willing to shank anyone they thought they might be able to rob blind, but it was doubly dangerous when there was an evil multinational conglomerate out there doing their best to hunt you down and capture you.
I looked around a few times to make sure the coast was clear before heading into the lights on either side of the elevator door. I figured if it was just Kara and Chris standing there then it had to be safe enough.
Kara’s face flooded with relief when she saw me walking towards her. She ran up and hit me with a huge hug. I wrapped my arms around her and took a moment to enjoy that hug. Sure we’d been doing way more than hugging in the game when we could find a moment to sneak off to a secluded part of the Kthonopolis, but there was something about doing this in the real world that felt better than doing it in the game world. For all that it felt just as realistic in the game world.
“I was so worried about you,” she said, then she punched my chest lightly. “And if you don’t think of me first the next time you’re being chased by Horizon…”
“Sorry,” I said, then leaned down and kissed her which shut her up. “I wasn’t thinking straight, and I also figured Trent wasn’t going to turn you in. Not when he can have me disappeared and then swoop in to pick up the pieces.”
“I’m insulted that you’d ever think that would work,” she said with a sniff.
“I didn’t say I thought it’d work,” I said. “Just that he’s the kind of asshole who’d think it’d work.”
“Oh yeah?” a voice called out from the shadows. “You’re pathetic. I’ve got plenty of women who want me. Why do I need your sloppy seconds?”
A chill ran through me at the sound of that voice. I wheeled around, putting myself between Kara and the source of that voice. Not that I thought I’d be able to do much good against the Horizon security types that were stepping out of the shadows with their dart guns pointed at us, but maybe if the darts hit me first Kara would be able to escape.
I was grasping at reeds, but it was all I had.
Trent stepped out of the shadows as well. The smile on his face was cruel and twisted. He looked at me, and then to Kara. Then he shook his head.
“You could’ve had it all,” he said. “But you had to go for this asshole. So I figure you all deserve what you’re going to get.”
“I don’t suppose you have any clever ideas?” I asked, turning to Kara.
A few drones flew down out of the darkness. I guess I’d been absolutely correct in thinking they were flying a couple of the fuckers up there where they could keep tabs on me. I hated that I’d been right, considering what being right meant for us.
To my surprise, Kara actually grinned. Like she didn’t seem at all worried that we were surrounded by a bunch of Horizon assholes who looked like they were ready to move in for the kill. This didn’t seem like the kind of situation where she should be smiling, but there it was.
“I could give you one more chance, Kara,” Trent said.
“I want you to know this is only a distraction,” Kara said. “Trust me.”
“I do,” I said. “With my life.”
It felt a little weird saying something like that. I’d said things like that plenty of times before in video games, but this was the first time I’d be literally trusting someone with my life. I was painfully aware that if things went poorly here with these Horizon assholes then there was a good chance we weren’t going to make it out of this alive.
“Y’know that does sound nice,” Kara said, slapping me and then stepping around me.
I put a hand to my cheek. Okay then. That was a bit of a surprise, but she told me to trust her and I was going to trust her, damn it.
I watched as she walked up to Trent. She reached up and put a hand on his cheek. Then turned to me and frowned.
“I guess I can see now who the real man is here,” she said.
“Now that’s more like it,” Trent said, looking at me and grinning in triumph. Like he thought he was pulling one over on me by getting Kara to do this. “How’s it feel to know your girl is more interested in a real man?”
There was a hiss from behind us. A sound that had become all too familiar to me over the years. The sound of the elevator doors about to open. It was odd hearing that sound while we were surrounded by assholes in riot cop gear holding up dart weapons while drones that looked like offshoots of military tech were hovering over us. Like the juxtaposition of the familiar and the fucking insane was almost too much to contemplate.
That familiar sound also brought about another change in Kara. She turned to Trent, looking for all the world like she was going to kiss him. Talk about gross, but I still trusted her. Even if she was doing something disgusting in the name of saving us. I had to believe she was doing something disgusting in the name of saving us. That this wasn’t all part of some elaborate long con she’d been running to betray us.
“Fucking gross,” Chris muttered as Kara pulled Trent’s suddenly puckering lips down towards hers.
“I could really do without the color commentary, man,” I said.
“I know, but she’s leaning in there and about to lay a smooch on him,” Chris said. “He’s puckering up and everything. If she’s acting then she’s doing a damn good job.”
“I said that’s enough!” I snapped.
“What?” Chris asked, sounding genuinely hurt that I would snap at him like that. “I was praising her acting ability. It takes some really good acting chops to be able to be that close to Trent’s lips without hurling her guts up.”
I snickered just a little at that. Which apparently wasn’t the response Trent was looking for. He looked up and locked eyes with me, but then he looked at something beyond me and those eyes went wide with something very close to terror.
I tensed, immediately on my guard. Sure it seemed like something that was enough to terrify Trent should’ve been something I welcomed considering we were on opposite sides of this conflict, but around here the enemy of your enemy wasn’t always your friend.
Especially when the enemy usually took the form of druggies who would just as soon shank somebody as look at them. Especially if they thought they could rob that somebody for a little bit of money that would keep them going until the next fix.
Suddenly all the Horizon people in their body armor went down for the count. Like one moment they were all standing there looking like they were about to unleash the fury on us, and the next moment they were all ragdolling and falling to the ground.
Though admittedly the ragdolling in the real world was a heck of a lot more impressive than what it looked like in a video game with a bad physics model. They crumpled to the ground.
Even Trent got in on the action. He turned to run, but something must’ve hit him because he took all of one step before he fell to the ground as well. From the loud thunk he made when he hit the ground that seemed like the sort of landing that was going to leave a mark, too.
“Ouch,” I said.
“You can say that again,” Chris said.
Kara, for her part, still stood there looking a little shocked, but otherwise no worse for the wear. I whirled around and saw that the elevator had finally opened all the way, revealing another group of men dressed in the kind of body armor that was usually reserved for troops or a SWAT team.
They all had their weapons raised and pointed out at us too. I instinctively raised my hands, wondering if this was going to finally be the end.
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!