Alex found himself in a small, entirely white, cubic room. It kind of reminded him about the white room from the Matricks; in that film, the reality was simulated by robots who used humans as batteries.
"Maybe everything from that film is actually real? It would explain the time loop. Somehow. Nah, nevermind, wouldn't happen."
After spending years in his room, killing time mindlessly, he is, at last, here. At the Tutorial. What changes would it bring him?
In the middle of a room, right before Alex, was a pedestal with a big red button above it. Above the button was a holographic message.
|You have ten seconds to read that message. After that, you will be given thirty-three seconds to make a choice. You can press the button to kill the other nine people. Or you can do nothing. But each person among ten of you was given the same choice. If no one presses the button within the time limit, then...|
"What the hell? What kind of Tutorial is this?"
Alex didn't know much about the Tutorial other than the fact that the memories of it erased from every first-timer and that people awaken their true capabilities after it. Loopers can keep their memories of the Tutorial, though. Still, he wasn't sure if it was related to the fact that they are Loopers, or was it because it wasn't their first time. Maybe those Tutorials were utterly different in the first place. He was unique as someone who already experienced multiple loops while also being a first-timer. After thinking things through in just three seconds, he decided to ignore the red button.
Words on the hologram changed.
|Press the button to survive.|
"I see, so that is how it is."
Just the fact that he hasn't died immediately after the count started made him realize the truth behind this stupid test.
"If the Tutorial alone left only one Chosen out of ten, then there is no way I didn't know about it already. In fact, this system would be just way too silly. Also, there is no way that out of ten people, no one pressed the button in the first second or two, unless all of us are Loopers. But this test would be even more meaningless then, so it seems I was put in one group with ordinary Chosen. Anyway, it seems that even if you press the button - no one dies. But the question is - does this test exist to make sure we are ready to kill and so press the button even if we realize the truth, or it exists to make sure that we don't press it at all?"
Who are the Chosen? They are protectors of humanity. They are also soldiers. Warriors. It means they should kill. But they also should be united and be able to cooperate with each other. Most Chosen act in parties. And the max number of people in one party is exactly the ten. If everyone in a party is ready to sacrifice the rest just to save their own ass, wouldn't it be perilous?
"I shouldn't press it. Anyway, in the off-chance that I'm wrong in my guess - I would "kill" nine strangers for no reason. Even if I die, I'm pretty much sure that Jane would be fine; after all, it is her second loop. I'm not confident that I would be of much help to her as I'm right now. I need to get stronger, but if the first thing I do to protect her is killing random strangers even when I'm sure in my safety, then I wouldn't be able to look her in the eyes."
He used those excuses while ignoring the real reason behind his inability to sacrifice some random strangers for his own sake. The real reason he isn't ready to face, not yet.
Actually, the second loop was the safest one out of all, from those small bits of info Alex was able to get. As long as they didn't die in an unforeseen incident, 99 Loopers out of 100 are able to complete their second loop successfully. They aren't overconfident but still experienced enough. The requirement for the mind retain is relatively low as well. It becomes higher and higher with each following loop, though - making it harder. Overconfidence and tendency to risk for the sake of getting more Contribution Points are the main reasons why Loopers die in the first place. The first loop usually is one of the hardest. If you survived it successfully, then you will have an excellent chance to experience at least 4-5 other loops.
You survived. You didn't press the Red Button of Betrayal. Congratulations, Chosen one! You were evaluated highly.
In this way, thirty-three seconds passed safely and relaxingly. At least, for Alexey. It couldn't be said about other people, though. A corridor leading to a bigger white room appeared simultaneously with that message. While Alex slowly strolled to his new destination, a shrill female scream resounded through the hall.
"W-why you people all alive? Aren't everyone should be killed?! I pressed the button!"
Alex almost fell down after hearing it.
"It seems in this group of people there is someone dull..."
Even if you pressed the button - why would you tell everyone that you tried to kill them? Isn't it asking for a beating?
"What have you said just now, bitch? You tried to fucking kill me?"
And sure enough, someone short-tempered already answered her. Not everyone was as leisurely as Alex, so when he arrived at the spacious white room, the other nine people were already inside. Most of them surrounded a rather bland woman in her late twenties or early thirties and looked coldly at her. The one who spoke just now was a twenty-something young man who was, based on his overly muscular body, into bodybuilding and steroids. Alex decided to nickname him Bull.
"How can you do something like this? Do you think you are the only one who wants to live? I have a wife and two kids; still, I waited patiently and never even thought about pressing the button!"
The scrawny middle-aged man added fuel to the fire by talking some nonsense. Nickname Monkey would be fit for him, right?
"Right! You never thought that we have people who love us and would be sad if we die? It is just cruel. I would never do something like this. What a bitch. "
Gaudy woman in her late twenties with a strange fashion style didn't want to let go as well. Calling her Parrot is fine?
"Bull, Monkey, and Parrot - let's name them Tasteless Trio."
So Alex thought rather rudely, without believing even one word those people said. Another three people - an overweight middle-aged woman and two guys of similar age to Alex said something similar to Tasteless Trio's words as well. Blaming and insulting the "poor" woman while glorifying themselves.
"Those would be Nameless Trio then."
The only ones not participating in the "fun" were Alex, a teenage girl a few years younger than him who wept silently in the corner of the room and a smart-looking bespectacled man in his early twenties who watched the show with derision.
"A bunch of fools."
Before things escalate into physical violence, a cold voice saved that frightened low IQ woman. The handsome, bespectacled man played the role of a white knight and saved the unfortunate princess. Of course, it wasn't his intention at all.
"What the hell you said?"
Already angry, Bull turned his gaze to Alex. He and the cold young man were in the same direction, while Alexey was closer to a group of people, so it wasn't strange to misunderstand the voice's owner. But before Alex could say anything, the glassed guy intervened.
"You are a bunch of hypocritical fools. I pressed the button as well, so what? Do you really believe that this idiot woman and I were the only ones? You should be either a saint or an idiot to sacrifice your life for the sake of some strangers you never have seen. If it was that crying brat in the corner, then I still could believe that she did nothing. But all of you are so full of shit that it makes me puke."
The Bull looked as if unable to believe that he just heard. He was a mountain of muscles, 6'3 feet (190 cm) tall. In comparison, the young man was 5'8 feet (173 cm) and didn't look strong at all. To Bull, it was no different from seeing a chihuahua barking on a wolf. And him being the wolf, he felt insulted.
"Are you looking for a fight? You should prepare yourself for that is coming."
Bull said in a threatening, but coldly calm tone.
"Trying to scare me? You aren't qualified, dog."
A man in glasses showed no trace of fear.
"You asked for it, Glassy."
Why did he call him Glassy? Probably because of the glasses and the fact that he looked somewhat fragile. In any case, things, at last, escalated to the actual violence.
"Actually, this spectacled guy looks Asian. Maybe he knows kung-fu or something?"
A little bit of racistic thought comes to Alex's mind. Oh, could it be that it is this cliche situation of a small guy beating the big muscular guy with martial arts? He will use his family's secret technique to defeat a much stronger opponent, effortlessly and elegantly! Actually, no.
The delicate man coughed up some blood after being punched hard right below his solar plexus. He became unable to breathe and fell on his knees.
People think that muscles make you slow, but it isn't exactly the truth. In fact, muscles make you stronger without losing too much of your speed if you train right. In other words, mass behind your hits raises while the speed stays roughly the same. It is very hard to beat a bigger opponent without a significant difference in skill. This is why weight divisions exist in all fight related sports.
"You are only bark and no bite. Out of us two, who is the dog? Listen, everyone. This woman and Glassy right here are bastards who pressed the red button and wanted us dead! We should form a group and isolate them from us."
The Bull wasn't a musclebrain nor stupid. In fact, he was smart and made the right decisions very fast. He quickly realized that he could gain leadership and unite everyone under him by targeting a woman who blurted something idiotic. Then he used a demonstration of his physical superiority to establish his position. In this short time, six people out of ten were already on his side while the frightened woman and beaten bespectacled buy weren't qualified to go against him. The only two people remained - crying girl, who is no worth of attention and another young guy who did nothing so far and just watched from the sides, don't matter much. He took control over this place. At least this is what he thought.
"Hehe...ahahahaha. A rabid dog is still a rabid dog, after all. Yeah, you hit me. Good job. Now I can do whatever to you and consider it legitimate self-defense. "
Before Bull could understand what happened, a spectacled guy already recovered from his miserable state and stood straight. In his hand, something metallic glinted. It was a weapon. A gun. Pointed right at the muscular man's head.
"H-hey, friend! Calm down, calm down! We can talk things trough, like civilized people, right? Don't be rash, put the gun down... The Murder is a serious crime, you know? Even if I hurt you first, it is still wouldn't be legitimate self-defense!"
There wasn't a hint of the previous bravado on the Bull's face. Only anxiety, fear, and submission. No matter how strong you are, you are still just a human. You can't win against the gun. Even with proper training, you will have a high chance of being shot dead, nonetheless. All his plans were ruined by a small shining item in his opponent's hand.
"You sure know how to bark well. But, look around. Where are we? Do you think it is the place where the law created by a government holds any power? I talked about self-defense not because I'm afraid of the police, you dimwit. "
Listening to this speech, the Bull was angry and unwilling inside, but that he could do? Other people become nervous as well. Even if there is only one gun with a limited number of bullets, but who would want to be sacrificed first? No one wants to risk their lives unnecessarily. Even those who previously sided with the Bull now reconsidered their choice. But the tension was broken by the one who was the source of it in the first place.
"Hehe, relax. It is a replica gun. I'm just a University student, how can I own the firearm? Aren't this baby looks just like the real deal, though? Seeing like you almost shit your pants was really worth it, doggy. "
Realizing that he was played for a fool, the Bull was both ashamed and furious. He wanted to really beat the shit out of this arrogant prick, without holding back at all - even if it means killing him in the process.
"Are you fucking dead, man!'
This bellow full of emotions made some of the weaker-willed people at the scene shake. But the one at whom it was directed didn't even flinch.
"No, but you would be. If I wish so. You haven't realized it yet? Your life is already in my hands, doggy. "
After saying it, he made a grasping motion with his hand.
And so, the giant fell on his knees.