Whisper v3.0 - Chapters 1-12

Whisper

by Sleethr


~o~O~o~

Notes: Hi ya all. Here is the first 12 chapter revised to fit Whateley Canon rules. This has been posted on the main Whateley site. Kristin spent a lot of time formatting it to look pretty. So, you might wanna give it a try there. The main things that changed are as follows: Fixed numerous verb tense and grammar issues. Don't know why I had the non-Whisper POV's as third person, present tense, but it was horrible. Fixed the Font theft issue and fixed the fight scene by removing the health bar game mechanic. Chapters 13-18 will be next and the fixes there are mostly POV and verb tense problems. The remaining chapters will probably be pretty close to the original.


** Chapter 1 **

--14-FEB-2007 19:00 –-

“Ouch…”

I’ve spent the last hour working on my Calculus homework and my fingers are starting to cramp. My AP Math teacher can be a real ball buster with the homework, but taking the Advanced Placement class let me qualify for the Electronics class. So, as my dad likes to say, “No pain…no gain.”

Hi, my name is Brian Peters. I’m a geek, a shrimp and a freshman in highschool, so I get picked on by the upperclassmen a lot. I prefer to think of myself as “agile”, but the upper classmen don’t see it that way. Hey, I’m 5’ 5”, and 130lbs soaking wet. My dad is 6’ 1” and my Mom is 5’ 10”, so there is hope that I will grow some. My dad says that he didn’t really start growing until his junior year of High School. Just be patient he says. Yeah, right! It’s not that I can’t be patient. It has more to do with how the upperclassmen like to try and “accidently” knock me into the lockers between classes.

I say, “try”, due to the fact that they very rarely ever succeed. I like to think that I have high “situational awareness” and I think it has almost become a game to some of them. If I was more of an optimist, I would even think that some of them are starting to kind of like me. They sometimes laugh and yell out, “Almost got you that time shrimp!” Maybe I am just reading too much into it.

I might be on the small side, but I’ve been studying Jujitsu for the last year and my core body strength is very good. I’m not ripped or anything, but I’m definitely starting to feel stronger. The Jujitsu training started after the third time I came home from middle school with my clothes torn and bloody. Mom and Dad did some research into the local martial schools and selected Aikido or Jujitsu as a good starting point for me. They ended up selecting Jujitsu after meeting with Sensei Rogers and speaking with him about his program and philosophy. I thought he was a little too strict, but I didn’t have a lot of input into their decision.

What “belt” am I? Sensei doesn’t really have a formal belt color system, but when I went to a martial arts competition couple of months ago, Sensei told me to wear a purple belt. If Sensei Rogers used belt ranks, purple is before brown which is before black. Yeah, I’m getting good, but I am most definitely not the next Jackie Chan!

So, if I am so good at this Jujitsu thing, then why do I still get picked on you might ask? It’s all about my size and the fact that if I did get into a fight, it had better be because fighting was the last resort. I also know that I could really hurt someone. I know this because of what happened about a month before I graduated from the 8th grade.

At the time, I’d only been taking Jujitsu for a month. My nemesis and school bully, Billy Samuals, decided that it had been over two months since he last beat me up. Thus, I needed a refresher beat down. Here’s how it all went down. Billy spotted me entering the bathroom. He and his stooges follow. I read Billy’s intent to perform his trademark “swirly” upon my person. He attempted to grab me and I responded by performing the throw I learned two weeks prior. Billy hit his head on the floor and ended up with a mild concussion. It was self-defense, but thanks to the zero tolerance policy, we were both threatened with expulsion and suspended from school for three days.

My parents have a total “fighting never solved anything” philosophy. As a result, I got grounded for two weeks with no TV, no GEO ( Good and Evil Online ) or going outside to play. Sensei Rogers just asked me to describe the fight and then, he asked how I could have avoided the fight. Finally, he told me that my technique was wrong and that I was lucky that I didn’t break Billy’s neck. He ‘rewarded’ me with remedial training by making me the practice dummy for a week to remind me of the importance of perfect technique. Talk about pain.

In a perfect universe, you would think that the bully would have learned his lesson and left me alone. Unfortunately, in my universe, Billy was on his head and I was out the door so fast that he and his stooges chalked it up to a “lucky slip”. He never got the chance to try something again that year, but I could tell he wanted too.

Okay, done with my homework! Now I just have to read another three pages of Sun Tzu for my Jujitsu homework. High School homework is hard enough, but Sensei Rogers also likes to assign homework. Not just the usual martial arts practice your katas stuff, but reading assignments too. Since Sensei Rogers is ex-military, he assigns reading material that range from the biography of Winston Churchill to the timeless “Art of War” by Sun Tzu. Yeah, Sun Tzu, the old dead guy who suggested that putting your warriors into certain death situations was a good way to motivate them to fight. I’m guessing Sun Tzu never heard of fratricide?

Okay, so compared to English Literature, three pages doesn’t sound like a lot of reading, but not getting the obscure meaning behind the protagonists words in English Lit doesn’t get physically painful. Sensei Rogers expects you to actually understand and think about his reading assignments. Cliff Notes versions need not apply.

He always has some practical lesson in mind and you do not want to be the one to miss the implied lesson. It gets real painful if you fail to catch the deeper meanings behind the assignment. However; I must admit that some of my Sensei’s teaching has helped with my gaming. Quoting snippets of Sun Tzu has done wonders for my character’s role playing points. Okay, so now that I think about it. There was one time last month that I automatically responded to an overwhelming ambush with the Sun Tzu philosophy of “Attack!” and I ended up being the only survivor in my group. So, I guess there is some benefit to Sensei’s idea of homework.

“The homework is done!” I gleefully cackle and then, follow that up with my mock computer voice. “Parental Unit Satisfaction…Complete! Login…Initiated.” Hehe, it was finally time to login to the crack pipe everyone else knows as the computer game called GEO.

The sight of Whisper rotating on the screen wearing her matte black thief’s outfit while gracefully performing random combat moves makes me sigh with regret. I’m in the middle of a tricky, group-only quest, which means I can’t play her without the other people from the group and none of those players will be online tonight.

“Hmmm…can’t play my main. I’ll try my low level Fire mage alt instead.” I grumble a bit as I move my mouse to select my scrawny robe wearing mage character from the character selection screen. Oh well, maybe it would be fun to be able to blow some stuff up instead of being all sneaky.

Yes, Whisper is a female character and yes, I am a guy playing a girl. Do you have that out of your system now? Lots of guys play female characters; it’s not a big deal. I think the female characters look nicer and if I am going to be forced to stare at my character’s butt for hours at a time, I’d much rather stare at a pretty girl’s butt!

I don’t think it makes me a perv or ‘gay’ because I figure that the majority of “female” characters in the game are really just guys anyway. It’s just safer to think that way because it keeps me from feeling attracted to them. I mean, what hormone driven geek guy wouldn’t dream of hanging out with a beautiful, kick-ass girl while they kill monsters together?

I’ve seen new players make passes at female characters. It is just sad to know that I could’ve been that dude. I’ve even had a few make passes at me, but when I tell them, “I’m a guy dude!” That is usually enough to stop that crap right in its tracks. Of course, I’ve heard there are real girls who say that just to stop the pervs.

I’m not sure how effective pulling the “guy” card will be in the future because GEO recently added a new roleplaying feature. Somehow, the wizard programmers for the game added a very good Text to Speech and Character Voice Module. There is some text chatting, but most ‘chat’ is via a microphone and the game changes your voice to match your character’s gender. I speak using my normal geek boy voice into my microphone and out comes Whisper’s sexy female voice for everyone to hear. It’s positively weird and that’s the main reason I prefer to go solo or only join guild run groups because random pickup groups are the worst for creepy guys trying to flirt with me.

Since I play Whisper so much, I always have problems adjusting from a melee combat play style to a magic based, ranged combat style. With Whisper, I have to get right up to my enemy. Preferably, behind them without them seeing me and then, I unleash one, explosive burst of melee attack damage that drops them instantly. If I fail to drop my target within the first few attacks, things can go downhill real fast because a rogue isn’t built to stand toe to toe with the bad guys. She’s more durable than a mage, but if things don’t go right, it can get real exciting.

Now, my mage is the exact opposite. For him, I engage the enemy from max range and blow them to smithereens before they can hit me. First, I hit my carefully selected target with a snare spell to slow them down and then, I blast them before they get close enough to do hit me. It’s almost too easy but, unlike Whisper, my mage can’t take a hit and has fewer hit points. Even the smallest bit of damage will slow down or stop my spell casting, which usually means that I’m dead and making a corpse run back to the battle from the nearest graveyard.

~o~O~o~

< GEO Core Warning: GEO.Player.Object.Seramis world integrity threat level threshold reached. Reality calculations chaos factor introduced.>

< GEO System recommends deletion of Player.Object.Seramis>

< GEO Resource Matching Process Initiated>

< GEO Resource Match Found>

< GEO.Player.Object.Whisper.Skill: match requirements=90%>

< GEO.Player.Object.Whisper.Note: play style score indicates training in irregular military operations>

< GEO.Player.Object.Whisper primary mission Probability Factor=85% >

< GEO.Player.Object.Whisper secondary mission Probability Factor=95% >

< GEO Program Execute: Player.Object.Whisper.Quest='Seramis'>

< GEO Core Warning: Quest.Seramis Level Override Initiated>

< GEO Program Execute: Player.Object.Whisper.Quest.Level='Relic' >

< GEO Core Warning: Quest.Seramis System Priority Override Initiated>

< GEO Program Execute: Player.Object.Whisper.Quest.Priority='MAX'>



~o~O~o~

Looking around, I spot a nice, large rat that I need for my rat tails quest. I take the time to make sure I’m at max range and then, I cast my snare spell. It turns toward me and I cast my biggest fire bolt. My biggest fire bolt isn’t that big. It normally causes a little poof of flame and I have to cast it at least once more before the rat dies, but when it hits the rat, the rat explodes and becomes a crispy hole in the ground.

“What the!?!” I totally did not expect that to happen.

I hear someone laughing from behind me. Turning, I spot a very high level wizard standing there and looking very amused.

“Damn it Shockem! I needed that one for my quest!”

“Sorry dude. I couldn’t resist and you shoulda seen your face.” He doesn’t sound very sorry about it.

I find anger melting as I consider his gag. Yeah, I have to admit; it was kinda funny. “What are you doing here? You can’t be bored enough to kill-steal from newbies.”

“The boss needs to see Whisper ASAP.”

“Whisper is quest locked right now, I can’t play her.”

“I know, but Lord Vincint says that a side quest has opened up for the guild that looks custom made for your main’s skills.”

That’s a little unusual, but oh well. “Hmmm, okay. Tell him that I’m on my way.”

He nods once before he disappears into a personal gate portal.

I find a safe spot in town to park my character before returning to the character selection screen. Whisper is patiently waiting for me and whatever this quest is, it must be a pretty high level to get Lord Vincint to send Shockem to find my alt. This is so exciting!

I hit the “Enter World” button and I’m mildly surprised to find myself already inside the guild alliance command center tent. I decide to remain standing unobtrusively in the background as I take in the atmosphere and formulate some go-to-hell escape options. Not that I expect to need a fast way out of here, but I do have a reputation to maintain and it’s kind of a habit since I can’t count on spawning someplace safe when I enter the game.

The guild council of leaders are huddled around a large table with the world map held down with some personal daggers. Leading the bunch is Lord Vincint. He’s the guy wearing the highly polished full plate armor with all the magical special effects glowing on its surface. Can you say, “Here I am! Hit me now!”? I sure can and you wouldn’t catch me wearing something like that in a million years. Lord Vincint is the leader of the largest and most powerful guild on the server, The Order of the Four Winds (OFW). As the leader of OFW, he is expected to head up the Council of Guilds. Sounds like trying to herd cats to to me.

The assorted guild leaders seem to be having an animated discussion about how Seramis, the self-styled Bandit Queen, is making travel and commerce harder for merchants that travel through her territory. The GEO game forums have all been flooded with posts that praise her, condemn her and outright flame her. The forums are a cesspit, but you can sometimes learn some good stuff. The majority of forum trolls seems to be wondering why her “kingdom” is even being allowed by The Game to exist. In a world of Light and Dark forces, a Neutral force seems out of place. Maybe Seramis’ Kingdom is really just an Evil plot in disguise? She certainly isn’t on the Light side’s payroll!

“Lord Vincint, since Lady Whisper hasn’t arrived yet, do you have any theories about what this new GM Quest is all about?” Lord Calrent asks, Guild Leader of the “Fates of Prophecy” guild.

“Fates” is the second most powerful guild on our server. I actually think that guild ranking system is just an e-penis thing, but I’m not high enough on the totem pole to really understand, nor do I want to be. Being a guild officer is just too much like work and I’m playing the game to just have fun.

“No, I do not Lord Calrent, but the GM’s opened the quest to our Alliance. Not just a standard level quest, but one that specifically requested one of my members by name. I do have some concerns regarding why the quest seems keyed to a specific character and why we were tasked to deliver the quest to her.” Lord Vincint says, looking very concerned and leaderly. I think I just made that word up, but I kinda like it.

Wow! I’ve been playing for a little over a year now and this is the first I have ever heard of a guild level quest that requires a specific player.

“Yes, but does it have to be Whisper? After her stunt with the Font, I don’t trust her!” Lord Calrent says, scowling like he just ate a lemon.

Lord Vincint appears to give the grumpy man’s statement some thought. “I am aware of your concerns about her ‘character’, but she really is one of the best, if not the best rogue the forces of Light has.”

“Don’t you mean thief?” Lord Calrent asks, his voice dripping with venom.

Geez, He really holds a grudge, doesn’t he?

Lord Vincint patiently sighs before continuing. “Her ‘profession’ isn’t the issue here and for the record, I trust her completely. It’s this quest scroll that I am most concerned about. It screams of high level GM intervention.”

Okay, if I ever group up with Lord Vincint, I will not ‘accidentally’ let him get hit by a trap. Hey, it happens. Group has a jerk and the nice rogue ‘forgets’ to check for a trap or stop the jerk from killing themselves.

On that note, I decide to make my presence known.

I key up my mic and say, “Lord Vincint, did you need to see me for something?” As I say that with my geeky voice, I hear Whisper politely address the council with a dangerous, feminine sounding purr as she gracefully stalks from out of the shadows and into the light with an impish smile on her face. I take a perverse pride in my craft when I see them all twitch with surprise while the guards scramble to grab their weapons.

Sorry, geek moment here. I still can’t get over the GEO Voice Disguiser. It has got to be FM or F’ing Magic in more technical terms. Computers have a very hard time getting human speech patterns down right. Simple things that we take for granted. Things like inflection and subtle tone differences that can completely change the meaning of a word. How in the heck did GEO know to a) speak with a “polite” tone of voice and b) use a dangerous and feminine and purr!? What the heck? I don’t even know how to speak that way. It just gives me goose bumps hearing my character say that simple phrase and I’m the one who “said” it. This game is just too darn immersive sometimes.

“Ahh, Lady Whisper, I am glad you could make it so soon.” Lord Vincint says with a bemused smirk. He probably knows that I’ve been eavesdropping for a few minutes.

Again, spooky immersion levels here.

“I am not sure how much you have overheard,”

Yep, he knew. Busted.

Lord Vincint reaches for the quest scroll. “But could you take a look at this quest and let us know what you think?”

As soon as Whisper’s hand touches the scroll, it glows and unlocks, allowing me to read it. This mystery just keeps getting weirder by the second. I didn’t expect the quest that was delivered to the Guild Council to only be readable by me. That little fact explains the council’s current mild state of apprehension mixed with excitement.

~o~O~o~

Greetings Lady Whisper,

The Council of Elders regrets the subterfuge and humbly requests your expertise resolving a threat to The Balance. Thanks to the Alliance of Light, the Forces of Dark have been held in check for many months. However; Evil never rests and a new threat is emerging from the shadows.

Seramis, The Queen of Bandits has successfully secured her territory from both Good and Evil. While admirable, it makes it nearly impossible to keep secret the contents of materials that must pass through her territory. One such shipment is scheduled to move through her territory tomorrow evening. It must not be discovered. The only way to ensure its delivery is to distract Seramis at a critical time.

Secrecy is of the utmost importance and no one must know of your mission. Not even your leaders. If they knew, they would feel honor bound to stop you.

As a Child of Light, if you chose to accept this lonely quest, its dark nature will place a burden upon your very soul. Seramis is an excellent leader and a very dangerous foe. She is very well protected by both physical and magical wards. It will not be an easy task, but the Council of Elders feel that you are the best chance that this world has for success.

Do you wish to Accept this Quest? Yes/No

~o~O~o~

“Holy shit!” I accidently slip out the s-word, but I am feeling pretty pole axed right now. I couldn’t believe what I just finished reading.

The Game and I do mean “The Game” as a proper noun, has just given me a quest to kill another player’s character. No, I take that back, not just kill, but to assassinate an actual player’s character. Sure, they didn’t say ‘kill’, they said ‘distract’, but how in the heck does a rogue ‘distract’ someone like Seramis?!?!

Hey, Lady Seramis. Fancy meeting you here at your impregnable fortress. Oh, how did I get here? That’s not important, but now that I have you alone; what do you think of the Yankees chance to win the World Series this year?

Oh yeah, that would totally distract her and leave me a burning crisp.

GEO is a Player versus Player ( PvP ) game at its core, but the PvP isn’t usually personal. The battles are large scale and during those battles, players are killed and kill other player’s characters. It’s a completely different PvP scenario. You’re in a battle; you kind of know the risk and accept that you might be killed by another player. This quest is basically asking for me to use my thief skills to become a virtual cold blooded murderer, a “Player Killer” or a PKer in gamer terms.

There are very stiff penalties and in game consequences for PKer. They are the most hated and hunted player in the game. Shunned by all, they cannot enter towns without being arrested or attacked by the town’s guard forces and players. Regular guilds won’t let them join and even if they redeem themselves, the PK taint follows them around for the rest of their characters “life”.

“Lady Whisper, is something wrong?” Lord Vincint asks with concern evident in his voice and on his character’s face.

It looks like I am again the victim of the UI. I’m sure my character’s face and body language reflected my shock. How do I salvage this now embarrassing situation?

“Ummm, Sorry Lord Vincint, but…” I start to reply while furiously trying to think of a good excuse for my reaction.

“I was just startled when my cat jumped on my lap and dug in with her claws.” I say as my shock starts to recede. I don’t even have a cat, but it’s all I can think of in such short notice that might explain my character’s reactions. Okay, now what? I got to get out of here fast! I need to think about this and there is no way I can let them know what is really on this quest scroll.

Lord Vincint looks relieved as he chuckles. “Oh yeah, I’ve had that happen to me before too. What does the quest scroll say?”

“Oh, nothing much, just the standard, sneak into someplace you’re not supposed to be and do something you’re not supposed to do. You know, the usual.” I say, striving for the most bored tone of voice that I can manage.

I can tell by his character’s expression that he’s going to ask for more details. A GM quest is kind of a big deal. It’s time to mix things up a bit.

“Oh pooh!” Yes, I just said “pooh”. Really, I’m just trying to stay in character here. It’s called role playing! Honest. “I think I hear my Mom yelling. Gotta go!” I yell as I implement one of my go-tell-hell escape plans and get the heck out of the place.

Once out of the tent, I make a beeline through the camp for the nearby tree line. “Shit. Shit. Shit. That was so stupid of me. I could have handled the situation better. I am so screwed!” I curse myself as Whisper runs out of the alliance camp and disappears into the woods.

“Crap! I wish I was a better liar sometimes!” I mutter, feeling very frustrated with myself. I’ve never have been a good liar. You might think that as a teenager with a younger sister, I would be a pro at it. Well, that is so not the case.

My Mom has some kind of Super Mom Lie Detection power. I don’t know how she does it, but I have never been able to get away with a lie. I’ve learned that it’s just easier and less painful to just tell the truth all the time. Hence, I really suck at lying. I need some time to think. What in the heck am I going to do?

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 2 **

Lord Vincint and the council members glanced at each other with stunned amazement after Lady Whisper made good on her “escape”. Lord Vincint thought he caught a glimpse of her thief’s mask covering her face just before the room’s shadows appeared to stretch and cloak her body. Her form blurred as she moved an uncanny speed that made it hard for the eye to follow and he found it impossible to figure out exactly where she was as his perceptions were misdirected by the shifting shadows. The people in her path felt only the faint breeze that her hurried passage caused as she moved past them to disappear into the night outside the command tent.

“Lord, should we give chase?” The AI controlled Captain of the Guards asked, looking just as confused as the real players.

“That will not be necessary Captain. She isn’t the enemy. At least, I don’t think so.” Lord Vincint said, not feeling confident about his own judgment. As a scout and spy for the Forces of Light, her skills had proven invaluable. It could easily be argued that the Light side would have lost their last battle if not for her, but she shunned attention and refused to let him give her the credit she rightfully deserved. There was no reason for her to flee the tent and her out of character action only confused him more.

I wasn’t expecting to need to be worrying about anything like this tonight. It sure does make for a lot of stress in something that’s just supposed to be a game.” Lord Vincint or Jim Stiles as he was known in real-life, thought.

Jim’s real-life adventures as the prosecuting attorney for the City of Norfolk, Virginia caused him enough stress as it was. His almost nightly escape into the game world was important to his sanity because dealing with the depressingly gray and sometimes seedy underbelly in the pursuit of justice sometimes left him craving the simplicity of Good versus Evil that the game provided.

Filling the role of guild leader for one of the largest and most powerful guilds on the server did add some stress to his life, but it was still an escape from his real life. His gaming schedule was aided by his wife’s often busy schedule as pediatrician at the Hampton Roads General Hospital. She often worked late shifts and sometimes a weekend when she was on-call. It made their love life feel a little lacking at times, but he loved her with all his heart.

With a sigh, Jim returned his focus back to the virtual world. The guild council members were looking to him for leadership and answers and Lord Vincint had some information to gather and a leadership decisions to make.

“My Lords and Ladies, I apologize for the confusion. It’s probably nothing, but I’ll send her a PM on our guild’s message board to get to the bottom of this.”

~o~O~o~

Whisper leaned back against the rough bark of the ancient tree and crossed her arms against her chest, her petulant expression hidden under her black thief’s mask. Her right leg supported her weight, while the other foot was bent behind her and pressed against the trunk. If it wasn’t for the fact that there was a thirty foot drop to forest floor below, one might think she was simply standing relaxed against a city street wall. She growled in frustration as Brian leaned back in his computer chair with a sigh.

I’ve read the damn quest text over and over, hoping that it would somehow magically change to something that made sense to me. Why me? Why not some Evil player assassin? I’m a good aligned thief for crying out loud! I find and disarm traps so my teammates can get the good loot. I scout and when I must fight, I fight in direct support of my team to help take down a tough monster faster. I don’t do murder!

Why does Seramis need to die and why is it so important that I be the one to PK Seramis’ character? It looks like a no-win scenario to me; there must be something I’m missing. Surely the game wouldn’t give me an “Evil” quest, would it? Seriously, could you see Marala, that demon chick from the evil side getting a quest to rescue kids from a burning orphanage?

If Lord Vincint really knew what was going on with this quest; he would probably order me to not do the quest or arrest Whisper if I disobeyed his order. That might have made things a bit simpler though. I doubt that I could’ve escaped with all of the players and guards in the camp actively trying to stop me.

The bleeping quest reward had better be damn good!

“Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I accepted the quest and additional information appeared on the quest scroll with a gem materializing in mid-air for my character to grab.

~o~O~o~

Thank you Lady Whisper,

Your Time of Testing is at hand. The path you have chosen of your own free will to accept on behalf of the Forces of Light will be fraught with peril and hardship.

Once you succeed with your mission, you will be awarded 5,000,000 experience points, a server transfer and a new identity. If you die, then you will be doomed to walk the halls of dead heroes forever more.

Use the gem to signal Seramis’ death and be ported to safety.

Timing is critical. You have twenty four hours to complete this quest.

~o~O~o~

“Whoa!” I freaking cannot believe that! I didn’t think that this quest could get any weirder, but as usual, I was wrong. My heart is pounding and my stomach feels like I am on a roller coaster.

I was right! It is a ‘contract’ to kill Lady Seramis. All the euphemisms were pure BS, but that’s some crazy experience!

I’ve seen quest rewards of hundred thousand experience for a long, epic storyline quest, but no one has ever received five million experience points! The new identity thing is pretty radical too. It would have to let me change everything about Whisper, appearance, gender and hopefully her name.

The gender switch could be nice. I have often wondered how much less of a hassle it would be if I had made Whisper a guy. I’d have to slowly rebuild my identity. It would be pretty suspicious to have a master level thief just suddenly appear when Whisper disappeared. Whisper is a damn good name for a thief though….hmmm. Maybe I could just make a male Whisper? The name isn’t really male or female. Nah, I think that if I am successful with this hit, Whisper’s name is going to be pretty darn noticeable. Sh-shoot.

Oh well.

“Hmmm…I think Seramis’ stronghold is somewhere west of here.” I softly mutter as I open up the in-game map.

Looks like it would be at least two days of hard riding on horseback from here since the quest didn’t port me as part of the deal.

Let’s see here now. I have about an hour before I have to be in bed. I’ve got maybe an hour and half, if I am real lucky and my Mom doesn’t notice me. Even if I could somehow magically get myself there, I would then have to sneak my way through her territory, and then get into her place undetected. Next, I would have to find someplace inside to hide out during the day while I am offline and at school. Finally, I would need to find Seramis, kill her and escape.

“I am sooo screwed!” I squeeze my eyes shut and tug on my hair with frustration. I hate no-win scenarios. It’s time to think outside of the box.

Okay, so to do this in the time limit, I’d have to be able to fly, right?

Whisper can’t fly and I don’t own a flying mount. I am beginning to think that the GM’s want me to fail.

“Wait a second…” I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. This is going to be so much fun!

Whisper’s eyes sparkle as a devilish grin forms on her face.

~o~O~o~

The AI controlled guard patrolling the stables watched as Lord Vincint entered the stable that contained his flying griffon mount. The guard took note of the fact that Lord Vincint appeared to have entered the stable compound from the direction of the command tent. Finally, five minutes later, the guard turned to watch Lord Vincint fly his griffon east and towards the capital.

While the AI was good and probably more alert than a player controlled guard would have been. It still saw what it expected to see and missed the fact that Lord Vincint was still in the command tent. A bored out of their mind, player controlled guard would probably have been more curious. They would have made it a point to walk over to watch Lord Vincint saddle the rare and expensive griffon. While almost everyone in the game had a horse for travel, a griffon mount was the equivalent of a shiny red Porsche or Ferrari. Griffons were so rare and expensive that one always attracted the attention and admiration of the lower level players.

~o~O~o~

Once Lord Vincint and his griffon flew out of sight of the camp, his form began to shimmer and fade to reveal Whisper sitting astride the griffon. She directed the griffon to make a wide circle around the camp area before turning west to reach her real destination. She giggled with excitement as Brian let out the breath that he felt like he had been holding for hours.

Holy shit! I can’t believe that I just pulled that off! Did you freaking see that? I just stole my guild leader’s griffon!” I excitedly pound the arms of my chair. I always wanted to get a flying mount for Whisper, but my meager savings always seemed to be needed for some piece of gear upgrade or thief tool set. The prices people charge for thief’s tools. I think the tool craftsmen are the real thieves!

The major advantage to flying instead of walking or riding is that you can just point the griffon in the direction that you want to go and then, sit back and relax. No worries about getting ambushed by random monsters or evil players. No need to constantly adjust course due to terrain. I think that I will walk downstairs and grab a soda. Oh yeah, and a bathroom break! Whoo Hoo!

Hmmm…maybe I should skip the soda. It’s kind of late and the sound of me opening a soda would probably raise my parent aggro rating. Something I do not need right now. I’ll grab some water instead.

I double check my map and make a slight course correction and then, I sit back and watch Whisper riding the griffon. The view is really very nice from up here. Whisper is silhouetted against the moon and stars. The dark forest and shining rivers far below are a sight to see. Whisper’s raven black hair is blowing in the wind. I really like the hairstyle that I picked for her. I can’t tell you what the style is called, but it’s short in the back with long bangs that frame her face and end in points near her chin. Some of the women that take Sensei Roger’s class get that style so that their hair doesn’t get pulled. Sensei loves to demonstrate just how easy it is for an attacker to use a woman’s long hair against her. Don’t even think about trying to come to class with a ponytail!

I take her mask off and rotate the camera around to look at her face. Her flawless computer generated skin, dark red lips with large almond shaped brilliant green eyes really do look stunning. The wind whips her hair around to expose the evidence of her elven heritage, her ears. They make her look even more exotic.

I’d totally hit on her if she was real! Geez, I am such a loser! Who am I kidding? If she was real and I tried to talk to her, she would just laugh in my face. Oh yeah, then she would probably kick my ass. Hehe

Oh yeah, something to drink. I think “While I’m downstairs I will show my face and suck up to my parents. Maybe that will make them less likely to check on me if they think that I’m not playing the game.”

Okay, the parents are watching their shows and barely even notice me. Oh noes, my parents have been turned into tele-zombies! Arg! Grrr!

Excellent!

I should have an extra half hour to get things set up before I get caught staying up. I gulp down a glass of water and run back to my room.

Oops, looks like Seramis’ territory is coming up fast. I re-equip Whisper’s mask as I look for a spot to land before I am spotted by a lucky patrol or something. I find an opening in the forest and instruct the griffon to land there.

It only took me thirty minutes to cover the distance that it would have taken me two or even three days on horseback. I really need to get me one of these flying mounts. They make getting around so much easier!

I click the mouse to dismount Whisper from the griffon. Then I spin her around to get a look around the small clearing for any sign of trouble.

I don’t spot anything, so I whisper to the griffon, “Now go fly home, please! That’s a good boy or girl. Hehe”

I am relieved when the griffon takes off and appears to leave in a direction that would take it back towards its stable. Maybe I will get lucky and the griffon will fly back to its stable and maybe it will get back without Lord Vincint even noticing that it was missing. Oh, who am I kidding? Murphy’s Law is never going to allow that much good luck to happen for me.

Lord Vincint is going to be so pissed!

Do you want to know what the real sucky part about me stealing his griffon is?

The real sucky part is that I will never be able to tell anyone! I mean, come on! I just stole Lord Vincint’s personal griffon. The supreme leader of the Forces of Light! I stole it right out from the middle of his own fortified camp! By the gods, when that gets out, every thief in the world is going to turn green with envy!

The next part would probably have them pissing in their pants though.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 3 **

Even with Lady Whisper’s confusing departure, Lord Vincint still had some unfinished business for the assembled guild leaders to discuss. It was boring, administrative crap and he wished that Whisper’s strange quest would’ve been cause to cancel the meeting, but the questions raised by her quest could probably wait until the next day when she logged on.

Two frustrating, yet semi-productive hours later, Lord Vincint warmly bid each member of the council good bye and good night.

“Do you need a port before I call it a night?” Lady Celeste accidently yawned and blushed. “Sorry, it’s been a long night.”

Lord Vincint chuckled. “That’s okay and yes, it has, but I have a griffon to get me back. Thanks for the offer.”

“Oh, that must be really nice! I’ve never flown before, what is it like?” Lady Celeste asked as she started to prepare her teleport spell to take her home for the evening.

“Very fun and worth every gold piece that I spent! I highly recommend that you get yourself one my Lady.” Lord Vincint said with a smile as he walked toward the tent's exit.

Stepping outside of the tent and inhaling a breath of fresh air, Lord Vincint tiredly made his way to the stables so that he could ride his griffon back to his palace in the capital.

He felt mildly amused to see the guard’s eyes grow to the size of saucers at the sight of him walking towards the stables. He was not amused in the slightest when he discovered his griffon missing from its stable.

“Where in the hell did my griffon go?!?!” Lord Vincint growled, his expression fierce with rage and confusion.

“My Lord…please forgive me,” The guard trembled. “I watched you leave upon its back and head towards the capital a mere forty minutes ago.”

Thinking furiously, Lord Vincint reached a troubling conclusion.

“Whisperrrr...” He growled with frustration.

~o~O~o~

Okay, it’s 9:15 PM and time to get down to business here. The business is sneaking and the sneaking is good!

I crack myself up sometimes.

According to my calculations, I should have at least 45 minutes before my parent’s TV show ends. It’s times like this that I am glad that they don’t use the DVR for their shows. They like to claim that skipping the commercials or recording and watching a show later isn’t as good. I think that it is just because my Mom doesn’t want to figure out the remote and my dad keeps messing up with the commercial skip. The first few weeks that we got the DVR all I heard from my Mom was, “John! You skipped forward too far! Rewind!” or “Hey! I wanted to watch that commercial. Ooohhh, nice sale prices there!

I just go comfy in my chair before I remember a possibly critical detail. “Blackout conditions activated!”

I shut off the lights in my room and return to my comfy chair. “Okay, lights off, headphones on. Super stealth powers, engage! Whisper, you have the con.” I mock order myself.

“Zzzzzhhhhiiiiippppp!” I say, adding my own cloaking sound effect to help me get in character. I need to be totally in the zone for this next bit, but I feel so alive right now. Despite the troubling quest objectives, the sneaking and getting past impenetrable defenses is what really gets my heart excited.

Okay, I better concentrate now. Whisper is getting close to the border and I really need to pay attention. I put on my headphones and focus on guiding my character through the magical mine field.

~o~O~o~

Whisper noted the faint glowing red line that represented a basic enemy detection and warning ward located just inside the border of Seremis’s kingdom. She frowned and carefully scanned the area to make sure there wasn’t anyone watching her.

Her thief’s mask was more than just a way to hide the reflection of her face. It closely resembled one of those porcelain play masks that some people liked to hang on their walls for decoration. Unlike those highly decorated and glossy masks, her mask was matte black with amber tinted lenses covering the eyes. The lenses were what really made her mask unique among thieves masks. The lenses not only helped to protect her eyes, but they also gave her a magically enhanced sight. With this sight, she could see perfectly in the dark and most importantly, it enabled her to see magic and spells as lines that looked like ropes or strings depending on how powerful the magic was.

Most magical spells that guarded doors and locks looked more like string or even fishing line. They didn’t have the power that a fireball spell would need. The wards used to guard doors and chests were very low powered, but they often acted as the trigger for the much more powerful spells that mages liked to use to punish anyone foolish enough to try and open the object that they warded.

Just being able to see the magic wasn’t enough of an edge. She also needed a way to manipulate the magical lines. That is where her magical thief’s tools and thief’s gloves came into play. The tools were for the fine traps hidden in locks, while the gloves enabled her to touch and manipulate the larger magical lines used in protection circles and area wards.

Simply stepping over a warding line would alert whoever was watching the ward that someone had just entered the area, how many and from where they had entered. A detachment of soldiers could then be dispatched to the area to apprehend the trespasser.

Whisper couldn’t have that. She quickly double checked the lines that represented the ward to make sure there wasn’t some hidden trap and then, she carefully reached under the ward line and lifted it up a few feet as she fluidly passed under the ward. Carefully, she placed the ward line back on the ground and continued on her way. From start to finish, it took her less than thirty seconds to pass the first obstacle on her way to Seramis’ distant stronghold.

Wrapped in shadows and using the night as her shield, Whisper was effectively invisible as she raced to get closer to the stronghold. Her quick and graceful stride ate up the miles until she spotted a second and more powerful ward at the halfway point fifteen minutes later. The magic of the ward pulsed with an angry purple color. She could only guess what this one would do if someone foolishly tripped over it, but it probably wouldn’t be pleasant.

Again, she carefully double checked the simple looking ward for any hidden tricks before she repeated the process that she had used to bypass the first ward. Unlike the first ward, this one hummed and vibrated with angry potential as she lifted the line to quickly pass under it.

A few minutes later, Whisper found a dark shadow to hide herself while Brian removed his headphones and pushed himself away from his desk.

It’s almost 10pm now. I think that if I brushed my teeth and said goodnight to my Mom and Dad, I might be able to sneak another 20 or 30 minutes of play time tonight. That should allow me to get Whisper to a good hiding spot for tomorrow. It would really suck if I go through all this trouble just to have Whisper get caught due to the dumb AI doing something wrong while I am at school!

~o~O~o~

After walking his character back to the command tent, Jim activated his world map and stared at it while ideas and connections started to percolate in the back of his mind. The time spent lost in thought allowed him to calm down and almost see the humor in the situation. What Whisper had done took some real skill and daring. He could hardly wait to hear all the lost griffon jokes that were bound to become very popular. Jim idly noted that his wife had come home from work when he heard the garage door open and close.

It must be after midnight. Oh yeah, Julie got the late baby delivery shift today. She has got to be beat.

Returning to the game problem, Jim noted the following facts on a notepad:

  1. Quest specified Whisper.

  2. Whisper is a highly skilled thief and spy.

  3. Whisper indicated that the quest was an infiltration into a secured area.

  4. Whisper claimed to need to exit game.

  5. Approximately ten minutes later, my griffon was stolen.

  6. Thief assumed to be Whisper.

Jim was mulling over those points when Julie entered his office.

“Honey, it’s late. We should go to bed and ummm..sleep.” He heard his wife whisper in his ear as she nibbled on his ear lobe seductively. Breathing in her delicate floral scent, he turned to look at his wife. Jim noted that she was wearing a new Victoria Secret’s outfit. Not much was left to be a secret, but what was a secret, sure was captivating.

“Um, yes Jewels, I do believe you are right. We should ummmm…sleep.” Jim said with a kiss as he quickly disconnected from GEO. His game problem was quickly forgotten as his wife made sure that he found his way to their bedroom.

~o~O~o~

The AI that controlled Lord Vincint during the players absence from the world, noticed the sound of a griffon’s wings passing from the west and over the command tent on its way to the stables. Lord Vincint rushed to the stables to see if it was his griffon. After verifying that it was his griffon, the AI noticed that the griffon needed to be fed, so it grabbed some rabbits from the stable’s stores. It ended up taking ten rabbits to sate the griffon’s hunger. The AI made a note of the amount taken from the stables stores.

Once the griffon was fed, Lord Vincint double checked the griffon’s flying harness. Finding it sound, he walked his griffon out of the stable, mounted it and directed for it to fly him to his keep near the capital.

~o~O~o~

Whisper looked up at the shear walls of Seramis’ stronghold. She had managed to dodge two human patrols and spotted the magical energies of a roving magical sentry eye before its operator spotted her. It was essentially a magic floating eyeball that a security mage remotely operated. The eye would’ve spelled the end of the road for most intruders. It was actively invisible and perfectly silent. Whisper wasn’t really able to see the eye, but with her mask, she could see the magical lines and knots that made up the spell the eye represented.

Most sentry eyes could see invisible and had perfect night vision. Some eyes could even see into the infra-red spectrum, but those were pretty rare since the first two vision modes could see most threats. Since Whisper wasn’t really invisible in the traditional sense, she wasn’t worried about the invisibility detection. The perfect night vision was the hardest for Whisper to defeat. Her form of invisibility depended upon the shadows and dark to hide her. Since she spotted the eye before it spotted her, she was able to avoid it by casting a simple illusion spell. Crouching down, her form briefly shimmered as it took on the appearance of a large piece of broken rock that might have been discarded during the stronghold’s construction.

Hardly daring to breath, Whisper waited an extra minute after the eye passed her position and around the next corner before she allowed her minor illusion to fade. Standing up, she quickly approached the portion of the stronghold’s outer wall that had the most shadows. She slipped on her climbing claws over her thief’s gloves and boots before she quickly and silently made her way up the sheer wall by using every tiny crack, mortar seam and surface imperfection that only a master thief could even hope to exploit.

Pausing at the top, she remained hidden in the shadows as she noted the fixed and roving guard positions. After getting the pattern down, she tossed a small pebble behind the nearest fixed guard and used his momentary distraction to smoothly blend into the next shadow behind him. Even though the interior was well lit with torches, it was easier to move from shadow to shadow on the inside of the wall because the torches that were used liberally to light the stronghold’s interior flickered and cast moving shadows all on their own.

The torches also helped to destroy the guard’s night vision. One more “flickering shadow” in the night was easy for a guard to ignore. Suddenly, she heard someone talking nearby as Brian froze in a panic.

“I’ll be to bed in a minute dear.” I hear my Mom say from outside my door.

Oh crap! It’s 10:20PM. I only needed another five or ten minutes to find a good hiding spot for Whisper.

“I’m just going to brush my teeth, then I think that I will tuck in my lovable and sleeping son for old time’s sake.” I hear my Mom mock yell to my dad.

Crap! She knows. I was so close! I wonder how long it will take her to brush her teeth? If she does it the way that she expects my sister and I to brush our teeth, then I might have two minutes.

Crap. Crap. Crap. This sucks! Oh well, if she busts me, then she will certainly take away my GEO privileges for a week or more!

I quickly look around with Whisper and spot a dark stairway that leads deeper into the keep. I point Whisper to that spot and logout from GEO. I can hear my Mom making loud gargling noises from the bathroom just as I am jumping under the covers of my bed.

I’m pretty good at pretending to sleep, but I am still a little surprised when my Mom peeks into my room and whispers, “Night Brian, don’t try that again please.”

Sigh.

“Yes, Mom.” I whisper back then add in some brownie points with a “Thank you and I love you.” thrown in for good measure.

Arrrgg! This is so frustrating. I can’t believe that this is happening to me! It’s going to take me forever to fall asleep tonight.

~o~O~o~

Jim woke up to the sound of his shrilling electronic alarm clock at 6am. He quickly turned off the alarm so that Julie could sleep some more. Then, he snuggled up to her and simply held her for a few more minutes. Gently, he disengaged himself from her as she mumbled and whined when her sleep was disturbed from having her husband’s warm snuggly body leave her.

Slipping out of the warm bed, he sighed and muttered, “I have got to stop playing that game so much…” as he tiredly yawned on his way to take his morning shower.

The steaming water slowly brought Jim back into the land of the living and as his thoughts began to quicken he started to go back over the events from last night. Sudden fear stabbed into his gut as he remembered exactly what Whisper had said about the quest.

“…sneak into someplace you’re not supposed to be and do something you’re not supposed to do," was what she said the quest was asking for her to do and then, she stole his griffon and flew to the capital.

What if Whisper was going to access the Font of Light again? It sort of fit her description, but what would the Game Masters want her to do with the Font? She had already used it once without permission to enhance herself. He wracked his brain thinking about what else she could do with the Font.

It was possible to use the Font to fuel a world changing spell, but why would the GMs pick Whisper to do something like that? Could she be a double-agent and do something to switch control of the Font to the Evil side?

Jim doubted that she was a double-agent, but if her quest had something to do with the Font, then he had to login and check before it was too late! If she hadn’t reached the it yet, then it was his duty to beef up security and limit the risk where possible.

He quickly toweled himself off, pulled on his boxers and made his way to his office to login to GEO.

Entering the world, Lord Vincint was surprised to find himself back at his modest keep located just south of the Alliance capital. He didn't want to do it, but to keep the Font safe and make things hard on Whisper, he reluctantly entered the guild officer command to remove her from the guild. Best case, they would both share good laugh over his paranoia after he reinstated her into the guild. Worst case, he didn’t even want to think about the trouble she could cause with a GM quest and unrestricted access to the Font.

Sighing, he entered the following guild notification message that every guild member would see when they first logged into their character:

Troubling circumstances have forced me to temporarily remove Lady Whisper from the guild. A warrant for her arrest has been issued as she is wanted for questioning by the Guild Council. If anyone has information that they feel may help, please contact me or a guild officer immediately.”

Lord Vincint followed that notification up with a “call” to the Colonel in command of the guards for the Font of Light.

“Good Morning Lord Vincint, how may I be of assistance?” The AI controlled Colonel respectfully asked.

“Good Morning Colonel. Is the Font still safe?”

“I have not been alerted otherwise my Lord. Is there something amiss?” The Colonel said with a hint of humor.

“The master thief, Lady Whisper, has gone missing and is also presumed to have gone rogue. Until further notice, I want you to place everyone on high alert and double the guards around the Font.”

“Certainly, My Lord. What should we do if we spot Lady Whisper?” The Colonel asked, concerned.

Lord Vincint felt the weight of command on his shoulders. He had a duty to protect the Alliance from all enemies, even ones that he liked and respected immensely. “If you or your men see her, then she is to be considered an agent of Evil and no effort spared to capture her.”

“Yes My Lord. It shall be as you command.” The Colonel said with parade ground crispness. He paused for a moment in thought. “Should I alert the Constable of Lady Whisper’s wanted status?”

Lord Vincint smiled at the Colonel. “Please do so and thank you for reminding me about that little detail. I’m a little fuzzy here still. I need my coffee to really start thinking in the morning.”

The Colonel smiled with sympathy. “Of course, My Lord. Is there anything else I may do to be of assistance to you this coffee-less morning?”

“I don’t think so, but thanks.” Lord Vincint chuckled at the AI’s little joke before he realized how strange it was for an NPC character to have a sense of humor.

Next, Lord Vincint sent communications to the other leaders of the Guild Council informing them of his fears and actions taken to help protect the Font of Light.

Saddened by the actions he was forced to take, yet relieved to feel somewhat back in control of the situation, Jim shut down his PC and started to get ready for another busy day navigating the clogged legal system. He never thought to check with the camp guards to get their report about his griffon’s return. Nor did he think to ask the stable master about the condition of his griffon after it returned to the camp stables.

If he had, then he might have decided that the Font of Light was the least of his concerns.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 4 **

--Thursday - 15-Feb-2007 07:00 --

"Brian! It's seven o'clock! Wake up or you will miss the bus for your field trip!" My mom shouts from the kitchen.

I blearily look at my alarm clock and confirm my Mom’s allegations.

The delightful scent of bacon and pancakes cooking downstairs are like an intangible set of my Mom's fingers tugging on my nose and exposed ear to drag me out of bed.

"Uhhhhgggg, brains...need more brains!" I mumble as I stagger around my room looking through the piles of clean, mostly clean, sorta clean and smelly dirty clothes to find a passable ensemble. The expensive brand name clothes are obviously wasted on my keen fashion sense.

"Now, where did I put my clean underwear and socks that Mom washed the other day? Not in this chair...hmmm...not on the dresser...inside the dresser?!?! Who in the heck put them away?"

Am I gross? Not at all! I draw the line on having clean underwear and socks. I mean, what is wrong with wearing the same jeans for a few days or a week? T-Shirts, those can last for two days if you don't really exert yourself too much. I’m a geek, so not exerting myself is not a problem. I think of it as being "environmentally friendly" by helping to reduce the impact that doing laundry has on our fragile ecosystem. I tried that line of reasoning with my Mom once, but she laughed at my face and just said one word. “GEO”

Okay, technically that is not a word, but you get the picture.

I glance at my PC. “Oh crap! Whisper! I wonder if she’s still alive?” If I could only login to GEO for a few minutes!

I am pretty darn proud of my rig. I pieced it together component by component. I’m most proud of the motherboard and CPU though. A broken, high-end PC was donated to the school. The electronics class tried to fix it, but discovered the motherboard had a burned out capacitor and a few of the pins were bent and broken on the CPU. It took me a week of tinkering with it, but I managed to fix it! My teacher couldn’t see how I could have done that without a high end microscopic soldering set, but he gave me an extra credit “A” and let me keep the board. It turned out to be one of those new quad-core CPUs! Score one for the geeks!

Where was I?

Oh yeah, If you can't tell, I am not a morning person, at all. Mom's tricks to subliminally motivate my perpetually empty teenager stomach are just evil. I swear that she has fan that she uses to blow the fresh cooked food smells directly into my room. Maybe she vents the stove directly into the central duct work with a special "Brian's room" bypass system. I don't know, but I would bet on the bones of my many broken alarm clocks that they wished my Mom would just use the already 100% effective working "Brian Wakeup System" instead of buying me more alarm clocks for me to break.

Slipping on my obviously mislabeled tennis shoes, cause, seriously...how many people really use "tennis shoes" to play tennis? Crazy things to think about at 8 AM, but someone has to elevate the general level of consciousness these days, right? I grab my book filled school backpack and stumble down the stairs to eat breakfast.

Yes! I did all that other personal hygiene stuff already. I just didn't think you wanted to be bombarded with my insights on tooth brushing techniques or how many shakes before you are playing with it. I hope not anyway, `cause that is just TMI.

Pssst...twice is the answer.

Did I take a shower? Really?!?! You think that is important to this story? Okay...you asked for it. No, I did not take a shower during that "hygiene" time and do you want to know why? Well I will tell you why.

Lindsay Anne Peters, age 14, that’s why. I really am a "morning" shower person. I love nothing more than a delightful hot shower first thing in the morning to get my day started. That morning routine came to a bitter end the day my loving younger sister turned 12 and started noticing boys. Yeah, she "turned" on me and my parents. "Turned", you know, like the classical D&D clerical spell, "Turn Undead"! She went from being a sweet yet loving brat that you loved to hate and who wouldn't leave you alone. To become a hot water stealing, bathroom hogging, conniving fashion victim who wanted nothing to do with you, ever.

I can't really say that the last part is a bad thing, but I do sometimes miss her devotion to all things "big brother". Nothing I have to say or do is important anymore and to use her words, "You're just a boy, you wouldn't understand" or a simple "You're so dumb!". I once made the mistake of trying to tell her that wearing a short skirt to school as a bad idea, but that just got me an artful roll of the eyes followed by a “whatever”. Hey, she’s my sister and she looked good in it. Pretty even! That thought just grosses me out as soon as it registers on my sleep deprived brain, so I change the gross thought to one of “concern for my sister’s well-being”.

Hey, it looked short to me and Mom thought so too.

“Lindsay Anne Peters! You walk right back up those stairs and change that skirt!” My mom ordered.

“but Moooommm...” Lindsay wailed with a pleading look on the side of her face that Mom could see and a look of hateful scorn on the side I could see. How she managed that I have no idea, but evil sister has mad facial expression skills.

She came downstairs a few minutes later wearing a much longer skirt of the exact same color.

“Much better Lindsay.” My mom said.

“...but it doesn't match my top as well.”

Needless to say, I was shocked to see her wearing the much shorter skirt once we got to school. However; that shock turned to a black eye for me when she ended up running up to me in the school hallway with tears in her eyes because some boy had lifted up her skirt. Yes, I did the big brother thing and had a “talk” with the guy. I am not a complete jerk like my sister likes to think.

That is what led me to gain the full attention of Billy. I knew he was the school bully, but I naively thought that we could work it out like two responsible teenagers. My bad. On the plus side, that beating is what got my Mom and Dad to enroll me my Jujitsu class.

Breakfast was wonderful! Two eggs, sunny side up, thank you. Four strips of thick cut bacon, yes please! Four pancakes with real butter and lots of syrup, heaven! You have got to have the extra syrup for the bacon. Seriously, what planet are you from if you don’t try to get as much syrup as possible on your bacon?!?! All of that artery clogging goodness is then chased by one extra-large class of 2% milk. It’s 2% because whole milk is bad for you and skim milk, well; you might as well just be drinking white colored water! I inhaled my breakfast which is not only efficient from a time management perspective, but the technique has an added bonus of limiting conversation to simple yes and no responses.

“Did you get all your homework done before you played your ‘game’ last night Brian?” My mom asks.

“Mmmmummm!” I eloquently reply as I chew on big fork full of syrupy, buttery, yummy goodness.

“Did you remember to put your permission slip in your backpack?”

“Nuuunnnn?” I try to remember where I had put that permission form. If I can’t find it, then I won’t be able to go to the DARPA science lab with my electronics class.

“I thought so. Here it is Brian. Put it in your backpack now please.”

My Mom is so sneaky!

Shovel, chew, chew, zip, stuff the guilty paper into said backpack of holding, zip!, chew some more then swallow. Do not forget the swallow part or get the order mixed up…bad things happen!

“Was good Mom! Thanks for breakfast!” I follow that up by an artful mumbled rendition of, “Love you!” and finish off with the always popular “Ciao!” or “Chow!” for you regular American English folks. If I am feeling really generous, Mom gets a quick air kiss as I am walking out the door. Lindsay? She gets a gleeful, “Have a good day in Middle School little sis!”

That parting shot is followed by a wonderful, “MOOOMMM!” that gets cut off in mid scream as the door is closing. Oh the joys of tormenting the little brat when I can get away with it.

It didn't take me long to walk to the bus stop. It was only to the end of the block. I'm not “that” lazy. My best friend, John and his girlfriend Lisa are just walking up while holding hands. They make it a point to loudly kiss right in front of me and the entire world.

“Ewww...get a room you two!” I say with mock indignation before I follow up with my simulated robot voice, “This is a PDA Free Zone. Any further transgressions will not be tolerated! Bzzzzt!”

“LOL” John says.

Yes...he really did say “LOL”.

“Brian, you're just jealous because I have a girlfriend!” John hugs Lisa tighter as she giggles.

“John, be nice please.” Lisa comes to my rescue. Then, she turns her patented megawatt smile my way. “Brian, we were just messing with you.”

Wow, just wow. Just the sight of her almost makes me forget what we were currently teasing each other about. Short blond hair, blue eyes, perfect skin, long legs, athletic and very nice ummm...you know. She's so damn nice to everyone and not at all stuck up like most of the pretty girls at school.

You do not want to mess with her though. Her last name is Rogers. Yes, she is the daughter of Sensei Rogers and she has been learning martial arts since she could walk. A few of the bitchier members of the Pretty Girls Club tried to get bossy with her at the start of the school year. She just calmly told them that she didn’t have the time to waste with their drama. The queen bitch of the group tried to slap Lisa. Lisa destroyed her in the blink of an eye. She kicks my butt in Jujitsu class too, but I find it hard to complain. Sigh, if only I wasn’t such a geek.

“I know Lisa. If your loving boyfriend didn't need me to help him pass Mr. Anderson's Science class, I'd probably have to stop being his only friend.” I say while trying to not melt into a puddle of goo under her friendly gaze.

John is the real deal and if he wasn't so modest, I'd probably hate his guts. He has the looks, brains and money. Okay, so he's not as much of a geek as I am when it comes to science and technology, but he is not slow at all. Give him a business or money related question and stand back. Why he's in a public school is beyond me, but his parents have some funny ideas about education.

When I asked him, he said that this is what his Dad said, “We are not wasting money on some fancy private school. Your Mom and I both went to public schools, and look how successful we are!” You know, the old, “When I was your age I had to walk ten miles to school each day and it was uphill, both ways!”

I won’t bore you with the full thirty minute bus ride.

As usual, John and Lisa sit together while I end up jammed into the window by one of those friendly football players. I know he’s friendly because he smiles at me as he mushes me against the window.

“I’m going to get you today, shrimp!”

“Fat chance Tom. You know that my ninja like reflexes will just make you look like the lumbering and slow giant that you are, right?” My false confidence earns me a friendly punch on my shoulder. Well, friendly to him maybe.

“Ha! We’ll see. Today will be the day!” He says just before he ignores me by looking through his football playbook.

I try not to rub my shoulder.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 5 **

I manage to avoid having to demonstrate my previously mentioned “ninja like” reflexes. Not because the jocks suddenly decide to leave me alone, but because after home room, it was time to report to Mr. Anderson’s class for the field trip.

This trip is going to be so cool!

We are visiting one of the University of New Mexico’s nanotechnology research labs located in nearby Los Alamos. The lab is associated with DARPA’s Los Alamos National Lab and it specializes in the research and manufacture of super tiny robots called nanites. The biggest use that most people see for nanites is in the medical field. The idea there is that a doctor could program a host of these super tiny robots to kill cancer. The doctor then injects a few thousand of these things into the patient with a regular needle. The bots move throughout the patient’s body and zap any cancer cells that they find. They could also be programmed to repair damaged cells. How cool would it be if doctors could program the bots to repair the nerve damage caused by a broken spinal column? Wheelchairs could become a thing of the past!

You could also use these magic nanites to build things too. Give them some CAD/CAM plans and pour them onto a bar of steel. Stand back and presto! You’ve got a nano assembled pistol. Okay, so it currently takes over a thousand dollars to build each nanite and it would take thousands of them all working together to assemble this now multi-million dollar pistol. Hey, one can dream can’t they?

Of course, there are the alarmists out there that worry about an out of control nanite plague of hungry self-replicating eaters of everything. If that were really possible don’t you think that some super-villain would have already done something like that? I mean, think about it for a second. What super-villain worth his salt wouldn’t threaten to unleash their super steel eating nanite plague on some high dollar target like the Golden Gate Bridge? I can see the stereotypical bald headed super villain with cat transmitting his demands to the panicked city leaders.

“Greetings, Leaders of San Francisco! I have deposited steel eating nanites on your famed Golden Gate Bridge. You have two hours to pay me one meellion dollars or my nefarious nanites will turn it into dust! Muh Haha! Muh Haha! Muh Haha!” Maybe Hollywood could make a movie about it?

So, here I am on another school bus. This time I get to sit with John since Lisa isn’t in our class. We end up talking about GEO. Yes, He plays GEO too. Not as much as I do, but I guess that is the price you have to pay when you have a girlfriend.

“Hey, how’s your thief coming? Have you scored any good loot lately?” He asks.

I am so tempted to spill my guts right then and there, but for some reason, I hold back.

“Nope, nothing good lately. I did just get a good quest, but hard to say if it is going to be worth the hassle. How about you? How’s your paladin?” I vaguely reply with a redirect.

Yes. He’s playing a paladin. He’s so goody goody when he plays his pally. It’s almost sickening listening to him talk with all the “thees” and “thous” like he thinks that a pally should talk like.

I am so glad that he’s not on my server. I’d have to switch to the dark side just to get the chance to get rid of him.

I guess it is kind of ironic that he was offered the paladin class while I was only offered thief or mage for my first class. I wonder what GEO’s arch-type matching wizard is really trying to tell me?

So, I get to hear how he led the assault on some Evil stronghold and all the awards his pally received. It is pretty sickening and it kinda makes me a little jealous. So jealous, that I cave under the peer pressure.

“I kind of stole Lord Vincint’s griffon last night.” I say in a low voice while looking around to see if anyone else was listening. You could never be too careful. GEO players are everywhere.

“You what? Who’s Lord Vincint?” John turns his full attention to me.

“I ‘borrowed’ Lord Vincint’s griffon. He’s my guild leader and also the leader of the Alliance of Light on my server.”

“Geez, how do you ‘borrow’ a griffon?” John says as he turns to look out the window when the bus turns into an area enclosed with one of those high security chain link fences.

“Well, it was kinda cool-” I start to explain.

“Hey! I think we’re here dude. Check out that!” John interrupts me and excitedly points to an Army guy manning the guard post. “The guards are packing some serious heat!”

The GEO talk is completely tossed out the bus window, but the Army dudes do look pretty badass and are packing some serious firepower. The guards look like they stepped out of some first person shooter video game box. They are wearing desert camo outfits with some cool looking armor and other tech stuff attached. Their weapons look like M-16’s, but they have those commando stocks and short stubby barrels. This field trip is so cool!

Before they let the school bus through the gates, one of the guards enters the bus and walks down the aisle all the way back to the rear of the bus. He looks so serious. No one on the bus says a single a word. As he turns to head back to the front, some electronic gadget attached to his belt brushes up against my shoulder. He stops for a second or two as he speaks into his throat mic, “Alpha One, Student transport clear. Bravo Ten, Out.”

I feel a little tingle or something in my head. It’s hard to describe really, but I suddenly hear the reply as if I was wearing headphones.

“Roger, Bravo Ten. Assist Bravo Nine with…”

The voice stops as he steps away from me. I shudder and wonder what the heck just happened. Did the acoustics in the bus just go wonky? There is no way that I should have been able to hear the reply. His Communication Network Radio Subsystem (CNRS) system uses a bone conduction headphone system to allow him to hear radio calls without interfering with his regular hearing.

How did I know all that? I don’t know because the closest I have ever come to that kind of gear is playing Ghost Recon on John’s PS3. I hardly think that would suddenly make me an expert on military technology.

“Yo dude, are you okay? You look like you just saw a ghost.” John asks me as I start to recover from the shock.

“Umm, yeah I guess so.” I don’t think that I sound very convincing.

“Was that dude cool or what!? Did you see that wicked looking M16 he was carrying?” John asks me with an excited whisper.

“What?” I start to reply still feeling a little woozy. “That wasn’t a M16, it was a M4A1.”

“Whatever dude, it was still pretty wicked looking.” John says as the bus starts to move again.

Now I’m really starting to scare myself. Did Ghost Recon have one of those weapons? Even if the game had the weapon, how did I know that that it was equipped with a MFL (Multi-Function Laser) that feeds target information back to his Computer Subsystem (CSS)?

The remaining half mile or so to the facility doesn’t take too long. The bus pulls up to the main entrance and Mr. Anderson exits to meet some scientist looking dude standing just outside the door. I can’t hear what they say, but Mr. Anderson seems real happy to see him as they shake hands. They speak for about thirty seconds or so after that and then Mr. Anderson pokes his head back into the bus and yells, “Okay, you all. Dr. Edmundson is a friend of mine from college and he’s the one that was nice enough to get us permission to visit the labs here. As you might have noticed, this place is very secure and the research being conducted here is very bleeding edge. I expect you all to be on your very best behavior and to listen to all instructions you are given.”

We all kind of sorta mumble sounds that might translate as, “Yes” as we stand to exit the bus.

Dr. Edmundson smiles benevolently at us after the last student steps off the bus. “Okay, children...”

Children? Who does this egg head think he is?

“Please follow me inside where we will get you all signed in and issued visitor badges. After that, you will be guided to the auditorium for a short presentation and safety briefing.” Dr. Edmundson says as he motions us all inside and led us to the security desk.

We all have to print and sign our name on some pale green log book. As I sign my name, the security officer hands me a bright red numbered badge with VISITOR plainly visible on its surface. “Visitors must be escorted at all times.”, is also printed on the badge. They seem pretty serious about this security stuff!

After we were all issued badges, Dr. Edmundson escorts us all down a short hallway towards the only open set of doors in the place. All of the doors are protected by a badge reader gadget, even the door labeled “Human Resources”.

“Hi Brenda.” I hear Dr. Edmundson say.

“Oh, Hello Dr. Edmundson. Your presentation is all setup and ready to go.” I hear a cheerful sounding female voice reply.

It’s a little hard to see through all the other kids. So, I’m not really paying too much attention to what is going on up front until John pokes my side.

“Dude! Check out the robo-babe talking to the Doc!” He whispers.

I make the effort to find a clear line of sight and I’m rewarded by the sight of a very beautiful red headed woman wearing a bland gray and conservatively cut dress and blouse. Her long red hair is pulled up off her shoulders with a strategically placed stray strand of hair to the side of her face. I think it’s safe to say that we all hope that this Brenda babe is going to be our tour guide.

“Thank you Brenda.” Dr. Edmundson says. “Miss Koshnick is not only a wizard with PowerPoint, but she is also our Human Resources specialist. So we all like to make sure that she has plenty of chocolate come payday!” He laughs at his joke. Everyone else just humors him with a smile.

She giggles and her smile lights up the area. “Oh, you’re too kind Dr. Edmundson.”

I think I’m in love as the crowd parts to let her past when she heads towards the door that I’m standing next too. Her smile turns mischievous as she turns to look back at Dr. Edmundson. “But, I need to get back to my office to make sure your check will clear the bank this time.”

Since it looks like she is going to want to enter the door and I’m standing next to it, I attempt to open it for her, but fail miserably as I try to twist the locked door handle.

She smiles at me and I almost melt into a pile of goo right there.

“Oh, you’re so sweet. Thanks for the gesture, but I need to swipe my badge to unlock the door first.”

As she approaches the badge reader next to the door, I feel a tingle in my hand just before the door handle clicks and opens under my weight.

She looks with confusion at the door and her badge for a second before she shrugs and moves to pass me to enter her office. She smiles and mouths a silent thanks as she passes. Suddenly, she stops and bends over to peer curiously at my face. With her face inches from mine, a hint of some floral scent hits my nose. “Wow, you have the most beautiful green eyes.”

I’m shocked that she notices my eyes and even more shocked that she would say something to me.

“Oh, sorry, handsome green eyes.” She says with a smile as all the blood in my body attempts to rush to my head in an attempt to make me die from embarrassment. I feel like a deer caught in the headlights of a semi-truck.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of all your friends.” She apologizes as she touches my arm. “Well, back to the salt mines for me.” She mutters as she straightens and continues her way into her office.

The door can’t close fast enough for me! Finally, I can breathe again.

“Dude! Score!” John whispers to me.

I’m all smiles as I follow John into the auditorium with weak knees.

Green eyes? My eyes are brown. She must have been messing with me.

~o~O~o~

I won’t bore you with too much of the presentation. Dr. Edmundson’s presentation was pretty dry, but it did have a few decent videos of “hypothetical” nanite uses. He did bring up the world ending “Grey Goo” fear about out of control and self-replicating nanites. He made a pretty convincing case on why it would be impossible for someone to make happen. First, the person trying to do that would have to be crazy. Secondly, the bots themselves would need access to a lot of very rare earth compounds in order to replicate themselves. You don’t get stuff like palladium, chromium and gold from thin air. Power is also an issue to this crazy scheme. Maybe it could happen someday, but not today is what he told us.

The only thing that I didn’t already know was that the labs we were going to see today are the University’s part of the complex. The “non-secure research” part is what Dr. Edmundson called it.

His team just analyzes some of the projects that come out of the secure parts of the complex and they attempt to identify how things can be improved or why they failed. So, basically we are just going to get to see the rejected, old or broken down stuff. It’s still some pretty cool stuff though.

So, we finished the presentation part of the tour. Next on the list is a look at the lab where they perform the design and 3D modeling of the nanites, then we will do lunch. If we survive the food served by research lab’s cafeteria, we will visit a lab that has some real live nanite samples, than take the bus home.

I must admit, the computer modeling demonstration was pretty cool. Dr. Greenway, a colleague of Dr. Edmundson, showed us how he would create a nanite design. We got to make some suggestions on what it might do and that affected how it looked on the screen. He then printed our design out on a huge printer that made a poster size print out of our nanite. He and Dr. Edmundson signed it, and then asked us all to sign our names to the printout too. Then he said that he was going to get it laminated so we could take it back to school with us. I think that it will look pretty cool on the wall of our classroom.

~o~O~o~

Lunch is, well, lunch. There are a lot more people there due to the lunchroom serving the entire facility. I see a few folks dressed in the guard uniforms mixed among the scientist types. Sadly, I do not see Ms. Koshnick, but John notices me looking around.

“Dude, looks like your new girlfriend dumped you.”

I feign heartbreak. “Oh well, It wouldn’t have worked out anyway. She was only interested in me for my body.”

I time my comeback perfectly. He is caught drinking his milk and snorts some out his nose as he chokes on it.

“That was sooo not right man!” He says while grabbing for a napkin to wipe his face.

“Yeah, but it was funny, right?”

“Okay, yeah, it was pretty funny. Good one dude. So, why did you steal your guild leader’s griffon?”

Oh crap. I was hoping that he had forgotten about that little detail.

“Well, I more kind of borrowed it without his permission.”

“Umm, you mean you stole it, right?”

“Ummm, I guess so, but I let it fly back to him when I was done. I think.” I’m not feeling too confident that it made it back to him. “So, I guess, technically, I really did borrow it, right?”

“I really don’t think that will help. What is so important that you needed to go outlaw?” He asks with a tone of voice that sounds like he is starting to channel the spirit of his goodie goodie paladin.

“I really can’t say right now. I’m still kind of confused by the whole deal myself.”

“Uhh?”

“Okay, what if you could go back in time and kill Hitler before he started World War two?” I ask him in an attempt to frame my actions in a better light. I mean, who doesn’t think that Hitler was a real evil guy?

“What does that have to do with a video game?”

“Well, I’ve been given a quest by what I think are the GM’s to assassinate another player’s character.” I say, feeling like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“Whoa! Dude! Are you sure? How could a good player be given an evil quest?”

“That’s what I am worried about!” I shrug my shoulders with defeat.

“Hey, are you two talking about GEO?” A female voice distracts us. We both turn and are shocked to see Ms. Koshnick standing there with a bagged lunch in her hands.

“Umm…yes?” I brilliantly reply.

She smiles and actually looks excited. “Cool! I play too. Mind if I sit with you two?”

I’m beyond flustered, but John is much faster on the uptake then I am. The jerk!

“Sure thing Ms. Koshnick. What class do you play?” John asks.

“Brenda, please call me Brenda. Ms. Koshnick makes me feel so old. I just play a Warrior on the side of Light on the Tertius server.”

I start to panic. She plays on my server and on the side of light. Please, please, please don’t say anything John. I furiously try to develop mental telepathy to get John to change the topic somehow. It doesn’t work.

“Wow, that’s the same server that Brian plays on. Maybe you two know each other?”

“I don’t think so, John.” I stress his name in an attempt to get him to stop. “My Mage is still pretty weak and I don’t know any beautiful female warriors.” I deliberately down play my real archetype in an attempt to clue John into my non-existent telepathic commands. I am beginning to think that he is really out to get me.

“Your low level Mage alt? No, I’m talking about your thief, Whisper.”

It’s “Game Over man! Game Over!” as Brenda’s eyes practically pop out of her head.

“No freaking way! You’re Whisper? Wow, I thought you were really a girl.”

“Can it get any worse?” I mutter as I lay my forehead on the table and pretend to try and knock myself out.

“Oh, I’m sorry Brian. I didn’t mean to embarrass you like that. That was pretty stupid of me to say that.” She apologizes by grabbing my hand. That part short circuits my brain and I forget all about GEO as the sensation of her holding my hand overrides everything else.

She’s so beautiful and even worse, she plays GEO. Just kill me now, please.

“How do you know about Whisper?” I ask, fearing her answer.

“Oh, I play Lady Kalisa.”

Oh crap. I’ve actually grouped with her a few times. Even worse, she’s in my guild.

“Haven’t you checked the forums this morning?” Brenda asks.

“No, I haven’t had the chance. Why?” I’m concerned now. What have I missed? Is my mission blown?

“Oh, my god!” She gasps. “So, you don’t know?”

“Know what?” John and I chorus in stereo as I start to panic.

“Well, for starters, Lord Vincint has removed you from the guild and there is a warrant for your arrest.”

My eyes pop out of my head and John looks at me like my eyes really did pop out their sockets.

Brenda snickers softly. “On top of that, Lord Vincint is just a tad upset that you stole his griffon.”

John pokes my side. “Told you so.”

I ignore him. “Why would he want to have Whisper arrested?”

Brenda looks curiously at me as she takes a healthy looking sandwich out of her bag and starts to unwrap it. “Because everyone thinks you’re trying to use the Font for some big evil spell?”

Now John is starting to look at me like I might be the person who told him that Santa wasn’t real. He knows what I told him on the bus and now he’s probably a little confused.

I try to reassure both of them. “No, no, no, I am not on a quest to use the Font of Light.” I wish that was all the quest was and I find the idea kind of funny.

“Okay dude, what is your quest?” John asks as they both look expectantly at me.

The peer pressure is killing me and John is my best bud. “Umm, promise you won’t tell anyone until tomorrow?” I glance between John and Brenda.

“Of course dude. Hell, I don’t play on your server anyway.” John reassures me.

Brenda doesn’t look as trusting. “Ummm, I don’t know if I can do that. I mean, I have to tell the guild what I know. I have a responsibility to the guild and the forces of Light, just like you do.” She looks and sounds so serious about the game.

I think I have a counter to her point. “Well, if you really get into the role-play. Would your character really know what you know about something that happened off-line?”

That causes her to think for a bit. Maybe I won’t have to tell her. I can keep it a secret and not have to worry about anyone finding out before I get a chance to give it a try tonight.

She crushes that idea. “Okay, I promise to not say a word about it until tomorrow.”

I focus my attention on John. “Jooohn? Promise not to tell anyone about it, not even Lisa.”

“Alright already. Geez. You make it sound like it’s Top Secret or something.” He grumbles.

I look back and forth to both of them. They look like they are being honest with me. “Okay, my quest is to assassinate Lady Seramis.”

Everyone who plays GEO knows who Lady Seramis is and they both gasp as I proceed to tell them everything I know as their faces express more disbelieve with every revelation.

“So, that is why I had to steal Lord Vincint’s griffon last night. It was the only way I could get to Lady Seramis’ territory in the time limit.” I finish.

They’re both incredulous. Brenda’s starts to say something, but remembers that she still has a bite of her sandwich to chew. She quickly finishes her bite. “Okay, so how do you know that killing her won’t help the forces of evil somehow?”

“I don’t, but like I was telling John. What if this is like being given the chance to go back in time and kill Hitler before he starts World War II and kills millions of people?”

She ponders that rationalization. “I see how you’re thinking there, but what if it is more like what caused World War I instead?”

“What?”

“Okay. What if, killing Seramis is what triggers an assault by the forces of Evil and they capture her Font? Then, the forces of Good would have to try and stop them. We would have an all-out war.”

Her doomsday scenario sounds so plausible. “Oh man, I just don’t know. I’m only in High School. Isn’t GEO just a game?”

Brenda looks past us. “Oops, it looks like your tour is about to start again.” She hesitates for a second before pulling out her business card.

She surprises me even more when she writes a phone number on the back of it.

“Here is my cell. Call me if you want to talk about this some more tonight.” She offers me her card.

As I take her card and put it in my wallet, I see that John is smiling at me. How much do you want to bet that he says “Score!” sometime within the next five minutes?

We don’t even make it out of the cafeteria before he slaps me on my back. “Dude! You. Are. The. Man!”

Okay, so he doesn’t actually say, “Score!”, but I still think it counts.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 6 **

My worries about GEO last only as long as it takes us to reach the second research and development lab.

I’m pretty deep in thought, so I have no idea of how long it takes or even where the lab is. I just walk on auto-pilot and follow everyone else through the halls. Dr. Edmundson is somewhere in front of the herd and I can hear him speaking about something scientific sounding. However; my thoughts are stuck in an infinite loop. Good side is good, killing someone is bad, good side is good, killing someone is bad, Brenda sure is pretty…wait…what if Brenda is right?

Wow, check out that electron microscope! That jars me out of my haze and helps me to start noticing my surroundings again. This lab is cool! The room is totally looking the part of one of those TV show labs. It has beakers, test tubes, Bunsen burners and centrifuges. There are computer workstations scattered around and two small glass enclosed robot waldo devices. There is another glass enclosed room attached to this room. A glass and stainless steel door enters into a room with environmental suits hanging inside of it. That room has a slightly thicker glass and stainless door with an airlock style wheel lock. There are all kinds of nozzles, blowers and vents in the second room. That room has another wheel style locked door that appears to open into a larger lab of some sort.

We appear to be heading that way, so maybe Dr. Edmundson is going to tell us what the area is for. I wonder if we will get to go inside of it.

“Okay, class. Over here we have our ISO Class 1 cleanroom.” He drones on about all the procedures they have to go through to keep the room clean. The idea of wearing a rubber suit all day doesn’t sound fun at all.

“Umm, Dr. Edmundson. What happens if someone really needs to get out because they have to go to the bathroom real bad?” Will Jenkins asks, making everyone snicker.

“Excellent question!” Dr. Edmundson looks around and spots another scientist type person heading our way. “Ah! Dr. Johansson, nice to see you!” He says with a predatory smile. “The students here were wondering about what happens if you have to go to the facilities while inside the clean room.”

As he is asking the other fellow the question, Dr. Johansson appears to get a bit uncomfortable while Dr. Edmundson’s smile gets a bit bigger.

I’m pretty sure I know what happened and judging by the sympathetic smirks everyone else has, I think they know too. Can I say, “Eeewww?”

“Ah, well, that is an interesting question, sir.” He nervously glances back to his boss while keeping an eye on us. “Do you really want me to answer that question, sir?”

“I guess not Dave. Students, let’s just say that you either get real good at planning or cleaning.” He chuckles as we all glance to Dr. Johansson with a new appreciation for how bad it can be to not make it to the bathroom in time.

“Yes, not even that is more important than ensuring that proper decon happens.” Dr. Edmundson sternly lectures.

“So, are there any volunteers to suit up and go through the process?” He asks with a grin.

I’ll be shocked if anyone actually volunteers, but there are some true science geeks in this class so it could happen. Waiting…Waiting…Yep…no one really wants to suit up in one of those poop suits.

“No one?” He asks as he looks around and behind the folks in the front. He spots me, smiles and then jealousy rears its ugly head in the scientist guy. Well, that is what I blame anyway. He had to have seen me talking to Brenda in the cafeteria. He then points to me and says, “How about you back there?”

“Ummm, no thanks?” I try to turn him down, but the rest of the class betrays me.

“Yeah, Brian…do it!”

“It will be cool!”

“Don’t be such a wuss!”

I tell you, high school is not the bonding experience that is described with fond remembrance by people who graduated decades ago. The final nail in my coffin is provided by Mr. Anderson. “Go ahead, Brian. It will be a good learning experience for everyone.”

Gee thanks. Not.

Okay, I have to admit. It is kind of cool. The suit doesn’t smell like poo. It smells like disinfectants. I waddle into the decon room and close the door per Dr. Edmundson’s instructions. A status panel changes from green to red as the decon process starts. It is like taking a shower, but while wearing a rain suit. Then the blowers kick in to dry the suit and when they turn off the panel near the lab door turns green. I could enter the lab area, but I hear Dr. Edmundson speak over the room’s speakers, “That’s good Brian. Just turn around and come on back into the changing room so we can get you out of that thing.”

Dr. Edmundson as he helps me out of the suit. “Thanks for going through that Brian. I think that you will find the next part of the tour pretty interesting.”

Once I am out of the suit, I find myself in the front of the herd instead of safely anonymous in the rear. He leads us to the part of the lab that houses the electron microscope. Sweet!

There is also a large industrial sized stainless steel refrigerator and some computer workstations in that area. Dr. Edmundson reaches into the fridge and pulls out a glass vial topped with a stainless steel cap that appears to be full of a milky colored liquid. He holds it up to the light so that the rest of the class can see it.

“This vial holds over a million nanites. This is our ‘Grey Goo’ sample so we have to keep it safe.” He looks serious about the Grey Goo.

“So, who wants to hold it?” He asks, holding it out for someone to take, causing everyone to take a reflexive step back.

“I’m kidding. This isn’t really ‘Grey Goo’ and the vial is quite safe. The nanites in here are deactivated test bots from the labs here. The nanites in here,” he gives it a shake, “are no more dangerous than the dust in your grandma’s attic.”

Since I’m the closest, he hands me the vial first. I carefully hold it from the cap and look at it for a few seconds. I feel a slight tingle from my fingers just before I hand it off to the next person. Dr. Edmundson then starts to explain how the electron microscope works and to show screenshots of the pictures it has taken of nanites. It is during this lecture that the vial ends up back with me. I again feel a slight tingle as I hold the vial in my hand while waiting for the Doc to finish up so that I can give it back to him. After about ten minutes of me holding the vial, he finally notices that I have it.

“Oh, thanks for hanging on to that Brian. Would you mind just putting it back in the fridge for me?” Dr. Edmundson gestures to the fridge.

“Sure thing sir.” I walk over and put the vial back in the fridge. I was so tempted to be more flippant with my reply and say something like, “No prob Doc!” or “By your command!”, but I chickened out. After handling the vial for so long, my hand is kind of itching a little. I rub my hands together and the itching dies down.

Dr. Edmundson finishes the tour by showing us the robotic waldo devices in the small glass enclosed cases. He explains that they are used to perform smaller experiments that need a clean environment, but without the hassle of the clean room. There is also a giant stainless steel range hood contraption about it and a giant covered red button on a nearby column labeled “Emergency Scram”.

“…and that giant red do-not-touch button is our ‘Go to Heck!’ button. If something starts to go wrong inside the containment area here, then we would push that button, stand back as giant steel doors drop from the ceiling. The area inside is then flooded with halon gas as giant exhaust fans suck all the air out of the room and into electrified air scrubbers before venting to the outside.”

I’m mostly paying attention, but I’m also feeling a little distracted. I am feeling jittery and slightly warm. I wonder if I am getting a cold or if something in the lab’s cafeteria food is disagreeing with my stomach?

Oh well, it’s probably nothing.

Dr. Edundson leads us back to the front where he thanks us for behaving so well. As if we are elementary students or something. Dude, please. Can we have our cookies now? Mr. Anderson then prompts us to thank Dr. Edmundson and shake his hand before we hand in our badges, sign out in the little green guest book and file back into the waiting school bus.

I’m not really feeling up to chatting with John on the ride back, but John just had to pry. “So, are you going to call your new girlfriend?”

“Uggg, first of all, she’s not my girlfriend and second, she’s way too old. She’s got to be at least twenty four or something!” I half-heartedly reply. I’m really starting to feel run down. The tour, plus my late night last night must have taken a lot out of me.

John stops pestering me as I lay my head against the blessedly cool window. I find myself intermittently drifting off and coming back with a start as I hear computer sounding beeps and chirps coming from somewhere. I must be dreaming a bit too because I think that I am seeing lines of code and commands rapidly scrolling up on a giant big screen monitor. It starts to make me feel dizzy so, I ask it to stop and I see “Initiating Hibernate Mode…”.

John shakes me and asks, “Dude, are you okay? You were really out there and then you started talking in your sleep.”

“Really? What did I say?” I ask, rubbing my eyes.

John looks concerned about me. “I’m not sure really. You whispered something like ‘ls minus la’ and ‘vi something’, then I got worried when you said ‘stop’.”

Wow, that’s really weird, but it was probably just a dream.

“Thanks for waking me up,” I straighten myself up and feeling a little better, I turn to John with a smirk, “Are we there yet?”

“No.”

“How about now?” I ask with my best shit eating grin.

He laughs and shakes his fist in mock anger. “Don’t make me pull this bus over!”

The short nap must have done me some good because I’m feeling much better now.

Not a hundred percent, but better then I felt when I got on the bus.

Five minutes later, we pull into the school parking lot just in time for us all to catch our buses home. Nice! Time to get home and log into GEO!

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 7 **

I’m feeling a bit off center when I get home. So, out of habit I power up my PC and check my emails.

Crap! It looks like I won’t be able to login to GEO right away after all. I forgot about my school’s student website. All the classes I missed today have their homework assignments online for me to complete for tomorrow. Grrr. Oh well, I’ll get it done in time for dinner, then play after dinner at my normal time.

My homework goes by a bit faster then I expect. The math seems easier than I first expected and my reading assignment from English is over almost as fast as I can turn the pages.

I’m all finished with my homework and I still have about an hour before dinner starts. I surf over to the guild website, but find out that my access has been revoked. Damn! Lord Vincint must really be pissed at me! I decide to take a peek at the GEO run server specific message forum to see if anyone has mentioned my name. I find a message written by Lord Vincint in the form of a Public Service Announcement.

Notice: Wanted for Questioning by the Alliance of Light

Name: Whisper

Archetype: Master Thief

Crimes: Grand Theft Griffon

I kid you not! Seeing that, I just have to ROFL all over. At least, he called me a “Master Thief”! That has to count for something, right?

Notes: Suspect is to be considered armed and dangerous. Approach with extreme caution.

WTF? Is Lord Vincint a cop in real life or something?

Whisper is also suspected to be under the influence of the side of Dark and may attempt to access the Font of Light. If you have any information about the current whereabouts of Whisper, please notify your guild leadership, the nearest Guard or City Official immediately.

Signed,

Lord Vincint

Supreme Allied Commander

Alliance of Light

Wow, just wow! I can’t believe that this quest is causing so much trouble, but it’s pretty darn exciting and I can’t wait to get logged in now. I notice that there are already over fifty replies to his message. Some of them are pretty funny.

~o~O~o~

W00t! About time u whiney goodie goodie’s got what is coming 2 u! I can’t wait to p0wn u all!

Does Whisper drop any good loot?

I always knew she was evil and stealing from her parties. You just can’t ever trust a thief, can you?

Lady Whisper is being framed! I know her and she would never do something like this!

U all r luzers!

~o~O~o~

Errr…what? At least one person is on my side and reading the troll speak gives me a headache.

I hear the garage door open when my Mom comes home, right on time to start dinner. Her normal routine is to check on Lindsay and me before starting dinner. So, I’m ready for her when she pokes her head into my room.

“Hi Mom!” I spin around in my chair and smile.

“Hi Brian. Are you already done with your homework?” She asks, concerned by the lack of open books on my desk.

I gesture to my backpack on the bed. “Yep, I finished it all 21.5 minutes ago. It was kind of easy.” Why did I say 21.5 and how did I know?

“Okaay,” She glances at me funny as she turns to go to Lindsay’s room, “I’m going to start dinner soon.”

I turn back and try reading the thread about me, but it gets dumb, fast. “Gahhh! This thread is so dumb!”

I can’t believe that I am even reading it. I think that I will just go see if my mom needs some help downstairs. Earn myself some brownie points to help her forget last night.

After a quick bathroom stop followed by the required hand washing, I head downstairs. Yes, I really did wash my hands. Not just run some water over them and then dry them. Geez! I sit down at the kitchen bar counter and watch my Mom put away some groceries.

She glances over her shoulder. “Hi Brian, how was the field trip?”.

I shrug my shoulders and play it cool. “It was okay, I guess.”

“Just okay?” She stops and turns to look at me.

“Yeah, okay, it was pretty cool. I got to see some nanites and even wear an environmental clean room suit for a few minutes.” I grudgingly admit. You can just come out and admit to how cool science stuff is, or else your parents will think you’re a nerd or something.

She looks at me with concern as she walks over to feel my forehead. “Are you okay, hon? You look a little flushed. Are you coming down with something?”

“I’m fine Mom, really! I felt a little sick on the bus ride from Los Alamos, but I think I just got a little motion sickness or something.”

“Well, you do feel a little warm. Lemme look at you.” She looks at my face closer. She inhales a surprised breath for some reason. “Brian? What happened to your eyes?”

Why are people so interested in my eyes today? “Huh? Nothing, Mom. Why?”

She turns my head to point my eyes into some light. “Your eyes are a bright green now and I can see some silver in there too.”

Now I get it, John must have called and told her about Brenda. Not sure why he would do that, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense. “What? No way, Mom. Did John call you and tell you to mess with me or something?”

“I’m calling your Dad right now. I’ll ask him to get some pizzas for dinner on the way home. I have some calls to make. Until your Dad gets home, I want you to go up to your room, lie down and don’t do anything to strain yourself! Absolutely no GEO!”

No GEO? What the heck? What else will I do and what about Whisper? “But Moooommm! I’m fine!”

“Don’t ‘but Mom’ me young man! Room. Bed. Now.” She points with a steely gaze.

So much for trying to help Mom in the kitchen! I trudge back up the stairs to my room. I plop down on my bed and stare up at the ceiling in frustration. My eyes! I get back up and go into the bathroom. Turning all the lights on, I look at the mirror.

Crap! My eyes have changed color. They kind of remind me of that green circuit board color, especially with the silvery traces in my whites. Freaky and kind of cool, I think.

Okay, now I’m starting to get a little worried because everyone knows that eye changes usually mean you’re turning into a mutant.

I return to my bedroom and notice Sensei Roger’s book titled “The History of the U.S. Marine Corp” sitting on my bed stand. We are still working on Sun Tzu, but he warned us that this was next on the list. I decide that I could try and read a couple of pages in preparation for the next class.

>Scanning…

Huh?

Three minutes later, I’m done reading the entire one hundred and seventy five page book!

What the heck?!?! This is so cool! I close my eyes and I can recall with perfect clarity each and every page in the book. I just think of a word or phrase and instantly, the page or pages pop into view in my head! Want to know why a Marine is called a “Leatherneck”?

Poof! In my head, the relevant passage pops into view! Highlighted and everything!

Whoa! I’m feeling a little dizzy again. Maybe Mom was right. Maybe I should just take a nap. I decide to lie down and just close my eyes and relax instead.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 8 **

“Barb? Please call me as soon as you get this message! Something is wrong with Brian and I need your help!” Jennifer Peters pleaded into her cell phone before anxiously hanging up. Breathing deeply to help force herself to calm down and think for a minute, she placed another call using the home phone in case Barb tried calling her back.

“Dave?” She hesitantly asked even though she knew the number she dialed was her husband’s direct line.

“Yes, dear? I’m just getting ready to head home. What’s up?”

Jennifer hesitated for second as she debated over how to break the news to him. “I’m not sure, but I’m worried about Brian.”

“Is everything okay?” Dave sounded concerned.

“I don’t know. I was getting ready to start cooking dinner when Brian came downstairs. He looked like he was running a fever, so I checked and then I noticed that his eyes have changed color.”

“Changed color? Is that bad?” He paused for a bit until the implication hit. “Oh, yeah…”

“Exactly! So I tried to get a hold of Barb, but I just got her voicemail.” Jennifer glanced at her cell phone, willing it to start ringing.

“I’ll run right home now then!”

Jennifer heard the urgency in his voice and while relieved, she didn’t want him to risk his life racing home. “I don’t know if it’s all that bad Honey. I sent Brian up to his room to lie down, but I don’t feel like cooking right now, could you stop and grab a pizza on the way instead?”

“Sure, not a problem. I’ll be home as soon as the pizza is ready, but call me if anything changes!”

Jennifer sighed with relief after she hung up the phone. “Okay, maybe I am just over reacting? Calm down. Think. What did my stepmom do when we thought that I had powers?” She recalled exactly how much her evil stepmom freaked out. On the plus side, the freak out is what helped her Dad find out how deeply his wife hated and feared mutants causing him to file for a divorce from the psycho.

“Okay…maybe not a good example.”

She jumped when her cell phone started to ring. She glanced at the caller ID and almost dropped it in her rush to answer. “Barb! Thank god you called! I need your help!”

“Whoa, Jen, slow down. You’re sounding a little panicked right now.”

“I’m sorry Barb, but I’m just so worried about Brian!”

“What’s wrong with Brian?”

“His eyes changed color. They are now a bright, jade green color and have small silvery traces. He’s also running a slight fever and looks a little tired.”

“Okay…that sounds like he is in the first stage of mutant manifestation. Perfectly normal and nothing to be alarmed about.”

“But what if he burns out or ends up with GSD ( Gross Structural Dystrophy ) or the MCO ( Mutant Commission Office ) comes for him!?” She almost broke down and started crying as she considered all the horrible things that could happen to her son.

“None of that’s going to happen, Jen. First, you need to call your family doctor and get him in as soon as possible. You’ve said that he seems to show a talent for working on computers, maybe he’s a devisor or gadgeteer? You know that nothing really bad ever happens to those types, right?” Barb tried to lighten the mood.

Initially, Jennifer felt relieved, but then her Mom brain kicked in and she remembered reading something that claimed Devisors were more likely to have Diedrick’s Syndrome. “Ummm…I dunno, I’ve heard stories.”

“Look, based on what you’ve told me so far, I’d say it’s probably just a normal mutant manifestation. As long as his fever doesn’t spike above 102 and he doesn’t over use his powers, he should be fine.”

“I hope you’re right.” Jennifer stopped as her friend’s calm advice soaked in, causing her to sigh. “No, that’s silly of me. You’re always right.”

Barb chuckled. “Usually, but if something changes give me a call ASAP and I’ll be down there so fast it will make your head spin!”

“Thanks Barb! That really makes me feel much better. What would I do without you?” Jennifer smiled fondly as she realized how much she missed her friend.

“I dunno, you probably wouldn’t need to keep a good stock of wine in the house for when I come to visit?” Barb finished with a corny evil villain laugh.

Jennifer laughed as her friend’s words help to calm her nervous tension. “Thanks Barb, I’m going to go check on Brian now. I’ll call you if anything changes.”

“No problem girlfriend! Love ya, bye!”

“Barb! You’re impossible!” Jennifer disconnected the call with a smile on her face and the start of an action plan.

She quickly dialed the number for the doctor’s office and managed to get an appointment to see the family doctor for first thing in the morning. With the medical issue taken care of, she felt much calmer and decided to check on her son.

Walking upstairs, she entered Brian’s room and found him sleeping on the top of his covers with all his clothes on and a book about the U.S. Marines lying next to him. Smiling with relief, she sat down next to him and felt his forehead.

“Well, his fever feels like it is actually a little less than before.” She said, quietly to herself.

~o~O~o~

My bed gently shakes, waking me and I feel my Mom taking my temperature with the back of her hand. “Mom?”

“Yes, Brian?” Her voice has a hint of fond amusement.

“Am I going to be okay?” I’m a little worried now and all the stuff that I can suddenly do is starting to freak me out because I might be a mutant and I’ve heard how scary and dangerous those people can be.

“Of course!” She smiles encouragingly at me. “I just got off the phone with Barb. You remember her, right?”

“Yeah, isn’t she the friend from college that you always complain about beating you in poker and drinking all your wine when she comes to visit?” I grin to let her know that I think her friend Barb is great.

“Yes, that is that one and it is not polite to talk about your elders that way young man!” Smiling, my mom lightly admonishes me with a light pat on my arm.

“But, you’re the one who said it first!” I say, indignantly. Well, she did. The last time Barb visited us, I overheard her thank Barb for leaving so that she would have some wine left and lunch money for the kids.

My mom stands and turns back to face me. “Well, I can see that you’re feeling better! If you’re able to crack jokes, then you’re good enough to come down and keep me company in the living room until your father gets home with the pizzas.”

I feel a little drained as I follow my Mom down the stairs, but at the same time, I’m thinking about how cool it might be to have a superpower. I can recall with perfect detail the Marine book I read before my nap. The part that is kind of freaking me out is how fast and complete the text is popping up in my head. It’s like I have an eBook reader or something.

I can picture my superhero debut now. “Look out evil doers, it’s the mighty Bookworm! You’ll regret not reading the owner’s manual for your escape car! Watch me disable it by pressing a secret sequence with your door lock remote!

Okay, so that probably won’t happen, but I can dream, right?

When we reach the living room, my Mom asks me to sit on the couch with her. “Brian, do you know why I am so worried about your eye’s changing color?”

While it’s possible for a person’s eyes to naturally change color, they don’t normally change as dramatically as mine did. “Because, I could be a mutant?”

“Yes, Brian.” She says with a touch of sadness in her voice.

“Do you think that I will be able to fly or fight super villains?” I say excitedly as my Mom’s face gets an even more concerned look.

“I hope not!” My mom puts the brakes on my dreams. “Super heroes tend to have a short lifespan. How many retired superheroes have your read about?”

She kind of has a point. “Umm, not many…”

“Exactly! The odds of a hero retiring due to old age is less than 50% and I don’t want to have to worry about you.”

Her information isn’t something I expected her to know, but she is a Mom and Mom’s can know some strange things. “Okaaay, but how do you know that?”

My mom sighs with resignation. “Well, as you probably already know, my friend Barb is a mutant and in a super hero group for one.”

That’s news to me, but not unexpected. Barb is hot for an old-, umm, -er woman. “Yeah…okay.”

Mom glances away, almost like she is ashamed of something. “And, I might be a mutant too.”

“What?!?!” Okay, it’s official, I’m shocked.

“I might have a minor empathic talent.” Mom cringes a little. “I was tested in high school, but they didn’t find anything. So, I’m officially not a mutant, but based on some of the random insights that I sometimes have on how people are feeling, Barb says that I might be an Empath one on the mutant powers scale.”

Ah ha! So that is how she always knows when I am lying to her!

“Does Dad know?”

Mom nodded. “Yes, of course he knows.”

“What about Lindsay?” She better not have found out before I did!

“No, she doesn’t know, but I think that she might be a mutant too.” Mom sighed and glanced away.

“What!?!? Why?” Now I’m totally stunned. Revelations like this only happen in books and movies.

“I can’t tell when she’s lying as easily as I can with you. For you and most everyone else, I just know, but with Lindsay, not so much. I have to use the old fashioned methods to trip her up. That’s how she is able to get away with lying more than you can.”

Ah ha! I wonder if I can figure out a way to block Mom like Lindsay, but who else in our family is a mutant. “Dad’s not a mutant too is he?”

Mom shakes her head and smiles at me. “Nope, your Dad is a very special man, but he’s not a mutant.”

Dad chooses that time to make his grand entrance. He cheerily enters the kitchen carrying two large Papa Henry’s Pizzas. Setting them on the counter he enters the living room to look at my eyes.

“Wow son, I don’t know what to say...” He doesn’t sound too worried as Mom stands nervously by my side.

He surprises me with hug. “I’m worried about you son, but I want you to know that no matter what happens, your Mother and I will always love you.”

Whoa…some heavy emotions there and I can’t remember the last time my dad hugged me.

Embarrassed, I push him away. “Dad! Geez, it’s just my eyes. I’m not like I’m going to grow some horns or something here!”

“Yeah, well, even if you did.”

“Umm, well, is that pizza?” I ask trying to change the conversation flow.

“Hehe, yes. Why don’t you run upstairs and get your sister so we can all eat?” My dad gestures to the kitchen and the waiting pizzas.

“Sure thing!” I run out of the living room and head up the stairs.

“Hey! Lindsay! Dinner! Dad got us some pizzas!” I yell as I open her door.

“Brian! Get out of my room!” She yells from her bed.

I don’t know why she’s so upset. It’s not like she’s naked or anything. Of which, I am glad because seeing my sister would be creepy. “Umm…hello…I’m not in your room. I’m in the doorway telling you to get your butt downstairs so we can all eat.” I snidely respond.

“Fine! I’ll be down in a second.” She huffs.

Time to make her mad for real. “Okay by me squirt. More pizza for me.”

“Stop calling me a squirt you big jerk!” She yells back as I head down the stairs to scarf on some pizza.

Mission accomplished and I’m well into my second slice before Lindsay makes it down the stairs. Mom and Dad are still looking kind of serious and Lindsay isn’t a dummy.

“Umm, Mom…Dad, what’s wrong?” She asks as she sits down at the dinner table.

“It is nothing for you to worry about right now dear. Your Dad and I will tell you about it later.” My Mom says with parental authority.

“Umm, okay.” She says while looking at me while I studiously avoid her gaze by grabbing my third slice of pizza.

The dinner conversation is pretty limited after that. Lindsay definitely knows that something is wrong, but no one will say anything. I finish off a record eight slices of pizza and two large glasses of milk before I feel full. Mom doesn’t look happy, but what can I say? I’m a growing boy.

“Gross, you’re such a pig sometimes...” Lindsay mutters between bites of her second slice.

She’s just jealous, but I don’t want to get into a fight with her now. I need to login into GEO ASAP. I smile and glance at Mom. “May I be excused from the table?”

“Go ahead.” She nods.

Yippie! I race up the stairs, close my door and plop down in my computer chair!

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 9 **

I bring my PC back up from Standby mode and re-check my email before I start GEO. I’m not sure, but my PC seems faster somehow. GEO takes the same amount of time to load, but the PC is just responding faster to my commands. Things open almost before I can click on them. Oh well, I did run a de-frag the other day. Maybe that is all that my PC needed?

Whisper is standing on my character selection page looking alive and well and just a sexy as ever. Her status isn’t dead and even better, her location is indicating that she’s in Seramis’ Stronghold. Worst case, she’s been captured and is sitting in a jail cell. Taking a deep breath, I click Enter World and anxiously watch as Whisper’s current surroundings materialize on my screen.

>VIK Activated!

>Sensory Immersion…32%

The extra bit of status text surprises me as it flashes across my screen before disappearing. What in the heck was that? I wait a few extra seconds to see if it will repeat itself. Nothing happens. Oh well, no time to waste. She’s not in a jail cell and it’s time to move.

~o~O~o~

Whisper spun in a full circle. The room appeared to be a forgotten storeroom, full of dusty, broken and forgotten furniture. It was time to continue her mission. She wasn’t entirely sure how she got into the room, but now that Brian was in full control, she checked the door’s hinges and decided to lubricate them with a small squeeze bottle of oil from her kit. She couldn’t have something as simple as a squeaky door hinge betray her presence.

Cautiously, she placed an ear on the door to verify that the coast is clear before slowly and silently opening the door. The door opened into a dusty, disused and unlit hallway. Brian couldn’t believe his luck. The AI controlling Whisper in his absence exceeded his expectations.

With her thief’s sneaking skills fully engaged, she silently stepped into the hallway. Turning back, she silently closed and locked the door behind her. Judging by the state of the hallway, she probably didn’t need to take the extra step of closing the door and locking it, but it paid to be careful. Attention to detail was important for a thief in the middle of an enemy camp. One chance discovery of something out of place could blow her mission and put the stronghold on high alert.

Unsure of which way to go from here, Whisper glanced up and down the hallway and decided to head in the direction where the most light was coming from. As she moved closer to the light, she heard the faint sounds of an active kitchen. Ah ha! Perfect, she was right where she wanted to be.

Hidden in shadow, she observed the maids, servers and chefs engaged in preparing and delivering the evening’s meal. The sights, sounds and smells of a kitchen if full swing made her smile. So far, even a novice thief would have no trouble sneaking around this place, but the delightful smell of fresh baked bread made her mouth water.

~o~O~o~

What? I think I’m stressing out over this mission too much because how can I smell imaginary food in the game?” Shaking his head with confusion, Brian activates Whisper’s in game map to get a better idea of her current location in relation to the rest of the stronghold.

Except for the route to the storage room and the kitchen, the map is blank. However, the map does indicate that there are three above ground levels and at least one below ground level. All details Brian saw during the initial infiltration of the stronghold. He needed to explore the place a little more in order to fill out the rest of her map and find the best place to ambush Lady Seramis.

Attacking her where she least expects it should increase the chances of success. Aiding to that, the sun is setting and the shadows are lengthening in the rooms and hallways. Twilight and dawn, the perfect times for an enemy assault.

“Okay Brian, focus…” Brian sighs, a little ashamed at himself for being so easily distracted.

~o~O~o~

From her vantage point, Whisper carefully studied the standard maid and server uniforms, while taking careful note of their general appearance and speech patterns. It would be poor craftsmanship to perfectly copy their uniform, but have her disguise ultimately fail due to an out of place hairstyle or accent compared to the rest of the staff. The large variety and number of staff that circulated through the kitchen and the overall size of kitchen itself indicated that Lady Seramis maintained a very large household.

It should be easier to blend in, but she didn’t want to clone an individual maid. Instead, Whisper decided to modify her appearance to match what the rest of Seramis’ PC and NPC staff would expect to see. If challenged, it should be easier to pass herself off as a new maid instead of taking the chance of someone noticing that the person whose appearance she cloned is in two places at once or fails to recognize her own lover in the hallways.

Using her observations, Whisper crafted her illusion spell to transform her clothes and general appearance to that of a maid. Her uniform is clean, but showed signs of wear because a spanking new uniform would draw attention. Her hair morphed into a light brown in color that if it wasn’t braided would come to the middle of her back. The braid was tightly woven, but slightly unraveled as if from a hard day of labor. Her hands and nails were also rougher and slightly stained.

Taking a deep breath, Whisper smoothly integrated herself into the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. She used the path out of the kitchen that the other maids took earlier. She walked with a purpose, appearing to know exactly where she was going, like a maid on a mission.

No alarm was raised and letting out her breath, she made a couple of random turns before spotting a well-used door. “Hmm, that could be useful…”

She confidently pushed open the door and found herself in what appeared to be the stronghold’s main linen closet. Entering the large, room sized closet, Whisper spotted a stern faced older woman dressed in an immaculate and pressed maid’s uniform directing another maid to take a stack of table linens to the main dining hall.

“Yes, Mistress Saville.” The maid replied with a quick curtsey before grabbing the indicated linens and exiting the room with barely a glance to Whisper.

The older woman NPC glared impatiently at Whisper. “You there! Grab some fresh table linens and take them to the main dining hall.”

Copying the previous maid’s curtsey and speech, Whisper grabbed the indicated stack of linens and headed toward the room’s exit and to safety. She mentally cursed herself for not paying closer attention before she brazenly entered the room and she also wasn’t happy with her curtsey, but rogues don’t have a curtsey skill.

“Wait!” Mistress Saville exclaimed.

Wincing with the anticipation of being discovered, Whisper halted and turned to face her first, possible kill of the evening. She noted the retreating footsteps of the previous maid rapidly growing fainter as she walked away from the room. If she has to deal with this NPC, she could hide her under some of the larger blankets in the storeroom. However, doing so would greatly raise the risk of discovery.

“I haven’t seen you here before. What’s your name?” Mistress Saville sounded more curious than alarmed.

Whisper curtseyed again and this time slightly better. “I’m sorry that I failed to introduce myself sooner Mistress Saville, but I’m new here. My name is Br…Brianna.”

“Ahh, Brianna, nice name for a young pretty girl like yourself. It looks like Mistress Crawford has been keeping you busy with cleaning.” Mistress Saville smirked slightly after studying Whisper’s illusionary appearance.

“Yes ma’am. She ordered me to assist you with the preparations this evening so that I might ‘better earn my keep’.” Based on the NPC’s current path of questioning, Whisper took a calculated risk.

Mistress Saville smiled. “That certainly sounds like something the old task master might say! Well, I’ve wasted enough of your time satisfying my curiosity. Off you go!”

“Yes Mistress Saville!” Whisper performed another curtsey and exited the room with small sigh of relief. Now all she had to do was figure out where the main dining hall was located without appearing to be lost in the process.

Fortunately, the sounds of revelry and the smell of fresh cooked food led her to the main dining hall with only one slight pause at an intersection when she needed to figure out which direction to take. She delivered her bundle of linens to a room that is beginning to fill as more richly dressed people enter the hall.

Taking her cues from the other AI controlled maids, Whisper stood in line to wait upon the patrons. She busily filled drink orders and kept water glasses filled with a never empty pewter pitcher as the hall continued to fill.

Her alertness level rose as more player controlled heroes start to make their appearance. No one, AI controlled, nor player controlled spared her a second glance. What Player Character would expect another Player Character to play a lowly maid?

Suddenly, all activity in the hall stopped when the majordomo banged his staff of office on stone floor as trumpets blasted. “Presenting Her Majesty, Bandit Queen of the West, Lady Seramis!”

Lady Seramis swept into the hall accompanied by four mountain sized guards clad in shining plate mail. Her aura screamed “Queen” and everyone, Whisper included, instinctively bowed with respect at her passage.

Whisper barely recovered from her shock of seeing her target in the flesh, when she was directed by the head waiter to refill the glasses at Lady Seramis’ table. Adrenalin rushed through her body as she struggled to get her emotions under control. She managed to appear only slightly nervous instead of ready for a fight as she refilled Lady Seramis’ water glass.

~o~O~o~

I can’t believe it. What the odds for success would be if I had Whisper attack Lady Seramis right now?

>Analysing Critical Event Factors…

>Primary Mission Success...95.7% +/- 3.0%

>ROV Capture...89.2 +/- 2.3%

>ROV Destruction...73.0% +/- 1.5%

Okay, this is officially getting weird. Where did that analysis come from and what in the hell is going on here? Did GEO activate a new feature just for me? I only thought about the odds. There’s no way GEO’s voice technology could’ve responded to my question.

I hear the laughter from in game. It sounds like I’m really there instead of listening through headphones.

This is really starting to freak me out.

~o~O~o~

Lady Seramis’ musical laugh filled the hall in response to a fellow player’s joke. The pitcher slipped from Whisper’s suddenly nerveless fingers. Realizing what happened, Whisper watched as the heavy pewter pitcher fell towards the stone floor in slow motion. NPCs don’t drop items and it was impossible for her to catch, but she tried anyway because that was all she needed right now.

The eyes of every Player Character in the room would turn to her, drawn by the sound of a NPC dropping an item and wondering how an AI controlled maid could be so clumsy. Somehow, her fingers wrapped around the cool, metal handle of the pitcher, catching it with a foot to spare. Straightening, she was relieved to note that no one appeared to have noticed her slip up.

~o~O~o~

That felt weird! I think that I am playing too much. I swear that I could feel the cold metal of the pitcher on my hands. How is this happening?!?!

>Sensory Immersion…55%

There it is again! What does it mean?

~o~O~o~

Pitcher once again securely in hand and feeling a little shaken by the close call, Whisper exited the hall and returned to the kitchen under the guise of seeking a refill. She thought it was kind of silly to refill a limitless pitcher of water, but the other maids were doing it and now would be the perfect time to take advantage of the distraction caused by the party to find Lady Seramis’ quarters. Spotting a broom and a dust pan in the kitchen, she traded in her water pitcher for the perfect tools of a diligent maid about her duties.

As a cleaning maid, Whisper easily scouted the second floor and as her map started to fill in, she quickly reached the conclusion that the floor was primarily devoted to administrative functions. During the time spent scouting the floor, she only saw one guard and he appeared to be sent to retrieve a ledger book for someone in the main hall. She decided that Lady Seramis’ quarters had to be on the third floor.

Ascending the stairs with the weapons against dust in hand, she spotted two mail clad guards standing sentry before ornate, heavy wooden doors on the right hand side of the hallway. She felt a quick burst of fear at the sight of the guards, but they didn’t instantly aggro on her. As she walked past the pair, she steeled herself for action while repeating to herself “I’m just a NPC maid. I’m just a NPC maid…

Her mantra seemed to work. The guards didn’t aggro on her. She tried to not be too obvious, but the door’s intricately carved woodland scene drew her eyes. They had to be the entrance to Lady Seramis’ quarters. She debated trusting her disguise and attempting to enter the room, but she felt certain the guards would aggro on her if she tried to push her luck. A less direct entrance to Lady Seramis’ quarters would have to be found.

The hallway continued another twenty five yards further with three evenly spaced plain wooden doors on the left before ending at a T intersection. There were no other doors on the right hand side of the hallway that Lady Seramis’ suite entered into, giving Whisper a sense for the size of Lady Seramis’ quarters. As she worked her way toward the intersection, she stopped briefly in front of each door on the left hand side of the hallway and pretended to sweep up a stray bit of dust. The guard’s attention to her never flickered.

“I’m just a NPC maid going about her duties. Nothing to see here, move along,” she again chanted softly to herself.

The guards didn’t budge from the position or turn their gaze upon her as she attacked the imaginary dust bunnies hiding in the doorframes of each door in the hallway. She used the cleaning distraction to covertly check the locks on the doors. Finding them all locked, she decided to continue with her search. While her thief instincts were telling her to check the rooms for loot, they were unlikely to have anything truly worth stealing and they were certainly not a way into Lady Seramis’ quarters.

Reaching the intersection, Whisper consulted her map before taking a right turn. Once again, there were no doors on the right hand side of the hallway. Lady Seramis’ suite appeared to take up a large portion of the floor plan. There were three more doorways on the left and she continued her fake sweeping while testing each door’s locks. She was mildly surprised to find the final door unlocked. She had planned to pick the lock, but whoever left it unlocked just made her job easier.

The door opened to reveal a cozy, ten by ten foot room containing an empty bed pushed into room’s left corner. Entering the room, she silently closed the door behind her, plunging the room into darkness. She was able to discern the dark outlines of what appeared to be a free standing wardrobe closet in the corner, nearest the door and some sort of large, chest sized object across from the bed.

Even better, she appeared to be alone. Even if she failed to ‘distract’ Lady Seramis, Whisper felt like she had already won because she had made it pretty darn far without attracting the suspicion of anyone in the stronghold. Her only regret at this point was that she wouldn’t be able to brag about it. She let out a small sigh before getting back to the task at hand.

She pressed her ear against the door and despite her excitement; she remained calm and patient as she listened for any activity in the hallway outside her door. It wouldn’t be wise to make it this far only to be surprised by a random patrol. After five minutes and no signs of alarm, she decided to drop her maid illusion.

The darkness in the room vanished, causing her to scramble to turn off the modern light switch she must have accidently touched. It took her a few heartbeats to realize there was no light switch because this was not a modern house and her improved night vision was the result of her illicit visit to the Font of Light.

A nervous giggle escaped her throat before she clamped down on her emotions.

Now that Whisper was in her natural, elvish form, the star and moon light that was coming from the two narrow window slits cut into the walls of this corner room provided plenty of light for her to see by. She didn’t need her mask’s vision enhancements, but decided to equip it anyway for the other bonuses it provided.

Mage sight being the key bonus she heavily relied upon as she used it to scan the room for magical surprises before venturing any further. Nothing glowed, telling her the room was probably safe.

The bed was made and looked like it hadn’t been slept in for a long time, if ever. Adding to her hypothesis, she noticed that the floor and chest were covered in a fine layer of dust. Careful to not disturb the dust, she checked the chest first. It was conveniently unlocked and even better, no trap or magic was detected, but after standing to the side and carefully lifting the lid; it was also proven to be empty.

“Dang, no loot.” Whisper sighed. “Oh well, it probably would’ve been junk anyway. I wonder if there are any goodies in that…”

Whisper turned her attention to the wardrobe. From the outside, it looked very plain and from the inside, it was the same, except for the expertly hidden trap door set into the bottom. “Hmm, I wonder what’s hiding under here?”

After habitually checking for traps, both mechanical and magical, Whisper lifted the trapdoor. It opened to reveal a narrow crawl space and ladder leading down to a small landing on the next floor before continuing further down. “Well, this could be useful…”

Whisper climbed down to the first landing. There was a latch and small peephole in the wall. Looking through the peephole revealed a room full of ledger books and other administrative equipment. “Interesting, but it’s not a backdoor into Lady Seramis’ quarters.”

She glanced down the shaft and debated following it further, but time was running out. She needed to find a way into Lady Seramis’ quarters to ‘distract’ her for the quest. Feeling a little peeved at not being able to explore more, Whisper climbed back up to the room above. Exiting the wardrobe, she reset the trap door and turned her attention to the room’s windows.

The narrow window slits appeared to be normal windows with regular window glass to keep the elements out of the room. There were latches on the windows, allowing them to swing open instead of up like a modern window would. They didn’t appear to be trapped or alarmed, but she didn’t fully trust what her mundane vision could see. Seramis used magic and it would be fairly trivial to add simple alarm wards to the windows.

Activating her mage sight, Whisper spotted a faint glow surrounding the window. It was so faint that she was glad she double checked because her initial magical check of the room failed to spot the ward. On closer inspection, the ward appeared to be exactly what she feared, an alarm, but it was a simple intruder alarm and very easy for her to bypass.

Whisper decided that if this room had a window, than Lady Seramis’ quarters also had to have windows and entering a room from a few stories up was probably a little unexpected. However; judging by the ward on the current window, a window entry was probably not totally unexpected either.

“Hmm, me thinks I need to do some climbing...”

A less experienced thief would’ve been forced to try dispelling the ward. A simple process, but doing so carried the risk of setting off the alarm. Whisper stepped up to the inner ledge and utilizing the same skills she used to bypass the more powerful wards on her way to the stronghold; she pinched the upper left anchor point and pulled it down. With her right hand, she unlatched the window and gently swung it out.

With the window safely opened and still holding down the left anchor point, Whisper pulled the upper right anchor point down and stepped over the ward and onto the outer window ledge. Easily balancing herself on the narrow ledge, she glanced down. It was a long drop down to the hard flagstones below, but not a fall she was concerned about. Her thief skills were more than high enough to render the fall inconsequential, but she still preferred to not take the chance over the attention a person falling from a third story window might attract.

Above her, the roof hung out, casting a shadow on the window, effectively rendering her invisible. To her right were and additional row of windows, probably to Lady Seramis’ quarters. Whisper debated utilizing the edge of the roof to hand walk herself over to the first window, but she preferred to look for a less direct approach first. After all, if a simple guest room had a ward on its window, what might Lady Seramis’ windows have? She didn’t want to deal with magic if she didn’t have to.

Before doing anything further, she closed the window and re-locked it from the outside using one of her expensive thief’s tools. The tool was specially designed to deal with the simple locks found on most windows, but she still didn’t like how much her set dipped into her available funds. With the window closed and locked, she reset the ward.

“Leave no trace behind…” Whisper smirked with satisfaction.

With the bypassed ward back in place, she reached up with her left hand and grabbed a hold of the roof’s edge. The lack of rain gutters made her smile. The standard flimsy tin or copper gutters found in most city buildings were prone to making noise or breaking when you needed them the most. Confident in her abilities, she committed herself by reaching up with her other hand and bracing her feet against the outer wall, straddling the window.

With the grace and power of an Olympic gymnast, she pushed up and off with her feet while pulling herself up and onto the roof with single, fluid motion. Her pulse raced with excitement, but impossible, sneaky missions like this were why she became a thief instead of a boring warrior. Smiling with satisfaction, she silently padded along the edge of the roof until she was directly above the first window that entered into Seramis’ suite.

~o~O~o~

>Sensory Immersion…78%

These weird “Sensory Immersion” messages are getting out of hand and I should probably stop now, but I’m so close.

“Grrr…” This is a little frustrating.

Well, except for some weird phantom sensations that I may or may not have actually felt, everything about the game seems sharper and is that a bad thing?

I don’t think so, but if things get worse, then I’ll stop, for sure.

~o~O~o~

From her current position, the roof sloped up at an easy thirty degree angle to its crest. Three small chimneys were evenly spaced along the roof’s crest, with a large chimney set against the southern edge of the roof. Judging by the position of the large chimney, Whisper decided it probably lead to Lady Seramis’ quarters.

The chimney could be an option, but why get all dirty when an easy to open window was available? Lying on her belly, face forward, she inched herself forward and peered over the edge of the roof.

Wow! She was almost blinded by the powerful wards protecting the window.

Hmmm, this could be a little tricky...” Whisper felt disappointed as she mulled over her options.

Glancing back to the roof and the chimney, Whisper softly chuckled. “Ho ho ho.”

A quick look down the chimney showed her that opening was, with a inch or two to spare, wide enough for her to fit her body into and wasn’t being used. “Hmmm, this could be the way, but…”

Wary of traps, she activated her mask’s mage sight and instead of almost being blinded like she had with the window wards, there was only a faint glow of closer to the bottom. She smirked with satisfaction as she readied her gear for the tight decent. Except for her daggers, she transferred all her external belts and gear into her small bag of holding to give her more clearance inside the chimney and prevent noise.

After securing her shadow silk climbing rope, she entered the chimney head first and like a spider descending from her web, she smoothly lowered herself down. Reaching the faintly glowing ward, she felt pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn’t an alarm ward. Instead, it’s only purpose was to stop cold air from entering into the fireplace from the chimney. Ignoring the ward, Whisper dropped through and peeked into the room.

From her vantage point, there was no movement and the room appeared to be empty of guards. Cautiously lowering herself and sticking her head out of the fireplace to get a better look around the room, she spotted a fair amount of items emanating magical energy scattered about the room, but nothing that resembled a magical guard or alarm system setup inside.

Rotating the rest of her body down and out of the chimney, Whisper crouched motionlessly just outside of the fireplace, ready to spring in any direction, and gave the room a more thorough inspection. No hidden guardians attacked her and there was no noise from outside the room that would indicate she missed an alarm.

Relaxing slightly, Whisper drew her daggers and cautiously stepped further into the room. She reversed her grip, holding with the razor sharp, blackened blades pressed against her forearms. While the odds were low, she didn’t want to risk someone spotting the reflection from the sharpened portion of the blades.

Shrouded in shadow and nearly invisible in the unlit room, she stopped in the center and turned a full circle. Her eyes lit up with pleasure at all the expensive loot Seramis casually displayed in her quarters. She easily spotted a couple of magical jewelry items and was tempted to add them to her collection, but she reminded herself that she wasn’t here for loot.

“Darn, maybe after?” Whisper muttered as she resumed her inspection of the room.

The mantle above the fireplace contained a matching pair of elaborate porcelain vases decorated with a tree pattern done in bas relief using earth tones and above those hung a framed portrait of a redheaded woman wearing queenly attire. The woman resembled Lady Seramis, but looked a little younger. Whisper smirked as she considered how funny it was that vanity paintings could exist in a video game.

Against the eastern wall, a comfortable looking leather couch was placed between two heavily warded windows. A small coffee table was set up in front of the couch. Directly opposite of the fireplace, an open set of French doors led into what looked like a bedroom. To the left of the French doors was a small work desk and chair. Lining the entire western wall of the room was a large, floor to ceiling book shelf full of books. Some of the books gave off a magical residue.

Whisper’s eyes narrowed as she considered how much some of the books might be worth on the open market. Moving past the bookshelf, she reached the heavy, reinforced entrance doors. The doors contained a square, steel bracket on each door. At first, she wasn’t sure what they were for, but a heavy, magically reinforced wooden bar resting against the wall gave away the brackets function.

I guess that when she wants to be alone, she means it…” Whisper shook her head with disbelief as she considered all the security designed to keep people out of Seramis’s quarters.

Turning her back on the doors, she ghosted through the room and entered the room past the French doors. Inside, she found a large and ornate canopy bed, wooden dresser and full sized mirror with intricate roses carved into its wooden frame. The mirror was also magical, causing Whisper to give it a wide berth.

Opposite of the mirror was a large, walk in closet full of dresses, robes and shoes. Of which, about half of them gave off a magical glow. Whisper groaned with frustration as she held herself back from appropriating all the loot.

“What do we have here?” She softly muttered when she spotted a secret door set into the back of the closet. Based on the map, it looked like the door opened into the hallway, near the open room with the secret passageway. She smiled with satisfaction as she added the secret door to one of her escape plans.

With her inspection complete, Whisper re-entered the main room. It was time to plan for her ambush of Lady Seramis and more importantly, her escape if the magical gem failed.

If she dropped Lady Seramis as quickly as she expected, she might have enough time to bar the doors before the guards had time to respond. With the doors barred and everyone focusing on the doors, she could easily escape via the secret door or by climbing out the window.

Escape planning done, Whisper looked around the room for the best spot to start her ambush from. Hiding behind the couch wasn’t a good option and neither was hiding in Seramis’ bedroom. Since the doors opened inward, she decided hiding beside one of the doors would be the best option since her target would have her back to her. Which door probably didn’t matter since it is a 50/50 chance either way and maybe Lady Seramis liked to make a grand entrance and open both doors.

Since it was magically reinforced, the wooden bar gave Whisper an idea. “Time to hide in plain sight.”

She carefully lifted the bar and after committing its features to memory, she carried it over to the couch and silently slid it underneath, hiding it from view. Two bars would be a little suspicious and might be noticed by Lady Seramis when she closed the doors. Moving next to the door, she stood in the bar’s place and cast her illusion spell. When done, there was only a reinforced wooden bar standing in her place.

With her disguise in place and feeling a little stressed out, Whisper hoped Lady Seramis didn’t habitually bar the door.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 10 **

“I seriously need a break right now!” I mutter as lean back and take a breather.

Okay, the computer stuff is kind of weird, but at the same time, I’ve never felt more connected to Whisper. It’s almost like I’m really her. Hmmm…I don’t think that I really wanna think about that right now. It’s one thing to play a girl character, but I wouldn’t want to be a girl for real. Not that I think girls are bad, I love girls, but using my sister as my sample, they just have too much drama in their lives. I don’t even want to think about the big, monthly issue girls have.

Crap, I just thought about it. Delete, delete, delete!

Enough of the crazy thinking, time for a bio break and after that, I think I’ll run down stairs and see if I can snag another slice or two of pizza! All that playing made me hungry again.

It takes a few seconds of rummaging in the fridge, but my keen rogue instincts allow me to find the single, remaining slice of pizza. It vanishes into my stomach pretty darn fast and I wash it down with some milk. Yummy!

Appetite sated, I decide to head back to my room. I’m kind of waiting on Seramis now, but I wonder if Brenda is playing right now? There is no way that I’m just going to call her, but I guess I could try texting her. I still can’t believe she gave me her number and that she really wants me to call her.

Okay, now where did I put my phone and her number?” I struggle for a second before remembering I put everything in my backpack. Hurrying back to my computer with phone and Brenda’s card in hand, I start to punch in her phone number. I manage to get the first two digits entered, when the rest of her number suddenly appears and the phone automatically calls her.

“Wait, no!” I was planning on texting her. Now, she’s just going to laugh at me for being such a dork.

“Brenda speaking!”

I hear her beautiful voice say as I scramble to hold my phone up to my ear. “Umm, hey there Brenda. It’s Whisper, I mean, Brian. How’s it, umm, going?”

I’m so lame.

“Brian!” Brenda excitedly yells, ending with a giggle. “I’m glad you called.”

“What?” I’m officially surprised. Beautiful girls, I mean women aren’t supposed to sound so happy to hear from me. I rack my brain for the proper ‘cool’ response. “Umm, I mean, me too, but I was planning on texting you first. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but for some reason my phone automatically dialed your number.”

“Okaaay,” Brenda doesn’t sound convinced, “but anyway, are you playing right now?”

I’m a little worried about giving anything away. If she’s online, she’s probably sitting with Lord Vincint. “I can neither confirm, nor deny that allegation.”

“OMG! You have got to let me tell the guild what’s really going on!”

There is no way I can let her do that, not right now. “I can’t and you promised me, remember?”

Brenda sighs. “I know, but Lord Vincint is totally spazzing out here. He has the capital locked down and no one is able to get out to go adventuring. All of the leaders are convinced that you plan to use the Font for some big spell, but that’s impossible, right?”

I don’t want to brag, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made an unauthorized visit to the Font. “It’s not _that_ impossible, but it is kinda hard...”

“Huh? Are you trying to tell me that you’ve done it before?”

“Weeell, one time, I did, kinda sorta sneak in and use it without permission.”

“No way, seriously?!?!” Brenda gasps. “You didn’t lie to me about Seramis, did you?”

“No!” I can’t believe she thinks I would lie to her, but then again, maybe she has a point. “The Seramis quest is real and no, I’m nowhere near the Font. So, if you wanna tell his Lordship that much. Go ahead, but don’t expect him to believe you.”

“Hmmm…” Brenda mulls it over.

I’m not sure which way she will go, but I need to do something fast because her spilling the beans right now could give them time to warn Seramis. “Can ya give me another hour or two? I’m close to being done.”

“I dunno…” Brenda sighs with frustration. “Fine, two hours and then, I’m letting him know because being stuck guarding the Font is so booorring.” She almost sounds like she’s whining a little, but she recovers fast. “So, you made it in?”

Phew. I think I dodged that bullet. “Yep! It was pretty intense though.”

Brenda chuckles. “Okay spill it mister! If I’m going to be stuck cooling my heels, I require you to entertain me with your tales of deceit and skullduggery.”

Wow, she’s old. Who uses ‘skullduggery’ these days? “Well, it all started in the guild tent when I got the quest handed to me.”

It takes me about ten minutes to give her the full story and I think she finds my exploits to be rather funny. She especially laughs about how I ‘borrowed’ Lord Vincint’s griffon. “So, what have you told Lord Vincint so far?” I ask.

“Nothing and it’s been so hard. He and Lord Calrent, okay, mostly Lord Calrent has got everyone all worked up about you right now. He’s asked if anyone knows you in RL. He’s even offered a 10,000 Gold reward for anyone who brings you in!”

“No way! 10K gold! And you haven’t told him anything?” I’m shocked that she hasn’t turned me in.

“Hey, where do I work?” Brenda scoffed.

“The labs?”

“Exactly! I know how to keep a secret.”

“Well, thanks,” I’m glad I called her now because I could use someone else’s advice, “but I really don’t know what to think about this quest.”

“How so?”

“Well, on one hand, it’s been pretty darn cool infiltrating Seramis’ stronghold. Weird, but cool.”

“Weird? What do you mean?”

“Well…I think that I am playing Whisper too much, because I swear that when I was running her through the main kitchen in Seramis’ stronghold that I could smell the food that was being cooked in there.”

“No way! That’s impossible. You had to have been imagining it!” Brenda attempts to reassure me.

“That’s not all though. I was refilling Seramis’ water glass when I…”

She interrupts me. “Wait! Did I just hear you say that you refilled her water glass?!?!”

“Well, umm, yes.”

“So, you were standing right next to her and she never noticed?! Wow, that’s just crazy!” She says, sounding impressed.

“That’s not really the crazy part though. So, as I’m, I mean, Whisper was standing beside her, I wondered what would happen if I tried to kill her right there. I got some message on my screen that said something like “Primary Mission Success…90 something percent” and “ROV Capture percent…80 something percent or another. Well, I think so anyway.” I say without much confidence, because now that I look back on it, I’m not really sure.

“Did you download some GEO Add-on or something?” Brenda asks, skeptically.

“Nope! No Add-ons for me and you know that no one has been able to get those kind of cheats to work. GEO is just too good at detecting hacks.”

“Hmmm….okay, then what happened?”

“I was so shocked, that I almost made Whisper drop the water pitcher she was holding.”

“Almost?”

“Yeah..almost. Whisper caught it somehow and the extra weird part is that when she caught it, I could feel the pitcher in my hands for a second or two.”

“Maybe you are playing too much there Brian.”

“Yeah, probably. As soon as this quest is over, I think that I am going to take a long break from GEO. Maybe even retire. The game is just getting too weird for me.”

“Awww…are you sure? I was starting to looking forward to having some baby bottles of milk to give Whisper the next time we grouped up!” She laughs.

“Ha ha ha…not. Are you sure that you’re really thirty something?”

“Eeewww, you really are planning on dying young, aren’t you?”

“Well, you know what the old folks say? Only the good die young!” I sing, hoping to defuse the situation. There is a fine line between stupid and clever.

“Nice try Brian.” Brenda takes a deep breath. “So, are you really going to go through with it?”

“I don’t know.” I sigh heavily as I second guess myself. “It’s just that the more that I think about it, the less sure I feel and I haven’t had much time to think about it either. Assassinating someone isn’t something I feel comfortable doing, but the rewards...”

“Maybe that’s why you haven’t been given a lot of time to complete the mission? I did some thinking about it after you left and something just isn’t right about your quest” She says.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, didn’t the quest say something about this being a ‘test’ for you?”

“Yes, but it also said that Whisper would get five levels and a new identity if I kill Seramis. Are you saying that the reward isn’t real?” I ask with disbelief. I’ve never heard of GEO faking a quest or a reward.

“I dunno…it’s just that something about this has my spidey sense tingling.” Brenda says. “I mean, how do you know that GEO generated the quest and why didn’t GEO just give you the quest directly instead of going through the guild leaders?”

“Well, the quest scrolls look and act like real quest scrolls. I didn’t notice anything weird about that. Well, other than the quest itself!” I say, feeling a little suspicious now myself.

“Okay…so then why involve the guild leaders? No one even had to know that you have a quest. That’s the part that really gets me.”

“Hmmm, I dunno. Maybe GEO knew that I had to steal a griffon and Lord Vincint’s griffon was where it needed to be?”

“If that’s true, then why wasn’t that one of your quest objectives?” She asks.

Brenda has a point and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it. “Oh crap, what if I was supposed to tell the leaders about the quest? Maybe, I am supposed to fail?”

“I wonder…” She begins to say, but then stops herself.

“What?”

“It’s kind of vague and I’m not sure if GEO would do something that indirect.”

“Huh?”

“Okay, here’s my idea. Everyone is wondering why Seramis has been able to stay neutral, right?”

“Yeah…” I’ve kind of wondered about that myself.

“Well, what if we were supposed to warn Lady Seramis about the plot to kill her and in doing so, that would bring her over to our side?”

Brenda has an interesting theory, but based upon what I’ve seen here and the people she has working for her; I can’t see her joining a side anytime soon. “That sounds like pretty twisty and why wouldn’t Seramis just say, ‘thanks for the warning’ and continue about her merry way?”

“What if the evil side got the same quest and our warning could’ve saved her? Maybe that could push her to our side as a result?”

“Well, that’s a bit stronger, but it’s still pretty random. There’s no direct path there. It all depends on how Lady Seramis would react or not react. How could GEO predict something like that?”

Before she can reply, I notice one of the window wards begin to fade away. “What the?!?”

“What?! What’s the matter?” Brenda asks.

I focus my attention on the window. A shadowy shape floats through the now disarmed window. “Shhh…Someone’s breaking in through the window right now.”

I watch the unknown player or monster begin to case the room. The person stops in front of the fire place and I can hear him chuckle while looking up at the painting. “Ahh, Fey, it’s going to be so much fun killing your character. Not as much fun as it would be killing you, but still rewarding. I can’t wait to see your sad little face tomorrow morning in Crystal Hall.”

What in the heck is that about? Does the dude think he knows who the player of Lady Seramis and what is a Crystal Hall? My attention is drawn away from the guy when I hear the guards outside the door clank to attention. The other assassin dude casually turns to face the door which lets me get my first good look at his face.

“Oh shit!” I’m a little shocked.

“What!? What’s happening?” Brenda asks, anxiously.

“It’s Shadow Killer. Except, he spells it all leet with numbers and stuff.” I whisper to Brenda. Dunno why I’m whispering to Brenda. He can’t hear me and I don’t have the game mic turned on. Shadow Killer is a well-known evil player assassin and PK’er. To make matters worse, he’s a red con to me. Meaning, he’s at least five levels higher then Whisper and it would take a miracle of all miracles for me to even slow him down before he killed me. With that troubling thought, he disappears from my screen.

“I gotta go Brenda…” I say, not really paying attention to her as I grab the phone with my left hand so that my right hand can work the mouse. I fumble a bit with closing the phone to hang it up before I absently set it down on my desk.

I start to feel dizzy, but then the feeling disappears as the room that Whisper is hiding in comes to an extra sharp focus.

>Sensory Immersion…100%

Okay, I’m officially freaked out, but at the same time; this is so cool!

< GEO Core Warning: Player.Object.Whisper:Beta-VR Protocol Enabled! >

< GEO Core Warning: Player.Object.Whisper:Beta-Nervous System Link Enabled >

< GEO Core Warning: Player.Object.Whisper:Beta-VR Level 5 Initiated >

<GEO System Console: Player Entity Safety System Recommends [D]isconnect of GEO.Player.Object.Whisper or [I]gnore?>

<GEO System Console: Ignore Confirmed.>

<GEO System Console: Continuing World Balance Alteration Scenario>



~o~O~o~


** Chapter 11 **

I feel a bit confused at first. Okay, I lied! I feel a lot confused. I am leaning up against the wall behind the now opening door of Lady Seramis’ suite. I can feel Whisper’s delightfully soft and slippery shadow silk armor against my skin. Her boots feel like the most comfortable pair of wrestling shoes I’ve ever worn. Unlike those flimsy thin soled shoes, her magical elven crafted leather boots are soft, warm and supportive. My chest feels slightly constricted, but supported. Do I have? Umm…oh crap… la la la la la…moving on.

The magical mithril silver alloy of her thief’s mask feels comfortably cool pressed against my face. The mask surprises me with how easy it is to breath. I never thought about it before, but how does Whisper manage to breathe while wearing the mask? There are no nose or mouth holes to be seen on its matte black surface. Oh well, I can’t really look at the mask now. I guess I will have to explore that question at a later date.

Even though her hair isn’t that much longer than my own, I can feel the extra weight of her longer bangs as they cover my ears and sweep forward around my face. My real ears aren’t pierced, so Whispers earrings feel strange to me. I resist the urge to reach up and feel her ears. I mean my ears. Oh, this is getting so darn confusing now!

I can feel a cool band of metal on my right hand that must be Whisper’s Ring of Regeneration and a smaller ring on my left that has to be my, I mean her Ring of Mind Shielding. I’m not into wearing rings or any jewelry, so every little sensation is new and distracting to me.

My muscles are relaxed, yet I feel ready for action. I’ve never felt this alive before. It’s like every fiber of my being is bristling with energy. Kind of like when John and I watched Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” movie and afterwards, we both walked around the neighborhood a few times looking for bad guys to fight with our Bruce Lee moves. The scents, sights and feelings assaulting my senses right now are intoxicating.

If only I could feel like this in real life!

>ROV Object Definition File Found.

>Begin File Transfer? [Y]/N

Well, the default is Yes and that’s usually the right answer with system prompts, so I guess I should choose it, right?

>Transfer in Progress…1%

Whoa! The words flash for a second in the center of my vision before minimizing down to the lower right corner as the 1% changes to 2% a few seconds later. Based on the lack of speedy progress, the transfer or whatever it is, this could take a while.

Lady Seremis’s musical laugh from outside her doors acts like a glass of cold water thrown over the shower curtain by a mischievous brat of a sister. My new body tenses as everything snaps into a razor sharp focus.

I’m ready for action and can’t stop myself from grinning. “Hehe, I know Kung Fu.”

“Oh, come now Lord Grover. I appreciate the company and the escort, but I’m hardly defenseless here in the heart of my own stronghold. Someone would have to be incredibly stupid to try and attack me here.” I hear her say from outside of her suite.

Oh man, I am so screwed now.

“Yes my Queen, but reports have surfaced that someone has put out a contract for your life.” I hear what I assume is this Lord Grover dude tell Lady Seramis.

Reports my ass!

“Pffftt…this is hardly the first time I’ve heard that particular bit of news in my life.”

She sounds so unconcerned.

“Of course my Queen, but these rumors have also said that the GEO GM’s are the ones who have put out the contract.” Lord Grover says, sounding worried.

“I hardly think that the Game Masters would get involved in the assassination contract of a player character!”

Umm, yeah they would.

“There has been some speculation that our Neutral kingdom has the GM’s perplexed.”

I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Lord Grover dude.

“If the GM’s are involved in some plot against my life, then that will only aid me in my research of this strange world.”

Oh man…If she only knew how much danger that she is really in right now. I’m equal level to her and given the element of surprise, I’m pretty sure that I could take her down pretty fast. I’m not even specialized as an assassin because I’ve focused on the thief skills and have only taken the assassin related skills to help with the dungeon crawls. A specialized assassin like Shad0 K1LL3r should be able to put her down even if he doesn’t completely surprise her.

“Well, good night to you Lord Grover and I thank you for your concern. Your intelligence reports are always worth taking heed. It has been a pleasure listening to your dragon tales and cannot wait to hear what the heroine does next! I might have to plan another party next week just for that reason!” She says with a laugh. “Well, I have to do some reading before I camp-out for the night. Tomorrow is going to be a long day.” She ruefully finishes.

“The pleasure is all mine, my Queen and a pleasant night to you.” He says and due to the sounds of armor rustling, I imagine him bowing to her in some archaic military fashion. It is amazing how good Whisper’s hearing is! I so want him to stay to help Lady Seramis, but I hear his armored footsteps retreating back down the stairs as Lady Seramis fully enters the trap her own suite has become.

>Transfer in Progress…8%

Where in the hell is that other assassin?!

>Tactical Systems Enabled…

>Analyzing Sensor Data…

>Anomaly Detected…

>Augmented Reality System Enabled!

A solid, yellow pair of brackets spring into existence around Lady Seramis with a pinging sound.

>Target One Locked

With another pinging sound, a second pair of brackets quickly follow the first set. Instead of yellow, the second set of brackets are blinking red and appear to be enclosing empty air. Focusing on the empty pair of blinking red brackets, I can make out a very slight ghosting effect caused by a rogue using their hide in shadows ability. If it wasn’t for the brackets, I would have never spotted him. The more I focus on the ghosting effect, the less invisible the enemy assassin looks to me. The blinking brackets then turn solid.

>Target Two Locked

Oh man, this is so cool! I feel like a fighter pilot! If I only had a Sidewinder missile or two right now!

Lady Seramis turns her back to the assassin when she turns to close and lock her doors. She’s standing right next to me; I know I could ‘win’ by plunging my dagger into her neck right now, but I can’t do it anymore. After all the stress involved in getting here, I should feel depressed about that realization.

Instead, it feels like a huge weight has lifted off my shoulders. I’m glad I accidently called Brenda because now I know what I have to do and it’s probably going to suck for Whisper, but I have to try and stop this.

I watch as the assassin moves into the corner opposite of me so that he can maneuver behind her once she turns to step away from the doors. I am guessing that he is letting her lock the doors to gain some time before her guards can get in and interrupt things. Well, the guards were grey to me, so I guess that they would be grey or even white to Shadow Killer.

Sure, the guards would be an easy kill for me and for a high level, specialized assassin like Shadow Killer, the guards would be dead before they even had a chance to jump. However, dealing with the guards first would allow Lady Seramis time to prepare and draw upon her Font’s power. If the assassin allowed that to happen, then the fight would end rather badly for the dude.

>Transfer in Progress…10%

Holy cow! What the heck is in that file? I have a pretty darn fast connection and it shouldn’t take that long to download a game file!

Anyway, I don’t have time to worry about it now. It’s time for me to make my move. I slowly reach down and draw both of my daggers from their boot sheaths. I know, I know, boot sheaths? Real fighters don’t use boot sheaths for their daggers, but I couldn’t resist. Whisper looked so damn hot wearing them that I didn’t care what Sensei Rogers might have thought about the tactical problems those sheaths would cause the wearer. It’s not real. Well, it wasn’t real until just now anyway.

The leather wrapped pommels of Whisper’s matched Adamantine Daggers of Speed feel like they’re a part of me as I move into position behind Shadow Killer. It’s crazy, but I feel like I have used these daggers in countless fights and that relaxes me. Lucky for me, he is focusing on Lady Seramis and not paying attention to anything else. The sight of an unsuspecting victim being followed by an assassin who was in turn being followed by another assassin would be hilarious, if it wasn’t me doing it.

>Transfer in Progress…15%

My plan is to attack him before he executes his attack sequence because I expect his attack to be too fast for me to do anything to stop it. I see his right arm begin to move and have a millisecond to worry before time seems to slow for me. Unlike one of those dreams where I can see something happening in slow motion, but never reach it in time; I’m not slow. Instead, I feel like I have all the time in the world as he starts killing thrust into Lady Seramis’ unprotected back with the short sword in his right hand.

Lightning fast, my right hand dagger sinks into his back --right where a real person’s right kidney would be-- while my left hand dagger moves to a guard position in case he spins toward me from his left. I do better than I expected.

Where I strike, his avatar flashes yellow indicating I did some good damage. I’m sure he’s surprised and maybe a little pissed, but my dagger only sank two to three inches deep versus to the hilt like it would’ve for one of my normal targets. I’m pretty sure that if I had made that strike on Lady Seramis, her body would be hitting the floor right now and the fight would be over.

Yeah, I hurt him, but not enough because he still tries to kill Lady Seramis. My blow ruined his aim and all he manages to do is cause her avatar to flash a light blue color, indicating that he lightly wounded her with his short sword strike. His off-hand dagger strike misses her completely.

Lady Seramis gasps as she falls forward on to the floor and then, rolls to face behind her. Her face is a mixture of pain, surprise and anger. She’s barely hurt and if he turns on me like I expect him to do; I’m not going to be so lucky, but I’m not going to go down without a fight.

I need to stay behind him and get another backstab in. I also need him to do what I expect a right handed player to do and spin his character to the right.

Lucky me, he does what I expect him to do and I manage to maneuver and stay behind him. My plan is to get another backstab and position myself between him and Lady Seramis. It works, but my second backstab only causes his avatar to flash blue where I hit, telling me that my hit was negligible. He spins again to face me and wow, does he look pissed.

~o~O~o~


** Chapter 12 **

“What the fuck!!?!” Brad Kenner, aka Damper, screamed. Everything was going according to plan until someone stabbed him in the back, just as he was about to complete his contract for Lady Seramis. The real kicker in the scenario is that he recognized the lady in the portrait hanging above the room’s fireplace. She looked a lot like Nikki Reilly wearing medieval clothing. Killing Seramis is one thing, but finding out that he might be killing a character belonging to someone from Team Kimba was just icing on the cake.

The damn good side must have sent one of their own to try and stop me. The other rogue is hard to see, but he quickly managed to target him and was relieved to see that all the options on his action wheel were green and that the rogue was only a girl. Her newbie ass was going to be rue the day she fucked with Shadow Killer!

“Are you playing that stupid game again?” His twin brother James asked from his side of the dorm room. “I’m trying to get some sleep here.”

Brad glared at his monitor. “I had the bitch right where I wanted her and some damn newbie rogue bitch tried to stab me in the back! Me, The Shadow Killer! No bitch gets the drop on me!”

“Umm, Bro, it’s just a game. You do know it’s not real and that ‘bitch’ is probably a guy, right?” James asked.

Brad angrily lifted and slammed his mouse down. “I don’t fucking care! I am going to kill her and then, I’m going to kill Fey’s GEO character. That’s fucking real enough for me!”

With his mouse, Brad targeted the area on the rogue’s body he wants to strike as he angrily executed his first attack sequence. “Take that newbie bitch!”

He smiled when he heard a feminine sounding cry of pain as his attacks effortlessly ripped through her puny defenses, causing the paper doll that represented her character’s health to flash yellow where he struck her. The only thing keeping him from fully enjoying his eminent victory was that he couldn’t see the bitch’s face due to the silly thief’s mask she wore. It reminded him of one of those stupid china doll theater masks that he has seen hanging in some of the girl’s dorm rooms.

“You can’t even see her face. What makes you think that she’s Fey?” James asked as he walked over to look at the action over his brother’s shoulder.

“Not her, the bitch behind her,” Concentrating on his target, Brad gestured with his eyes as he executed another attack, “I saw Fey’s picture hanging above the fireplace.”

The stupid girl rogue just got lucky with her first attack, but now she is going to die. He sneered as she tried to attack him his character. Against his higher level character’s defenses, the newbie’s counter-attack only caused minor damage.

“Fireplace? What fireplace?” James asked.

Annoyed by his brother’s questions, Brad impatiently gestured with his left hand toward his computer screen. “The fireplace in this room!”

“Dude, half of the losers in this school have a Fey Pin-Up poster on their walls! Maybe the person who decorated this fake room is just a fan of hers.” James said as his brother continued to play and ignore him.

Brad’s second attack is almost as good as his first. The newbie rogue’s torso was now solid yellow and flashing a sickly green color as his dagger’s deadly poison took effect.

Her avatar should have cried in pain! The sound effects where a standard feature, but why did her avatar stop making sounds? Brad felt disappointed that she wasn’t making any noise during her attacked or when she got hit, while his character continued performing its default attack yells and damage cries. Her silence was starting to get on his nerves. What in the hell is going on here? Oh well, her newb ass is still going to die.

The bitch’s daggers flashed again and she managed to get a couple of lucky hits with her counter attack this time. His character’s paper doll went from yellow to red as an alert popped up to warn him that his health had reached critical levels.

“Damn it! For a greenie, she’s fucking hard to hit!” Brad frowned with concentration as he focused on maximizing his character’s attack sequences. The damn roguette suddenly turned blurry making her shadowy black armor with the stupid black face mask even harder for his eyes to follow.

Brad decided to use a different attack sequence and he felt pleased when his hit caused her center torso to briefly flash red from the force of his blow. Her paper doll was now solid yellow mixed with the poison green, letting him know she was doomed. Unless she somehow cured herself, she was as good as dead already.

“Dude! What in the hell is going on in here? All your damn yelling is keeping everyone awake!” An unknown male voice yelled. Brad figured that voice must belong to one of the losers that lived next door.

“Shut up man, I’m schooling this noobie in GEO! I’ll be done in a minute.” Brad proceeded to ignore the additional company in his room. He smiled with satisfaction when he hit a sequence of keys that caused his character to quickly drink down a health potion. His character’s paper doll went from red to light green. He was still hurt, but now he had plenty in reserve. The bitch was turning out to be tougher than he expected and if she kept him from completing his contract he was going to be pissed.

“Oh yeah! In yer face noob!” He screamed in triumph while his two spectators watched the on-screen action with amusement.

The bitch even had the audacity to taunt him. “What’s the matter little boy, afraid that you might lose to a girrll?” She sounded like one of those stuck up bitches from Dickinson. The ones that always acted like they were too good for him.

“Shut the fuck up you little bitch! I’m so going to enjoy spitting on your corpse when I’m done with you!” Brad shouted into his mic.

“Hey Bro, why did your action wheel thing just turn yellow?” James asked, sounding confused by what he saw on his brother’s screen.

“Whaat in the fuuck!?!? That’s not even possible! That Fey bitch must be helping her somehow!” Brad screamed, his face contorted with rage. The fight started with every option in his action wheel wide open and green. The fight should’ve been trivial for him, but now his action wheel was telling him that the fucking cheating bitch was somehow closer to his level. It was impossible; she had to be hacking the game, but that was also supposed to be impossible.

“Whoa! Dude, check that out! She just cloned herself or something!” Brad heard one if his uninvited guest exclaim with wonder.

Ignoring the idiotic commentary, Brad quickly hit the same button on his keyboard three times as he rapidly targeted each image. Shuriken shot out from his character’s hands, unerringly hitting each clone. Two of the images disappeared, leaving behind the one true image of the black clad mystery rogue as she took minor damage.

Brad briefly held his hand over his mic and turned to his brother. “Hah! Only a noob doesn’t know how to handle some simple mirror images!”

Brad returned his focus to the fight. “I am so going to p0wn your noob ass, bitch!”

She laughed. “In your wet dreams, nerd boy!”

Her mocking, dismissive tone pissed him off. Especially when one of the uninvited asshole spectators add fuel to the fire, “Dude, she’s totally playing you, you know that don’t you?”

He started to feel the pressure. Drawn to the commotion, his audience grown as a couple more dorm-mates walk into his room to see what the excitement is all about. The additional “wows” and “ahhhs” was getting on his nerves. To make matters worse, his available attack options where getting shorter as his action wheel control shifted from yellow to red.

Brad’s last three attacks barely scratched her, while her attacks were mysteriously getting through and doing more and more damage. His paper doll was back to red, just like hers, but it was his poison that was doing the damage to her now. His hit ratio was down to one in ten now, while she never missed. Her attacks managed to find every opening in his defenses.

Her damn mask was getting on his nerves, the solid amber colored eyes, the flat black surface and the dark red painted lips all combined to somehow mock him. The lack of expression made her look like some unrelenting killer robot.

“I’m so going to end this fight now! I’m done playing with you bitch!” Brad snarled as he started his ultimate attack sequence. He felt confident that this would end it. He used every power up and damage bonus at his disposal. He grinned with anticipation when he hit the button on his keyboard to execute his attack, but instead of watching the bitch die like he expected; His screen flashed red as his character fell to the floor as his health dropped to zero.

“Holy shit! Did you see that move she just made?!?” Someone yelled from the audience.

“Yeah! That was fucking unbelievable! I’m buying this game tomorrow!”

“Oh yeah! She just cut your character’s f’ing nuts off Brad! It was like you froze, while she slowed down for a second, then bam! She slid under your legs and cut your legs down there by yer junk!”

Brad was stunned as he numbly watched as the cheating bitch executed a graceful back handspring over his character’s dead body using the points of her daggers instead of her hands. She stuck the landing and crouched down near his head. What she did after that graceful move stunned him even more. He and everyone else in the room watched as she expertly twirled her right hand dagger to reverse the grip. Next, she smoothly thrust her dagger back handed into his character’s throat. Then, she quickly and expertly twirled both daggers to spin his character’s blood off of her dagger’s blades. She finished his humiliation when she sheathed her daggers with a gunslinger flourish in her boots.

“Oh man! Look at that coup de grace move she just did on you too!” James said, completely caught up in the on screen action. He failed to see how purple his brother’s face turned as his rage built up.

“Ahhh, did tha poor liddle boy fall down and get a boo-boo?” The cheating bitch mercilessly taunted him just before his screen turned black.

Brad quickly stood up from his computer and pushed his way through the uninvited crowd to exit his room. “That’s it! I’m going to kill that bitch right now!”

“She can’t fucking do this to me! I’ve spent too damn much time and money making my character just to have him killed by some damn cheating bitches!”

“Brad! Stop bro! It’s not worth it!” James said, pleading with his brother while the rest of the audience looked on with amusement. “It’s just a game and how do you really know that it was Fey and that she was cheating?”

“You all saw what fucking happened! She had to have fucking cheated!” Brad yelled, waving his arms and pointing back at his computer.

“Mr. Kenner! What is the meaning of these death threats upon another student?” Mr. Forrest, the Melville Cottage house parent, yelled with drill sergeant volume and precision.

Their audience took that as their cue to return to their rooms now that the action was over.

James attempted to explain things in a way that might keep his brother out of trouble. “He wasn’t talking about a student Mr. Forrest. He was just talking about a character he was fighting in GEO”.

“I wasn’t asking you James.” Mr. Forrest said, sternly before he turned his attention back to Brad. “Now Brad, explain yourself before I have you hauled off to campus security!”

“It was like James said Mr. Forrest. The rest of the guys saw it. I was just playing GEO and I got a little mad when my character got killed by a cheater.” Brad said as the reality of the situation started to sink in.

Having to explain to his dad why he had been sent to cool his heels in a security cell would not be a good thing. His Dad would be pissed. Not pissed about doing something wrong, but pissed that his son got caught. Things were so much better before he and his brother got unfairly kicked out of the Alphas. If only the Don was still running the Alphas.

Mr. Forest sighed with frustration before slowly shaking his head. “I don’t believe you, but I don’t want to have to mess with the paperwork that having you hauled off by security would cause! So, both of you, lights off and bed now!” He growled.

“Yes, Mr. Forrest” James and Brad chorused together.

~o~O~o~

I hear Shadow Killer yell, “What the [beep]!”, but I am guessing that since I still have the profanity filters enabled that he probably dropped the f-bomb there. Even though Whisper is about to get pummeled, I’m glad that I was able to get a good hit in on him.

His first attack comes at me faster than I can visually process. His short sword and dagger flash with a complex pattern that slams past my defenses.

“Aaahh!” I felt that and it fricken hurt! Why in the heck did it really hurt me? Oh crap, this is real to me now. Could I really die from this?

My cry just makes the bastard’s avatar smile. If the player is happy, how does the game know what the player is doing? I don’t care. If hurting me makes the jerk happy, then I won’t make another sound, no matter how much it hurts. I refuse to give him the satisfaction!

>Analyzing Enemy Attack Patterns…

I am not going to go down without a fight! I suppress the pain as I move forward with my counter-attack. As a player, I would target my opponent, aiming for a specific section of their body as I activated my action wheel with my attack sequence. Now, I just think it and I feel my muscles effortlessly flow with a complex pattern as my daggers penetrate some of his defenses, but I hardly scratch him.

His character grunts with fake pain as my dagger scores a minor hit on his side. If this keeps up, I’ll be dead long before he will. Oh well, at least he will know that he has been kissed by me. Umm…not that I would really kiss him, because that would be gross.

He laughs again as he launches another attack, but this time I can sort of make out what he’s doing and almost predict where he will strike. Key word here is, almost. I do a better job of dodging or parrying his attacks this time, but it still hurts, a lot. This is too real because I can feel my blood dripping and soaking into my clothes. I’m glad that I am wearing black. I would hate for the bastard to notice that I am really bleeding.

My eyes are starting to tear up from the pain. Worse than the slashes from his blades is the searing pain as the deadly poison he coated his blades with takes effect. I almost lose it. Oh my god! The pain is excruciating as I feel the poison burn from inside me.

Crap, I don’t use poisons and I didn’t think to bring any poison antidotes. Even if I somehow manage to win, I’m still dead if I can’t find a cure. Well, Whisper is going to die, but I hope that I won’t die for real because that would not be good. I’m still in better shape than he is. Maybe, I’ll get lucky here somehow?

I’d like to think that my plan of not crying out while he kills me is helping some. He appears to be getting more and more pissed at me as the fight goes on. Hopefully, his anger will cause him to make a mistake.

I launch my third counter-attack and his defenses are easier to penetrate this time. I manage to make his avatar flash yellow from the hit and cause his overall status to turn red. Maybe there’s some hope for me after all? Oh crap, I’m acting like such a noobie! I forgot to cast my Blur spell to help make me harder to hit. I quickly cast the spell just before he launches a new kind of attack.

Ouch! His attacks were too hard for me to follow again! I don’t know what happened, but I was just starting to get the hang of this when, bam!, he destroys me by knocking me into the low yellow, almost critical red range.

Ouch again, the poison knocks me into the red zone and I didn’t even manage to sneak a blow in edgewise this time. I can feel my tears dripping down my neck as the mask channels them down my face. I know it’s silly, but I really wonder how the mask is staying on my face.

I almost decide to give up when the jerk chugs down a healing potion, causing his avatar to go from red to low green. I had better get this figured out and fast.

>Second Enemy Attack Pattern Analysis Complete.

“Oh yeah! In yer face noob!” He taunts me.

I might be on the ropes, but I can’t let that pass. “What’s the matter little boy? Afraid that you might lose to a girrll?” I casually taunt him. Even I’m surprised by how girlishly teasing I sound, but it seems to have the desired effect on him.

“Shut the [beep] up you little [beep]! I’m so going to enjoy spitting on your corpse when I’m done with you!” He screams at me.

Wow, it sounds like the jerk has totally lost it and satisfied with the results, I can’t help smiling.

I decide to see if I can buy myself a little more time by casting my mirror image spell. I split into three separate illusionary images of myself and move forward to attack him with the hope that he will be confused for a critical second. Sadly, he is not. He expertly whips out three shuriken in rapid fire mode. Each shuriken hits one of my illusionary images and the real me, which causes the images to disappear on me. I take an annoying scratch from the damn shuriken, which would’ve been so bad if the darn poison didn’t hurt so much. Ouch, this is really starting to hurt.

“I’m so going to pwn you noob [beep]!” He smugly gloats.

I really wish this dude would just shut up. He’s really starting to get annoying. “In your wet dreams, nerd boy!” I say, surprising myself with how condescending and teasing I sound. It’s like I’m channeling the spirit of that hot girl who just shot the real me down when I asked her out on a date. Judging by the expression on his character’s face, I think that he’s about to blow a gasket. Awesome!

Hoping to overwhelm me, he launches three attacks in rapid succession. His moves appear slow and basic to me now. I only let one or two of his attacks hit me this time and that is only because letting those obviously weak strikes through my defenses allows me to hit him back hard.

My daggers are ringing and sparks are flying as I casually block some strikes and turn the block into a good solid hit on his open defenses for others. His avatar is now just as critically into the red zone as I feel, but I can’t give him much credit because it will probably be his darn poison that does me in.

“I’m so going to end this [beep] fight now! I’m done playing with you [beep]!” He snarls.

Hehe, I think that I am starting to get to him. Everything stops for me as I see his character activating his power ups using his first attack pattern. He is moving so sloooow to me. I can’t stop myself from smiling when I figure out how I am going to kill him. I know exactly what instant in time and space he will be the most vulnerable to my counter-attack.

I can’t help it, an excited giggle escapes from my throat. This is going to be good!

I feint to his character’s left, followed by a quick direction change as I dive back toward him when his left foot starts to move forward. I time my roll perfectly so that as I pass between his now wide open groin, I am able to slash my daggers across the inner side of both of his legs. If he had been a real person, I am pretty sure that my attack would have severed something important. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be hit down there like that.

His body flashes red.

Critical Strike! Oh yeah! That’s going to leave a mark!

I continue my tumble forward and away from him to gain some fighting room in case my attack doesn’t kill him. Timing my roll, I spring up and execute a perfect flip with a half twist to land facing back toward him with my daggers in the ready position.

I watch him stagger with a confused look on his face before he falls to the floor as his avatar’s legs give out him. Feeling surprisingly giddy, I use my daggers to perform a cartwheel towards his body. Landing with a few more feet to go, I use my forward momentum to do a flip over him, gracefully managing to land crouched down next to his shoulder; I twirl both daggers to reverse the grips. I follow my showy display with a quick thrust of my right hand dagger into the bastard’s neck. The jerk doesn’t even have the decency to leave any blood on my dagger when I pull it out of his throat. I sniff with disdain as I perform a quick double spin to dislodge the non-existent blood that should be coating my daggers and then I follow that move by sheathing them with a few extra spins to show off.

I’m about to collapse, but I just know that the bastard is still on the other end of his PC. I will not give him the satisfaction of seeing me pass out. I decide to rub some more salt into his wounds.

“Ahhh, did tha poor liddle boy fall down and get a boo-boo?” I coo at him with a glance back over my right shoulder just before the light in his character’s eyes go dim. I hope the bastard blows a gasket or something!

Looking up, I notice that Lady Seramis is standing a few feet away from me with a concerned look on her face. I attempt to stand only to find myself falling to the floor as I am overwhelmed by the pain and blood loss as the poison relentlessly proceeds to kill me.

The stone floor feels so cool and comforting to me. I’m so tired. The pain is just too much for me cover up anymore and I can’t stop myself from crying. Maybe I would feel better if I just closed my eyes and went to sleep. I hear her reach my side and gently roll me over on to my back. I am powerless to stop her as she removes my mask.

Coughing and spitting up some blood I jokingly say to her, “I’m so sorry Lady Seramis. I didn’t know that I would get my blood all over your floor.” My attempt to laugh at the face of death is ruined by the pain evident in my girly sounding voice.

“Hush child. Save your strength.” She says with a look of compassion and understanding in her eyes that goes far beyond what I would expect from a person who must think that this is just a game. Again, how does the game know what facial expressions to use?

“I would like to ask you how is it that you were able to do what you just did against that assassin, but my other half insists on being rude and wants me to ask you why it looks like you are in real pain.” She pauses is if listening to something outside of the game. “yes…and about to really die too?” She says with resignation.

“I don’t know.” I cry out with pain as the poison sends another jolt of pain through my body. “I logged in to play my character and everything turned real.”

“Can’t you just log out?” She asks.

Oh yeah, I should try to do that. Okay…how?

“Logout!” I try visualizing to myself. Nothing happens. Well, nothing good for me anyway.

>Unrecognized Command

“Quit”

>Unrecognized Command

Again, Nada.

“Disconnect”

>Critical System Download in Progress.

>Disconnect not allowed.

Oh shit. I completely forgot about that.

“I can’t.” I say as she raises an inquisitive eyebrow at me. “It won’t let me disconnect.”

Her face turns expressionless, so I assume that she is now talking offline with this ‘other half’ that she mentioned. I can’t help but cry out with pain as the poison takes another bite out of my health. I’d like to think that I won’t really die, but this is feeling way too real.

>Transfer in Progress…75%

Crap, I’ll be dead before it’s finished. Oh well, at least it can’t get any worse. I notice that there is some blinking red medical cross icon next to the download status number. I wonder what it means.

>Medical Status Display…Activated

>Host Systems…Critical

>Blood Pressure…Critical

>Sympathetic Stimulation Levels…Critical

>Neurogenic Shock Detected…Cause Unknown

>No Damage Detected to Host

>Corrective Treatment…Unknown

>Death of Host…Probable

“Shit, I just had to ask.” I mutter to myself as I notice the light in the room beginning to get brighter somehow. I guess I’m really dying. I glance over to Lady Seramis to thank her for staying here with me when I notice where all the light is coming from. It is coming from her. She must be tapping into her Font or something powerful. I wonder if she will be able to heal me?

I try to say something, but a sudden pain wracks my body causing me to cry instead. Oh god, it hurts so bad. My health is in the black now and the critical download thing is only up to 80%. The download seems to be moving faster now. It’s still not fast enough though.

“Be still child. I refuse to let my newest champion die.” She says as the glow surrounding her body increases. A ghostly crown appears on her head while royal looking robes shimmer around her body. Her light is almost blinding me when she touches my forehead and all the lights go out as I feel a sudden rush of power fill me to bursting.

>Download Complete

>*** Reboot Required ***

~o~O~o~



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