– II –
I had never felt as overwhelmed as I was that night.
I was drowning at the deep end of the pool.
I was caught in the harsh storm surf pounding a beach, rolled by the waves, dragged along the bottom, with no hope of finding my way back up to the surface.
Try as I might, despair crept mercilessly through my awareness, consuming it, corrupting it, and compounding the complexity of the situation that I was struggling box into a package I could then scrutinize and resolve.
I needed to establish the boundaries of the problem.
The difficulty was in where to begin. What should I address first?
There was the sudden, unexplained change to my appearance, and Mirai’s inexplicable ability to see what I was convinced was the life force radiated by people, even Simulacra, into an aura surrounding their bodies. What other secrets did Mirai hold? But more pressingly, there was the need to address the sniper who had killed Angela’s Simulacrum body and injured Clarisol. That sniper was an opponent I was convinced was the Gun Queen. Last but not least, was the parameters and scope of this trial-by-fire excise I had been thrown into, and how was it possible to end it sooner rather than later.
In an effort to quell my despair, I chose to think the various issues through rationally, and thereby decided to leave the matter of my appearance and Mirai’s abilities on the immediate shelf, and focus on what I could do about the Gun Queen. It wasn’t the first time this night that I had left issues pertaining to Mirai aside, and subconsciously I feared that I would miss something important about Mirai if I continued putting her – and thereby myself – on the proverbial second row.
To give myself time to think, I shifted my mind into an overclocked state, and considered the apparent threats first, namely the zombies and the Gun Queen – if indeed it was her out there taking precision shots at us.
I was confident that with the ammunition supplies the Clarisol had packed for us, Tobias, the girls, and I could hold out against the two thousand odd zombies until the morning, provided we could defend the fifth floor from invasion. So while the zombies presented a challenge to our survival, they could be managed.
The Gun Queen was a different kettle of fish.
I knew nothing about her specifications, though I had information on how the mechanical avatars operated and that came from the memories implanted within Mirai’s mind. However, I found that it contained only a general understanding of a Gun Princess’s abilities and design. I did however have one frame of reference – the arcade game version of the Gun Princess Royale – and judging by what I’d observed a physical confrontation between the Gun Queen and I would not end in my favor. That said, with me in control of Mirai’s body, I’d leapt ten feet clear off the ground and pulled the kronosteel security gate down from its hiding place in the ceiling. A ten foot jump was nothing to scoff at, and neither was tearing metal locks to free the gate. I could also say the same about carrying a thick canvas bag loaded with enough munitions to invade a city-state.
Grabbing the bags and the unconscious Clarisol, the four of us walked up the wide spiral staircase to the fifth level that on some worlds would be considered the fourth floor because they include the ground floor in their counting. Regardless, we walked up to the fifth level with me in the lead, hauling an ammo bag in the left hand and aiming a Viper with my right. The bag must have weighed in the order of eighty to ninety kilograms, yet as Mirai, I carried it without difficulty, attesting her incredible strength.
Walking behind me was Felicia, and I could hear her breathing heavily as she labored with the two remaining ammo bags, her Simulacrum body at its limit. For the time being she wasn’t complaining, thought I waited with baited breath.
Following her was Tobias carrying Clarisol in a piggyback. He too was breathing hard, and I heard him question in complaint why the building had so many floors.
Bringing up the rear was Shirohime, her long guns unholstered and held at the ready, while the large rifle was slung diagonally across her back. Now that I had seen them closely, I observed they weren’t handguns, but snub machine pistols with long ammo clips. The one major change to her outfit was the inclusion of Clarisol’s bullet proof duster that she had liberated after a terse argument with Tobias that ended with her playing the damsel card to make him feel guilty if something were to happen to her. Considering we were more than likely being hunted by the Gun Queen, I felt it was a wise choice. Besides, Clarisol was a Simulacrum and if she died here she could wake up in another body, though it did puzzle me as to why she would come so well prepared for this encounter.
The one weapon we had left behind was the First Princess’s enormous rifle. But Shirohime had pointed out that weapon was likely to be locked down for the First Princess’s exclusive use. You could call it one of my recent regrets since this new nightmare had begun. For now, the Bartley sniper rifle would have to meet our needs as it was the largest rifle in our arsenal. However, I had noticed some odd bits and pieces in those bags Clarisol had brought along.
The climb to the fifth level was uneventful, though it was a strain for the others – except for Shirohime who wasn’t carrying much.
I made sure to stop at each level and look about carefully though quickly, yet sighted no auras of any kind in the dark. I had decided to skip wearing the night-vision visor Felicia had distributed to the group, choosing to wear it on my head like a hairband for the time being. In the dark of the building interior, I had no use for it because I was using the Viper Vision and Mirai’s ability to see in the gloom to good effect. However, I intended to make use of the visor when I stepped out into the elements because I could hear the wind had picked up, and no doubt it was carrying a fair amount of desert sand along with it, so the visor would come in handy.
Arriving at the top floor, I stepped away from the stairwell landing and peered around, finding the stillness disturbing while outside the wind whistled by, caressing the building’s skin as though looking for a way in.
I spoke to Tobias without facing him. “Mat, this is a copy of the Academy. Isn’t it?”
In my peripheral vision, I saw him place Clarisol down in a nearby couch. “As far as I can tell, it looks pretty much like our school.”
“Then how do your people do this? How can they make something like this out here in this desert?” I turned my head toward him. “Just how advanced is humanity on your side?”
Tobias straightened and then worked his arms in a circle as he stretched his back. Because he was wearing a night-vision visor couldn’t see his eyes, but I could tell he was looking at me from body language alone. “We use the alien tech I told you about. The Artifact technology.”
“The same tech that creates the bridge from your universe to mine?”
He gave me a quick nod. “It’s called a Fabricator. It can scan and recreate entire structures perfectly. It allows us to build quickly and efficiently.”
This time he shook his head. “Don’t know. I have heard it has something to do with taking dark matter and reorganizing it into matter that we can use. Other than that, I have no idea. Besides, those that know don’t like to say.”
I nodded slowly to myself. “That figures….”
Turning away, I debated heading east to the where the Principal’s office was situated at the far end of the building, overlooking the interior grounds of the school. But I chose to walk west instead and after a half minute traversing cautiously in the gloom – not because I couldn’t see, but because I was wary of ambush – I arrived at the west end of the fifth level and noticed what I’d failed to observe while waiting for my appointment with the Vee Pee.
The fifth floor was like a penthouse level. That is to say, it did not extend the full length of the admin building. Because of this, there was a courtyard with seats and tables located beyond a curved wall of permaglass that spanned the width of the building. Access to and from the courtyard was provided by a set of automatic permaglass doors that failed to respond to my presence. Though it would appear the school was without power, I wasn’t ready to believe that was the case as appearances can be deceiving. Nonetheless, the doors remained closed while outside the wind and sand made the view of the courtyard appear hazy.
Inwardly, I was amazed by how well Mirai could see in the dark, until I realized the moon had emerged from behind the clouds overhead, and was shining brightly from on high.
“Great…,” I muttered, then backed away from the permaglass wall separating the courtyard from the penthouse floor.
“This is a problem,” Shirohime stated morosely from a few feet away. “Did you know there was a courtyard here?”
“No. I didn’t notice it this afternoon.”
Shirohime frowned for a moment. “Well, if the zombies climb the walls, we’re going to have them banging to get in.”
“I know that.”
“So what’s your next big idea?”
I swallowed to keep myself both calm and give myself time to regain my mental stride. “Can you give me a minute?”
Truthfully, Shirohime had made a valid observation, but her tone and demeanor were getting under my skin. Earlier, Clarisol had correctly surmised I wanted to ditch her and face the situation on my own, and I was equally keen on abandoning Shirohime to the elements. I was more convinced than ever that she and I were not destined to get along, and that did not bode well for a future where I’d inferred from various conversations that we were supposed to work together as team mates.
Swallowing again, I ran through my list of options, and narrowed them down to two choices.
Turning on my heels, I hurried east to the Principal’s office. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked so I entered with the railgun leading the way, and was relieved to find the spacious room devoid of the undead and the living. Ignoring the elegant furnishings that included sofa seats, bookshelves, display cabinets, a holovid project system, and kidney shaped coffee table, I strode quickly around the Principal’s crescent contoured mahogany desk, and arrived at the panoramic windows that looked out at the school’s inner grounds. The curtains were drawn, so I guardedly pulled one end aside and stared due east across the dark expanse at the one part of the school that was bathed in light – the library.
Raising the Viper up to the window, I aimed it at the distant structure some three hundred meters away.
It wasn’t moonlight that illuminated the structure, but its own interior lights and that proved that the school was not without power. Clearly this did not bode well for us.
Sensing people entering the office and coming to a stop abreast of me before the window, I muttered uneasily, “This isn’t good.”
Tobias stated the obvious in a hushed tone. “There’s power?”
I sighed and shook my head, yet continued looking through the Viper’s eyes at the library. “That means the doors can be unlocked at any time.”
Class Rep joined the proverbial dots together. “And the zombies would have a free pass into the school.”
“Then what do we?” Tobias was beginning to sound anxious. “Do we stay here or do we go somewhere else?”
I could feel Shirohime’s gaze on me.
“Well, Kassius?” she asked expectantly.
Gently, I swept the Viper Vision up all five floors of the library and came to a stop at the top floor.
“We go to the library.”
“Huh?” Tobias sounded confused. “What? Why?”
“Because she’s there.”
“Who’s there? The Gun Queen?” Tobias edged closer to the window and cautiously lifted aside a flap of the drawn curtains. Then he fiddled with his visor. “How do I get the magnification to work?”
Shirohime perked up. “Here. Allow me.”
“What? No, I’m fine. I’ll figure it out.”
“Just let me show you.”
“Ah—I think I found it.”
“You just need to push this button here.”
“I said, I found it.”
“This one is zoom in. This one is zoom out.”
“I said I found it!”
“Why are you angry with me?”
I turned away from the window and hissed at the bickering pair. “Will the two of you shut up or get a room.”
Tobias and Shirohime gaped at me, but they put their quarreling on hold. That said, it was impossible for me, even in darkness, not to notice Shirohime blushing hotly at my suggestion.
That was when I noticed someone standing at the back of the office, and I turned so fast my body blurred as I aimed the railgun at the silent figure surrounded by a weak orange glow, my finger already depressing the trigger until I recognized her and released it with reluctance.
Swallowing tightly, I lowered the railgun that almost blew away Clarisol’s head. “You’re awake….”
“Where is she?” the young woman softly asked, her eyes sweeping repeatedly over me, Tobias, Shirohime, and Felicia who was standing a few feet away by the north wall of the office with her arms folded and her head bowed. “Where is she?” Clarisol repeated. “Where’s Angela?”
“She’s dead,” I answered bluntly though my voice wavered noticeably. “She was killed by the Gun Queen.”
In the very weak light that drifted into the office from the distant library, I studied Clarisol’s reaction, thinking it would be a valuable insight into the woman’s sincere relationship with the two girls.
Clarisol pressed her lips tightly, and her throat bobbed visibly as she swallowed hard. “How…how did she die?”
Felicia moved away from the wall and faced Clarisol, her voice thick with anger and pain. “That bitch blew her head off. She blew Angie’s head off. She killed Angie!”
Only Clarisol’s eyes moved as she regarded Felicia who trembled and wrapped her arms tightly about her body.
“That bitch…that bitch…I’ll kill her…,” Felicia promised darkly.
I watched Felicia, unable to share in her feelings. Angela had always been nice to me, but things had now changed between the girls and I, and they would never be the same again. This had tempered my feelings of affection and friendship toward them. It was only her Simulacrum body that had died, but nonetheless it had been shocking to watch Angela be killed, especially in such a graphic manner. Yet, I felt little sympathy for Felicia, nor could I empathize with her. Part of me wondered if there was something wrong with Mirai, and if that was why I felt little compassion for the girl. Another part of me noticed that though Felicia was a Simulacrum, she expressed her feelings in a very real way, one that I believed was consistent with a human female grieving the loss of a beloved friend.
Maybe there is something wrong with me, I thought to myself as I met Clarisol’s gaze.
The young woman cleared her throat, and politely asked, “Please tell me what happened.”
I shook my head and smiled thinly at her. “I don’t have the time.”
“Then make the time.”
“Don’t order me around, Clarisol. Don’t ever order me around.”
Again, she pressed her lips into a thin line. “I’m asking you, politely, to tell me what happened.”
For a moment, I suspected that someone else would comply with her request, but then it became blatantly obvious that Tobias, Class Rep, and Felicia had decided not to step into the line of fire between Clarisol and I.
I took a deep breath. “The Gun Queen is using an anti-material rifle. She’s firing from about four klicks out. That puts her out of range, even for the Bartley M82A9 you packed. We came up here as per the plan, but we’ve got three problems. One. The fifth floor has a courtyard. If the zombies climb up to it they’ll put pressure on the permaglass entrance to the courtyard and probably overwhelm it. Two. The Gun Queen is still out there. We stick our heads out we’re likely to have them shot off. And three. The school has power. That means the doors can be automatically unlocked at any time, and the zombies will flood in. With both school clubroom buildings filled to bursting with the undead Simulacra, I estimate we have two thousand zombies to deal with.” I paused before adding, “So we’re basically up the creek without a paddle.”
Clarisol was quiet for a long while before breaking her silence. “You say the Gun Queen is shooting at us from the desert.”
“She hit you and she hit Angela.” I dipped my head at Clarisol. “And she fired at me twice—the last time she shaved off some of my hair with a near miss.”
The young woman’s eyes studied me as again she fell quiet. “What happened to your hair and eyes?”
“I have no idea,” I replied, adding a casual shrug before I could stop myself. “You tell me. You know Mirai’s body better than I do.”
Clarisol wet her lower lip slowly as her gaze strolled over my face. “No, I have no idea what this is. I told you before. There’s a lot we don’t know about Mirai.”
I cocked my head at her. “Tell me the truth. Did your family create Mirai, or was it done through that Artifact tech your people have been using?”
Clarisol stepped deeper into the room. “You’re not a product of alien technology. That I can assure you of.”
“Then what am I? Am I really a Simulacrum?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because I feel real. And I feel alive. A little cold and dead when it comes to grieving, but I can cry when it gets too much for me. But other than that, I feel…normal…if you get what I mean.”
“Simulacrum can experience and demonstrate emotions just like a human being. Mirai being able to do the same is no surprise.”
I ran my gaze over her body that was dressed in black. “So you can express your degenerate nature despite being a Simulacrum yourself.”
Clarisol stopped walking and shot an accusing look at Tobias.
“I didn’t tell her,” Tobias replied. “She realized it on her own. Don’t ask me how.”
The young woman with dark blonde hair reached up to clutch her wounded right shoulder, wincing noticeably as she did so. “What’s your point?”
“I’m not making one. Just an observation.” I half turned away from Clarisol, and pointed at the library visible through the curtains because it was shining strongly in a sea of darkness. “By the way, did you know she would be here?”
“Who?” Clarisol was sincerely puzzled.
“Tabitha. She’s at the library.”
For a long while, the young woman said nothing, and I endured surprise looks from my companions who then quickly turned to look out the window, though Felicia chose to remain where she was with a pained expression, consumed by her grief that I felt was excessive since Angela was not dead…or was there something I didn’t know?
Tobias exhaled sharply but spoke in a reverent tone. “Who’s that girl?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” I replied with soft sarcasm, then addressed Clarisol. “Well? Did you know she’d be here?”
Clarisol raised her chin slightly as she looked past me at the library. “No, I didn’t…although….”
“Who is Tabitha?” I asked her.
Clarisol didn’t reply immediately and continued to look past at the library shining through the curtains drawn across the panoramic window wall. After a few seconds, she shambled over to a nearby twin-seater sofa, and then eased herself onto it like an elderly woman accosted by aches and pains.
“Who is she?” I inquired a little more forcefully.
Clarisol sounded distant when she replied, “I don’t know…but if she’s here…then perhaps…perhaps…she’s…with the Battle Commission….”
A memory fluttered up from the depths of Mirai’s mind, casting light on my next question. “The Battle Commission that oversees the Gun Princess Royale. That Battle Commission?”
“Yes….” Clarisol nodded weakly as she rubbed her injured shoulder. “Yes. That would make sense. It would explain a number of things about her….”
I exhaled loudly and glanced down at the carpeted floor of the office, giving into the urge to shake my head. To think that Clarisol who had engineered my torment was now at a loss for answers. I found that truth to be disconcerting. More so, it made me feel as though the ground could open up beneath my feet at any moment, and swallow me into its dark crushing depths of the unknown.
I took a couple of deep breaths, aware that Clarisol and I were once more the focus of attention in the room. “Clarisol, how do I end this game? How do I end the trial? What do I need to do?”
Slowly, she turned her head to look at me. “I don’t know. I had assumed this game was to run from sunset to sunrise…but the Gun Queen fired before then. I don’t know if winning against her is enough.”
Again shaking my head slowly, my unease grew upon hearing affirmation that Clarisol didn’t have a grasp on the parameters of this exercise.
“Then I need to talk to her.”
“Talk to whom?” Tobias asked me from his place before the window.
“I need to talk to Tabitha. If she’s from the Battle Commission, then she should know what I need to do. She’ll know what’s expected of me beyond just taking part in this madness.” I hesitated before finishing off with, “And I want to know what she was doing in the game last Friday.”
Clarisol was regarding me with mixed feelings. “What about the Gun Queen?”
“We deal with her first,” I decided. “We can’t get to the library without risking getting shot when we cross from this building to the school building. That’s because the bridgeways have transparent walls. For her, it would be like picking of targets at festival shooting range. And I don’t fancy the idea of running across open ground from here to the library, not with the zombies out there. So we go the long way down the school corridor until we get to the library.”
Shirohime moved away from the curtained window wall. “And if we run into zombies inside the school?”
“We shoot them. And we run. We don’t stop.”
Tobias, Class Rep, and even Felicia looked acutely uneasy. But Clarisol was still sitting quietly on the sofa and wearing a pensive face.
“In that case,” she said, “I may have a way of dealing with the First Imperial Princess.”
Everybody looked at her, but it was I who asked, “How?”
“You need to bring her out into the open. Once you have a fix on her, leave the rest to me.”
Standing to a side, Felicia’s eyebrows slowly rose and her cartoon grin began to curve her lips, though it wasn’t the happy grin I was accustomed to seeing. It was bitter and pained.
“Mistress, let me do it. Let me use it.”
Clarisol met the girl’s insistent gaze, and then quietly nodded as she momentarily closed her eyes.
Felicia unfolded her arms and straightened, punching a gloved fist into an open palm. “She won’t know what hit her.”
Stepping closer to Clarisol who remained seated, I looked down at her and asked, “What do you have in mind?”
The attractive woman with dark blonde hair raised her head and returned my stare with a cold smile. “There’s a saying, that revenge is a dish best served cold.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before though I don’t know from where.”
“Well, I prefer to serve it hot and spicy. Hot being the operative word.”
“I’m going to blow her up.”
I must admit her reply genuinely intrigued me, and thereby I crossed my arms under Mirai’s large breasts while not relinquishing my hold on the Viper railgun.
“Okay. I’m listening….”
Thank you for sticking with this story for this long. Apologies. I've been extremely tied up with work and with writing so I wasn't able to get this out sooner. Please be aware that this is just a draft.
I will try to have the next part ready for posting by the weekend.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
The link to Book One on Amazon is below:
Amazon Link: here!
As I posting this segment, I noticed that TG Themes and TG Elements had a None option.
So, I was wondering if people would be open to reading something that I wrote a while back but isn't TG related.
I may need to ask the administrators first.
Anyway, please let me know in the comments if you are interested in reading another story that is connected to the GPR universe but takes place in another reality.
Though, I don't want to get in trouble with Admin.
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