The previous chapter can be found here
“This is definitely not Stone, Bronze & Iron,” Danielle pouted. “I am going to have such a field day talking to someone’s manager about this. Ooh just they wait. I have an amazing Karen voice.”
She ratcheted up the arrogance in her voice by a factor of about ten. “Don’t touch me! When I’m done with this place everyone in my line of sight will be fired. Have you ever heard of ‘the customer’s always right? Well, honey, you’re about to find out–’”
They had roughly a half second of warning: raining bits of the sky pattered nearby, and all about them the far distance seemed to be sloughing off of a too-close actual wall, maybe forty or fifty feet off. The effect was disorienting and wrong, like stepping onto a glass bottomed observation deck in a tower. The next moment, a huge piece of puffy cumulonimbus cloud crashed down beside them. It was maybe three feet square and briefly became the dark gray stone of a manor house or vampire’s castle before it became a three foot cubed version of the game blocks he’d seen earlier. Another second later, it was back to being cloud.
“Jump!” Gavin shouted.
“There’s no way–” was as far as she got before he shoved her forward, and headed in directly after her. The light was immediately blocked out by another few huge blocks bashing down where they’d stood and over the mouth of this hole.
She screamed the whole way down, and when next he caught sight of her in the emergency track lighting of the tube, the Grecian goddess look had fallen away. In fact, she looked to be smeared with grease and grime from whatever coated the sides of this improvised escape route.
It began to dawn on him that they might be in bigger trouble than just deciding who to screw and where, or having a talk with the park admins about the quality of their gaming experience. This wasn’t the game.
They took a wide loop down, passed through a series of reddish lasers, and heard the ear-piercing alarm go off.
“DILDOS ERROR MESSAGE N00135. TRESPASSING WARNING! WARNING! STAY WHERE YOU ARE. YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO BE IN THE MAINTENANCE AND DELIVERY TUNNELS. STAY WHERE YOU ARE. YOU WILL BE CONDUCTED BACK TO YOUR CELLS. DILDOS ERROR MESSAGE N00135.”
They skidded to a stop somewhere in the pitch black, where Gavin couldn’t make out his greasy fingers in front of his face.
“Gavin?” Danielle called. She was plainly afraid, and he didn’t blame her one little bit. He was pretty close to peeing himself as it was.
He tried to put on a veneer of bravado, on the off chance he could still get into her pants and get an up close inspection of what had been just barely covered up in that magazine photo set. “Yeah, I’m here.”
“What’s going on?” Her hand found his leg in the darkness. “What the hell is DILDOS?”
“I… don’t know.”
She punched him, hard, right in the groin. “And when has jumping into a dark hole ever been the right thing to do in a movie or TV show? Idiot!”
Neither the haptic suit, nor the game HUD, were functioning at all. He curled up and whimpered at the explosive pain. He was starting to get the idea that the mind-blowing sex was out.
In due course, a pair of lights rapidly materialized, increased in size, and resolved into a humming drone, a boxy and utilitarian thing about the size of a compact car. It also gave him an unrestricted view over the heavily greased, industrial maintenance tunnel they were in: a place about ten feet wide and high, which went on into the inky black depths of forever.
It quickly blasted them with some unknown liquid so violently antiseptic and breathtakingly cold that Gavin was left gasping for breath and shivering. Whatever it was, it stank and caused him to cough on his hands and knees.
“TRESPASSERS WILL GET IN, OR ELSE THEY GET THE HOSE AGAIN.”
Danielle opened her mouth to channel her inner Karen, but got a second dose of the grease-clearing formula, and spat out a mouthful. She scurried into the craft, where they were forced to hold each other for warmth, and where he had no choice but to constantly dodge her attempts to knee him where the sun didn’t shine. He was also forced to listen to her stream of obscenities, divided and directed toward him, the situation in general, and a few choice ones for Ravindra Pradthala.
A few minutes into this treatment had him dimly realizing they were headed downwards. A few more minutes later, the drone slowed, stopped, and popped the door open. Danielle stormed out, and he followed after, without listening to the demanding ass robot tell them what they would and wouldn’t do… before noting they were in a damp, dark, open prison yard. A few halogen bulbs shone from high above, making all the folks around them seem pale and more menacing.
The walls were mostly natural cave, except many of the stalagmites and stalactites had been ground down. Some places in the ceiling, too, were blasted apart and ground smooth to support the string of technology set in there. Two of the walls were barred, each with a heavily locked door. Regularly placed throughout the room were tough, stainless steel tables with attached, unmovable chairs.
“Welcome, inmates,” a speaker told them. “You were caught attempting to escape Dungeonworld. Once we locate your name and identification, an additional year will be added onto your sentences. But don’t lose hope! For each competition you enter, you can reduce that sentence. We have successfully commuted the sentences of more than three hundred inmates!”
Several of the people in the room snickered. The dozen of them came in all shapes, sizes, genders and colors.
“Man, they play that every time,” one of them said. “Gettin’ real old.”
“We’re not criminals, we’re guests!” Danielle roared.
General laughter followed. “Me neither! I’m a VIP!”
Another called, “Preach it, sister!”
“Shut up, Karen!” yelled the last. “Tryin’ to sleep here.”
“Prepare to be boarded!” the intercom system blared.
“I’ll board your mom,” Shanaya shouted back. Marioli chuckled.
Shanaya eyed Marioli, then swept her gaze over the massive, blubbery surface they were standing on, slowly undulating through the air. “Boarded, huh? That would imply we were on board, or that there were boards.”
The little guy laughed with his hands on his hips. “I like you. Trouble is though that we’re about to face a cybernetically enhanced boarding party. From the looks of that clock… wait, what’s going on with the clock?”
In Shanaya’s heads up display, a countdown clock labeled Ship’s Ahoy filled in two of its eight slices, then immediately backtracked to one. In the distance the approaching ship rushed back in reverse, its sails still strangely billowed forward in response to a non-existent head wind, then began its approach anew.
“Screw the clock, what’s going on with the ship?” Shanaya asked. The clock disappeared and the ship retreated more.
“Prepare to be boarded!” the intercom system blared. Talk about deja vu.
“Um, your mom?” she answered hesitantly. This was weird. Marioli started poking about the back of the whale, checking for hidden loot or anything that could assist them in the possibly upcoming battle.
A countdown clock labeled Ship’s Ahoy appeared in their respective HUD’s again. Shanaya grunted in frustration as it filled in three slices and then retreated back to one.
“This sucks,” she groaned. “I wish they’d just get here and kill us already.”
“You might get your wish,” Marioli noted with concern as the ship suddenly blazed forward at warp speed, bumping into the whale, then retreating back two slices. Strangely there was no bump or shock, the retreat of time presumably sucking all of that away. It was a worrisome glimpse into the future though.
“So, busty buccaneer, do you have, like, any powers or weapons?”
It was a good question. Shanaya wasn’t sure that she knew. She held up a finger to silence him and then willed her HUD to display her character sheet and inventory.
Her Gear options appeared as cards beneath the character sheet. Shanaya scrolled through her options. Cybernetic arm, disintegration induction chain katana, unlubricated single-use telescoping peg-leg – wtf? She selected the katana and wielded it to her hand, smiling as it formed into the grip of her cybernetic arm. She snapped it out and listened to it crackle. Marioli looked impressed. Then he frowned.
“Hey, Shanaya, why does that thing say DICK on its handle?”
“What?!” she scowled, fumbling with the blade as she tried to get a good viewing angle on it. Sure enough, the letters D I C K were inscribed upon it, an acronym for the weapon at hand.
“So are you comfortable holding a DICK in your robot hand?” Marioli laughed. “Do you think you can handle a DICK of that size?”
“Stop it,” Shanaya warned. Marioli held up his hands.
“Just one more, okay? So is that your DICK or are you just happy to see me?”
“You know what, you little perv, if this were a book or a movie it would be totally illegal to write about this stuff. It’s like something out of a Nolan Locke movie.”
“I heard that guy was fake.”
“What? Nolan Locke? No no no, Nolan Locke is definitely a real person.”
“Well, real or not real, you’re worse than Nolan Locke because at least he’s not the one holding his DICK in his hand.”
“Worse than Nolan Locke? Ew! Ew ew ew!” Shanaya glared at Marioli then let go of the DICK. It dropped down, and double tens showed in her HUD. A critical hit? But she hadn’t meant to attack! The weapon sliced effortlessly through the flesh of the Bloobie whale. It shuddered and let out a long cry of absolute pain and anguish. Why, the voice seemed to ask. What have I ever done to you?
“Wow, that was cold,” Marioli said.
“Oh my god I am so sorry,” Shanaya wailed. She dropped to her knees and tried to push the wound back shut. “I didn’t realize DICKs are so dangerous!”
“Well, they’ve caused basically every single calamity that history has ever known.”
“Shut up, Marioli.”
“Clock’s filled up,” Marioli replied. Suddenly the ship was just there, next to the slowly descending Bloobie whale. Whalers swung overboard from ropes in the rigging and landed effortlessly next to the two of them.
“Oh my god,” the first of them said, looking down into the pink meat of the crying whale. “What did you do?”
The second looked at the wound, then turned away. Retching sounds followed.
“What the hell is wrong with you, you sick fuck? Not only did you ruin this whale for our harvest, but right now its stomach acids are actively leaking out into its body. This whale is digesting itself even as we speak!”
Shanaya got back up from the whale. “Hey– wait a second. Weren’t you guys going to go ahead and kill this whale anyways? Like, oh, hey, the great white whale. Thar she blows. Shoot it with a harpoon. Cut it with ye steely knives. Yar har har and a bottle of rum.”
The three whalers stared at her in disgust. Even Marioli looked surprised.
“We wouldn’t harm this animal! We are just going to capture it and bring it into our base to harvest its milk! Bloobie milk has exceptional health qualities.”
The whaler who had lost his lunch spoke up. “Oh my god, after all of these centuries of progress, I thought maybe us humans had finally gotten it all out or system. But, there it is, racism.”
Marioli shook his head sadly. “Just when you think you know a girl. Even the AIs know you’re racist.”
“You can’t be racist against whalers.”
“Said the racist,” Marioli.
“You know what,” Shanaya yelled, stomping her foot down. The Bloobie cried out in pain. “I am sick of you people–”
“You people?” Marioli asked in feigned outrage.
“–getting all up in my grill,” she continued. In her HUD she selected a flintlock infrared semi-auto transducing electrostatic rifle, then frowned. Really? First a DICK and now a FISTER? What the hell is wrong with this game?
Her rifle materialized in her hands, butt stock stuffed comfortably into the crook of her shoulder. The whalers’ eyes widened in shock.
“I’m,” she yelled, blasting the first man off of the back of the beast with a roll of 2 and 8, “not,” she continued, fending off a swinging fist (5 and 9) and blasting the second into hell, “racist!” she concluded, dodging a kick and rifle-butting him off into the wild blue yonder with a 9 and 10.
“Holy shit,” a man yelled from the whaling ship. The vessel turned away and departed in haste.
“That . . . was . . . awesome!” Marioli exuberated, doing a dance on the dying beast’s back. “And it looks like we might be able to do it again,” he said, pointing to a ship on the horizon, turning and accelerating into their direction.
Tyriah tapped several screens and shifted several through a number of the different sub-levels. The view wasn’t encouraging. Security was massing down at one of the freight elevators and had gotten several dungeonworlders down and cuffed. She was on the coms with the head of security, watching the man sweat, while behind her coders went through spasms of activity and freaking out over what steps they needed to take. Beachheads & Dogfights coders, colorfully known as Hitler Channel, sat in stunned silence.
The three Beachheads & Dogfights coders jumped up. Two were slovenly, grease-stained blobs of men, because they’d gotten cafeteria food delivered to the action room, and since they always had the choice of pizza and spaghetti, then of course pizza and spaghetti it was. The third coder was something of an enigma: a nearly seven foot mountain of a man with a grizzled expression who spent all of his free time lifting up and setting down immense amounts of weight. He was also, generally, really intelligent, except for right now. RIght this moment he was gaping at a monitor, on which the Stone, Bronze & Iron gameworld was fracturing and threatening to crush several guests, but his head snapped up and some of the vacant expression faded, so he looked like the problem-solver she knew him to be..
“This place is falling the fuck apart,” she barked. “Get on it! Shore up your worlds, find those rogue code lines. Identify whatever’s going on, and shut. It. Down.”
They were in damage control now: in Stone, Bronze & Iron the floor had collapsed or turned to lava, so the coders jumped in and had one of their gods freeze it all and reset everybody’s Harm by blowing them. The SB&I coders laughed it off while they had another of the gods shoring up the falling sky.
“John Wayne, action report!”
“Dungeonworld… somebody hit it with an EMP. We just got a message through to somebody who turned on one of the emergency phones. And we’ve got another problem.”
“We’ve got a dungeonworlder taking a PISS.”
“I…” she hated the acronyms so very much right now. Priority Interpark Shuttle Service be damned. “Where?”
“She’s in sedation but the drugs are about to wear off.”
One of the Saddles & Six Shooters coders brought up the location on the screen. And there, of course, was the Hub in the center, with a small circle around it, signifying Access Level Zero, all safe zones for the various genres. The whole thing was set into a much larger circle in the satellite image, so that the whole deal looked like the world’s largest breast. Presently the red X was traveling just above the Access Level Zero and Hub nipple, right near Windswept Hearts and Galaxies Unknown.
Tyriah grabbed a handful of nuts and a sip of her tea. “Who’s on it?”
“Sigourney Cleaver,” the coder said.
She spit tea all over the monitor, making the map appear to sweat. Several people looked over, and some muttering about Sigourney made the rounds. She glared at everyone who was not presently balls deep in figuring out the damn problem, and came back to John Wayne.
Sigourney was a whole ball of yarn she had neither the time nor the inclination to deal with right now. The Dungeonworld global ratings were such that they simply couldn’t kill Sigourney. They had the express orders not to disappear her from Dungeonworld, or else the prime time ratings would tank. Yet at the same time, she was far too dangerous to just drop somewhere willy-nilly.
“Ah… shit. Dump her on Meredith. She’s right in Galaxies Unknown, isn’t she?” Served her right for abandoning her post right before everything went to shit. “She’s got her coding tablet on her, so she should be able to handle it without any trouble.”
“Ma’am?” another contingent asked.
She whirled to find the Jizz Moppers wringing their hands. The Windswept Hearts team threw a window up on her screen, and enlarged it. She recognized this from her days as a Dungeonworld showrunner: the Labyrinthine Action Battle Initiation Array, or LABIA. Normally it was a place chock full of game blocks arranged in a huge maze full of deadly traps, with contestants trying to make their way safely toward the center, where a huge trove of weapons and equipment would help them better eliminate their enemies, the NPCs, and their rivals. The best scores and times all factored into a complicated sentence commutation equation that never seemed to amount to much.
But some of them inevitably died in the final sudden death rounds, where the traps gave no mercy and the weapons held by their fellow dungeonworlders spat what amounted to live ammunition. Those haptic suits could be killer.
Now they’d infiltrated and hijacked the LABIA room (goddamn Ravindra and Meredith for allowing all these idiotic acronyms) and had stacked some of the larger dormant game blocks together, giving them access to the shafts above. They then panned the camera over to one of the security drones, which lay on its side with several dungeonworlders atop it. They were in the midst of pulling out wires and poking at it with metal. One of them tore off the drone’s sensor hub and handed it up through a chain of convicts working together, to the person beginning the climb up and out of Dungeonworld.
“We need to block off all available entrances and exits,” she said.
“And all the ductwork?”
She swore under her breath. These various levels of Prestige gaming were made to allow the drones access to everything. They threw their garbage into chutes that emptied into drones that used these tunnels. They shipped parts and personnel through these tunnels. Sigourney Cleaver was just about to pop out from one of these into Meredith’s lap, where at least one thing would be her problem instead of Tyriah’s.
“No, dammit. Not the ductwork. Authorize some nanites to have tunnel access and have them build bars across the way. We can try to filter the tube traffic. I’m surprised we don’t do that already.”
A man ran into the room. An intern by the looks of his age and casual dress. He was out of breath, though, and was definitely taking the situation very seriously.
“We’ve got a problem!”
Tyriah snorted. Just one? Someone was out of the loop.
“What is this one problem of yours?” she barked, her eyes deadly. The intern gulped.
“Um, I don’t know how to say it, but, somehow, two of our guests just fell into Dungeonworld. And they are no longer registering in the system as guests.”
The intern shakily handed her his small access pad and she swiped transfer. Upon one of her many screens appeared a dark cave like place, filled with the scum of the nation, and Danielle and Gavin.
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