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Corruptor: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, August 30, 2010 22:08 EDT



    Tori looked at the virtual reality device in disgust. Something had become loosened during the flight within the visor, thoroughly annoying her to no end. She fingered the broken visor for a moment and flipped it over to the couch angrily. The broken piece of hardware clattered loudly on the firm German couch and she heard, faintly, another soft tinkle come from the already-broken machine. She swore quietly. She looked down at the coffee table and grunted.

    “I hate full interface,” she groused as she looked over at the second, bulkier visor. The mantle failed to tremble at her glare, confirming that she was still mortal and not, as she wished, a goddess.

    She walked over to the heavier, bulky visor and picked it up. The full interface visor, made from lightweight polymers, had a small metal band, which wrapped around the inside of the visor. Within the metal band were small sensors, which helped manipulate the brain into believing that it was actually inside the game, with smells, sights, and sounds.

    The heavier mantle allowed for the body to actually be inside the game, something which had sprung up from the earlier idea of virtual reality. Roughly five years before, Dr. Kristin Lee, a quiet, reticent woman from Indiana, had discovered that the temporal lobe could be manipulated through a small series of electronic pulses. Originally thinking the invention could be used for psychiatric purposes, and to help people confront emotional damage caused by traumatic experiences in the past under their own terms, she was quickly shunned by the traditional psychologist community for pushing her new and questionable technique. The pulses contained unknown harmful effects, they argued as one by one they shot down every paper she published in support of her theories and experiments. She had believed her career finished, until approached for the suddenly expanding company WarpSoft. They bought the software and helmet design, copyrighted it vigorously, and now controlled all aspects of the design. It also made Dr. Lee filthy rich and a pariah in the psychology community.

    Tori hated full interface, but, she reasoned as she flipped the power on for console, she wanted to play more than she cared about her hair. The game was addictive, after all. Something she knew and accepted. It was only a game, she argued briefly with herself.

    It was still early in the morning, the sun barely beginning to rise in the east. Though they had just arrived the afternoon before, Tori was already settled into the house, in such a way as only a teenager could manage. She had noticed that the smaller living room area off the main living room was unnoticeable from the stairwell and the kitchen. Which meant privacy, she thought as she stood up and put the interface down onto the small table. She stretched slightly and yawned.

    The console hummed to life and Tori went to the attached kitchen for a soda. She grabbed a warm one from the box on the counter next to the fridge, angry at herself for forgetting to put the sodas into the refrigerator. She checked the cupboard for a glass and found one. She swore again when she found that the refrigerator was an ancient design, which meant no automatic ice maker. She left the glass on the counter, unused, and grumbled again at her own stupidity. She popped the cap and went back to the living room, where the console blinked green rapidly, which signaled full link up to the servers at WarpSoft.

    Tori grabbed the interface helmet and looked at it plaintively. The lightweight helmet was one of the main reasons many people preferred the VR mode, since while in full interface mode, players had no awareness of their surroundings at all. It also messed up a player’s hair, she groused. Messy hair of a teenage girl? Costly. Lack of awareness of her surroundings while in full interface? Potentially embarrassing. Monthly subscription to the greatest video game ever created, however? Priceless.

    Placing the helmet over her head, the visor blacked out her vision momentarily as the neural processors began to run a series of checks within. Her stomach became slightly queasy as her brain and equilibrium attempted to balance with the signals that the helmet was transmitting to her cerebral cortex. The thin metal sensor band sent a series of electronic signals to her cortex, which in turn sent the proper signals to her inner ear and her sense of balance returned as the neural interface began. A screen appeared in front of her as the two systems began to handshake. The blue screen disappeared, and Tori was quickly hooked up to the main site for The Warp.

    She glanced over the player list and grinned; most of her friends were online and in Crisis. Excellent, she thought. She opened up her dialogue box and set it to “save”. She waited and was satisfied a minute later when her dialogue box confirmed conversations would be saved to her email. Saving her conversations had helped prevent some embarrassing incidents while she was in the game in the past, and it never hurt to save it in case another team tried to ice her team while they were on a mission.

    “I need a drink,” Tori muttered to herself. She reached out, somewhat blindly, and found her can of soda. Drinking was difficult, but she managed without spilling any soda on herself. Thankfully, she was not in full interface mode yet. She briefly wondered what would happen to someone with a mouthful of soda as they slipped into interface. Her imagination took over, and suddenly unnerved by the thought of dying because of the carbonation from the soda causing her lungs to explode, she quickly finished off the soda. She nearly dropped it and blindly placed the empty can in front of her on the table. She belched loudly and giggled, surprised.

    She stretched her back slightly, still stiff from the long flight. The uncomfortable bed that had been purchased by a few of her dad’s employer buddies had not helped in the least. A smile came to her face as her instant messenger box opened up onscreen.

    “Hey Sergio,” Tori said and clicked the virtual “proceed” button with her hand. Immediately, the blue screen disappeared and was replaced with a black one. The small dialogue box, however, remained open as a boy’s face filled it.

    “Hey girl,” the other teen said with a smile. His tattooed face was smiling, crinkling the Maori tribal designs which were inked across his face. Tori, normally not a huge fan of tattoos, wondered again what his real face looked like. Her head swam suddenly and around her the surroundings changed quickly as the system welcomed her. The slight shift in equilibrium was startling at first, but she quickly regained her senses as everything subtly changed.

    She was now fully into The Warp, specifically in her favorite world, Crisis. The trees waved in the breeze, which prickled her skin slightly. It was a northern breeze, bringing the cooler air with it. Birds chirped happily around her, and the smells from the bazaar were nearly overwhelming as the sights and sounds of the area flooded her senses. She took a deep breath and sighed. It feels so real every time, she thought wondrously as she gave herself a moment longer to enjoy her surroundings.

    “I’m in,” she commented as she glanced down at her body armor. The camouflage pants, a digital pattern designed for soldiers in any environment, complimented the skin-tight polymer armored shirt that protected her body from most types of firearms. Against experienced players armed with codes it was practically worthless, however. Still, she thought with a smile, I look good.

    “Cool,” Sergio said with a distracted nod. “The group’s over at Arthuria Tavern.”

    Tori gathered her bearings as she looked at the landmarks nearby. She was pleasantly surprised to see that she had logged on not too far from the tavern in question, and it would take her less than fifteen minutes to walk there. The game had placed her in nearly the exact same spot from where she had logged off from, a rarity. Too cool, she thought as she began to walk in the direction where she remembered the tavern being.

    “I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes,” she told him.

    “Take your time,” Sergio told her as he looked away from her, his head bobbing along with every step she took as the instant messenger mechanism stayed active. He looked off-screen for a moment at something she could not see before he spoke again. “I mean, everyone’s there.”

    “The whole team?” Tori asked, surprised. She knew from personal experience that the team rarely got together on a whole, preferring to operate in smaller groups to support one another whenever possible. She remembered the last time the entire team had gotten together and how badly it had gone. She hurriedly pushed the old, painful memory aside as Sergio shook his head.



    “No, I mean everybody,” he corrected. Tori blinked.

    The Arthuria Tavern, located near where most new players tended to log on at, was usually crowded as players came and went. It was a popular place for nearly everyone in Crisis to meet, and information tended to flow freely in the tavern. It was a perfect meeting place, well known and liked. It was also one of the reasons more experienced teams preferred one of the other taverns located throughout Crisis.

    “That’s weird,” Tori commented as she picked her way past a few vendors who tried to sell her their wares, all part of the massive programming of the game. She grinned inwardly as a vendor tried to sell her baked pies, and she shook her head.

    “Tell me about it,” Sergio replied as he glanced around at his own surroundings again. “Hey, I’ve got to get running. I’m in the middle of a mission, and I just wanted to give you a heads up. Do me a favor?”

    “Shoot,” Tori answered.

    “Don’t start the next mission without me,” he said. Tori scratched her head and grinned.

    “Start the mission without you, got it,” she smiled teasingly. Sergio scowled and shook a finger at her.

    “Brat,” he said before he smiled as well. “See ya.” The messenger box closed, and Tori was alone suddenly in the bazaar.

    She made excellent time to the tavern, and as she pushed her way through the throng of people gathered around the entrance, she was surprised to see that Sergio had not been exaggerating. It appeared that hundreds of people were clustered inside the front portion of the tavern, eagerly babbling away with one another at the top of their lungs. Tori scanned the crowd on the ground floor but did not recognize anybody from Sergio’s team. She scowled and pushed her way through a particularly loud group of men and looked up towards the balcony that overlooked the front door of the tavern.

    “Tori!” a loud, piercing shout echoed through the tavern. Tori nearly jumped out of her skin at the volume of the cry but recognized the speaker instantly. She smiled and waved towards the balcony as she wove her way through the crowd toward the stairs. As she reached the top of the stairs, she was nearly tackled by a diminutive woman. She looked down at the tiny Asian woman and smiled.

    “Hey Jade,” Tori greeted her friend. Behind Jade was another figure, taller and quiet. She offered him a smile as well. “Dylan.”

    “What’s up?” Dylan asked her as Jade grabbed Tori’s hand and practically dragged her to the team’s table. Jade radiated energy and excitement as Dylan followed behind them, his own shy smile in complete contrast to Jade’s. Tori grinned as she saw who else was at the table; Jade’s passion beginning to rub off onto her as well. She waved as she approached the others at the table.

    “Where’s Mohammed?” Tori asked as she hugged Stephanie and her fiancé, Raul, both of whom were seated next to each other. Tori glanced around at the crowd beyond but could not see her friend. She looked back at Raul, who shrugged.

    “Haven’t seen him,” Raul answered. “We logged on a few hours back and haven’t seen him log on yet. He could be running around on invisible, but who knows.”

    Tori grimaced. “Sergio says he’s in the middle of a mission but will be around eventually. He wants us to wait before we start the next team mission.”

    “Helldiver mission, baby!” Jade whooped loudly and started laughing, her eyes sparkling with delight. “I’ve waited for months for this one. Oh my God, I’m so excited!”

    “What about Royce?” Tori asked, thinking of another team member.

    “Said he wouldn’t make it,” Dylan answered quickly, his voice barely carrying over the noise of the packed tavern. “Something about relatives coming in to town or something. Said he wouldn’t be online for a few days.”

    “Only six people?” Tori asked, slightly perturbed. “Most missions this level require a minimum of seven people.”

    “Helldiver, Helldiver, Helldiver!” Jade chanted as she clapped her hands and bounced on her feet excitedly. “They’re going to get owned!”

    Tori giggled as she brought up her instant messenger screen once more. Sure enough, neither Mohammed nor Royce were online, she saw as she quickly closed the small box. She glanced back at Dylan and offered the shy teen a smile. Her face froze, however, as a figure she hoped to never see again appeared on the other side of the balcony. She tried to cover her facial expression with a cough.

    Dylan noticed though. He looked at her in concern.

    “Everything all right?” he asked her. Tori nodded numbly and looked at Jade, who also recognized the man. Jade’s eyes narrowed, and she looked at Tori questioningly.

    “I’ll be right back,” Tori muttered darkly as she moved to where the tall, muscular man stood quietly to the side. She made her way through the large crowd between her and the hulking giant, who had once been her most trusted ally within Crisis, until she was nearly face to face with him. Tori looked up at the giant’s face and privately wished, not for the first time, that she had created a code so she could levitate and look someone in the eye.

    Despite her march over to the man and her prepared speech meant to flay the man until he cried for mercy, the giant spoke first. His smile was a soft, genial one. His eyes were still cornflower blue and perfect, as was his face and hair. Once more his frighteningly good looks had overwhelmed her better sense. He shifted the black cloak across his shoulders carefully, his trademark cloak, Tori recognized from past missions. This shocked her senses, and a flood of confused feelings she had suppressed for ages overwhelmed her momentarily. She growled and remembered why she hated him, shoving every other emotion back down into a deep, dark hole in her soul. Her anger overrode the few feelings that remained.

    “Victoria,” the man rumbled, his voice coming from the depths of an abyss.

    “Gav,” she returned, using his shortened name instead of his preferred. “Still using an over-the-top accent, huh?”

    “Still the little brat?” Gavrie retorted, his face dark and brooding. Tori sighed.

    “What’re you doing here, Gav?” she asked him quietly, her voice barely audible over the din.

    “I’m searching for the Green Knight,” he stated simply. Tori blinked, taken aback.

    “That’s something I never thought I’d hear you say,” she replied. She shook her head and brushed a few strands of her blond hair out of her face. “The Green Knight is a myth, a ghost of a code. Doesn’t exist. WarpSoft pretty much came out and admitted it.”

    “Then why,” Gav asked as he waved a hand around at the crowded tavern, “am I here?”

    “You tell me,” she said, crossing her arms. She looked down at the man’s feet. “You seem to have all the answers.”

    “It’s real,” Gav insisted hotly, his handsome face betraying the first signs of anger. “I know it is. I’ve been tracking him, and he’s in the area.” Tori stood silent for a moment, thinking of everything she knew about the fabled WarpSoft version of the Green Knight and the mythological version from the Authurian legends. After a few moments of silent contemplation, she shook her head.

    “Doesn’t matter,” she said and stepped away from him. “We had a deal. You’d stay away from me, and I don’t...” her voice trailed off.

    Gav’s face colored and he took a menacing step towards her. “You don’t what?”

    “Leave, Gavrie,” a familiar voice said from behind Tori. She closed her eyes and exhaled as Dylan rested his hand on her shoulder. “It’s not the time or place for this.”

    “You’re right,” Gav said with a jerk of his head. He gave Dylan an angry look as he took a step back from the two. “But someday, boy wonder, it will be.”

    “We’ll see,” Dylan said as Gav disappeared with a muttered curse. Tori exhaled a deep sigh of relief and turned to face her savior. Dylan shook his head before she could open her mouth to say anything. He smiled. “I would kill for that code.”

    “Trapdoor code,” Tori explained and patted the taller teen on his cheek. Inwardly she exhaled a mighty mental breath, tension leaving her body. “Well played, good sir. Well played.”

    “It was either that,” Dylan said with a shrug, blushing slightly, “or I let Raul handle it. Either way, Gav doesn’t want a scene. Not now, not with how close he is.”

    “You believe him?” Tori asked incredulously. “You believe the Green Knight legend?”

    “Huh? Oh, no way,” Dylan grinned. “I was talking about his en finite status. He can’t risk painting a target on his back, not right now. He’s made it this far by keeping a low profile.”

    “Oh yeah,” Tori murmured, her face thoughtful. She scratched her chin and motioned for Dylan to follow her as she walked past him. She approached their table and the others in the team either looked the other way or, in Jade’s case, gave her a curious look.

    “What’s so important?” Raul asked, his teeth bared as he struggled to keep the displeasure off his face. He nodded in the direction Gavrie had disappeared to.

    “Snipe hunt,” Tori answered the large Guatemalan man. Raul’s gaze shifted from distaste to confusion.

    “Then why,” he asked with a subtle motion of his hand, “is a Mod here?”

    Tori stiffened and looked in the general direction Raul had pointed. She saw nobody special in the massive throng of people below, but she knew that meant little. Mods could usually blend in anywhere, and she was already at a height disadvantage. She shivered despite the warmth in the tavern. Great. First Gav, now Mods, she mentally protested.

    “Think he'll bother us?” Jade questioned as she looked down at the first floor.

    “Probably not,” Tori muttered and carefully sat back down at their table, her mind racing. “Seven versus one? Even if it’s a good Moderator, we should be able to take him. He won't get a bounty for us.”

    “Her,” Raul corrected quietly. Tori shrugged.

    “Soon as the others get here, we leave through the back door,” the teenage girl directed the group. “Don’t spook the Mod, don’t let her know we know. You know?”

    “Funny,” Jade grimaced. The Asian woman had a frightful look on her face. “Something wicked this way comes.”

    “I hate that line,” Tori murmured but silently agreed.

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