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Corruptor: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 21:17 EDT



    A bright, blinding light suddenly seared all of their eyes. Tori squealed in surprise and threw her arm across her face, as did every other player still within the tavern. The following explosion lifted her feet off the floor slightly, and the following concussive wave slapped against her exposed body. The pressure slammed her hard against the wall. Pain lanced down her left arm where she had hit. Shouts and cries erupted from the center of the tavern below her. Despite the loud ringing in her ears, she could hear the confusion and terror in their voices. Tori felt someone grab her arm and pull her down to the floor. She bit her lip to avoid crying out when she landed on her already injured arm once more. She was disorientated, confused, and only had one thought on her mind: escape.

    “Stay down,” Dylan hissed in her ear, his hand still clutching her arm. “Someone just chucked a flash bang in here, one of the big ones.”

    “A flash bang,” she repeated dully as she struggled to pull herself up off the ground. Dylan’s heavy weight pressed her back down.

    “Stay,” he ordered her. “I’ll check it out.”

    Woozily, she nodded, her eyes blurry as she struggled to regain her equilibrium.

    “I think I’m going to be sick,” she complained in a soft voice. Dylan shifted slightly as he moved a few inches away.

    “Not on me,” he insisted in a taut voice. “Okay, looks clear. Keep low, though.”

    Tori nodded as she pulled herself to her feet, assisted by Dylan. Swaying drunkenly, she grasped the rail of the loft and looked down at the center of the tavern. She shook her head as another wave of dizziness washed over her, and was silently thankful when Dylan grasped her arm to help steady her.

    Smoke still rose from the center of the tavern, a thin tendril of wispy white moving upwards towards the ceiling. There were quite a few players still lying on the floor, stunned from the concussive blast. The coded artificial non-player characters went about their business of serving drinks and waiting on tables as though nothing had happened. Something about this tickled the back of Tori’s mind, but she was unable to grasp the thought fully. She shook her head and continued to stare at the carnage below.

    She saw a massive hole in the floor, ripped open by the explosion. As she watched, the game began the process of slowly rebuilding the damage caused by the blast. Repairing itself, digital boards appeared as though by magic and began filling in the giant hole piece by piece. After a minute the hole was fixed and the floor shimmered once, briefly, as the coding of the game set the scenery back into place. All traces of the flash bang were gone, she realized.

    “How?” she asked, still confused. She slowly turned around and looked at the rest of the team. She saw that they were not injured, thankfully. She looked back down at the main level of the tavern as the last effects of the flash bang began to wear off. “How did a flash bang get in here?”

    “I don’t know,” Dylan said as he tugged her arm and pulled her away from the railing. “We need to get out of here, though.”

    “Wait.” She paused and looked back down at the main floor. Other gamers were beginning to pick themselves up off the ground, shaking the dust off themselves as they did so. A dull murmur began as they talked amongst themselves, with a few even joking to each other about the incident. Tori did not think it was funny, however. They haven’t realized it yet, she thought as a chill ran down her spine, but somebody seriously broke some rules. Rules she knew should have been impossible to break.

    “Even if it’s a joke...” Dylan’s voice trailed off as he looked into Tori’s eyes. The teenage girl swallowed and nodded.

    “Still impossible,” she finished for him. She brushed her hands off onto her pants and looked back at the others.

    “What the hell?” Jade asked, ignoring her own dust-covered body. Tori looked at her and shrugged, though her insides were still a quivering bowl of gelatin. Jade cocked her head curiously and pointed a long, manicured finger towards the front door of the tavern. “And what the hell are they doing here?”

    Tori followed the direction her finger pointed and barely stifled a gasp. She clutched Dylan’s arm and backed away from the ledge, terrified. Five figures stood silently, looking around the inside of the tavern. Although they appeared harmless, each one had a small, digital red dot that hovered above each of their heads. It was the symbol of a Moderator on the hunt.

    This is it, she thought, her mind racing as she recognized the red dot for what it was. They finally got smart and teamed up to track me down at last.

    “They’re here for us,” Tori whispered fearfully, looking down at the group of Moderators. Her terse whisper was dangerously loud in the silent tavern as others began to realize who and what the five newcomers represented. “Or rather, me.”

    “You?” Dylan asked incredulously as he looked back at her. “Why you?”

    Before she could answer and explain everything, however, one of the men from the group hopped onto an undamaged table and looked around. He grinned broadly, though the grin did not appear friendly to Tori. It was predatory, and spoke tales of an individual who enjoyed hurting others. Tori unconsciously flinched as his gaze swept the entire tavern in one glance. Something about the man’s demeanor made Tori afraid for not only herself, but for everyone else in the tavern as well.

    “Greetings, my fellow gamers!” the man’s voice boomed throughout the room, nearly as loud as the flash bang had been. He opened his arms wide, as though to encompass them all in a hug. Though the action might have appeared genial to others, Tori saw that his eyes were cold and merciless. He did not fool her at all. “I am so glad to finally meet you all, especially on this neutral ground. Why don’t you all sit down and relax? Take a load off, enjoy yourselves. The best thing you can do right now is to sit here, listen to my proposition, and try not to make me hurt you any more than I must.”

    A few of the younger, inexperienced players began to sit down, but Tori and the rest of the team stayed on their feet. She knew that a sitting gamer was a dead gamer. Instead, Tori began to look around for both cover and escape routes as Dylan began to carefully withdraw a few grenades from his inventory. Players who were always prepared for any fight were rare but valuable. Tori knew that Dylan, despite his relative newness to the world, was one of those gamers.

    “My name is Apollo,” the massive man began, his red hair rippling in a nonexistent breeze. Tori felt another chill course through her body. She recognized the amount of skill needed to achieve the effect Apollo wanted. “I am here to keep you here for a few hours, maybe a day or two, until things on the outside are fixed. Fixed, you may ask? Yes. Fixed. Fixed from tyranny and corporate companies that strive to keep the youth of the world and all of humanity’s future down by addicting them to gaming and locked away in a virtual reality, to keep them ignorant of the crimes that are committed in the name of capitalism.”

    “Is he insane?” Dylan whispered. Tori shrugged and shushed him. Apollo paid them no attention. His eyes were focused on a group of younger players close to him.

    “Do you know that every dollar you spend on this game, WarpSoft turns around and reinvests it into brainwashing more children in poor countries?” he asked, his voice thunderous now and filled with anger. He shook a meaty fist at the sky theatrically. “We, my Rogues and I, are here to stop this travesty! No more capitalist pigs will run our lives!”

    “You’re crazy!” someone unknowingly echoed Dylan’s earlier statement. Apollo looked around the tavern and smiled.

    “Am I?” Apollo asked, his voice echoing throughout the silent tavern. “Or are you blind?”

    “What do you want, Moderator?” Tori called out, surprising herself with her sudden exclamation. As soon as the words were out, however, she had to fight the overwhelming urge to run. She bit down and continued. “You talk a good game, but you still get paid by ‘the man’.” She stood defiantly and waited.

    However, the mention of the word “Moderator” had an effect upon the denizens of the tavern that Apollo’s words moments before had not. A few of the players close to the group of Moderators cried out and stood, ready to escape. Apollo smiled and held a hand up to Tori and the rest of the team behind her. One of the other Moderators, a skinny, hard looking man, leaned closer and whispered fiercely to Apollo. Apollo waved the man away and smiled charmingly back up at Tori.

    “Excuse me for a moment, everyone. But I’m going to have to prevent people from leaving this tavern while we get the money due to the people of this world from WarpSoft,” Apollo proclaimed, ignoring Tori’s latter remark.

    She shook her head and laughed softly. “WarpSoft, pay you? For what, ruining the neutrality in taverns?” she asked, her fear fueling her onward. She suddenly stopped laughing as a thought hit her like a bucket of cold water, sobering her. “Wait. How were you able to launch the flash bang in here? The rules forbid any Moderator from using any weapon in a tavern.”

    Apollo rubbed his hands together and smiled again at her. Tori, blessed with reflexes that would make even the quickest cat blush with envy, knew what was coming and was already down on the ground before the laser bolt erupted from Apollo’s hand and streaked by. The impact of the bolt blasted a large hole in the wall ten feet behind her. Her head had been exactly in the path of the bolt microseconds beforehand.

    A split second later, Dylan was down on the ground and Jade next to him, using his larger body as a shield. The entire team dropped low to the ground as the booming voice laughed, louder than the screams and begging from the first floor below.

    “Let’s just say,” Apollo laughed mightily, his voice shaking the walls of the building. “Let’s just say that the rules have changed.”

    Apollo turned towards two gamers who were attempting to escape out of the front door unawares, and unleashed a code, one Tori had never seen before. The two gamers were thrown across the floor, their momentum carrying them headlong into the wall as the code wrapped around their bodies and paralyzed their limbs. Their bodies began to contort grotesquely as a green light crawled over them, dipping into every nook and cranny. The light continued to expand from their feet to their heads and back down before it disappeared. Tori waited expectantly, sad that the gamers lost such experienced characters and more than a little afraid. They’ll be recreated by WarpSoft, she rationalized as she waited for the bodies to disintegrate with the usual CGI effects associated with a gamer’s character dying off. The Mods broke the rules. WarpSoft will understand.

    Something nagged at her from the back of her mind. She looked at Dylan, who was staring intently at the bodies on the floor. She noticed Jade, too, was staring intently at two fallen gamers. A quick glance around told her that everyone except her was still watching where they had fallen. She was about to ask why they were so focused on the gamers when suddenly it hit her.

    The bodies were still there. They hadn’t disappeared.

    “As you may have noticed.” Apollo paused and hopped off the table. He landed heavily and smiled to a frightened older gamer still seated at the table next to him. “The bodies weren’t zapped back to CGI oblivion to be recreated. They weren’t able to log off when their characters died. In fact, as of now, if you die in this game, you won’t come out of the game until WarpSoft pays us the money they stole from innocent victims. So essentially, you’ll be dead, and in a dreaming state of unawareness.” His smile grew bigger. “As I said, the rules have changed.”

    “Out!” Tori screamed and the rest of the team, with Jade in the lead, bolted towards the back door as loud screams and pandemonium erupted behind them.

    A large blast nipped Tori’s heels as she ran. She had already known that the earlier attacks Apollo had done were not flukes and the rogue Moderators were deadly serious. The explosion behind her simply confirmed it. Debris showered down upon her shoulders, but luckily she was unscathed. Behind her, she could hear the shouts of terror and panic of others who were not so fortunate to escape the surprise attack.

    Tori slammed through another door, the last of the team to exit the main room of the tavern. Her adrenaline was high, and she was ready for anything. Through another door led to the back storage area, where old, dusty barrels of unidentifiable drink waited for discovery and usage. She paused and looked around the room. It was empty, which she took advantage of to go through her inventory. Moments were precious, and she already knew what weapon she would probably need the most. She passed most of her technologically advanced weaponry with barely a glance before finding it. She accessed the code controlling it and withdrew it from her virtual gaming inventory bag.

    Instantly the weapon began to digitalize into her hands, pixels layering themselves on top of each other as the carbine was rapidly built. Within microseconds, the barrel was assembled. It felt heavy in her hands as it became solid and real, the weapon completely finished.

    A few stragglers came into the room, coughing as they went past her. As another pair came in, she barely managed not to fire her gun in fright. They came closer to her and she recognized the two experienced gamers. Gyasi and Miranda were two members of another team she had done a few missions with in the past, although not with the two gamers specifically.

    “Out the back door,” she hissed at them as she brought her digital weapon up to bear. “Tell them I’m waiting, covering the rear.”

    Gyasi nodded and ran out the door, followed quickly by Miranda.

    Tori switched the setting of the carbine assault rifle and prepared to be attacked. She looked down the length of the weapon and smiled grimly. Those bastards are going to be in for a rude surprise, she thought as she rested her finger against the trigger guard. C’mon, you jerks. Bring it.

    The M4A1 was, perhaps, the ideal weapon in a crowded room, used by counterterrorist agents worldwide. Its relative compactness and tremendous firepower was a blessing, although for the best effect, one used it at a maximum range of one hundred fifty yards or so. Tori did not care about the limited range, though. She was armed, ready, and best of all, she did not have to waste a code or reveal a secret node in order to protect her or the team from the Moderators. Plus, past experience reminded her that the carbine was more than capable of taking down a Moderator.

    Usually, she amended.

    After a tense minute she realized that her group was not being followed. She relaxed slightly and began to walk backwards towards the door, keeping her attention focused on the door which led out to the main area of the tavern. She recognized Dylan’s cough from behind her and she turned around.

    A slight, grim smile rested upon his youthful face. “We’re out of here, right?”

    “Yeah,” she agreed. She felt the tension and adrenaline begin to bleed out of her slowly as her heart rate returned to normal.

    Tori silently walked away from the burning building, the others following her moments later. Her mind was in turmoil. A deeper, more primal part of her exulted in the wanton destruction of the tavern and cried out for more. She shivered as the urge bubbled up through her emotional walls. She knew where that path lay: down a treacherous and slippery slope. She ruthlessly shoved it back down and vowed silently to never give in to her rage.

    Behind her, the tavern continued to burn as the layered coding of the game decided the tavern was no longer a functioning structure. Lines upon lines of special program codes rushed throughout the system, determining the new rules instituted by the destruction of the tavern. The tavern no longer struggled to repair itself from the damage it had received from the rogue Moderators, condemning itself to a silent death. The rules had changed, as Apollo had claimed minutes before.



    Within the core matrix of Crisis, multiple servers pinged a query to the coding responsible for the destruction of the tavern. Unlike servers of past, the newest WarpSoft servers were more than simple I/O ports. They monitored the game system and kept the game constantly updated and moving. Crisis was monitored by no fewer than forty of these servers, all linked to the same game and same world.

    These servers now queried separate programs they were each assigned to, clarifying the information it was receiving that was outside of its programming parameters. The programs, each infected by the insidiously designed code uploaded earlier that day, responded back promptly. They told the servers that nothing was out of the ordinary; every relevant .exe file was thoroughly corrupted by the Trojan virus designed by the rogue Moderators. Twelve of the thirteen taverns within Crisis were now designated “battle zones”, and the servers accepted the new parameters of the game. The servers, query satisfied, continued to monitor the burning of the tavern with mechanical disinterest. It filed away its ping query to be reviewed by the system administrators, which happened rarely.

    Unfortunately for the rogue Moderators, the ping did not go entirely unnoticed. Another, smaller server normally reserved for secret levels and node uploads, did not receive the proper response from the .exe files. Uncorrupted by the Trojan, the .exe file spat back information, and the server, confused for an eternity in processing time, decided to “kick it upstairs” to the system administrators. Attached to the lines of code and “data error” message was a priority red flag.

    The server shifted back to standby mode and waited for a new node to be opened, no longer interested in the new rules within the game. It was also oblivious to the chaotic storm it had just unleashed on its human masters.

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