G A M E

By Estelle Marie

P H A S E . 1


New Message

FROM: tripleA

RE: Kaizer Task (7-5-2015) [2:10 AM]

Congratulations, Omega. You have only one Task to complete. To begin your task, click ACCEPT.

Click-click.

FROM: tripleA

RE: Kaizer Task (7-5-2015) [2:11 AM]

Thank you, Omega.

***

Emma Rose Bourne was a deep sleeper. Despite the fireworks howling into the skies and then bursting into beautiful theatrics with an exceptionally boisterous bang, she would find away to sleep through the noise. Her small family, consisting of her and her 21 year old brother, never was patriotic – so July 4th was just another day. (Or, to Daniel, a sleepless night caused by pyrotechnics.)

But, no. Not tonight. Not according to GAME. Not according to tripleA.

And tripleA's word is law.

A strip of light illuminated a large portion of Emma Rose's (she hated the name Emma and the name Rose by themselves, so it was always Emma Rose) room. It was the room of a normal 13 year old girl – purple, a bed, a small television, countless drawers, messy closet…

"Hunh?" That light interrupted her slumber. Emma Rose squinted, trying to make out the figure that stood outside her door. "Daniel?"

Silence. Until the door creaks again.

"Daniel, look, I'm too tired for this. You should be asleep."

And then the door shut hastily, the strident thud echoing through the now dark room. Emma Rose blinked, most of the sleep vanishing as curiosity took its place in her mind. She slipped out of bed, shivering at the frigid air generated by her air conditioner. "Daniel, what are you doing?" she demanded, her voice husky from sleep.

No response. She tip-toed out of her room, the still air and silence intimidating her. "Are you trying to sneak onto the computer again?"

Creak. Creak.

She stopped.

Creak. Creak.

Footsteps…behind me?

Emma Rose shouted behind her, "Dan, this isn't funny anymore!"

Faster.

She pivoted and darted up the stairs, to her brother's room. Her hands touched the cold metal doorknob, but the knob refused to grant her entrance.

Closer.

"Daniel, open up!" Emma Rose whispered furiously, her heart pounding for release against her ribs. A horrible feeling ate at her from inside…that this would be the end. Through all the confusion, her eyes welled up with tears. Don't cry, Emma Rose, don't cry!

Louder.

"Daniel, please, someone's behind me!" It was no use, and Emma Rose was aware of that. Still, she had to scream – what else could she do? She had trapped herself in a dead end, hoping that her brother would come for her, as always. I'm so stupid.

Right behind her.

Emma Rose shook the knob forcefully, yet the door just didn't swing open. She felt the intruder's breathe on her neck, and all the hairs on her body stuck up on end. "No!" she shrieked, not wanting to turn around to see his face. "Please, God, no!"

Is this the end?

The murderer left the 13 year old girl, collapsed and mangled on the floor, her body dismembered into 13 pieces. In spite of everything, you can see the trails that her tears left behind. You can see the most expensive thing in the house – the bracelet around her wrist, given to her by her beloved older brother. You can see the name that she screamed out into the night.

And the fireworks still boomed merrily in the air.

-G A M E-

New Message

FROM: tripleA

Re: Kaizer Task (7-05-2015) [2:53 AM]

Don't get too excited, Omega. The task isn't complete. If you get captured by the police, this is all over. Walk to the library. Another Player named simfoni is there. Her job is to shelter you. You may talk to her about The GAME. Remain in hiding until I order you otherwise.

***

He sat down on the curb, shivering even in the warm weather. His leather jacket didn't help much, either. Nor did the eerie silence. Or the tiny cell phone that seemed to weigh a ton that lay in his pocket.

"What am I going to do now?" he said out loud, the words unfamiliar on lips. He used to have everything under control. But, ever since The GAME, things changed. His hands might be on the steering wheel, but tripleA became his stubborn and threatening navigator.

And, the next thing he knew, he was hooked.

The GAME became his universe. tripleA, the 'god.'

After The GAME, his life rapidly altered, becoming better and better at the second. The Tasks that tripleA handed out allowed him to get a better job, a better home…even that bracelet for Emma Rose.

He couldn't imagine a life without The GAME.

"Hey, are you Omega?"

"Huh?" He leaped to his feet and turned around at the same time – a very ridiculous move that caused the questioner to laugh. His taut body loosened up just a tad when he noticed that the person happened to be a girl. A very young one, at that. She couldn't have been any older than seventeen, and she had quite an odd style – one look at her would inform you that she evidently has an obsession with Victorian times.

She strode up to him and held out a gloved hand. "I'm simfoni. I was told by tripleA to watch you."

He scrutinized the girl. He had forgotten that most of the Players in The GAME were teenagers. He, himself, started out when he was fifteen. Wow, six years passed already?

"What? I'm not poisoned or anything. Do you have gynephobia?"

Offended, he responded out of impulse, "What the hell is that?"

The simfoni girl giggled again, her voice clear and velvety. "Come on, follow me," she exclaimed in a commanding tone. She had only taken a few paces forward until he finally chose to follow her – he had nothing else to do, and no where else to go. And if he were to back out of his Task now…tripleA could release all of his information onto the net.

And that was a lot of information.

simfoni's footsteps ceased suddenly after they turned the corner. "Before we go any further, you are Omega, right?"

"What, you don't trust tripleA?"

"Humph." The anger in her voice was undeniable. That particular inquiry would be affronting to any Player. "I do. It's part of my task. If I picked up the wrong guy, then there goes my life."

"Fine. Then I'm not Omega."

She turned around, an expression of shock, suspicion, and anger controlling her face. "What?" her voice was almost a whisper.

"I'm Kaizer."

***

Lyre hated everything about her job. The white gloves that she had to snap on, the camera designated for taking pictures, the baggies in which evidence had to be stored in…the sole redeemer is when – if – they find the culprit.

"I can't believe all the legal crap we're going to have to go through now," Lyre heard Officer Johnny Smith, her colleague, grumble.

Lyre turned back to the crime scene, her eyes squinted so that the image would be blurred. In reality, she doesn't want to see it – the blood, the mangled body…no. "By legal crap, do you mean court?" she sighed.

"We have to catch the bastard first," Johnny responded with his strong, booming voice. "Terrible kid…killing his own sister. It's a shame that idiots like these are inheriting this world from us…"

While Johnny's 'the future is terrible' speech blared on and on, Lyre finally gathered up the guts to climb up that staircase to take closer photos.

The sight made her sick. The victim, Emma Rose, was only 13. To die like that…Lyre failed to envisage it. "The pain…" the detective murmured softly, "must have been dreadful."

Just then, the flash of her camera caused a metal to glint in the corner of Lyre's eye. She knelt down and managed to pull a bracelet out of Emma Rose's hand. It was clearly expensive – pure silver and engraved.

Remember

***

"Erica, you brought home a guy!" a complaining voice rejected his staying at Erica's inadequate home. It called from the kitchen next door. "You're sleeping on the couch, right where I can see you!"

He ignored the evidently over-protective man. "So Erica's your real name?"

She grinned wistfully as she replied softly "Ugly, right? That's what The GAME is for, too. I prefer simfoni." Erica sat down on the couch that her visitor was supposedly going to sleep in.

"I think it's sad that we don't bother with real names first. Erica's a pretty name."

Erica pulled off her boots and stretched out along the couch. "Kaizer sounds cooler than whatever-the-hell your real name is."

"How would you know?"

She shrugged casually. "It just is. If tripleA gave it to you, it must be." That reflective smile still remained on her face. "I don't even have to know your real name. It doesn't matter at this point."

"My name is Daniel Bourne."

Erica laughed her sweet laugh. "Now would you prefer me to call you Kaizer or Daniel? Or maybe even Omega?"

"Daniel, please," he snapped back, irritated. "You seem to be enjoying The GAME very much." He turned and looked at the clock. Four o'clock in the morning – should he even bother to try and sleep?

"You don't seem to like The GAME. Aren't you happy? You know, that you're Kaizer and all? The big hot-shot?"

Daniel's shoulders moved up and then down, in a slow, heaving motion that one would think that he's simply having difficulty breathing. "The GAME…not anymore." His voice was barely a mumble.

"Huh?" Erica sat up. "What happened? You know you can't back down now – you'll lose…everything!"

"It doesn't matter. I've…already lost…everything."

Erica stood up and walked close to him, her voice dropped to a whisper. "Was it the Task? What did tripleA make you do?" No compassion existed in her voice – only excitement and curiosity, like a schoolgirl gossiping about flagrant school crushes.

What has The GAME done to us?

"You're inhuman." Daniel made for the door, but that Erica girl was faster than he anticipated. She stood directly in front of the doorway, her hands wide, protecting it with her life. "Get out of my way."

Erica shook her head vehemently. "No way. My Task is to keep you here. You know that I only have fifteen more Tasks until I can become Kaizer, too? There's no way I'm backing down."

"Look, I don't care. In fact, it's better for you to back out now…when you still have the chance."

"I don't care what the last Task is!" there existed a catch in her voice – tears, perhaps? The sound of it chilled Daniel. "Maybe…just maybe…If I become Kaizer, I'll meet tripleA."

"What's all this yelling about?" the man who had scolded Erica from the kitchen finally entered the room. "Oh, geez. Sis, if he wants to leave, let him leave."

She glared at her older brother with such hatred that Daniel wished he could smack some sense into her. "He's not leaving, Leander. And shouldn't you be asleep? You've got to go to work early tomorrow, too."

"I thought we were talking about your problems!"

"What problems? Go to sleep…now!"

"Sheesh, you're not mom," Leander growled under his breath as he stomped up the stairs, giving in to her anyway. And then, he yelled down, "If that idiot's staying he's still sleeping on the couch, you hear?"

At least the older brother has some control in this house, Daniel thought wretchedly.

Erica rolled his eyes. "One night. Think it over. The Task…whatever it was…probably shocked you. You'll come back to your senses…we always do." She left the room shortly after that. Normally, Daniel would have bolted out the door. But she was right. He did have to think it over.

Or maybe he'd wake up and it would all be a dream.

***

"Our prime suspect…is Daniel Bourne."

The words were both a curse and reassurance. Starting from a name, they can bring true peace to Emma Rose.

Or would they?

"It is so for simple reasons – supposedly, no one else was in the house. The door to his room – the room in which she died in front of – was locked. The computer was smashed to pieces and the window was open. The scenario is that he probably tricked his sister into thinking that he was still in his room while still being a murderer. Hair on the weapon is being DNA tested, as it might not be the victim's. The sole fact that he is not here mourning his sister's death is one of the biggest factors." Lyre basically spat out the last sentence.

"Letting your emotions get in the way again, detective?" Johnny always acted playful. Lyre hated that, but she never expressed it.

"You're one to talk, officer. Now, the problem is where to find him…The media's already on it, he should be running for his life by now."

Johnny leaned back to look out the window for the millionth time – as if he was expecting Daniel Bourne to just appear in his line of vision. "We'll get him. But what I'm really wondering about is the motivation. Why would an older brother do this to his younger sister?"

Lyre reached into her bag and then laid a recorder on the table that separated her from the Johnny. "I interviewed the next-door neighbor, Lea Tory. She and Emma Rose were best friends, and she knew Daniel Bourne very well." Lyre pressed the arrow that indicated play.

"For the record, what is your name?" Lyre's own voice came from the device.

"Lea Tory." She was uncannily confident. Perhaps it was because she just finished crying an ocean.

"Where do you live?"

"12 Old Avenue, Earthford, New Jersey."

"What's your relationship to Emma?"

Now came the sadness. "We…we were best friends. Since kindergarten, when she got mad at me for calling her just 'Emma.' She doesn't like it if you call her by just 'Emma' or 'Rose,' you see." A smile was heard.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Emma Rose and her brother, Daniel, live by themselves, correct?"

"Yes. Their parents died not so long ago, in a car crash."

"How does Daniel support the two of them?"

"He works at the local clinic. He's very smart, and he could be a big doctor at the hospital, but he has to stay close to home. But the money that he gets is enough to barely support them, I guess."

"What was Emma Rose Bourne like?"

"She isn't as smart as her brother, but she's so optimistic and happy all the time. She's sweet, innocent, and understanding. She…just gets frustrated with herself sometimes, and her self-esteem is pretty low, but…I can't believe someone would kill her."

"What's Daniel Bourne like?"

"Quiet. I don't know much about him. He barely talks, and he does weird things sometimes, but everyone knows he cares so much for Emma Rose. He bought her this beautiful bracelet for her thirteenth birthday, despite their financial troubles. The only thing is…um…"

"What is it?"

"Emma Rose kept complaining that he was addicted to this game on the computer."

"Ah…I see…And…you said he does weird things?"

"Yeah. You'd see him planting a tree one day, and then cutting the tree down the next. He'd buy a ton of books and then just burn them. He'd take things out of his bank account for no reason. Emma Rose complained about that, too."

"When did the weird things start?"

"Like…six years ago, I think."

"Did it start with his addiction to that computer game?"

"I-I guess, why?"

Lyre sighed. "Did Emma Rose and Daniel argue a lot?"

"No. They got along really well."

"Let's get down to business, then. Did anything seem odd on the day of July 4th, 2015?"

"Well…Emma Rose was acting her usual self – optimistic and hyper and all. But Daniel was quiet. He-he's always quiet, but he always puts in his two cents in a problem or something, but yesterday…yesterday he was completely silent."

"He didn't say a word?"

"Nothing at all. I even asked him why, but he didn't reply. Pretended that I wasn't there. He kept staring at Emma Rose, too. It was sort of creepy."

"Did those two seem to be on bad terms with each other that day?"

"No. Daniel sometime has those days, Emma Rose used to say. Emma Rose didn't seem to mind it."

"Did you hear anything in early morning of July 5th, 2015?"

"Yes…I woke up, because I swore I heard Emma Rose scream. Our houses are congested around here – they could pass as apartments, even. I heard her scream and I ran over there as fast as I could…and…and she was dead." Lea was crying. The room in which the interview was recorded was so quiet that the tapping of her tears on the table were as loud as the firecrackers that night.

***

FROM: tripleA

RE: Kaizer Task (7-5-2015) [6:55 PM]

The media has released information of Emma Rose's murder. And information on you as the prime suspect. You are not to leave simfoni's home.

"You look angry," Erica commented in her usual, carefree attitude. She took a bite in her Granny Smith apple while reading her summer reading book, Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel frowned, choosing to ignore her. He flipped through channels on the Spear's small television, deliberately zooming past the news channels. Erica looked up from her book and raised her eyebrow skeptically at him. "Change it to channel twelve," she ordered, her voice calm yet commanding.

He furrowed his eyebrows. "But I want to watchJeopardy."

Erica scowled. "It's our TV! Change the channel."

"I'm your guest, and I want to watch Jeopardy," he replied stalwartly. The theme song of the trivia television show began blaring from the screen's speakers. Erica's mouth opened, and then closed, until she finally made a noise that indicated her white flag of surrender. She couldn't deny Daniel's being a visitor – else she'd have to kick him out. That would displease tripleA.

During Jeopardy's first commercial break, Erica asked, "So, what are you going to do now? Now that you're Kaizer."

"Kill tripleA."

Erica's book thumped shut, its thud resounding through the disorganized living room. "No way."

Daniel's eyes never moved from the screen, which was now advertising cars as if they were supermodels. "Yes, way. I thought it over, like you said I should. And I've come to my decision. I'm going to find tripleA…then I'm going to kill him."

"I'm not going to let you do that!" there was that tone again – that strong, yet shrill sound in her voice. Erica stood up from the couch, with her hands on her hips. "There's absolutely no way…I'd let you kill him."

"What, are you in love with a man that you've never met?" Daniel shot back at her.

Erica took a step back, as if his words were a physical blow. "No…but tripleA improved my life so much…without him…I don't know what would have happened to me and my brother. Don't you understand?"

"No, I don't. Now sit down. You're blocking Jeopardy."

"Hey, did I miss anything?" Leander, Erica's older brother by four years, allowed the heavy wooden door to slam behind him. He sensed the edgy tension in the room and his easygoing smile vanished. "Okay, what happened?"

Erica growled and sat down. "We're not done talking about this," she said to Daniel. He merely nodded, pretending to be completely absorbed in the television show.

Leander's face contorted in frustration. "Come on, you two. I'm done with being ignored all the time. What happened?"

"Drop it, Leander. It has nothing to do with you," Erica declared.

"Okay, Mr. Moocher," Leander said, turning to Daniel. His voice did not display the seriousness that his face displayed. "Sorry, but we can barely pay for ourselves, and I don't want you causing turmoil in my house, so…I'm going to have to kick you out."

"Leander, he's staying right here!"

"Well, he's obviously not doing anything constructive," Leander snapped back. "I mean, come on, Jeopardy? Get out of our house and go get a life."

Erica's jaw dropped to say something, but Daniel cut in with: "I'm staying. I'll help you guys pay for your bills if you want. But I have to stay here." The teenage girl's jaw remained dropped at that. She had anticipated him just itching to leave.

Leander paused in taking off his shoes. He resumed as he said, "That's a good compromise. I accept. But you better give us a hand." He nonchalantly tossed his shoes in some forsaken corner of the room that did not already have an item occupying it. "Got it, Moocher?"

"After this, I won't be a moocher anymore. Call me Daniel."

"Okay, Dan."

"I don't like Dan."

"Well, too bad, Dan. I'm going to go make us some ramen." Leander hobbled away excitedly, while singing Are You Sleeping? under his breath.

Daniel watched him over his shoulder. "Is something wrong with his leg?" he inquired, observing Leander's impaired walking pattern.

Erica sighed. "Car accident. He actually has a prosthetic leg. Cost us thousands of dollars, but…without it, what could we do?" She reopened her novel. "Why are you staying?"

"If I left, tripleA would release all my personal information to the net. And that's not what would benefit me at the moment." Daniel tapped his finger against the arm rest of the couch. "…Look, Erica-"

"simfoni," she cut in intolerantly.

"Erica," Daniel continued stoutly. "We'll call a truce. Just don't talk about The GAME anymore. Or at least tripleA."

She sighed again, tucked her bookmark into the paperback, and shut it once more. "Okay."

****

FROM: tripleA

RE: Membership Confirmation (7-05-2015) [8:12]

Welcome to The GAME, new Player.

Your new name: ACiDiA

Your password: 4(!d!4

Tasks Completed: 300

"Yes," she murmured, a smile on her face. "I'm the first Player in the world to fool tripleA. 300 Tasks completed when there should be none."

Phase I - Complete.