Part 1, Chapter 2
"Hey, wake up." I heard a voice say. Had I fallen asleep? The last thing I remember was putting on the helmet for the virtual reality, not much else.
"Huh? What happened?" I asked, my voice groggy.
"We found you in one of the VR rooms. You've been out for a few weeks. Missed your survival course. But that's water under the bridge. Now, you've got a fight. Just follow me." The attendant said.
"But shouldn't I have some time to recover? I'm not feeling my best. And how was I out for that long?" I asked, trying to get out of this situation.
"Well, that's too bad, kid." The attendant said, a slight smile on her face. "Well, our best guess as to your little mishap was that the VR overloaded your brain. It just shut down everything that wasn't necessary. There isn't any damage, though. Now, just follow me."
I was in no mood to argue. If I was going to die, I mind as well die now. At least I still had the armor on. The sword was still sheathed at my hip, as well. The attendant led me down a long, winding hallway. It was very dimly lit. I could hardly see in front of me, although I could clearly see the attendant's white lab coat. Eventually, we came across a light in the distance, which I immediately recognized as the sun.
So this was it. This was how my life would end. My hand trembled as it reached for the sword at my hip. Maybe I could put up some sort of fight.
"Good luck, kid. Just a reminder: you can surrender in this fight." Great. At least I had some sort of exit if things didn't work out.
I arrived in the sunlight, surrounded by a tall black wall, at least ten stories high. This place was so huge, I could barely make out my opponent coming out of the other side. We seemed evenly matched from what I could see. Suddenly the whole arena shook, and the tops of the walls joined together to form a dome, blocking out all sunlight. A few bright lights turned on, lighting the arena.
"Commencing fight between Darren Abernathy and Garret Long. This is fight number 234AR325G. Combatants, please standby." The voice was loud, almost grating. I stood there for a few tense seconds.
"Both combatants may surrender during this fight. This is Abernathy's first fight, and Long's second. Long has surrendered in one fight."
Suddenly, I heard a loud electronic beep. It startled me slightly, but I knew that was my cue to start fighting. I drew my sword, and began to run towards my enemy. We met in the middle, my sword drawn, and his axe drawn. He swung at me, and I swung at him. I managed to get a hit in, slicing his right arm open. Somehow, I managed to just avoid his axe. He swung at me again, this time at the breastplate on my armor.
It was a direct hit.
I doubled over in pain as my opponent tried to get another hit in, this time aiming for my relatively unprotected neck, his intentions clear. I managed to somehow move out of the way, and his axe only met sand. Trying to ignore the pain in my chest, I tried to sneak behind him. However, he managed to get me with another hit, this time on my arm. It was a very deep cut. My arm nearly exploded in pain. My opponent did not relent. I tried to avoid his swings, with some success. I received a small cut lower on my bad arm, but the pain was still drowned out by the much larger cut. I made a quick swing at his neck with my sword, but I missed, my blade clashing against his armor.
I ran away as fast as I could, trying to get away from my opponent. Maybe if I cut him some more, he'd bleed out before I could.
Fat chance, I thought, noticing the trail of blood I was leaving. I hadn't realized I stopped for a moment, giving my opponent time to catch up to me. He swung his axe right at the wound from before, not giving me any time to react. The axe dug into the bone, managing to separate it, leaving my arm to dangle uselessly by a few thin strips of viscera. I fell to the ground, holding my mangled arm.
"...Stop!" I heaved, just as my opponent was lifting his axe to deliver the final blow. "You've won. I... I surrender!" My opponent immediately relented, even reaching out a hand to help me up.
As soon as I stood up, the pain in my arm was completely gone, though I could still see blood oozing out of it from both ends. Suddenly, an overwhelming sensation of weightlessness took over as the world faded to black.
"It looks like it's over." I heard a familiar voice say. It was Arlen. The black receded, giving way to a familiar sight: the virtual reality room. "Hey. You were in there for a while. What happened?" Arlen asked, holding the virtual reality helmet.
"Huh?" I said, completely disoriented.
"What happened?" Arlen repeated. "You were under for a good hour and a half. Fights usually last only a few minutes when you first start out. Were you fighting the whole time?"
"...No..." I managed.
"Then what happened?" Arlen asked. "What happened when you first got into the simulation?"
I told Arlen exactly what happened: from waking up on the hospital bed to nearly getting my arm amputated.
Arlen laughed softly. "You stayed in for longer than I did at your age. That first axe wound on my arm would have done it for me. But, fortunately, if that does happen for real, they can fix that up pretty fast."
"Well, good to know." I said dismissively. "Where's Alan, by the way?"
"Oh, just waiting outside. I suppose there's nothing left to do here for now, anyway. We should go back to Three." Arlen turned around, opening the door. Alan was waiting outside, a slightly worried look on his face.
"Hey, man. What went on in there?" He asked, his voice sounding relieved.
"Well," Arlen began, "His brain just got a little overloaded. He went unconscious for a little bit."
"But he's okay, right?"
"Yeah. I feel fine." I responded.
"Well, good." Alan smiled.
"How was your fight?" I asked.
"I won!" Alan exclaimed. "I just went for the neck. Poor guy ended up just bleeding out after I nicked his jugular pretty good."
"Sounds like you had fun." I said flatly.
"Well? You didn't?" Alan playfully punched me, right where my arm was nearly severed. It made me wince somewhat.
"My arm almost got cut off, and I ended up surrendering. I don't see how that is fun at all."
"Hey, you can talk about this later. We should get back to Three." Arlen started walking down the hall, and we followed.
"So, what do you want us to do with this armor?" I asked, trying to fill the silence.
"Oh, you can keep it. Gavin and I don't use it, it doesn't fit us anymore. You are going to have to get some armor for yourselves, however. It's just a clerical thing. They'd like to know what kind of armor everyone has." Arlen paused for a moment. "The swords, however, we are definitely going to need. We've been using them more and more recently, mainly trying to hone the blades as much as we can."
"But where do we get armor?" I asked.
"There's a blacksmith in the courtyard. He'll make you some armor." Arlen replied as we got on the elevator to go back down to the ground floor. "But you're not going to need it for a few weeks." The elevator opened to the very elegantly decorated ground floor. Even now, at this hour, it was still very busy.
"Ugh. Have to feel sorry for some of these people. Late night fights are always the worst." Arlen groaned.
"What do you mean?" Alan asked.
"Well, fights are scheduled twenty- four hours a day, seven days a week. It really fucking sucks when you have to fight at two in the morning in the dead of winter, but I guess you learn to deal with it." Arlen explained.
"Hey, Darren!" I heard a voice call.
I turned around. It was my brother, Kyle. He was dressed in his armor, and had a sword sheathed at his hip. He was obviously tired, and even had a small amount of blood on him.
"Kyle!" I exclaimed. "You're still alive! I heard that you were fighting earlier. How'd it go?"
"Well, I won." my brother said flatly. "That makes nine..." He added as an afterthought.
"You don't sound too thrilled, Kyle." Alan said, laughing softly.
"Really? I just killed someone. Why would I be excited about that?" Kyle questioned, raising his voice slightly.
"Well, it's one step closer to getting out of here, right? And, you only need one more kill to get out!" Alan explained.
"I killed someone who didn't deserve to die. That's that, and I can't say I'm too happy about it. Also, They've changed the rules recently. I need eleven more kills to get out." Kyle said. "Now, if you'll let me pass, please..." With that, Kyle started walking towards the entrance to the building.
"Wait!" I called. Kyle turned around.
"What is it?" He questioned impatiently.
"Where do you live? I'd like to come visit you sometime."
"Barrack Two, Room 25423. It's on the fifth floor." He said. He turned around and left.
"Oh, is that your brother?" Arlen asked.
"Heh. I've fought him before. Let's just say that he's really good at what he does. He almost killed me. Ended up surrendering. Not a pleasant experience. He's also very good at blocking his pain. I wouldn't be surprised if he had a few wounds when he was talking to you, Darren." Alan laughed as we exited the building. We continued in silence for a while, before I tried to break it.
"Wait, we need to get twenty kills now?" I asked, my voice trembling slightly.
"Oh? Didn't I tell you?" Arlen asked back.
"No, you just told us that only kills counted as wins now." I responded.
"Ah. Well, you also need twenty kills to be allowed to go back home." Arlen responded.
"And what if we don't get twenty?" I asked.
"You are killed." Arlen said bluntly. "Not sure how, but it could be that you are just shot, or you could be forced into a few fights in hopes that you will die."
I only nodded as we continued to the door to Barrack Three. We rode the elevator up to the thirty- second floor, and made our way to Arlen's room. "Yeah, just give us the swords then you can go to your room. There's a video that'll explain everything to you."
"Hey, how'd it go?" Gavin asked.
"Eh, okay. I got sliced up pretty damn good, but I managed to push through and win." Arlen said nonchalantly.
"And what about the two new guys?" Gavin laughed softly.
"One of them surrendered, the other won." Arlen responded.
"Hm. Let me guess, that Alan guy, he was the one who quit?" Gavin said with a laugh.
"No, Darren lost." Alan said, stepping forward. "Now, what was that about me not taking this seriously?"
"Okay. So you won one fight in the VR rooms. Big deal. Tell me when you've won some real ones, then we'll talk." Gavin said, his voice bitter.
"Well, you guys should get to your room. There's a video explaining everything that will be going on, mostly stuff that I explained, but I'm sure that there's a few essential points that I missed. Good luck. If you need anything, you know where to find me, provided that I'm still alive."
"Thanks, Arlen." Alan said, heading out the door.
"Hey, Alan. We need our swords back." Arlen said.
"Oh. Sorry." Alan said, drawing the sword at his hip. I did the same. We both handed the swords to Arlen and left for our room. We eventually found it, after wandering the halls for a few minutes. The door opened automatically, and a large screen turned on, displaying a face we all knew well: ANDI, also known as Autonomous Digital Interface among her creators. ANDI had been developed as a human- like interface that could run computers, but nowadays her technology was outdated. She was still used to make videos that could be interacted with, especially educational films. In these videos, she would ask a question, and only go on if the question was answered correctly. Needless to say, she was the bane of students everywhere, especially if the machine she was running on had faulty voice recognition software.
"Hello, Darren Abernathy and Alan Matthews." ANDI began, her familiar smile never fading. "Welcome to the Battlegrounds of the Southeastern Michigan Consulate District. My name is ANDI, and I will be your guide to the various functions of these facilities. If you have any questions, you may ask them at any time, and I will be happy to answer them." ANDI paused for a moment.
"These Battlegrounds, though far from the Capitol City, were among the first to be built, more as testing tracks for fighters than anything. As a result, some of the technology we have available here is slightly out of date. If you have any questions at all regarding how to use the older things within your room, please ask." ANDI paused again.
"The most common question combatants ask at this point is: Why am I here? The answer to that question is this: In 2237, there were over twenty billion people living in the world. In response to this overpopulation, the Central Powers devised these Battles, in order to reduce the population to manageable levels. At the time of the last census, the world's population has decreased to ten billion, though the Central Powers look to decrease it further, to around five billion, which they believe to be sustainable. Obviously, these decisions have not been very popular, and the execution of the resistors has contributed to the loss of some individuals. However, no population reduction method has proven more effective than these Battles."
ANDI continued on and on about the history of the Battles, and the amenities of the Battlegrounds. It was exactly as Arlen and Gavin explained, but much more long- winded.
"Now, onto the rules." ANDI continued. "When you are in a fight, there are no rules: you can kill your opponent by any means necessary. Outside of the Battlefield, however, there are some strict rules. They are as follows: First, suicide is strictly forbidden. If you are caught trying to end your life, psychological help will be called in."
"Second, conspiring to kill a combatant outside of the Battlefield is forbidden. If we have reason to believe that you have been involved in a plot to kill a combatant, you will be interrogated, and punished depending on your position in the conspiracy."
Alan's face broke into a sinister grin. "Heh, not going to keep me from trying." He mumbled to himself. I pretended not to hear him.
"Next, sexual relations are forbidden, unless measures are taken to ensure that neither disease nor pregnancy occurs. If pregnancy does occur, the fetus will be aborted, and both the father and the mother will be unable to surrender for three fights. Paternity tests will be conducted on the fetus in order to determine the identity of the father. If you are known to have transmitted a sexual disease to a partner, it will be treated as a conspiracy to kill the combatant that received the disease."
"Finally, contact with individuals residing outside these Battlegrounds is prohibited. If you have been found to have communications with outsiders, you will be executed. If your communication included essential information to the nature of the Battles, your informants will be executed as well. The Consulate's Office is able to send records of your fights to your family with your consent. The information included in these records is limited to wins and surrenders. Should you be killed, a death report will be sent to your family."
The way she said that last sentence really bugged me. It was as if knowing that your family will know when you are dead was supposed to be comforting, somehow.
"That concludes this brief introduction to the workings of the Southeastern Michigan Consulate District Battlegrounds. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask."
Alan stepped forward. "Okay, say someone successfully kills someone outside of battle. How is that handled?"
"Usually, an investigation is conducted as soon as we find out about the death. Once we find the individual who committed the murder, they will be put to death. However, very few kills happen outside of the battlefield. Only fifteen murders have been successfully carried out within the last twenty years on these Battlegrounds, and four- hundred and six conspiracies to kill a combatant have been uncovered, all before they could come to fruition." ANDI waited for a moment. "Now, if you have further questions, I will be more than happy to assist you. Simply turn on this monitor." With that, the monitor went black.
"So, you want to kill someone, huh?" I asked.
"Hm? What are you talking about?" Alan asked back, obviously feigning innocence.
"I heard what you asked. Not necessarily hard to figure out what you want to do."
"And? Isn't killing off as many of us as possible the purpose of this anyway?" Alan asked, with a mischievous smile.
"Well, yes, but it seems that they only want people killed in fights." I explained.
"Whatever." Alan dismissed as he began removing his armor. "I'm going to bed. Sleep well."
"Wait, Alan. Who exactly do you want to kill?" I asked, my voice slightly frantic.
Alan adjusted his blanket. "Well, you don't want anything to do with this, so I can't tell you. You'll find out soon enough."
"Can you at least tell me why? Why do you want to kill this person, whoever it is?" I asked. My mind was racing with all of the possibilities. Literally anyone on the Battlegrounds could be his target. Even me.
"You'll see why once it's done." Alan sighed as the turned off the lights.