AS OF END OF GAME 4.5
THE TANK 0-3-3-2-0
Cole wouldn't have said he was curious about what happens if you die unconscious, but it was still somewhat satisfying to find out. He was shoved back into consciousness, breathless and stunned.
He laid on his bed for a moment, turning his head to look out the window. He put his hands behind his head. He could still hear music humming outside his locked door, this time an upbeat love song.
He breathed a heavy sigh, and sat up. His new treasure reminded him of its presence by shifting uncomfortably in his pocket. His excitement renewed, he quickly reached into his pocket and pulled out the phone. It was still in the same condition as it was when he had placed it in his pocket. If Cole weren't so busy unlocking it and going back to his text messages, he probably would have pondered how Malachi managed to return even this small device to a usable state, after all it had been through in the recent fight.
Hi Erika, it's Cole.
Cole paused. He couldn't think of what else to say.
I'm okay, sorry I didn't text. I lost my phone.
He steeled himself and pressed send.
"...After this, you were taken back to see what could have gone wrong," the fox said. "Helen had to make a special glitch-free respawner chip for you. The old chip kept you stable enough to perform the procedure. The new one, in a sense, overwrote the old one, and brought you back to life."
May took a moment to let it sink in. The other two did not allow her to have that moment. Nigel continued, his vulpine ears flicking.
"So in a sense, yes. You actually died."
May could feel her face flush, and hoped it didn't show. Ever since she discovered them, she was very self conscious about the few bare spots plaguing her otherwise well-kept sand colored fur. She knew other whippets didn't have this problem, but luckily the only spot that she was unable to cover consistently was a circular spot on her left cheek, about the size of a quarter. The rabbit that stood next to Nigel sauntered up to May, bending over to whisper into her ear.
"You're welcome for the assistance." Helen said, making sure to brush the canine's nose with a floppy ear as she stood back to her full height. May felt the color returning to her cheeks as the rabbit winked, and began to leave.
Nigel glared sternly at the rabbit as she walked through the door behind him, joining a small group milling about in the room beyond. He returned his attention to the canine in front of him.
"All that being said, I'm sure you will want a few minutes to absorb all I have told you. " Nigel stood up, and proceeded toward the same door that Helen walked through.
"Even so, we don't have much time to finish our briefing, so I'll give you five minutes to think it over, then please join the group. You'll have more time after you receive your instructions."
May found herself alone with her thoughts. She was frustrated that her only recall of what had happened recently was what she had just been told. Her brain felt fuzzier that she could remember it ever being before. She could recall that she felt guilty for leaving her family behind for this foolish aspiration that she was now entrenched in, but it had apparently been so long that she couldn't even remember their names, let alone their faces. Everything she remembered distinctly was between when she woke up in this room, and now. The fox named Nigel, obviously all business and ready to proceed with his plan, and Helen, a rabbit that seemed to have nothing on her mind besides a rabbit's favorite subject.
May took a deep breath, and stood up. As much as she loved and missed her old family, she thought it best to go out and meet her new one.
The group waiting in the room numbered somewhere just above a dozen, spanning many different species. A fair number of the participants were still standing and milling about, so May wandered toward the back of the room, taking her pick from the many vacancies.
She sat down, eyes closed and took a deep breath, collecting herself. She allowed herself to view the room again, and squirmed as she noticed that she had been made the center of attention. As she sat, pondering if she was expected to do something, one of the onlookers, a burly black bear, turned to face Nigel.
"Looks like we're all here now. Can we get on with this meeting?" The fox nodded as he strode toward the part of the room that all the chairs were facing. The other attendees began filing into the rows of seats. May ended up with a peacock on her left and a poodle on her right. Everyone quieted down, and Nigel began.
"Since everyone's received an orientation on why they're here, I'll get straight to the objective and your orders." he began.
"Since Malachi's involvement with the development of the respawner, we've had to defend most of the country from the enigmatic beings we refer to as static. They appear to be vulnerable to the same things as us, and when they are damaged enough, they simply cease to be, leaving nothing behind. We have been able to hold them off so far, but with the creation of the Clash events, things were getting out of hand, thus leading us to our involvement." The fox pulled out a handful of index cards.
"We have therefore decided to assign roles to those present, in an attempt to support our various missions. The teams are as follows:"
"I will be leading a team with some of the clash participants that we have inserted into the games. Please stand and move to the right side of the room when you hear me call your name…"
The three stood up, and made their way to their destination: A crow, dressed in navy blue and dark as a shadow, save for their beak; an otter wearing natural tones with a pair of driving goggles on his forehead; and a young golden labrador in a tee and vest.
"The next team is going to assist our party in the field, fighting and researching Static. Please move to the left side of the room…"
A small koala, swaying through the crowds in her loose flowing clothes; A mule dressed in a cowboy hat and button up shirt, sauntering slowly; a poodle whose appearance seemed oddly familiar as she hopped and bounced to her assigned location; and a goat, tactfully making her way down her aisle in form fitting combat gear.
"The next team will be sent to headquarters to continue our research on the respawner and related technology. Come toward the front of the room please…"
"Vela and Helen."
A sleek german shepherd, also in combat gear, made her way stiffly up to the podium accompanied by the rabbit from earlier, still brimming with pep.
"The following are also going to be heading to base, but to undergo an extensive training regimen…"
The peacock next to May, garbed in unreasonably tight clothes immediately stood up, almost knocking her over, and walked from the middle of his aisle straight up to the speaker, moving aside any of the mostly empty chairs to make a messy path to the front. The only one of the three that seemed to retain any air of modesty was the lean alligator that had been sitting on the end of the same aisle. He quietly made his way to the front as the last figure, the impatient black bear, wearing only purple cargo shorts, walked through the same opening as the bird, moving the chairs even further apart.
Nigel, gazing at the newest set of characters gazed with a look of frustration and resignation. Only two remained sitting. May, and a large bull, forward and to her right.
"Okay. Let's not waste any time. For the teams heading to HQ, there's an SUV waiting outside. The driver will answer any more questions you have on the way there. Lara will be leading the static combat team. Please enter the door behind you to meet up with the rest of our static strike team and receive your assignment. I want my team to wait for me outside please."
The room emptied very quickly. None of the others stopped for discussion or gestures of any kind. Only three remained in the room. Nigel began pulling three chairs into a loose circle and motioned for May and the bull to sit with him. May felt like she was in trouble for something she didn't remember doing. Once the trio was seated, the fox began.
"So." The awkward beginning didn't give May any comfort as she squirmed in her seat.
"Balder, this is May. She just woke up a little while ago." The bull looked puzzled. "As in, just woke up from her first unconsciousne-"
"Yes." Nigel loudly and abruptly interrupted. "She knows almost nothing besides what I was able to tell her in the hour before the meeting started. The bull flashed several emotions before settling on a cold understanding, nodding and remaining silent. Nigel handed him a paper. Balder looked it over briefly and tucked it in a pocket.
"You two are going to stay here for awhile, until we can make sure that May is fine. We don't know if our opposition knows of this location, so be prepared for anything. That's about as much of a briefing as you need, Balder." He turned to May. "If you have any more questions about what's going on, you can ask Balder. He's prepared to answer most of your questions. In this scenario, he is considered your superior. You are not to take any actions without his foreknowledge and approval, and if you notice anything that seems off, inform him as soon as possible. Otherwise, your role is to remain here, and monitor your own condition until a time when you and Balder receive a message regarding a rendezvous with another of our teams."
May didn't know what else she could do besides nod. As she did, the Static team emerged from the side room with a couple of others, and left the building. Nigel also stood, preparing to leave.
"There is some furniture in Balder's room that you can take out and arrange in here to make yourselves more comfortable. Until we meet again." He gave a curt wave as he walked out the door behind them, leaving the whippet and bull in silence. Balder let out a long sigh, hanging his head back in his chair. After a moment, he stood up, looking down his nose at his new roommate, and stormed toward the room where the furniture was being kept.
"Get all these chairs into the corner."
A chill ran down May's back and out her tail. She was frozen for a moment before she got up to stack the seats. Much like with her family, there was something familiar about Balder. She was confident that this was the first time they had met, though. She made a mental note to ask him if he knew any of her family or friends when his mood improved.
May felt completely flattened. She sat on the sofa, playing a game on the small television that was set up in the living room. Balder spent most of his time in his room, destroying a training dummy that had been among the furniture when it was unpacked. After many repeated attempts at communication over the last three days, May picked up the controller to play Tales of Stick, another wave of strangely misplaced nostalgia washed over her as she glided easily through the opening stages, picking all the best dialogue options and skill progressions as if she had played through it dozens of times, though she didn't recall playing this game before.
A scene played on the screen. The protagonist stood tall over a freshly felled Christmas tree, adorned in garland. As his mouth opened, May found herself filling with excitement as hers did the same, and in unison, they declared what May could only assume was one of the most iconic lines in the game;
"Now see who has been knocked down, tyrant!"
"WHAT?!" May blurted.
She stood up. She wasn't sure what had just happened, but the coincidence sent a surge of indignation through her body. She was tired of Balder playing coy about her past. Throwing the controller against a cushion, she stomped into the bull's room, not entirely sure what she was going to try.
Balder was on the far side of the room, pulling a water bottle from a cooler he had acquired. This left the training dummy -set just inside the room- wide open as the most apparent victim for May's attention-drawing assault. Balder turned to watch his ward as she marched up to the battered target. She took a surprisingly sturdy fighting stance as she glared at the dummy. Then, letting out a battle cry fit for the fiercest of kittens, she slammed her palm into the dummy's ribs.
The force of the blow sent the dummy backwards, and May followed suit, allowing the inertia from her follow-through to throw her body onto the dummy. In her frenzy, she began tearing into the dummy's neck with her teeth, growling and ripping away pieces of rubber. The taste of day-old sweat and polyurethane that had been introduced by her attack instantly nauseated her as she felt her motivation draining. She laid on the dummy breathing heavily, trying to muster any of the courage she had lost moments ago. She allowed herself another moment to breathe deeply before standing up and turning to face the target of her intimidation, tattered pieces of training dummy still hanging from her mouth as she attempted to muster her best death stare. She wasn't sure how she felt, seeing she had succeeded in commanding Balder's full attention. She was irked that he was trying very hard to let her complete her impartation of fear before he exploded with laughter. Fortunately, he had withheld any such outbursts in favor of allowing her to finish. She walked up to him, failing to body check him as she attempted to bore a hole through his face with her glare. She almost backed away as she felt her face burning, but pulled together a final scrap of courage as she politely asked:
"Please tell me the stuff!"
Balder returned her stare with a goofy smile as he absently closed the cooler behind him. The sound that escaped his throat was something between a coo and flustered bewilderment. He sat heavily on the cooler, almost crushing it, and rubbed his hand with his face, allowing himself a few seconds to collect his composure. Finally, he looked at May.
"Man, you're scary." he said. The tone he used managed to convey something other than outright condescension.