4: What The Future Holds
Andrew pushed Bailey’s door open aggressively and stepped into his office. Eric remained seated at his desk; he was slumped over it, in fact, with his head curled into his arms as he stared blankly out the window.
“What the hell are you doing?” Carreiro snapped, thrusting a finger back toward the hallway. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we’re under atta—”
“I’m thinking,” Bailey said. The words meandered out of his mouth like a drunken cow navigating a new pasture.
The Canadian admin took a stern tone as he stared the Editor down. “Look, I don’t mean to be a jerk, but… Paul’s dead.”
Bailey sat up straighter, and turned to his co-admin. He remained silent. Carreiro did not.
“Paul Potvin is dead. All I’ve been doing is trying to repair the damage to the Castle that’s being done, but it’s being demolished quicker than I can fix it. What are we going to do?”
Bailey was staring at the floor. He spoke quietly, “Hit the reset button.”
Andrew nodded curtly. “Good. I was going to ask what you thought of that option. I’m on it.”
And with that, the Webmaster turned and left the room, jogging toward the servers.
Eric Bailey hunched forward, his elbows on his knees, cradling his chin in his hands as he took a slow survey of his office. Letters, files, notes, artifacts and mementos surrounded him. He could hear the birds outside the window, chirping and tweeting. He tugged at the bottom hem of his hoodie. He never quite felt fully comfortable.
Tom Hall turned to Eric Hunter with a half-smirk. “I think that was a threat.”
Ahead of them, the hulking mech raised one of its shiny, imminently-threatening arms… and fired a booming shot from one of its presumed-many energy cannons.
Hunter was ready, though. His grip was true as he swung his personal Banhammer to fore — its face connected with the sizzling projectile with an explosive bang. Much of the vaguely electric force dissipated, the rest splashed harmlessly off the stone walls, some of it even reflecting off the armored foe himself.
Tom whistled his approval. “Nice shot,” he said, and held his hammer out between them. The two clinked hammerheads. “My turn,” he growled, and began running toward the invader.
The metal monster raised its other arm, straight skyward, and fired again. This shot was more hollow in its sound, an analog “ker-chunk!” like a steel stamp leaving its imprint. A small object left the barrel and stuck itself to the ceiling. It was round, also metallic, and had a ring of yellow LED lights around its face that began to glow.
Tom raised his weapon as he charged forward, only to be lifted abruptly into the air. He bit his lip and grabbed the handle in both hands, and was lifted off his feet, before the top of the banhammer slammed into the ceiling, stuck to the foreign item that had been activated there. Below him stood the enemy.
Hunter grimaced and leaned back, wincing with effort as he held his own massive banhammer, even as it tried to fly toward the magnetic field that had been planted above; and, too, he realized, toward Tom Hall.
Joshua Caleb could feel his knife straining against its sheathe. He glanced between his friends and their adversary, trying to think quickly. There were many unknowns in this equation, but he had to try something, even if it was desperate.
He took a deep breath and sprinted forward. He subconsciously noticed the machine-like nemesis beginning to unfold a lengthy, steely blade from one of its bulky arms. He grabbed his hunting knife and raised it, calculating just for a moment, then threw it with a grunt at a harsh angle somewhat downward.
The enemy took notice of Joshua, and began turning the massive blade to bore.
The smaller weapon spun in flight. Soon it gravitated toward the device on the ceiling, and swept upward in a burst. Tom noticed momentarily, and watched in horror as the sharpened edge of Joshua’s knife sliced across his forearms.
Tom Hall shrieked, and could not help but release his grip. A fortunate confluence of events occurred: Hall fell onto the intruder, just as he had been swinging the blade at Joshua, who was running full-on ahead.
Caleb dove to the side. The sword-like appendage missed its mark, as the lumbering cyborg nightmare was knocked off-balance. Tom tried to rise to surer footing quickly. Hunter had released his sledge, and it clanged into place beside Hall’s above the group as Eric rushed to join his friends.
Soon enough, the three members of 1 More Castle stood side by side, facing up to the machine menace before them. Summoning an insane courage, they raised their determined fists and dug their heels in.
But the menace merely raised his arms – next, the magnet device visibly deactivated, and the two Banhammers fell… into the waiting, wrong hands.
Tom gulped. He also winced, as he noticed the searing pain shooting through his arms. Joshua heard his hunting knife drop into place nearby. Hunter just started swearing under his breath.
A modulated roar reverberated down the Castle halls as the faceless foe brought down the two hammers in a forceful slam. Stone cracked, wood splintered, and a terrible cacophony erupted as the walls split and chunks of the building began to fall apart and all around.
Joshua dodged a volley of falling bricks as he retrieved his knife. Hall and Hunter turned tail and ran, overcome by a rush of thick dust. They coughed, squinting their eyelids, content to give in to their animal instinct to flee.
Tom cried out in pain, and fell to a knee. He only now noticed how much he was bleeding. He drew in seething breaths through his teeth. Amid the cloud of dust, Dustin Faber drew near, and laid a hand on Hall. Miraculously, he was healed. It was pretty cool.
Joshua was a couple steps behind the other two, but was the first to change his route. He barged into the Dreamcast room, panting, wiping some dirt from his face. The floor was still rumbling. He spotted Jonathan, the cat, lying on the console that had brought him here to begin with.
Joshua Caleb could hear, and feel, a continued thundering vibration. He realized it was getting closer. Louder. More intense. He walked up to the Dreamcast, and leaned over it, tugging the hood of his outfit over his head and ensuring that his body completely enveloped that of the feline.
The door to the room was torn off its hinges. The swirls of dusty fog were beginning to dissipate. The knife-wielder could only listen to the beeps and buzzes as the enormous Castle-attacker leaned down to peer in the room. A tense moment passed before he left with floor-shaking steps.
Joshua sighed with relief, and stood up straight. Jonathan gasped for air, and poked a paw at Joshua’s chest as he hissed, “You nearly suffocated me!”
Joshua balked. “Suffocate you? My active camoflage just saved our lives!”
The cat rolled his eyes and hopped down to the floor. “Where is everyone? What have the admins done about the threat? What’s our next plan here?”
Caleb shrugged, “I dunno.”
Jonathan the cat bounded away, but not before saying as he exited, “Then what good are you?!”
Joshua rolled his eyes as well.
Andrew Carreiro stepped up to the control panel. The servers hummed, dutifully keeping everything in place. Or, at least, remembering how to put it all back together in case of emergencies like this. The wizard cocked his head slightly. Something seemed off. He also noticed scorch marks, here and there, about the chamber.
Nonetheless, he reasoned, it was because of mounting irregularities like those that made this drastic move necessary. He envisioned the result: Every square inch (er, centimeter) of Castle 1 More being stripped away through enchanted means, only to be rebuilt through the same unseen forces.
He opened a panel and slammed his palm down on the big red button without hesitation.
There was a small click. But instead of completely resetting everything, a trap door opened beneath the mage. He could only yell out with burning frustration as he fell, and began sliding deeper down the chute to parts unknown.
Chris Swartz walked with his daughter, Mae, down one of the many passages of the castle. “Daddy, I want to go home,” she said. Chris’s heart ached. “I know. We will. But we have friends here who are in trouble, and we should make sure they’re okay, at least. That is a good thing to do.”
As if on cue, Wally turned a corner and found the two of them. Simon Reed was with him, panning his Game Boy Camera around. “A Joyful Reunion Amid Times Of Trouble,” he declared in stately cadence.
“Oh, hey you two!” Wally waved, speaking in a friendly, warm tone. “I’m glad we found each other. I was thinking we head to the main foyer and see who else has made it there. Even if we’re alone, we can at least walk out the front gate then.”
Chris managed a smile. “See, Mae?” He had turned to the girl. “We’re stronger in numbers. Everything’s going to be okay.” He brought his attention back to Wally with an affirming nod. “Sounds good, Wally. Let’s g–”
Yards away, brick and stone and wood exploded into the corridor with a calamitous noise as the alien trespassser burst onto the scene in his usual violent fashion. A gaping, crumbling hole remained where a section of the usually-redundant, typically-not-noteworthy wall had been.
Mae shrieked. Chris grabbed her hand. She embraced him more fully.
“Mechwarrior Does Best Kool-Aid Man Impression,” Reed commented, although a little quieter than he would normally.
Jared “Wally” Waldo grit his teeth. He grumbled, “I am so tired o–”
The mechfighter coolly raised an arm and fired. The laser shot popped Wally’s skull open like a crushed watermelon. Bits of his brain dribbled down his body. It took him a few seconds to fall over.
Mae was screaming, tugging at her father. Chris and Simon exchanged a knowing glance, exchanging a whole conversation of understood consequences.
Reed nodded, and tilted his head toward the path away from their murderous opponent. “Videographer Remains Behind In Hopes That His Companions May Escape Alive,” he said. Swartz felt his eyeballs wanting to well up with tears.
The dad scooped his daughter up in his arms as he held her close and simply ran as fast as he could down the noisy, bloodstained passage.
Simon stood, faced the steely doombringer, and raised his Camera. He spoke over the sound of spinning gears and cackling dynamos. “Photog Keeps Stiff Upper Lip In Face Of Imminent Demise,” he announced. “Will His Footage Be Remembered?” He held the Game Boy in two hands, until he freed one of them to lift a middle finger.
Down the corridor, Chris heard a sudden yelp, like an animal had just been kicked, and then an eerie silence. For a few seconds, he only heard his own breath, and his rapid footfalls as he raced for the antechamber.
But then the louder steps returned, echoing down in the hall with a roaring, rolling sound. Chris Swartz stopped in his tracks, his chest heaving as he breathed raspily. He leaned over, and set Mae down. “Daddy, what are you doing?!” she protested.
He dropped to one knee, and placed his hands on her shoulders, looking her squarely face-to-face. “I love you, Mae. I love you so much. But I need you to go on ahead alone. I need you to run, as fast as you can, and find the big open room. It will be on your right, just a bit further ahead. If there’s anyone there, stay with them. But if there’s not, you need to find a small place to hide where only you can fit, okay?”
Her bottom lip trembled as she looked at him. A tear slid down his cheek. Chris pulled her into a tight hug, briefly, before he stood. The opponent’s steps were getting louder.
“I love you too, Daddy,” Mae said quietly. Chris nodded.
The girl turned and darted off, running away with her arms pumping beside her, her small feet kicking beneath her.
Chris was just in time to stare down the science-fiction soldier as its gleaming techno frame came to a halt. The two were hardly separated.
Swartz held his arms out to his sides, palms upward, hands empty, as he pleaded, “You can’t possibly need to hurt my daughter to achieve your goals. Please, I’m begging you, I’ll do anything to prevent that.”
The black one-way glass of the mech’s cockpit made it impossible for Chris to see who was inside. Nevertheless, someone spoke, in that menacingly digitized voice:
A figure clad in shadow leapt forward and slashed a katana strike straight across the mech’s cockpit. The maneuver left a thin scratch along the glossy surface.
The ninja shoved Chris back. “Run!” she commanded.
He blinked, understood, and ran off.
The furious foe growled as he swung the arm-blade horizontally. Alana deftly rolled under the would-be blow. She leaned against an elbow, while her free arm swung the katana again. The razor-sharp edge glanced off a metal plate along the left leg, drawing a couple sparks.
The hostile lowered his other arm, and fired a sizzling lazer shot. The shinobi had anticipated this, moving before the muzzle blast, dodging the fire and swinging up the arm itself. Soon Alana was perched on the mechbattler’s shoulder. She balanced carefully before raising her sword in both hands. She grunted as she brought it down with full strength, her aim trained on the gap between sheets of armor behind its “head.”
The blade drove cleanly through. Sparks flew again as twin blue wire-tips flung upward. Hot air blasted out of a severed hose. A few drops of greenish liquid flung onto her outfit.
She backflipped off the plated mass, rotating several feet through the air as the mechenemy spun to its side, reaching over its own head.
“Impressive!” he shouted venomously, turning to more fully face the ninja. “But your demise is already outlined. Opposition is pointless.”
After a split-second pause, she bowed her head, and bent her elbow. In a well-trained motion, she slid the katana into place on her back.
But her other hand instantly flipped up from a pocket on her hip. A small pellet popped open against the mech’s front, and thick plumes of billous smoke quickly filled their respective views.
“You are only a pest!” he cried out, and swung the massive blade of his own in a blind swipe, only managing to stir bits of inky blackness in smooth curls around him.
She had withdrawn a new weapon: A hook, bent at an aggressive angle, with a thin chain attached. In the dark, she tread silently, and ducked behind him. With skillful senses, she tossed the hook – and notched it into the seam behind him, where she had struck before. She bit her lip, and curled what was left of the chain around her wrist a couple times, before pulling down and back, putting her body weight into it, rotating her waist.
Alana seethed as the thin links pressed into her flesh through the darkened cloth. She was rewarded with a broken chain after a second’s effort. It whipped back towards her. The smoke was already beginning to recede. She could see where she had bent the plate back slightly.
“I do not have time for this,” he bellowed, and held his arms out. Alana heard two small, round, metallic objects hit the ground and bounce once before beginning to roll.
She had turned her back and taken two long steps before the grenades exploded. She screamed as the concussive force from the pair of blasts knocked her down and several pieces of tiny shrapnel tore through her skin.
She took a single breath before shoving off the floor with both hands and spinning in midair and landing on one hand and a foot, a thick laser streaking through the smoke beside her and charring the floor. She grabbed a handful of shuriken from a hidden pouch, uncaring of how they cut into her hand as she drew them overhead and threw them towards the outline of her target.
Ting, tink, clang! – they bounced off his armor or missed altogether. He stepped closer to her, extended one arm, and dropped a new grenade. The smoke hung low now, exposing both of them to each other. She could see his full stature, and he could see the severed black fabric that hung from what had been her full mask.
She ground her teeth and dove forward, pivoting onto a palm and snapped a leg in a full twist between them. Her foot hit the bomb at a low angle, knocking it up sharply up, and away slightly. She did not have time to bring a protective limb in front of her before it exploded. She took in a quick, pained breath as she felt the shrapnel pierce her torso and cut across her forehead.
The blast hit him, and he leaned backward somewhat with a mechanized grunt. She groaned as she rolled into an agonizing handspring to avoid his swinging blade. He fired the lasergun from his other side.
The round of compressed light tunneled through her left leg. She screamed again and hobbled sideward, grasping at the wall. She drew her katana. She had hardly held it up, before his larger blade crudely bashed it out of her grip, sending it skittering away.
He stepped closer to her again, well within reach. She drew in a gurgling breath, and spit a mouthful of blood and malice onto his armored foot.
The mech swung its blade once more, and severed her skull cleanly from her spine.
Eric Bailey crossed his arms over his chest as he peered at Adam Ezagouri. They were in Adam’s quarters. “We need to talk,” Bailey said rudely.
Ezagouri just sighed. “I already told you, I can’t account for what my future self does.”
Eric leaned towards The Retro Critic and yelled at him. “So it is you, then?! I mean, I was pretty sure, but you’re saying that hellish thing really is you, huh?”
The Critic gave an exaggerated shrug. “I dunno, have you tried asking him?”
The admin scowled. “Now is not the time for jokes.”
“Look who’s talking,” Adam mumbled.
“Look, okay, yes, but if that’s me, it’s some unrecognizable version. I’m not exactly someone who’s eager to tear this place apart. I thought the marks looked differently, anyhow.”
“What do you mean?”
“The scorch marks. I know what they look like when I use the Time Zone here, but these news ones are a little off. It’s just a little thing, but I can tell.”
“Well, maybe they look different when you use them in the future, or when the mechsuit-thing does it.”
“That’s what I’m assuming. That, or something changes between now and then to alter the Time Zone itself.”
Eric sighed, looking down, shaking his head and absently folding his hands. “Yeah. I mean, something pretty drastic had to happen anyway, to make you want to do all this, right?”
Adam just looked blankly.
Bailey continued. “We need to figure out what happens between now and the future to make you do this. In any case, we should meet with the others. C’mon,” he said, and exited. Adam followed.
Dustin Faber wrung his fingers through his hair. “I’m too late,” he said with hushed reverence. Ahead of him was the body of Simon Reed. He knelt, and picked up the Game Boy Camera, peering into its lens.
Even the whisper was enough to raise the alarm of the demonic machinery traversing the keep. It lumbered towards Faber, just down the hall.
The 16-bit Catholic found a certain scroll in his pack, and began wrapping it around the Camera. “I will not fight you,” he called out in a firm voice. “But if you wanted a challenge, I do wonder: What did you do with the Banhammers?”
The mechmenace laughed its digital laugh as he neared the man of priestly garments. “I think I threw them out a window. They are of no use to me,” he replied. “But I will give you this, instead: Tell me how you wish to die, and I will grant your request as best I can.”
The Catholic began to whistle an old hymn as he bound the Camera in the mystic parchment. “Oh, thank you. And I appreciate you listening, by the way. I really do,” he explained, and read the outside of the yellowed paper. “You see, I only had one Scroll of Returning left. I realize that I could have used it on myself, but every second you spend listening to me is another second that my friends can spend finding safety. Or, even better, they can figure out a way to beat you. I hope the footage I send is helpful to them. You see,” he turned his frame to fully face his foe, “I have faith in them. I have faith that they are going to figure out how to beat you, and this is not the end. So, go ahead: Do your worst. I really don’t care how you do it. I am not afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
Those were the last words of Dustin Faber.
There was a bright flash of light in his hands as the scroll was teleported elsewhere.
His last sight was that of a diamond saw being drawn from a plated chamber, only to buzz through him, cleaving him in half where he stood in a rough, jagged, labored rhythm.
Alex Weiss was searching for a lightswitch as Valerie Minnich waded deeper into the storage area. “Shouldn’t we try to join the others, maybe?” he asked.
Val only responded by continuing to sift through the countless artifacts beneath her. She pushed aside a bicycle with a basket full of newspapers over its handlebars. She shuffled over a letter that had its lower half dampened. She tossed about a set of tires with better traction.
“Maybe,” she muttered. “If we don’t find it, then sure, we’ll regret wasting this time. You knew this was a gamble when we agreed to do it, though. Think about what happens if we do find it.”
Alex almost tripped over a sword embedded in a pedestal. “Yeah,” he said absently, and walked forward into the shapeless mass of items. “It’s gonna be so cool,” he assured himself.
“And save our lives,” Val added. “Save everything, maybe.”
“Wait, get a load of this one,” Daniel Lamplugh chuckled. He was sitting at his desk, which was close to Pierre’s, in the GMZ offices. He cleared his throat and held up the letter. “Dear Bobby, we hope you are doing well. Your father and I are trying not to worry, since we have not heard from you in so long, but it is hard.”
Pierre began to giggle. Daniel kept reading.
“We hope that it is because you are having so much fun at your new internship.”
Pierre began to laugh hysterically, literally slapping one of his knees. Daniel resumed.
“Otherwise, we are doing fine here. I am knitting a sweater for you. Poor Petunia has been inconsolable during the recent storms.”
Pierre was bent over his desktop, laughing so hard he could hardly breathe. He could only mouth “Petunia” and wince a couple tears from his eyes as he pounded a fist on the desk’s surface.
Daniel kept going.
“Anyway, we are sure you are working hard. We are so proud of you. Enjoy the Oreos. Love love love, mom & dad.”
Pierre applauded. “Oreos, seriously? Pass ’em here, dude.” Daniel obliged, throwing the unopened carton across the room. Pierre began opening them with a contented sigh.
Daniel’s phone began to ring. He swore under his breath as he punched the speaker button on the telephone console. “What is it?”
“Sir, um,” a voice crackled over the line. The two GMZ founders could hear screaming in the background, and what sounded like explosions. In fact, now that they heard them, each could feel them as well, rippling through the offices. The voice continued, “We’re being attacked by a, uh, well it’s really bad sir and–”
Pierre leaned in and interrupted, “Okay great thanks, tell everyone that their new job is to kill that thing and whoever does it gets an Oreo, bye,” he spat, and hit the button to cut the line out.
Daniel leaned back in his armless leather chair. “Not that we care, but you do know what’s going on out there, right?”
Pierre sighed, and gave a cursory nod. “Yeah. As much as I like to insulate GMZ from the rest of the world, I like keeping tabs on the Castle too, just to be safe. What do you think? Should we hunker in the bunker or make for the escape pods?”
Daniel shrugged. “I guess go for the exits. We were going to fold sooner or later regardless, right?”
Pierre bit into an Oreo, crunching the bite in his mouth. Crumbs and spittle fell from his pert, moist lips as he spoke. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here.” He grunted as he rose from his seat, clutching the Oreos. “Bring the rest of the box,” he added, pointing to the remainder of the letters and packages.
Elsewhere, the final boss of 1 More Castle was sloshing through a pond of blood and body chunks as he hacked-and-slashed through the endless waves of GMZ interns.
Andrew held up his wand. It was lit up with a pleasant glow, lighting his way as he took what felt like the ten-thousandth turn down yet another corridor. The walls were scrawled-upon with countless lines of coded writing. Even the floor, beneath him, was utterly covered in the script.
As the Administrator walked, just behind his cape walked another being: A very small troll, just inches tall, with a voice just barely audible.
“You wasted so much time on this place,” the troll whispered in the shadow. “It’s going to be such a relief when it’s all gone. Wouldn’t it be reasonable just to hasten its fall? C’mon, bro. Be honest with yourself. It would be easiest just to help take down the whole thing, right? This is so stupid, what you’re doing.”
Andrew stopped. He took a couple minutes to read the code around him. He chose another turn. He continued walking.
“You don’t even understand what you’ve built anymore, what it’s become. The others have taken that away from you,” the troll hissed. “You don’t even belong with them. You’re an outsider in your own Castle. It would be a poetic justice to bring down the roof, right on top of them.”
Andrew stopped another time. He drew in a breath, and exhaled slowly. He read more code. He decided on another direction.
“Such a waste,” the troll bemoaned. “So much time and effort that you could have spent on more worthwhile pursuits.”
Eric Bailey pushed the table more toward the center of the room. The doorway was open, and through it could be seen the main receiving foyer of the Castle; and, just beyond that, the front gateway.
The others were already taking seats. Jonathan the cat sat with regal posture next to Eric Hunter, who sat next to Tom Hall in turn. Joshua sat nearby. Bailey pulled up a chair next to Adam.
“Is this it?” the co-founder said as he clasped his hands and leaned his wrists against the table’s edge, his eyes scanning his present company. “We may as well get started, as I fear we do not have much time. We have been able to gather some intel on what we are dealing with.”
Jonathan frowned. “Who’s ‘we’?” he asked.
Eric spoke calmly. “Jason, go ahead.”
From one of the chairs that appeared to be empty, Jason Lamb deactivated his cloaking device and materialized into view. He wore a three-piece suit, simple black-and-white, blazer-and-tie over a white button-up shirt and black slacks. He shoes were freshly shined.
The Canadian agent leaned over the table top and placed two items upon it. The first was a Game Boy Camera. The second was a small black cube, really small, like, just a few centimeters in length along each side. He tapped the cube. The room darkened, and a three-dimensional holographic display emerged from the cube in full color. His commentary matched the moving images.
“From Simon Reed’s camera, and the feeds the leadership had already installed throughout the Castle proper, we have ascertained a number of facts. We have confirmed the deaths of Paul Potvin, Jared Waldo, Simon Reed, Alana Dunitz, and Dustin Faber.”
A hush spread among the modest crowd. Their attention was enraptured.
“However,” Lamb went on, “There is one promising piece of good news.”
The holographic feed began to display video coverage straight from Simon Reed’s Game Boy Camera. It showed his demise, up close and personal. Then, from an angle, as it lied on the Castle floor, it caught monochromatic glimpses of the fight between the mech and the ninja. Even with its technical limitations and distance, it was plain to see that Alana fought valiantly.
“It can be damaged,” Lamb punctuated. “If it can be damaged, it can be destroyed.”
The footage continued rolling. Eventually, Dustin Faber scooped up the Camera, and kept recording. This meant that it captured his conversation with the dark abomination, before the Camera was teleported in the scroll it was wrapped in. The display went blank.
Lamb continued, “Back to the bad news. Based on my own surveillance, it seems that the anomaly is planting devices throughout our architecture. I think it is reasonable to believe that these would be explosive charges, and he is planning to level the Castle in one coordinated detonation. One of my next plans of action will be to confirm this hypothesis personally.”
Some of those at the table began to murmur amongst themselves.
The Editor-In-Chief addressed his present company. “Yes, our situation is bleak. I do not mean to discourage you, but I think this is important: If anyone wants to leave, go ahead. You have no obligation to me. It is my understanding that some others, like Chris and Mae, have already left. I’m sure Pierre and Daniel have likely made their way out. Frankly, I don’t blame any of them. We don’t even know if Alex and Valerie are still alive. We can’t account for any of the others at all. So here’s your last chance for peace before we take our final stand.”
Some shifted tensely in their seats. Tom Hall abruptly stood up, and began walking out.
“No, wait! Tom!” Eric Hunter objected, but Hall waved him off. “Forget it. I’m done,” Tom said apathetically.
Bailey allowed a pause. They could soon hear Tom Hall, Community Manager, opening the front gate. Hunter leaned back in his seat, and watched him head outside.
“Let’s talk identity.” All attention was now on the speaker, Jonathan. “Do we even know who this is? Where this came from?”
Jason gave Eric a nervous glance. Bailey took in a deep breath, then the smallest of nods as a signal.
Lamb began, “Yes, we are fairly certain we know who it i–”
Eric Bailey interrupted, “The Future.”
All gave pause. He went with it.
“We are fighting the Future, my friends. We are fighting against our own mortality and obsolescence. We are fighting the end of the story. I am not sure what will happen. The Future is scary. It is unknown, and it looms large for all of us. But mark my words: We must fight. Even if the Future is going to strip away everything we have done here, I am not going to back down and go quietly. If I am to reach my last chapter tonight, may it be unforgettable. May it leave an impression. May the Future not go unscathed. May my actions here reverberate throughout its course and become legend.”
Jonathan the cat rolled his eyes.
Bailey hesitated, but finished.
“Adam, Joshua, you’re coming with me. I have a plan.” Adam nodded dutifully, but Joshua’s eyes widened and he sat up straight like someone had just woken him up from a nap in a classroom. “As for the rest of you, you’re on your own. I would just encourage you to not hold back. Whatever cheap, dirty, cheating tactic you have in mind, go for it. Make it count. This is the time. This is our finale.”
Jonathan and Hunter looked at each other. They shrugged.
Bailey actually smiled.