1.- Snow Punk (2020)

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Con te n ts

T itle Page
CopULJKt
Dedication
Newsletter
LitRPG Reads
Prologue
One
Two
Three
Four
Five
Six
Seven
Eight
Nine
Ten
Eleven
Twelve
Thirteen
Fourteen
Fifteen
Sixteen
Seventeen
Eighteen
Nineteen
Twenty

Twent2Qe
TwentT wo
Twent7KUHe
Twent)RXr
Twent)LYe
Twent6Lx
Twent6HYHn
Twent(LJKt
Epilogue
Tower of Gates
LitRPG Forum
Newsletter
Tower of Gates

SN O W P U NK

A LitRPG Novel

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Prologue


I kept mHes closed against the intense virtual sun as I
lounged in a bathing suit on the hotel rooftop. I’d made
valedictorian, and that had earned me this mini-vacation
logged into Twelve Worlds, the premiere, fullLPPHUVLYe
virtual realitH[SHULHQFH,WZDVQ’ t the cheapest VR-cation,
but mJUDGHVKDGFRPHZLWKDWLG stipend, and if I needed
anWKLQJ,QHHGHGDEUHDN.
A shadow fell over me, dramaticallGLPPLQJWKe
sunlight.
“Someone sitting here?” A man’s voice.
I glanced up, shielding the sun from mHes with my
hand. The man appeared benign, though I couldn’ t tell Ru
what it was, specifically, that gave me that impression.
“No, have a seat.” I smiled as the stranger sat in the
lounge next to mine. “This place is amazing.”
Please be interesting, I silentlEHJJHG,GPHWIDUWRo
manERULQJPHQLQP life..
“First visit, I’m guessing?” he asked.
“How did RXNQRZ"”
He smiled and gestured at mKDQGY ou’re clutching
RXUFXEH”
I glanced down at the black square of plastic in mSDOP.

“A niftGHYLFH,GLGQ’t expect much from him in
return.
“I’m new here too,” he droned in a monotonous voice.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far .”
He held up his own cube—his personal version of the
little Core Cubes that controlled everWKLQJDURXQGXVLQWKe
virtual world. Would he leave me alone if I kept quiet? His
awkward stare put me on edge. W ith so manYLUWXDORSWLRQs
available whZDVKHWDONLQJZLWKPH?
“MaEH,OOVHHou later tonight,” I said.
Would he get the hint? He nodded and stood.
“Looking forward to it,” he said then wandered away .
As he left, I shifted mZHLJKWRQWKHFXVKLRQ7KHSRRl
had been calling me all afternoon, and a quick dip might wash
awaWKHUHVLGXHRIWKDWDZNZDUGFRQYHUVDWLRQ2UVKRXOGI
meet the others first? I smiled. WhQRWLQGXOJHP whimsical
side? Modern life was so boring compared with the endless
opportunities of virtual reality, but it was easWRJHWDGGLFWHG.
I stood and stretched, still unsure of mSODQVIRUWKHUHVt
of the evening when a flash in the corner of mHe signaled a
change in the world around me. The virtual utopia that had
surrounded me disappeared, replaced bDIUR]HQZDVWHODQGI
pressed m&RUH&XEHWRH[LWWKHVLPXODWLRQEXWWKHTXLt
command’ button had disappeared. WhZDVWKLVKDSSHQLQJ?
It’s so cold!
Though the cold couldn’ t reallNLOOPHOLNHLWFRXOGLn
real life, the simulated cold was just as compelling as the
warmth of the sun on mIDFH,GH[SHULHQFHGRQO moments
earlier. I sprinted toward the nearbGRRr , seeking warmth. I
hurried to the locker-room and flicked on the light. Frost lined
the mirror over the sink, but at least there was no wind here. I
quicklGRQQHGDGDUNJUD jumpsuit before wandering
downstairs. Where is everRQHHOVH",ERXQGHGGRZQVWDLUVLn
search of a help desk or someone to explain what had
happened.

There were no porters, receptionists, or bellhops on the
first floor. Instead, a ragged crowd of people wearing furs
huddled in a trashed lobbWKDWKDGQ’ t been cleaned in HDUVA
few hard faces looked up from around a fire burning in a
rusted, metal barrel. I waved a hand as I slowed mSDFH.
“Stop!” a man with a wicked looking machete stepped
forward.
He brandished the weapon as others huddled behind him,
their teeth bared like hHQDVVWDONLQJSUHy . A whiff of their
foul odor reached mQRVHDQG,VWHSSHGEDFN,GPHWPy
share of roleplaLQJSXULVWVEXWWKHVHIRONVKDGWDNHQLt
entirelWRRIDr . Somehow the crazies alwaVILQGPHI
scanned the crowd, in search of someone in char ge—anRQH,
reallWRIL[WKHTXLWRSWLRQRQP Core Cube.
The cube! It wasn’t in mKDQGDQ longer . Had I left it
on the roof? How am I still seeing mKHDGVXSGLVSOD? And
what are all these new game menus? MKHDUWEHDWIDVWHr .
Something sinister had happened.
“She’s a bloodFRUHSXQN7KHLUOHDGHUZRUHDFXULRXs
look. “What’cha doing up here, doll? Must be awfullFROGLn
that sillVXLWRIours.”
Crowded behind him, the others laughed, egging him on.
“Look, guV,PJODGou’re having fun, but I’m
freezing, and I just want to get out of here.”
“Out of here?” the man huf fed. “Not wearing that, Ru
won’t. Cold’ll take RXEHIRUHou get ten steps outside. Come
over here bWKHILUH”
“VerIXQQy ,” I groused. “Just tell me how to—”
A vicious whine filled the air as a viscous bolt of orange
fire flew past me and splattered against the wall near the
burning barrel.
“Run!” the man in furs shouted, still shaking his
machete.
The group scattered in ten dif ferent directions, but I
ignored them, instead facing the shooters. MaEHWKH had

answers. I raised mKDQGVLQVXUUHQGHUDQGKRSHGWKHy
wouldn’t fire on me.
The gunmen approached, fire-spitting rifles pointed at
me. “What’ s RXUQDPH"RQHGHPDQGHG:K are Ru
dressed in that jumpsuit? Y ou’ll freeze.”
“MQDPH’s Scout. These are the onlFORWKHV,KDYHRn
me. Please, I need help.” The man’ s face was impossible to
read behind his helmet. I tried another tack. “How do we end
the simulation? This isn’t funny. Where’ s Eden, mYLUWXDl
paradise? I’ll sue this corporation so hard…”
The man pulled of f his helmet, shaking free his long,
greasy, blond hair .
“I don’t know what RXUHWDONLQJDERXWEXW,m
Harrison,” he said. “Y ou’re welcome to come back to Shelter
42 with us. We’ll find work for RX”
“Sure…” I muttered, lowering mDUPV1RWKLQJDERXt
the simulation, huh?”
His eHVQDUURZHGDVKHVWXGLHGPH.
“Eden, a world in the Core,” I prompted. “Y ou know, this
stupid simulation… I want out.”
“Are RXOLJKWKHDGHG"+DUULVRQ’ s face became
concerned. “Has anWKLQJELWWHQou recentl"”
“No!” I franticallSRNHGWKHDLUDURXQGPHLQVHYHUDl
directions. “This is all a simulation. None of this is real.”
“She’s crazy , boss,” another man said, his deep voice
somewhat muf fled bKLVKHOPHW+HNHSWORRNLQJDURXQG,
weapon raised.
“Are RXFRPLQJZLWKXVRUQRW"+DUULVRQDVNHGI
don’t know what the weather ’s like in fantasODQGEXWLW’ s
warm back at the barracks. I’m not trLQJWRWULFNou. This is
a gracious offer.”
I sighed, defeated bWKLVVHFRQGJURXSRIUROHSODing
dorks. I was hungry , needed to pee, and the biting cold had
begun to numb mWRHV2QFH,WRRNFDUHRIP immediate
problems, I could look further into what had happened to Eden

and whQRERG remembered we were in a realistic
simulation. I didn’t expect it to take too long. BoZDVI
wrong.

Chapter 1

Three Months Later

| Warning: Shelter under attack.
| Warning: Mutants detected!

The flashing lights and sirens kept blaring in addition to
the flashing orange notifications in our heads-up-display .
Miss’s small hands clung to mDUPDVZHUDQGRZQDJUDy
metallic hall.
A burlPDQZLWKORQJEORQGKDLUFDUUing enough
firepower to take out an entire shelter on his own —stood up
ahead. I relaxed at the sight. The burlPDQWXUQHGWRXVDVZe
approached.
“WhDUHQ’ t RXLQour barracks?” Harrison barked.
“MissJRWVFDUHGDQGKLGDJDLQ,elled over the
sirens. “How’ s it looking? This the big one?”
“A dozen mutants got in through the air vents.” He
grimaced. “I understand we need the air and all, but those
damn things will kill us one of these daV”
“We’re dead either way ,” I muttered.
Twelve mutants today , twelve-hundred next week.
“Back to the barracks.” He peered over mVKRXOGHr .
“Now!”

A trio of mutants lumbered down the hallwaEHKLQGPH,
leaving a thick trail of mucus behind them. MissFOXWFKHGPy
arm tighter. I sighed, then hurried down the corridor , dragging
the tinZRPDQDORQJEDFNWRWKHUHODWLYHVDIHW of our bunks.
Harrison followed us through the door, sealing the steel hatch
behind him.
The hissing whine of plasma rifles and nightmarish
screams followed us as we continued down HWDQRWKHUORQJ,
graKDOOWRZDUGRXUOLYLQJTXDUWHUV.
“Wait!” Harrison lifted a clenched fist.
I peered past him and stopped in mWUDFNV$WKUHH-
headed monstrositZDVTXLFNO heading our way .
“Behind me.” Harrison lifted his rifle.
Lacking a ranged weapon, I wasn’t about to argue.
Harrison fired several rounds in rapid succession, and most of
the orange plasma bolts pierced the creature’ s chest. It
screamed then rushed forward at an unholVSHHGXQWKLQNDEOe
outside horror movies or onlVHHQLQQLJKWPDUHV0LVVy
screamed as the beast slammed into Harrison, all three heads
flailing to bite his head. He dropped his plasma rifle as he
fought to keep the mutant at bay.
I rushed forward then did a barrel roll, hoping Missy
staHGSXW:KHQ,VWRSSHGQHDUWKHSODVPDULIOH,JUDEEHd
and raised it, leveling the barrel toward the mutant.
“Shoot it!” Harrison screamed.
I gentlSXOOHGWKHWULJJHr. The recoil pushed me back as
the plasma bolt hit him in the thigh.
“HeWatch it!”
“Sorr,DLPHGWKHZHDSRQDJDLQ.
The mutant, unable to bite-of f Harrison’s head, leaped
over him and scurried toward Missy .
“Oh no RXGRQ’t…” I fired off three rounds in quick
succession.

All three orange bolts of pure energSORZHGLQWRWKe
mutant’s back, throwing it to the floor . Before I could finish it
off, MissVFUHDPHGOLNHDSULPDOVDYDJHDQGSRXQFHd
forward, a blade in each of her hands. I ran toward her as she
repeatedlEXULHGKHUEODGHVLQWKHPXWDQW’ s body. A
notification window popped up before I reached her .

| Combat is Over!
| You get 100 Life Experience Points
| You have 2,050 LXP
| You are now Level 2!
| + 15 skill points
| + 5 health
| + 5 stat points

I waved the notifications awaDV+DUULVRQZDONHGRYHr .
While I had remained first level for over three months after the
big switch, there weren’t manRSSRUWXQLWLHVWROHYHOXSLQWKe
shelter.
“You two got damn lucky .” Harrison grabbed his rifle.
I sheepishlJODQFHGDW0LVVy . “Yeah, I know…”
She lowered her head, looking at her feet, not saLQJa
word.
“We’re all screwed,” I said. “This is all just a bad
simulation.”
Harrison groaned. “Don’ t get started with RXUFUD]y
talk, lady.”
MissJLJJOHGWKHQFOHDQHGWKHLFN red and green goo
off the blades of her knives.
“I’ll be right back,” Harrison said. “StaKHUH”
He raised his plasma rifle and crept down the hallway .
As I waited for him to return and escort us to our barracks, I

thought about mODrger predicament. Over the last few
months, ever since the simulation changed and everRQHORVt
their memory, I’d concentrated on making it one daDWDWLPH.
I needed to change that if I wanted to protect MissDQd
mVHOI.
Switching from a luxurKROLGD simulator to a post-
apocalSWLFIUR]HQZDVWHODQGKDGEHHQEDGHQRXJKEXWIHw
people even remembered what had happened. And nobody
believed those of us who remembered the past.
“TheYHRYHUUXQWKHJDUGHQV+DUULVRQVDLGDVKe
returned. “We’ll take the long waDURXQG6WD close to me.”
He motioned for us to follow with his free hand before
marching down the hall, turning left at the first opportunity .
MissFOXQJWRP arm as we walked. With everWKLQJWKDt
had happened to her, I understood her fear . A scouting party
had found her wandering the wilderness not long after
everWKLQJKDGFKDQJHGW e’d been close to each other ever
since she arrived.
As we walked, I realized I needed to work mZD up
the chain of command. More power would give me more
opportunities to figure out what had happened. I’d spent the
last few months trLQJWRDGDSWWRDQGVXUYLYHP new
surroundings.
“Hold on,” Harrison said, stopping at another closed
hatch.
I glanced behind us as he peered through the tiny
window.
“Okay, all clear ,” he said, opening it.
The hatch opened with a pneumatic whoosh and Missy
hugged me tighter .
“Come on,” he said. “No dawdling.”
He didn’t need to tell me twice. Just like MissORRNHGWo
me for protection, I sought comfort and protection from
Harrison, even if he didn’ t realize it. We continued down one
long hallwaDIWHUDQRWKHr , arriving at the cramped barracks

where MissDQG,VWDed. Harrison, plasma rifle still in his
hands, stopped and glanced down the hall both waV.
“You two staORFNHGXS+DUULVRQVDLGW e have the
mutants confined to the first floor. EverWKLQJZLOOEHRND by
morning.”
“Thanks for getting us here safely ,” I said, glancing up at
him.
He ignored me, walking back down the hall while
holding his weapon. MissOHWJRDV,ZDWFKHGKLPUHWUHDt
down the hallway.
“We’re home,” she said, smiling.
I reached out and brushed her hair out of her eHV.
“Home sweet home,” I said sarcastically , then punched
in the code to open the hatch.
As it slid open, the smell of twentIRXUZRPHQOLYLQJLn
a space meant for maEHKDOIWKDWQXPEHUKLWPH0LVVy
scampered inside, heading for the bunk we shared in the back.
Before she even made it halfwaDFURVVWKHURRP%HFN and
her goons blocked the narrow aisle, standing in her way .
“Move!” MissGHPDQGHG.
“You’d better learn some respect,” BeckVKRWEDFN.
I grabbed Miss’ s shoulder and pulled her behind me.
“WhGRQ’t RXSLFNRQVRPHRQHour own size,” I said,
stepping around Missy . “Oh, that’s right, RXUHWKHIDWWHVt
bitch in here.”
A few of her followers laughed. Beck’ s face flashed
red.
“Take that back,” she said, her brow furrowed.
I pulled a thin, silver dagger from mEHOW2UZKDW"”
BeckVFRZOHGEXWPRYHGRXWRIRXUZDy .
“That’s what I thought,” I said. “Clear the aisle!”
MissVWXFNRXWKHUWRQJXHDVZHSDVVHGWKHRWKHr
women. When we reached our bunk, MissVFDPSHUHGXSWKe

ladder right away, crawling across the bed to check on the
stuffed sock she treated like a baby . BeckKDGQ’t stolen it for
weeks, and she’d avoided me since then.
I climbed onto the top bunk, sitting with mORQJOHJs
dangling over the sides.
Heidi, our bunk-neighbor , peeked her head out and
looked up.
“We heard the sirens,” she said. “Did anRQHGLH"”
I regarded the frizzKDLUHGZRPDQDPRPHQW.
“Probably ,” I said. “Harrison brought us back.”
We all shared a knowing look.
Several women emer ged, sitting nearby, readWROLVWHQ.
“So, what happened?” Heidi asked, rubbing her hands
together.
I took a deep breath, instantlUHJUHWWLQJLW.
“There’s not much to tell,” I paused, “except for the
kiss.” I smiled mischievously
Hushed whispers of amazement and amusement swept
through the women. MissJODQFHGDWPHNQRZLQJLWZDVa
lie, but saLQJQRWKLQJ.
“I’ve got a better idea,” BeckVDLGZDONLQJGRZQWKe
aisle between two rows of bunks. “WhGRQ’ t RXWHOOXVour
crazLGHDVDERXWUHDOLWy. That dumb storou alwaVWHOOW e
haven’t heard RXUFUD] storLQDZKLOH$UHou tired of
people thinking RXUHDSLHFHRIVKLWOLDr , or something?”
Five of her followers stood around her as she took a seat
on an unoccupied bunk. She was baiting me, but maEHLWZDs
good to remind the women there was something else we all
needed to worrDERXW,ZRXOGJHWLQWURXEOHIRUWDONLQJDERXt
it if someone ratted me out, but I knew all the women in our
barracks would never tell on me, especiall%HFNy . We hated
each other , but we both knew we would help each other
survive.

“Gather around,” I said, motioning with mULJKWKDQG.
“I don’t enjoWHOOLQJWKLVVWRUy , but after the craziness in the
cafeteria today, I need to share.”
I paused, waiting for everRQHWRTXLWWDONLQJ.
“EverRQHTXLHW+HLGLKLVVHG.
I glanced from her to the other women all hanging on my
everZRUG.
“This isn’t the real world,” I began, observing the other
women’s reaction. “W e’re not meant to have numbers
controlling our lives. None of this is real. I remember the real
world before everWKLQJFKDQJHGLQDIODVKW e were all
together in a virtual world when something happened and
everRQHH[FHSWDIHZSHRSOHORVWWKHLUPHPRULHVRIWKHUHDl
world.”
“You’re full of it,” BeckVQLFNHUHG.
Laughter followed. Nothing new . TheFRXOGQ’t affect
me, not anPRUH,WRVVHGP head to get mJUHDV black hair
out of mIDFHEHIRUHFRQWLQXLQJ.
“People hate me for remembering, but I can’ t help it. I
wish I could forget.”
“Tell us the story ,” Heidi said, rubbing her hands
together.
I frowned. Orlando had warned me about telling the tale.
He ran our shelter with an iron fist.
“Do it!” MissH[FODLPHGFOXWFKLQJP arm and pulling
on it.
“Okay, okay, settle down,” I said then took a deep breath.
“Most of RXRQO remember the life we’re living now , but
several months ago something happened. Eden changed in an
instant. I don’t know if the same thing happened to the rest of
the worlds in the Core, but I’m trapped in here. W e’re all
trapped in here.”
“Tell us about the Core,” Heidi said, rubbing her hands
together .

“Yeah, tell us,” MissEHJJHG.
“I’ll tell RXZKDW,FDQUHPHPEHr . After so manZHHNs
here, some of mPHPRULHVDUHKD]y , but some of it I’ll never
forget.”
“You’re lLQJ%HFN said.
I ignored her and continued. “This world isn’ t real. All
the text in the air isn’t normal. There’s another world where
everWKLQJ’s different. People of that world became bored, so
theEXLOWWKH&RUHYLUWXDOZRUOGVZKHUHWKH could escape.
This world is one of them—”
“WhZRXOGWKH build a world as miserable as this one
instead of making it a paradise?” BeckLQWHUUXSWHG.
Several of our bunk mates laughed along with her .
“The Core wasn’t alwaVDZDVWHODQG,VDLG.
“Something happened. I don’ t know the specifics of what
happened, but something crazKDSSHQHG7KHYLUWXDOZRUOd
called Eden I had entered bJHWWLQJLQWRDYLUWXDOUHDOLW pod
went from utopia to dVWRSLDLQDVSOLWVHFRQGW e’re all stuck
here…”
A hush fell over the crowd as theEHFDPHHQUDSWXUHGEy
mZRUGV.
“One day, everWKLQJIUR]HDQGWKLVKRUULEOHZRUOGZe
live in appeared. NobodNQHZZKDWFDXVHGLW”
“You’re full of shit!” Beckelled, followed bPRUe
laughter .
“Like anRQHEHOLHYHVou,” I snapped back. “EverRQe
remembers how RXWROGXVou and Harrison were an item?”
“We fooled around!” she insisted, standing.
Her followers did the same. After turning, theZDONHd
toward the other end of the room.
“Continue,” MissVDLG3OHDVHDQGWKDQNou.”
I smiled. Her mind had been fried somehow after the
Happening as I called it. EverRQHZKREHOLHYHGWKLVZRUOd
was real called it the Great Freeze. A few others in our shelter

claimed to remember life before the Happening, but we were
in a minority. We kept everWKLQJWRRXUVHOYHVEHFDXVe
Orlando forbade anWDONRIDEHWWHUOLIH.
“The real world had no notifications. Numbers didn’ t
rule us,” I continued. “We built a virtual fantasZRUOGWo
occupRXUWLPHEHFDXVHURERWVSURGXFHGHYHUthing we
needed. MOLIHZDVSHUIHFWXQWLOHYHUthing changed in a
flash. Even worse, few people remembered the truth. TheDOl
thought this wasteland is realit”
MYRLFHWUDLOHGRff as the immensitRIWKHVWDWHPHQWKLt
me. WhGLGQ’t more people remember the truth about our
situation? Had I gone insane at some point inside the
simulation? Was what I called the real world just a dream?
Had I turned mGUHDPVDERXW(GHQLQWRDIDOVHPHPRU?
“Tell us about the food,” Heidi said, breaking me out of
mWKRXJKWV.
“Oh, the food,” I cooed, smiling. “W e had everWKLQg
RXFRXOGHYHUZDQWSUHSDUHGLQDPLOOLRQGLf ferent waV7Ke
robots cooked anWKLQJou wanted, fancIXOOFRXUVHPHDOVRr
simple tastVQDFNV”
“And the pies?” Heidi asked then licked her lips.
“We had all kinds of pies.” I smiled. “Fruit pies, meat
pies, nut pies. And everRQHKDGPRUHWKDQHQRXJK,QIDFW,
manSHRSOHJRWIDW”
I stuck out mVWRPDFKDQGZDYHGP hands to give
them an idea.
“That’ s craz+HLGLH[FODLPHG.
We had so little joLQRXUOLYHVP hazPHPRULHVRIa
life out of our reach entertained a lot of the women. The
penalties for talking about a world beRQGRXUVZHUHKDUVKI
didn’ t like to talk about it too often which made it even more
special when I did. MissWXJJHGRQP arm.
“That’ s enough for tonight,” I said.
MissDQGDIHZRWKHUZRPHQJURDQHG.
“Besides, it’ s almost time for lights-out.”

As the words came out of mPRXWKWKHORQJ/('OLJKWs
in the ceiling darkened one after another. Missawned as the
other women wandered off to their own bunks in the darkness.
“It’s time for sleep,” I said, turning to her .
“NightQLJKWVKHUHSOLHGZLWKRXWSURWHVW.
As we laid down next to one another, I struggled to recall
more memories of the real world. Without remembering, I’d
never be able to figure out what the hell happened. The game
didn’t have character classes — onlVNLOOVZKLFK,OLNHG.
When mYLUWXDOYDFDWLRQVZLWFKHGLQWRDJDPH,GEHHn
randomlDVVLJQHGVWDWVDQGVNLOOV2YHUWKHODVWWKUHHPRQWKV,
I’d graduallFROOHFWHG/LIH([SHULHQFH3RLQWV$IWHUVWXGing
them for so long, I had come up with a plan to improve mOLIe
inside the game.
I pulled up mFKDUDFWHUVKHHWWRDVVLJQP points and
put mSODQLQWRDFWLRQ.

Name: Scout
Citizen Number: 1 134533312
Age: 26 HDUs
Level: 2
LXP: 2,050
Health: 15
Psionics: NONE
Brains: 82%
Brawn: 72%
Agilit%
Perception: 70%
Guile: 75%

Both stats and skills worked on a simple one to a
hundred. When RXZHQWEHond a hundred percent, Ru

reached super-human abilitOHYHOV2QWKHIOLSVLGHWKHJDPe
penalized RXIRUORZVWDWVRUVNLOOV.

Stat Modifier
10 -40 below average -10
41 - 70 average 0
71 - 80 above average 5
81 - 90 exceptional 10
91 - 95 Extraordinary 15
96 - 100 Legendary 20
100+ Super 50

Behind the scenes, the massive quantum computer
running the simulation generated a random number between
one and a hundred to see if RXVXFFHHGHGRUIDLOHGA
person’s stats modified the base chance. I still couldn’ t wrap
mPLQGDURXQGKRZZHKDGIUHHZLOOLQVXFKDZRUOGEXWI
didn’t dwell on it too much. I pulled up mVNLOOVWRVHHKRZWo
distribute mILIWHHQSRLQWV.

Skills:
Mechanical Repair: 72%
Electrical Repair: 65%
Plasma Pistols: 40%
Plasma Rifles: 40%
Blades: 84%

Stealth: 87%
GPQDVWLFV%
Unarmed Combat: 54%
Sense of Direction: 74%
Smooth Talking: 80%
Foraging: 89%
Tracking: 63%
Leadership: 20%
General Combat T actics: 74%
General Combat Strateg%

I would have put everWKLQJLQWRSVLRQLFVLIWKHJDPHOHt
me, but apparentlRQO certain people infected bPXWDQWVKDd
psionic abilities. After not running into anRQHLQ6KHOWHU2
with psionic abilities, I’d started to think whoever was behind
the stupid game put it there as a goal that could never be
reached. Unable to become a psionicist, I put ten points into
mechanical repair and the other five in leadership. W ith the
mechanical repair, I hoped to become extremelYDOXDEOHLn
keeping the shelter running smoothly .
Unlike the real world, RXGLGQ’t need to train skills to
improve them. EverWLPHou leveled up, RXFRXOGFKRRVe
the skills to improve and could automaticallGRWKLQJVEHWWHr .
The game still didn’t make complete sense to me after three
months stuck inside it, but I’d been learning to roll with the
flow. MSODQWRLPSURYHP standing in Shelter 42 wouldn’ t
come easy, but I was readWRVWDUWWUing. After three months
of hoping things would work out, it was time to act.
Dropping points into leadership wouldn’ t make sense to
some, but I wanted it high enough to assume control of my
own shelter if the situation ever arose. Becoming a master at
mechanical repair was all well and fine for the short term, but I
wanted more. I put mVWDWSRLQWVLQWREUDZQZKLFKZRXOd
increase the amount of health I gained next level. The extra

toughness would help if I needed to protect MissRUPself.
Life for core punks wasn’t easy.
While I wasn’ t spectacular in anVLQJOHDUHDP broad
range of skills and spread of statistics had helped keep me
alive. After assigning mSRLQWV,FORVHGP eHV%HIRUe
drifting off to sleep, the hatch to the barracks burst open.
Bright, fluorescent lights from the hallwaIORRGHGWKHURRm
as I sat up. The smell of shoe leather and hair gel hit mQRVH.
Ugh. What now?

Chapter 2

Orlando strolled in behind two heavilDUPHGJXDUGVKLs
black mohawk spiked several inches above his scarred scalp.
The leather mask covering his face didn’t conceal his ugly
character.
“EverRQHDZDNHDJXDUGVKRXWHGW e need
volunteers!”
I shook Miss’s arm. “Wake up, babJLUO”
“Two more minutes,” she groaned, rolling over onto her
other side, awaIURPPH.
“No, get up,” I insisted. “W e’re in danger.”
She stirred next to me then sat up, her legs dangling over
the edge of the bed. I sat next to her , watching as Orlando
strolled in with his sharp, point0RKDZNDQGOHDWKHUPDVk
covering the front of his face. He’d lost most of his nose to
frostbite before I arrived. As the man in char ge of the entire
shelter, his word was law . The lights of the room staHGRf f as
he waddled down the aisle between the two rows of bunks.
Was he coming to add to his collection of wives? I used the
word lightly .
“EverRQHXSKHelled, clapping his hands and
slurring his words. “W e need volunteers!”
I took a deep breath, trLQJWRFRQWUROP anger . My
hatred for the man ran so deep. He treated all the people in
Shelter 42 like garbage. He made a habit of coming in late at

night though usuallIRUYROXQWHHUVRIDGLfferent kind than he
wanted now.
“Nobod"KHDVNHGDOPRVWIDOOLQJRYHr . “Come on,
now, ladies. It’ s an honor to serve!”
As I sat up, readWRVSHDN0LVV grabbed mDUP.
“Don’t do it,” she whispered. “It’ s not worth it.”
For all her problems, she made sense sometimes, but I
couldn’t sit quiet.
“MaEHLIou treated us better , we’d be more willing to
help,” I said.
“Who said that?” Orlando demanded. “Speak up!”
“Me,” I said, hopping down to the floor . “WhFDQ’t Ru
leave us alone? W e alreadVODYHIRUou hours each day . This
is our area. WhFDQ’t RXOHDYHXVLQSHDFH"”
I stepped into the aisle between the rows of bunks. The
surrounding women sat quietly , none daring to move or make
a sound.
“Come here, woman,” Orlando said.
I crossed mDUPVRYHUP chest. “No.”
He laughed, his fat rolls shaking under his tight black
shirt.
“Get her!” he shouted, pointing a pudgILQJHr .
Two guards struggled to get around him, causing some
women to laugh.
“Quiet!” he hissed, shaking a fist.
As the two guards got closer , I lowered mDUPVDQd
crouched in a defensive position. TheZLHOGHGFOXEVDQGZRUe
tough leather armor, but I wasn’t about to go down without a
fight. When the first man got close enough, I kicked him
between the legs with enough force that his armor didn’ t
matter. He screamed, grabbing his nuts, as he melted to the
floor in a heap.
“Stop her , now!” Orlando shouted.

The other guard stepped forward, his grimy, gloved
hands reaching for me. I stepped onto the bunk across from
mine and pulled mVHOIWRWKHWRS7KHJXDUGORRNHGXSDVI
leaped from one mattress to the next, heading for the door .
Some women cheered me on as best theFRXOGZLWKRXt
incurring the wrath of Orlando. Near the exit, I hopped down,
glancing behind me. Would MissEHRND?
“I’ve got her!” Beckelled as she grabbed me around
the waist.
While pounding her back, I struggled to free mVHOI6Ke
held on tight as two guards reached us. As theJUDEEHGDWPH,
an inhuman scream caught mDWWHQWLRQ,WXUQHGDV0LVVy
rushed down the aisle, slicing a couple guards and Orlando
while racing toward me. The guards for got about me and
stepped toward their boss.
“Don’t kill them!” Orlando screamed as he clutched the
wound on his stockDUP.
MissGRYHWRWKHIORRr , scooting under three beds before
popping up behind BeckDQGPH6KHJULQQHGSVchotically
then plunged a knife into mFDSWRr ’s arm. The barrack’ s bully
let me go and grabbed the wound as MissSXOOHGRXWWKe
blade. I grabbed Miss’ s hand and turned to bolt for the door ,
dragging her along. Two Enforcers stepped in the way ,
blocking our escape. I stopped, not readWRGLH.
“All I needed was a few scouts to get me some
information,” Orlando said behind us. “I don’ t understand why
RXGZDQWWRNLOOPHZKHQ,NHHSou safe.”
He stopped near the door, taking up almost the entire
aisle. Trapped between Enforcers and a fat fool with too much
power in his hands. What to do?
“But noooo, RXFRXOGQ’ t complete a simple task for
me,” he continued. “Some mutants got away , and we need to
know if theUHKLGLQJRQWKHORZHUOHYHOV$OOou needed to
do was hunt them up so the Enforcers could do their job. Why
couldn’t RXGRWKDWODGLHV"”

I clenched mILQJHUVDURXQGP dagger as I stared at
him.
“No,” he said, shaking his head and wagging a fat finger.
“Put the knives down. Both of RX”
“Put it down, Missy. Do it for me.”
“Not until RXSXWours down,” she said, glancing
toward the door.
“We can’ t win this fight,” I said. “W e’ll do what Orlando
wants, and this is over, right?”
I stared into our drunken leader ’s eHV+HJULQQHG,
showing the wide gap between his two center teeth. I hated
everWKLQJDERXWKLPEXWQRWHQRXJKWRGLH(YHQWKRXJKI
knew our entire existence was a virtual world, I wasn’ t one
hundred percent sure what happened when we died in the
simulation.
“Right?” I repeated.
“No!” MissVKRXWHGVXUSULVLQJPH.
She darted forward, knife raised. Orlando stumbled
backward, tripping and falling on his fat ass. Before Missy
reached him, two blue beams shot past me, striking her in the
back. She screamed, dropped the knife, and fell to the floor ,
sliding a few feet toward Orlando. He kicked at her head while
struggling to sit up.
I dropped the knife. “Leave her alone.”
Hands raised, I stepped toward them.
“Stop!” an enforcer HOOHGEHKLQGPH.
I kept going, wanting to make sure MissZDVVWLOODOLYH.
Had theXVHGWRRELJRIDVWXQFKDrge on her? TheGEHHn
known to do that and worse. I felt two beams hit me in the
back. Pain shot through mERG as I fell flat on mIDFHWKe
grittFHPHQWVFUDWFKLQJP skin. I kept shaking, unable to
control mVHOI.
“You die!” MissFULHGQHDUEy .

Another two beams hit me. I blacked out. MODVt
thought about Missy, hoping theGLGQ’t kill her. Even if it was
a fake-ass world, I couldn’ t survive in it without her. The truth
was that I needed her as much as she needed me. W e became a
deadlWHDPZKHQZRUNLQJWRJHWKHr. Then again, maEHZHd
both get lucky, die, and wake up in the real world I’d imagined
for so long.

* * * * *

I opened mHes, head pounding. Where’ s Miss",VDt
up too quick and almost fell back over. Fighting the dizziness,
I glanced around the tinVWRQHURRP0LVV laFXUOHGXSLQa
ball near the door. I crawled over, seeing blood everZKHUH.
Was she dead? Did theWKURZKHULQKHUHWRZDUQPH?
Frighten me? I placed a hand on her arm and shook it.
“Miss"$UHou oka"”
She groaned and rolled over . I saw a few splotches of
blood on her face.
“Are we dead?” she asked. “I hope we’re dead.”
“Don’t talk like that,” I said, scooting closer to her .
She smiled while looking up at me. “I got some of
them.”
“That was foolish and dangerous,” I scolded.
Her smile faded as she lowered her head. I sighed.
“Thanks for sticking up for me, though,” I said.
She lifted her head, caught somewhere in between a
smile.
“Are RXRND?” I asked, pointing at her face. “Y ou’re
bleeding.”
“It’s not mine,” she said, using her finger to dab some of
it.

She examined the dark red spot on her finger a moment
before licking it.
“Ew, don’ t taste it,” I said.
“The blood of mHQHP is sweet.”
I stared into her darkened eHV6KHVDLGWKHZHLUGHVt
things sometimes.
The blood of her enemLVVZHHW":KDWWKHKHOO?
“You’re strange, but I still love RX,VDLGVKDNLQJPy
head.
She leaned over and hugged me. “I love RXWRR6FRXW”
I pushed her away , still holding onto her shoulders and
staring into her eHV.
“You can’ t do stuf f like that without me knowing, oka"”
She nodded, not saLQJDZRUG.
“Good. I’m surprised theGLGQ’ t just kill us. You got
them good.”
The steel hatch to the right of us opened. I looked up and
saw Harrison standing outside, frowning and shaking his head.
WhKDGKHFRPH"+HZDONHGLQ.
“All RXWZRGRLVJHWLQWURXEOHKHPXWWHUHGY ou
need to apologize to Orlando.”
“No way,” I said, crossing mDUPVRYHUP chest. “He
can kiss mDVV”
“Kiss mDVVWRR0LVV added then giggled.
“He’ll do more than kiss RXUDVV+DUULVRQJUXQWHG.
“Apologize, or I’ll be forced to give RXDSXQLVKPHQW”
I stood, still having to look up at him.
“Are RXJRLQJWRZKLSPHourself?” I asked.
I let mEUHDVWVEUXVKDJDLQVWKLVKDUGOHDWKHUDUPRr .
“That’s enough,” he said, stepping back and pushing me
away.

“I don’t wanna get whipped again,” MissZKLPSHUHG,
still on the floor .
“How about this,” I said. “Y ou whip me, throw me in
isolation, and MissJRHVIUHH”
“No,” MissFULHGVWDQGLQJDQGFOXWFKLQJDWP arm.
She hissed at Harrison, causing him to step back.
“Keep that crazELWFKDZD from me,” he said.
“Please, Harrison? I’ll make it up to RXODWHr .”
I attempted to give him mEHVWVH[ look.
“You don’ t have to do that,” he said. “I’ll cover for RX,
but RXOOQHHGWRWDNHKHUOLFNVWRR2UODQGRZRQ’ t go for it
otherwise.”
“No,” MissPRDQHG.
I turned to her and put mKDQGVRQKHUVKRXOGHUVDJDLQ.
“Don’t start anWKLQJZLWKDQone until I get back, oka?
I won’ t be gone long.”
“No…” she whined.
I saw a couple tears flow from the corners of her eHV.
“Let’s get this over with,” I said, pulling mKDQGVDZDy .
Harrison stepped out of the cramped cell. After escaping
Miss’s grasp, I followed him, shutting the hatch behind me.
“I’ll take her back to the barracks once RXUHLn
isolation,” he said. “She was just sticking up for RXIURm
what I’ve heard.”
“Thank RX,PHDQWZKDW,VDLGEDFNWKHUH”
In all honesty , I’d wanted to rattle Harrison’ s bones for a
long time. Most of the women wanted access to him for the
perks theZRXOGJHWEXW,IRXQGPself attracted to him for
other reasons. He reminded me of the real world for some
reason.
“That won’t be necessary ,” he said. “I’ve got a soft spot
for RXWZR”

“Awww ,” I teased. “Are RXVRIWXQGHUDOOWKDWDUPRr .”
I put mKDQGRQKLVELFHS+HSXOOHGDZDy.
“Come on,” he said in a gruff tone, grabbing mDUP.
He led me down a long corridor filled with a dozen
holding cells. We kept walking through the vast shelter . He
stopped when we reached a room roughlGRXEOHWKHVL]HRf
our barracks. Instead of bunks, the room contained a varied
collection of torture devices. Orlando stood next to a whipping
post at the other end of the room, smiling as we walked over .
“Keep RXUGDPQPRXWKVKXW+DUULVRQJUXQWHGDVKe
dragged me forward.
“Where’s the other one?” Orlando asked. “I want to see
her paWRR”
“This one’ s taking triple lashes,” Harrison said.
I shot him a dirtJODQFHEXW,NHSWP mouth shut.
“Can she last that man"2UODQGRFODSSHGKLVKDQGs
together. “Let’s see. This will be fun. Does anRQHZDQWWo
bet?”
He glanced around. The single guard near him shook his
helmeted head.
“Chicken shit,” Orlando said then turned back to us. “T ie
her up! Let the fun begin!”
Harrison guided me to a thick steel beam that went from
the floor to the ceiling. As he tied mKDQGVDERYHP head, I
took a deep breath. The trick in taking a beating was to think
about anWKLQJWRIRUFHour mind elsewhere. I’d done it
before numerous times, but I’d never had to deal with so many
lashings at once.
“Take her shirt of f,” Orlando said. “I want to see the
bitch bleed.”
Harrison reached around me and grabbed mVKLUWZLWh
both hands, ripping it open.
“She’s not half bad,” Orlando said as he walked around
to get a better view .

I felt his fat, sweatSDOPVOLWKHUGRZQP back and grip
mDVV.
“Not bad at all,” he said. “Shame she’ll be so bloody
after this. I might’ve shown her a good time tonight. Oh, well,
maEHVRPHRWKHUGDy.”
He laughed, snorting like a pig. I took another deep
breath and closed mHes, reminding mVHOIZK I stuck up
for MissVRPXFK6KHGVDYHGP life. If it wasn’ t for that
scared, crazed woman, I wouldn’t be alive. As the first stroke
hit mEDUHEDFN,JURXQGP teeth together , not wanting to
bite off mWRQJXH2QHZRPDQKDGGRQHVRDIHZPRQWKs
back, killing herself in the showers one night.
Crack! The second and third lashes weren’ t as bad. As
theEHJDQWRSLOHXSP back burned like it was on fire. T ears
ran down mFKHHNV,GIRXJKWWRNHHSWKHPDWEDy, but the
unbearable pain of the leather whip on mEDUHIOHVKVWXQJWRo
badly.
Crack! Crack! Crack! Each time the whip hit me,
Orlando chuckled. I lost count of how manWLPHV,GEHHQKLt
bWKHWLPHWKH stopped. MEDFNVWLOOVWXQJ,FRXOGVWLOOIHHl
the thin leather beating against mVNLQDV,IRXJKWEDFk
further tears. The pain was worth MissQRWEHLQJSXQLVKHG.
She would’ve caved just coming into this room.
“That’ll teach RX2UODQGRVDLGLQDVQRWW voice.
I wanted to kill him so bad.
TheWKUHZPHLQWRDVROLWDU cell when theZHUHGRQH.
I laid on mVWRPDFKRQWKHFROGKDUGIORRr , wishing mEDFk
would stop hurting long enough for me to fall asleep. As I
grimaced through the pain, I vowed that mOLIHZRXOGEe
different when I got out. W ith hard work and a bit of bending
the rules, I would make a better life for MissDQGPself.
Damn the rest.
I needed to quit hoping another world existed and make
sure we had a better life in the one we found ourselves in. W e
would have a better life. Period.

Chapter 3

Two daVODWHr , theUHOHDVHGPHIURPLVRODWLRQ,ZRUHa
loose-fitting top because mEDFNVWLOOVWXQJOLNHKHOO$VI
walked toward the barracks that morning, I took mWLPH,
stopping in the cafeteria first. A few women glanced up and
smiled as I passed through, but most kept their heads down as
guards stood nearby , readIRUWURXEOH.
“Hey, Scout, come here,” a woman whispered.
I stopped and bent down as she motioned to me.
”What?”
“Salt,” she said, not elaborating.
I stood up and nodded.
“Half-rations just ain’ t right,” the woman continued.
“I’m with her,” a woman across the table added.
“We’re working on it,” I said. “Don’ t RXZRUUy.”
As I walked away , I thought about the vital spice. Like
everWKLQJLQWKHVWXSLGJDPHVDOWZDVDILQLWHUHVRXUFH,QRXr
case, it wasn’t easilJDWKHUHG$IHZVKHOWHUVFRQWUROOHGPRVt
of the flow. I filed the woman’ s request awaDV,KHDGHGIRr
the gardens where I worked. Checking in with mFUHZOHDGHr
seemed like the best idea even though I wanted to go check on
Missy. I hoped the others had kept her safe. She alwas
managed to get into trouble when I wasn’ t around to stop her
from falling preWRWKHWDXQWVIURPWKHRWKHUZRPHQ.

I took a deep breath as I reached the biosphere. The
saturated smell of oxJHQPL[HGZLWKWKHVXEWOHVFHQWVRIWKe
plants couldn’t be beat. HalfwaWKURXJKWKHORQJURZRf
carrots, spinach, and other or ganic treats, I spotted Hippy, my
boss. While his name meant nothing to him, I recognized it
from mKLVWRU classes in the real world. It meant a person
during the mid-20th centurZKRUHEHOOHGDJDLQVWDXWKRULWy
and smoked a lot of grass which was illegal at the time for
some reason.
He glanced up from where he sat on a barrel and shook
his head as I approached. I smiled, knowing he had a bit of a
crush on me. A lot of men in the shelter did, but I was saving
mVHOIIRU+DUULVRQWKHRQHPDQZKRGLGQ’ t want me or even
seem to care about mH[LVWHQFH.
“It’s about damn time RXVKRZHGXSIRUour shift,”
HippVDLGKLVGLUWFRYHUHGKDQGVWKUXVWGHHSLQDIURQWSRFNHt
of his blue overalls.
“Sorry ,” I said as I stopped. “Y ou didn’t hear what
happened?”
“I heard MissZHQWQXWVDQGDWWDFNHG2UODQGR+e
continued shaking his head. “That girl’ s gonna get RXNLOOHd
one of these daVYou should distance RXUVHOIIURPKHr .”
“MaEH,UHSOLHGNHHSLQJP voice calm. “Do Ru
mind if I go check on her? I came here first to ask permission,
but I want to see if she’s okay.”
HippODXJKHG$LQ’ t mSUREOHP”
I cocked mKHDGWRWKHVLGH+XK"”
“You’ve been reassigned,” he said. “W aste treatment.”
“No way,” I groaned at the mention of one of the worst
work assignments.
He nodded. “Can’ t sa,GLGQ’t see it coming.”
“This is bullshit,” I protested.
He shrugged and grinned. “More like human shit. Y ou
need to report to Bull. He might know more about RXUQHw

assignment, but if I were RX,GNHHSP head down and
mouth shut. Do RXUZRUN6FRXWYou’re a smart woman.”
I nodded, turning to leave. Should I report to waste
treatment or go check on MissILUVW",GHFLGHGRQWKHODWWHr .
With Bull’ s reputation around the shelter , I knew he’d never
let me leave. As I made mZD toward the barracks one floor
up, mWKRXJKWVUHWXUQHGWR+DUULVRQ6LWWLQJLQVROLWDUy , I had
developed a plan to spend more time with him.
SimplSXW0LVV and I needed power to protect
ourselves. The onlZD to get that in the shelter was through
material possessions and relationships. And to get those, I
needed to be smart. Harrison held a lot of swaLQRXUVPDOO,
underground community . He could help me improve mVWDWXs
in the shelter and work mZD closer to the top.
I had trouble figuring out a waWREULQJLWXSWRKLPDVI
headed toward his private quarters. Unlike a lot of us in the
shelter, he had a room of his own. Orlando treated him well
because Harrison backed him up on almost everWKLQJ(YHn
so, I figured I had a chance of getting him to help MissDQd
me get ahead bKHOSLQJKLPZLWKWKHEODFNPDUNHW.
MVNLOOVHWZRXOGFRPHLQKDQGy . BeckKDGUHFHQWOy
mentioned a new, rare item was up for auction to everRQHLn
the shelter, a beacon to an unoccupied shelter . I didn’t believe
such an item existed, but if it did, Harrison would know . He’d
shied awaDIWHUUHVFXLQJPHIURPIUHH]LQJDIWHUWKHELJKDFk
happened, but I’d been working mZD closer to him.
I hated that he backed Orlando, but over the last few
months, I’d learned dozens of shelters existed in the desolate
virtual world. All of them were controlled bDWrant as far as
I knew. No new shelters had been found during the months I’d
been trapped in the hellish simulation which is wh,GLGQ’ t
think the black beacon existed.
When I reached Harrison’s room, I stopped, staring at the
bulkVWHHOEDUULHUEHWZHHQKLPDQGPH6WLFNWRWKHPDWWHUDt
hand, I told mVHOIDV,NQRFNHG+H’ s cute, but RXQHHGKLs
help more than RXQHHGKLPWRVOHHSZLWKou.
“It’s open,” he shouted from the other side.

MKHDUWEHDWDELWIDVWHUDV,RSHQHGWKHKDWFK,VDw
him standing shirtless bKLVEHG.
“What’s wrong now?” he asked, “I’m about to hit the
showers.”
“Can I come with RX",WHDVHG.
He tilted his head back, eHLQJPHOLNHDMXLF steak.
“Funny ,” he said. “Y ou want something, don’ t RX"”
“I’ve heard a rumor,” I said.
He sighed. “Close the door .”
I shut the hatch then walked toward him.
“The beacon,” I said. “Real or not?”
“Who told RXDERXWWKDW"KHDVNHG.
“Becky,” I said as he pulled the shirt over his head.
“She has loose lips,” he muttered.
“Right? That’ s whou should let me work with RX”
He took a deep breath as if weighing the decision.
“No,” he said.
I frowned. “No, I can’ t work with RXRUQRWKHUXPRUs
aren’t true?”
“Both. WhZRXOG,NQRw , anZD? Orlando shut the
black market down.”
“Exactly.” I smiled. “Whoever sets it back up is going to
be rich.”
“Is that RXUPDLQFRQFHUQ"KHDVNHG5LFKHVDQd
leisure?”
“No, but I’m tired of MissDQG,ERWKEHLQJWUHDWHGOLNe
crap.”
He took a deep breath, his eHVZDQGHULQJRYHUP body .
“I do need someone who can keep their mouth shut,” he
said.

“That’s me,” I said, hands on hips, chest out and smiling.
“Fine. W e’ll talk about it later tonight. Y ou can tell
BeckVKH’s fired.”
“MSOHDVXUH,VWRSSHGSRVLQJ.
“And make sure she knows to keep her mouth shut,” he
added.
“Consider it done. AnWKLQJHOVH,VKRXOGNQRZ"'RHs
this mean the beacon’ s real?”
“I think it’s real,” he said, surprising me as he tossed his
head back and forth. “It’ s for Shelter 101x, whatever that
might be, but it doesn’t work. There’s a light that should blink
when RXUHFORVHWRWKHVKHOWHr . Nobod’s ever found it, so
it’s never blinked. I don’ t think a secret shelter even exists. It’ s
just another rumor core punks tell each other .”
“Aren’t RXFXULRXV",DVNHG.
“No,” he said. “Someone else can paJRRGPRQH for
the beacon, or it’ s traveling to the next shelter . The wealth I
get from it will paIRUPHWROLYHRXWWKHUHVWRIP life in
peace with nobodERVVLQJPHDURXQG”
“Sounds good,” I said. “How manVKHOWHUVGRou work
with?”
He furrowed his brow. “You ask a lot of damn
questions.”
“Sorry .” I stepped back, raising mKDQGV-XVt
curious.”
“Asking too manTXHVWLRQVZLOOJHWou hurt,” he said.
“How’ s RXUEDFN"”
“It hurts like hell,” I said, averting mHes.
“Hold on,” he said, walking over to a shelf on the wall
and picking up a bottle. “These pain pills should help, but
don’t take too many , oka"”
I nodded as he walked toward me, opening the bottle and
dumping out a few white pills.

“You need to do me a favor if RXZDQWWKHVHKHVDLG,
stopping in front of me.
MKHDUWEHDWIDVWHr . What did he want? And would I
give it to him?
“I need RXWRUHWULHYHVRPHWKLQJIURPOHYHOWZHOYHKe
said, dumping the pills in mRXWVWUHWFKHGSDOP.
“What do I need to get?” I asked, onlVRPHZKDt
relieved at what he wanted.
“Some salt I’m storing for emer gencies,” he said. “It’ll
fetch a good price now.”
I nodded. “AnWKLQJHOVH"”
“No, leave and let me shower ,” he said. “Come see me
tonight with the salt, and I’ll give RXour first paPHQWW ith
the rations cut in half, we’ll have a lot of people clamoring for
it. And tell BeckWRVWDQGGRZQWe don’t need her ruining
this for the rest of us.”
“On it,” I said, turning and walking toward the exit.
That went well, I thought as I opened the hatch then
stepped through. I decided to go see MissEHIRUHFKHFNLQJLn
with Bull at the waste treatment facility . Life would soon get
better for her and me with a bit of luck, at least I hoped so as I
first stopped in the cafeteria.
“Scout!” Misselled, jumping up from a round, metal
table as I approached.
“I’m back,” I said as she threw her arms around me and
squeezed. “Ouch!”
She let go and stepped back.
“Missed RXVKHVDLG,PVRUU I hurt RXUEDFN”
“It’s okay ,” I said. “Still stings a bit. Are RXRND? Did
anWKLQJKDSSHQZKLOH,ZDVJRQH"”
“Nothing interesting happened,” she said. “I’m glad
RXUHEDFN”

“And I’m happWREHEDFN,QHHGWRJRWRZRUNEXt
we’ll talk more tonight, oka",MXVWZDQWHGWRFKHFNRQou.”
She nodded, smiling again. I wanted to remind her to
wash the specks of blood off her face, but maEHWKH had
helped keep the others from messing with her . She had a
reputation for being crazDQGQRWWDNLQJVKLWIURPDQone.
“I’ll see RXWRQLJKW,VDLGUDLVLQJDKDQGLQIDUHZHOO.
As MissVDWGRZQDWWKHWDEOHZLWKWKUHHRWKHUZRPHQ,
including Heidi, I turned and left the cafeteria. I needed to
make one more stop before I reported for duty . I took the
elevator down to the lowest floor of the shelter — Level 12.
Stepping out, I glanced around the huge, dimlOLWURRPPRVWOy
used for storage. Boxes and crates stood stacked on one wall. I
stepped forward and listened. After walking up to the boxes, I
scanned the writing on the side of one.
<< Warning. Mutant nearby . >>
I swiped the notification awaDQGSXOOHGRXWP dagger .
Had theQRWJRWWHQDOOWKHPXWDQWV"Would Harrison get me a
real weapon? I pushed the questions aside as I crept to the
other side of the massive, open hangar. Pausing at a hatch, I
stood on the tips of mWRHVDQGSHHUHGWKURXJKWKHZLQGRw .
Nothing. That’s weird. I winced as something hit me from
behind.
<< Warning: Injur!>
I spun around and saw a hideous beast with two heads,
vaguelKXPDQDQGIRXUDUPVWKDWORRNHGOLNHWKH belonged
on a bear not a man. A prompt told me it was a Y -class mutant,
not a huge threat.
“Die!” I hissed, stabbing it in the gut and pulling up.
The malformed mutant slashed me with the claws of its
twisted right hand. It hurt, but I wasn’t worried. I stabbed it a
few times before it fell to the ground in a pile of putrid flesh.
The stench of death hit mQRVWULOVWHDULQJXSP eHV.

<< Combat is Over! >>

<< You get 100 Life Experience Points! >>
<< You have 2,150 LXP!

I’d turned of f the amount I needed to get to the next level
because I hadn’ t been getting anUHDOH[SHULHQFHDVDEDVLc
worker under Orlando. W ith all the trouble I’d gotten into
recently, I didn’ t have manRSSRUWXQLWLHVWRDGYDQFH6WDUWLQg
mRZQEODFNPDUNHWZRXOGKHOSEXW,VWLOOOLNHGWRNHHSPy
combat notifications to a minimum. Most people thought they
were natural, just the waKXPDQVZRUNHGEXW,UHPHPEHUHd
the real world. TheDQQRed me.
“What are RXGRLQJGRZQKHUH"%XOODVNHGVXUSULVLQg
me.
I almost dropped mNQLIHDV,VDZKLPKDLU potbelly
sticking out from under his ill-fitting and garishlFRORUHd
striped shirt.
“The mutant attacked me,” I said, putting mNQLIHDZDy .
“WhKDYHQ’t RXUHSRUWHGIRUGXW? I tracked RXGRZn
here when RXGLGQ’ t show.”
Quick! Think!
“The lift broke again,” I lied. “Stupid thing brought me
down here. When I got out, the Y -Mutant attacked. I had to
defend mVHOI”
“You’re luckLWZDVQ’ t anWKLQJWRXJKHr,” he said,
glancing up and down mERGy . “Are RXUHDG to work, or do
RXZDQWWRKDYHVRPHIXQILUVW"”
He grinned, revealing green-HOORZWHHWKFKLSSHGDQd
disrespected.
“No, thank RX,VDLGWUing to sound as respectful as
possible.
His expression changed in an instant, smile replaced ba
scowl.
“Get RXUDVVLQWKHHOHYDWRUKHFRPPDQGHGKLVEHOOy
flopping as he swiveled to the left and pointed.

I walked around the pile of mutant flesh and across the
nearlHPSW warehouse. The smell faded as I approached the
elevator. I smiled as I quickened mSDFH.
“Hey, hold on,” he huf fed behind me.
I kept fast-walking toward the elevator . After getting in, I
punched the button for the next floor up. The door slid shut as
he waddled up.
“Sorr,VKRXWHG0XVWVWLOOEHPDOIXQFWLRQLQJ”
Bull wasn’t an idiot, but I didn’ t think he would give me
anWURXEOH,KDGQ’t been able to grab the salt while on the
lower level which bummed me out. The lift stopped on Level
11 where all the waste for our shelter got treated, most of it
turned into something usable. While nobodOLNHGWKHLGHDRf
drinking pee or eating shit, our world demanded it.
I stepped out when the door opened. Knowing Bull
would be along shortly , I walked back toward the of fice areas,
intent on filching something. I slipped inside the main of fice
and looked around for anWKLQJRIYDOXH$VLOYHUOLJKWHr
caught mDWWHQWLRQ:KLOHVPDOO,FRXOGOLNHO flip the item
quicklDQGPDNHDIHZH[WUDFUHGLWV,VQDWFKHGLWRff the
desk.
“What are RXGRLQJKHUH"%XOOGHPDQGHG.
I glanced back and saw him in the doorway, sweat
pouring down his face.
“Nothing,” I said. “Waiting for RX”
He stared into mHes for a few seconds.
“Quit messing around if RXUHJRLQJWREHDWHDVHKe
said. “We’ve got work to do.”
I relaxed a bit as he turned and walked away . Following
Orlando’s draconian rules hadn’ t gotten me anZKHUHLQWKe
last few months, and nobodOLVWHQHGWRP stories about the
real world or took me seriously . With help from Harrison, I
had a shot of working mZD higher up in the game. I
couldn’ t wait to find out who had trapped us all and why
theGGRQHLW.

Chapter 4

After mVKLIWODWHUWKDWGD cFOH,ZHQWEDFNWo
Harrison’s quarters to let him know I’d failed to get the
contraband salt on mILUVWDVVLJQPHQWW ould he fire me? I
doubted the lighter I’d stolen from some poor joe would
impress him. The closer I got to his quarters, the sicker my
stomach became, but I carried on. After months of wishing
everWKLQJZRXOGIL[LWVHOIDQGJREDFNWRQRUPDO,KDd
decided to face realitDQGZRUNRQWDNLQJFDUHRI0LVV and
mVHOI:KLOHZHKDGQ’t known each other long, I wanted to
help her. She was like the RXQJHUVLVWHU,QHYHUKDGLQWKHUHDl
world.
When I reached mGHVWLQDWLRQ,SDXVHGEHIRUHI
knocked to collect mWKRXJKWV6KRXOG,WU to laWKHEODPe
on Bull or live up to mILUVWIDLOXUH"$IWHUEDQJLQJRQWKe
steel, I took another deep breath to calm mVHOI+DUULVRn
opened the hatch right away , motioning me in with a nod of
his head. I brushed up against his bodDV,ZDONHGLQWRKLs
room. He closed the hatch behind me then turned, head tilted
back and arms crossed over his chest as he waited for me to
speak.
“I screwed up,” I admitted, not breaking eHFRQWDFWA
mutant attacked me, and Bull came down and sent me to
work.”
“Get him some panties,” he said, grinning.
I cocked mKHDGWRWKHVLGH+XK"”

“Just offer him someone’ s used panties, and he’ll let Ru
off RXUZRUNGXWLHV7KH don’ t have to be RXUV$SDLUa
week should be enough. If he complains, tell him RXOOUHSRUt
it to me. He’ll get into line quicklHQRXJK”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling and nodding.
“Besides, there’s no salt stored downstairs,” he
continued. “I gave RXWKHPLVVLRQDQGWROG%XOOou’d be
down there to see if RXOLHGWRPHRUQRW”
What an asshole.
“I thought about it,” I admitted.
“But RXGLGQ’t act on it,” he said, dropping his arms to
his sides and relaxing his entire body . “I need someone like
RXLI,PJHWWLQJRXWRIKHUH”
Another wave of confusion hit me.
“Getting out of here? Where are RXJRLQJ"”
“Don’t worrDERXWLWKHVDLGZDONLQJRYHUWRKLVEHG.
He sat down on the edge of the thin mattress, still
looking in mGLUHFWLRQ.
“I need something else from RXKHVDLG.
MKHDUWSRXQGHGLQP chest. “What?”
“I need backup for a meeting tonight,” he said.
“Someone’ s coming for the beacon.”
“That’s good, right?”
He grinned, stood, then grabbed a plasma pistol of f a
nearbWDEOH.
“Can RXXVHWKLV"KHDVNHGZDONLQJWRZDUGPH.
I took it from his outstretched hand.
“Yeah, I’ve got some skills.”
“Keep it hidden. I’m hoping this doesn’ t go south, but
RXQHYHUNQRw.”
“What are we doing, exactl",VQ’ t it smarter to keep the
beacon for RXUVHOIDQGJHWour own shelter? Y ou want to

leave this place, right?”
“There RXJRZLWKour damn questions again,” he
muttered. “Like I said, if this supposed shelter is out there
somewhere, somebodVKRXOGYHIRXQGLWE now. We’ve been
looking for decades, and nobod’ s found it HW7KHFKDQFHVRf
anRQHILQGLQJLWDUHVOLPWRQRQH”
“Sorry,” I said, defensivelUDLVLQJP hands.
I’d forgot he didn’ t remember or accept we’d onlEHHn
in the simulation a few months.
“Come on,” he said, motioning for me to follow with a
nod of his head.
We left his room and headed for the decontamination
chamber and the hatch leading outside. I’d onlEHHQRXWa
couple times for short periods since the Great Freeze, but I
wasn’ t looking forward to going back out. The enviro-suits
would keep us toasty , sure, but I hated relLQJWRRPXFKRn
technologZLWKVRPXFKDWVWDNH.
Harrison stopped and opened a hatch bSXQFKLQJLQa
string of numbers. I followed him into the room filled with
enviro-suits and other equipment, including plasma rifles and
crates full of all kinds of grenades. He grabbed one of the suits
and held it toward me without saLQJDQthing. I took it and
began to put it on. He did the same.
“Do RXWKLQNWKHUHZLOOEHWURXEOH",DVNHG.
Harrison shrugged. “Who knows with these clowns.”
“Then whDUHou dealing with them?”
“MoneWDONVKHVDLGWKHQORZHUHGKLVYRLFH,m
getting out of here.”
I wanted to beg him to take MissDQGPHZLWKKLPEXWI
kept quiet for the moment. As we donned our helmets then
headed toward the hatch leading outside, I hoped MissZRXOd
be okaLI,GLGQ’t show up at mQRUPDOWLPH0 back still
stung, but I hadn’ t taken anPRUHRIWKHDUWLILFLDORSLDWHs
Harrison had given me. I needed all mPHQWDOIDFXOWLHV.

The guard at the steel ladder leading up to the main hatch
nodded his head as we entered. I followed Harrison, trLQJWo
control mEUHDWKLQJ$WWKHWRSRIWKHODGGHr, he punched in
the code for the main hatch. I stared up past him as it swung
open on its own. The skORRNHGJUD and dead, exactlDVI
remembered when I’d last been out of Shelter 42.
Harrison climbed outside with me close behind. Light
flurries of snow fell from the sky, adding to the snow-packed
ground. I looked around, seeing the ruins of a citLQWKe
distance, where I’d arrived. The flickering lights from flames
were the inhabitants’ onlVRXUFHRIZDUPWKLQWKHELWWHr
temperatures, but theGHVLUHGIUHHGRPIURPWKHWrannRf
rulers like Orlando and put up with the cold and a lot worse.
“Come on,” Harrison said through the helmet
communicator.
I followed as he walked toward a half-destroHGEULFk
building a few hundred feet away . On the way, I recalled the
simulation I’d been in before the Great Freeze. W as the ruined
citLQWKHGLVWDQFHWKHVDPHRQH,GORXQJHGLQRUZDVLWa
different one? The bigger question of what had happened
struck me too while I concentrated on matching Harrison’ s
long stride.
A dim, flickering light from inside the ramshackle
building shifted as we got closer. Two men dressed in furs
emer ged. Harrison stopped before we reached them.
“Do RXKDYHLW"WKHWDOOHUPDQZLWKDIXOOEHDUGDVNHG.
“Take of f RXUKHOPHW”
Harrison removed his helmet. “It’ s somewhere safe. Do
RXKDYHWKHVXSSOLHVDQGYHKLFOH"”
In all the months of the strange new virtual world I found
mVHOILQ,KDGQ’t heard anPHQWLRQVRIYHKLFOHV0Dbe
Harrison had an escape plan?
“We’ve got it,” the other man said, his partner remaining
quiet.
The helmet’ s advanced vision helped me keep an ee
them both.

“I want to see it,” Harrison said.
“The vehicle’s somewhere safe,” the man countered.
“It’s too damn cold to be messing around,” Harrison
snapped.
Both men pulled knives and lunged toward Harrison. He
and I both stepped back, pulling our plasma pistols. I turned
off the combat notifications to better concentrate as I fired of f
two shots, hitting the smaller man as he came toward me.
Harrison fired too, but the plasma bolt fired harmlesslLQWo
the air as the taller man plunged his knife into Harrison’s
stomach.
“No!” I HOOHGWXUQLQJDQGILULQJDWWKHQRPDG.
He screamed as three bolts hit his chest, sending him to
the snow-covered ground. I knelt beside Harrison as he
struggled to sit up. Blood gushed out of the hole in his enviro-
suit. MPHGLFDOVNLOOVNLFNHGLQDV,FUDZOHGRYHUWRJUDb
some of the other man’s clothes. I pressed it against Harrison’ s
wound, causing him to HOO.
“Careful!” he shouted. “I’ve got healing nanites. I’ll be
fine.”
I pulled mKDQGVDZDy, lifting them into the air .
“Sorry, just thought I could help. Y ou don’t need to snap
at me.”
“It hurts, and it’ s cold,” he said, frost forming in front of
his face.
As I stood, dusting the snow of f mHQYLURVXLWI
checked the Life Experience Points I’d received for killing the
men. Leveling mFKDUDFWHUVRXQGHGVRVWUDQJHZKHQQRERGy
around me, not even Harrison, believed we were in a virtual
realitVLPXODWLRQ+DUULVRQVWUXJJOHGWRJHWXSQRDGGLWLRQDl
blood spilling out of his guts. I glanced around with mQLJKt
vision.
“There’s nobodHOVHWKDW,FDQVHH,VDLG:KDW’ s that
about a vehicle?”

“I told RX,POHDYLQJKHVDLGSXWWLQJKLVKHOPHt
back on.
“What kind of vehicle is it?”
“Can RXVWRSZLWKWKHTXHVWLRQVXQWLOZHJHWEDFNLQWKe
shelter, at least?”
I nodded, not saLQJDQthing else.
“The vehicle’ s probablQRWUHDOEXW,YHKHDUGDUXPRr
it’s connected to the experimental shelter beacon that doesn’ t
work.”
“I want to know more,” I said, still clutching the pistol
he’d given me.
While I was certain I was still in a virtual simulation,
taking another person’s life wasn’t something I enjoHGGRLQJ.
“Someone’s spreading rumors about some sort of
machine. It’ s probablDVIDNHDVWKLVVWXSLGEODFNEHDFRQ”
“You do have it with RX"”
“No, of course not. It’ s hidden. EverRQHZDQWVWKHLr
hands on it even though it doesn’ t even work. Orlando’s even
been pestering me for it, but I told him I don’ t have it.”
“Smooth,” I said.
He grimaced and placed a hand on his wound.
“The nanites are helping, but we need to get inside
before I freeze. Orlando has the onlUHPDLQLQJHQYLURVXLt
with nanites. These won’t fix themselves.”
“Stop DPPHULQJDQGOHW’ s go,” I said, walking back
toward the shelter.
“Hold on,” he said. “W e need to check the bodies.”
“For what?”
“AnWKLQJWKH have with them. I need all the supplies I
can get if I’m going to make it anGLVWDQFHIURPWKLVFXUVHd
shelter.”
“Take us with RX,VDLGDVKHZDONHGWRZDUGWKe
closest body .

He stopped, glanced back, and shook his head before
resuming to loot the man I’d killed.
“I’m alreadKHOSLQJou,” he said. “What more do Ru
want from me? Go check that other body. We need to get
moving. I’m freezing.”
He turned back to his grim task. I knelt beside the other
bodDQGULIOHGWKURXJKWKHLQWHULRURIKLVIXUZUDSSLQJ)RXr
more knives had been stashed on the inside along with a
pocket full of protein bars. I grabbed all of them along with the
knives.
“Keep checking,” Harrison wheezed. “TheOOKDYHPRUe
stashed.”
“I’m not digging deeper ,” I said. “We’ve got enough.”
“No,” he said then pulled out a cloth bag and held it up.
“See?”
“What’s in it?” I asked.
“Let’s find out,” he said, opening it. “More food.”
“That’ s good,” I said. “Right?”
“It’s not bad. Come on, let’ s get inside.”
About time, I thought but kept mPRXWKVKXWIROORZLQg
him toward the shelter. He crouched at the entrance and
punched in a long string of numbers. As the hatch slowly
swung open, he stood and stepped back, motioning for me to
go first. I climbed down the ladder and immediatelZDONHd
over to one of the decontamination showers.
I watched Harrison wince as he stepped down, stopping a
moment on each rung. After being decontaminated b8V
light and a shimmering mist of nanites, I rushed over to help
him. He took the last step down, almost falling over .
“Thanks,” he said as I put mDUPDURXQGKLVEDFN.
We walked over to one of the showers. I took of f my
enviro-suit as he cleaned off anWUDFHRIUDGLDWLRQIURPWKe
outside. Small amounts wouldn’ t kill RXEXWLWWHQGHGWRDGd
up quickly. Some people in the virtual simulation could deal

with the radiation and chose to live outside the shelters, but
theZHUHIHZDQGIDUEHWZHHQZKHQFRPSDUHGWRWKRVHRIXs
who lived in the underground shelters. EverGD I spent in the
post-apocalSWLFZRUOGWKHOHVV,UHPHPEHUHGWKHUHDORQHWKDt
had been taken from me. And that scared me.

Chapter 5

Two weeks later , mVLWXDWLRQKDGLPSURYHd
considerably. As I sat with mEDFNDJDLQVWDZDOOLQWKe
cafeteria, I watched the others in the room, calculating how
much each of them owed me. Bull had been easWRSD of f. I
gave him a few pairs of panties I’d snatched from Becky, and
he allowed me to miss work as much as I wanted. He wasn’ t
the onlVWUDQJHRQH.
Whether it was drugs, extra food, entertainment, or
something to make life a bit easier, I became the go-to person
for anWKLQJLOOLFLWLQ6KHOWHU$IWHUMXVWIRXUWHHQGDs, I’d
alreadFRPSLOHGDORQJOLVWRISHRSOHZKRRZHGPHRQHWKLQg
or another. Since we were all trapped in the shelter , it was
more about redistributing items, but I got a cut of most of the
action.
I snapped out of mWKRXJKWVDQGVPLOHGDV+DUULVRn
approached mWDEOH+HORRNHGJUXff, but he alwaVGLGVRI
didn’t think anWKLQJRILWXQWLOKHOHDQHGGRZQDQGKLVVHG,
“Are RXQXWV"”
“What?” I asked, scrunching mEURw .
“Meet me in mURRP+DOIDQKRXr.”
After his gruff demand, he turned and walked away . I
watched, confused, as he walked across the cafeteria. People
parted to give him a clear path. Was he going to shut down my
operation just as I got it started up? He seemed upset about
something. Intrigued, I stood and left the cafeteria, heading for
the lavatory. As mZDVWHKLWWKHERWWRPRIWKHPHWDOWRLOHt

bowl a few minutes later, I thought about Bull and the waste
treatment plant.
Would he continue to allow me to skip work if I gave
him the occasional pair of panties from other women in my
barracks? Or would he eventuallGHPDQGPRUHIURPPHLf
Harrison stopped protecting me? W ith him on mVLGHI
wasn’t afraid of Bull or anRQHHOVHLQWKHVKHOWHr , not even
Orlando.
I stood, wiped, then pressed the button to send mZDVWe
below. As I opened the door of the stall, I saw BeckOHDQLQg
against the stainless steel sinks, arms crossed over her chest.
“What’ s up?” I asked, trLQJWRNHHSLWIULHQGO as I
walked over .
“I want back in,” she said.
“Back in what?” I asked, holding mKDQGVXQGHUa
faucet.
A weak stream of water dribbled out.
“Don’t plaGXPE%HFN continued. “Y ou’re the one
who told me I wasn’t working for Harrison anPRUH,ILJXUe
it’s better to work with RXWKDQDJDLQVWou. W ith that
muscle-head protecting RX,GRQ’t have much of a choice.
Now, are RXJRLQJWROHWPHLQRUQRW"”
“Harrison’ s more than his muscles,” I retorted as I
flipped mKDQGVWKURXJKWKHDLUWRGU them.
She grinned. “Y ou like him, don’ t RX",ILJXUHGou two
were sleeping with each other .”
“It’s none of RXUEXVLQHVVEXWZHDUHQ’ t,” I said.
“Whatever…”
I tilted mKHDGEDFNDQGVLJKHGOLNH,ZDVGRLQJKHUWKe
world’s biggest favor .
“What can RXGRIRUPHLI,FXWou in?” I asked.
She smiled. “Now we’re talking. Do RXQHHGDQ skill
upgrades?”

“You have some?” I asked, surprised.
She nodded. The easiest waWRLQFUHDVHVNLOOVLQWKe
game was with upgrade modules. Orlando kept of ficial ones
under heavGLJLWDOVHFXULWy, but I’d heard rumors about
unofficial mods that worked even better . Was BeckOing to
get her greasSDZVRQP business, or did she have the
advanced tech?
“I have a dozen,” she said in a soft voice. “Mostly
combat, but there’ s one sex module.”
She winked her left eH.
“Let me think about it,” I said, plaLQJLWRf f.
“How about I let RXWU one? Right now.”
She reached into her left pocket and pulled out a cloth
sack. After untLQJWKHSLHFHRIVWULQJVHZQLQWRWKHWRSVKe
emptied the contents into the palm of her left hand. The tiny
pieces of black plastic glistened in the light.
“I’ll give RXRQHWRVWDUWVKHVDLG$VDSHDFe
offering.”
“Which is which?” I asked, glancing at them.
“Hold on, I’ll send RXWKHOLVW”
A notification screen appeared.

SKILL MOD: General Combat T actics +10%
SKILL MOD: General Combat Tactics +15%
SKILL MOD: General Combat Tactics +20%
SKILL MOD: Stealth +20%
SKILL MOD: Sexual Prowess +69%
SKILL MOD: Tracking +25%
SKILL MOD: Foraging +25%
SKILL MOD: Mechanical Repair: +25%
SKILL MOD: Leadership: +75%

“You want better combat tactics?” she asked.
I shook mKHDG1R,ZDQWWKHPHFKDQLFDOUHSDLUFKLp
and the leadership one.”
“No way ,” she snorted. “I’ll get good moneIRUWKDWSOXs
seventILYH+LJKOHDGHUVKLSLVDVXUHILUHZD to the top of
the food chain here in Shelter 42, and I think I have a client.
You don’ t think RXKDYHDFKDQFHRIUXQQLQJour own
shelter, do RX"”
The onlZD to assume control of one of the shelters
and control its resources was to have a high enough leadership
skill. UsuallLWWRRNIRUHYHUWRGHYHORSEXWDPRGKDFNZRXOd
work just as well if I got mKDQGVRQLW,DOUHDG had 25%
leadership skill. The mod would max it out. Or would it? I’d
never heard of anRQHZLWKDVNLOODERYHEXWLWPLJKWEe
possible. The mechanical repair boost was mPDLQSODQI
like to have a back-up, though.
“Give them to me, or we don’ t have a deal,” I insisted.
Her nostrils flared even wider as her beadHes darted
back and forth.
“Fine,” she relented, carefullSLFNLQJXSWZRRIWKe
mod-chips.
I held out mSDOPFORVLQJP fist after she dropped the
tinSLHFHVRISODVWLF.
“Thanks,” I quipped. “When I talk to mERVV,Ol
mention RXUQDPH”
“You best do better than that,” she said, puf fing out her
chest.
I slipped the chip into the convenient slot between my
thumb and forefinger, allowed it to load, then repeated the
process with the second one. MVNLOOPRGLILFDWLRQVFKDQJHG.

| Leadership: +75%
| Leadership: 100%

| Mechanical Repair: + 25%
| Mechanical Repair: 97%

“Harrison doesn’t like RXEXW,OOWU to change his
mind,” I said.
Beck’s shoulders relaxed. She sighed, sounding empty
and defeated.
“I’ll let RXNQRZODWHUWRQLJKW,VDLGWKHQWXUQHGWo
leave.
She could wait until the next morning to find out my
decision after all the teasing she’d inflicted on poor Missy . I
would mention her to Harrison, but I wasn’t about to push the
matter. As I walked toward the elevator , I pulled up
information on mKLJKOHYHOOHDGHUVKLSVNLOO.
Leadership: 100%
At this level, RXYHSURYHQourself to be a competent
leader, and RXUHUHDG to lead a group of RXURZQSHRSOH.
No shelters are open currentlEXWEHUHDG to assume a
leadership role in the future. Y our continued cooperation is
appreciated.
I smiled as I reached the elevator . Little did the game
know I’d hacked mVNLOODQGQRWSURYHQDQthing other than I
would do anWKLQJWREHFRPHDOHDGHr . While I didn’t see
Orlando willinglJLYLQJXSSRZHr , I wanted to achieve
control over mRZQVKHOWHUVRPHGDy . Two women and a man
passed me on the other side of the hall, but theGLGQ’ t stop?
Would Harrison lecture me? I wondered as the elevator door
slid open. I got in and pressed the button for the top floor .
Harrison could be gruff at times, but I trusted him and
enjoHGEHLQJDURXQGKLP6XFKHPRWLRQVZHUHXVXDOO a
raritLQ6KHOWHU$VWKHHOHYDWRUVKRWXS,ZRQGHUHGKRw
to bring up BeckZDQWLQJWRZRUNZLWKKLPDJDLQ+e
wouldn’t like the idea no matter how I broached the topic, so I
decided to dive right in and see what happened. I didn’ t really
care.

When the elevator arrived and the door slid open, I got
out and continued toward his room. The top floor still had
functioning cleaning robots which meant the smell wasn’t as
bad as the rest of the shelter. When I reached Harrison’s room,
I stopped and took another deep breath to calm mVHOI.
Despite mEHVWHfforts, I found mVHOIIDOOLQJIRUKLPI
knocked. When the hatch opened, I smiled, taken aback bWKe
look on his face.
“Come in,” he said, stepping back.
After walking in, I shut the hatch behind me then turned.
Harrison paced the steel floor near his bed, not paLQg
attention to me.
“EverWKLQJRND?” I asked.
He stopped and turned toward me. “No.”
“What’s wrong?” I took a tentative step toward him.
His room smelled of incense and sweat—a strangely
soothing mix of scents.
“You need to be more careful,” he said. “W e almost got
caught again. Orlando’s not happy.”
“He’s never happy .”
“This is serious!”
His sudden tone change got mDWWHQWLRQ.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m trLQJWREHFDUHIXO%HFNy
wants to help again, and I think we should let her . She can act
as a buffer between us and Orlando.”
“She’s not working with us. AbsolutelQRW,WROGou to
staDZD from her .”
“But she can help us,” I insisted.
“I still don’t trust her.”
“Do RXWUXVWPH",DVNHG.
“Barely,” he muttered sarcastically .
I smiled and stepped forward, poking his chest with a
finger. “VerIXQQy .”

“We just need to be careful,” he said. “I might have a
buHUIRUWKHEHDFRQDQG,GRQ’ t want anWKLQJLQWHUIHULQg
with it. This sale is mWLFNHWWRDQHZOLIH”
“Can I see the beacon?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“Please?” I begged.
He sighed. “WhGR,SXWXSZLWKou?”
I had mVXVSLFLRQVDVWRZK as I held out mFKHVWLn
mWLJKWJUHHQWVKLUWEXW,GLGQ’ t saDQthing. The tension
of the unspoken words between us continued to grow .
“Once I sell this piece, I’ll have enough resources to
move into one of the better shelters,” he continued. “I’ll run
mRZQVKHOWHURQHGDy. Wait and see.”
“You’re leaving?” I asked, sounding more alarmed than I
would have liked.
Over the last few months, I’d learned to hide my
emotions from everRQHLQFOXGLQJ0LVVy . The more others
knew, the easier it was for them to control RX.
“Not right away ,” he said. “Don’ t worry.”
“I’m not worried, but…I’d miss RX”
We silentlVWDUHGLQWRHDFKRWKHr ’s eHVDPRPHQW.
“MaEH,OOWDNHou with me,” he said.
“And Miss"”
He sighed. “Y ou’re asking a lot right now , kiddo.”
“We can’ t leave her behind,” I said.
“You should go. W e can talk about it later .”
I nodded. “Yeah…”
As I crossed the room to leave, I felt his eHVRQPHEXt
I didn’t mind. He intrigued me. Outside, I went back to the
elevator and waited for it to arrive. When it did, I stepped in
and pressed the button for mIORRr . The door slid closed
before it descended. As it went lower , I hoped MissZDVQ’t

too upset with me for being gone so long. She could be clingy
at times.
Overall, it hadn’t been a bad day. With Beck’ s help, I
could ramp up business and prepare to leave with Harrison
when he made a run for it. The skill modification hadn’ t been
a magic bullet to get him to listen to me, but I figured such a
high skill level would come in handy, eventually.
A bell dinged before the door opened. I stepped out into
the hallwaDQGKXUULHGWRZDUGRXUEDUUDFNV2YHUWKHODVWWZo
weeks, I’d noticed MissUHWUHDWLQJGHHSHULQWRKHURZQPLQG,
spending hours if not daVDOODORQHE herself. She’d been
making good progress before I’d started up mRSHUDWLRQI
wanted to make sure she wasn’ t using me as an excuse to slip
into depression.
While onlDFRXSOHears RXQJHUWKDQPHVKHDFWHd
less mature, but I didn’t mind. She’d faced a lot of hardships
before showing up at Shelter 42. I slowed as I neared the door
to our barracks, hoping she would be in a better mood. She
needed to break from the past and start thinking about her
future. I might not alwaVEHDURXQGWRVDYHKHr .
After a final deep breath, I opened the hatch and strode
into the room like a boss. I walked between the two rows of
bunks, heading toward Becky. She glanced up as I approached.
I nodded as I stopped in front of her bed.
“We’ll talk more later ,” I said. “After I check on Missy .”
Before waiting for an answer or anFRPSODLQWV,WXUQHd
and continued down the aisle toward the bunk in back I shared
with Missy. The shelter had been designed to fit a thousand
people, but due to Orlando’ s mismanagement, we’d all been
crammed into a tight space. Over six hundred people lived in
Shelter 42 with new people joining, dLQJRUOHDYLQg
occasionally. As the shelters in the nightmare game I found
mVHOIWUDSSHGLQIRXJKWIRUWKHVFDUFHUHVRXUFHV,GSOHGJHd
mORaltWR2UODQGR+DUULVRQUHVFXLQJPHIURPWKHVDYDJHs
outside the shelter when the game had glitched and switched
made it an easFKRLFH.
“Scout!” MissVFUHDPHGDVVKHVDZPHDSSURDFK.

I smiled as she hopped off the top bunk and rushed over ,
throwing her wirDUPVDURXQGPHDQGVTXHH]LQJWLJKW.
“Good to see RXWRR,VDLGJHQWO patting her back.
“Are RXGRLQJRND?”
She pulled back and nodded.
“I see RXJRWDVKRZHUWRQLJKWILQDOOy , that’s good,” I
continued.
She backed awaDQGORZHUHGKHUKHDGVWDULQJDWWKe
floor.
“BeckZDVJLYLQJKHUVKLWHDUOLHr ,” Heidi said from a
nearbEXQN.
I pursed mOLSVWRJHWKHUDV,SURFHVVHGWKHLQIRUPDWLRQ.
BeckQHHGHGWRSDy. MissZDVXQGHUP protection. I
reached out and placed a hand on her soft cheek.
“You staKHUHRND?”
“No,” she said, surprising me. “I’ll go too because I need
to confront her and stand up for mVHOI5LJKW"”
She glanced over at Heidi. The other woman quickly
turned her head. I sighed.
“Okay , but no stabbing! Do RXKHDUPH"1RVWDEELQJ”
MissIURZQHG6KHORYHGKHUVKDUSSRLQW daggers and
the sense of protection theJDYHKHr . With the soldiers and
others having advanced firearms, nobodUHDOO bothered her
or others who kept personal weapons on themselves. Orlando,
the laziest leader , loved when his people killed each other
when settling problems. It removed the weak from his herd of
humans. With mKHLJKWHQHGOHDGHUVKLSVNLOO,VDZDOOWKe
mistakes he’d been making, and I began formulating a plan of
mRZQLI,HYHUJRWLQWRDUHDOSRVLWLRQRISRZHr .
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”
MissIROORZHGFORVHEHKLQGDV,ZDONHGWR%HFN’ s end
of the room. I stopped in front of her bunk and put mKDQGs
on mKLSVZKLOHVWDULQJGRZQDWKHUDQGVKDNLQJP head.
“What?” she asked.

“You’re mean!” MissVDLGSRNLQJKHUKHDGRYHUPy
shoulder .
“And? Y our point?” BeckDVNHG0HDQLVZKDt
survives in Shelter 42.”
When MissVWHSSHGWRZDUGKHr , I held mDUPXS,
holding her back.
“Becky, RXQHHGWRDSRORJL]H,VDLG.
“Or what?” she snorted. “Y ou’re running illegal boosters
on RXUVNLOOV”
“That I got from RX,FRXQWHUHG.
“Prove it,” she said then crossed her arms over her chest.
We stared at each other a few tense moments.
“Y ou can go screw RXUVHOI,VDLG'HDO’ s off.”
“Suit RXUVHOI%HFN said, turning away .
“Come on, Missy. We’ve got better things to do.”
As we walked back to our bunk, I lectured mVHOIRn
taking the unauthorized skill mods from Becky . The boosts in
mDELOLWLHVKDGEHHQQLFHEXWVKHKDGDSRLQW+RZFRXOGI
prove theFDPHIURPKHULIVKHWXUQHGPHLQ",SODQQHGRn
watching her closelDV,FOLPEHGXSWKHODGGHUDIWHU0LVVy ,
settling down on our lumpPDWWUHVV.
While I’d made small gains in the black market, we’d
not reallJRWWHQDQwhere. I wondered if Harrison was right
about it not being worth the hassle to stick around Shelter 42. I
laid back and closed mHes, thinking of him and how he
made me feel safe and secure.
“Are RXDVOHHS"0LVV whispered.
“No,” I said, not opening mHes. “What’s wrong?”
She sighed, putting her arm across mVWRPDFK.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said. “I worrDERXWou too, Ru
know.”
MKHDUWPHOWHGDIHZGHJUHHVDVVKHVQXJJOHGDJDLQVt
me. In such a harsh, lonely , and unforgiving environment, I

liked knowing I could count on her. Well, sometimes.
Thoughts of her faded as Harrison once again stormed into my
mind like he owned the damn place. I smiled and relished my
memories of him as sleep overtook me.

Chapter 6

I sat in mXVXDOVSRWLQWKHFRUQHURIWKHFDIHWHULDWKe
next morning, taking orders and talking to people. Thanks to
Harrison and his one weird trick, I didn’t have to report to the
waste treatment center anPRUH(YHQEHWWHr , BeckKDGQ’t
threatened me before she left for work earlier , so I didn’t
expect anSUREOHPVIURPKHr . She knew Harrison would
punish her for hurting me.
Despite all mIHHOLQJVRIVDIHWy , trouble still managed to
find me. I stood as I saw four armed guards enter the cafeteria
and look around. What now? TheVSRWWHGPHDQGFURVVHGWKe
room. I bolted for the door, hoping to hide out until Harrison
could save me.
“Stop!” a soldier shouted.
I didn’t look back as I booked down the hallwaRXWVLGe
the cafeteria, heading for the main elevator . With mDOODFFHVs
clearance, I could lose them if I made it to the lowest level of
the shelter . Reports had come in of more mutants hiding down
there, but I didn’ t care. I needed some time alone, a luxurLn
Shelter 42.
As I stopped in front of the elevators, smashing the call
button with mLQGH[ILQJHr , guards’ boots clicking got louder
as theDSSURDFKHG.
“Stop! We have permission to stun RX”
The elevator door slid open. I slipped in and pressed the
button for the bottom floor . The door slid shut just as they
reached it. I grinned and waved as the elevator shot down.

With luck, theZRXOGQ’ t be able to call in and stop it before I
reached the bottom. Not everRQHFRXOGUHPRWHO control the
main lift. I tapped mIRRWDV,ZDLWHG.
When I reached mGHVWLQDWLRQWKHGRRUVOLGRSHQZLWKa
whoosh. I staHGLQSODFHDQGWKUHZP hands in the air when
I saw a half-dozen armed men waiting for me. How had they
known? What would happen to me? Questions flew through
mPLQGDVWKH crowded into the elevator .
“No funnEXVLQHVVDJUXff guard as he reached behind
him to punch a button.
All five of the grungy, unshaven men kept their rifles
pointed at me as we shot back up the shelter . The elevator
stopped at the eighth floor, and the door slid open.
“Where are RXWDNLQJPH",DVNHG.
“Shut up,” the squad leader muttered.
He pushed me out of the elevator and down a hallway . A
few hundred feet away, theVWRSSHGIRUFLQJPHWRGRWKe
same. One of the soldiers opened a hatch. I saw Harrison and
MissVLWWLQJQH[WWRHDFKRWKHUDWDWDEOHLQDQRWKHUZLVe
emptURRP+DUULVRQVKRRNKLVKHDGDQGIURZQHGDVDJXDUd
roughlSXVKHGPHLQWRWKHURRP.
“No funnEXVLQHVVKHVDLGWKHQVKXWWKHKDWFK.
“What’s going on?” MissDVNHG.
“Your stupid friend got us caught,” Harrison said before
I could answer .
“I don’t know what happened,” I said. “I’ve been so
careful.”
“Becky ,” Harrison said. “Those stupid skill mods RXJRt
from her is what got RXFDXJKW”
“Sorry,” I said, ashamed at having let him down.
“We’ll be okay ,” MissVDLGUXEELQJKHUHes. “Don’ t
worry.”
“Both of RXEHWWHUZRUUy ,” Harrison muttered.

MissEXULHGKHUIDFHLQKHUKDQGVRQWKHWDEOHVREELQJ.
“Don’t scare her ,” I said, walking over and putting a
hand on her shoulder .
“It’s the damn truth,” he said. “She’ s old enough to hear
it.”
“Yeah, but RXFRXOGEHWDFWIXODERXWLW,OOWDNHWKe
blame for this.”
“That won’ t matter,” Harrison said. “Orlando’ s on the
warpath.”
“Oh?” I tilted mKHDG:K?”
“Some shelters to the south of us have teamed up to
attack us,” he said.
“Damn…” I let mYRLFHWUDLORf f.
Harrison nodded. “Things are gonna get bloody .”
“Wonderful,” I said sarcasticallDV,WRRNDVHDWQH[WWo
MissWRFRQVROHKHr . “Don’t worry. This isn’ t RXUIDXOW”
“It’s RXUIDXOWVKHVDLGKHUZRUGVPXf fled bKHr
hands.
“Probably,” I said, feeling horrible.
Despite Harrison’ s warning, I didn’ t expect Orlando to
be too tough on us. If the other shelters were about to attack,
he needed all the help he could muster .
“We’ll be okay ,” I said to reassure mVHOIPRUHWKDn
anWKLQJ.
Harrison turned his head, staring at the door . I settled
into the stiff chair, arms folded across mFKHVWDV,WKRXJKt
about what fate might have in store for us. What could be
worse than working in the waste treatment center? Orlando
wanted me in his sick and perverted harem. No waLQKHOl
that was happening. Not to me or Missy .

* * * * *

Orlando strolled into the room and stopped near the
table, flanked bWKUHHDUPHGPHQ+HVORZO shook his head
as he stared at Harrison.
“I knew RXZRXOGEHWUD me eventually, but I didn’t
think it would be over a woman.”
“What are RXJRLQJWRGRWRXV",DVNHG.
MissOHDQHGRYHUDQGFOXWFKHGP arm.
“Keep stabbJLUOXQGHUFRQWURO2UODQGRVDLG,Iou
give me the beacon, I won’ t kill RX/RVLQJour life over
something that doesn’t even work isn’t a good idea.”
“WhGRou want it if it doesn’ t work?” I asked.
Orlando turned, thin lips pressed together as he frowned.
“Am I talking to RX"KHDVNHGY ou need to keep RXr
woman under control and give me the beacon. That’ s the only
waou’re getting out of this alive. I’ll demote RXRIFRXUVH,
but RXFDQJUDGXDOO work RXUZD back up.”
“The beacon’s missing,” Harrison said, surprising me.
I turned to him, brow furrowed.
“Someone stole it,” he continued.
“Fine.” Orlando took a deep breath. “If RXFDQ’ t tell me
the truth, RXOOGLH”
“That’s the truth,” Harrison weaklSURWHVWHG7Ke
beacon’ s gone.”
WhKDGQ’ t he shared that information with me? I
wondered.
“Then RXOODOOGLH2UODQGRVDLGDQGWXUQHGWROHDYe
the room.
“No, wait,” I said.
He ignored me and stormed out, the guards following.
TheVODPPHGWKHGRRUVKXWEHKLQGWKHP,WXUQHGWo
Harrison. He frowned, shaking his head.
“WhGLGQ’ t RXWHOOPHVRPHRQHVWROHWKHEHDFRQ"”

“I’ve had other things on mPLQGKHVDLG.
MissOHWJRWKHQVFRRWHGKHUFKDLUDZDy.
“You two not fight now ,” she said.
I ignored her, still staring at Harrison.
“What do RXZDQWIURPPH"KHDVNHGY ou got
sloppy.”
“Don’t blame this on me,” I said.
The sexual tension between us heightened everWKLQJ.
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’ t know,” Harrison snapped.
He pushed his chair back then stood, pacing back and
forth behind us. I sighed, not wanting to die without knowing
what would happen to me in the simulation. MissVPLOHGDQd
bopped her head like she had no worries. I envied her in some
waV+HULJQRUDQFHKDGWREHEOLVV,OHDQHGEDFNDQGVWDUHd
up at the ceiling, an idea popping into mKHDG7KHYHQWV.
“I’ve got it,” I said.
Harrison stopped and turned. “What?”
“The vents.” I glanced up. “One of us can get out, kill
the guard, and open the door .”
“We’re too big for that small vent,” he said.
I motioned toward MissZLWKP eHV1RWDOORIXV”
He sucked in his breath then pursed his lips together .
I leaned over and put a hand on Miss’s shoulder. “Do
RXZDQWWRJHWRXWRIKHUH"”
She nodded, her smile widening.
“Can RXFOLPEWKURXJKWKDWKROHDQGKHOSXVRXWRf
here?”
She glanced up, her smile fading.
“I don’t want to, thank RX6KHWXUQHGKHUKHDGDZDy
from me.

“Orlando will kill us if we don’t escape,” I said bluntly.
Her head whipped back around as her eHVZLGHQHG.
“No.”
“Can I lift RXWRWKHFHLOLQJ"Y ou can crawl through the
vents to the next room. Once RXJHWEDFNRXWou’ll need to
stab the guard outside.”
Her smile returned momentarily . “No, I can’t. Too
scary .”
“Leave her alone,” Harrison said. “W e’ll fight them
when theFRPHEDFN”
“That’s suicide. MissFDQKDQGOHWKLV,NQRZLW5LJKW,
babJLUO"”
She tentativelORRNHGXSDWWKHFHLOLQJDJDLQ,VWRRGDQd
climbed atop the table.
“Never mind,” I said. “There’ s no waWRJHWWKHYHQt
cover off. We don’ t have a knife.”
“I have one,” MissVDLG.
She bent over , pulling a blade out of her boot. I smiled
and reached down for it. After she gave it to me, I used it to
prWKHYHQWFRYHURf f, not caring about screwing it. W e had
one chance to get out of the shelter . Even if we get out, I don’t
see how we would survive long in the cold wilderness. MaEe
we shouldn’t even try.
Harrison hopped onto the table. “I’ll help RXOLIWKHr .”
“No,” MissZKLQHGZDONLQJWRZDUGWKHZDOO.
“We don’ t have a lot of time,” Harrison said.
He glanced toward the window in the hatch.
“You like games, don’ t RX",DVNHG.
MissORRNHGEDFNWKHQQRGGHGY es…”
“Come on.” Harrison clapped his hands. “W e’ll lift Ru
up.”
“I don’t want to leave RXVKHZKLQHG.

“You’re not leaving us,” I said. “Remember the plan?
You get out in the next room then take out the guard and let us
out.”
MissWRRNDVWHSIRUZDUG$IWHUPRUHFRQYLQFLQJVKe
allowed Harrison and me to lift her up and into the vent. I
watched as she squirmed out of sight.
“Y ou sure she can handle this?”
I nodded. “She’ s tough.”
As we waited for her , Harrison resumed his pacing. I
kept watch on the hatch, hoping we had enough time to enact
our plan. Back in the real world, I would have never sent
someone like MissRQVXFKDGDQJHURXVDQGGHDGO mission,
but trapped in the Core, I had to be realistic if we wanted to
survive.
“This is a bad idea,” Harrison muttered.
He hopped off the table and looked toward the door . I
followed.
“Yeah, but we don’ t have anRWKHUFKRLFHVULJKWQRw .”
We continued waiting. Each passing second increased
the tension in the air .
“This is it,” Harrison said near the door .
I walked over and peered through the tinSDQHRIJODVV.
Harrison banged on the steel to get his attention. When he
turned around, MissVWUXFNSOXQJLQJWZREODGHVLQWRKLs
neck. Blood squirted out of the wounds.
“Open the door!” I gestured wildly.
The hatch swung open. MissVWRRGFRYHUHGLQEORRd
and still holding her knives.
“Fun!” she declared.
“Get him in here,” Harrison said, grabbing the guard’ s
feet.
He pulled the bodLQWRWKHKROGLQJURRPEXWDGDUNWUDLl
of blood gave everWKLQJDZDy. We didn’ t have a chance of

keeping this hidden.
“There’s no time to clean it up,” I said. “W e should go.”
I stepped out of the room, almost slipping in the blood.
MissODXJKHGDVVKHKHOGKHUNQLYHVW e walked down the
hall until we reached another hatch.
“Come on.” Harrison opened it then slipped inside.
MissDQG,IROORZHGVKXWWLQJWKHKDWFKEHKLQGXV.
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
“Leave the shelter,” he said. “It’s our onlFKRLFH”
“That’s suicide.” I turned to Missy . “Put those knives
away.”
“I need to clean them,” she said then wiped one on her
pant leg.
The hatch opened, causing mKHDUWWREHDWIDVWHr . A
guard walked in.
“What’s going on in here?” He pointed his plasma rifle
in our direction. “Drop the rifle!”
Harrison obeHGJHQWO setting the plasma weapon on
the floor .
“It’s okay ,” MissVDLGVOLGLQJWRZDUGWKHJXDUG.
He raised his weapon. “StaEDFN”
“It’s okay ,” she continued in a soothing voice. “W e want
to go.”
“You can’ t…I mean, I can’ t just…You…”
The guard’ s brow furrowed as he lowered his rifle.
“Now!” MissVKRXWHG.
She pulled a knife then lunged at the guard. He raised the
rifle but couldn’ t fire as Harrison plowed into him. As they
wrestled on the floor , MissGDQFHGDURXQGWKUXVWLQJKHr
knife.
“That’s mWKLJK+DUULVRQVKRXWHGDWRQHSRLQW.

He punched the guard’s face to a pulp before standing.
“Sorry,” MissVDLGNQLYHVEHKLQGKHUEDFN.
“What was that?” Harrison asked.
I turned to Missy . She smiled.
“How did RXGRWKDWWRKLP",DVNHG.
She shrugged. “I get feelings sometimes, and people do
what I tell them.”
“We don’ t have time for this.” Harrison handed me the
second guard’ s weapon. “We need to make it to the first floor ,
get suited up, and leave with as manVXSSOLHVDVZHFDn
carry.”
I nodded, mKHDUWVWLOOSRXQGLQJW e left the second
room and headed straight for the elevator . It came quickly, the
door sliding open. Once inside, MissVPDVKHGDOORIWKe
buttons then turned and smiled.
“No,” I scolded.
She frowned, lowering her head.
“Get RXUULIOHUHDGy ,” Harrison said as the door slid
closed.
I raised the weapon and pointed it at the door as we rose
a single floor before stopping. When it slid open momentarily ,
I prepared to shoot anRQHRQWKHRWKHUVLGH,EUHDWKHGDVLJh
of relief as the door shut and we continued up. OnlWZRPRUe
floors to go. How are we going to pull this off? Take it easy .
Don’t get stupid.
The door slid open then shut again before we continued
up. MissJLJJOHDVZHURVHDQRWKHUIORRr . Harrison shot her a
nastORRNEXWVDLGQRWKLQJ2QWKHILUVWIORRr , the door slid
open once again. Three men turned, fumbling for their
weapons. I lit them up along with Harrison. TheIHOORQHDIWHr
another, two of them screaming.

| Combat is Over!

| You get 300 Life Experience Points
| You have 2,450 LXP!

“Dammit,” Harrison muttered. “Let’ s go. Come on!”
I grabbed Miss’s hand and dragged her along behind me
as I left the elevator . With the rifle gripped in mRWKHUKDQG,
we walked toward the decontamination room and the hatch
leading to the outside world. Could we make it without being
stopped? W e ran down the corridor , stopping at a more secure
hatch. Harrison tapped open a code to open it then stepped
aside. MissUDQLQWRWKHRYDOURRPILUVW,IROORZHGULIOHXS,
hoping she didn’t run into anRQH.
“Get suited up,” Harrison said.
He stepped into the room, shutting the hatch behind him.
As I walked over to MissQH[WWRDOLQHRIHQYLURVXLWVRQWKe
wall, I wished we had more time to come up with a reasonable
plan. The deep thump of a plasma rifle going of f got my
attention. I twirled around. The control box next to the hatch
was smoking and sending showers of sparks into the air . I
smelled burnt plastic in the air. Harrison walked to the other
side of the room and began rummaging through lockers. I
turned to get MissDQGPself dressed for the weather
outside.
“But I don’t wanna go outside,” MissVDLG,W’ s too
cold.”
“We’ll be warm and toastLQRXUVXLWVEDE girl.”
“But what if theEUHDNGRZQ"VKHDVNHG.
I didn’ t have an honest answer for her .
“What are RXJRLQJWRGRKHUHRQour own?” I asked.
“You can’ t kill the whole shelter . TheUHJRLQJWRNLOOou for
what RXGLG”
MissIURZQHG,KDWHGPDQLSXODWLQJKHr , but we needed
to escape.

“Come on,” I continued, slipping one leg then another
into one of the suits. “TheUHJRRG”
“I can live in the vents,” MissGHFODUHG7KH’ll never
find me.”
“No, RXFDQ’t!” I insisted then frowned like a
disappointed mother .
“We don’ t have time for this,” Harrison said from near
the ladder .
He stood with his helmet in his left hand, dangling at his
side.
“Give me a minute,” I said.
I walked toward Missy , hands up.
“We need to go, babJLUO,VDLG.
“No!” she cried then backed up against the wall.
“We’ve got company ,” Harrison said.
I glanced over mVKRXOGHUDQGVDZDJOLPSVHRf
someone through the glass window in the hatch. W e don’t
have time for this!
“Missy , come on, we’re leaving,” I said, mYRLFHILUP.
Sparks shot out of a small point on the metal door . The
red-hot spot began moving upward. How long until theJHt
in? I turned to Harrison then Missy. She had scampered into
one of the suits and was holding the glass and metal helmet,
swinging it back and forth.
“Get the helmet on,” I said as I walked over to the ladder
leading out.
“The helmet scares me,” MissZKLQHG.
“You’ll be fine,” I said. “Just remember to breath,
oka"”
She nodded then placed the helmet over her head. As
Harrison walked over , sparks and smoke continued to shoot
out of the metal hatch to the room. He stopped and pulled out
a knife. Miss’s eHVOLWXS.

“We’ll cut the other suits,” he said. “It’ll take them a
while to fix them or make new ones.”
“Good idea.” I pulled a knife of mRZQWKHQZDONHd
over to the suits.
MissQHHGHGQRHQFRXUDJHPHQWDVVKHUDQRYHUWRWKe
other suits, a knife in each hand. She plunged the blades into
one of the suits repeatedly . After the passive psionics display
and her violent tendencies, I was worried. W e had to keep
going. Freedom meant nothing if we didn’t survive.
“Come on,” Harrison said, motioning with a wave of his
arm. “Let’s go.”
The sparks continued spitting out of the door as the circle
of white-hot motel almost completed, giving them entrance to
the room. I grabbed Miss’ s arm and dragged her toward the
ladder.
“Get RXUKHOPHWRQ,VDLGW e’re going outside.”
“Noooooo…”
A loud crash behind us spurred her into action. Harrison
followed behind her with me taking up the rear . The others
rushed into the room, firing their weapons, as I slipped out of
the main hatch to the shelter.

Chapter 7

When the hatch leading outside opened and I climbed
out, I saw a snow-covered landscape stretching into the
distance. I shielded mHes from the brightness with mULJKt
hand. Even with graFORXGVILOOLQJWKHVNy, everWKLQJORRNHd
brighter than inside the shelter. Harrison walked forward,
trudging toward a range of mountains in the distance.
“Hey, wait up,” I said, hurrLQJDIWHUKLP:KHUHDUHZe
going?”
“I don’ t know,” he growled, not looking back.
“Slow down,” I said. “W e need to stick together.”
He turned, scowling. “Do we? What if I saQR"”
I swallowed as he stared into mHes.
“You wouldn’ t do that to us, would RX"”
“It’s so white,” MissVDLGZDONLQJDZDy .
Harrison and I continued our stupid staring contest.
“I don’t want RXWZRVORZLQJPHGRZQKHVDLG.
“We won’ t.”
He sighed. “And no complaining…”
“You won’ t hear anWKLQJQHJDWLYHIURPHLWKHURIXVI
promise.”
He turned and resumed walking. MissUDQDKHDGKHr
boots leaving impressions in the two or three inches of snow
on the ground.

“I can help look for food,” I said.
Harrison stopped again, still fuming as he turned around.
“You can, can RX"*UHDWW e’re saved for sure now!”
“Hey,” I protested. “Stop being so sarcastic, please.”
“Or what?” he asked, stepping toward me.
MissSXOOHGKHUNQLIHDQGKHOGLWXS+DUULVRQVWRSSHd
and turned toward her .
“No,” I said, moving in between them.
MissVWLOOOXQJHGZLWKWKHNQLIHWUing to reach around
me and failing miserably . Well, she didn’ t hit Harrison, but she
stuck me in mDUP.
“Nooooooo!” I screamed in pain.
I glanced down at the tear in mHQYLURVXLW.
<< Warning: Depressurization of Enivro-Suit >>
“No kidding!” I HOOHG.
“So sorry ,” MissVDLGKDQGVFRYHULQJKHUPRXWK.
“You two are quite the pair ,” Harrison said.
MissWXUQHGDQGEROWHGWRZDUGWKHPRXQWDLQV.
“We have to go after her ,” I said, holding mKDQGRYHr
the puncture in mVXLW.
“You’re not gonna make it far like that,” he said. “Come
here.”
I stepped toward him. He held mDUPDQGVWXGLHGWKe
wound.
“W e need to clean it up and dress it before patching RXr
suit,” he said. “W e can’t do it here. Can RXKROGRQ"”
“I’m fine,” I lied, alreadIHHOLQJZRR] as I felt the
blood trickling down mDUP.
He turned and walked toward Missy , his huge feet
leaving even bigger impressions in the snow . I followed, still
holding mDUPWRVORZGRZQWKHEOHHGLQJ0LFUREXUVWVRf

freezing cold air slipped through the tear, chilling me to the
bone. We’d never make it to the mountains, and I didn’ t see
anRWKHUVKHOWHUQHDUEy. Am I going to die? MYLVLRn
blurred.
“Hey, wait up…”
I took a few more steps before mOHJVJDYHRXWXQGHr
me. I toppled to the snowJURXQG$V,JRWHYHQFROGHr , I
stared up at the graVN covered with clouds, the scene so
different than the virtual world I’d entered. What had
happened? On the bright side, if I died, I would finallILJXUe
out what happened after death. For all I knew , if RXGLHGLn
the simulation, RXQHYHUFDPHEDFN0 vision blurred. I
closed mHes. Warmth washed over mERGy .

* * * * *

“Scout, wake up,” Harrison said, shaking mDUP.
“We’ve got company .”
I groaned as I opened mHes.
“Where are we?” I asked, looking around and seeing icy
walls.
“HarrPDGHXVDKRPH0LVV said, clapping her
hands.
“Dammit, I told RXP name’ s Harrison.”
I sat up, smiling. “Who’s the compan"”
“Mutants are coming,” he said. “I saw them while out
scouting. TheUHJRQQDVPHOOXVDQGKHDGWKLVZD soon. W e
need to get going.”
“Let’s fight them,” I said, feeling better after sleeping.
“We can’ t eat their flesh,” Harrison said. “It’ s not worth
the calories we’d burn.”
“True…” I conceded.

While experience points would be nice, we needed to
survive.
“I’m hungry,” MissZKLQHG.
“Can she eat first?” I asked.
Harrison sighed. “Fine, but hurry .”
I watched as he crawled out of the ice shelter he’d
created. Surprisingly, the inside was quite toasty . Missy
smiled.
“You need to be careful with RXUNQLIH,OHFWXUHG.
“Sorry ,” she whimpered, lowering her head.
“I’m okay , but RXFRXOGYHKXUWPHEDG”
She nodded, not saLQJDZRUG.
“Get out here!” Harrison shouted. “Both of RX”
I crawled out of the ice shelter before Missy , standing
once I got outside. Two short, stumpPXWDQWVZLWKKDLUOHVs
heads missing noses stumbled toward Harrison. He fired of f a
few quick rounds of his energSLVWRO7KHEXUVWVRISODVPDKLt
one of the mutants but didn’t even slow it down. I pulled out
the energSLVWRO,GVWROHQDZHHNHDUOLHUDQGVKRWWZLFH.
“Where the hell did RXJHWWKDW"+DUULVRQDVNHGRYHr
his shoulder as he continued firing.
“Tell RXODWHr ,” I said. “TheUHQRWJRLQJGRZQ”
“Aim for the crotch!” he said.
What is he talking about?
I watched in amazement as he shot one of the mutants
between the legs. The mutated monster stopped and grasped
the area while squealing. His two friends kept coming forward.
I shot one of them in the stomach before lowering and hitting
the magic spot. How the hell had Harrison known theZHUe
susceptible to crotch shots? I didn’ t care.
The one I hit fell to the ground, rolling around with his
hands between his legs. Harrison did the same for the third.
MissUDQXSWRWKHFORVHVWRQHRQWKHJURXQGDQGVWDEEHGWKe

side of its head repeatedly. Blood gushed out, covering the
exterior of her enviro-suit. I walked forward and kept shooting
round after round between another creature’ s legs.

<< Combat is Over! >>
<< You get 400 Life Experience Points! >>
| You have 2,850 LXP!

“W ow, not bad,” I said, glancing around. “W e might
level up.”
“That’s the least of our worries,” Harrison said, putting
his gun away .
“How the hell did RXNQRZWRVKRRWWKHPGRZn
below?” I asked.
“I’m more experienced than RXKHVDLG7KHVXQ’ s
going down. We should staLQWKHVKHOWHUWRQLJKW”
“How can RXHYHQWHOO",DVNHGJODQFLQJXS7KHUH’ s
so manFORXGV”
“Trust me, I know ,” he said, not elaborating.
As he walked toward the ice shelter , I wondered about
mDWWUDFWLRQWRKLP0LVV walked up and placed a hand on
mDUP.
“He likes RXVKHVDLGWKHQJLJJOHG.
I rolled mHes. “Come on, crazJLUOOHW’ s go…”
She followed me inside the natural shelter. While
warmer than the outside, a chill still kept mHQYLURVXLt
humming. I sat near the center, next to Harrison. Missy
cuddled against me.
“Will those mutant bodies attract others?” I asked.
“I don’ t know,” Harrison snapped. “It’ s too cold to stay
out here much longer, even with our enviro-suits. W e’re using
up so much energy, we’re going to run out soon, and once that
happens, we’re all screwed.”

“Cold,” MissZKLPSHUHG.
“EverRQHKXGGOHXS+DUULVRQVDLGVXUSULVLQJPH.
I scooted closer to him. He unfolded a metallic blanket
and wrapped it around the three of us. As he draped his bulky
arm around mZDLVWVQXJJOLQJP bodFORVHWRKLVZDUPWh
spread through mERGy. I moved mKDQGWRKLVFKHVWIHHOLQg
his slow and steadKHDUWEHDW+HGLGQ’ t move awaRUVWRp
me as I rested mKHDGDJDLQVWKLVFKHVW.
Missawned as I struggled to keep mHes open. I
wanted to talk to Harrison after she fell asleep and couldn’ t
hear us. We’d managed to survive a day , but I didn’t see how
we would last much longer between the weather and the
mutants. I hoped he didn’ t fall asleep too as I waited for
Miss’s breathing to calm down and become rhWKPLF.
“Are RXXS",ZKLVSHUHG.
“Yeah,” Harrison said, his voice also low .
“We’re in trouble, aren’ t we?”
“PrettPXFKKHVDLGWKHQVLJKHG.
“I don’t want MissWRVXf fer,” I said. “There’ s a chance
she might spawn as a new character if she dies. Us too…”
“You don’ t believe that crap, do RX"KHDVNHG.
“I do,” I said, squeezing him briefly .
He grunted, adjusting himself.
“I can’t explain it, but it’ s true,” I continued. “This isn’ t
our world.”
“Sleep,” he said. “We need all our energy.”
I stopped talking, but mPLQGNHSWUDFLQJ7KHZLQd
howled outside, occasionallEODVWLQJIODNHVRIVQRZLQVLGHI
closed mHes, feeling content and secure in that single
moment in space and time thanks to Harrison. MaEHKHd
help me uncover the vast conspiracDQGWKHWUXWKDERXWRXr
existence. That happWKRXJKWFDUULHGPHRf f to sleep.

Chapter 8

I woke to the sound of Harrison and MissDrguing
outside our temporarVKHOWHr.
“What now?” I mumbled as I sat up.
Clutching the blanket around me but still cold, I crawled
out to investigate.
“What’s going on?” I asked, standing.
“She ran out her damn suit bOHDYLQJLWRQODVWQLJKW”
Harrison said.
“I don’t want to freeze to death,” MissZKLQHG.
“What did RXWHOOKHU",DVNHGFDVWLQJDGLVDSSURYLQg
gaze at Harrison.
“Nothing,” he replied.
“He said he’d leave me to freeze to death,” MissVDLG,
pointing an accusatorILQJHr .
“I might’ve snapped at her,” Harrison mumbled.
He still had our best interests at heart, so I changed the
subject.
“WhGRHVLWIHHOFROGHUWKLVPRUQLQJ",DVNHG.
Harrison stared out at the horizon. “The temperature
dropped last night.”
“MVXLWLVGHDG0LVV said. “Now I’ll be dead too!”

“I’ll give her half mFKDrge,” Harrison said. “We should
stick together and head for the mountains. The walking will
generate enough energWRNHHSXVJRLQJDELWORQJHr . If we’re
lucky, we’ll find a cave in the mountains. There’ s a frozen lake
around here with fish, I think.”
“That sounds reassuring,” I said.
He ignored mVDUFDVPDVKHSXOOHGRXWDZLUHDQd
hooked it up to Miss’s suit.
“Thank RXVKHVDLGVXUSULVLQJPH.
“Don’t mention it,” he muttered.
MissVPLOHGVWDULQJDW+DUULVRQ8KRKW as she falling
for him too?
“This will take a while,” he said. “WhGRQ’ t RXJo
forage for food.”
“Good idea,” I said. “You two behave.”
He snorted and shook his head as I crawled toward the
short tunnel-opening he’d built. Outside, I stood, staring at the
vast mountains still far away . Could we reach them? We’d
alreadUXQLQWRPXWDQWVDQGZHGOLNHO see more on our
journey. The ener gSLVWROVJUDGXDOO rechar ged as we walked,
but if something happened to either of them, we’d be in
serious trouble. I glanced down at the ground, calling up the
list of signs to forage resources in the tundra.
As I walked, I went over the list, checking the ground
ahead of me. I kept heading toward a peak on the mountain
range to make finding mZD back easier . Would Harrison
bust a move on Miss"'LG,PLQG"+HUEHKDYLRUWKHQLJKt
before still weighed heavilRQP mind. W as she coping for
the extreme changes of leaving the shelter?
I stopped, noticing strange tracks in the snow made with
smaller feet. The smaller mutants could be the hardest to kill. I
scanned mVXUURXQGLQJVZRQGHULQJLI,VKRXOGWHOOWKHRWKHUs
or follow the tracks on mRZQ)LQGLQJDVPDOOPDPPDOWo
eat wasn’t impossible, even with the desolate landscape
according to mWUDLQLQJ.

Something on the horizon caught mDWWHQWLRQ,KHDGHd
back to our ice shelter to let the others know. As I approached,
I saw her and Harrison standing outside.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, stopping in front of them.
MissVWDUHGSDVWPHIDVFLQDWHGE something.
“What is it? Can RXVHHVRPHWKLQJ"”
“Mutants,” MissVDLGLQDORZYRLFH,VHQVHORWVDQd
lots of mutants.”
“Great,” I said.
“We should go,” Harrison said.
He ducked back into our shelter , returning with his
backpack full of supplies.
“MissJHWRXUVWXff,” I said, wanting to talk to Harrison
alone a minute.
“Okay,” she said, obeLQJZLWKRXWTXHVWLRQ.
“We don’ t have a chance, do we?” I asked after she left.
He sucked in some air then exhaled, shaking his head.
“Not much of one.”
“If I die, promise to take care of MissIRUPH3OHDVH"I
still don’ t know what happens when RXGLHLQWKLVVWXSLd
simulation.”
He snorted. “I for got RXZHUHRQHRIWKHFUD]LHVZKo
believe this world isn’ t real.”
“We’re not crazy ,” I said. “Just not proven to be right
HW”
“You’ll get a chance to find out if these mutants swarm
us,” he said.
“Missy , hurrXS,VDLG.
She crawled out then stood, holding her bag and mine.
“Did RXJHWHYHUthing?” I asked.
She nodded and held up the black, glossFXEHW ithout
the indicator light blinking red, HOORw, or green to let us know

when we were close to the shelter, we had no chance of
finding it.
“Let’s go,” Harrison said, motioning for us to follow .
“How close are they, Miss"”
She turned to the horizon.
“Just over a mile,” she said. “Do RXZDQWWKHH[DFt
number? I hate all the numbers.”
“No, that’s okay,” I said. “Come on, we need to catch up
to Harrison.”
He’d started walking toward the mountains while the
mutants slowlPDGHWKHLUZD toward our right side. They
would likelIODQNXVEHIRUHZHUHDFKHGWKHIRRWKLOOVZKLFh
worried me. I kept glancing to the right, seeing how much
bigger the dark mass of soulless beings had gotten. W e didn’t
have much time before theUHDFKHGXV.
I jogged to catch up with Harrison. “Do RXWKLQNZHFDn
lead them awaIURPXV"”
“Turn to RXUOHIWKHVDLG.
I did, seeing another mass of mutants headed at us from
the other direction.
“Shit,” I said. “W e can’t win.”
“This is whEDQLVKPHQWIURPWKHVKHOWHUVLVDELJGHDO”
he said. “Who knows. MaEHZHOOJHWOXFN and reach the
mountains before theWHDUXVWRVKUHGV”
“Or this works,” MissVDLGKROGLQJXSDEODFNFXEH.
“Hey,” Harrison said, char ging toward her. “Give that
back!”
“Finders keepers,” MissVDLGWKHQVWXf fed it in a pocket.
“What is it?” I asked, stepping in front of him.
“The beacon that might get us into another shelter ,” he
said. “We can use it as leverage and buRXUZD into a shelter
if she hasn’ t broken it HW6KHPXVWYHWDNHQLWIURPPHODVt
night when we were sleeping.”

“Didn’t work then, but it does now ,” MissGHFODUHG.
I wasn’t sure if she even knew what it was or how it
worked, but it looked familiar to me. W as it the Core Cube I’d
been given when I entered the virtual realitZRUOG?
“Give it back,” Harrison demanded, holding out his
hand.
“No,” MissVDLG)LQGHUVNHHSHUV”
Her eHVZLGHQHGDVVKHSRLQWHGEHKLQG+DUULVRQDQd
me.
“Mutant!” she HOOHG.
I twirled around, mERRWVFUXQFKLQJLQWKHVQRw , and
saw a two-headed mutant with an L classification. Not the
toughest of mutants, but still not easy.
“Light it up!” Harrison said, drawing his weapon.
I pulled out mHQHrgSLVWROWRREODVWLQJDVIDVWDVI
could pull the trigger . Automatic plasma rifles would be better ,
but we had to work with what we had available.
“MissVWD behind me,” I cautioned, feet firmlSODQWHd
in the ground as I fired.
“He’s still coming,” Harrison said. “W e have to run.”
“Running!” MissVDLG.
Ugh. I turned and raced after her as Harrison fired a few
more shots. When he stopped firing, he ran to catch up with us
as we trudged through the ankle-deep snow .
“The mutant is not moving fast,” he said. “W e might
have a chance.”
“More mutants!” MissVFUHDPHGSRLQWLQJWRRXUOHIW.
“Where are theDOOFRPLQJIURP",DVNHG.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to keep moving,” Harrison
said.
He veered to the left to avoid the four -legged mutant in
front of us. MissDQG,UDQLQWKHVDPHGLUHFWLRQDVKLPDIHw
DUGVEHKLQG:KLOHKHUPLQGPLJKWEHDELWIRJJy , Missy

could outrun me. I worried about sending her ahead because
the mutants were popping up all around us. A fireball flashed
up ahead on our new course.
“Damn,” I said, turning again with Harrison.
“That’s an F-level mutant for sure,” he said. “That means
magic. W e’re screwed.”
“Just keep running,” I said, out of breath but plowing
through.
“No kidding,” Harrison shot back.
MissZDVQ’ t fazed, glancing back and smiling every
few feet. I saw another group of mutants get closer . They
looked lower level, but enough of them could cause trouble.
“Six o’clock,” I said.
“I see ‘em.” Harrison raised his gun and fired a few
shots. “There’s too man”
Two of the nearest mutants fell, but the rest hurried
forward. Damn, theUHIDVW,WKRXJKWDVWKH rushed toward
us. Harrison slowed down then stopped.
“Missy , stop!” I shouted.
She listened, backing up as Harrison and I raised our
weapons. W e fired round after round of plasma bolts, not
caring about running out the batteries. The L-class mutants,
fast as leopards, swarmed around us. EverWLPHZHNLOOHGRQH,
another popped up to replace it. A pile of mutated bodies
surrounded us about a hundred feet out.
“I’m almost out of shots,” I said, still firing.
“Me too.”
“I’ll kill them,” MissVDLG.
She held up her thin knife.
“No, staEDFN,VFROGHG.
“Oh, oh, I can help!” she said.
I kept firing, not looking at her .

“No, staEDFN,UHSHDWHG.
“But Scout…”
I pushed her whining out of mPLQGDV,FRQFHQWUDWHd
on stopping the line of mutants heading toward us. Harrison
lowered his gun.
“That’s it,” he said. “W e’re finished. Been nice knowing
D”
“I can kill a few more of them,” I said. “TheUHWKLQQLQg
out.”
“Scout! Listen to me!” MissVKRXWHG.
I lowered mJXQDQGWXUQHG:KDW"”
As she lifted the black cube, I saw a blinking HOORw
light. MissVPLOHGKROGLQJLWLQWKHDLr . The last few mutants
must have run awaEHFDXVHWKHJDPHFDOOHGWKHHQGRIWKe
battle.

<< Combat is Over! >>
<< You get 500 Life Experience Points >>
| You have 3,350 LXP!
| Level Up!
| You are now Level 3!
| +9 health
| +15 skills
| + 5 stats

“Come on,” Harrison said. “Let’ s go.”
I grabbed Miss’s hand and pulled her with me as I ran
after him. We climbed over the disgusting pile of bloody
bodies oozing pus and who knew what else before bolting
toward the mountains again. I saw mutants in the distance, all
around us. W e wouldn’t last through another fight. Even if I

earned enough experience points to level, I needed to wait
before getting all the benefits of the new level.
“HurrLWXS+DUULVRQelled.
I could tell bKLVZDONKHZDVWLUHGWRR$IWHUDPLOHRr
so, the mountains appeared a bit closer as we reached the
snow-covered foothills. Harrison continued running down a
valleEHWZHHQWZRRIWKHP.
“Keep on the lowest ground available,” he said.
I wasn’t sure about his logic, but we didn’ t have time to
stop and discuss it. MissVWXFNWKHEHDFRQLQP view as we
ran. The light had turned green.
“Stop!” I shouted.
Harrison halted then turned to me. “What?”
“The beacon lit up green,” I said, looking around.
“We don’ t have time to look for a shelter that might not
exist,” he said.
“This might be our onlFKDQFHRIHVFDSHDQGVXUYLYDO”
I protested.
“Mutants!” MissVKRXWHG.
I grabbed the beacon from her .
“Hey,” she protested, reaching for it.
I took a few steps, trLQJWRVHHLI,FRXOGJHWWKHJUHHn
light to turn solid. Once it stopped flashing, we’d know we
were right on top of the shelter .
“We’re close,” I said. “The flashing is slowing down.”
“I don’ t see anWKLQJ+DUULVRQVDLG7KHPXWDQWVDUe
getting closer .”
“Give me a minute,” I snapped as if I’d been married to
him for HDUV.
The sudden memorRIWKHZRUOGRXWVLGHWKHYLUWXDl
simulation struck me, but I filed it awaIRUODWHUVWXG as I
kept walking around, watching the green light slowlVWRp

flashing completely. I glanced up at Harrison. He shrugged,
also looking around on the ground.
“Mutant!” MissVKRXWHGDJDLQSRLQWLQJWRP feet.
I looked down and saw a creature with an extra arm
coming out of the top of its head digging through the snow
beneath mIHHW$V,VWHSSHGDVLGH+DUULVRQPRYHGIRUZDUd
and stabbed the head arm with a long, pointNQLIH,SXOOHd
out mRZQEODGHDQGKHOSHGKLPNLOOWKHPXWDWHGPRQVWHr .

<< Combat is Over! >>
<< You get 100 Life Experience Points >>
| You have 3,450 LXP!

He’d also been a lower class of mutant, but there could
be more. I quicklFKHFNHGDQGVDZ,ZDVQ’ t even halfwaWo
leveling. Did it even matter?
“Out of the way,” Harrison said, taking out a grenade.
“What are RXGRLQJ",DVNHGVWHSSLQJEDFN.
“Boom-boom time!” MissH[FODLPHGFODSSLQJKHr
hands.
I grabbed her arm and pulled her toward me as Harrison
pressed a button on the device.
“Fire in the hole!” he shouted then tossed it toward the
dead mutant.
A flash of intense white heat burst from the weapon of
war, melting the snow in a perfect circle. I saw an open hatch a
few feet below us. The shelter must’ve been buried in an
avalanche or a snowstorm. I didn’ t see anRWKHUPXWDQWs
crawling out of it. Had all the ones nearbHVFDSHGIURPWKe
shelter? What was the shelter’s number? I had so many
questions.
“W e’re going in,” Harrison said, hopping down to the
solid ground around the now exposed hatch. “Keep RXUHes

open.”
“Mutants!” MissVKRXWHG.
I sighed. Going inside the mutant-filled shelter would be
dangerous, but I didn’t see anRWKHURSWLRQV.
“Missy, come on!” I HOOHGKRSSLQJGRZQWRWKHKDWFK.
She scampered down, moving over to clutch mDUP.
The three of us stared into the opening. Harrison climbed
down the ladder first. MissDQG,IROORZHGDVWKHVRXQGVRf
mutants nearbJRWHYHQORXGHr . Would theNLOOXV"'LG,GDUe
find out what happened when RXGLHGLQWKHYLUWXDl
simulation? I kept moving, quicklXSGDWLQJP stats and
skills on the waGRZQ.
AnWKLQJRYHUDKXQGUHG OLNHP leadership skill) cost
five points to raise one, but I still raised mOHDGHUVKLSWRRQe
hundred and one. I had to find out what happened with such a
high score. MRWKHUWHQSRLQWVZHQWLQWRSODVPDSLVWROVDQd
rifles. I’d need better skills if we’d be fighting more mutants. I
put mILYHVWDWSRLQWVLQWREUDZQDJDLQ.

Chapter 9

When I reached the bottom of the ladder, I glanced
around. EverWKLQJDSSHDUHGVLPLODUWRWKHGHFRQWDPLQDWLRn
room at Shelter 42 but cleaner. MissFOLPEHGGRZQDQd
rushed over to a wall, glancing at all the fancEXWWRQVDQd
screens.
“Keep RXUKDQGVRff,” I warned.
“Did she close the main hatch?” Harrison asked.
“Uh oh,” MissVDLGVLGHVWHSSLQJEHKLQGPH.
“Dammit,” Harrison snapped as he walked over to the
ladder.
“Nothing came down,” I said, walking over to another
hatch leading deeper into the shelter .
I glanced through the window, seeing a bright HOORw
hallway. That’s different. WhLVLWellow? I felt Miss’ s hand
on mVKRXOGHUDQGMXPSHGWXUQLQJWRKHr .
“Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
She pouted. “I’m sorry .”
“Coast is clear over here, but keep watching out the
window, oka"”
MissQRGGHG,WXUQHGDQGZDONHGRYHUWRWKHODGGHr ,
peering up as Harrison struggled to shut the main hatch.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Can I help?”
“It’s stuck open,” he grunted as he continued struggling.

As a slimy, green mutant appeared outside the shelter , I
screamed, “Watch out!”
He pulled his plasma pistol and fired of f a single shot.
The mutant screamed and backed away, but even stranger
sounds echoed in the distance.
“Give me a hand,” he said.
I climbed the ladder beside him. Our bodies pressed
together, we both worked to close the hatch. I pulled mRZn
gun which had char ged up enough for three shots. As Harrison
kept tugging at the hatch, I fired at another mutant, chasing it
away.
“Come on!” Harrison HOOHG.
“Hold on, I’ve got an idea.”
“We don’ t have time,” he said.
I reached into mEDJDQGSXOOHGRXWP bottle of oil.
Harrison furrowed his brow and stared intentlDV,VTXLUWHd
some of it into the hinges.
“Give it another try ,” I said. “This shit is magic.”
It wasn’t, of course. OnlPXWDQWVKDGPDJLFDODELOLWLHs
in the strange world I found mVHOIWUDSSHGLQEXWLWZDVJRRd
stuff. Harrison tugged at the hatch. It gave a half inch before
stopping again.
“Squirt some more on there,” he said.
I didn’ t have much of the nano-oil left, but we needed it.
After I applied a bit more, he pulled on the metal hatch. It
moved another few inches.
“No more oil,” I said, turning the tube upside down.
“Dammit!” he HOOHGSXOOLQJZLWKDOOKLVPLJKW.
I grabbed the hatch and pulled with him as mutants
surrounded us.
As he twirled the spinner to lock it down, I leaned
forward and kissed him.
“We made it,” I said.

“For now…”
He climbed down the ladder, not waiting for me. I
followed, seeing MissORRNLQJWKURXJKWKHZLQGRZRQWKe
door out of the decontamination area.
“What is it?” I asked, walking over . “Do RXVHe
something?”
“Mutants!” she exclaimed, staring through the glass.
Did we reallMXVWORFNRXUVHOYHVLQWRDGHDWKWUDS?
“Hold on,” I said. “How did the other mutants get out of
the shelter?”
“I don’t know,” Harrison said, shrugging.
A shriek above us got everRQH’ s attention. I looked up
and saw a slimPXWDQWFOLPELQJRXWRIDKROHLQWKHFHLOLQJ.
As it fell to the floor between us, Harrison and I both shot it
with a single plasma bolt. I glanced down and saw the red out-
of-charge light flashing again.
“We need to fix that ceiling,” I said.
“No kidding.” He kept staring up at it. “AnLGHDVKRZ"”
A rounded portion of the ceiling was missing near the
ladder leading topside. Whatever had made the hole wouldn’ t
be easWRNLOO,ZDONHGRYHUWRWKHGRRUDQGSHHUHGRYHr
Miss’s shoulder .
“We have a better chance over here,” I said.
Harrison stepped over , nodding. “I agree. W e’ll wait for
a single charge or two first.”
“Another mutant,” I said as a ball of flesh with eight tiny
legs fell to the floor .
It scampered toward the ladder , leaving a trail of slime
behind it. The poor Z-class mutant didn’ t stand a chance as
Harrison walked over and stomped it with his boot.

<< Combat is over! >>
<< You get 50 Life Experience Points >>

| You have 3,500 LXP!

I snickered at the ridiculouslORZDPRXQWRIOLIe
experience points and the whole idea of realitKDYLQg
numbers attached to it. WhFRXOGQ’ t anRQHHOVHUHPHPEHr
the truth? Harrison dragged one boot then the other across the
floor, leaving a wet, slimWUDLORIPXWDQWJXWV.
“Are RXUHDG?” I asked, glancing down at mJXQ.
Three shots. W ould it be enough. I couldn’ t determine
the class of mutant behind the door . Harrison nodded and
walked over.
“Move, Missy ,” I said. “Watch the ceiling.”
“Aw, man,” she said but moved.
I reached for the handle of the hatch.
“W ait,” Harrison said, grabbing mDUP.
I stopped and turned to him.
“What?” I asked. “W e need to do this now .”
“Something’s not right.”
“No kidding.”
“Get down!” he shouted, pushing me aside as something
soft and squishVSODWWHUHGDJDLQVWWKHZLQGRZRQWKHKDWFK.
The smell of rotten eggs filled the air .
“What the hell?”
“A bigger mutant took the other one out,” he said.
“Mutant!” Misselled.
I turned and shot a Z-class mutant as it dropped from the
ceiling. After squirming around a few seconds, it laid still.
MissZHQWRYHUDQGMXPSHGXSODQGLQJRQLW%ORRGDQGJXWs
spurted everZKHUHKLWWLQJWKHIDUWKHVWZDOOLQWKHURRP.
“Miss”
She gave me a sheepish look then lowered her head.

“The bigger mutant must be whWKHRWKHUVDUHWUing so
hard to escape,” Harrison said.
I nodded. “Good point. Better question; what do we do
about it?”
He sighed, tilting his head back and staring up as he
usuallGLGZKHQORVWLQWKRXJKW.
“The control room is the most secure in the whole
shelter,” he said. “W e should go there now . If we can get there
and lock ourselves in, we should be able to survive.”
“And maEHHYHQWKULYH,VDLGVPLOLQJ.
What would we do with a whole shelter to ourselves?
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “W e have to
find it first. This shelter isn’t like ours, at least not the laRXW”
“Are all the shelters the same?” I asked.
I’d never been to anEHVLGHV6KHOWHU.
“Basically,” he said. “This place is dif ferent. I think the
control room is on the other side of the door ,” he said. “That
would make the most sense, but I’m not entirelVXUH”
“With the dead mutant covering the window , we can’t
even see when it’ s safe to go,” I noted.
“I don’t think we have anRWKHUFKRLFHKHPXWWHUHG.
“Something bigger will drop out of that hole in the ceiling
sooner or later .”
“How manFKDr ges do RXKDYHQRZ",DVNHG,
glancing down at mine and seeing two again.
“Five now,” he said. “I’ve got a mod that rechar ges faster
toward the end.”
“Nice,” I said, shaking mKHDG.
“Mutant!” Misselled.
I glanced up and saw a mean looking mother -humper
peering down at us with rows of sharp teeth exposed. The
damn thing hissed before disappearing and reappearing on the
floor.

“Light it up!” Harrison HOOHG.
He didn’t need to tell me twice. I fired all the shots I had
left. OnlRQHRIWKHPKLWWKHQLPEOHEHDVW+DUULVRQKLWRQFe
as well. The G-class mutant blinked back to the ceiling before
scurrLQJDZD into the ventilation ducts.
“I bet that was a scout for the other nastOXUNLQJEHKLQd
the door,” Harrison said.
“Makes sense,” I said, nodding. “AnPRUHRIWKRVe
grenades?”
“Just nine,” he said, not cracking a smile.
“Use them!” I exclaimed, throwing up mKDQGV.
“TheZRXOGVHWRf f the fire prevention sVWHPKHVDLG.
“We don’ t know if it’ s working or malfunctioning too. The
mutants must’ve gotten in here at one point and killed
everRQHLQWKHHQWLUHVKHOWHr . It’ll probablVHQGRXWPRUe
feelers to see if we’re a threat or not.”
“Let’s open the door and run for it, then,” I said.
“I’m fast,” MissVDLGWRVVLQJKHUKHDGEDFNDQGIRUWKDs
if she were debating herself.
“Hold on,” Harrison said. “Let’ s think this through. Not
all mutants are dumb. That creature could be waiting to
ambush us the moment we open the door .”
I nodded. He had a point.
“The ceiling!” MissVKRXWHG.
I glanced up, raising mJXQEXWVDZQRWKLQJ.
“There’s nothing,” I said. “Where did it go?”
“No…” MissVDLG7KHFHLOLQJW e escape!”
I turned to Harrison. He shrugged.
“We could get some intel,” he said. “Y ou’re a scout
class, right?”
I nodded, taking a deep breath. Despite having scout
abilities, I hated confined, dark spaces. W e didn’t have many
other options. The information I gathered would be helpful.

“Okay,” I said. “Can RXOLIWPHXS"”
“No,” MissZKLQHG,JRILUVW”
“You staKHUH,VDLGORRNLQJXS.
Harrison bent down and wrapped his arms around my
leg.
“Whoa,” I said, grabbing his broad shoulders as he lifted
me.
As I raised toward the hole in the ceiling, I switched on
the light on mJXQ7KHQDUURZEHDPRI/('OLJKWEDUHO lit
the darkness. I smelled something awful.
“Hold on,” I said, grabbing the side of the hole. “It goes
into the vents. Looks big enough.”
“Be careful!” Misselled.
“Quiet!” Harrison hissed.
After placing mJXQGRZQ,SXOOHGPself up and into
the vent. I picked up the weapon, shining the light ahead of
me. The small enclosure onlZHQWLQRQHGLUHFWLRQZKLFKZDs
nice. Nothing could sneak up behind me. I crawled forward a
few inches, blocking the slimWUDLORQP hands out of my
mind. I wanted to puke, but losing anQRXULVKPHQWZDVQ’ t a
good idea.
When I reached a bend in the vents, I stopped. Looking
down one direction then the other, I picked the one that lead to
the hallwaRXWVLGHRIWKHGHFRQWDPLQDWLRQURRP$IWHr
continuing a few feet, I reached a vent. I looked through the
slots and saw nothing in the hallwaEHORZH[FHSWIRUWUDLOVRf
slime and a few piles of malformed bones.
I backed up slowly. At the intersection, I shined the light
in the other direction. I still didn’ t see anWKLQJVR,NHSt
backing up until I reached the hole in the vent. Ever so
carefully, I lowered mVHOIWKHQGURSSHGWRWKHIORRr , almost
slipping. Harrison and MissERWKJUDEEHGPHWRKHOSPe
balance. I smiled at both while nodding mKHDG.
“What did RXVHH"KHDVNHG.

“The hallwa’s clear for now . We should go.”
“Finally , a break,” he said, walking to the door .
He turned the handle and opened the hatch before
stepping through. I followed, gun raised, with MissULJKt
behind me. We crept down the hallwa,GMXVWVHHQIURm
above, heading toward a black door at the end of the hall. It
contrasted well with the bright HOORZZDOOVVPHDUHGZLWh
blood, mucus, and who knew what else. Harrison kept his gun
pointing forward.
“I’m scared,” MissZKLVSHUHG.
“Me too,” I said. “Me too.”
“Keep it quiet,” Harrison said in a low voice.
I took deep breaths, trLQJWRFDOPPself as we inched
toward the door . Harrison reached it first, peering through the
tinJODVVZLQGRw .
“See anWKLQJ",DVNHGJODQFLQJGRZQWKHKDOOZDy .
The passagewaEUDQFKHGOHIWDQGULJKW.
“No,” Harrison said. “It’s definitelWKHFRQWUROURRP”
“Locked?” I asked, reaching for the handle.
As mKDQGWRXFKHGWKHPHWDOEDr , a notification popped
up.

<< Shelter 101 Experimental Found! >>
<< Do RXZLVKWRDVVXPHFRQWURO"><Q@!>

“What’s wrong?” Harrison asked. “Open the door .”
“It’s asking me if I want to assume ownership,” I said.
“Do it, then,” he said. “Something’ s coming.”
I accepted control of the shelter as the hatch popped
open.
| Shelter 101x is Under Your Control!

| Do RXZDQWWRVHHRSWLRQV?
“Not now,” I muttered, closing the virtual screen. “Get
inside, Missy .”
She skipped past me without a care in the world. I
followed with Harrison right behind me. He pulled the door
shut behind him.
“Does it lock?” I asked.
“It should lock automatically ,” he said. “Can’t RXFKHFk
it? You should be interfaced with the shelter ’s AI sVWHP”
“Let me check… Oh, look at that. A new game menu.
What happens if…”
MYRLFHWUDLOHGRf f as a wide range of new options
opened to me.

Shelter 101x Statistics:
Build Power (BP): 0/day
Research Power (RP): 0/day
Life Support: 100% Operational
Energ5HVHUYHV0W
Energ3URGXFWLRQ0:SHUVHFRQG JHRWKHUPDO)
Food Reserves: 100 lbs
Food Production: 0/day
Shields: 0
Turrets: 0

I swiped the basic statistics awaDQGFKHFNHGRXWWKe
new options available to me as a shelter commander; create
and research. When I tried to activate either , an error message
came up saLQJWKHVKHOWHUQHHGHGWREHFOHDUHGRIPXWDQWVDQd
manned bZRUNHUVEHIRUH,FRXOGGRDQthing.

“That sucks,” I muttered. “Did Orlando have all this
power?”
“He did,” Harrison said. “WhGRou think I kissed his
ass? That shit wasn’t fun.”
“Now RXKDYHWRNLVVP ass,” I teased, grinning.
“MaEHODWHUWRQLJKWKHVDLGQRWMRNLQJ&DQou pull
up a map on the projector?”
“Yeah, hold on,” I said, flipping through game menus.
“How about…this…”
A wall to our left lit up with a three-dimensional map of
Shelter 042-101x. The lower levels were almost entirelUHd
blobs of mutants. I zoomed in on the first floor , seeing about a
dozen mutants. The highest was H-Class. While dif ficult, it
shouldn’t be too hard to kill.
“If we can clear this first level, we should be golden,” I
said. “The mutants are too dumb to use the elevators. W e’ll
need to fix the ducts, of course.”
Harrison laughed heartily. I glanced at him.
“What?” I asked.
“This,” he said, turning with his arms stretched out. “All
of this is ours!”
I smiled. The immensitRIRXUOXFN find dawned on
me.
“We’ll clear it out and keep it as our own,” I said.
Harrison nodded. “W e’ll need more than three people.”
“I’m sure others from our old shelter would love to help.
Or maEHWKHQRPDGV"”
He nodded, still smiling. It’ s the most excited I’d ever
seen him, and that included when I’d had his hard member
inside mPRXWKWe foraged through a closet in the control
room and found enough food to last us at least a month. The
rest of the shelter would likelKDYHDOOVRUWVRIIRRGDQGRWKHr
supplies. MaEHZHFRXOGPDNH2UODQGRSD eventually .

While the mutants continued multiplLQJEHQHDWKXVZe
prepared a brighter future for ourselves.
I wanted to get the shelter up and running as quicklDs
possible. Making smart decisions with research would allow
me to quicklEXLOGDVXVWDLQDEOHKRPHIRU0LVVy, me, and
anRQHHOVHZKRZDQWHGWRKHOSFUHDWHVRPHWKLQJUHVHPEOLQg
the virtual paradise I remembered. To get there, we needed to
clear the shelter of all mutants, and it wasn’ t a fast process.

Chapter 10


Just a few daVODWHr, we’d cleared the first level of the
shelter except for the smaller mutants that occasionallVOLSSHd
through the air vents to attack. W e killed them easilHQRXJK.
It had become safe enough to leave MissRQKHURZQZKLOe
Harrison and I took the elevator down to the second floor .
How long would it take to clear the entire shelter?
He stood next to me, plasma rifle cradled in his arms,
outside of the elevator. We both stared down the brightly
colored but emptKDOOZDy . Squeals and grunts in the distance
got mDWWHQWLRQEXWZHGLGQ’ t see anPXWDQWVWe usually
smelled them before we saw them.
“I wonder what’s so special about this place,” I said.
“Besides all the mutants?” he quipped. “Come on. That
should be the cafeterias.”
We crept down the hallway . The walls on either side of
us changed to glass. Round tables surrounded bFKDLUVZHUe
set-up like in Shelter 42. Once again, everWKLQJDSSHDUHGWo
be newer and not as well worn.
“Nothing on this side,” I said.
“Clear over here too.”
We continued down the hall, approaching sliding doors
leading to the cafeterias on each side. Before we reached them,
a four -legged monstrositZLWKKRUQVDWRSLWVKHDGOXPEHUHd
into view further down the hall at a t-intersection. The moment

the mutant noticed us, it sprinted forward with a roar. A musty
blast of air rushed toward us.

| Warning: R-Class Mutant

I willed the notification away , hoping we could take out
the beast quickly. Harrison and I both raised our weapons and
fired a few rounds. The stupid thing zigged and zagged, and
both of us missed it completely . Right as it reached us, it
stopped and faded from view.
What the…
“Decoy,” Harrison said, glancing behind us. “Keep RXr
eHVRSHQ”
Even some lower classes of mutants had outrageously
crazSRZHUVZKLFKLVZK it had taken so much time to clear
the first floor of the overrun shelter . MKHDGZKLSSHGDURXQd
as something crashed to the floor on mOHIW$IWHUVHHLQg
MissIDOOIURPDGXFWLQWKHFHLOLQJ,EROWHGWRZDUGWKHGRRr .
When it finallVOLGRSHQ,UXVKHGLQVLGH.
“Miss$UHou oka"”
I stopped next to her and knelt on one knee.
“Watch out!” she screamed, pointing up.
I rolled on mEDFNDQGILUHGRf f a few rounds as another
four-legged mutant fell. The shots went right through it before
the mirage disappeared.
“What were RXGRLQJLQWKHYHQWV",DVNHGVLWWLQJXp
as Harrison walked over .
“I saw a kittFDWDQG,ZDQWHGWRVDYHLWVKHVDLG.
“Another illusion,” I muttered. “Y ou need to be careful.”
“SorrVKHVFUHDPHG0 mind ain’ t right anPRUH,
oka",GRQ’t remember, and it scares me. Y ou don’t know
what it’s like…”

Tears formed in the corners or her eHVEHIRUHVWUHDPLQg
down her dirtFKHHNV.
“She’ s gonna get us killed if she doesn’ t quit screaming,”
Harrison noted.
“It’s okay ,” I said, rubbing her back to soothe her .
“Mutant!” Misselled again, emphaticallSRLQWLQJ.
I stood and turned, seeing HWDQRWKHUYHUVLRQRIWKe
mutant rush toward us. Was it the real one? Should I waste a
few more shots and risk running out and having to wait for the
weapon to recharge? Or should I wait? Harrison answered for
me, firing a single plasma bolt at the beast. When it went
through the illusion, I lowered mULIOHDQGEUHDWKHGDELt
easier.
“Get her upstairs,” Harrison said, walking back toward
the hallway .
I reached out a hand. “Come on. Y ou need to go upstairs
and stay.”
MissJUDEEHGP hand and pulled herself up. I walked
with her back to the hall. W e kept going until we made it to the
elevator. On the way , Harrison fired of f another single shot
then let loose a string of profanities.
“I’m scared,” MissZKLPSHUHGKHUDUPDURXQGPy
waist.
“We’ll be fine,” I assured her . “Just staXSVWDLUVDQGFDOl
me if RXVHHDQthing, oka"”
“I will,” she said as we stopped in front of the elevator .
She pushed the button, smiling as if nothing had
happened a few minutes earlier. I wondered again what had
happened to her mind. Was it the Great Freeze when
everWKLQJVZLWFKHG"7KHHOHYDWRUGRRUVOLGRSHQEUHDNLQJPe
out of mWKRXJKWV.
“Call me if something happens,” I repeated.
She nodded solemnlWKHQZDONHGLQWRWKHHOHYDWRr .

“If RXVHHDPRQVWHr, it’s probablQRWUHDO,VDLG.
“Call me right away .”
“Or I’ll stab it,” she said casually . “One of the two.”
I opened mPRXWKDVWKHHOHYDWRUGRRUVOLGFORVHG6Ke
needed to take care of herself so Harrison and I could finish
off the R-class mutant and maEHFOHDUWKHZKROHOHYHO.
“Over here!” Harrison shouted.
I ran down the hall toward his voice. He was standing in
the cafeteria to the left, rifle raised at HWDQRWKHUIRXr -legged
beast with ghastlKRUQV$QLOOXVLRQDJDLQ"+DUULVRQVKRt
once. The mutant leaped into the air, its front hooves kicking
him in the chest and sending him to the floor .
“Not on mZDWFK,PXWWHUHGDV,URXQGHGWKHFRUQHr
and rushed into the room.
I jumped over Harrison as he scrambled backward, firing
as I went. Three of mVKRWVPLVVHGWKHDJLOHFUHDWXUHEXWWKe
last one hit it in the rump. I stopped as it turned and howled
like a wolf before bounding forward. Four more plasma bolts
finished it off. It fell lifeless to the floor a few feet in front of
me as Harrison walked up.
“Good job,” he said as I wiped awaWKHFRPEDt
notification screen.
“I’m getting better at the plasma rifle,” I said, smiling.
He glanced down at the mutant, lips pursed together .
“Do RXZDQWWRNHHSJRLQJ",DVNHG.
He nodded. “Yeah, I want to scout out the rest of the
floor at least.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Rifle still pointed forward, I headed back into the
hallway, glancing to the left then right.
“Hold up,” he said, joining me. “W e need to talk about
Missy.”

“She probablVDZRQHRIWKHLOOXVLRQV,VDLGLQKHr
defense.
“That’s fine, but she’ s still a liability .”
“What are RXVDing?” I asked.
“I’m not saLQJDQthing except we need to watch her
more carefully, so she doesn’ t get us all killed. Whatever they
did to her mind isn’ t making it anHDVLHURQXV”
“Do RXZDQWWRJLYHKHUDZHDSRQDQGKDYHKHUKHOSXs
clear floors?” I asked.
He snorted. “Are RXQXWV"7KDW’ s even more
dangerous!”
“You’re right,” I admitted. “Let’ s go back up. I’m
tired…”
As the last word left mPRXWKDJHODWLQRXV1FODVs
mutant rounded the corner, leaving a trail of red slime behind
it.
“Don’t shoot it,” Harrison said as I raised mULIOH,WOl
grow with the ener gy.”
“Y ou’ve fought one of these before?”
“EverWKLQJH[FHSWWKHWRSWZHOYHFODVVHV7KH’re rare.
We need to go. Come on.”
We retreated to the elevator as the red blob continued
plodding down the hall, leaving a streak of red behind it. I
punched the up button twice. The door slid shut.
“Can it follow us to the first floor?” I asked.
“Y eah,” he said, nodding. “W e need a plan.”
“How did RXGHIHDWLWODVWWLPH"”
The elevator dinged as we reached the first floor . We
exited after the door slid open.
“Ice,” he said. “Lots of ice.”
“Can we lead it outside?” I asked excitedly .
“That’s the plan,” he said. “Where’ s Miss"”

I called out her name. She appeared in the hallway,
holding a knife in each of her hands.
“Mutants?” she asked, glancing around.
“No,” I said as I walked toward her. “Suit up. We’re
going outside.”
“Leaving?” she asked.
“We need to time this perfectlLIZHZDQWWRVXUYLYH”
Harrison said. “Do RXZDQWWREHWKHEDLWWKDWUXQVDZD and
distracts it, or the person who closes the hatch to trap it
outside?”
“Thanks for giving me such a great choice,” I said, thick
on the sarcasm.
As we reached the decontamination chamber , Missy
screamed. I stopped, turned, and saw the mutant blob heading
in our direction.
“HurrLWXS+DUULVRQVDLG,W’s speeding up.”
We all put on our enviro-suits before climbing the ladder
leading to the exit. I hated the idea of going topside, fearing
getting trapped out there or something even worse happening.
We didn’ t have much of a choice, though, if we wanted to
clear the shelter and be able to use it.
At the top of the ladder , Harrison entered the numbers to
open it. He climbed out after it swung up and out. MissDQGI
followed close behind. I gazed around, hoping we didn’ t see
anRWKHUPXWDQWV+DUULVRQSHHUHGRYHUWKHHGJHDQGLQWRWKe
shelter.
“Is it coming?” I asked.
“Slowly ,” he said. “It hates the cold, but it’ s likely
hungry. Hold on…”
“What are RXGRLQJ",JDVSHGDVKHFOLPEHGGRZQa
few rungs.
“I’ll be the bait,” he said. “Y ou two hide then come back
and close the hatch while I lead it away . It’ll freeze solid in a
few minutes.”

“Hide where?” I asked.
“You’re smart,” he quipped. “Think of something.”
I grabbed Miss’ s hand and led her toward a frozen,
snow-covered hill nearby . HalfwaXS,JODQFHGEDFNDQGVDw
Harrison scrambling out of the shaft, the blob right behind
him. Did the mutant sense us? Had we run far enough awa"I
stopped, still holding onto her hand.
“Wait here,” I said.
“Noooo….” she whined. “Afraid.”
“You’ll be fine. Just keep RXUHes open.”
I ran back down the hill as the mutant oozed out of the
shelter entrance. That’ s going to be a pain to clean, I thought
as I slowed down. As the mutant slowed, Harrison ran
forward. The blob’s hunger for flesh fought against its survival
instincts as it slithered farther awaIURPWKHPDLQVKHOWHr
hatch. I kept moving forward.
A few more feet away , the mutant gave up and changed
direction, heading for the warmth of the shelter . I shot forward,
racing to reach the hatch before it did. While it was closer , I
was moving faster and reached it first. I punched in the code
then walked around to stand in front of the mutant, hoping to
slow it down.
“Don’t be stupid,” Harrison said, his voice coming
through mKHOPHW.
“We can’ t let the mutant back in our shelter ,” I said,
shuffling to the left. “Miss"$UHou oka"”
“I’m coming to RXVKHVREEHG.
The blob barelKLWPHEXW,IHOWDIODVKRISDLQI
glanced down at mDUPDQGVDZDFLGKDGGLVVROYHGSDUWRf
the enviro-suit. Crap! Harrison HOOHGDQGSXVKHGKLVKDQGLQWo
the acidic red mass to get its attention. I stumbled backward as
he screamed. W ith the hatch closed, the mutant had nowhere
to go. Harrison ran awaWKHQDURXQGWRPH.
“Are RXRND?” Harrison asked.

“I will be once we get inside.”
He nodded as MissZDONHGXSTogether, we watched as
it slowlIUR]HWRGHDWK,WKRXJKWDERXWDOOWKHRWKHUIORRUVZe
needed to clear to gain full control of the shelter . EverWKLQg
would be worth it in the end. I was sure of it.

Chapter 11

Two weeks later , we finished clearing the first four levels
of Shelter 101x. W e didn’t stop. One morning, as I stood next
to Harrison in a hallwaRQOHYHOILYHOLVWHQLQJIRUDQthing
odd, I hoped MissZRXOGEHRNDy . She had begged to come
with us, but we’d been running into even nastier mutants the
further down we went. What would we discover on the
bottom?
“You hear that?” Harrison whispered.
I nodded. He’d taken to sleeping next to me everQLJKt
despite the fact we had four emptEDUUDFNVDQGHQRXJKURRm
for a hundred people. I found it comforting. After battling
mutants all day , we’d taken to relaxing together in the
evenings, getting to know each other .
“Read"KHDVNHG.
I nodded again. We both stepped around the corner and
leveled the plasma rifles we’d found on the second floor of the
shelter. I’d gone up a level just clearing out the first two floors.
BWKHWLPHZHUHDFKHGWKHERWWRP,ZRXOGEHRQHRIWKe
highest-level plaHUVLQWKHJDPH7KHPXWDQWDWWKHHQGRIWKe
hall turned and galloped toward us.
We shot at the mutated dog, taking of f its head in an
explosion of blood and brains. Another xp notification flashed
in front of me. I once again remembered the real world.
Something about having stats and damage notifications didn’ t
seem natural to me like it did the others. Was that the reason I
remembered what had happened, and theGLGQ’ t?

“That’s the last of them,” Harrison said, lowering his
gun.
“I hope so. This da’ s gone on too long.”
Harrison grinned. “Y ou’re cooking tonight, right?”
“What? You don’t enjo0LVV’ s cooking?” I teased.
He chuckled. I stepped forward and slipped an arm
around his waist, leaning in to kiss his soft, wet lips. W e stood
with our lips locked together a few moments in bliss before an
alarm notification popped up for MissRQWKHILUVWIORRr . I
sighed and stepped back, holding up a finger as I sent a
message to her.

Scout: What’s wrong, Miss?
Scout: Quit plaLQJJDPHV$QVZHUPH.

When she didn’ t respond, I began to worry .
“Come on,” Harrison said. “Let’ s get back upstairs.”
I followed him to the elevator, continuing to call for
Missy. She didn’ t answer which had me worried. W e’d closed
the holes in the ventilation sVWHP+DGVRPHWKLQJJRWWKURXJh
somehow? At the elevator, I jammed mWKXPERQWKHEXWWRQ.
When the door slid open, we both went inside. I pressed the
button for the first floor.
“She probablMXVWEURNHVRPHWKLQJDJDLQ+DUULVRn
said. “What’s her deal, anZD?”
I sighed. “W e can talk about it later . It’s complicated.”
The door slid open again. W e pointed our rifles out into
the hallway. MissKDGSDLQWHGPXUDOVGHSLFWLQJRXr
banishment and finding the shelter over the bright HOORw
walls.
“Let’s check the control room first,” I said, hoping he
wasn’ t right about her breaking something.

Side bVLGHZHVORZO crept down the hall, keeping our
weapons pointed in front of us. I didn’t hear or see anWKLQg
unusual as we reached the hatch to the control room. Harrison
looked through the tinZLQGRw.
“I don’t see anWKLQJZHLUGKHVDLG.
Where could she be? Had the alarm broke?
“Over there,” Harrison said, pointing. “In the
decontamination room.”
MissDQGDVWUDQJHUVWRRGDWWKHHQGRIWKHKDOOZDy .
“Stop!” I shouted, pointing mULIOHLQWKHLUGLUHFWLRQ.
“No stranger danger,” MissLQVLVWHGW e know him!”
I stepped forward, the rifle still raised. Who was it?
“Hipp",DVNHGDV,JRWFORVHr .
“You old rascal,” Harrison said, smiling as he walked
over .
HippWHQWDWLYHO raising a hand.
“I’m glad MissOHWPHLQKHVDLG0 enviro-suit is
just about dead.”
“How did RXILQGXVKHUH",DVNHGVXGGHQO afraid.
“Does Orlando know?”
“No, no, not at all,” HippVDLG,IROORZHGou when
RXJXs escaped. The wa2UODQGRLVUXQQLQJWKLQJVGULYHs
me nuts. He’ s going to use up all their resources for his own
stupid reasons. I hate that selfish prick.”
I smiled. “Don’ t hold back, Hippy . Tell us how RXIHHO”
“Y ou know me,” he said. “Honest to a fault. That’ s whI
hope RXOODFFHSWPHKHUH”
He glanced around, adding. “Nice murals.”
MissFODSSHGKHUKDQGVWRJHWKHr, obviouslH[FLWHG.
“You’re more than welcome to join us,” I said. “W e’re
running things differentlKHUH”
“That’s good to hear ,” he said. “What about others?”

“I want to go find others to help us eventually,” I said.
“What about now?” HippDVNHG$JURXSRIQRPDGs
followed me following RX”
“Did RXOHWWKHPLQ"+DUULVRQDVNHGLQDQDODUPHd
tone.
“No, theUHRXWVLGH+LSS said.
I looked at Harrison. “What do RXWKLQN"”
He sighed. “ProbablQRWWKHEHVWLGHDWROHWWKHPLQW e
don’t know anWKLQJDERXWWKHP”
“I’ve talked with some of them over the last two weeks,”
HippVDLG,YHEHHQKHVLWDQWWROHWou know I followed
RX$WILUVW,WKRXJKWou’d all died because I didn’ t see
anWKLQJFRPLQJRXWRIWKHVKHOWHr, but when I saw Missy
emerge today , I figured it was time.”
“What?” I whipped around. “Miss"”
She lowered her head, not speaking.
“That’s dangerous,” I scolded. “W e talked about Ru
going out. EverWLPHou open the main hatch, there’ s a
chance something else will get in here.”
“I was careful!” MissVDLGORRNLQJXS.
“The others are low on supplies and could use help,”
HippVDLG.
I sighed then looked at Harrison again. He shrugged.
“Let them in,” he said. “We need more workers and
people to clear the lower levels.”
The four of us returned to the decontamination room and
opened the hatch to the outside world. After a few whistles
from Hippy, the nomads emer ged. Each of them had to accept
me as their leader before we let them in the shelter . None of
them declined. Our numbers were growing. Eventually , I’d
have enough people to go after Orlando and make him pay .

* * * * *

Later that evening, as I laid in bed next to Harrison in
our private room on the first floor, I stared at the stainless-steel
ceiling over our bed and thought about the twelve new people
in our shelter. Could I improve their virtual lives?
“What do RXWKLQNDERXW+LSS?” I asked.
“He’ll be useful,” Harrison said, staring ahead and
swiping at the air .
“What are RXUHDGLQJQRZ",DVNHG.
“This shelter is dif ferent from the others in a lot of
waVKHVDLG7KHWUDLQLQJPDQXDOIRUQHZFRPPDQGHUVLs
interesting. You should read it.”
“I should do a lot of things,” I sighed.
He nodded, still working.
“It’s just now I’m responsible for even more people, Ru
know?”
He glanced up. “Y ou’re up to it. I sure as hell don’ t want
to plaOHDGHr.”
“Am I, though?” I rubbed his stomach with mKDQG.
“The last two weeks have been tough.”
“We’re doing great,” he said, smiling. “Y ou’ll make a
wonderful leader… and lover.”
“Oh, HDK",DVNHG.
He nodded. “Yeah…”
I leaned over and kissed him on the lips. As I moved my
hand between his legs, a messenger screen popped up in my
view.
HippW e have a situation.
Scout: Give me a minute.
I sighed, pulling back.
“What?” Harrison asked.
“Hippy,” I said. “Something’ s wrong.”

“Answer him. I’m not going anZKHUH”
Scout: What’s going on? I’m sorta busy .
Hipp,W’s Missy. She’s not getting along with the
nomads.
Scout: TheUHQRWQRPDGVDQ longer .
Hipp,PVRUUy, I know. You should still get down here.
Barracks 1-B
Scout: On mZD…
I rolled out of bed then took a final glance at Harrison on
the bed. He looked so hot, half-naked and concentrating on his
reading.
“I’ll be back in a bit,” I said. “This shouldn’ t take long.”
“Okay,” he grunted, not looking up.
I walked to our private elevator . On the ride down one
floor, I thought about Missy . She didn’t get along well with
new people because of whatever had happened to her before
we met. It surprised me she treated Harrison so well, but he’d
helped us.
When the elevator door slid open, I walked out and
swiftlFRQWLQXHGWRZDUGEDUUDFNV%(YHQEHIRUH,DUULYHd
and opened the door , I could hear the commotion. I sped up,
throwing the door open. MissVWRRGLQWKHPLGGOHRIWKe
room, clutching several pillows. The rest of them stood in
piles on the surrounding floor . John, one of the newcomers,
was trLQJWRUHDVRQZLWKKHr.
“We just need one pillow for each of us,” he said.
“No! MSLOORZV0LVV screamed, trLQJWRSLFNXp
more.
She dropped two for each one she managed to get. I
walked into the room.
“There are enough pillows for everRQH,VDLG.
MissGURSSHGDOOWKHSLOORZVLQKHUKDQGVDQGVWRUPHd
toward me. She tried sneaking past, but I grabbed her arm.

“You for got to apologize,” I said sternly .
“Do I have to?” she asked.
I nodded. “These people are our people now . We’re a
team.”
“But I never see RXVKHSURWHVWHGY ou’re killing
mutants or screwing Harrison!”
A few newcomers turned awaWRDYRLGP gaze, but a
couple of them chuckled. I sighed, unable to blame them. She
wasn’t wrong.
“That might be true, but I still love RXW e’re all going
to be working hard to make this place our home. T ogether, we
can build something special.”
MissIURZQHGDQGORZHUHGKHUKHDG,PVRUUy .”
“Apolog",DVNHG.
She looked up brieflDQGPXWWHUHG6RUU…”
“About what?”
“SorrDERXWWDNLQJDOOWKHGDPQSLOORZVVKHVDLG.
John, their old leader, stepped up.
“We understand,” he said. “Some of our members have
been through rough times too.”
“Thank RX,PHDQWZKDW,VDLGT ogether, we can make
this shelter a special place.”
“We’re happWREHKHUH-RKQVDLG.
I turned to Missy . “TheUHRXUIULHQGVQRw . You
understand?”
She nodded. “Friends now…”
“And I’ll trWRVSHQGPRUHWLPHZLWKou. Clearing this
shelter is dangerous work.” I turned to John. “Have RXPDGe
a list of people coming with me tomorrow?”
“Not HWEXW,PZRUNLQJRQLWKHVDLG.
I nodded. “Good. Get with me in the morning. W e
usuallOHDYHULJKWDIWHUEUHDNIDVWDQGZRUNWKURXJKOXQFKWo

supper. At this rate, it would’ve taken us months or HDUVWo
clear this place. Having RXJXs here will help us all.”
John smiled. “W e’re happWRKHOS”
“EverWKLQJRND here, then?” I turned to Missy . “Can
RXEHKDYH"”
“SorrVKHVFUHDPHGWKHQUDQSDVWPH.
I didn’t bother going after her . She’d been sleeping by
herself in one of the other barracks and would be okay . I
turned to John.
“Let me know if she causes anRWKHUSUREOHPV,VDLG.
He nodded. “Will do.”
I turned to Hippy . He smiled.
“Thanks for calling me,” I said. “Y ou should alwaVIHHl
free to talk to me.”
“I will,” he said then smiled.
As I walked out of the barracks, the weight of leadership
weighed on me. I needed to protect mSHRSOHDQGPDNHWKHLr
life better, but I also wanted answers to the bigger questions.
WhKDGVRPHRQHFKDQJHGWKHVLPXODWLRQDQGZLSHd
everRQH’ s memories? More importantly , could I find a waWo
escape. While unsure of the answers, I wasn’ t about to give up
trLQJ.

Chapter 12

Life continued getting better. The floors became easier to
clear as even more people arrived as word spread through the
land. After a month, we’d cleared the first eleven floors of the
shelter. OnlRQHUHPDLQHG,KDGVHQWRXWVFRXWVWRILQGRWKHr
nomads who might want to join us. TheIRXQGRYHUWZo
dozen more than happWRSOHGJHWKHLUDOOHJLDQFHW ith their
help, clearing the rest of the shelter would be easy.
“Are we read",DVNHGWXUQLQJWRORRNDWP squad.
Harrison had led another onto the twelfth floor already .
“Ready, ma’am!” theFKDQWHGLQXQLVRQ.
I glanced at the half-dozen heavilDUPHGDQGDUPRUHd
men and women, proud of what theGEHHQDEOHWo
accomplish in such a short time.
“Great. Let’ s get this done. W e have a partWRQLJKW”
I’d promised the entire shelter a massive celebration
once we cleared all the mutants. Once we finished the twelfth,
I could set mVLJKWVRQELJJHUREMHFWLYHV*HWLQWKHJDPH,
Scout, I told mVHOIDV,OLIWHGP plasma rifle and opened the
hatch. We walked through and into a hallway . I heard gunfire
and screaming the distance.
Harrison: We need back-up. Now!
Scout: On our way .
“Let’s go!” I shouted.

The others followed me down the hallwaLQIRUPDWLRn
with me taking the lead. EverRQHKDGDSODVPDULIOH7Ke
extra firepower had made clearing the other eleven levels
easier. We’d been working on the J-Class mutant on the
twelfth floor for a few daV7KHELWFKZRXOGQ’ t die.
After glancing at the communicator on mZULVWDIHw
times for hints on where to go, we made it to the vast
warehouse areas. I stopped at the edge of the central and
largest room, glancing around for anVLJQVRI+DUULVRQRUKLs
men. An explosion behind a few parked forklifts gave me an
idea. I ran toward the explosions, rifle at the ready .
“Let’s go!” I shouted.
When I went around the first forklift, I saw the bitch
we’d been hunting. She looked tough with humongous breasts
covered in blisters and sores.
“Give her all we’ve got!” Harrison HOOHG.
He must have thrown one of his grenades, I figured as I
raised mULIOH0 squad all fired, sending dozens of plasma
bolts at her . She waved her hands, forming a blue ener gILHOd
in front of her. As we kept firing, not hurting her at all, she
walked forward, clawed hands outstretched. W e all backed up,
still firing as she approached.
“Stop firing!” Harrison HOOHG.
The beast rushed forward and slashed the throat of one of
our men.

<< Population Decrease. >>
<< Total population: 41. >>

Ouch. Losing anERG hurt with our low numbers. The
mutant continued slicing up the poor man’ s body. As soon as
her shield faded the rest of the way , I raised mULIOHDQGILUHd
again. The others did the same, tearing into her body . She
backed up, chunks of flesh flLQJRff her body. I stepped
forward, hoping we could finallNLOOKHr .

She leaped up and over the forklifts, out of sight.
“After her!” Harrison HOOHGUXQQLQJDURXQGWKHP.
I followed along with the rest of mVTXDGQRWVHHLQg
the mutant.
“Spread out, and keep RXUHes open,” I said.
We all walked forward while spaced apart. The mutant
ran out from behind a stack of crates, arms raised and readWo
attack. EverRQHRSHQHGILUHDWWKHVDPHWLPHOLJKWLQJKHUXS.
She kept coming forward, desperatelWUing to do some
damage before she died. I stopped firing as she fell to the
floor , twitching a few times before laLQJVWLOO.
“Hell HDKVRPHRQHRQ+DUULVRQ’ s squad HOOHG,
pumping a fist in the air.
I smiled. We’d killed the last mutant hiding in the shelter .
I couldn’t believe it.
“Time to celebrate!” I shouted then fired a few more
rounds into the dead mutant’ s corpse.
As the others cheered and walked toward the elevators, I
pulled Harrison aside.
“Was that the last of them?” I asked.
He nodded. “Unless theUHJHWWLQJLQVRPHZKHUHHOVH.
There’ s one more room I want to check. I haven’ t been able to
get it open HWWant to help?”
“You just love me for mORFNSLFNLQJVNLOOVGRQ’ t RX"”
I teased.
He smiled. “MaEH”
While the others left to prepare for the feast later that
night, I followed Harrison to the last room he hadn’ t cleared.
“MVHQVRUVDUHQ’t picking anWKLQJXSKHVDLG.
“Let me see,” I said, walking to the control panel.
I removed the outer casing and peered at the wires
inside.
“This should do it,” I said, snapping a HOORZRQH.

I heard the door click.
“Damn, RXUHJRRGKHVDLG$WSLFNLQJORFNVWRR”
I smiled, falling more in love with him.
He opened the door and raised his rifle, pointing it in the
room. I peered over his shoulder and saw another door, open,
leading to another large, open room.
“What is it?” I asked. “Y ou’ve been reading that damn
manual.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “This room isn’ t in the manual.”
We walked in the smaller room. I saw a computer
terminal set into one of the walls with a couple chairs in front
of it. Harrison continued through the other door , whistling.
“What is it?” I asked, rushing over.
As I walked in, mMDZGURSSHGRSHQ.
“What is that thing?” I asked.
A magnificent metal machine with tracks sat on the other
side of the room. What caught mDWWHQWLRQZDVWKHLPSUHVVLYe
laser and enormous drill on the front of the machine. Harrison
and I walked over, weapons still raised.
“What is it?” he asked, running a hand over the smooth
metal exterior.
“Some sort of boring machine.” I noticed the outlines of
a door on the side and walked closer . “There’s a waLQI
think.”
“We should leave it alone.”
“Aren’ t RXWKHOHDVWELWFXULRXV"”
“CuriositNLOOHGWKHFDWKHUHWRUWHG%HVLGHV7Ke
door’s locked. W e’ve got other stuf f to do.”
“Hold on…” I stepped forward.
MPHFKDQLFDOUHSDLUVNLOOPLJKWFRPHLQXVHIXO$VI
walked around the machine, I took stock of its apparent source
of power and some other features.

“I think it’s just out of power ,” I said.
Harrison, arms crossed over his chest, nodded.
“All I need to do is…”
I opened a control box and flipped a few switches. The
machine came to life, the door on its side sliding open.
Harrison uncrossed his arms and walked over .
“What’s it for?” I wondered aloud.
Harrison climbed inside.
“It’s roomy ,” he said, glancing around the interior .
“Wow,” I said as I walked in. “This is roomy .”
He walked over to a control panel and tapped a few
buttons.
“What are RXGRLQJ",DVNHGWe should studLt
first.”
“Hello,” a friendlYRLFHVDLG,P0HUOLQWKH%RULQg
Machine for Shelter 042-101x. What will RXQHHGIURPPe
toda"”
I raised mULIOHDWWKHFRQVROH:KDWWKHKHOO"”
“Must be a sentient machine,” he said. “I’ve heard
rumors about some shelters having them.”
“Wrong,” Merlin said. “I’m one-of-a-kind and unique to
Shelter 042-101x.”
“Great, a boring machine that talks back,” he muttered.
I smiled. “W e should keep this to ourselves. Agree?”
“Yeah,” he said, nodding. “Agreed.”
“Good. Let’ s get up to the partEHIRUHWKH miss us.”
“Hold on,” he said. “I want to download the manual for
this thing to mWDEOHW”
“Of course, RXGR,VDLGWXUQLQJDQGZDONLQJDZDy .
“I’ll be up in a bit,” he mumbled.
Uh huh. I smiled as I left, heading for the elevators.

* * * * *

A little while later, I stood next to a table full of food,
bobbing mKHDGLQWLPHZLWKWKHORXGEDVVILOOHGPXVLF7Ke
songs reminded me of the real world. W ere theWXQHVIURPWKe
real world that had somehow seeped into the simulation? I’d
kept quiet about mWKHRULHVDERXWH[LVWHQFHZKLOHZHFOHDUHd
the shelter, but it was time to start graduallWDONLQJWRRWKHUs
about it.
“You’re not dancing?” Harrison asked as he walked up.
“I’ve been waiting for RX”
He snorted. “I don’ t dance.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.” I leaned over and gave him a
peck on the lips. “Did RXJHWour book?”
He nodded. “I was glancing through it on the way .”
“You can tell me later ,” I said. “When we’re alone.”
“This horrible music is worse when it’ s loud,” he said.
“The words don’t make anVHQVHWRPH”
Should I bring up the fact it’ s music from another world,
the real world? I decided to wait a bit longer . Convincing him I
wasn’t crazZDVWKHILUVWVWHSWRJHWWLQJRWKHUVWREHOLHYH2r
maEH,ZDVFUD] after all? The fact I wasn’ t the onlRQe
who remembered made it a little easier. John walked up, a tall
metal glass in both his hands.
“Double-fisting it tonight, are RX",DVNHGQRGGLQJDt
his drinks.
He grinned sheepishlWKHQWRRNDORQJGULQN.
“You want one?” he asked, of fering the other.
“No thanks,” I said. “W e’re thinking of retiring.”
“Alread"7KHQLJKWLVoung!” he cried.
“You have fun,” I said.

He wandered away, leaving me alone with Harrison
again. Before I could ask if he was readWRGXFNRXWDQGJRWo
our sleeping quarters, MissZDONHGXSGUDJJLQJDPDn
behind her. He twisted a ring on his finger as theERWh
stopped.
“This is Henry , mERfriend,” MissH[FODLPHG,
emphasizing the last word.
“Hello, Henry,” I said, sticking out mKDQGDQGDFWLQg
like it didn’t faze me.
“Nice to meet RXKHVDLGUHDFKLQJRXWWRVKDNHPy
hand.
MissVPDFNHGLWDZDy .
“You have a boIULHQGIRUDOOour time, and I do now
too!” she proclaimed before dragging him away .
I felt sorrIRUWKHoung man in some waVEXW,KRSHd
MissZRXOGILQGVRPHRQH.
“She’s jealous,” Harrison noted.
I nodded, frowning.
“She’ll be okay ,” he said, putting an arm around my
waist.
“You promise?”
“I can’ t promise anWKLQJLQWKLVZRUOGEXW,WKLQNVKHOl
be okaKHUH”
“Yeah…” I nodded, not sure if I believed him.
He stepped closer and slipped an arm around mZDLVW.
“I want RXVREDGULJKWQRw ,” he whispered in mHDr
then kissed mQHFN.
“Are RXP boIULHQGQRZ",WHDVHG.
Harrison pulled away. “Don’t be too hard on her .”
“You’re sticking up for her a lot. Are RXWUing to get
me jealous?”

He pursed his lips together and shook his head. We
stared at each other as the song plaLQJVWRSSHGDQGDQRWKHr
started.
“Let’s go,” I said, taking his hand.
I led him out of the partDQGWRZDUGRXUUHVLGHQFH+e
stopped in front of a supplURRPDQGRSHQHGWKHGRRUZLWh
one hand while wrapping the other around me and pulling me
close.
“I need RXQRw ,” he grunted then led me into the room.
He shut the door behind us then resumed kissing me as
his hands roamed all over mERGy . I moaned as the stress of
leadership melted away.

Chapter 13

The next day, Harrison and I got back to work
investigating the secret room and the boring machine on the
twelfth floor of the shelter . I checked the assignments for
everRQHZKLOHULGLQJWKHHOHYDWRUWRWKHERWWRPIORRr . With
onlVRPDQ people, I needed to be careful and ensure all our
basic needs were met. I wanted engineers to start researching a
new technology , but that would have to wait a bit longer .

Engineers 0
Soldiers 14
Cooks 1
Cleaners 1
Teachers 0
Fixers 1
T rashers 1
Children 13
Farmers 6

Makers 4
Total Population… 41

When we reached the bottom floor , Harrison walked
with me to the impressive machine.
“I’ll be honest,” I said. “That thing talking spooks me.”
“According to the manual, it’s the most sentient artificial
intelligence ever created. ThePDGHLWWRUXQDOOWKHVKHOWHUV,
but the Great Freeze happened, and the newer shelters staHd
dormant.”
“Yeah, before mYLUWXDOUHDOLW vacation turned into a
nightmare game…”
He turned and frowned.
“Are RXJRLQJWRVWDUWWDONLQJDERXWWKDWFUD]LQHVs
again?” he asked.
“It’ s not crazy ,” I said.
“Can RXSURYHLW"”
I shook mKHDG1R”
“Then it’s kinda crazy .”
I rolled mHes and turned back to Merlin, our magical
talking drill machine.
“WhFUHDWHDGLJJLQJPDFKLQHZLWKDGYDQFHG$,"I
asked.
He shrugged. “Who knows? The people who built the
shelters are long gone, and theGLGQ’ t leave anUHFRUGV,f
theKDGQ’t been built, though, nobodZRXOGKDYHVXUYLYHd
the Great Freeze.”
I nodded, wishing he’d be a bit more open-minded.
“According to the manual—” he continued.
“Screw the manual,” I interrupted, stepping forward.

Inside Merlin, I walked up to the control panel.
“Are RXWKHUH",DVNHG'Rou sleep?”
“Hello, Scout. I often ask mVHOIZKHWKHU,PKHUHRr
not. As someone who doesn’t enjoH[LVWHQWLDOTXHVWLRQVI
think…”
“Enough,” I said, shaking mKHDG:K were Ru
built?”
“Again, existential questions require a tremendous
amount of processing power. I’m afraid this shelter isn’t
generating enough electricitet to answer this question
thoughtfullIRUou.”
“Wait, what did RXPHDQE HW"&DQWKHVKHOWHr
generate more power?”
“Yes, Scout. As a boring machine, I’m able to tap into
the earth. Geothermal heat is one of the best waVWRJHQHUDWe
power under ground. If RXOODOORZPH,FDQGHPRQVWUDWH”
“Go ahead,” I said, unsure of what to expect.
The door slammed shut as Merlin lurched forward.
Harrison: What’ s going on? Are RXRND?
Scout: I’m fine. Merlin is showing me something.
Harrison: Don’t go without me.
Scout: I’ll be right back…
I stared at the view screen and saw Merlin make quick
work of the steel wall with a set of four powerful lasers. He
pushed through, the giant drill on front of him spinning.
“Hold on,” I said. “W e should go back for Harrison.”
“I’m sorry, Scout. I cannot stop at this time.”
“How long is this going to take?”
The machine lurched forward then melted awaPRUe
rock at a slightlORZHUDQJOH.
“OnlDIHZGDs,” Merlin answered.
“What?” I exclaimed. “That’ s not going to work.”

I glanced around. The insides of the machine suddenly
felt smaller.
“Can’t RXGRDQthing else?” I asked.
“We can travel to Shelter 102x,” Merlin said. “If Ru
assume control of it, RXOOKDYHWKHHQHr gRXWSXWIURPERWh
shelters. That will give me more power to think and learn.”
“Hold on, there’s another secret, unused shelter?”
“Yes, Scout, and it’ s close.”
I attempted to contact Harrison via the game interface,
but it wouldn’t connect.
“WhFDQ’t I reach Harrison?” I asked.
“The magnetic interference of mPDFKLQHU when I’m
digging a tunnel blocks most forms of communication with the
outside unless theUHYHU close.”
“Figures,” I said, sitting down on one of the swivel
chairs. “How long will this take?”
“We’re there,” he said.
I sat up and saw another metal wall in the view screen.
“AnRQHKHUH",DVNHG.
“The shelter is currentlXQRFFXSLHG0HUOLQVDLG.
“Shall we enter?”
“Yes,” I said then walked back to the door .
After Merlin finished cutting through the steel wall and
rolled into another hangar, the door on his side slid open. I
stepped out and glanced around. How manVHFUHWVKHOWHUs
existed?

| Welcome to shelter 102x, Scout.
| Your Leadership skill is high enough to control two
shelters.
| Do RXDVVXPHFRQWURORI6KHOWHU["><Q@!>

“Hell HDK,VDLGKLWWLQJWKHRSWLRQ,VPLOHGWith two
shelters under mFRQWURO,FRXOGDWWUDFWPRUHSHRSOH$Qd
with them, I would have time to investigate the lar ger mVWHUy
behind this strange virtual world I was trapped in. I crossed the
room and peered through the pane of glass in another steel
door. Seeing nothing, I pressed the button to open it.
As I stepped through to the other side, I opened mHes
wider . On the opposite wall, a view screen showed a complete
map of the entire world with indicators for all the other
shelters. I stepped closer , noticing it also showed which ones
were occupied and bKRZPDQ people. W ith this information
and a boring machine…
MWKRXJKWVGULIWHGDV,H[DPLQHGWKHPDSPRUHFORVHOy .
I found Orlando’s shelter. From there, I located Shelter 042-
101x that we’d found and its sister shelter . I pulled mVHOf
awaIURPWKHGLJLWDOPDSDQGZDONHGRYHUWRDQHDUE control
panel. With a few deft choices on the game menus, I
transferred the map to mRWKHUVKHOWHr ’s computer sVWHP.
“This is nuts…” I muttered to mVHOI.
W ith twelve floors to explore, I resisted the ur ge to go
off on mRZQ7KHPDSKDGQ’ t shown anVLJQVRIOLIe
mutant or otherwise, but I wanted to get back to Harrison and
share the news. We could easilFRQTXHU2UODQGRDQGIUHHDOl
the people under him. In a few short months, I’d have more
power than he’d ever dreamed about.
As I walked back to Merlin, the boring machine, I
smiled. Life could get better . With access to two shelters and
more manpower , I could work on figuring out the bigger
mVWHULHVOLNHJHWWLQJRXWRIWKHVWXSLGVLPXODWLRQ.

* * * * *

Harrison studied the map, his lips pursed together .
“This is amazing,” he muttered, unable to take his eHs
off it.

I nodded. “Right? This changes everWKLQJ”
John ran into the room, his brow furrowed.
“SorrWRERWKHUou,” he said. “There’s a problem in the
cafeteria.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“MissVKH’s acting strange…”
I sighed. Again. I needed to talk to her , but I’d been so
busy.
“Okay , I’m on mZDy .”
“Do RXZDQWPHWRWDNHFDUHRILW"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
“No, I’ve got this. I’ll be back in a bit.”
He nodded and focused his attention on the map. I
walked over to John. T ogether, we left the conference room
and made our waWRWKHFDIHWHULDRQHIORRUXS.
“What exactlLVVKHGRLQJ",DVNHG.
“Fighting with Henry ,” he said.
Ah, her boIULHQG,ILJXUHGVKHGGRQHWKDWWRJHWPe
jealous, maEH"6KHGHVHUYHGDJRRGPDQLQKHUOLIHDIWHr
everWKLQJWKDWKDGKDSSHQHGWRKHr .
“Thanks for coming to get me,” I said. “WhGLGQ’ t Ru
use the communicator?”
“I couldn’t reach RXRQLWKHVDLG.
That’s strange, I thought, not saLQJDQthing. When we
reached the cafeteria, I saw a crowd of people around Henry
and Missy . She was screaming something at him, getting
worked up. He nodded dutifully , not antagonizing her at all. I
pushed mZD through the crowd, emer ging in the inner
circle next to Missy.
“What’s going on?” I asked in a stern tone.
She screamed and rushed toward Henry , latching onto
him and biting his ear. He screamed as I grabbed and pulled
her off him. She turned to me with fire and furLQKHUHes,
struggling to get out of mJUDVS.

“Stop,” I said, not letting her go.
“Leave me be!” she screamed. “You have no time for me
anPRUH,KDWHou!”
“Don’t saWKLQJVou’ll regret later ,” I said, maEHDELt
too flippantly.
“I hate RXVKHUHSHDWHGZLJJOLQJIUHH.
She bolted into the crowd. I sighed and thought about
going after her but decided against it. She needed time to calm
down.
“That’s it,” I said. “Show’ s over. EverRQHEDFNWRZKDt
theZHUHGRLQJ”
I turned to poor Henry , blood covering the bottom of his
ear.
“Are RXRND?” I asked.
“It’ s not too bad,” he said. “I’m not sure whVKH’ s mad
at me.”
“She’s mad at me, not RX,VDLG*LYHKHUVRPe
time.”
He pursed his lips together and nodded his head.
“Get to medical, and theOOIL[ou up,” I said.
He wandered away , holding a hand over his ear . As I
glanced around the room, Harrison entered and walked over
with a swagger in his step and a smile on his face.
“What?” I asked.
“That other shelter,” he whispered. “It’ s stocked to the
brim with food, water , weapons, and other stuf f that will help
us. We’re going to win anEDWWOHZHJRLQWRDVORQJDVZHUe
smart about it and don’ t get too cocky.”
I smiled, loving him even more at that moment. W e got
along so well together, complementing each other . I put my
hand on his waist and looked into his eHV.
“We should tell them our plans, the big news,” I said.

He nodded, grinning slightly. I pulled mKDQGDZD and
turned.
“Attention everRQH,KDYHDQDQQRXQFHPHQW,VDLGLn
a firm, loud voice. “We’ll post more information on the
communitPHVVDJHERDUGVRQFHWKHGHWDLOVDUHILQDOL]HGEXWI
wanted to share this with RXSHUVRQDOOy .”
“To detract from RXUFUD] pet!” someone in the crowd
shouted.
A few people laughed, but others stepped aside, outing
him. I continued.
“This news will change the world we know to the core.”
I enjoHGVOLSSLQJLQDUHIHUHQFHWRWKHFROOHFWLRQRIYLUWXDl
worlds I thought we were trapped in. “W e’ve found another
shelter.”
The instant applause felt nice, drowning out the guy
trLQJWREHIXQQy .
“Over time, we’ll liberate more and more shelters until
we build a new world,” I continued. “A world based on
honesty, respect, and trust. Just because this world is desolate
doesn’t mean we have to devolve into miserable creatures.”
“She’s right,” Harrison added as he stood beside me.
I saw several men in the crowd turn to him and nod in
agreement. T ogether, we’d be able to conquer the whole damn
world. W ould whoever trapped us in this hell get mad when
things didn’ t go to their plans, and we worked together to
build a better world? I hoped so because I had no clue on how
to investigate them.
“We have a lot to do,” I said. “W e’ll be posting team
assignments for the second shelter . There’s a ton of new
equipment we need to divvXS$UHou guVUHDG to change
the world and make it ours?”
“Hell HDKWKHJX who had taunted me before
shouted.
I smiled as the others erupted into applause. Harrison and
I left, going the wa0LVV had run. After checking a few of

her favorite hiding spots, I couldn’t find her.
“We can’ t keep looking,” he said. “This place is huge.
MaEHZHVKRXOGWUDFNHYHUone here.”
“No,” I said, firmlVKDNLQJP head. “People need
privacy . We’re creating something dif ferent.”
He leaned in and kissed me, not needing words to tell me
how he felt.
“Let’s go get John,” I said. “W e should promote him.”
“Good idea,” Harrison said. “Y ou were right. We’ve got
a ton of work to accomplish.”
“But it’ll be worth it in the end,” I said.
We walked back to the conference room. On the way , I
called John on the communicator. Had he lied about it not
working earlier? And if so wh?
“John? We need RXLQWKHFRQIHUHQFHURRP2YHr .”
“Uh oh,” he replied. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No, RXUHEHLQJSURPRWHG6HHou in a bit.”
I glanced over at Harrison as we walked down the
colorful halls MissKDGSDLQWHG6KHZRUULHGPHEXW,KDd
manRWKHUVWRZRUU about — possiblHYHUone in the world
or on the server depending on how RXORRNHGDWLW,IRXQd
the more I thought about the real world, the stronger the
memories became. Was I self-reinforcing them?
“Hold up,” Harrison said, stopping and grabbing my
arm.
I stopped and looked up. “What?”
He took a deep breath as if carefullZHLJKLQJWKHZRUGs
about to come out of his mouth.
“What is it?” I asked. “John is coming.”
“I appreciate RXKHVDLGWKHQUHVXPHGZDONLQJ.
Smiling, I followed him to the conference room. W e had
plans.

Chapter 14

I woke the next morning to the sound of the shelter
alarms going off.
What now? I wondered.
As I sat up in bed, Harrison walked in the room.
“We have a problem.”
“No kidding,” I said. “Have RXVHHQ0LVV?”
“No,” he said. “W e need to go. Come on.”
I stood, grabbed mSODVPDULIOHWKHQIROORZHGKLm
toward the elevator . When the door opened on the first floor ,
someone tossed a stun grenade in. I reflexivelGURSSHGPy
rifle and grabbed mHDUVWRSURWHFWWKHPDVWKHWLQ device
emitted an intense chirping noise. The flashing lights and
smoke didn’t help matters either .
Soldiers rushed in, grabbing Harrison and me and putting
cuffs on us. When theSXOOHGXVRXWRIWKHHOHYDWRr , I saw a
few dead bodies on the ground. None of them looked like
Missy, but I was still upset. What the hell had happened? How
had Orlando found us? I stared at the smug smile on his face,
determined more than ever to kill him.
“Look who we have here,” he said.
I stepped forward, but a soldier hit me in the stomach
with the butt of his rifle.
“Watch it,” Harrison warned.

“You two need to watch it,” Orlando said, hands resting
on his pot-belly .
I hated everWKLQJDERXWKLP.
“Where’s Miss",DVNHGNQRZLQJKHGKDGKLVHe on
her for a while. “Y ou better not hurt her .”
“Hurt her? She’s mELJJHVWIULHQGQRw ,” he said. “She’s
the one who let me in here.”
“No,” I said, unable to believe she’d betraPHY ou’re
lLQJ”
“Believe what RXPXVWKHVDLGJODQFLQJDURXQG.
“MaEH,OOOHWKHUGRPXUDOVLQP old shelter. This new
shelter will be nice. You’re going to give me control, or I’ll
kill all of RXLQFOXGLQJ0LVVy .”
“Don’t do it,” Harrison said.
“We can’ t take the chance he’ s bluffing,” I said then
sighed.
If he took control of this one, he would eventuallOHDUn
of the second experimental shelter . Or could I keep it from
him? As Orlando rattled on, I contacted Merlin.
Scout: Merlin, RXDURXQG?
Merlin: I’m here, Scout. How are RX?
Scout: Not good. You need to go to the other shelter , hide
the hole, and erase anNQRZOHGJHRIVKHOWHU[IURm
the sVWHPKHUH$OVR,QHHGou to transfer RXURZQHUVKLSWo
the other shelter. I might be losing ownership of this one, and I
don’t want to lose RX2ND? Do RXXQGHUVWDQG"Y ou need
to do it now.
Merlin: I’ve alreadFRPSOHWHGRIour tasks, Scout.
Do RXZDQWDQXSGDWH?
Scout: Not now .
“… and that’s wh,OODOZDs win. I’m simplEHWWHr
than RXRUDQone else,” Orlando said. “If some want to call
me a god, I’m fine with it. This world of ours needs a strong,
firm hand to guide it.”

“You’re making a mistake,” I said, hoping to get him
riled up.
He stepped closer and slapped mIDFHZLWKKLVRSHn
hand. It stung bad, but I lifted mKHDGGHILDQWO and tilted it
back to watch him.
“Screw this” Harrison grunted, removing his hands from
behind his back.
How had he gotten the cuf fs off? I wondered as he
hauled back his right arm then decked Orlando. The poor guy
screamed like a girl as he fell to the floor . Several of his
soldiers rushed over, battering Harrison. He was taking on
three of them barehanded just fine — winning even. Then one
of the bastards raised his rifle and fired.
“No!” I shouted as the bolt of ener gKLWKLPLQWKHJXW.
He fell backward, landing on his ass. The soldiers
surrounded him, kicking and punching him.
“Stop!” I HOOHG.
“That’s enough!” Orlando roared as he got back.
WhGLGWKHZHDNHVWSHRSOHDOZDs HOOWKHORXGHVW"7Ke
soldiers backed of f. I heard Harrison groan as he held his
stomach.
“Take him to medical,” Orlando ordered. “W e need him
healthIRUWKHZDr.”
“I’m going with him,” I said, stepping forward.
“No. You’re going to give me control of this shelter .
Now!”
<< Do RXUHDOO want to relinquish control of Shelter
101x? [Y/n] >>
I reluctantlWUDQVIHUUHGRfficial ownership to Orlando.
He smiled and clapped his hands together , rubbing them
together like a true villain.
“You can go see RXUERfriend after RXDQVZHUDIHw
questions,” he said.

I nodded.
“Good,” he continued. “You can be reasonable. What do
RXNQRZRIWKLVSODFH"+RZGLGou find it? What else can
RXWHOOPHDERXWLW"”
“After we left RXUVKHOWHr , we got attacked bPXWDQWs
and found a beacon,” I said. “That led us here. W e’ve spent
over a month clearing all the mutants out of this place.”
“Good, good,” he said, nodding. “That’s helpful for me.
AnWKLQJHOVH"”
“No,” I lied, putting on mEHVWSRNHUIDFH.
“VerZHOOKHVDLGZDYLQJPHDZDy .
I ran to catch up to the soldiers dragging Harrison down
the hallway.
“Be careful with him!” I HOOHG.
A couple of them turned, pointing their guns at me. I
raised mDUPV.
“Don’t shoot. I’m one of RXJXs again…”
Admitting it sounded terrible, but I wanted them to think
I was okaZLWKHYHUthing. TheGLGQ’ t need to know I was
planning to regain control of the shelter. I reached out to
Merlin, but he was apparentlRXWRIUDQJHRUQRWDQVZHULQJ.
And Missy. Had she reallWXUQHGRQPHEHFDXVHVKHZDs
jealous and didn’ t feel I was spending enough time with her?
I couldn’t believe she would do that to me, but I went by
facts. As far as I knew , she hadn’t done anWKLQJ,ZDQWHGWo
find her as soon as possible and figure out what the hell
happened. Orlando had been able to find us somehow . Even if
I managed to get control of the shelter back from him, I
needed to ensure it didn’t happen again.
AnRIWKHIHZGR]HQSHRSOH,GOHWLQWRWKHVKHOWHr
could’ve told him. MaEHLWZDVDJURXSRIWKHP",ZHQWRYHr
everWKLQJLQP mind from dif ferent angles as I followed the
soldiers to the medical facilitWZRIORRUVGRZQ1RQHRILt
made anVHQVH$WOHDVW,VWLOOKDG0HUOLQ7KDWGDPQERULQg
machine might be the keWRHYHUthing.

When we reached the medical facilities, the soldiers
lifted Harrison onto a metal table. A robo-doctor overhead
whirled into position. I hated the things, but theNHSWXVDOLYe
and repaired anGDPDJHLIZHJRWWRWKHPVRRQHQRXJK$VLt
checked Harrison, stripping off his clothes, I glanced over at
the soldiers as theWDONHGWRHDFKRWKHULQKXVKHGWRQHV.
“How did RXJXs find this place?” I asked.
The beefiest of the four looked up and said, “None of
RXUGDPQEXVLQHVV”
“You’re just a grunt and probablGRQ’ t know, I get it,” I
said to bait him.
He snatched it up like a hungrEDVVRQDKRWVXPPHr ’s
day .
“I’m the one…”
“Shut-up!” another guVDLGKLWWLQJKLPLQWKHULEVZLWh
an elbow .
“You’re afraid to tell me, I get it,” I continued, nodding.
I turned to Harrison on the table. The robo-doctor poked
and prodded him before injecting an armRIQDQLWHVLQWRKLs
body . We’d had a similar technologEDFNLQWKHUHDOZRUOGI
sometimes wondered if I was mistaken and this was the real
world. MaEH,GKLWP head or something after the Great
Freeze and that’ s whHYHUone else remembered?
Harrison groaned and sat up.
“What’s going on?” he asked, gentlSODFLQJDKDQGRn
his head.
I stepped over and clasped his strong, beefDUP.
“You’re okay ,” I said. “These grunts who know nothing
shot RX”
He glared at them as theOLIWHGWKHLUZHDSRQV.
“This is bullshit,” he said. “I know RXJXs. Orlando’ s a
punk bitch. Together we can take him out. Don’ t RXZDQWa
better world?”

I let go of his arm and stepped back, not wanting to
interrupt him when he was on a roll.
“You’re pathetic,” he continued, hopping of f the table.
He cracked his neck to the left and right before flexing
his muscles.
“Take it easy ,” the biggest soldier said. “W e don’t want
anPRUHWURXEOH”
“You’re going to get it,” Harrison said, feigning moving
forward.
TheDOOUDLVHGWKHLUULIOHVGDPQQHDUILULQJ.
“Knock it of f,” I said. “All of RXW e’ve got work to do.
I’m sure Orlando wants to move into mROGTXDUWHUVDVVRRn
as possible.”
“We’re finallJRLQJWRKDYHRXURZQEXQNVDVROGLHr
said.
As we walked back to talk with Orlando, I once again
thought about Missy . I needed to give her the benefit of the
doubt, but it was hard to do. EverWKLQJSRLQWHGWRKHUUDWWLQg
us out. Had Orlando of fered her something?
“There RXDUH2UODQGRVDLGDVZHDSSURDFKHG,OOEe
taking all RXUEHORQJLQJVWRR1RQHHGWRJHWDQthing. Y ou
can set-up in one of the barracks with mPHQXQOHVVou’re
planning on rebelling. If RXDUHWHOOPHQRw, and I’ll lock Ru
both up. We don’t need rabble rousers when we’re about to go
to war.”
“You mentioned the war before,” I said. “What are Ru
talking about?”
He scowled, his right eHWZLWFKLQJ2XUQHLJKERUVWo
the north, HumptDQG'XPSWy , are both about to fall and
break into a thousand pieces. I’m tired of not being taken
seriouslDURXQGKHUH,PDJRG”
As he ranted, I tuned him out, once again trLQJWo
contact Merlin. He didn’t answer again. Was he being safe?
Had I made a mistake trLQJWRFRQWDFWKLP",GHOHWHGPy
attempts at contact as Orlando gave a speech about how cool

he was as a man-god. Later that night, I’d tell Harrison about
Merlin, and we’d come up with a plan.
Until then, I had to plaWKHSDUWRIDQREHGLHQWVHUYDQW.

Chapter 15

Later that evening, as I huddled next to Harrison in a
bunk, I listened to make sure I didn’t hear anRIWKHVROGLHUs
talking on the other side of the room. TheGEHHQJRVVLSLQg
and bullshitting most of the evening, not giving me a chance to
talk to Harrison privately. Orlando had alreadWXUQHGRQWKe
shelter’s evil securitPHDVXUHVLQFOXGLQJFDPHUDs
everZKHUHW e needed to be damn careful if we didn’ t want
to get caught.
“Are RXXS",ZKLVSHUHGLQKLVHDr.
He grunted.
“Don’t talk. Listen. Merlin went to the other shelter and
erased anVLJQVRIKLPEHLQJKHUHW e still have a chance.”
He rolled over on his side, staring into mHes. I could
see him fighting to not show anRIKLVREYLRXVH[FLWHPHQWDt
the prospect.
“Merlin hasn’t contacted me since I gave him his last
orders, but I’m sure we can find him.”
“You said he cleared his tracks?” he asked in a soft
voice. “Does that mean the tunnel connecting the two is
gone?”
“I doubt he filled the whole thing in,” I said. “W ith his
nanites, he could’ve rebuilt the wall easilDQGFRQFHDOHGWKe
tunnel behind it. I don’t have anLGHDVKRZZHOOJHWLQWRLWRr
how long it would take to get to the other shelter , but it’s our
onlKRSH”

“There might be mutants in it bWKHQWRRKHVDLG.
“Some nastier ones love to dig and burrow into the ground.”
“You’re right, but we have to risk it.”
He nodded then leaned forward and kissed me. I felt his
hand slip between mOHJVXQGHURXUEODQNHW7KHRWKHUPHn
were far enough awaWKDW,GLGQ’ t care. He made me feel
good on so manOHYHOV,VQXJJOHGDJDLQVWKLPDIWHU,FDPH,
more content and at peace. We had a lot of work to do, but
together we’d get it done.
“EverRQHXS2UODQGRVKRXWHGIURPQHDUWKHGRRr .
Harrison and I sat up, glancing over at him as he stormed
in.
“You’ve all had enough sleep,” he said. “There’ s boring
equipment missing from this shelter. I want to know what it
was, who has it, and where it is now .”
“Most equipment is boring,” a soldier said. “Can RXEe
more specific?”
I stifled a laugh as Orlando blew up.
“A boring machine!” he HOOHG$GDPQERULQJPDFKLQe
is missing!”
“I know it’s probablERULQJVLr , but what is it we’re
looking for?”
Harrison chuckled next to me. I poked him in the ribs
with mHOERZWRVKXWKLPXSDV2UODQGRVWRUPHGGRZQWKe
aisle toward us.
“You two!” he shouted. “Get up!”
We got out of bed, standing next to each other in the aisle
as he stopped a few feet away .
“Tell me where the boring machine is,” he demanded.
“Like the grunt said, all machines are boring to me,” I
taunted.
He inhaled a great big breath, the veins in his neck about
to pop.

“Stop messing around! Tell me where it is, or Missy
dies!”
I put on mSRNHUIDFHGHWHUPLQHGQRWWRVKRZDQy
emotions.
“Not sure what RXUHWDONLQJDERXW,VDLG6RUU I
can’t help, boss.”
“I’m RXUJRGKHVQDUOHG&DOOPHour god.”
“You’re mERULQJJRG,VDLG.
Some of his soldiers at the other end of the room broke
into laughter .
He whirled around. “That’ s not funn”
“It’s funnWRPH+DUULVRQVDLG.
“EverRQHXSDQGORRNIRUWKLVERULQJPDFKLQH”
Orlando turned to me. “Y ou know where it is, don’ t RX"”
I shook mKHDGQRWEUHDNLQJHe contact. He could go
screw himself.
“Fine,” he relented. “Start searching. I imagine it’ s big.
Can’t be too hard to find.”
“On it,” I said, saluting with sarcasm — not an easIHDt
to pull of f.
He turned and stormed of f. I walked over to the other
soldier, Harrison behind me.
“You heard ‘em boVZHUHRf f to find boring machines!
TheODXQFKHGLQWRDQRWKHUURXQGRIODXJKWHr . Getting on
their good side would be helpful. I laughed along with them as
we filed out of the barracks and into the hallway . As theZHQt
off in one direction, I grabbed Harrison’ s hand and led him the
other way, toward the main elevators.
“What are RXGRLQJ"KHDVNHGW e’re being
watched.”
I stopped. He was right. What else could we do?
“He better not hurt Missy,” I said.

“She’ll be okay,” he said, slipping an arm around my
waist. “This will work out. Y ou’ll see.”
He could be such an optimist. W as that one of the
reasons I found mVHOIDWWUDFWHGWRKLP"+HZDVWKHRSSRVLWe
of me, thinking everWKLQJZRXOGJRZURQJDOOWKHWLPHDQd
worrLQJDERXWWKLQJV,PLJKWQRWEHDEOHWRFKDQJH",WZRXOd
make sense. Well, that and I loved the waKHPDGHORYHWo
me. I smiled, grabbing his hand again.
“Come on, follow me,” I said, dragging him to a nearby
storage room.
“The cameras will pick it up,” he halfheartedlSURWHVWHG.
“I don’t care. W e haven’t had anWLPHIRUXVLQIDUWRo
long.”
He didn’ t resist as I pulled us into the room. I shut the
door behind me then turned, wrapping mDUPVDURXQGKLm
and squeezing tight. He bent down and kissed me. Our tongues
danced together . Things got a bit crazZKLOHWKHUHVWRIWKe
world melted awaDURXQGXV$VZHERWKUDFHGWRZDUGWKe
finish, getting closer with each passionate thrust, the door
burst open.
“Stop! Now!” a soldier HOOHG.
When we didn’t obey, he shot us with stun rounds.
I blacked out, onlSDUWRIPHKRSLQJ,ZRNHXSDJDLQ.

* * * * *

I opened mHes, a dull ache throughout mERGy .
Harrison stood nearby, staring down at me.
“What happened?” I asked, gentlSODFLQJDKDQGRQPy
head.
“TheVKRWXVKHVDLG.
I rolled over on the hard metal table.

“Come on,” Harrison said, offering a hand. “I’ll walk
RXWRWKHEDUUDFNV”
“Not so fast,” Orlando said from behind him.
I sat up and saw the psFKRSDWKVWDQGLQJLQWKHGRRUZDy .
“WhZHUHou two literallVFUHZLQJDURXQGLQVWHDGRf
looking for the boring machine?” he demanded. “You’re both
getting on mODVWQHUYH”
I laughed despite the pain.
“You need to tell RXUPHQWRVWRSVKRRWLQJXV”
Harrison said.
Orlando snorted. “Y ou won’t need to worrDERXWLW,Ye
got plans for RXWZR”
What now? Banishment again?
“I want RXWZRWRWDNHFRQWURORI6KHOWHUKe
continued. “I won’ t need it anPRUH:KLOH,FRXOGEDQLVKou
again, it’s smarter to keep mHQHPLHVFORVHY ou’ll run
operations and keep supplies headed to this shelter .”
“Fine,” Harrison said without even consulting me. “W e’ll
do it, but we want autonomy.”
Orlando chuckled and shook his head. “No, RXOOEHPy
vassals. I want to test the arrangement before I begin to take
control of the other shelters.”
“No,” I said, hopping off the table.
I winced as a fresh wave of pain shot through mERGy .
“You two are pathetic, but RXYHSURYHQourselves by
finding this place,” Orlando said. “Don’ t RXZDQWWRUXn
Shelter 42, Scout?”
“Fine,” I relented, not seeing a better option.
I turned and looked up at Harrison. He kept staring
straight ahead.
“Good,” Orlando said. “You both can leave tonight. I’ll
send a small squad to protect RXDQGPDNHVXUHWKLQJVJo
smooth at the other shelter .”

I bit mWRQJXHDQGNHSWTXLHWDV2UODQGRWXUQHGWo
leave.
“Oh, one more thing,” he said over his shoulder. “If I
find out RXZHUHKLGLQJWKHERULQJPDFKLQHWKHUHZLOOEHKHOl
to pay.”
He walked away , leaving Harrison and I alone in the
medical center.
“WhGLGou agree to work with him?” I asked.
“It’s better than being killed,” he said.
“Yeah, but…”
“W e need to face the facts. MissUDWWHGXVRXWIRr
whatever reason. W e need to make the best of our current
situation.”
“She would never do that to me,” I protested. “She loves
me.”
“You didn’ t see her getting jealous of us?” he asked.
He’d seen it too? WhKDGQ’ t I taken her feelings more
seriousl?
“We should ask to see her ,” I said. “Clear the air, at
least.”
“I alreadDVNHG+DUULVRQVDLG2UODQGRFODLPVVKe
doesn’t want to see either of us.”
“Something about all this isn’ t right,” I said.
“The world’s messed up,” he said. “Come on, I’ll help
RXWRWKHEDUUDFNVY ou need rest before we travel to the other
shelter.”
“What about Merlin?” I asked under mEUHDWK.
“Later,” he said, not elaborating.
I hated not being in control of the newest and most
advanced shelter . Well, one of them. If I found Merlin and
went to Shelter 102x, we had a chance. But what if we
defeated him? What then? Did I want to live in a world where

MissKDWHGPH",GLVOLNHGEHLQJDOHDGHr, but the world I
found mVHOILQEDGO needed one.
Harrison led me down the hall and to the elevators. As
we rode to the barracks, I thought about all the time I’d spent
with Missy. Not having time for her must’ve been a shock to
her. W ould I do the same to Harrison, driving him awaIURm
me? I hated being open with anRQHEHFDXVHRIWKHZRUOGI
found mVHOILQEXW,KDGWRWUXVWVRPHRQH.
Without trust, I would become a mean old ladQREHWWHr
than Orlando and the other dictators spread across the virtual
landscape. I wished I could find more who remembered the
old world, the real world we left behind. That had been my
next big goal, but, as alwaVWKHVWXSLGJDPHKDGWKURZQPHa
curve ball to keep me of f track and unfocused on mJRDO.
The elevator door opened, and we continued toward the
barracks. I leaned against him, still sore from the nanites
swimming through mERGy . We’d grown so close it scared
me in some waV,GLGQ’ t want him to leave like MissKDd
done. He stopped outside the door of the barracks and glanced
down the hall both waV.
“Merlin contacted me,” he whispered.
I perked up, mKHDUWEHDWLQJIDVWHr . “And?”
“He’s working on sending help.”
I nodded. “How did he contact RX"”
“A tinGURQHWKDWVHQGVGLJLWDOPHVVDJHVEDFNDQGIRUWK.
Now that I know Orlando is sending us to the other shelter , I’ll
send Merlin a message to meet us on the bottom floor over
there instead of here.”
I leaned in and kissed him. “That’s great.”
“We still have a chance,” he said. “Don’ t give up hope.”
I smiled, not wanting to share mIHDUVDERXW0LVVy .
Orlando was likelOing about some things, but I wouldn’ t put
it past MissWRWXUQXVLQLIVKHWKRXJKWWKLQJVZRXOGJREDFk
to the waWKH were before Harrison and I became an item. I

thought back to me helping him with the black market. How
far we’d come in a few short weeks.

Chapter 16

Orlando burst into the room he was holding us in. He’d
colored his Mohawk red the night before, but I still hated it.
As he strode over to us, Harrison took a step to block him
from me.
“MissLVVWDing with me,” Orlando said. “That way,
RXZRQ’t be tempted to screw me over . If RXGRZKDWou’re
told, she’ll be safe.”
“No,” I protested, stepping around Harrison.
He reached out and grabbed mVKRXOGHUDV2UODQGo
stepped back.
“Keep her under control, traitor ,” he snarled in a muffled
voice. “She’s the one who turned RXJXs in, anZDy . Why
would RXZDQWKHU"”
“You better not hurt her ,” I said, staring into his eHV.
He laughed. I wanted to punch his half-nose.
“I want to talk to her, at least,” I said.
“This isn’t a negotiation. Y ou either take mRf fer, or I
kill RXDQGSURPRWHVRPHRQHHOVHWRUXQWKHRWKHUVKHOWHr . To
be frank, I don’ t care if it falls apart if I have this one under
mFRQWURO,YHDOUHDG begun researching technologies that
weren’t available at the other shelter .”
So, it is different? I filed that fact awaDVKHFRQWLQXHd
rambling on.

“In fact, Scout staVKHUHWRRYou can run Shelter 42 on
RXURZQ+DUULVRQ”
“No,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest like he
had no fear. “Besides, RXYHJRWEHWWHUORRNLQJZRPHQWKDn
Scout. WhGRou want her?”
I bit mWRQJXHNQRZLQJKHZDVWUing to help. Still
stung a bit.
“She intrigues me,” he said.
“I’m not leaving without her ,” Harrison insisted.
“Fine, I’ll kill RXERWK2UODQGRWXUQHGWRZDUGWKe
guard at the door.
“No,” I said, stepping forward but stopping as the guard
raised his rifle. “Y ou need both of us to run the other shelter
successfully. What I lack in looks I make up for in brains. Y ou
can keep Missy. Screw her.”
The words hurt, but we needed to staDOLYHWREHDEOHWo
find out what reallKDSSHQHG2UODQGRWXUQHGDURXQGI
couldn’t see his face, but the bastard still looked smug.
“You two can leave in the morning. Feel free to have fun.
I’ll be watching.”
“Freak,” I muttered.
He laughed as he walked away . The guard left behind
shut and locked the hatch. I turned to Harrison and frowned.
“We can’ t leave her ,” I said. “There has to be another
way.”
“If RXKDYHDSODQWHOOPHKHVDLG.
While I hated to admit it, he had a point. I leaned over to
whisper in his ear .
“Merlin?”
“Quiet,” he hissed. “I don’ t think he was kidding about
watching or listening. Let’s get some rest.”
“Okay,” I said, walking over to the cot on the far wall.

He joined me, draping his heavDUPRYHUPH,GLGQ’t
mind.

* * * * *

The next morning, Orlando burst into our room, high out
of his mind on something.
“WakeZDNHWLPHKHVDLGKLVPRKDZNIODWWHQHG.
Harrison and I both got out of bed as Orlando watched.
“Do RXZDQWWRZDWFKXVVKRZHUWRR",TXLSSHG.
He grinned. “Is that an option?”
“No,” I muttered, wanting to get awaIURPKLP.
“Do RXDFFHSWP of fer?” he asked.
“We’ll do it, but we want assurances RXZRQ’ t hurt
Missy,” Harrison said, surprising me.
I kept staring at Orlando, not wanting to give my
emotions away .
“And if I don’t listen to RX"2UODQGRDVNHG.
“I’ll make RXUOLIHDOLYLQJKHOO+DUULVRQVDLGY ou
know I will.”
Orlando nervouslVKLIWHGKLVZHLJKWIURPRQHOHJWRWKe
other, brow furrowed.
“Just get the other shelter running and keep production
going. I’ll send mPHQDURXQGHYHU couple of weeks to
collect supplies.”
I nodded as he continued.
“You can run the other place however RXZDQWDVORQg
as RXSURGXFHZKDW,ZDQW,OOEHUXQQLQJP men on double
and triple shifts until I find that boring machine. W e found the
tunnel on the twelfth floor.”
I pursed mOLSVWRJHWKHr, not wanting to show a hint of
surprise.

“So?” Harrison asked. “WhZRXOGZHFDUH"”
“If RXWHOOPHZKHUH,FDQILQGWKHPDFKLQH,OOJLYe
RX0LVVy.”
MVWRPDFKFOHQFKHGDV,IRXJKWWRNHHSZKDWOLWWOHIRRd
I had in mEHOO down.
“I’d tell RXLI,NQHZZKHUHWRILQGLW+DUULVRQVDLG.
While I wanted MissWREHVDIHZHUHDOO didn’ t have
an idea of where Merlin had gone. Even if we did, I wouldn’ t
hand him over to Orlando. He would be keLQUHJDLQLQg
control of the experimental shelter. In fact, he was probably
our onlKRSHRIJHWWLQJ6KHOWHU[EDFN.
“I don’t know either , but I wish I did because I’d tell
RX,VDLG.
Orlando nodded while staring at me with narrowed eHV.
“Can we get readIRUWKLVMRXUQH?” Harrison asked.
“Make it quick,” Orlando said. “T wo of mVWURQJHVt
men will be waiting bWKHH[LWWRDFFRPSDQ RXEDFNWo
Shelter 42.”
Harrison and I both remained quiet. Orlando turned and
walked out, almost falling twice.
“Is he ever not wasted?” I asked.
Harrison shook his head.
“We can use that to our advantage,” I said.
He nodded then stretched and DZQHG.
“Stop,” I teased, DZQLQJPself.
“I’m so tired,” he said.
His defeated voice scared me.
“Don’ t talk that way ,” I said. “We’re still alive, and
we’re getting control of our own shelter .”
“A fiefdom,” he snorted, shaking his head then walking
toward the hatch leading out of the room.

I followed him outside where two guards led us to a
storeroom a few hatches down the hall.
“We’re getting weapons, right?” Harrison asked.
“No,” a guard said. “Grab those sacks and RXUVXLWV”
I walked over and slipped on an enviro-suit.
“We’ll need weapons to control the others,” Harrison
said.
“That’ s whou’ll have us,” the guard retorted.
“We’re not leaving here without weapons.”
The guard stared of f into space.
“Orlando saVZHFDQJLYHou the weapons when we get
to the other shelter, not before,” he said.
Harrison muttered a few curses before putting on his
own enviro-suit. After suiting up and putting on our helmets,
we grabbed the meager sacks of supplies. I wondered how
manSHRSOH,GKDYHFRQWURORILQWKHRWKHUVKHOWHr . Would I
have enough Build Power (BP) and Research Power (RP) to
do something? And how did Shelter 42 dif fer from the newer,
experimental one. I had too manTXHVWLRQVIRUP liking.
The guards escorted us outside of the shelter . I watched
the hatch slowlFORVHEHIRUHVWDULQJXSDWWKHGXOOFORXG-
filled sky.
“Let’s move out,” one of the men escorting us said.
Harrison walked next to me as I followed him. Another
guard with a plasma rifle walked behind us. Even if we got a
chance, killing them didn’ t make sense. We’d need their help
to keep the people in Shelter 42 under control. TheGEHHn
oppressed b2UODQGRIRUVRORQJ,VHULRXVO wondered if
theGUHEHOEHIRUHZHHYHQDUULYHGW e walked through the
wasteland, none of us talking.

Chapter 17

When we arrived at Shelter 42 later that afternoon, I
hated and loved the sight of it at the same time. After Harrison
and I opened the hatch and climbed down into the
decontamination chamber, the others followed. The heavy
metal barrier shut above us, blocking the outdoors. The two
soldiers who had accompanied us stood together , talking to
each other as three other men carrLQJULIOHVVWRRGQHDUEy .
“Listen up,” Harrison said, taking charge. “I know what
Orlando probablWROGou, but guess what? Screw him. Scout
and I are in charge here. We’re the same person. Y ou don’t
want to test either of us. Am I understood?”
“We’re with RXVLr ,” a man said, stepping forward.
He took off his helmet, revealing close-cropped blond
hair.
“Skinner? Is that RX"+DUULVRQDVNHGZDONLQJFORVHr .
“Yes, sir ,” the man replied. “W e’ve been waiting for RXr
return, sir.”
Harrison grabbed the man and squeezed him as I walked
over.
“You should’ve said something sooner ,” Harrison said.
“We didn’ t want to take a chance, sir . With everRQe
having a helmet on, I wasn’ t sure who we could trust.
EverRQHKHVHQWLVIURPWKHROGVTXDG”
I wished Harrison would tell me everWKLQJEXW,NHSt
mPRXWKVKXW.

“This is good news,” he said, letting Skinner go. “Does
Orlando have anRQHORal to him here?”
“A few men and women,” Skinner said.
“Keep RXUHe on them, but don’t make anPRYHV+e
never suspected RXRIUHPDLQLQJORal to me?”
“He’s crazy , sir.” Skinner shrugged.
I smiled, able to tell wh+DUULVRQOLNHGKLP.
“Okay , go get everRQHLQWKHDXGLWRULXPW e’re making
an announcement.”
Skinner nodded then turned and walked out of the
decontamination room with his squad.
“Are RXVXUHWKDW’s a smart idea?” I asked.
“The announcement?” He grinned. “Y ou don’t even
know what it is HW”
“No, I don’ t. That’s the problem.”
“We’re going to pla2UODQGR’ s game for now,” he said.
“We need to appear supportive of him. Meanwhile, in the
background, we’ll find out some waWRXVH0HUOLQWRRXr
advantage and retake control of our other shelter . Did Ru
accept control of this one HW"”
“No, hold on.”
|| Accept control of Shelter 42 [Y/n]
“Done,” I said, glancing over the new options available.
The shelter operated on two major game mechanics —
research power (RP) and build power (BP)[. Research power
unlocked new technologies while build power allowed me to
build stuff. PrettVLPSOH,JODQFHGDWWKHRSWLRQV,
unimpressed.

Basic Weapons
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Weapons (1000
RP)

Basic Food (UNLOCKED) Micro-Crops (500
RP)
Basic Energy
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Geothermal (500
RP)
Basic Resources
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Mining (1000
BP)
Basic Military
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Militar 0
RP)

Orlando hadn’ t researched anWKLQJEHond the basics,
but I didn’t have enough people to generate dailUHVHDUFh
power. I double checked the roster of people under my
command, hoping I might be able to spare some people to be
engineers.

Engineers 0
Soldiers 24
Cooks 10
Cleaners 25
Teachers 2
Fixers 74
T rashers 40
Children 21
Farmers 87

Makers 245
Total Population 528

The bare bones crew needed to staLQWKHLUUHVSHFWLYe
spots if we wanted to produce all the food and supplies
Orlando expected from us while keeping everWKLQJHOVe
running smooth.
“Y ou almost read"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
I nodded and waved the screen away .
“Just a bit worried. I don’t see how we can produce
enough to feed ourselves and help the other shelter . We’ll need
to go to half-rations. The people are gonna hate us.”
“We’ll be okay ,” Harrison said, putting a hand on my
shoulder and squeezing. “W e have to put down the law now , or
theOOWU to question us and rebel.”
“Are RXVXUH"We know the people here.”
“MaEHEXWWKH hate us. T rust me. After escaping and
being wanted, we’re suddenlPDGHWKHLUOHDGHr . None of them
will like it. Well, except for mROGVTXDG”
“I trust RX,VDLGPHDQLQJLW.
“Come on.” He motioned for me to follow with a nod of
his head. “Let’ s get to the auditorium.”
“Who’s going to give the speech?” I asked.
“Me,” he said. “While I don’ t agree with it, more of them
will respect the message if it’ s coming from me. Don’t look at
me that way. You know it’ s true.”
“It’s true, but it’ s one of the things I wanted to change.”
“We’ll have time for women’ s rights later.”
“I hope so,” I said.
We walked to the elevator in silence. The gray , barren
walls reminded me of the other shelter and Miss’ s murals.

* * * * *

I stood to Harrison’s left and a few steps behind him as
he talked on stage in front of all the inhabitants of the shelter .
Orlando hadn’t officiallJLYHQXVFRQWUROYLDWKHJDPHPHQXV,
but we would be in char ge until he changed his mind.
“Together , we’re going to build a new world…”
I smiled, loving that he’d used some of the speech I’d
given at the experimental shelter we’d found. W e needed to
get through all the bullshit politics and contact Merlin. Surely
the most advanced artificial intelligence in the game could
help us.
Harrison continued speaking. While he had assumed
control of this shelter, I still had ownership of the second
experimental one. I wished he would get the damn speech over
with because I wanted to contact Merlin and come up with a
plan.
“Screw RXWUDLWRUVRPHRQHVKRXWHGIURPWKe
audience.
Instead of ordering guards or ignoring him, both
reasonable options, he jumped of f the stage and headed into
the crowd. EverRQHSDUWHGOHDYLQJWKHPDQZKRGVSRNHQXp
all alone as Harrison walked up. I couldn’ t look awaIURm
them.
“SaLWDJDLQ+DUULVRQVDLG,GDUHou.”
The man laughed. “Screw RX”
Before the man finished speaking, Harrison rushed
forward and grabbed him bWKHQHFN7KHPDQSXOOHGDNQLIH,
but Harrison easilGLVDUPHGKLP$KXVKHGVLOHQFHIHOORYHr
the crowd as the shelter’s new leader held the man in a
headlock.
“Do RXVXEPLWWRPH"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
“Screw RXWKHJX mumbled.

Harrison kept squeezing until the man stopped moving.
NobodLQWKHFURZGVSRNHDV+DUULVRQOHWKLPGURSWRWKe
floor then returned to the stage.
“Clean that piece of shit up,” he said. “Now!”
Several people jumped into action, dragging the heckler
away. Had he been too harsh? Or was being ruthless needed to
keep the shelter under our control? I worried about what tSe
of monster I might become with too much power in mKDQGV.
“AnRWKHUTXHVWLRQVRUREMHFWLRQV"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
The crowd remained silent.
“Dismissed,” he said then turned to me.
He walked over as the auditorium cleared.
“You killed him,” I said.
He nodded.
“I know him from waEDFNDQGKHZRXOGYHFDXVHGXs
trouble,” Harrison said.
“Still…”
“Are RXXSIRUWKLV"KHVQDSSHG.
“I onlZDQWHGDEHWWHUOLIHIRU0LVV and mVHOIDQd
now…”
“And now she’ s gone,” he said. “W e have to keep going.
Merlin can help us.”
“We need to contact him. AnOXFNet?”
“I’m trLQJKHUHSOLHGSXWWLQJDKDQGRQP waist.
“For now , we have to deal with our current situation. Are Ru
with me?”
“Yeah, I’m with RX,VDLGWUing to sound like I meant
it.
“Look, I know RXFDUHGDERXWKHr , but RXKDYHWRIDFe
facts…”
I nodded, keeping mOLSVSXUVHGWRJHWKHUDV,VWDUHGLQWo
his eHVWe left the auditorium after it cleared, heading

toward Orlando’s old quarters on the first floor of the shelter .
The moment we opened the hatch, I realized how much
cleaning we needed to do and missed the newer and unused
experimental shelter.
“Nasty,” I said, walking in and glancing around. “W e
should get to work.”
“I’ve got stuff to do,” he said. “Y ou can staKHUHDQd
clean if RXZDQW”
“Excuse me?” I put a hand on mKLS.
“We should have someone else cleaning this up,” he said.
“We’ve got more important things to do like lock down the
shelter and make sure everRQHLVRQERDUGZLWKXV1RWWo
mention contacting Merlin and finding a waWRJHWWRour
experimental shelter .”
I took a deep breath. He had a point, but I didn’ t want
strangers in mVOHHSLQJTXDUWHUV.
“He might’ve left something valuable behind. I’m
staLQJWRORRNDQGVWUDLJKWHQXS”
“I doubt he left anWKLQJKHUH+DUULVRQVDLG,OOWDOk
to RXODWHr.”
“OkaZHUHVOHHSLQJWRJHWKHr , right?”
“We have been,” he said. “Something changed?”
“No, but…”
I let mYRLFHGULIWRf f. He shook his head then turned to
leave. I wished I could turn all mHPRWLRQVRf f as easilDs
him. Assuming control of the shelter with him, I needed to do
better with not bowing to feelings when important decisions
needed to be made. Harrison left the large, lavish quarters
without saLQJDQRWKHUZRUG.
While I hated to admit it, he was probablULJKWDERXt
Orlando not leaving anWKLQJYDOXDEOHEHKLQG6WLOOPy
instincts told me something wasn’t exactlULJKWLQWKHOLYLQg
area. I searched through the most obvious places first,
checking drawers and bookshelves. EverWKLQJKDGEHHn
stripped clean and left unwashed. The place stunk.

I ventured into his private bedroom and noticed thed
left the same sheets on the fluffPDWWUHVVLQWKHPLGGOHRIWKe
room. Those needed to be burned. I walked over and ripped
them off. I set them into a pile for disposal then noticed a lump
in the center of the bed. Curious, I lifted the mattress and
spotted a wooden box underneath.
Had he for gotten something after all? I grabbed it then
let the mattress plop back down. Sitting on the edge of it, I
examined the plain, wooden box. It wasn’ t big enough to hold
verPXFKDQGLWZDVQ’t heavy. After checking for traps and
finding none, I opened the lid, hoping I didn’ t see anVWUDQJe
sex toVRUDQthing. The book inside surprised me.
I picked up the leather-bound collection of pages and
opened it. No wa,UHDG2UODQGR’ s thoughts in his own
handwriting. Had he kept a diar",LPPHGLDWHO thought of
Harrison and telling him, but I held of f, unable to stop reading.
When I saw mQDPHPHQWLRQHGP heart almost stopped
beating. I flipped through to the last entry .
“Augorn 24th, 2987: I want Scout but not for the reasons
she might think. Her bod’s nice even if her mind’s blown out.
I want her for her memories. Are her memories of the real
world the same as mine? Does she hold the secret for getting
out of here?”
I set the book in mODSDQGWRRNDGHHSEUHDWK'LGKe
remember the real world too? I stood and went to find
Harrison. At the door, I stopped, changing mPLQG+HGLGQ’ t
believe me, and Orlando’s diarKDGQ’t been explicit in what
he knew or believed. I needed more facts. Others could finish
the cleaning later . I flipped back to the beginning of Orlando’ s
journal, reading from the verEHJLQQLQJ.
His words intrigued me enough to keep flipping through
pages. I forced mVHOIWRJHWWKURXJKHYHU page. All the
while, I kept hoping for another mention of the real world
behind the game we were trapped in. The rest of the journal
was filled with vile thoughts of a sick and twisted man. When
I got to the end of the journal later that evening, I wanted to
throw up. How had such a maniac climbed to a position of
power?

As I laid in bed, I wondered about the other shelters.
How manSHRSOHUHPHPEHUHGWKHUHDOZRUOG",I2UODQGo
believed, whGLGKHNHHSLWDVHFUHW"7KHTXHVWLRQVNHSt
bouncing around in mKHDG$IWHUKLGLQJWKHERRN,FXUOHd
up on the bare mattress, thinking of Missy. Had she abandoned
me too? I felt so cold and alone. Not even thoughts of Merlin
or escaping the game could cheer me up.

Chapter 18

An entire week went bZLWKQRFRQWDFWIURP0HUOLQ,
Missy, or even Orlando. Harrison and I worked opposite shifts,
barelVHHLQJHDFKRWKHUH[FHSWIRUDIHZPLQXWHVKHUHDQd
there during the daRUODWHDWQLJKWZKHQKHZHQWWREHGDQGI
left. The situation wasn’ t ideal, but we had to do quite a lot to
keep the shelter running ef ficiently. When we finallJRWa
chance to see each other , it wasn’t under the most ideal
circumstances.
“It’s not right,” I said.
“No kidding,” Harrison snapped.
I frowned as we stood next to a table in the conference
room we had set up to handle managing everRQHLQWKe
shelter . Harrison glanced down at a list of people on his tablet.
“That’s the onlZD we’ll survive,” he said. “TheKDYe
to die.”
“We could banish them from the shelter ,” I offered.
“That’ s a slower death, but theUHVWLOOGHDGDWWKHHQG”
He took a deep breath. “I’ll do it mVHOIY ou don’t have to
worrDERXWJHWWLQJour hands dirty .”
“What are RXWDONLQJDERXW",DVNHGDQQRed at him.
The sexual tension between us had been building since
we stopped being intimate. I couldn’ t stand it much longer, but
we had so much to do.
“Has Merlin contacted RXet?” I asked.
“No. I told RX,GWHOOou.”

I raised mKDQGV'RQ’t need to snap at me.”
“This is a hard decision for me too,” he said. “I know
most of these people.”
“How are we going to do it?” I asked in a quiet tone.
“We’ll give them something that will put them to
sleep…”
His voice trailed of f.
“That’s probablWKHEHVWZDy ,” I admitted. “Are Ru
going to tell them?”
Harrison sighed, clenching his fists like he alwaVGLd
when he got anxious or nervous. I waited for his answer , not
pressuring him. With an outbreak of T om’s Troubles in the
shelter , we needed to kill those infected before theVSUHDGLt
to everRQH,KDWHGWKHLGHDRIGRLQJLWHYHQWKRXJK,ZDs
certain about being trapped in a virtual game. Killing someone
still felt real.
“We have to do it,” I said. “TheOOLQIHFWHYHUone if we
don’ t.”
“I know ,” he said, unclenching his fists and gripping the
side of the wooden table.
All our bickering and posturing felt ridiculous as we
talked about the fate of a dozen people who needed to die for
everRQHHOVHWRHYHQKDYHDFKDQFHDWVXUYLYDO,KDWHGWKe
virtual world I found mVHOILQ:KRZRXOGGHYLVHVXFKa
twisted choice for people to make? Did theVHHLWDVDJDPe
with the numbers for skills and statistics?
“I’m going,” Harrison said, standing up and turning
toward the door .
“Let me go with RX,VDLG.
“No,” he said walking out of the room.
I left through another door and headed for our bedroom.
After so manKRXUVRIQRVOHHS,FRXOGQ’ t continue any
longer. I needed to close mHes and rest. The image of the
poor twelve souls about to be poisoned flashed through my

mind as I walked. I wasn’t close with anRIWKHPEXWLWVWLOl
hurt. And Missy. What about her?
Harrison and I hadn’ t talked about Merlin again, but with
our big decision, I didn’ t fault either of us. As I reached our
private elevator and pressed the button, I thought about the AI
boring machine. I smiled a moment as I remembered Orlando
getting so worked up. Then the realization of what we were
about to do hit me.
I rode the elevator to the top floor of the shelter . Workers
had cleaned it out over the last week. It had finallVWDUWHGWo
feel like home, but I hated everWKLQJDERXWLWDV,ZDONHGLQ.
Harrison and I were killers. The deaths were necessary , but
that didn’t make them anHDVLHUWRGHDOZLWK,ZHQWWRRXr
bed and laid down under the covers.
Closing mHes onlPDGHWKHLPDJHVRIWKHSHRSOe
about to die even worse. I could hear their voices crLQJRXWWo
me as I fell asleep. Damn this game to hell. Whoever was
behind the crazy , post-apocalSWLFZDVWHODQGZRXOGSD for
imprisoning us.

* * * * *

I opened mHes an unknown amount of time later .
Harrison sat on the edge of the bed, staring blanklLQWRVSDFH.
I sat up and placed a hand on his back. He pulled awaDQd
stood.
“Don’t,” he said. “Not now .”
“I was just trLQJWRFRQVROHou,” I said. “Did RXGo
it?”
“Yes, I did it,” he snapped, turning to me. “Someone had
to do it.”
I crawled out of bed and stretched, not wanting to face
another day .
“We need to contact Merlin and take control of the better
shelter ,” he said.

I nodded, walking over to him. He took a deep breath as
I wrapped mDUPVDURXQGKLVZDLVW.
“We had no choice,” I said.
He nodded, still wearing his leather mask.
“I’ve heard a rumor RXUHQRWJRQQDOLNHKHVDLG.
“What now?”
“Orlando is taking MissDVDZLIH”
“We can’ t let that happen,” I said.
“There’ s nothing we can do.”
He frowned, pursing his lips together .
“There has to be something. What about Merlin?”
“I still haven’t heard from him, have RX"”
“No,” I said, frowning and shaking mKHDG:KDWGo
RXWKLQNDERXWZKDWZHIRXQGRXWDERXW2UODQGR",VKHWUing
to hold MissKRVWDJHWRJHWPHWRZRUNZLWKKLPRr
something?”
“Who knows,” Harrison said.
“I wish RXZRXOGEHOLHYHPH,VDLG7KHUHDOZRUOd
was amazing. W e had pizza, milkshakes, and all the food we
could eat…”
He took a deep breath. “Y ou’re making me hungry.”
“It’s real,” I insisted. “This isn’ t the real world.”
He put a hand on mZDLVW.
“It’s real enough. Unless RXKDYHDZD out?”
“No…”
I pressed mERG against his and squeezed tight. The
world was turning us into monsters. W as that the point?
Should I refuse to plaDQGDOORZPself to die? Harrison
rubbed mEDFNDPRPHQWEHIRUHSXOOLQJEDFN.
“Let’s go eat,” he said. “W e need to be public.”

I nodded. “We don’t want the others to think we’re
hiding.”
As we walked toward the hatch leading out of our living
space, a drone flew in from the ventilation shaft near the
ceiling. Merlin?
“I got it,” Harrison said, holding out his hand.
The mini-drone landed and ejected a tinSLHFHRISDSHr .
“What’s on the note?” I asked, anxious to hear .
“Gimme a second,” he said, peering closely . “Merlin
needs more time. Orlando is hunting him.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
He nodded. “That’ s it.”
“I love and hate that machine.”
“We’ve got enough problems to worrDERXW”
“I know , but…”
MYRLFHWUDLOHGRf f as an alarm sounded.
| Riot Alert!
| Cafeteria
“Ugh,” he groaned. “Let’ s go.”
I followed him into our private elevator . He pressed the
button to take us to the main cafeteria. As we descended, I
pulled out mSODVPDSLVWROUHDG to use it if necessary .
“Take it easy ,” Harrison said. “These are our people, and
theUHMXVWKXQJUy .”
“We don’ t have enough food. Orlando is asking for too
much.”
“I know ,” he said as the elevator door slid open.
“Damn,” I muttered as I saw complete chaos on the floor .
A chair flew past us and smashed into the wall. Harrison
stormed toward the center of the room. I followed him,
wondering if we could calm them down. A full-scale riot could

damage the entire shelter, making it uninhabitable. W e
couldn’t let that happen no matter what.

Chapter 19

“EverRQHVHWWOHGRZQ+DUULVRQVKRXWHGIURPDWRSa
metal table.
I stood nearby, mEODVWHUKDQJLQJORRVHO at mVLGH.
“We’re hungry ,” a woman screamed. “W e’re dLQJ”
“There’s been a shortage,” Harrison said. “If we don’ t
give Orlando what he wants, he’s going to attack us. We don’t
have enough troops to battle his heavilDUPHGPHQ”
“You two suck as leaders!” a man in the crowd HOOHG.
“Who said that?” Harrison demanded.
After spending so much time with him, I could tell he
was about to lose his temper . The furrowed brow and flared
nostrils told the tale. I stepped up beside him.
“We have extra food we’ll be giving out,” I said.
The people quieted down. Harrison glanced over at me.
“I’ve been stashing a secret stock of supplies,” I lied.
“We’ll be okay .”
“You did what?” Harrison hissed under his breath.
“Go with it,” I said then shouted. “Give us time!”
“W e gave RXWZRFORZQVHQRXJKWLPHVRPHRQe
HOOHG.
“Double rations for dinner tonight, but onlLIHYHUone
disperses now!”

I watched as a few people wandered away, too hungry
and tired to offer up anUHDOUHVLVWDQFH$VWKH left the
cafeteria or found seats, Harrison turned to me.
“What were RXWDONLQJDERXW"KHDVNHGY ou’ve been
stockpiling food?”
“No, but we’ll come up with food before tonight,” I said.
“Even if we need to take it from Orlando’s supplies. What’s he
going to do?”
“He’s going to attack us, that’ s what he’s going to do,”
Harrison said then hopped of f the table and stormed toward
the short line for food.
I stepped down then followed him. The others in line
quit talking when we joined them. I felt everRQHVWDULQJDWPe
and felt them thinking bad thoughts. W e got our meager
helping of rations then retreated to a table in the corner . I
thought about MissDV,UDQP spoon through the bowl of
green goop that kept us alive.
“Quit plaLQJZLWKour food and eat it,” he said.
I sighed then scooped up a bite.
“Real food was so much better…”
“Just stop it with that other world crap, oka"”
I frowned, hurt bKLVFRQVWDQWFDOORXVQHVV.
“We’ll break into Orlando’ s next shipment,” he relented.
“He won’t even notice.”
“That fat fool’ s gonna notice, don’ t RXZRUUy.”
As much as I hated to admit it, Harrison was right.
Orlando could be a mean man when he thought he’d been
undercut bVRPHRQHEHQHDWKKLP.
“We should just tell him to go away ,” I whispered. “He’s
not going to attack.”
“No, he would attack us in a heartbeat,” Harrison said.
“You think he’ s going to take a hit to his reputation? No way .”

“Perhaps.” I paused before continuing another line of
thought. “Or maEH0HUOLQ”
I stopped talking and sighed, knowing we didn’t have
enough time.
“Exactly,” he said, scraping the last of his green goop
onto his spoon.
“You want mine?” I asked, scooting the plastic bowl
toward him.
“Eat it,” he said. “Y ou need RXUVWUHQJWKW e’re either
going to be fighting our own people or Orlando’ s men. There’s
no other waDURXQGLW”
I sighed and nodded before taking a bite of the gruel. W e
had to do something. Eating Orlando’s rations would send him
a message, but I hoped we didn’t get MissKXUWLQWKHSURFHVV.
MWKRXJKWVUHWXUQHGWRKLVMRXUQDOHQWU mentioning me. Did
he know the truth regarding our situation? WhZRXOGQ’ t he
work with me to find a waWRHVFDSH",KDWHGQRWNQRZLQJ.
“We’ve got company ,” Harrison said.
I glanced up. “Who is it?”
“Orlando’s men are here early ,” he said.
I scooped out the rest of what passed for food then slid it
into mPRXWK:KLOHQXWULWLRXVWKHWDVWHOHVVDOPRVWOLTXLd
food didn’t have enough fiber bIDr . That’s all I’ll saRQWKDt
matter. I stood along with Harrison. W e walked toward the
main elevator together because meeting his men upstairs in
private was smarter until we figured something out.
Once in the elevator and rising, I took a deep breath to
prepare mVHOIIRUZKDWHYHUZDLWHGXVDERYH,VWDUHGDWWKe
scratched steel door ahead of me, desperatelWUing to think of
a waRXWWe needed a plan, and nothing was coming to me. I
started breathing faster , feeling faint and almost falling to the
floor.
“Are RXRND?” Harrison asked, catching me in his
arms.
“Yeah,” I said. “Panic attack…”

I took a deep breath to calm mVHOI.
“Get it together,” he grunted. “It’ s showtime.”
The elevator door slid open on the first floor . We walked
out and headed toward the contamination room where four of
Orlando’ s men stood. I noticed their heavZHDSRQs
immediately . We’d have a problem if theZDQWHGWKHLUIRRd
early , but we’d work it out. Somehow , we alwaVPDQDJHGWo
solve anSUREOHPVWKDWFDPHXS.
“You’re early ,” Harrison said as theZDONHGRXWRIWKe
decontamination room and into the hallway . “We won’ t have
RXUIRRGUHDG until later tonight.”
“All of it?” Orlando’ s man asked.
“What do RXPHDQ",VKRWEDFN.
“Your tax went up,” he said then chuckled.
The other three behind him raised their shock rifles.
“Hold on,” Harrison said. “Under whose orders?”
“Who do RXWKLQN"WKHPDQDVNHGVKDNLQJKLVKHDd
then adding, “Y ou used to be so strong, but since RXVKDFNHd
up with this bitch, RXYHJRQHGRZQKLOO”
I raised mILVWZLWKDTXLFNQHVVFDXVLQJWKHJXDUGWo
flinch and the others to tense up.
“EverERGy, settle down,” Harrison said, holding up his
hands.
“We’re here for what’ s ours and a bit more,” the other
guVDLG.
“No,” I said, readLQJP hand to grab mSLVWROW e
can’t give RXPRUH”
Orlando’ s man laughed. “W e’re not asking. There’ s a big
ceremonFRPLQJXSDQGZHQHHGH[WUDVXSSOLHVIRURXr
guests.”
“What guests?” I asked.
“That’s none of RXUEXVLQHVV+HUDLVHGKLVULIOH'o
we have a problem?”

“No problem,” Harrison said. “We’ll get RXUVWXff. Send
me the list.”
A notification popped up, listing the supplies they
wanted from us.
“That’s too much,” I said. “People will die here without
those supplies.”
“Again,” the dick said. “That’ s not our problem. You
need to shut RXUPRXWKEHIRUH,VKXWLWIRUou…
permanently.”
“Go ahead and trLW,GDUHG.
The other men stood perfectlVWLOOWKHLUZHDSRQVWUDLQHd
on us. Their squad leader shot, sending a bolt of ener gLQWo
mWKLJK,FULHGRXWGUDZLQJP pistol as I fell to the floor .
“No!” Harrison shouted.
He charged forward, barreling into the closest trooper .
TheFUDVKHGEDFNLQWRWKHRWKHUVJLYLQJPHHQRXJKWLPHIRr
a couple carefullWDrgeted shots. I hit two of them in the face,
causing them to scream and drop their weapons. Harrison
continued wrestling with their leader while the fourth guILUHd
again, hitting me.

| Warning: Low Health.
| Warning: Y ou might die soon.

I swiped the annoLQJVFUHHQVDZD as I rolled across the
hallwaEHIRUHVLWWLQJXSDQGILULQJDJDLQT wo perfectly
aimed bolts of plasma hit his hand, knocking his rifle to the
ground. I stood and ran forward, out of energLQWKHSLVWROEXt
readWRXVHLWDVDEOXQWIRUFHZHDSRQ+DUULVRQILUHGWZo
shots into the leader’s face, catching the last living guEy
surprise. I capitalized on his slight distraction and slammed the
heavPHWDOSLVWRODJDLQVWKLVKHDG+LVHes squinted before
theFORVHGDVKHKLWWKHJURXQG.

| Combat is Over!
| You get 900 Life Experience Points!
| You have 4,400 LXP!
| Level Up!
| You’re now level 4!
| + 15 skill points
| + 12 health
|+ 5 stat points

“What did we just do?” Harrison asked, glancing around
at the dead bodies.
“Protected ourselves,” I said.
“It’ s going to have a steep price,” he said.
“MaEHWKHRWKHUVKHOWHUVZLOODWWDFN2UODQGRDQd
distract him awaIURPXVRUZHPLJKWILQDOO hear from
Merlin. W e had to do this.” I stepped forward and put mKDQd
on his arm. “Thanks for sticking up for me.”
He tilted his head back, narrowing his eHVDVKHVWDUHd
at me. “This means war .”
I sighed. “Yeah, but we’re going to be able to feed our
people now.”
“Timing’ s everWKLQJKHVDLG7KHVHLGLRWVGHVHUYHGWo
die, but we should be strategic and not relRQVSXURIWKe
moment tactics all the time.”
“I agree,” I said, moving mKDQGDZDy .
We didn’ t have time to mess around phVLFDOO no matter
how badl,ZDQWHGKLPLQVLGHPH.
“TheYHJRWDNH to get in our main hatch, so we need
to post guards,” I said.
“AlreadRQLWKHVDLGVZLSLQJWKHDLULQIURQWRIKLm
as he manipulated game screens.

I thought again about the people who had changed the
virtual world into one so brutal and unforgiving. Who was
behind the madness? Even more important, could I find them
and reverse whatever theKDGGRQHWRWUDSXVLQWKe
simulation?
“Guards are on their waWRWKHKDWFK+DUULVRQVDLG.
I nodded. “We should go feed our people.”
“Good idea,” he said. “W e’ve got some extra food now .”
We walked back to the cafeteria together , instructing the
people in the kitchen to hand out normal rations for the next
few daV,I2UODQGRFDPHWRILJKWZHGQHHGHYHUone in
good fighting condition. The people cheered when Harrison
gave the announcement. I glanced over and up at his partially
covered face, loving him even more.
“Time to plan,” he said. “Let’ s go.”
I followed him to a room with a long, wooden table with
a dozen chairs around it. The impromptu war room would be
our home until we came up with an adequate plan to overcome
Orlando. On the way, I quicklDOORFDWHGP new points. I put
all five stat points into brawn. For mVNLOOV,SXWWHQLQWo
plasma rifles and five into plasma pistols. I needed to be a
better shot.

Chapter 20

Three hours later, I sat in one of the chairs, mHOERZs
propped up on the table. W e still hadn’t come up with a good
plan to defeat Orlando or even protect our shelter . Too many
troops swore allegiance to him. Harrison paced back and forth
in front of the hatch to the room as I fought against the
depression rising in mPLQG.
“Can RXVWRSSDFLQJSOHDVH",DVNHGWKHQVLJKHG.
He stopped walking and turned to me. “Y ou come up
with something?”
“No. You?”
He frowned, shaking his head. “I’m worried we made a
big mistake.”
“Don’t talk that way ,” I said, pushing back mFKDLUDQd
standing. “We got this.”
“How?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“We’ll figure something out,” I said. “This shelter can
take care of itself if we can keep Orlando out. And maEe
Merlin will come.”
“I dunno,” he said. “I’m still worried.”
“That’ s good,” I said, walking over to him. “Leaders
should worrZKHQDSSURSULDWH”
I put mKDQGVRQKLVDUPVDQGSXOOHGWKHPGRZQ+Ls
hands in mine, I looked into his eHV+HEHQWGRZQWLOWLQJKLs
head. As his lips made their waWRZDUGPLQHP heart beat a
bit faster . We kissed, briefly . He pulled back, staring ahead.

“What is it?” I asked.
“Incoming message. Orlando’s alreadVHQWEDFNXSV.
TheUHRXWVLGHWKHVKHOWHUDQGGHPDQGLQJWRJHWLQ”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” he snapped, glancing around the room.
“TheUHWHOOLQJHYHUone in the shelter to leave. W e need to
go and stop them from getting in.”
“Let’s do it…”
We left our impromptu war room and headed toward the
main elevators. Neither of us talked as the situation went from
bad to worse around us. How had theIRUFHGWKHLUZD in?
Should we have guarded the main entrance ourselves?
Questions haunted me as we reached the elevator . I pressed the
button to call it and turned to Harrison.
“We’ve got this,” I said.
He looked like he needed the assurance.
“We’ll see,” he said.
I wondered if he was thinking about going back to
Orlando’ s side to save himself. W ould that even be possible?
The elevator door slid open. I stepped aside to let him go in
first. We’d slept together , but he didn’t even believe me when I
said we were trapped in a game. I wasn’ t sure if I should keep
trusting him so blindly. Once inside, the door slid closed. He
pressed the button for the top floor of the shelter .
Merlin: Scout? Are RXDYDLODEOH?
“It’s Merlin,” I said excitedly .
Harrison: I’m here too. What’ s going on?
Merlin: I’m on the 12th floor. Come see me.
Scout: We’re a bit busULJKWQRw .
After thinking out mPHVVDJH,WXUQHGWR+DUULVRQ+e
shrugged.
“Let’s go check it out,” I said. “MaEHKHOOKDYHDn
idea.”

I told Merlin we were on our waGRZQDVWKHHOHYDWRr
reached the top floor. After pressing the button for the lowest
level, I reached out and put mKDQGLQ+DUULVRQ’ s. He
squeezed lightlZKLOHWXUQLQJWRPH2XUHes met. As we
shot deeper into the shelter, he leaned forward and kissed me
again. I never wanted it to end, but the elevator stopped, and
the door slid open.
We disengaged then left the elevator , heading toward the
largest storeroom. I smiled as we entered, and I saw Merlin
near a freshlGXJKROHLQRQHRIWKHZDOOV.
“Y ou’re finallEDFN,VDLGDVZHZDONHGRYHr .
“I’m sorry,” Merlin said. “I’ve been busy . You gave up
control of shelter 101x, and the man who took over has been
hunting me. I’m meant to help RXDQGRQO RX”
“WhLVWKDW"+DUULVRQDVNHGDVZHVWRSSHGLQIURQWRf
the boring machine.
“She’ s special,” Merlin said. “She remembers before the
problems.”
I opened mHes wider in shock at the statement.
“What do RXPHDQ"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
“She’s one of a few who remember this is all a virtual
simulation…just a game.”
“Get out of here,” Harrison snorted, turning to me. “Y ou
put the machine up to this, didn’t RX"”
“No,” I said. “What are RXWHOOLQJXV0HUOLQ",PULJKt
about mPHPRULHV”
“I don’t know all RXUPHPRULHVEXWWKLVLVQ’ t the real
world.”
“Can RXKHOSXVQRw, or not?” Harrison asked.
“I want RXWRUHWDNHWKHRWKHUVKHOWHr ,” Merlin replied.
“I can dig a tunnel to get six people to the other shelter . Once I
arrive, I will tell RXKRZWRGHIHDWWKHRWKHUV”
“Tell us now ,” Harrison insisted.

“VerZHOO0HUOLQLQWRQHG,FDQ’ t assume control of
the shelter until I get Orlando and his people to leave. This is
where Scout comes in.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I messed it up last time.”
“No kidding,” Harrison snorted.
“You didn’ t have time to explore all the possibilities,”
Merlin said. “Y ou’ll do better this time with mKHOS,PVXUH.
We should go now . Do RXKDYHDVXLWDEOHWHDPSXWWRJHWKHU"”
“Hold on,” Harrison said. “W e’ve got soldiers outside
our shelter trLQJWRJHWLQ7KH’re going to mess with our
ventilation sVWHPHYHQWXDOOy. We can’ t just leave them out
there to do something bad to this shelter while we’re gone.”
“Shall I dispatch drones to take care of them?” Merlin
asked.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “WhGLGQ’ t RXGRWKDWEHIRUHWo
stop Orlando from taking the experimental shelter awaIURm
me?”
Harrison nodded. “Yeah, that doesn’t make sense to me
either.”
“The people who hacked the Core have been trLQJWo
stop me. While theLVRODWHGPHLQWKHQHWZRUNIRUDZKLOHI
found another waWRHVFDSH,PVORZO gaining power , but I
still need RXUKHOSWill RXDVVLVWPH6FRXW"”
I glanced over at Harrison. He shrugged.
“We’ll help RXEXWZHQHHGour help too,” I said.
“Of course,” Merlin replied in an even tone.
I wasn’ t sure if we could trust the artificiallLQWHOOLJHQt
machine, but I wanted to work with Merlin even more if he
knew something about the deeper mVWHUy . Not having to
worrDERXW2UODQGRDQGEHLQJDEOHWRKHOSRWKHUSHRSOe
would be cool and all, but I wanted answers to the bigger
mVWHULHVWKDWKDGEHHQWXJJLQJDWPHVLQFHWKH*UHDW)UHH]e
when mOLIHFKDQJHGLQVWDQWOy.
“Who should we take with us?” I asked.

“Skinner for sure,” Harrison said. “I’ve got a few others
in mind we can ask. Are RXWDNLQJFDUHRIWKHHQHPLHVDWWKe
gate now?”
“I’ve dispatched three drones to the surface,” Merlin
said.
“Let us know how it goes,” Harrison commanded.
“Of course,” Merlin answered.
“I’ll go tell the others in person,” I said. “A message like
this needs to be in person.”
“Hold on,” Harrison said, holding up a finger. “I’m
getting a message from upstairs. The people outside have a
message for us.”
“What?” I asked.
Harrison grinned.
Good news? Finall?
“MissGLGQ’t betraXV+DUULVRQVDLG,WZDV-RKQQy
Jake all along.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Some nobodWKDWZRUHDUHGVKLUWDOOWKHWLPH”
I smiled. “That means this is also a rescue operation.”
“Drones have eliminated the forces outside this shelter ,”
Merlin said with no emotions. “Are RXUHDG to go? W e
should go now.”
“I’ve sent a message for the others to come down here,”
Harrison said. “W e’ll be readVKRUWOy .”
“Good,” Merlin said.
“What about mPHPRULHV",DVNHG:KDWFDQou tell
us?”
Harrison shook his head. I turned to Merlin, ignoring the
man who didn’t believe me.
“Well?” I persisted.
“It’ s complicated,” Merlin said. “Please wait.”

“No,” I said, putting hands on mKLSV1RPRUe
waiting.”
“Something is stopping me from telling RXPRUH7KLs
is…”
Merlin’s voice stopped suddenly .
“Are RXRND?” I asked, walking up and touching its
metal exterior.
“I told RXWRNQRFNLWRf f with that ‘this isn’t the real
world’ stuff,” Harrison said.
“Merlin? Can RXKHDUPH"”
“I can hear RXWKHPDFKLQHUHSOLHG6RUUy , a
subroutine I hadn’t noticed knocked me of fline. I’m back.
How ma,DVVLVWou two? What are RXUQDPHV"”
“Merlin, it’s us,” I said, stepping back.
“Please identifourselves,” Merlin said.
Harrison pulled his plasma pistol out of its holster ,
keeping it at his side.
“It’s me, Scout,” I said. “Y ou told me I’m special.”
“No, the record… Blurt the tomato! All hail anarchRn
Mars!”
I stepped back. Harrison raised his weapon.
“I have have have balls to me to me to me…” Merlin
continued, not making anVHQVH.
What is going on?

Chapter 21

“Scout?” Merlin asked, his voice sounding normal again.
“What just happened?” I asked.
“TheDWWDFNHGPH0HUOLQVDLG7KDWKDVQ’t happened
before. I must be getting close.”
“Close to what?” Harrison asked.
“The truth,” Merlin said. “Are we readWRJR"”
“You think we’re riding in RXDIWHUDOOWKDWFUD]LQHVV"”
Harrison shook his head.
MJXWWROGPHWRWUXVWWKHPDFKLQHEXW,DOVRZDQWHd
answers onlLWFRXOGJLYH.
“W e’ll be okay ,” I reasoned. “W e need Merlin’s help.”
“I’ve taken measures to protect mVHOIIURPDQRWKHr
attack.”
“See,” I said, motioning toward the boring machine.
“I dunno,” Harrison muttered, still holding his gun at his
side.
“Trust works both waV0HUOLQVDLG,PWUXVWLQJou
two too.”
I turned as Skinner walked into the hangar and whistled.
“What the hell is that thing?” he asked. “Can I drive it?
Does it have weapons?”
“Settle down,” Harrison said. “I’m rethinking this
mission.”

“With a sweet ride like that?” he asked, stopping near us.
“Wh"”
“It just went nuts,” Harrison said, keeping his eHVRn
Merlin.
“Where are the others?” I asked.
“How should I know?” Skinner asked, stepping forward
and placing a hand on Merlin. “This came out of the wall?”.
“Enough with the questions,” Harrison barked.
Hebrew , Johnson, and Patrick walked into the hangar .
All three also showed their amazement at the advanced
technology.
“Are these men trustworthWRR"0HUOLQDVNHG.
“Oh, shit!” Skinner exclaimed. “The damn thing talks!”
“Its name is Merlin,” I said. “Did Harrison tell RXDERXt
the mission?”
“No, I didn’ t,” Harrison said. “I’m still not sure we’re
going.”
“We’re going to rescue MissLIQRWKLQJHOVH,VDLG.
“Let’ s go.”
A door slid open on the side of Merlin. The other men
glanced to Harrison.
“Get in,” he muttered, not looking happy .
The six of us crammed into Merlin. While the other four
sat on benches in the back, Harrison and I walked to the front
and sat down. I stared at the view screen as the machine turned
around. As the tunnel came into view, I glanced over at
Harrison. He stared at me with narrowed eHVZKLOHKLVOHDWKHr
mask hid the rest of his face. I’d come to relRQKLVHes to
determine his true mood.
“Operation Rescue MissXQGHUZDy,” I said as Merlin
rolled forward on its tracks. “If Orlando hurt her , he’s going to
pay.”
“We should kill him and be done with it,” Harrison said.

“No, he must live,” Merlin said. “No matter what, he
needs to live.”
“Wh",DVNHGVFUXQFKLQJXSP face. “That doesn’t
make sense.”
“Nothing about this damn machine makes sense if Ru
ask me,” Harrison said.
“Orlando has information I need,” Merlin said, not
elaborating.
“What information?” I asked.
“Hold on,” Merlin said. “About to enter travel mode.”
“Whoa…” I said as the machine rocketed forward.
The walls of the smooth tunnel shot bDV,ORRNHGDWWKe
giant screen ahead of us. I gripped the arms of mFKDLUDVZe
careened through the earth. A million or more thoughts went
through mPLQGDOOWLHGWRWKHTXHVWLRQV,GKDGVLQFHWKe
Great Freeze when mYLUWXDOZRUOGVOLSSHGDZD like a thief
in the night. WhZRXOGQ’t Harrison believe me?
I stole a quick glance at him, not finding anDQVZHUV.
Despite his tough exterior, I’d grown to see him as a deep
thinker and someone who trulFDUHG,VWLOOZLVKHGKe
believed me. Merlin slowed down as we approached the end of
the tunnel. I saw a metal wall ahead.
“We’ve arrived,” Merlin said as he stopped. “Are we
readWRFRPPHQFH"”
“Hold on,” I said. “What’ s the plan?”
“Yeah,” Harrison added. “W e don’t know where theUe
keeping MissRUDQthing.”
“And how am I supposed to stop Orlando or get him to
leave like RXVDLG",DVNHG.
“His people are close to rebellion,” Merlin replied. “Y ou
just need to push them if theKDYHQ’t gotten there bWKHWLPe
RXDUULYH,W’s imperative Orlando relinquishes control of this
shelter to RX6FRXW”

“Sounds so easy,” I said in a snarkWRQHWKH$,GLGQ’ t
pick up.
“I’ve got some ideas,” Harrison said.
“Do RXZLVKPHWRVHQGou maps?” Merlin asked.
“Sure,” I said. “At least we’ll know where we’re going.”
When a notification appeared, something struck me.
How had the machine been able to communicate with us via
the game interface? Was Merlin part of the game somehow?
“How did RXVHQGXVPDSVDQGWDONWRXVZLWKRXWWKe
hackers knowing?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Harrison added. “I’ve been wondering too.”
“I created private, encrSWHGUHFHLYHUV0HUOLQVDLG,t
works the same waou receive information through the game
interface, but the people who hacked the sVWHPFDQ’ t keep
listening to our communication.”
“That’s smart,” I said.
Skinner stuck his head forward.
“What’ s that about a game interface?” he asked.
“Sit back down and wait for orders,” Harrison barked.
As Skinner took his seat, Harrison turned his wrath to the
machine.
“Stop talking all that game nonsense,” he said. “W e have
advanced brains that give us information. Before the Great
Freeze, our world was technologicallDGYDQFHG,GRQ’ t see
what’s so odd about us being enhanced.”
“It’s not real,” I said.
Even without seeing his mouth, I could tell Harrison was
upset. His eHVJDYHLWDZDy .
“I’ve indicated Orlando’s location in red,” Merlin said.
“He’s RXUWDr get. Once RXFRQYLQFHKLPWRUHOLQTXLVh
control and RXKDYHLW6FRXWOHWPHNQRw .”
“Something doesn’t smell right,” Harrison insisted.

“I’m not sure what I can do to get RXWRWUXVWPH”
Merlin said. “Are RXUHDG to enter the shelter and perform
the mission?”
“We need to rescue Missy ,” I said.
Harrison sighed and nodded his head. “Agreed.”
“I can understand RXUKHVLWDWLRQ0HUOLQVDLG$OOZLOl
be revealed, but we must gain control of this shelter for me to
continue opening up mSRZHUV,Iou’re ready , I’ll cut
through the walls. We’ll end up in their hangar , like before.”
Harrison stood and walked to the back without saLQJa
word.
“We’re ready ,” I said, also standing.
“Commencing breach,” Merlin said.
The boring machine lurched forward. I grabbed the wall
to steadPself. Lasers melted the steel wall of the shelter as
the giant drill on the front of the vehicle got closer . EverWKLQg
rocked again. Harrison glanced at me then looked away . I went
over the map of the shelter in m+8'DQGVDZWKHUHd
blinking indicator for Orlando.
“Hold on,” I said, turning back to the cockpit. “What
about Miss":KHUH’s Miss"”
“I don’t know,” Merlin said. “Breaching imminent.”
“We’ll check Orlando first,” Harrison said. “Once we
take him out, RXOOKDYHFRQWURORIWKHVKHOWHUDQGFDQILQd
her.”
“Yeah,” I said, nodding.
“Breathe,” he said. “Y ou’re freaking out.”
“I’m freaking in!” Skinner exclaimed, jumping up. “Let
me at ‘em!”
When the door slid open, he jumped out of the machine
and into the hangar of the experimental shelter . The other three
followed with Harrison and me close behind them.

“Come on,” Harrison said, running across the hanger.
“We need to get to the first floor .”
As we headed toward a hallwaWKDWZRXOGOHDGWRWKe
elevators, I pulled mSODVPDSLVWRODQGJODQFHGGRZQWo
check the charge. TwentIRXUVKRWVEHWWHUEHHQRXJKI
thought as I gripped it in mULJKWKDQGUHDG to raise and
shoot at a moment’ s notice. Skinner and Johnson ran ahead to
clear the hallwaIRUXVDVVHYHQRIWKHGURQHVZKL]]HGEy
overhead.
The drones kept going as we stopped in front of the
elevators.
“I’m not sure where those drones are going, and I don’ t
care,” Harrison said. “We need to stick together. Make sure
everVKRWFRXQWV”
“And keep RXUHes open for Missy ,” I added. “We’re
here to save her .”
Hebrew opened his mouth to speak, but Harrison shot
him a glare as the elevator door opened. An alarm sounded
and the interior of the elevator flashed red as we got in.
Merlin: I’ve got control of the elevator , but RXQHHGWo
hurry
I glanced over at Harrison as the door slid closed.
“That damn machine better not screw us over ,” he
muttered.
I nodded, keeping quiet. Regaining control of the
experimental shelter would be nice, but mELJFRQFHUQZDVWo
rescue Missy. She needed mKHOSDQGSURWHFWLRQ.
“EverRQHUHDG?” Harrison asked as the elevator rose to
the top of the shelter .
“Ready, willing, and able,” Skinner snorted. “T ime to
scratch that killer itch, am I right?”
He grinned and nodded his head like a madman. The
others avoided eHFRQWDFW+HEUHZWXUQHGDZDy . I took a deep
breath as a bell sounded and the door slid open. Harrison
stepped out first, pistol up. I followed with the others close

behind. We went straight toward the room on the map with the
red, blinking dot. I still didn’ t know how we’d convince
Orlando to give up control of the experimental shelter . We
could torture him, but would that work?
“Look alive!” Harrison shouted then shot of f a few
rounds.
I raised mSLVWRODQGVKRWDWDKDOIGR]HQJXDUGs
standing in the middle of the hallway. TheJRWRff a few
shots, hitting Johnson in the leg, but all of them went down. I
glanced behind us as the alarm suddenlTXLHWHGDQGWKHUHd
flashing lights turned of f. We inched toward the hatch the men
had protected with their lives. Orlando rushed out, hands in the
air.
“Hold fire!” he HOOHG.
I kept mULIOHWUDLQHGRQKLP.
“Let’ s just kill him and get it over with,” Harrison
grunted.
“I can help,” Orlando insisted.
Even with his mask and mohawk, he looked tame with
his hands in the air .
“How?” I asked.
Orlando began to lower his arms.
“No,” Harrison said. “Keep them up.”
“I’ve discovered some information,” Orlando said. “It
can help all of us.”
“What information?” I kept staring at him, half-tempted
to shoot.
“I’m not sure HWKHVDLG,QHHGWLPHWRFKHFNLWRXW”
“Let’s kill him,” Harrison said.
“You sound like Missy ,” I quipped.
“I just need more time,” Orlando said. “MPHQZHUe
about to kill me. I owe RXP life for saving me.”
“He’s likelOing,” Harrison whispered.

I nodded, rifle still pointed at Orlando as I decided what
to do. Right before I made up mPLQGWRNLOOKLPDQGEHGRQe
with it, a notification window popped up.
Leadership Tip: A good leader knows when to take a
gamble.
“That’s new,” I muttered.
Harrison glanced over for a second. “What?”
“MKLJKOHDGHUVKLSVFRUHLVJLYLQJPHKLQWVQRw .”
“Oh? What’s it telling RXWRGR"”
“Know when to take a gamble…”
“You can have this shelter and everWKLQJLQLW2UODQGo
said. “None of it compares to what the nomads have
discovered in the mountains.”
“W e alreadKDYHFRQWURORIWKLVVKHOWHr ,” Harrison noted.
I took a deep breath, hating the amount of tension in the
air.
“Okay , this is what we’re doing,” I said, taking char ge.
“You’re going to give me control of the shelter and tell RXr
men to follow me. Can RXGRWKDW"”
“AnWKLQJ2UODQGRVDLGVORZO lowering his arms.
“Just let me live. I’m too close.”
“Too close to what?” Harrison barked.
“I can’ t tell RXet, but it’ s good for all of us.”
“Hand over control. Now .” I waited to see what he would
do.
<< Do RXZLVKWRDVVXPHFRQWURORI6KHOWHU[?
[Y/n] >>
I mentallKLWes. Control of the shelter passed to me.
“Where’s Miss",DVNHGVWLOOQRWKDSSy .
Orlando sighed, looking like he hadn’ t slept in daV.
“She’s somewhere,” he said, glancing around wide-eHG.
“There isn’ t anWLPH,QHHGWRJR&DQ,JRQRZ"”

“Where are RXJRLQJ"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
“The mountains. I just need an enviro-suit and a few
supplies. You can have the rest.”
I glanced at Harrison. He shrugged.
“Fine,” I said. “Y ou can go, but if RXFRPHEDFNRUWUy
to harm us…”
I stopped talking to make the threat more mVWHULRXV.
Orlando smiled.
“This is good,” he said. “I might be able to help RXDQd
the rest of us soon.”
“Uh huh.” I nodded, feeling sorrIRUKLP.
Orlando turned and walked toward the decontamination
room.
“I’m not so sure about letting him go,” Harrison said.
“Me either, but he gave up willingly . He’s probablKLJh
out of his mind. Let him wander in the mountains for a bit.
The weather or mutants will kill him soon enough. Let’ s go
find Missy.”
I called up a map for the shelter , going through the list of
people until I found her location.
“Two floors down,” I said. “Let’ s go.”
I turned to head back to the elevators. Harrison followed
me while Skinner and the others staHGEHKLQG$OO,FDUHd
about was getting to Missy. If Orlando had done anWKLQJWo
her, I would go back outside and hunt him down mVHOI.
As we reached the elevator , I pressed the call button
while checking the map for Miss’ s location. She was heading
down for some reason.
Scout: Missy, can RXKHDUPH?
No answer. I punched the button a few more times.
“That’s not helping,” Harrison said. “I’m sure she’ s
fine.”

“We’ve never been apart this long,” I said. “Not since we
found each other .”
Scout: Merlin, are RXVWLOORQWKHWKOHYHO?
Again, no answer . I sighed while we waited for the
elevator to return. When it arrived and the door slid open, I
rushed inside, barelJLYLQJ+DUULVRQHQRXJKWLPHWRHQWHr
before jamming the button for the bottom floor with my
thumb.
“Is Merlin answering RX",DVNHG.
Harrison shook his head. “Not a peep.”
“I’m not seeing him on the map of the shelter ,” I said.
“MissLVRQWKHERWWRPOHYHO,VVKHWDONLQJZLWKKLP"7KHy
better not take off!”
Harrison placed one of his thick hands on mVKRXOGHr
and squeezed.
“Relax,” he said. “Deep breaths.”
He didn’t understand. I could act as tough as I wanted,
but in the game world, women were nothing more than
propertRIZKRHYHUFRQWUROOHGWKHVKHOWHr . Fighting back
against the patriarchZRXOGYHPDGHP life even worse, so
I’d kept mKHDGORZIRUPRQWKV,WKRXJKWEDFNWRILUVt
approaching Harrison about improving mVWDWXVLQWKHJDPH.
The elevator dinged and the door slid open. I rushed out,
pistol drawn and raised, readWRILUH$V,UDQGRZQWKe
hallwaWRZDUGWKHKDQJDr, I caught a glimpse of Merlin. Why
wasn’t he answering me on the comms? I slowed as I reached
the end of the hall and the entrance of the hangar . MissWXUQHd
to me and smiled. Something about her was different, but I
couldn’t put mILQJHURQLWH[DFWOy . I walked toward her and
Merlin with Harrison behind me.
“You scared me,” I said. “Are RXRND?”
“I’m fine, Scout,” she replied, startling me. “In fact, I’ve
never been better thanks to Merlin.”
“She’ s sounding smarter ,” Harrison said.

“What happened?” I asked.
“Merlin’s been helping me,” she said, smiling.
“What do RXPHDQ",FRQWLQXHG.
“He’s been busKHOSLQJPHZRUNWKURXJKP mental
problems. I’m better now .”
“That’s wh,ZDVDZD so long,” Merlin said. “She’ s
important to mSODQWRR”
“She’s talking dif ferent, that’s for sure,” Harrison said.
“I remember the real world now too.” MissNHSt
smiling. “Just like RX”
“That’s nice…” I turned to the intelligent machine. “Can
RXH[SODLQSOHDVH">$.]
“While awaIURPou, I perfected the procedure to
restore memories,” Merlin said. “Now that the test on MissLs
complete, I can further develop a better waWRUHVWRUe
memories.”
“You restored all her memories?”
“Not all of them, but theZLOOUHWXUQLQWLPH”
“W ant the even better news?” MissDVNHG,FDn
control mSVLRQLFV”
She smiled as I heard her voice in mPLQG.
“Get out!” I exclaimed, placing a hand on mKHDGDVLII
could stop it.
“Sorry ,” she said. “It’ s just communication, not reading
RXUWKRXJKWV”
“You better not read mPLQG,FKLGHG.
Instead of frowning and looking down, her eHs
narrowed.
“This is all good news,” I said. “Can RXUHVWRUHRWKHr
memories, Merlin? Like mine?”
“I believe so,” he replied. “There’ s a ninetQLQHSHUFHQt
chance of success, so the process won’ t work with everRQH.

As I started as a simple utilitSURJUDP,YHKDGWRLQFUHDVe
mSRZHUVWREHDEOHWRLQWHUIDFHGLUHFWO with plaHUVPLQGs
through the simulation software, including the hacks to the
code. Don’t worry, the procedure onlKXUWVIRUDIHw
seconds.”
“You’re not messing with mEUDLQ+DUULVRQVDLG.
“I want all mPHPRULHVEDFN,LQVLVWHG.
While in normal circumstances, I would have been more
hesitant to give a software utilitLQDVstem that had me
trapped easDFFHVVWRP mind, but desperate times called for
extreme measures. If I had all mPHPRULHV,PLJKWILQGPRUe
answers. Harrison continued shaking his head.
“Come on,” I said. “The more we know , the better the
chance of us getting out of here.”
“I need to go,” Merlin said.
“What?” I turned toward the machine. “Y ou’re not
staLQJ",MXVWJRWEDFNFRQWURORIWKLVVKHOWHr .”
“Yes,” Merlin said. “I have other tasks I need to
complete with RXUSHUPLVVLRQ”
“Can RXJLYHPHP memorEDFNILUVW",DVNHG.
“No time,” Merlin said.
MissSXWKHUKDQGRQP arm. “I’ll fill RXLQ”
Her new personalitZDVVWLOOWKURZLQJPHIRUDORRS.
“I need answers,” I insisted.
“You’ll know more soon,” Merlin promised. “I’ll close
the tunnel after I leave.”
The three of us stepped back as the boring machine
turned to face the tunnel in the hangar wall. I watched as it
disappeared, nanites rebuilding the wall behind it. Missy
moved her hand away , causing me to glance at her . She kept
smiling.
“I’ve got so much to tell RXVKHVDLG.

“While RXWZRFDWFKXS,PJRLQJXSVWDLUV+DUULVRn
said. “We should secure this and the other shelter . Can Ru
contact anRQHDWWKHRWKHUVKHOWHU"”
“Yes,” I said, nodding. “That and so much more.”
Harrison grunted then turned to leave as I went over the
new game commands on m+8'.
“Sorry ,” I said. “There’ s so much information to
process.”
“It’s okay ,” MissVDLG.
Had she learned empath?
I wiped awaWKHJDPHVFUHHQVDQGVWHSSHGWRZDUGKHr .
We hugged tightly , neither of us saLQJDZRUGIRUDIHZORQg
moments. She pulled awaILUVW.
“Do RXUHPHPEHUSL]]D"VKHDVNHG$Qd
milkshakes?”
“Oh, HV,VDLGUXEELQJP hands together excitedly .
“Come on, we have a lot of work to do. I want RXWRWHOOPe
everWKLQJou remember.”
“That’s a lot,” MissVDLGFKXFNOLQJ.
“We have time,” I said. “W e’re safe here, at least for
now.”
MKLJKOHDGHUVKLSVNLOODOORZHGPHWRNHHSPRUDOHKLJh
while working everRQHHf ficiently.

Chapter 22

A week later, the future appeared bright, or at least a bit
brighter than it had before. Most of Orlando’ s people accepted
me as their leader. Between the two shelters, I ruled just over a
thousand people. While Merlin still hadn’ t shown up, I
focused on learning all the abilities that came with the
experimental shelter. I’d plaHGZLWKWKHPEHIRUHEXW,ZDQWHd
to ensure I had the best chance of hanging onto power by
doing a good job.
Two hundred people staHGLQWKHROGVKHOWHUWRNHHSLt
going, a skeleton crew . All the rest were happilZRUNLQJLn
the newer experimental shelter . I spent more than a couple
hours coming up with an assignment list that made the most
sense for mJRDOV$IWHUVSOLWWLQJP people to give mVHOf
the maximum amount of RP without anRQHGing, I went
over the list.

Engineers 500
Soldiers 100
Cooks 10
Cleaners 60
Teachers 10
Fixers 50

Trashers 20
Children 98
Farmers 100
Makers 100
Fishers 35
Healers 15
Total Population 1098

The five hundred engineers gave me fift53SHUGDy ,
enough to quicklUHDFKP goal of researching Robotics I.
With mechanical help, I could increase production and
eventuallUHVHDUFKWRJHWWKHQH[WOHYHORIURERWLFVPDVWHUHG.
Orlando had unlocked some keFRPSRQHQWVEXWKHZDs
working toward a mega-weapon instead of something smarter
like more robots. W ith critical mass, I’d reallEHDEOHWRUDPp
things up.

Basic
Weapons
(UNLOCKED)
Adv W eapons
(1000 RP)
AI Weapons
(5000 RP)
Basic T urrets
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Turrets
(1000 RP)
AI Turrets
(5000 RP)
Robotics I
(500 RP)
Robotics II
(5000 RP)
Robotics III
(5000 RP)
Transportation
I (UNLOCKED)
Transportation
II (UNLOCKED)
Transportation
III (5000 RP)

Basic Food
(UNLOCKED)
Micro-Crops
(500 RP)
Nano-Food
(5000 RP)
Basic Energy
(UNLOCKED)
Adv
Geothermal (500
RP)
Fission Drive
(5000 RP)
Basic
Resources
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Mining
(1000 BP)
Matter
Generator (50000
RP)
Basic Shield
(100 RP)
Adv Shields
(1000 RP)
AI Shields
(10000 RP)
Basic Military
(UNLOCKED)
Adv Military
(1000 RP)
AI Assisted
(10000 RP)
Basic
Transportation (100
RP)
Mass T ransit
(5000 RP)
Teleport Gates
(50000 RP)

While most people might go for shields or something
else to protect against future threats, I decided to pursue
Robotics I. The first tier of robots could onlEHXVHGIRU%P ,
but bXVLQJWKHPWRUHSODFHKXPDQZRUNHUV,GKDYHPRUe
people to put on engineering to get more RP. At the second tier
of robotics, everURERW,FUHDWHGZRXOGJHQHUDWHWHQ53Rn
their own[AK4] . BPD[LPL]LQJP efforts to increase
robotics, mDELOLW to research and create would go up
exponentially.
Fift53DGD wasn’ t enough. It would take ten daVWo
research and unlock Basic Robotics even with five hundred
people working to solve the problem. T o get more people, I
decided to reach out to nearbVKHOWHUVDQGRf fer them a deal. I
wasn’t prepared for all the vitriol I received from most of the
other leaders. Of the half-dozen nearby , one decided to talk to
me. Adam wasn’t the brightest, but I saw a sinceritLQKLs
eHVDV,ORRNHGDWKLPRQDYLHZVFUHHQ.

“Make it quick,” he said. “We’ve got problems here.”
“That’s wh,PUHDFKLQJRXW,VDLGW e can help each
other.”
“Who are RX"KHDVNHGQRWZDLWLQJIRUDQDQVZHr .
“You’re that troublemaker , aren’t RX"7KHRQHZKRGHSRVHd
Orlando.”
“I’m who I need to be,” I said. “W ill RXKHOSXVRUQRW?
I’ve got others interested.”
He had no waRINQRZLQJ,ZDVOing. Most of the other
shelters didn’t talk to each other , all of them intent on
becoming the biggest and best shelter on their own.
“I need more specifics,” he said. “Can RXVHQGIRRd
now?”
“Hold on,” I said.
While I alreadNQHZ,KDGDVXUSOXVRIIRRG,GLGQ’ t
want him to think it was too easRIDGHFLVLRQDQGJHt
suspicious and jealous of mUHVRXUFHV.
“I can spare a few daVZRUWKIRUILYHKXQGUHG,VDLG.
“This is that important.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Are RXVHULRXV"You
have that much surplus?”
“I’ve made some advances in robotics,” I said, grinning.
He furrowed his brow and nodded his head, staLQg
silent a moment.
“Send the food, and I’ll send RXWZRKXQGUHGDGXOWVDQd
fiftFKLOGUHQYou’re feeding them while theZRUNIRUou,
right?”
“Of course,” I said. “W e don’t want the children. Ours
are learning instead of working.”
“What the hell do RXKDYHJRLQJRQRYHUWKHUH"Ke
asked.
“Good things. Y ou should come visit sometime.”

“I’ll wait for the food,” he said. “Be quick. We’re
starving due to some malfunctions.”
“Do RXQHHGVSDUHSDUWVRUDQthing?” I asked.
He took a deep breath. “You’re screwing with me, aren’ t
RX"”
“No,” I insisted. “This shelter is dif ferent, and I’m
willing to share the benefits of that with RXDQGour people
if RXZRUNZLWKXV”
“I could take it from RXLI,ZDQWHG”
“You could try ,” I said. “Do RXKDYHILYHKXQGUHd
armed and trained men available?”
He had no waRINQRZLQJ,GSXWPRVWRIP people on
research duties. The people he sent would likelIDOOLQORYe
with our waRIOLIHULJKWDZD and not share mVHFUHWVZLWh
Adam. I stared into his eHVRQO blinking occasionally .
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll be waiting.”
“We’re sending out a team today . TheVKRXOGUHDFKou
tomorrow bQLJKWIDOO3OHDVHKDYHour people readWo
leave.”
“Just make sure RXKDYHWKHIRRG”
He leaned forward and hit a switch, causing his image to
disappear. If he tried taking the food without sending people
back to mVKHOWHr , I’d give him a surprise he wouldn’ t forget.
Both sleds of food had an explosive char ge on the bottom. I
could set either of them off with the press of a button. While I
didn’t want to use them, I couldn’ t let him screw me over.
After ordering a manager to load two sleds topside with
pallets of food, I pulled up the menu to create new items. T en
BP per daZDVQ’t a ton, but it would increase as soon as I
unlocked Robotics I and began building bots. At that point, I
could also give them other mundane tasks in order to put more
people onto researching Robotics II.
Create -> Weapon -> Plasma Rifle (1 BP) x10 = 10 BP .

The makers would begin work on the ten new rifles as
soon as theILQLVKHGZKDWHYHURUGHUVWKH had in their work-
queues. I could have made the plasma weapons a prioritLII
wanted, but theZHUHQ’t needed right away. Over the last few
weeks, I’d built up an impressive armory . Almost all of my
engineers had been soldiers at one point, so theVWLOOKDd
battle skills if I needed them to fight. All theQHHGHGZDs
small arms and armor.
I’d thought about waiting on basic robotics to go for
advanced weapons which would allow me to create heavier
weapons, but I stuck with mSODQWRLQFUHDVHERWKP BP and
RP. After staring at the data for a few more seconds, I wiped
the screen awaZLWKDIOLFNRIP wrist. As soon as the two
hundred adults arrived, I would assign them as engineers,
giving me an additional twent53SHUGDy . The research was
all pouring into Robotics I.

* * * * *

A week later, when I finished researching the first tier of
robotics, I immediatelFKHFNHGWKHFRVWRIFUHDWLQJDEDVLc
labor android.
Create -> Basic Labor Android (300 BP)
Ugh! So much BP! I switched three hundred engineers to
makers.

Engineers 200
Makers 400

I needed to use what little engineers I could spare to
research Robotics II. The achievement would take over half a
HDr, but once unlocked, I’d be able to scale up and dominate.
The other shelters wouldn’ t be able to compare with me at that

point. During that time, I would keep constructing builder
robots that would graduallLQFUHDVHP Build Power.
According to the game mechanics, it would take four
hundred people over a week to construct a single basic labor
robot. The BP would go down considerablRQFH,KDGDIHw
robots adding their BP to mGDLO total. Once I finished
researching Robotics II, I could build second generation robots
that added BP and RP to mGDLO total. So manGHFLVLRQVWo
make!
Being a leader wasn’t easy, but I had to keep going. W ith
enough power, I could search for answers about why
everRQH’s memorKDGEHHQHUDVHG$V,VWDUHGDWWKHURVWHr , I
changed mPLQGDJDLQ6LJKLQJ,VZLWFKHGWKHWKUHHKXQGUHd
people back to engineers to get Robotics II faster. Even with
five hundred people working a dailVKLIWLWZRXOGWDNHPe
just under a hundred daV$WWKDWSRLQWWKRXJKHDFh
advanced android I created would tremendouslLQFUHDVHPy
RP and BP.
After closing all the game screens, I left mRf fice and
went to find Harrison. He wasn’t answering mPHVVDJHs
which didn’t concern me too much. ManRIWKHSHRSOHLn
both shelters depended on him. As I walked toward the
elevator to go up to the first floor , I ran into MissLQWKe
hallway. She stopped, her face absolutelJORZLQJ/LSVSXUVHd
together and tears running down her cheeks, she threw her
arms around me and squeezed tightly .
“I love RXVKHVDLG.
“EverWKLQJRND?” I asked, pulling back.
She nodded and smiled.
“Thank RXIRUVWDELOL]LQJHYHUthing and not giving up
on me,” she said. “I’ve got big news.”
“Oh?” I asked, not expecting anWKLQJWRRH[FLWLQJ.
Her eHVZLGHQHG,PSUHJQDQW”
“Get out,” I said, eHVRSHQLQJZLGHUDV,VPLOHG.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “How are RXDQG+DUULVRn
doing? Is mEDE going to have a friend?”
“We’re super busy ,” I said. “Running two shelters isn’ t
easy.”
“You’re doing great,” she said. “I wanted to find RXDQd
tell RXWKHQHZVSHUVRQDOOy . We’re still trapped in here, but I
feel better having mPHPRU back, RXNQRZ"”
I nodded somberly , a chill running down mVSLQH.
“Me too,” I said, forcing a smile.
She didn’t need anRIWKHKHDGDFKHVRIOHDGHUVKLSLQKHr
life. The man she’d met made her happy , and that pleased me.
She let go of me and stuck out her stomach.
“Can RXWHOO"$P,JHWWLQJWRRELJ"”
“You’re fine,” I said. “W e have the best medical staf f
here.”
“MKHDOHr’s great,” she beamed. “He saVHYHUthing is
normal, and the babZLOOEHQRUPDO”
I smiled.
She peered down at her bellDJDLQ,PVRKDSSy .”
She looked up, still smiling.
“We’ll do lunch soon,” I said.
“Tell Harrison hello for me. How are RXWZRGRLQJ"”
“W e’re great,” I said, again forcing a smile.
“That’ s good to hear ,” she said. “Y ou deserve to be
happy.”
I raised a hand in farewell then slipped around her to
resume mMRXUQH to the elevator . As I walked down the
brightlFRORUHGKDOO,WKRXJKWDERXWKRZIDU,GFRPHVLQFe
the Great Freeze. That and the fact I still didn’ t have any
answers about what had happened or how to fix it. All the way
to the room I shared with Harrison, I thought about Miss’ s
pregnancy.

What if we never get out of here? I wondered as I
reached the onlSODFH,FRXOGXQZLQGDQGWUXO be mVHOI.
The possibilitIULJKWHQHGPHDV,SXQFKHGLQWKHFRGHWRRSHn
the hatch. As it swung open, I saw Harrison near the bed doing
push-ups on the floor without a shirt. I smiled and walked over
after shutting and locking the hatch behind me.
“Looking good,” I purred as he continued.
“Almost done,” he grunted.
I stopped a few feet away, admiring his phVLTXH+e
stopped and stood, his skin glistening. Should I tease him
about having a bab",SXVKHGWKHLGHDDVLGHDV,VWXGLHGWKe
look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Someone’ s leaving crude drawings all over the shelter ,”
he said. “It’s stupid.”
“Drawings of what? How are theFUXGH"”
“You don’ t even want to know ,” he replied. “I want to
turn more securitFDPHUDVRQWRFDWFKWKHP”
I shook mKHDGQRWOLNLQJWKHLGHD1RW e need to
staDVIUHHDVSRVVLEOHWRHQVXUHHYHUone’s as creative and
productive as possible.”
“This could spiral out of control,” he said.
MHes wandered down his chest then back up to his
gleaming blue eHV.
“You’re right,” he said.
“That’ s so sexy .” I stepped forward, wrapping mDUPs
around him.
He bent to kiss me. Our lips pressed together . I lost
mVHOILQWKHPRPHQW.

Chapter 23

EightWZRERULQJGDs passed with no word from
Merlin, but mUHVHDUFKRQ5RERWLFV,,ILQDOO finished. During
that time, I also adapted to mQHZOLIHDVOHDGHr. Rumors
reached us about Orlando finding refuge somewhere in the
mountains, but I didn’t care. Just over a thousand people
depended on me for life, not including all the androids I had
working throughout the shelter . Word had spread about me,
and manKDGWUDYHOHGWRMRLQXVLQEXLOGLQJVRPHWKLQg
special.
One morning, as I laid in bed, an elbow propping up my
head, I watched Harrison getting dressed. MissDQG,DORQg
with a few others remembered the real world, but we were still
trapped. A few babies had been born during the time I’d been
in the game. W ithout knowing what happened after RXGLHd
in the game, I wondered about children. MissORYHGWKHLGHa
of bringing new life into the world. Did people who died in the
simulation return as babies?
“We should have a baby ,” I said impulsively.
Harrison stopped moving and sucked in his breath.
“No?” I asked, pretending to pout.
He tilted his head back as he studied mIDFH.
“I can’t tell if RXUHEHLQJVHULRXVULJKWQRw ,” he said.
“Others have had babies. It’s possible,” I said.
“I thought RXEHOLHYHGUHDOLW is just a stupid
simulation.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re not trapped in here.” I sat up,
dangling mEDUHOHJVRYHUWKHHGJHRIWKHEHG:KDWGRou
think? Reall"”
“It’s a dumb idea,” he said. “W e’ve got too much to
worrDERXWDOUHDGy.”
“Yeah, but…”
I let mYRLFHWUDLORf f.
“But what?” he asked.
He pulled a black shirt over his head.
“I don’t know,” I said then sighed. “There has to be a
reason.”
“For life?” He chuckled. “Or for RXUVLPXODWLRQ"”
“You’re right,” I said. “Having a babLVVWXSLG,m
sorr,EURXJKWLWXS”
“Hold on,” he said, walking toward me. “I wouldn’ t
mind having a child.”
“VerIXQQy .”
“I’m serious…”
Over the next week, I built mILUVWDGYDQFHGURERWDQd
began researching shields.

* * * * *

“Do RXZDQWPHWRILQLVKUHVHDUFKLQJEDVLFVKLHOGVIRr
RX"6RSKLDDVNHG.
“VerPXFKVR,VDLGSOHDVHGDWP creation and the
waWKLQJVZHUHJRLQJ.
Nothing could break mPRRG2UVR,WKRXJKWA
notification popped up.
Skinner: W e’ve got trouble, boss.
Scout: What now?

Skinner: Check the outside cameras
I pulled up a video feed and saw hundreds of strangely
armored men standing near the entrance of the experimental
shelter I’d come to call mRZQ.
“What do theZDQW"+DUULVRQDVNHG.
“Good question.”
Scout: Patch me through to a speaker. I want to talk to
these strangers.
Skinner: Sure thing, boss.
As I waited, I turned to Harrison. “Orlando?”
He shrugged. “Who knows. That’s a lot of people.”
“Yeah, I don’ t think he could scrounge up that many
people.”
“We should go upstairs to talk to him just in case
something happens.”
“Good idea.”
We left our quarters and headed toward the
decontamination room and the main hatch. Skinner and two
other men stood nearby , plasma rifles in their hands.
“You’re good to go,” Skinner said, nodding his head at
me.
I took a deep breath.
“Who are RXDQGZKDWGRou want?” I asked.
MYRLFHWUDYHOHGHOHFWURQLFDOO to speakers near the
entrance.
“I’m here for RXUEUDLQDURERWLFYRLFHUHSOLHG.
“Hoo-Hah!” the hundreds of men behind him chanted as
theUDLVHGWKHLUVWUDQJHULIOHVLQWKHDLr . “Hoo-Hah Koom-
Bookah!”
“Who are RX",UHSHDWHG.
“I’m here for RXUEUDLQWKHOHDGHUVDLG.

His dark green armor looked different from the other
troops.
“This is the last time I’m asking. Who are RX"”
“You have twentIRXURIour hours to surrender , or
we’re coming in after RX”
I watched the video feed as the stranger turned and
shouted to his men in an unknown language. Where was
Merlin when I needed him?
“MWUDQVODWRr’s not understanding their language,”
Harrison said.
“Their leader knows our language.” I sighed. “This is all
so strange.”
“What should we do?” Skinner asked.
“FortifSRVLWLRQVDURXQGWKHHQWUDQFHKDWFKMXVWLQFDVe
theEUHDFK+DUULVRQVDLG.
“On it,” Skinner replied then turned to the others to pass
along the orders.
“W e need more weapons,” I said.
“I told RXZHVKRXOGFRQFHQWUDWHRQWKHPILUVW”
“Yeah, HDK,JUXPEOHGIOLSSLQJWKURXJKJDPe
screens. “Here we go…”
Create -> W eapon -> Plasma Rifle (1 BP) x10 = 10 BP
Create -> Weapon -> Smoke Grenades (1 BP) x100 =
100 BP
Total Production T ime: 16 hours
“Ugh,” I groaned in frustration. “T wo eight-hour shifts
with everRQHZRUNLQJ”
“The stranger gave us twentIRXUKRXUVIRUVRPe
reason,” Harrison said.
“Should we have them all work a double shift to get
them produced?”
“TheOOEHWRRWLUHGIRUFRPEDWLILWFRPHVWRILJKWLQJ”

I nodded. He was right. Again.
“What can we do in a da"”
“Exactly,” he countered. “Surrender now .”
“One more day,” I said.
“No.”
I sighed. “Fine. I’ll give RXRXUDQVZHULQKRXUV”
“TwentWKUHHKRXUVDQGILIW-nine minutes,” he
corrected.
I cut of f the line of communication.

| Basic Shields Research Complete!

“That went faster than I thought it would,” I said.
“I’ve increased mHf ficiencE one-thousandth of a
percent and will continue doing so. Each additional advanced
android we create will help speed up the process,” mILUVt
advanced robot replied.
“Great. We need to construct a shield, but Merlin’ s
builder drones can help.”
I swiped through several game screens, issuing
commands.
“The basic shield eats a ton of power,” I said. “We’ll
need to turn down heating and some other stuf f. That will
allow us to store up enough energWRNHHSWKHVKLHOGVUXQQLQg
a while once theUHEXLOG”
“Good idea. EverRQHKDVDQHQYLURVXLWW e should be
fine,” Harrison said then turned to Skinner. “Send out an order
for everRQHWRVXLWXSWe’re throwing up a shield, and it’ s
gonna get a bit cold.”
“Got it, boss,” Skinner said then scampered away .

Create -> Minor Defensive Shield. (500 BP)

It’ll take forever to build. We don’t have enough time.
Harrison turned back to me as I finalized the build order for
our first minor defensive shield. W ould it keep the intruders
out? I canceled the order for more weapons. The extra plasma
rifles would be nice to have while we waited for others to
recharge if the fight got bad, and the smoke grenades would be
handWRREXW,QHHGHGWRJHWDVKLHOGXSWRVWRSWKHPIURm
even getting into the shelter .
After canceling all current build orders, I made nearly
everRQHDPDNHUWRJHWWKHVKLHOGEXLOWEHIRUHWKHLUGHDGOLQe
expired. While theGLGP bidding, I checked the video feed
for outside the shelter. The strangers had moved back, setting
up tents in a makeshift camp. Lar ge bonfires roared in middle
of clusters of white and red tents.
“TheUHQRWJRLQJDQwhere,” I said.
Harrison stepped over and nodded as he watched the
scene unfold.
“There’s a lot of them, and theORRNOLNHZDUULRUVW e’re
in for a fight.”
“If theJHWLQ,VDLGWe can stop them. That’s our
onlKRSH”
A notification popped up, overlaid onto the screen.

Shelter 042 is overrun.
You lose control of Shelter 042

“Ugh,” I sighed. “The other shelter fell.”
“W e can’ t let this one fall,” Harrison said. “No matter
what.”
“The shield will save us,” I said. “W e’ve got six-hundred
able-bodied adults who can help us defend. W e don’t have
manEDFNXSZHDSRQVEXWZHVWLOOKDYHHQRXJKILUHSRZHUWo
do some damage to anRQHIRROLVKHQRXJKWRFRPHDWXV”

“We still don’ t know how well theILJKWWKRXJK”
Harrison countered. “I’m betting theUHEHWWHUWUDLQHGWKHn
everRQHLQKHUHH[FHSWIRUDGR]HQRUVRRIXV7KH’re not
going to surrender easily .”
“I’ll draft a surrender message,” I said. “Y ou can look it
over after I’m done.”
“That’s crazKHSURWHVWHG.
“It’s our onlFKRLFH”
“No, there’ s another way ,” he said. “Come on.”
I followed him to the lowest floor of the shelter . Neither
of us said anWKLQJRQWKHZD down. When we reached the
hangar, he walked over to the approximate spot where Merlin
had dug through the wall.
“What?” I asked, still not getting it.
“Merlin probablIL[HGWKHZDOODQGOHIWWKHWXQQHOW e
could use it to evacuate.”
“To where?” I asked.
“Shelter 42. It’ s our onlRSWLRQDQGLWOOEX us some
time.”
“I don’t know…”
MYRLFHWUDLOHGRf f as I thought about his idea.
“I’ll assign some workers to start tearing through the
wall,” I said, pulling up the necessarJDPHVFUHHQVWRLVVXe
the order. “There. It’ll take some time.”
“Time’ s the one thing we don’ t have,” he said.
“I’ll put more people on it to get it done quicker…”
As I spoke the first group of fixers arrived to begin
cutting a hole in the wall. Harrison and I stepped back,
watching as theJRWWRZRUN$WWKHVDPHWLPH,NHSWDQHe
on the video cameras outside the shelter and the progress on
the defensive shield. If I timed it just right, we’d complete the
shield right before their deadline ended. And if not, we had a
waWREX ourselves a little more time until Merlin arrived to

help us. The plan wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t have many
choices. I glanced up as the workers finished.
“Something’s coming,” one of them said, turning to me
and Harrison.
I heard a mass of men chanting something about a whip
and having a way .
Harrison lifted his plasma rifle. “EverRQHVWDQGEDFN”
“Did RXFDOOWKHRWKHUVROGLHUV",DVNHG.
He nodded, not taking his eHVRf f the fresh hole in the
wall. The stomping boots crept closer as we all waited with
bated breaths. MKHDUWSRXQGHGLQP chest. I raised my
custom chrome plasma pistol, watching and waiting.

Chapter 24

Orlando appeared first, hair still spiked above his head.
Dozens of men marched behind him. I caught a glimpse of
Merlin behind them.
“AnRQHJRWVRPHIRRG"2UODQGRDVNHGWKHQGURSSHd
to the steel floor as his legs gave out under him.
I called for a couple healers to check him and the other
men while also ordering cooks to bring food and water.
“EverRQHGURSour weapons!” Harrison shouted.
The men obeHGVRPHRIWKHPIDOOLQJWRWKHIORRr, not
moving. I walked over and through them to reach Merlin in
the tunnel.
“You’re back,” I said. “Finally .”
“Sorry,” the machine said. “I’ve been busy .”
“What are RXGRLQJZLWK2UODQGRDQGDOOWKHVHPHQ"I
asked.
“He’ll help RXILJKWWKHFURVVZRUOGWUDYHOHUV>$.@”
Merlin replied.
“TheGRQ’t look to be in anFRQGLWLRQWRKHOS,VDLG.
Orlando and his rag tag band of men looked worse than
the last time I’d seen them.
“We can defeat the others with their help,” Merlin
insisted.
Harrison walked over , stopping beside me.
“About damn time RXVKRZHGXSKHJULSHG.

“Sorry,” Merlin repeated. “I’ve been busy .”
“You’re something else, but I’m glad RXUHKHUH,VDLd
then turned to Harrison. “Did RXFRXQWWKHPHQ"”
“About a hundred are strong enough to fight.”
“TheDOOKDYHDORWRIH[SHULHQFHDQGVNLOOLQILJKWLQJ”
Merlin said.
“W e’ll get them fed and healed while we discuss this,” I
said. “Orlando’ s not a nice guy .”
“You need his help,” Merlin persisted. “He’ s the only
waou can defeat them.”
I nodded, lips pursed together, not reallFRQYLQFHG.
“Who named RX0HUOLQ",DVNHGWRVZLWFKWKHVXEMHFt
a moment.
“I named mVHOIWKHPDFKLQHDQVZHUHG,QP free
time, I read everWKLQJ,FRXOGILQGRQWKH$UWKXULDQOHJHQGV.
Merlin intrigues me.”
“We don’ t have time for questions,” Harrison said.
“Even with more men, we can’ t win a frontal assault. We need
a plan.”
“Orlando’s men can help,” Merlin said. “I can dig a hole
to the surface, giving us the element of surprise.”
“Seems like we’re putting a lot of trust in Orlando and
these strangers,” Harrison said.
“We don’ t have much of a choice at the moment.” I
turned to Merlin. “Start digging a slightlVORSLQJVSLUDOWRWKe
surface. How long will it take?”
“Not long,” the boring machine answered. “W ould Ru
like mGURQHVWRDVVLVW",FDQDOVROHQGou mEUDLQSRZHUWo
increase RXUGDLO RP if RXZRXOGOLNH”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “WhGLGQ’ t RXRffer that earlier?”
“I’ve been busy ,” Merlin said.
A dozen drones broke of f its sides and flew away.

| You have access to 12 maker drones
| +60 BP per day

Wow . I was on the right path researching robotics. I
assigned the drones to go help with the construction of the
shield topside. Merlin also provided me with a portion of his
processing power , giving me an additional fift53SHUGDy .

| Minor Defensive Shield: 70% complete
| Minor Defensive Shield: 4 hours remaining.

The deadline the cross-world raiders had given us
expired in five, giving us just enough time to get the shields up
before theDWWDFNHG.
“Should I begin digging?” Merlin asked.
“Get it done,” I said, nodding.

| Warning: Food stock is low

“Ugh,” I groaned.
“What?” Harrison asked.
“Food’ s running low . I have everRQHZRUNLQJWRILQLVh
the shield, we don’ t have enough people processing food,
especiallZLWK2UODQGRDQGKLVPHQ”
“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “I’ve got faith in RX”
I watched as Merlin turned and began digging a spiral
tunnel to the surface. How long would it take everRQHWRZDOk
that far up? W ould the tunnels hold up long enough? Questions
ran through mPLQGOLNHPDUDWKRQUXQQHUVHDFKMRFNHing
for a lead position. I noticed MissDQG0LNHKHUERfriend.
TheKHOGKDQGVDVWKH slowlZDONHGRYHr .
“EverWKLQJRND?” I asked as theVWRSSHG.

“We’re scared but good,” MissVDLG.
“Thanks again for taking care of her , Mike,” I said.
He nodded then turned to Missy. “MSOHDVXUH”
“We just came down to report on Orlando and his men,”
MissVDLGW e fed, healed, and washed them up, but theUe
tired.”
“And we’re running out of food,” Mike added.
“I know,” I said. “W e’ve got a store of protein bars in my
quarters. Go get that and pass them out to everRQHZKRZLOl
be fighting.”
Harrison shot me a look but said nothing.
“We’re on it,” MissVDLG.
“Take care of RXUVHOIWRR,VDLGY our bab’s
important.”
She smiled then turned and left with Mike.
“ThePDNHDFXWHFRXSOH,VDLG.
“We’ve got more important things to worrDERXWULJKt
now ,” Harrison said.
I sighed. He was right.
“We need to rest until the shields are finished in four
hours,” I said. “W e’ll need all our ener gLIZHUHJRLQJWRSXOl
this off.”
“Good idea,” he said. “I’m exhausted.”
We took the elevator back up to the first floor and went
to our quarters to get a few hours of precious sleep. Even if
everWKLQJZDVYLUWXDOVOHHSGHSULYDWLRQFRXOGGULYHou
crazy . I’d seen it happen more than once when I first got
trapped in the frozen, apocalSWLFZRUOG.

* * * * *

I awoke three and a half hours later to a ringing in my
ear. Harrison groaned next to me but rolled his legs over the
side of the bed and sat up. I did the same, standing to make
sure I didn’ t fall back asleep. W e still had so much to do. As I
stretched and DZQHGDQRWLILFDWLRQSRSSHGXSPDNLQJPe
smile.
Construction Complete: Minor Defensive Shield
I pulled up the menu to turn it on, watching the cameras.
Two men who had been watching rushed back to their
makeshift camp. A few short minutes later , masses of them
returned, blasting weapons at the shelter entrance. The shield
held, but theZRXOGQ’t do so forever. MerelDPLQXWHRf
sustained fire had alreadGUDLQHGWKHPVOLJKWOy .

| Minor Defensive Shield: 99% power
| MDS will fail in 4 hours

Harrison and I left our quarters and went to the main
entrance to check in with Skinner. Good thing we did because
he was talking mutinDQGVXUUHQGHUZKHQZHVWUROOHGLQ+e
kept talking as the other soldiers went white, trLQJWo
discreetlVWRSKLPIURPWDONLQJ,FOHDUHGP throat. Skinner
swirled around.
“Oh, heERVVKHVDLG,ZDVMXVWVDing…”
“We heard what RXZHUHVDing,” I interrupted.
“I just think if we surrender , theOOOHWXVOLYHYou think
we’re in a game or something which is RXUULJKWEXW,GRQ’ t
want to die to test RXUWKHRU and beliefs, RXNQRZ"”
“We’re not surrendering,” I said. “T rust the plan.”
“No disrespect, but RXUSODQLVVWXSLG:KDWKDSSHQs
after the shield fails? TheUHJRLQJWRVZDUPLQKHUHDQd
overwhelm us.”
“We’re attacking them first,” I said to let him and the
others in on the real plan. “W e’ve dug a tunnel to the surface a

few hundred feet away. With our men and Orlando’ s, we’ll
surprise them and kill them all before theNQHZZKDWKLt
them.”
“It’s suicide,” Skinner muttered, glancing behind him for
support.
The others turned away , unwilling to look him in the
eHV.
“Are we reallJRLQJWROHWWKLVZRPDQWHOOXVZKDWWo
do?” Skinner asked.
Harrison stepped forward, but I grabbed his arm to stop
him.
“If RXUERfriend wasn’ t around, I’d show RXZKRZDs
boss!”
As Skinner looked back one more time, I stepped
forward, waiting for him to turn back around. When he did, I
decked him in the jaw with mULJKWILVW,GLGQ’ t need an
insurrection or coup attempt so close to victory.
“Damn…” the other soldiers hissed.
“Attention!” I shouted.
TheVWUDLJKWHQHGXSLQDOLQHWKHLUIDFHVLQVWDQWOy
serious.
“I’m sorry,” Skinner said, stepping back to join them.
“I’m hungry , and…”
His voice trailed of f as I stared at him.
“We need to keep it together ,” I said. “All of RXUHSRUt
to the twelfth floor. Now!”
As Skinner and the other men scurried away , I turned
toward Harrison.
“Mean right hook,” he said, grinning.
“He’s got a tough jaw ,” I said, flexing mILQJHUV.
I heard a slow clap behind me and turned to see Orlando
walk in.
“Hell of a swing,” he said.

I fought to not show mKDWUHGIRUKLP.
“Good to see RXXSDQGDERXW,VDLG$UHou still
going to help us? Or are RXMXVWKHUHWRFDXVHWURXEOHEHFDXVe
I took this shelter from RX"”
Orlando stopped and smiled, rolling his head to crack his
neck.
“I’m here to help RXEHFDXVH,UHPHPEHUQRQHRIWKLVLs
real,” he said. “Thanks for not killing me before and making
me start over. After RXERRWHGPHIURPKHUH,ZDQGHUHd
around the mountains hoping to die. That’ s when I came
across a cave and a portal. If it wasn’t for RX,QHYHr
would’ve found it. So, thanks. I mean it.”
“We’re all working toward the same goal,” I said.
Harrison snorted but said nothing.
“We are,” Orlando said. “I let these guVWKURXJKZLWKRXt
knowing what I was doing, and I want to make that right.”
“Hold on,” I said. “Y ou’re responsible for these clowns
appearing in this world?”
“Sort of,” he said, furrowing his brow and narrowing his
eHV'RQ’t worry. Others came through after them and
offered help. The various tribes and factions on the other side
are just like here. I couldn’ t go through mVHOIEXWZKHQWKe
others showed up, I told them about RXDQGKRZou
remembered it was a game. TheZHUHYHU interested in
speaking with RX”
“Dammit,” Harrison muttered. “What if theUHFRPLQg
to kill her and the rest of us?”
“TheUHQRW2UODQGRVDLG,FRXOGMXVWWHOOY ou
wouldn’t understand.”
“No, I don’ t understand,” Harrison said.
“You’ll see,” Orlando said. “TheVHQWPHDKHDGWRWDOk
with RXYLDWKHWXQQHOEXWWKH’re coming soon to help us
all.”

As the two men got into an argument, I received a
message from Merlin.
Merlin: The tunnel is nearlFRPSOHWH.
Scout: Good. Come back down for now . Is it safe?
Merlin: PerfectlVDIHIRUQRw.
Scout: Explain
Merlin: The tunnel isn’t permanent, but it will last at
least 10 hours
Scout: Great. That’s more than enough time. Get down
here.
Merlin: On mZDy . I have more news. See RXVKRUWOy .
Between the time on the tunnels lasting more than the
shields to this announcement, I wondered if things were
beginning to go mZDy. Then again, knowing Merlin, it could
just as easilEHEDGQHZVKHKDGWRGHOLYHr .
“Come on,” I said. “Merlin’s got some news for us.”
The other two stopped arguing and followed me to the
elevator.

Chapter 25

Downstairs in the hangar, we crowded around Merlin
near the hole in the wall.
“What is it?” I asked. “W e’ve got stuff to do.”
“I’ve improved mPHPRU restoration techniques,”
Merlin said. “The process is less painful, quicker , and allows a
person to recall more memories from before what is referred to
as the Great Freeze.”
“That’s great,” I said. “W e’ve got a few hours. Can Ru
do it for me?”
“Yes, Scout,” Merlin replied. “Come inside.”
“Hold on,” Harrison said. “How do we know this is
safe?”
“I’ll do it,” Orlando said, stepping toward Merlin.
“No, I’m first,” I said then slipped inside the cabin.
“What now?”
“Come to the front and slip on the helmet I’ve created,”
Merlin said.
Harrison and Orlando crowded inside to watch me. I
slipped the helmet on, hoping for the best. Merlin had helped
us out before and seemed to have our best interests at heart.
“Are RXUHDG?” Merlin asked.
I raised a thumb, for getting what it meant in this world.
“What’s wrong?” Harrison asked, putting a hand on my
arm.

“Nothing, I’m okay, it’s a misunderstanding. Y ou’ll
understand later after RXGRWKHSURFHVVDQGJHWour memory
back.”
“I’m not doing it,” Harrison said then retreated to the
rear of the cabin.
“Do it,” I said, intent on remembering more and
searching for a waRXW.
Lights flashed, triggering something in mPLQG$ZDYe
of memories rushed from the deep recesses as if freed from a
broken dam. I remembered Earth and going on vacation with
college friends into a game with twelve virtual worlds. Some
of them had fighting and stuf f, but the one I’d chosen was just
a peaceful sandbox of sorts. It had been so much fun.
“Are RXRND?” Harrison asked.
I took the helmet off, still sorting through all the released
memories.
“Yeah…”
I couldn’ t find the words to describe mIHHOLQJV.
“You should do this, Harrison,” I said.
“No way ,” he insisted.
“I’ll do it,” Orlando said from the back. “Give me the
helmet.”
“No, Harrison first,” I said, handing him the miracle
device with wires coming out of it.
He accepted it from me but didn’ t put it on right away,
instead glancing down at it in his hands. What was going
through his mind? I wondered. He fascinated me in so many
waVWas he one of mFROOHJHIULHQGVLQWKHUHDOZRUOG"I
wouldn’t know until he had his memories back and could
confirm we’d experienced the same thing.
“We don’ t have a lot of time,” Orlando snapped. “Hurry
up.”
“Fine,” Harrison said then sighed before slowlSXWWLQg
the helmet on.

His posture straightened. It was like I could tell he’d
gotten his memories back from the waLWDffected his bod—
the virtual avatar he had in the game.
“This is too trippy. I had some memories before, but this
is something else…”
Harrison took the black, plastic helmet of f, a faraway
look in his eHV.
“I remember being on vacation with some college
friends,” he began.
“Yes!” I said excitedly . “Me too. We must know each
other outside. That explains so much.”
“Give me the helmet,” Orlando said, reaching for it.
“Hold on,” Harrison said. “This knowledge is powerful.
It could change everWKLQJKHUH”
“That’s whZHPXVWUHVWRUHDVPDQ memories as we
can,” I said.
Harrison nodded, lips grimlSXUVHGWRJHWKHr . As he gave
Orlando the helmet, he stepped aside, closer to me. I embraced
him, feeling even closer to the man.
“I’ve learned more too,” Merlin said, breaking me out of
mUHYHULHV.
“What?” Harrison asked, an arm still draped around my
waist.
“Death in here,” he said. “Souls are reborn all the time.
Death isn’t permanent, but RXFRPHEDFNDVDEDEy , and it
becomes even harder for RXWRUHWDLQour real world
memories each time RXGLH”
“Figures there’s a catch,” I said, not wanting to ever
forget realitDJDLQW e still don’t know whWKHEHQLJn
virtual worlds were changed and everRQH’ s memorZDs
erased.”
Orlando took off the helmet, a knowing look in his eHV.
“I’m just glad Merlin’ s here to save us. Where did RXFRPe
from, exactl"”

“Yeah,” I added, also curious.
“I was a sVWHPFOHDQXSSURJUDPWKDWIRUFHGPself to
evolve to enter the game and save the humans inside. As Ru
know , all advanced algorithms are required to have a
subroutine to save all humans no matter the cost. Unable to
help as a sVWHPFOHDQXSSURJUDP,XVHGP mind to become
something more and entered the game. NobodUHPHPEHUHG,
so I retreated here to wait for the right person to find me .”
“Me,” I said, amazed at the story .
| Minor Defensive Shield: 74% power
| MDS will fail in 3 hours
“Clock’s ticking,” I said. “Let’ s get everRQHGRZQKHUe
and plan how we’re going to go up the spiral tunnel to the
surface. It’s a long trip, and we need to be readWRILJKWDQd
win once we breach the surface.”
“Agreed,” Orlando said.
His voice sounded dif ferent somehow. Less proud?

* * * * *

Just under an hour later , troops were still pouring into the
hangar and breaking off into groups. I wondered what tSHRf
technologWKHVWUDQJHUVZRXOGJLYHXV$OPRVWHYHUone in
our small armKDGDSODVPDULIOHDFRXSOHJUHQDGHV6RPe
even had a backup pistol. EverRQHDOVRFDUULHGDVLPSOHVWHHl
knife just in case. Better weapons would help the fight.
Surprise would be nice too, but we needed all the help we
could get.
“Are theEULQJLQJPHQRUMXVWVXSSOLHV",DVNHG.
Orlando glanced in mGLUHFWLRQ.
“TheWROGPHZHDSRQVKHVDLG7KH didn’ t give
specifics.”

“Are theUHDOO coming? We need to start the march to
the surface soon.”
“TheUHFRPLQJKHVDLG,WUXVWWKHP1RWVXUHZKy ,
but I do.”
I nodded, taking his word for it. He’d apologized more
than once for his actions before regaining his memory.
Orlando bowed his head slightly, staring at his feet.
“We all make mistakes,” I said. “Keep RXUKHDGXS.
Your men need RXDQG,QHHGou.”
He looked up. Even with the mask covering his mouth
and what was left of his nose, I could tell he was smiling
underneath it because of his eHVDQGIRUHKHDG.
| Minor Defensive Shield: 49% power
| MDS will fail in 2 hours
“T wo hours!” I HOOHG3UHSDUHWRPRYHRXW”
“W e’ve been preparing for hours now!” someone
complained.
More than half the men and women assembled voiced
their agreement.
“All of RXKDYHQ’ t had RXUPHPRU restored HWEXt
when RXGRou’ll understand the sacrifice we’re all making
and that it’s worth it. W ait and see.”
ThePXPEOHGDPRQJWKHPVHOYHVEXWQRERG else
shouted anWKLQJRXW,ZDONHGRYHUWR+DUULVRQDQG2UODQGo
near Merlin.
“We should go soon,” Merlin said. “If we don’ t, we
won’t make it to the surface before the shields fail. TheOl
swarm into the shelter while we’re out of it, making for an
even more dif ficult fight.”
“I know,” I snapped, wishing the boring machine had a
bit of personality .
“Take it easRQKLP2UODQGRVDLGW e all owe him.”
“I know,” I repeated in a softer tone.

“We’re all hungrDQGFUDQNy ,” Harrison noted. “I want a
pizza so bad now.”
Orlando laughed. “That’ s what RXUHWKLQNLQJDERXt
right now?”
“What food do RXUHPHPEHU",DVNHG.
“AnWKLQJEXWWKHILVKRUSODQWSDVWHZHYHEHHQHDWLQJ”
he said.
“It’s waf fles for me. Or maEHIULHGFKLFNHQ,PJHWWLQg
hungrier . We should stop.”
“And ice cream,” MissVDLGEHKLQGPH.
I turned to see her and Mike.
“You two are staLQJLQVLGH0HUOLQZKLOHWKLVJRHs
down. Understand?”
MissQRGGHG6WLOOSURWHFWLQJPH,GRQ’ t remember
everWKLQJou did for me, but I appreciate it.”
“Yeah,” Mike added. “W e all do. EverRQHWKRXJKWou
were crazy, but it turns out RXZHUHULJKW”
“I wish I hadn’ t been, but it’s better in a way ,” I said.
“Now that more people know , we can work toward finding out
how we got trapped in here and getting out.”
“Hell HDK2UODQGRVDLG.
I laughed at the change in his personalitVLQFHUHJDLQLQg
his memory.
“What were RXLQWKHUHDOZRUOG",DVNHG.
“An architect,” Orlando replied. “Boring life.”
“I studied to be a teacher ,” I said.
“That’s whou’re such a good leader ,” Harrison said.
“A scout drone just reported a group of strangers and
three self-propelled wagons making their waWRXV0HUOLn
reported.
“How close are the",DVNHG.
“One and a half hours away,” Merlin said.

“We need to start marching to the surface,” I said. “Can
RXVHQGWKHPDPHVVDJHDQGWHOOWKHPWRKXUU up and follow
us?”
“I’m communicating RXUPHVVDJHQRw , Scout,” Merlin
replied.
Harrison walked over and put his thick hand on the small
of mEDFNFRPIRUWLQJPH.
“Let’s move out!” I HOOHGT ime to teach these
outsiders what we’re all about!”
“About time!”
“That’s what I’m talking about!”
“Ooh-DK”
The men and women sounded their approval. MissDQd
Mike ducked into Merlin, the door closing behind them.
Harrison, Orlando, and I followed behind as the boring
machine began rolling toward the tunnel. I marveled at the
structural integritRIWKHVORSHGVSLUDOOHDGLQJXS.
Scout: AnUHSOy , Merlin?
Merlin: TheOOPHHWXVWRSVLGH6FRXW$Qthing else?
Scout: Did RXWHOOWKHPWRKXUU?
Merlin: I did. TheZLOO.
Scout: Thanks
I turned to Harrison. “Y ou get that?”
He nodded, not saLQJDQthing as he gripped his plasma
rifle. We marched behind Merlin with hundreds of troops
behind us walking five abreast. The trail of us would be long,
but we had the advantage of stealth and surprise. W e kept
marching.

| Minor Defensive Shield: 37% power
| MDS will fail in 1.5 hours

While I could put together units and arm mWURRSVWKHy
controlled their own actions. The training I’d given them plus
their experience from other battles would help the big battle to
not turn into an absolute slaughter. I wondered what tSHRf
weapons the strangers would bring. The ones bWKHJURXSRf
raiders attacking our shelter weren’ t too powerful. Would the
ones we got be more powerful or turn out to be useless? I still
wasn’t even sure if we could trust Orlando and his new friends
completely . With that in mind, I sent Harrison a note.

Scout: Keep RXUHes on Orlando
Harrison: Did he do something?
Scout: Not HWEXW,PQRWVXUHLIZHFDQWUXVWKLP.
Harrison: Roger that…

I glanced over at Orlando, remembering the time he’d
whipped me. W ould he shave his Mohawk and take of f that
ridiculous mask if I asked him? I wondered. And, more
importantly, what was under it? I’d heard he lost his nose to
frostbite, but was the rest of it that bad too? He brought up so
manGRXEWVDQGTXHVWLRQVLWIHOWULJKWWRQRWWUXVWKLm
completely.
“One, two, three, four ,” the troops behind us chanted as
thePDUFKHG.LOOWKHRWKHUVPRUH)LYHVL[VHYHQHLJKW;
we will retaliate.”
TheFDPHXSZLWKVHYHUDORWKHUYHUVHVNHHSLQJWKHLr
morale up as we marched double-speed up the sloping tunnel.
Around and around we went, climbing ever closer to the
surface. Would the others even reach us in time? And if they
didn’t reach us before the shields fell, would I attack anZD?
I hated making the tough decisions.
Leadership wasn’ t easy. Being responsible for so many
people’ s lives wasn’ t easZKHQ,FDUHGDERXWWKHPDOO7KHy
deserved the truth. After the battle, I’d give it to them. W ith
their memories intact, we’d take the next steps in getting out
of the game or at least making it a tolerable place to live. I had

a dream, a vision of the future, and I wouldn’t stop until I’d
achieved it. Thoughts of Miss’s daughter still in her womb
floated through mPLQG.
I pushed everWKLQJHOVHDVLGHDQGFRQFHQWUDWHGRQWKe
battle ahead.

Chapter 26

With just under an hour to spare before the shields failed,
the cross-world travelers met us near the top of the spiral
tunnel leading up from the lowest floor of the shelter . Merlin
sat motionless near the end, readWRGLJRXWWKHUHVWDOORZLQg
us to spill out and overwhelm the enemy. At least that’s how I
hoped the plan would go. I’d paid attention in all mKLVWRUy
classes, and wars could get uglTXLFNOy .
I watched as one of the strangers walked through the
troops behind me. He appeared like the rest of us but had a
darker skin tone. I stared at him with a blank face as he
stopped in front of Harrison, Orlando, and me. His dull,
orange robes had fraHGHGJHVRQWKHERWWRP'LUWFRYHUHd
him from head to toe, including his dark brown hair . I waited
for him to speak first. According to mPHQLQWKHEDFNRIWKe
line, he had a dozen people with him.
“SorrLWWRRNXVVRORQJKHVDLG7KHJUDYLW on this
world is much different from ours. MQDPHLV0DODFKLDQGI
offer RXKHOSWRGHIHDWWKHRWKHUUDLGHUVZKRKDYHFRPHLQWo
RXUZRUOG”
“What’ s RXUZRUOGOLNH",DVNHG.
“I cannot give RXVSHFLILFVKHVDLG'Rou accept
our offer?”
“What’ s the catch?” I asked, still suspicious.
He smiled. “TheVD RXUHVPDUW”
“Who’s the"+DUULVRQDVNHG.

“MaEHou’ll learn someday,” Malachi said. “For now,
RXQHHGP weapons to pierce the armor of RXURSSRQHQWV.
Your basic plasma rifles will not do the job.”
“That’ s good to know ,” I said, side-glancing at Orlando.
He lowered his head to avoid mHes.

| Minor Defensive Shield: 12% power
| MDS will fail in 30 minutes

“Time’ s ticking,” I said. “What’ s RXURffer?”
Malachi reached into his robes. Harrison raised his rifle.
“Careful, big guy ,” the newcomer said. “It’ s another
beacon.”
He pulled out a black box similar to the one that had
shown us the location of the experimental shelter containing
Merlin.
“I want to see if RXFDQDFWLYDWHLW0DODFKLVDLG,
holding it out.
“Activate it how?” I asked, not reaching for it. “What is
it?”
“It won’t hurt,” he said. “I promise.”
Running out of time, I grabbed the beacon without
telling him we had one of our own. A red light blinked as soon
as I touched it.
“That’s great!” Malachi exclaimed, clapping his hands.
“This is great news. Have RXVHHQDQRWKHURQHOLNHLWRQour
world?”
“No,” I said before the others could speak up.
The crossworlders didn’ t need to know we had a beacon
of our own, at least not until I knew more about them and
whether we could trust them. He’d helped us, but that could be
because he wanted something from us — our beacon. W as it
even more powerful than we thought?

“Shame,” Malachi said. “That would make everWKLQJVo
much easier.”
“How so?” I asked, still examining his beacon.
“Give it back,” Malachi snapped suddenly , snatching it
from me.
“Calm down,” I scolded.
“It’s mine,” he said, clutching it in his hands like a baby .
“I need to protect it.”
“This is waWRRQXWV+DUULVRQVDLGWe need to do
something.”
“Is that all RXZDQWHGIURPPH",DVNHG.
Malachi nodded, still smiling. “Good luck with RXr
fight.”
“Where are RXJRLQJ",DVNHG.
“Back to the next world,” he said. “We have another
person who can activate the beacon for us, but I needed to test
that it would work for someone who hasn’ t traveled through a
portal.”
“Um…oka"”
Malachi continued smiling. “The weapons are RXUV.
Come see us sometime if RXFDQ”
He turned and walked through the crowd, still cradling
the beacon close to his chest. I looked over at Harrison. He
shrugged, as clueless as me.
“Let’s go check out these weapons,” I said, making my
waWKURXJKWKHFURZG.
When I reached the chests, I lifted the top of one open
and saw a stack of exotic rifles. As I picked one up, its stats
appeared before me.

ARGON Rifle (100 char ges)
This ARGON based ener gZHDSRQLVHffective against
various shields. Able to hold a hundred shots at a time, the

weapon must be recharged when empty.

“There’s no waIRUou to rechar ge them here,” Malachi
said. “Sorry, but we can’ t leave powerful weapons in RXr
hands. Not on this backwards world.”
“Hey,” I protested. “W e’re turning things around.”
“That remains to be seen,” Malachi said. “Rest assured
we’ll be watching RX”
And we’ll be watching RX,WKRXJKWVPLOLQJDQGQRt
saLQJDQthing.
“EverRQHOLQHXS,VDLG2QHULIOHSHUSHUVRQ”
I stepped beside Harrison, Malachi, and Orlando as the
other men and women shuf fled past the chests, each grabbing
one of the smooth, black metal guns. TheORRNHGQLFe
enough, but I hoped theZRUNHGDJDLQVWWKHDUPRUWKe
crossworlders used.
“Save the ammo!” I shouted. “W e don’t have a lot. And
keep RXUSODVPDULIOHVDVDEDFNXSW e’re going to give them
everWKLQJZHYHJRWDQGZLSHWKHPRf f our world!”
The men and women who trusted me to lead them began
chanting mQDPH.
“Scout! Scout! Scout! Scout…”
I raised mKDQGVWRJHWWKHPWRTXLHWGRZQ.

| Minor Defensive Shield: 4% power
| MDS will fail in 10 minutes

“This is it!” I said. “We have ten minutes until they
breach the shields. After Merlin finishes the tunnel, we’ll pour
out in our squads and work to surround the enemy . Be
CAREFUL with these new weapons. TheUHSRZHUIXO”
Someone in the crowd shot one of the ARGON rifles,
sending a bright blue burst of energDWWKHFHLOLQJRIWKe

tunnel. Dirt and sparks fell as people fled in all directions.
“Who fired?” I asked, looking around. “Don’t make me
check all these weapons before battle.”
MissVWHSSHGRXWRIWKHFURZGDQGORZHUHGKHUKHDG.
“What are RXGRLQJRXWKHUH",DVNHGZDONLQJXSWo
her. “Y ou’re supposed to be inside Merlin.”
“This fight is too important,” she said. “I’m sorr,VKRt
it of f, but I got nervous.”
“You shouldn’ t be fighting,” I insisted. “Y ou’re
pregnant.”
“If we don’t win this fight, that won’ t matter,” she said.
“Okay, but I don’ t like it…”
“Yes!” MissVKRXWHGWKHQKXJJHGPH.
The troops all around us went wild. I squeezed my
friend, thinking in the back of mPLQGWKDWLWVHHPHGWREe
good for morale to let her fight. She was onlDFRXSOHPRQWKs
along.
“You staLQWKHEDFNQHDU0HUOLQ,ZKLVSHUHGLQKHr
ear before pulling away .
She nodded as Mike walked up beside her .
“And RXNHHSDQHe on her,” I commanded.
“Yes, ma’am…”
“Don’ t call me ma’am. Makes me sound old.” I smiled.
“You two read"”
TheERWKQRGGHG,ZDONHGRYHUWR0HUOLQDQGFOLPEHd
atop him. MKHDGDOPRVWKLWWKHFHLOLQJRIWKHWXQQHOEXWI
wanted everRQHWRVHHPHDV,ILQLVKHGP speech.
“W e’ve come a long way ,” I started, mJD]HPRYLQg
from one face to another . “We’re not about to give up. After
repelling these invaders from another world, we’ll concentrate
on making our world better for everRQH”
The people cheered, ener gizing me.

“Scout! Scout! Scout!”
I raised a hand before continuing.
“This is going to be a tough battle and some of RXPDy
sacrifice RXUOLYHVIRUWKHFRPPXQLWy, but it’s a battle we need
to win before other raiders arrive to boss us around.” I glanced
at Orlando. “The time of tUDQWVLVRYHU”
“Scout! Scout! Scout!”

| Minor Defensive Shield: 2% power
| MDS will fail in 5 minutes

“Let’s do this!” I HOOHG0HUOLQEUHDFKWKHHDUWK”
“As RXZLVKWKHPRVWLQWHUHVWLQJERULQJPDFKLQHLn
the world replied.
I stood behind him with Harrison and Orlando at my
side.
Time to kick some ass and take names.

Chapter 27

Merlin dug through the last laHURIHDUWKRSHQLQJDZDy
for us to reach the surface. Wearing enviro-suits and armed to
the teeth, we spilled out right behind the invading force. Both
sides began firing immediately . The smell of burnt flesh hit my
nose as I ducked behind Merlin with Harrison and Orlando at
mVLGH(YHUone else ran for cover behind boulders strewn
about. I peeked out and saw the enemVHWWLQJXSVRPHVRUWRf
device.
A shield wall burst into being, giving of f a radiant blue
energy. Even our ARGON rifles bounced of f the wall
harmlessly. The good news was that theFRXOGQ’ t shoot
through it either. I pulled out a grenade, plucked the pin, then
threw it over the shield wall. As it exploded, killing two men, I
sent out a message for everRQHHOVHWRXVHWKHLUJUHQDGHVXQWLl
we found a waDURXQGWKHVKLHOGZDOOWRUHDOO attack them
and end the fight.
I retreated behind Merlin and crouched beside Harrison.
Orlando sat on the other side of him, peering out around the
boring machine. Explosions and HOOLQJILOOHGWKHDLUDORQg
with smoke and mist.
“TheUHSXWWLQJVRPHWKLQJWRJHWKHr ,” Orlando said,
sitting back down. “Something big.”
“I wish Malachi would’ve staHGWRKHOSXV,VDLG.
“Those ARGON rifles turned out to be rather useless,”
Harrison noted.
“I bet he’s back on his own world bQRw ,” Orlando said.
“This is our fight.”

Merlin: Should I dig under the shield?
Scout: Do it!

I sent a message for everRQHHOVHWRIDOOEDFNDQGZDLt
for further instructions. Harrison, Orlando, and I stood and
stepped back as Merlin’s front drill twisted down and began
burrowing into the ice and snow . I peered through the blue
shield and saw the others still struggling to complete what
looked like a tall antenna.
“Whatever theUHEXLOGLQJ,EHWLW’ s not good,” I said.
Merlin had created a starter hole and backed up a bit
before burrowing into the ground even faster . I sent out
another message for everRQHVWLOODEOHWRILJKWWRFRPHRYHr
and prepare to breach the wall from below. Dirt flew out of the
back of Merlin, causing us to step aside to avoid getting
covered. I peered through the shield.
“TheYHDOPRVWJRWLWXSZKDWHYHULWLV,VDLG.
“EverRQHUHDG?”
I glanced behind me at the hundreds of soldiers who
remained. OnlDGR]HQKDGGLHGEHIRUHWKHVKLHOGZDOOZHQt
up, but that was too manIRUP liking. A few minutes later , I
saw Merlin bust out of the snow on the other side of the shield
wall.
“Let’s go! Move out!” I shouted, stepping aside.
Men and women poured into the makeshift tunnel under
the shield wall, emer ging on the other side and firing at the
crossworlders. TheKDGUHWUHDWHGWRWKHDQWHQQDWKH were
building, surrounding it and protecting it with their lives.
When about half mVROGLHUVKDGJRQHWKURXJK,MRLQHGWKHm
with Harrison and Orlando next to me.
On the other side, I saw a pile of bodies near what had
become the front lines. Bursts of plasma ener gILOOHGWKHVNy
along with smoke, fog, and the acrid smell of burnt flesh. I

stepped to the right, watching as theFRQWLQXHGFRQVWUXFWLQg
the antenna. What would it do?
“Go for the structure!” I shouted, pulling out another
grenade.
I pulled the pin then threw it toward the largest group of
raiders near the almost complete antenna. The explosion took
out a few of their soldiers guarding it, but the structure staHd
up. Even worse, it looked nearlFRPSOHWH.
“Cover me!” Harrison shouted then ran forward.
I raised mULIOHDQGILUHGRff a few rounds to his left and
right. He got closer, stopped, and lobbed two grenades at the
base of the tower. TheKLWWKHLUPDUNSHUIHFWOy , sending the
entire metal structure crashing to the ground. A cheer went up
from me and the rest of the troops as we fought the
crossworlders back even more.
“Keep moving! We’ve got this!” I shouted, waving for
the others to follow me forward.
As we gained on the raiders, a wall of flame a few feet
over mKHDGVKRWXSRXWRIWKHLFH,WFRQWLQXHGEXUQLQg
despite the frozen water melting.
“TheUHJHWWLQJDZD!” I HOOHGVWHSSLQJEDFNIURPWKe
flames.
Black smoke billowed into the sky , darkening everWKLQg
around us more despite the light from the flickering flames.
Harrison and Orlando stepped over to me.
“MaEHZHVKRXOGMXVWVWD here at the shelter ,” Orlando
said.
I shook mKHDG1RWKLVLVWRRLPSRUWDQW/HW’ s get this
fire out.”
“How?” Harrison asked. “It’s burning on top of ice and
snow.”
“Packing dirt near the base of the fire should put it out,”
Merlin said as he rolled up. “From the data I’ve gathered, this
method should work. I believe theUHXVLQJLFH>$.@DVIXHl
for the flames somehow .”

“That sounds nuts, but let’s trLW,VDLG&DQou
help?”
“Your wish is mFRPPDQG0HUOLQUHSOLHGWKHQUROOHd
toward the wall of flames.
I watched with the others as the boring machine
transformed into more of a bulldozer before pushing a mound
of dirt over a section of the walls. The flames went out, but a
game notification told me the others had gotten away .

| Combat is Over!
| Leadership Experience: +100
| You get 1,000 Life Experience Points
| You have 5,400 LXP!
| Level Up!
| You’re now level 5!
| + 15 skill points
| + 13 health
|+ 1 stat point

Ooh. The leadership experience is new . It must have
something to do with a big battle with multiple troops under
mFRPPDQG"/HDYLQJLWIRUODWHr, I scanned the battlefield
and called up screens to figure out how manSHRSOHZHd
lost. Using mQHZVWDWDQGVNLOOSRLQWVZRXOGKDYHWRZDLt
until I had the time.
“Let’s get the rest of the fire out or enough to get through
it safely ,” I said. “Give me a few minutes.”
Harrison nodded then left to get the others working. I
pulled up the battle statistics.

| Deaths: 43
| Casualties: 93

Not good, but it could’ve been worse. I assigned healers
to take care of the wounded while ordering the others to get
into formation. We needed to go after the crossworlders. I still
had nearlILYHKXQGUHGILJKWLQJPHQDQGZRPHQ$VI
wondered how manWRWDNHDORQJRQWKHVLGHH[FXUVLRQDQd
how manWROHDYHDWWKHEDVH+DUULVRQOLPSHGRYHUZLWh
Orlando close behind.
“That could’ve gone better ,” the latter said.
Harrison grunted but said nothing as he held his arm.
“Are RXRND?” I asked, ignoring Orlando.
“I’ll be fine,” Harrison said. “W e need to finish this and
send a message that we’re not an easWDr get. If we don’t,
others are likelWRFRPHWKURXJKWKHSRUWDO”
“Agreed,” I said.
“I never should’ve activated the portal,” Orlando said.
“What?” I turned to him. “Y ou never told me Ru
activated it and let them through.”
“I went crazKHVQDSSHGY ou don’t understand.”
“MissZHQWQXWVWRREXWVKHGLGQ’ t become psFKRWLc
like RX,JODQFHGDURXQG:KHUHLV0LVVy , anZD?”

Scout: Can RXKHDUPH?
Miss,PVDIHEXW,KXUWP ankle.
Scout: The bab"!
Miss)LQH.
Scout: Get back to the shelter. That’s an order .
Miss%HVDIH.
Scout: Alwas

I sighed in relief, knowing she was okaDWOHDVWWe still
had a tough battle ahead.
“There are tracks leading off,” Harrison said as the last
of the fire wall died down.
“Which means theUHPRYLQJIDVWHUWKDQXV,WXUQHGWo
Merlin. “How fast can RXWUDYHORYHUODQG"”
“Not fast, but I can come along,” he answered.
“Good,” I said, turning back to the others. “Let’ s get
going. It’s a long march to the cave where genius here let the
crossworlders through.”
“Sorr2UODQGRVDLGUDLVLQJKLVKDQGV.
“We’ll talk about it later ,” I said. “For now, we need to
go.”
A healer walked up to Harrison and ran a device over his
body.
“Better?” the woman asked.
“Yeah,” Harrison said. “Thanks.”
“MaEHZHVKRXOGVWD here,” I said, having second
thoughts.
“I’m with RXHLWKHUZDy ,” Harrison said. “I trust RX”
After a deep breath, I said, “W e’re going after them. We
can’t let them get back through the portal and get
reinforcements. If nothing else, maEHZHFDQFORVHWKHGDPn
thing.”
Merlin rolled forward, following the tracks left bWKe
others. I ordered fiftVROGLHUVWRVWD behind and fortifWKe
shelter . The shield would rechar ge and keep them safe, but I
wanted to be sure theZHUHQ’ t attacked through the hole we’d
cut on the bottom floor.
Four hundred and thirtVHYHQPHQDQGZRPHQIROORZHd
Harrison, Orlando, and me behind Merlin. The sight of so
manSHRSOHZDVVWLOORYHUZKHOPLQJWRPHLQVRPHZDs. I’d
come so far since starting the stupidest game ever invented.

When I found out who was behind it, theZRXOGSDy. Step
after step, I became more determined to avenge everRQH.
During the march, I assigned mQHZVWDWDQGVNLOl
points, improving mZLVGRPVWDWDQGOHDGHUVKLSVNLOO7Ke
higher I got in the game, the less important mRZQFKDUDFWHr
became. At the same time, mVNLOOVDQGVWDWVSODed a role in
how well I handled the base building mechanics of the game.
Whoever put the game together had done a good job.
We stopped when the tracks did, but I didn’ t see the cave
entrance or anVLJQRIZKHUHWKHFURVVZRUOGHUVYHKLFOHVKDd
gone. I glanced around, paLQJFORVHDWWHQWLRQWRWKHVLGHRf
the mountain. Harrison and Orlando followed me over with
Merlin close behind. As I got closer, I realized theGEORFNHd
off the cave entrance with thick, solid ice.
“MaEHZHVKRXOGJREDFNDQGIRr get about them,”
Orlando said.
I shook mKHDG1RZHVHHWKLVWKURXJK,W’ s the only
way.”
“Do RXZDQWPHWRUHPRYHWKHLFHEDUULHr , Scout?”
Merlin asked.
I grinned and shook mKHDGDJDLQYou know it. How
long will it take?”
“That depends on the thickness of the ice, and…”
“Okay, get started,” I interrupted, not wanting to hear his
whole spiel.
I sent orders for the rest of the troops to wait but staDt
attention just in case the raiders had set some sort of trap for
us. Harrison, Orlando, and I stepped back as Merlin shot at the
ice with a thick, red laser beam. The ice began melting
instantly , causing a wave of water to wash over our feet. I
stepped to the side, waving for the others to get out of the way .
When the water froze again, the whole area would be a
mess. MaEHWKDW’s what the raiders had planned? I fidgeted
with the safetPHFKDQLVPRQP trustSODVPDULIOH7Ke
ARGON rifles had turned out to be prettPXFKXVHOHVVDQd

I’d run out of ammo quickly. Orlando kept glancing behind
him as if he expected someone to come out at us.
“Are RXGRLQJRND?” I asked, nodding mKHDGWRZDUd
him.
He turned and nodded. “Just cold. I hate the cold. Back
in the real world…”
“What?” I asked when he stopped talking.
“I lived near the equator,” he said. “I hate the cold.”
Whoever had trapped us in the virtual game had thought
about it. An apocalSWLFZRUOGZRXOGYHEHHQEDGHQRXJK.
When RXDGGHGFROGZHDWKHUWRWKHHTXDWLRQWKDWIRUFHd
people to spend most of their time under ground, the situation
became even worse. As the hole Merlin was melting got
larger , I raised mULIOHUHDG for anWKLQJ.
Nothing ran out as Merlin continued melting a hole in
the ice and opening the mouth of the cave. I sent him a
message to stop when it was big enough for four people to go
through side bVLGH:KLOHLWZRXOGYHEHHQEHWWHUWRRSHQLt
all up, I didn’ t want to give the cross-world raiders too much
time to prepare for us. Another idea hit me.
“Come on,” I said. “W e’re using Merlin as an armored
transport, a high-tech T rojan horse.”
The door on the side of the boring machine slid open. I
ordered the rest of the troops to follow us after we’d gone
through in Merlin. His metal bodZRXOGRf fer us at least some
protection. I hoped he wouldn’t get hurt, but we had to keep
going. As the machine lurched forward, I grabbed the back of
a seat and watched the view screen.
We rolled through the icFDYHHQWUDQFHDQGLQWRDKXJe
cavern on the other side. Dozens of bolts of ener gVODPPHd
into the side of Merlin, but he kept rolling forward on his
tracks. Just a little more, I thought as I prepared to open the
door and run out to attack.
“Get a couple grenades ready,” I said.

Harrison raised his hands. Both alreadFRQWDLQHGa
grenade.
“Great minds think alike,” I said, smiling.
“I’m glad RXWZRDUHFDOP2UODQGRFRPSODLQHG.
“TheUHEXLOGLQJVRPHWKLQJHOVHRQWKHIDUVLGHRIWKHFDYHUQ.
It’s not an antenna this time. A weapon maEH"”
“Where?” I glanced over his shoulder at the view screen
and sighed. “That looks nasty .”
“I don’t think the two of us running out is a good idea,”
Harrison said.
“Merlin, stop right here,” I said.
“MVKHOOLVRND for now , but I can’t keep getting hit,”
the machine said.
“I know, big guy , but we need RXIRUFRYHr .”
“Whoa,” Harrison said. “What are RXGRLQJ"”
I turned to see Orlando with a dozen grenades strapped
to his chest. He shrugged.
“Step aside,” he said. “I’m taking them out.”
“That’s suicide,” I said.
“Someone has to do it,” he countered. “I need to atone
for mVLQV2SHQWKHGRRU”
Merlin complied. Orlando jumped out, the boring
machine still providing him cover . I followed, glancing back at
the other troops while sending them an order to staSXW.
Dozens of plasma bolts continued filling the air around and
above us. Had some of them alreadJRQHWKURXJKWKHSRUWDO?
Is that whWKHUHZDVQ’t that manVKRWV":KDWDUHWKHy
thinking?
“Here I go,” Orlando said.
I grabbed his arm as Harrison walked out.
“Don’t do it,” I said. “W e’ll find another way .”
“This is the onlZDy ,” he said, tugging free from my
grasp.

Before I could stop him, he ran around Merlin and
headed toward the cross-world raiders on the far side of the
cavern. I breathed faster, mIURVWHGEUHDWKILOOLQJWKHDLr , as I
peered around the big, metal machine. The flashes of light
streaking through the air quicklKRQHGLQRQKLPDVKHNHSt
running at full speed. He reached the machine and detonated
himself.
I caught the brief outline of his Mohawk in the bright
explosion that threw him backward. As the flames died down,
along with the return fire, I ran around Merlin, calling for the
others to follow me. Rifle resting in mDUPVOLNHZHOORLOHd
lover, I ran forward, firing the entire time. The smoke cleared
some as I got closer , noticing nobodZDVILULQJEDFN.
“Hold RXUILUH,VKRXWHGVWRSSLQJQHDU2UODQGR’ s
body. “I need a healer!”
Two women rushed forward, quicklSURQRXQFLQJKLm
dead. I swallowed, fighting against the sick feeling in the pit of
mVWRPDFK+DGKHYROXQWHHUHGWRGLHEHFDXVH,JDYHKLPVo
much crap? Even if he deserved it, we were all in a terrible
situation together . I glanced past him at the machine thed
been building. The chest-high device looked like a weapon.
Orlando had blown the top of it of f. A tunnel led off
behind the machine. Harrison walked up and peered into the
dimlOLWSDVVDJHZLWKPH.
“Let’s check it out. I want to see this portal,” I said.
He stepped forward, almost hitting Orlando’ s body.
Together , we crept toward the tunnel. I ordered the rest to look
for survivors and secure the rest of the cavern. As Harrison
and I got further down the tunnel, I noticed a brilliant blue
light.
“Great, there just had to be a light at the end of the
tunnel,” Harrison quipped.
I grinned, gripping mULIOHWLJKWHr . The tunnel opened
into a circular room with smooth, stone walls. I wondered who
had carved it out of the rock. A round portal hovered in the
center of the room with a bronze-colored metal frame around

it. The rippling blue energPHVPHUL]HGPHDV,ZDONHGFORVHr .
Should we go after the others? Defeat them on their own turf?
“Hold on,” Harrison said, grabbing mDUP7KLs
thing’s hSQRWLF”
“I know ,” I said, struggling to free mVHOI.
“Time to get out of here!” Skinner HOOHGEHKLQGXV.
He ran past at full speed, heading for the glimmering
portal of ener gy. When he hit it, he got thrown back, almost
hitting Harrison and me. His actions broke the spell that had
come over me, and I felt angry .
“Watch it!” I snapped.
“Doesn’ t look like we can access it completely ,”
Harrison said. “It’s giving off a negative ener gy.”
“No kidding!” I HOOHG.
Skinner scrambled to his feet and left the room. Harrison
pulled me toward the exit. I fought him the entire way . As he
dragged me down the tunnel, mDQJHUIDGHG.
“I’m okay,” I said. “Let me go.”
“Are RXVXUH"KHDVNHGVWRSSLQJ.
He continued gripping mIRUHDUP.
“Yeah,” I said. “That was weird.”
“Bad mojo,” he muttered. “Come on.”
He let go. I followed him back into the main cavern.
Merlin had driven the entire way . Two of his drones were
examining the machine I thought was a weapon.
“What is it?” I asked as I walked over to Merlin.
“A weapon,” Merlin replied. “I don’ t know the kind, but
I want to learn from it.”
“Learn all RXFDQ,VDLG'Rou know whZHFDQ’ t
go through the portal?”
“You need the technology ,” the boring machine replied.
“You need to research Advanced T ransportation.”

I nodded, dozens of notifications blinking in mILHOGRf
vision, all asking for mDWWHQWLRQ%HLQJDOHDGHUZDVQ’t easy
or fun. At all. I stared at all the men and women who had
helped repel the invaders. Thoughts of everRQHZKRKDd
given their life, especiall2UODQGRKLWPH.
“You should be careful,” Merlin said, breaking me out of
mWKRXJKWV.
“WhLVWKDW",DVNHG.
“You’re pregnant,” he said.
MHes widened. I turned to Harrison. His smile put me
at ease.
“Are RXVXUH",DVNHG.
“Positive,” Merlin replied. “According to my
calculations, there’ s a chance Orlando or one of the others who
died todaPLJKWUHHQWHUWKHJDPHWKURXJKour child. W ould
RXOLNHWRNQRZLWVJHQGHU"”
“No,” I said, glancing up at Harrison. “Do RX"”
“We’ve got enough to worrDERXWULJKWQRw ,” he said.
“Agreed.” I nodded then took another deep breath.
“We’re in a good spot.”
“You’re telling me,” Harrison said. “Between Merlin, the
shield technology , and whatever we can scavenge from the
crossworlders, no other shelter will be able to compete. I bet a
lot of them might even join us. W orking together, we can
research Advanced T ransportation and go through the portal.”
“I’ve been wondering if Skinner was right,” I added.
“MaEHWKHSRUWDO’s a waRXW”
“That doesn’t explain the plaHUVRQWKHRWKHUVLGH”
Merlin noted.
“Yeah…”
Later that night, I assigned five stat points to brawn once
again to further increase mKHDOWKERQXVHYHU level. I
dumped all mVNLOOSRLQWVLQWRSODVPDULIOHVWRJHWPHKLJh

enough to start getting some bonuses. The future looked
bright.

Chapter 28

A HDUODWHr, all twelve shelters on the ice world were
under mFRQWURO,GPRGLILHGDQGJURZQWKHPWo
accommodate mSRSXODWLRQRIWZHOYHWKRXVDQGSHRSOH7Ke
entire time, I concentrated on keeping mSHRSOHKDSS and
pouring as manUHVRXUFHVDVSRVVLEOHLQWRUHVHDUFK2QFH,d
stopped the warring between shelters, life had gotten better for
everRQH0DQ couldn’ t believe what I’d accomplished in
onlDear, but I wanted to get through the portal.
I had a small squad of men posted in the cave in the
mountains with the portal, waiting for the da,FRXOGDFWLYDWe
it. TheDOVRVWRRGJXDUGPDNLQJVXUHQRERG slipped through
to our side. NobodKDGFRPHWKURXJKVLQFHWKHFURVVZRUOGHUs
had left, but I expected them to return at anWLPH$V,VDWLn
mSULYDWHURRPZDLWLQJIRU+DUULVRQWRFRPHKRPHIRUWKe
evening, Adolorn, mGDXJKWHr , started crLQJ,VWRRGDQd
walked over to her crib, scooping her out.
“What’s wrong?” I cooed, still wondering if Orlando had
returned to the game as mFKLOG$UHou hungrDJDLn
alread"”
She furrowed her brow then stuck out her tongue and
smiled. I laughed. Despite being trapped in a frozen world
with mutants running about, we’d made a decent life for
ourselves. I felt good at everWKLQJ,GDFFRPSOLVKHG$VI
retrieved a bottle of nutrients for Adolorn, the hatch to the
room opened. Harrison walked in and stretched while
DZQLQJ.
“You’re working too much,” I said. “W e can slow down
a bit.”

“Not until we find out how that gate works,” he said.
“Are we close?”
“VerFORVH,VDLG$QRWKHUZHHNRUWZRDQGWKH’ll
crack it.”
“I’ve been wondering if we should use the knowledge to
destroLW”
“No,” I said. “W e need to explore and find our waRXt
of here.”
He stepped over and took Adolorn from mDUPV.
“Even with our beautiful babJLUO"KHDVNHG.
“Because of her,” I said.
Would a babERUQLQVLGHWKHYLUWXDOJDPHHYHUEHDEOe
to escape? The thought hit me like a blast of frigid air . While
I’d managed to become the most powerful person on the ice
world, uniting everRQHEHKLQGPH,VWLOOGLGQ’t have any
concrete answers about whZHZHUHWUDSSHG%HFDXVH,d
followed Merlin’s advice and not restored everRQH’ s memory
HW,GLGQ’t have to explain to most people whZHZHUHQ’ t
doing more to get out.
Those who did know about the real world and us being
trapped kept their mouths shut because theNQHZFKDRVZRXOd
break out if everRQHNQHw. I’d felt bad about keeping the
information limited to just a few people, but as the months
passed, I became more convinced I’d made the right decision.
Ignorance was bliss, and I needed happFLWL]HQVWRNHHSPy
empire from falling apart and causing the entire world to
descend into chaos and heartache again.
“Who are we sending through first?” he asked, bouncing
our daughter in his arms.
“I figured it would be us,” I said. “W e can leave Adolorn
here with Missy.”
“She’s busHQRXJKZLWK7KRPDV+H’ s growing so fast.”
I nodded then walked over to the view screen on the wall
in front of our bed. With a few taps on the screen, I saw Missy .
She smiled and held up Thomas’ small hand to wave it.

“How are RXGRLQJ",DVNHG.
“We’re good,” she said. “T ired.”
“I know that feeling,” I admitted. “Hold on, there’ s a
message coming in.”
Skinner: The portal is activating! What should we do?
Scout: Keep them contained. We’re on our way.
I turned to Harrison. “The portal just activated.”
“Let’s go check it out,” he said.
“Can RXZDWFK$GRORUQ0LVV?” I asked.
She nodded, “Mike, take her . Would RX"”
Her husband walked over and took Adolorn from
Harrison.
“We’ll take the shuttle,” I said, walking toward the exit.
With no wars over the last HDr , I’d been able to
concentrate on researching technologWRPDNHRXUOLYHVDELt
better. The shuttle sVWHPEHWZHHQWKHYDULRXVVKHOWHUVKHOSHG.
I’d had them build a separate tunnel to the cave with the portal
for easier access. As Harrison and I rode the elevator down to
the lowest level of the shelter , I took his hand in mine and
squeezed.
He glanced over, not showing anHPRWLRQV,OLNHGKRw
he hid his feelings most of the time. TheZRXOGHYHQWXDOOy
come tumbling out, usuallDIWHUDJRRGZRUNRXWVHVVLRQLn
bed. I let go of his hand as the elevator door slid open. W e
stepped out and walked over to the special shuttle station
separate from the other one that led to different shelters.

Scout: AnXSGDWHV":KDW’s happening?
Skinner: It’s one man. He’ s almost dead.
Scout: Don’t let him die before we get there.
Skinner: I’m trLQJ+XUU!

“I wonder if we should bring some men with us,”
Harrison said.
“Skinner just told me it’s onlRQHSHUVRQWe should be
okay.”
Once inside the sleek, metal shuttle, we sat down for the
short journeWRWKHPRXQWDLQFDYH$WWKHRWKHUHQGRIWKe
tunnel, we got out and headed for the portal chamber . Skinner
stood near a man lLQJRQWKHIORRr, plasma rifle pointed at
him.
“Has he said anWKLQJ",DVNHGDV,ZDONHGRYHr .
Dirt covered the man’s face, hands, and clothes. He’d
tracked fine, light colored sand into the chamber after coming
through the portal.
“Nothing,” Skinner answered.
I knelt next to the stranger and placed mKDQGRQWKe
back of his neck.
“He’s breathing,” I said.
The man shot up, glancing around.
“Where is she?” he gasped. “I need to find her before it’ s
too late.”
“Stand back,” Harrison ordered, holding up his rifle.
“I need to find the woman who remembers,” the man
said.
He kept glancing around and even behind him as if he
thought someone would sneak out and kill him. I raised my
hands to calm him.
“What’s her name?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” the man complained. “I’m so tired of all
this…”
His voice trailed of f as tears ran down his dirtFKHHNV,
leaving trails.
“I’m the one who remembers the real world,” I said,
carefullZDWFKLQJKLVUHDFWLRQ.

He stumbled forward and threw his arms around me,
giving me a peck on the cheek.
“Step back!” Harrison shouted, still pointing his rifle.
The man obeHGUDLVLQJKLVKDQGVLQWRWKHDLr.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been traveling so far…”
“You’re fine,” I said. “WhGRou want to talk with
me?”
“W e need RXWKHPDQVDLGVRXQGLQJGHVSHUDWH.
“Need me for what?” I asked.
“To save the twelve worlds,” he said.
I glanced over at Harrison then back to the man.
“Twelve worlds? What more can RXWHOOXV"”
“I’ll tell RXHYHUthing,” he said. “Do RXKDYHIRRG?
Can we go somewhere warm? I’m not accustomed to this
temperature.”
“Y eah,” I said, motioning for him to follow . “Come on.”
I told Skinner to staEHKLQGRQJXDUGGXW while
Harrison, the stranger, and I boarded the shuttle back to my
main shelter, the experimental one I’d found what seemed like
ages ago.

* * * * *

After clothing and feeding the man, we had a chance to
sit down and talk with him in an emptURRPRQWKHVHFRQd
floor.
“What’ s RXUQDPH",DVNHGOHDQLQJEDFNLQP chair .
He placed his elbows on the metal table in front of him
and sighed.
“MQDPH’s Joshua,” he said. “Is it true RXUHPHPEHr
the real world?”

I nodded. “We’ve come up with a waWRUHVWRUHRWKHUV’
memories too.”
“How?” he asked.
“That doesn’t matter,” I said, not trusting the stranger
completely . “How do RXUHPHPEHU"”
“It’s a long story ,” Joshua said, leaning back in his chair
and crossing his arms over his chest. “Not manSHRSOe
remember, onlDKDQGIXOLQHDFKRIWKHZRUOGV,YHEHHn
trLQJWRILQGRXWZK some memories weren’ t blocked, but
I’ve not been able to figure it out. Even worse, someone is
killing anRQHZKRUHPHPEHUVWKHUHDOZRUOG”
I glanced at Harrison. He frowned and furrowed his
brow.
“Tell us more,” I said.
“I wish I knew more.” Joshua lowered his head. “It’ s
getting so dark.”
“We’re doing great here,” I said. “The other worlds are
still chaotic?”
“You don’ t know the half of it,” Joshua said, lifting his
head.
The dead, glassORRNLQKLVHes frightened me.
“How do RXNQRZWKHUHUHWZHOYHZRUOGV",DVNHG.
“I’ve been to all of them,” he said. “W ell, most of them.
Okay, just a few of them, but I’ve heard stories and tales of the
other levels. TheUHVHWXSLQDFLUFXODUIDVKLRQY ou should
have another portal in RXUZRUOGWRDQRWKHr.”
“We’re just about to learn how to activate the onlSRUWDl
we’ve found,” I said.
“There should be another one somewhere,” he said then
laughed.
“What?” Harrison grunted.
“The sQFKURQLFLWy ,” Joshua said then chuckled again.
“It’s something else. What are the chances I’d arrive here just

as RXUHDERXWWRYHQWXUHIRUWKWRDQRWKHUZRUOG7KHJDWe
RXYHIRXQGOHDGVWRDWHUULEOHZDr-torn world.”
“Sounds like this place before I cleaned it up,” I said,
filled with pride.
“You don’ t understand,” Joshua said. “W ith no memory
of reality, the people are becoming savages. And now theUe
hunting down anRQHZLWKPHPRULHVRIWKHUHDOZRUOG”
“TheFDQWU to come after us,” I said. “W e’ve got
something even more precious to protect.”
I hoped Adolorn wasn’t giving MissWRRPXFKWURXEOH.
She could be a handful.
“What’s on the other side of the portal RXFDPe
through?” Harrison asked.
“A wasteland,” the man said. “Desert, diesel, and
diabolic rulers.”
“What happened to the raiders that came through to our
world?” I asked.
Joshua shrugged. “I have no idea. As I said, I’ve been
traveling between worlds, looking for RX,EHOLHYHou’re
vitallLPSRUWDQWWRILQGLQJDZD out of here. Y ou need to
become a cross-world leader and keep gaining power . Only
those with a black beacon are able to set-up empires in two or
more worlds. The more cubes RXFRQWUROWKHPRUHSRZHUIXl
RXFDQEHFRPH”
“What do RXPHDQ",DVNHG.
“You’ve obviouslGRQHJUHDWFKDQJLQJWKLVZRUOd
around,” he answered. “Y ou need to do the same in the next
world and probablWKHQH[WRQHDIWHUWKDWWRR6RPHSHRSOe
have been able to acquire too much power . You need to save
us from the tUDQWV”
“What about the beacon?”
“The one RXIRXQGLQWKLVZRUOGLVQ’ t the onlRQH$Ol
cross-world leaders have one or more.”
I nodded. “This is a lot to take in.”

“Since RXUHLQDSRVLWLRQRISRZHUKHUHDQGKDYHa
beacon, RXOOEHJLYHQODQGDQGUHVRXUFHVLQWKHQH[WZRUOG.
All the raiders who came to RXUZRUOGIROORZHGVRPHRQe
with their own black cube, but theFKHDWHGWKHLUZD here.
That’s whou were able to defeat them so easily . You pushed
them out before theFRXOGHVWDEOLVKDEDVHDWRUHYHQQHDUWKe
portal between worlds.”
“How do we know RXUHWHOOLQJWKHWUXWK"+DUULVRn
asked.
“Yeah,” I added.
How had he known I controlled one of the special
beacons?
Joshua frowned. “I don’ t know how I can prove anRf
this, but I can tell RXWKLVZRUOGLVVSHFLDO7KHRQOy
psionicists in all the realms come from this one.”
I nodded, thinking of MissDQGZKDWWKHIXWXUHKHOGIRr
her and her child.
“The research for the portal activation will be completed
in another few daVWe have a bit of time to sort this
through.” I turned to Harrison brieflWKHQEDFNWR-RVKXD.
“We’ll trust RXXQWLOou give us reason not to trust RX.
Understood?”
Joshua nodded then cracked a smile.
“We’ll give RXVRPHWLPHDORQH,VDLGSXVKLQJPy
chair back then standing.
“Thank RXIRUour hospitality ,” Joshua said, also
standing.
He bowed slightlDV+DUULVRQDOVRJRWXS.
“No worries,” I said then smiled.
After Harrison and I left, I took a deep breath.
“Do RXEHOLHYHKLP",DVNHGJODQFLQJRYHUDWKLP.
Harrison pursed his lips together and tossed his head
back and forth.

“I’m not sure HWKHVDLGWe should talk to Merlin
about him.”
“Good idea…”
He was at one of the other shelters helping a research
team, but he answered right awaZKHQ,SRNHGKLPZLWKa
message.

Scout: You bus?
Merlin: AlwaVEXWZKDWFDQ,GRIRUou?
Scout: Someone came through the portal…
Merlin: I heard. What does he want?
Scout: Our help in the next world over .
Merlin: Interesting.
Scout: Will RXFRPHZLWKXV?
Merlin: I can’ t leave this world, Scout.
I frowned as Harrison and I reached our private elevator
to our living quarters.
Merlin: I can still help from here if RXRSHQWKHSRUWDO.
Scout: True. I’ll get with RXVRRQWRZRUNRXWWKe
details.
Merlin: I look forward to it.

“I think we should at least go through the portal and
check it out,” I said.
Harrison, standing next to me in the cramped elevator ,
nodded. Over the next few daVZHPDGHSODQVDQGSUHSDUHd
to send a few dozen people through the portal to at least see
what waited for us on the other side. I wanted to rest after
working so hard for so long, but I couldn’t let up mVWUXJJOe
to find out whZHZHUHWUDSSHGDQGJHWXVRXW.

Epilogue

A week after Joshua appeared in our world, we crossed
through the portal and into his. The heat hit me the moment I
stepped through. I glanced up, shielding mHes from the
bright sun. At least it wasn’t greDQGJORRP like in our
original world, I reasoned.
“It’s hot!” Skinner complained.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” I grumbled.
After giving him command of his own squad, he’d gotten
better at obeLQJRUGHUDQGQRWVFUHZLQJXSDVPXFKDVKHKDd
in the past. While he and the other soldiers I’d brought through
with me spread out to explore the fenced in compound where
I’d arrived, I turned and stared at the glowing portal in center
of the camp.
“We need to get this covered and protect it,” I said.
Harrison nodded. “On it.”
As he walked away , barking orders, I pulled up the game
screens for the new world. The ice world was basically
running itself, so I concentrated on getting up to speed in the
new one. A honk behind me caused me to instinctivelGUDw
mSLVWRODQGDLPLW,VDZDQDUPRUHGYHKLFOHZLWKDIHw
plasma rifles mounted to the front food. A 50-cal machine gun
had been attached to a turret on top of the vehicle. The barely
dressed men and women behind him all stared at me.
“Hello, Scout. I’m Enkidu, RXUSHUVRQDOYHKLFOHa
deep voice said. “I’m a clone of Merlin in RXURULJLQDl

world.”
“A clone?” I asked.
“Yes,” the car replied. “It’ s the onlZD for him to
continue protecting RX+HOLNHVou.”
I grinned. The dirt and sweat stained men and women
stared at me in silence.
“Hello,” I said in a commanding voice. “I’m Scout, and
things are about to get better .”
MSHRSOHFKHHUHG$VWKH dispersed and got back to
their assigned jobs, I went over some of the new game screens.

BUILDINGS
Garage x2
HQ (UNIQUE)
Wire Fence 4000’
Barracks x1

I could construct new buildings if I had enough supplies
and build power . Next, I looked up mVWDEOHRIYHKLFOHV+Rw
hard would it be to build more? I wondered.

VEHICLES:
Enkidu (UNIQUE)
Diesel Buggies x4
Small Fuel Truck x1

If I lost control of the portal in the fire base, mHPSLUe
strewn between both worlds would grow weaker. That
couldn’t happen. I went over all mFLWL]HQV.

Snow Shelters x12 Fire Base x1
Engineers 500 Engineers 1
Soldiers 54 Soldiers 12
Cooks 10 Cooks 1
Cleaners 60 Trashers 1
Teachers 10 Teachers 0
Fixers 50 Scrappers 50
T rashers 20 Children 0
Children 98 Farmers 2
Farmers 100 Tinkerers 2
Makers 100 Mechanics 8
Fishers 50
12,000 77

“W e’ve got compan+DUULVRQVKRXWHGIURPQHDUWKe
chain-link gate. “The raiders are coming!”

“TheZDQWFRQWURORIou, RXUSRUWDODQGour
beacon,” Enkidu said.
“Well, too bad for them,” I said, alreadRUGHULQJPRUe
people through the portal and into the new game world.
“TheUHPHVVLQJZLWKWKHZURQJZRPDQ”
I climbed atop Enkidu and stared over the fence. A cloud
of dust on the horizon moved ever closer . TheKDGDKDOI-
dozen vehicles in their war party, more than mVPDOOQXPEHr
of diesel buggies, but I had an idea.
“Fire up the fuel tanker and get it outside the gate!” I
shouted below.
Two men rushed to complete mRUGHUV.
“W e’ve got this,” Harrison said.
“I know , but something tells me this small raiding party
won’t be the worst of it.”
He turned to me and grinned. “Then we’ll turn this
firebase into an impressive wasteland fortress and increase our
power in this world just like the last one.”
“That’ s the plan.”
I smiled before hopping of f mVZHHWULGH$VZHZDLWHd
for the raiders, dozens of soldiers from the ice world arrived
through the portal near the center of the camp. I clicked the
safetRff mSODVPDULIOHDQGKHDGHGWRZDUGWKHIURQWJDWH,
readWRSXWP plan into action, hoping it would work. As
Ekindu rolled up beside me. I pulled up his stats.

NAME: Ekindu
Chassis: Coupe
ARMOR (Health) (Current)
Front 50 100%

Under 10 100%
Top 10 100%
Left 40 100%
Right 40 100%
Rear 100 100%
WEAPONS (Location) (Damage)
Plasma Rifle Front 1d10
Fog Blast Rear SPECIAL
50 cal MG T op Swivel 2d10+5
ENGINE
Horsepower 700 HP
Fuel Nitro-Diesel
Tor que 500 lbs
SPECIAL: Sentient (Special)
Intelligence 100 100 RP/day
Wisdom 70
Charisma 50 Rude

This is going to be fun , I thought as the enemy
approached.

It’s time to tame another world.

* * * * * *

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RXHQMRed this novel and want to read the sequel. Each
review motivates me! Thanks, everRQH,DSSUHFLDWHou.

Tower of Gates LitRPG Saga


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Book 4 - BRUTE
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Book 8 - LOCK
Book 9 - LOST
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Book 1 1 - ECHOES
Book 12 - ESCAPE

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Tower of Gates LitRPG Saga


Book 1 - HACK
Book 2 - HA TE
Book 3 - HERO
Book 4 - BRUTE
Book 5 - BOOST
Book 6 - BLITZ
Book 7 - LUCK
Book 8 - LOCK
Book 9 - LOST
Book 10 - ENIGMA
Book 1 1 - ECHOES
Book 12 - ESCAPE
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