As things that are contrived go... This chapter. The moderator's reason for his decision. The thing with the combination lock. Blargh.
There’s really nothing to say.
They’re on their way to fix their problem.
Is it too soon for them to do something right?
LOADING CHAPTER 5
CHAPTER 5 LOADED
James, Jacob and I approached the door of 18.104.22.168. A monochrome display screen hung from the door. In spite of the dead pixels, we could clearly read it.
TEAM FORTRESS 2: MANN V. MACHINE (OIL SPILL)
TEAM FORTRESS 2: CAPTURE THE FLAG (2FORT)
AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT(SOLO)
CALL OF DUTY: INFINITE FIRE
CALL OF DUTY: INFINITE FIRE 2
CALL OF DUTY: FINITE FIRE
SOUL CALIBUR (ALL INSTALLMENTS)
LEFT 4 DEAD 2
DEAD SPACE (ALL GAMES) (SOLO)
“I don’t really want to play any of these,” remarked Jacob.
“We’re not going to play them. We get in, find the escape routes, get out. John got me a good map of the facility around the 2Forts, and I know how we’re going to get out.”
James actually patted Jacob on the shoulder, although admittedly he might have been being less than benevolent in his intentions. “Don’t worry, you can be the demoman.”
We opened the door. One large room greeted us, with many chairs and three desks. Each had a little paper sign that said ‘sign-up’ hanging in such a way to face the door. A few people were already in the room, waiting, but we were still early enough to be some of the first to sign up. We approached the middle desk. The man had a lot of facial hair and the look of someone who wants more coffee.
He picked a pen and asked us for our names.
“Jake, Jim, and Liam,” I responded. James looked annoyed.
He looked at us skeptically. “You guys are supposed to be brothers?”
He accepted this as good enough and wrote it down. A man wearing the uniform of a moderator opened the door. We all turned to face the desk and avoided eye contact, hoping he wasn’t here for us. Could moderators sign up to go to the arenas? James shot his hand into his jacket pocket. You didn’t, I thought.
The moderator seemed uninterested in us, walking over to the left desk. Nonetheless, I continued to look very interested in the little creeper bobblehead on the desk we were at.
“…Sir?” The man at the desk looked a bit annoyed. “What challenge are you signing up for?”
“Oh, sorry. We’re going to 2Fort as a group.”
The formalities went on and on and that moderator at the other table looked as annoyed as I felt. At last, we paid the entry fee, which went into the prize pool for winners, and sat down. The price would have been prohibitively high, if we were actually paying it. The moderator sat down next to us. He looked about twenty-eight, with a respectable amount of stubble and a huge nose. Something moved in James’s pocket and the moderator raised his eyebrow, misinterpreting it entirely.
“So what are you guys here for?” He asked, seemingly just trying to make conversation.
I paused for a moment. “The TF2 thing. Capture the flag. 2Fort. Dingle.”
I don’t know for sure what I expected, but what I got was an elbow right in the face. James went for his gun but the moderator managed to get a hold of it and threw it to the floor. Bystanders inched away, nervous.
Moderators were meant to make their own decisions, based on the laws set by the Party Box. They were the prosecution. They were judge, jury and executioner. If they saw me committing an act of grief, it was at their discretion to punish me.
“I’m sorry to tell you boys that you’re not going to 2Fort. You’re very easy to trail when you try to be furtive, let me tell you. Now, you’re going to tell us where TauTaco and the others are or I will punish you the easiest way I can.”
Had they already found our empty nest?
He pointed to the man at the middle desk. “Change their sign ups. They’re going to do Amnesia solos, separately, unless they tell me what I want to know.” The man scribbled something out and started writing. Sell-out.
Jacob was terrified. “I can’t run, dude! I just got shot!”
“You’d better start talking then. I can bring your punishment down to a couple years’ ban and that’s it.”
His face changed in an instant. “I’d rather die.” I think he was thinking of Tania when he said that. Poor dude just didn’t get it. James nudged me and patted my arm. At first I thought he was being weird until I caught his drift. I shook my head.
I whispered, “We need to get into the arenas dude. It’s this or nothing, now.”
“What are you two talking about?”
“Just debating which option is worse. We’ll keep quiet, thanks.”
The moderator approached me and threw a punch. I caught it effortlessly. He didn’t know the first thing about unarmed combat.
“I’ll get enough of that in Brennenburg.”
The die was cast. The plan would be changing a bit. My biggest concern was that I wasn’t sure if Jacob could last very long with his leg injured. Running is kind of an important game element in Amnesia. I didn’t know how solo arenas worked, exactly.
Jacob was shaking like a leaf by the time the helicopters arrived for the day’s sign-ups. I followed close at hand as he limped across the rooftop. The mod followed close behind, James’s gun in hand, not going to give us a break until we were in the helicopter destined for the nearest Brennenburg.
At last, once everyone was packed into their flights, as the sun fell into the 16-bit city with its 8-bit microcosms that I called home, and had not been outside of since it had first come into existence, we departed for castle Brennenburg. I didn’t know what to expect.
The Brennenburgs were built to the imagination of the architects, well beyond what appears in the game. You could be dropped off anywhere and the game was prepared in advance. Escape was going to be a lot harder than it would have been in 2Fort. There was little to no predictability. I needed to find a way to contact John and Rosa.
Our room in the helicopter was sealed to all exterior light after a couple of minutes of flying. There was no way to know where we were going, other than what I could remember of John’s hacked map of the nearby arenas, which was very little. About ten minutes after all of the doors and windows in our cabin were shut, the lights went out and we were in blackness.
“I’m scared,” whispered Jacob.
“So am I,” responded James.
“Keep it together guys, just get out of Brennenburg before the game can get going.”
“Easy for you to say! Your leg is fine!”
“Jacob, if you can’t get out, don’t progress the game. The monsters don’t show up instantly.” I paused. “Or at least, they didn’t in the actual game.”
I shuddered. No-one knew how the party box got the monsters it used for the Amnesia arena, but it was a known fact to just about everyone that those monsters were there. Were they machines? Did someone do surgery on actual people? It was a mystery.
The helicopter landed to refuel, and as it did the doors opened. Night had fallen. I could see, in the distance, that the ground dropped off in sharp cliffs, forming a circular crater in the ground a couple of miles across. What looked like pine trees grew within, though it was hard to tell at this distance, immensely different from the empty terrain around the site. A fog, probably artificial, appeared to be filling the crater, but I could still clearly make out the lights of half a dozen great mansions scattered throughout.
“So that’s how they make simultaneous sessions work,” I said practically under my breath, beginning to comprehend how difficult it would be to find Jacob and James once we reached our respective Brennenburgs.
James looked at me. “Do you think we could make our move now?”
“Look at where we are,” I remarked, “we have more guns trained on us right now than wartime Leningrad.”
“What the hell kind of an analogy is that?”
“What? I know some world history.”
Jacob shushed us and pointed to the window, still meshed over but now open, looking into the cockpit of the helicopter. The pilot had gone to get something to eat while they refueled the helicopter. Sitting in the cockpit, on the pilot’s chair, was some kind of smartphone device. That could be very useful.
I peeked out through the door, being careful not to provoke the mod-trainees at the edge of the helicopter pad. The helicopter was plugged into a machine, which appeared to be monitoring the fuel on its own. With the trainees, though, we still couldn’t get to the cockpit from the outside. That had to be the most miserable job imaginable for those trainees.
There was a door to the cockpit inside of the helicopter, but it had a combination lock.
“Sorry guys,” I said, disappointed, “no luck.”
James approached the lock. “This is a standard Party Box lock. John and Rosa told us all about these. Four-number combination, and you can always trick them. There’s a ‘factory reset’ combination that’s supposed to be a secret known only to the Party Box, for emergency use.”
“They didn’t just give them a key or something?”
“It’s stupid, but very convenient. For future reference, the factory combination is 9562.”
“Because it means nothing and no-one would ever guess it.”
The red and green lights on the keypad simultaneously blinked. James hit the zero key four times in a row and the door sprang open.
“All you, brave leader,” he beckoned me into the cockpit.
I lowered myself so that I couldn’t be seen in the windows and crawled in. It took a fraction of a moment to grab the phone. I stuffed it into my pocket.
“What’s our pilot going to do when his phone is missing and the lock is reset to 0000?”
James hit some other combination and once again both lights went on. He entered some arbitrary set of numbers and slammed the door shut.
“He just forgot the code.”
We waited, nervously. The pilot eventually disengaged the fuel pump and entered the helicopter. He looked around, but surprisingly seemed to assume that it had fallen or something. The rotors came deafeningly to life. The doors slammed shut and soon the lights went off.
The helicopter touched down somewhere in the Amnesia forest and the door opened. The pilot got out and came in to our cabin. He pointed to Jacob.
“This is your stop, buddy.” He looked fairly young, maybe in his thirties, with blonde curls of hair. “Good luck in there.”
Jacob limped from the helicopter and into the trees, towards a mansion he could see but was not visible from inside of the helicopter. I had to find him in time. I could do it. Nevertheless, I worried, which I couldn’t prevent.
The doors slammed shut and we were off again. The lights didn’t turn off this time and I looked at James. He was frowning. I supposed that meant he really cared about Jacob. That snippet of a chat log I had seen on Rosa’s screen the night prior came back to me.
Dangerman: james and i will be the army and attack something
Gunner: We will?
Dangerman: lets do it
Gunner: What can we attack?
Dangerman: hell itself
We were certainly attacking Hell itself now. I hadn’t picked up on how much James cared about Jacob’s well-being. I hadn’t had a brother, ever, but if I had and he had been younger I supposed that I would feel the same way as James appeared to feel about Jacob.
Eventually, the pilot landed and led James away. Lastly, I rode alone for about half an hour until at last we came to a landing at my final stop. I stepped out of the helicopter and the pilot was already there.
“You be careful in there,” he warned me before I started my journey. “You have my phone. I’m going to want it back once you’re out.”