*BEEP BEEP BEEP*
The harsh alarm of the buzzer throbbed in the ears of the participants as they suited up in the locker room before their big match. Reinmar von Eschenbach, the teams top player, was completely focused, it was his killer mindset, he was a professional, this wasn’t just a game to him. He crawled, like a man into his own skin, into the flaming white latex jumpsuit. A teammate turns to him and says: “Reinmar, lets pwn some faggots out there today.” Reinmar agrees, nodding his head, his bright eyes brimming with confidence in the skills of himself and his elite team.
The jumpsuits around Reinmar, the ones worn by his teammates, all swarm with corporate logos. Reinmar’s own is emblazoned with the neon green logo of Alienware, his preferred sponsor. The team begin their ritualistic walk down the corridor to the arena, their hearts now start to stir in anticipation. The adrenaline begins to energize their veins like retweets through a hashtag as it’s just about to go viral. Before them, the heavy doors slide open and one by one they step up onto the game platform.
A military man, garbed in the casual looking uniform of the Califor Sovcorp, stands waiting for them.
“Gentlemen,” he speaks to them.
“Gentlemen, the mission today is Scenario: Extraction.
“The Target: Enemy intelligence stored on a server in Mosul
“Expect heavy resistance. A company of enemy troops is deployed throughout the wreckage of the city to guard it.”
“Any other players?” Reinmar asks his commanding officer
“A blue team of no more than 4 enemy players is currently livestreaming a sentry mission from Sharia zone 734B”
“Four, from London? Jfc, General,” Reinmar replies. As team leader he has a responsibility for his players, it’s a burden the General sometimes didn’t seem capable of understanding.
“Soldier, you have your orders, carry them out.” the General answers.
At this General Megaton signals the officer standing by to bring in the controllers. “Finally,” Reinmar thinks to himself, “it’s about time we got this show on the road.”
Offering them up to the players, one by one, the armory officer distributes the realistic gun shaped controllers among them. One by one the players begin to check the loadouts to make sure the proper modifiers have been applied. One by one Reinmar’s teammates lower their visors and look to him to initiate the scenario. Finally, satisfied all is right with his team’s gear, Reinmar gives the appropriate signal to the General to begin play of the game.
The milky white sphere encapsulating them goes dark. The walkways withdraw, barely audible in their engineered precision. The game begins.
[The field report corresponding to this match, #38153c, has been designated Top Secret by the Califor central command until the year 2142. It has therefore been redacted from this story. The following transcript of the player voicelog is the only record of this mission released under a freedom of information act request by the author:
Reinmar: — — — — — — — — — , you prick.
Wolfram: — — — , lol, — — — — — —
Dietmar: Alright homos, — — — , — — — — — -
Heinrich: Reinmar, you got — — , on your — —
Reinmar: Roger niner, I am — — — to — — —
Wolfram: Deploying the small soldiers.
Reinmar: — — — — — — — — — !!!!
What intelligence we can glimpse from this, will be left to the reader to decide.]
Another mission successfully completed, the lights in the orb once more come up. The walkways glide smootly into place. The hatches open. General Hobeska Metatons comes in to debrief them.
“Boys, that was one hell of match, the intelligence you recovered will no doubt prove to be invaluable to the war effort.”
“And just what information did we collect, the location of another drone factory, more auto-troop placements out in the god forsaken desert? What are we even fighting for these days?” Reinmar questions, in his usual forsaken tone.
“No, Reinmar,” General Megaton answers, “it’s something bigger than that this time. The Altar of Dagon.”
Reinmar’s eyes go wide.
“I think you’ll understand when I tell you that information has been designated above top secret. But considering that you’re the team who’ll most likely be assigned to the mission, there’s no harm in telling you now. The Altar has been spotted in Syria.”
Though himself uncertain as to the significance of this information, Reinmar nods, if only to acknowledge his cognisance of his duties. The other players, meanwhile, begin to murmur at the edges of their conversation.
“What about their stats, General.”
“Oh yes, of course boys, very good viewership on the stream for this one. 1 Million new subscriptions. Over 100 Million views.”
Reinmar could tell his team was pleased by this news, he could see it in their eyes, a leader always tell when his people where really happy, and when they were just bearing it and being strong. Reinmar feels pride in his leadership.
It was late when Reinmar got home, but the light was still on. He lingered outside. Minutes went by. An hour. Finally the light went out and Reinmar slowly walked up the driveway to the front door, keys clenched nervously in his sweaty hand. Though it was after midnight the night wasn’t yet over for him, he had chats to participate in, strategizing to do with his teammates, practice runs to make. People thought it was easy, to do what he did. He wasn’t in any danger, not really anyway. Wasn’t it all just a game?
Some nights Reinmar had difficulty sleeping, most nights actually. He would lay there, thoughts welling in his head like water up into a patch of dusty sand. Truth be told it was probably the stimulants, one, two, three, he was up to four pills a day, and his habit showed no signs of abating any time soon. Occupational hazard, lots of players used them, most of his team did. To be the best required certain sacrifices, that was the Califor work ethic in action.
Walking into the unlit room Reinmar at first felt at ease, until he spied down the hallway the dim blue light radiating around the cracks of his father’s door. It would only take a few minutes to make something to eat, and then he could retreat into his room, as always, to carry out his training and prepare for the big mission the following day. This time around, this particular mission would not be livestreamed, too secret, above the level of most subscribers to the state network, even premium users. Sacrifice, that was the word that always came to mind. His team wouldn’t be rewarded or remembered for the dirty work it was about to do, no favorites, no likes, no shares, no nothing. Sacrifices were sometimes required.
Down the hall, building like the uneven workings of of an aborted and irregular contraption, he heard deep within his father stir. There was no time now for dinner, Reinmar would have to come back later, after his father had fallen asleep. Sacrifice.
“Reinmar!” is that you son? Are you home?
Reinmar gave no answer, but stood like a doomed soul in the doorway, hovering like a ghost who had already been overrun by fate.
“Son, I watched the match… That’s my boy, you’re a real hero son, lemmie ask you, what kinda intelligence did you get out of that raid. I bet it was something big, eh? I mean, to send the most elite squad of players in the world to get a few files from the ruins of Mosul? Ever since that damn collapsed the whole city’s been abandoned, and now the Islamo-French are suddenly interested? What about the Zuckerberg, the French Caliphate are small time next to Facebook’s forces in the Militarized Zone.”
All this washed over Reinmar like a salt wave, meaning infused with incomprehension rolling over his head, drying his brain out, irritating his thoughts and turning his eyes blood red.
“I don’t know dad, they don’t tell us much. I’m going to bed goodnight.”
“Well alright son, I love ya, you know you’re my boy. You got a mission tomorrow? Be safe, your dad’s real proud of you.”
“Where am I?” Reinmar asks
The sounds of shells pounding in the distance tells him he’s still in the game. Something is different though.
“Hey, you’re alright, we’re not going to hurt you,” a voice answers from somewhere out of view. It’s a woman’s.
“What are you doing here,” Reinmar demands, “there are no civilians allowed in the Militarized Zone, by general order of the secretary general of the — “
“I know dear, I know,” the voice responds in a patronizing tone, “by general order of the secretary general of the United Nations all civilians were evacuated from the official Militarized Zone, or as it was formerly known, the Middle East, in 2039. BUT, that didn’t include everyone now, did it?”
Reinmar goes swimming in his head trying to dredge up a question to ask, but returns nothing in response.
“You don’t believe that old official line, do you? There are thousands, maybe even millions of people living in the militarized zone. I’m one of them.”
“Where am I?” Reinmar asks
“You’re at the Resistance HQ, we’re still working on the viro-servers that control your eyes, you should be able to see soon, sit tight.”
“The Resistance? Like religious resistance?” Reinmar wonders
“Then who are you?”
“We’re the ones they left behind, we’re the renegade angels they condemned to hell.”
Suddenly Reinmar can see again. He scans the room, searching for the voice. Around him people are crowding. They examine him.
“You’re white,” Reinmar observes.
“Of course, all the Arabs were all evacuated.”
She’s standing right in front of him. She’s young. Short. Dainty. She’s wearing a mixed assemblage of scavenged combat gear, she can’t be much older than 21. Surrounding her are men of different ages and appearances, ruggedly clad in secondhand desert combat gear.
“This was an accident, the Altar, we don’t understand it’s power yet, but here you are,” she apologizes.
“The Altar? of Dagon you mean? You have it?” Reinmar questions excitedly.
“Yes, we have it. There are some things you should know. Here, come with me.”
She takes his hand and leads him past the looking faces of the others, through uneven tunnels of dirt and jagged walls of roughly hewn rock. Tired warriors slump along the sides as they pass. Depleted ammo crates remain empty everywhere. Reinmar searches for a sign that what he’s living is no longer real. Is he still playing the game? He looks down. Black gloves conceal his skin. If he takes them off right now, will he see his own flesh? Or will his hand be a drone’s. He doesn’t check.
Reinmar and the girl come to a door, sloppily set in the stone. She pounds on it. A voice issues from within: “Enter.”
Inside is a man, of 70 at least. A grey and rough beard thickly prickles his chin. He’s wearing a cap, with the logo of one of the branches of the old USG nation state’s Military. Leaning beside him rests an AK-47, an antique. “This hardware is nothing compared to what Califor players run in the field, how do they expect to resist anything with loadouts like these?” Reinmar questions internally.
“Welcome,” the man says, “I am Doctor Rongen, please sit down,” hes gestures to a chair beside him.
“Elisabeth, thank you for bringing our friend here to me, you may go,” he says to the girl.
“Wait,” Reinmar interjects, “I’d like it if she staid.”
“Very well,” the man says shrugging his shoulders. Continuing: “You know how things are, young man. After all, you’re the highest ranked player in the world. You’re the most watched streamer in the Militarized Zone. You know how this region was declared the universal battleground of humanity, where states and corporations could enact their wars, peacefully, using drones and automated soldiers. What you don’t know, is that to create this new world order thousands of people were stranded here, as punishment, as, dare I say, Genocide against them.”
“She said there there were people who were stranded here,’ Reinmar replies, “but I don’t understand, who or why? And why did you capture me? Where’s the rest of my team?”
“They’re perfectly fine,” the man says, “though we fragged them all. They’re back in Califor, same as you.”
“Same as me? Why wasn’t the match terminated? How can I still be here?”
“Easy enough,” the man continues, “the Altar of Dagon. We don’t fully understand how it works, but it has the ability to destroy or render inoperable all weapons within a certain distance of it. Would you like to see it?”
Reinmar sits nervously, making no response.
“Don’t worry, you’re already under its power, it won’t destroy your skin.”
The doctor, slowly and carefully, begins to remove a bunched up bundle from beneath his robes, it seems to beckon with forbidding power. He unfurls the rags it’s wrapped in, and with some delicacy, displays the jet black heliotrope to Reinmar and Elisabeth. They sit in awe of its crude majesty.
“What do you mean I’m already under it’s power, what exactly did you do to me?” Reinmar asks
“We meant for the Altar to deactivate your entire team, but for some reason, it left your skin operational. From what we can gather from our sources on the net, you’ve been declared KIA irl. It’s never happened before, for a player in any of the world’s drone armies, to actually die during an operation. You’re likely back there, in a comatose state, or maybe your physical body is actually dead. Whatever the case, it seems the game has become real for you, so to speak.”
“They may have declared me dead in real life, but my stream is still active,” Reinmar notices checking his notifications on his digital combat watch, there are over 150 million people watching this right now, and climbing. How can that be?”
“Interesting,” the doctor says sitting up poised in his chair, “then the people watching are learning the truth for the first time. That all the journalists, war nerds, and deep state intelligence patriots that heroically served in the middle eastern wars of the early 20th century were, in this region condemned to live amidst the automated ‘peaceful’ wars of the new world order. Our existence has been kept a secret for too long, it’s about time everyone learned the truth, of how we’ve suffered, of the sacrifices we’ve made, not for ourselves, but for world peace, for the end of this insane regime of automated peace.”
The notifications on Reinmar’s display continue to climb, reaching ever higher and higher heights of digital glory. Confused comments pour in, people respond amazed. It dawns on Reinmar that stats like this must be some kind of world record.
“Now that we possess the Altar of Dagon,” the good doctor continues, “we will use it to liberate the middle east once and for all, and the greatest hero of the streamer community will join us, because he knows that our cause is right! Isn’t that right Reinmar?”
Looking up from his display Reinmar pauses for a moment, at first not even registering the question.
“Yeah… That’s right.”
The sounds of the shells continued pounding in the distance. The doctor had gone off to bed. Reinmar and Elisabeth sat near the fire together, at one of the mouths of the tangling complex of caves. No doubt drones had been dispatched to track down where Reinmar was streaming from, a part of Reinmar hopped they would, so he wouldn’t go through with what he now found himself contemplating.
“You really grew up here? Surrounded by androids and predator drones waging an endless, bloodless war of mechanized destruction? That sounds hard.” Reinmar began to ponder aloud.
“Yeah, it wasn’t always easy, but we get by, the Doctor takes care of me.”
“Where’re your parents?”
“They died trying to hack a satellite transmitter tower to send baby pics of me back to my grandparents’ Facebook in the Atlantic Union.”
“So you’ve been all alone? No friends, no boyfriend?”
“No, it’s just me.”
“I don’t know if helping the doctor is the right thing, maybe he was sent here for a reason. This war, it’s not real, it’s just a symbol of peace, that’s what they taught us in school. In the wars of the past people died, families were separated, cities were destroyed. In this war no one is hurt, no families are destroyed. Isn’t that a good thing?”
“What about my family though?”
A long silence set in, as the two young hearts looked out scouting into the desert sunset. Warm hues of red and pink washed over them as they snatched glances at each other from the drawing out daylight as dusk descended.
“I’ll get you home, to your family again, I promise.”
Reinmar glanced down at his notification display,
“kiss her, c’mon man!”
“Things getting spicy af on the TL!”
“This guy’s a chump he won’t do it.”
He looked up at Elisabeth and gently clasped her dove white hand in the black gloves which encased his cold metal claws.
“Let’s go everyone, c’mon, move move move!”
There it looms before them, the spindling tower of the UN Central Control Complex. The Treaty fortress which guards the perimeter of the Militarized zone. It’s from here that the entire war infrastructure is monitored and administered. The Doctor’s plan is simple enough: take the fortress, and use the Altar of Dagon to shut down the drone grid. At least it seemed simple as he explained it.
Reinmar chose a heavy loadout for the day’s mission. His human support would be of little use against the drone warriors which stand in his way guarding the complex. Though his stats had dropped off after Elisabeth had finally fallen asleep, they now appear to be fully recovered, and as he approaches the treaty fortress, they begin to rise slowly and precipitously once more to new and unheard of heights.
There wasn’t a heart in his chest yet still the excitement seems to pump in his veins.
“Watch it, auto-troops at 11 o’clock!” A voice suddenly shouts
“Cover me,” Reinmar commands leaping in hurky jerky motion across the sandy expanse before them.
Really, drones like this were of little concern for a sophisticated skin as Reinmar’s, his rail gun rips through their skulls, burning the surrounding metal like twisted coils of singeing hair.
“Let him work boys!” The doctor yells signaling to his team to hold back.
As he looks over his shoulder though to issue his command he spots it pushing toward them from their flank: a Tesla Obliterater heavy tank.
“Cover, boys!” the doctor orders, but it’s too late, the chain cannons atop the hulking battle wagon rip their bodies to shreds in a tangle of grisly blood carnage.
Reinmar, realizing what’s happened, darts down the dusty path back towards his comrades. He unleashes his special, he can’t afford to save it for the final showdown, not when… Elisabeth. A missile salvo issues out the back of Reinmar’s body, screaming towards Musk’s vicious creation, encompassing it in screaming orbs of flame.
Reinmar rushes towards the wreckage, the groans, he’s never heard anything like that before. Where’s Elisabeth. How many people are watching.
Finally he found her, struggling beneath the body of the Doctor.
“It’s okay, I’m going to take you home,” Reinmar consoles her tossing the corpse of her surrogate father aside.
She’s trembling, the sensor networks running through his arms informed him.
“He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead.” She cries.
Reinmar, hauling Elisabeth on his back, sets out back towards the treaty fortress, his cybernetic legs crushing his feet below them into the hard unyielding dirt.
Penetrating the compound Reinmar sweeps the corridors with fire as he goes, leaving the compound’s floors littered with scrapped drone shards as he runs toward the central control room.
“Do you have it?” He asks Elisabeth as he nears the door.
“I do,” she answers as he sat her down.
“Then give it to m — ”
“Wait just a minute there Reinmar,” a voice suddenly says, “you know what you’re doing is wrong, it’s not too late to stop this.”
It was General Megaton.
“How did you get here General? Shouldn’t you be back in Califor?”
“You’re still streaming my boy, don’t you remember, you got the whole world watching, and now you’re going to use that infernal Altar of yours to destroy world war peace! They sent me here to talk to you. To talk some sense into you.”
“There’s nothing you can say General, these people don’t deserve this, they don’t deserve your peace. Someone has to stop it, even if it turns out that has to be me.”
“Very well my boy you leave me no choice,” the general laments as he took aim with his pistol.
“Small arms fire like that can’t hurt me, General, you of all people should no that, this skin isn’t human anymore.”
“It’s not a pistol.”
The EMP surged through Reinmar’s circuits blasting out his processor cores and fusing ever node in his cybernetic nervous net.
“I c-c-c-can’t m-m-m-ove! W-w-what d-d-d-did y-you d-d-do t-to m-m-me?”
“We have to terminate your stream now, we have to terminate you. I’m sorry Reinmar. Goodbye.”
“What!? This is bogus, they can’t stop it now!”
The notifications streamed past Reinmar’s soul as it dwindled down to nothing.
“What the Califor government is doing is WRONG! #FreeReinmar!”
Messages, thousands, millions of them radiated through Reinmar’s processing core, fighting back the surge of the EMP gun, restoring Reinmar to life.
He stands up.
“How is this possible!” The general roars in disbelief.
“You think I would let me followers down after coming all this way?” Reinmar retorts.
“WHAT! THAT CAN’T BE!”
“Sorry, General, b-”
“Not you! Hold on — Are you sure that’s wise — But I thought — No that won’t be necessary — yes sir.”
Megatons had received new orders through his sub-dermal distrans.
“Reinmar, that was Califor central command, an online petition to shut down the war infrastructure has received over a billion signatures, the secretary general is calling a special meeting of the security council to end world war peace. I’m to take you and Elisabeth home, and you’re to receive a medal.”
“Remind me to thank my fans.”