Electron Dance
26Jan/2013

Save Everybody


“He’s here! Alpha level, near the service shaft!” came Neil’s distorted voice through the walkie-talkie. Neil was one of the sharpest guns in SubSec but it was unlikely he could take down the Orange Ghost alone.

Sonia was on Delta, a full minute away from Neil if she sprinted up three levels of stairwell. She could take the service elevator but it was a sluggish thing designed to shift fragile equipment. Someone had mentioned getting a fast elevator installed to relocate security in a time of crisis. Money doesn’t grow on trees, they had been told. At least not until the city-in-progress had been completed.

Gunfire crackled over the walkie-talkie... and then it went dead. That probably went for Neil too. Oh God. That SubSec elevator had been Neil’s idea.

Sonia spotted the service elevator was now on its way down from where Neil was killed. She had a hunch who was inside.

She took up position behind a pillar opposite the elevator, aiming her handgun at the doors. Sweating, she watched the floor indicator. Beta. Gamma. Delta. Ping. The doors opened with a grunt.

There he was. The strange man in his orange exoskeleton covered in alien writing. The bastard who had slowly been killing his way through the other waystations and offices across the globe, searching for the underwater city-in-progress. He looked uncertainly out of the elevator, raising an assault rifle that had seen better days.

Sonia fired three times. Two hit the chest plate of the Orange Ghost's exoskeleton, but the third found his forehead. He slumped against the wall and slid down. His rifle clattered on the floor.

Sonia ran over to make sure he was dead, just as a small silver display on the Orange Ghost’s left arm flickered. Some text appeared. It looked like QUICK 10 AD? Or maybe LOAD? She leaned down to

Sonia spotted the service elevator was now on its way down from where Neil was killed. She had a hunch who was inside.

She took up position behind a pillar opposite the elevator, aiming her handgun at the doors. Sweating, she watched the floor indicator. Beta. Gamma. Delta. Ping. The doors opened with a grunt.

Bullets erupted from the elevator, smacking into the other side of the pillar. She ducked back. The pillar would keep Sonia safe for now, but she’d have to move. Whoever this guy was, he must have had incredible eyesight and reflexes to have nailed Sonia behind the pillar so fast.

She leapt out from cover, trying to make a speedy retreat into a side-corridor where she could safely call for reinforcements - but the assailant’s rifle loosed another burst of lead and that was the end of her left foot.

Sonia screamed, collapsed to the floor and somehow threw her handgun down the corridor. It was over. Pain, the terrible pain. But she could stop him. She would stop the Orange Ghost, here and now. He wouldn’t escape this time. Not after all the carnage, all the good people he’d murdered. She reached under her jacket with a trembling hand, breathing fast, trying to focus.

The man in the orange exoskeleton stepped towards her with uncertain purpose, the assault rifle held ready to fire. She saw his face for the first time and he was not the special ops brute she had been expecting. He was weedy-looking with an unkempt goatee, wearing a pair of nerdy glasses. How had those glasses survived all the battles before this?

She tapped a code into her Waistcoat of Last Resort. It explod

“He’s here! Alpha level, near the service shaft!” came Neil’s distorted voice through the walkie-talkie. Neil was one of the sharpest guns in SubSec but it was unlikely he could take down the Orange Ghost alone.

Sonia was on Delta, a full minute away from Neil if she sprinted up three levels of stairwell. She could take the service elevator but it was a sluggish thing designed to shift fragile equipment. Someone had mentioned getting a fast elevator installed to relocate security in a time of crisis. Money doesn’t grow on trees, they had been told. At least not until the city-in-progress had been completed.

“Uh, hey, Sonia,” said Neil, not dead. “He… he wants to talk?”

*       *       *

Sonia was squeezed in the front row of the security briefing room, filled to the brim with everybody still alive in SubSec. She scoffed at the Orange Ghost who had just finished telling them his crazy story. “Why should we believe you?”

“Because I took screenshots,” he said. He held up his arm, pressed a few buttons on it. Holographic images spewed out.

Many gasped at the horrors they now beheld. They were looking at pictures of SubSec agents in various death poses. Sonia could only find one of herself - not dead, but minus a foot. It was gross. And also still unbelievable.

“So you can photoshop,” she said. “Big deal, buddy. How do we know--”

Ghost put his arm down and the images washed away. “This is not the first time I’ve tried to talk to you. I’ve learnt a lot of things about your SubSec team. I’m looking for Ari… Ari? Ari? Put your hand up.”

A voice came from the back. “Back here, sir.”

Jesus, this was their would-be murderer, not the boss. Sonia twisted her head around and yelled, “Would you like a cup of coffee, sir? Can I get your a comfy pillow, sir?

“Right,” the Orange Ghost said, carrying straight on. “Ari, you told me you were still a virgin right before I shot you in the head. And Gina? Gina? Good, there you are - you begged me to let you live because you gave up your baby daughter for adoption when you were 16 and hoped to be reunited with her one day. Neil, you told me about your feelings for Sonia--”

“That’s enough,” said Sonia. “Maybe you’re just very good at googling or something.”

The Ghost was exasperated. “If you kill me, I reload the universe. That’s it. We will keep doing this until I reach your boss. We will keep doing this until I finally figure out how to make you all dead and not me. After that, you will never come back.”

“Why don’t you just do that, then? Kill everybody?”

“Sure, I’ll get there eventually. But it’s very boring, going through the same routine, over and over again. Remembering who goes where, watching what changes when I do something differently. But, frankly, I’m looking for a cheat. We can save everybody. You get to keep your lives. I can get on with the rest of mine.”

Sonia wasn’t convinced, but the momentum in the room was already building. One of the airlock guards stood up. She didn’t recognise him; those guys all looked the same. “So,” he asked, looking uncomfortable. “What should we do now?”

“Take me to Musk,” said the Ghost. “And then we can roll credits.”

*       *       *

Sonia struggled to get to the front of the crowd at the airport. Reporters jostled around Ned Cordes, who until now had been dubbed the “Orange Ghost” by over-excitable social media pundits.

He was finishing up another one of his self-congratulatory speeches. “...took some cunning but that’s how I was able to find my way to Musk’s lair and, single-handedly, stop his nefarious plans to create an undersea city exclusively for the rich.”

One reporter ventured a question: “Why was this undersea city a bad thing?”

“Thank you, everybody! That’s all for now!” Cordes made a move to leave the podium.

She still felt the same hostile contempt for this murderer that she had felt back in the city-in-progress. “Hey, you!” she shouted.

Cordes stopped. He turned towards her with uncertain purpose. The reporters all turned around too.

“Ned, you’re wearing privilege and using it to call yourself a hero. A fancy alien suit that lets you know what’s going to happen. Every time something goes wrong, you’re just gonna reboot the world. Imagine if I was wearing that suit instead of you. You’d never have stopped the city-in-progress.”

She then gave him a slow clap. “Let’s give it up for the suit, everyone. Hail the real hero that put the orange into ghost.”

The reporters found the heckler in their midst interesting. As a cacophony of questions came in, Sonia saw Cordes roll his eyes as if his mom had asked him to tidy his room. He jabbed at his left arm and

Sonia screamed, collapsed to the floor and somehow threw her handgun down the corridor. It was over. Pain, the terrible pain. But she could stop him. She would stop the Orange Ghost, here and now. He wouldn’t escape this time. Not after all the carnage, all the good people he’d murdered. She reached under her jacket with a trembling hand, breathing fast, trying to focus.

The man in the orange exoskeleton stepped towards her and fired again immediately, his bullets corrupting Sonia's torso. Numbness spilled through her nerves and her vision dimmed. With no heartbeat, death was moments away.

“Fine,” she heard the Orange Ghost say. “Everybody dies.”

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Comments (13) Trackbacks (0)
  1. I have been wishing recently for a quickload button to rescue me from poor choices. When will you have the suit ready for purchase?

  2. Oh, we’ll be Kickstarting soon.

  3. Make sure you test the bulletproofing before you peg a bocce ball at it during the reveal.

  4. I would support that Kickstarter.

  5. I would advise against including the Waistcoat of Last Resort as a stretch goal.

    “One reporter ventured a question: “Why was this undersea city a bad thing?””

    I am curious if you intended this primarily as a knock against video-games writing, or as a broader comment on knee-jerk reactions against the likes of Elon when he comes up with another scheme (to be clear, he has some bat-shit crazy ideas and some quite pedestrian ideas, but IMO he also cops criticism where it’s not warranted).

    And finally, I should have said earlier that this was a nice piece of writing. I hope you smiled to yourself when you wrote ““Uh, hey, Sonia,” said Neil, not dead.”

  6. Damn Joel. I might have option this one day. XD

  7. Miss – ter —
    *Freeeeemann* —
    you *cheated* – not — only *theworldd* – but – your – self
    youu – didn’t – *grow* – you – didnn’t — *ragged inhalation* — *improove* –
    you tookk – a shortt – *cutt* – and gained *nothingg* –
    you exxxpeeeriencedd – a hollow — *choking gasp* — *vicc* – toryy –
    noththing was *risskedd* —
    — and *nothing* – was – gained

    (i’m so very sorry)

    Can sympathize with Mr Orange here though – I took to occasionally doing “kill’em all” runs of whatever games allowed it after I got angry at the Megaton morons in Fallout 3 and blew up the atomic bomb they called a home.
    It’s especially cathartic in games like Dishonored, where the dev team went to frankly ugly excesses to create murder-mechanics and carnographic “executions” that ~67% of their somewhat niche and highly predictable playerbase will hardly if ever see outside game trailers with youtube thumbnails of people getting stabbed through jugular this and ear canal that.

  8. I feel the terrible pressure to launch an actual kickstarter now.

    kfix

    There were several possibilities behind this. Ned didn’t stop to think why he was doing this or the explanation was too obscure and he was rather bored at this point. It can be read in many ways. It’s more of a slight dig at the player’s mindset than the writer: TL;DR kill everybody

    MrBehemo

    Are you talking about film rights? GO FOR IT $5Z (Z= zillion)

    Woensdag

    It’s okay. I like the G-Man. I miss his… stranggge style of *inhale* speakinnnnng.

    After what you wrote, though, it does seem sad that your opponents in games are coded to die, they have no zest to survive. Everyone is a martyr to the cause. The code gives you little choice.

  9. You might be able to go into partnership with these kids for that kickstarter.

    “it does seem sad that your opponents in games are coded to die, they have no zest to survive”

    I mean, I think I can imagine certain games being enhanced by NPCs/mooks/monsters being absolutely desperate to survive, but do you really want to be wading through piles of bodies where some of them are grasping at your legs and begging for help?

  10. I know that’s not all a ‘zest to survive’ should imply for AI of course, that’s just where my mind went.

    I’m now trying to remember a shooter I played some years ago where the wounded would scream and ask for help in a fairly realistic way. Far Cry 2 perhaps?

  11. I wasn’t thinking of just begging for their lives but hiding, retreating and just surrendering because they know have no chance. Often games get around this by dehumanising they enemy – I think someone once did this was a bad idea, but I’m probably wrong.

    It’s just that age-old clash of the original Doom shooter with today’s photorealistic / narrative-driven style. (SpecOps I tend to think of as completely leaning into this.)

    I remember a shooter like this too but recall that mechanic felt incomplete – possibly was FC2.

  12. This reminds me of the various discussions I’ve read or listened to of the way game designers feel AI has to be handicapped to stop players feeling like the enemies are just too good.

    In the context of shooters like the Halo or CoD series (not old-school super fast, not srs bsns simulations like the old Ghost Recons or Arma) I guess this makes sense, but it does force the AI actors out of cover and into your guns in a not-very-self-preserving way that is, as you say, sad.

    With the recent addition of Reach to the Master Chief collection I’ve been enjoying that game again and I do like the way the Grunts run away in panic when you kill an Elite or Brute near them, so that’s a little bit of of a zest for continued life showing up.

    Fear or intimidation mechanics show up in a lot of RPGs, but that just feels so mechanical and formulaic. It might be nice to see maybe something like the morale mechanic in XCOM apply to enemies with their barks and actions giving you clues to their state of mind.

  13. Kfix–that reminds me of the mini-roguelike* Smart Kobold, where the whole idea is that the kobolds are individually weak but use smart tactics–avoid ambushes if they can see a body, break their weapons if you’re about to defeat them, etc. I’ve never played it because it doesn’t have a Mac port but also because it makes it quite clear that you’re playing as a genocidal colonialist asshole.

    Also in latest versions of Brogue goblins clump up around doors to avoid the thing where they stream out one by one and you can bop them on the head, and it’s incredibly annoying.

    *But not a Broughlike at all! It’s a pretty big map, just a single level.


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