Weekly Short Story Contest Winner (07) Congratulations Cogito Cogito: Recruitment (1642 words) Jace settled deeper in his seat, and took a deep breath. He was shaking, but tried not to show it. A moment later, he heard Xan getting up from his chair on the other side of the room. Jace removed the headset with its twin displays in time to see Xan leaning over him, grinning insanely. “Que or que, that was ice, ver?” Xan asked enthusiastically. Jace forced a grin. “Ver, was max cryo, as adverted! When that vamp full screened me, shivered me for ver!” He meant that part, anyway. As soon as the vampire rose up, filling his view, the emotion circuit had kicked in, shooting a genuine stab of fear through him that was so real, he still felt sick inside. Jace had been gaming for years, and had eagerly jumped on the mind-directed gaming bandwagon when it began six years ago. In the last year and a half, the emotional feedback mod, or EFB, had become the new hot item. It had begun with the underground porn games, when designers successfully learned to induce waves of pleasure at key game moments. But within the last month or so, a new trend began to develop, with a broader range of induced emotions now incorporated into games. Xan had become enthralled with the new Blood Mistress game he had just demonstrated to Jace. Still, as unpleasant as the experience had been, Jace began to feel strangely tempted to repeat it. The realism and adrenaline rush made it an unforgettable experience, even though the horror genre wasn’t his favorite. His game module beeped, reminding him of the time. “Xan-san, must fly! The stonies will be pulling back right quick!” The stonefaces no longer patrolled this part of town after dark. Summer always saw an increase in random violence, but this summer had turned bad, and that was ver! Ever since a cruiser had been literally ripped open and the two stonies inside mauled to death, the police had taken a new strategy of containment. They now only patrolled the perimeter of the neighborhood after dark, and venturing outside within the zone was pure suicide. Jace hurried back to his place before the patrols retreated for the evening, and sealed the heavy steel door of his nest. He threw together a quick meal from leftovers, then settled in for some gaming. He started with Lust Bunnies, but after he maneuvered past the Skankies and the costly Cashcows, and picked out a willing Sweetbun, he sighed and pulled off the headset, utterly bored. He couldn’t get the rush of terror from Xan’s game out of his head. A fight game with a good EFB would be ver cryo, and he was sure there must be one out there. He onlined his game module, and began a search. Meanwhile, he put his headset back on and scanned the news channels. The city was turning into a war zone. No one really knew why the violence and destruction had spiked so sharply. The summer of 2014 had become as notorious as 9-11 had been as a new era of fear and loss. Some suspected that terror cells had infiltrated the States, and were behind the runaway lawlessness. Others blamed the drug kings and the weaponeers for stirring up the psychies. An entire block in the Asia zone was still burning for the fourth day running. Jace pulled off the headset. The search was still running, so he decided to let it continue overnight. He sighed and crawled into his sleepsack. He woke to a crashing boom outside. The sun was just cresting over the apartment block across the street, but a dancing orange light from the street was competing with it. Jace looked cautiously out through the window, and saw the shredded shell of a mail truck engulfed in flames. A thick black smoke curled around the wreckage. A fire truck arrived, flanked by a pair of heavily armed cruisers to protect it. Jace turned away, and remembered the search he had started. The list of EFB fighting games was longer than he had expected. Some of them appeared to be one on one dueling games, and he filtered them immediately. He sorted them by popularity, and perused the details of the top ten. One of them, Urban Mercenary, looked particularly intriguing. He decided to ask Xan what he knew of the game, and called him from the game module. After several blips, he gave up. Xan must be asleep, or too wrapped around a game to care about answering calls. Jace decided to go ahead and purchase the game. He keyed in his purchase code, submitted to the retinal scan, and spoke the response to the challenge question. The game download began, and would be completed by midday. Jace checked his task list, and began his sales calls for the day. By early afternoon, he had earned enough commission points to call it a day, but he also submitted a game review on Blood Mistress to earn a few extra bucks. Urban Mercenary had finished downloading, and had auto-updated with the latest enhancements. After a hurried lunch, Jace settled into a chair and entered the intro stage. He was lightly armed for this phase, on foot patrol through a city much like his own. When he passed a liquor mart, a man carrying a machine pistol rushed out, firing a burst back in through the doors. Jace felt a wave of rage wash over him, and he drew a hunting knife and rushed the thug. He forced himself to feel a stronger rage, and saw his opponent falter in response. Pretty basic fight gaming so far; the user’s emotions gave a fighting advantage, but this game took it a level higher by giving him an initial anger surge. Jace drove his knife into the thug’s chest, and felt a surge of satisfaction flood through him. He played two more warm up scenarios, and each time rode the EFB made him feel like he was actually there, fighting to keep the streets safe. Exhausted, he took a dinner break, and brought up the news. As he expected, the mail truck bombing was mentioned, after several other violent acts. Suddenly he sat up, and selected a replay of the segment. “The bomber, identified as Alexander Fitzpatrick, a resident on Market Street, was caught in his own explosion, and was pronounced dead at the scene…” Jace sat back, stunned. There had to be a mistake! It couldn’t have been Xan, he’d never do something like that. He dialed Xan from the game module, and got a disconnected station message. He’d grown up with Xan. Xan was a layabout, a ver hedon who liked nothing better than gaming and telling bad jokes. Xan as a bomber made less sense than the Sizzler Steakmaster going vegan. Unwanted tears blurred his view of the headset screens. He attended a wake for his friend later that week. Everyone there shared his disbelief, and many declared that he must have just been caught in the explosion purely by coincidence; Jace was troubled though; Xan would not have been out on the streets that early. He had no answers, not even good questions. He woke the next morning with a headache. Feeling a need for distraction, he started up Urban Mercenary for the first time since he had learned of Xan’s death. After several hours of play, he decided to get a buzz on. He knew he was out of Tequila, and Tequila was clearly necessary. It was still early in the afternoon, so he headed out to the liquor store around the corner. As he opened the door, he nearly bumped into a customer loaded with a double armload of clinking bags. He shoved past angrily, nearly knocking the man over. He seethed as he heard the man cursing under his breath, and felt an urge to go after him. Back at the apartment, he got ripping drunk, and passed out in his chair. He woke in the middle of the night, stumbled to the commode, and vomited until he ached. He woke again soon after sunrise, sprawled on the bathroom floor. Over the next couple days, he worked the minimum he could get away with, and spent every spare moment playing the game. He could not get enough of the emotional extremes, fierce rage, fear, and rewarded with waves of excitement and joy with each victory. Most of the time, he’d celebrate afterwards with tequila, or vodka, or rum. On one of his excursions to restock his liquor supply, he passed two Asians talking animatedly and laughing. A surge of anger gripped him, and he balled his fists and advanced on them. “Shut the f*** up, and stop laughing!” They stared at him and began to back away. He lost all control of himself and lunged at them. He pounded at them until both lay motionless on the pavement, and began kicking them, with a feeling of euphoria singing in his skull. He heard a siren wail behind him, but kept on kicking the bloody corpses. Hands grasped him roughly from behind. He turned as his rage reasserted itself, and he attacked the stoneface like a berserker. He never felt the shot that took him down. That night, Chas Morgan set aside his newly downloaded Urban Mercenary game, and listened to the evening news. He shook his head in dismay at the story of a senseless hate crime, two Chinese cousins brutally murdered in broad daylight. The killer was thought to be a drug addict at first, but the drug screens all came up negative. The reporter speculated that a new drug must be circulating, not yet covered by the standard drug tests. The rise in hate crimes was rising alarmingly, and authorities were still at a loss about its origins.