Ours to LoveA Wicked Lovers novel featuring billionaire brothers
Daniel X: Game Over
HELLO! Buenos dias! Bonjour! Konnichiwa! It’s me, Daniel, here with the critical life lesson of the day: There’s absolutely, positively, no such thing as too much practice or preparation. Not when it comes to sports, not when it comes to acing your math test, and definitely not when it comes to issues of mortal combat. Having just died a horrible bloody death in a dusty urban parking lot, I’d clearly forgotten this lesson. I mean, if you don’t even take the time to learn the commands before you start playing a high-end video game like Crown of Thorns IV —the celebrated first-person battlefield shooter with 140 million copies sold and more than twenty million totally obsessed kids playing online at any given moment —you should at least bring along some butter and jam. Because if you’re going to be toast, you might as well make the most of it. Of course, I could have cheated. After all, I am the Alien Hunter, legendary destroyer of the most evil extraterrestrials on Terra Firma (that’s Earth for those of you who are new to this stuff). I’m gifted with the ability to create and manipulate anything I can understand, which definitely would include something as basic as cheat codes. I could have given my character Iron Man–style weapons and armor, or I simply could have put my character in a less dangerous place on the battle map. But, like with any game, if you break the rules, it kind of detracts from the experience. Plus, I was trying not to call attention to myself. I was hanging out at the Game Consortium, Inc., flagship store in the high-rise Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, acting like a normal, human teenage boy, doing things that normal, human teenage boys do when they want to play a video game. That includes drooling, grunting, hooting, and standing in line for more than an hour just to have a shot at the latest GC product offerings, as if I were waiting to get onto the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. Which is kind of what this place was like. It was the most high-tech space I’d ever seen, outfitted wall-to-wall with the most cutting-edge gaming software ever devised. Like something you’d expect to see in a secret underground bunker or in NASA’s flight command center. The images on the floor-to-ceiling screens and at the holograph stations were crisper and more vivid than reality itself. The kids waiting in line for a console were all agog in a freaky trance —sweaty, shaking, pale, wide-eyed —like hard-core drug addicts desperate for a fix. I couldn’t blame them. The GC’s game offerings were truly revolutionary. They always seemed to have better graphics, greater depth of play, and way more addictive hunt and battle scenarios than their competitors in the gaming market did.
Whit HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED, to the best of my shattered ability to recall it. I do remember that I couldn’t have been more lost and alone as I wandered the streets of this gray, crowded, andforsaken city. Where is my sister? Where are the others from the Resistance? I kept thinking, or maybe muttering the words like some homeless madman. The New Order has already disfigured this once beautifulcity beyond recognition. It seems like a decaying corpse swelling with mindless maggots. The suffocatingly low sky, the featureless buildings — even the faces of the nervouslyrushing people fl ooding around me — are as colorless and lifeless as the concrete under my feet. I know the general populace has been efficiently brainwashed by the New Order, but these citizens seem a little too hushed, a little too urgent, a little too riveted to the scraps of propaganda clutched in their hands like prayer books. Suddenly, my eyes spot a word in bold letters on the paper: EXECUTION. And then the huge video displays hanging above the boulevard light up, and everything becomes clear to me. Every pedestrian stops and stands stock-still, and every head turns upward as if there has suddenly been an eclipse. On the video screens, a hooded prisoner — small-framed, frail-looking — is kneeling on a starkly lit stage. “Wisteria Allgood,” blares a bone-chilling voice, “do you wish to confess to the use of the dark arts for the wicked purpose of undermining all that is good and proper in our society?” This can’t be happening. My heart is a big lump in my throat. Wisty? Did that voice really just say Wisteria Allgood? My sister’s on an executioner’s scaffold? I grab a slack-jawed adult by his dismally gray overcoat lapels. “Where is this execution happening? Tell me right now!” “The Courtyard of Justice.” He blinks at me irritably, asif I’ve woken him from a deep sleep. “Where else?” “Courtyard of Justice? Where’s that? ” I demand of the man, throwing my hands around his neck, nearly losing control of my own strength. I swear, I’m ready to throw this adult against a wall if I have to. “Under the victory arch — down there,” he gasps. He points at a boulevard that runs off to my left. “Let me go! I’ll call the police!” I shove him and take off running toward a massive ceremonial arch maybe a half mile away. “You! Wait!” he yells after me. “Don’t I know your face from somewhere?” He does. Oh yes. And so would everyone else, if they took the time to notice that there was a wanted criminal running loose in their midst. But his fellow citizens’ eyes remain glued to the screen. They’ve got an insatiable appetite for malicious gossip of any kind and, of course, an equal taste for senseless death and destruction. Even when the falsely condemned are kids. Just kids. I can hear a distant roar now. The sound of hunger — for “justice,” for blood. I forge ahead into the pathetic herd of lemmings. I’m not going to let them take my sister from me. Not without a fight to the death anyway.
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