Chapter 4:

The satellite

BRO: Battle Royale Online

I got up painfully. She had certainly made me lose life points. I held out a hand to her. She looked at it strangely before grabbing it with a big smile. Now that we were both on our feet, the wind and the rain were sweeping across our faces.

"Never… again!"

My words were interrupted by the gusts of wind.

"Don’t ever do that again!"

Understanding that I was talking about her jump, her smile widened. I did not understand this girl. Her emotions had just done a complete 180° and she was full of laughter. Realizing that I was gripping her hand tightly, I quickly let go. It was then that I felt a sort of void in her palm. A hole. I grabbed it again and pointed to the gaping hole with a questioning look.

"I fired," she said. "I had to regain my composure. I was close to obeying you, you know. But in the last moments, I realized that I didn't want to. Shooting myself in the hand made me realize that. Even if it's only a game, I want to live and I refuse to give up like that! Besides, you have to be crazy to order someone to shoot themselves! Are you crazy? What if it made me want to do it for real? "

Once again her emotions turned upside down. She went from tears to laughter to anger with disconcerting ease.

"Don’t ever do that again. I don't want to hear you say that kind of thing again, to me or anyone else."

I didn't dare answer her. I knew she was right, but I had acted on the spur of the moment, thinking it was the best course of action for her.

"And one last thing: don't ever decide for me again."

I dragged her across the street where we would probably be a little more sheltered.

Leaning against a concrete wall, I took a deep breath before starting, "Listen—"

"No, you listen! I know very well what you're going to tell me: that it's for my own good, that I'm just a burden to you, that I could go crazy at any moment. But I already know all that! All I want to say is that I know I can be useful to you. I may not look like it, but I hate to lose. I refuse to give up here. Weren't you the one who said I had to overcome my fears?"

It pained me to admit it, but she had a point.

"So I'll say it one last time: let me stay with you. Let's team up and win this tournament. Right, 'partner'?"

Almost in spite of myself, a slight laugh slipped out my mouth. She was strong, probably stronger than me in truth. Without a word, I reached out and shook the hand she was holding out to me.

In the end, I was quite happy that she was staying with me. I was beginning to get used to her presence, and besides, there was more to this lively rookie than meets the eye. Thinking about it, I had always preferred to play with others, but with time my team had gradually dissolved, its members leaving one by one, leaving me alone at the end... It took me a long time but I had finally found a teammate. Lost in my thoughts, I let out a weak "Thank you" that got lost in the storm.

I had dwelt on the past for long enough, it was time to leave.

Returning to my usual serious demeanor, I looked up to scan the dark night.

"We don't have much time left. The satellite will be passing by soon and I don't want any more teams to come after us."

She looked at me puzzled.

This can’t be true! Did she really join the most demanding VRMMO without even a little bit of information?

"Follow me, I'll explain on the way."

I motioned for her to come up behind me and cocked my new rifle against my shoulder. Once night fell, it was time for the assassinations to begin. Without night vision goggles, we would have to be extra vigilant. Fortunately for us, the moonlight, intermittently piercing through the rain clouds, guided us. As stealthily as possible, we crept from shadow to shadow, seeking the cover of buildings.

After several minutes of this little game, we entered an abandoned wooden house. The floorboard creaked with every step we took. With a gesture, I told my new partner not to move. But without even needing this order, she was already as still as a stone statue. The atmosphere was so tense that we shuddered at the slightest noise, fearing an enemy lurking in the shadows. Looking at her closely, I realized how terrified she was of making a sound that might give us away.

Well, at least she seems to have understood the stakes.

Putting all my dexterity to the test, I made a quick tour of the room without cracking the floor and then returned to the girl.

I whispered, "It’s okay, we're alone here."

I felt the tension immediately leave her shoulders. Trying to get into a more comfortable position, she shifted her feet slightly, causing a shrill squeak. Although we were alone here, her frightened eyes glowed in the dark.

"Don’t. Move."

Between her gasping breaths, she answered me with a shaky "Yes".

"We should be safe here for the next ten minutes, after that we'll have to move."

"How do you know that?"

"If there was anyone within 10 minutes of us, we'd be dead already," I answered with a big smile.

She flinched, her tension redoubled.

Well, it looks like she's figured out what kind of game she's gotten herself into.

"Let’s make the most of this time: do you know how the satellite and the radar work?"

She nodded "no".

"The radar is an option integrated directly into your tactical watch, it detects and displays a red dot when a player fires a bullet. In order not to spoil the fun of the hunt, this position is not exact, but rather a possibility zone in which the shooter must be. Of course, only players who are shooting at the time you look at your map are visible on the radar. Remember, just because there are no dots doesn't mean there are no players."

She nodded.

I continued, "This is a very practical system that allows players to know the position of their opponents and thus shorten the fights. The first season of this tournament had not yet implemented the radar: it lasted for days! The players were unable to find each other!"

I let out a dry laugh.

Ah, those were the days...

After a few seconds, she nodded again. She still didn't dare to speak, it was almost touching!

"The second system you should know about is the satellite. It passes at regular intervals and covers the entire map, displaying the position of all the players it flies over. This is how BRO decided to deal with campers and cowards who hide until the end. At first, it passes every 8 hours but gradually the interval is reduced until it passes every 5 minutes. Unlike the radar, the satellite gives the exact position of the players, regardless of whether they are hiding or not. There is only one way to escape it, and it is known only by a handful of players! You're lucky to be teamed up with one of them!"

I spread my arms, certain that I had impressed her, but she didn't display anything. She seemed rather preoccupied.

"You can talk, you know."

I could see she wanted to say something but she still seemed terrified of making noise.

Gathering her courage, she stammered, "8 hours? But how long does the tournament last?"

So that was what she was worried about! What a complete newbie!

"There is no time limit. Since time is accelerated 5 times in this virtual world, the tournament usually lasts a few days here. Rarely more than 24 hours in the real world."

"24 hours! My parents are going to kill me…"

I laughed.

How cute!

She pouted in annoyance.

I mean, as much as I'm laughing, under other conditions I'd probably have to worry about this kind of trivial stuff too.

"Well, let’s go! We've been hanging around here long enough, we've got to get moving. The sky is clearing, we'll be able to see better where we're going, but that's also true for our opponents. You’ve got to follow me like a shadow, okay? You walk where I walk, and you don't make any noise. Got it?"

She nodded vigorously. Good. We're off again.

I opened the door as slowly as possible, taking every precaution not to make it squeak. Slowly, ready to shoot at any moment, I stepped through the doorway. I was greeted by a light, cool wind accompanied by a fine drizzle. After a quick glance at my holographic map and the surrounding area, I left the cover of the old hovel and gestured to the girl to follow me. Thanks to the map, I had spotted what appeared to be the course of a river a few blocks away.

Hopefully, we'll find what we're looking for there.

Crossing the street in a hurry, we found the cover of the opposite building. In this part of the map all the buildings were falling apart, it was the perfect place for urban guerrilla warfare. You could be ambushed at any intersection. Fortunately, apart from a few false alarms triggered by gusts of wind, we didn't run into any other players.

Soon, the concrete banks of the river were in sight. Careful not to slip, we walked along what was truly no more than a thin, smelly stream. According to the time on my watch, we had only a few minutes left before we were revealed by the satellite. We had been lucky not to meet anyone on the way, but the city was definitely not empty. The moon disappeared behind heavy rain clouds.

Scanning the darkness of the riverbank, I looked for a familiar round shape, big enough to squeeze through.

Come on! Quick, there's no time! Where are you hiding... There has to be one!

The minutes ticked by, but our objective was still nowhere to be found. I felt the tension rising. If we didn't find shelter soon, we would never make it through the night alive. Sensing my agitation, the girl patted my shoulder.

"What are you looking for? Maybe I can help you."

"A sewer tunnel! But there's no time now! We've only got a minute left before the satellite passes!"

"A sewer tunnel? Like this one?"

With that, she pointed to a circular shape that led to the bank on the other side.

How could I be so stupid as to miss it?

"Quick, follow me!"

I crossed the foul stream, dragging the girl behind me.

I glanced into the darkness of the tunnel as if to confirm that it was empty, and then went in first. The girl made a sign of protest, but I pulled her after me. She gave a slight cry of pain as I grabbed her hand, but deaf to her protests, I took her further down. The tunnel quickly branched off and we took the side going even deeper underground. A new fork appeared: while one side sank into the muddy water, the other rose above the water level. We pulled ourselves up onto the second.

I slumped against the stone wall, the girl beside me. We had done it. We had managed to escape the satellite.