Chapter 9:

LEVEL 9: Team Building

CREO: Game of Creation

Adam straightened the new hat he made for himself with ‘Team Captain’ in big letters on it. He’d stacked a pile of boxes (really just solid cubes) so he could stand above his underlings (us). We’d argued over whether he deserved to take over as leader, given his nefarious method of victory, but I agreed with him it was best to keep it to ourselves for the good of morale.

“Okie-dokie! Let’s get you all whipped into shape!” It was going to his head already. I raised my hand. “Yes, you in the front.” He said, pointing to me.

“Yeah, our next qualifier match is in three days.” I said. “Do you have a plan, oh great team captain?” Adam smirked and tipped his hat down in a pose he must’ve thought looked cool.

“You underestimate me. Now, who’s first?”

Lucy, standing next to me, waved her arm in the air rapidly.

“Ooh, pick me! This will be so fun!”

“S-sure.” Adam was still a little wary of Lucy, it took a whole day for the dog ears to wear off. He pulled out a clipboard and put on a pair of glasses that he didn’t need, but that made him look smarter. “Your weak points were battle focus and your puzzle difficulties. Let’s start with battle.” He snapped his fingers, and we were at once in an open field. “Kai, if you would?”

“How do you do that?”

“That’s not important. Now make some monsters and attack the lady!” Lucy held up her staff and jumped around like an RPG character ready for battle. I wasn’t going to hold back. I summoned a hoard of tigers, just like the one’s she faced in the last match.

“What, already?!” Lucy was knocked down by the surprise assault from the dozen or so beasts. My suspicion that we were in Update Alpha was confirmed.

“Adam! No one else is supposed to know about Alpha!”

“They’re our teammates!” I was about to jump in to save Lucy, but she raised a hand toward me as she jostled with a tiger.

“Let me do this!” she said. I stood back as she battled with the tigers, eventually subduing them all, although it took far longer than any CREO match would’ve allowed. She sat, panting.

“Did you get all that, Adam?” I looked over to him to see him with a virtual camera, giving a thumbs up.

“So, this was just for a video?” I asked, letting my disdain show on my avatar’s face.

“No, but might as well.” She said. “What should I do differently?” I sighed.

“First of all, get up. You’re not really tired.” She stopped with the false fatigue and rose back into battle stance. “The thing to remember is to pay attention to everything around you. CREO is all about possibilities, so anywhere the architect can stuff an enemy or a trap, expect it. Once you’re in battle, you gotta fight with whatever gives you the best advantage.” I fired a bolt of energy at her from my finger, barely missing her head. “Fight back.” I shot another bolt, she parried with her staff. Shot after shot, she backed up as she blocked my attacks. Then, after absorbing another bolt with the tip of her staff, she planted into the ground, producing a surge of red energy pulsating through the ground, knocking me off balance. Lucy took the opportunity and lunged at me. I met her attack with my sword and we sparred.

“You’ve improved.” I said after our training session. Lucy bowed graciously.

“Thank you for the lesson.” She glanced at her cameraman. Adam turned the camera off and sent the files to her. “Thanks, Addy.” The nickname threw him off—his face turned a little red, and he lowered his hat over his eyes.

“That’s captain to you. Now about your CREO world…”

“It’s too easy, too obvious.” I interjected. “If you change the setting…”

“But…” Lucy shuffled her feet. I wasn’t used to seeing her hesitate. “They’re important to me, the stories. Every CREO world I make is based off one of my favourite stories. I’d rather not change them.” I crossed my arms. Just when I thought she was making progress.

“You don’t have to change them.” Adam said. “Just tweak the puzzles, and make the time limits harder. CREO should be whatever you want it to be, right? A game of possibilities.” He glanced at me, challenging me. I shrugged. Lucy scooped Adam in her arms.

“Aw, I knew you’d understand, my adorable captain!” Adam struggled out of her grasp and snapped his fingers once more, taking us back to my space where Teo waited for us, having been out of the way in a viewing room before. Adam pointed at him, and once again we were transported, this time to a land of floating islands—fog surrounded each, as glittering stones peeked out of the stone underbellies of each island. Adam hopped onto a little island floating slightly above the one Teo and I were on.

“Teo! Your issue is strategy.” Adam pointed out into the foggy expanse. “I left a souvenir out there somewhere, find it without falling.” Teo sighed and nodded, jumping onto a nearby island, then another, disappearing into the fog. I turned to Adam.

“What’d you leave?”

“You’ll see. Go follow him, maybe send an attack his way now and then.”

“You can be pretty evil sometimes.” Adam grinned and laughed like a super villain.

“Go, my minion!” I rolled my eyes and started after Teo. While his skills were certainly stronger than Lucy’s, I was more concerned about him than her. I couldn’t get a good read on him—he was the quiet, stoic sort, and I couldn’t help but think he was in over his head. It was one thing to compete with his compatriots in an environment where CREO is still a niche, but against the best in the world? In most of the world, CREO was no longer a game, it was a sport, Teo would have to adapt to that. I caught sight of his silhouette jumping from platform to platform. He barely dodged my fire bolt. I fired again, and he stumbled, teetering on the edge of a platform. I jumped over there and helped him up.

“I’m not smart enough.” Teo said, sitting down and crossing his arms. His avatar was so tall, he was almost eye level with me as I stood and he sat. “I don’t know what I’m doing. This was my last chance, and I’m going to blow it.” I sat beside him. People skills aren’t my forte (obviously), but this was about CREO, I could talk about that.

“You were smart enough to reach out to me. And you were able to make a pretty cool CREO world, too.”

“That’s not about intelligence. I don’t think about winning or strategy when I play CREO, it’s about creativity. My CREO world is art.” I nodded along.

“So you lead with your heart, that’s not bad. Your style was great.” Teo stood and leaped onto another platform. At first I was afraid I’d said something to offend him, maybe the instant translation as we spoke got something wrong, but he soon returned with a smile on his face and a golden T-Rex in his hands.

Back home, we sat watching TV, waiting for the bath to be ready. Adam took up the couch while I was stuck on the floor.

“The animation’s really gone downhill this season.” Adam commented (and I had to agree).

“Hey, good job today.” I said, during a commercial break. “We almost feel like a real team now.”

“Now we just gotta train you.” He said.

“What do I have to do? I’m the best we’ve got.”

“There it is, that attitude.”

“What attitude?! I’ve earned it.”

“By losing to Pluton?” I wanted to smack him again, little brat. “Face it, you can’t handle it when your enemy surprises you. It’s only gonna get harder when we’re facing Update Alpha.”

“I’m prepared for that.” I said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back at number one in no time.” And I’ll answer the question of just what you are. I added in my head. Adam got up and headed to the bath.

“They should fire the animation director—I saw an 8fps scene in there, disgusting.” Like anyone but him and animation nerds would notice something like that. What was he? And what exactly was Adam’s motive in all this? Did he simply want to help his creator, or was I right in suspecting this tournament was something much more than that?

And would it kill the animation department not to slap CG onto every scene? It’s embarrassing.