Chapter 10:

LEVEL 10: Conspiracies and Killer Robots

CREO: Game of Creation

After 4 matches, we were sitting at 3rd place in our bracket, not the best place to be in. This last match of the qualifiers would be crucial. It was nerve-wracking to watch Teo’s match—there was nothing I could do but watch as his art stole the show. He managed to win, though the survival CREO of his opponent made it close—it was set in a volcano, magma spewing along his path as smoke choked out the air. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had nightmares about it later—he lasted longer than he needed to for the win. When he appeared in the viewing room, we each awarded him with a high-five, and he responded in his characteristic silence.

“Next up, KAI vs S3qx25!” It’s both frustrating to see people with garbled nonsense handles like that and funny to hear Kuu announce them with the same enthusiasm as any other name. Those players are also usually pretty new or have little skill—the top players have brands and purchase better, catchier names if they don’t already have one. I bought the name KAI from a fishing company of the same name.

S3qx25’s avatar was a robotic figure—square head and body, with sprockets for eyes and a mechanical sound while it walked.

“Let’s have a fun match.” S3’s female text-to-speech voice said as we shook hands.

“Likewise.” I tried to pull away, but the robot kept shaking my hand, as if stuck in a loop. It leaned in close.

“Adam is coming along nicely, I see.” My heart started beating fast.

“Who are you?”

“Adam is an important experiment.” The emotionless AI voice continued. “The proof of concept for the next level.”

“What are you talking about? Let go of me.” Our handshake finally ended.

“Don’t disappoint him and lose.” S3 said, the instant before we were taken to my CREO world.

What the hell was that?

I jumped onto a platform I added since last time that overlooked the maze, so I could monitor my enemy’s movements. S3 stepped onto a trap space and disappeared, only to reappear a second later in the same space, as if it had glitched.

Was it still messed up from Adam messing with it? Surely not. I tested it just as rigorously as always. Or maybe that’s no ordinary player. I’d heard rumors of fake player accounts—bots run by corporations, or possibly even the CREO AI itself. The evidence for their existence was… sketchy. You only really believed it if you were into the whole conspiracy theory thing, but maybe there was something to it after all.

The maze shifted, cutting off the path S3 was taking, but they phased through the wall like it was nothing.

Ok, that’s not normal. Time to put a stop to this. I activated my ‘Plan B’, a.k.a. about 5 dozen enemy units that I hid in the maze walls. They fired on S3 with bolts shimmering in every color, so that it looked like a pack of firecrackers going off in a gutter from my vantage point. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to faze my stubborn robotic opponent. I descended from my platform and drew my sword. I’d have to end this myself, or at least stall long enough to give me a decent point cushion going into the next round. At the exit to the maze, I waited, watching the timer tick up—not even 3 minutes yet—I’d need it to hit at least 5 to have a point advantage going into S3’s world, by my calculations. A blast—my enemy had taken the first shot. I lunged forward and my sword connected with the metallic arms of the robot. It would’ve been comical, fighting such a cartoonish thing if it weren’t for how it was cheating, and how it knew about Adam. The arms moved faster and extended farther than I expected. It slashed relentlessly as I parried, slowly being driven back toward the center of the maze. As soon as S3 reached the center, the challenge would be fulfilled, and we’d head to the next round.

3 minutes 30 seconds

It was too much. Those eyes. I laughed at them when I first saw them, but behind the flurry of attacks, those bright yellow eyes piercing into me…

It grabbed my arm. I dropped my sword. Struggling against the robot’s strength, I desperately pushed against it, buying any extra second for as high a score as possible. Then it was over.

3 minutes 59 seconds. Not good. I half expected us to end up back in the arena, where Kuu would announce our opponents were disqualified for cheating. Any attempt at hacking or using illegal mods would result in an immediate disqualification for the entire team, but no such DQ took place. Instead, we were already in the next CREO world.

It looked like a factory—mechanical arms welding metal on a conveyor belt, as loud, rhythmic banging sounded. Small robots scurried about the work floor, and I sat in what appeared to be a cage overlooking it all. It wasn’t against the rules to keep your enemy confined in one place, so long as it was possible to break out (the difficulty of escape was another matter). I tried slashing, blasting, even pushing and punching—nothing. The cage started moving. Apparently I was on a conveyor belt, moving toward a series of buzz saws and blow torches. There had to be some gimmick to it, some puzzle to open the cage… The saws drew closer and closer.

Guess I’ll just have to dodge them. Like a bug trying not to get squashed, I shifted around the cage as it was sliced and torched. Honestly, it was a miracle I made it through, and better yet—the cage was destroyed! My relief didn’t last long—chains reached up from the conveyor belt and held me down—a weight dropping periodically ahead, flattening anything under it.

Where is that stupid robot? I did everything I could think of to get myself out of the chains.

“Show yourself! What a disgraceful play style!” I at least gave my opponents a fighting chance (kind of). The surface I was chained to shook with each ever closer stomp of the weight. I was running out of time fast—then I was free. First was the jingling of my shackles, then a snap. A pat on the back and a soft ‘get going’ from a voice I recognized all too well.

“Adam? How did you?” He was nowhere to be seen, and I couldn’t afford to stand around too long trying to figure it out.

Off the conveyor belt, I was faced with an army of angry worker robots, armed with blow torches, saws, hammers—one even had a stapler that fired lasers. Say what you will about evil bots, they sometimes have a sense of humor.

I made short work of them, leaving scraps of metal limbs and short circuits scattered about. I found a staircase leading to what appeared to be the foreman’s office—wonder who was waiting for me there?

The office was far larger than I expected—more like an arena under a glass dome, exposing the stars above. S3 stood there, like it was shut off, before those blazing yellow eyes blinked on, glowing at me from across the room—then without warning it pounced, accompanied by a metallic screech. We locked into battle once more, while a group of robot underlings blocked my escape from behind, clanging and cheering on their master.

“What are you? How have you been cheating?”

“Didn’t Adam just help you cheat?” The AI voice was distorted, like it was being strangled.

“How do you know his name?” I was pushed down, but managed to shift my weight, kicking S3 as I flipped back onto my feet.

“Don’t you know?” Its eyes were flickering rapidly, while its body made erratic, unnatural movements. “We see all. We want you to continue the experiment. For progress.” I swung at it with my sword, while my other hand shot a bolt of energy. My sword was caught, and my shot simply reflected off the metal body. I was out of options.

“Adam!” When I said his name, I caught a glimpse of him, appearing as he did during our bet match, with fire all around him. He reared up to strike, energy coalescing in his fist, ready to end this horror show.

Then my head was cut off, and all I saw was game over.