Chapter 20:

LEVEL 20: Infiltration

CREO: Game of Creation

Nothing Adam told me made sense, or helped me understand what was going on, or what to do about it. The only thing I really understood was that CREO was making moves in a dangerous direction, and my friends didn’t have a very high opinion of me if they spotted my fake because he lacked my flaws.

“Sorry.” I said. It was all I really could say.

“Stop that, the Kai I know would never say sorry.” Adam said with a grin.

“Sorry I’m so happy you went through the trouble of trying to find a lowlife like me.”

“Kai, you made me. Even if it was a mistake, I’m grateful you did.”

“Adam… the dragon. You know I made it, right? I’m the one who put you in danger. I didn’t save you, I just made you by accident and brought you along into the real world by accident.”

“Kai, I’ve always known all that. That’s how we found you—I knew you couldn’t stand to let it still roam around.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

“What’s the catch? Everyone around me always betrays me, when is it your turn?” My friends glanced at each other and smirked, scaring me for a second before Adam grabbed my arm from across the table and the run-down tavern was replaced by a tropical island amidst a clear blue sea. Light sparkled off the waves, occasionally rising and morphing into birds made of light, which flocked together and flew off into the endless horizon. A warm, gentle breeze brushed my face and hair—the first halfway decent weather I’d experienced since my exile.

“You didn’t get to go to the ocean with us, so we made this CREO world for you.” Lucy said. “Not every CREO has to be a fight or even a puzzle, just somewhere cool to come and relax.”

“Like Monster Crossings.” Teo said, referring to the slow-going game half the world’s population is mildly addicted to. I’d never really understood people who played CREO like that—non-competitively—but feeling the breeze, surrounded by my team, I started to get it.

“Wanna swim?” Adam asked.

“I dunno, it’s not the middle of the night and raining like last time.” I said.

“We could it make it like that. We can do anything in CREO, right?”

“Right.” I walked up to the shore, the waves sloshing over the sand, leaving pretty neon-colored stones and shells on the beach. “But I think I want to save the beach episode for when we can really celebrate—back in the real world.” My friends all nodded in agreement. We did, however, pull up some chair and sit around a fire toasting virtual marshmallows.

“Hey, Kai?” Adam whispered next to me while Lucy and Teo got into an argument about our social media strategy (something about TakTik, I don’t really get that stuff).

“What’s up, Adam? S’more related question?”

“Tell me more about Rin and your school days.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t ask.”

“Other Kai said too much, I know, but…”

“Promise you won’t tell the others?”

“Of course.”

“It was the culture festival during our first year of high school. Back then, Rin and I hung around with a group of friends from the gaming club—they were more her friends than mine—but I started really getting along with them, almost enjoying school for once. Then at the culture festival, they kept asking me favors—get this for my class, cover for me while I hang out with my girlfriend—that kinda stuff. I did it because I thought we were friends. The one thing I wanted to do at the festival was showcase my latest CREO world at the gaming club’s presentation—a mock CREO tournament. Instead, all I had was a hacked, vandalized version with a fake love confession in it. They thought it was funny to mess with my stuff and embarrass me. At the end of the festival, I was left all alone while everyone else had their fun. Rin was the only one who reached out and walked me home. After that the school closed for a while because of one of the pandemics, and I used that opportunity to go remote. CREO was the thing that I was good at—I got respect from it, or at least I thought I did—and along the way I got afraid of the outside world. Dumb story, right?” Adam shook his head.

“You want to go outside now, don’t you?” I nodded.

“It’s not perfect, but I can’t leave things as they are. I need to beat Rin and settle this.”


“Everyone, listen up.” I was tired of hiding—neither Rin, nor CREO, or even myself was going to put me down again. I was the best, and I would prove I still was.



“Success!” A door appeared in front of us—not a physical one, more like our destination opened up a door shaped entry point for us. “Hurry, before they notice.” We all rushed in, officially breaking all sorts of cybersecurity laws, not to mention CREO terms of service. Within the virtual administrative hub I’d so masterfully hacked into was what appeared to be endlessly tall towers made up of cubes. These cubes, all color coded, were functions, each containing code which became visible by touching the cube. The rows upon rows of towers, along with more cubes floating around, some slow, some almost instantaneous on set paths as their functions were activated and carried out, continued as far as we could see in every direction.

“Are you sure about this?” Teo asked, dodging past a cube floating on its way. “What if we mess something up?”

“It’ll be fixed within minutes. You know how sophisticated their operation is?” I said. “Now, from here on, it’s your turn, Adam. Find my player data.” Adam looked the cubes up and down before going up to one and touching it. As he did, his eyes glowed the way they did when he was in the middle of a fight. A line of light coursed through the whole cube tower, then he removed his hand and stopped glowing.

“Player data cubes are the purple ones—there should be a big database full of them over that way.” He pointed off into the distance and we took off in that direction. We ran faster after we heard a familiar voice.

“Unauthorized access detected. Please provide administrative credentials.” Kuu said, floating after us, his eyes projecting a red light on us. Adam began listing off a series of letters and numbers. “Admin credentials accepted.” Red turned to green, then blinked away. “What can I do for you, Mr. Endou?”

“Who?” I asked Adam.

“There’s stuff in my head. I don’t know where it came from, but my guess is whoever that Endou guy is.”

“You’re saying he programmed you?”

“You programmed me subconsciously. That’s how Alpha works. Living creatures work however you subconsciously think they will. But there’s extra stuff in me, like that code. It’s always been there. Maybe he’s the one who developed CREO?”

“Maybe you can figure all that out later?” Lucy called out, pointing behind us at the swarm of Kuu flying toward us.

“Anomaly detected.” They chanted on repeat, their eyes red.


“On it.” He started shouting more code, but for every Kuu he appeased, more came looking just as angry.

“Purple ones!” Teo yelled, almost tripping over himself with excitement. An enormous cluster of purple cubes stacked like a skyscraper arose before us.

“So, I’m in one of these?”

“Um, Kai…” Lucy pointed past the purple skyscraper, and my heart sank at the sight of another equally large cube tower. Then another, and another—a city’s worth of player information.

“{ Find_User(n=12933051);” Adam said, his eyes, and even his hair glowing bright blue. A glowing purple cube descended from atop the cube city. “I’ll hold off the Kuu!” I pressed my palm into the cube, but instead of the data appearing, the cube flashed red and presented an error message: RESTRICTED DATA, PASSWORD REQUIRED.


“I don’t know that one! Figure it out!” Kuu were clustering around Adam—the occasional green light of a satisfied Kuu became less and less frequent. The password was an 8 character long input.

“A word?” Teo suggested.

“We’re gonna have to fight, guys!” Adam said, the Kuu circling him so that he was hardly visible. Teo ran into the flurry of cloud bears.

“Hurry, Kai.” Lucy prodded and shook me as if it were going to help. It could be anything. I got the feeling one wrong answer, and it’d be game over… “Try anything, we’re running out of time!”

“Quit yelling in my ear! I can’t mess this up.” A gaping hole in the Kuu opened up as Adam and Teo fired a blast of fire at them together. The Kuu started buzzing around like a swarm of angry bees.

“Well, you’re not making any progress!” Progress? For progress…

“Lucy, enter ‘progress’ in English.” She looked at me in confusion for a split-second, but the Kuu situation kept her from questioning too long. Sure enough, the error message was lifted, and my data was on full display. They had a disturbing amount of information—personal habits, speech and keystroke patterns, buying habits, physical body details. I froze when I saw the file for memories—every memory until I was banished was collected there, even some subconscious ones. “That explains Other Kai knowing all that stuff…” I muttered.

Finally, the bit of code I was looking for—the part that overrode my original self. Officially, I still existed just as before, no different from any other player. The difference was my consciousness was replaced and banished by an artificial version of myself. All I had to do was delete that code, and I’d be restored to my body and regain the abilities of a player.

“Don’t. Back away from the cube.” An oddly unfamiliar, yet incredibly familiar voice said behind me. I did as he said, slowly turning around with my hands up. Adam had a glowing knife at his throat, held by none other than myself. “I don’t want to do this. I love Adam more than anything. But I can’t let you stop the progress we’ve made.”

“Huh, I’m disappointed. You were advertised as being just like me, but you aren’t at all. You see, the only progress I care about is beating asses like you.” Teo and Lucy lunged at Other Kai from behind, attempting to grab his arms. Adam elbowed him in the gut and slipped away, but this Kai had all the abilities of my avatar at his disposal. He rushed to the cube with intense speed and held a finger gun to my forehead. A laser blast from that distance would kill me in an instant.

“It’s over. I’m Kai now. Get over it and go back to being a ghost. Not like you were using your life anyway, based on your memories.”

“Maybe not, but it’s still my life—not yours, or anyone’s—to take. I’d like it back. How about this, Kai? You’re a gamer. You can’t resist competition.” Other Kai’s eyebrow raised, his condescension turning to intrigue.

“I’m listening.”

“CREO—if you beat my team, you’re the new Kai and I’ll be Yuurei the NPC forever. If they win, I get my life back. Sound good?”

“I don’t need to accept.”

“But your pride demands it.” Other Kai took a deep breath that turned into an annoyed grunt (very me).

“Alright, you’re on.” He glanced at Adam. “But no cheating. I’d be able to tell this time around.” His eyes glowed, making Adam take a step back in surprise before shaking his head and stepping forward toward Other Kai.

“You should know by now I won’t need to.” The virtual database fell away as we were transported to the arena that would decide my fate.