Chapter 22:

LEVEL 22: Artificial Human

CREO: Game of Creation

When I opened my eyes, everything was blurry. The first things I thought, in order, were: Do I need glasses? Wait, why’s the room spinning? Am I gonna throw up? I’d been laying down, but when I tried to get up, I stumbled onto the floor. I heard a muffled voice and saw a pair of feet. Who is that? I felt whoever it was help me stand and stumble to a bathroom where I stood hunched over a sink, waiting for vomit that never ended up coming. My vision slowly came back, and the dizziness dulled into light-headedness.

The first thing I noticed in the mirror were my eyes. Weren’t they gray? Adam’s eyes had always struck me as odd—they were unnaturally vibrant. Now mine matched with the same bright blue as his. Next, I started to notice my surroundings. This isn’t home… I noticed the hand patting my back, then that second pair of bright blue eyes, gazing at me in concern.

“I’m back…” I said with the weary voice of a traveler abandoned in a desert for a week with no water. Yet I managed to smile. Adam would’ve knocked me down when he hugged me if I hadn’t been clutching the sink.

“Welcome back, buddy.” He said, muffled because his face was buried in my chest.

“G-glad to be back, buddy. W-where are we?”

“South Africa. We found you just in time for the semi-finals.”

“As much as I’d love to, I’m in no shape to compete…”

“It’s fine. I’ve been getting a lot better.”

“Then I’ll leave it to you…” I looked back at the mirror, at my eyes. A notification about the tournament popped up in the bottom right corner of my vision, yet… “I’m not wearing a watch… Adam, what happened to me?” Adam stepped back and looked at his feet, his hands grasping his shirt.

“When I figured out he was a double, he started showing his true nature… I’m sorry, Kai.” I wasn’t keeping up with what he was saying. I noticed there wasn’t a clock in my UI, yet I knew what time it was, and I knew exactly how long I’d been awake, down to the second, and come to think of it I knew the address of our hotel, and the room’s exact dimension, and I realized Adam and I had been speaking in a weird mixture of English, French and Korean. My head ached as a million facts and figures flooded my mind.

“What did they do to me, Adam?” I already knew, but I wanted him to prove me wrong, to say I was going to be okay.

“You’re like me now… I’m sorry.” My world was spinning.

“Help me sit down and get me some water, please.” Like a faithful creation, he helped me calm down, as much as one can when he realizes his body had been replaced by a fake. “Those bastards really put me in an artificial body?” A vague memory of watching my organs and limbs get cut out and packaged flashed through my mind and I felt sick again. There was no going back to how I was before—My original body was dead and divvied up however CREO saw fit. Now I was something else. “I really am a ghost now, aren’t I?” Tears started streaming down Adam’s face, standing before me, still clutching his shirt—I suppose it was all he could do. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s not so bad.” I said, trying to smile. “Hey, now I’ll never be unplugged again. I can use CREO abilities whenever I want. And I don’t have to worry about getting sick or growing old, that’s incredible! Although, it kinda sucks I’ll never turn 18 now…” My strained laughter turned into tears and Adam embraced me again. “We’re brothers now. Born of the same flesh.”

“It’s not fair. You didn’t get a say.”

“I know, and we’re gonna get our payback. But even though this really, really sucks.” I bit back a scream of frustration. “I’ve got you. We’ll continue on in both worlds forever, right? Buddies forever.” I held out my fist, and he bumped it with his. There was a knock at the door. “Adam, am I wearing pants? My vision’s still a little fuzzy.”

“You’re good.” Adam opened the door and our friends filed in and sat with us.

“First off, thanks, all of you.” I said. They each smiled at me, the smile of seeing a friend for the first time in a lifetime. “Second, well done against… me. You’re all worthy CREO players. By the way, who made that CREO world?”

“We all did.” Teo said. “We thought it only made sense to work on our worlds together, take advantage of having a team.”

“People love it on social media.” Lucy said.

“Very cool.” I responded, quickly getting woozy again. “We’re going to win this tournament. We’re going to teach Rin, her goons, the bastards at CREO, and the whole damn world who we are and what happens when you mess with us. I… we are the best in the world, and we deserve that crown, now more than ever.” I think they cheered after my speech, but I’m not sure, because I passed out just as the last word escaped my lips.

“Clap! Only your applause can save the fairy from dying!” Lucy’s opponent stood in confusion for a touch too long. “She died! You monster! How can you live with yourself!” Poor guy—after fighting pirates in Neverland, you’d think he’d get what was going on, but she didn’t have to make him cry like that.

With Lucy’s victory, we were 1 to 1—Teo used the beanstalk world to great success, but his opponent had a puzzle world, and that’s never been his strong suit. I’d have been mad before and scolded him about practicing more, but I knew I didn’t need to—and I trusted our alternate.

Adam stepped into the arena—at the center of a massive soccer stadium in Cape Town. His opponent… a Chinese Lion.

“Our teams meet again. Where’s your creator?” Wei Fang said as he shook Adam’s hand. “Burning down another school?”

“After what he’s been through, you don’t have a right to make fun of him.”

“Why can’t he come here and defend himself, then? Instead, he brings his affront to nature.”

Easy there, don’t lose your cool, Adam. I thought as I laid in bed in the hotel, watching everything through Adam’s eyes.

Don’t worry, I won’t. He’s going down. Adam’s voice said in my mind.

Hold on, have you always had telepathy and just waited until now to reveal it?

It only works with other artificial humans, I think.

Well, that’s one cool positive.

The arena—filled with an odd mixture of physical people and avatars—fell away, replaced by Adam’s latest CREO world.

The best I’d ever seen.