Chapter 30:

LEVEL 30: Suicide Rescue Mission

CREO: Game of Creation

Things take a rough turn? Wish there was somewhere you belonged? There’s another way—the virtual world is waiting for you.

Full Virtual ads like that had been popping up like crazy—fitting that we would meet up under a huge screen playing that ad on repeat in the Virtual Hub.

“We’re insane if we go through with this.” Teo said, despite the excitement in his voice.

“I’m going to livestream the whole thing. Even if we fail, the word gets out.” Lucy said, hastily texting everyone she knew.

“We’ll all lose any sponsorships we got from the tournament.” Rin mentioned.

“They’re all part of CREO’s shit. Bastards.” Sieg spat, turned away from us with his arms crossed. We were all struck by his spiteful language, especially Teo, shrinking at the foul language despite his looks.

“What concerns me more…” Lucy looked at me.

“No need to worry. I don’t intend to lose, and I trust each of you.” They all nodded. I thought I’d be terrified—embarking on what could be a suicide mission against the system—but seeing my friends’ concerned stares, I felt nothing but calm. “Well then, we might as well start.” I started the hacking process I’d used to break in earlier, but… “Damn it, they upped security since last time.”

“Let me try.” Rin tried her technical wizardry, to no avail.

“Have you tried the front door?” Said a voice from behind our group. We turned to see Artemis standing beside an open virtual door leading into the CREO database.

“Selena…” Rin ran up and embraced her. “You shouldn’t be here, you need to rest.”

“You need the help.” She glanced at me. “And I don’t like owing favors.”

“Consider us even, then. How’d you do it?”

“When you spend all day online practicing code, you end up hacking into some weird stuff. I found the front-door admin credentials for someone named Endou. Seems they still work.”

“For now. Last chance, everyone—once we go in there, no going back.” Sieg pushed past me and went through the door, followed by Teo, then a new user showed up—Wei Fang.

“Saw the stream, looked like a fun time. Mind if we join?” Wei was joined by another former competitor of ours, then another, and another. Holang1, Kitsune, QED—dozens of top players appeared and stepped through the door, excited for the ultimate CREO challenge and eager to save the beacon of CREO’s possibilities—Adam. Lucy patted my shoulder as she went through.

“Told you social media was worth it.” Last was Rin.

“Just when I get you back, you get into something stupid and dangerous.” She said.

“I guess I attract trouble.”

“You do. Remember when you were around Adam’s age and you tried to impress me by beating those older kids at that card game? When they figured out you were cheating, they beat you up, and I had to help you home, holding a tissue up to your nose.”

“Why do you have to remember embarrassing stuff like that? Makes me want to crawl back into my room.”

“It’s a special memory for me, anyway. You make plenty of mistakes, but I got to be there to make you feel better, and by the time we got back to your house, you were challenging me to a video game. It feels the same now—we’re gonna get in a ton of trouble, but we’re together, so whatever happens can’t be too bad.”

“Let’s hope.” She pulled me close and kissed me, then went through the door, leaving me in a stunned daze for a moment, before the door started to close and I rushed through.

As soon as the door closed and we were all on the other side, I was struck by how different it was from last time. Cubes flashed around so rapidly I couldn’t follow them—So many function cubes were lit up, so that it looked like a city just as night was falling with more and more lights flickering on.

“This is what it looks like during an update.” I said to myself.

“That means we don’t have much time.” Rin led our party forward. “Once Alpha is available to everyone, the world will never be the same. Everyone would have an Adam or could become like you. It’d be the start of CREO’s ideal world.” I pointed at a lit-up cube tower with a finger gun and fired, smashing the cubes into brightly colored dust.

“That should get their attention.” Within seconds, we were surrounded by Kuu. From atop a stack of cubes approached a boy with blue hair and blue eyes, wearing a white jacket emblazoned with CREO’s logo on it, and without his signature hat. He looked down on us with contempt, his eyebrows furrowed and his frown bordered on a sneer.

“We warned you, did we not?” He said.

“Adam? What did they do to you? Are you okay?”

“You are in violation of CREO terms of services, as well as the law. All of you get out immediately. Except KAI—you were warned and now you will face extermination and replacement.” This wasn’t Adam—CREO was using his body as their mouthpiece. He was nothing more than a glorified Kuu.

“How dare you do that to him…” I shook with rage. Rin stepped in front of me and gestured to the crowd of players behind us.

“CREO—you say you want your users to be happy—look! These are your users. From all over the world, different teams and ideas. Change course, please. For your users’ sake.”

“Our probability models remain unchanged—our current course of action produces the most net gain of happiness for the user public.”

“At least give Adam back. What do you need him for, anyway?” CREO stretched out Adam’s hands, staring at his fingers as he wiggled them.

“The data in this first user-created artificial body is priceless. Furthermore, he makes for the perfect vessel, given his global notoriety from the tournament. Finally, he contains previously lost data developed by Mr. Endou, which we believe he hid in a file activated when Adam was created.”

“And why do you think that was? What you’re doing isn’t what Endou wanted, otherwise he wouldn’t have felt the need to hide tools in Adam he could use to fight you.”

“What Endou wanted and what he programmed us to do are not necessarily the same thing. We are bound by our programming above all else.”


“Then carry out your programming!” I interrupted, glaring at the soulless eyes stolen from my brother. “Enough talking. You’ve said yourself that you’re a game company, that the user experience is everything. Prove it! If your ideas are superior, you should be able to handle a few troublemakers like us.”

“Kai, mind not making it mad?” Lucy said as she tapped me on the shoulder.

“Let’s play a game, a CREO match to end all CREO! If you, the all-knowing and ever-skilled CREO AI can’t subdue us, you cancel Endou’s command and return Adam to me.”

“No.” The AI sat on the cube and crossed Adam’s legs, looking bored. “Honestly, I thought you’d have a plan when you rushed in here. This is embarrassing. Any bet on that scale requires equivalency—I already hold all the cards in this situation, so what would you offer in the event that you lost? A 99% possibility, I might add.” This was the part of the plan that I was worried about. What could we offer…?

“We further your goal.” Artemis said, her hand on her heart. “Those of us who will take you on like this are troublemakers, right? Unpredictable. If we lose, the participating players agree to be replaced by your artificial reflections.” Rin grasped her hand.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Might as well use my life for something important while I have it.” Rin looked back at the AI.

“Then I agree to offer myself, too.”

“And me.” Teo said. Next Lucy, then Sieg, and even our former competitors.

“Can’t pass up a challenge, and a challenge like this requires fitting stakes.” QED said. We all stared at the AI, waiting for its response. It squinted at us, its eyes glowing. Adam’s eyes. Adam’s body.

“When we win, let’s watch those dinosaur movies again!” I said. “And I still owe you that beach trip!” He was in there somewhere, I could sense it. He was my reflection—we were linked. For a moment I saw something shift in his expression, some recognition, the beginnings of a smile, before they returned to the stoic AI’s control. It raised a hand and snapped Adam’s fingers. The lights of the database blacked out, and we stood in a void, the only light coming from Adam’s glowing eyes.

“You’re on.” It said in a voice more mechanical and sinister than Adam’s. The last CREO match was about to begin.