Chapter 16:

Vol. 1, Ch. 16: Declare Your Confession to the Criminal Goddess!

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

In the back yard behind the Chork household, Rover and Lumpy prepared for a player-versus-player Glove Alien Fight AR match. Adele sat on the wooden parapet of the deck overlooking the yard, snacking on a plate of peach sundae-flavored Rocket Rolls. School was out that Tsu-day to celebrate Saint Persnickety Day, leading to a prime opportunity for Rover to grow some extra levels.Bookmark here

“Don’t go easy on me just because we’re friends, Lumpy,” Rover said. “No holds barred.”Bookmark here

“It might not make a difference. You’re at a way higher level than me in the game right now.”Bookmark here

“These matches are the fastest way to level up.” Rover watched the roulette on his phone toggle among the three match types. “You’re doing me a big favor, pal!”Bookmark here

“H-Hey! Don’t already assume I’m gonna lose…”Bookmark here

The onscreen toggle stopped on “Deathmatch,” in which the players fight each other as they would fight AI enemies in the original game. The main difference was the augmented reality projections.Bookmark here

Lumpy chuckled under his breath. “Ugh…Deathmatch. I was actually hoping for this one, but…”Bookmark here

“You still have those Hippo Sparklers?” Rover asked, not bothering to conceal his smirk. “I could use some more.”Bookmark here

“Beat me and find out.”Bookmark here

Deathmatch games had a two-minute period for the combatants to configure their characters’ Glove Aliens, armor, accessories, and other skills. As the timer counted down, Lumpy stared at his character’s setup on his phone screen.Bookmark here

Rover typically favors speed and agility when playing the regular game, but his offensive settings during big battles make him a force from Hell. I’m assuming he’s going all out here, so I should balance my defense with speed and evasion. Yeah…I think this setup is good.Bookmark here

The match began. Lumpy’s phone screen instantly became an arctic explosion. His character collapsed. The match ended.Bookmark here

Grrrr!” Lumpy clenched his teeth and waved his phone in protest. “Dammit, Rover! That was unfair!”Bookmark here

Rover stretched his arms as if he had just exercised (or was yawning from boredom).Bookmark here

“No holds barred,” he said, looking at the list of consumable items he’d taken from Lumpy. “You should’ve prepared yourself for the worst.”Bookmark here

“If I’d configured the highest defense available at my level,” Lumpy grunted, “that attack still would’ve killed me in one hit! Or even with my speed all the way up, I wouldn’t have gotten away from that!” He ruffled his exploded-pumpkin hair in frustration. “Like, did you even see how much damage that attack did to me? You would’ve killed me four times over! Those Beelzebub Glove Aliens were already way over-powered when you fought Graphite…but now it’s just asshole-ish!”Bookmark here

“I leveled up fifteen times from that,” Rover said, ignoring Lumpy as he viewed the battle results. “You were worth more experience points than Graphite. Thanks for playing, Lumpy! Heh-heh-hehhh!”Bookmark here

“Screw you…”Bookmark here

Rover continued scrolling through the list of items he’d won.Bookmark here

“You had a lot of good stuff,” he said. “Seven Goosepacks? How’d you have seven???”Bookmark here

“I don’t use them often, like it matters now. They’re all yours.”Bookmark here

“Remember when you offered to lose a bunch of matches against me to raise my level? You said that before knowing you can’t challenge the same person until after nine other AR battles. What happened to that mindset, huh?”Bookmark here

“…Yeah.”Bookmark here

Looking at the deck, Rover noticed Adele had gone back inside the house. As Lumpy still cursed under his breath, Rover set out to find his next AR match victim.Bookmark here

16!16@16#16$16%16^16&16*16(16)16_16+16Bookmark here

“Hey, Adele!” Rover trapped his sister on the living room couch.Bookmark here

She shrank back, scared by the look on Rover’s face.Bookmark here

“Uh, what?” she asked with a crooked scowl. “I’m trying to watch Magical Poodle Snickerdoodle.”Bookmark here

Rover held up his phone. “I challenge you to—”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“You don’t even know what—”Bookmark here

“I want to keep all of my items, thank you very much.”Bookmark here

“C’mon, you’d be helping me out a ton.”Bookmark here

“Bite me.”Bookmark here

“Which part?”Bookmark here

“Get out of my way!” Adele yelled, kicking Rover back. “I’m watching TV.”Bookmark here

“Fine, fine. Be that way.”Bookmark here

Rover’s hunt for another victim continued.Bookmark here

16!16@16#16$16%16^16&16*16(16)16_16+16Bookmark here

When Dad and Mom sat side-by-side while giving their own parental stares, Rover realized how intimidating they could be, especially when he tried voicing his unpopular opinions. He’d sat down with them at the dinner table to have this awkward talk, now regretting his decision to even think they would make great AR match victims.Bookmark here

“Son,” Dad said, resting his elbows on the table with his fingers interlocked. He wore his classic Dad smile, “I don’t see why this is so important to you.”Bookmark here

Not backing down, Rover clenched his fist with a bold grin.Bookmark here

“To defeat CEO Claudius and free Thugwood from the mandate!!!” he replied, attempting to hide behind his gusto. He thought he’d done quite well, as the air around him seemed to rumble from his announcement. Maybe he was delusional, though.Bookmark here

“For glory?” Dad asked.Bookmark here

“Uh, well, yes…but also because the daily quota mandate is crap.”Bookmark here

“What you’re asking,” Dad continued, unfazed by his son’s ambition, “is for Mom and me to sacrifice our Glove Alien Fight consumable items for your gain?”Bookmark here

“It’s not really like that,” Rover said. “If you win, then you’d get all my consumable items. And…I really want to get rid of the mandate.”Bookmark here

Dad and Mom exchanged glances. Rover recognized that exchange—he was about to fail at his attempt to convince them.Bookmark here

“How are your studies?” Mom asked. Her ability to sound and behave like a soulless puppet when scolding her children was frightening in the most visceral ways.Bookmark here

“Uh…they’re fine…”Bookmark here

“We won’t get any surprises when your report card comes in?” she asked. “Despite all the time you’ve spent playing video games?”Bookmark here

Rover had to take a moment (without appearing to take a moment) to think about his answer. He didn’t remember failing enough assignments to earn a disgraceful grade in any class, but Glove Alien Fight had dampened his ability to keep track of those things.Bookmark here

Mom and Dad raised their eyebrows in unison, a sign of being a perfect pair, as well as a sign that Rover actually appeared to take a moment to think of his answer.Bookmark here

“Uh…I don’t think so…” he said.Bookmark here

“Aside from the mandatory one hour of playing each day,” Dad told Rover, “Mom and I don’t focus on much else in Glove Alien Fight. We don’t stand a chance in a match against you. Also, we’re not putting our consumable items on the line for your, erm, ‘glory’ and heroic deeds like freeing Thugwood. We need those items! Right, Mom?”Bookmark here

Mom smiled and nodded. “Yes. That Lich Queen in the Marsh of Itchiness won’t stand a chance against us this time. We have all those Smoothie Bombs now!”Bookmark here

“Gwa-ha-haaa!” Dad guffawed. “She’s got it comin’!”Bookmark here

“Uh…” Rover tried not to grimace, “the Lich Queen is only the first boss. You still haven’t beat her?”Bookmark here

“We have other things to worry about than a video game,” Dad replied, standing up. “Isn’t that right, dear?”Bookmark here

“Yes,” Mom said, also standing, “such as keeping two teenagers in line.”Bookmark here

They both smiled at him, holding that pose like a couple of dolls with evil spirits behind their eyes and teeth. Rover accepted that as his cue to flee. Leaving the dining room, he heard his parents snickering.Bookmark here

“Finding people to play against sucks,” he grumbled, heading back to his bedroom to play more co-op Glove Alien Fight with Lumpy and Adele.Bookmark here

16!16@16#16$16%16^16&16*16(16)16_16+16Bookmark here

A few hours were spent on hardcore Glove Alien Fight adventuring. Rover leaned back on his mattress and stretched, getting the blood circulating to his numbed toes. Sitting in one place for too long was challenging in and of itself, after all.Bookmark here

Lumpy set his phone down and rubbed his eyes. “I need a break. My joints are stiff.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Rover said, setting his phone on the mattress next to him. “I leveled up a lot today, so I can take the rest of the night off from Glove Alien Fight.”Bookmark here

“You’re welcome for that,” Lumpy muttered.Bookmark here

“What do you wanna do next?” Adele asked. “I tried making plans with Gale or Lorelei tonight, but they’ve both got dates tonight.” She sighed, running her finger across the carpet she sat on. “Must be nice…”Bookmark here

Rover gazed at the ceiling for a moment.Bookmark here

“I’ll call Quintegrity,” he said, using his phone. “She might wanna do something.”Bookmark here

Lumpy gave Rover a mocking grin. “Ah, doing boyfriend-type stuff for once, eh?”Bookmark here

“Whaddaya mean ‘for once’?” Rover shot Lumpy a dirty look. “I mean…” He paused for a moment, going through his list of contacts on his smartphone. “I just need to spend more time with her…”Bookmark here

“And learn about her crimes!” Adele held her arm across her forehead in a dramatic fashion. “Even though your lives drive you apart, your hearts fight to bridge that divide!”Bookmark here

Rover heard the phone ringing on the other end. His pulse quickened. What would he say when she answered?Bookmark here

“Rover!” Quintegrity’s beaming face practically came through the phone.Bookmark here

“H-Hi, babe,” Rover said, his face warm. “How are you?”Bookmark here

“Lonely.” Now her pouting face came through the phone. “You never call me, and I was so happy seeing your name on my caller ID.”Bookmark here

“Well, it’s time to make that up to you.”Bookmark here

“Excellent! I’ll be at your place in no time.”Bookmark here

“Whoa, wait…” The call ended, and Rover looked at Lumpy and Adele. “Um, she’s coming over here, I guess…”Bookmark here

“Heh, makes it easy for us,” Adele said, seeming satisfied. “I’ll make some more Rocket Rolls.”Bookmark here

When Adele opened the door, she was met by Quintegrity standing in the hallway with her hand up, as if about to knock on the door.Bookmark here

“I shouldn’t be surprised you’re already here,” Adele chuckled, “but I am.”Bookmark here

“I was already in the neighborhood,” the vibrant girl said. “I just dropped off the last orders of the chocolate fundraiser. Having over eighty thousand orders during the course of only four weeks is pushing it, even for me.”Bookmark here

Those statistics literally scared the other three in the room.Bookmark here

Rover found his voice, saying, “Come on in, babe. We finished playing a bunch of Glove Alien Fight, so we’re looking for something else to do.” He felt bashful, turning away for a moment. “Uh, I thought it’d be nice to include you.”Bookmark here

Like she’d used teleportation, Quintegrity was on the other side of the bedroom and wrapping Rover in a huge hug.Bookmark here

“That’s so sweet! Thank you for including me!”Bookmark here

“Gahh…haahhhh…n-no p-p-problem!”Bookmark here

“Whatever you wanna do, I’m fine with it, Rover. Let’s enjoy our youth to the fullest!”Bookmark here

She lifted Rover off the bed, using him like a barbell to do a few deadlifts, laughing all the while.Bookmark here

Stop! P-Put me down!” Rover cried.Bookmark here

She dropped him on his bed, giggling as he nearly bounced off. “Sorry, I forgot you don’t like being manhandled like that. Hee-hee-hee!”Bookmark here

Rover sat up, shaking. “You gotta stop doing that…”Bookmark here

“We’re about to make some Rocket Rolls for a snack,” Adele told Quintegrity, “and then we’ll figure out what we were gonna do for the rest of the day. We have a lot of time before the curfew.”Bookmark here

“I’ve never made Rocket Rolls before.” Quintegrity approached Adele with so much enthusiasm that Adele instinctively stepped back. “Please let me help.”Bookmark here

When the two girls left the room, Lumpy snickered.Bookmark here

“Quintegrity could provide power to a power plant,” he said, standing up to stretch.Bookmark here

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she was Thugwood’s source of energy,” Rover chuckled, standing up as well.Bookmark here

Lumpy watched Rover stretch his legs by walking around his bedroom.Bookmark here

“So, Rover,” he said, “you’re really going all in as her boyfriend?”Bookmark here

After a few seconds, Rover nodded. “Yeah, I am. I told you this. I’m gonna trust her for now. It’s the only way I’ll ever learn more about her…and whatever situation she’s in now.”Bookmark here

“Hmm.” Lumpy thought about that. “If that’s so, you gotta step up your role.”Bookmark here

Rover stopped pacing and stared at Lumpy with a raised eyebrow.Bookmark here

“What do you mean by stepping up my role?” he asked.Bookmark here

“You know,” Lumpy said, shrugging, “be more active in your relationship.”Bookmark here

Commence the sweating—Rover felt his fingers twitch. “Be more active…?”Bookmark here

“Yeah. Do more things that couples do.”Bookmark here

“…Like what…?”Bookmark here

“Well,” Lumpy said, “for starters…there’s the obvious thing.”Bookmark here

Rover’s heart skipped a beat. “You mean…like…uh…”Bookmark here

A sinister grin stretched on Lumpy’s face as he did groping motions with his hands.Bookmark here

“Like getting reeeaaal close to each other. Heh-heh!”Bookmark here

Cue Rover’s panting.Bookmark here

“But there’s no need to jump the gun,” Lumpy continued. He cleared his throat. “Simply by spending more time with her, you’ll be showing your affection.”Bookmark here

“That’s why I called her today!” Rover said, getting defensive.Bookmark here

“Good, good. Keep it up, but do it more. Do it at all times. Shower her with the unshakeable notion that you are dedicated to her.”Bookmark here

“I am dedicated, Lumpy! What more do I have to do?!”Bookmark here

Lumpy groaned. “Man, I’m not gonna hold your hand all the way through this…”Bookmark here

“But, you’ve had a girlfriend before. I need your advice.”Bookmark here

“You mean when I dated Iori Hajima? Dude, she left me to elope with that assistant janitor at school! I don’t have the best advice for you dating Quinn Integrity.”Bookmark here

“Well, ya know…” Rover said, “it’s hard to always be there for someone. I’m busy, and stuff…”Bookmark here

“You’re in high school. You ain’t that busy.”Bookmark here

“I’m very busy with Glove Alien Fight.Bookmark here

Lumpy shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, Rover. Letting your girlfriend go to the wayside over a video game…”Bookmark here

Appalled, Rover clenched his fists. “It’s important to me! And…it’s not like it’s more important than Quintegrity!”Bookmark here

“I don’t knoooow,” Lumpy said with a mocking grin, trying to get under Rover’s skin. “Last I checked, you spend a lot more time playing Glove Alien Fight than you spend with Quinn…”Bookmark here

“Er…gahhh…”Bookmark here

In an instant, Lumpy switched to a serious demeanor so quickly that Rover jumped.Bookmark here

“Look, bro,” he told Rover, stepping up to him, “you gotta stop making excuses. You gotta get over your fear of girls.”Bookmark here

“B-But—”Bookmark here

“No ‘buts’!” Lumpy pointed at Rover’s face. “Man up and face the disco. You’ll need to stop getting all tongue-tied around her.”Bookmark here

“I don’t always get tongue-tied!”Bookmark here

“Go for a zero percent tongue-tying rate,” Lumpy told him.Bookmark here

Rover pursed his lips. “But…”Bookmark here

No ‘buts’! This is but-less zone!”Bookmark here

“On the contrary…” Rover replied through clenched teeth, making Lumpy roll his eyes, “I’m doing my best! It takes time!”Bookmark here

“Time is the enemy, Mr. Sir!” Lumpy announced, holding out his arms. He moved in closer to Rover, seeing his friend’s sweat glistening on his forehead. “Think about it. You’re here being all wishy-washy on whether to spend more time with a video game or your girlfriend. I’m saying you need to show your love for her!”Bookmark here

“I do love her!”Bookmark here

“Then at least tell her!”Bookmark here

Ack!”Bookmark here

Astounded, with his mouth agape, Lumpy stared at Rover. “You mean…you haven’t told her you love her?”Bookmark here

The quivering lip answered before Rover could speak.Bookmark here

“Then what the hell?!” Lumpy grabbed Rover’s shoulders and shook him. “Girls need that affirmation from boys! Boys need it too! In your case, the girl needs the boy to step up and be a man! Declare your confession to the criminal goddess! Like a man!”Bookmark here

Backed into an emotional corner, Rover cried, “Don’t gender-shame me!”Bookmark here

I’m not shaming your gender!!!” Lumpy shook Rover harder. “I’m telling you that Quinn is waiting for you to take the relationship further! Waiting for you to be a man! She’s done her part as the woman, so it’s your turn!” Lumpy got centimetres from Rover’s face. “You’re a man, aren’t you?!”Bookmark here

“Eegeegeegee…”Bookmark here

“…What’d you say?!”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“ARE YOU A MAN, ROVER CHORK?!?”Bookmark here

Rover sucked in a whiny breath, scrunching his entire face into the most pitiful expression Lumpy had ever seen in his life.Bookmark here

“…I’m a worm!”Bookmark here

*SLAP!*Bookmark here

The sting from Lumpy’s slap transferred from Rover’s left cheek all the way to his right one.Bookmark here

“She will leave you, Worm Boy!” Lumpy again latched on to Rover’s shoulders, shaking harder than before.Bookmark here

Rover gasped, his face drained of color as shivers struck his spine. “Gah! Wh-What are you saying?!”Bookmark here

“I’m saying you could get dumped for another guy!”Bookmark here

*Gasp!* Nooo…”Bookmark here

“There are tons of other boys out there who already had their eyes on her,” Lumpy said.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“You could lose out to any of them if you don’t step up!” He dropped his voice, adding, “Plus, there’s all her sketchy stuff she’s been talking about. Chances are she’ll have her hands too full to bother with a bumbling bloke who claims to be dating her.”Bookmark here

Taking a moment to let Lumpy’s message soak into his soul, Rover pushed back from his friend.Bookmark here

“Then…” he said, fighting the trembling in his tone, “I-I’ll do my part…as a man.”Bookmark here

“And you’ll do that,” Lumpy said, stabbing his index finger into Rover’s breastbone, “by telling her you love her.”Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah…”Bookmark here

“Got it?”Bookmark here

“I said ‘yeah’!”Bookmark here

“Say ‘yes.’”Bookmark here

Yes!”Bookmark here

Rover’s bedroom door opened as Quintegrity stepped inside.Bookmark here

“Hey, Rover?”Bookmark here

Like a statue on a rotating base, Rover turned his body around to look at his girlfriend. Lumpy could swear he heard the sound of stone grinding on stone as Rover swiveled, spine stiff, arms straight down and rock solid, his face unmoving like a busted sculpture carved out by a drunken stonemason.Bookmark here

“I-Love-You.”Bookmark here

The words were flatter than stream-rolled flapjacks.Bookmark here

Quintegrity stared, dazed, her eyes wide and mouth open.Bookmark here

Then she laughed, her cheeks glowing. “Aww!!! I love you too, Rover!” She pranced into the room and squeezed Rover the Statue in a hug. “Oh my…you’re hard as a rock!”Bookmark here

“Giggity,” Lumpy commented with a satisfied smirk.Bookmark here

Quintegrity laughed again. “I suppose that sounded a little dirty, didn’t it?”Bookmark here

Rocky shuddering was the only sign of life coming from Rover the Statue. When released from Quintegrity’s hug, the boy rocked in place, still locked up from head to toe.Bookmark here

“Anyway,” Quintegrity said, “Adele asked if I can put my unique spin on the Rocket Rolls. Now that I know how to make them, I feel like I can conquer them!”Bookmark here

“Conquer away,” Lumpy replied, seeing how Rover was incapacitated and unable to speak for himself.Bookmark here

“Yay! You won’t regret it!”Bookmark here

When the girl left and closed the door, Rover the Statue toppled straight over onto the floor.Bookmark here

“You should be a mime,” Lumpy told Rover, amused. “You do a perfect impression of an inanimate object.”Bookmark here

“Leave me alone,” Rover said from the floor, speaking into the carpet.Bookmark here

“She also said you were ‘hard as a rock.’”Bookmark here

“It almost killed me…”Bookmark here

“But it didn’t,” Lumpy told him, taking a seat in the chair he’d been sitting in while playing Glove Alien Fight. “That means you got stronger today. Twice, actually…both times because of me. And this time, it didn’t cost me my consumable items.”Bookmark here

“It only cost me my pride,” Rover squawked into the carpet.Bookmark here

“Payback’s a bitch,” Lumpy mocked. “Hope you enjoy those Goosepacks and Hippo Sparklers I’d been hording.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, Lumpy.” Rover rolled over to look at him. “You’re a good friend.”Bookmark here

“Dude…are you crying?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Oh. I was afraid I was hallucinating.”Bookmark here

“You’re not.” Rover rolled back onto his stomach and buried his soggy face into his carpet.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 827Bookmark here

All Money… {T}35,700Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}34,700Bookmark here

Fundraiser… {T}0Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

Benedict’s Payment… {T}100,000Bookmark here

Anti-Grav Skateboard… {T}499,999Bookmark here

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Gloves… BeelzebubBookmark here

Armor… Jinnin TunicBookmark here

Acc. 1… Farm EquipmentBookmark here

Acc. 2… Yakuza ToolsBookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

<None>Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.