Chapter 30:

Vol. 2, Ch. 5: Rise Above the Sea of Odium & Naysayers!

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

“We got Rubber Ducky in the pond already,” Quintegrity whispered into her communication earpiece.Bookmark here

From the street, the girl watched the airspace over Jurbnolton Area, noticing the stealthy government helicopter soaring fast and low, rendered invisible by its augmented reality cloaking as if it was searching for something…or someone. However, that cloaking technology was useless against her eyes as she could see AR elements without a device.Bookmark here

To avoid being spotted, she entered a pickled jewelry store and skulked around while pretending to browse the latest and trendiest vinegar-soaked gems. Her hockey mask and jumpsuit disguise were poor attire for the place, though, as the man behind the counter already had his hand hovering over the silent alarm trigger.Bookmark here

“Ten-four,” Rover replied, riding the bus with Lumpy and Adele. They were on their way to the designated location for the Glove Alien Fight match against Marmalade Propergrudge. He gestured to his friend and sister to get their attention, pointing up and making a twirling motion with his index finger.Bookmark here

Adele leaned back in her seat next to Lumpy. “The Cohort Squadron is already stalking the place, huh?”Bookmark here

“They’re probably keeping up with Rover’s matches online,” Lumpy said, keeping his voice low and making sure the other passengers weren’t listening. “It’d be easy for them to check out the same websites people use to spread the word about the match times and places and stuff.”Bookmark here

“Or use their own sneaky means to spy on everyone,” Adele added. “They probably communicate with the Thugforce Militia choppers at each match.”Bookmark here

“That, too.”Bookmark here

“I wonder about something,” Adele said, gazing out the bus window. “Does the Cohort Squadron spy on all the matches? Or just Rover’s? I know the Thugforce Militia is at most of them no matter who’s participating, but…”Bookmark here

“I don’t know.” Lumpy saw the girl’s concerned reflection in the window. “Probably just Rover’s. So far as I know, he’s the only one to have broken the rules so publicly. I doubt anyone else is stupid enough to do the same, seeing what happened to Rover. He’s the famous example.”Bookmark here

“But wouldn’t the Thugforce Militia be dealing with that, instead?” Adele asked. “They were the ones who busted him, weren’t they?”Bookmark here

Hesitant, Lumpy replied, “The Cohort Squadron must be after Quinn.” He sighed. “If that’s the case, then no doubt the T.G.E. has already made the connection between her and Rover…and usBookmark here

There was a pause occupied by the bus engine sounds.Bookmark here

“You’re probably right,” Adele said as she glanced across the bus aisle at Rover, who’d been looking the other way, staring out his window the entire time.Bookmark here

30!30@30#30$30%30^30&30*30(30)30_30+30Bookmark here

A modest crowd was gathered at the meetup location in Jurbnolton Area when Rover arrived for his match against Marmalade Propergrudge. He stepped off the bus, wearing a backpack full of the new hardware they’d acquired, and he deliberately made eye contact with the horde of haters. The Thugforce Militia chopper was already on the scene, too, and he made sure to aim a particularly nasty grimace at it when it faced his direction.Bookmark here

“Not a lot of people show up for my matches anymore,” he said in a low tone, looking around. “This crowd is even smaller than the crowd when I fought Jones the Bones for Special Number 2.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Lumpy said, “and it seems like each person who does come is not on your side.”Bookmark here

Everyone held anti-Rover signs, giving him dirty looks or hurling insults at him.Bookmark here

Rover shrugged. “Seems so. Whatever. I’m here to win, not make friends. We were able to afford all of the stuff I needed, and I got in some good practice with it yesterday, so it’s all good.”Bookmark here

The crowd’s abrasive reception made Adele uncomfortable. She shrank a little, feeling the people’s anger on her skin—an icky sensation. “Uh, those new toys aren’t gonna shield you from all this animosity, Big Bro.”Bookmark here

“I don’t need an animosity shield.” Rover slipped his backpack off. “I only need you guys.”Bookmark here

“I’m touched,” Adele muttered, making faces at a little boy who had stuck his tongue out at them. “Damn! We’re just angry mob bait.”Bookmark here

“Don’t let the hatred wear you down!” Quintegrity said through the earpieces from wherever she was. “Hatred is the ocean, and your spirits are the oil spill that rises above the sea of odium and naysayers!”Bookmark here

“Relating us to an oil spill?” Lumpy chuckled. “Poor environment.”Bookmark here

“That’s a crude joke.” Rover paused, then snickered. “Ha, get it? Crude. Ya know…like oil…?”Bookmark here

“Your Daremont is showing,” Lumpy replied passively.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Q,” Rover said with a smirk. “The only thing I’m upset about is this match isn’t eligible for AthletaCom points because I’m not competing against a classmate. I guess that makes this more personal.”Bookmark here

“Go get ’em, R!”Bookmark here

While Rover adjusted his virtual reality headset to a snug fit, a rickety, wood-paneled station wagon with a noisy exhaust leak drove up to the sidewalk, dropping off a middle-aged woman wearing a blouse and wooden clogs. As the motorcar chuggled away, she smoothed out her clothes with her hands, looking around with a timid posture.Bookmark here

“Oh my,” the woman said, observing the crowd, her expression wrought with awe. “I didn’t think so many people would show up.” A warm smile found her lips. “One little social media post was all it took to get this much attention? Who knew sending out a single squeet on Squatter could amass such activity!”Bookmark here

Is this my opponent? Rover wondered. She looks like an ordinary housewife, and that was probably her husband who dropped her off. Not too surprising since everyone in Thugwood has to follow the stupid daily quota law, even the plainest people. This mandate is seriously the most pointless form of oppression.Bookmark here

“Excuse me,” Rover said, approaching the woman, “are you Marmalade Propergrudge?”Bookmark here

“Yes, I am.” Her response was gentle, and Rover picked up on the sweetness filling her words, expression, and mannerisms as she smiled. “Are you the little shit, Rover Chork?”Bookmark here

So much for sweet!!!Bookmark here

Rover’s eyebrow twitched. “Yes.”Bookmark here

Marmalade’s motherly manners faded not one bit as she nodded. “It’s a displeasure to meet you, Rover. Because of certain laws and etiquette, I am unable to give you the spanking and beatdown you deserve as a high-profile cheater.” She giggled, the twinkles in her slightly wrinkled eyes increasing threefold. “I’ve been eager to put you in your place, young man.”Bookmark here

“Uh…okay.” Rover found it hard to verbally scathe this woman, although he wanted to.Bookmark here

The crowd chanted Marmalade’s name, and she appeared embarrassed by the attention, placing a hand on her cheek.Bookmark here

“Oh my. I…I mustn’t disappoint these people.” She smiled at Rover, saying in a gushy voice, “They hate you, oh yes they do-hoo.”Bookmark here

Inside Rover, the dam finally broke. He gripped his game controller while glaring daggers at Marmalade as Lumpy and Adele were unsure whether to feel entertained or what.Bookmark here

“You’re not exactly a bundle of baby blankets yourself, lady!” he growled. “I bet your husband really loves that snarky attitude of yours, huh?!”Bookmark here

Marmalade tilted her head, confused. “Husband? Oh, you mean the man who dropped me off.” She smiled the way a mother smiles when proud of her children. “You’re mistaken. He’s not my husband. He’s my pimp!”Bookmark here

A fierce chuckle snagged in Adele’s sinuses as she bit her hand to keep quiet, albeit shaking from the suppressed laughing. Rover and Lumpy shrank away from Marmalade, their skin crawling. The woman, however, never lessened her warm smile as she hiked up her blouse and retrieved her smartphone tucked under her garter belt.Bookmark here

Rover quickly started the game on his phone, synching it to his controller and headset, then yanked the VR visor down over his eyes. Lumpy and Adele took their new tablets, booted up Glove Alien Fight, and examined the AR environment through them.Bookmark here

“These are nice!” Adele checked out the competitors’ avatars on her screen. “Big screen, 6K resolution, and the onscreen buttons are redone to feel right on the tablet… Man, we were missing out before.”Bookmark here

Sticking the magnifying holoshades pad to his nose, Lumpy said, “All right, now we’re open for business!” The hologram visor appeared in front of his eyes, magnifying the crowd’s contemptuous glowers.Bookmark here

“You bet we are,” Adele said, putting on her own holoshades.Bookmark here

“Oh, you have some new toys, boy?” Rover heard Marmalade say, her voice a little too voluptuous to be appropriate. “You must feel the need to replace the missing advantage you lost when your special Glove Aliens were deleted. Boo-hoo for you-hoo!”Bookmark here

“I have my reasons,” Rover said flatly.Bookmark here

The headset displayed the game from a third-person perspective behind his avatar, eliminating the need to follow it with his AR-capable device. While he checked out the environment through his headset, he could again see the heartwarming smile on Marmalade’s face.Bookmark here

That smile of hers pisses me off!Bookmark here

The random match-selecting roulette toggled through the three options on his VR visor, and he watched it slow down and stop on “Strongest Hero.”Bookmark here

“Strongest Hero,” he said into his earpiece. “I’ll need you guys to watch out for monsters.”Bookmark here

“Golly!” Marmalade cried, forcing her melodrama. “It’s a Strongest Hero match.” She turned her fake smile toward the crowd. “Everyone? Will you all help me by looking out for the monsters that appear?”Bookmark here

Yeah!” the crowd cheered.Bookmark here

Lumpy muttered, “I wonder if she only has all this support because nobody wants Rover to win no matter who the opponent is.”Bookmark here

If not for the VR headset, Rover would’ve rubbed his temples or facepalmed, but he instead let out a sigh. “Be careful, guys. They’ll probably try to get in your way.”Bookmark here

Adele crossed her arms. “Anti-Grav skateboards would sure be handy about now…”Bookmark here

“Ya know,” Rover said, configuring his character’s equipment and settings, “I might have to agree with you, A.”Bookmark here

A virtual barrier appeared in the AR environment, sealing Rover’s and Marmalade’s avatars inside a limited battle arena. When the monsters spawned around Jurbnolton Area, a majority of the spectators turned their phones and tablets outward from the playing field. Many of them deliberately got in Adele’s and Lumpy’s way, trying to force Rover’s team into disadvantageous positions.Bookmark here

“Move it, dickweed!” Adele spat, kicking a man in the shin when he kept blocking her. He yowled, hopping on one leg as she used a leg sweep to knock him to the ground. “Come on, L! Let’s get to higher ground!”Bookmark here

“Right!” Lumpy broke free from two girls who were trying to grab and hold him back. “Unhand me!”Bookmark here

Ultimately, Lumpy and Adele failed to occupy the best vantage points, being overpowered by the Marmalade mafia. In the meantime, Rover had to rely solely on his own wits and skills as the first wave of AR monsters swarmed ever closer. The ergonomic game controller allowed for greater precision with the actions, and he felt as if a previously unknown handicap had been lifted from his gameplay.Bookmark here

His Infantry Glove Aliens’ fully automatic energy bullets sprayed the incoming horde, and he used a few explosive items to add extra damage, eliminating many enemies long before they reached the confining virtual barrier. Targeting was much easier through the third-person VR perspective, and he wondered how he’d done so well in the past without it.Bookmark here

Maybe I don’t have much to worry about, he thought as the enemies fell before him in droves. I’m still very good at this game… Even Benedict told me so. And now, I have this awesome new hardware!Bookmark here

An explosion rattled Rover’s brain, the in-game sound effects much louder and immersive through the VR headset. Marmalade’s character had fired a massive energy projectile into the oncoming swarm, blasting through several at once with only one shot.Bookmark here

Damn! She also has the Infantry Glove Aliens, and they’re leveled up enough to use its final ability: the Artillery Shot. He sneered, feeling the cold, mischievous blood bubbling in his heart. And so do I! Time to let my secret out of the bag!Bookmark here

Lumpy heard the murmurs of the surrounding spectators mentioning something about fire. Through his tablet, Lumpy saw the AR battlefield was, indeed, aflame with a single line of digital fire cutting across the environment; its source was Rover’s avatar.Bookmark here

“What the heck is that?” Adele could see the match from the small palmaple tree she’d climbed (although two men were shaking the trunk to try to knock her out of it), and she watched Rover’s avatar blast the horde of monsters with another flaming cannonball. “That’s not the Artillery Shot… Oh gawd, R… Don’t tell me you’re cheating again!”Bookmark here

“No,” Lumpy replied, smirking as he caught glimpses of the action through the pack of people. “The Incendiary Artillery Shot is a rare variation of the standard Artillery Shot for the Infantry Glove Aliens. If you level up the Artillery Shot with certain Elemental-boosting accessories equipped on the character, it’ll gain that Elemental attribute. You gotta do it a specific way, and the downside is you’ll need to unlearn the Artillery Shot and level it up again if you want a different attribute, so it’s best to have multiple Infantry Glove Aliens with different Elemental Artillery Shots if you want to swap them out.”Bookmark here

The Fire Elemental-vulnerable Zombies and Goblins stood no chance against the flames. Additionally, Rover’s character had the Candle Badge equipped, which increased the Fire Elemental damage he dealt by fifty percent. Combining Rover’s character being at the maximum level, the strength of the Infantry Glove Aliens’ Artillery Shot, and the Candle Badge, even the stronger fire-resistant Raptor Mantises were no match.Bookmark here

“Heh-heh-heh…” Rover sneered with delight.Bookmark here

*BOOM!*Bookmark here

“Gwa-ha-haa-haaa!!! Burn it all!”Bookmark here

Lumpy grinned as he listened to Rover’s maniacal laughing through the earpiece.Bookmark here

“I really do love how you get, R,” he said before shoving away a woman who tried slapping his tablet from his hand. “Hey! Get away from me!”Bookmark here

“Friend of a cheater!” she hissed, going for Lumpy’s tablet again.Bookmark here

When Lumpy slapped her phone to the ground, cracking its screen, she knelt and sobbed, cradling it in her arms. That was the last he’d ever seen of her…whoever she was.Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 999Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 3Bookmark here

All Money… {T}11,505Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}10,505Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

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

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Weapon… InfantryBookmark here

Armor… Brutal SuitBookmark here

Acc. 1… Candle BadgeBookmark here

Acc. 2… Yakuza ToolsBookmark here

<<<PERIPHERALS>>>Bookmark here

ControllerBookmark here

VR HeadsetBookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

#1, #2, #5
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