Chapter 34:

Vol. 2, Ch. 9: KABOOM!!!

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

“We are live here at the Icarus Centre shopping district,” the Olds News field reporter Odysseus Jr. said into the camera, “in front of the Nu Clear R-Cade where it all began and where it all will ironically end.”Bookmark here

The camera panned out, showing the huge crowd filling the sidewalks with a sea of “Go Graphite!” and “Choke Out Chork!” signs. Spectators gathered around the arcade entrance where Rover and Graphite made dirty faces at each other.Bookmark here

“As you can see,” the news reporter continued, “this event is something a lot of people have been waiting for. I have been told there are over two thousand people from all over Thugwood here to witness this event. Yes, I’m talking about the Glove Alien Fight augmented reality match between longstanding rivals Rover Chork and Graphite Condor. Graphite, the loser of the match that had launched Rover into fame, has challenged a rematch—not only on fair terms this time without rule-breaking game modifications, but to decide WHO WILL POSSESS ALL TEN SPECIAL NUMBER ITEMS!!!”Bookmark here

Rover scoffed at the news reporter’s imitation of a pro wrestling announcer. The roar from the masses drowned out the sound of both Thugforce Militia helicopters lingering overhead with mustard gas carpet bombs visibly armed on the undersides. A news helicopter made its rounds, and Captain Pretentious’ helicopter also loomed nearby—Rover could make out the perfectly groomed haircut of one of her ruffled tuxedo shirt-wearing boys hanging out the side with his tablet.Bookmark here

There are a lot of eyes in the sky, but I’m sure there’s another one we can’t see…Bookmark here

The cross-eyed boy Hodge Dipcringle handed a virtual reality headset and game controller to Graphite, then disappeared into the crowd.Bookmark here

Not messing around, eh, Graphite? Rover thought, seeing his opponent’s new hardware.Bookmark here

While Rover slipped on his own virtual reality headset, he heard Lumpy’s voice through his earpiece.Bookmark here

“L to R.”Bookmark here

“Copy that, L.”Bookmark here

“Me and A are in position. Q is also, uh, probably in position, too…”Bookmark here

“Hee-hee-hee!” Quintegrity giggled through the earpiece.Bookmark here

“How’s Rubber Ducky doing, Q?” Rover asked, noticing Benedict Torrent, Mrs. Torrent, and Mini-Torrent in the front of the crowd. Benedict waved. Rover waved back.Bookmark here

“Quacking hard, I’m afraid!” Quintegrity replied, her voice full of brightness.Bookmark here

“You don’t sound afraid,” Rover muttered, pulling the VR visor down over his eyes.Bookmark here

Snickering, she told him, “There’s no room for fear today.”Bookmark here

You’re right, Quintegrity. I just wish I felt the same way…Bookmark here

The Glove Alien Fight heads up display appeared before Rover, overlapping the view of the real world environment filled with excited spectators, rumbling helicopters, and Graphite Condor.Bookmark here

Rover took a deep breath as the not-so-random match selection roulette toggled through the three options, and he exhaled as the selection stopped.Bookmark here

Ring Finder. Can this get any more symbolic?Bookmark here

“It’s Ringer Finder,” he told his teammates. “Use your notepads to write down where you think the Ring Hiders drop their rings.”Bookmark here

“Heard that,” Lumpy said. “We’ll also keep track of how many rings Graphite has so you know what’s up.”Bookmark here

“Easier said than done, though,” Adele muttered, leaning against the guardrail of the third-floor walkway over the street. With her holoshades zoomed in on the crowd below, she tracked the Ring Hiders as they darted off.Bookmark here

Without a word to each other, both contestants set up their characters. The indicator for the number of participating Ring Hiders reached the triple digits in a matter of seconds—everyone wanted to be a part of the historic AR match as a bagel hider and to have their tale to share around the dinner table or at crumpet stew parties.Bookmark here

The Olds News reporter continued the coverage, saying, “The pre-match session for a Ring Finder competition has begun. With our new AR-capable camera, you folks at home are able to see the in-game action, and there are already over one hundred Ring Hiders opting in…and that number is still climbing!”Bookmark here

*KABOOM!!!*Bookmark here

*R-R-Rumble*Bookmark here

A small quake rolled through the bustling shopping district, followed by the din of nervous onlookers questioning the distant sound of an explosion.Bookmark here

Rover glanced around, the VR headset showing nothing relating to the incident. “Wh-What the?!”Bookmark here

“Mwa-haa-haa!” Quintegrity’s scandalous intentions blared through the communication earpiece. “Rubber Ducky’s gettin’ flushed down the drain!!!”Bookmark here

“The hell do you mean?” Rover hissed. “What was that explosion?!”Bookmark here

“That kaboom will fill your destiny’s sails, Rover! Sail into the sunset of victory!”Bookmark here

“Ugghh…” Rover groaned, slumping over.Bookmark here

“With that diversion,” she chortled, “I’ll be all over those shiny, gold bagels! You can count on me, R!”Bookmark here

“Awesome…”Bookmark here

“If you win this match,” she said, “I’ll let you help me pick out a swimsuit.”Bookmark here

Urk!”Bookmark here

“That’s quite the incentive,” Lumpy chuckled.Bookmark here

“Ouch! Right in the lustbox,” Adele snickered.Bookmark here

“Happy ring-snatching, R!” Then Quintegrity was silent.Bookmark here

And on that note, the match was underway.Bookmark here

Instantly, Rover and Graphite each used a Scooty-Go-Round, spawning little mopeds next to their avatars. Graphite’s character hopped on and sped off. Rover, however, attacked his opponent with an Incendiary Artillery Shot.Bookmark here

The flaming cannonball struck its target, but the Fire Elemental damage was nullified. Graphite snickered as his character continued unharmed at the mere cost of a broken Heatshield Bracelet.Bookmark here

“It was worth a try.” Rover equipped the Scribbly Glove Aliens for a speed boost, had his character hop on its Scooty-Go-Round, and zoomed off.Bookmark here

“There’s a bunch of rings down Keed Street!” Adele said, looking at the sketched map in her notepad. “Most of them are along the sidewalks and walkways on the ground level, but you’ll wanna circle around and hit the second-level walkways, too.”Bookmark here

“Got it!” Rover could practically feel the wind whipping past him as he commanded the Scooty-Go-Round through the virtual reality headset, weaving between sidewalk signs, streetlamp posts, and palmaple trees.Bookmark here

“You’ll wanna do some climbing, too,” Lumpy told him. “There are a lot on top of posts and awnings.”Bookmark here

A pulse of Rover’s level nine Clairvoyant Radar (now at level ten with his equipped Hound Doggo Shnozz) confirmed it. He occasionally parked the virtual moped to have his character shimmy, climb, and hop over various real-life terrain, snagging ring after ring.Bookmark here

“It’s almost like there are too many of them!” Rover grunted, having his character munch a bagel from a powerline before it leapt onto the Scooty-Go-Round parked directly below.Bookmark here

“Nonsense!” said another voice through the earpiece. It belonged to a girl, but not Quintegrity or Adele.Bookmark here

“Huh?” Rover asked. “Who’s that?!”Bookmark here

She laughed. “You forgot me already? C’mon, give me some credit!”Bookmark here

“Ah…I see.” Rover’s grin cracked ear-to-ear. “It’s you, SG.”Bookmark here

Skater Girl was a block away, hovering over a motorway bridge on her Anti-Grav skateboard and scanning the area through her gaming smartphone. Rather than the standard game displayed on her screen, there was an overlay of augmented reality binary code with the real environment, giving her an unprecedented view of the Icarus Centre shopping district and the in-game elements within.Bookmark here

“The bad news is,” she said, watching Graphite’s avatar feast on a ring smorgasbord, “Graphite’s accessories give him a level twelve Clairvoyant Radar—rings aren’t hidden from him at all as long as they’re in a straight line of sight.”Bookmark here

“What’s the good news?” Rover grunted, having his character hop off its moving moped, taking some tumbling damage before it sank its teeth into a ring stuck to the side of a cracker vending machine with the Tape in-game item.Bookmark here

“The good news?” Skater Girl lowered her Anti-Grav skateboard to the ground and looked to her right at the mustachioed Quintegrity. They high-fived each other. “You’ve got the two baddest bitches in your scouting party!”Bookmark here

The punky girl adjusted her backwards flat bill cap, kicked up her Anti-Grav skateboard, and blasted off as Quintegrity zipped away in the opposite direction.Bookmark here

“I’m using my phone’s code view,” Skater Girl said as she soared over the Icarus Centre. “It lets me see the AR rings even though I shouldn’t be able to.”Bookmark here

“Neat trick!” Quintegrity chimed in. It was quite ironic that she said that.Bookmark here

“Uh, is that cheating?” Lumpy asked, watching Rover’s avatar from afar through his tablet. He had a great vantage point from the fourth-level walkway. Quintegrity laughed over the earpieces, and he added, “Not like we’re able to talk…”Bookmark here

“Who cares if it’s cheating?” Skater Girl said. “This is to take on CEO Claudius and end his mandate. Rules can suck it!”Bookmark here

“Careful what you say over the communicators!” Adele warned them. “We never know if…someone is listening…Bookmark here

Rover grinned as his character snagged another bagel. “With my reputation already trashed, what else do I have to lose?”Bookmark here

“Dude!” Adele grunted. “You don’t remember what those government people told you in the limousine?”Bookmark here

“Consider this martyrdom,” he sneered.Bookmark here

Listen to yourself. Acting like you’re not worried. Never mind putting your reputation on the line… Your girlfriend’s life is on the line.Bookmark here

He recalled the warning he received from Sergeant Major Zohar Bloodshank and Lawellen Skofkov, and his mood took a dark turn.Bookmark here

If I get caught breaching the game’s terms again…I’ll be de-rationalized.Bookmark here

“Still, be careful, guys,” he said.Bookmark here

His character climbed a flagpole to acquire the bagel resting on the top, but lost HP in a sudden flash of digital electricity. Rover swore to himself when he watched his Paralyze-inflicted character fall from the pole and receive additional damage when hitting the ground.Bookmark here

“Are you kidding me?!” he yelled, startling some of the nearby spectators. “A Frightening Rod!”Bookmark here

Graphite’s snickers made Rover’s blood boil. Adding to it, plenty of other people were taking delight in his anger.Bookmark here

“The rings are booby-trapped again?” Lumpy muttered. “Why am I not surprised? Q and SG, listen up. We’ll need your help locating those Frightening Rods.”Bookmark here

“Yup!”Bookmark here

“I’m on it.”Bookmark here

“Damn…” Rover grumbled. While his character was paralyzed, he equipped it with a Rubber Bracelet accessory to negate one hit of Lightning damage. “This is gonna be a dirty match…”Bookmark here

34!34@34#34$34%34^34&34*34(34)34_34+34Bookmark here

Twenty minutes into the match, at the time limit’s halfway point, Captain Pretentious sat on her comfortable couch in her posh helicopter, wearing her bunny onesie pajamas. She kept her eyes on her tablet mounted on the table in front of her, which displayed the three separate video feeds simultaneously from her boys.Bookmark here

“Rover is losing,” said the boy in the helicopter as he hung out the door and watched the match from above through his tablet. “According to our ground-level intel, Rover has eleven fewer than Graphite.”Bookmark here

The miniscule woman yawned and rubbed her highlighter-flamingo-colored eyes.Bookmark here

“That’s surprising,” she said, running a silk gloved hand through her frosty shoulder-length hair under her bunny hood.Bookmark here

“Not that surprising.” Benedict’s voice came through the speakerphone of Captain Pretentious’ smartphone on the table by her tablet.Bookmark here

“Rover has more skill,” Captain Pretentious argued, “even without his wild modded Glove Aliens. Our analysis of his matches shows he’s better. He also has a badass support team, so how is it not surprising that he’s losing?”Bookmark here

“You think that because you’re not down here with them.”Bookmark here

Benedict looked at the two boys in their VR headsets with their game controllers; Rover was trembling, his teeth slightly bared as he appeared to be swearing under his breath—Graphite was a blank slate, calm and showing nothing.Bookmark here

“By chance,” Benedict continued as he watched the competitors, ignoring the video feeds of the actual match on his tablet, “I had the opportunity to speak with Graphite earlier today. In his eyes, he’s already lost. He was the victim of a cheater and suffered a delayed—even somewhat cursed—rise through the ranks of Glove Alien Fight. He isn’t even at level nine hundred ninety-nine, and with his own skill and resources, was able to defeat a Special Number holder who was at the max level, but few people knew or even cared. He was able to afford his own VR headset and game controller, taking that cue from Rover who had first stolen Graphite’s idea of the communication earpieces to create a support team. Despite this, Graphite still only has one Special Number. In all regards, he feels inferior to Rover and sees this match as a last-ditch effort to either sneak in with a fair shortcut to the top, or merely stay unchanged…although he feels he’s at a clear disadvantage.”Bookmark here

Chuckling, Benedict glanced at his tablet to see the footage of Rover’s avatar slipping from an awning before grabbing the ring on top. He heard Rover grunt in frustration.Bookmark here

“Rover, on the other hand,” Benedict said, “has a lot more on the line. He’s tough on the outside, but I think he still feels the weight of his reputation after being coined as a cheater. While Graphite is an innocent victim, Rover is a reluctant villain. Plus, he’s been too close to the top of the game for too long, not wanting to lose it all in a single go.” Watching Rover’s continued irritation, he added, “I also suspect there’s something else spurring Rover on, something he’s keeping secret. There’s a viciousness inside him that he’s hiding…and it’s eating him alive.”Bookmark here

Captain Pretentious crossed one leg over the other as she listened to Benedict. “Rover’s under a lot of pressure, so his performance is suffering.”Bookmark here

“It’s that simple, yes. In addition, nearly the entire crowd gathered here is against him. Seems like a bunch of the Ring Hiders placed Frightening Rods and other traps by their rings, but that’s also hurting Graphite’s progress, too. Either way, this match is very different than my own when I faced off with Rover!”Bookmark here

“So,” the little woman said with a drawn-out breath, “who are you rooting for?”Bookmark here

“You won’t like that answer.”Bookmark here

“Heh! That assumes you know who I’m rooting for.”Bookmark here

Nodding and chuckling to himself, Benedict said, “I guess we both know each other’s answer, then.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 999Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 9Bookmark here

All Money… {T}10,705Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}9,705Bookmark here

Food Slip… {T}1,000Bookmark here

<<<EXPENSE GOALS>>>Bookmark here

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

<<<CURRENT EQUIPMENT>>>Bookmark here

Weapon… ScribblyBookmark here

Armor… FASCAR ShirtBookmark here

Acc. 1… Rubber BraceletBookmark here

Acc. 2… Heist HoovesBookmark here

<<<PERIPHERALS>>>Bookmark here

ControllerBookmark here

VR HeadsetBookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9
You can resume reading from this paragraph.