Chapter 49:

Vol. 2, Ch. 24: Conquering Each Trial & Avoiding Harsh Denial!

The Integrity of the Super Club [Beta version]

Rover’s bedroom was once again packed with people. He met with Lumpy, Adele, Skater Girl, and Graphite that evening after the run-in with the Cohorts. However, the Super Club president was not present.Bookmark here

Snickerdoodle used his magic to float the teapot around the room and fill everyone’s cup, much to Graphite’s and Skater Girl’s astonishment.Bookmark here

“I’ll never get used to your dog,” Graphite told Rover and Adele with a twitchy smirk.Bookmark here

“You got used to giant killer robots easily enough,” Rover muttered.Bookmark here

“No!” Graphite spat. “I’ll never get used to that, either! If Tallyhawk, Hodge, and Isho were here, they’d be crappin’ themselves, too, because of Snickerdoodle! Magical dogs are not normal!!!”Bookmark here

The bedroom door opened, and Quintegrity strode in with exaggerated high-steps and arm swings, disguise-free. She giggled, petting the poofy pooch on his pompom.Bookmark here

“Aww…don’t be mean,” she cooed. “Snickerdoodle’s a good doggy!”Bookmark here

Rover snapped at his girlfriend. “And where have you been?! Do you know how worried I was when you just disappeared?”Bookmark here

“I was hiding from the Cohort Squadron,” she said with a cute smile, tilting her head to one side.Bookmark here

Rover’s face heated up from frustration. “After you screwed with them! What the hell were you thinking?!”Bookmark here

He took a breather, sipping his spearmint sparkling tea to calm down.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry,” Quintegrity assured him with a soft voice. “I was just having some fun. But that was why I dipped out. I sniffed danger, like a burning crostini with nitroglycerin chutney—abandon ship or break a hip!” She slapped both of her hips. “As you can see, my hips are still shipshape just for you, Rover!”Bookmark here

Rover spluttered in his teacup.Bookmark here

“Skater Girl!” Quintegrity kicked the bedroom door shut and shifted gears like a motorbike lurching from park to third gear. “Did you make any interesting observations in the School Dungeon?”Bookmark here

“I did.” The punky girl flipped through her notepad. “As you already know, I discovered some underwater environments with real water. Our in-game characters can swim, even in the augmented reality, so I think there are areas only accessible using virtual reality headsets. Otherwise, the player would have to swim after the character, and that would require a waterproof phone or tablet.”Bookmark here

“That’s crazy,” Adele said, jotting down some notes in her notebook. “I wonder if there are other places that are totally out of reach for the physical person, like small pathways only the character can fit through, or high places that require flying or climbing.”Bookmark here

Rover considered that. “I bet there are places like that. That would mean only the most serious players could continue through the AR dungeons because they’d require the VR headsets or whatever else.” He gripped his fist and clenched his teeth. “Considering the thing CEO Claudius had hidden on the hundredth floor, nothing would surprise me. He’ll probably make this as hard as he possibly can, the bastard.”Bookmark here

“Shh!” Adele hushed her brother. “Don’t say treasonous stuff!”Bookmark here

“I said I always make sure the house isn’t bugged,” Quintegrity said with an assuring wink.Bookmark here

Skater Girl nodded. “We should start turning off our phones and microphone-capable tablets now that we know how easily the Cohort Squadron can tap into our wireless communicators.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Graphite felt the earpiece in his pocket. “That’s what it seemed like, but how do you know for sure?”Bookmark here

“Because they did that during our competition today,” Rover explained. “We found out they were doing it while we were tapping into your team’s communicators.” His smug grin made Graphite’s face hot.Bookmark here

“It’s all we can do for now,” Quintegrity said, clicking her pen a million times a second. “But I just thought of a plan. Snickerdoodle’s utility collar has Cohort Squadron-level wiretapping powers. Skater Girl will use her skills as a pro hacker to alter the collar to let us know if and when our communicators and phones are being tapped.” She broke out some quick, nimble footwork on Rover’s carpet. “It’s a big wiretap dance bonanza!”Bookmark here

“I’ll do what?” Skater Girl asked, caught off guard by her sudden task.Bookmark here

Quintegrity slipped the pooch’s collar off him and tossed it to the punky girl.Bookmark here

“Consider it your internship homework,” Quintegrity told Skater Girl with a fabulous wink. “It’s due by the end of tomorrow. And don’t worry, Snickerdoodle has a spare utility collar with all the same capabilities, so if you mess up that one, we still have another!”Bookmark here

Looking over the collar loaded with dozens of unnoticeable buttons, Skater Girl’s eyes twinkled. “Oh man, to think I get to tinker with something of this magnitude! If this thing has Cohort Squadron-level capabilities, then I could easily use it as a server to link all of our phones and communicators, keeping us on a private network. Then I’ll install a program that alerts everyone on that private network of outside interactions, wiretapping, or hacking. I’ll call it the Poodle Network.”Bookmark here

“Whoa.” Lumpy grinned at Skater Girl. “You’re really awesome! That’s impressive if you can do all that.”Bookmark here

“It’s nothing,” she replied with a humble smile. “I love this kind of work, and this is just the sort of challenge I needed to keep my skills sharp. There’s just one problem… I have my AR match against Wildebeest tomorrow for the Special Number 1 item. Finishing all of this by the end of tomorrow will be a time crunch.”Bookmark here

“Then you better crunch that time, lest I crunch you,” Quintegrity said, her voice and face sweet enough to corrode stainless steel.Bookmark here

A short silence of unsure grimaces followed.Bookmark here

“Trust me,” the punky girl said, holding up her hand, “the threats and deadlines I get from my clients for program designs are far worse.”Bookmark here

Lumpy took his notebook and pen in hand. “Speaking of the AR matches, Skater Girl has one tomorrow, and Graphite has one next Feefee-day with Captain Pretentious.”Bookmark here

“You’re right,” Rover said, looking at his own notes. “Let’s come up with some strategies and ideas that we can do as a support team for the players. We’ve done well so far, but we can always do better. Also, it’ll be my first time as a supporter and not a player, so I’ll be counting on you guys to, like, make sure I’m doing it right.”Bookmark here

“Tell your lackeys to show up, too!” Quintegrity told Graphite, bobbing her head and grooving her shoulders. “They’re part of our slave force now, so we’ll have a support team of eight whole people and one whole doggy.”Bookmark here

Graphite gulped down the rest of his sparkling tea, a disgruntled wrinkle on his nose. “I was planning to tell them…and they aren’t my lackeys! Or a slave force…”Bookmark here

She ignored him, adding, “Although, until Skater Girl can develop the Poodle Network for us to communicate on, I’ll be sitting out of the AR matches.”Bookmark here

Rover was shocked by Quintegrity’s decision, but he didn’t dare protest. This was what he’d wanted her to do all along, so he wasn’t about to question it.Bookmark here

She’s actually going on the defensive? After our run-in with those Cohorts, I’m happy she’s taking this route. Still…it’s kinda scary. When Quintegrity backs away, it’s gotta be serious.Bookmark here

“That’s good, Quinn,” Lumpy told her. “If we weren’t on the Cohort Squadron’s radar before, we probably are now.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Skater Girl agreed, turning to Quintegrity, “because you’re the Dumbass hacker and would face de-rationalization.”Bookmark here

Rover stared at the floor. That’s not really it, Skater Girl. It’s because she’s returned from exile. It’s because she would face execution…Bookmark here

He caught the looks from Adele and Lumpy. Without a doubt, their thoughts were the same as his.Bookmark here

They continued their Glove Alien Fight discussion, taking notes and documenting everything they knew. Tomorrow’s match with Skater Girl and Wildebeest was to take place in the Finuzhai District in Northish Thugwood, so they used Rover’s laptop to look at maps of the area and chart their vantage points for monster-scouting.Bookmark here

When the meeting ended and everyone left, Rover remained in his room with Quintegrity. She once again became silent, a look of tranquility on her face as she browsed Rover’s shelves of games, manga, and movies for the umpteenth time.Bookmark here

He opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated. Quintegrity noticed her boyfriend’s behavior, and she walked up to him with a soft smile.Bookmark here

“It’s okay,” she replied, taking both of his hands in hers. “Some of the scariest things don’t actually look so bad when they hide in plain daylight—it’s our imaginations that weave the pangs of paranoia. It’s about perspective and not letting our minds take over.”Bookmark here

“You’re as cryptic as always.”Bookmark here

She chuckled, gripping Rover’s hands tighter. “I am.”Bookmark here

Sighing and avoiding eye contact, Rover told her, “I don’t know what to do with you. Things are crazy.”Bookmark here

“You have a choice.”Bookmark here

Unable to hide his smile, he asked, “A choice in what?”Bookmark here

“In everything!”Bookmark here

He let a laugh escape. “Gee, I never would’ve guessed.”Bookmark here

Quintegrity wrapped him in a hug, delicate and comforting. Something about the way she did it and the way she conveyed her feelings to him kept him from being overwhelmed with physical desires.Bookmark here

This single hug touched an inner part of him, reminding him of why he asked her out in the first place.Bookmark here

I asked her out because she’s pretty. She’s awesome. But…it’s like I felt something else possible between us…Bookmark here

He pulled her closer.Bookmark here

Like there really could be something else…Bookmark here

He told her, “Thank you for always being here for me, Quintegrity.”Bookmark here

“It’s all I can do,” she replied softly.Bookmark here

“No…you can do a crapload of stuff.”Bookmark here

“Ha-ha-ha! True.” She stepped back, allowing Rover to witness her full-body smile.Bookmark here

Rover took a deep breath, scratching his head. “So…I have a decision to make now, huh?”Bookmark here

“You do. I have seen your inner struggle and can tell you’re at a crossroad.”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah? And what kind of crossroad am I at, huh?”Bookmark here

Giggling, she said, “You tell me.” She tilted her head to the side a bit. “Actually, you tell yourself.”Bookmark here

The boy walked to his window, leaning on the windowsill and gazing out at the neighborhood’s lights against the dark of night.Bookmark here

“Well,” he began, “I know that I wanna defeat CEO Claudius in Glove Alien Fight. The problem is I’m worried. Worried about the dangers of other robots or guardians holding on to the Legendary Cogs. I’m worried about the Thugforce Militia or Cohort Squadron catching us doing something we’re not supposed to do.”Bookmark here

“And you’re worried about me.”Bookmark here

Rover nodded, looking at her. “That’s what I’m most worried about.” He glanced out the window again, then stepped away from it. “Honestly, I know I talk a big game. Most of the time, I’m truly confident in what I say and feel, but I also know I’m reckless and do stupid stuff.” He clenched his fists. “Such as with my Beelzebub Glove Aliens.”Bookmark here

Quintegrity held her hands behind her back, giving Rover a tiny smile. “You’re second guessing yourself.”Bookmark here

“I am. At this point, everyone in Thugwood is together against CEO Claudius in Glove Alien Fight. I also know that you’re also being reckless as long as you’re here and helping me advance in the game, which could lead to you being caught.”Bookmark here

With a gentle nod, Quintegrity said, “Me being here is causing a stir in the T.G.E. I know I’ll never get caught, but I also wonder what it means for you and everyone else involved.”Bookmark here

Rover stared at her. “Are you truly confident you’ll never get caught…or are you also second guessing yourself like me?”Bookmark here

The girl’s muscleman pose and courageous grin already answered Rover’s question before she said, “I am infinitely confident!”Bookmark here

Knowing that would be her answer, Rover chuckled.Bookmark here

“But…” she added, “I’m also reckless and do stupid stuff.”Bookmark here

He couldn’t take his eyes off Quintegrity, basking in her glory and vibrancy…and yet, a new doubt suddenly crept up into his mind.Bookmark here

She’s able to comfort me during my troubles, he thought, and she still doesn’t have many concerns of her own. Is there really nothing I can do to help her? To repay her for having to help me? Her problems are far greater than mine, and she’s still able to lift up everyone around her. I, on the other hand, can’t do anything to return that favor. She already has all the strength she needs for everything she faces.Bookmark here

“Hey,” Rover said, his voice low. He paused, and Quintegrity looked at him in anticipation. Formulating the words in his head, he asked, “Have you ever considered leaving Thugwood?”Bookmark here

She returned a blank expression, also lowering her own voice. “You mean to return to exile?”Bookmark here

“Y-Yeah. It’d be the only way to get you out of trouble.”Bookmark here

“Me being in trouble isn’t a problem for me.”Bookmark here

“Is that so?” Rover shook his head, rattling the next words around his brain before they fell into a sentence. “I could go with you…”Bookmark here

What the HELL did I just say?!Bookmark here

His eyes met Quintegrity’s, met her blank expression.Bookmark here

“You…would leave Thugwood?” she asked before she cast her gaze away, unsure of what to say.Bookmark here

Desperate to fill the awkward silence, Rover said, “It’d be the only thing I could really do for you…the only thing to really repay you for everything you’re doing for me. You support my decisions, give me certainty when I’m unsure of myself, and do countless other things.” He took a deep breath. “I could get you out of Thugwood so you could live a free life again, but you wouldn’t have to do it on your own.”Bookmark here

Stepping forward, he showered Quintegrity with the best confident smile and posture he could muster…because he meant it with all his heart.Bookmark here

“I’ll stay with you by your side,” he continued. “You’ll never have to be lonely. I’ll even do my best to get stronger and smarter so I can do more on my own, and you wouldn’t have to keep watching out for me.”Bookmark here

He stopped talking. The point he tried to make came to a halt as he wondered if he worded everything correctly or said everything he wanted to say.Bookmark here

Or if he said too much.Bookmark here

Quintegrity looked at Rover, giving him an even rarer sight than her hesitation: a deadly stern look. It was the same look she’d given him before she fought the Mech Bot General, minus all the glowing stuff around her during that time.Bookmark here

And she asked, “Do you know what ‘life’ is like outside the Jerry Co. Walls? Other than what they teach at school, which barely scratches the surface of what it’s actually like. Do you know?”Bookmark here

Whatever answer Rover had planned suddenly became ensnared in his throat.Bookmark here

Still, Quintegrity pressed her stare into him. “You would live in exile with me without knowing what that would mean?”Bookmark here

“Yes, I would.”Bookmark here

The girl’s expression softened somewhat, but she was far from smiling. “I told you that you have a choice to make. You consider that one of your options, then.”Bookmark here

“I do, but it’s just that—an option.”Bookmark here

“It would be possible to do that, but it’d have to be when I’m ready.”Bookmark here

Rover blinked. “Then…you mean—”Bookmark here

She cut him off. “If I ever did return to exile, my biggest regret would be losing out on the time spent with you and everyone here. However, I don’t want you do be stuck with your regrets in a situation you can’t escape from. That would make it less than worth it for me.”Bookmark here

Rover was somewhat surprised. “In that case…you’d actually—”Bookmark here

She silenced him by putting her finger to his lips.Bookmark here

“You need to be clear to yourself,” she told him in a quiet, gentle tone. “Not clear to me, not to your friends, not to your family, but clear to yourself. You, and you alone, will benefit most from the clarity within your own mind and the actions that result from it.” She took two steps back, genuine lines of worry forming on her brow. “Understand your options…and weigh them well.”Bookmark here

As Rover gazed into the boundless depths of Quintegrity’s eyes, he searched for his own answers. She watched his internal debates, seeing and feeling him seek and compare the paths of his current crossroad.Bookmark here

When he was sure of himself, he answered, “I could keep doing what I wanted to do originally and take a stand against CEO Claudius, to kick some ass. That’s my first option.Bookmark here

“My second option is to wash my hands of it, let others rise up to take care of it—possibly be stuck with the mandate forever…or have some moron awaken another guardian and have you take care of it, and just live my life normally.Bookmark here

“The third option would be to run away with you.”Bookmark here

Satisfied by Rover’s response, Quintegrity’s soothing smile returned. She took his hands in hers again, pressing down on his pulse; their hearts were playing the same song in the same tempo.Bookmark here

“While I’ll do my best to support your decision,” she told him. “Your pathway ultimately depends on you.”Bookmark here

“Ultimately depends on me…?”Bookmark here

Her eyes traveled down Rover’s body before they shut, her entire being awash in tranquility, and she said, “Now…close your eyes and clear your mind. Keep calm…and choose your destiny.”Bookmark here

Unsure of what to think, Rover panicked. It was too much for him to suddenly consider, and he was urged to pull out of the situation entirely.Bookmark here

He needed to answer now, though. Feeling Quintegrity’s grip tighten ever-so-slightly on both of his wrists, he realized his tempo had misaligned with hers.Bookmark here

So, he closed his eyes.Bookmark here

His pulse slowed. The whirlwinds in his mind calmed, providing a clear vision of what options he had before him. He envisioned himself with Quintegrity, dancing with her to the funky vibes they both created and shared together. Within her, Rover found his truest desires unfold and present themselves.Bookmark here

What do I want? What would really be the best for me…and Quintegrity?Bookmark here

A spark inside him lit his soul. Everything synched. The answer stepped up, plain as day.Bookmark here

He opened his eyes. Quintegrity did the same.Bookmark here

“Let’s kick some ass,” he told her with a cocky smirk. “CEO Claudius is going down! Tomorrow, Skater Girl is gonna win that AR match against that Wildebeest jabroni. I’ll make sure of it!”Bookmark here

This time, Quintegrity’s hug elicited pops and cracks from Rover’s ribcage.Bookmark here

“Yayyy! I knew you’d choose the heroic pathway, Rover! Your different life choices have paved the path of your destiny: Conquering each trial and avoiding harsh denial!”Bookmark here

*Crack!* *Snap!*Bookmark here

“Hrrrkk!!!”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

<<<STATUS>>>Bookmark here

Rover… Lvl 1,009Bookmark here

AthletaCom Points… 12Bookmark here

All Money… {T}13,705Bookmark here

Allowance… {T}12,705Bookmark here

Fundraiser… {T}0Bookmark 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… Yakuza ToolsBookmark here

Acc. 2… 2nd Chance BangleBookmark here

<<<PERIPHERALS>>>Bookmark here

ControllerBookmark here

VR HeadsetBookmark here

<<<SPECIAL NUMBERS>>>Bookmark here

#10Bookmark here

<<<LEGENDARY COGS>>>Bookmark here

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