Deep Into the Game
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7 chapter seven
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Deep Into the Game
Author :Saul_Tanpepper
© Webnovel

7 chapter seven

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Kelly's clothes have stopped dripping by the time we get back to the car. We stop and wait for him to dump the water out of his shoes and wring his socks and shirt out. While we do, we see the cop from earlier walking past us down below. He's clearly checking to make sure we're gone, but he doesn't look up, so he doesn't see us.

Micah complains about his seat getting wet, so we just hang around and talk about nothing much while Kelly dries off some more.

"Do you really think we could do it?" Ash asks. "Do you think we could actually get to LI?"

I look out in the direction of Long Island, past the edge of the parking structure, out past the tunnel opening. I can't actually see it because there's another building in the way, but I can feel it out there. I shrug. Nobody answers.

Micah and Ash eventually drift away with their heads bent over the tablet. Reggie seems uncomfortable around us, so he trails along after them.

I turn to Kelly and smack him on the arm. "You scared the crap out of me, Kelly Corben."

He inhales, clears his throat. "I didn't jump, Jess."

"What? You fell?"

"I was pushed, Jessie. Somebody pushed me. I'm pretty sure it was Reg."

"He wouldn't do something like that!"

"How can you be so sure?"

"He's your friend, Kelly. Our friend. He's not—"

Kelly wraps his goose-fleshed arms around me and I squirm from the coldness of his skin and his clamminess, but he holds me ever tighter and won't let go. "Maybe you're right," he says. "Maybe I just slipped."

But he doesn't sound at all convinced. He sounds like he's humoring me. But I'm not amused. I give him another long, hard look.

He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall. I want to smack him again, but how can I? Something deep down inside of me knows what he said is possible. He and Reg have always been competitive. Micah's always been the alpha male in our gamers' club. The other two accepted that long ago, leaving open the question of who was second.

Boys! I think. Why'd it always have to be about power?

Thankfully, Micah returns a moment later. He asks where Ashley and Reggie are. He's ready to leave.

"I thought they were with you."

He shakes his head. We're all thinking the same thing.

"Idle hands do the devil's work," he mutters, rolling his eyes. "I wonder where Reggie's hands are idling right about now." He holds them out, illustrating exactly what he means so there's no question.

"That's disgusting! We're in a parking garage."

He laughs as he opens the car door and leans in to push on the horn. I stifle the urge to tell him to stop. He doesn't even seem to care that we're not supposed to be here.

"Ash!" he shouts. His voice echoes in the otherwise empty structure. "Reg! Come on, you pervs. Time to go!"

Two or three minutes later, the pair comes jogging over. Ashley's face is flushed, and Reggie's got his usual smile plastered on his face. Before any of us can say anything or tease them, Ash frowns at us and says, "Don't even think it. We kept our clothes on. We were just doing a little scouting."


We get back into the car. Kelly sits in the front this time, since he's still damp and nobody wants to sit next to someone who smells swampy. Ashley gets the hump this time in back, between me and Reg. I sit behind Micah, but I study Reggie's face for any indication he did what Kelly says he did. But there's nothing there.

"The cop makes a regular pass," Ashley says after we're back on the road. "We watched him. He does a circuit of some kind. It looks like it takes him almost exactly sixty minutes to do it."

I give her a questioning look.

"And what did you guys do?" she asks me, pretending to act all innocent.

"Not much," I say, but I steal another glance at Reg. He looks over at me, the same inquiring look on his face as Ash's. It's impossible to read him.

Kelly scratches his head. "Doesn't it seem strange to you that there'd be a cop patrolling? On foot? I mean, why? Nobody's going to be wandering around down there. The place is deserted."

"We were."

Micah's shoulders lift and fall as he drives, but he keeps his eyes on the road. Kelly frowns. The question remains unanswered, though not forgotten. It's just that none of us knows if there is an answer.

After that, the conversation drifts. We pass through the checkpoints and the guards don't even bother to scan our Links. Going out is a hell of a lot easier than going in. One guard checks the trunk of the car, but that's the most any of them does. Does he think we're carrying illegal contraband or something?

Micah drops me and Kelly off at my house. Nobody's home, so we take a risk and jump into the shower together while Kelly's clothes get washed.

We begin soaping each other down, but as much as I want to mess around, it's clear Kelly's mind is anywhere but on sex. We quickly rinse and towel off. I throw the clothes into the dryer while Kelly sits in my room wrapped in a towel and my robe.

"You look cute," I tell him. He looks over distractedly and turns back to his Link. I go over and peek over his shoulder. "What are you doing?"

"Looking up whatever I can find out about LI. You know, history and stuff."

"You know nothing that's on the public Streams is reliable."

He nods. "Still, better to be prepared."

"I thought…"

"What?" He looks up expectantly.

"Nothing."

The sanctioned history claims that the wall was first built around the island to stop the spread of infections. But the outbreaks kept on happening anyway. The government says it's because of sabotage, but that's not what most people believe. Some of the more recent outbreaks have been as far away as Seattle and Los Angeles. But they don't get much play on Media. They've been small, a few hundred cases at the most, and quite easily contained. In fact, there was nothing like the panics caused by the ones on the East Coast. It's like we've gotten used to them happening. Nobody even bothers to be worried anymore. We've all become desensitized.

There are a ton of theories circulating about how the outbreaks happen. Some people believe they're caused by mosquito-borne transmission. There's rumors that the original genes used to make the first Zulus came from a virus called dengue, which was spread by mosquitoes.

Grandpa says that's impossible. He says dengue was eradicated after the plague of 2012 by this scientist who blocked the virus' ability to replicate inside mosquitoes. The scientist's name was Stephen something—Archangel, maybe—I can't remember, and there's nothing about it on the Stream.

Other people think the infection can be transmitted through the water. That's why I didn't like Kelly getting scratched today. I know it's just being paranoid, since zombies don't last very long in water. But you never know. Maybe the zombie germ does.

The truth is, nobody knows for sure how it happens. They don't even know what causes the disease in the first place.

Except maybe the government, and they're not talking.

"Why'd they move the Omegaman training facilities off LI?" I ask Kelly. "After the second flood, I mean."

"Well, the island was pretty much a lost cause," he answers, reciting history that both of us supposedly learned years back. I've since forgotten so much of it. The explanation sounds familiar, but it also sounds too convenient, like a lie. "The Army Corps of Engineers went in and walled it off and evacuated any people still alive."

That was the official account. Unofficially, I've heard there weren't any of them left.

"Grandpa says the Marines moved the Omegaman training facilities to Washington State seven or eight years ago. He says they were just going to let the remaining IUs keel over."

Most zombies just sort of run out of energy after a while, contrary to the old stories about them. Without human flesh, they'd last maybe a year. After a dozen years, the place would essentially be free of them.

About four or five years ago, Arc Properties went in and reclaimed some of the zones. They said they were going to do a survey. While they claimed to have found a few active zoms, the ones they did find were so slow that they were harmless. Of course, nobody cared a whit by then. Nobody wanted to go and re-inhabit the island.

Year before last, Arc Properties converted one of the zones into a new type of gaming arcade, which they called Gameland. They imported a whole new crop of fresh zombies as Players.

"Arc," Kelly spits. "Bastards." It's the only time I've ever heard him say anything bad about the company. It comes as such a surprise now because for the past couple of years, the rest of us talked about joining the company after high school and Kelly was actually pretty supportive of it, even though he had different plans.

"What, Kel?"

He shakes his head bitterly. "Rich bastards. All they care about is money. Did you know it costs a million bucks to buy into The Game? And that's not even for a good zombie, but an older one, probably with a first gen L.I.N.C."

I frown, wondering where this hostility is coming from and why he's all of a sudden talking about Arc and The Game.

"People who have that kind of money should use it for good instead of just throwing it away. If I were that rich, I'd make sure Kyle got treated."

I lean away from him.

His eyes clear. "Sorry, Jess. I guess I'm just a little tired after everything that's happened today."

He gets up and fetches his clothes from the dryer. "Think I'll head home."
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