Deep Into the Game
16 chapter sixteen
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Deep Into the Game
Author :Saul_Tanpepper
© Webnovel

16 chapter sixteen

Reggie decides that we should all stash our diving equipment inside the trunk of the abandoned car Kelly had climbed on earlier.

"But keep your knives with you," he recommends. So we strip away the rest of the gear from the bandoliers and rebuckle them on our waists.

He opens the front door and reaches in and pops the latch. We all lean away, as if expecting something to come crawling out at us. But the trunk is empty, save for a spare tire, a single men's shoe—size nine and a half—and an umbrella. He tosses in his pack, mask and goggles. We each follow suit.

Micah's off to one side, messing with his Link and mumbling to himself. Reggie goes over to get his gear, but Micah waves him off. "Give me a sec."

"Ooh," Ashley says. She reaches into the trunk and pulls out the umbrella. She has to struggle a bit to open it up, and when she does, the fabric is so dry and flimsy that it immediately begins to disintegrate. Black flakes rain down on her head. What's left of it looks like a month-old sun-baked carcass: just the ribs and a few flaps of skin-like fabric barely hanging on.

Her silliness makes me laugh, and my laughter signals to everyone that it's okay to relax. I lean over and whisper in her ear that I'm glad she came.

"What should we do first?" Reggie asks, pouncing on the uptick in our moods.

Kelly glances over at me. His face is still filled with concern.

"I'm fine," I say. "Really. I'm actually up for a little distraction." I pause and add, "Just, a little, though. And promise me no more zombies. If I never see another one as long as I live, I think I'll die a happy woman."

"But then you'll have to be one," Jake says with all seriousness.

Everyone gives him a dirty look and his face flushes deep red.

"Are you always this clueless?" Kelly asks.

"Uh, guys?"

We all look up. Micah's off about fifty feet away, standing and staring off into the distance. He slowly turns to us, then raises his hand and points.

We all get up and walk over.

About a quarter of a mile away is a solitary figure. It doesn't move.

"Is that what I think it is?"

We strain our eyes, but it's too far away to tell. "Looks like a tree," Reggie says. "Or a statue."

"Or maybe it's a homeless guy," I say.

Jake reaches into his pack and withdraws a pair of binoculars. He trains it on the figure and adjusts it.

"Sorry, Jess. It's a zom. Naked. It's skin…" He shivers. "Now I know what standing outside in the sun every day for thirteen years will do to you."

"Is it…dead?" Ashley asks.

"It's not moving."

He scans with the binoculars all around us before announcing there aren't any more.

"We'll just keep an eye on it, then," Micah decides. He comes over to me and asks if I'm okay. I nod.

"I don't know about the rest of you," Ashley says, "but I'm starving. I think we should eat."

"Beef jerky?" Reggie jokes. Everyone groans. But then he pulls a Slim Jim from his pack and laughs. "I was sort of hoping we'd see one just so I could do this."

"You really are a disgusting pig."

I grimace and clutch my stomach. It's still a bit touchy. "Not for me."

Kelly pulls out a Red Bull and opens it for me. "At least drink something then."

"It's warm."


I notice that nobody teases him for mothering me.

When we're done eating and resting and Jake has confirmed that the zombie hasn't moved in the last twenty minutes, Ashley jumps up and exclaims, "Pictures! We need pictures."

She whips out her Link and hands it over to Micah, ignoring Jake's outstretched hand. Jake gets this embarrassed look on his face and pretends he was reaching for something else. I can't help but feel a little twinge of guilt for him. He's trying so hard, but he's so obviously not figured out how to be a part of the group. I doubt he ever will.

Ashley plucks the umbrella from where she dropped it and starts parading around with it over her shoulder. She twirls it and says, "I feel like one of those flappers from a hundred years ago."

"More like a hundred and twenty years ago," Kelly says.

"Dude, do you have to be so freaking—I don't know—literal all the time?" Reggie says, then quickly adds, "Just messing with you, brah. Chillax."

Micah snaps a couple pictures of everyone in various poses, including a few zombie poses that strike me as both amusing and vaguely unsettling. Then he announces that he's got things to do.

"You guys go ahead. I'm going to try a few quick computery things. He pulls the old tablet from his pack, and a tangle of wires trails out.

"Still think you can hack into iVZ?" Ashley says.

Micah shrugs. He presses a button on the side to boot it up. "It's worth a try."

I frown. "Why? It's already coming on noon. We've only got a couple hours or so before we should get ready to leave."

"Um…because." He looks around us, as if it's obvious why. "We couldn't get into The Game before, but now that we're inside the ArcTech firewall…" He shrugs and points to a spire in the distance. It's one of many that rise from the top of the wall every quarter mile or so. They're supposed to prevent implanted zombies from breaching the perimeter by frying their L.I.N.C.s if they cross it. It's also there to keep hackers from breaking in. Hackers like us.

Because of the intervening buildings, we can't actually see the wall at the moment, but we can see the EM towers poking up above the buildings. The air around them glimmers, almost as if we're looking through water. I know it's just an illusion, but it sure seems real.

Micah taps a few things on the screen and holds it up for us to see. It shows a map of where we're at and a cluster of tiny red dots. He zooms in and the dots assume labels. We all gasp.

"Hey, that's us!"

"You hacked our implants?" Ashley cries. Her hand instinctively reaches behind her head, as if she could block whatever connection Micah has made to it.

He shakes his head. "Actually, not directly. It was easy to hack your Links, and from them get your L.I.N.C. numbers. Once I had those, I coded in our implants into this old tracking app and embedded it within a geolocator." He points to the tower again. "The signals ping off the towers within range and triangulate back to me."

"Subtitles, please?" Jake says, looking bewildered.

"It means he can track wherever we go," Kelly says.


"Wait a minute," I say. "Does that mean anyone can track us? At any given moment?"

Micah frowns at me. "Like the government isn't tracking each and every one of us already?"

"So, they know we're here?"

Micah shakes his head. "No one outside the wall can track us in here. The EM masks our signal, preventing anyone on the outside from seeing anyone inside. That's why nobody can hack the Players' implants. The only way to connect with them is through ArcWare's iVZ codices, which are tuned specifically to their nodes." He points to the EM spires. "And I'd be willing to bet you there's a node in each and every one of those towers."

Jake's still looking totally lost, but the direct implication of Micah's hacking is easy for the rest of us to calculate: another chance to access The Game and actually play it.

"It's simple, brah," Reggie patiently explains. "If you break the iVZ programming language, you can read The Game. But you still need to be able to connect to the Players. That's what the tracker does. That's basically what the ArcWare codex does. It's just a device. Anyone could build one, but without being able to speak its language, it would be useless. ArcWare uses a proprietary coding format written in interweaving layers, but now that we're inside, the entire language architecture is completely exposed."


"Meaning after we return," Reggie exclaims, "we'll be able to build a descrambling device and play The Game!"

Micah holds up his hand. "I still need to see if I can actually find and track Player signals. That's why I needed to hack your L.I.N.C.s. First, to prove the concept, then so I can subtract them out as background."

"I don't care about The Game," Jake declares. "And I don't want you tracking me!"

Micah chuckles. "I'll wipe all your numbers after we get back. Don't worry. It's only temporary."

Reggie slaps him on the back and says, "What are you doing standing around for, then? Get moving!" He rubs his hands together. "I can't wait to get back and wreak some havoc on some real zoms. No more Zpocalypto for this guy."

Ash's face lights up too, at the prospects. Even Kelly looks a bit more excited than a moment ago.

But something bothers me. If Micah is able to hack and track the Players' implants, then obviously the next step is learning how to control them. That's essentially the point of all this. So, if he's able to do that, what's to stop him from doing the same to us? Other than his promise not to, I mean.

I try to dismiss the thought. He said he'd get rid of our implant numbers. Besides, if it were even possible, then surely someone would've tried it already. As much as I distrust the government, they wouldn't allow something like that to happen, would they? Our implants are supposed to be inactive until we die. That's what the latent part of their name means.

Nevertheless, I keep my thoughts to myself. I don't want anyone else thinking it, or worrying over it. Or getting any ideas. Micah's not the only one of us with the skills to accomplish such a thing.

I turn around to retrieve my backpack and find Jake watching me. Our gazes lock. There's worry on his face. Despite his admission of technical ignorance, somehow I suspect he's made the connection. The same thoughts and fears are going through his head, too.
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    《Deep Into the Game》