Deep Into the Game
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18 chapter eighteen
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Deep Into the Game
Author :Saul_Tanpepper
© Webnovel

18 chapter eighteen

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"So who's G-ma Junie?" Jake asks.

"What?"

"I heard Ashley mention her to you earlier."

I flick a pebble from the railing into the water. It makes a soft plunk and sinks away. The sun's baking my back and my shoulders are starting to burn. Now that I've dried off I'm starting to sweat. I consider taking off the wetsuit completely, but I just can't be bothered.

"Ashley's grandmother," I tell him. "Was, anyway. She…died. This past spring."

He nods. "I didn't know."

I turn my head to stare at him, wondering why he'd assume he would. All he was to Ashley before this was her lab partner. It wasn't like they were friends or anything. And after this little jaunt of ours, it's likely she'll drop him like shoddy programming. I just don't see him continuing to be a part of our group.

On the other hand, I'm beginning to wonder if any of us will be able to go back to the way we were before all this. Kelly and I are drifting away from each other, faster and faster it seems. Meanwhile, Reg and Ash are looking more and more like a full-time couple, squeezing the rest of us out of their lives.

Even if we continue to hold it together, I just can't see how Jake might fit into the new scheme of things.

"What happened to her?" he asks. "Do you know? Where'd she get sent?"

I hear her voice again inside my head, telling me how she'd rather be a Player than be stuck on guard duty or sewer cleanup.

Probably the last words she ever spoke to me were that very wish.

I take in a deep, shuddering breath and peer out over the water. Except for the sound of the wind and birds, the whole place is quiet. Disturbingly so.

It's so hard to believe that in just a short dozen or so years, this entire island has gone from being overrun with thousands of the Infected Undead, killing the living, turning them into thousands more, to being this deserted. But it has. It's now just a pathetic, empty wasteland. Well, almost empty.

It makes me wonder why nobody has come to take the island back.

Actually, somebody did, didn't they? Arc Properties came, the big conglomerate of companies spanning every major industry there is. ArcTech. ArcWare. ArcBio. But what they wanted wasn't to bring the living back to this place. It was to fill it with more of the Undead: new zombies, stronger and fresher and faster, implanted zombies that can be controlled. Players.

What people are willing to do in the name of profit.

The Gameland arcade, at least according to Micah, is thirty miles east of us, centered on a place called Jayne's Hill. That's where the transmission tower is, the island's highpoint. But how he could know all that when the exact details are a secret is beyond me. Regardless, we're miles outside its boundaries.

I clear my throat. It's dry, so I take a drink from my collapsible water bottle before answering Jake's question.


"Her parents think she got sent to some remote place up in North Dakota. That's where they're guessing, anyway. I hear they use a lot of CUs there for border patrol."

"CUs?"

"Conscripted Undead. Or Controlled Undead. Depends on who you ask. Zombies with implants."

He nods. "When I go, I think I'd rather be one of the Omegamen."

I look him over for a second. "Yeah, well, die young and easy—a bullet to the heart or from massive internal injuries from an accident or something—and you can pretty much count on it. Or commit murder. That's the fastest way to become an Omega. You'd make a good soldier."

He smiles and straightens himself a little bit. "You think so?"

I roll my eyes.

"It's everyone's obligation to serve," he lectures me. "Just think how it would be if we had to send the living into battle."

I don't say anything. I know the arguments by heart. All too well, in fact. It doesn't help being related to the person who first proposed that the government militarize the zombies they'd created. Grandpa considered himself a hero for envisioning an end to all wars. But in the end, it broke the country apart and lead to its total isolation from the rest of the world.

"You don't get a choice," I tell him.

"They should at least tell you where they send your deceased relatives for their conscription."

"You know how the government is about sharing that sort of information. People would just want to go see them or…" I let the thought drift off.

Or try to put them down.

"Unless you're highly connected, you can just forget about finding out. And if you're that connected, you can probably afford to buy out your LSC and be incinerated right away."

Jake turns around and leans his back on the railing. He makes like he's stretching, but out of the corner of my eye I can see him looking around. He stares off in the direction of the zombies for a moment.

"I suppose it could be worse," he says, lifting the binoculars to his eyes. "The idea of getting blown to bits somewhere in China or Texas gives me the creeps." He shudders. "At least if you're a sewer cleaner or a guard there's something to incinerate after your three years are up."

"Yeah, turkey jerky," I say. He gives me a strange look and I add, "You said it yourself: that's what happens to a zombie after standing out in the hot sun for a few years."

"The Undead don't know heat or pain."

"Maybe not."

"One of them's gone."

He hands over the binoculars and I look. "Probably crawled back into its hole. The other one hasn't moved at all."

We stay there like that for several minutes. The next time he speaks his words both surprise me and explain a lot: "I totally had a crush on you last year."

I turn to him, trying to keep my face neutral. Trying not to look surprised. I don't know if I succeed. "Look, Jake," I say. "You're a nice guy, but…"

He waits. I want to tell him he's not my type, but it's such a cliché. And, besides, why would he tell me this now? Kelly and I had a little fight is all. It's not like we broke up, leaving an opening for Jake to step into.

I sigh and shake my head. "You wouldn't like me as much if you knew me better. I can be a total bitch sometimes."

"I don't think you—"

"How about we talk about something else for a while?"

He swallows, but the way he holds my gaze makes me feel like I'm the villain.

"You ever know anyone who got sent to The Game?" he asks after several more minutes pass.

And so we've come all the way back to G-ma Junie again.

I hand him back the binoculars and say, "They don't usually last very long." I know it totally doesn't answer the question. "A few weeks at most."

"I've seen Players on Survivalist leave The Game after only one day. God, that's got to be so embarrassing."

I can see why people would want to become Players. At least then a portion of the winnings goes back to the family. The longer you stay in, the more money you get. That's why Operators—gamers who control CUs—are willing to pay top-dollar for the best, the freshest, and the strongest zombies. Even if they have to obtain them illegally.

"Do you think it's true?" Jake asks, as if he can see inside my thoughts. "Do some people sell themselves into The Game?"

I shake my head. But once more it makes me think about G-ma Junie. I know it's just my own suspicious nature, but it was like she was there one day, a young fifty-three-year-old woman with a good eleven years left before her LSC, and then, the next day she was gone. Just…gone. And what's more, Ashley's parents suddenly seemed to have some extra money. How else could she have ever afforded a Ronnie Marx bathing suit?

But, no. I can't believe something like that. I just can't see G-ma Junie as a Player. No Operator would ever buy someone as old and worn out as she was.

I shake my head. "No, I don't think so," I finally reply.
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