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Zero Escape: Zero Win Game

Discussion in 'Questing' started by CypherZero, May 1, 2022.

?

What will you do?

Poll closed May 21, 2022.
  1. Sacrifice Carlos and Diana

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. Sacrifice Mira and Maria

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. Sacrifice Sigma and Phi

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. ...?

    1 vote(s)
    100.0%
Loading...
  1. Threadmarks: Prologue: Walking Into a Trap
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You expected that you and Aoi would be the first ones in the DCOM building on Friday evening. The team was going to be you two along with Sigma and Phi. Light was going to be part of the operation initially, he had applied to be part of the Mars Cohabitation plan in their Disabled slot (because, ostensibly, if this whole thing wasn’t going to be a trap, they would need to accommodate people with different disabilities while up in space), but it had been filled by another applicant.

    It was a slight wrench in the works, but it was fine. It allowed you to put Clover into cold sleep early, make preparations for plan B ahead of time.

    The reason you gave Sigma and Phi for entering the building twenty minutes ahead of them was to scout for traps, just in case. You didn’t want to get surprised right out of the gate, after all, and if there were any signs of trouble, you wanted to make sure that half of your people were on the outside ready to rescue you.

    (Having run one of these before, you and Aoi both knew that the trap wouldn’t come right out of the gate. Typically, you wanted to lull your subjects into a false sense of security first, then hit them when their guards were down. It wouldn’t do if half your possible participants were entering the trap knowing they were entering a trap.

    You were just wary of Sigma, is all. You didn’t want him entering ahead of you.)

    What you weren’t expecting was for someone to already be in the lobby.

    An attractive brunette dressed just barely on the right side of decency lazed back in her chair dead center of the lobby, tapping away on her phone, likely handing the last bit of business before she was shut away from the outside world for a week. She has a suitcase next to her, maybe half again the size of yours (and utterly dwarfing Aoi’s duffel bag). She looked up immediately when the sliding door chimed your entrance, seemed to scan you and Aoi each for two seconds each, then dropped her gaze back to her phone, seemingly uninterested.

    It seemed practiced. Very calculated.

    Another person to be wary of, wonderful.

    Aoi walked up to the person at the desk for registration while you dug around in your purse. You mentally tallied a pack of gum, Aoi’s candy, a pocket-sized notebook and pencil, and your pistol, before bringing out both of your IDs and your phone.

    “Aoi and Akane Kurashiki for the DCOM project.” You let your brother sign the both of you in, passing the IDs over, and keep an eye on the mystery participant out of the corner of your eye. Objectively, your brother is very attractive, neither too tall nor short, with striking blue eyes contrasting with his white hair (which he continues to dye in spite of (or maybe because of) Sigma’s annoying comments about Phi being the third missing Kurashiki), and a decently deep voice that just sort of demands your attention.

    Mystery girl didn’t even spare a glance upwards, how about that.

    “Alright, you two are all set! And thank you very much for participating!” You held your arm out to let Aoi put your IDs away (and snorted when he immediately went to grab his candy) and walk to the side of the lobby opposite the receptionist’s desk. Easiest way to keep an eye on the door without making it too obvious that you’re watching.

    Mystery girl doesn’t try to approach or address you, which is interesting considering that you were going to be living together in close quarters for about a week. Aoi looked over at you, quirked an eyebrow, and shrugged when you shook your head. You weren’t going to be the first to reach out in whatever this scenario was.

    You sat in silence for a few minutes, Aoi eating his candy, eyes roving the room for any obvious signs of traps (there wouldn’t be. There didn’t have to be. It was a reception lobby. The front wall was made entirely of glass, there was a vent in the ceiling for HVAC, there were two doors in the back, one of them probably led to a bathroom and the other was probably locked to the participants. If they wanted to gas and bag you here it would be pathetically easy.), while you ran the program on your phone that checked for bugs and wires.

    There was nothing recording besides the obvious cameras in the corners. Because there didn’t need to be. If the receptionist was in on it she could just call when everyone was in place and tell her superiors in person if anything out of the ordinary was spoken.

    You’re not going to get yourself wound up in your paranoia. You already knew you were walking into a trap, you were not going to get worked up wondering about shadow agents and hidden assassins and microscopic cameras the size of a nipple. There was no point.

    The door chimed and your eyes darted up instinctively, fingers swiping the program away to land on an innocent game instead. A redheaded woman was walking through the entrance, gait confident for all of three steps before it melts into a nervous shuffle, gaze roaming all around the room. She had to psyche herself up to come in, even though there was an entire process to signing up for the cohabitation project. Naturally nervous, then.

    She looked in your direction and almost flinched. Was she in on the trap? Were you the primary target after all? Was this an unwilling participant that was knowingly walking to her demise?

    ...No, she wasn’t looking at you, you don’t think. At Aoi, then. Male-avoidant, maybe? If it was all men she would have had a stronger reaction toward seeing Aoi. Probably a specific man, then, and the man in question was different enough in build from Aoi for her to distance them in her mind.

    ...You were so lost in your thoughts that you missed her name while she was checking in. You had to look over to Aoi and silently ask for his help. He smirks at you, then stretches in the facsimile of a yawn, using the motion to cover his mouth and whisper over to you,

    “Diana. Medical.”

    Ah, the second special slot in the cohabitation program. In addition to there being someone with special needs, to see how people would react to unexpected difficulties while in space, there also needed to be someone with medical experience to assist anyone who had any sort of accident or injury, and someone with correctional or mediation experience to help handle interpersonal issues on the ship.

    (You almost had Aoi sign up under interpersonal instead of through a normal application, stating that the Games was technically a form of mediation. Aoi said he couldn’t use that as a reference without catching kidnapping charges. Pity, that.)

    This meek little slip of a thing was going to handle medical issues in DCOM? You wouldn’t trust her to look at a chart, much less handle a needle. You tried to not let any of that show on your face, but you didn’t exactly stand up and roll out the red carpet for her either.

    She brought her bag, about the same size as yours, over to the center of the room, not right next to the other woman but not explicitly trying to distance herself as you did. To her credit, the mystery girl put on a smile and tried to put her at ease.

    “Hey, Diana right? I’m Mira. I guess we’re going to be living together for the next week.”

    “Oh, uh, hello! Yes I, uh, suppose we are!”

    “How are you feeling about everything, you excited? I know I am. Like, I know it’s not really space, right? But it’s a simulation of space, and that’s just thrilling.”

    “Oh, I guess you like space?”

    “Absolutely! I just wonder what they’re gonna have us do when we’re there, if they’re gonna give us a really authentic experience, you know?”

    Your estimation of Diana seems spot on. She’s nervous, a bit of a wallflower, easily concedes control of the conversation to whoever she happens to be interacting with.

    Mira, though, is completely at odds with how you first interpreted her. She seems friendly and open, Diana is visibly calming down while she talks. She isn’t completely running roughshod over Diana either, she’s pausing to give her space to respond with her input (that she never seems to take).

    Maybe she just closed off in response to your own analytical gaze? Maybe you saw something that just wasn’t there? You’re not sure.

    The door chimed again. It was a pair this time, and the sight of two people walking in together reminded you to text Phi the all-clear signal. The front lobby has no traps, you’re free to come in, or something along those lines. It was sloppily composed and sent off in a hurry because something—

    Something was off. It wasn’t the man, though his blond hair and green eyes and easygoing smile sent a tickle down your brain, reminded of you something you can’t quite recall. No, it’s the girl, her blond hair cut short, a hand gripping the strap of her overalls underneath her coat, a vacant stare pointed at the back wall like she’s not really looking at it, like she’s looking past it, to where it might be in ten years.

    A vacant stare she turned to fix on you. She turned to you, and static filled your mind, like she was drawing you into her void. Her gaze never shifted as she walked unhurriedly toward you, but her hand slipped from the strap she had in a death grip, and it was reaching for you—

    And then the eerily familiar-looking man came up from behind her, put a hand on her shoulder to stop her momentum.

    “Hey, sorry about her. Maria’s recently been diagnosed with Reverie Syndrome. She doesn’t talk very often, but sometimes she wanders off like that, all slow and zombie-like, y’know? The doctors think it’s her way of trying to communicate. She isn’t exactly mute yet, but words come harder than they have before.”

    Silently, Maria’s hand comes up to pat the man’s before descending again to grip the strap of her overalls.

    “Oh, where are my manners? I’m Carlos! I’m Maria’s older brother. I guess we’re going to be living together for the DCOM project! You know, I didn’t even know she applied to the program with me until her acceptance came through? Or that Reverie Syndrome was serious enough to be counted as a Disability for the program slot. Guess she still has autonomy after all, huh?”

    Reverie Syndrome? That was a familiar phenomenon— some of the Crash Keys agents had contracted it, most notably one of your younger esper agents. There seemed to be little connection between the ones caught, as well.

    It was something to keep an eye on, maybe. “That’s okay. It’s nice to meet you, Carlos, I’m Akane. This is my brother Aoi.”

    “Hey man, how’s it going?”

    Aoi started talking to Carlos while Maria sat in a chair on your opposite side, gaze pointed somewhere in your direction but not directly at you. You put some final affairs with Crash Keys in order on your phone, thankfully nothing very visually incriminating, what with a dazed child seated next to you, and prayed for the clock to move faster so you could finally spring this death trap waiting to happen.

    Or were you waiting for the rest of the DCOM participants before you could begin? That seems more likely.

    You prayed that Sigma and Phi would move faster, then.

    “-you senile old man!”

    “I’m just saying, they seem to have grown a full cup since the last time you told me about them.”

    So you have wished it…

    You weren’t paying very close attention when Carlos came in, thanks to the possibly possessed girl that came along with him, but when Sigma and Phi enter the building, you make sure to keep your gaze toward Diana.

    And, sure enough, she looked up from where she was having a conversation with Mira to see the tall, broad-shouldered frame of Sigma Klim, and flinched so badly it gave you sympathy pains. She seemed to have had a negative experience with a larger man, which is unfortunate, to say the least. Useful information to have, though. But how to leverage it properly…

    You stood up, stretched audibly, and walked over to Phi, who was jerking her ID out of Sigma’s hand and stuffing it into the side of her backpack. She turned to face you, and her mock outrage shifted to a cool smirk. “Well, hey there, sis.”

    “Oh, hush you. Aoi’s the one who quote-unquote ‘adopted’ you, I take no part in this siblingship.”

    “Aw, come on,” Aoi called from his seat, “you don’t want her as a little sister? She’s adorable, and way more manageable than you’ve ever been!”

    You blinked a couple of times before turning back to Phi. “You know what? You can have him to yourself. I disown myself. I wipe my hands clean of him.”

    You ignored Aoi’s gasp of mock outrage and move off to the side away from the reception desk. Phi let out a sound that was more cackle than giggle and ran off to harass Aoi while Sigma moved to accompany you.

    It would have been too much to ask for this to be the entire group, but it would have been nice if it were true. Eight people, four of them on your side, so even if everyone else was explicitly your enemy you stood a decent chance of success. Sigma and Aoi could handle Carlos together, and while you weren’t sure of Mira’s capabilities, there wasn’t a lot that could stand up to your plans combined with Phi’s innovation. Maria didn’t seem like much of a factor due to her Reverie Syndrome, and Diana wasn’t much of a force, as afraid of her shadow as she seemed.

    But the DCOM program had a third special slot, didn’t it?

    The door chimed one final time, and your eyes automatically went up to scan the new participant—

    And you immediately shuffled half a step to your right, putting Sigma’s frame in between you and the door. Your eyes shot over to Aoi right as he made some inflammatory comment or another, causing Phi to get right in his face as he slouched in his chair, hiding his profile from sight as well.

    “The security in this office has more holes than a block of Swiss, but that’s fine because of the visibility to the public that the windows provide,” you murmured to Sigma, if only to occupy yourself.

    “Hey, this is the waiting room for DCOM, right? I got the Interpersonal slot?”

    “They’re unlikely to try and trap us while in transit, it would be too easy to prepare ourselves, to break the doors and escape, to have trackers on us and call distress beacons.” You kept talking, kept your focus on the topic even as your attention split to center on him.

    “Yes indeed, can you identify yourself for me?”

    “Most likely, they’ll wait until we’re in whatever living quarters, wait for our guards to drop, grab us in the middle of the night, or when we’re least expecting it. That’s what I’d do, anyway.”

    Because even if you could handle everyone else in the room, even if you could make a rudimentary plan for anyone else you came across—

    (The doors were painted with a four and a five. The whole of the group had more or less decided on the correct course of action. All he needed to do was go with the flow, and he would be one step closer to freedom. You would be one step closer to salvation.

    And all he needed to do was go left.)

    “Junpei Tenmyouji.”

    (But sometimes, in about eight iterations of twenty, he argues. Goes against the flow.

    In eight iterations,

    he goes right,

    and you burn.)

    —you could never quite plan for Junpei.
     
    Jen X, Cubbyhb1, Shukin and 1 other person like this.
  2. Index: Welcome to the Game!
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Hello, and welcome to Zero Win Game!

    If you don’t know anything about Zero Escape titles but you still decided to check this quest out, thank you for giving it a chance! If you are familiar with Zero Escape, I hope you stick around! I’ve got some surprises in store! You’ve already seen two of them: the introduction of Maria, and the reintroduction of Aoi! Sibling dynamics are some of my favorite to write, and I hope I can write them well.

    Now, this isn’t exactly a standard quest where you have total autonomy over what a character does and thinks throughout the story. If a normal quest is like a video game, where the audience controls the main character and explores a world that the QM’s created, this quest is closer to a visual novel.

    Where a normal QM would write as they’re posting in accordance to the voter’s choices, this quest is being prewritten. 21 chapters out of a planned 9X have been completed thus far. That isn’t to say that you, the audience, has no say whatsoever in the writing process— I am very open to feedback and suggestions, and I’m constantly going back and editing chapters, changing plans, adding foreshadowing, removing unnecessary details.

    There are plenty of choices to make, but it’s less about open-ended problem solving and more about “which of these choices will I make now, and which will I save for the future?” Quest exploration is open and non-linear, written to mimic the media I’m trying to reimagine, using the same mechanics to accomplish that goal.

    (If you have no idea what that piece of cryptic bullshit means, don’t worry. You will.)

    The first five chapters of this quest will be posted over the next four weeks, every Sunday afternoon. (Chapter 3 is very short and I don’t have a way to increase its length organically, so it will be posted alongside Chapter 4.) The first poll will be at the end of Chapter 4, which will be posted on May 15. After Chapter 5 (May 22), posting will shift to a bi-weekly schedule so I can keep ahead of my backlog.

    Polls will run for a week, starting and ending on Sunday. Once I shift to a bi-weekly schedule, every Sunday after a poll ends, I’ll post a snippet of the next chapter, a little teaser to generate interest. I’ll also be available throughout the week to answer any questions and clear up any confusion readers might have about some aspect of the story.

    (Please note: some confusion may be intended, and some questions may be answered with a smiley face.)

    I hope you stick around, and if you do, please enjoy the Game!

    These little plugs will pop up most weeks at the end of every poll and teaser.
    If you join my Patreon, you’ll be entitled to a number of benefits, such as an extra vote on every poll for just $3! I’ll also thank you (in a little spoiler box like this one) at the start of every chapter, in every thread across all sites!
    Join now to see next week’s chapter now for just $1! And for $5, you can see all three chapters of the Prologue— 36 Pages, 8.3k words! https://www.patreon.com/KayZero
    Thank you for supporting me!
     
    Cubbyhb1 and Aoinfinity like this.
  3. Aoinfinity

    Aoinfinity Unlimited blue works

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    Sweet, a Zero Escape quest! So it looks like we are mostly mimicking Zero Time Dilemma with a few differences.

    Aoi replaced Eric, and Maria replaced "Q." Two Zeroes are accounted for, but Zero II is (as of yet) nowhere to be seen. And it may or may not be a change from canon -- Akane's reaction to Junpei was off-screen in the original -- but her dismay at seeing him is a sight to behold.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2022
    CypherZero and Kingster like this.
  4. Shukin

    Shukin Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    I'm very curious about how all the time shenanigans will be handled in this, so I'm definitely gonna be following it out, it's pretty rare to find Zero Escape content out there!
     
  5. Threadmarks: Prologue: Interviews With the Damned
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You got to the facility late in the night, easily past midnight. The receptionist, who also served as the coordinator, had led everyone down a hallway that ended with three doors. The door in the center led to a medical office with three bedrooms attached, one each for the specialized participants, while the doors on the left and right led to group rooms with three beds each.

    It was easiest to split into gendered groups, so you and Phi entered the room with Mira, where you set your bag down underneath your bed and promptly fell asleep.

    The next morning saw you getting ready for the day. There was a paper on the back of the door that stated that “randomized group activities that would test the participants’ ability to react to difficulties in space” wouldn’t start until Monday at the earliest, and that people were advised to familiarize themselves with the facility and the other participants. Mira was gone from the room, so she had presumably gone off to do just that.

    “So what’s up with him? Why are you so scared?”

    Which left you with an inquisitive Phi.

    “Scared? I can Shift, so I’m functionally immortal. There’s nothing for me to be scared of.”

    “I don’t think that’s how Shifting works.”

    “Isn’t it?” You adjust yourself to lock eyes with Phi in the mirror. “If there’s a threat to my livelihood, I jump to another timeline and I’m no longer in danger. That’s exactly how Shifting works.”

    “So because you can respond to mortal peril, there’s no reason to ever be scared of anything ever.”

    “Yep!”

    Phi is completely unaffected by your peppy mask. “So there should be no reason for you to keep trying to hide behind Sigma and avoid that mediator guy.”

    You ignore her smirk and pull your hair into a side ponytail. “I’m not afraid of him—”

    (“I’m not up to anything. I’m just waiting.
    “Waiting for what?”
    “Waiting for the balance to shift.”)

    “—I’m just wary.”

    “Why? Is he a Shifter too?”

    “You know…”

    Multiverse theory was something that Aoi had never thought about before Phi had shown up with her rudimentary plan. It was something he still refused to really think about except in the abstract, because that would mean that there existed worlds where Junpei had messed up, and you remained dead in the incinerator.

    You know firsthand that those worlds exist. You know that Junpei didn’t always and automatically make the correct choice, that in this observed universe, he was considerate and thoughtful and caring, but in others, he was just a little too selfish, a little too hesitant, a bit too curious for his (and your) own good.

    Was he aware of that too?

    “I have no idea.”



    You stumbled upon Carlos doing stretches in the main hall, and stopped for a second to just look at him. He was tall and muscular, and from what you had observed the day before he was charismatic as well. He seemed like one of those extraordinarily happy people whose mission in life was just to make everyone else as happy as him, which was a hard thing to fake for any extended amount of time.

    Your estimation of Carlos was that he was a genuinely warm person.

    (You ignored the strange chill you got around him. It was December, and your sweaters weren’t the most insulated. It was nothing.)

    “Having fun there?”

    He looked up at your call and smiled when he saw you. “Oh, hey there! Akane, right? Just keeping up my routine, is all. There isn’t supposed to be anything for us to tackle until the day after tomorrow, but there’s no reason for me to slack off, you know? It always pays off to be limber!”

    He was just so cheery. “You have a workout routine?”

    “Yep, every morning! A bit of a lie-in on Sundays, but that’s just a delay, not a cancellation. It’s not like fires don’t start just because it’s the weekend, you know?”

    “Fires?”

    “Yep! Firefighting’s how I take care of my sister. Well, that and the money we’ll be getting from DCOM, of course. It helps that I’m good at it, too, but mostly we had a bad experience with fire and I wanna make sure that no one else has to go through what we did, you know?”

    “I’m sorry, you’re good at firefighting?”

    “Well, more the rescue part of Fire and Rescue, but I’m not bad at the actual firefighting either! I always know where people are while I’m in a burning building, you know? And I always seem to avoid the really bad parts of a building, too. Danger could be behind any door, you know. Guess I’m just lucky my danger is a lot lower than other people’s!”

    There was a lot to unpack there. “Are you sure it’s just luck?”

    “Well, what else would you call it? A few of the guys at the station call it my ‘sixth sense’ or whatever. I just know when there’s gonna be danger behind the door.”

    “Well, that’s pretty cool.”

    How very interesting.


    Something that was required before replicating random occurrences on a Mars dwelling site was a series of tests both physical and psychological, to make sure you were fit to live in isolation for an extended period. As a sort of extension to that, the medical practitioner and the mediator were to get baselines of your physical and mental health before the test, to compare during and after. The physical examination you didn’t have any issues with, but the mental examination…

    Well, you didn’t have any issues with the exam, per se.

    You tried your best not to take your stress out on poor Diana.

    “For you to get this spot, you have to be like, licensed, right? And not just a medical student or something?”

    “Mhmm, that’s right. I’m a fully licensed nurse.”

    “Where are you currently practicing? Anywhere nearby?”

    “Not in Nevada, no. I work at this sort of experimental facility where they have some really advanced stuff for testing. It’s all like, approved! It’s not completely untested! It’s just not ready for public general use, is all!”

    The comment slipped from your mouth before you were even conscious of it. “You’re backed by Cradle, right?”

    “Oh! You know about them?”

    You had to physically bite your tongue to keep your first, second, and third comments to yourself. (That the CEO had prosopagnosia, that he was arrested for kidnapping, and that it was possibly funding a cult. You weren’t even certain of the third thing.) You struggled to find something relevant to say.

    “They had that, uh, injector thing come out recently, right?”

    “Oh, the injector gun, yeah. Takes a whole vial of whatever medicine you need and pushes it right into your patient. Super handy, just a bit tricky.”

    “Tricky?”

    “Well, using and operating the gun itself is super easy. Just screw in the vial, push the needle part into the patient’s vein, pull the trigger. It’s the medicine itself that’s hard. Because it uses like, a whole vial of the stuff, right? You have to prepare each vial manually, and you have to be very careful with it. If it’s too diluted, then you’re just shoving a whole bunch of flavored water into someone’s body, essentially, but if it’s not diluted enough, you could overdose them super easily. So general use is only available for super-rich facilities right now, and only for certain medicines and stuff, and all the vials are preprepared.”

    When Diana’s on a topic she knows a lot about or is passionate about, she apparently tends to go on and on for a while. You wondered if she knew any super obscure trivia.

    You thought you could really come to like her.

    “Alright, you should be all set! Just head on over next door to Junpei!”

    The thought quickly vanished.


    Any heat you felt from the doorknob was imagined.

    It was a thought you had to force yourself to think numerous times while you stood in front of the door to Junpei’s office. It served as a distraction from the low-level dread that had been creeping up your spine.

    Another example of something that distracted you from your panic (because that’s what this was, you dimly realized. You were panicking, possibly over nothing at all), how funny it was to think of Junpei with an office.

    You couldn’t imagine it. Even as it existed right in front of your face, your mind kept conjuring silly images of a twelve-year-old Junpei wearing the clothes of someone older than he, possibly dressing like his father, with comically oversized glasses carrying a cartoonishly tall stack of papers and forms, telling everyone that he had important business to take care of.

    It was funny, what your frenzied mind could conjure.

    It didn’t help you open the door. You were still afraid (irrationally so) that the doorknob would burn you.

    At some point, finally, you could move your gaze away from the knob to see the sliver of light that shone between the door frame and the door. It was cracked. You nudged it fully open with your foot so you could enter, bracing yourself for a wave of heat.

    A wave of heat that would never come, because you were not burning alive, because Junpei didn’t mess up, Junpei saved you, and there was no reason for your mind to go into hyperspeed survival mode at the mere thought of him.

    The office was normal, almost completely untouched by its occupant. A completely ordinary swivel chair in front of a perfectly normal desk, with a stack of manilla folders placed on top of it. All the folders were closed of course, except for yours, open to a page that declared you mentally fit to participate in the project, and an old photo of you paperclipped to its corner.

    A very old photo of you. You think you were twelve. You thought it might have been Junpei’s picture.

    Junpei himself looked good. Hair roughly the same length as when you saw him during the Nonary Game, dressed in subdued blacks rather than the outrageously bright colors he had been wearing a year ago. There were light bags under his eyes and, as he turned in his chair to face you, you can see that those eyes, which were previously so bright and expressive, were cold, closed off.

    You had no idea what to expect from him.

    (“I want to go through…”
    He would go through door one. He would be one step closer to saving you.
    “...door six.”

    You burned.)

    Belatedly, you began to wonder if you ever did.

    “So,” you started, in a bid to rid yourself of your nervous energy, “how did you end up in a mediation position?”

    “Aren’t you a master of deductive reasoning? You’re the one who grabbed me from my apartment, you should have enough clues.” The words that should have been accusatory barbs were dulled and watered down until they were bland, factual statements. It shocked you enough that you began your usual deductive process, thinking through your available facts and making general assumptions.

    “You were in an overseas collegiate program for… psychology, I think. Criminal psychology. You would’ve been on file in some database or another, I think, and after the Games, you would have brought Ace to a police station, because he was arrested for kidnapping and experimentation. From there, someone would have noted that you were part of a criminal psychology program and offered you an internship, maybe? Because of your conduct, probably.

    “And then from there, the only thing you would have needed for the mediation position is related experience and a good reference. And if you were excelling, you wouldn’t have had any issue getting a good reference.”

    Junpei hummed, looking over the files in front of him. “Those were some leaps in logic.”

    “I only made assumptions because you were so sure that it would’ve been easy for me to guess. Normally, I would’ve waited for more information.”

    He hummed again, then he seemed to melt in front of you. The neutral body language sloughed off and became lazy and bone-tired, his mouth twisted unpleasantly, and his eyes lit up with intelligence, somehow familiar and foreign at the same time.

    The same smart Jumpy, just a bit jagged.

    “When we got to the station, Light’s testimony was half-missing and almost entirely dismissable because of his blindness, Clover was too busy fussing over Light, Alice,” oh, he met Alice before reaching civilization? “didn’t know anything at all, and Seven still had a killer migraine.”

    He stops his explanation to glare at you, as if you had any control over your limbo state of existence and how non-espers reacted to it.

    “So it was just me and Hazuki left to explain things, and she was more concerned with letting her daughters know that she was alright, despite being in another country altogether. So she left me to explain everything to the police.

    “Apparently, I gave really good reports, and the detective in charge was impressed with my composure, or whatever. He had a position for me, except it was unpaid, and it would bite into the work I had to do to pay for my schooling.”

    His jaw flexed like he was grinding his teeth, and he cast a gimlet eye over to you. “Then, money stopped being an issue. Though honestly, you could’ve been more subtle than making nine deposits of $55,555 to my bank account.”

    “I’m surprised you used the money at all, honestly. I know Clover doesn’t, on principle, and Seven tried to return it a couple times before he shifted it to a new account and forgot about it. It was Aoi’s idea anyway; if he got his way, he would’ve just given you ¥555,555,555 and called it good, but I convinced him not to completely blow our operations budget.”

    “What, you’re telling me that the ruthless ‘Red Santa’ wanted to give me five million for a bit?”

    “He’s a bit of a jokester when things aren’t so serious, yeah.”

    “Guess I wouldn’t know.”

    The silence that descended was more than a bit awkward, as you turned your eyes to the side, guiltily, and Junpei went back through his forms. Eventually, he sighed, took a paper from the folder, and talked a bit robotically, reading from the page.

    “Akane Kurashiki, what are you hoping to gain from this?”

    “Oh, uh, well, I think the experience that I get from DCOM—”

    “I should clarify.” He looked up from the paper and directly into your eyes, pinning you with his gaze. “The form wants to know what you hope to get out of DCOM. I know that you wouldn’t have been able to get a brother-sister pair into the project without a valid concern, like Maria fully succumbing to Reverie Syndrome without Carlos to bring her back, and I also know that you tried to get Light into the project before it was vetoed in favor of Maria.

    “I don’t care what reasons you gave your interviewer or your probably forged application. I want to know what you’re doing here.”

    You don’t answer. You turn your eyes away, unable to meet his own, and you could only imagine his expression as huffs in disgust.

    “Just tell me one thing, then. Are we in any danger?”

    You’d like to say that your voice didn’t crack when you answered.

    “Probably.”

    But you don’t enjoy lying to yourself.


    The next morning saw you waking up earlier than the girls you were roomed with. You paid no thought to dreams you may or may not have had, and didn’t concern yourself with why you might have found yourself so awake so early.

    Instead, you shuffled off into the kitchen, expecting to find yourself alone in the early hour.

    You found Maria there. She had a cereal bar by her side, open but untouched, and instead had her lidded eyes focused on a paper in front of her, a pencil in her hand swaying from side to side as she drew.

    It was odd to see her. Normally, she kept to her room or kept to her brother’s side. You weren’t sure you wanted to know what kept the troubled child awake, what pushed her from her sanctum to the kitchen.

    Clearly, it wasn’t hunger.

    You busied yourself with coffee preparations and tried to make small talk. “You okay?”

    “Hm.”

    “Didn’t want to be with your brother?”

    “Sunday.”

    “Oh, he did say he usually took a lie-in today. Is this normal? For you to be drawing while he sleeps?”

    “Mm-mm.”

    You had the grounds in the filter and set the machine to run, turning your attention to her fully. “What are you drawing, anyhow?”

    “Dreams.” With that monosyllabic response, she pushed the paper to the side to show it to you, a sort of presentation.

    “Oh, do you draw your dreams to help you… remember…?” You trail off as your eyes roam the page. Her drawings seem split between ideally childish (a girl pushing off a building to soar through the air, and a trio of birds escaping their cage to fly alongside her) to grotesquely morbid (a robotic hand holding a human eyeball, a human hand holding a bleeding heart). But some of them…

    (A girl trapped behind a glass window set into steel.

    A bleeding hand and a falling axe.

    A sudoku puzzle bracketed by flame.)

    Were familiar.

    “No.”

    You opted to leave it at that.


    A bit distressed, you went back to your room and got dressed in subdued clothing. Wearing comfortable leggings and an oversized hoodie, you absentmindedly tucked your hair into your hood and ventured out. The door opposite you was open enough for you to see all four boys roughhousing and jeering at each other, engaging in a bit of male bonding.

    Sigma happened to look up and lock eyes with you, and you took the opportunity presented to you, jerking your chin leftward, away from the bedrooms. Without looking to make sure he was trying to break away, you walked to the central lobby, then took a turn toward one of the many plush living spaces available to all of you, quite a bit farther than anyone would normally go if they just wanted to laze on a couch.

    You didn’t sit down, generally preferring to stand and pace and talk with your hands. Sigma didn’t leave you waiting for very long, entering and closing the door quietly, with an amount of grace his frame belied.

    You waited for him to take a seat in one of the armchairs before starting your questions. “You said you don’t know anything about the project, right?”

    “I was never told more than the date and the location.”

    “You don’t recognize anyone here?”

    “Other than you and Phi? Two people, Diana and Tenmyouji.”

    You opened your mouth to retort but instead decided— “Let’s put a pin in that for now. I think Maria is an esper.”

    “Really now?”

    “Sleep-based, maybe? An incredibly powerful receiver, regardless, if my hunch isn’t wrong. Saw her in the kitchen this morning, drawing what she described as dreams.”

    “What was she drawing?”

    You described everything you saw to Sigma, omitting nothing. It weirded you out how much he knew about you compared to how little you knew about him, even given his claims of a massive time-based Shift. (Forty-five years! Could you ever do that? Would you ever try?) You were hesitant to give him even more information, but that probably wasn’t a healthy line of thought to have against an ally.

    “Hmm… The flying girl is vaguely familiar, maybe ask Phi about it. Some of them are complete nonsense, and some of them are over-the-top gory, but the birds remind me of Diana, and the eyeball in the cybernetic hand is a very vivid reoccurring dream I have.”

    “Did you have it last night?”

    “Yes. So it seems as though she’s viewing our dreams, how interesting.”

    “And you don’t recognize her at all?”

    “I know nothing about her, or her brother, or Mira for that matter. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know you had a brother before I woke up in your base last week.”

    “You didn’t know Aoi?”

    “I had never met him, and you had never mentioned him.”

    That’s… disconcerting, to say the least. “But you somehow know Diana and Junpei.”

    “Diana was with me on the moon base when I first shifted back to my body after the AB project, while I was adjusting to my cybernetics. We spent three or so years together before she succumbed to a circulatory disease brought about by the moon’s low gravity.”

    His words were so sterile and calculated, but his voice carried longing in it. You decided to let the topic rest. “And Junpei?”

    “I had only ever met Tenmyouji personally during the project itself. This was before I went through the AB Game and sent my consciousness backward in time. Other than that, he was the subject of a different experiment, long-distance communication between a GAULEM and the moon base. I had three such GAULEMs, one reporting current events down on Earth, another to keep in contact with you until you eventually came to the moon yourself, and a third to observe him, as a person of interest.”

    “Whose interest?”

    “Yours.”


    The kitchen was attached to a larger common space, with couches and armchairs and coffee tables and side tables, anything you could ever need. All of which were pushed to the edge of the room to make room for super plush beanbags.

    You don’t know whose idea it was originally, but someone made the point that starting tomorrow you would be randomly and abruptly thrown into chaotic situations beyond your control. Unbeknownst to half the participants, this was doubly true if you were indeed walking headlong into a trap. This would likely be the last bit of relaxation you could get before everything went to hell.

    In light of this information, you collectively decided to laze about on the floor and just chat a while. Talk about your interests, find commonalities, bond with each other.

    Things were going well. Not perfectly, not with Maria burying herself in her brother’s side, or with Diana flinching every time Carlos gets overexcited and gesticulates a bit too quickly, or with Junpei staring at Mira every time her motions got jerky, only to snap his sight back to you before sending it to the floor, defeated and guilty and angry.

    But they were going fine enough.

    “But those true crime documentaries are super interesting, I would say!” Carlos’ voice fluctuated and tended toward being overly loud, probably to compensate for the hands he couldn’t wave around because Maria was clutching them. “The ones about serial killers are pretty great!”

    Mira snorted, apparently unimpressed. “Sure, if you want some quick entertainment while thinking you’re not completely rotting your brain. ‘Look, look! I’m so much better than the guy who watches sports or comedy! I spent forty minutes listening to how some guy thought he was a genius because his neighbors were too polite to ask about the smell coming from his apartment!’” She sounded like she took personal offense.

    Maria turned her head from Carlos’ shirt as he tried to argue. “So some of them aren’t so great—”

    “No, most serial killers aren’t great. They’re not smart, and the people running the documentaries keep ascribing other people’s failings to the killers’ utter genius. At a certain point, it stops being a documentary and starts being a fetish.”

    Her disgust sounded over the top as well. Her opinions were probably genuine, but just from the last hour of this circle talk you think you figured something out about Mira: she was blowing her emotions out of proportion, trying to compensate for something. Her mouth would twist and curl and her voice would raise or lower accordingly, but her body language didn’t quite match and her eyes never truly emoted.

    “What do you think, Akane?”

    She also kept trying to include you in the conversation, kept trying to gauge your opinions on things. This was the first time the two of you were engaging in conversation, she was trying to get a measure of you the way you were getting a measure of her.

    So you adjusted yourself from your spot underneath Phi and Aoi, but they were thumb-wrestling over your midriff, which prevented you from truly sitting up. “I think the real value in true crime is the same as in any documentary: the research and production quality. People just find serial killers to be fascinating, something forbidden and grotesque hidden in a normal-looking shell. They probably sell better than other documentaries.”

    “What do you think about the serial killers themselves, though?”

    “Most of them are tacky and overblown, probably think super highly of themselves, too. Like, you know that newer guy? The Heart Ripper or whatever?”

    “What, like some Jack the Ripper rip-off?”

    On top of you, Phi won the thumb wrestling match and huffed out a laugh while Aoi lay his head on your shoulder, staring lazily at Mira. “Something like that, I’m sure. Kills people and tears their hearts right out of their chests. I think he does it while they’re still alive too, the twisted sadist.”

    “You sound like you really don’t like this guy.”

    “Like I said. He’s tacky and full of himself.”

    You’ve got a reason to hate the Heart Ripper, but there’s no reason to share that.


    Eventually, the room cleared out and everyone started to get ready for bed. You and Aoi stayed in the common room for a bit, silent, comfortable with each other.

    He was the first to break it. “You ready for this?”

    “Think so.”

    “It’ll probably be a couple of days, there’s no way they grab us when we’re this keyed up.”

    “According to Sigma, this guy’s a real mastermind. Dangerous enough that I didn’t want to tell him anything at all.”

    “Which means he’ll want to wait a bit. Get a real measure.”

    “If you say so.”

    You fell silent again. Eventually, Aoi left for bed, leaving you to your thoughts.

    Despite the concerns, you felt good about whatever was coming next. You were surrounded by allies, you had a decent measure of most everyone here, and though you didn’t quite know how everyone would react to the extreme pressure a death game would bring, you were sure you could handle it.

    You got up and headed for your room, ending your Sunday in high spirits.





    Your good mood didn’t last to see Monday.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2022
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  6. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    Looking forward to seeing where you go with this!
     
  7. Threadmarks: Prologue: Preparation of Demise
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You might have woken up at some point.

    Someone might have asked you a question.

    You may have answered.

    You have no way of knowing.



    You may have been asked,

    "What day is it today?"


    You would think to yourself.

    You would recall getting up from your seat.

    You would remember the door suddenly closing.

    You would relive your panic.

    You would remember white smoke.

    You would assume that you fell unconscious.


    You would answer,

    "Today is Monday."



    You would be put back to sleep.







    The first thing you see when you wake up is a familiar gas mask. Its red lenses glint oddly, the bottom half shining in the room's low light, the top half-hidden by shadows cast by the hood thrown over top. The hood also conceals the tubes that connect to the filter, which you know from experience conveniently conceals the voice modulator tucked away in the back of the mask, rather than being built into the filter itself. This mask, you note, looks new compared to the one you've owned for the past year and some, like it hasn't seen much use yet.

    Still addled by the gas you were drugged with, you wonder if you were meant to don the mask again and act as Zero once more.

    Then the mask moves, tilting at an angle, and you realize that someone is wearing it. That someone wearing a gas mask is staring directly at you.

    You don't scream, but your heart leaps in your chest, your back and head slamming against the back of your chair, and your hands fly to your face in fright.

    The mask tilts again to its previous orientation, and the person wearing it moves to lean back in their own chair, their left elbow coming up to rest on the arm, their fist coming up for them to prop their head against.

    Their right hand lays still in their lap, holding a gleaming silver pistol, their finger idly tracing the trigger guard.

    "You will note that you are not affixed to the chair," they state, modulated voice emanating robotically. "For the sake of your health, you'd do best not to try and escape despite this."

    Belatedly, you note that you're not bound at all. No ropes are tied to keep your hands together, no metal bars hold you to the chair. You're even still dressed in your hoodie and leggings. You move your body about to rid yourself of the stiffness that comes with being drugged for several hours—

    And you notice that something is off.

    You have to fight to keep your breath steady.

    You can feel your heart beating powerfully in your chest.

    Your fingers are trembling.

    You know that your captor can see that you're panicking, but it's hard to keep calm as you bring your right hand to pull down your left sleeve—

    To reveal a bracelet.

    The only consolation you had was that it looked nothing like the bracelets used in the Nonary Games. It was rectangular where yours was circular, dull and metallic where yours was mockingly bright and colorful, and it was a bit sleeker than yours had been as well. If it weren't for the bulky underside, jutting out from your wrist with two circular indentations, you could almost see someone fashioning a watch that looked like this.

    But the bracelet didn't suddenly become a watch. It remained a shackle.

    You were almost grateful when your captor spoke again. They served as a distraction.

    "Your attempted infiltration was noticed almost immediately. It would have been a simple matter to reject your application to the Mars Cohabitation project. My associate, however, had different intentions for you. He decided to give you the information you seek, but only as a prize for winning his game."

    You feel your breath hitch. Game. You were in another game.

    You steady yourself. "So DCOM was fake all along? It was always a trap?"

    "Not as such. The project is real, a psychological study on isolation that he has put funding towards. When the infiltration was noticed, the project was postponed, and he took the opportunity to add other participants he was interested in."

    "So everyone's been hand-picked by this guy? Why? What does he get out of this?"

    "He would tell you that his reasons are complex. In truth, they are simple, but require too much background information to explain concisely."

    "Well, it's not like I'm going anywhere. We have all the time you need to tell me, right?"

    "We do not. Perhaps you should check your bracelet."

    Oh, that's wonderful. You held back a sigh and did as you were asked, clicking the button on the side of your bracelet.

    It displays a timer, counting down.

    [49:11]

    "There are two needles built into the underside of your bracelet," they continue. "When the timer hits zero, both will extend into your wrist and inject their payload into your bloodstream. The first is a sedative that will put you to sleep. The second is a drug that, when combined with the sedative, will cause your memories of the past hour to be muddled and inaccessible."

    "Don't those drugs cause permanent memory loss?"

    "In most people, perhaps. And in larger doses, certainly. The dosage in your bracelet is small enough to reduce that risk to minuscule levels, and your access to the morphogenetic field will prevent it entirely."

    "Then what's the point of the drug in the first place?"

    Their head tilts away from their fist, and you get the faintest clue that they're amused. "You will not have immediate access to the morphogenetic field, which means most of the information you procure will appear to you as in a vacuum, completely isolated from any other pieces of information you will have gathered. Only in specific circumstances will you have access to the morphogenetic field, and only then will you understand the bigger picture."

    "Wouldn't that include this explanation? Why are you telling me this if I'm just going to forget it?"

    "There is no need to worry. So you can remember the rules of this game… You will not be injected with the memory drug at this time."

    Why did… "You hesitated. You're hiding something." Did they lie? Which part was the lie?

    The laugh they answered with was startling, made only more disconcerting by the voice modulator. It seared their next words into your memory.

    "It would be… inconvenient if you forgot what happens next. If you forgot that the choices you make can cause the suffering of others."

    You were taken aback, and your lack of response allowed them to continue unabated. "Unfortunately, our time together is over for now. Zero will explain the rest of the rules to you."

    The chair jerked underneath you and started to rise. In your shock, you barely managed to ask your final question. "Your associate is calling himself Zero?! Then who are you?!"

    Their response was faint, barely heard over the grinding of gears.

    "I am nobody of import."

    Fragment Complete
    Prologue
     
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  8. Index: Fragments, Locks, and Presents
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Hello everyone, this chapter has been posted ahead of schedule because it is a very short chapter, especially compared to the chapter that came before, and I didn’t want to give just this to you only to tell you that you have to wait an entire extra week for the voting to start! I’m impatient! I want action!

    One thing to note: this quest will be separated into Fragments, as illustrated here. Each Fragment will consist of between two and four chapters each, with a single exception of a Fragment that has five. Once you have seen every chapter in a Fragment, you will be notified as you have been here that it has been Completed.

    Some Fragments will be locked behind specific requirements, and some Fragments will contain locked chapters. But these locks are hidden, and so are the keys— you won’t know for sure if a Fragment is locked until you try to get past the lock, only to be stopped, or how to unlock it unless you stumble around the story!

    (or, like, give me presents. I can’t exactly give you xp or extra voting power for writing omake or making art, so I’ll make you this offer instead: every time I get a present, I will reveal an associated lock or, if that lock is already revealed, one requirement to opening that lock)

    See you on Sunday, in which the game, and the voting, will begin!
     
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  9. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    :cool:My motives are complex
     
  10. Index: Character Profiles
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Akane
    Age: 22
    Height: 5’2”
    Occupation: Crash Keys Executive, Operations
    Appearance: Brown hair worn down, stuffed down the back of your sweater. Drab hoodie, black leggings, black sneakers— sleep clothes that could be worn outside but aren’t really meant to, y’know?
    Physicality: Runner’s build. You’re fit enough, you could do some damage with the element of surprise. (Without it, though…? Probably better to run.)
    Mentality: You’re fine! Probably! You have intrusive thoughts and nightmares, but who doesn’t? The main thing to watch out for is your unfortunate tendency to completely zone out, but that’s been happening less lately. Honestly, you’re pretty well off for having burned to death over and over and over and over—
    Special Abilities: You’re a Shifter! You can Shift your consciousness from one timeline to another, which happens automatically when faced with lethal danger, which makes you effectively immortal! You also have a currently limited ability to retrieve information from other timelines, but it’s hard to do under pressure, which tends to be when you need it the most.
    Personal Notes: It’s you! You’re the main character!
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Aoi
    Age: 25
    Height: 5’9”
    Occupation: Crash Keys Executive, Personnel
    Appearance: Short white hair styled upward in spikes. Grey eyes, fair skin. White sweater, blue jeans, white sneakers. Dressed to run, not that it mattered.
    Physicality: Runner’s build. Faster and stronger than you, but less flexible. Also a worse shot with a pistol, despite having taught you.
    Mentality: Pretty good when his survivor’s guilt is kept in check. Tends toward denial as a defense mechanism. Tends toward outrage when denial fails.
    Special Abilities: Not a Shifter. He is a Receiver, though, and he’s mentally attuned to you, so if you really need to, you can send telepathic messages to him. He usually just gets impressions off you, though, status and emotions.
    Personal Notes: It’s your brother! He’s a bit overprotective, and completely incapable of saying no to you.
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Junpei
    Age: 22
    Height: 5’9” (Probably. He’s the same height as Aoi, at least.)
    Occupation: Detective Intern?
    Appearance: Short brown hair, parted to the side, frames his face nicely. Brown eyes that somehow look wine-colored in the right lighting, you still don’t know how he does it. Normally tan skin darkened further by the Nevada sun. Black jacket, black shirt, black pants, black shoes? Something must have happened in the past year…
    Physicality: Swimmer’s build? You think? His clothes are too baggy, you can’t get a good look at his frame, but his shoulders look wider than Aoi’s.
    Mentality: Jaded and bitter. Not at all similar to the Jumpy you remember from your childhood, though you can see the intelligence and snark from the Junpei of last year.
    Special Abilities: Receiver and Transmitter. Powerful enough to retrieve information from nine years in the past and send information back. Used this ability last year to mentally attune to you and rescue you from an incinerator. Has since been mentally unattuned from you. Maybe that was a mistake…
    Personal Notes: The situation with Jumpy is… complicated.
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Sigma
    Age: 22 (Physically. Apparently 67 mentally. You have a hard time grasping this information.)
    Height: Too Damn Tall. Aoi sometimes comes up to his shoulders.
    Occupation: Mechanical / Biological / Computer Engineer. Self-taught, somehow. (“It was a long 45 years.”)
    Appearance: Cropped black hair. Hazel-green eyes. Tan skin. Blue polo, white khakis, wide sneakers.
    Physicality: Bodybuilder physique. Built for power, probably to the detriment of maneuverability.
    Mentality: Bit of a temper issue, but otherwise stable. Annoyingly so. The kind of stable that he can throw in your face like “I’m fine after 45 years of isolation, why are you having problems with your issues?” But he’s not nearly as outwardly infuriating, just silently smug, so you can’t even complain about his conduct. Ugh.
    Special Abilities: Shifter. Powerful enough to transfer consciousness from 45 years in the future. Isn’t even the cool kind of future, either, he comes from an apocalypse. What a drag.
    Personal Notes: Smug asshole knows too much about you. Says he has experience working alongside you, but if that was true, he wouldn’t piss you off nearly as much.
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Phi
    Age: 21
    Height: A head shorter than you, and therefore a tiny baby.
    Occupation: College Dropout
    Appearance: Short white hair. Silver eyes— Aoi says they’re bright the same way your eyes are sometimes, which is… alarming. Pale skin. White blouse, blue shorts, black shoes. Really cute silver fashion glasses.
    Physicality: Slim build. Strong legs. Has repeatedly threatened to kick Aoi’s ass, has won every single time he took her up on it.
    Mentality: Apathetic bordering on depressed, despite having proposed the plan to apparently prevent an apocalypse. Initially ascribed to a poker face, further observation has proven otherwise. Lost in her own thoughts a lot.
    Special Abilities: Shifter, has traveled to and from the 2070s. Is either underplaying her Shifting strength, hiding additional Receiving capabilities, or is completely unaware that she keeps stopping suddenly and passing out at a concerning frequency.
    Personal Notes: Aoi has adopted her as a second sister. Looks at you a lot.
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Diana
    Age: Late 20s, minimum. NP Mastery programs take 2-4 years after earning a Bachelor’s, and she has some amount of experience.
    Height: Probably a head and some taller than you. Slouches too much.
    Occupation: Nurse Practitioner
    Appearance: Long red hair. Deep blue eyes. Fair skin, dotted with freckles. Red sweater over a grey shirt, long black skirt.
    Physicality: Unknown for the most part. Prefers baggy clothes with maximum coverage. Fills out that sweater well enough, though.
    Mentality: Androphobic, stronger reaction to men with larger builds. Shy and withdrawn, seemingly scared of her own shadow. Complete 180 when in a position of medical authority, or when talking on a subject she’s knowledgeable of or passionate about.
    Special Abilities: None apparent. Empathetic toward her patients, though that might just be a side-effect of her work. Personal Notes: Person of interest (Sigma).
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Mira
    Age: Early to mid-20s.
    Height: A head and some taller than you.
    Occupation: Unmentioned
    Appearance: Long brown hair. Vibrant green eyes. Healthy tan. Eye-catching red velvet jacket, left half-open to expose a black bralette top, ending just above black short shorts. (Distracting as all hell.)
    Physicality: Built. Powerful-looking legs, visible abs. Always has sleeves on to hide her arms, always has her chest out to distract from that fact. (If you’re an ambush predator, she lures her prey.)
    Mentality: Is a very convincing faker, would probably fool you if you didn’t know exactly what to look for in a liar. …Except she doesn’t seem like she’s lying? Her emotions are emphasized, but that could be due to backlash, someone in her past reacting poorly to emotionlessness.
    Special Abilities: None apparent, none suggested.
    Personal Notes: She is very pretty… and it’s not like you don’t empathize with her emotional issues.
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Carlos
    Age: Mid to late 20s.
    Height: Just a whisper shorter than Sigma.
    Occupation: Firefighter
    Appearance: Short blond hair styled into a wave. Pale blue eyes. Pale skin, probably burns rather than tan. Pink button-down over a white t-shirt on top of faded blue jeans.
    Physicality: Jacked to hell and back. What little you know about the requirements needed to join Fire and Rescue matches his figure so well you wouldn’t be surprised if he was the poster boy.
    Mentality: You know how some people are so happy and cheerful that you just feel like something nasty and vile is lurking underneath? Carlos takes that, pumps it up like it’s a balloon full of sunshine, and slips inside. You really hope it isn’t a facade.
    Special Abilities: “Knows what door danger is behind,” whatever the hell that means. You think it might be latent Receiving potential, taking information from the Collective Unconscious and turning it into a danger sense.
    Personal Notes: (Just as expected, cold steel slides into your back, piercing your heart and lung.) It’s nothing.
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?

    Maria
    Age: 18? That’s the listed minimum age to participate in the DCOM Project, at least. She looks so much younger…
    Height: Short. Barely came up to your chest the few times you were both standing.
    Occupation: Infirm (Amateur Artist?)
    Appearance: Chin-length blond hair (dyed, black roots showing). Tanned skin (looks naturally dark, turned pale with her health issues). Very light brown eyes, amber, you think the shade is called? (They certainly don’t look related.) Yellow shirt underneath blue jean overalls.
    Physicality: Tiny. Makes herself smaller. Arms look strong though, could probably catch an attacker off-guard.
    Mentality: Quiet, placid. Often lost in thought. Afflicted with Reverie Syndrome, but not yet completely immobilized.
    Special Abilities: Apparent Receiver, has displayed the ability to see other people’s dreams while she sleeps. Additionally, your current theory is that Reverie Syndrome might be the result of an Esper overextending their reach and getting lost in the Public Subconscious. That’s probably what happened to Ennea.
    Personal Notes: Why do you have to actively try to not be intimidated by a child…?
    Additional Information:
    This is where relevant information you obtain in the quest goes. If this hasn’t been updated in a while, feel free to poke me, okay?
     
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  11. Threadmarks: Game Theory: Fundamental Rules
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    A hatch opens in the ceiling, and your chair rises through it to deposit you at a table. The first thing you note is the tall figure standing across from you at the table, dressed in a black cloak and carrying a staff. His mask is fashioned after a plague doctor, and he wears a hat with a wide brim.

    He seems very different from the person you spoke to down below.

    "And here she is, the main player of our game! Akane Kurashiki, the first Zero. I suppose, for the sake of differentiation, you may refer to me as Zero II."

    Zero paces as he talks, emphasizing with clawed hands and gesturing with a cane he doesn't seem to need. He truly does seem to be the bombastic partner to the cool head you met immediately after waking.

    The disparity is almost hilarious, except there's nothing funny about being trapped in another death game.

    You're left staring, gaping ever so slightly, and a manic thought escapes from your mouth. "I've been kidnapped by a gameshow host."

    Luckily, his voice modulator is different as well, enhancing a distortion rather than garbling into complete anonymity, so his laugh doesn't catch you nearly as off guard.

    "I am indeed the host for this game, though I'm afraid there is no show, and no audience to appreciate the work put into this production. It is merely for my benefit, though perhaps it can be for yours, as well.

    "But we'll get to that in just a moment!" Ah, he seems to be embracing the moniker you assigned him. "For now, do feel free to investigate the room and ensure yourself that your companions are perfectly fine… even though they may not remain that way for very long."

    And with that ominous statement, he sits with a flourish, and motions for you to stand. You do so, first starting with a visual examination, eyes roving around the room.

    It's shaped like a cross, you notice. Each person that joined DCOM was present, each of them was restrained in some way or another. They were grouped into pairs and held together at each end of the cross.

    You start with the pair on your left. Carlos and Diana are seated with metal cuffs holding the joints of their arms and legs to the chairs, and a helmet securely attached to their heads. Their chairs are flush against the wall, and between them is a pole that extends to the ceiling, with a big switch against it. Wires connect the pole to each cuff on their chair, and two on each side of their helmets.

    "Akane!" Carlos exclaims immediately as you walk toward them. "I was worried when I didn't see you! You okay? You weren't in any danger down there, were you?"

    "Uh, no, no danger. No more danger than you're in up here, I mean. I'm fine, thank you for worrying?" He asked after your wellbeing before anything else, what a guy. Mr. Firefighter really did have the heart of a hero.

    Diana's response to the situation was a bit more standard. "He called you the main player, and he kind of implied that you had, um, experience? With this kind of stuff? Are we going to be okay?"

    "Well, in my experience, this kind of thing is kinda like a game. A death game, sure—"

    "A death game?!" Oh, had he not gotten to that in his explanation? You rush over her newly-heightened panic.

    "—but games are meant to be won, or else they wouldn't be fair. There's a solution that gets everyone out alive, and we're going to find it. Don't you worry."

    From his position in the center, Zero laughs lowly. You smile at Diana to offset it, trying to hide your unease, but she still looks moments away from a breakdown.

    You proceed clockwise to Sigma and Phi. Their setup was simple: they were both pinned to a bench, hands securely fastened to the bar that pinned them. In front of them was a lever, and above them, behind the bench, was a large round object with a timer on it, displaying a distressingly low time.

    You didn't notice you were caught in a bit of a reverie until Phi broke it. "Do I want to know what it is you're staring at, Akane?"

    "A bomb, probably."

    "Lovely. Don't suppose the timer has a bit of a long fuse?"

    "Nine seconds."

    Phi lets out a long groan of suffering. You turn to Sigma, "You didn't see this coming?"

    "I was told that the test facility was full of traps."

    "You are entirely too calm right now."

    "Would you prefer I start panicking? Start laughing maniacally to stop myself from crying? In the worst-case scenario, half of us survive to escape this place."

    "In the worst-case scenario," you drop your voice to a hiss now, no reason to panic everyone further, "you lose both arms, an eye, and six billion people die."

    "But we knew that already, so there's no reason to panic about it."

    You don't groan, you refuse to give him the satisfaction of a reaction that emotional. Instead, you walk over to Mira and Maria.

    This pair isn't seated. They're left standing— well, not exactly standing, you suppose. They're upright, feet planted on a metal surface, their backs pressed against a thick metal sheet. You notice that they're restrained by thick bars of metal underneath their armpits and around their waists, and there are smaller bands of metal around their ankles, thighs, wrists, forearms, and necks.

    Behind them, you can see that the sheet is connected to the wall behind it by a metal pole, and that the pole is split into two. Off to the side is some sort of machine or tool, you believe, a wheel with a handle jutting out of the top, and a button set dead center.

    Maria gives no sign of noticing your approach and doesn't seem to acknowledge you as you investigate. Her gaze isn't as unfocused as it usually is, you think, but it is pointed directly ahead of her, unwavering.

    To Zero? He's been turning in his seat to always face you, and even now he tilts his head, almost as if to greet you.

    But no, you think she's looking at Carlos, making sure he's okay to the best of her limited ability.

    You turn to Mira and notice again that something is off with her. Her eyes are wide, her jaw is clenched, and her breathing is coming in quick, short pants. But…

    It's almost involuntary; your hand comes up and your thumb goes right against her carotid artery.

    "In my experience, when someone is scared, they'd shake a little more. Shiver like they're cold, I mean. They also have a tendency to hide their hands, or their fingers, if they can't move their hands. In a position like yours, maybe you'd curl them into fists, and they'd tighten unconsciously and then they'd also start to shake. Additionally, their fight or flight instinct starts to kick in, adrenaline starts pumping, their pulse heightens."

    And hers was slower than yours was.

    "But honestly, once the initial shock wears off and they come down from their fear, the tells start to wear away, maybe give way to anger or despondency. You'd have been awake and pinned here for," your hand drops to her bracelet, pushing the button and revealing her time.

    [24:33]

    Same time as yours should be. "More than a half-hour, right? And your fear only came back once I started walking over?"

    Slowly, her eyes drop to a half-lidded, almost sultry gaze, she stops grinding her teeth, and her breath evens out. You swear she almost smiles at you.

    "I'm not really one to scare easily."

    But she'd fake it for you, how about that.

    You put it out of your mind and move to the last pair. Junpei and Aoi are seated next to each other, in separate chairs facing each other. There's rope around their chests and arms tying them to the chairs, and tape on their mouths, but otherwise, there are no restraints or devices hooked up to them, unlike the other six.

    You have to walk up a set of stairs to get to them; not many, just four, but they were relatively tall, and the floor was noticeably higher when you finished climbing them.

    You imagine that the area you were in now was a normal lobby of some sort before being converted for this game. Your theory is supported by the exit door behind the boys, barred by some sort of long, stone table, unadorned except by candles on either end.

    You check them each over, to make sure that they're unharmed, and let go of some of the stress that had been building between your shoulder blades. The boys aren't in apparent torture machines like everyone else, but also unlike everyone else, they've been silenced.

    Nothing is stopping you from removing the gags, but something's making you hesitate anyway.

    And then their bracelets vibrate.

    Not much, just two quick buzzes each, short bursts that shake against the wood of their chairs. It's loud enough to be noticeable in the silence of the room, but no more than a text notification would be.

    But it only happens to them. All nine of you are wearing bracelets, but only theirs vibrate.

    You reach down slowly and push the button on Junpei's bracelet.

    [04:44]

    You double-check to make sure, but sure enough, you still have twenty minutes on your bracelet. "Zero, what the hell is going on?"

    "It seems that you've finished your perusal of the immediate area, wonderful." Zero stands once more and begins walking, cloak billowing oh so dramatically. You walk to make sure you're always on the opposite side of the table from him. "Let this serve as a tutorial for the rest of the game. You shall be investigating whichever area you find yourself in once you awake from your slumber, searching for your escape. You may treat it as a sort of puzzle room if you will.

    "As I have stated previously, once you awake, you have sixty minutes until you are put to sleep again. If these sixty minutes pass and you have not escaped from the room you find yourself in, you will never wake again."

    He stops walking, standing at the base of the stairs that lead to Junpei and Aoi, gesturing toward them with his cane. "As this is the tutorial, and as you are bound by my design, you will not receive this penalty at the end of the round. Let this be another rule: none here shall die by my hand. I have no personal interest in your continued survival, but neither do I have designs on your demise."

    He pauses here, putting the cane to the ground and leaning forward on it with both hands. Had his eyes been visible you swear he'd be looking straight through you.

    "Let the consequences that fall be of thine own choices."

    You let the shiver run through you as you collect yourself. Before you can ask your question again, Zero starts talking once more.

    "Your goal shall be to escape this place with whatever prize you may find here. However, this final escape shall require sacrifice. You will only be permitted to leave once six of you are dead."

    There's a pause, and then exclamations from nearly everyone, be they muffled or gibbering or furious and insulting. You don't react much, having expected this, and from your position, you can see that Sigma is similarly quiet, brow scrunched in either concentration or confusion.

    Eventually, it's Diana's voice that cuts through the noise with a panicked accusation. "You just said you wouldn't kill any of us!"

    "And I will not. If six of you will die, it shall be because of one of you, and not through anything that I do." Zero starts to walk with purpose, toward you, and you move to the side as he comes to a stop again at the base of the stairs.

    "You wish to know why these two had different times on their bracelets than the rest of you? It is for three reasons. As you are the star of this game, it has been decided that they would receive benefits, as the closest people to you. This includes information, which required them to be awake before everyone else. They will not reveal this information, lest they wish for everyone here to be penalized.

    "The second purpose is this."

    With perfect timing, both bracelets on the landing above start beeping, three little chirps, and then Junpei and Aoi both stiffen, little gasps escaping their throats. Then, slowly, they fall forward toward each other, held only by the ropes on their chest.

    The entire process takes fifteen seconds.

    "The sedative is very fast-acting, almost instantaneous. The bracelet is form-fitting, with no gaps between the underside and your veins. Once your time is up, you will be put to sleep, and the only way to remove the bracelet is by escaping, or by removing your hand entirely."

    Zero meanders back to his original position by the table, eventually putting one hand on the back of his chair. "The third reason is that, as a courtesy to you, I wished to have them asleep for the final part of the tutorial."

    You find your voice again, finally. "What's the last part?"

    "During this game, you will find yourself making many choices. Your first such choice is this: your first sacrifice."

    He pauses, lets the word hang. There is silence in the room as you all await his explanation.

    "As previously stated, you will not leave this place until six are dead. You are being given the option to add two to that count immediately. To make your choice more informed, I shall tell you what lies behind each door that you will open, what is behind each sacrifice.

    "First, the uninitiated pair." He gestures to Maria and Mira. "Should you choose to sacrifice the two of you who remain blind, you will be led to where I keep my notes on the morphogenetic phenomenon." Your eyes widen. Is Zero a Shifter as well? "You are powerful yourself, yes, but there is much you still do not know, I imagine. You may find answers within.

    "Secondly, the fledgling pair." He gestures to Carlos and Diana. "Should you choose to sacrifice the two of you who are still growing into their own, you will be led to where I keep my personal notes. Should you be searching for any information about me, whether it be my motivations, my plans, or even my life, you shall find it within.

    "Finally, the advanced pair." He turns his profile, allowing you to see Sigma and Phi. "Should you choose to sacrifice your partners, you shall be able to accomplish their aim. Behind their entrance lies information on the virus, why it was created, how it spreads, how to combat it. You may even find a sample, for study, or immediate destruction, should you desire.

    "The choice is yours to make."

    With that, Zero sits once more.

    Surprisingly, it's Maria that breaks the silence. "Take me, don't hurt Carlos."

    Predictably, Carlos reacts harshly. "Leave Maria out of this! Take me instead!" Diana jerks at that, looking at Carlos with betrayal in her eyes.

    Phi proceeds to insult Zero on everything she can name, from his fashion choices to his parentage, which only serves to amuse him. Sigma beside her mumbles plans under his breath.

    You have a choice to make.


    Choose One:
    Sacrifice Carlos and Diana
    Sacrifice Mira and Maria
    Sacrifice Sigma and Phi

    Is there another option...?
    $3 Patrons get an extra vote here!
    $5 Patrons can see the outcomes of three chapters here!
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2022
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  12. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    "You are being given the option to add two to that count immediately."

    Where is the choice to sacrifice no-one? Based on how Mr. Complex Motives explained it, that should be an option.
     
  13. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Add it as a write-in, I suppose. The options shown were given to you by Zero, there’s no reason you can’t come up with one of your own.
     
  14. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Sacrifice no-one

    and because I like approval voting

    [X] Sacrifice Sigma and Phi
    for saving six million.

    Also: Hora!
     
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  15. Threadmarks: Game Theory: Rules Lawyer
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You try weighing the pros and cons. You have to consider every pair — the benefits of keeping them alive against the benefits of killing them.

    First, there's Carlos and Diana. This facility is likely to be rife with danger. Sigma loses an eye and both of his arms in a possible future. Having Diana's medical expertise on hand could very well save lives. And Carlos isn't just a strong body. As a firefighter, he likely has experience with keeping people safe and getting them out of difficult situations.

    Carlos' strength could be used against you, though. He's been so cheerful the last few days, and Fire and Rescue training would give him experience in keeping a smile under pressure. But he's already begging you to kill him, completely disregarding Diana's life. The only thing that matters to him is keeping Maria safe.

    Diana herself only has value in a vacuum. You've already seen how she reacts to unfavorable conditions — her androphobia is severe, especially as it pertains to Sigma and Carlos. She's already on the verge of an emotional breakdown, and all that's happened is an explanation of the rules. If she can't even handle vague threats, you doubt she'll be of much use in harder challenges.

    Zero's personal notes are an enticing prize, as well. Everyone here has been handpicked to take part in this game. You won't lie and say your interest isn't piqued.

    But a pair of fledgling espers killed in a game hosted by some asshole masqueraded as a gentleman? That hits a little too close to home.

    You tug at your collar and try to flap away a sudden burst of heat.

    There's also Sigma and Phi to consider. The pros are obvious, Zero said as much himself. They're your allies. You can trust them… but not implicitly. God knows you only trust Sigma as far as his interests go. His stated interests, at least.

    And who's to say he actually wants to stop this apocalypse Phi's been talking about? To hear it from him, he had it made despite everything going on in the future. A scientist with his own base of operations on the moon?! He could be here to sabotage Phi's plans, for all you know!

    Stop.

    Your paranoia's spiking.

    Rein it in.

    Breathe.

    Sigma and Phi are your allies. They've dealt with a situation much like this. They've been in a game where people could have died. Where people did die, in other worlds. Unlike the other two pairs, they knew what they were getting into.

    But that's a point in favor of killing them as well, isn't it? From a moral standpoint, they walked into the trap just like you and Aoi did, knowing that if it closed on them, they could lose their life. The other four people trapped here didn't have that advantage. They'd be dying blind and afraid.

    And pragmatically, killing them might be the easiest way to prevent an apocalypse created by Radical-6. After all, a world where Sigma and Phi go back to 2074 is a world where six billion people die. Combined with the fact that their death would reveal the secrets of Radical-6, sacrificing them would almost guarantee that the apocalypse would be averted.

    "Akane."

    When the bracelets buzz with the five-minute warning, Sigma calls you. Maybe he's come to the same conclusion. If he has, it would ease your paranoia a bit. He wouldn't offer himself up as a sacrifice if he was trying to sabotage Phi's mission.

    But almost guaranteeing something isn't quite the same as guaranteeing it. And honestly, you're too selfish to give up a pair of perfectly good allies. You ignore him for now.

    Your thoughts turn to the last pair. Honestly, the notes on the Morphogenetic Field that lie behind them are less interesting to you than the other two prizes that were promised. It would be fascinating to see them — an alternative perspective on the Field would be a great boon — but not so much that you would carelessly kill for it.

    But pragmatically speaking, there isn't much of a reason to keep Mira and Maria alive. Maria's displayed the ability to access the Morphogenetic Field while she sleeps, and it seems as though a large amount of your time will be spent medically comatose. But you have no reason to choose her abilities over Sigma and Phi's. And while she won't remember you killing Carlos, she will feel his absence.

    What was that thing Junpei said? That without him to bring her back, she would fully succumb to Reverie Syndrome? Sounds like a liability to you.

    Mira seems strong from what you can see. Strong legs, visible abs. She's attractive, she knows it, she uses it. She displays herself, emphasizes her words with her body, smirks when she catches people looking. Just from the bit of observation you've done, you can tell that she has strength, the depths of which you can't quite see.

    It makes her dangerous. She's a beautiful weapon, but a weapon nonetheless. Whatever difficulties she might have with emotions, you feel like they won't stop her in the least if she decides to kill you and escape.

    Ironically, her emotional difficulties are making you hesitate. You sympathize with her. You feel like you could help her if you got the chance. And maybe Maria's issue with Reverie Syndrome lies in her ability to access the Morphogenetic Field. If that were the case, you could help her as well, and maybe you could get her to join you. A powerful esper would be a great asset.

    …An asset, huh? You're trying to decide who to sacrifice as part of this twisted game, and all you can think about is what happens outside of it. Six people must perish for you to escape. If you got your way, the only people walking out of this place would be you, Aoi, and Junpei.

    ("There's a solution that gets everyone out alive, and we're going to find it.")

    …A death game is still a game. You've been told the rules. Where's the loophole? What's the exploit?

    "If you don't escape at the end of sixty minutes, you will be put to sleep, never to wake again…"

    "Oh?"

    You pace and mutter and ignore Zero.

    "You are being given the option to add two to that number immediately…"

    Option. The sacrifice is optional.

    "As you are bound by my design, the penalty will not take place this round…"

    The sacrifice is optional. There is no penalty.

    There is no penalty because there is no puzzle. There's no way to escape this room.

    There's a door past Junpei and Aoi, but you won't kill them, even if doing so would allow everyone else to escape. The doors past the other three pairs aren't escapes, they lead further into the facility.

    You're not trapped if you refuse to open a door.

    Rather, you're already trapped and there's no way to get even more trapped.

    You stop pacing, open your eyes, walk to the table, and sit opposite Zero.

    "Hm? Were you hoping for more information to help make your choice?"

    "No. This is my choice. I won't be sacrificing anyone."

    "Ah, you choose the hardest path possible. You'll have to kill six people with your own two hands."

    "I won't kill anyone if I can help it."

    "Oh? And how will you escape?"

    "I'll find a way."

    "I suppose you will. I look forward to watching your efforts. Let us hope that you do not falter."

    "I'll do everything in my power not to."

    Zero laughs at that. You don't know whether it's the modulator or the echo of the room, but it seems louder than it should have been. It's as though there are four of him, one for every choice you could have made, and all four copies are surrounding you, laughing at you.

    Is this the power he wields as an esper?

    It's intimidating, but you stay strong.

    Eventually, the laughter stops. Zero's beak dips — you get the feeling that he has to crane his face low to stare at you through the tiny windows his mask provides for his eyes.

    "Let us see if your power is enough."

    Every bracelet in the room chimes at the same time. You feel the needles pierce your skin, and you feel the drugs flood your veins.

    Zero's voice is the last thing you hear.

    "Pleasant dreams."

    It echoes fourfold.

    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Literary (Carlos and Maria)
    Pathogen (Aoi and Diana)
    Pawn (Junpei and Phi)
    Misgiving (Mira and Sigma)

    This is the “secret” solution to this little puzzle— in a visual novel I suppose it wouldn’t appear until you complete the chapter three times and go “wait, how come the Fragment isn’t complete?”

    Usually, at the end of a Game Theory chapter, whoever you sacrificed would be banned from Fragment Selection— they wouldn’t show up because Akane recognizes them as dead, because she killed them. That won’t happen anymore, and not just because you probably won’t revisit Game Theory until it’s required.

    You also get something else from this, but that won’t be relevant until the next time Fragment Selection comes up.
     
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  16. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Misgiving (Mira and Sigma)
    It feels weird to be the only person participating here.
     
  17. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    I appreciate your participation! One of the threads I'm posting this to hasn't seen any activity at all. Different sort of audience, I suppose.
     
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  18. Aoinfinity

    Aoinfinity Unlimited blue works

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    [X] Pawn (Junpei and Phi)
     
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  19. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    I don't actually know how to break this tie. Usually, my go-to is to favor whoever had more thorough reasoning for their vote or whoever had the most intriguing discussion, but right at the start like this, there isn't a lot to talk about.

    I guess I'll just have a re-vote/tiebreaker extension? Until like, Tuesday? That seems good.

    Here's some teaser text to help you make a more informed decision regarding the re-vote.

    Thank you for participating! I appreciate you!
     
  20. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    I really want to see more of what you are doing with Mira's character.
     
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  21. Threadmarks: Misgiving (Mira and Sigma)
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    One day, when you were twelve years old, you woke up on a hospital bed. You were dizzy, you felt heavy, and when you tried to reach for your head, something stopped you – something around your wrists. With more effort than it should have taken, you propped yourself up on your elbows and weakly opened your eyes to look at your hands.

    There were cuffs around your skinny wrists. You were shackled to the bed. You opened your mouth to call for Aoi, but your throat was dry – all that came out was a sickly croak.

    You heard a deep sound from behind you – later, you would identify it as a chuckle. Later, you would label that chuckle as evil, as sick and twisted, something deserving of hatred and revenge.

    But that would only come later.

    At the time, all that came to mind was confusion.

    You tried to turn and face the sound, but your arms gave out and you collapsed back on the bed. The sound's source came to you, though. He walked to stand over you and smiled down at you.

    It was a kind smile, but the eyes were cold.

    "You shook off a sedative meant for grown adults, you know. A bunch of you brats did. It's a good thing, I suppose – it confirms that you have special abilities. It proves that this venture isn't a waste of time and money. I'll definitely get what I want from you, that much is certain."

    Later, you would remember his words. You would understand and realize that he was being cruel, like a cartoon villain monologuing to a captured hero. But his cadence was nurturing, meant to soothe children to sleep, and your head and eyelids were so heavy.

    Babies and children are similar like that – as long as the tone remains level and pleasant, they don't care about what is said.

    "Why don't you go back to sleep? You'll have a lot to do once you wake up."

    And like the child you were, you listened to the tone and went back to sleep.

    The next time you woke up, you were run ragged through a death game on a sinking ship. At the end of it, you were thrown into an activated incinerator.

    And you recognized the person who threw you in. The smile was cruel this time, and the eyes were crazed rather than cold, but the face was the same.

    It probably didn't occur to him to hide his face – he was face-blind and you were a drugged child. He had no reason to suspect that you would burn his face into your memory and enact his downfall nine years later.

    No, Hongou had no idea that you would remember his smile and eyes.


    You wake up shackled to a hospital bed and freak out.

    You clench your eyes shut as adrenaline burns away the sedative in your veins. Your breath comes out in quick pants. Your muscles start to tense – you cringe when your arm moves too quickly and the cuff jangles against the metal railing on the bed.

    You feel warmth against your forearms. Hesitantly, you open your eyes and look down.

    You see a large weathered hand sharply juxtapositioned against your dainty unblemished arm. Your eyes trace the hand up to a muscled bicep stretching out a navy polo. Past the collar is a familiar face – a young face hiding an old soul.

    (What else is he hiding?)

    He feels your eyes on him. He turns his head to face you.

    He smiles.

    You think you hear a click. You know you feel cold metal fall away from your wrists.

    Your fingers grasp material and you heave yourself out of the bed.

    You sprint to the other side of the room. You don't stop consciously – you just barely manage to turn so your shoulder slams against the wall instead of your face. The impact jolts you, wakes you up. You drop to a huddle, crouched in the corner. You close your eyes and try to think, try to calm down.

    None of the people involved in the First Nonary Game are here.

    All of them have been taken care of.

    (All of them that you're aware of.)

    Hongou is in prison.

    Hongou killed Kubota.

    Hongou killed Nijisaki.

    Hongou killed Musashidou.

    Hongou killed you. Dragged and threw you into the incinerator like you were trash to be disposed of. In one world you were saved, but in twenty other concurrent timelines Junpei failed and you failed and you burned and you burned and you burned and you burned

    A touch to your knee brings you back to earth—painted fingernails on a slim wrist. The jacket is a vibrant red. Green eyes carrying muddled confusion and faint hints of concern seem to glow neon.

    Even in the dim lighting, Mira finds a way to shine.

    You slump out of your frightened huddle, sit properly on the ground, and try to catch your breath.

    "I'm fine," you mumble out.

    You have to be fine.


    You regain focus some unknown number of minutes later. Mira is still crouched by you, with her hands wrapped around her shins. Close enough to offer some measure of comfort, but not so close as to crowd you and make you panic again.

    Past her, you see the room you're trapped in. It's barren, empty except for the bed that Sigma still stands by and a console in the center of the back wall.

    You stand up using the wall to steady yourself, and stuff your hands into your sweater pocket, brushing against plastic.

    Hm?

    There's a plastic card in your pocket. You take it out and look at it.

    It's violet with a black number in the center.

    44. Ominous.

    "You have one too?" Mira's also stood up from her crouch—she stands behind you, looking over your shoulder. "We both had one in our pockets when we woke up. The card and a key."

    A key?

    To your shackles, probably.

    She has a card in her hand now, stretched out to let you see. You don't get the best look with the lighting the way it is, but you can see that it's bright red, same as her jacket.

    You hum at the information and walk over to the console. It's a simple touch screen with a number pad and six empty input boxes. Above the input is text.

    Begin the treatment process!
    Please input the PIN!
    <=<


    Your instinct is to blink at the emoji, but honestly, the gameshow host persona you captor put on gives him a bit of leeway as far as decorum goes, doesn't it? So really, your only complaint is the colors he chose to use. The screen is a light blue, the text and input fields are a blaring white, and the symbols in the emoji itself are three different colors.

    …Wait.

    The symbols in the emoji are three different colors. Red, violet, green.

    You take your card out again. Violet, 44. Mira's card was red…

    "You both have numbers? What are they?"

    Mira answers first. "29."

    "94," Sigma replies from his corner.

    Of course, you aren't dealing with three two-digit numbers. You're dealing with three pairs of single-digit numbers. If Mira is red and you're violet, Sigma must have the third color. And then, it isn't an emoji at all, they're all mathematical symbols. Lesser-than, equals-to, lesser-than.

    Now, you just hope that Zero isn't going to be needlessly extra with his puzzle…

    Red-violet-green-red-violet-green.

    The screen flashes green and trills at you. Task complete.

    The text and number pad disappear to give you a top-down view of the room that you're in right now. Or at least, you assume it's the room you're in – it'll be really inconvenient otherwise. The bottom wall has a door emblazoned on it, and the other three are colored the same as the emoji was: the left is red, the top is violet, and the right is green.

    Now, you don't know what that means—

    Your thoughts are interrupted by mechanical whirs. You look up to see a little slot opening up directly above the console, just a bit higher than your head, and on either side of you, two similar slots open up on either wall.

    You take a closer look at the slot. It's about the right size to fit in an ATM, isn't it? A little card slot.

    And the top wall is colored violet, after all.

    You take your card out, reach above your head, and slip it into the slot. Your card is eagerly taken, just like a bank card, and after a second it dings merrily and closes up.

    A bang above startles you – you trip backward and fall on your ass. Groaning, you look up to see a hatch that's opened in the wall right above the console. And of course it couldn't just slide open, right? Ugh.

    "You okay, Akane?"

    Sigma's above you, offering his hand to help you up.

    Ugh.

    You wave him off and stand up on your own, gesturing to the right wall. "Go put your card into the slot that opened up over there. Mira, put yours in that slot."

    "…Right."

    He sends you a questioning look, but follows your instructions, which is good. Two dings sound out simultaneously, followed by a grunt from Sigma. You look to the right – some sort of big metal cylinder rolled out from the bottom of the wall and knocked into his shin. Schadenfreude fills you.

    To your left, Mira is now holding a stepladder awkwardly. It's just a bit too tall and a little too wide for her to hold comfortably. You come over and grab one end, gesturing her to the other side with your head, and helping her carry it underneath the hatch. Sigma, for his part, rolls the cylinder to rest by the stepladder.

    You look from the cylinder to the hatch. There are little bits of piping on either side of the interior, and little divots in the cylinder.

    "It's probably a canister of some kind. We need to pop it in to get out. Sigma—"

    "Yeah, I'll climb the ladder, you try to hand me the canister as high as you can get it."

    …Your eyebrow is twitching. You can't resist the urge to be pedantic.

    "It's a stepladder."

    "Oh? Is there a difference, Miss Kurashiki?"

    "The difference is that I won't have an issue knocking you off one of them."

    "Yeah, you've said something similar to me before."

    He's smirking, the bastard. You know what, you do need six kills to get out of here anyway, don't you—

    "Hey." Mira, crouched down, knocks on the metal. "Escape first, stepladder murder later."

    You grumble, but she's right. You crouch and grab the canister on your end. "One-two-three-lift–"

    It takes both you and Mira combined to get the canister off the ground and above your heads, whereas Sigma on his own can take it from there, twist to face the wall, and place it into the hatch, turn it until it clicks, and put the hatch back into place. Then he jumps down before you can kick the stepladder from underneath him. Smart of him.

    There's another little jingle. The wall behind you slides open, the doorway revealed. You try not to rush over.

    The doorway leads to a small cubicle with a sealed door on the other end. When the three of you are inside, the door closes behind you. There are two dings from the ceiling, followed by a hissing sound from the vents above.

    All three of your bracelets let out a little chime. You check yours and only find a green time display.

    Well, the display during the "tutorial" was red, so you suppose that the color change signifies that the puzzle is finished. Good of Zero to end it when you get through the door and not when the second door opens. Imagine if you had been slower to solve the puzzle and died to a technicality, it would be disastrous.

    So, the puzzle is finished.

    …You're still trapped in a small metal room, though.

    You lean against a wall.

    Your chest heaves. Your breath is coming through uneven – what are they pumping through the vents, anyway?

    Probably whatever was in that canister.

    Sigma would have mentioned if he saw a label or something, right?

    Who knows what Sigma would do at any given moment.

    …The hissing reminds you of the incinerator burners.

    For a moment, you imagine that gas is being pumped in here, just waiting to ignite.

    Is it getting hotter in here?

    "Hey."

    You jolt back to reality. Mira is grasping your wrist. The second door is open – Sigma is gone.

    "It looks like there's a lounge room at the end of this hallway, do you wanna sit down or something?"

    "…No, I should take a look around."

    "Why? What are you hoping to find?"

    "I dunno. Zero might have left something lying around, some kind of information."

    "Info that he probably planted, you mean? Info that he wants us to find?"

    "It's better than nothing. And we can learn something from what he isn't telling us, too."

    "If you say so… Are you sure you're okay?"

    "I'm fine."

    It sounds as convincing as the first time you said it.


    The hallway twists sharply in a corner at the end, but past that, there is indeed some kind of lounge room. A couch and two armchairs surrounding a coffee table. There are three more pathways it looks like, three rooms to explore.

    You start with the path on your right. When you turn the corner you see an open door at the end of the hallway and a big glowing monitor inside the room. Looks good enough to you. You walk forward.

    The monitor has six input fields, same as the puzzle you just solved. You wonder if the same number will work…

    Yeah, the screen flickers to a folder directory. You wonder if the number has any significance. Now, what all is here—

    "The other two doors are shut and locked—"

    "Fuck, Sigma." He snuck up on you and he's leaning against the open door.

    "Sorry, sorry. Looks like you got this working, though."

    "Mhmm."

    "Hey, do you have, uh… an issue? With like, hospital rooms? Or handcuffs, or something?"

    "What, future-me didn't tell you anything?"

    "No, you're a pretty private person, all things considered."

    "And what, you think that would change if I was forty years younger?"

    "Hey, okay, I get it." He stops talking, only to start again after barely a minute of silence. "Do you have… an issue with me?"

    You take your thumb off the keyboard so you don't accidentally input anything in your annoyance. You are very tempted, actually, to tell him exactly what your issue is.

    Decision Time
    (Choose One)
    Snap at Sigma
    Calm Down
     
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  22. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Snap at Sigma

    This option is almost like communicating!

    Also, nice to see our protag being Phoenix Wright.
     
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  23. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You have chosen to Snap at Sigma, which is adjecent to communicating with him! Hooray for almost talking!

    This decision will allow Akane to put words to what her thoughts have been brewing up for however many days it’s been since Sigma showed up at her doorstep with a Plan To Save The Future, and all the pompous capitals it involves.

    Here’s a teaser to get you thinking:
    Be sure to tune in next week for Misgiving: Olive Branch.
     
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  24. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Hi, sorry, the chapter’s gonna be a bit delayed, hopefully no longer than a day or two. I don’t have this one prewritten, and I spent some time in the hospital and in bed under painkillers because of a health condition.

    I have the chapter outlined but not a lot of specifics nailed down, so it won’t take too long. Sorry again!
     
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  25. Threadmarks: Misgiving: Untenable
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You need to calm down.

    Sigma is your ally. You need to be able to work with him properly, without trying to bite his head off. You’re both in the same position, both trapped by someone with unclear goals but a willingness and ability to end your lives.

    Maybe Zero is a fan of dramatic irony. Maybe he force-fed you a bomb, and it’s sitting in your intestines right now, waiting for you to mess up and end up like Kubota.

    You don’t intend to mess up. You’re going to put your issues aside and work with Sigma.

    …And then you make the mistake of looking at his eyes.

    The tension in his face was the right amount of concern mixed with curiosity. Sigma asked a question, he wants an answer, but he doesn’t want to cause you any undue stress. Doesn’t want to complicate the fragile relationship you share. His face reflected all of that perfectly.

    But his eyes were twitchy. Bounced from your face to your shoulders to your hair. Kept looking for something that wasn’t there.

    He’s looking for someone, and it isn’t you.

    Your mouth runs ahead of your brain.

    “Sigma, what are we doing here?”

    “We’re going to try and get into this computer—”

    “No, no, I mean — here, in this facility, being psychologically tortured by some asshole in a bird mask.”

    “I, it’s a plague—”

    “Why are we in this situation, Sigma?”

    “I mean, it was your plan to—”

    Your frayed patience finally snaps.

    “My plan? My plan? Oh, no no no no no. You may be using my resources, hiding out in my base, going through my connections to get into DCOM in the first place, but this is not my plan. My plan wouldn’t have us sauntering into a loaded mouse trap, my plan wouldn’t have us expecting to get gassed and grabbed in the middle of the night, and my plan certainly wouldn’t have me separated from my brother, completely in the dark about his whereabouts or condition!”

    “But, no, we spent weeks coming up with—”

    “I met you less than a week ago, Sigma. That’s my problem with you. You don’t treat me like I’m my own person, you treat me like some other bitch named Akane! Someone who’s either completely lost touch with who she used to be, or knew exactly what would come from your pushy bullshit and simply didn’t care.”

    The short silence that follows is glorious. Sigma looks like a freshly caught fish, eyes wide and mouth agape. He’s taken aback and he doesn’t have a response ready for once in his life.

    He doesn’t have the answer, he isn’t sure that he’s in the right.

    But it’s short, it doesn’t take much time for him to get his bearings back.

    “I see. I am truly sorry about that. You are correct, I’ve been treating you like I would treat the Akane of my time, and I will endeavor to change that going forward. However, I am still and have always been devoted to stopping the outbreak of Radical-6, and this plan that you and I are a part of is the best way to achieve that.”

    Ah, he’s trying to own up to his mistake and put everything past you. Trying to move forward without trouble.

    “Oh? Are you sure about that?”

    But your patience doesn’t magically unsnap…

    “Phi told me a very interesting story. Actually, it was your story, but she figured you wouldn’t tell me yourself, so all I have is her secondhand information.”

    …and you are still very angry.

    The words drip off of your tongue.

    “According to her, neither of you remember much of your venture, and if your Akane remembered anything, she didn’t tell you. But it sounds an awful lot like you went into DCOM, where you proceeded to lose both of your arms and an eye, and also somehow the outbreak happened. That sound about right?”

    “Yes… That is the extent of my knowledge.”

    “Do you know what vibe I get from this building, Sigma?” You wave a hand around for emphasis, gesturing at the walls and the computer. “I get the idea that this is a research facility. We just got out of some kind of test chamber, this is obviously a place where information gets logged, that kinda stuff, right?”

    “Yes, and they developed—”

    “They made Radical-6, and therefore it must be evil, and they’re evil too? Maybe Zero is just some rich guy, big into venture capitalism or something. Rich guys are all kinds of weird.”

    “There’s no way you’re suggesting—”

    “We did research into DCOM, you know, and the organization that funded it. There’s some shady stuff, and there are unconfirmed rumors of a cult, which matches what you told me about them. But mostly what we found is that the organization has some kind of passion or interest in the medical field, and the main beneficiary of that passion is Cradle Pharmaceuticals.

    “Now, I don’t have the best history with them, but other than that fiasco, they’re mostly above-board. And they lead the charge in medical innovations. Which, of course, takes a lot of research. And that research, naturally, needs human testing. And maybe Zero, the rich guy that we probably pissed off by breaking into what was probably a new venture of his, decided to take his anger out by converting his personal research facility into a torture roulette and shoving us into it.”

    Your eyes narrow as you walk forward, and your teeth are gritting ever-so-slightly, but you keep forcing a smirk.

    “Maybe you’re right, and Radical-6 is a bioweapon in the final phases of development. Or maybe it was never a bioweapon. Maybe it was a new product, currently unstable, and your bumbling turns an unstable compound into something that nearly wipes out the human race. We simply don’t know.”

    You stop in front of the door, right next to Sigma. Your next words come out low, barely above a whisper.

    “What we do know, is that the outbreak coincides with your entry and subsequent exit from DCOM. If you were truly… devoted, you said? To ensuring Radical-6 didn’t get out?”

    You finally drop your smirk, allow your lip to curl up into a sneer.

    “You would have killed yourself when you woke up in 2028.”

    There. Now you can leave Sigma to think about that. As if in agreement, your bracelet buzzes with the five-minute warning.

    …You can hear footsteps shuffling away down the hall. Mira must have gotten bored and walked up to the corner to eavesdrop. Might as well go and see her.


    You catch a flash of Mira’s red jacket turning the corner in the hallway opposite you. Sigma had said that the other two passages lead to dead ends, but you suppose Mira wouldn’t have been told. She just wants to get as far away from you as possible and hope that her snooping goes unnoticed.

    Sucks to be her. You sprint down the hall in pursuit.

    (Why are you hurrying? You won’t even remember whatever she tells you. Why is it so important that you find out what she knows?

    Stop second-guessing yourself.)

    Mira’s facing you when you get to the bend, hands in her jacket pockets. Her lips are turned up in a small smile, even as her eyes stay cold. “You came down here awfully fast. Is there something you needed?”

    You stuff your hands in your hoodie’s pockets as well and keep your back straight, no matter how much you want to bend over and pant for breath. You can’t show weakness.

    “Yeah, I wanted to know why you were eavesdropping on my conversation with Sigma.”

    “Was your talk supposed to be private? I didn’t realize — if you were shouting any louder I could’ve heard you from the room we started in.”

    “And yet, instead of coming into the room entirely or staying away to give us a thin veneer of privacy, you were lurking just out of sight.”

    “I didn’t want to interrupt. And I was curious.”

    “Curious about what?”

    Mira’s smile stretches ever-so-slightly, and her eyes glimmer with… something. They’re still cold, but they’re no longer so calculating, instead…

    Amused? Satisfied?

    “About you and Sigma. About people in general, really. Human emotion and intrinsic motivation intrigue me greatly, and we’re trapped in a situation that has a great chance to bring out a person’s true nature. What they do when faced with their mortality.”

    She huffs out a breath of laughter, which devolves into a brief fit of giggling that seems to surprise her. She holds her hand to her lips, but her smile doesn’t drop — it only grows.

    “Imagine my surprise to learn that you came here willingly! I don’t know what to make of half the things you were talking about, but you somehow knew that we would end up here, and not only did you not stay away, but you apparently expended resources to make sure that you got here!”

    …Are you being mocked?

    “And the best part is that you don’t even know why! Let me take a stab at the situation.” Mira’s left hand comes out of the jacket in a fist, her fingers ticking upward along with her points. Her insufferable smirk widens. “You heard that there was a threat. You were asked to help end that threat. You realized that you were the best fit for the job — or you have a deep mistrust of the proper authorities. And then you, very begrudgingly, agreed to help even though you have no personal stake and dragged your brother along for the ride.”

    Her mouth is set in a full-blown grin, her green eyes wide with manic energy.

    Her questions barrage you nonstop.

    “How close am I, Akane? Does your deep-seated hero complex have you wandering aimlessly in search of people to help? Do you always rush into things without thinking of the long-term consequences of your actions? Do you care about how your actions affect other people, or is everyone outside of your close-knit group considered expendable? Zero set your brother and your boyfriend apart from everyone else, away from immediate danger. Sigma and Phi are your allies too, right? Why were they strapped to a kill-machine when Aoi and Junpei weren’t?”

    Inside your pocket, your hands are balled into fists, and you’re trembling with anger. Nothing she’s saying is wrong, but you want her to shut up so badly.

    “At least Sigma has a real reason to be in here risking his life. Against all common sense, he seems to be laser-focused on that threat. He’s got conviction.”

    It’s like the last nerve that Sigma snapped suddenly alights on fire. You stalk forward, your hands slipping out of your pocket. Mira sees something in your face — her grin drops, her hand comes up as if to ward you away, she starts backing up toward the locked door.

    Her mouth opens. To plead with you? You don’t want to hear her voice anymore — you cut her off.

    “Regardless of my motivations, I’m still here. This is still a death game. Congratulations, at least part of your psychoanalysis is correct — I don’t care about anyone outside of my ‘close-knit’ group. I want my brother to get out of here alive. Safe and sound.”

    Mira’s back bumps against the door. Her head turns to look at it incredulously, and her left hand rubs against the spot where there would be a knob to open it, but these doors are automated, and this door is locked.

    “Six other people need to die for that to happen.”

    She turns back to face you. You’re in her face. Your hand comes up to wrap around her throat. You push her backward and slam her against the door.

    Something bumps against the top of your left foot. Mira’s foot, maybe, trying to scramble away from you. Her hands come up and wrap around your wrist, but you squeeze her throat and her resistance falters.

    “Maybe I should kill you. How many are already dead? What number would you make?”

    Her breathing comes out in pants. Her eyelids are fluttering and her face turns red.

    “How about it Mira? Do you want to test my conviction?”

    She’s saved by the bell. Both of your bracelets sound off — they’re obnoxiously loud, as close to your ears as they are right now.

    The needles stab into your wrist. Rather than lean into it and embrace unconsciousness, you try to resist, pressing your thumbs into the soft part of Mira’s throat. She chokes audibly, and a dark part of your mind hums in satisfaction.

    But while your anger is white-hot, it doesn’t burn away the sedative as it floods your veins. You slam Mira’s head against the door as hard as you can before you’re forced to relinquish your hold of her and drop bonelessly to the floor.

    Maybe the head trauma will put her into a coma and she’ll be classified as dead.

    You can only hope.

    You’ve obtained the Green Key.


    Your choices have granted you a new option when selecting a Fragment:

    Redirect (Individual)
    Rather than choose a Fragment from the selection provided, you can vote to redirect the Fragment Selection to target a specific person. The exact Fragment is left up to the discretion of the QM.

    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Exodus (Carlos and Phi)
    Box (Junpei and Aoi)
    Reverie (Diana and Maria)

    Revisit (What Fragment?)
    Redirect (What person?)
     
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  26. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    One or two days, one or two months, you know. Complications and whatnot. My health is always kinda in flux, it just so happens that this time my health took a downturn while my insurance was lapsing so getting medicine was a pain in the ass.

    But I'm back! Hello again!

    I'll try to update quicker to make up for lost time, but the main reason I kept a week between updates initially (aside from wanting to build a backlog) was because my health is in shambles and I know I need to pad updates to ensure there's a content flow when I can't write.

    Not that it worked, mind. So we're gonna work with what we have.

    I am invested in this story though! I'm gonna keep at it until the end, and hopefully, this update convinces you that the quality is worth sticking around too!

    If you enjoy the content and you'd like to help out:
    Ko-fi: Ko-fi.com/kayzero
    Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/KayZero
     
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  27. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    Welcome back and I hope you stay in good health henceforth

    [X] Revisit: Pathogen (Aoi and Diana)
     
  28. Marlin

    Marlin wishing to read another story deleted for profit

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    [X] Revisit: Pathogen (Aoi and Diana)
     
  29. Threadmarks: Pathogen (Aoi and Diana)
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You wake slowly, emerging from a dreamless fog. You don’t open your eyes immediately— you’re actually really comfortable at the moment, which is weird to say considering the situation you find yourself in. Hard floors and tense atmospheres would be more in line with your expectations, but the quiet surrounding you is calm, almost serene, and whatever’s underneath you is unexpectedly plush.

    You’re reminded of living in an apartment with your brother. You were never ignorant of your financial situation after your parents had… passed, but Aoi did his best to shield you from the reality of your situation, often sacrificing himself for your comfort.

    Then the Game happened, and money stopped being an issue.

    Okay, no more thoughts like that. Time to get up and face the death game.

    …After five more minutes.

    You hear a snort come from someone nearby, followed by padded footsteps and the sound of a heavy door being swung open. It closes slowly with a sigh of air but doesn’t slam against the frame. Pressurized, then. What kind of place are you in right now?

    There’s only one way to find out.

    …Maybe this is the real trap. Make you so comfortable that you don’t want to get up, so you can’t help with the puzzles, so the time limit lapses, and you’re put back to sleep, never to wake up again.

    That dastard Zero, how could he possibly know your habits?! Only Aoi could possibly know that you’re slow to get up in the morning! They must be in cahoots!

    …Fine, fine. You’ll get up now.

    You swing your legs to the side and follow the spin to right yourself, stretching your arms upward to fully wake yourself. The air of danger that should be ever-present during these events is missing almost entirely, and the usual spike of adrenaline that makes you alert is absent as well.

    The plush couch you find yourself on certainly isn’t helping matters. There are chairs around as well, with fluffy white cushions attached to stiff metal frames, and two doors on the opposite end of the room. When you stand you can see them both clearly; one has an electronic lock, the sensor glowing a bright red, while the other door facing it has no lock at all, just a metal plate on the side.

    You walk across the red carpeted floor and push through the second door, leaving the waiting room for a laboratory of sorts. The air is sterile, the walls and shelves are metallic, and the temperature is a few degrees lower.

    You wonder how many facilities are just like this one, with a warm, inviting frontend hiding a cold, unfeeling backend.

    “Do we have a magnifying glass anywhere in here?”

    Your attention is drawn to the back of the lab, where Diana is hunched over a table. Aoi calls back to her from somewhere else in the room, hidden by shelves of stacked materials.

    “You’re looking into a microscope right now.”

    “I need less magnification! I think I can identify what I’m looking at, but not with so much detail!”

    You start scanning the shelves around you. There are different tools by the entrance, measures and vials and other sciencey stuff. You find a magnifying glass in short order and bring it to Diana.

    “Thank you — oh, you’re up! Aoi didn’t want to wake you, you know.”

    “She needed the rest!”

    “He also said you looked adorable.” She laughs as she shifts to the side of the microscope, examining something in a petri dish with the magnifying glass instead. “I didn’t mind, honestly. This is just like college lab work, a bunch of biology and cell culture.”

    “What are we trying to do, exactly?”

    Rather than answer your question, she points to her left, and you direct your attention to the whiteboard on the wall.

    FIND THE POSITIVE REACTION
    PATHOGEN A + SPECIMEN B —> SUBJECT C
    DELIVER THE SOLUTION​

    “We’re supposed to be making something?”

    “It’s a process similar to vaccine creation. A disease caused by some sort of bacteria or virus is isolated, then introduced to a sample from a healthy subject, usually human, and the reaction is examined. Then, something is added — some sort of gene or toxin, something that can weaken the disease, and it’s reintroduced to the sample to see if the reaction is weakened or intensified.

    “The vaccine is declared complete when the reaction is neutralized to such a degree that it can be safely introduced to a human body to fight off the disease it was created for.”

    “Woah, that’s sick.” Diana pauses in her examination to look up at you, but you just stare back in confusion. She sighs and resumes her work.

    “I think these samples were pre-treated. I don’t know what the treatment was, but the muscle fibers look stronger than average and the hair follicles look tougher as well. And that’s not even getting into whatever I’m looking at right now.”

    “What do you think you’re looking at?”

    “Brain cells. At least I think so. Neuroscience was never my specialty, so I couldn’t tell while looking through a microscope, but the structures underneath the magnifying glass look similar enough to what I studied in school. They’re so weird though.”

    “Weird?”

    “Yeah. Super weird. Like, I know if you treat the containment properly, you can keep a brain alive for however long — that’s how we get brain-in-a-jar stuff in science fiction. So it would make sense if the cells here were still alive. But they’re behaving strangely.”

    “Stranger than being alive and thinking weird things while trapped in a petri dish? What would you even think about being trapped in a petri dish? ‘Oh my god, it’s small in here! What’s that thing blocking the light?’”

    “Well, without eyeballs or optic nerves I don’t know how you’d perceive being inside the petri dish, but that sounds close enough. No, what’s weird is how they’re connecting. Like, you’d expect the neurons to connect to each other and then sparks would fly and that’s how you make a thought, right? Only like, half of the neurons here are trying to connect to other neurons.

    “The other half are raised away from the brain cells, away from the other neurons, like they’re trying to connect to something else.”

    A shiver runs up your spine. The concept seems familiar.

    Aoi appears from the shelves carrying three tubes and a book. “Alright, this journal doesn’t go into detail about what these things are carrying, but it does help with labeling them.”

    Diana takes the journal and has Aoi put the test tubes down on the table away from the microscope. “B, V, and P, huh? Ooh, phages, isn’t that cool? Alright, yeah, that works. There’s a marker with the whiteboard, right?”

    You go over to the board, while Diana grabs the three vials, along with another three that she put elsewhere on the desk. You find two markers and toss one over to Aoi, who hands it to Diana, who begins marking vials.

    “Aoi, could you go over to the emulator? This place is so advanced, I wish I was here under different circumstances. Do you see that computer over there, Akane? Apparently, Zero has access to these mannequin things that emulate a human body, and they’re connected to that computer, so we can monitor their condition, and like, fast-forward the reaction. What do the injectors look like, Aoi?”

    “Nine slots in a three-by-three!”

    “Perfect, okay. Akane, you’re gonna arrange the mixture labels in a three-by-three square as I’m putting them together, okay? First letter lowercase, second letter uppercase. Ready?

    “Top row, mB, mV, mP.”

    You write them down and look back to Diana, who’s using different syringes to take samples from each test tube and transfer them to new vials.

    “Okay, middle row! hB, hV, hP.”

    You didn’t get the chance to look at each sample under the microscope — nor would there really be a reason to, you didn’t exactly understand everything that was going on, but you did know that each sample had to have been finely shredded and added to whatever solution to be in a state that it could be picked up by a syringe.

    “Bottom row! bB, bV, bP!”

    You really didn’t want to think about what those brain cells had to be in order to still be functional in that state, let alone abnormally functional. But that’s where your thoughts kept drifting off to.

    Neurons connecting to something unseen.

    “Alright! Let’s get these bad boys into the emulator!”

    At least Diana’s having fun with the incomprehensible horrors. Maybe because she doesn’t know enough to be horrified.

    You help Diana carry the vials over to Aoi and watch as she slots them in exactly as she had you note on the whiteboard. She doesn’t even look up to reference it, you think her directing you was purely mnemonic. Each slot has a button directly underneath it, likely to eject once complete, and the computer attached has a single screen with no keyboard.

    Diana presses a button on the front of the machine and the screen lights up. She moves to stand in front of it, and Aoi joins her to observe. You stay back.

    “Okay, let’s see… Oh, phages are a bust, that’s for sure. They, uh, usually target bacteria and sort of, uh, convert them for reproduction, right? They’re super useful for antibacterial medications and stuff, but they’re less useful when being introduced to a healthy human body, especially when they’re treated… with whatever they were treated with here.

    “Which seems to be promoting growth? Growth of whatever biological material was introduced to the phage. It could be really good when combined with the muscle fibers since they seem to target whatever’s closest. Which happens to be abdominal muscles.”

    “You could sell eight-pack abs.”

    “Yeah, Aoi, you could! Except that this variant is too aggressive, and it seems to be too focused on growth instead of enhancement, like steroids. So instead what you get is a bunch of ruptured intestines as the abdominal muscles grow too quickly, start to grow backward.

    “But hey! Maybe if you fine-tune it! Maybe one day you, too, could have an eight-pack!”

    She pokes Aoi’s stomach with a knuckle, and he fakes affront while she turns back to the screen and swipes it to the side. Touch screen, okay.

    “The brain sample is similar. The phages convert the bacteria in the gut, reproduce, and travel up to the brain in order to create more brain mass, which causes it to expand until it’s too much brain for the skull to handle and kills you. The hair isn’t lethal, at least, except it seems to be promoting growth within the gut? And hair can’t be digested, so you just have hairballs in your intestines. Which is. Interesting? But not exactly positive.”

    “Would that make us cough up hairballs like cats would?”

    “I don’t think so? I think the feline digestive track is different from ours, maybe connected to the respiratory system? I don’t know, I didn’t go into veterinary science.”

    Diana pushes every button on the bottom row and grabs the vials as they pop up out of the machine. Then, she pushes a button on the other side of the computer, which opens a hatch to reveal a space that starts glowing orange.

    The temperature in the room rises. You back away until you hit a shelf.

    Diana drops all three vials into the hatch and pushes the button again, closing it.

    “Alright, what are the other pathogens doing? Oh, the bacteria seem to be reproducing by consuming the samples they were introduced to. I think that immediately disqualifies mB and bB.”

    The hatch opens again.

    Diana drops the vials through.

    The hatch closes.

    You can breathe again.

    “I don’t think the hair bacteria can be considered automatically negative? I know a lot of people would consider hair removal treatment like this a godsend. If there was a way to target body hair instead of all hair I think it’d be a shoo-in! But we weren’t given the resources to look into that sort of thing, so I think it’s a net-neutral? Put a pin in it.

    “Now the viruses… Hm? Oh, that’s interesting.”

    You can’t see that well from where you’re standing, but the expression on Aoi’s face suggests that he doesn’t quite understand what he’s looking at either. He comments on it, even. “You wanna share with the class?”

    “Huh? Oh, right. The viral pathogens seem to be targeting the introduced sample and promoting activity. The hair sample looks similar to the phages which promoted growth, but it’s directly targeting the hair follicles outside of the body. Which, like, hair growth, awesome, but also body hair growth, kinda gross. Another net-neutral, I think.

    “The muscular pathogen is interesting; it’s promoting muscle activity, which shows as becoming more muscular. Which is a desirable trait, and probably the most positive thing we’ve seen yet. Except the virus seems overeager, it’s constantly targeting the muscles and promoting activity, which means you’re in a constant state of overwork, which means you’d always be sore, so it’s not purely positive.”

    Diana just stares at the screen, fidgeting with the angle and tilting her head. “I don’t know what’s going on with the brain virus. There’s a reason I didn’t go into neuroscience: it’s a bunch of fiddly bits coming together to create something that sets humans apart from other animals. The virus is targeting the brain cells, and it’s promoting activity, but I can’t tell for what purpose…”

    Unease starts to curdle in your stomach, and the words come to your mouth unbidden. “What if it’s targeting the neurons and promoting activity in the thought centers?”

    Diana stops messing with the computer and snaps her gaze to you. “That would be positive… there wouldn’t be any downsides to that at all.” She steps away and runs for a book on a shelf, another bounded journal, it looks like. “Yeah, yeah, the activity promotion would spread all throughout the brain instead of in one targeted area, which would prevent migraines, and people are always looking for ways to increase their mental abilities! Oh, this is perfect! I think we have a winner!”

    You suppose that you would need proper background information to see the downsides.

    Increased neural activity would slow your perception of time down.

    Increased mental processing while stuck in this state would circle your thoughts around futility, around the thought that you’d be trapped in this state forever.

    Increased thoughts while in a mental spiral about futility would lead to thoughts about a multitude of ways that you could end futility.

    Thoughts about how you could end your life.

    You don’t blame Diana for not seeing the downsides to Radical-6.


    The final part of the escape room is delivering the solution. If you do not deliver the solution, you cannot escape, and you will die.

    What do you do?

    Decision Time
    (Choose One)
    Stop Diana
    Do Nothing
     
    iamweirdo and Cubbyhb1 like this.
  30. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
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    are we locked into this choice or can we jump ship after this choice? cause we still need more info so tempted to do nothing to get that info
     
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