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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. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You’re gonna need to do everything eventually anyway, you’re free to jump around as you please.
     
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  2. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    Thanks for the heads up

    [X] Do Nothing
     
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  3. Threadmarks: Pathogen: Infection
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    It would have been easy if you were alone.

    Your life against six billion is simple math. You would sacrifice your life and a girl you had only met three days prior for the entire world every time the choice is offered.

    It's not that you're a noble hero, a martyr burning at the cross. You endangered six innocent people to save yourself from a paradox, you're not righteous at all. But in that scenario, if anyone innocent did die, the paradox solves itself with your death anyway, so nothing really mattered.

    So no, you're not righteous. But you're not arrogant enough to put yourself above the whole planet.

    …Your brother, though.

    He's your anchor. You wouldn't be alive without him, you don't know how you could live without him by your side. You understand that if you made this choice, you wouldn't be living without him, you would die with him.

    The thought isn't comforting.

    Diana hums, presses the button to eject the vial into her hand, and walks over to a delivery tube that most likely leads directly to Zero.

    You still have a chance! Aoi would listen to you, he knows when you're deadly serious. He would follow you into hell.

    He would obey any command you gave him.

    Your throat closes. Your jaw is stuck like it's wired shut.

    He turns to you with a confused stare. He always seems to know when something is wrong with you. He can read your body language well enough that you wouldn't even have to speak the order to stop Diana. A gesture would be enough.

    You don't move.

    Instead, you watch as Diana sends the vial through the tube and dooms six billion people.


    It takes about a minute, but eventually, your bracelet beeps cheerily. Idly, you look down at it and see the digits lit up in green rather than red.

    You can't bring yourself to feel satisfaction. Solving the puzzle created a world-ending virus, and you barely helped to solve it anyway.

    You drag yourself after Aoi and Diana as they walk back through the lab to the entrance.

    The LED on the lock is green now. The door is open.

    You walk toward it.

    "Hey, are you…"

    Aoi grabs Diana's hand as she reaches for you. "I wouldn't if I were you. She's… touchy, about personal space, especially when she gets like this."

    "Does this kind of thing happen often?"

    You tune them out, succumb to numbness.

    To your immediate left when you exit the door is a metal wall blocking one end of a hallway. The floor is carpeted the same as the room you just exited, but the carpet just past the metal wall is singed and blackened and littered with dust and debris.

    You turn right and walk down the hallway.

    There's another door in the hall, but it has a red LED and it's locked when you try the handle. The hallway eventually leads to a lobby-like room with couches and chairs much like the ones you woke up in. There are three more doors, all of them with red LEDs.

    They're all locked, there's no need to check them.

    You collapse on a couch. Your bracelet buzzes.

    Five-minute warning.

    …You'll do everything in your power to accomplish your goals.

    Except kill your brother.

    Would you kill Aoi?

    …You'd let him die.

    There were those iterations where Clover assumed that he and Seven killed Light and chopped the three of you down with an axe. You told Aoi about the possibility of Clover escaping alone, and with Light, if she waited long enough to hear him in the coffin and broke it open.

    You didn't tell him the details. He died unknowing in those iterations.

    You didn't. You'd have already been dead for years at that point.

    You don't know if that's the same thing.

    …What even are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish in this godforgotten game?

    Sigma and Phi want to stop the release of Radical-6. You fucked that one up, good job.

    They want to stop the rise of some cult, Fire the Sol, or whatever. You don't even know how that's relevant to the current situation.

    They want information on Zero. Shit, you too. You wouldn't kill Aoi over it, though.

    Zero's lucky, you guess. If it had been Sigma or Phi in that lab, if Aoi hadn't been in this group, that virus would have never seen the light of day.



    No, wait.

    That isn't luck at all.

    Sigma and Phi aren't here. Diana, someone who knows just enough about medicine and biology to put the virus together but not enough about neuroscience to figure out the implications, is.

    All of that is by design.

    You're here to observe the virus' creation, for whatever sadistic reason Zero has. This is also by design.

    Aoi is here to ensure your hesitation, your reluctance to destroy the virus at the cost of his life.

    Also by design.

    Looks like you got some information on Zero after all. They know you well enough to know that you'd never sacrifice your brother.

    That you'd let the world burn for his sake.

    …But you weren't aware of that before today…

    Your bracelet beeps at you, and the needles slide into your wrist. You fall unconscious with one final thought lingering in your head.

    Zero knows you.


    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Exodus (Carlos and Phi)
    Scripted (Carlos and Junpei)
    Relative (Maria and Phi)

    Revisit (What Fragment?)
    Redirect (What person?)
     
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  4. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Revisit
    -[X] Pathogen

    Lets see the other choice!
     
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  5. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    Indeed, now we know that Zero has some sort of connection with us from the past or future to have known that we won't kill off our brother.
    We also need to revisit Misgiving (Mira and Sigma) since we didn't get to see what the other option leads to.

    [X] Revisit
    -[X] Pathogen
     
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  6. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    i forgot the thread mark, fixed.

    let me know if you’d like/prefer to get the fragment and chapter titles in the actual body of the story rather than just the theeadmarks
     
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  7. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    it's fine how it is right now at least from my perspective
     
  8. Threadmarks: Pathogen: Prevention
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You don't give yourself any time to overthink things.

    "Aoi."

    Instead, you walk right up to Diana, plant your foot behind her heel, and grab her by the back of her sweater. When you swing yourself backward, she trips and has no way to catch herself, flying backward directly into your brother's arms with a squawk.

    Your accomplice's arms. You're slipping back into the role of Zero, sacrificing other people to accomplish your goals, and your brother is acting as your hands to move them like chess pieces.

    "Take her out of the room."

    Aoi most likely recognizes your tone, given his lack of comment or complaint, and you hear Diana yelling, imagine her struggling. You don't turn to look back.

    You press the button and release the vial that contains the end of the world. You hold your breath and reach over to open the hatchway to the incinerator.

    Heat washes over you, but you ignore it and throw the vial into the fire.

    Then you close it, slightly shaking.

    But you're not done yet.

    The table where you originally found Diana still has the brain cell specimen and the viral enhancement. Separately, they could produce some amazing advancements in biological science, you're sure of it.

    But they're too dangerous together.

    With that thought ringing in your head, you grab the microscope with both hands, bring it above your head, and swing down.


    The door swings heavily when you pull it open. You stick a foot behind you to catch it so it doesn't bump into your butt.

    "Aoi, I need you to break that monitor. It should release some sparks, grab the journal and use the paper to start a fire. Burn the whole lab."

    He nods and gets up from his seat, walking past you into the lab. Diana remains, morose on the couch, her head between her knees. You have nothing to focus on except the LED on the electronic lock opposite the laboratory door. A bright and mocking red.

    You can hear Aoi's shuffling in the lab, thumps and thuds emanating through the door. You think that you can only hear it because of your proximity to the entrance.

    Diana probably can't hear anything from the lab at all.

    She doesn't seem keen on speaking up.

    The silence is damning.

    Eventually, it's broken by the buzzing of your bracelet.

    The five-minute warning.

    Five minutes until you're put to sleep, never to wake again.

    "Why…"

    Diana's voice echoes in the room, weak and pleading. She understands the implications of what you've done. She wants answers.

    "The virus would have attacked the infected person's ability to process time, altering it drastically. It would have then trapped their thoughts into a loop that could only ever spiral downwards until eventually the only thought in their head was on how to end their suffering. The virus would have also been transmittable through the air. A violently contagious suicide virus."

    "I… no, not that. Why did you have Aoi go start the fire? Instead of staying to do it yourself?"

    Oh.

    You don't know how to explain the dreadful feeling that fire gives you.

    The claustrophobia of being trapped in a metallic room.

    How the combination is likely to give you a panic attack, and how the thought of not only willingly subjecting yourself to that torment, but actively setting a fire in a closed metal space, is absolutely revolting.

    You just shrug.

    Diana sighs, falling back and bouncing lightly on the cushion. From behind you can hear a crash and the tinkling of glass, then a soft woosh.

    You skitter away from the door.

    "I would have understood, I think," Diana says, looking to the ceiling instead of to you. "If you had explained it? My life against the possibility of something that awful getting out? I think that would have been an easy choice to make."

    Her head falls again, and her forearms crash against her lap while she glares at the ground.

    "But it would have been my choice to make."

    Her fists and shoulders are shaking with anger, her voice is coming through choked, through grit teeth.

    She refuses to look at you.

    "I was finally ready to divorce my abusive ex, but he found a new bitch to play with and served me first! I was passed up on a promotion at work, not because I wasn't qualified, but because my fucking coworker thought I couldn't handle the additional responsibility!

    "I didn't even sign up for this fucking experiment! My friend thought I needed to get away from everything and she signed up for me! I only went along with it for the volunteer bonus!"

    As suddenly as it came, Diana's anger passes on, and she slumps forward, head back between her knees.

    "All I want in life is a little agency."

    You aren't given a chance to respond. Your bracelets both beep shrilly, and the needles pierce your skin, injecting their payload into your veins.

    For the last time, you fall asleep.

    The Nurse's Frustration
    Bad End

    You have obtained the Blue Key.

    Fragment Conmplete!
    Pathogen

    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Exodus (Carlos and Phi)
    Pawn (Junpei and Phi)
    Literary (Carlos and Maria)

    Revisit (What Fragment?)
    Redirect (What person?)
     
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  9. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    Ok this is good we now know how to resolve one of our problems and how to approach Diana for future interacts

    [X] Revisit
    -[X] Misgiving
     
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  10. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Hey all, had a shit week so neither of my weekend postings are ready for readers. They’ll both be ready next week. Over on SV, I answered a question as sort of compensation, so if there’s anything you guys want to know, feel free to ask and I’ll pop in throughout the week to answer.

    No spoilers, obviously, just like, background information to fill out the world, or quest mechanics—I am operating this quest as if you’re playing through a WIP visual novel with weird presentation, so if anything is tripping you up, feel free to ask for clarity.
     
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  11. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    If the answer to this is a spoiler, that's fine, but are puzzle rooms without Akane present happening?
     
  12. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    The answer to this question is a bit of a spoiler, unfortunately. I will give you this, though: the game doesn’t end when Akane dies. Zero, proper mastermind that he is, doesn’t just clear the board because his favorite piece got taken out. He’s a multitasker, thank you very much.

    Situations like Pathogen (Prevention) that led to Akane getting penalized have an aftermath. The people who are still active in the game are still trapped, and if there are more than three of them, they have to keep playing.

    But your real question didn’t really get answered — you’re free to ask another.
     
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  13. Threadmarks: Misgiving: Armistice
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You allow yourself a moment to imagine it.

    The vitriol that would drip from your lips, the shock would appear in Sigma’s eyes, the denial and assurances he would bring to bear. He didn’t mean to make you feel this way, he couldn’t possibly know how uncomfortable he made you, never mind the space you tried to put between yourself and him.

    You wonder what kind of person you must be forty-five years from now if stilted professionalism and abrupt exits from conversation were considered normal. Truly, time must change a person, let alone decades.

    The moment passes.

    You release the tension between your shoulders and let out a silent breath from your nose.

    “No Sigma, I don’t have an issue with you. We don’t have much time left before we’re put back to sleep. You said the other two hallways led to locked doors?”

    “Mm, yeah.”

    “Maybe the console in that other room has something. There might be more hidden panels in the walls than the ones Zero had us use for the puzzle.”

    “You figure?”

    “I don’t think he made an entirely new facility specifically for a death game. If we act under the assumption that DCOM was a real initiative rather than a trap that would require information from the future or from Zero himself, then we were abducted and taken somewhere else. Somewhere Zero would have to do minimal preparation.”

    “You think this place is some kind of… what, secret lair?”

    “Secret lair, experimental facility, whichever. This room is clearly some kind of office space, this is someone’s computer, and even if everything here is completely irrelevant, it might still point us in the right direction.”

    “You think the other room has a purpose too?”

    “It had stuff hidden behind mechanical panels, right? Maybe it has more. Maybe you can find out why it has a bed — and why the bed had restraints.”

    “I’ll go check it out.”

    “It might be locked. The passcode was two forty-four, nine forty-nine.”

    “Gotcha.”

    You turn back to the monitor and listen to his receding footsteps. You can’t relax, you’re unsure if he’s just around the corner, waiting to come back in and force the discussion. But eventually, you have to try to get something productive out of this round.

    And anyway, Sigma is an ally. You should try to put your issues aside, if only to strengthen cooperation.

    Your problems can wait.

    The folder directory has three options for you… is what you had hoped would happen. Instead, two of the folders (Personnel and Participants) are locked, and whoever the hell this computer belongs to was smart enough not to have the same password for literally everything.

    …You correct yourself: Zero was smart enough. He dangled this in front of you only to steer your attention to the third folder.

    ‘Projects.’

    God damn it, Mira was right. He wants you to know what he’s up to, for some reason. Whatever, you’ll take it. Knowing is better than not. You open the folder to see five subfolders.

    Hey, you’ve already learned something! Zero’s some kind of religious nutjob. The project subfolders are titled after the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

    Lovely.

    You take a second to try and think of a scenario in which Zero seriously titles his projects like this and somehow isn’t fanatical. After all, it’s not like you’re atheistic. You have a healthy respect for God, even if you sometimes blame him for the unfortunate circumstances you find yourself in.

    Then again, you wouldn’t name your plans after the Bible.

    You know what, there you go. Zero’s either a religious fanatic or he has a god complex.

    Whatever. You start with the Genesis folder.

    There’s another subfolder, and this one is password-protected. Joy of joys. But there’s also a document. An index, maybe? You open it.

    The document is written in plain English rather than code, but it’s littered with shorthand and abbreviations. You imagine that somewhere in the locked folder there’s a key or a glossary, but you can’t make heads or tails of the contents with the information you have at hand.

    It seems to be human experimentation of some kind, or at least you assume so. There’s a subject section — they’re referred to by number, rather than name, but at least their roles in the experiment are written clearly.

    Nine subjects total, huh? Were all of the Game’s participants the subjects of this experiment, then? What was Zero testing for? Which number were you assigned? You scan the rest of the document but you can’t get any more information out of it.

    When the five-minute warning signals on your bracelet, you’re busy staring at a trio of Greek letters, trying to divine their meaning. You harrumph and navigate back to the directory. Beta, Gamma, and Epsilon can keep their secrets — for now.

    Exodus doesn’t have a locked subfolder, so it’s already better than Genesis. Unfortunately, the files all seem to be mechanical schematics — maybe you should’ve let Sigma go through this computer and poked around the other room yourself. You don’t get the importance of one part versus another or the gravity of how they connect to one another. Everything is written in plain English, but it might as well be a different language.

    But then you reach the final document. It’s some kind of manifesto or thesis or report, written by someone that wasn’t part of the engineering team. Someone tried to explain what the machine did to someone outside the know, and this is the summation of what was understood.

    The machine, a ten-foot hulking mechanical tube topped off with a cone with wires connecting to a computer, has been listed as a Transport Machine. Its purpose is to scan matter inside of its shell and download the physical data, then send that data into something called a quantum computer. The computer then sends that data to another terminal, but not through a normal transmission, but through time and space.

    ‘Theoretically,’ the report says, ‘the machine can be used to send advanced technology back in time to the founding of the organization to ensure our superiority. If quantum computing is truly advanced enough to send data back and forth through time, we can use it to make note of events through history and leverage them for monetary or political power.’

    The reporter seems skeptical, and these hypotheticals are put forth as begrudgingly as possible, as though they were explicitly told to give ideas as to what this technology can be used for from an outside perspective. And so they did, though they didn’t truly believe any of this was possible.

    You’re… not so sure.

    Sending data back through time and changing the past seems like a cheesy sci-fi movie plot… but it’s also exactly what you went through. The Morphogenetic Field is a purely theoretical science, but you’re living proof of its existence and its effect on the world. If Zero can recreate what happened to you with quantum computing…

    Your ruminations are cut short with a sharp pain in your back, accompanied by a forceful push that drives you down onto the keyboard.

    Your breathing is labored, and your body is shaky, but you try to put a hand on the edge to stabilize yourself, try to turn around and face your assailant.

    You’re pushed a second time. It comes with another sharp pain.

    You’re reminded of submarines…

    Ah. You’re being stabbed in the back.

    You’re stabbed for a third, fourth, fifth, sixth time. There are no grunts of exertion or false platitudes or angry rants of revenge. Only the parting of flesh.

    Finally, after maybe a dozen blows, you fall face-first to the ground. You try to inhale instinctually, but receive nothing but blood for your trouble.

    You hear three things as your consciousness fades:

    A parting of flesh from somewhere above you;

    A body falling directly next to you;

    And joyous, victorious trilling from your bracelet.

    It seems as though somebody’s won.

    Shame it wasn’t you.

    Engineered Destruction
    Bad End
    Obtained: Transporter Schematics
    Fragment Complete!
    Misgiving


    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Exodus (Carlos and Phi)
    Confession (Junpei and Mira)
    Reverie (Diana and Maria)

    Revisit (What Fragment?)
    Redirect (Which character?)
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2022
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  14. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Switching over to posting on Saturdays to match SV for my own convenience. Depending on what Fragment is chosen (read: if the chosen Fragment has been written or not), there will be a post either here or on SV next week, and I’ll alternate sites from there.

    You might be asking, “how do you decide which Fragments do you decide to put underneath each selection?” I want to have an even distribution of featured characters, right? To make sure I’m not forcing focus on one person over another. So whichever characters haven’t been featured in the past few Fragments will always feature in the Selection.

    If there are exactly two characters that I feel are lacking in exposure, they will be paired together as the first option in the Selection, unless that pairing is hidden by a Locked Fragment. If there’s exactly one character that hasn’t seen action in a while, they’ll feature in all three options of the Selection, unless they’ve run out of non-Locked options.

    Obviously, you as voters have final say over which Fragment you select (and you’ve been exercising this right using Revisit), but this is just the process by which I give you new options.
     
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  15. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    Also, our girl must not keep her back open for sneak attacks next time.

    Can we revisit again to see if we can find our killer? I'm pretty sure our killer was Mira and Sigma was our avenger

    We need to revisit Literary (Carlos and Maria) and Pawn (Junpei and Phi) for a complete picture of what will be happening on what I've Dubbed DAY-1.

    Literary (Carlos and Maria) - Not Visited
    Pathogen (Aoi and Diana) - Completed
    Pawn (Junpei and Phi) - Not Visited
    Misgiving (Mira and Sigma) - Completed


    [X] Revisit
    -[X] Literary (Carlos and Maria)
     
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  16. Threadmarks: Literary (Carlos and Maria)
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    You wake up curled in a plush chair, your face buried in the armrest and a hand buried in the cushions. It's not the least comfortable you've ever been waking up, but your body is certainly complaining about the contortionist position you've taken. Carefully, you stretch your legs off the seat and away from your chest and twist your torso upward out of the chair, pushing your hand further into the cushions to give yourself leverage.

    Your fingernails tap against something hard. The chair's frame, maybe? With a small bit of effort, you yank yourself into place to sit properly in the chair and absentmindedly move your arm around without removing it from the corner it had been shoved into.

    It wasn't the wooden frame you brushed against. It was something else, some small object shoved down between the cushions like a TV remote that'd been lost for days. Your fingers graze across the surface, grasp it. The shape is familiar…

    Oh. What is this doing here?

    "Akane?"

    Your hand slips out of the cushion and into your pocket smoothly, and you sit up with a hop. Your eyes dart over to the caller. Maria sits in her chair with her feet on the seat, hugging her shins with her chin on her knees. Her eyes, clouded by her usually dreamy state, hold a small amount of alarm and concern.

    You're confused until you turn to the right.

    Carlos sits similarly to his sister, with one foot on the cushion, both hands around the raised knee. His chin is propped behind them, leaving the bottom part of his face hidden by his leg.

    His eyes are glued on you. His stare is intense.

    A small part of you wants to bark in indignation. What the hell did you do, anyway?

    A larger part of you remembers that you're being injected with a memory drug after every round. You very well might have done something to him.

    But the memory drug is in your bracelet. Shouldn't it be in his bracelet?

    Junpei and Aoi's bracelets weren't exactly the same as yours. Their times were altered. Who's to say everyone's bracelet is exactly the same as yours?

    Who's to say that everyone is getting their memories clouded over? Who's to say it isn't just you?

    You're veering into paranoia. You need to stop.

    You jerk your gaze away from Carlos, rubbing warmth into your forearms. Why is this facility so cold anyway?

    Whatever. You just need to focus your energy elsewhere. There should be a puzzle, right? You're in some kind of escape room, Zero had said. Okay, what do you have to solve to get out of here?

    …Nothing appears as suspicious to your roving gaze. You're in a plush little lounge room. Wooden coffee table surrounded by three white arm chairs on red carpeting. Dim bulbs in the corners lighting up four metal grated walls. There is nothing is written on the walls, there is nothing on the table, there is no puzzle for you to solve.

    You kick your feet up onto the table and fold yourself over your legs. Wonderful. The one time you need a distraction, the room is empty. You resist the urge to groan aloud.

    …Maybe you should give in to that urge. The silence is unpleasant.

    "What did… Zero mean…?"

    Oh Maria, you beautiful child. You sit up and look at her with a small, grateful smile.

    "Hm?"

    "He called you… the main character."

    "Oh, that bit about me being the first Zero? I mean, I suppose he wasn't wrong. I was Zero at one point, yeah. I ran a game kinda like this one, but it was more of a revenge plot—" and rescue mission "—than a real death game, right? Someone else had trapped me in a death game exactly like the one I ran, so I trapped them in a game, along with a couple other people to make it more realistic. And it worked! The only participant that died was one of the assholes that trapped me—" along with two others, but they weren't participants, and Hongou killed them, anyway "—and the other asshole is in jail now, pleaded guilty in a court of law."

    On threat of further punishment, of course. He was too big to go away for long if he didn't do it himself. And he didn't even go to jail on kidnapping charges, he pleaded guilty to the murders he committed while in the game. Which was fine, murder has a longer sentence time.

    "Mm-mm." Maria's voice frees you from thoughts of Hongou. What a thoughtful child. "Main character. Means something. You're the focus."

    "What, do you think this game is my fault, somehow? That this is someone else's revenge plot against me?"

    Maria shrugs. You blow a stream of air past your lips and lean back in your chair, eyes planted to the metal-grated ceiling.

    "Nine participants, one dead, another in jail. The one in jail has a lot of connections so I've been watching his correspondence and visitors— he has had precious little of both, and something like this takes dedication and planning, and his accounts are frozen so he doesn't have the money to pay for that level of commitment.

    "Two of them were me and my brother, and this isn't his doing. One is Junpei, he's too straight-laced for this. Two were in Japan as of Sunday evening, one of which is a high-end police agent. The last two were being monitored very closely, and they haven't been acting like they were planning something as grandiose as this."

    Although… Light would be around the same height as Zero, who was walking around with a cane. His family is relatively wealthy, isn't it? This isn't exactly his style, but it does match the same flair of dramatic irony that you were going for with Hongou and Kubota. Maybe not Light himself, maybe his family?

    You're working yourself up again. Stop.

    "It's probably not one of my quote-unquote victims coming back to get me. I didn't force them through anything worse than a fright."

    Probably.

    Unless…

    Stop.

    "What else could main character mean, I wonder."

    "Plot focus," Maria drones from her spot. "Person of interest. Special powers. Plot armor."

    "Special powers and plot armor, huh?"

    You are some flavor of immortal, you suppose, that's pretty special. But it isn't more special than Sigma or Phi. What sets you apart from them?

    You saved yourself from a fiery death. The person you used who helped you is even here with you. You've even used this power of yours for reconnaissance, a bit of informant work for the Special Office of Internal Security, a bit of money in your pocket, a tangible connection between them and Crash Keys.

    All it cost was a few hours in universes that no longer exist against threats that don't truly threaten you.

    …Unless you ran into an esper on one of those missions.

    Huh. Suddenly those things that didn't really matter seem kind of important. Maybe you shouldn't have been so quick to put them out of your mind.

    Too late now. Either it's super important and you can't remember, or it isn't important at all and you shouldn't worry about it anyway.

    So you should probably stop worrying about it.

    Stop.


    You don't really have anything else to add to the conversation. Maria seems like the exchange has completely tired her out. Carlos has yet to say anything at all.

    Would Zero be so cruel as to use your social awkwardness against you and have the solution to an invisible puzzle be locked behind sullenness that you yourself have to dispel?

    Well, why would he stop at kidnapping you, right?

    You're working up to breaching that wall when you hear a chime from the ceiling. A banner appears on the wall behind Maria and a panel lifts from the coffee table. Both light up with the same words.

    Emergency Escape



    There is no poll for this chapter.
     
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  17. Threadmarks: Literary: Chekhov’s Gun
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    “Emergency escape protocol has been activated.”

    A toneless female voice rings out tinnily from the panel in the coffee table but still echoes in the silence of the room. Carlos lowers his feet to the ground and gives it his full attention, while Maria raises her head from her knees to look at the table.

    “Participants will be given access to the Instant Win Button.”

    A button slides out from the wall behind Maria underneath the shining sign. Painted a cartoonishly bright red color, it’s hidden under a plastic case, probably to prevent anyone from pushing it until the voice fully explains the rules.

    “Upon pushing this button, all participants present will win the game, and an exit out of the facility will immediately open.”

    This makes you sit up, intrigued. Would you three count as dead, then? Does that mean the other six people present would have to fight it out amongst themselves—

    “The usual penalty will immediately be applied to all other participants.”

    Oh, never mind. You’re not sure why you thought otherwise.

    “The Instant Win Button will become available in sixty seconds. Please choose carefully.”

    With a hissing buzz, the speaker goes silent. You roll your eyes and sit back in your chair — there isn’t a choice to consider. While you’re sure Aoi wouldn’t hesitate to die if it meant you would live, you’re certainly not going to pull the trigger. You can figure another way out, you’re not in any rush.

    “Usual… penalty…?”

    “Everyone else dies,” you answer Maria. “There’s probably something lethal in all of our bracelets, the button would send a signal all throughout the facility to inject everyone that isn’t here. Six people die, so we ‘win.’”

    “Ah…”

    Maria sounds as dispassionate as ever. You might be imagining the disappointment you hear, projecting a little bit — but how cool would it have been for the three of you to ‘die’ and leave the other six to fend for themselves, have at least four of them act outside of normal parameters because someone they were close to is just gone?!

    (You’re definitely projecting. How would they even know you died?)

    …Carlos is still quiet. Isn’t he supposed to pipe up about how he would never sacrifice people to save himself? He seems like the heroic type.

    You look over to see him staring at you. Intensely. Why is he…

    There’s a faint click from behind Maria — the button unlocking.

    “Maria, go!”

    You instantly realize your mistake. Carlos wouldn’t kill everyone else to save himself, but for his sister?

    With surprising speed, Maria jumps out of her chair and turns to run around it to get to the button. You spring to your feet to chase her, she has a bit of a head start, but you can still intercept her—!

    But Carlos is faster than you.

    He doesn’t have to go all the way to the button, he just has to reach you — wrap his arms around you, pin your arms to your sides, and keep you from interrupting his sister.

    “No, don’t! Maria, stop!”

    But why would she? All that matters to her is right here, and there’s an easy way to secure its safety.

    So Carlos holds you back, contains you in all your flailing fury, while Maria slams her hand on the mockingly bright red button.

    A jingle plays from all of your bracelets, a set of six joyous trills, sharply contrasted by a loud, thunderous boom. An explosion echoing in a distant part of the facility.

    Not a lethal injection from your bracelets, then.

    Numbly, you stop struggling, going limp in Carlos’ arms. You hear whirring machinery behind you and feel a breeze. That would be the exit, then. You don’t turn to face it, you just keep your eyes forward.

    You can feel shifting above you from Carlos. He’s probably looking down at your expression. Whatever he sees, he doesn’t let you go. You’re not sure why. You don’t think your eyebrows are screwed up in fury, your eyes aren’t narrowed in a glare, your nostrils aren’t flaring.

    Maria looks up at Carlos while you’re busy wondering where the anger is. You feel him jerk his head to the side, and she walks around the chairs and the table toward the exit.

    Carlos just did what Aoi would do. Six perfect strangers in exchange for his precious sister? Easily done.

    Could you have stopped this if you had acted earlier?

    …No, Carlos was ready to move as soon as you did, wasn’t he. Even if you knew what would happen the second the speaker said ‘Instant Win,’ he would still be able to stop you. He’s too much stronger than you, too much faster. And you’re not sure you could do anything with Maria, either. Her speed surprised you — she’s so lethargic most of the time, you didn’t know she could move that quickly. Who’s to say she isn’t stronger than she looks, too?

    So no, you don’t feel angry.

    Just defeated.

    God, why did that stupid ‘Emergency Escape’ protocol have to activate this round, instead of any other?

    …Because Zero willed it.

    He flipped some switch somewhere as soon he saw Carlos and Maria alive and active in the same room. This is by design — he knew this would happen. He probably knew exactly how Carlos and Maria would act if given an out.

    Ah. There’s the anger. Shame you don’t have an outlet…

    Oh. Wait.

    “You can let me go, you know,” you mutter quietly. “It’s too late to stop you. You won.”

    “Oh…” Carlos slowly releases you, and you stick your arms in your pocket, stepping around him to turn toward the exit. The wall opposite the button is split down the middle and opened up. Maria waits just inside the mouth of the artificial cave.

    “I thought you would be more upset…”

    “It’s reasonable, I think.”

    “Reasonable?”

    You walk toward the exit, but Carlos hesitates.

    “Six people you’ve only met this week, or a sister you know well and love dearly. It’s an easy choice, most people would say. Completely understandable.”

    “You really think so…?”

    “Yeah.”

    You cross the boundary, past the grooves in the floor that the metal walls slid along to open up, and stop next to Maria. The darkness ahead is impenetrable, but you can definitely feel the winter chill.

    Instant Win, indeed.

    “It’s just… kinda unfortunate.”

    “What is?”

    Your arm whips out.

    The first shot shatters Maria’s kneecap — she collapses and falls to the ground.

    The second shot goes through her temple and splatters brain matter — you barely have to adjust your aim.

    You cock the hammer back a third time and turn to face Carlos.

    “I am neither reasonable nor understanding.”

    Zero would have had to go through your purse, remove your pistol, and plant it in the chair you woke up in. Just deep enough to hide it from Carlos and Maria, but shallow enough for you to find at the start of the round.

    It’s likely that he expected this, too. Oh well.

    “Y-You…”

    “You tried to kill six people to save your sister. But now eight people are dead, and you get nothing.

    “But you — I didn’t… wait… Eight…?”

    “Yeah, eight. There’s nothing left for me in this universe, I’ll leave it all for you.”

    “But why—?”

    “Weren’t you paying attention? I’m the ‘main character,’ it comes with plot armor. My soul is immortal, Carlos. I just have to free it.”

    Your hand comes up. Your tongue tastes gunmetal.

    Wait—

    You embrace death and feel no pain.

    QUANTUM LOCK DISCOVERED
    Stop Those Siblings!
    0 of 4
    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Pawn (Junpei and Phi)
    Confession (Junpei and Mira)
    Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)

    Revisit (What Fragment?)
    Redirect (What person?)
     
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  18. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)

    Not getting to see an older Sigma play off of a younger Tenmyouji was one of the many missed opportunities of ZTD.
     
  19. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    [X] Pawn (Junpei and Phi)

    This is the last one we have to revisit
    Day-1
    -Literary (Carlos and Maria) - Completed
    -Pathogen (Aoi and Diana) - Completed
    -Pawn (Junpei and Phi) - Not Visited
    -Misgiving (Mira and Sigma) - Completed
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2022
  20. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    You don't have to do Revisit, that Fragment is one of the normal options.
     
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  21. Threadmarks: Pawn: Junpei and Phi
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    Junpei seems well. That's the only thought going through your mind right now, that Junpei seems well. He's on the camera feed now, in the middle of a featureless white room, looking down at his bracelet with a concerned expression, free of any harm physical or mental that you can see. It's a calming thought, accompanied by a sense of relief, distracting you from the tiny size of the room you're trapped in.​

    Juxtaposing Junpei on the other side of the screen is Phi. The feed shows her in negative colors, almost like a night vision filter, and while you can't see any physical wounds on her face or legs, and she doesn't seem to be favoring any parts of her body, she only just finished shaking and is now pacing restlessly.

    You look down. Beneath the camera feeds, there's a microphone. To the left of the microphone, is a screen with a page of text displayed, and to the right is a yellow indicator light on top of a button.

    An intercom button, maybe? You press it and speak into it.

    "Phi, can you hear me? Are you okay?"

    What you get in response is a blaring klaxon that makes you cover your ears. Ow, shit.

    …Junpei and Phi don't react to the blaring horn. Can they not hear it?

    Was the button not an intercom?

    You look around the room, the glorified booth you woke up in, and find nothing of value. There's a door directly behind you, but the knob was locked when you tried it earlier, and somehow you doubt that blowing your eardrums out is the solution to opening it.

    There's nothing else here, just the monitor, the microphone, and five metal walls too close to each other.

    You try the button again. "Hello?"

    Fucking ouch!

    Another klaxon.

    Words pop up on the screen, and you try to keep an eye open even as you wince in pain.

    'SPEAK NO EVIL!'

    Oh, is this part of the challenge? Are you not allowed to speak freely? Is that why the indicator light is yellow instead of green?

    So what are you allowed to say?

    Your eyes drift down to the screen next to the microphone. Maybe that's a script. You press the button, making sure to read faithfully.

    "Participants, this challenge room, the first of three, is based on the three wise monkeys."

    "Akane? Is that you?! Where are you? Are you okay? How can I hear you right now?"

    Oh Junpei. His concern is refreshing, but very unhelpful for the purposes of trying to solve a puzzle.

    "Junpei! Shut up and let her explain the damn rules!"

    Phi even agrees with you, but Junpei keeps whirling around, shouting your name at the walls as if he can't hear her.

    …Maybe he can't.

    "Wait. Three wise monkeys? Oh shit, is that the no evil thing? This room is pitch black, so I must be 'see no evil.' Maybe Junpei can't hear me…"

    Shit. Phi can't see, and you can't lead her with the speaking restriction you have. Junpei needs to help her out.

    First, you need Junpei to stop freaking out. Guess you need to steamroll over his concern to get his attention.

    You press the button again.

    "Participants."

    "Akane! You're back! Are you—"

    "This challenge room, the first of three, is based on the three wise monkeys. One participant can hear no evil."

    "—okay? What aren't you… Well, I guess I can hear you just fine…"

    It didn't mute you when you stressed certain words, so maybe… "The other participant can see no evil."

    "What? But I can see this room perfectly! What's—"

    You take a shot in the dark, putting yourself into Zero's shoes and mentally preparing yourself for another round of horns.

    "A third participant, acting as the Voice of God, can speak no evil."

    "Huh?"

    It went through! No klaxons!

    "…Wait! Is that why you won't respond to me?" There it is, he's getting it. "Voice of God, huh? Guess Zero thinks pretty highly of himself."

    "That's exactly what I'm thinking," Phi remarks to herself.

    Wait, that was you talking out of your ass. Did Zero actually…

    You flick a finger up on the screen next to the microphone to scroll up. There was actually another line! It actually says 'Voice of God!'

    Why did that work?

    "So if you're just repeating words that Zero's providing for you, and you can't speak evil, does that mean I'm hearing no evil? Is it that I can't hear the other participant because they aren't holy and their words would be evil? Then if they see no evil, they either can't see me — or maybe they can't see anything at all, and the challenge must be that I have to somehow lead them to safety without being able to see or hear them?"

    "Wow, he worked through that fast."

    You're not exactly shocked like Phi is, but you still can't help being impressed by the speed of Junpei's deductions.

    "Shit, but how do I lead them out? Akane, can you — no, wait, you can't answer… Oh, but how is it stopping you from saying evil? I have to imagine that you tried talking to me before you started reading whatever lines you were given. Maybe… Here's how we can test that. Akane, try saying 'evil.' It's part of the line you said earlier, but it's far enough from the beginning…"

    Oh, you see what he's saying. He wants to test if the censor is listening for whole lines or words that aren't on some sort of approved list. You press the button next to the mic and speak clearly.

    "Evil."



    No buzz.

    "Alright! Now that we know that works, you can answer yes or no questions! If 'yes' isn't on your script thingy, you can default to 'see' for an affirmative, and obviously, you can say 'no.' Okay?"

    "See!"

    "Alright! Before we like, start, you're okay, right? You're not hurt or anything, are you?"

    Oh, Jumpy…

    "See."

    "Yes you're hurt?! Wait, no, I messed the question up. Uh. Yes, you're okay?"

    You have to shake your head fondly. "See."

    "Right. That's good! Okay, can you see both participants, or do you just have, like, a book and a speaker?"

    "What, like a Chinese Room situation?" Phi remarks. Meanwhile, you're stuck trying to answer Junpei's question, which, while binary, is not yes/no. Damn it, Junpei.

    "Monkey."

    "What? Oh, damn, I did it again. Uh. Do you have eyes on us?"

    "See."

    "Is there, like, a shared wall between us?"

    Um. "Evil?"

    "Inconclusive… Is the camera setup two feeds side-by-side?"

    "See."

    "Am I on the left side?"

    "See."

    "Which means the other participant is on the right, okay. Now I have to figure out which of these walls in a perfectly square room is facing the right side."

    Well, on the camera feed he's facing the front wall. Maybe…

    "One?"

    "Huh? Oh maybe… Am I facing the front wall right now?"

    Same wavelength, very good. "See!"

    "Which means," he raises his arm to point to the wall on his right, "this should be the wall that's connected to the other participant on the camera feed!"

    "See!"

    "Well, if they want it so I can't hear them, the walls are probably soundproofed. But if our rooms are connected, and the walls aren't too thick, then they should still be able to feel a strong enough impact!"

    Phi's head tilts as she hears Junpei talk, and then perks up when he walks to the wall and starts knocking on it. "Oh! Okay, he's gonna try to lead me through vibration, that's a good idea. Akane! Call out when I'm facing the left wall from your perspective."

    Her idea is to raise her arm, point outward, and slowly spin to orient herself. However, she is also facing the front of the room, and she starts spinning clockwise, so it takes a bit for her to face the right way. All the while, Junpei keeps one hand pressed flush to the wall while knocking with the other, waiting for his partner to knock back.

    Phi does eventually face the right way—

    "One!"

    —and as soon as she knows it, she drops her arm and runs forward full-tilt, slamming into it heavily, shoulder first.

    "Jesus!" Junpei falters — he definitely felt that slam through the wall — but he gets his bearings back and starts knocking again, slower this time. And soon enough, Phi gets to her feet, presses a hand to the wall, and knocks back.

    "Okay. I'm gonna start walking towards the front-facing wall. Just follow my knocks, and knock back so I know you're following."

    Slowly, Junpei and Phi shuffle along to the front, and when they get there, a section of the wall slides open on both sides, and when they walk through, it shuts behind them. Your feed changes to a different room, though it doesn't show Junpei and Phi walking out. Maybe they have to walk through a passageway to get to the next room.

    The screen wipes itself clean, and the light above your button changes colors to green.

    "Wow, I'm impressed," you hear Phi's voice through the speaker. "I thought Junpei was just some goth stalker biker boy or something, but he figured out what was going on pretty quickly."

    "Hey, I can hear you now."

    "Oh good, I won't have to repeat myself later. Hey Akane, you okay? Can you talk now?"

    "Maybe? I think so, I don't have any lines, and it isn't buzzing and cutting me off. Are you two together?"

    "Well, I can't see anyone in this tunnel, but I could hear, uh, Phi, right? That was your voice, right?"

    "Hey, your short-term memory managed to survive one or two rounds of sedation, congratulations."

    "Definitely Phi. You all good, Kanny? Nothing to worry about?"

    "Yeah, I'm fine outside of being stuck in an AV room the size of a closet. My door's locked too! Apparently, I'm just supposed to sit here and give out cryptic clues and wait for you two to solve everything!"

    "That feels familiar," they both snark at the same time. There's a brief pause before Junpei picks up the thread. "Why's it feel familiar to you? Did Akane kidnap you to play in a game too?"

    "Oh, well, no. Not yet, at least."

    "Not yet?!"

    "Maybe not at all. Who knows what timeline we're in. It's meant to be a backup plan, anyway."

    "Timeline? Backup plan? A backup for what?"

    "Nothing that's important right now. What about you? Is this not your first time getting kidnapped and stuffed into a super dangerous game?"

    "You-ugh. No, it isn't."

    "Well, it sounds like there's a story there. Too bad this tunnel is ending. Oh well, time for another heart-pumping escapade, I guess."

    "I… Guess?"

    In your camera feed, from an almost straight down view, Junpei and Phi enter from the bottom of the screen. You think initially that it's another split-feed, and they're in different rooms again, but they both turn their attention to the grey dividing wall in the middle of the feed, so maybe it's the same room and there's actually a wall separating them. You hear a mechanical whir, probably the entrances closing behind them, and a small section of the front wall opens up on both sides to reveal three circular shapes that you can't make any sense of from your angle. The best you can see, from the shapes poking out of the wall, both sides have two buttons and a screen above them.

    Phi seems to recognize them, from the way she hangs her head and lifts a hand up to her face.

    The light turns yellow again, and the screen flashes at you. You try to scroll, but this time the only words you can speak all fit onto a single line.

    "Your second challenge is this. Get out before anyone else."

    They really just want you to be cryptic and useless.

    "Before anyone…?" Phi is stuck on your wording, apparently hearing something you didn't catch, and walks to the right of the room, her head on a swivel. She stops while looking at a point on the far wall above the divider, where you can't see. She curses under her breath and kneels down, calling out as she… knocks on the floor?

    "Hey Junpei, you see those buttons on the wall?"

    "Yeah?"

    "Are they the same as mine? With an A and a B?"

    "Uh, yep. Same buttons."

    "Go ahead and hit the B button for me?"

    "Uh, okay…"

    Blaring horns make the both of them flinch, but not you, maybe because you can only hear the horns secondhand through the speakers.

    "Okay, that didn't work…"

    "What were you even trying to have me do?"

    "I wanted to see what would happen if you vo-pressed the button when I didn't. We need to press them at the same time."

    "Okay. On your count?"

    "Yeah, three count. Same thing, press B."

    "You got it."

    "One, two, three!"

    …That was weird. Maybe it's the camera angle, but you think that Junpei and Phi pressed different buttons?

    "Okay, my number went up to six!"

    "So did theirs…"

    "You say something, Phi?"

    "No, no. Same thing, okay? B on three."

    Phi is now walking to the right along the front wall, crouched into a runner stance.

    "One…"

    She crouches a bit further down…

    "Two…"

    …she starts sprinting at full speed toward the middle…

    "Three!"

    …and she slams the button at the same time that Junpei presses his, then jumps straight up, throwing her hands up to catch the top of the divider—

    As the floor falls out from beneath her.

    She strains a bit, but manages to heave herself over the wall and fall onto Junpei's side in a three-point landing, just as his buttons slide upward to reveal an exit. For his part, he looks shocked, eyes wide open.

    "Phi?! What was that about?"

    "Let's go through first, I don't want to take any chances."

    "Alright…"

    They walk into the dark entryway, and your camera feed changes again to yet another featureless white room, with what looks like two sets of buttons on a podium in the center.

    Your indicator light turns green, and you press the intercom button.

    "Phi? You okay?"

    "Ankle's a bit tender from the jump, but it isn't a strain, at least.

    "Well, that's good. So, when you were kneeling and knocking on the floor, were you checking for a trap?"

    "Yeah, I was listening for an echo. I was expecting like, spikes or something, or maybe the wall was gonna rise and trap me on the other side, but the echo under the floor sounded way too deep."

    "How did you even know to check for a trap?"

    "Oh, Junpei, right, I was gonna explain. So that room was based on the Prisoner's Dilemma. Basically, there are two guys in prison—"

    "Yeah, they're both asked to turn on their partner. Neither squeals, they both go to jail for a couple years, they both squeal and they both get a longer sentence."

    "Right, but if one guy squeals and the other doesn't, the one who ratted gets off free and the other one gets life. So, the A button stood for Ally and the B was for Betray. You saw how your points went up, right?"

    "Yeah? Started at three, went up by three every time."

    "And you 'won' at nine points."

    "Wait! Were you Allying and losing points to me Betraying? How many points do we get if we both Ally?"

    "Yeah, and we would've gotten two, but that's not the point. There were two more point counters above the divider, and I didn't know what would happen if we both Allied but one of the other guys Betrayed. We had to get out before anyone else."

    "And once I Betrayed the first time, it was too late to double back and try to Ally."

    "Yeah, they both went up to five points. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if it was a double bluff, and one of them would've gone up to six if we chose to Ally instead—"

    "And because we Betrayed, Zero was trying to guilt us by saying there was no reason to rush and one asshole was throwing the other participant away in a rush?"

    "Yeah, but it doesn't matter now."

    "Yeah, because you're apparently Supergirl. That was like a five meter wall, what are your legs even made of?"

    "Springs made of a polymer consisting of steel and spite."

    "I wouldn't fucking doubt it. Jesus."

    "There's the exit. You ready for the third challenge?"

    "I'm fine, is your leg holding up?"

    "If we need to run for some reason, you can just carry me."

    "Yeah, you look small enough for that."

    "Good, I wouldn't want to strain your noodle arms."

    "Maybe I'll just leave you to die."

    The indicator light changes color before you see them pop out on the screen, and your line is even shorter than it was the last time.

    "Third challenge, count the children."

    "The hell is that supposed to mean?" Junpei mutters just loudly enough to get transmitted. "Are kids gonna pop out of the damn ceiling or something?"

    "Junpei, come over here and like, lean against the podium. Face that corner."

    "Why the corner?"

    "The best way to present this challenge is to show us images on the walls, right? This button has three lights above it, so I think we get three tries to look at everything."

    "So you want me to take these two walls?"

    "And I'll take the other two, yeah. You ready?"

    "Mhmm."

    "Okay, I'm hitting the button."

    Your angle is awkward, placed specifically so you can clearly see Junpei and Phi in the center and not much of the puzzle. You have no vision on the back wall where the two of them came from, and you can only barely see the corner of the side walls, little strips of green and blue, probably from the background.

    But you can see the back wall perfectly.

    Five teenage boys with dark hair and black suits have been put into coffins, with the top half of each casket open like a funeral viewing. Smoke is pouring out of one casket, water fills a second, and the other three all have objects placed on the bottom half: an axe, a knife, and a syringe.

    Six young girls with brown hair and pretty purple dresses are sitting in front of the coffins sobbing, and nine teenagers with light hair and pressed white suits are trying futilely to calm them down.

    …You turn away from the camera feeds and sit on the floor, pressing the heels of your hands to your eyes and listening to Junpei count.

    "So there are three guys coming out of an office building and eight ladies standing outside to meet them—"

    "Any kids?"

    "I mean, these girls kinda look like they might wanna make some kids — ow! Your elbows are bony!"

    "And your head is empty. What's on the other wall?"

    "Uh, a group of fathers and daughters walking through a park? I couldn't get a number, it looks like it's halfway through the animation."

    "We have two more goes at it, it's fine. I had a mother rocking twins to sleep, and then a goddamn funeral procession or something. There were a lot of kids — they definitely all looked like they were under eighteen."

    "What, like they were teens? Are we counting teens?"

    "Even if we weren't counting teens, it sounds like there are still enough actual small children to go into double digits. And yet for some reason, this keypad only has one digit for data entry."

    "Yeah, there were at least three or four girls on that other wall, and it was at least halfway through the loop, so with twin babies that's already eight or nine. Unless we don't count the babies?"

    "There were at least five girls in that procession, older than infancy but younger than teenage."

    "So that's probably not… Hm. How did you know the rules for that game?"

    "What, the AB Game?"

    "Yeah, you said it was based off the Prisoner's Dilemma, but all I saw were A and B."

    "Oh, right. It has to do with that other game I played."

    "…The game Akane hasn't kidnapped you for yet."

    "Yep."

    "In a timeline that you're not even sure will exist?"

    "That's the one."

    "Do you want to maybe explain that?"

    "I think it would take too long."

    "…Sure, whatever. So maybe Zero's aware of this game that you may or may not play in the future, and that's why that last game didn't have more of an explanation than two buttons and vague directions, because he knew you would know."

    "Sure."

    "So if he knew about your game that happened in an alternate reality or whatever the hell, it would be easy to imagine that he knows about the game I played in this exact state just a year ago."

    "That seems plausible. Is it relevant?"

    "Yeah, because that game had a lot to do with digital roots."

    "What, online plants?"

    "No, not digital like computers, digital like the digits of numbers. The sum of a number's digits, to be exact.

    "So you want to count all of the children and then add together the digits of the number we get?"

    "It's the only thing that makes sense."

    "Okay, that works. Well, I know that wall has two babies, and you said one of the walls didn't have any kids at all?"

    "Yeah, just salarymen and call girls."

    "Wonder why that is."

    "To give participants a chance if they screw over their partner in the last game and don't have another set of eyes, probably."

    "That's as good a reason as anything else. I'm hitting the button."

    "Go for it."

    It's quiet for a bit. You imagine that they're busy counting.

    …It probably isn't a coincidence, then. If they knew about a game that hasn't happened yet, that backup plan that Phi told you about, then they probably know about the Nonary Game, and the rounds that didn't happen.

    The front-row seat you had to each and every one of Junpei's deaths, and the nightmares that served as your punishment.

    Why else would the boys look exactly like him? Why else would the girls look exactly like you?

    You curl up tighter into your ball.

    "Alright," Phi calls out eventually. "I got mine, you all set?"

    "Yeah," Junpei responds. "I don't think we'll need that third loop."

    "You're that confident?"

    "As long as you didn't mess up your count, I have a great head for math."

    "Alright, let's see it in action. Five dead teens, six crying girls, and nine living teens trying to console the girls."

    "Five-eleven-twenty if we're including teens? Fourteen teenagers, keep that number just in case."

    "Sure."

    "I had a few blond fathers and seven blond daughters following them like little ducklings. With the babies, that's twenty-nine kids—"

    "Or fifteen if teens are banned."

    "Let's assume they're not. Two and nine is eleven, one and one is two."

    There's a little trill that comes from the speaker, and Junpei and Phi both cheer. You rise from your huddle slowly and turn to face the camera.

    'SPEAK NO EVIL'​

    The camera feed is gone, that message is the only thing that remains.

    The indicator light next to the microphone is a bright red.

    This is… less than ideal.

    "Well there's the door leading out," you hear Phi from the speakers. "But what's with this keypad entry?"

    "'The queen is captured just as easily as any pawn.'"

    "Is that supposed to be a hint? Should we have been looking out for pieces to a meta puzzle?"

    "What's this groove? Is this a door?"

    A door? Oh! Are they right outside?!

    You run to the door in your room and try slamming on it. "Junpei! Phi!"

    "Hey, do you hear something?"

    "Yeah, knocking. That is also familiar."

    "Junpei!"

    "Maybe the door is soundproof, and the only reason we can hear the knocking is because the door is rattling against the frame."

    "That makes sense. But who's even in there?"

    Who else would be in here, Junpei?! You deliberately stop knocking, wait for someone to comment on it—

    "Hey, they sto—"

    —and slam on it twice more to interrupt.

    "Wait, can they hear us? But why can't we hear them?"

    "I dunno, how come Akane could hear us from wherever she — wait! Akane, knock twice if this is you!"

    Knock, knock.

    "Shit, maybe the password is out past the door somewhere?"

    "That looks like a long hallway, I don't know if we have the time to run out, search, and run back."

    "Fuck, then what do we do?!"

    You're stuck listening to them go back and forth about the situation. You can't do anything about it. The mic is muted with no way to send out sound. You guess you could open your mind and try to transmit to Junpei, but you don't know the password, and there's nothing in this room besides the monitor setup so you can't help with clues.

    To punctuate your despondent thoughts, your bracelet sounds off. The five-minute warning.

    Is this really it for you…?

    QUANTUM LOCK DISCOVERED
    Captured Queen
    1 of 11

    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)
    Designer (Sigma and Maria)
    Condition (Mira and Diana)
    Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)

    Revisit (What Fragment?)
    Redirect (What person?)
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2022
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  22. CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    sorry for the delay, this chapter was longer than usual and the week wasn’t fantastic
     
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  23. Jen X

    Jen X Making the rounds.

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    [X] Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)

    This promises to be an incredible dynamic, though whether it's a disaster or not is very much up in the air.
     
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  24. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    [X] Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)
     
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  25. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)

    I guess this was a puzzle we return to later once we know its answer.
     
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  26. Threadmarks: Mortality (Junpei and Sigma)
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    The water is at ankle-height. It’s soaking your socks. At least Zero had the decency to wake you up in a chair so your butt isn’t wet.

    Sigma’s stoic about the situation, like usual. Junpei—

    “So it’s dark and wet and we have to walk to find our way out? Why not give us a fedora and set a boulder after us, huh Zero?!”

    Junpei’s the same as ever.

    “You know the rules Tenmyouji,” Sigma mutters, almost absentmindedly as he starts walking forward. “We only get the boulder after we get the treasure.”

    “You’re awfully formal,” Junpei says instead of answering the quip.

    “Habit.”

    “Didn’t even know you were Japanese.”

    “Oh, I’m not.”

    He doesn’t explain further. Junpei likely doesn’t have a way to press further. Your walk through the dark, wet passage progresses silently.

    That is, until you have to grab the back of Junpei’s jacket at the first fork in the road.

    “What?” He tries to ask you, but you’re scrambling at the front of his jacket now. “What are you — Akane, stop—”

    You toss the metal button you snapped off his jacket into the water in the direction he was about to start walking, and it lands in the water with a pop and a hiss.

    “Electrified,” you mutter into his sleeve. “He’s treating us like rats.”

    “Oh. How did you…”

    You don’t know, so you don’t answer.

    “How many buttons do you have left?”

    “Uh, three?”

    “Pop them, let’s hope it’s enough.”

    And now your trek progresses silently, save the sloshing of water, and slowly. Joy.

    Of the three buttons Junpei has to toss, two of them hiss to signal electrified water, proving that Junpei has a terrible sense of danger, since he only ever threw in the direction he was trying to walk. Interestingly, Sigma started ahead of the both of you, leaning toward each safe branch.

    You remember what Carlos told you in DCOM. He could sense where danger lied.

    Maybe increased access to the Morphogenetic Field gave you increased senses in regards to danger.

    (Then why was Junpei faltering so often?)

    There’s one more turn than Junpei has buttons.

    “You’re all out?”

    “Yeah, the buttons on my sleeves are plastic, they won’t work.”

    “What kind of inconsistent bullshit—”

    “It saves money, I guess? How should I know?”

    “You bought the damn thing. Whatever. You wanna break off your zipper?”

    “Why don’t you break yours?!”

    “Do you see somewhere I could have a zipper, Junpei?”

    “I-Uh.”

    Junpei looks away, flustered, but still doesn't break off his zipper. Sigma makes a small noise of understanding from where he stands… Directly in the middle of the branch. Hell.

    “Alright, whatever. Grab me by the hood so you don’t get shocked.”

    “Wait, what?”

    You ignore Junpei and face the middle of the branch, Slowly, you turn to the right—

    And your muscles lock up. It’s a phantom pain, something remembered from something that never happened. A warning.

    You turn toward the left and walk. Sigma meets your eyes as you pass him, and his eyebrow rises.

    You just nod once and keep going.

    At the end of the passageway is a screen, rather than an exit, with a green button that says initialize on the bottom.

    And on the screen is some kind of log.

    Transmission: SUCCESS
    Reception: BARE SUCCESS

    I now have an understanding of how Six views me: as a lab rat. Their first order upon arrival was to put me into an electrified water maze and have me stumble my way out using only information from testers looking at an answer sheet across the entire facility. It was easier going when it was my turn looking at sheets than going through the maze, but I already suspected it would be.

    “Who’s writing this?” Junpei was aghast.

    Sigma was more nonchalant. “Zero, most likely.”

    “It’s not just us he’s doing this to, he’s subjecting himself to these experiments?”

    “Anything for progress.”

    “What’s he trying to progress?”

    “Morphogenetic Field access, if I had to guess,” you speak up, pressing the button. “Can’t say it doesn’t work.”

    “What do you mean by — the maze…”

    “I guess we benefit from the people going through as well.”

    The wall in front of you rose to reveal a sterile grey laboratory room with three frosted glass boxes on the other side. The room is awkwardly short, as if the wall on the other end is cutting it in half rather than serving as the true back wall. It’s likely that the exit is behind the wall, which would only open if you finish whatever’s in the boxes.

    Might as well get started. You walk forward, and after a moment’s pause, the boys follow behind you.

    The boxes have doors with metal handles that are cold to the touch. The door on the leftmost box swings open to reveal an empty room with a key in the center, dangling from the ceiling by a string. Sigma comes from behind you and walks inside, reaching with his left hand to grab the key—

    And snatches his hand back as something red rushes through the space where it just was. With a growl, he jabs his right hand out, snaps the key off the string, and stomps out of the box, letting you close the door behind him.

    As soon as the door is closed, the box frosts further, becoming completely white and opaque, and red words appear on the door.

    Enhanced Transmission: BARE FAILURE
    Enhanced Reception: FAILURE

    No progress has been made on the mind reading front. Not a hint of intention from Six, who sat in front of me for an hour slapping me at random intervals unless I accurately called out when they were going to do so. Pushing my own thoughts into their head has been just as fruitless, though they stated that’s more an issue with their head than with my own abilities, and there has been slightly more progress with the Testers. They can ‘feel’ a knock at the door.

    Junpei scowled. “So he’ll just endure endless pain and humiliation just for a chance to increase his power.”

    “You sound as if the concept is new to you, Junpei,” you snark back.

    “The bad guy suffering himself instead of making others suffer for him is pretty new, actually.”

    “That’s fair. Hey Sigma, what was that thing? Zero said he just got slapped, but that didn’t look like any hand I’ve ever seen.”

    Sigma rubs his wrist, still staring at the now-white box. “I think it was a laser, aimed at the wrist. It would have taken my hand if I was a second slower.”

    “Maybe you should’ve let it. Bracelet removal along with cauterization to keep you from bleeding out would have kept you awake through the part of the game where we get put to sleep, and maybe even give us a point on the board towards escape.”

    “Hm, maybe…”

    “Are you two bemoaning a missed opportunity to disfigure yourself for gain?”

    “It would have been better than killing someone to get out. Honestly, Tenmyouji, you value self-preservation a little too highly.”

    “I think you just don’t value yours enough!”

    “That may be true as well.”

    You leave the two of them for a moment to open the middle box. Inside is a black panel with three red buttons sitting conspicuously in a row. You wonder what the challenge is in this as you go up to press the one in the middle.

    You’re stopped right before you hit it, though. Another muscle spasm, this time in your chest, a warning sensation.

    You hover your hand over the button on the right instead and, when the sensation doesn’t come, hit it. The panel opens to reveal another key, slightly smaller than the one Sigma grabbed, you think, you’d have to see his more closely to be sure.

    When you walk out and close the door again, the box frosts over just as the first did.

    Shifting: MISERABLE FAILURE

    Six apparently conferred with the A-Technicians and configured a device that would cause excruciating cranial pain, and then unconsciousness. They put the activation trigger into a false pistol and proceeded to induct me into a blind binary quiz, activating the device whenever I was incorrect to simulate death. The experiment was a failure.

    “Jesus,” Junpei muttered. “This testing is obscene, it’s like he didn’t care about his own safety at all.”

    “Really? These tests seem to be normal, by all accounts,” Sigma argued. “Honestly, it seems rather tame.”

    “What about this display of self-mutilation seems tame to you?!” Oh, that sounds like genuine anger in Junpei’s voice now.

    “He isn’t throwing himself into situations in which he could actually die. Come to think of it, that has to be why his experiments are failing so often, he’s mitigating the danger.”

    And now his scowl is turning into a snarl. You didn’t expect him to care so much about Zero’s experimental habits.

    “So he’s, what, a worse scientist? Because he didn’t want to point a loaded gun at his head?”

    “I couldn’t speak to his ability or ethic as a scientist, as I don’t know him. But he is producing substandard results as a consequence of his reluctance, yes.”

    “Jumpy,” you cut in, pointing at the third, rightmost box. “The both of us have keys already, grab one so we can move on.”

    “Yeah,” he nods, visibly trying to calm down, “yeah, I’ll go do that.”

    The inside of the box he opens is covered floor to ceiling in mirrors all facing different directions. It makes you nauseous just to look at, and after confirming that there’s a key in every single reflection, you have to tear your eyes away.

    Junpei takes all of thirty seconds to solve the puzzle though, picking up the key easily and walking out of the room immediately. You’re amazed.

    When the box whitens for words to appear, the wall behind it lowers slowly, revealing a tall, gunmetal grey box, two control panels on either side, and the exit. Your bracelets all chime out cheerily, as well. Seems as though the challenge is done.

    So what’s the box about? And why the keys?

    First things first. The entry.

    Parallel Processing: FAILURE

    I had forgotten to update: enhanced reception has advanced — though through no effort of my own. Six guided me through the steps and led me into their mind, and had me repeat the steps with the Testers. The next step, though, is viewing their mind as they Shift — or the step before they Shift, which is to make two separate decisions and follow them through. It gives me a headache just to think about…

    “Limbo… The moment between choices…”

    “What’s that, Akane?”

    Sigma doesn’t understand — his AB Project is too dissimilar in purpose from your Nonary Game. He went back in time to save his future, you went forward to save yourself. You know how important every choice can be, how wrong things can go if the wrong one is made.

    Judging by his silence, Junpei remembers as well.

    You walk past the glass boxes to examine the tower beyond. It’s imposingly large, with a banner at the top that reads ‘FIELD TRIP’ in large red letters, but it’s ultimately just another box, with doors locked by a keyhole. The control panels on either side are also mostly bare, with closed keyholes of their own — maybe they’d open when the box is unlocked? At least you found what the keys are for.

    “What does it mean by ‘field trip,’” Sigma ponders. He walks forward with his key out, and you see that it is different, his has a black fob like a car key while yours (and Junpei’s, you assume) is pure silver to match the control panels. Sigma unlocks the box and walks inside. “There’s a screen inside as well, telling us to initialize the machine to view the document.”

    “So no information on what the machine is or what document we’d be reading,” Junpei says dryly. “Thanks, Zero. Very helpful.”

    “Assumably,” Sigma’s voice echoes from the box, “it would be another log detailing Zero’s abilities and growth. Honestly, there’s no reason not to fire the machine up right now.”

    “I could think of a couple! For one, what if the machine is a trap?!”

    “Oh, it most certainly is.”

    Excuse me?!

    “There’s an aura about this box. Something bad will happen when we turn it on, that much is almost guaranteed. But it’s worth it to know exactly what Zero can do.”

    “How is that worth anything?! You can’t do anything with that information if you die to the machine giving it to you!”

    “Not in this universe, at least.”

    “Not in — what?”

    “Shifting, that ability that Zero failed to grasp, is exceptionally powerful. I’ve mastered it, and Akane is capable as well. We are not bound to these bodies, we only exist in our minds, and through the Morphogenetic Field, we can transcend space and time to deliver this vital information to a universe where we can use it.”

    “You’re… That thinking is inhumane…”

    “I think a desire for immortality is extraordinarily humane, myself.”

    Persistent consciousness is not immortality! How could you even delude yourself into thinking that?!”

    “Because it’s comforting,” you murmured from the control panel. You say it almost under your breath, but it echoes in the silent, empty room. “When you consider that mortality is fickle, that you can die from something as random as going into the hospital for a checkup, for something as insignificant as turning right instead of left, believing yourself immortal is a safety blanket that you can never remove.”

    The room goes quiet. The machine is silent without power, and the only way to turn it on is to turn both keys at the same time.

    And Junpei…

    “I can’t be part of this. I know you think that it doesn’t matter what happens in this world because you can go and make a better one, but I can tell you that the survivors of this world will mourn your loss. You’ll be alive in another timeline, but the people who care about you won’t go with you.”

    …Yeah.

    You don’t have anything to convince him…





    Required Document: Machine Blueprints

    ...Document secured. Continue?

    [ ] Yes, continue.
    [ ] No, select a fragment.
     
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  27. Cubbyhb1

    Cubbyhb1 Theoretically Capable of Sleep

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    [X] Yes, continue
     
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  28. Jen X

    Jen X Making the rounds.

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    [X] Yes, continue
     
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  29. iamweirdo

    iamweirdo Know what you're doing yet?

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    hmmm interesting

    [X] Yes, continue
     
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  30. Threadmarks: Mortality: Fleeting
    CypherZero

    CypherZero Getting sticky.

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    A buzzing at your wrist breaks you from your musing. Five minutes left and no progress to show for it. You growl softly and lean against your console, staring at the tower that Sigma stubbornly refuses to leave.

    …Hang on a bit. Doesn't that look like…

    "Hey, Sigma," you call out, getting Junpei's attention as well, "The floor of that box, is it like, concentric rings?"

    "Like a bullseye? Yeah, kinda."

    "And they're like, made of plastic?"

    "A firm plastic or a dull glass, like—"

    "A light bulb?"

    "Akane," Junpei interrupts, "do you know what this machine is?"

    "I think so! It looks similar to an Exodus machine—"

    "A what?"

    "A quantum transporter! It's like, super-future tech! It takes whatever's inside and transports it to a sister machine. Nothing bad will happen if we flip it on!"

    "And you just now… remembered this."

    "Mhmm!"

    "From where?"

    "From somewhere else in this facility."

    "How am I supposed to—"

    "1438!"

    "3421, fine. You're sure it's safe?"

    You have no idea, but Sigma seemed fine to die for it earlier.

    "I'm sure it's a transporter and I'm sure his body will pop up in another machine."

    "See, that's what makes me nervous—"

    "Tenmyouji," Sigma's voice interrupts from the machine, "if Akane is correct then I'm sure everything will be fine. A quantum transporter should be safe, I should arrive at my destination perfectly healthy."

    "See, it's that 'should' that makes me nervous."

    "Just turn the key, Tenmyouji."

    "It's literally on your head if this turns out wrong…"

    "It won't turn out wrong. We need to see this final stage of Zero's development."

    "Fine! Fine. Let's just… On three?"

    "Yeah, go ahead," you tell him.

    "Okay. One, two, three!"

    You turn your key and the machine starts humming. "You okay in there Sigma?"

    "Yes, there's a screen in here, the document is loading now."

    "Could you read it verbatim?"

    "Of course, just a moment… Ah, here it is. Field Trip Log.

    "I often questioned why Six had this base built in Nevada. By all standards, most of the experiments we've done to explore the Morphogenetic Field could have been done in the main base, and the ones that were too large are, and I maintain this opinion even now, simply egregious. However, it seems that Six chose the locale of this base for a very specific reason.

    "There's another test site nearby."

    Another test site in… Nevada? You're trembling. Zero could only be referring to one thing.

    "There was another experiment happening, with nine subjects performing escape puzzles under threat of death to unlock their own access to the Field. Whether this experiment was a success or failure doesn't matter as much as the experiment's existence, and our proximity. We've observed this Building Q, we practically had front row seats! And I finally understand why Six put so much emphasis on the deadliness of our experiments — in fact, I'm a bit annoyed that they held back so much. Though I suppose my death wouldn't be ideal for our other plans.

    "And those test subjects… Some of them are extraordinarily interesting."

    It's quiet for a moment, before Junpei says something to help contextualize what you just heard.

    "Clover isn't here." You turn to look at him, still a bit numb. "If I remember correctly, only Clover and one of Hazuki's daughters were in Building Q ten years ago. You and Santa were on the Gigantic, right?"

    "Y-Yeah."

    "Then we can assume that, because we were invited here, baited here, and Clover wasn't, Zero was only here last year, and hasn't been monitoring you for a decade."

    Unless his interest was piqued ten years ago and he was here waiting — but how would he know you would come back? Junpei's probably right.

    "You're… probably right, yeah… Still, to think he somehow observed us without either me or Aoi noticing…"

    "Might it have something to do with the Morphogenetic Field?" Sigma suggests from the box. "It was mentioned previously that Zero had gained enhanced Reception, which, as I understand it, is the ability to retrieve information directly from a subject's mind."

    "Front row seats," you hear Junpei mutter.

    You come to the same conclusion. "He was watching from our own eyes…? And decided that Junpei was worth putting through another experiment?"

    "Just me?"

    "I'm not ready to attribute Zero's foresight as far as baiting Sigma and Phi into making a plan that traps me as well. At the very least, he noticed our infiltration and decided to invite you."

    "Hm, if you say so…"

    The room goes quiet again, and it goes unbroken until time runs out and the bracelets let out a shrill beep.

    And then—

    Well, you're glad for the memory drugs for once. You're not sure if you'd forget Sigma's screams as you fade into unconsciousness otherwise.


    Fragment Complete!
    Mortality

    Fragment Selection
    (Choose One)

    Condition (Diana and Mira)
    Lab Rat (Carlos and Diana)
    Interception (Aoi and Mira)
    Revisit Game Theory (1/4 Seen)

    Revisit (Which fragment?)
    Redirect (Which person?)​
     
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