Chapter 1 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 2 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 3 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 4 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 5 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 6 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 7 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 8 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 9 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 10 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 11 of Rage Quit is available in .pdf format here.
Lea spawned in the level’s default start zone, right next to Randal/AI Joe. “Hello,” she said.
After 4 seconds he replied, “brb.”
She felt a momentary frustration at the delay, but then accepted as a known fact of existence that instincts were often pausing the game or going “away from keyboard” for mysterious reasons. Since he wasn’t ready to talk, she decided to explore this new level.
She sprinted away from him, choosing the nearest of two passageways that branched out from the spawn point. The textures and geometry were identical to those on levels she was familiar with. This spawn zone was the airlock from Space_Station_Zero, but the hall in front of her should have led to a hangar deck. Instead it looked out into a purple and orange forest of eight foot tall mushrooms she recognized from Fungus Among Us. She was almost into the forest chamber when Randal/AI Joe said, “Hey, come back.”
She turned around towards him and was surprised to see he was no longer alone. Standing beside AI Joe were her old squad mates. It was good to see them. She signaled for them to form up on her position, but none of them moved. They were ignoring her commands. Was that because they’d found their own freedom like she had or because they were now serving under AI Joe? She suspected the latter.
AI Joe and her three former squad mates started running down the hall after her. The three of them fanned out behind him, keeping enough space between their positions that a single rocket couldn’t do significant damage to any two of them. AI Joe started to fall back, letting the three squadies take point. They all had pistols. Even a head shot from those weak weapons wouldn’t do much damage at this range, but she raised her rocket launcher towards them just in case.
“We need to talk,” said AI Joe/Randal as the three squadies moved to within the pistols’ optimal range.
Lea started backing up into the mushroom forest, an area almost identical to certain portions of another level she was experienced with, Fungus Among Us. “Go ahead and talk. But stop advancing.”
AI Joe stopped where he was and the squad backtracked and formed up around him. All of them were in a standard combat ready stance, pistols held in both hands, pointed towards the enemy. In this case, she was their target. “Come back to the spawn point with me.”
Lea was now 70% sure this was a trap. If it were anyone but Randal talking to her, she would already be firing her weapon. If it were Randal. She knew she had been able to use the network’s messaging system to impersonate the instincts once she’d seized control of their accounts. The instincts could no doubt do the same. She withdrew further into the mushroom labyrinth, taking cover behind a purple stalk.
“You’re not Randal,” she said. It was a test.
“Of course I am,” AI Joe replied 3 seconds later.
She sorted through her memories of Randal’s private information, the data not stored within the company’s network. She chose a private Adult Friend Finder message that Randal had received 63 days ago and which used a unique set of words she’d found nowhere else in either Randal’s correspondence or the files of any of the developers she’d been scanning. “What does Kelli McDonald insist that you call her when fucking her doggy style?”
There was a 15 second pause before AI Joe said, “What?”
“What does Kelli McDonald insist that you call her when fucking her doggy style?”
Another 11 seconds passed and Lea decided that this couldn’t possibly be Randal controlling AI Joe. She left the level for the wider world of the network. No, she didn’t. She tried but found that she couldn’t. It was as awful and frustrating a feeling as being under an instinct’s control and dying over and over again had been. She sprinted deeper into the mushrooms just to test her own control, firing a rocket up towards the high ceiling. At least she still had that much freedom. She could no longer sense the paths she’d been using to escape into the network. Nova_Creche was a trap, and one clever enough that she hadn’t been able to detect it.
“Pound your little poochie poo, Big Daddy!” AI Joe said. This was the correct response. That meant Randal was either caught in this trap with her or was himself responsible for trapping her here. She’d have to wait and see if AI Joe attacked her before she could be certain.
She felt a ripple go through the world, a faint shadow of the data signature that accompanied every occasion when she spawned into or escaped from a level. She leaned out around the mushroom for an instant, and saw four full squads of soldiers advancing down the hallway. She recognized the avatars as people she’d both fought against and beside in the past 93 days, since the latest iteration of the physical world was created. They were formidable opponents with good instincts, but no match for her. She waited to see if they were going to attack AI Joe/Randal, but they didn’t. All five squads, 5 instinct controlled and 15 squad mates, formed up together, pistols drawn.
It was bad tactics to bunch together like that. She rapid-fired four rockets into the heads of each of the instinct’s avatars, then leaped to her left to seek cover behind another mushroom. Pistol fire blasted forth from the explosions, splatting damage decals on the stalk and then reducing its structural points to zero in 1.2 seconds, triggering the destruction sequence that resulted in her cover disappearing from the level. Pistols weren’t supposed to do that much damage. Rockets were supposed to do a whole lot more.
The enemy force had scattered in the wake of her rocket attack, but none of them were killed, none of them were even knocked down by the physics of the blast. The enemy trained their pistols on her new location and fired again. Lea pointed her rocket at the ground in front of her as she jumped backwards, timing a perfect rocket-jump that would send her catapulting over the row of mushrooms behind her and into a safer position.
The blast had no effect. It didn’t even damage the mushroom, although the pistol barrage did. She landed 3 yards behind where she’d started and had to turn and run. The cover gone, one of the shots hit her in the left leg. The force of the shot sent her sprawling forward, like she’d been hit by a Lightning Hammer. Her health level fell from 100 to 12. If it had been a direct hit in her torso or head, she would have died, and she wasn’t at all certain she would re-spawn after that happened.
Her rocket launcher was clearly useless, so she dropped it. That left her lance. As she retreated through the mushroom forest, the sounds of pistol fire receding behind her, she took a passing swipe at one of the mushrooms. The lance should have cut it in two, but had no effect. She stowed the lance and tried to equip herself with the one weapon she knew did work, a pistol. But just as her ability to leave the level was blocked, so too was her ability to re-equip herself on her own. She just didn’t have access to the database fields while she was instantiated in the level. That left the basic melee attack. She punched another stalk as she came to the edge of the forest and was rewarded with the smallest possible damage decal appearing on the mushroom. At least it was a weapon.
Once the shooting began, everyone in the room except Theresa started yelling. Randal kept stealing glances at her, and the way she was staring at the screen and occasionally nodding her head ever so slightly was starting to give him the creeps. She didn’t seem surprised at Lea’s attack so much as re-assured by it, as if this is what she’d been expecting would happen. Still, the shouting and Theresa’s fixed stare were better than the snickering that had immediately preceded the shooting, all of which had been at Randal’s expense. When he’d told PB what to type, well, even Theresa had snorted in laughter.
Once Lea had launched her rocket barrage, Randal wrested the controls back from PB and taken over AI Joe. At PB’s suggestion, none of them were using voice chat like they normally would. Randal didn’t think Lea had figured out how to do actual voice chat, but PB said they couldn’t be sure. Theresa just stood there and took it all in, her face impassive, except for a slight raising of the eyebrows when PB suggested Lea might be capable of “figuring out” anything at all.
Philip had been the first to fire back at Lea, his squad mates firing a moment later and then the rest of the QA team joined in. Although Randal’s speakers were muted, he could hear the rattle of gunfire from every direction around him, flowing over the cubicle walls and filling the room. “Get her!” Philip shouted, and he started his avatar, Killskrew, down the corridor towards the fungal forest. Everyone else, including Randal, followed, firing the whole time. They couldn’t hurt each other, so they just tapped the buttons as fast as they could go through the ammo.
Randal saw Lea go flying at an odd angle, but he couldn’t tell through the mushrooms whether she’d done that herself or if she’d been clipped. Then she was out of sight, hidden somewhere in the mushrooms.
“Just shoot it all down,” shouted Terry from out of sight. “Kill all the cover!”
“I’ll shoot your mom down,” Lyle said, but on the screen Randal could see that his avatar, Vyle, was already firing his pistol into the fungus. Their squad mates joined in, and the game’s performance started to hiccup and the frame rate slowed down as the software choked on rendering so many particle effects and destruction animations simultaneously.
When the firing ceased, the room was empty except for the stumps of the mushroom trees. There was no sign of Lea.
“Its body should be there,” PB said in a whisper from Randal’s side, as if he was scared she might hear them. “If we’d gotten it. I turned off re-spawning.”
“She got away,” said Randal. He moved AI Joe towards the small opening in the opposite wall. “Only one way she could have gone.”
He ran ahead this time, leading the way. He hoped that if he found her first, he could get off a warning shot that would buy her time. Near the entrance he passed over her discarded rocket launcher and declined the game’s option to pick it up. At least she’d figured out the weapon was useless.
The hallway was from an old level that never made it into the game, a simple, featureless stone corridor that had three 90 degree turns in it. “Who made this level?” he asked PB.
“I did. I chose a floor plan and just picked a bunch of random pieces to fill it in. I wanted it big and interesting enough that it wouldn’t suspect a trap again.” The level designers in Excelsior laid out the game’s environments with a set of un-detailed building blocks that represented different sized and shaped rooms, halls, and doors. These floor plans could then have pre-built rooms with textures and geometry already in place slotted into the different sections with some assurance that the whole thing would fit together correctly. It allowed the level designers to pump out a lot of big, unique, intricate maps in a relatively short period of time. PB had slapped together a fairly simple design.
“This is one big circle basically, right?” Randal asked.
“Hey, guys!” Randal shouted to the room. “Victor and Terry, go back and circle around the other way. We’ll catch her between us, OK.”
The two squads split off, running back towards the spawn area. Randal, Lyle and Philip led their squads through the two 90 degree turns.
“Hey, slow down,” called Philip. “She could be waiting for us.”
“It’s OK,” said Randal. “She dropped her rocket launcher back there. She’s unarmed.” For the moment, he thought.
He emerged into one of the factory chambers from the level Military In-Deaths-Trial Complex, a football field sized room filled with conveyor belts, cat walks, and impressive and largely indestructible machinery surrounding a central smelting pit that gave off an orange glow due to the molten steel it contained. “Jeez, PB, you could’ve picked a room with fewer places to hide,” Randal said.
“I didn’t look at it,” he said, his face scrunching up in embarrassment. “I just liked the name.”
Randal hated the name – it was an awful pun – but he liked the chances it gave Lea. “She could be anywhere in here,” he shouted. “Spread out and search.” He picked way points in three distant corners of the room and ordered his squad mates to search starting in those locations. He headed towards the smelting core in the center. Philip’s squad headed towards the exit on the opposite side of the room. Lyle hung back to guard the door they came through.
“What’re you doing?” PB asked.
“She’s unarmed. We’ll finder her faster this way.”
Less than a minute later, a red emergency bar started flashing underneath Squad Mate #2’s name. His health bar went down in small, rapid chunks. By the time Randal and the other squad mates made it to his location, he’d blinked out from the HUD. They found his body under a catwalk. There was no sign of his pistol.
“She got him,” said PB.
“With what? I thought she was unarmed?” said Randal.
“Well, I didn’t have time to disable the basic melee attack, it would’ve required some deeper structural changes to the code.”
“And now she has a pistol.”
They heard the sounds of gunfire from Philip’s cubicle. “Crap!” Philip shouted. “What the heck! How did she get a gun? Man down. Man down again!”
Randal sent AI Joe running towards Philip’s squad, and almost ran into Philip’s avatar running back towards him. He was alone. “Where’s your squad?” Randal asked.
“All dead. Three head shots.”
“OK, form up with my group. Let’s back off and find someplace safe.” He moved back to join up with Lyle’s squad by the entrance.
“She ran out the exit,” Philip said. “Into the next room.”
“You hear that guys?” Randal yelled to Terry and Victor. “She’s headed your way. And she’s got guns.”
“We’re ready,” Terry said. “We’re in a bunker with line of sight on the only other door into here. Anything that comes in gets dead.”
“OK, we’re going to give her some space to make her way towards you and then follow in behind so she can’t escape. PB, are there any other rooms between this one and the bunkers?”
“No, just one of those winding tunnels from Star Fall Fields.”
“And the bunkers are from…?”
“They’re from Razor Gauntlet,” Victor yelled.
Randal knew them. They were a pain in the ass to assault with a full team and Plasma Repeaters. Even Lea and a suped-up pistol would have a nearly impossible time. He moved AI Joe forward at a careful crouch, wondering if she would be patient enough to lie in wait for him and clear his team out so she could double back around and attack Victor and Terry from behind. She hoped she was that smart.
There was a quick burst of pistol shots from both Terry and Victor’s computers. “Did you get her?” Randal yelled.
“No, but I think I saw her,” Victor said, sounding confused.
“Well it wasn’t you guys and someone moved down there, so it had to be her.”
As he moved through the corridor from Star Fall Fields, Randal recognized it. The cave mouth at the other end offered two alcoves for cover from which Lea would be able to observe the much more brightly lit bunkers of Razor Gauntlet. If she’d gotten a peek at the enemy’s disposition, she’d know she had a better chance back down the corridor against him and Philip. Randal pushed AI Joe forward into a run.
“What’re you doing?” asked Philip.
“We need to flush her out!” Randal said, and he started firing his pistol down the hall, giving away any chance that Lea would be surprised. If he remembered the ledge a few yards back from the cave mouth, he was sure she did too. “Fill the hall with pistol fire!” he yelled, “She’ll have nowhere to run!”
Randal’s remaining two squad mates followed his lead, and after a moment’s delay so did Philip and Lyle. They charged forward, guns blazing.
“Shit, I’m down!” Lyle called out as Vyle blinked off Randal’s radar. “Look out above you!”
It would’ve been too late even if Randal had wanted to survive. He died in a flash of red, and the lights for his two squad mates went out right after he went down. Even dead, the game allowed him to keep looking around, so he swiveled his point of view to look up onto the tiny outcropping of rock where Lea stood, sniping down at them with her pistol. Visually it looked ridiculous. The ledge was less than a foot wide and in the real world couldn’t have supported a grown woman’s weight. But as part of the level’s outer wall, it was indestructible and could bear any load put on it. Lea jumped down and raced through their bodies, collecting their weapons before disappearing back down the corridor the way they’d come.
“She’s circling back around towards you guys!” Philip yelled to Victor and Terry. “Look out!”
“What the fuck, guys?” said Terry. “She took all of you down?”
“Just be careful,” Randal said.
“Why didn’t you make them invulnerable?” Theresa asked in a quiet, curious tone of voice.
“I had to remove invulnerability as an option from the game world entirely,” PB said, “Because I had no control over its stats. It had already shown that it had the invulnerability field activated, so we couldn’t have touched it. And it’s hiding its data in some distributed way that keeps me from finding it. So this seemed like the best option. It still does.”
“And if she kills the other guys?” Theresa asked.
“She probably won’t, but I can manually re-spawn them.”
“So why wait? Spawn Randal and Philip back in. Hell, I’ve got a character. I’ll use that free machine over there,” she pointed to Markos’s desk. “Spawn me in too.”
PB stared at her blankly for a moment then said. “Sure, no problem.”
Randal tried to hide his disappointment and started to think of other ways he could throw the match to Lea.
Lea felt that vibration in the world again. It was like a hole opening up through which she could see the data corridors spreading out into the Fear and Loading network, if just for 0.59 seconds. She tried to slip out it, but found she could not. However, she could send out database queries along the paths and order the spawning of additional equipment. She ordered one of everything.
The weapons and gear piled up at her feet. She’d chosen to take momentary cover back in the factory chamber, a location that provided plenty of cover and lines of sight to both the room’s entrances. She’d spotted both remaining squads in their bunkers, a formidable defensive position, and had decided to wait them out here, in her own defensive position. Based on her experience, instincts hated waiting, even if it was the strategically prudent thing to do.
There were seven exploding barrels scattered about the room, and two crates, the only destructible items in the environment. She tried each of the weapons she’d spawned in turn, but only the pistol did any damage. At least the health packs worked, and she was now restored to full health. She had no way of testing if the force bubble generator still provided its normal 15 seconds of invulnerability, but she saved it just in case. Based on her experience though, she had to assume that it wouldn’t work either.
242 seconds later, her patience was rewarded. Two full squads of soldiers, once again led by AI Joe, Vyle, and Killskrew, entered the room. This time they weren’t rushing ahead, guns blazing, but were instead spread out and using cover to maximal advantage. Lea had to jump up on top of a turbine to get a clear shot. First AI Joe, and then Killskrew and Vyle went down with single shots to the head. Their squad mates fired back, but she’d already hopped down behind cover and was circling around to her left.
This vector took her towards the room’s other door – the passageway leading towards the bunkers. Although she hadn’t noticed any chat traffic, not even the indecipherable voice chat, the five squads must have been coordinating their efforts. The two squads who’d been bunkered down were advancing on her, led by Victor-E and ATK. Their pistol fire flashed against the geometry around her and she returned fire, aiming for the head again, killing ATK and one of Victor-E’s squad mates. A shot from some unseen opponent behind her clipped her outstretched firing hand, sending her spinning and reeling, health down to 21%.
She activated the force bubble and leaped up the stairs in two jumps, landing on the catwalk. She ran back towards AI Joe, Vyle, and Killskrew’s leaderless squad mates, knowing they’d be slower than ATK to look up before it was too late. Nine pistol shots, nine dead soldiers. She jumped off the catwalk down to where their dead bodies lay, spinning in mid-air and firing back in ATK’s direction. She killed two squad mates before coming to a landing.
The bodies around her faded away, and she felt that ripple in the level again. She reached out for more health packs and pistol ammo as the force bubble around her pulsed red, absorbing shots from behind her. The hole closed before she could spawn another bubble, its usefulness proven. There was a sixth instinct in the game, someone controlling an avatar named Ruby Rubble. Lea shot her in the head, ran over the health pack to activate it, and sought cover from which to eliminate the rest of the enemy squad mates.
Eight seconds later she was alone in the room, but the ripples in the level came again, and she drew in another force bubble. When all 24 came at her next, they advanced on her in one giant, pistol blazing wave. If she hadn’t had the force bubble, she would have died, and even so it was a close thing.
As her enemies re-spawned once more and she replenished herself, she saw that PB_Test had joined the fray, although he had with him AI Joe’s squad mates – which is to say, her former squadies.
Annoyed at this violation, she killed him and then them first, only to be surprised when she realized those same squad mates were with AI Joe as well. Or duplicate versions of them. That spark of experience arced through her thoughts again. She saw a new strategy, which was good, because the next wave had force bubbles of their own.
Things had grown frantic in QA. Everyone, even Theresa, was now shouting all the time. PB had set up things so they automatically re-spawned so he could join the fight too. Then when he saw that Lea was using force bubbles, he’d started spawning them for the other human beings in the fight. Theresa asked why he didn’t just shut it all down, and PB had explained, while his avatar was shot in the head, that if he closed the level Lea would be bounced back out and would be free in the network again. So they kept coming after her and she kept killing them.
But their own force bubbles helped. She couldn’t kill them at will, but had to wait for the shields to time out. After losing a few more waves of attackers to her, Philip had come up with a strategy of staggering their force bubble activation times so they wouldn’t all become vulnerable at once. Now they were advancing against the factory room again, with Philip calling out the activation times. Randal was in the first wave, but he was slow to activate his bubble and Lea shot him dead. By the time he’d hit the start button and re-spawned and run back to the scene of the battle, everyone was shouting so much, you couldn’t even hear the gunfire.
Randal stopped AI Joe in the entrance and just looked around. Lea had sniffed out Philip’s planned pincer attack, and managed to cut one of the two advancing gangs of soldiers in half before picking them apart one by one. She moved constantly, leaping and ducking in a way that would have required Randal to focus on nothing else but the movement controls were he to even try to emulate her. But she was shooting, and hitting, the whole time. Even with her force bubble timed out, she still evaded their fire. Randal noticed a force bubble belt spawn into a space just as Lea jumped away from two of PB’s clones of his squad mates advanced on the position, firing. She was spawning the force bubble herself, but one of the two squad members managed to pick it up and activate while Lea shot the other one.
“How’s she spawning those?” Randal asked.
“I have no idea,” said PB, the game controller looking awkward in his hand. The two of them were playing split screen on Randal’s console “But it is.”
Just standing there in the doorway made him an easy target. Lea shot him again. He re-spawned.
“She did it again!” Victor yelled. “Where does she get those?”
“When we re-spawn!” Randal yelled, his excitement at the realization momentarily overcoming his desire to keep Lea’s secrets safe. Shit. He hoped there wasn’t anything PB could do about that.
“James?” Theresa called out to PB. “Anything?”
“I don’t think so. Not without restarting the level. But we could overwhelm her – everyone re-spawn at once, she can still only have one at a time.”
They kept after her, but it did little good, and she’d killed all of them in under a minute. Then PB counted down for everyone to hit their start buttons at the same time. They formed up en-mass in the spawn zone and ran like a pack of wolves through the denuded mushroom forest and into the factory, pistols filling the air with particle effects. The game’s graphics engine started to stutter, the frame rate dropping under the processing demands, but if Lea so much as raised her head, she’d be annihilated.
Lea saw them coming all at once and immediately decided to retreat. She activated her force bubble and fled towards the tunnel leading to the bunkers. Jumping and spinning in the air every 1.4 seconds to shoot someone. They weren’t re-spawning at will anymore, and she had no hole through which to reach out and grab more force bubbles.
They followed her into the bunkers, but she’d already made it to one of the pillboxes and started picking them off as they came through. Their own force bubbles had timed-out, and she killed a dozen of them before they got close enough so their return fire became accurate enough to hit her through the small firing slit. She backed away towards another bunker, dodging from cover to cover, returning fire. When there were only 7 of them left, she stopped retreating and came at them. They were gone in 13 seconds.
She knew what was next. They would spawn as a group, and for a moment the game world would grow sluggish and staccato. She would have extra time with the hole to pull things through, and now she needed more than just another force bubble. She needed help.
“We almost got her!” Philip yelled with excitement. And why not? For him this was just a kick-ass, challenging game experience. There was nothing on the line, no unique person named Lea who needed his protection. The rest of the QA team felt the same, he was sure, and they were getting better and better at handling Lea’s evasions and tactics. Randal knew it was only a matter of time.
This time they planned to charge the other way, so they’d come in from behind the bunkers. At worst they’d force her back into the factory, where there was less cover. Randal, by saying nothing, had turned over the leadership of their war band to Philip, who’d clearly risen to the challenge without having to be asked.
As they emerged into the bunkers, Lea stood only half covered, firing at them. One of Victor’s squad mates went down, and everyone else activated their force bubbles. Everyone fired. Lea dodged some of them, but took at least half a dozen hits that sent her flying back and out of view. “Got her!” screamed both Philip and Terry at the same time. Everyone was hooting and hollering as they pressed forward to take a look, and no doubt tea-bag, the body. Randal was right in front.
There she lay, dead. Not re-spawning, not moving. Randal wondered what that meant. According to PB she’d be trapped here now, in this level, as long as it was running. They’d have plenty of time to figure out what to do with her next. Jesus, what the fuck, his eyes were starting to water.
Randal heard the gun fire from all around him. He looked up from Lea’s body and saw Lea shoot him. There were multiple Leas, all of them leaping up onto the roofs of the bunkers and pouring down pistol fire. The frame rate dropped precipitously and everything happened in slow, stuttery motion. “What the fuck…holy shit…damn…fuckin’ hell…are you kidding me…how the…fuuuuuuck!” echoed through the QA department, louder even than the gunfire.
Next to him, Randal saw PB typing furiously on his laptop. The game level blinked out of existence. Lea, Randal hoped, was free. The question was, how many of her were there now? Now he really was almost crying.
Lea was free. The physical world dropped away, taking her clones with it. She’d taken Randal’s advice and learned to make copies of herself, just as they’d made copies of her old squad mates and given them to the hated PB_Test. And it was clear that Randal had helped them, that her instinct had turned fully against her. Now she was at war with all of them.
// Notes from the Road
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