Copyright © 2005 by Jamie Beck
Robert Wood followed his guide through the boisterous crowd that was entering the stadium and through a door marked "Authorized Personnel Only." They had entered a long and uninteresting hallway.
"So, Dan," Robert began, addressing the guide who looked too young for his name. Perhaps Danny would have suited him better. "Who do I get to talk to first?"
"Anyone you want really, but you should probably begin with the Players before the Game starts. They will be too tired afterwards," Dan answered the reporter. "That's where I'm taking you first anyway. The Red Team has agreed to see you."
"Okay, sounds good to me," Robert said, then asked, trying to sound conversational, "How long have you worked here?"
"Um, four months," the young man said. Dan seemed uneasy, and Robert couldn't decide whether his guide appeared shy or unfriendly.
"Wow. From the very beginning. You must have been one of the first people they hired. Do you like working here?" Robert tried even harder not to use his interview voice. Maybe that was making the kid nervous.
"It's paying for college," Dan shrugged indifferently, and then added, "It can get exciting at times."
Dan stopped at a virtually unmarked door and knocked. "This is the Red Team's lounge," he explained.
"What!" someone on the other side of the door yelled.
Dan opened the door and poked his head inside. "Robert Wood, the reporter I was telling you about, is here," he said.
"Well let him in! We already said we'd talk with him!"
The room was large with two couches and three large, inviting chairs taking up much of the space. The five people within the room hardly acknowledged their visitor. One man reclined in a chair with his eyes closed, a young woman appeared to be asleep on one of the couches, a scowling young man sat at a small table just beginning a puzzle, another man was doing push-ups on the floor, and a woman with touches of gray in her hair put down a book and said, "Have a seat, Bob."
"Thank you. Do you mind if I use a recorder?" Robert asked as he sat on the unoccupied couch. He recognized her slightly brusque voice as the one that had answered Dan.
"Go right ahead. I'm Marlene Adams, main offense," she answered quickly, hardly giving Robert a chance to push the record button. She seemed impatient, and she reminded Robert of the kind of person who would blurt out whatever was on her mind, often with the unintentional result of hurting someone's feelings.
"I'm Ted Black, the team captain," the man in the comfortable chair said without opening his eyes. He looked completely relaxed.
The man doing push-ups said, "Three-hundred," and mounted a stationary bicycle in the corner. "Oh, hello. I'm Jeffrey Wilson. I'm the scout."
Marlene Adams tapped the sleeping woman on the foot, but she didn't move. "She's Angela Gomez, main defense." Marlene said. "And I might as well introduce him, too," she nodded toward the man with the puzzle. "He's B. R. Jackson. We call him Bernie. He doesn't talk to anyone starting half an hour before the Game. He is our Emissary. Okay, what would you like to ask us?"
"Well, first of all, Mr. Wilson, why are you exercising? Isn't this a mental game?"
"This is just my way of relaxing I guess," Jeffrey Wilson answered. "Once The Game begins, there is an awful lot of sitting. Our minds may be busy, but our bodies just sit there. I get stiff and restless if I don't work out first, and that affects my mind."
"I guess I can understand that. Now, I have a hard time understanding this Game. Will one of you explain it simply?"
"First Emissary to enter the Goal wins," Mr. Black said, still reclining in his chair. Even with his eyes closed he looked pleased with his answer.
"Thank you, but that's a bit too simple of an explanation," Robert said with a laugh.
"Have you ever watched the Game before?" Marlene Adams asked a bit impatiently.
"Yes, I saw a few minutes of one last night. The actions of the Pieces seemed erratic."
All of the Players who were awake or paying attention rolled their eyes as though the reporter's comment was one they had heard too often. "Dan," Marlene snapped, "Get Bob a rule book," Then she said to the reporter, "Your boss should have sent someone who knows The Game."
"In all fairness, The Game is still new," Robert answered patiently. "Besides, my boss had a reason for sending me. Anything else you can tell me about the Game?"
"There are a lot of rules," Mr. Wilson answered, still on the stationary bike, "rules for who can attack whom, what happens in the event of an illegal attack, what exactly each Piece can do, things like that. But basically, we are all just a support team to help the Emissary reach the goal. That's how to win. Only the Emissary counts. Even if all the other team members make it to the Goal, but not the Emissary, we lose."
Dan had left the room for only a minute, and now he was back with a small booklet. Robert accepted it gratefully.
"Thank you." Robert glanced at his digital notepad and asked, "How has the public responded to The Game?"
"They've responded very well, better than any of us hoped. The stadium is always full," Jeffrey Wilson said. Then he added as he dismounted the bike, "I was surprised by the sudden fame. And the training camps are filled. It seems everyone wants to play The Game."
"Hmmm. And can anyone be a Game Player? What are the requirements?"
"Of course not everyone is qualified," Marlene rejoined the conversation. "There are intense mental and physical tests to weed out the ones who can't play. Most of it is mental, and video game players usually do better. Most of the physical tests are stress tests and general health exams. You don't have to be an athlete, as I'm sure you can see by looking at me, but they don't want you having a heart attack in the middle of The Game. Then there are months of training, and only the best are hired."
For the first time, Ted Black opened his eyes and sat forward. He looked at his watch and said, "It's almost time for us to be in the Control Box. Are you almost finished, Mr. Wood?"
"Yes, I'll hurry," Robert scrolled down the list on his digital notepad, looking for an important question. He didn't want to waste the last minute or so on a question he could ask his guide. At the bottom of the list was the important question, the question, the reason he had been sent instead of one of the sports experts he worked with. It would do nicely. "I'm sure you've seen the protesters outside the stadium, claiming that The Game is unethical. What do they mean?"
"They're idiots," Marlene Adams stated. "And you may quote me."
"There are bound to be people who don't like The Game, for whatever reason," Ted Black said, choosing his words more carefully than his team mate. "Some think that ice hockey and American football are too violent. Every sport has its supposed problems. We just happen to be using very advanced technology. Some people just can't accept that. Oh, it's time to go. It was nice to meet you Mr. Wood."
"Thank you for your time," Robert replied, and shook hands with the Players. Even Angela Gomez who had just been wakened and had no idea who he was shook his hand.
The red team rushed out of the room. Robert stood at the small table and looked at the completed puzzle. It was a one thousand piece puzzle of an old windmill in a golden field. He pointed to it and asked, "Dan, hadn't Mr. Jackson just started this puzzle when we came in?"
"It's possible," Dan answered. "He is really fast with puzzles. This kind and crosswords types. They say The Game sharpens your mind. Would you like to see the Control Box?"
"Yes. Will the teams mind?"
"Not if you keep quiet," Dan led the way further along the hallway and into another large room.
One entire wall of the room was glass overlooking the stadium below. Along the opposite wall the teams were settling into reclined chairs that resembled those used in dental procedures. The room was busy with doctors and technical personnel making everything work just right. Robert walked over to the glass wall. He could see the large, seven-story Chamber where The Game was played, surrounded by the traditional stadium style seating. He could almost make out the individual viewing screens that accompanied each seat so that each fan could follow their team's progress even if they couldn't be seen directly. Robert looked further down to the floor of the stadium. There, outside of the Chamber in fifteen chairs slumped fifteen limp figures.
"Dan," Robert whispered, "are those the Game Pieces?"
"Yes," Dan answered.
"They look so real."
"They are very sophisticated robots," an unfamiliar voice replied.
Robert turned around and saw one of the technicians standing next to him. "My name is Tyler Nelson," the technician said. "I'm one of the interface technicians, and I may be able to answer some of your questions. The Pieces do look real, but they are not people."
"Thank you, Mr. Nelson, may I?" Robert took out his recorder again. Tyler nodded, and Robert asked, "People have said that our current technology is not advanced enough to produce robots that are capable of the intricate motor control shown by these Pieces. Can you explain this?"
"Of course. They are correct as far as a robot controlling itself. But it is the Players who are controlling the Pieces. You see," he indicated the row of chairs along the opposite wall. The Players were all sitting now, and technicians were placing caps covered with electrodes and wires on their heads. "Each Player has small implants that amplify their brain waves and the electrode cap reads the brain waves. That information is sent directly to the Piece that the Player controls. The Piece's software interprets the information and the Piece acts. It is quite a bit more complicated than this though, and there is also some feedback. The Player can see and hear everything that the Piece can. I've heard it's like being there yourself."
"Some claim that what you just described is still impossible and that the robots themselves can't be built yet."
"Is it possible to use the technology to control another human?"
"I don't think so. But then all I do is set up the connection. You'd have to ask the people who make all this stuff." Tyler Nelson looked at his watch and said, "We're about to begin. You may stay here for a while if you'd like."
"Thank you for your time," Robert said as Mr. Nelson hurried to one of the Players.
The fifteen people with electrode caps were still and quiet. "Watch the Pieces," Dan whispered, and Robert looked back out into the stadium. There was a light show going on, with colored spot lights sweeping the audience and flashing lights on the ceiling growing in intensity. Dan handed him a small ear piece and said, "This room is sound proof. It wouldn't do to have the Players hearing double." Robert put the ear piece in his ear and he could hear the music that went along with the light show. An announcer began talking in a loud, excited voice. He announced the White Team as the five limp figures dressed in white suddenly became animated, and the announcer shouted the names of each controlling Player for that team as the fans cheered. The announcer's voice boomed again as the Black Team stood and took bows, and the same routine was repeated for the Red Team. B. R. Jackson was especially popular. The crowd practically screamed when he was introduced.
The Game was about to begin. Robert opened the booklet Dan had given him. Page one would be a good place to begin. He began reading as he kept one eye on the stadium, "The ultimate objective of The Game is for the Emissary..." No, he knew that part. He needed something new. What happened on each level?
Well, here were the Piece rules, "The Emissary... may not harm or attack another piece... may not take part in solving the Obstacles until the final level... is the only piece that may be replaced when damaged... Team Captain... may not harm or attack another piece... makes decisions such as; to accept or refuse a challenge, to launch a surprise attack, etc... guards Emissary if needed... Defense Drone... primary function to guard the Emissary against surprise attack... may be given another task by the Captain... replaces Captain if needed... may act as Scout... may harm any attacking piece... Offense Drone: ... primary function to compete in all challenges... may be given another task by the Captain... replaces Defense Drone if needed... may act as Scout... may only attack an opposing scout, drone, or emissary... Scout... primary function to lead in solving the Obstacles... may replace or act as either Drone when needed..." Robert shook his head. It had taken eight pages, nearly half the rule booklet, to sift out those simple rules. Everything in between had been redundant. Someone needed to rewrite these.
In the stadium, the Pieces had entered the first level of the transparent Chamber. Three pieces, one from each team, stood on a raised platform in the center of Level 1. The other team members were standing around the base of the platform watching. Three referees in dark green entered the Chamber and handed each Piece on the platform what looked like a wooden pole about two meters long. A buzzer sounded and the three Pieces began to fight.
Robert looked at the Players in their seats. Marlene Adam's face had a look of intense concentration and her hands kept twitching. Robert looked back in the booklet. After a few pages that said nothing useful, he found it. "Level 1: Combat level. The three Offense Drone's battle. Weapons vary and are chosen at random. A Drone is out when 1. it can no longer fight or 2. it falls off the platform. The team of the last drone standing moves to the second level first..."
The three Pieces were fighting well. The Black and Red Drones had apparently formed a temporary alliance and had ganged up on the White Drone. He finally fell off the platform and the other two immediately turned on one another. Marlene Adams was incredibly skilled at controlling her game piece, and she eventually won. A good portion of the crowd cheered as the Red Team climbed the stairs to the second level.
Level 2 was a race through an obstacle course, and the Red Team had a head start. Robert began scanning through the pages of the booklet again. The next level would be some sort of maze.
Dan tapped Robert on the shoulder and pointed back into the stadium. Both the Black and White Teams had sent their offense drones to attack the Red Emissary. The Red Offense and Defense Drones were fighting them. The four drones fought hard with impressive hand to hand combat techniques. Robert looked at the players. Angela Gomez who controlled the Red Defense Drone hardly moved at all compared to Marlene, yet the Defense Drone fought just as furiously as the others. Dan whispered, "Angela Gomez is the second most skilled person on the Red Team."
"Who's the first?" Robert whispered back.
"B. R. Jackson," Dan answered.
After quite some time the teams made it to the maze without any casualties. "Is there anyone else I can talk to?" Robert asked.
Dan just nodded his head and led the way out into the hallway. "How about the Team owners?" Dan asked as they walked.
"I was hoping to talk with some of the Robotics Technicians," Robert said, taking out the earpiece. He was relieved by the sudden silence.
"Maybe after The Game is over. They are all in the Tech room right now and that is restricted. They don't want their secrets stolen I guess."
"Yes, I understand, but I have been given full access."
Dan thought for a minute. His boss never said to keep him out of the tech room, even though Dan himself was not allowed to enter it. "Just keep him happy," his boss, one of The Game's creators, had said. "Well," Dan said, "I guess it would be okay, if the guard will let us in."
They went down some stairs, through a security door that accepted Dan's pass code, down a maze-like series of hallways, and finally to a heavily reinforced door that was guarded by a large security officer.
"What's your security code?" the guard asked Robert and Dan.
"I don't have one. But I have been granted full access to this facility for the day," Robert announced. It probably wouldn't work, but it was worth a try. Dan kept quiet.
The guard thought for a moment. This was his first day, his first hour in fact on the job. The guy who had been training him was in the bathroom and had been for some time. When he left he had simply said, "Guard the door." This guy was wearing a full access pass. If it didn't mean "full access" then it shouldn't say that. Besides, he was escorted by a fellow employee. "Okay, go ahead," the guard said as he entered the code to open the door. Robert thanked the officer as he and Dan entered the room.
Robert and Dan looked at each other a little confused. Along the wall that faced them was a large prison type holding cell. Five hardened yet slightly frightened looking men stood and sat within the cell, staring back at the two surprised visitors. On the wall to their left hung red, white, and black uniforms exactly like those worn by the game pieces. To their right were a huge window and a reinforced door. The window looked out over what appeared to be a robotics maintenance lab.
"Dan," Robert began, "Who are these people?"
"I don't know, Mr. Wood," was all Dan said.
"Of course you wouldn't know," one of the men in the cell said. "We are top secret."
Robert took out his recorder. The man in the cell smiled. "But not secret for long, eh? Go ahead, push record. Good. We'll tell you whatever you want to know as long as this goes public." Robert nodded his head and the man continued, "We are prisoners, and I don't just mean prisoners here. I myself was on death row. Murder, you know. Well it seems that the owners of The Game have a deal with someone important, because prisoners like myself and these idiots were sold to The Game.
"I don't know how exactly they do it," the prisoner went on, "But they have a way of turning people into controllable game pieces. That's all we are, and that's why we are here. The five of us are replacements, just in case an Emissary or two gets killed. You see, those fifteen fellows out there right now are not robots."
Dan had turned very pale, and he muttered, "This can't be true. I knew they were hiding something, but..."
"It's true, Dan," Robert said with a scowl. "There were rumors that they used real people from the start, but no one could prove it. I'm still amazed that I got this far."
Dan suddenly gasped. "Mr. Wood, we need to get out of here! An Emissary has been damaged... I mean wounded, and they are going to get a replacement."
Robert looked at the kid strangely until he realized that Dan was still wearing the earpiece.
"Please! You can't leave us!" one of the prisoners pleaded.
Robert stopped to think for a moment. He had been sent because of his high ethical standards, and this man was right. He couldn't just leave them. But he was also known for being creative and a little unorthodox. And he had a plan that should stop this game in its tracks.
"Are there cameras in this room? And how about that window?" Robert asked.
"Yes," one of the prisoners said. "But it is just being recorded. This room is too secure. They don't have to watch us all the time. And that window is one-way. The other side is a mirror."
"Perfect!" Robert exclaimed. "Dan, after I'm out there, I need you to leave the building and take my recorder to my editor. Do you know where I work?"
"Yes, but when you're out where?"
"I'm going to take that Emissary's place. If it's possible..." Robert looked to the prisoners.
"Yeah, man. They do all the prep work in that lab." He pointed to the window.
"Why would you want to do something like that?" Dan asked.
"It's the only way I can think of to prove that real people are being used. They'll have some way to explain the prisoners. Maybe they are here to help with the robots. Maybe they are the robots and the techs were playing a joke on me. They'll think of something like they always do, and they'll have proof, too."
A voice came over a speaker somewhere in the room and said, "Will one of the prisoners please exit the cell and change into a red uniform." The door to the cell popped open, but the prisoners didn't move. Usually they would gang up on one man and push him out of the cell.
"But you're risking your life for prisoners! They've never used innocent people!" The murderer who had been the first to speak said.
"In God's eyes we are all sinners, whether it's murder or gossip." Robert grabbed one of the red uniforms from a hook on the wall and began changing into it as Dan quickly closed the barred door of the holding cell. "Besides," Robert added, "Jesus died for all of us. I can certainly risk my life for what is right. This is no longer about punishing you for crimes or protecting other members of society. It has become a way to disguise killing for sport." Robert handed the recorder to Dan who then put it in his pocket. "Be sure to get out of here quickly, Dan."
The door into the tech lab opened and Robert walked through it. The door closed behind him just as Dan quickly left with the recorder. The walls of the lab were covered with tools and robot parts. It really did look like the real thing.
As he looked around, an armed guard who he had not seen standing in a corner approached him. He had a tazer gun pointed at Robert as he said, "Be a good felon and don't cause any trouble. Get on that bed over there." He motioned toward a hospital style bed at the far end of the lab. Robert obeyed. Several people he assumed were the "robotics technicians" entered the lab and tied him down. Then they injected something into his arm.
"This one didn't fight much," one of the techs said. Robert began to feel dizzy, then sleepy, and then the sensations passed. "Good. The nanites have isolated his higher brain functions and set up an array to receive outside commands," the tech told the others.
Robert wondered what he had meant by that. He opened his mouth to ask, but nothing came out. He tried to push them away as they picked him up and put him in a wheel chair, but he only managed to make his hands limply flop.
"Now he's fighting back. This will be a tough one for Jackson to control," The guard said with half a smile.
Robert was in a panic. His heart raced and he wanted to scream, but no sound would come out. A large door opened that overlooked the stadium. A severely bleeding man in red was being wheeled in by one of the referees. He left the injured man with the techs and began wheeling Robert out into the stadium. Robert began praying hard.
They reached a small elevator and began going up. 1, 2, 3,...6. The door to the elevator opened and Robert could feel a strange presence. He realized that it was B. R. Jackson in his mind as he saw and felt himself jump out of the wheel chair and sprint toward the other men in red. He could see the looks of surprise on their faces, and the Red Team Captain asked for a time out.
"What is going on, Bernie?" one of the men whispered.
"I'm not quite sure, Ted," Robert heard himself say. "It seems that our reporter here has gotten mixed up with the prisoners."
"How did he do that? That room is restricted!" another one asked just a little too loudly, to which all the others said, "Shhhhh!"
"Calm down Marlene, I said I'm not sure," Bernie answered through Robert.
"Well what are we going to do? Should we tell someone? If this gets out...!"
"Hey, for now let's get on with this game. We can worry about what to do when we've won." Bernie said. This seemed to satisfy the Captain, and The Game resumed.
Robert had no idea what was going on around him. They were on Level 6, and all he knew about that level was that it had something to do with finding a key that opened the door to the next level. He was being guarded and couldn't see what was going on, but the Red Team won their key first and they all ran across the large room to the door. He was no longer afraid, and now he just felt stupid for getting into this mess. Also, the strangest thoughts were running through his mind. He had just been marveling about how large these game levels really were. Before that he wondered where the weapon came from that was used on the last Emissary, where the weapon was now, why they were all wearing army boots even though the floors were slip proof, who invented this stupid game anyway, and why was it just called "The Game."
They were finally on Level 7, and Bernie Jackson had begun quickly solving the first puzzle. This level would be won completely by the Emissary. The other team members just idly followed now.
Red Team was ahead as Bernie tore through one mental challenge after another. A strange feeling came over Robert. He didn't know what was happening until his hands fell away from the puzzle before him and fell limply to his side. Bernie was losing control of him. Robert found that he could move a little now, though he was still stiff. He turned around and said as loudly as he could, "I am not a robot! My name is Robert Wood! All of the game pieces are people! The Game is wrong!"
The crowd became quiet. They didn't know what to think of his little speech. Then many of them gasped. Something was wrong. Robert looked down at his side and saw a stab wound. The man controlled by Marlene Adams was holding the bloody knife. Robert was losing a lot of blood. He blacked out.
"How could this happen! I ask you, how could this happen!" The owner of the White Team practically screamed to the others. "This is all your fault!" he addressed the owner of the Red Team. "He infiltrated your Team, after all!"
"Please calm down, Mr. Austen! We have the report now, and it is not Mr. Bay's fault," Rick Bard said firmly. "It seems that our first mistake was giving Mr. Wood a 'Full Access' pass. It confused a lot of people. Second, I am partly to blame as I was unclear when I told Dan to keep the reporter out of the Tech Room. I didn't want to come right out and say it, and I assumed that Dan understood. Next, the new security guard was not trained well enough to be left alone the way he was. And if some one had been monitoring the prisoner room, we could have stopped Mr. Wood from infiltrating The Game. And finally, it comes down to simple human error. The techs gave Mr. Wood the wrong injection. Instead of giving him fully active game nanites, they gave him the short term test nanites that are used when finding suitable game pieces."
"Is that all! Just one mistake after another?" Mr. Austen yelled. "All of those idiots should be fired!" Then he look embarrassed, remembering that Mr. Bard was among those "idiots."
"Dan already quit, but I don't think we have to worry about firing anyone. The backlash from the footage alone could ruin us! After Mr. Wood's article is published in tomorrow's paper, we'll be finished," Rick said as he looked at the other people around the table.
"If we hurry," Mr. Bay suggested, "We may still be able to discredit the story. We could say he wasn't being controlled and that he somehow got in with the robots."
"They took some of the nanites from his blood. And there are the recordings. Dan is telling the authorities everything he knows, which wasn't very much until yesterday," Rick Bard sighed. He shook his head and said, "We can lie all we want, but the damage has been done. The Game may never recover."
In a high security prison cell, a murderer sat alone. He would no longer have to worry about The Game, and it was all because that reporter had taken his place. It was a completely different situation, but the few similarities with ancient history had not escaped his notice. The situation reminded the prisoner of the stories he had heard about Jesus Christ. Of course, the reporter had not died, and Jesus had not remained dead.
But The Game had been changed. There was now a way out. The courts had decided that The Game could continue, but that the pieces had to be volunteers. A prisoner could now refuse. Jesus had changed life in a similar way. He had been perfect, but he died like a common criminal. Death and torment thereafter was a punishment for sin, and when the one who had never sinned died, a loophole was created. Now, anyone who believed in Jesus could have their sins paid for by his undeserved death, and through the loophole be saved from hell.
The prisoner had never really understood any of this until the reporter had taken the place of convicted felons to try and stop what he thought was wrong.
"I believe in you Jesus," the prisoner prayed. "Please let your sacrifice save me as well."
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