REspawn

REspawn But I get up again

 

It took a little bit for me to get in touch with my friends. Log ins were slow as there was suddenly a massive amount of congestion in the mall. Everyone planned on meeting up at my private chat room when they finally got back into the OASIS. As a personal space that only those I gave permission to could enter, it was like a hideout where Ten, Jeena, Mads, and I could meet up, hang out, and plan for adventures. Luckily, it was an account-based feature, so even though my character was obliterated, and the gear on him lost, I still had this little Fortress of Solitude, and whatever I didn’t take with me, which honestly wasn’t much. A few old swords hanging on the wall, some samurai armor I wore for a time collecting digital dust in the corner, more odd pieces sat in an item box in the corner. My place was an eclectic mix of stuff I picked up from quests, with a lot of old movie props mixed in. The pièce de résistance was the giant amplifier from the beginning of Back to the Future (unexploded) that took up one entire wall with its giant silver speaker, outlined by that cool blue ring. Jeena had always wanted to decorate the place, but I refused, said it would mess with my feng shui.

Mads was the first to arrive. She must have stopped by her own little storage space first because she was wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt (you know the one), a dress with a poofy skirt, fingerless gloves, and untied combat boots.

“You look like Cyndi Lauper on laundry day…” Cor muttered.

“Just about,” she replied, collapsing into one of the four recliners in the room.

Jeena showed up next, wearing the same t-shirt and jeans combo as Cor. She seemed pretty uncomfortable without her power armor. Even when she didn’t wear it, she still wore a cybernetic bodysuit with a tactical harness. Now, she was just a plain Jane. It was weird seeing her like that, like when you see your teacher outside of school. She sat down in another recliner, and let out a long sigh. Mads let out her own sigh of agreement.

“Any word on how Parzival’s doing?” Jeena asked.

“No idea. Guess we should check,” Cor said, waving his hand to the big screen TV placed in front of the recliners.

The TV blinked on, and the news was abuzz with a live feed of the scoreboard, but the list of names and numbers was gone. All that remained was a picture of Parzival holding up the egg with the words “Parzival Wins!” below it.

“Wow…he actually did it,” Jeena said.

“IOI must be pissed,” Mads laughed.

“Looks like that rando got the egg.”

Cor, Mads, and Jeena turned to the door. Tenebris stood in the entrance, dressed in the same black t-shirt.

“Yeah. Welcome back,” Cor said. “This is some big news.”

Ten walked into the room, setting his hand on the headrest of Jeena’s chair.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens next,” Jeena said.

“What do we do now, then?” Ten asked.

“Guess there’s no point in being a gunter, now that there’s no more egg to hunt.” Jeena thought aloud.

“Yeah, shit…” Cor muttered.

“Wait, what the hell are you upset about?” Ten balked.

“Chill out,” Mads said.

“No, it’s okay,” Cor replied.

“You gave up on the hunt!” Ten pointed his finger to Cor. “So what are you upset about?”

“We all lost a lot today, Ten,” Cor said.

“Yeah sure, we all lost our avatars, but you didn’t lose out on your chance to get the egg. Not like the three of us!”

“Ten…only two of us had two of the three keys we needed. Parzival was way too far ahead of us, and so were the Sixers,” Mads said.

“So? Then it was fine for Cor to drag us all out there to Chthonia? Why? You haven’t suggested a gunter outing in like a year and a half. You always just tagged along to ours because we could use the help.”

“I just thought that maybe if we couldn’t find the egg, then at least we could…I dunno, end the hunt in style.”

“You didn’t care about the egg hunt until there was nothing left to care about,” Ten frowned.

“C’mon Ten,” Jeena said.

“No. Right, Cor?” Ten snapped. “Admit it.”

“Fine! You’re right.”

“It’s like you just wanted to piggyback off all of us without doing any of the work. And you expected us to split that money with you?”

It was a common occurrence for actual gunter clans to sign legally-binding contracts that stated they all shared Halliday’s fortune if they helped find the egg. We weren’t a clan, or nearly as serious about it to bring in a lawyer, it was only a promise among friends. Thinking back on it though, it might have been foolish of us to trust people over the internet regarding something as serious as half-a-trillion dollars, or perhaps it was telling that we knew we’d never be the ones to find the egg in the first place. How serious were we, really?

“Hey, I never would have asked for anything, Ten. I was just happy to help out in the end.”

“Then why bother? Why’d you even start hunting in the first place?”

“Are you kidding, everyone wanted to be a part of that hunt. I would have been insane not to try!”

“Well then why did you give up!? Why did you gather us all together, and then just slide back onto the bench!?”

“Because I just couldn’t take it anymore!” Cor shouted. “The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want the responsibility tied to that egg. The controlling share of Gregarious? Literally the fate of the entire OASIS, on the shoulders of some twenty-something nothing from Podunk, Wisconsin? That was just too much…”

“But all that money, you were fine just giving that up?” Mads asked, rocking in her recliner.

“I have a decent little life here. I have a job; the farm industry is still standing so the area has food; we haven’t been nuked off the map. I was comfortable, and I couldn’t sacrifice that for the infinitesimally slim chance that I could find that egg. I couldn’t make egg hunting my job. The worst feeling was that, I love a lot of this stupid 80s junk, it was fun. I love the OASIS, but I wasn’t having fun with it anymore.”

“Did you feel like you needed to grow up or something?” Jeena asked.

“No, it was just…I wasn’t binge-watching old movies to enjoy a simpler time, or playing video games to have fun – it was work. I was no different than some tool at IOI, scrutinizing every single second of every single song, movie, or TV show from sixty-some years ago. I was a Sixer without the serial number, and at that point, I thought I might as well have just become an indent and worked my life away in search of the egg. The moment I thought that – that I should just become a Sixer and get paid for all that work – that’s when I knew I had to slow my roll. It floored me that I could get so burnt out on egg hunting that I figured if I was gonna keep doing it I should just become everything I hated.

“If I didn’t make a change I would’ve gone insane, and I would have ghosted on you guys. I had to tear myself away from the OASIS a bit, so that I could still find a modicum of meaning in it. I wanted to have fun, and I realized that the only fun I was having was with you guys, so…that’s what I focused on. I quit thinking that hunting for that egg would solve all my problems and got a job, so that I could support my time in the OASIS, to be with you guys.”

Ten shuffled uncomfortably. Cor tapped his fist against his thigh.

“I’m sorry I gave up on the hunt, Ten. But I did it so I wouldn’t give up on you.”

Ten sighed.

“Alright…I get it. I’m sorry man,” Ten shook his head. “This whole day has been crazy.”

“No, I’m sorry. I never really told you all why I stopped. I figured that as long as I was still helping you guys, it didn’t really matter.”

“Well that was intense,” Mads said.

“Are you guys gonna kiss now?” Jeena jeered.

“He wishes,” Ten muttered, sitting down in one of the free recliners. “Question still stands, though. What the hell do we do now?”

“It’s strange.” Jeena chuckled. “We spent so much time thinking about how amazing it would be to get the egg, we never really thought about what we would do if we didn’t.”

“To be real honest, I never really expected to get the egg either. I just wanted to mess with IOI,” Mads said.

Mads was a self-professed “Sixer hunter,” and more than a few times if she had heard there were Sixers anywhere near us, she was inclined to take rash actions. To her, they were no different than generic mobs you killed for a pittance in any other game. We had to make a rule that we wouldn’t go after any party of Sixers that was larger than ours, after a near-suicidal run-in.

“Well…now that the egg’s been found, IOI doesn’t have much of a use for hunting either.” Jeena said.

“Shit, you’re right!” Mads shot upright in her chair.

“The time’s they are a-changin’,” Cor said.

“Eh…it was fun while it lasted.” Mads said, sinking back into her recliner.

“Wonder what will happen to their oology department. That was cushy gig, from what I hear.”

“Can we not sympathize with the faceless goons, at least, they were still a pain in the ass,” Mads replied.

“Well then let’s come up with a plan,” Ten said.

“What plan? For what?” Jeena said.

“I dunno. Something.”

“I think before we try to make a plan, we should probably take stock of what we have,” Cor suggested.

“Look at us, we have nothing,” Jeena said.

“Mostly,” Mads replied, fluttering her skirt. “But do you want it back?”

“Huh?”

“Do you want it back? All your stuff.”

“It’d be nice,” Cor said.

“Then maybe that’s what we should do. We lost a lot in that fight at Castle Anorak, and I ain’t keen on wearing this forever.”

“That’s a lot of quests,” Ten said.

“And a lot money, some of that stuff was rare,” Jeena added.

“We’ll make it back, as we quest.” Mads pointed.

“You wanna redo everything that we did before? That stuff took us years.”

“So? It took us years because we were dicking around looking for the egg, sometimes with month-long gaps of doing jack-all. And if it takes us years again, who cares? We’ll be doing something.”

Cor nodded, a smile growing on his face. “I love this plan, I’m excited to be a part of it!”

“Yeheah! So, our mission: if you choose to accept it, is to reclaim our former glory!” Mads stood up from her chair and drew a crowbar from her waist like a sword, holding it aloft. “Who’s with me?”

Cor grabbed a katana on display from the rack hanging on his wall.

“Let’s do it! Let’s get back what’s ours!” Cor said, raising his sword to Mads’ crowbar.

Ten jumped up and pulled a magic wand from his pocket, raising it to the sword and crowbar. The three looked to Jeena, who slowly rose from her chair and grinned. She held out her hand and stuck out her finger and thumb like a gun, adding it to the crossing of implements.

“That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout,” Mads nodded.

“And hey, maybe we can get some of those kick-ass robots, too,” Cor smirked.

“Hell yeah man, and maybe we’loooh GAWD MURDER?!” Mads eyes widened when she caught a glimpse of the TV.

Everyone’s attention turned the screen, where it played news of an IOI exec being detained on murder charges, the chyron suggesting he was responsible for killing one of the leaders on the scoreboard.

“Geeze, it really is a good thing the hunt ended,” Cor muttered.

coin

Operation: Get Back was go, but first we needed to make a list of everything we had lost, and how we might be able to actually get it back. Jeena, Ten, Mads, and Cor sat down in a recliner each as the TV continued to play whatever story an anchor could wring out of the little amount of information slowly coming out after the discovery of Halliday’s Easter egg. Each avatar had a digital window open that floated in front of their face, scrolling through wikis and forums to compile a list of the what, when, and where.

Tenebris had a back-up wand in his own off-character storage like the one he had with him on Chthonia, so he was still okay as far as his weapon was concerned. What he was missing most was his spells. He had collected tome after grimoire for whatever spells he could find, some he wasn’t even high enough level to use when he was at his peak. Tracking them all down would be a bit difficult, let alone remembering them all. In the end, he had simply copied a list of every known spellbook people had found in the OASIS, and organized them by level.

All Jeena cared about was getting back her power armor. It was a simple series of Metroid-themed quests spanning a few planets in the same sector, but we’d need to hitch a ride or get our own to get there, so we were worried it might be a while before we were able to help her get her second skin. Everything else she had simply required saving up some money for, or was fine to be replaced. I lent her one of Cor’s old swords, and she “borrowed” the samurai armor herself. No complaint there though. Even without her long-range arm cannon, what mattered most was that she could take the hits, and a set of armor would help her feel much more at ease. The arm cannon’s upgrade modules would come afterwards, giving Jeena a bigger arsenal to work with.

Mads set her sights on the bombastically flamboyant maid outfit she was wearing on Chthonia. It was a quest made up to require gathering a considerable amount of random junk, all referenced in the PONPONPON music video by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu; definitely outside of Halliday’s wheelhouse, but he wasn’t the only one who made quests in the OASIS. Just about anyone with the know-how, time, and resources could. The whole thing would end up as her own, OASIS-wide scavenger hunt. The microphone was its own, separate quest after obtaining all the materials for the dress, so luckily Mads’ questline would conclude in a more focused manner. She could always get a decent shotgun off the market, and she already had the crowbar. The songbooks that contained her bardsongs were mostly quest rewards, but it’s not like we were going to be any strangers to questing.

My eclectic mix took the cake though. The leather trenchcoat wouldn’t be much of a problem, slaying a Goblin King in a simple enough quest, it just required us to be a higher level. The skull-themed gasmask was a creation from an online boutique, which just meant it would cost a lot of money to get. Even more so if it had gone “out of print.” If I ever wanted to get the Ectoskeleton back, I’d need to save a lot more money just to buy the base vehicle, but mods wouldn’t be hard to come by afterwards, like the paint job and hover kit. Although…maybe it was time for a different set of wheels altogether. The obvious choice would be a DeLorean, an all-too-common ride in the OASIS, especially since Parzival’s became so popular. Unfortunately, the thing only seated two people, and I didn’t want to screw over two of my closest friends, so I’d have to think of something else. Saving money will be easy enough, once we start questing again. However, the weapons are where things would get really dicey.

My favorite 92fs pistols I could get from anywhere. The gun was used by nearly every action hero from the 80s and well into the 90s, so I could have bought a new pair easily, but that wouldn’t get me the best ones. You see, Cor managed to receive a 92fs from two different quests; one a recreation of Die Hard, where the players were stripped of their gear and had to survive like John McClain had; and the other a recreation of John Woo’s bullet ballet Hard Boiled, requiring the players to make it through some action-packed shoot-out levels like a warehouse and hospital. The Die Hard pistol came with an enchantment to never run out of ammo if you were still engaged in combat, while the Hard Boiled pistol dealt extra damage when used in a pair; it was like they were meant to be together, and they were meant to be in Cor’s hands.

The Book of Plagues and Death’s scythe, Headache, both came from a quest on a planet called Revelation, devoted to quests involving end of the world scenarios. The quest itself was a fairly generic challenge of finding and defeating the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Back then, Cor only ever defeated the first and fourth horsemen, Pestilence and Death. War and Famine gave the party a run for their money, and they never quite got back to it. The quest had remained in Cor’s logbook, and it was a bit of a sore spot whenever I noticed it. Thanks to the Cataclyst, though, even that was wiped away. A clean slate whether I liked it or not.

The flintlock pistol was a rare drop from a pirate-themed quest involving a ghost ship on the planet Skullduggery. Even after finding the pistol itself, the ammunition I used with it would be a constant exercise in patience. They were powerful magic bullets forged specifically for old-timey firearms, but there was a catch – while I could buy any random flintlock pistol off the market, using those magic bullets in one would destroy the gun. The pistol from the ghost ship was a magical item, which made it indestructible, one of the few pistols in the OASIS that was able to shoot those rounds. It wouldn’t be a difficult quest to complete, but finding the ghost ship itself could take some time. The planet was mostly water, so the ship could show up just about anywhere after dusk, and having a boat or flying ship on hand would be paramount.

The magical bullets themselves were a random item that could drop from anything within an OASIS-designated magic zone, areas of the virtual universe where fantasy-based items could appear and operate. Some people have gone their entire time in the OASIS never finding a single magic bullet, while others were able to make small fortunes off of the few they did come across. Because of the rarity of the bullets that made the pistol worth using, I put it low on the priority list, if at all. I had told myself that if we happened to come across a magic bullet, I’d reconsider it, but I didn’t hold my breath.

After about an hour of scouring the ‘net and compiling their lists, they all compared what they had. Each avatar held out a window, each varying in size.

“Damn Cor…yours is long and varied,” Mads said.

“Phrasing.” Jeena chimed in.

“Guess while you guys were egg hunting, I was messing around just…treasure hunting,” Cor’s shoulders sank. “Sorry.”

“For what? So you have more junk than we did. We’ve gotta get it back either way, and the more we need to do, the more money and experience we’ll get out of it.”

“Cor for confirmed carry,” Jeena jabbed.

“Hey, I’ll pull my own weight, you’ll see,” Cor said.

“Not in that getup, you won’t,” Ten pointed.

“We all shouldn’t be talking, dressed as we are,” Jeena replied.

“Hey, speak for yourselves,” Mads said, standing up and flourishing her skirt. “I’ve still got some style.”

“Oh, y’know what, Mads? I think I might have something for you.” Cor rose from his chair and turned to the item box tucked away in the chatroom’s corner. “I found it a long time ago. I meant to give it to you, but I forgot, and…well…it’s sorta low level. Now though, it’ll be a decent upgrade.”

Cor turned back, holding a thin necktie with the design of piano keys cascading down its length.

“Oh my gee…is that a keyboard necktie?” Mads said.

“You betcha,” Cor presented the tie to the idol. “It’ll boost your bardsongs a bit, too.”

“Hope you’re ready for some new tunes, too. Just downloaded some new stuff from Tiffany, apparently she made a comeback in the late tens.”

“Yeah…as a country singer,” Jeena laughed.

“She…what? Ew…” Mads’ shoulders sank.

“Hey, got anything in that bag for us, Santa?” Ten said.

Cor turned back to the item box, and threw a gray wad of cloth over his shoulder at Ten.

“There Ten, that’ll do, yeah?”

Ten caught the gray suit and held it out by its shoulders. An original Ghostbusters jumpsuit, nothing entirely special, aside from extra spiritual defense (of course), and slime resistance.

“Oh wow, thanks man.”

Once Ten had donned the suit and zipped it up, the black nametag on the left lapel filled in his full name with red thread. He drew his magic wand and posed.

“How do I look, nice?”

“Oh baby,” Mads said, clapping.

It hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but giving someone with a wand an old Ghostbusters jumpsuit was rather spot-on, considering Dan Aykroyd’s original screenplay for the film involved dudes with magic wands that traveled through time and space to bust ghosts. As astounding a film as that sounds, it apparently would have been like four hours long and cost billions of dollars to make, so it got rewritten into something much more palatable. Looks like Ten would be carrying on a bit of that legacy, though.

“And for you, little Jeena…”

“It’s okay.” Jeena held up her hand, and an assault rifle materialized in it. “I’ve already got myself something. Haven’t used this baby in years.”

“Oh, so you don’t want this fashionable tactical vest?” Cor asked, holding up a jumble of Kevlar, straps, and pads. What it lacked in the defense she could get from the samurai armor, wearing it atop the armor would still infer some benefits to her poise, with some bonuses to reloading and ammo capacity.

Jeena gasped. “It’s hard to say ‘no’ to a tac vest.”

“Girl’s gotta accessorize, right?” Cor tossed the vest to Jeena.

“A man after my own heart.” Jeena equipped the vest and pads, and inspected her arms and feet. “Already feeling a little more like myself.”

“We gotta get you chromed up, ASAP. You made a good mirror,” Mads said.

“And I guess there isn’t much left for me,” Cor said, pulling a red leather jacket from the box. “This’ll have to do.”

Michael Jackson’s jacket from Beat It wasn’t much in the way of stats, but it was better than walking around like a low-level dork, with no actual extra defense.

“Oh man…this is weird,” Ten said, looking at his window again. “It looks like the other three players from the High Five are…alive.”

“What do you mean?” Jeena asked.

“Seems like Parzival has some crazy admin powers now. People on the forums are saying that he dropped the Sixers that were on the scoreboard with a wave of his hand or something. And the profiles for Art3mis, Shoto, and Aech still read them with all the stats they went into Chthonia with.”

“So they weren’t wiped out like the rest of us?” Mads said. “Maybe some sort of scoreboard immunity?”

“Nah, I don’t think the cataclysm would discriminate like that, thing was just meant to level a sector and everything in it,” Jeena said.

“How did Parzival survive, even?” Cor said, drawing the red jacket onto his frame.

“Y’think they cheated?” Ten said, a palpable disdain in his voice.

“I doubt it. Halliday was a genius programmer, wasn’t he?” Cor shrugged. “Don’t think he’d suffer an exploit in the OASIS, let alone in the quest to get his fortune.”

“There’s also a lot of stuff we don’t know about in the later parts of the questline, maybe there was something that gave them an extra life or some junk,” Jeena said, checking her rifle.

“And those robots,” Cor muttered, holding out his katana.

Jeena flashed him a coquettish smile. “Still on that?”

“Woman, I’ll be on that forever!” Cor said, rattling the sword in its scabbard.

“Must be nice to keep your avatar. Drag us all out there to some climactic battle, use us like cannon fodder while he wins the egg. Gets to keep kickin’ even when someone tears the universe a new continuum, and the rest of us get turned into a fine dust.”

“Oh Ten, if you didn’t have anything to complain about, would you explode?” Mads teased.

“I’m just sayin’ is all!” Ten said, holding his hands out, palms up, with a shrug.

“If it makes you feel any better, maybe we can see if the quest for the egg is still going, finally get you past Joust,” Cor said.

“You just want to see if there’s a robot in it for you!” Ten snapped.

“Why the hell am I the only one around here who is excited about the fact that there were giant robots?!”

“Aaaanyway, seems like we’re all set, so what to we do first? Should we take a break, start tomorrow?” Jeena asked. “A lot’s happened today.”

“Nah, if I’m not playing I’ll just being staring at newsfeeds,” Ten said.

“Don’t wanna angry up the blood, eh old man?” Mads poked Ten in the leg with her crowbar.

“What about ‘porting fees?” Cor asked. “I can cover for a bit, but we might need to bum a ride from someone with a ship if we wanna get to someplace like Actio for those Hard Boiled and Die Hard quests.”

“I miss your wheels…” Mads said.

“You said it, sister.”

“We can cross that bridge when we get to it, for now let’s just figure out what we want to do first,” Jeena said.

“I just need spells, and Mads needs a bunch of legit junk. Looks like it’ll come down to either getting that power armor for Jeena or start on some of Cor’s gear.”

“I think it will be a bit before we’re ready to tackle the power armor questline. Let’s start small,” Jeena suggested.

“Maybe let’s head back to Incipio, see what we can afford at the shops,” Cor said. “Then maybe look into heading off to Tolkien and do that Goblin King quest.”

“Alright then. You ready to pop some goblin domes, Jeena?” Ten said.

“As I’ll ever be,” Jeena said, flexing and patting her bicep. “Let’s go.”

“Okay! Ensign, set a course for Incipio,” Mads said.

Cor stood next to Mads, and turned her towards the chatroom’s door. Mads yelled “Engage!” and Cor planted a foot into her backside, shoving her forward at the door. Jeena and Ten followed behind, their avatars all disappearing as they crossed the threshold. Cor chuckled and rested his katana across his shoulder.

“Here we go…again,” he said, walking to the door.

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