1.02 - Blue Ribbon Army

1.02 - Blue Ribbon Army

I log into Liberty and Strife 2099, wait for my character to load up. I give him a quick look over, debating if I want to change anything. People can be just about anything they want in the game world. My character isn’t much different than me so I’m proud of that. Well, he’s in way better shape and has a powder blue fade, but other than that he looks like me. I even used the face scan option that most people ignore. I get why it’s ignored; you can be anything you want in most of these virtual games; that’s part of the marketing for every single one of these. Want purple skin? Do it. A lizard tail? Make it happen. Want to switch up your gender? No problem, and you don’t even have to fight the BMV or any politicians about it. But I’m a simple man; I change up my clothes a little, high-top sneakers, black jeans, black wife beater, blue jacket and a gold rope chain just to stunt on the haters. I laugh to myself as I sit back in my chair and slip my virtual reality helmet on.

Soon the darkness fades away and I’m standing in the my penthouse apartment at The Pluto, an upscale megabuilding in the heart of Astro City. Places like this would cost a fortune now, but I got in on the game early and picked it up for cheap. I could have sold it on a few different occasions and cashed out for some real-world money but what can I say? I love the little place. A small workshop, weapons room where I can display stuff, a lot of trophy cases for cool items I’ve picked up. Some days I just hang out here and watch the streams of what other people are doing in the city. But Kai’s message sounded urgent, I pop open my messages, but I’ve got nothing from Kai. A few invites to join various player gangs or corps in the city. I don’t join any teams, they never end well. One person always tries to prove they’re the leader and it just creates division. I pause and stare at the avatar on a message from an unknown sender with the subject line that says “HELP!”

Wait, oh my goodness, does Kai have an alternate character? I mean, she’s a cutie, but I’m going to bring it up when I see him. Him, or her, I’ve never met Kai in person, could be him or her. I laugh as I open the message. It’s Kai alright, lots of words in all caps for emphasis, exclamation points instead of periods and plenty of emojis but only various faces. He’s being held hostage by a gang leader, who wants Kai as his new girlfriend. Okay, well, this will be fun.  

I could drive but the coordinates Kai gave me are right by a train stop and I like riding the train, my city doesn’t have one in real life, so this is fun for me still. It’s obvious I’m the highest leveled character on the train. High level characters all have garages full of personal vehicles they’ve bought and customized that they can summon in an instant. I do too, but that doesn’t mean public transportation is bad. A few have put together impressive looking characters, but a quick scan shows low level armor and weaponry I expected. I catch a few strange looks; they’re probably scanning me and seeing that my level is too high for a train ride. If another player or enemy NPC is ten levels or more above you, it’s impossible to see their level. The game’s way of telling you that a fight is way beyond what’s possible. A level three might catch a level eight lacking, it happens. But a level three and level thirteen going at it only ends one way. When there seems to be an infinite leveling system, it’s good to know which fights you can’t win. I watch out the window as we leave the city center, weaving around and even through some buildings, dropping to street level or climbing higher to reach each stop.  

I hop off and walk a few blocks to the hideout. It’s an arcade that The Blue Ribbon Army uses as a base. The Blue Ribbon Army has two attire options. All black suits, or blue pants brown shirts; they look like they’re planning a new World War all the time and they are not the good guys.

“Hey, you’re not a member,” a blonde man with blue eyes stops me at the door.

“Wow, the costumes were already crazy, but you’ve gone full blown Hitler Youth. Like, wow, you even modeled your face after Hitler.”

“Leave our territory before things get bad for you,” he raises his voice.

I quickly select my favorite shotgun and blast him in the chest. He slumps to the side of the building. I usually just use the stun option because I’m a nice guy. If I stun them, they basically die but it’s no big deal. If I kill them, then they die, but also lose a random number of items from their inventory. In a game with no limit on carrying capacity, it’s a good way to make sure people don’t just bring everything they own with them. It also makes people buy apartments. Unfortunately for the guy on the ground, I don’t care if The Blue Ribbon Army loses items.

The door slides open, and I roll a few stasis grenades through. They explode, freeze people in place for a few seconds, I run through, boom, boom, boom; I bet it looks cool. The shouts stopping right as they reach their loudest let me know it’s time to move forward. I rush in, blast the man on my left, two on my right, one directly in front of me, two on the right and my shotgun needs to reload. I can take my time because I’ve already cleared out the little arcade. I pick through the digital corpses and pocket some ammunition and cash. They don’t have anything else I want. These gangs and corps are always so stupid; why would you give all your best loot to someone else?  

Behind the counter is a door that leads to a hallway, on the right an empty bathroom for the employees, on the left, an empty storage room of old arcade machines. That just leaves the manager’s office at the end. “Fuck the manager,” I mumble to myself before kicking open the door. A slightly larger man is seated behind the desk crying, unaware that I had just kicked in the door. Through his sobs I could barely understand that he was begging Kai not to leave and she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

“Hey,” I nod towards Kai, “let’s get out of here before they respawn.”

“Sure thing,” Kai responds with a voice directly out of a commercial for phone sex.

“You can’t take my Princess,” Buff Adolf shouts and rises from his desk, he’s only level 24.

“Sorry,” I aim my shotgun at him before he can equip a weapon, “your chick chose me,” I fire several shots into his chest before he can respond.

“My hero,” Kai laughs and plants a kiss on my cheek.

“What the hell Kai,” I shake my head and start to make my way out as Kai follows.

“Don’t be transpohobic,” Kai still can’t shut off the phone sex voice.

“I’m not being transphobic. I’m...homie-phobic because my homie has suddenly become a local single in my area.”

“There’s not a lot of girls who play this game. It’s something like 78 percent men. Based on pure statistics, most of them are straight. Probably some incels. I play as a hot big titty goth girlfriend and they give me stuff, good stuff. I transfer it all to my main character and it’s a win. I just have to keep a low level and pretend to be confused,” Kai laughs maniacally at the plan.

“How long have you been doing this?”

“A few months, I’ve gotten some good gear too. You know I’m an engineer, but I’ve got some great hacker tools. Really opened up a whole new level to my game.”

“Got you held hostage too. Cool gear isn’t worth that.”

“We can’t all just buy all the DLC like you moneybags.”

“That’s not illegal.”

“But it’s kind of cheating.”

“Not cheating.”

“Creative playing at least,” Kai laughs. “You want to go to Club Zero?”

“Yeah, see what’s up with Daamin. You should call him next time. He might actually be into Lady Kai.”

“Lady Kai, I like that,” Kai snaps his fingers.

A pink and gold striped APC arrives for us and Kai hops into the driver’s seat. I don’t even question who would give him something like this and how long he worked to get it. Kai is probably the best friend I’ve ever made over the internet. We started playing Call of Duty together back in high school, now we’re both on the cusp of thirty. Kai is a good player but there’s always some hairbrained scheme to run or exploit to take advantage of. Still, Kai is the closest thing I’ve ever had to joining a clan, gang, corp, guild or whatever in every game we’ve played.

I shoot Daamin a message to see if he’s online. He’s our third but plays in a different time zone so it isn’t always convienent for him to join us. Daamin is obsessed with anime, video games and everything else nerdy. We picked him up a year or two ago when we started playing Liberty and Strife, he hired us for some mercenary work. He does plenty of it by himself, but he’s got connections and needed a few extra hands. Daamin responds back, letting me know he’s in the middle of a shootout in The Badlands. He says shootout, but Daamin doesn’t carry guns. He really runs into battle with a few drones for backup and a sword for a main weapon. It’s kind of funny until you watch him go to work.  

“Daamin will meet us there later; he’s finishing up a gig.”

“Alright, so it’s just the two of us. It’s a date,” Kai starts to laugh.

“Your Lady Kai laugh is weird, and I hate it.”

“Chill out, I’ll switch back when we get to the club. Thought you might like some arm candy for once in your life.”

“Shut up and drive.” 


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