My consciousness resurfaced from the depths of a deep dreamless slumber, similar to the feeling of waking from anesthesia… or so I’ve been told by my patients.
My tongue squirmed, trying to rehydrate the dryness in my mouth. I surveyed my surroundings while still lying down… I knew where I was.
Uptown — the second stage of the Emergency Part.i.tion Plan and lovingly nicknamed Safehouse by fans of the game.
We managed to make our way here at last…
A sigh of relief trickled from my lips was followed by another deep lungful in, but the dry air cut my trachea as if I were breathing in razor blades.
Glimpses of the bare, windowless room peeked through the impenetrable red iron door.
Where I had lain wasn’t a bed, but something closer to a bench you’d find in the waiting area of a hospital.
The air in here was musty, evident that this room has long since seen visitors.
And it was also dry because the air conditioning units lack a humidification feature?
Though glad as I was to make it here safe and sound, equal amounts of bitterness welled up in me, cursing the reality of the situation:
This was no dream.
I’m not sure how we got in. Normally, you’d need to find a hidden NPC or the key in a secret room… well, I suppose I should count my blessings.
Lying here all day wouldn’t do us any favors. I sat up while taking another large breath.
“Finally awake, I see. It’s a shame that you are not dead.”
“… Oh, it’s you, Elizabeth.”
Some distance away, the voice emanated from an office chair that looked to be built by the lowest bidder. The sour look on her face indicated the fruit she was munching on might have been as well.
“You fainted as soon as things had settled down.
Kiryū turned pale as a ghost, fearing that he had pushed you too hard.”
“Oh, jeez… Sorry about that.
That was poor timing though, seeing things haven’t settled down. Not until we reach the safehouse, at least.”
“We were fine. Sure, we might have taken a few wrong turns, but we managed to stumble our way here alright. It was nothing we couldn’t handle on our own… so he said.
You have been running on fumes and working long hours, haven’t you?
Adrenaline only gets you so far before your body clocks out.”
With her hand clutching her temple, Elizabeth looked just as poorly.
More jarring was how tied around her ankles was a makeshift rope fashioned from bedsheets.
“Speaking of which, where is Kiryū anyway?”
“Him? He took two NPC’s with him to the supermarket in search for more food.
… look at this. All this just to make sure I wouldn’t kill you.”
“Hmm? What about it?”
“These sheets are all part of Kiryū’s contraption.
He tied my ankles to the lever that opens the door so that if I were to force my way towards you, the zombies would all rush in.”
“He even went around confiscating any objects large enough to be a weapon and tucked it underneath the bed you’re sleeping on.
She looked helpless all tied up like that.
… Kiryū sure is cautious.
But that makes it even weirder for someone so cautious to run out on his own, leaving behind me and Elizabeth, a potential threat.
I guess I should first check the place where a rifle should be… Wait, what?! There’s only a pistol and a shotgun here!
“… I wonder if he’d be alright with just two NPC’s…”
I mumbled as I sat up from the leather bench.
Why did he go and do that? I mean, you can have up to five soldiers in your—err, survivors following you at the same time.
“He said he was going to recruit the NPC’s that he left behind at the start of the game.
I suppose he is also going to take the chance to level up as well.”
“Why is he in such a… Oh, maybe he’s worried about the seven-day limit.”
“So, after seven days pa.s.s in this game, an endless amount of zombies will come and overrun you and that means game over.”
“I know, right? Such a shame, especially because it’s such a fun game.”
I awkwardly chuckled before taking a sip of water from a plastic bottle underneath the bench, instantly dissolving the parchedness from before.
“… Sorry that we left you just lying there.”
Her words slowly stumbled out,
“That Kiryū really wanted to help, but besides you, none of us knew how to use syringes. Stuffing your mouth with herbs couldn’t wake you up either.”
“Yes, I suppose Medicinal Herbs don’t help with fainting.”
Elizabeth’s response marked the end of the topic.
I looked towards her to see the remainder of half-eaten fruit resting on her lap and her lips sucked in. She must have been fraught, nervous.
Shoot. How do I break this awkward silence…?
My nursing training can come into play here. Hark, thee!
… Umm, I learned this technique called a.s.sertive communication in cla.s.s… What was the trick to it again?
“… The air in here sure is dry.”
Panic beset me and the words that came out were nothing but unengaging small talk.
“Yes… I suppose powering down the air conditioning would help.”
Elizabeth followed up with the pointless topic I offered, perhaps similarly hoping to cast away the awkwardness.
“I already tried doing so with the controls on the wall but to no avail. Perhaps the cooling system is centrally controlled.
The air conditioning in the lecture halls at my university were just as annoying too.”
“Oh, maybe, yeah… Speaking of which, what did you study in university?”
“If we know too much of each other, it would just be awkward if either of us dies.
… I mean, if you really want to know, I suppose I do not mind telling you that I am licensed for early childhood education, elementary school education, and childcare—where I currently work.”
“Wow! That must’ve been a lot of hard work.”
“It certainly was… and I was frequently rewarded with unlawful overtime. Hard work sure pays off.”
She turned her gaze upwards and unto the ceiling; I couldn’t help but to sigh too.
“It’s tough before and after graduating, hey? I guess I’m in the same boat as you.
Being thrown into this world sure is scary, but also, being torn away from my super overworked lifestyle isn’t the worst thing either.
I mean, it’d be bad if we were trapped here forever though.”
At the very least, I was able to share a laugh in agreement with Elizabeth.
“I wholly understand you.
There really isn’t too much you can do with your own powers to escape the confines of a terrible job.
Perhaps this world was created as… something like respite care. Less than likely though…”
Though interrupting the girl deep in thought, I managed to find resolve and approached Elizabeth.
“I’m wondering if you could tell me a little about what you know about this world.”
“I don’t see myself surviving if we continue on like this. More importantly, though, someone important to you died so that you could return to the real world, am I right…?”
“What makes you think so?”
Her voice strained and wavered.
“Gamer sense,” I said with a shrug and a smile, and continued.
“I’m sorry if I’m wrong, but that’s probably the reason why that a know-it-all like you is hurting.
But even then, you’ve experienced something very painful, haven’t you?”
Her voice trailed off and the safehouse sunk back to a silence.
Not an awkward like before, but a silence for scrambling thoughts.
“… it isn’t as if I know more than the very basics.”
There was another good length of time before Elizabeth expanded on her thoughts.
“There’s seemingly an administrator in this game.”
“At the very least, that is what they called themselves. Perhaps it would be more prudent label them as the creator of this world. Someone or something with a twisted sense of purpose. We stand no chance of overcoming that being for as long as we share the same world.”
An overpowered being.
“I don’t know of what it wants. What I do know is that all the people who get summoned here are always exhausted and one of them are designated as the ‘core’.”
“What happens if you get picked to be core?”
“Nothing comes from it… No, actually, they get to bring an electronic device, like a phone or a laptop.
With it, you can check who is in which game and to travel between game worlds. You know that already though.”
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“Right, I remember.”
That’s too much fiction to your science. What, do we all have electrodes sticking into our brains or somethin’ right now? No, wait, you’re right. We’re in the middle of an alien abduction because that’s totally what it is.”
“Yeesh, okay, I get you. Jeez. We were just chatting, y’know? Just wondering about the what ifs. Smiling and nodding can be the key skill to good communication, Kiryū.”
“That’s a skill I couldn’t care less about. Unfortunately, I can’t help but to call you two out on your scientific inaccuracies. I’m in too deep with machines both as work and as a pa.s.sion to care about interpersonal relationships.”
“In too deep with machines? Are you some sort of inventor?”
“In a sense… Like, I do a lot of benchmarking. I love running benchmarks on every video card that comes on the market.”
“… Where’s the fun in that?”
Fed up with our conversation, Elizabeth heaved a sigh. Kiryū untied his sling and threw Nick off of his back and onto the ground.
“Kiryū! There’s only one Nick in the game, so treat him better!”
“As if. More of him popped up at the beginning of the level. I also took the chance to secure a large batch of unlimited ammo rifles too.”
“I explored a bit of the map we’re in right now… Just a bit ahead in the game is the Shooting Range, right?”
“Um, yes, that’s right.”
“I found a really rudimentary bug there.”
He had a smug smile as he looked around at our army.
“So, you know how when you’re at the range, you can shoot your guns dry, leave, and come back to them at max ammo, right?”
“Oh… that’s right. It was like that in the game as well.”
“I tried it out with the pistol first. I shot it until I was out of ammo, left the gun on the ground, and then left the range… What do you think happened?”
“… What happened?”
“A fully loaded pistol appeared in Nick’s hand. I went back inside, and the empty gun was still just lying there.”
“… Whoa, no kidding! That means you can generate endless guns like that!”
“Bingo! Awesome, right? Just like you said, we can do that to get as many guns as we want. But it seems like we can only duplicate guns available at the range, so I couldn’t get any more combat knives.
I’ve seen similar bugs in other games, so that got me thinkin’ if I could get it to work here… but there you have it.”
There were no other words other than “smug” to describe Kiryū’s face.
I took a careful look and noticed all of the soldiers were wielding a.s.sault rifles with unlimited ammo.
Not only that, but every soldier had a bedsheet baby sling and a Nick on their backs.
We had more in our army than I could count. There were at least twenty of them in the room.
“Wait, what about the five-follower limit… Oh, I get it! Nick’s a player character too!”
“That’s exactly it. Each Nick we have, we get five more soldiers.”
“Awesome! We’re duplicating everything!”
“Pretty good thinking, eh?”
“Oh, boy, this is going to be so much fun!”
“I hate to admit it, but I’m getting a little excited too.”
“… What in heaven’s name are you talking about…?”
Left behind in our excitement was Elizabeth, who didn’t understand any of it.
Someone who doesn’t even know who Sera is of course wouldn’t know anything about zombie games.
It took a thorough explanation of the game’s system for her to finally follow along.
“I see. Well, in any case, it’s plain to see you have accomplished something incredible. Still, why has Nick multiplied?”
“When I began to take Nick away from start of this level, the game kept wanting to return Nick to the proper sp.a.w.n location for the level change. And since there wasn’t a limit, I just kept doing it until I had about twenty Nicks.”
“How curious. Nick would disappear from your hands and be returned to the sp.a.w.n area… is that not a little weird?”
“Well, it’s a bug. Normally in the game, it’s neither possible to leave a gun at the range nor is it to take the protagonist away before the game even starts. Can’t say I’ve expected any of this to happen the way it did.”
“This world is very curious indeed. Kinda makes you wish that the creators made up their mind whether they wanted a survival horror or a sci-fi game. Oh, right! Let’s dupe the grenade launcher afterwards. We shouldn’t have access it to it just yet, but I’ve got an idea how to get our hands on one.”
“What are you planning on doing with all this firepower…?”
After seeing the sly smiles on our faces, Elizabeth was utterly fed up with us.
However, seeing where we were now, what other choices did we have? We’re gamers after all.
“First, let’s go and beat this game. You don’t know what that’s like though, right, Elizabeth? We’re going to take total control of this zombie-infested world with our superior firepower. Maybe on your first time here, someone else went and cleared the game and that’s how you got out. You never know.”
As soon as I said that, a terrible roar echoed in the background.
A software engineer who is… supposedly very cautious. Nevertheless, he lets his guard down around Sera, but that should prove to be fine. Thirty years of age but acts like a smug twenty-three-year-old when he discovers bugs.
Kiryū may seem to be too cruel towards Elizabeth, but perhaps he is normally this suspicious towards women—or rather, anybody. Though it may be inevitable due to personal reasons, nevertheless, it does not detract from the fact that he is too wary.
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