Friday, July 17, 2009

Chapter Four - Part 3

"Kid... I told you about the A.I. when I first began disclosing all this to you. You are arguing now, out of fear. Don't get me wrong there is plenty to be afraid of... look at those stats I sent to your com the other day, the stats for potential survival."

I brought them up, "Look at the ones I said were projected percentages for remaining with GM."

"Yeah..." I was getting more frustrated. "So?"

"None of those stats show what will happen when all this winds down and they no longer are in need of... bulk, mass killing."

"So... what happens?"

"Our little corner of usefulness ends with the body count reaching its projected goals. I mean, a few will be kept for hunt and kill operations, but in about two years ours numbers will be met and most of us, including GM personnel are as good as dead."

"How do you know this?"

"I have my intel sources and these are all mutually confirming, though each, mutually isolated from the others."

He looked a little more than anxious, occasionally glancing at his com and the camera in back of me. "The thing about those numbers on your com for GM, they don't indicate your chances once the killing here starts. I couldn't calculate for that unknown, and I did not want it to appear that I was pushing you to run from here just because I think the chances for those who stay here are the worst of all."

The cameras came on and his smile showed relief, and he started doing that mouth thing.

"And so, the way I see it, the scales tip radically in favor of the escapee if he or she can make it beyond those metrics."

He touched a button on his com and said, "But, you or I can't go out like the rest have, we would go out with the proper intel. Those numbers you have for the survival of an escapee, would be for the first to leave, with the one who leaves second having the odds cut in half. All my former brothers and sister were one hundred percent dead, before they left."

"Give me an example of one of your sources."

"Mapping... the games now are having you mostly deployed to rural or semi-wilderness arena of operations with the occassional excursion like your first hop into ultra-modern alien structures. When the rural areas are culled enough, and the small town populations depleted, the maps will more and more show dense populace, mostly alien city games with high bug counts." I nodded to show I was following, "These missions will be kill missions in our metro areas across our planet though the structures will show as alien and the people as bugs. These game maps will be rolling out in the middle of this year, I have already seen them."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chapter Four - Part 2

Cameras off.

"A.I. for the robots that do the dirty work. That is what Grinders do... we think we are playing against other gamers across the planet and all we are is artificial intelligence for un-manned killing machines?"

Kilo smiled, I was getting really sick of his smile, "You think this is funny?"

"Where are you going with this Gank?" His smile was smaller, more of a smirk.

"I want to know as much as possible before I make up my mind."

"Yeah... A. I. - artificial intel for the robots, feel better or worse for the info?" He was smiling big again.

"What do you want kid? You can't argue the point with anyone but me, and where can that go?" His amusement was no longer apparent. "You re-spawn into an un-manned drone when you go air borne and re-spawn onto a ground device again when your choices in the field call for it. The game program shows you getting into a plane or a tank when you choose to go there... but actually you, as the A.I. is simply transferred from robot to robot whether it is two legged, or flying, or otherwise."

I must have had a look on my face that meant the info wasn't connecting, "Look Kid, let give you an example... in real life, you have un-manned flyers dwelling above the kill zone... in the game the Grinder sees a plane sitting on the ground and jumps inside it to deliver death from above. To him, in the game he seems to take off... but actually the program is just making the transition to allow his attack from above. As soon as he delivers the destruction from above it shows on his visor that he has been shot down and he re-spawns into his character probably the same robot that he was in before he went airborne. The drone either goes home to reload or continues in the area until the next use."

He waited, putting his dinner debris on his tray. Finally he said "Man... I wish things were different, I wish there were no need to... well, we can wish all day... or we can fill our hands with hope."

Chapter Four - Part 1

"So... with the user sensors you manipulate your character in real time with players from every part of our global community." I knew now, that most of what I told these sprouts were lies, but to quote Kilo "What can ya do?" I had to continue to play the part, either, just enough to get me on the outside as an escapee or permanently hooked up with living the lie in GM.

Lies upon lies and encouraging kids to become real live murderers.

"You boots gotta get used to the idea that these suits that you will be given, mean the difference between a successful career in gaming or you washing out... and washing toilettes!" That part was true.

"You can not leave them unattended when not in use. Do not, go all aggro, because something didn't go right, rip off you visor and throw it down! Take your frustrations out on the enemy! These visors are very sensitive and are your personal big screen... perfect resolution, contact with your playing field. You can not play with a bad suit or visor, they are vital to your life as a gamer! And as it is with all electronic gear, it is expensive to fix or replace. All abuse of equipment..." I pointed to a couple of the cameras, "will be noted and your living standards will reflect your behavior with your responsibilities."

"And in case you are misunderstanding how this all works... your friends here, each of you..." I gestured to all those seated on the mat, "are in competition. You are all in competition with other cells like this one across the globe, but you are also in competition with your buddies. Knowing this... can bring the best, and the worst, out of each of you. Be supportive, but also be on your guard."

"Questions?" No response.

"I got a few..." I looked at those ignorant, innocent faces and wanted to scream, instead I asked, "Where does your gear go when it is not on your person?"

In unison came the response, "In our lockers sir!"

"Why are they called lockers?"

"Because we lock them sir!"


"Every time sir!"


Louder... "Every time sir!"

"Do your freakin home work after chow and before you start playing games... time to go." They all rose from the PT mat and only a few had questions that hindered my progress to the Flusher chow hall, and another meet with Kilo.

Chapter Three - Part 8

I had a few fries as he continued, "Kid, as I told you before, I have to make it look like we are on board with all this. Your first killing deployment happened on the hop to Rigel 7, you showed your colors as a fine Grinder. And I showed what good Flusher and strategist that I am, by orchestrating my fake sister escaping for that engagement, her placement near the presumed enemy encampments, and the deployment of your crew in the game and actual robots in the field, Grinder selection and strategic placement of you specifically... to show what you could do."

He paused and made sure I knew he was reading me, "Eat Gank."

Taking another bite of fries he said, "Rigel 7 turned out to be an encampment of believers yielding a body count of nearly three thousand and you pwned nearly half of those. As far as you knew you were playing your game in your control suit and they were alien bugs, you had no idea they were humans in Colorado... Keep eating the cameras could come on any time."

"You say this gave us great creds with GM?"

"You... yeah, your stats were great, but me especially... this showed them my abilities are within the top five percentile, but especially that I have no loyalty to our parents faith... they have no inkling that I believe in God." He reached for his burger and said, "Like I said, now they know we are both on board with this, knowing that I know you are really my brother. And they are certain that I am scheduling some sort of status change for you, either as an escapee or for GM." He took another bite.

"Real people... showing as bugs?"

The cameras came on.

"CG dude. All of it computer generated imaging to your visor. Proximity detectors triangulating through the different robots, gave the servers all they needed to re-image real life forms as any character in our games, human enemy soldiers from another era, alien bugs, whatever. Very easy to do when you think of it, and very easy to deploy... one of your best numbers is your not needing to spawn as much, you are very cost effective. You just don't use up as many robots. All of this served to set us both up with the best creds with GM and the Flushers to make our escape possible."

"I gotta get back to train my boots."

"Take your burger and eat on the way."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chapter Three - Part 7

"Transponders embedded in our bodies... some of us only have a few, others have several in case one goes down it triggers the next in sequence. This is done so that GM and the Flushers, can, at any time locate you... or me if they don't already know." He pulled his tray back in front of him and began picking at his frys, "When an escapee shows stationary for any length of time then we know that he is probably being cared for, and we mobilize."

"How many have I got?" It made a difference to me, I needed to know if escaping was an option... too many transponders and it would be out of the question.

"I am trying to find out... I know how many I have, they simply implanted ours. But yours were implanted when they put you and other Grinders under for dental work they may have embedded as few as three or as many as ten or more. As I said, I am trying to dig that up but it is classified, even from Flushers."

Did I even have an idea of how many was too many? "How is the target confirmed?"

"Now your thinking! The escapee not only goes stationary but usually he will loose two or three transponders in a row... it is then we know that the escapee is finding and destroying them. This is a dead give away that he has found sanctuary." Kilo took a bite of his burger and said, "None of my other brothers and sisters that I have sent out knew of any transponders, their lack of this intel got them Ganked. That by the way is how you got your nickname, your a one man gang kill, in that deployment they, the bad guys, were bugs from another planet, that is how they showed on you virtual visor."

I felt sick, I didn't feel like eating but Kilo said, "You better eat your chow... you know how we watch you."

Chapter Three - Part 6

I looked again at the cameras, "Man... I have seen you every day that I can remember, and to go a twenty-four hour stretch and not see you lurking somewhere was pretty odd."

"You will need to make up your mind at some point, and soon." His smile was gone, "You needed to think in terms that it might be me taking off. Soon one of us will go first, leaving the other behind."

"I don't know about this God thing." I looked in his face to try and read something there.

He replied, "Well as far as that goes I can tell you what I know, but that might not help too much and it is still a question of do you want to keep doing what you're doing now that you know? Now that you know the reality of this... this murder."

He pushed his tray aside, "Kid, the belief thing can happen after you escape or even before... that is really up to God and you, but we have such a small window of opportunity to get us out of here and that time frame is more definite."

"Okay well tell me... what is the value to the Flushers... to GM in sending out these escapees? What can be accomplished by someone who is allowed to escape?"

Chapter Three - Part 5

"Especially at that age you Flushers creeped us out."

"You? Are you... creeped out?" Kilo looked amused.

"Not anymore, you kinda learn your way around the mine field." he was smiling big now, I said, "But some of the Grinders never got used to you guys..."

"Have you noticed that most of those, have either, gone to maintenance or are just gone?"

"Yeah and I can imagine where..." I offered that sarcasm as we entered "our" lunch room, the lights on both cameras were on.

As we sat I asked, "What seems to be the difference? I mean some of those who are no longer with us had good metrics."

"Nerves Gank, nerves." He popped a fry into his mouth while still smiling and talking, but now he was doing that mouth thing again.

He continued, "Sure it is true that a lot of those that are gone had good numbers, but the fact that they could not hold their mug around a Flusher meant they were reaching the end of their usefulness." I looked him in the eyes as he went on, "As a Flusher you get to see a whole mess of things that the rest..." he gestured to me, "that you Grinders don't."

"You get to see that their discomfort around us," he motioned his hands toward his chest, "rather than easing up, like with you, instead gets worse. And this usually happens just before their stats start tanking. Nerves kid, nerves. Speaking on nerves... how's yours?"

He punched a button on his com, it beeped and the camera lights went off. Then he asked with a big smile, "Did you miss me? Did you think I might have left you on your own... here?

Chapter Three - Part 4

I took the boots through several skirmishes that day and skipped lunch... just ate rations rather than risk another meeting with Kilo. I didn't want to talk to him for awhile, I already had too much to process.

My stats were much better through these training exercises than they usually were. I guess there is something good to be said for mindless activity while being mentally side-tracked.

I didn't see Kilo at dinner either, and then I hoped he was just giving me some space, and then began to worry a little when I didn't hear from him until after breakfast while beginning instructions with the younger boots... "You noobs do your homework?"

A bunch of growns went up, but it look like a couple might have studied and I made a mental note of them as I continued, "Okay, your obvious inability to take orders and instructions, mean I get to quiz you on what you know." This was followed by more groans but not as loud.

"You... name the types of sensors in the standard grind suit." I picked one of the few who looked confident.

The little red headed girl stood up and a little on the shaky side started, "There are four types of use sensors, and four types of med sensors."

"Good, sit down." She smiled and sat down, and then the door popped open at the far side of the gym, Kilo leaned his upper body in and looked at me and made an eating gesture and I mouthed "Now?" and he shook his head and mouthed "lunch".

By this time most of the kids had turned to see the Flusher at the door and just as quickly turned themselves around.

I looked at my com and I knew I had about four hours, Kilo liked eating late.

"The use sensors, class..." I made sure everyone was back on task, "in the G-suit are motion, g-force, touch... and what else?"

The same girl said, "impact."

"Correct, but lets raise our hands so we can give everyone a chance."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chapter Three - Part 3

A series of comparative stats began populating on my com, I asked, "What do these mean there aren't any specif..."

"Specifics, yeah I know, when we are done here you will know what each of those numbers are and what they mean, but when anyone else monitors..." he gestured to the camera across the table, "your comlink they won't be able to tell, they will probably just look like a glitch in the system."

He was finished with his food and pouring more coffee from the carafe and said, "What you see in the first set of green characters are the projected probability percentile numbers of survival as an escapee. What you see in blue are the numbers for survival as a GM program director at the top, which is the most likely scenario for you if you decide to stay. At least that is what I have planned as a contingency. And the rest of the blue stats are lower level options if you choose to remain here and don't want to be a head honcho."

"Wait, wait, wait... What about all the peeps of faith that you have flushed and pwned through the other escapees?"

He stopped, his tears began to flow as though a dam had burst, through his convulsions he said, "Kid... we, don't get to choose what we are gonna be when we are brought in here from the outside, I wouldn't have chosen to be a Flusher. You don't know the promises I made to Mom and Dad..." He hesitated wiping his eyes.

His whole person seemed to be up in his reddened face as he continued, "I have tried to concentrate my efforts on killing our Brothers and Sisters in Christ because their life after death is set.

Because flushing out the rebels who are not saved seals their eternity in hell.

Because I had to prove to them..." he gestured again to the camera, "for both our sakes but especially for the potential of your salvation that I had left our parents demographic profile behind."

Chapter Three - Part 2

"Faith? Faith? What the hell are you talking about?"

He wiped his eyes and took another bite gesturing that I should eat also, he was right the food was better here.

He said, "Kid I know you have no faith in God now, but neither are you likely to gain any here. I can tell you what I know but I am going to leave at some point and..."

I interrupted him, "Dude... why should I even care about some superstition that can't even keep me alive?"

"I know... I know. You eat, let me talk, evidently I am the only one of us that can do both." He took another bite, "Gank, the math of it is, your dead either way, and, either way you have a super slim possibility of survival. Ultimately, this is where the issue of faith takes up."

He took another bite and I saw an opportunity, "But..."

He held up his free hand that held his plastic knife and said, "Right now I talk you listen and eat." I took my first bite of sausage.

He continued, "Hundreds of years ago some guy argued something along the line of... 'If there is the possibilty of living eternally, then you should bet your life on that. Because even if there is no eternal life you have lost nothing by believing so. But if there is... you have lost eternal life in betting your life against it.' Something like that."

He jammed a half slice of toast in his mouth and said, "We are here nothing more than a few minutes in comparison to eternity, the Bible says our lives a like a vapor."

He must have noticed my impatience because he seemed to jump to the point, "I have crunched the numbers for you Kid..." He pressed his comlink, it beeped and he said, "Look on your com."

Chapter Three - Part 1

The next three days when I thought I would have been deployed, I was training boots instead.

The reason for my re-tasking was explained on my comlink as, "Monitored stress levels indicated a need to have this gamer stand down for a few days." nothing more. I knew however that Kilo would fill in the blanks.

I was right, the morning of my re-tasking, just after having left my cube Kilo caught up to me on my way to the cafeteria and said, "lets go eat at the Flusher's jug... foods better there anyway."

I knew better than to say much in response, I joked, "You buying?" he just laughed.

Same room, cameras off he started, eating as he spoke, "I figured that you taking a little older boots on training skirmishes would let you bring down your stress levels... your stress readouts, downed onto your com are correct."

"How much non-camera time have we got today?"

"Our whole breakfast and your first skirmish starts in two hours."

"Okay Kilo... if we are all dead anyway why are we bothering with the possibility of escape?" he started to answer but I kept going. "It seems to me this escape business will just get us dead quicker!"

He gave me that look again with his eyes welling, replied "Faith!"

Chapter Two - Part 7

Kilo shifted in his chair somewhat to allow for the camera to view his profile a little more and reverted back to his former methods, "Watch what you say now Kid... the way I helped structure these meetings with others are to basically maneuver the subject into agreeing to the escape by limiting their choices."

"You are my real brother and you can choose... whatever. If you do decide to remain here I can fix it where you will be rapidly promoted, and you do have the chops to pull it off. Just know at some juncture you will have to do things you might not want to do like... possibly, kill your brother." Again, I focused strictly on his eyes.

I didn't have a response to his comment, with or without the cameras "on", he continued, "Kid, all I want from you now is to understand the basic direction of my intentions and that is basically, to keep you as safe as possible for as long as possible and always provide you with an out."

"I am setting certain things up so if you do decide to stay you will still have options even after I am gone which won't be for a little while in either case. Think about what I've said, we'll have more meets soon with the cameras disabled."

Chapter Two - Part 6

"Why would 'they' want to kill over ninety percent of the world's population?" I wasn't in fear of the shut off cameras and made quote gestures with both hands when I said "they".

"Control Kid... that, and an abundance of everything for everybody, but especially those in power. Once the masses are culled the control of those that remain will be based on two things; fear and comfort. If those "keepers" do what they are told they will be more than just comfortable, if not..."

He looked again at his comlink then started talking faster, "I know you don't know anything about God... the games you play that even have a mention of any kind of God or super natural beings are either just superstitions or evil monsters, but are never given any real treatment."

"There are whole cultures out there that we are wiping out... and among them is the faith our parents gave their lives for... and I will too when my time comes." A tear fell from his eye as he glanced again at his com.

"What do you want from me?" I can't recall now ever being so confused or scared, I was feeling myself break out in a cold sweat.

"All I want is for you to consider the possibility of an escape... so far everything I have laid out is standard for anybody we are trying to send out to flush the enemy, I helped develope this method specifically to protect myself should you not want to do this and want to turn me in. We are out of time... just think about it. You and me are good either way."

The camera pointed at me came back online.

Chapter Two - Part 5

"You were six months old when we were taken..." Kilo looked at his comlink and looked back at me not changing his expression, "you never knew either parent, I knew both. Dad went missing a couple of months before you started getting big inside Mom."

He looked again at his com, "These things all happened in the infancy of the resistance and the beginning of the killing, we call it culling or weeding." He waved his hand with a smirk, "The murdering of the unwanted populace started in earnest just prior to you suiting up in your latest upgrade about a year ago."

"I mean it started 'officially'... Satan using peeps to kill peeps has been going on since there were peeps." He was smiling outright now and I could tell he was pleased with his phrasing.

"What are you getting at?" I was getting more frustrated.

"Dude... I am trying to tell you we are all dead... after we do their dirty work they are going kill us." He wasn't smiling anymore, he said, "I found out that when all this started... the wholesale slaughter, there was seven billion on the planet and they have mandated the goal to be five hundred million alive when its done."

He looked at me as though that should connect the dots, evidently he wasn't satisfied, "Even if I did not believe the things I do, it doesn't change the fact that hundreds of thousands a day are being turned into ground meat, and you and I do not fit into the category of 'keepers', once the job is done, so are we."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chapter Two - Part 4

"I'm not sure what your even talking about!" I understood that whatever I said would have to be carefully selected, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was keeping my options open.

I was wishing I could do what Kilo was doing, saying one thing, but with his mouth appearing to say something else. "I'm... this is all I've ever known Kilo." I was being very careful not to glance at the camera again, this was all too hard.

"Here..." Kilo said he turned slightly to his right to place his body between what he was doing and the camera behind him that was aimed at me, the one that still showed "on", on the led. He manipulated his com-link for a moment and the led light went off. "There... we will have about three minutes of black out, we can say what we want and not worry about lip readers." He wasn't doing the mouth thing anymore.

"Man... you tell me I'm your brother... you tell me about an option for an escape that I don't think I even want, and you tell me you have been down playing my stats to your Flusher buddies to set me up for all this. What are you doing to me 'Big Brother', are you trying to ruin me?"

He smiled and said, "Our Mom was Christian and she told me Dad was too, and was killed in the resistance before you were born... there is another world out there that we... you, may need to be part of. If you don't want it fine, everything and more will be restored to you... no problem, but at some point you won't see me anymore."

Kilo had a look on his face I had never seen on anybody, I couldn't tell what it meant.

Chapter Two - Part 3

"My fellow Flushers know that I present to you options for escape and that I represent myself to you as though your my little brother this is a common tactic."

We were in the same small room for breakfast before my shift, Kilo contacted me early so we would have more time before my deployment.

The red led "on" light was still "out" on the camera viewing Kilo's chair. And I was still struggling with the oddity of his manner of speaking and I learned to just focus on his eyes as I listened, and ignore the disparity of his mouth movements.

He continued, "This is what we do Kid. We gain the confidence of someone we are sending out, by telling him or her that we are related. Siblings, cousins, nephew or something to tug at their heart. This is done when the Grinder is not quite Program Developer material because of his or her lack of intellect and when their reaction time begins to show lag time."

He stopped for an instant then said, "Gank... you really gotta pay attention!"

"I am... I heard everything, but my stats are stellar! Who knows how long it will be before I lag and my projections for strategic awareness..."

"I know but you are... really my brother, and because I wanted to give you the options to leave and be free of this, I have been playing down your capabilities and suggesting to everyone that your..."

"You've been what?"

"Don't get me killed here Kid. Everything that I've done can be easily set aside by me saying I've changed my opinion of you. But if you don't hold to character right now your gonna get us both in trouble."

I looked at the camera that was aimed at me.

Chapter Two - Part 2

I struggled with his last comment, and the manner with which it was delivered, mouthing his words differently than what actually came out.

The "little brother", the surreal visual and audible disconnect, it was all too hard to take in. I came away from our "lunch/dinner" with way too much disjointed intel, and vague promises of more meetings.

I spent the remainder of my evening playing some mindless game... poker I think, on a little hand held, then turned in early.

Even though I was exhausted when I laid down, I was still spent when my wake up call came.

The first thing to hit me was his referrence to me as little brother... was it just a meaningless term or something more? In either case, it threw the rest of what he said into a jumbled mess that required continued juggling of bits, to make heads or tails out of it.

He said that our robots were destroying real people and robots of the enemy forces. These forces were a mixture of cultures in various parts of the world and usually were cultures of faith, although some of the skirmishes were with simple dissenters who fought against our system of government merely for the sake of some antiquated idea of freedom, and then alluded to a little more that he would tell me of later.

It was his hinting to the possibility of our, or at least my, "escape" from Game Qualifiers, that was hard for me to wrap my thinker around. "Escape", what for?

He said more info was to follow but so far what I've heard is too much for my brain to digest, especially when it feels force-fed.

Chapter Two - Part 1

"Lets take a small conference space at the far wall." Kilo gestured in that general direction as best as he could holding on to his lunch tray.

I had my dinner on my tray, such as it was, I really wasn't that hungry. I was more tired than anything else and just wanted to get our meet over with.

We navigated the main lunchroom to the small room setting our trays on the little cafeteria table inside; Kilo shut the door after us.

This was more to keep our conversation from the ears of the lower level Grinders that might be getting interviewed than anyone else, and though there were only two cameras in this room it still wasn't private.

Before I sat down I pulled my com link out of my shirt and set it on the table. Kilo said, "You look beat Kid... you taken care of yourself?"

"Yeah... just tired, maybe a little stressed with this new stuff you been telling me about."

"It is gonna get quite a bit weirder..."

I looked at him as I sat down trying to figure what he meant, he said, "Lets eat first I am very hungry... this is actually my lunch, missed breakfast because of you." he laughed.

As we ate he seemed pre-occupied with the computing on his com link, he grunted once messing with the keys, and looked disgusted with something on the screen. I asked, "You need help with that old man?" I liked ribbing him; he actually appeared only four or five years older than me.

He stopped what he was doing with his rig, and even stopped chewing his food for a second, before transferring his look of contempt to me. Then grinning he started chewing his food again and shook his head no. He then held up his right index finger in the air then pointed to his mouth before swallowing.

He glanced at the camera behind me to my right and then did something I have never seen before... while he was kind of still chewing seemed to "mouth" words other than the words I heard, he said, "I just disabled the camera behind you, keep watching me talk because your supposed to be a little freaked by what us Flushers can do when we do this with our mouths."

I must have looked really freaked because he started laughing pretty hard.

His laughter ended and he continued, "Kid, you know what Flushers do normally. We look for dissenters in all branches of government, when we find them they just go away as far as you’re concerned."

He was watching me watch his mouth, I heard him, and I was taking in the intel, but this was something that was fascinating to see.

He kept the information coming, "Most of the time when a Grinder is confronted as you are now with a potential status change. I tell him or her, about the camera being disabled behind them and tell them to keep watching me to gain their confidence."

He paused to get my reaction I guess, but I was still kind of shocked so he waited a moment and took another bite of food before he continued, "These meetings can go a lot of different directions with a lot of different subjects... most go on as Program Developers, or Grinders, or whatever. Most stay in the system, no problem... some are sent to work outside as disposables, these are the ones who "just go away", and they work with robot recovery in the field until they are... well, usually, killed by the enemy."

"You little brother, are different."

Chapter One - Part 5

I was about to go into my quarters when the intercom at my entry lit up, it was Kilo, "Gank... you there yet?"

I looked into the camera on the com and replied, "Is the camera broke?"

"I don't know, the display on my com link is blank... I just had your proximity detector alert me when someone showed at your doorway. Can you upload your stats and meet me in the Flusher lunch room?"

"Kilo... are you falling apart in your old age? You have my stats!" I gave a chuckle for effect.

"Man... why you harshin me? I've got your stats yeah... but I want you to see them on your com device as we discuss them, I'm buying dinner."

I didn't bother laughing at his lame joke about buying something that’s free, "Yeah, I'll be there in a few."

"You sound tired Kid."

"Boots are killing me."

"Well if your feet don't stink you can kick them off when you get here." That got a genuine laugh out of me, he knew I meant the recruits.

"Fine... yeah, see you in a bit." Man I did not want to do an interview... this one sounded more formal.

A Grinder never really knows where he or she stands in the Flusher system. Anytime on our com links we can access basic, gamer rankings, Kilo was wanting me to download my projective stats which includes much more and bring them along.

But as far as Monitor Functions Department of GM is concerned, there is no real way to manipulate your behavior to impress them, you never really know where you are, and what ever you choose to do, is simply guesswork. They like to refer to this as an organic real time relationship.

For whatever reason Kilo favored me, might be my stats, may be a result of my 'tude I've always flipped him since we first met, but he likes me, or at least he wants me to think he does.

Chapter One - Part 4

I got myself down to sub-floor seven and into the gym to train the new recruits. The day was uneventful, but strenuous, introducing them to suit controllers and new physical training to condition them to the suit and game requirements.

All the previous gaming they had been exposed to were hand held controllers, intended to log their minds in to games. These kids had been monitored and selected for their potential in hand-eye coordination and comfort with the process of killing.

It was the process of killing that occupied the front of my thoughts for the rest of my session with these kids.

I did not know at that time what war we could possibly be involved in. Our lives at Game Qualifiers have revolved around gaming and this mostly encompassed war scenarios, maps of the planet's regions. And some games even centered around times in history when real wars were fought, but I could not imagine a real conflict where I might be killing a real person.

Honestly I did not know or think about up until that day, why our gaming was important enough for anyone to finance what we did. Maybe in some fleeting imagination I figured we were entertainment of some kind, and even that could be true still.

What I did know is that I would be the Flushers focus all day and then some, they would watch me for erratic behavior, attentive to anything that would indicate a need to disqualify me. The stress level was incredible, I remember just wanting to suit up and go on a mission... at the time, that, would have seemed more peaceful.

I struggled mentally, juggling Kilo's intel, keeping on task with the Boots, and making sure my appearance for the monitor jockeys was placid.

I needed to seem un-disturbed by the prospect of very soon operating in a kill zone with the knowledge that I might be really be killing a live body. It managed to be a very long day that just drained my energy.

I sent the Boots hustling back up to their barracks at days end knowing the rest of their evening would loading programs into boxes, manipulating hand helds, and eating with little sleep.

Sleep... I couldn't wait to get back to get to my ten by ten hole and do that myself, tomorrow would be me and the suit on a mission.

Chapter One - Part 3

"What?" I couldn’t cipher what it might mean in my world or how it could "mess things up".

Kilo smiled, but I wasn’t encouraged.

He continued, "The gaming that goes on here,” he pointed at the floor, " conveyed real-time to the fronts. Your character, Squasher, actually engages the enemy through Grinder robots. When the robot, you’re in gets ripped, you’re just Repop'd into another, and you re-engage, you are in essence the AI for each robot." His eyes darted back and forth, watching mine for reaction. I must’ve looked shocked.

"So… the enemy… robots or real people?" I tried qualifying my thoughts.

"How would that matter?"

I glanced up at the surveillance camera above my cot.

Kilo leaned forward. "Not to worry. This is an informal qualifier. Even if you’re watched, we’re measuring very little."

I knew better. "It matters. I’d like to understand my duty." An honest reply, even if only partial, is crucial. The more military its tone, the better.

"Like any other military engagement your duty is to your commanders and to the effort. The new level that you would go into at entry confirms your ability and expertise. Your kill to spawn ratio, as your stats are now, with 37 kills for every spawn is exceptional and if you keep it close to that metric ‘til you confirm, you will advance."

I stared at the floor as he explained, keeping myself as expressionless as possible. He continued, "Advancement through these strategy levels are very rapid but carefully chosen, if you did not have at least some notion as to what this is all about you may have balked at a disclosure inherent in the system and this would have resulted in an unacceptable fiscal loss as well as a catastrophic failure in the field."

He rose from the seat and got eye level with me saying, "This Intel is designed as introductory only, but it is still considered classified. Never speak to anyone about these things unless it is they who bring up the topic. And always discuss only the material that they have mentioned never volunteer intelligence."

He then walked by as I leaned against my fold down table, moving toward the door, he turned with his hand on the door saying, "If you decide to confirm..." He looked at my small, very clean room with a smirk, "your digs will get a lot bigger." He pushed my door open and said, "Hustle up you got Boots to train at the top of the hour."

Chapter One - Part 2

The Flusher squinted at me. "Kid, you got potential; the system has potential. You could probably get pretty far, but, early on you’re gonna find out info that will mess things up for you something fierce if you’re not aware of ‘em."

He looked at me the way all Flushers have to - they gush info and watch reaction hoping to "flush" an expression or reply that will reveal something.

I threw it back at him. "What are you getting at, Kilo?" I knew he’d recognize my deflection as an appropriate ploy as would any chair-riding Flusher analyzing the video in the Monitor Functions Department, headquarters for the Flushers.

He didn't miss a beat, which was unusual; they usually milked the silence, unless they were going for your confidence.

He lowered his voice. "What I am getting at is the Games themselves. Well, at least the higher levels using the better Grinders”. He walked past me and dropped the lid on my toilet giving him a place to sit. "Gank…"

That’s what he called me when he wasn't calling me Kid.

"There’s a whole world outside Game Qualifiers - a world that’s been at war for three years. It’s us, against them."

Chapter One - Part 1

My earliest memories were staring at a 42” flat screen; box at feet, controller in hand. Cocooned in bland painted white walls, polished grey concrete under foot, stainless steel fixtures reflecting the sick green glare of overhead fluorescents.

And, like the others I came up with, we’re the only clan we've ever known, and all we ever wanted was to be Grinders... the guys in the controler suits grinding it out day after day. From what I heard we got the term grinder, from the poker world, the professionals, doing it every day.

There might have been a few exceptions. Every now, and again, you get a Gamer who’s overheard another Gamer reporting some vague memory of a nurturing face, of hugs and kisses. Me? I think it’s probably just urb legend generated by some sadistic Flusher yanking chains. I've never met anyone with a memory like that.

Yeah. Flushers. These guys can make or break a career in Gaming, acting as liaisons between GM (Game Masters) and Grind Controllers then down to the Grinders. Now, that’s a department I’m glad I dodged. Once a Flusher, always a Flusher. I'd much rather be flushed. If you can get past those GM potlickers you can advance. But… you gotta get past ‘em.

At six years old, I was one of the youngest Boots to get upgraded from boot camp to tenth dimension Grinder. My strategies have always been solid and, inside the Grind Suit, I get EXP (experience points) and my DPS (damage per second) in the top 5 percent, with great stats on my need to spawn.

But, sooner or later - everybody’s skills start the lag. I used to hope, my ability for Strategy and Maneuvers would get me into GM, so I wouldn’t get kicked to sweeping floors and cleaning toilets in some IT department.

As it turns out, it’s my potential in Strategy conception that’s got me into this pickle.

An old Flusher – one I've known since my first upgrade – was the first to leak insinuations about the Games.

Errant Controls - Preface

Control: what life is all about, all I've ever known.

I'm old for a Gamer, nearly twenty. And now, I doubt I’ll ever live to see twenty-one. My fear’s complicated, but really boils down to whether I’ll qualify for my next ding and, as a result of my possible upgrade, what I’ve discovered about our games.

Soon, I’ll be faced with three equally ugly choices: become a game and program developer like those who were upgraded before me, remain a Grinder at the controls… or find a way of escape. And, that last choice? Probably gonna place me inside one of our games as an enemy to the other Gamers. I’ll most likely get pwned by some eight-year-old noob trying to reach his next level.

Any way this tracks, I don't see a satisfying end. So while I have the chance, I'm recording as much as I can and maybe what I've put down will be helpful later. At this point though I'm not sure what peeps might get this, you might even be a non-gamer so I will try and be careful with my wordage.

What follows is a run-down on how I got to this point, I'll let you know when I get to the present, when ever that happens I will give real time updates.

And then? I'll just have to play it by ear.