The Dreadnought Contingency - Abandoned Version

Book 1


Day 1

And that was it. I’ll find out tomorrow. They said that two years of (extremely repetitive) training would fly by, but it feels like it was an eternity. If I am chosen tomorrow at least it’ll be worth it. I keep saying all these things in my head like someone can hear me, or like I’ll actually be able to spit all this out verbatim if someone ever asks me a question I think they might, but it never works like that. Anyway, I should probably tell you about the Nightstalker, just in case someone is listening, but they just started. The Nightstalker is the ultimate weapon. Or rather, it’s a fully weaponized version of the most technologically advanced amp suit in existence. Either way, it’s the most badass thing man has ever built. And I will be its pilot. Well, I might; that’s what I will or will not be chosen for tomorrow. The last two years I spent sleeping and sim training. No, I mean literally only sleeping and training. After you sign up, er, after they choose you, they lock you in the sim chamber and hook you up to an IV and, you guessed it, a catheter. You literally don’t move a muscle for that whole two years. Don’t get me wrong, whoever designed the sim chamber knew what they were doing; it was surprisingly cozy in there. The kind of cozy you don’t ever wanna leave even though you hadn’t moved for two years. Well I’m walking now. They said the meds would make it like I was just running a marathon yesterday, but my brain won’t let me get over the fact that I was completely immobile for two friggin years.

You would think that right after they let you out of the sim chamber that you have to go to some briefing thing or something like that, but Monarch is too lazy for that. Instead they (probably) just use the NICE (New and Improved Cranial Emulator; you can tell when they try too hard,) to look inside your head and answer any questions they have without even having to ask. It’s fuckin’ messed up. And yes, I do vary my cussing levels. If you don’t save the really bad ones till you have something to prove, then they mean nothing. Oh yeah, the Nightstalker. Sorry, I get off topic a lot (more on that later). So once the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, the DoD wanted the ultimate weapon, so that we could use it once and no one would ever mess with us again. Anyone who would hear this probably thinks I’m talking about nukes. But no. The Nightstalker has two, and they’re it’s most clumsy weapons. The Nightstalker looks fairly humanoid, except like a cross between a person and an upright dragon minus the wings. And yes, I am aware that it’s not really a dragon without wings, but at least now you know what it looks like. They built it to be intimidating; you know, deception and theatricality and all that. And it works. It’s the scariest shit I’ve ever seen. I’m just glad I’ll (hopefully) be the one to pilot it.

It feels amazing when you’re inside it (inside the sim chamber at least). It feels…it feels like you’re a god. Like nothing can stop you and you can do anything. The sims are built to be exact replicas of the real world; of current events, and of foreseen ones. Monarch wants to know what you would do to settle things in the Middle East, and what you would do with one to settle things on the home front. At least that’s what most of the sims were about. And nothing could stop me. The only problem was not killing innocents. Even with the highest level of precision machining and everything on the part of the actual weapon, there’s nothing stopping you from neglecting to take everything into account. And that’s the only doubt I have. If I am made pilot, I’m gonna need to make sure to always take everything into account. I’m thinking this, so Monarch knows it because of the NICE, which means that they really don’t give a fuck if I hurt innocents like I have been in the sims. Unless they don’t make me pilot. But I really hope they do. I think.

You may be surprised, but I’m only 19. I’m in that range where I can get blown up by a grenade for my country, but can’t shotgun a beer at a restaurant without risking getting called-out for it. Some society we live in, right? Monarch gets you young though, they want you to still have as much “neural plasticity” as possible, so they can basically shape your brain exactly how they want to. I signed up for the Army, and then the next thing I know I’m down here. I guess the NSA really does know everything about you, because they said that I was chosen for my “…personality traits” (that ellipsis is literal, the guy paused before he said personality traits). Fortunately they said that they waited till I signed up for the military. It would be comforting to know that they gave me a choice, if they didn’t already know from texting conversations with Joe that I was gonna sign up anyway. Deceptive bastards.

Oh yeah, so I’m walking. When you’re not doing exactly what they make you, you can roam free through Monarch. Ya know, except for the restricted places. Except there’s one they forgot about, and that’s where I’m going. To talk to Joe. We signed up together, for the Army that is, and somehow we both made it here. The place is a storage room in a big warehouse (everything’s in a big warehouse though; we’re underground). No one ever goes here, because it stores weapons in case there’s an attack on Monarch, but obviously no one’s gonna attack a DoD funded company like Monarch…that doesn’t technically exist. And there are never any guards anywhere, but even if you can’t see cameras, you know there are cameras everywhere. I’m climbing the fence to get inside the storage room. It’s one of those pointless fences that you can climb like a piece of cake with plenty of room at the top to get over it and no wire in the way. I see Joe’s already here.

“Guess your legs are worse than mine.” Apparently. He made it here before me and our sim chambers were meters away.

“I took the scenic route.” BS. I took the most direct route.

Me again: “Ya know, if one of us ever brought a match and the other some gasoline, not only could the entire place burn down, but that crate of napalm you usually sit on and this bad boy here,” I’m slapping the crate of ammunition I’m sitting on, “would no longer serve their function as the most ergonomic chairs ever.” I’m saying as I readjust my posture, to both feel more comfortable and to emphasize my sarcasm. Joe just made that kinda “lol” laugh when you see something genuinely funny, but only funny enough to make you exhale like you’re trying to start laughing.

“What is it?”

“…My sims.”

“No shit, dude. But what about ‘em?” I honestly have no idea. There was too much that went on in those things.

“Ya know when they make you complete the objective, but the only way to do it is to make some…collateral damage?”


“Well you fail if there’s collateral damage, right? I mean, you’ve got the most technologically advanced weapon at your disposal, there’s gotta be some way to ki- …take care of only the things you need to.”

“One would think.”

“Well if I don’t make it tomorrow then I’ll never need to cause any collateral damage. It’s not like they’ll have any use for us if we don’t make pilot.” I’ve thought about this myself, actually. I mean, they’re training us to be the pilot for the most advanced weapon system ever developed. I’m pretty sure they’re gonna kill whoever doesn’t make it. And I think Joe’s starting to realize it too. I’ll change the subject then.

“Think we’re competing against any smokin’ hot babes?” That’s not how I usually refer to women, but with Joe anything goes, and it’s funny because he knows I usually don’t talk like that.

“Hope so, even though it’s a violation of ‘Underground Law,’” unofficially official term, “to ask someone if they’re a pilot. ‘Cause if it’s a chick that becomes a pilot, that’ll be the fuckin’ sexiest badass girl ever.” Couldn’t argue with that. “Think we would know one if we saw one?”

Now it was my turn to need a change of subject. Didn’t want to think about all those girls (if there were any) not making pilot. “Wanna go get some real food?”

“Yeah I’ve been starving. They say they give you what you need with the IV in the sim chamber, but that’s total bull shit.” Yup.

“Let’s get some cake.”

“Why cake?”

“BECAUSE THE CAKE IS NOT A LIE!!” I’m gleefully shouting. Unfortunately I know the reference will be lost on him, but I say it anyway.

“What the fuck?”

“You wouldn’t understand, you poor, deprived child. Beat you there.” We both bolt.

Oh, shit. I just realized that they would notice us running, but they can hear our thoughts through the NICE, so they know we’re here and what we’re saying anyway. Well, at least they’re letting us break the rules by being in here.

I beat Joe to the mess hall (nicknamed by all as simply “the basement,” probably because that’s what it felt like, because it was also connected to the recreational “district,” so that whole area just felt like a huge version of your best friend’s basement,) but not by much. You know they can 3D print food now, right? Well that’s what-all we have to eat here. It’s not like it’s any worse than regular food, it’s just the sentiment of it and all. But at least I can have it make whatever I want. So I’m telling it to make some cake, and I’m telling it to make it with everything I can remember from what GLaDOS told you was a lie. Mainly as a “screw you” to GLaDOS, because everyone hates her. That bitch. “This was a triumph…” I’m starting to hum to myself as the printer’s printing the food. You never really get over the concept of printing food.

It’s weird: you think two years of doing nothing but sleeping and training would make you feel like a recluse, but really it feels like it was just yesterday that I was eating my “Last Real Meal” before heading in to the sim chamber. And oh, the sweet taste of cake.

We’re not talking much now, Joe and I, mainly about stuff back home, or “up top” as everyone says. Neither of us want to talk about the sim chamber anymore. Especially not around other people. There’re always a lot of people in the basement. Monarch is huge, and to increase efficiency the artificial day/night cycles of different parts of the facility are all shifted like up top, so Monarch can have people working around the clock. All Monarch ever seems to want is for us to be their slaves. They say there are still “employee rights” down here, but talk is ch-

Holy shit.

Who is that?

I saying “Dude.” to Joe and making a bro-check-out-dat-fine-piece-of-work-ova-deah head-nod in her direction.

“Dude, she’s mine.”

“Well actually, Joe, I don’t believe she belongs to anybody.” I’m saying with a smirk.

“You know what I mean.”

“Last one to her’s a rotten egg.”

He practically runs straight for her, but I already have a plan. I pick up what’s left of my cake and throw it in the trash. (She’s far enough away in this friggin’ huge mess hall that she wouldn’t have seen, much less noticed either of us yet.) Now I’m walking to a 3D printer close to and directly in the line of sight of her. Now I’m asking for the same cake. And now it’s done printing (still really weird to say) so I’m making play I’m looking for Joe, even though I obviously already know where he is.

“There you are.”

“What took you so long?”

“…I was getting cake?” I say as if to day “duh.”

“You got a new one?” Shit, Joe, shut up. I’m trying to work some magic here.

“He’s just acting weird because he just realized my very presence has thwarted all his efforts to win your affection.” I’m saying that in the half-mock half-true kind of way you say something when you’re trying to be funny at your own expense. I’m being sarcastic basically. But not really? “I’m James. Ever played Portal?”

She’s saying “No, sorry. Is that a video game?” Either she’s a professional actress, or she really wants to know what Portal is, even though I only ever mentioned its name. That blows my mind. Or maybe it’s just her blowing my mind.

“Yeah. And dang it, that means you could only ever appreciate the other half of this cake I can’t possibly eat all by myself only half as much as you would’ve if you’d’ve played Portal.”

“I’m allergic to gluten.” You can tell that she says that a lot, and that it never gets any easier.

“Plot twist. Well I could go 3D print one that’s half gluten?” I start walking toward a printer.

“No, thanks.” More to stop me from inconveniencing myself (ha, “inconvenience…”) than because she was happy with what she was already eating, it seemed. Now I’m sitting down and the three of us’re talking, all the while I’m trying to convince h- oh, Joe just said Zelda. Don’t know how I forgot to ask her her name. Although her eyes may have had something to do with it.

Anyway, now the three of us’re talking about up top, which is all anyone ever talks about down here. I’m trying to imply to Zelda that I know Joe’s coming on too strong (to be honest, he didn’t even know how to come on at all, and neither did I) so that her and me having a conversation could be her, like “salvation from his sorry attempts.” Unfortunately she seems to be enjoying talking with Joe more. Maybe if I actually try saying all this stuff I’m thinking for once she’ll want to talk to me more? Yeah right. I myself can’t even handle what goes on in here most of the time. So now I’m just trying to get in as many relevant words as I can while listening to Zelda (that really is a beautiful name, isn’t it?) and Joe (meh, kinda plain sounding in comparison) talk like normal human beings, of which I’m officially jealous. Oh yeah, there are also other people at the table, Zelda’s friends apparently. I’m making conversation with the quieter guys at the table now about stuff that normal people don’t usually talk about, like what if you dropped a T-rex into a sarlacc pit with a construction crane (which is from something I saw up top; I didn’t think of it). But I wasn’t really in those conversations. All my attention was on Zelda.

I wonder what she would look like if she wore her hair back.

I’d never seen anything like her. I mean sure, I had liked some girls up top, but never enough to make me want to overcome the absolute terror of asking someone out your first time as much as she makes me want to. I’ll just have to bide m-

LOOK AWAY! I think she just caught me staring. Crap. Crap Crap Cr-

“Earth to James.” I think it was Joel who said that.

Me: “Sorry, just thinkin’.” People say earth to James a lot. “So do you think the LHC actually could make a black hole?”

“I’m assuming the people who built it understood enough theoretical physics and quantum mechanics to avoid building something that could make a black hole directly under the land they likely live on.” Hard to disagree with that. And it was Joel that said that too. He’s a pretty big guy.

“Then why do people say it might? Or at least it could.”

“People like believing something crazy like that could happen. Probably because they just want to find out what would happen if it actually did.” Apparently I’m among those people. Out of the corner of my eye I’m seeing Zelda laughing. Damn. Wish I could make her laugh like that. I’m not funny though, at least not like whoever that guy is she’s laughing with. He seems like a pretty fun guy. And apparently Markus is his name, or at least that’s what people seem to be addressing him by.

I’m done my cake now, so it’s off to sleep I guess. I’m not really tired, but it’s that time of day. Well, no one here really knows what time of day it is, but it’s the time of day that Monarch wants you to believe it is. Most people don’t have too hard a time adjusting to the sleep schedule in their section of Monarch, but it never really seemed to work for me. Even up top I never really conformed to the standard sleep schedule for my time zone. I guess I’m just different.

I can browse the internet until I get tired, I guess. But dang it. I just walked into my room, (was it me who left the door open? I usually don’t) and now I’m seeing that my laptop isn’t the only thing collecting dust. Everything in here is dusty. Obviously they haven’t touched anything, which I like, but they at lea- “Sorry I didn’t come sooner, you were expected to go to the rec room before coming here.” I never liked the rec room. Too many people. But considering my room’s dustier than the inside of an old Blockbuster, I figure I’ll go to the rec room to give that person who’s apparently my room’s cleaning lady time to do her job. The person who just spoke, that is.

“I was actually on my way. Just wanted to stop by to see if anyone had been here since I left.”

“Nope. At least not till I showed up.” She’s smiling.

It’s actually a pretty long walk from the residential district to the basement. You have to go through the entire part of the facility (well, the cell; there are a crapload of cells in this facility, all the same.) where people actually do their jobs. I feel like Monarch was trying to be metaphorical with that, like, “can’t make sure you stay alive until you’ve done what we hired you for.” They are selfish bastards.

And here’s the rec room. It’s just a bunch of super-intensely-awesome “universal gaming consoles” designed exclusively for multiplayer. Like, the screens go all the way up to the ceiling. At least there’s this dead space between where you play and the screen so that you don’t mess up your neck by having to look up all the time. And the screens are recessed into the floor so you can still be looking at the middle of it when you’re looking straight. Monarch just lets us download any game currently available through the internet, which I like, but I kinda wish they had designed some games for us themselves. Wait. Never mind. I was just playing their game for two years. Forget it.

I can’t find Joe or any of the guys I was talking to at “dinner,” but wait. Yeah, there’s an extremely attractive girl standing next to a guy who looks like Mark, (both from behind) so I figured I’ll see if I can play something with them, Zelda (I think I’m in love with even her name now) and Mark. Markus? I dunno. Mark’s shorter and easier to say. I’ll ask him what he likes.

Zelda: “James! We were just gonna start a new level. Wanna play?” That’s awesome! They were playing co-op Portal 2. But does Zelda know about the cake yet? And holy mother of everything sacred does it sound awesome when she says my name. “Oh, and Markus, this is James.” I’m going for a handshake. Antiquated, but still feels like the manliest way to greet someone.

“Always down for some Portal. And do you prefer Mark or Markus?”

“Either one’s fine.”

“Mark it is.”

So this is pretty awesome. Well, it could be awesomer, since at the moment I’m playing Portal 2 with Mark, but it’s Zelda’s turn next level. I played the co-op version before up top, but it’s been so long that the all the puzzles are basically new and freshly interesting. Still a challenge. And it’s crazy how well Mark and I get through. It’s like we’ve always been on a team, except I’ve never met him before.

Shit. Shit shit shit. And there’s the sleep dep. Even in the sim chamber I had a hard time sleeping, and I’m not exactly sure when the last time I did sleep was, so that feeling of removal from reality you get when you’re massively tired that I’m having right now isn’t really surprising. I can do it though, I can last long enough to play the next level with Zelda. But I might get chosen tomorrow. I need sleep. Fuck it, I can do this.

Mark: “You OK?”

What? He can see that I’m tired? No biggie, I can still make it. “Yup, just a little tired is all. Two years of non-stop training’ll do that to a guy.”

Zelda: “You’re a pilot??” I never realized how beautiful enthusiasm is before.

Mark’s giving her a look like he’s trying to say, “Really? You know you just violated Underground Law, right?”

Screw Underground Law. “Well, I might be. I find out tomorrow.”

“That’s awesome! You should get some sleep though. You look really tired.” Shit. I can’t say no to a voice like that. “Especially if you’re gonna have to meet with Augustus tomorrow.”

Augustus is the CEO of Monarch. Apparently he’s pretty invested in the pilot of the most advanced weapon system in the known universe, ya know, the weapon system his company built, so I’ll have to meet him tomorrow. That is, if I’m chosen. But Zelda’s optimism is too refreshing to doubt like that. And now Zelda’s asking about what it’s like being a pilot. I’m too tired to be mentally here, but I spit out what responses I can. Now Zelda’s remembering that I’m dead tired, and says something about it, so now I’m going back to my room. I just hope I’ll get to see Zelda tomorrow. And play some Portal with her.

But now I’m walking back to my room. Hopefully by the time I get back, the cleaning lady’ll be done. I guess I’ll try to get right to sleep. It’s basically a sleep version of Russian roulette though: going to bed. Either I’m tired enough to mentally shut down, or I’m not and I start thinking about stuff and my brain just works its way into overdrive. I think that’s why I have a hard time sleeping. It’s so easy to get lost in your own head in bed (no, that doesn’t really work in a sexual context, unless you’re implying that you don’t concentrate on sex while having sex, which doesn’t seem like something to be proud of). I’ve always liked sleeping in absolute darkness, and when it’s that dark, and when you’re perfectly comfortable in bed then the only thing left to concentrate on is what’s in your head. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, swimming around in there, thinking what there is to think, I just wish I could sleep like a normal person.

I’m opening the door now. The handle is harder to turn than I remember. And yup. Pristine. Everything still right where I left it. I’m not quite sure how that works though; what machine is used to remove all the dust while keeping everything in place, but technology never ceases to amaze me. I’m undressing and turning out the lights, making sure to avoid anything on the floor. I left the room really messy ‘cause I was too busy worrying about my sim training before I left to do anything about the mess. Anyway. Now the real thinking begins. You have been warned.

Like just about everyone apparently, the first thing my head goes to at this time of day is the person I like; Zelda. Like, I know that the next person you like always seems prettier than the last, but I’ve felt that kind of thing before and it’s different with how I feel about Zelda. What does that mean then? Does that mean that I know I’ve found the love of my life? And yes, I’m aware I sound cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is the most concise way to convey the truth. Oh shit. Are she and Mark together? It didn’t really seem like they were romantically involved, but they were a guy and a girl who acted like best friends. Maybe I’m just paranoid. Although if Zelda won’t ever like me (none of the girls I’ve ever like-liked have so far) then I want her to be with Mark, ‘cause from what I’ve seen today, he’s a billion times better than most guys girls seem to end up with. But then what if Mark’s secretly a bad guy? Or just not what Zelda needs? I know that I’d try my heart out for her, because that’s what I always want to do when I meet someone like Zelda, so if Mark’s not the best person for her then maybe I should be with her? I know my thought process just now was kinda selfless, but I can’t help thinking that making those kind of justifications for why I should be with her is really selfish. Either way, I should at least ask her out, even if she is with Mark, just to see what would happen. Damn I wanna see her now. Monarch has small bios on everybody that we can access, so that could work. Unfortunately you’re basically stripped of your last name down here, because they want to make identifying you easier, so they let you keep your first name and then to Monarch you’re the number that your first name would make if you assigned 1 to A and so on and then they just add a numeric value at the end correlating to how many of you there are already in the database at the time you’re added. And no, they refuse to use your social security number for this purpose, even though I don’t see why they don’t just retire your number and make it easy on themselves and everybody else. Anyway, that’s why I don’t have a last name for Zelda, so I’m gonna have to scroll through a list of pictures. That won’t be a challenge though; she’ll stand out like a beacon.

I’m booting up my computer. They only have the most advanced tech down here, which obviously is a pretty nice perk, but it still doesn’t compensate for being locked down here until you’re, well…”done.” So most advanced tech: so my computer booted before I even finished thinking about the tech thing. That’s why I was thinking it, to explain why my computer boots so fast (you’re probably starting to understand why I get off topic a lot). Now I’m getting my way into the database, and typing in “Zelda.” There she is, fourth one down. With her picture there it’s like the list is saying, “Zelda, Zelda, Zelda, ZELDA!!!, Zelda, Zelda…” I guess a new generation of gamers finally started having kids.

Hmm, not much here I can use to connect with her without making it obvious I looked her up. That always sucks. Like when the Facebook profile of the girl you like is private. I’d try hacking in to see everything they have on her, but that just feels wrong, Also, small detail: I don’t know how to hack.

It occurs to me that I haven’t thought much about the NICE since I started thinking that someone might be listening, (I’m back in bed now). So I’ll think about the NICE. Basically the easiest way to explain it would be to say that it’s a brain-computer adapter. Your brain is always emitting some kind of waves, so the NICE just intercepts, interprets, translates, and then broadcasts your own brain waves into some protocol computers can understand. It’s basically a Brain Bluetooth, except I have no idea what the actual protocol is called. Oh, and it doesn’t actually have a power source. I mean, not a battery. They designed it to not need a battery, so my theory is that it’s thermally powered from my own body heat, or has one of those movement-to-power thingies, but that would need a battery for when I’m not moving, so it’s probably the heat thing. And apparently it doesn’t take much power at all, since my brain is already emitting waves, so the only thing that the NICE does is act as a prism, if you want to get analogous, for what’s already being inadvertently broadcasted. It’s pretty freakish. And “apparently” Monarch is the only place that has anything that can literally read thoughts. Which as much as I wish it was, isn’t comforting at all. Oh, and the only externally visible part of the NICE is a black/white LCD status indicator just to tell you if it’s working or not, right behind your ear. Kind of a stupid place, because I can’t even see there without multiple mirrors.

And it would probably be a good idea to tell you about its purpose (hard to make the necessary intonations to convey the humor you want to while in your own head, at least when your thoughts are just words). Its purpose is so that you can control the Nightstalker like you’re controlling your own body, like it is your body, because a game controller or keyboard and mouse have their limitations. I mean, yeah they do, but I still wish Monarch didn’t have to read my friggin’ thoughts for me to work the sim chamber. But before I went in they told me that the real Nightstalker has zero coms capabilities except a speaker system and regular sensors kinda stuff; basically like the communication limitations a human has if you think about it. They said it would make it completely invulnerable to hacking. It’s actually pretty well thought-out if you ask me.

Oh, and I-matter. That’s a pretty important one. Indestructible Matter. Obviously it’s not literally indestructible, but imagine a rigid hair that can support an elephant. Literally. I saw a video they were showing in the basement of an elephant (plus the weight of the thing keeping him on it) being completely supported by something the width of a human hair. And no, it’s not carbon nanotubes; it’s stable on all axes. They won’t tell us how it’s made, but there’s this really fun-to-entertain theory I’ve heard floating around the basement that says that Monarch gets it from the outer core of the earth with two huge microwave emitters or whatever that’re stationed on opposite sides of the earth that just move the metal up to this very facility. And obviously in this theory we were wrong about what’s really in the center of the earth. But what if that’s the truth? What if they “refused to tell us”, and then leaked the rumor? Rumors are always labeled as such, so maybe they’re lying to us by telling us the truth? I think too much; no one ever thinks things out like that, at least not in the ways I think them. Besides, that’s not the only rumor about it, just the one I like the best. I probably like it the best because it means that there’s something amazing at the center of the earth, not just some common metal we already have up on the earth’s crust. Sounds metaphorical when I put it like that. Man, I can be pretty deep. Ha! Deep, like the center of the earth is deep? Anyway, no one’s ever gonna hear the puns I make in my head, so what’s the point in appreciating them myself?

Finally. I’m starting to lose consciousness.

It’s getting harder to string my thoughts together.

If there’s one time during the day where I can literally think about nothing, this is it.

But there’s always some trace of a though going on…

…I think.

Day 2

The most detestable sound in existence: that which, by its very existence, robs you of much-needed rest. What a lovely way to wake up every morning. Fucking alarm clock. I know I shouldn’t cuss, or at least not use the f-bomb so much, but no one can hear me in my own head, so does it really matter if I think it? I may wanna actually turn the alarm off. Monarch doesn’t let you snooze; either you have to get up when they make your alarm go off or keep resting. Even up top if I kept resting I would always fall back asleep, even if I tried to rev up my brain by starting to think a lot about something. So up I go in 3, 2, 1, 0. Works every time.

Up top when I had to find a way to escape the “snooze cycle,” I would try counting down from an arbitrary number, and I told myself that when I said zero, I would bolt straight up in bed. It’s never failed. Still 8:00, not yet sixty seconds since the alarm went off, even though I know that wasn’t really a siren I was hearing in my dream for a while before I was robbed of slumber (I don’t know actually, it could’ve been either kind of siren). The pilot’s’ (I don’t know where the apostrophe would need to be, whether they mean it’s a meeting of pilots or a meeting to announce the pilot) meeting is at 9:00, so they’ve given me an hour to get ready for the day and eat something. Never takes that long though. I prefer showering at night. Oh crap, I was too busy thinking about Zelda last night to remember to take a shower; kinda ironic it seems, since now I probably smell and Zelda will think of me as “that smelly guy” and never want to be around me, much less with me. Anyway, I shower at night so my morning getting-ready schedule can be of maximum efficiency. I timed it out once on some retreat I was on up top once, and the smallest amount of time it took me to get ready for the day when I had to be presentable to other people was less than two minutes. Of course I had to skip a bunch of steps, but it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re still sufficiently presentable. Does it?

Now I’m on my way to the basement to get some breakfast. I think I’ll just get some nutrition water. Technically they put every bit of nutrition you need for the day in whatever you want the 3D printer to make, cause, ya know, 3D printers!, but I’ve never been a do-anything-at-all-in-the-morning-except-keep-sleeping person, and eating is no exception to “anything.” So that’s why I just go with nutrition water for breakfast.

Breakfast. I wonder what time it actually is here. And here. Well, I can answer the question of where we are at least. We’re under Yellowstone where the Yellowstone Supercomputer is, but by now I don’t need to tell you that “weather forecasting” isn’t what it’s probably used for. They must use it for the sims, because even each blade of grass in the sim had its own physical properties like grass does in the real world. I think if I never played video games up top, my brain would be totally freaked out by how real the sims felt. In fact I had to keep associating basic functions of the Nightstalker with buttons on a keyboard just so the concept of a machine reading my thoughts didn’t freak me out too much. It didn’t work too well.

By now you might be wondering, “Well, if Monarch can make supercomputers capable of literally life-like simulations, why don’t they just make the Nightstalker autonomous?” It’s because they feel as though “to surrender control of the ultimate weapon to that which is not human would be our downfall.” (I heard Augustus say it on some promo thing I saw in the basement). BS. Monarch wants to make it autonomous; pilots cost an astronomical amount of money to train. They just need a pilot because the president would never sign off on a (land)drone like this. Not even the president we have now. That would be something that could get you impeached.

I’m looking in the direction of a clock. Crap, I really hope I wasn’t lost in thought for too long. It says 8:49. I’ll need to book it if I’m gonna make it to The Head on time.

The Head is the executive cell in the Monarch facility, where all the managerial stuff happens. It’s in the center of what I’ve deduced by now is a huge underground cube, and from the maps I’ve seen, our cell is right below The Head. Probably so they can keep a close eye on the pilot candidates. Privacy is an illusion.

I’m headed to The Head now, (crappy pun not intended) on a, well a monorail I guess, except like something you would see in a sci-fi movie. It’s crazy: if Monarch would just share their tech with everyone up top we would be decades, if not centuries ahead of where we are now according to most sci-fi stuff I’ve seen or read.

I’m not terrified of meeting Augustus, the CEO of the most powerful company in existence, ya know, what with them having built the Nightstalker and all. I’m just a little freaked out that I won’t be able to fool myself anymore into thinking that maybe there isn’t someone who can read my thoughts. But there’s someone who seems to be waiting for me as I’m exiting the monorail. “Come with me, please.” She says. This cell looks exactly like ours, except everyone is dressed so officially. And old. It makes me feel really out of place.

Now I’m walking into Augustus’s office. “Thank you, Michelle.” he says. Michelle. I have a terrible name-memory. This one’ll be easy though, because Michelle was my mother’s name up to- is my mother’s name. This place needs to stop fuckin’ messing with my head. “Have a seat, James.” he says to me after checking his watch. “Prompt as always.” How could he know that if he’d never met me b-

Oh yeah. Man this NICE shit is really freaking me out. And I was never on time for anything up top. I’m only on time for stuff down here because it seems like there’s no choice.

I wonder how many pilot candidates he’s talked with before me today, and how many he still has to talk to. Wait, I thought all the pilots were meeting toge- “You are the Nightstalker’s pilot. Always have been.” Wait, what??

“Excuse me?” Shit, I didn’t mean it to sound like that, especially not to the CEO of the company I’m working for.

“You were the only one who was ever going to be pilot. We chose you. The only reason that we selected other candidates was so that you would believe that you needed to work to prove that you could be pilot, and you worked well. Surly you understand.” Mother fucker. I hate to admit that I understand perfectly. And why was his collar so tight and high up his neck?

“So what happens to the other candidates then?”

He’s pausing, now, “We do not waste that in which we are well invested.” Bull shit answer just like I thought. This fuck is gonna murder all the candidates. I’m trying to nod as if I understand and empathize. Apparently it’s working.

“You start physical tests tomorrow. In the Nightstalker, I mean. The real one. The federal government is leaking news stories that our area of Yellowstone is being used for nuclear testing. The best part is that it’s technically true, since the Nightstalker has nukes, and you will be testing the Nightstalker in our area of Yellowstone. Just know that I am proud of you, we all are.” He gestured toward a camera, and I immediately became aware that those weren’t just big pictures of men and women in highly decorated military uniforms on the wall, especially since one of them just readjusted his posture. Mother fucker, how many people are watching me? All I can think to do is nod. Now I can’t stop thinking about what it means that all those important military people are watching me. It’s like it’s finally starting to sink it that I might- that I will actually be the pilot for the most advanced weapon system in the known universe. What the fuck am I doing? I’m 19, that can’t be right. I mean, it’s gotta be someone, but obviously I’m not the most qualified person, am I?

And why’s the CEO of Monarch looking like he’s chronically depressed while he’s saying everything to me? Or at least trying to hide how much of a downer he is.

He’s saying the kinda stuff you say right before you start saying goodbye. “Any questions?” Case and point.

“Why me?”

“Because you are the most qualified.”

“Thank you. I feel privileged to have met with you.” BS, it just seems like the most appropriate thing to be saying.

I’m turning around and walking out. It’s occurring to me that maybe he wasn’t finished talking. But no one’s stopped me yet, so I’m gonna keep walking. Screw this guy and his fake “I understand” smile.

Oh shit. Obviously I can’t tell any of the candidates that they’re dead, because then they would just kill them sooner. Plus Joe’s the only guy here who I even know for sure is a pilot, er, candidate. For all I know, they’re all dead now anyway, so that it’s impossible for me to tell them. That must be why I had to come to The Head for a trip that Augustus could’ve easily taken to our district. Mother f- ya know what, I know there’s a worse one I could call him, but even though I don’t like using that word at all, I can at least call him it in my head. That cu-

…t my thoughts short why don’t ya, monorail brakes? There must be something unexpected going on, because the monorail didn’t brake that suddenly when it stopped at The Head. But I’m back at cell 42. Home for now. Or at least where I’m living. I have Freedom until tomorrow when I start training (no one knows when their alarm will go off the next morning, but Monarch “assures” you that “you’re actual sleep schedule is taken into account, regardless the time zone of the cell in which you have been placed.” Bull shit. They never give me enough sleep). I don’t wanna see any people now, because as long as I have no evidence to support my theory that all the candidates are dead or otherwise damned, then there’s still a possibility that I just might be wrong. To my room it is then.

I can do internet stuffs. I know it seems like I’m running away from my own head, but I just can’t think about that…well, you know what I want to call him. That demon. I can’t think about that right now, and the internet never ceases to amaze me with how well it can cheer me up if I let it. Most people don’t seem to realize what the internet is, but here’s my philosophy:

The internet is as close to “heaven” as humans could ever get on earth. I don’t think I believe in an afterlife, at least not like that, but let me explain. The thing about the internet is that everyone’s as connected to each other as possible (well, as connected as they make themselves) and the more connected someone is, not only the more information they can acquire, humorous or otherwise, but the more information they can share if they deem it relevant to someone in their lives. Which could be anybody, because everybody’s on the internet, so you never know until you post something.

Except I can never really interact on the internet down here. Monarch makes it virtually impossible (as in literally impossible in the virtual world) to do anything but observe as if you were an internet user with no accounts of any sort. Obviously I understand why they do this, because technically I don’t exist anymore, and Monarch never has, but it still sucks. At least I can still watch.

And yeah, I’ll say it: porn is an insult to the people who designed the internet. You’re telling me, out of practically all knowledge and fiction ever perceived or conceived by the human race, you choose to watch people you’ll never know have sex? Just so that it makes jerking off “better”? That just feels immoral. Not necessarily the porn itself, but not using the internet for the purpose for which it was built. I mean get it together you animals.

…nope? OK. I guess no one can hear me. Because if someone was listening real time to my NICE then I know whoever it was wouldn’t have been able to resist putting in his two-cents about whatever “precious internet porn” he might even be watching rig- ok, that’s gross. Suffice it to say I know I’m the only one down here with this philosophy.

I’m in my room again. It’s amazing how you can go on autopilot when you’re lost in thought, because I honestly couldn’t tell you for the life of me what I saw on the walk back here. Anyway, internet it is. So I’m turning on my computer, and now I’m noticing an intercell notification from Joe. He says to meet in the chair room (you know, those really ergonomic chairs?) ASAP. I really hope it actually is him, and not some trap for Monarch to ensnare me in my own desire to meet with my only friend down here (I hope Zelda will be a friend) but I have to go anyway. If Joe actually is there, then obviously he’s got something to talk about, and if not, it’s not like there’s any escape from Monarch anyway. I am literally living in their own locked, underground cube.

I’m power walking to the chair room so that I do, in fact, get there ASAP without having to draw too much attention to myself by running before I’m in the weapons depot where no one ever is. And now I’m climbing the fence again. Oh, sweet Jesus (I don’t actually believe in Jesus, but it’s the kind of thing you can’t resist saying regardless) Joe actually is here.

“I made pilot.”

Wait. I didn’t say that. Did I? Yeah, Joe’s lips moved just now, but that can’t be right. Augustus’s lying to somebody. Obviously.

“What?” is all I can think to say.

“You heard me.” he’s saying, smiling, but you could tell he’s more conflicted than anything. At least he’s trying to put on a show.

“That’s impossible, I literally just got back from a meeting with Augustus where he said I was made pilot. Wait, was your meeting a one-on-one thing too?”

“Well there was some assistant secretary thingy person there.”

“So yes.”


It occurred to me: “You’ve never told me the name of the weapon you’ve been training for, have you?”

“I don’t think we’ve ever talked about the names.”

“Mine’s Nightstalker.”

“Then dude, one of us is fucked, because they said I was the pilot…for Sentry.” Joe’s so dead. I gotta do something. Unless I’m the dead one? What is going on??

The last thing I can make out before zoning out is that he’s saying something along the lines of “I go up top in five hours.”

It might have occurred to you by now that people down here really don’t talk about the jobs they currently have for Monarch, aside from Zelda asking if I was a pilot. My theory is that it’s too much for people to handle talking about. ‘Cause from what I’ve seen, everybody thinks working here is about as pleasant as being GLaDOS’s almost-not-analogous lab rat. And that’s what it does feel like, to be honest. Like my sims were just GLaDOS’s test chambers, except with an infinite number of outcomes and with a much more real, and even darker bad guy: the real world. Except those were simulations. They were more like dreams than anything else, though: you controlling another physical version of yourself you believe to be real, only until you wake up and find that the real you is just a worthless sack of meat. Except I’m a pilot.

There’s gotta be something I can do tomorrow about Augustus killing everybody. After all, I will be a god amongst men in what is designed to be able to kill any and all who oppose its will. And now Augustus opposes my will. Only problem will be getting down here once they put me in Nightstalker (if it even exists, if any of the weapons ever existed; all I know is that Augustus is a liar). They’ll probably knock me out to get me up top so that I don’t know where anything is. But it won’t matter, I’ll be able to do anything I want once I’m inside Nightstalker (assuming Monarch doesn’t, like, tell my NICE to fry my head or something by then). I’m done thinking like this for the day. Talk to you tomorrow.

Day 3

And now I’m inside Nightstalker. I can finally hunt down that deceptive fuck. I know what the objective is, to save some hostages half way around the world (so why didn’t they just fly me over there already?) and it doesn’t actually make sense. Augu- I think I just answered my own question: “Augustus said they were going to be tests. Not real missions half way around the real friggin world. I guess they don’t give a flying fuck if I’m not ready to make sure I don’t accidentally kill innocents. But rescuing those hostages is not my priority right now. Those hostages have their own problems, I have mine. Let’s hunt down this bastard. I’m switching to x-ray to see underground. The x-ray on the Nightstalker goes as far as the maximum distance humans can see at sea level with clear weather, which actually doesn’t sound like the engineers were being too arbitrary if you as-

There it is, several kilometers south. Except it’s not shaped like a cube: it’s a damn skeleton. Under a mother fuckin’ volcano. With a huge skull and creepily long limbs and fingers, kinda like the roots of a tree. That’s why they call it The Head then; I was literally in that mother fucker’s sk-

That’s one crazy earthquake.

Anyway, that’s what I’ll attack first, the head. Except it’s dissolving. That doesn’t make sense. The center of the earth is opening up and the dust from the dissolving skeleton is falling back into the center of the earth from where it came if the theory is corr-


Wait a minute.

How did I get here? I can’t remember. Not only that, but the whole skull situation doesn’t abide by what I’m realizing now to be the laws of physics, which could only mean one thin- …of course my alarm is going off right when I start to have a lucid dream. As always.

Well that was terrifying. I usually don’t wake up feeling terrified, but apparently I’m shaking and sweating a lot, so I suppose I had a legit nightmare. I can’t remember the last time I had a nightmare. Anyway, like always, I have an hour to get ready for what my slave drivers require of me. It’s never not an hour, it’s just that I’m so mentally removed when I’m abruptly woken up that I have to reacquaint myself with the concept of time every time I’m woken up. 9:01. What comes next? 9:02 if I remember correctly. And then it keeps going up at regular intervals. I think I got it. (This only happens when my sleep dep gets really bad; I probably only slept like two hours last night).

Holy shit! Joe said five hours yesterday! Either he’s dead, or I have no idea what I’m talking about. If he is dead, then they may have deleted his Monarch file. Except they know I’m smart enough to check that kind of thing, so it wouldn’t matter anyway. I can try this though: I’m typing an intercell message to Joe: “If I bring gasoline for my bullets, what do you bring?” Hasn’t seen it yet, obviously. The likelihood of him being in front of a computer screen the moment I just sent this is astronomicall-

Well. Shows how much I know. He’s seen it. He’s typing.

In text format, obviously: “Are you saying you wanna burn down the chair room now?” I suppose that’s as close to validation that it’s really him as I can get with only words on a screen to confirm. I can try a video chat. I’m hailing him. He just answered.

And what the heck is this? This isn’t his laptop webcam. The angle is all over the place and blurry, and yet it’s like everything in the image is as far down the uncanny valley as you can get. And everything’s all dark and smouldery. There’s only one explanation for this that makes any sense, especially since I can remember practically everything from my nightmare. The NICE is some scary shit. “Joe, you’re dreaming. Wake up. Try to think of the laws of physics and mathematics and time and how you got here.” I’m watching the image slowly fade into what I know to be coming from his laptop’s webcam as I’m saying this. That doesn’t even seem possible. What the fuck has Monarch been doing to us?

“Oh, James. I was just dreaming about you actuall-“

“No you weren’t.”

“Soooo…that was really you in my dream? Creeper. Because…holy shit. You really did just chat me up on the intercell, didn’t you?” He’s just noticing whatever’s on his screen.

“If the word ‘dream’ even means anything anymore.”

“What are we?” I have no mother effing idea (I’ve been cussing too much).

Now we’re talking about what my physical training might be like. And it turns out he had a nightmare last night too. About his weapon. And about saving innocents. Hold on a second. “Joe, how early did you go to sleep last night?”

“Pretty early is all I can remember. Like, maybe…dude. I never went to physical training yesterday, I just got dead tired.” He just figured it out too.

“Joe, do you remember getting any sleep in the sim chamber?”

“I don’t remember sleeping per se, but I do remember that I had problems sleeping.” We both knew exactly what we were saying. This is beyond messed up. Monarch robs you of the one time you have to yourself to rest to force you to do their dirty work and they never even tell you? Who do they think they are?

Just in case I’m being too vague here: we were asleep in the sim chambers. The whole time. The NICE must adapt whatever brain waves you emit when you’re having REM sleep, so that Monarch has complete control over what you do; so your physical body can’t get in the way.

Ya know what? I’m gonna play their game. And I’m gonna destroy them with it. Because they have inadvertently created me to be the most powerful weapon in existence; I’m Nightstalker’s only pilot.

I should probably mention that Joe and I have been ignoring official hails from The Head since I tried to wake him up. I expect people will be kicking down our doors any second.

“We were hoping we didn’t have to do this, but apparently you’re even more a heartless monster than you were when we picked you.” Coming from my laptop, I thi-