A ReBoot: Project Metaverse fic

by D^Knight

All things ReBoot are property of Mainframe Entertainment. All other things are property of their respective owners. Any resemblance to anything else is totally coincidental.

Any and all songs are property of their respective owners.

And of course, the game Quake, which the game in the fic borrows heavily from, is from id Software.

Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.

Timeline: This takes place sometime at the end of March 2499.

Rating: Bloody in some parts.

The Solar Heart Bar had become something of a gathering place for the Guardians attached to System Anrev's police station.

Several factors contributed to this. For one thing, the bar was within easy walking distance from the station; for another, the drinks served were incredible. Besides, there was this really cute sprite girl with a great singing voice, who played old twentieth-century songs on an ancient piano there, and while she seemed to have someone else in mind already, it didn't hurt to at least listen to her talent, did it? Heh, heh.

Krissie was chording idly with her right hand, while giving her left a rest. She checked her chrono. 2324h. Her contract stated that she had to stay on until midnight, when she could either continue or leave. Since she was paid by the hour, she usually chose to stay on.

She looked around the bar. The only people around whom she recognized, apart from Mike, were Sylvia, Luka and Mae. All three were at the bar counter, talking animatedly about something or other. Sylvia held a glass of tequila, Mae was enjoying a mug of beer, while Luka partook of some mineral water.

"Hey," she called to them. "Anyone seen Jason around?"

Sylvia shrugged. "He said he had some work to do at the station. He'll probably be arriving soon."

Luka looked worriedly out of the window. "I hope he doesn't get wet from the rain," she said. The weather generator had been giving them showers for a long time now, in an effort to emulate the rainy season.

"Don't worry," Mae said. "He's not stupid enough to forget to bring an umbrella field."

Almost on cue, the door was flung open, and Jason ran inside the bar, totally drenched.

"Then again," Mae chuckled, "maybe he is..."

"Very funny," Jason grumbled, walking over to the counter. "Beer, bottle. No need for the glass."

Krissie grinned at him, and started playing a familiar tune.

"Oh, gods," Jason groaned. "This is bad enough without that..."

Krissie ignored him, and started singing, much to the amusement of the bar's populace.

"Raindrops keep falling on my head,
Just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed,
Nothing seems to fit,
Those raindrops keep falling on my head, they keep falling..."

Jason glared at her. "Funny. Very, very funny."

"So I just did me some talking to the sun,
And I said I didn't like the way he got things done,
Sleeping on the job,
Those raindrops keep falling on my head, they keep falling..."

Jason looked around. "Where's Stella?"

Mae scowled. "With Chris. Where else?"

"Okay... so are they in a restaurant, watching a movie, what?"

"Bets that they're in Chris's apartment," Luka piped up.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Mae said sourly.

"You can't mother her forever," Sylvia told her. "Besides, you're only eight years older than her."

"How about a big sister bossing her little sister around?" Jason suggested. He received a bop on the head for that. "Jeez, alright, I'll shut up."

"But there's one thing I know,
The blues they send to meet me won't defeat me,
It won't be long 'till happiness steps up to greet me..."

"Maybe you need someone as well," Luka suggested.

"What do you mean?" Mae asked.

"Well, the best way to find out how someone else feels is to experience the same emotions as them. So maybe if you found someone, then you can empathize with how Stella feels for Chris."

"I'm not going to find a boyfriend!" Mae almost shouted. "It's pointless and it's a waste of time. End of discussion."

She settled into a brooding silence. Only Luka caught the almost imperceptible glance at Jason, who was oblivious to the conversation.

"Raindrops keep falling on my head,
But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red,
Crying's not for me, 'cos,
I'm never gonna stop the rain by complaining,
Because I'm free...
Nothing's worrying me...
Nothing's worrying me..."

Stella picked her way through the mess that was Chris's apartment.

"Don't you ever clean up?" she asked.

Chris walked through the various heaps of equipment with a practised ease. "Why?"

"Well, the place will look neater. And you can find your stuff quicker."

"I don't really care how this place looks, as long as it's usable. And I found that this arrangement is the most convenient for working. Besides, I know exactly where each and every project of mine is."

Stella picked up a strange box-like contraption. "What's this?"

"That's an experimental food replicator."

Stella blinked once. "A what?

"An experimental food replicator. It's still got a few bugs in it."

Stella carefully placed it back down. "You do know that you can sell the design for this for a lot of money. A lot of money."

"Why would I want to do that?"

Stella looked at him helplessly.

"Look, if I sell the design, then everyone will know that I'm the inventor who... well... designed it. That will lead to me being drafted into some secret research lab, where I won't be able to invent anything without some suit breathing down my neck."

"Then why invent it in the first place?"

"Scientific curiousity."

Oh. "You mentioned some bugs..."

"Well, I input the recipes of various foods inside. Chemical composition, protein structure, everything. Problem is, whatever comes out is nothing like those foods."

"What do you mean?"

"I scanned the result. It's full of nutrients, vitamins, and is harmless to every race, be it human, sprite or Anthro. In fact, it's beneficial to all of them."

"The problem is?"

"The problem is, no matter what I ask for, the result is always a blueish gunk that tastes like crap."

"I... see." She picked up a large tubular object. "What's this?"

"Man-portable particle projection cannon. You know how normal PP cannons require the user to have a special suit, to prevent burns from the plasma? This eliminates the need for that by basically extending the barrel, using an electromagnetic tunnel."


"But the power consumption is still too prohibitive."

"What about this?"

"Adhesive. I was going for a super-strong adhesive that was relatively cheap to make, but no success so far. That one's not as strong as the military grade adhesive, but it's cheaper, and it's a damn good glue."

"This one?"

"Air purifier. Analyzes the chemical composition of any noxious or poisonous gases, and converts it to a harmless form, mostly oxygen. All done in nanoseconds. Problem is, it needs a hell of a lot of power to run."

"And this?"

"Basic exoskeletonal suit. Increases the wearer's strength and mobility by up to twenty times, and one energy cell can last a few years, longer than most existing suits. It's cheap to make, too."

"Problem is?"

"Problem is, I ran out of materials. And I'm not going to ask the military for supplies."

Stella looked at Chris, who was uncovering a strange-looking contraption. "Now what?"

"This," Chris gestured to the device, "was what I called you here for."

"This" turned out to be a large machine, basically three chairs on a pedestal. The chairs were of the recliner type, obviously scrounged from somewhere. One of the chairs was facing the opposite direction as the other two, and had a control pedestal with a console in front of it. The other two chairs had some sort of headset attached.

"You like playing games, right?" Chris asked.

"Well... yes."

"This will revolutionise the game industry. No more dummy systems, no more expensive setups. Just one operator needed, and you can end up in your own 3D game world."

Stella grinned. "Cool."

"I have to ask you a big favour now. This machine has never been tested, and so I'm asking you to be my first playtester. Do you want the job?"

Stella was already climbing onto the chair. "What do you think?"

"Thank you!"

"You're welcome. Now what?"

"Put the headset on. Those two panels over your eyes. Right, now, just relax..."

"Um... Chris?"


"I can see numbers in front of me, and they won't go away even when I close my eyes."

"Numbers? Green, digital numbers? At double zero?"


"That's normal. It's supposed to give you the countdown, but I haven't started it yet. First, safety tests. Take the headset off."

Stella did so. "Yeah?"

"Any adverse reactions? Dizziness, nausea, flashing lights?"

"Nope. When can we start?"

"Right now, if you want. We've ascertained that there's no adverse effects to wearing the headset."

"Bring it on." Stella replaced the headset, and watched as the glowing numbers counted down from ten... nine... eight...

"Synchronization is normal," she could hear Chris saying. "All readings are in the green."

Five... four... three...

"Loading... loaded."

Two... one...

"And... action!"

The world dissolved.

Stella was in a grassy plain.

At least, it looked like a grassy plain. She could see the horizon somewhere in the distance. The sky was a clear blue, without any clouds. It appeared to be daytime, although there was no obvious form of lighting; even the sun was nowhere to be seen.

Stella knelt down, and plucked a blade of grass. It derezzed in her hand, and she could see the blade reforming around the stump.

The grassy plain was just that; grass. Short grass, without the smell of the real thing. Just grass, without flowers or trees, as far as the eye could see.

"This is boring," she commented.

A voice said, "I'm just calibrating the program."

Stella blinked, and tapped the side of her head. Chris had sounded as though he was speaking inside her brain. "And now?"

"Now, we get you out. Say 'Exit program'."

"Exit program," Stella duly repeated.

Stella removed the headset. "That's it?"

"How're you feeling?" Chris asked her, looking her over.

"Just dandy. Was that the entire test?"

"More or less. I still have to test the device when it's running a game, but that's too risky."

Stella shook her head. "Try it now."

"With you?! But... I can't!"

"Look, I take worse risks than this every time I go after a bounty. This is nothing."

Chris looked at her for a long time. "You know that if something goes horribly wrong, I may not be able to pull you out in time. I can't take that sort of risk with your life."

"Chris, just hook me up. Now."

He sighed, and complied. "You should know that this is against my wishes."

"Whatever." The counter started ticking down.

"Why do you want to do this so badly anyway?"

"Because I want to. Is there any other reason?"

Sigh. "No, I guess not."

The world dissolved again.

Back to the grassy plain.

Stella put her hands on her hips. "What IS this place, anyway?"

Chris's disembodied voice sounded in her head. "An aborted effort at a game setting. 'Golf', I believe it was called."

"Whatever. So when does the action start?"

"It depends. What sort of game do you want to play?"

"What do you have?"

"Let's see... first-person shooter, first-person space battle, first-person swords-and-sorcery."

"All first-person?"

"Well, that is one of the advantages of this way of playing games."

"Well then, I'd go with the shooter."

"Right... downloading..."

The world warped, and changed...

From a grassy plain, Stella was now in a sort of military complex that had obviously seen better days. The walls were grimy, and had large blast marks in places.

"The objective of the game is to kill all the mutants and robots," Chris said.


"Don't worry. It's a bit like imagining yourself punching someone. Although this is slightly more drastic than that."


"That's the entire basis of this invention. It prods your brain to imagine things so well that it seems real. That's why it doesn't need dummy systems; it's basically a safe form of neural suggestion. At least, I hope it's safe."

"I see. So how do I kill the things? With my bare hands?"

A pistol materialized in front of her. Stella picked it up. "Not very impressive."

"I'm giving you all the weapons, solely for testing purposes. See those numbers on the side?"

Stella checked. "They're all lighted up."

"That means that you have them in your 'inventory'. Press each button to find out what you have."

Stella pressed the number '2'. Immediately, the pistol began enlongating, and Stella found herself holding a shotgun. '3' caused the shotgun to expand, becoming a Super Shotgun. '4' gave her a machinegun, '5' was a rocket launcher, '6' was a plasma cannon, and '7' was a Gauss rifle. "That's all?" she asked.

"Well, I didn't want to commit myself too much. By the way, you can pick up powerups by touching them. You can jump quite high, and run quite fast without tiring. Another thing; even if you get shot, you won't feel any pain. You can take three shots before it's game over."

"What happens then?"

"You'll find yourself in limbo. Total blackness. Just say 'Exit program' to return to reality. Or 'Restart Game' to go back to the game world."

"Got it. So where are the monsters?"

"You'll have to hunt them down yourself. Good luck."

Stella was getting bored.

"Chris, these things are just standing around doing nothing. They're not even shooting back."

"I'm still working on the combat AI. It should be done soon."

"And what's this little red mark on my arm?"

"That means that one of those not-shooting-back monsters shot at you, and hit. Guess you weren't careful that time."

"Ha ha ha. I might as well let them shoot me." She waved at a robot. "Hey, stupid! I'm over here!"

The robot looked at her for a full second before responding, firing into her chest at point-blank range.

"Didn't feel a thing, but there's another mark on my arm. Kinda creepy."

"Stella, get yourself shot again. I want to see if the endgame works."

"Fine." She stood still, letting the robot fire at her. Suddenly, she couldn't see a thing. "Chris? It's totally black here."

"Yeah, that's the game over screen. Just get out of there."

"Fine. Exit program."

Stella held the headset between her thumb and index finger. "That would have been fun if the enemies were smarter."

Chris looked up at her, pausing in his editing of the game code. "Actually, that can be arranged."


"I can increase the level of the game AI. Well, actually, I can increase the overall difficulty of the game."

"Really? Then let's do it."

"Not this time. I don't want to risk you any more than I already have."

"Chris, I've been in your contraption, and I've come out of it very much alive. So please, quit being so paranoid!"

Chris grimaced. "This is definitely against my better judgement," he muttered, as Stella put on the headset again.

"Just do it," Stella said. The counter started its countdown.

The world dissolved yet again.

Stella grinned as she hefted her Super Shotgun. "Excellent."

"I'm downloading the increased intelligence code now... ah, crap."


"The program won't accept it. It's too complicated."

"Can't you do anything?"

"Well... I could change the mission objectives somewhat. Instead of killing the robots and mutants until there are none left, you have to kill their commander now."

"Commander? What does he look like?"

"I have no idea. That'll be up to your brain to decide. Think of a possible avatar now."

Stella tried to think of the most appropriate form the commander could take. After a moment of thought, a face came to mind. "Okay, I've got it."

"Good. Initialising code now... got it. What did you think of, anyway?"

Stella shuddered. "I'd rather not say."

"Suit yourself. Happy hunting."

A girl materialized in the game world, and looked around.

"What a dump," she said, wrinkling her nose. "And I'm supposed to stay here until that twerp comes." She stood there for a moment, arms akimbo. "Well? Where are you, mindless minions?"

A large group of monsters appeared. "Input command," one of them said.

The girl laughed. "'Input command'. Well, that's a hoot. Who programmed you, anyway?"

"Parameters unspecified."

"You guys are a riot. I think I'm going to enjoy this. Where's my weapon?" The girl tapped her foot as an elongated tube appeared before her, hanging in mid-air. "Gauss rifle. Nah, I want something smaller. Like a pistol. But with the same power."

The rifle shortened, and turned into a small but deadly-looking weapon. "A Gauss pistol," the girl said, grasping it. "Lovely."

"Heavy losses are reported at Level 2," one of the monsters said.

The girl's expression darkened. "Stella's beginning to get on my nerves. Sending you goons to meet her would be pointless. But..." she smiled an evil smile, "if I could tweak the game settings just a bit... just a teeny bit..."

"Input command," the first monster said.

"Oh, shut up," the girl snapped, and blew his head off.

Stella noticed something wrong. "Chris, I thought you said I wouldn't be tired from running all the time."

"You won't." Chris sounded puzzled. "Must be a glitch in the programming. Get back here, and we'll see what's wrong."

"Why? Can't you fix it now?"

"In this sort of game program glitches are not to be taken lightly."

"Oh, alright." Stella took a deep breath. "Exit program."

Nothing happened.

"Exit program," Stella repeated.

Still nothing.

"End game."

A lack of events.


"Something's wrong, something's very wrong." Chris sounded panicky. "I'm locked out of the game controls!"


"'Access denied', it keeps saying. Someone's taking over the game!"

"A hacker?"

"Impossible, this device is completely isolated. It's... it's... ah, crap."

"What? What?!"

"I got into the game controls, but I can't change a thing. I can see all the changes, though. All the special abilities like jumping and some such are neutralized; you're basically left with whatever real-life skill you have. And you take one direct shot before it's game over."

"One DIRECT shot?"

"If you get hit in the leg, you lose the leg. Get hit in the arm, lose the arm. Get hit in the chest, lose the game."

"Perfect. Just perfect. What happens then?"

"I have no idea. Brain wipe, maybe."


"Listen, I'm going to try to get you out of the-*crackle*"

"Chris? Chris, you're breaking up."

"*bzzzzt*-n there... *krsssshh*-ing help... *cracklecrackle*-od luck-*ksssssssssssss*"

"Chris? Chris?"

Chris sat back in his control seat, beads of sweat running down his face.

He needed someone to get in the game to help Stella get out. That person had to be a sprite; Chris didn't know whether the device worked on organic brains. And that person had to be good enough to take out whatever avatar Stella had chosen for the AI.

Almost on autopilot, Chris reached for the portable vidphone. He switched it on. "Connect to... the Solar Heart Bar. Audio only."

The phone bleeped as the call was connected. "Solar Heart Bar, Michael Lennox speaking."

"Mike, this is Chris. I..." His throat was dry, and he attempted to get some saliva into his mouth. He tried again.

"Mike, get me Krissie."

Krissie looked at Chris's apartment.

"What a dump," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"There's no time for that," Chris said, still working furiously at his console. Without stopping his work, he briefly outlined what had happened, and what Krissie was supposed to do.

"So you want me to get inside that game world, and stop whatever the avatar is," Krissie said.

"Yes. The seat's right here. Hurry; we don't have much time."

"Hang on. What makes you think that I'll help you in the first place?"

Chris stared at her.

Stella crept along the corridors, on the verge of panic.

A voice made her freeze. "Look who's here."

Stella spun around, and saw her opponent leaning nonchalantly against the wall. "You!"

"In the flesh," the girl said. "Or at least, as much as an AI avatar can be in the flesh. I'd love to talk some more, but the mission objectives say that I have to kill you."

Stella responded by firing her shotgun. Unfortunately, the girl wasn't there anymore.

"Tacky," came her voice from above. Stella looked up, and saw the girl hanging from the wall, using her nails to hold on. "I expected more out of you, but then you are just a sprite."

Stella yelped, loosed a rocket at the girl, and ran for her life.

The girl dropped from the wall just as the rocket impacted. She landed gracefully, and glanced at the direction Stella had run off to.

"This should be fun," she said to herself.

"Look," Krissie said, "if I let Stella get herself deleted, then there's one less obstacle between you and me, hm?"

"How can you think like that?! This is someone's life at stake here!"

"A life that doesn't really matter to me."

Chris deflated. "Okay, you win. What do you want from me?"

"Ah, this is the part where I get interested. Simply put, I want a date. With you. I'll confirm the exact time later, but I still want your word that you'll go out with me."

"Damn it, how can you think of a date at a time like this?"

Krissie unconcernedly inspected her nails. "I'm waiting."

Chris sighed. "Fine, you've got a deal. A date with you."

"I knew you'd see things my way." Krissie climbed onto the chair. "Now what?"

"Now you honour your part of the bargain."

Krissie looked critically at her gun. "Not very impressive."

"Don't worry about it." Chris's voice quickly gave her the rundown on how to use the gun. "So switch to whatever weapon you like."

Krissie pressed the number '6', and got the plasma cannon. "Uh-huh. So where's Stella?"

"I don't know."

"Incredible. So what do I do now?"

"Now, you hunt down the AI construct. Find it, and kill it. Then, use the end procedure code." A small bomb-like object appeared in Krissie's hand. "I just programmed it. It's supposed to get all non-game characters out of the game world."

Krissie pocketed the bomb. "So. I kill the AI, and then use the bomb. Sounds easy enough."

"Keep in mind that the monsters are out for all the players' blood. That includes you. In addition, the AI avatar probably knows that you're here. Be on the alert."

"What does the AI look like?"

"I don't know. Stella didn't tell me."

Krissie sighed. "Wonderful. Lay on, Macduff."

Stella ran down the long and musty corridor, panting hard.

She skidded to a halt when she saw a figure dead ahead.


Stella screamed, and fired a barrage of rockets.

Krissie spotted Stella at the end of a long corridor. "Hey, St- OH SHIT..."

She barely managed to dive out of the way as seven rockets impacted into the wall behind her. She braced herself for the sharpnel and the shockwave. "What the bloody hell?!"

"Krissie? What happened?"

Krissie shook her head in bewilderment. "Oh, nothing. It's just that your girlfriend tried to toast me!"

"But why would she- oh, I see."

"Enlighten me."

"I asked her to provide a suitable form for the avatar. She must have chosen you as an appropriate form."

"Now you tell me. Now you tell me." Krissie sighed in resignation. "So now I'm in a game world, trying to save my rival from being brainwiped, while said rival thinks that I'm the enemy and is trying to kill me. And there's a double of me somewhere who won't hesitate to kill the both of us. Everything's just peachy."


"And you. You owe me BIG for this, buddy."

Throughout gaming history, players have always relied on one basic rule, especially applicable to first-person shoot'em ups.

Well, they don't always rely on that one particular rule, but it's still an important rule nonetheless.

That rule is fairly easy to remember, but quite difficult to carry out.

When one is running around looking for something, never, ever, get oneself lost.

Under normal circumstances, if anyone had actually told Krissie that, she would have laughed at them.

Now, however, she would have killed them.

"Where the hell am I now?!" she hollered to the world in general. "Chris, isn't there an automap function?"

"I, er, didn't want to commit myself too much, so..."

"So you didn't put it in? That's it, you owe me for this BIG time!"

Krissie turned a corner at high speed, and blasted the mutant who happened to be standing there. Her half-virus physiology had given her more stamina, more speed and more agility than the average sprite, but it hadn't done anything for her temper. Besides, while it gave her more of each attribute, but there were limits. Krissie was beginning to tire, and when she gets tired, she gets annoyed rather easily.

"Chris, what happens if the avatar kills me?"

"I don't know. I really don't know. This wasn't supposed to happen in the first place."

Krissie slowed to a halt, and leant against a wall, catching her breath. "Frankly, I'm sick of hearing you say that. This was not supposed to happen, but it did. So. What are you planning to do about it?"

"I am doing something about it." Chris sounded nettled. "I've been trying to get control of the game for who knows how long. The AI avatar hacked into the controls. It hacked into the fraggin' controls!"

"So what can it do?"

"Plenty. Even if I manage to get back into the game code, there's no way I can change anything without the AI knowing about it. So no matter what I do, the AI can still get an advantage some way or another."

"Your point?"

"My point being, that the avatar can move faster, punch harder, last longer, and shoot better than you. Don't get into a straight fire-fight; it'll be hopeless."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"Outsmart the AI. Snipe at it. Shoot at it from safety. Do something that ensures Stella's survival."

"And mine, of course."

"Yeah, that too."

Krissie smiled grimly. "Survival is the first thing on my mind, believe me."

There is another ground rule, specific to first-person games that involve projectile weapons.

Always move around. An unmoving target is a sitting duck.

Only the faint click of a weapon cocking saved Krissie. She immediately ducked and rolled, while the depleted uranium slug buried itself in the wall.

"Who's there?" Krissie shouted. Stupid question, really, there were only two other people in the game. Two other people who mattered; the monsters and such wouldn't have taken such a shot.

She glared at where she thought the slug had come from. It was a ledge, totally covered in shadow. Anything on that ledge would have been invisible to anyone elsewhere. A perfect sniper's patch.

Krissie snarled, and switched to the rocket launcher. She started firing wildly in the general direction of the slug's origin. A grunt indicated that one of the rockets had hit, or its shockwave had. Krissie homed in on the source of the sound, switched to the plasma cannon, and started spraying that area.

A figure dropped from the ledge, clutching its side. "Not bad," it wheezed. Sprite blood dripped through its fingers.

Krissie straightened up. "So you're the avatar."

The figure laughed, an eerily chilling sound in that it was in Krissie's exact voice. "That's right. I guess you can call me Kris. But then, that would be easily confusable with your darling Christopher, right? So I suppose I should be Kristy."

"How the hell did you know all that?"

Kristy cocked her head to one side. "I'm you, remember. Well, I'm actually Stella's perception of you. All psychotic and obsessive. It's such a lovely feeling."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Why? I want to survive. After all, survival is the first thing on my mind." Kristy smiled innocently. "I just want to ensure my continued existence, which implies that Stella must soon give up hers."

"You're whacked."

"On the contrary. I am still an AI, no matter what Stella thinks of you. I still have a rational mind, even if it is tempered with the psychotic tendencies that you exhibit, or so Stella believes."

"And you're still standing here, talking to me, instead of putting a hole in my head."

"Killing you isn't going to get me anywhere. You'll just go back to the Game Over screen, and then come back to bug me. No, it's going to be more fun to bait you. And kill Stella, of course, but that's another matter."

"What happens if you kill Stella?"

"I don't rightly know. Maybe her body'll die. Maybe she'll become a brainwipe. Maybe she'll be stuck in here, where I can kill her again and again and again. Say, maybe I'll go into her head. It must be interesting to walk around in another person's body, feeling and touching and experiencing for real, rather than being in this stupid game, where the only people I meet want to put a projectile in my brain."

"Like what I'm about to do now."

"Oh, did you think that it was that easy?" Kristy inspected her nails in an eerie imitation of Krissie's frequent habit. "I heal fast. Really fast. I wonder what happened to the wound you just gave me?"

Krissie blanched as she saw that her double was unscathed. Her clothes weren't even torn.

"Convinced now?" Kristy twirled her Gauss pistol in one hand. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I really must be going. There's a pest who needs to be eliminated, you understand." With that, she disappeared.

Sort of. Krissie could see that she had leapt back onto the ledge, almost too fast for the normal eye to catch. From the ledge, Kristy could have gotten anywhere.

Krissie swore, and started running again. I've got to stop that maniacal bitch from killing Stella, she thought.

Then again, that maniacal bitch is me...

Several dead robots later, Krissie chanced upon Stella again.

"It's me, dammit!" she hollered as Stella loosed rocket after rocket at her.

"I know!" Stella shouted back. "That's why I'm trying to kill you!"

"Chris!" Krissie shouted to that voice in her head. "How do you usually calm Stella down?"

There was no immediate answer.


"I heard you... I'm busy trying to get back into the game systems! I'll cut contact with you for now, to free up more memory resources... good luck."

"Chris? Chris, don't leave me here! Chris! Your girlfriend's going postal on me! Chris!!"

It was several minutes later.

Krissie clutched the wall for support, gasping for breath. "When I get out of this... I'm definitely asking... for more than a date..."

"How sweet. You're going on a date. Mind if I join in?"

Kristy dropped from the ceiling. Krissie glared at her. "What are you planning to do?" she said, still too winded from fleeing Stella.

"I don't know. Maybe if I manage to escape to the Net, I can have some fun. Of course, anything that I do will be pinned on you, but them's the breaks, I guess."

"Go to hell."

"I'm shocked. Is that any way to talk to... well, yourself? I suppose you should know that I found an interesting thing while I was messing up Christopher's game code. It's a small trap door, which leads to the outside world. I have no idea what it's doing there; Chris wouldn't have put that in himself. But it's there all the same, in the source code. Unless Chris demolishes his machine right now, there's nothing stopping me from escaping to the Net. So you see, no matter what you do, I'll still survive."

"You won't be so confident once I ram a Gauss rifle up your ASCII."

"I love it when you talk dirty. But what you're shooting will only be the avatar, not the real AI." Kristy put her hand to her cheek in a mock gesture of shock. "Alas, I must leave you now. Stella's still alive, and I intend to remedy that situation very soon."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Why? You stand there and ask why? You should know better than me. After all, I am you."

"You're just an AI, twisted to be Stella's perception of me. You admitted it yourself."

"True, true. Which goes to show just how much Stella seems to think you're out to get her. And perceptions usually have some basis of truth in them, no matter how subjective they are. So, how well are you dealing with your homicidal instincts at the moment?"

Krissie transformed her gun into a Gauss rifle. "Not very well. In fact, I have this irresistable urge to vent. On you."

"Not that easy, lovely lady. Not that easy." With uncanny speed, Kristy dodged the uranium slug, and fired several times in Krissie's direction, forcing her to take cover.

When Krissie emerged from her hiding place, the avatar was gone. Krissie swore, and ran back down the corridor to where Stella had been.

When Krissie arrived at the scene, Stella was already fighting Kristy. And losing badly.

So badly, in fact, that while Kristy was totally unscathed, Stella was bruised, bleeding, and choking. That last was due to the fact that Kristy was holding the sprite girl in a stranglehold.

Krissie couldn't see any other option. Shooting at Kristy would mean that Stella would have a fair chance of getting hit as well. While Krissie wasn't overly fond of Stella, she was aware that Chris would probably discourage her from doing anything that might endanger his girlfriend.

So, she threw away her weapon, and charged.

Kristy was slammed into the wall, knocking all the breath out of her, and forcing her to release her pistol. Stella was roughly thrown aside like a doll, and she hit the ground hard, skidding a fair distance before coming to a halt. She did not move again after that.

Krissie did not give her enemy a chance to recover, as she swung hard with a right hook. Kristy somehow dodged that blow, however, and Krissie's fist buried itself into the wall. Kristy kneed her opponent hard, and responded with a fierce headbutt that left Krissie reeling. A lightning-fast sequence of punches and kicks followed, Krissie barely managing to block most of them. The few that got through really hurt, and Krissie had to leap away before she sustained a major injury.

Kristy closed in for the attack, and forced Krissie to go on the defensive. The avatar started out with a spinning high kick, followed by a quick series of body blows, which Krissie tried desperately to dodge. A foot sweep was easily avoided, but Krissie left herself wide open for a vicious uppercut which sent her flailing back.

The two of them eyed each other for a moment. Krissie was feeling the pain from the blows she had received, while her opponent was still standing tall, looking insufferably smug. Krissie vaguely recalled Chris's advice on avoiding a straight fight, and cursed herself for not following it.

But she had fought against worse odds before, and this was not even close to the hardest battle she had ever fought. So why was she so helpless?

Because I'm fighting myself. Stella saw me fight before, so she knows my fighting style. And this avatar can tweak the game settings, and increase her strength and speed. So there's no way that I can beat her using my own strengths. And the big problem is, I don't have a specific weakness when it comes to fighting... I can't beat her with strength, stamina, dexterity, or speed. So I have to change my style... surprise her... but how?

Kristy charged again, her fist pulled back for a major knockout punch.

What won't I expect? I won't expect my opponent to stay on the defensive, that's for sure... but I can't win like that...

Krissie waited until her opponent was close, before ducking under the punch. A stomach jab was rewarded with a grunt, and Krissie rolled out of the way of the responding kick. She grabbed the foot, and swung with all her might. Kristy was slammed hard into the wall, dazing her. She recovered quickly, and attempted to put Krissie's head in a scissor-lock. Krissie, however, had already dashed backwards, ready for the next attack.

She's not expecting this? What would I expect? A major offensive, no breaks... so if I choose a hit-and-run attack style...

Krissie darted in, and went for another stomach jab. Kristy deflected the shot, but couldn't dodge the follow-up uppercut. She staggered back, as Krissie returned to her original position. The avatar snarled, glaring balefully at Krissie.

Hah! Got her that time, and now for the finish- AH, CRAP...

In a flash, Kristy grabbed Stella's fallen weapon, and dashed towards Krissie. She grabbed Krissie, headbutted her once, and jammed the weapon, configured into a Gauss rifle, against her stomach. Krissie wondered dazedly if she could jump away in time.

Stupid question, really...

Krissie went for a desperation maneuver then. She grabbed Kristy's shoulders, and jumped.

The uranium slug passed within millimeters of hitting her, but she managed to avoid it, if only barely. Kristy gave a gasp of surprise as Krissie perched straight above her head for a fraction of a second, before twisting her grip and coming down behind the avatar. Krissie lifted Kristy up into the air, then brought her down hard for a backbreaker. She finished it by grabbing Kristy's leg again, and then slamming her into the floor with all her might. The weapon went skittering away, out of reach of the two combatants.

Kristy was far from out, however, as she grabbed Krissie's head with her legs, and threw her. Krissie hit the wall hard, and slumped to the ground, feeling a world of hurt.

The avatar rose, and quickly walked over to the half-virus, intending to finish her off. "You are beginning to annoy me, girl," she grated out.

"Only beginning?" Krissie managed a weak chuckle. "I thought I was beyond that."

"Enough!" Kristy's eyes narrowed. "Now you die." She pulled her fist back, preparing a punch that would surely break her enemy's neck.

The mildly amused look on Krissie's face, however, puzzled her.

"Guess again," Krissie said, raising the Gauss pistol she had grabbed from the floor right after she had been thrown against the wall. She aimed the weapon between Kristy's surprised eyes, and pulled the trigger.

Time seemed to slow down. Krissie could see a hole appearing in the avatar's head, and then she saw the slug exiting through the back. The avatar jerked once, and then pitched forward. Krissie rolled away, and watched as the dead girl lay on the floor, her blood pooling around her.

Strange, she thought. I'd have expected the pistol to splatter her brains out. Krissie knew that she was in shock; it wasn't everyday that one could see oneself dying. For some strange reason, Krissie imagined that this was a foreshadowing of her own death.

A cough attracted her attention. Stella was trying to get up, and had succeeded in getting to her hands and knees. "Kr... Krissie... help..."

Krissie tiredly got up, and walked over to the sprite girl. She extended a hand downwards, offering her help in standing, and Stella gratefully took it.

"We'd better get out of here," Krissie said, taking out the bomb-like thing that Chris had given her... gods, was it only a few hours ago? It seemed like a century.

"I agree," Stella rasped, her throat still sore from Kristy's abuse.

Krissie rolled the spherical object in her hand. Pull pin and throw, she thought, fingering the release button.

She took a deep breath, and pressed it.

The world went black.

Krissie snapped her eyes open, and ripped the headset off. She sat there in the chair for a while more, feeling the beginnings of a migraine. Not only that, her whole body ached, as though she had been in a fight.

In effect, she had.

Chris was busy hugging Stella, and the two of them were practically in tears. Krissie couldn't understand a word either of them were saying, but she got the gist of it; apologies and declarations of love seemed to be the main topic.

Krissie sighed once, and checked her chrono. 0520h. So much for a good night's rest.

She got up, slowly and painfully, and walked to the apartment door. Just before she left, however, she said quietly, "Remember our deal, Chris."

Chris started, and looked nervously at her. "Um, yeah..."

Krissie turned away, and left, shutting the door behind her.

Stella looked puzzledly at him. "What deal?"

Chris shook his head. "I'll explain later."

Krissie stood under a street lamp for a second, remembering.

"You said that no matter what happened, you'll still survive," she said aloud, seemingly to nobody. "So did you? Did you escape? Did you survive?"

There was silence.

"Did you survive?" she repeated. More quietly, she added, "Did I?"

The darkness gave no answer.

Krissie shook her head, and walked on back to the Solar Heart Bar. She felt empty inside, for some reason. And she had a strange feeling that she knew that reason.

In the darkness, someone watched her, and then was gone.