The day started as any other day, the sound of my alarm bell, the smell of dad’s cooking, the sun rising from its slumber. I wanted to continue the dream I had the night before, where I was fighting some unknown force in a battle of attrition, but my younger sister had other ideas. She gave me a tight slap.
“Wake up sleepy head, breakfast is ready.”
“Are you sure it’s food this time?”
The breakfast was better than expected, Nasi Goreng Bujang, as my father calls it.
“See? I CAN cook non-instant food. It’s been years since I cooked, glad that I still have the skills.”
“How long has it been since you cooked?” I asked
“How old are you again?”
He replied with this sarcastic tone my mom fell in love with.
After breakfast, my dad went for his game of virtual golf, while my sister had to replace her outdated mindNet router, so I have the whole house to myself. I felt somewhat at peace. But peace is something alien to me, I’m more used to the chaos of battle and explosions that calm me down. Wait, I’ve never heard an explosion in my life. I’m a lawyer not a soldier. Needing to clear my head, I went for an outdoor stroll for some fresh air. So I put on a pair of trousers, a comfortable shirt, a pair of running shoes, and took a leisurely stroll around the cul-de-sac to enjoy my day off. It all seemed off though, the peace and quiet was not something I was used to. It just didn’t feel, real. Suddenly I got a call from a guy named Tan. Apparently, there was a gathering of my secondary school alumni. One that I had arranged and ironically am the last to arrive. With nothing better to do, I called a Ubeam and was instantly transported to Puchong City Mall.
We met up at Setapak coffee, there I saw Reisha, Farhan, Simon, Kumar, Tan, and his companion robot model 54-M, or ‘Sam’ to the rest of us. It seemed like only seven showed up including me. I just assumed that the rest was busy at a workshop somewhere. Recently a virus had found its way into the mindNet, the so called ‘viralTroll.EXE’. Those effected would find their personal devices unresponsive to their commands. Although a minor annoyance and easy to remedy, it’s the first of its kind and is sparking quite a scare within anyone connected to the mindNet. Ever since the late 21st century, most devices no longer require physical interaction to operate. I couldn’t imagine the embarrassment of having to walk all the way to the nearest workshop, let alone being completely shut off from the mindNet.
After lunch, we decided to go to the arcade and tried out a new arrival, Endless battle VR. It was one of those games that allowed the player to be fully immersed into the game. This is done by connecting to the mindNet that sends sensory signals to our brain. Upon entering the game, Simon picked the hardest difficulty just to mess with us. We were sent to the battlefield in an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). Kumar was as the driver, Tan was our Squad leader, and Farhan was our medical officer. Our orders were to scout the incoming enemy formation in order to prepare a sufficient defence for our base.
10 Kilometres from our destination the environment suddenly changed, from a lush green forest, to an endless desert. Suddenly, our APC was ambushed and came under heavy fire. Simon tried to return fire with the .50 calibre mounted on top. Alas, as soon as he climbed out of the hatch, he met his end in the form of a clean shot through forehead, his body falling back inside. Kumar had taken evasive manoeuvres to avoid Anti-tank fire, but we hit a mine and turned to our sides. Kumar was rendered unconscious. We were forced to exit the APC without him and quickly dove into the nearby ditch. We had Reisha radio in a rescue team while we helplessly watched Kumar being propelled out of the driver seat by the explosion of an enemy rocket.
While under heavy enemy fire, Tan saw that Kumar, although heavily wounded, was still breathing, and that the fuel from the APC was inching closer to a fire. He wanted to try and bring him into cover and safety, and ordered us to provide suppressive fire. Although Farhan and him had tried to reason with him, we reluctantly obeyed his command. He was able to reach out to him and he was dragged into the ditch, but it was too late. The fire had ignited the leaked fuel and caused a chain reaction that resulted in the APC exploding, a piece of debris has wedged itself between Tan’s leg-bones. Another had landed on Kumar’s head, leaving only his twitching body. Tan, although not seriously injured, was frozen in shock from the gruesome sight in front of him. Farhan was forced to step out of cover and pull him back in. In the middle of all the commotion, I heard the loud, screeching sounds of incoming artillery shells. The unnerving sounds had blocked out the sounds of Sam screaming something and then, blackness.
I found myself on a soft bed, in a dark room. I saw Farhan checking my vitals on a monitor beside me, as a typical doctor would.
“Look who’s back from the dead.”
“ugh, is this heaven?”
“If this is your standard of heaven then either you are as blind as a bat or you have very low standards.”
“What happened? Didn’t we all die.”
“Well, kind of. While in the game, Kumar got us all killed by running into a mine, so we all exited the game. However, you were out of it for” he pauses as he looks at his watch “30 minutes”
“So all that I just saw was just a dream, the explosion, the artillery, the fire?”
“Yeah I think so, but don’t worry, Full Dive machines are still new and things like this can happen sometimes. On the plus side, we get life time free access to the games in this arcade. The rest are out there taking Endless Battle on easy mode, we can join them soon if you want, after you fully recover though.”
“I’ll pass. Besides, I need to be getting home, I made a promise to my sister to be at home by six, she has something for me.”
“Alright, but you can’t report this to the authorities, it’s part of the deal. Don’t bother asking.”
Without delay, Farhan sent me back through Grab-a-port, it’s cheaper and he’s a cheapskate.
When I reached home, I was once again alone, except for the maid-bot that had activated on my arrival.
“Kon’nichiwa, master. how was your day?”
Being made in Japan, it had the tendency to greet in Japanese. I don’t mind it though; I can boast it to my otaku friends whenever they visit.
“Nothing much, please vacuum the house, and while you’re at it, make me hot a cup of tea, I need to calm my mind a bit.” I said as I made my way to my room.
“What flavour master?”
When I reached my room, the first thing I did was to lie down in bed to relax. The incident at the arcade this morning made me question reality for a bit. It felt surreal, the horror, that gloomy feeling I had throughout the battle. Yet, I felt no shock, as if I had been through a similar …… A knocking sound interrupted my thoughts.
“Master, may I come in, your tea is ready.” It was the maid-bot.
“Granted, come on in.”
As she placed my tea on the table, I realised that she was wearing a unique maid costume, no doubt made by my sister. Feeling a bit cheeky wanted to have a bit of fun, I called out, “Activate Nico Yazawa imitation number one.”
“Nico-nico ni! I’ll nico-nico ni your heart, I’m Nico-Nico Yazawa, and I’ll put a smile in your heart. remember, I’m nico-ni and I nico-love you”
Ten minutes of laughter was what followed.
“Arigato, that was exactly what I needed. Now back to work.”
I took a sip of my tea, it was teh tarik, with a hint of green tea. Feeling at ease and sleepy, I turned on the air conditioner. After enjoying my tea, I went to sleep.
I had the same dream as this morning, but it was much more vivid than the last. I was joined by Sam and Farhan, while Reisha and Tan was nowhere to be seen. We were in a trench in the middle of the dessert, behind us was a 10-meter high concrete wall, in front of us was what seemed like an endless wave of humans, and the remains of Kumar and Simon lie on my left. It was not a delightful dream. I glanced at my table top clock and saw that it was seven in the evening. Feeling hungry, I got out of my bed and went downstairs to the kitchen for dinner. As I went down I realised that the living room was empty, and there was no sound to be heard in the house. Which was strange as everyone should be back home by now. Only when I reached the kitchen I realised where everyone was.
“SURPRISE, HAPPY 20th BIRTHDAY MED”
As much as I was happy that my friends and family arranged a party for me, I am more surprised that today was my birthday. At the same time something seems wrong somehow. As if confirming my doubts, I heard a whisper behind me, “are you sure this is what you want?” It was then I realised that something is wrong. My friends beckon me to blow the candles and make a wish. After some thought, I made my wish.
“I wish to know the truth”
At that moment, everyone froze in place, the surrounding colour was turning black and white, and a dark figure had appeared in front of me. Slowly, it’s limbs were taking form, then it’s body. It was wearing what appears to be a uniform of sorts. The Gagah Perkasa medal pinned on its shirt showed that it had fought honourably in battle, and had most likely given his life to his country. Finally, it’s head had come into shape. His facial features were taking shape one by one. When it had fully formed, I was lost for words. It had a face that was very familiar with me. It was my face.
My surroundings have transformed from a lively party to a white room. There were no windows, doors, walls or ceiling in sight, all there was were 2 white chairs each facing the other. But this “room” was not the oddest thing around. There is a strange being in front of me. It started speaking with my voice.
“Greetings, I am the voice in your head, I am your instinct, I am your conscious. Simply put, I am you. You made a wish to know the truth, and I am here to show it. Please take a seat and we can begin.”
I sat down and braced myself for whatever that it would reveal.
“How did I receive the Gagah Perkasa medal, isn’t it the highest honour anyone can receive?”
“You were awarded the medal for your actions during the defence of the Klang River. By doing so you had ensured our water source. Unfortunately, you had lost your right leg in battle, it was later replaced with a bionic one.”
At that moment both our right legs morphed from flesh to metallic.
“Next question. What is it about this dream I’ve been having the whole day, it seemed to real to be just a dream, but too gloomy for it to be real. Why were my friends there with me? What were we fighting for?”
“The friends you see in this world are actually your squad mates in the real world. You were fighting to buy time to evacuate one of the last outposts in Malaysia. Specifically, outpost Templer. The once lush green forest reserve had transformed to a desert wasteland, unable to support life.”
“But why is it in my dreams?”
“The dreams you were having was your latest battle, right before you entered this world.”
“So that means that I lost my life there?”
“Yes, and no. it depends on your definition of living. I shall show you how the evacuation of outpost Templer was like and let you decide.
I found myself at the same place as I was back in the arcade. the only differences were that the artillery barrage missed us, and Reisha was calling for reinforcements instead of an evacuation. When the enemy was getting closer, and the artillery getting more accurate, Tan had ordered us to withdraw to the trenches near the wall. Unfortunately, even when Farhan had patched up his wounds, Tan was still unable to walk, so Reisha volunteered to carry him on her back. They were a few meters from the wall when they met their demise, a lucky high explosive shell had detonated right behind them and launched them into the wall. The force of the explosion and their impact with the wall had left nothing but red goo and tattered clothing. Should anyone set their eyes on them, they would never believe that those were the remains of two different people. The three of us had taken our positions and began firing at the enemy once more. The sight of our comrades splatted on the wall was fuelling our anger as we put a halt to their advance.
The battle continued for a few more hours, and the sun was beginning to set. The beautiful sunset was corrupted by the field of dead bodies and bloody craters. The three multi-barrelled heavy rotary machine-guns were doing its job. However, it seemed like there was no end to it, and although we seemed out of range from their long range artillery,and we had plenty of bullets that could go on for hours, the mere sight of it was pure agony to the heart. I finally understood what it felt like during the first world war, the fear, the desperation, the agony, the restlessness, all of it. Nonetheless the sight of the wall behind us and the bloodied remains of Reisha and Tan strengthened our willpower. As time went on, the ever relentless enemy continued pushing forward and with every minute they gain more ground. At last, a green flare was shot towards the sky from the other side of the wall, signalling that civilian evacuation was completed, and evacuation of military personnel has begun. we quickly responded with orange flares, to signal that the defence on our side had been weakened but was still holding. We were shocked when we saw that the west and northern sides shot out red flares, signalling that the defence had failed and were on the verge of being overrun, while the southern gate sent out a lone black flare, signalling total annihilation. Sam sarcastically commented
“Hey Med, do you think If we sent out a red flare they’d send some help?” To which I replied,
“Or they’d just seal the blast doors for good. Just ask them when they open the gate for us.”
It was a while before I noticed, but now the enemy was just a few meters away from me. I was finally able to get a closer look at them, they had the figure of a human, but had their heads mutated beyond recognition, and any organs that could express their gender were missing. Furthermore, their left arms have what seems like a metallic blade attached. Suddenly I saw Farhan near the blast doors. He was supposed to be guarding the right flank. It was a while before I realised what had happened.
“Sam, fall back to the gate! Our right flank has been compromised!”
By then we had reached our final line of defence, a wall of sandbags. A wall of sand bags was all that separated us and certain death, and we were all that stood in the way of them and the blast doors behind us. In this position, we only had the light double barrel machine guns and the assault rifles that we were equipped with. We had to leave the heavy machine guns behind. Although we had less fire power, our smaller firing arc made up for it. Our only problem now was that our ammunition was running low.
Eventually, nightfall came. The only lights we had were the ill maintained spotlights from the wall, the lights we mounted on our rifles, and from the muzzle flashes from our guns. To conserve ammo, me and Farhan used our assault rifles and covered our flanks, while Sam manned the machine gun in the middle. With the lack of proper lighting, we had to rely on our hearing to get the general direction of where they were. Thankfully, their assault had seemed to decreased in ferocity, so the three of us had an easier job of repelling the attack. Alas, we eventually exhausted our machine gun ammo, and we have no other effective way of denying them from attaining any more ground. They steadily pushed forward to us. We had to resort to our smaller calibre side arms. We had our backs to the wall, and were about to signal a black flare but thankfully, the blast door behind us had opened and a squad of seven fully armed men had come to our rescue and took up positions in front of us. But, as luck would have it, what seemed like a blessing was actually a curse in disguise. Soon after the doors were opened, the enemy had escalated their offensive ten-fold, and it was too much for them to handle. The seven men were swiftly cut down to three boys, and we had to rescue each other. A short but well fought battle ensured, but we made it to the blast doors. We made a mad dash along a long dimly lit tunnel to the evacuation point as the doors sealed behind us, except that it didn’t.
The enemy was able to breach it before it sealed completely and made a hole large enough to let more through. It was then, when I realised that Sam was slowing her steps. When I beckoned for her to quicken her pace, she responded with words that I’d never want to hear again.
“You five can go ahead, I’ll hold them off here.”
I tried to object, but I was left speechless as she replied.
“I have nothing meaningful left to live for, but at least I’ll have something to die for. Besides, now I can show you what a complete cyborg can do.”
She then ripped off her sleeves, showing off her robotic arms, and charged straight towards them. I was about to run after her before I was pulled back by Farhan, who then carried me on his back. I had full view of Sam’s fighting capability, which was superhuman to say the least. As soon as she had completely used up her ammo, she continued with hand to hand combat. I saw her take down at least ten of them before being caught by her hands and legs. They proceeded to pull them. With her last moments, she looked straight at me, smiled, and over the radio she said “Please, … pass on my question for me, I …. don’t t-t-think … I’m …. able ……. “, and silence. I then watch as she was pulled to pieces, neither metal nor flesh was spared.
After about an hour of running, we reached the evacuation point, and by then I had recovered slightly. There was only one helicopter remaining, it was an MH-6 Little Bird, but safety was still unreachable. Without warning, one of our rescuers was shot and killed from behind. We then saw that the enemy had caught up with us. We returned fire while slowly pulling back towards the chopper. I was a few meters away before a shoulder launched rocket had detonated below me, the resulting explosion had me incapacitated. One of the crew quickly pulled me into the helicopter, followed by one from the second squad. I could hear him shouting
“Marker, get in!”
But the pilot rebutted,
“We can’t take anymore! We don’t have enough fuel to take off with all of you!”.
I couldn’t believe my ears, does that mean we have to leave them behind. The one named Marker responded.
“Don’t worry about the medics Fred, just go!”
“Don’t worry, it’s part of the job. Besides, at least one from both squads survives.”
As the Helicopter started it’s take off, they both shouted in union,
“See you on the other side!”
And that was the last I saw of them. Soon after, I tried to talk to Fred.
“Hey Fred, were the squads that signaled red flares rescued?”
“No, they weren’t. you’re the only survivor.”
After hearing that, I felt my face getting wet somehow.
“Hey Fred, is it just me or it’s raining inside the chopper?”
“Are you mad there’s no way…….” He glances at my face and continues,
“Yeah, …. it is”
His face gets wet as well.
I found myself back in the white room, and started conversing with ‘Me’ again.
“And that, is the truth”
“Truth hurts huh?”
“Yes it does. Well then, any more questions?”
“Yeah, my final question. What were we fighting against?”
“Honestly, I have no exact explanation. I only know, or we only know that those things were once humans, but had their minds wiped clean by a strain of “viralTroll.EXE”, and had been reprogramed into ruthless killing machines, purpose and origin is unknown.”
“So what happens now?
“It’s up to you. Do you want to continue dreaming, or go back to where you belong?”
“The later please, I miss my body.”
“Restoring final memory.”
The white room faded into black.
I had difficulty opening my eyes, but I managed it somehow. I saw myself on the floor, in a small dimly lit room, with some children crying outside. I hear men cursing in pain, some of them missing a limb or two, and a pile of corpses in a corner. Some men were throwing bodies out the window, and I swear that I saw one of them still breathing. I also got a short glimpse of a man in white, arguing with a middle-aged nurse.
“What do you mean there is no hope, it’s the 23th century, I’m sure there is something you can do”
“Not while we’re under siege, the only health tank that survived the initial blasts has just recently run out of fluid. No thanks to the damage we received two raids ago.”
“Then refill it, how hard can it be?”
“the fluid is made up of complex substances that complements the natural healing process of the body.”
“in English please.”
“in other words, it’s too complex to make in our current circumstance.”
“There must be a way, there always is, I… I owe my life to him.”
“and even if we could, do you think he can live on in his current …. condition, I’m sure he would agree.”
Although still in a daze, I realized that I had become a quadruple amputee.
“Look, we all owe him, if it wasn’t for him none of us would have made it. The best we can do now is to allow him to pass peacefully. For his final moments, I gave him a dream sequence of what a life could be before all of this, the perfect day.”
Upon hearing that, I embraced the comfort of death.
*Disclaimer: GMEM does not own the character Nico Yazawa as she is a part of Love Live! School Idol Project and is owned by ASCII Media Works, NIS America, Inc. and other related parties. Please support the official release.