This will be the first fight I’m able to do something useful
This is the room from the video. Four stark white walls held to the highest standards of hygiene. Standing in the room makes me aware of my own state of dirtiness. Sweat on my face, dust from the parking lot covering my pants, cocktails coating the soles of my boots.
High-tech computer consoles deck out the far wall; it wasn’t visible in the video. There’s a rack of helmets along the bottom of the wall. Every screen is dark. Our mystery man is nowhere to be found.
“He’s not here either,” Dragonette says.
“Where the hell is this dude?” Chase asks.
The screens flicker to full illumination. A large server-esque module hums to life. Lights blink red then green on the helmets. “Einstein” flashes across each monitor before fading to white. Our mystery man’s image is replicated on each display.
“Finally, you’ve made it,” he says. None of us respond. “I’ve been waiting for your arrival. No idea why you were fooling around in the states.”
“Cut to the chase,” Jason says.
“Jason, temper temper. You wouldn’t want to make any sudden actions without knowing the consequences.”
Another one of his mind games. I’m about fed up with playing by his rules. We’ve been following his trail of destruction across half the globe like blind mice. There has to be a way to find out where his broadcast is originating.
“What would stop me from pulling the plug on your fancy computer?”
“I’m so glad you’ve asked. Keep your attention on the monitors. I’ve rigged three trains, departing from Stockholm to other European hubs, with bombs and delicate toxins. Should you terminate the console by physical means, each one will detonate.”
“How do you want us to stop the bombs?” I ask.
He laughs, “I’d prefer you didn’t, but I’ll give you the chance since you’ve made it this far. If you die, it will make a nice video to send to the press. Think of it as the defining example for machine superiority. Metahumans are the pinnacle of biological existence. Your failure means life will never produce a being superior to a machine.”
His face is still hidden in shadow, though there’s no indication of where the light is coming from. It appears he’s standing on another plane of existence. There are no walls or windows. The only spot of color in the whole scene is his red tie.
“You still didn’t answer my question.”
“Right. The helmets in front of you. Each one offers passage into my domain, allowing us to fight in the sense you’re more comfortable understanding. If you defeat me, it will erase my programming and existence.”
“Wait. You’re a machine?” Chase asks.
“Beyond just a machine. I’m a sentient program,” he says, “and my name is Einstein.”
This is a lot to take in. All of this fighting has been to track down a series of computer codes. So far we’ve made a poor case for humanity in his little competition. Putting on those helmets could be foolish. What’s stopping him from electrocuting the five of us on the spot? There’s also the possibility he detonates the bombs no matter what we decide.
“How do we know you won’t just kill us right away?” Ingot asks.
“It wouldn’t prove my point. I need to make a spectacle out of this. But act fast, the timer’s set for two hours. Starting now.”
“Let’s just kick his ass,” Jason says. He walks over to the console and picks up a helmet.
“Shouldn’t we think about this for a second?” Dragonette asks.
“He kind of made the decision for us. Plus, don’t you want to see the inside of a computer?” Chase says. Ingot smacks him over the back of the head.
“This isn’t a game. In there we play by his rules. I mean really play by his rules. Gravity might be different, we might have three eyes, anything could happen.”
The displays show a white rabbit hopping around the blank plane.
Jason puts on his helmet. He tenses up a little and then stands still. The rest of us walk over and do the same. At first there’s only a black abyss, then a tube of pulsing colors. After a few seconds an undulating landscape takes shape. Rolling hills in the foreground and barren cliffs further in the distance.
Everyone else is here too, but everything is far from normal. For starters, we’re dressed like characters from a fantasy game. What someone at the turn of the last century would have designed. Einstein has selected a stereotype for each of us to fulfill.
I think Chase is supposed to be some sort of assassin character. He has quite a few sheaths belted to his legs and a fitting black outfit. Ingot looks like a necromancer with a long staff, topped with silver skull, and even longer robe. Dragonette is decked out in a full suit of armor with a burning sun emblazoned on the front. Jason clenches a massive two-handed hammer and was only given torn pants for clothes. Einstein envisioned me as a wizard, naturally.
“I feel like such a dork,” Dragonette says through her armor.
“Do we still have our powers?” Chase asks. A burst of flame through Dragonette’s helmet indicates a definite yes.
Einstein’s voice booms over the terrain, “I await you in my fortress at the top of the cliffs of desolation. Hurry, you’ve already wasted ten minutes.”
“Let’s get a move on,” Chase zooms off towards the cliffs. He returns a few seconds later. “There’s a ton of orc things over the hill,”
“It’s hammer time,” Jason says. He charges over the hill with his hammer held high.
There must be fifty, maybe sixty, orcs between us and the cliffs. Jason gets to work smashing through them. One of them swipes him across the chest and leaves a scratch behind.
Jason, you’re not invulnerable here.
Shit. I’ll just kill them faster.
Dragonette alternates between burning and slashing the orcs attacking her. I concentrate on getting a few on our side. This will be the first fight I’m able to do something useful. One of the orcs turns and stabs another through the stomach. I focus on maintaining my hold and hacking away at a few more of our foes.
The bloodbath ends a few minutes later. Jason is soaked in orc blood, and the rest of us have splatters of it on our clothes as well. There’s no time to shake it off. We press onward to the cliffs.
A massive castle sits atop the tall rocks. I see no way to climb to the top. The castle is made of the same grey stone as the cliffs. It is without guards or traps to fend off invaders. Einstein was just warming us up for the real confrontation.
I place my hand on the rock-face with the hopes of finding a handhold. There’s a sound of stone grinding on stone and a shallow staircase carves itself into the cliff. The secret stair.