Copyright © 2017 by TL Reeve
“Welcome to the two-hundredth annual Intergalactic Virtual Reality Games.” A melodic dance of chimes followed the robotic greeting as Les-Tar Nar walked through the doors of the Earth headquarters for IVRG. The building, more industrial than professional, sat in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The dry, barren wasteland spread out as far as the eye could see.
California had long since became a ghost state, due to insufficient rains, and a culture of “take, take, take” had seen the state’s natural resources vanish. The idea of a delicate ecosystem being destroyed by the human condition disturbed Les, if not disgusted him. The bountiful lakes and rivers of Venus trumped the small oceans and waterways he’d seen so far on Earth, and a lot of it had to do with Venusians respecting the world around them. They cultivated the land. Helped to make it flourish, and didn’t use more than necessary. Most would call him or his people arrogant; he called them natural born conservationists.
As he stepped farther into the lobby, beings from different planets signed in at their designated areas, then scurried about. The cacophony of noise surrounding him made his ears ring. Vibrant colors and glorious clothing designs dotted the foyer. To see so many cultures together in one space filled him with a sense of pride. Content to walk about, Les sized up his competition. In his estimate, none of the present species compared to him. At one time, he’d been part of the warrior class of Venusians, sworn to defend his home planet and others until his dying breath.
Five Earth years ago, his brother left the battlefield and joined the IVRG games, hoping to showcase the warrior prowess of the Venusian people.
Les watched the games via the holodeck of his battleship. With each level Kreus passed with his team, Les knew they were one step closer to winning. But, as the game opened on the very last day, and the instructions were given, a large explosion ripped through the playing field.
In the beginning, he thought what they were seeing had been part of the level—even with the guttural screams of those who were injured. Yet, it took seeing his brother being struck by a projectile—blue blood pouring from his chest—to realize it wasn’t part of the level, and something terrible had happened.
The minute Kreus hit the ground, Les knew he had to avenge his brother’s death. None of the competitors were supposed to die. In fact, new rules were put into place after the 2060 games to prevent such from happening.
A year after those first fateful games, an initial investigation had begun. By 2062, a trickle of arrests were made. However, it did nothing to bring back those who were killed. The transcripts from the Intergalactic Judicial Committee showed a diabolical plan to systematically kill anyone who might have a penchant to overthrow any of the galactic governments.
Instead of cultivating the gamers’ skills and intelligence, they sought to destroy it. Unfortunately, their scheme had been cut short when those players’ family members became increasingly suspicious when communication with the winners had been shut off. When the trials were over, a mass grave had been found on an uninhabited planet. Nothing, due to the soil content and instability of the atmosphere, could be retrieved. Each family, including his, were given a small vile of sand, kept in a hermetically sealed container. One they were instructed to never open.
“Welcome, Les-Tar Nar.” A small Kreotien stood before him. The adolescent female gazed up at him with bright iridescent eyes. She blinked, the thin inner membrane, almost like an Earth bird’s, closed first then the outer lid. Her purple and blue hair had been cut into a short bob, and she wore a shimmery silk multicolored dress. “Have you signed in yet?”
Contestants upon arrival on Earth had a small dermal translator patch placed behind their ear, translating each language into one primary form, English. It made communication easier with one universal language, but it didn’t mean it was easy to master. “Not yet,” he answered, “I arrived a half hour ago.”
“Then I shall assist you. My name is Ka’lecka Nor. This way,” she said, motioning him to follow.
“I am fine,” he pronounced. “I can do this on my own.”
“I understand.” She glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “But, my job is to make sure all contestants are signed in and have their room assignments along with their team roster.”
Les grunted. A team. He knew the game like the back of his hand. He wasn’t there to win the damn tournament. He wanted whoever was responsible for his brother’s death. “Again, I am quite capable of taking care of myself.”
“If it’s all the same,” she said with a shrug, “your team has already arrived. They’ve checked in and are waiting for you.”
Of course they were. Too bad he didn’t care. “Okay.”
“Here we are,” she stated, stepping out of his way. “Good luck.”
The Venusian behind the counter took a step back while sucking in a breath. His mercury-colored eyes widened. His mouth opened on a silent o. For long moments he stared at Les before speaking. “Les-Tar Nar. Commander of the 9th infantry. It is an honor, sir.” He pressed his fist to his chest, his tone filled with reverence and awe. “I am Gar-Nex Hail.”
Les nodded. “I am checking in. Where is my team?”
“They are in the commissary,” the Venusian replied, while tapping on the screen in front of him. “If you’ll touch the screen with your thumb, then lean down for a retinal scan, you’ll be set.” He complied with the male’s orders then stepped back. “Here is your e-pad, weapons locker code, and meal tickets. If you’ll follow the green light, you’ll be taken to your team.”
On the floor, a small green arrow pointed west then faded out seconds before flashing again. “Thank you, Gar-Nex.”
Les followed the arrow, moving through the crowd with ease. Instead of meeting with his team immediately, he found an empty table and went through the e-pad he’d been given. A file had been created for each of them. Who did they put me with? It didn’t matter to him. Once they got to the fifth level, he’d break off from them and search for whoever pulled the strings behind the scenes.
Even with his less than honorable desires, he still had to make sure his team would help him achieve his goal. Touching the team icon, the screen shifted, and a yellow folder appeared. “AuVen, cyborg. Military Strategy Specialist. Thirty-five human years old,” the computer announced. The blond-haired, grey-eyed man stood on a pedestal and spun in a slow half-circle. His bulky frame and height gave them an advantage. He flipped through his training and mission status first.
The screen changed again, and a stream began. “Mission 441-36D, the raid of Tolaris-5. Commander AuVen led a small coalition of men through the capital city of Win to Primer Nag Lurna. A suspect in the genocide of millions of Kreotien. Upon entering the building, Nag Lurna started systematically killing hostages. Commander AuVen stopped the Primer after two people died, saving over five hundred that day.”
“Impressive,” he murmured. “Onto the next mission.” Les tapped the next stream file. Again another battle came up on screen.
“Commander AuVen led the team responsible for overthrowing the fascist governing body of Alexion 5. Though there is little known before this moment, it is speculated the ruling body of Alexion 5 had been experimenting on the cyborgs,” the computer relayed. “Most of the tests were on endurance and pain tolerance. Any data collected by those scientists has been destroyed. It is the first time in over a hundred years a cyborg has willingly joined the games.”
Fascinating. He clicked on the second file, and a small human female filled the screen. The confident smirk on her bow-shaped lips made his dick hard. She didn’t wear a uniform like him or AuVen. Instead she wore plain clothes. A tattoo wrapped around her forearm and traveled up her arm, and Les could see the outline peeking out from the neck of her shirt. An old soul stared back at him through her bright green eyes.
Her graphic visage spun slowly on screen. Lyna Hiat. What was it about her that called to something primal inside him? Compared to the females on his planet, she was plain. Yet, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He clicked on the folder next to her. A rap sheet filled the screen first.
“Conviction: Hacking of PG&E bank. One-and-a-half million credits were withdrawn from an executive’s account and deposited into an orphanage. Sixty-days at a rehab facility. Conviction: Hacking. Three hundred and twenty million credits stolen from H&B Petroleum. Money never recovered. Five-year sentence. Released after three years for good behavior.”
So, a hacker, interesting. She’d make a good asset to him for the coming mission. He clicked on the secondary folder, and a stream began to play. “Lyna Hiat, video game maker and tester, has been working for the government of several planets for the last five years. She dismantles security systems while assessing vulnerabilities within training protocol. On the side, she makes video games that are unbeatable by some of the most elite gamers. In doing so, Lyna has had several contracts taken out on her life.”
Fuck. Not what he wanted to hear. “What is the probability of her being a target at these games?” he asked the computer.
“There is a ninety-two percent probability.”
“Are there any procedures put in place to protect Lyna or any of the hackers set to take part in the games?” he asked.
“Negative. All contestants know the risks of the games when they participate. Those who are coming out of hiding know their probability of death before arrival and then again when they register.”
Well, isn’t that a fine fucking how do you do? “Locate team.”
* * * *
Lyna Hiat sat at a table in the commissary and scrolled through the available documents for her team. Both were impressive. Both would protect her and win her the game. Not that she needed the money. The five million credit prize would be distributed to several orphanages and group homes for under-privileged kids, just like the other money she’d stolen.
A modern day Robin Hood is what the press labeled her throughout her trial. She pled guilty to each charge, knowing the media surrounding the case would do more good for the kids in need than her word and work alone could. While serving her sentence, she learned two of the homes she’d given money to had been upgraded. The children were happy, and adoptions were happening every day. The foster homes in deplorable condition were given grants to fix them up. Slowly but surely her work was making an impact.
Three days before her release date, a man from Q-Square Technologies came to her. The gaming company wanted her skills to develop video games that would be unbeatable to most. In a world where the most novice of players could win, they wanted to challenge their customers. Lyna jumped at the chance to show the universe her skills while also using the money she made legally to help fund her favorite charities.
Q-Square also sent her to the games. They wanted to showcase their talent. Bring their name out more to the intergalactic community. If Lyna won this, which by the size and experience of her teammates, should be no problem, her work would live on forever.
“Lyna Hiat?” The deep voice pronounced her name awkwardly. She glanced up at the man, and her heart stopped. Exceptionally tall and blue, his long black hair had been pulled back in a single braid. His crystal-blue eyes bore into her, assessing her as she did the same to him. The black shirt he wore molded his upper body, leaving nothing to her imagination. Broad shoulders gave way to a narrow waist and thighs as thick as tree trunks. The man could do some serious damage. And he’s all yours.
“Who’s asking?” she questioned, still enraptured by his overwhelming presence.
“My name is Les-Tar Nar, Venusian Commander of the 9th Infantry. I am also your partner.” He sat down at her table. “There is one more, AuVen. I suppose he should be arriving soon.”
The words rolled off the man’s tongue as though he tasted them before he spoke. Even with the dermal translator, his speech pattern was awkward at best. “I know,” she said. “It’s good to meet you, Les.” She pointed to his ear. “Dermal patch working properly? You seem a little… out of your element.”
“Human English is a torturous language filled with rules. To speak as you, and to receive the translations back are… demanding of my concentration. It would be easier if I could speak Venusian.”
“Then I wouldn’t understand you,” she replied. His condescendence annoyed her. Most of the extraterrestrial beings she knew didn’t take issue with learning English or using the translator. Les appeared put off by it.
“The Venusian language is easy to learn, I will teach you, Lyna Hiat,” he answered. “It will have to wait though. We must prepare for the first level of the game.”
“Did I miss anything?” AuVen stopped at the edge of the table and crossed his arms. His imposing form made her girly parts tingle and her heart trip a beat. Short, military style sandy-blond hair framed a square jaw, and steely grey eyes. Like Les, AuVen’s body had been carved to perfection. Thick, sinewy bare arms flexed under her perusal. His powerful chest pressed against the thin material of his tank. Her gaze lowered, zeroing in on the rather large bulge behind the fly of his pants.
Ho-ly shit. “Uh, nope.” She cleared her throat as heat crept into her cheeks. Her obvious ogling hadn’t gone unnoticed by her other partner, Les. His growl of irritation not only turned her on while pissing her off, it also melted her insides, turning her into a pile of goo.
“As I was saying.” Annoyance laced Les’ words. “We must strategize and coordinate our plan of attack. I have not come this far to lose.”
The cyborg smirked. “Don’t get your Venusian panties in a wad.” By the mix of chagrin and surprise passing over Les’ face, AuVen must have spoken Venusian. “Close your mouth, Venusian warrior. I know over two hundred languages and speak them all fluently.”
“Impressive,” she squeaked. The tension at the table ratcheted up a notch. “I’m down with talking shop, but I think you’re both a little high on the man-juice.”
Les narrowed his eyes while AuVen chuckled. “Man-juice. I do not understand this phrase.”
“Testosterone,” the cyborg replied. “Tersquoia.”
“I am a fertile male with an abundance of sperm in my scrotum. My Tersquoia is always high.”
Lyna snickered. “Good to know.” She bit her lip to stifle the fit of giggles bubbling up in her. Closing her eyes, she took a couple of deep breaths before beginning again. “Should we stay here and discuss this, or should we retire to our quarters?”
Both men sized each other up. For a second she thought they’d bicker, but instead they nodded. “Combat should never be discussed in front of the enemy. We must retreat and plan away from prying eyes.” Les stood. “I know where we are staying. Follow me.”
Lyna bristled at his tone. “Wait a minute, bossy pants,” she snarked. “We’re a team. We work together. So no one leads and no one follows.”
“You are an irritant,” he snarled. The mounting frustrations she’d noticed the minute AuVen arrived bled through. “I only suggested I lead the way due to my knowledge of the building. Nothing more, nothing less, little human.”
“Well then, lead the way, oh great one,” she replied with a mock curtsy.
“I like you,” AuVen said. “You make me laugh, human.”
“Be still my heart.” She rolled her eyes. “Look, Nuts and Bolts,” she said while cutting her gaze at Les. “Big Blue. My name is Lyna. Human sounds demeaning coming from you.”
“Kitten’s got claws,” Nuts and Bolts purred.
“She is not a cat,” Les spoke up. “She is human.” He glanced at her. “You are human. It is not derogatory or demeaning. It is your species.”
“A regular charmer. Let’s go.” Already a migraine of epic proportions built behind her eyes. Dear God, what have I gotten myself into?