We decided to be exceptionally foolish and release another chapter from the Emag of Efil series. Mostly because the previously released chapter of Book I, Emag of Efil, was feeling lonely and wanted some company. This particular selection is from Book II, Way of the Foole, which is a rousing adventure about killer robots, lunatic spies, psychic rats, a holy cow, faeries, trolles, and zombies. It is not a thinly veiled hacker’s guide to the Game of Life. Unless you’re NOT A ZOMBIE. Then perhaps it has some hidden secrets…
WAY OF THE FOOLE
NOT A ZOMBIE
My best friend has been turned into a zombie and it’s all my fault. If only I had arrived sooner. If only I had realized what the Icks would do to her. If only I had been a better agent.
Fred had embarked on a hazardous journey through the If Only Minefield. He was so upset seeing Sofee lying motionless on the hospital bed that he didn’t even bother dodging the relentless bombardment of Guilt Grenades. Like many contenders before him, Fred found the Blame Game to be a mighty challenge for a solo player. He took all the hits and they were brutal. Sofee was supposed to be his partner and he had let her down. The Icks had captured her and changed her into a zombie. If only Fred had seen it coming. But how could he have known the Icks would do such a despicable thing? Second guessing was a pointless pursuit. Even a third, fourth or fifth guess wouldn’t have helped Fred figure out the Icks’ pernicious plan.
Like most players in the Game, Fred had the power of hindsight. It was easy to see what he should have done—protect Sofee from being captured by the Icks and zombified. What Fred lacked was foresight. That kind of ability required serious leveling up. A low-level foole like Fred couldn’t possibly be able to see into the future. The TCJ hadn’t trained him to do such things. In fact, they hadn’t trained him to do much.
It had been a year since Fred and Sofee discovered the Game Manual, learned about the Mega Game, traveled to Australia and were recruited as secret agents for the Temple of the Cosmic Joke. They were sent home, told to resume their ordinary lives and remain undercover until they were contacted. Fred had quietly returned to his tedious public school and distracted himself playing vidgames, easily flying under the radar as he always had. Sofee hadn’t quite grasped that being undercover required blending in. She stood out like a sore thumb. A sore thumb that couldn’t stop talking, that is. Sofee had found the funny and couldn’t let go. The reclusive bookworm became the class clown and scandalized her elite private school—laughing, cracking jokes, defying authority. The last bit is what sealed her fate. Sofee had been deemed uncontrollable and committed to the Institute For Emotional Adjustment & Reeducation.
IFEAR was the place that forced unruly young people to behave properly. Fred had heard rumors that those who entered IFEAR were never the same when they came out. It was like something was sucked out of them. Now Fred knew the truth. IFEAR was turning people into zombies!
Fred had come to IFEAR pretending to visit Sofee but he was really there to rescue her. The flowers in his hand were a clever ruse to make it look like he was paying a visit instead of helping his friend escape to freedom. Sofee didn’t belong in a mental institution. She didn’t need readjusting. She was just fine. A bit strange sometimes but who wasn’t? Most of the time, Sofee was just about the best friend anyone could ask for. Well, she used to be, before the Icks turned her into a zombie.
With a sigh, Fred stuck the daisies in a glass by the bed. The flowers seemed too cheerful for the circumstance but they were her favorite. Poor Sofee was so pale and frozen, she looked like she’d be pushing up her own daisies soon enough. How could this be all that remained of his best friend? Or former best friend. Did zombification affect friend status?
Wait. Did her eyelids just flutter or was it Fred’s imagination? He leaned over the bed and peered at Sofee’s face. She appeared to be asleep but her chest was completely still. Not breathing was generally a bad sign. How could Fred know for sure if Sofee’s Health Gauge really had plummeted to zero? There weren’t any beeping machines like on TV and in the movies to make dull scenes of people lying in hospital beds seem more dramatic. Having his best friend turn into a zombie was dramatic enough for Fred.
Was Sofee still alive? Was she still in the Game? Had Sofee’s heart flatlined or was it still zigzagging like a primordial game of Pong?
Then it occurred to Fred that there was one surefire way to tell the status of his friend. He could poke her. Fred had an uneasy feeling that poking bodies was frowned upon. Not only was it dangerous because zombies could quickly shift from immobile to attack mode but it was also considered rather rude.
So Fred refrained from using the poke test. And he lasted for a full ten seconds. Probably a record if anyone has ever kept track. Maybe just a little poke was acceptable. In case Sofee was still alive and paralyzed and trying to communicate with coded eye movements.
Slowly reaching his fingers towards Sofee’s shoulder, Fred anticipated the impact of cold, hardened flesh and cringed.
Then Sofee’s eyes snapped open.
“Ahhhh!” Fred leapt back. Sofee had returned to the Game. But there was something wrong with her eyes. They were staring straight ahead without blinking. There could only be one explanation. This was no longer his best friend. This was a zombie and she was about to attack.
Now here was a game that Fred knew something about. Battling zombies was his specialty. Fred had racked up billions of points splattering zombie brains, though this was the first time he’d personally known a zombie. The current goal was to save Sofee’s brain, not splatter it. But was it too late? Had the Icks dealt permanent damage?
Icks. The only monsters worse than zombies. Fred’s Disgust Level rose whenever he thought about them. Why had they done this to Sofee? How could one foolish girl have posed a threat to their Global Domination Game? Had Sofee stumbled upon the Icks’ devious plan to turn all the other players into zombies? Had they fried her brain to keep her from revealing the truth?
The Icks had to be stopped before they fried, boiled or baked any more brains. It was up to Fred to stop the Icks and avenge the zombification of his friend. The time had come to play the Revenge Game. He’d take on the role of the mad avenger and wear a leather jacket and ride a motorcycle and kick some serious Ick butt. Technically, Fred was too young to ride a motorcycle but bitter antiheroes were supposed to do that sort of thing. They were also supposed to seek revenge by any means necessary. This usually involved a great deal of violence and gore.
But Fred had renounced violence. He was a TCJ agent and the Temple of the Cosmic Joke insisted that all operatives renounce violence. It was considered too Icky. And if an Ah behaved like an Ick then he risked becoming one. Made sense. But how was Fred supposed to battle zombies and Icks without resorting to violence?
The TCJ hadn’t bothered to mention that crucial detail before sending their young agents off into the field. What kind of crazy operation was this? Where had the TCJ been when Sofee was captured and subjected to whatever kind of torture transformed her into a flesh-eating fiend? Why hadn’t Fred and Sofee been contacted? Had the TCJ just abandoned their agents?
It sure seemed that way. Fred was on his own and it was up to him to avenge the zombifying of his best friend. Or former best friend and now his possible mortal enemy, depending on whether Sofee had become one of the flesh-eating types. Could you still maintain a friendship with a monster? Conversations would undoubtedly be one-sided but at least Fred would finally get a word in edgewise now that Sofee was a zombie.
Bad Fred. Shouldn’t speak ill of the undead. Or did it matter? Did social etiquette still apply when discussing a mutant freak? Or were the rules of proper behavior only meant for normal, living players? It didn’t matter. Even if Sofee had become an odious fiend with an unnatural desire to feed on Fred’s liver, it wasn’t her fault. Someone had done this to her. Sofee’s honor needed to be restored, even if it was too late to restore her pulse.
Maybe Fred could restore his friend to her preputrefied self. Think. Fred scanned his memory bank trying to access the appropriate files. Was it a done deal or could you somehow reverse the brain wipe? How long had Sofee been in this condition? Maybe there was still time to reach her before she transitioned into cannibal mode and tried to munch on his entrails. Was it cannibalism if the thing doing the munching wasn’t human? Were zombies still human? How much time did he have before Sofee would need to feed? And why did zombies need to feed anyway? The whole undead compulsive eater thing made absolutely no sense. Dead people didn’t feel hunger and their digestive systems didn’t work. So what happened to all that human flesh they consumed? Why didn’t zombies get fat? Was it the pure protein diet? Did it pass through their bodies? Nah. Dead people don’t crap.
The thought popped into his head. Fred wasn’t sure where it came from but he often had thoughts that seemed to randomly appear. He usually ignored them. This time Fred decided to follow the advice.
There was clearly a lot he didn’t know about zombies but what did he know? Enough to hold the high-score in Zombie Death Squad. There had to be something his hours of battling the undead had taught him. The game involved dispatching the mutants faster than they could respawn with the use of an impressively large, shoulder-launched blaster. Direct hits to the head were the only way to take them out.
Yeah, that wasn’t much help. Blowing his buddy’s brains out would not reanimate her. Then again, maybe there was something to it. Didn’t they use shock treatment in loony bins to make people behave normally? What if a shock could reboot Sofee’s brain? Fred wasn’t about to electrocute his friend but maybe there was another way to bring her back.
Just as Fred thought it, the object appeared. A perfectly placed pitcher of water sat on the table next to the flowers. Fred tested the water. Cold. Recently iced. Perfect. On the count of three. 1—2—
Fred threw the water, too impatient to wait for his own countdown. Sofee’s eyes widened as the water dripped from their lids. Fred noticed her index finger curl. She seemed to be gesturing to him to move closer as if she wanted to say something. Was it a trick? Had Fred totally pissed off a zombie and she would chomp off his face as payback? There was only one way to find out. Fred leaned down towards Sofee’s lips fully prepared to spring back should she attack. Since zombies tended to move in slo-mo, he’d have sufficient time to retreat.
“Are you insane?” seethed Sofee.
“Sofe!” exclaimed Fred, delighted that his friend had re-entered the Game. And also incredibly relieved that he wasn’t going to have to go head-to-head with a wacked out mutant.
“Shut-up,” snapped Sofee. “They’re watching. And listening.”
Fred chuckled. It was a good thing Sofee wasn’t a zombie because she sounded like she could have bitten his head off. How had he managed to forget her uncanny staring ability? Sofee won every staring contest they’d ever had. And then there were the astounding breath-holding records. She had been the undisputed champion in both events since they were little. Fred’s Concern Meter lowered to Relieved as he realized it had all been a ruse.
“I thought you were a zombie.”
“What inspired that moronic idea?”
Fred launched into his explanation. “Well, I figured that the Icks had tortured you to get a hold of the Game Manual because they somehow knew that the only copy had not been destroyed even though it was supposed to have been incinerated at the airport by Customs when we came back from Australia. The Icks still believe there is only one copy of the Book. Kind of a dumb assumption on their part since everything is mass produced these days.”
“Fred, they never asked me about the Book.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just let me finish.” Fred was so fired up, he launched into the following at high speed. “The Icks can’t access the Game Manual because the TCJ encrypted it in a secret code known as META-4. Only a bookworm can understand META-4 and access the hidden meaning of the Book. That’s why the Icks captured you. They want you to decipher it for them like the brains at the Think Tank did. They believe the Game Manual will help them win the Mega Game. But there’s no way to win the Mega Game. That’s part of the Cosmic Joke. The Icks are so desperate to win that they’ve prevented most of the other players from even realizing they’re playing the Mega Game. That’s another part of the Joke. These clueless players are called Ughs. The Ughs haven’t reached Game Awareness like us so they don’t know they’re playing on the Icks’ Bogus team and could be playing on the Ahs’ Most Excellent team. The TCJ are Most Excellent and they recruited us to help prevent the Icks from playing their Global Domination Game so—”
Sofee cut him off. “Fred, why are you telling me things I already know?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like you’re obviously recapping everything that’s happened until now.”
“I am not. I’m sharing crucial information.”
Sofee sighed “Oh, no.”
“What’s the matter?”
“When someone reviews events that have previously happened and explains things that the other character should already know, what is it a sign of?”
Fred considered the query. “Hmmmm… I don’t know about stories but in games it’s usually a sign of a sequel.”
Fred wasn’t following. “What’s your point?”
Sofee lowered her voice to a whisper. “I think we’ve somehow entered a sequel.”
“Well, we are trapped inside a ridiculous story.”
“This is a game, not a story.”
“Oh Fred, don’t start that again. It’s a story and a game.”
Fred wasn’t prepared to concede the point. “If we’re in a sequel then the game should completely change.”
“Wrong,” countered Sofee. “If we’re in a sequel then everything will stay the same. Same basic story. Same basic characters. That’s what happens in book sequels.”
Fred shook his head. “Not in game sequels. They’re completely different.”
“Well, I’m the same. You’re the same. I guess this isn’t a game sequel.”
“Sofe, you’re not the same. You’re a zombie.”
“I am not a zombie.”
Fred smiled. “If this is a sequel then I must be the hero because I’ve come to rescue you.”
“Really? What’s your rescue plan?” Sofee was not impressed.
“The plan is to get into your room and…and…” Fred floundered. “Get you out of your room.”
Sofee snorted. “Great. Super plan, Fred. Clearly they broke the hero mold before you were created.”
“Well, zombies can’t be heroes,” snipped Fred.
“I AM NOT A ZOMBIE!”
The door to Sofee’s room creaked, signaling that someone else had entered the scene. Sofee fell back onto the bed and assumed her previous unmoving state. An angry woman’s voice echoed from the doorway.
“What is that little trouble-maker doing here? I thought there were explicit instructions not to admit him.”
It was Sofee’s vile mother. She’d invaded the space and established control in two sentences. Of course, she’d been known to do it with one word. Or a carefully timed look. The ex-model had an expert gaze. She could shoot lasers out of her eyes without breaking a sweat. Sofee’s mother was a powerful player. Far too powerful for Fred to take on alone. He could rush attack but she was blocking the exit and he’d end up a meatshield. Sofee had reverted to zombie state so even if Fred sacrificed himself, his friend was unlikely to exit this map on her own.
“Hi, Mrs. Renard.” Fred attempted to frag her with friendliness. The pathetic ploy was met with a crisp clip-clop of sharp heels on cold linoleum.
“Visiting hours are over, young man. Permanently in your case. Now I suggest you leave before I call security.”
Boom. Head shot. Mrs. Renard had squeezed off a fast one and disarmed Fred before he could even raise his defenses. And she was threatening to call backup. Fred wasn’t equipped for a mass attack. His rescue plan had just been junked. Not that he’d really had a plan. He was just hoping to wing it. There was no way Fred was going to spring Sofee from the nut house now. Abort mission.
So Fred made a hasty and unheroic retreat. He would be back, though. There was no way he was going to leave his best friend trapped in this chamber of horrors. Sofee had escaped being changed into a zombie this time but she might not be so lucky when the Icks made their next attempt.
(c) 2010 T.C. Jester
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN….