I turned and grinned at my friend and frequent partner in crime. “It hurts me that you’d ever think that wouldn’t work.”

“Yeah, well sometimes your crazy schemes end up getting us in a lot of trouble without much to show for it,” Kristoph said. “I know we’re just marking time until Lotus Online comes out, but if we get kicked out of these Horizon modules we’re screwed for good content.”

I frowned. Kristoph had a point. There were some who speculated that Lotus had decided they weren’t even going to bother with their flagship game. The ultimate expression of the revolutionary hardware they’d created that allowed someone to step into a virtual world by putting in a simple pair of earbuds that attached to their brain via electrical impulses through the ear.

It was revolutionary, and they were making money hand over fist with the hardware licensing alone. There really was no need to make a game to go along with it. There’d been rumblings forever about how their game was going to change the world, how it was going to be the most amazing thing ever, and yet there’d been nothing from Lotus on the software side in the two years since the earbuds launched.

That’d allowed Horizon Online Entertainment to step in with their modules, and they were cleaning up.

Which led some people to speculate that the whole reason why Lotus Online was so much vaporware these days was because Lotus had decided it was easier to take the licensing fees from other people using their platform than it was to invest the time and money in making a truly revolutionary game that couldn’t possibly live up to the hype that’d been building since they first showed off their earbud tech. Sort of like what happened with Valve and Half-Life 3 back in the day.

It wouldn’t be the first time ravenous gamers were burned by developers who lost their desire to design anything once the money started rolling in and they realized it was way more fun to snort coke off of some hot young thing’s ass on their yacht in the non-irradiated western end of the Mediterranean than it was to spend countless hours holed up in front of a computer monitor making a game that most gamers were going to piss on once it released no matter how good it was.

“Might as well get our fun where we can take it, and if we can have our fun fucking with Horizon that seems like a pretty good deal to me,” I said.

I hated those bastards with a passion for what they did to Diana, and I was going to make them pay.

“You say so,” Kristoph said. He glanced around the throne room. “Um, did you notice the game is still frozen around us?”

“Well yeah,” I said. “But I hadn’t really thought past using the game’s rules against the gamemaster.”

“I still can’t believe that worked,” Kristoph said.

“I sort of can’t either,” I admitted.

It’d been a calculated risk. I’d watched plenty of videos of gamemasters at work in Horizon games, and I’d noticed a pattern. They always used powerful attacks when they were booting players from a game, but it was always a modified version of a powerful attack that already existed within the particular game the GM was patrolling.

After that it’d been a short logical leap to figure that maybe GMs were confined to using attacks from the games they were porting into, but with a little code injection that kicked the targeted player out and banned them on top of the impressive fireworks. And if they were using attacks from the games they were porting into to lay down the law then what would happen if one of those attacks was turned around on them using, say, an item that was designed to counter one of those attacks?

I’d just proved it killed the bastards. Maybe banned them, too. Which went above and beyond anything I’d hoped for when I first came up with this scheme. I’d thought I might give a gamemaster a bloody nose. I’d never dreamed I’d kill one.

“Well we should probably…”

The room turned a darker red around us.

“Attention players,” a voice boomed through the room. A disembodied voice that notably wasn’t attached to any gamemaster entering the game to pass judgment.

“Uh-oh,” Kristoph said, looking up. 

Though looking up wasn’t strictly necessary. That booming voice had come from both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and that meant it was being piped directly into our heads. And out onto the live feed, which was gravy for me. I wanted the world to see this.

“We thank you for taking the time to play this fabulous module from Horizon Online Entertainment. The creation of this module helped to employ thousands of people working on entertaining the future!”

I rolled my eyes. That response was so rehearsed that I could practically hear the unspoken trademark that came at the end of “entertaining the future.” It was so canned that I could almost hear the cats meowing at the speaker’s feet as he opened it up.

All their customer service assholes talked like that, and that disembodied voice booming through the game was still a human customer service representative getting ready to spank the naughty players who’d now circumvented both their module and their attempt to ban us.

They wouldn’t rely on an AI routine for something like this. Though to be fair they didn’t use AI routines for much of anything when it came to customer service. Not when they could make their wage slaves recite scripts for far cheaper than it cost to develop a customer service AI.

The end result was about the same in terms of actual customer experience: not great.

“We regret to inform you that we have determined your particular play style to be detrimental to the game experience that so many of our valued clients have come to expect.”

“Detrimental to the game experience my ass,” I shouted into the frozen room, some of the anger I’d kept bottled up over Diana finally exploding out. “Your play experience was going to have me beheaded and there was no way I could get out of it. You assholes are all the same! You kill people in your games and in the real world! My sister fucking died because one of your modules fried her brain!”

Whatever asshole was on the other end either couldn’t hear me, or they chose to ignore me. Again it’s not like it mattered. What I was shouting was getting out to the wider world, and that was my real audience.

Not to mention the Horizon assholes on the other end of this wouldn’t want to admit anything since the cases of gamers allegedly killed or turned into comatose vegetables while playing Horizon modules were still working their way through the courts.

Working their way through the courts very slowly, too, since the phenomenon of justice going to the highest bidder had only become more and more pronounced with each passing year. Yeah, a slick CSR wouldn’t touch an admission of liability like that with a twenty-foot wired headset.

“You are hereby banned from all future Horizon Online Entertainment games. Scans of your unique brainwave identification have been taken, and any further access to our systems will be met with harsh punishment.”

The pronouncement hung in the air. For a normal gamer it might’ve been the end of the world, but I wasn’t having any of it. If this was going to be my last chance to twist the knife at those bastards then I was going to twist it nice and good.

“A permanent ban? That’s getting off light considering some of the shit you’ve pulled. Did you had to stop lobotomizing and killing people with your brain zaps after all the bad publicity?” I shouted.

“The litigation for those accusations is still ongoing. There is no proof that the troublemaking assholes who broke into our systems were harmed by the stopgaps we put in place to stop them, and even if they were, they were poking around where they didn’t belong!”

I blinked. I hadn’t expected them to respond. Scratch that. I hadn’t expected them to respond honestly. That’d never happened before. They’d never even acknowledged the people they killed or turned into vegetables without at least a dozen layers of lawyers between them and whatever statement they were making on the subject.

The booming voice seemed even more angry than usual. I sensed something. It started as a tingle running along my arms and at the back of my neck. There was something new going on with the person behind the booming voice. 

I’d listened to enough recordings of those assholes doing their customer service thing, and been on the business end of their little spankings often enough for that matter, that I knew what they sounded like when they were on a script.

This didn’t sound like any script I’d ever heard. I sensed an opportunity, and I was going to seize it.

“Oh yeah?” I said. “I know what you assholes did. You killed my sister with your brain zap, and when the lawyers get done with you…”

“If that happened then she deserved what she got!” the booming voice said. “A lot of good people lost their jobs because…”

The sound of a struggle filtered through the line. The struggle sounded pretty damn funny from my end. Everything was pushed through the same filter that was used to give the asshole the big booming voice, with the practical upshot being that mundane office sounds like a keyboard being overturned and used as an improvised weapon were telegraphed through the filter. 

It made a scuffle going down in a cubicle sound like a couple of nerdy vengeful gods taking out their frustrations on one another.

“I think you really pissed them off this time,” Kristoph said.

“Yeah, well it’s the least the bastards dese…”

I paused as the epic struggle clearly came to an end. I thought I heard someone talking about being from security or HR in the background, but it was hard to make out since whoever was talking clearly wasn’t standing in front of the microphone.

“You are now being logged out of Horizon Online Entertainment,” a voice said. 

This voice sounded exactly like the previous voice with the booming sound modification, but the lack of emotion and clipped inflection made all the difference. I figured we were talking to someone a little higher up the org chart.

“Fuck you and your customer killing company,” I shouted, flipping a double bird into the air that I was sure the asshole on the other end could see. I glanced at the third person view of my live stream and saw my character flipping the bird at the camera in a glorious pose.

I grinned. Oh yeah. This shit was pure gold.

That grin was the last thing I did before a searing pain started in my ears. Kristoph cried out in pain beside my and went to his knees.

I reached up to pull the earbuds out even as I knew trying to do that was an exercise in futility. Back in the real world my body was being flooded with the same paralytic nature had created and perfected to make sure people didn’t move in their sleep.

So while I was reaching in the virtual world for the pair of earbuds that gave me access to that virtual world my hands in the real world were as still as the dead.

Luckily for me, at least for certain definitions of “luckily,” the searing pain only lasted for a brief moment before the world went dark around me.

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