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Chapter 7:
A Deadly Game

Mars was at a loss for what to do. The only bargianing chip that he had, the copy of Croptown, was stolen from him and time was quickly running out.

His immediate instinct was to try to find another exclusive game as soon as possible. Unfortunately, other than Martin, he wasn't particularly close with anyone else connected to the video game industry.

He spent the morning trying to contact someone within Electron Farts, one of the largest video game companies around, but found it impossible to get through to anyone. Literally every number that he had tried gave an automated response of some kind, "Sorry, we've gone out golfing! Please leave a message and someone will get back to you as soon as possible." Each time that he reached a different answering machine through another number, the word "golfing" was switched out with some other mundane activity: "to lunch", "for a joyride", "for bingo night", etc.

After the fiftieth call, Mars flug his phone onto his desk in frustration. "Ugh! This is nonsense!," he shouted into the cold air. Little did Mars know, there was no one at the company to answer his call because no one actually worked there since 2013. Every game that they had released since that time was generated by AI. However, this AI wasn't very intelligent, it simply made remixes of their older sports titles with less features. Year after year, more and more of their customers grew suspicious that the company was falling apart, but for some reason still purchased their wares.

Realizing that he couldn't rely on making appointments, Mars arose from his office chair, grabbed his coat, and made his way out the door. The closest video game company from his house was the headquarters for Flurry Entertainment, makers of the incredibly popular "Globe of Gorepath" series. The main premise of the game, like most video games now, was to destroy wave after wave of something. In this case, it was elf-like creatures. Mars was thoroughly familiar with it, but not because of its lack of storyline. He almost mortgaged his parents' house to pay for more character upgrades when he was younger.

The game was his "kryptonite", so to speak. If the person holding Johnny hostage liked a piece of garbage like Croptown, he could certainly appreciate Globe of Gorepath.

The black rims on the Bougieauto spun fast and furiously as Mars skidded to stop in the Flurry Entertainment parking lot. He got out of the car, locked his door, and turned around to face the building. Flabbergasted at what he saw, his mouth hung open for a moment. Despite the type of games that they made, he did not expect the building to be a replica castle, complete with moat.

As he approached the entrance, a person clothed from head-to-toe in medieval garb called out to him from above. "Halt, who goes there?"

Mars tilted his head back to get a better look at the man in the watchtower. Raising his hand like a visor to block out the sunlight, he called out, "Uh, hi...I'm Mars Sugarhill, I would like to speak with someone from management."

"...Sir! Thy speaking is quite atrocious. Canst thou speaketh properly?"

Mars whispered to himself, "...Are you kidding me? I don't have time for this..." However, rather than argue, he attempted to humor him.

"I, Sir Sugarhill, humbly request a meeting lord."

"Aye! Why didn't you just say so buddy?", the guard called out with a smile. The chains which controlled the front entrance began to clack as they moved across a pulley. When the heavy wooden door finally touched down, another guard stepped forward. The man in the tower called out to him.

"Sir Sugarhill requests an audience with Lord Seal. See to it forthwith!"

"Aye!" the man called out in response. He looked towards Mars and continued, "Please follow me sir." The man swiftly turned upon his heel and made his way back into the castle.

Mars started to follow but lagged behind, looking around at the interior of the castle with amazement at how realistic it all was. Other than the modern electronic equipment that was scattered about, it seemed to come straight out of the Middle Ages.

On either side of the main hall were rooms filled with computers. They stood at regular intervals upon long wooden tables. Sitting at each computer were emaciated people, clothed in rags, hunched over their keyboards typing. All of them were chained together by an iron collar around each of their necks.

Confused, Mars lingered in the doorway of one of the rooms as he watched them work. As if they could feel his presence by his stare, one person looked up from their computer and met his eyes. They simply looked at one another until a sudden crack, like the peel of thunder, made them both jump.

A burly man, with a hairy chest, fur loincloth, and a whip in his fist yelled out, "Why have you stopped worm?! It is crunch time! Now back to work before you are fired and we repost your job with lower pay and higher requirements!"

The person let out a yelp. Mars quickly turned and darted towards the guard that was leading him to Lord Seal until he was just a couple of paces behind him. They came to a double door. The guards on either side of it reached for the handles and opened it.

As they walked down a long rug leading towards a throne, Mars noticed all of the people there, sitting in rows of seats shaped like church pews. "I guess this is the king's court," he thought as they spoke amongst themselves.

After an elaborate bow, the guard introduced him to the king. "Lord Seal, this is Sir Sugarhill, he has requested to be in your presence." With an unamused look, Lord Seal waved the guard away with the back of his hand as if he was wiping some dust off of his shoulder.

"Yes?", the king questioned Mars sharply.

Mars nervously explained the situation as briefly as he possibly could. The king seemed to lighten up a bit as he listened.

"Sir Sugarhill, I am feeling generous today, so you are in luck."

"Really? Thank you so much! I cannot thank you enough!"

The king whistled. Outstreching his hand, the crowd grew silent. "Ninny! Come forth!", he shouted.

A man in jester attire meekly came forward. "Yes, your highness?", he squeaked.

"Fetch Sir Sugarhill a copy of Sweets Smasher from the treasure-stores."

Upon hearing this, Mars interrupted. "Actually...ummm...your highness, I was wondering if I could have another game?"

"And what game is it that you would like Sir Sugarhill?"

"...uh...would it be possible to get a copy of Globe of Gorepath?"

The king looked at him blankly for a moment, then started to bellow in laughter. He raised both of his hands and everyone else in the room followed suit, smiling and laughing.

"Do you hear that everyone? Sir Sugarhill wants a copy of Globe of Gorepath!"

Everyone continued to give out their forced laughter, until the king suddenly shouted, "SILENCE!"

The laughter stopped just as quickly as it had started, instantly. The people looked down in fear. With his face contorted in rage, the king spat at Mars, "You have the nerve to question my choice?"

Mars grew pallid. "I'm sorry...I...Sweets Smasher is great. I'm happy with Sweets Smasher."

The king looked him over for a moment. "You will get nothing!...In fact...Guards! Seize Sugarhill and throw him in the dungeon!"

Mars spun around. Two guards were briskly walking down the rug path towards him. He had no where to go, but he certainly did not want to end up in the dungeon. If they treat their own employees the way that he had seen earlier, he could only imagine what they would do to him. He squirmed at the thought. Turning his head to the right, he saw an open window. Pausing for a moment to give a silent prayer, he ran towards it and dived through.

SPLASH! He landed in the moat outside. Scrambling out of the water, he ran to his car, and drove as fast as he possibly could out of there.

After a few minutes, the shock had worn off and he started to talk to himself as he drove. "This is too much! Johnny, you're going to have to get yourself out of this one pal..."

Pulling up towards the driveway of his house, Mars saw someone at his front door. Standing there was Eugene, waiting for him with his hands in his pockets.

As soon as Mars got out of the car, Eugene walked straight towards him and started to speak, "Hey Mars! I'm sorry buddy, I..."

He raised his hand in a friendly gesture and Mars swatted it away. "What do you want you weasel? Haven't you done enough?!"

"Hey now, I'm trying to help!", Eugene pouted.

"I don't need your kind of 'help', thanks!", Mars yelled. Right before he was about to slam the door behind himself, Eugene called out, "...But I know where Johnny is!"

Mars hesitated. He slowly opened up the door again. "And why should I trust anything that you have to say? Huh?"

Eugene fidgeted for a moment. "I know you don't have any reason to trust me, especially after what happened, but Laurel Sheets double crossed me too! At least let me show you where your friend is."

Mars gave him a hard glare. "Fine! Get in the car. I'm driving, you're giving the directions."

About half an hour later, they pulled up to an old warehouse on the backlot of a Gauss Motors dealership. The area was mysteriously quiet.

"If this is some kind of trick, so help me...", Mars threatened.

"Don't worry. It's not. Look, I'm going to check if anyone is around. As far as I know, your friend was being held captive in this building and only one person was keeping watch."

Mars stood off to the side as Eugene knocked on the door. There was no answer. Eugene waved Mars over. "I don't know why no one is here. It shouldn't be empty."

Together they stood in front of the door as Eugene twisted the handle and pushed. It creaked as it slowly swung open, like they were about to enter a haunted house.

"Hello?", Eugene called out into the darkness.

"Who's there?", someone called back.

Recognizing the voice, Mars shouted "Johnny!"

"Mars?", Johnny replied.

Eugene and Mars exchanged a confused glance before cautiously walking into the warehouse. They only took a few steps before they saw Johnny Orca tied to a chair, barefoot.

"What are you doing here?", Johnny questioned in surprise.

"It's a long story. Let's get you out of here first." Mars walked over and started to untie Johnny. As Johnny stood up, he rubbed at his wrists, glad to be free.

"Where is the guy who was watching over you?", Eugene asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Oakley? He is over there," Johnny pointed to an area behind some crates. Writhing on the floor, as if he was doing some kind of awkward breakdancing move, was Oakley.

"What the...? What's wrong with him?" Eugene poked at him with his foot in bewilderment.

"I don't know. He was super excited to play Croptown, then he started acting strangely the more he played."

Mars' phone started to vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and read, "Call from Martin Phineas" flashing upon its screen.

"Hello, Martin?"

"Oh man! Mars! I'm so glad that I finally got ahold of you. Where have you been?! I called you all morning and your phone was busy, and then all afternoon you didn't answer!"

"Sorry Martin. It's been...quite a day. What's up?"

"You didn't try to play Croptown did you?"

"No, why?"

"Ok, promise you won't get mad...I kind of gave you the wrong file by accident..."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

"Everything on this computer is named 'New Program' with a number after it...I thought I saved the right one to the thumbdrive...Oh, geez...", Martin rambled on nervously.

"Martin, can you please get to the point..."

"Right. You accidentally got a file that we were designing for the military, a type of psychological weapon. DON'T try to play it! It will turn your brain to mush!"

Mars hung up the phone with an odd look upon his face. Johnny asked, "What happened?"

"We have to get that thumbdrive back!"

Eugene sighed. "Your friend is safe. Let's just forget about this whole situation, take care of the users of our respective social media apps, and..."

Before he could continue, Mars cut him off. "Since when did you care about your users?...Anyway, it doesn't matter. None of us will have any users if Croptown goes live!"

"What are you talking about?"

Mars pointed to Oakley chattering to himself on the floor. Eugene and Johnny turned to look at him. By this time he managed to lift himself up onto all fours and started to lick the cement.

"That's why!", Mars screamed in exasperation.

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