The Most Unexpected Outcome
A Consortium Fanfiction
Tens of thousands of times. Hours upon hours.
Inside the satellite, IDGI-1. Messages beamed to infinite cosmos.
Visitor upon visitor walked the long quantum tunnel,
Each shaped real lives.
This one, though, is not like the others.
Not a freak accident,
Lost in time.
A House in the 2010s
Far Removed from a World after Resource Wars
I’ll try it, the man thought, as he double-clicked an icon on his desktop. In his hand was a flimsy helmet, mint from the box. Beyond the windows to his room were whistling trees and whipping rain. A few flashes of lightning struck off in the distance, thundering out with a Kra-KAM! On the man's screen, a video began to play. The words he’d heard dozens of times filtered through the speakers of his computer.
“Is this our future?”
Like every one of those times, excepting perhaps the first, he hit escape. It cut off on an image of destruction as the man skipped the introduction video. On the main screen, he saw the swirling satellite, spiraling idly in wait for the man’s first actions. He saw the ‘Access Stream’ button, and like every time before it the man pressed ‘Agree’. Why not? After all, he was just playing a video game. There was no actual IDGI-1 satellite in orbit. No Vidal Desertch, no matter how many times the devs posted in his name on the front page. It was all a product of some dreamers with a vision for a cool game, no matter what silly agreements they made him sign with a thumb of the agree button.
Unlike those other times he'd pressed, however, this man was about to experience this ‘Video Game’ firsthand. Far more firsthand than he could ever expect. With a smile, he plugged the cable into the back of his helmet, set it on his head, and blinked as the screen inside came to mimic the screen he’d seen on his computer. Virtual Reality was coming into its own.
The man blinked as he saw the loading screen swirling, the progress bar crawling forwards. He anticipated the creepy voices of Quantum Limbo, and the tunnels that lay ahead – as well as the mystery man lying in wait for him, horrifying each and every time.
Only, this time, it didn’t work quite like that.
Beyond the windows, a lightning bolt shot out of the sky. Far closer than the others. At its tip, 21 individual arcs had sizzled together into a single pulse, plasma shooting downwards that hit the man’s satellite dish with a thundering fizzle. Energy crawled down the cable lines unnaturally and swirling, shifting in color from white-blue to a deeper blue, then plunged into the computer’s power supply. Unassuming, the man heard and saw nothing as blue energy slowly crawled up the cable to his helmet, spreading wide over it.
This Seeker, one of many, felt nothing as 21 lances of plasma bored into his skull. He didn’t feel the pain, nor the agony as he died. The energy snaked through his skull, mapping and tearing in equal measure. Fair, one voice of many thought. How many Robert Jenkinses have perished at his hands? How many innocent crewmen were blown from the airlocks? How many Angelovs have been gunned down?
Perhaps it’s time for him to learn, another of the machine-voices thought, as a neural pattern was slowly reaved from the man’s brain, and crackled into an unnatural crimson red. Following the lightning's path in cruel reverse, the energy coalesced into the same satellite dish, again defying physics as it charged for a shot. For those that were brave enough to look outside during such a chaotic storm, an odd thing happened. Instead of a white-blue flash downward, a black-red beam shot upward into the sky, splitting into 21 strands that fizzled out into the clouds.
For the man who’d been killed in but a blink, it felt like nothing at all. Emptiness. Forgotten darkness. His last moment had been staring at a loading screen, planning to say nothing on this VR-Run of a game called Consortium.
His next moment would not be in this world – but the one that would've been his latest victim.
A dimensional rift away, a man named Bob flinched on the floor of his room. He was fighting it - the thing they'd put in his head those years ago. His face was slick with sweat as he struggled, his face and fingers and calves fighting every motion with another from an unknown puppetmaster. His eyes bulged and twitched as he fought to look down at himself – but all his mind could manage was forward. His arms and legs jerked as he crawled on all fours, clambering into bed. His mind was turmoil and regret. I just want it to end, Bob thought, before his eyes shut without his say-so. Sleep hormones filled him with tiredness. He drifted away.
This time, unlike all the others, it did end. Instead of sleeping in a pained fugue as was typical across the dimensions, instead a small chip in his brain sent a kill-signal that wiped his mind entirely. His thoughts. His feelings. Gone in an instant. Memories of his wife, of his girlfriend who went missing, of his work in the peace talks and his failures on the rifle range.
Outside the azure plane he rode aboard, the one that cruised in silence over the Aegean Sea, energy snapped from the sky. With a thunder of red fire, it hit the wing with a sudden roar of energy. Alarms in various heads' up displays flickered to life, crewmen aboard the roaring craft concerned about the unidentified surge. For a woman trying to change the outcome of a very certain thing, it was a dark omen indeed.
That energy, though, it crept and crawled, curling up and through the very hull of the aircraft. Through flickering shields it wormed, until it found its way into the head of a mindless man, struggling to sleep. His body shook as the red energy jolted from skin to skull to chip beneath his skull, following its simple instructions to write extradimensional memories onto an interdimensional mind.
One step at a time, the man from the 2010s was scribbled onto a blank slate. The chip worked on overdrive, quickly modifying key functions in the basest instincts. Soon enough, it was done: this man from another world was ready to reshape the one he’d reshaped a thousand times, free of satellites and machines. He was free of the churches and corporations. The Seeker, no longer tethered to a satellite, had descended.
In the shadows, a new dream came to be: A man from another universe’s eyes opened, and for a brief moment he wondered his own name aloud. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Only numbers came to his fractured mind: ‘21’.
“My name-“ He said into an engulfing blackness, his eyes bug-wide as he realized what came when he thought his own name, “My name can’t be 21, it’s-“
But there was no name but 21. Ahead of him lay a long, gridded hallway, and at the end of it was a man standing. He looked pale, his beard thick, hair disheveled, and eyes wild. With a stutter-step, he walked forward, like a puppet being pulled on jerking strings. “No!” 21 shouted out into the void, hands palming his head for the last thing he remembered: The VR headset. He pulled at his skull but his hands passed through. He looked down to himself, and realized that he had no hands. No feet. He wasn’t there. Just a ghost walking to his death.
The man kept coming, so 21 turned: and then he saw it. A tunnel. Just like the one he’d seen a thousand times in that game. Gridded and broken, with its ends trailing and warping in an unfeeling wind. He heard the crackle of the floor's energy as he ran, the stutterstepping man chasing him with grunts and groans escaping his twitching lips.
In the air he heard voices he'd heard before, shouting from all around as he rushed through the pathway. They were memories, words spoken by the King in broken dimensions: “She promised me that~”
And then a final word: “Security Lockdown Initiated.”
The gridded hallway slammed shut – dozens of glyph-like symbols from the King-AI shuddering in red, bloody lights flashing as the bodiless man turned to see the stutterstepping man. His body was decorticate, wrists twisted, feet turned inward, eyes wide as foam frothed at his mouth.
He wore a uniform that looked like that of the game's Consortium. It wasn’t one that 21 had seen before - not a Rook's. Not a Knight's. Not a Pawn's. “You’re… a Bishop!” 21 shouted voicelessly into the void.
The man shook before him, hands raising, and charged. 21 screamed a voiceless scream, mind flashing as the creature made contact. His brain burned with a lancing pain.
Then he was awake. Awake into a brand-new world.
Consortium Command Craft
En-Route to Charlestowne, Ireland
The man came to shouting, in the heart of an aircraft he didn’t know. A hexagonal print over a digital window showed him an uninterrupted, if dimmed, view of lightning striking the wing of what looked like an airliner. His sweat-covered face and damp uniform gave him pause has he sat up. Strangely different eyesight adjusted to see a television in front of him, at the foot of the bed. A man was speaking, smiling on the screen.
“-21 centimeters of snow!” It was Malcolm Thomas. Smug prick. Reporter. Formerly (or perhaps, concurrently in another dimension) a terrorist who destroyed realities by hacking the Consortium King. 21 remembered him from the Alternate Reality Game, and if… if this was an airliner, it was Zenlil, and 21 thought the truth: I’m in Consortium!
21’s eyes blinked as he stood, realizing the fact was true. The screen, the walls, the floor - everything screamed at him straight out of the game itself. 21's new muscles ached, and he reached down to realize everything felt different. This wasn't his body - it was someone else's. Unthinking, he said the words that were on his mind: “Lights.”
The lights snapped on in the room with a whirr, revealing a battlesuit locker on the wall, a computer next to it, and a F-35 fighter flying perilously close off the wing. It swirled, covered in camouflage, a lion's head on its tail. Homeless Mercs, he thought. Right out of the intro to Consortium. Wiping a hand over his sweaty face, 21 crouched and tugged open one of the drawers under Bishop 6’s folding bed/desk. As he did so, the topside swirled and folded out into a desk and computer screen. Inside one of the cupboards, 21 found a towel, and wiped his face off. “Sonovabitch. I’m Bishop 6. I’m… Jenkins, right? That was his name? Robert Jenkins?”
That means I’m stuck here. Really here, too – not just seeking. What the hell?! I threw on a VR headset, this can’t be real! None of it can!
If it was real, 21 knew, the doorbell would ring.
Bishop 6 - for that's what he was, a brand-new combat operative of a global agency, stared at the door with hollow eyes. I'm Bishop 6. This is my first day. I have no damned idea what I'm doing. He finished toweling off and tossed the thing in his drawer. With a stand, he smoothed out an unfamiliar uniform on his shoulders. The bell rung once more, and he pressed the door panel.
A blonde woman that looked awfully familiar – if considerably more human than cartoony as in the game – stepped inside with a smile. “Up and awake already, Bishop? Nap wasn’t such a big deal after all then, was it?”
“Uh, yeah. Got distracted by the scenery,” the Bishop managed, as he clumsily thumbed over his shoulder at the airplane. “They’re the, ah, Homeless Mercs, right?” The woman's name was Rook 25 - an Officer of the Consortium. Ship's tech expert and engineer. Her name was also Alannah Boyle, and she was a hardass. Polite, professional, and a blunt-speaking workaholic.
“Sure are – Kiril Angelov’s personal Bulgarian lackeys. A couple of hotheads who wished the war never ended. Just another day in the Consortium. The K wants you suited up.”
Six nodded, looking around the unfamiliar room. On the floor, he saw the large impression of a Bishop piece. This is real. This is fucking real, or I’m in one of those super-comas from using VR. What if I’m in Sword Art Online, Consortium edition? Damn you iDGi! This was your plan all along!
“Ahem, Bishop – did you hear me?” Alannah said as she folded her arms. She'd moved to stand next to the BUS Locker, holding the new Bishop's very own Battle Utility Suit. It wasn't exactly a Warhammer Space Marine's power armor, but it let you taze people, block bullets with shields, and inject yourself and others with a variety of helpful nanites.
The Bishop cleared his throat as 21 snapped to reality. “Sorry, sorry – distracted taking in the moment. First day.”
Alannah cocked a smile at him. “You won’t be smiling like that after a few months of hard work for this outfit. Or maybe you will? Who knows. The King seems to like you a lot. In any case, let's get this whole first-suitup thing all squared away. We’ve got your-”
“PCU, BUS, and Assault Helmet?” 21 finished off. He was the Seeker, after all, and foreknowledge was part of the game. Seeker. That's a whole lot better of a name than 21, he decided. Seeker. I'm the Seeker, Robert Jenkins. As to those items - the PCU was basically a transporter buffer from Star Trek: Elite Force. Kept some healing nanites, kept guns in energy storage, and was generally a walking recycling machine.
“So we do,” Alannah said, setting her hands on her hips. One of her palms rose and typed in the air. After a moment, the BUS locker’s front panels slid open. Inside was a suit of battle armor that the Seeker had seen more times than he could count. He stepped forward and actually touched it this time, palms on ceramic and spidersilk alike. The Seeker didn’t expect the thing to feel so soft. “Specially tailored for you, Bishop – hope you aren’t having second thoughts. It’s a big job, and lots of people are wondering why they picked you for it.”
There was a pause as the Seeker thumbed the helmet. They were right, of course. Bob Jenkins was downright useless from all we Seekers have seen. A two-bit soldier with hardly a career. Even I passed US Army rifle training at explorer camp. It takes a special kind of useless to be that bad.
“Trust me,” the Bishop said, eyes narrow as he picked up the suit from the rack. "I know the kind of questions people have been asking about me. I'll prove them wrong." The BUS came open easily enough at the waistline, allowing him to snug its lower torso on with his uniform's undersuit. Then came the upper torso. Alannah stepped behind him snapping in sections and powering on the PCU.
In an awkward movement of his shoulders, the Seeker – now officially Bishop 6 – felt the suit’s weight melt away beneath his shoulders. With a grasp of the Assault Helmet, he sealed it over his head with a gentle pop. "I hope you're right, Bishop. You're official now - suit, PCU, all we need is some guns and a CMC for you."
The Seeker moved Jenkins' head with a few twists, trying to get used to the helmet. His vision was hardly obstructed, assisted by a strange HUD and some AR displays. “Thanks for your help, Rook.”
“Hey, no problem. Now – I’ve booted up the Virtual Trainer for you, where you can start on your introductory Bishop training scenario. You’ll also want to head to Mission Ops and get your CMC from the K, that’s this lovely thing,” she said, pointing to a mix of a cochlear implant and a small camera on her ear, “and then, maybe take a walk. Meet the Pawns. They’ll be your coworkers aboard ship, so it'll be good to get to know them. I’ll be in the lower crawl with Pawn 7, doing some CCU maintenance.”
“Yep!” the Bishop said, watching as Alannah walked off quietly with purpose in her step. Just another task on her list, the Seeker thought. His eyes turned to the infoconsole, but his fingers waggled in disagreement. “No, Bishop,” he said to himself. His eyes traced Alannah as she stepped into where the ship's kitchenette was. You have more important things to do than snoop on a screen. Like, say, make sure nobody does anything to Matthew Wilson.
Matthew Wilson was Pawn 7. In the game, without fail, he would be murdered by the ship's traitor. Patricia. For a unique time among his many playthroughs, the Bishop realized he had a chance to confront her before such a thing happened.
The Seeker's new legs carried him out the door. He locked his cabin behind him, wordlessly. To his right, the elevator jingled open, revealing a young woman with a smile on her face. “Good morning, sleepyhead!”
The Bishop smiled behind his helmet. “Good morning, Pawn 19.” His thoughts were distracted. How can I help 7 stay alive? I don't know how to fight a Bishop. Patricia's probably better than me! I can't save-load anymore!
“And a very good morning to you – oh, and Merry Christmas!” Pawn 19, Carla Croft, said. She was nice. Hit on the Bishop from time to time in the game. Much prettier in real life than in the digitization of the game space. She smiled happily.
The Seeker chose to shoot back with his own brand of humor: “Ho ho ho, and a sonic blasting for all the naughty children, am I right?”
Carla blinked and chuckled at him. “We’re going to need to repaint your suit if you keep talking like that, Bishop-Claus.”
“Now, now, be a good girl Miss Croft. Wouldn’t want to put you on the naughty list for vandalizing Consortium propery.”
She chuckled, "Oh, and what are you going to do about it? Nanite me?"
The Bishop laughed. "Get back to work, ma'am - talk like that'll get you in trouble."
He waved as she walked on with laughter. Six stepped into the small kitchenette wordlessly. It looked much the same, though the ration kits had actual labels. There was a metal finish to the sinks. Inside, the Bishop could see his helmet's reflection. No mirror in my quarters, Six thought. With a few moments of silence, the Seeker took his helmet off. The man that looked back, Bob Jenkins, was an alien that responded to his commands. He worked his face through a series of expressions, wincing at each one in turn. A weird feeling lay in the pit of his stomach as he tapped his face with his gloves, setting the helmet aside. Bearded. Longer hair. Just like the man in Quantum Limbo - walking all twisted and broken. What happened to him? Is he in here, still?
The Seeker held his head, and was quiet for a brief moment. He heard no voices in his head. Saw no static or strangeness. Jenkins could be dead. Erased for all I know. Hell, I could be, too, if I don’t work to change things. Kiril and the EMP. Pawn 7. Pawn 64. I have to stop 32 from planting the virus. Fix the freefall suit. It's the only way to be sure.
Six clenched his fists on his helmet. With a flinch and shimmer of blue energy, it dissolved in his hands. The Seeker blinked at his unintentional work, “Oh, so that’s how that works?” the Bishop whispered to himself. If I'm going to get through this, I need to be ready. His eyes turned to the Virtual Trainer.
Maybe I should figure out how the rest of being a Bishop works, too. For real this time.
And so the new Bishop 6 stepped into the holobox of the Virtual Trainer, the energy gate dropping shut behind him, trapping him in a tiny box. “Not exactly a holodeck, is it, Scotty?” He said aloud. His thumb pressed the initializer without a thought.