Quick Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or the world they inhabit. They were created by the fabulous people at Zombie Orpheus for their equally fabulous RPG, Masters of the Metaverse! Be sure to tune in to Twitch.TV/zombieorpheus every Monday at 6PM PST to see more!
“I like Oregon Trail. Do you like Oregon Trail?”
Nick twitched slightly, cocking his head to the side. Looking over towards Professor Gatling, whom he could now see was piloted by a young man with long dread locks, he blinked a few times before answering.
“Oh yeah, it’s the best. I always died of dysentery though.”
“Did you ever just go full Rambo on a hunting mission and kill everything?” Nick asked.
Before the other pilot had a chance to answer, the young woman piloting Annie Oakley came forward and placed a small wooden sculpture on the bar. It appeared to be a model of some sort of pod. A pod? No, not a pod. A metapod.
Cold dread hit him like an electric shock and Nick was suddenly absolutely clear in his awareness. These were other meta pilots, sent by the people at the center. There was only one reason for what was happening. They were trying to take him back. But he didn’t want to go back, not ever. He had to stop them and do it quickly, before they pulled him any further out of his avatar. He could still feel King Teddy in his mind, still hear the king’s thoughts running alongside his own, but the voice was fainter than it had been in months and it made Nick panic.
Stay calm, Nick. You have to stay calm. You know what to do, you’ve trained for this.
Reaching out with his mind, Nick bumped up against the essence of Johnny Appleseed and his pilot. Pushing forward, he was surprised to find that Johnny was almost completely silent while his pilot’s thoughts came to the forefront. This man appeared to have a great deal of knowledge about the metapods. Why would that be? Probing further, Nick unlocked a part of the pilot’s subconscious. Ah, so he helped to build them. He had some inklings of the truth behind all the trouble as well, but he didn’t realize it. Still, this would be a very useful mind to commandeer for a time.
Nick willed himself out of Teddy, much to his chagrin, and into the mind of Johnny Appleseed. There was a ringing in his ears and a sudden blinding light, and when he opened his new eyes he could see the metapods sitting before him. He had no body, he was simply essence floating above the ground, but he could hear, see, and smell everything around him. The familiar hum of the pods, the quiet chattering of some of the techs as they monitored the pilots, bright lights above them, and a familiar smell. A wonderful smell, what was it? Buffalo wings with ranch, someone must be having them for lunch. He hadn’t tasted those in so long, the aroma was almost palpable. But he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted.
Looking down he saw a name on the pod, “JEBEDIAH LEXINGTON”, and assumed that this must be the pilot he had reached through. Following the conduits that ran out from the machine, Nick was able to find the metabox and the controls for the avatars. All he had to do now was push himself back into avatar range and lock the others out so that they couldn’t stop him. He would set the locks first, make sure that no one could follow him. Setting the codes and sending the signals, Nick could almost see the gates shutting behind each of the other pilots. Let them all sit in their cages for a time, someone would come and reset them soon. But until then, let them sit, think, and reconsider what they were doing. Let them realize that their mission was futile, that it wasn’t right for them to try to come here and take him away. It wasn’t right for them to try to make him remember who he used to be.
All that was left to do was to put himself back into Teddy, back into full avatar range, back into the blissful unawareness he had come to expect. But somehow he couldn’t help himself, and he cast a look over to the other side of the room. There was a pod off by itself, they must have moved it, with a name written on it. He peered closer and finally read the words that he knew were there, “NICK KRIEGER”.
Nick’s mind recoiled and he felt himself shudder. He didn’t want to see that name, didn’t want to remember the man that was sitting in that pod. He didn’t want to be here! He didn’t want to be himself again! He didn’t want to remember. He didn’t want to remember her.
It was her voice, thin as a whisper, somewhere far away. It was that same voice she always used when she was trying to get his attention, make him look at her, that same voice he had heard in his dreams every night for the past month. From the corner of his eye he saw a flash of dark hair and smelled a hint of lilacs, her favorite flower. He didn’t want to look but he couldn’t not. Turning around, Nick saw her. She looked at him with a quizzical smile and held out her hand. It was her. It was Wanda.
Nick almost reached out, almost said her name, but at the last moment he stopped. She opened her mouth to speak again but he was already running. Running back to the pods, back to the pilot he had taken over, back to the metaverse. Leaping into the ether again, he slammed the door shut behind him and with panicked breaths, willed himself back into the avatar of King Teddy. The avatar accepted him easily, like an old friend welcoming him home, and he felt the familiar darkness enveloping his memories and mind once again. Nick slowly sank beneath the surface and knew nothing more.
King Teddy blinked and felt confused for a moment. He had lost some time and, even more disturbing, he was crying.