For The Love Of A Brother

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!

“Did you hear? Robert Ford is in town.”

Maddox froze involuntarily, a chill running up the spine of Jesse James. In spite of the fact that she was totally in control, Maddox found herself clenching her fists as Jesse screamed inside her brain. She turned to catch a glimpse of who had spoken, finding two men smoking cigarettes nearby. She casually approached them, her heart pounding in her chest as she did so.

“You hear tell about a man named Robert Ford being part of the poker contest?” she asked, nearly biting her own tongue as she said the name.

The men gave vague answers and waved her in the direction of another hotel where Robert was supposedly playing cards. Jesse raged inside of her, pounding on her skull just begging to be let out. It took all of Maddox’s willpower to turn around and walk back inside to find her companions. She reported her findings to the others but barely heard what was discussed, contributing the bare minimum to the conversation as she focused all her energy on Jesse.

Her heart was going to explode. Her lungs were going to collapse. A scream was building inside of her and it was all she could do to keep it from pouring out. Jesse’s memories were tumbling all around her, so fresh and clear she could have sworn they were her own.

Jesse and Frank had been inseparable. Twins in every way but birthday. He was younger than she was. It had always been Jesse’s job to take care of him, to keep him safe. Until she didn’t. Until she couldn’t. The bullet had been meant for her, not Frank. He’d been quicker than she had. He’d seen the gun first. By the time Jesse knew what was happening Frank was already dying. He’d smiled at her. Looked up at her with blood in his mouth and smiled.

As Maddox watched these memories play out before her eyes for the briefest moment she saw Mac’s face instead of Frank’s. Saw those men surrounding him again. But this time she wasn’t there to save him. She wasn’t there to keep him safe.

Billi laughed and took another shot. Maddox rolled her eyes, this was getting them nowhere. She had questions, things she wanted to know. Unfortunately she couldn’t do anything about that because their guide, TOM, was currently sharing an avatar with Andi. She didn’t know who was being the worse influence on the situation but between the three of them it was devolving into a one man circus. Billi the Kid seemed perfectly content to drink, steal, shoot, or ride anything and neither Andi nor TOM was doing a thing to change that.

“Well, since they’re getting wasted I’m not sure how much use they’re going to be.” she said, gesturing at Billi.

Billi straightened and glared, “You’re wasted!”

Maddox blinked. She wasn’t sure who that had been from but the venom of it took her by surprise. She agreed. She was wasted. She was wasted potential and there wasn’t anything she could do about it. She’d joined this whole endeavor because she wanted to make a difference, in her life and in Mac’s. She wanted to do something that mattered finally, something that changed things for the better. To do something more than protect people who didn’t really need it or take risks just to get the adrenaline high to prove she was still brave. For once in her life she wanted to do something meaningful, something that made her feel proud. Just once she wanted to be a whole person, not a facsimile.

But ever since she had started this Project: Metaverse it had been the same thing over and over again. Death, destruction, violence, nothing she did ever stopped it. She had tried to prevent the others from killing the borks but failed. Her avatar in Sentinel City had had their memory wiped and their identity taken because she wasn’t strong enough to fight back. Now it was taking all she had not to walk out of the hotel and gun down Robert Ford, wherever he might be. Was this the point? Was this what the Metaverse wanted for her? To be a killer?

Eventually Billi got herself to the point where she allowed herself to be escorted, and Maddox took her upstairs to her room and put her to bed. Rejoining the others, she let Doc and John talk. Jesse had gone quiet but she could still feel her at the base of her neck, tensed and waiting. Waiting for a moment to be set free. Maybe she should just let Jesse go. Maybe she should just ask TOM to be unplugged, to be taken out of the Metaverse. She was sure she could handle anything she found outside of the pods. And then she would…what?

The Program had made her promises. Promises for her life and for Mac’s. If she left now would they still honor them? Somehow she doubted it. She wasn’t stupid, the odds that The Program was aware that they were working with TOM were small, and the odds that they would be happy about that if they found out were smaller still. Maddox knew in her gut that if she left now and went back to The Program, assuming she could even find someone in the middle of the full on assault of the island, she would either be kicked out of Project: Metaverse entirely with no compensation or…

Or never heard from again.

The thought terrified her, not for her own safety but for Mac’s. If she was gone what would happen to him? Who would tell him where she had gone? Who would protect him?

Maddox made as if to head out the door. John Hardin caught her eye, “Don’t go to any bars with Fords in them. Keep your head. Keep your head.”

She nodded. John seemed different from before. He kept looking at his wedding band, playing with it idly as he spoke to Doc. Maddox could sense that he was holding himself back, keeping his anger in control as he talked. Was Brony having that much of an effect on him? Or was it the other way around? She hadn’t heard any mention of points from him in a long time. In fact, Brony had been the one to first suggest doing something other than killing, to actually try and act like decent people in their outlaw avatars. What was happening?

A sudden thought caught her. TOM had said that without them, without the influence of the pilots, these avatars would be dead in a matter of weeks through various means. Andi as Billi had seemed to think that they had already helped them avoid that fate just by being in them, by choosing a different path. But what if they hadn’t done that yet? What if this was always where they had been meant to end up? What if the paths hadn’t diverged until now?

This one town held so many things that their avatars wanted, George Custer for Doc, the Alamo for Billi, and Robert Ford for Jesse. All their darkest desires just waiting for them. Jesse pleaded with Maddox to be let loose. For one minute inside that hotel with Robert Ford, one moment with her gun against his neck. Just one…and then it would be over.

Maddox almost wanted to let her go. Almost wanted to slip under the water and let her avatar take control, to just be a spectator and for once not care about the outcome. Everyone in this world was so eager to murder each other, so delighted to be terrible people. Why should she try to stop them? Why should she even care?

Because these were real people. Just as real as Mac was. And she did care. No matter how much she tried not to, she always cared. That had been her secret, for as long as she could remember. A soldier with a heart, a fighter with a soul, but no one ever knew. She kept that part of herself hidden, pushed down deep where it couldn’t come back to haunt her. But it always did. Maybe that was the point.

The paths were opening up before her, choices were going to have to be made. She could cut and run or stick it out. She could become a person she hated or try to find a way to be the person she wanted to be. She could be a ghost or a hero.

Maddox straightened and turned to rejoin her friends. She was making plans for certain, but they were her plans this time. Her plans with her brain and her heart, nothing less.

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