This is a really fucking long game, I think. I may have lost track of time, or maybe there’s some weird gaps. Like I’m reading some of my own stuff to stay caught up. Because I know I’m doing stuff, and time’s passing, but there’s no way the stuff I do has been filling all that time.
I do know I hate water levels in games in general, and this one wasn’t any better. One level only, there were spikes all around, and electric seaweed, and fish that could come at me from all sides. I think they were fish. At the very least, the smaller ones appeared to be belligerent mutated sea bass. No joke. Those things could take a man’s head off. They gave me some shiny white diving suit, almost like an astronaut outfit, that covered up everything.
The giant tentacles reaching from the darkened bottom of the screen also didn’t help matters. Every so often, there would be a gap in the ground to jump over. But you have to watch and make sure you jump at the right tme, when a tentacle wasn’t reaching out. That wasn’t necessarily easy with divers and mutated sea bass coming at me. I’m good enough that I trapped some of those enemies above the gaps. The tentacles reached up on time and grabbed them by the throats. It was fun to watch at first, but they all used the same animations for their enemy class.
So I made my way through the whole place, knocking the crap out of mutated sea bass with coral, throwing dumped barrels of waste at divers, punching big enemies who wore the old-fashioned suits with the helmets, and occasionally grabbing pirate anchors to bash in giant hermit crabs. In a fun break from reality, I even got caught at a wall after entering one wrecked pirate ship and broke through using a cannon.
The goal appeared to be this downed submarine that sat on the opposite end of a huge gap. Before I could figure out how to get across, a shriek echoed through the waters. The whole screen moved over so I had a room to move left/up to right/down, but not so much forward or back. A giant squid appeared, the top of its pointed head turned into an antenna. Wires sprouted from the base of that antenna and ran down to a monocle lens over one of its eyes.
“That motherfucker can go fuck its own mother,” I said as I watched its health bar fill up, getting tautological on its ass. I moved as far forward as I could and threw a punch. Too far away. It thrust forward toward, biting. I slid down and avoided it, then stepped back up to hit it while it recovered and bulled back. It stayed close, so I got a few more shots in, but it flapped its arms and knocked me down. It pulled back and began to raise an arm, the shadow appearing along the ridge I stood on.
The shadow followed where I moved, so I led it to the topmost corner and stepped back and forth until it stopped moving. When I stepped down, it didn’t follow, and the tentacle slammed into the ridge. Two things happened. The tentacle stayed there for a moment, the squid stunned. And the shaking of the ridge somehow uncovered a barrel of toxic waste. I punched the tentacle first while it stuck around. When it pulled back, I grabbed the barrel and tossed it at the squid.
It was a fairly standard battle like that. The more damage I did, the faster the squid got. The flesh of its tentacles dissolved after a certain amount of damage and revealed robotics underneath. Instead of just slamming down, they started to shoot a laser first. I still hadn’t figured out how to use my Panic Attack on my own, or whatever my Special was. I’ve come across little powerups that look like my pixelated head, but I can never use whatever they’re for.
So I’ve been relying on my own fighting style to get me through. It’s been painful at times, but I must have been doing ok. I killed the Cyber Squid, for instance. Beat it to death until it rose up and collapsed. Then I walked across its floating body to get to the downed sub. The game began tallying up my level score with its name for me, Kumiho, over that.
The next level was some base accessible by water and began with me jumping out of the submarine, once again in my usual attire. No shoes, short leather shorts, a black leather jacket, and my sensitive white fox ears sitting atop a head of white hair. A grey humanoid robot without a blank mannequin’s head stopped pushing a cart full of gems and approached, its arm transforming into a drill. Kick, kick, spin kick, and then a faceful of my sharp nails to its face.
“Gecko, before you go any further, we need to talk,” said a voice I’ve gotten damn tired of by now. Accompanying it was a feeling like something twisted in my gut and head.
I threw my hands up and yelled at the sky as I headed to the next screen. “What? What the hell could be so damn important that you’re interrupting me again?! You JUST talked to me a couple levels back!”
“That was a few days, Gecko.”
I blinked. A drill robot advanced on me backed up by this level’s heavy enemy, a robot on tank treads with a domed head and an arm that ended in a barrel. It pointed it at me from across the screen and fired a laser. Damn. They don’t normally give heavies a ranged attack due to balance issues. “No, it wasn’t. You were distracting me in the suburbia level.”
“Yeah. That was days ago.”
I jumped up, my legs wrapping around the regular robot’s chest below its armpits and took to bashing its blank face with my boobs. I guess you could call that a different sort of torture rack. “No, because after the suburbs, there’s the clown enemies at the boardwalk, including the clown dogs and their wet, red noses. Then I jumped into the water for the water level. Now I’m here. It doesn’t take days to do that.”
My agitation growing, I broke out the claws and began shredding a motherfucking heavy robot.
Venus let me finish before breaking in. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You don’t remember, but after this underground mining level, you show up in the middle of a basement science lab level, then there’s the skyscraper level.”
I folded my arms. “Sounds like someone’s psychic all of a sudden. Then what?”
“I don’t know. You didn’t get past the skyscraper level.”
A sensation I normally feel in my bowels before running to the bathroom passed from the base of my skull and through my lungs. “Explain.”
“You’ve run out of lives a few times when we didn’t have quarters handy, or when the group watching you got distracted. After the first time, we unplugged the game to bring it back here, but they didn’t wait for you to die before doing that. You’ve gotten to the skyscraper level twice but died. The last time is why you look like that, by the way.”
“Look like what?” I asked, looking myself over. “This is how I look. It’s why the damn game called me Kumiho in the first place.”
“I am going to chew out John so bad for that. So, you know how games have multiple characters you can select from? One of the guys watching you thought it would be fun to select one of the others for you to play as instead of yourself.”
I rubbed my forehead. It wasn’t being transformed into a woman that bothered me. I’ve done that to myself, though there’s a huge difference between doing it myself and having it done to me. Just like masturbation, in fact. “So I’ve died a few times. Several, I guess, because I ran out of lives, and I don’t remember it?”
“You’re down two extra lives so far this time, too.”
“How close are you to finding the puddle of monkey piss who did this to me, then?”
“There is good news there, and bad. The bad news is the machine that put you there is no longer functional one way or another because of testing.”
“Unless the good news is a blowjob from Ryan Reynolds, that’s going to be a hard one to counteract. And yes, I’m aware that now I don’t even have that part. Geez, what’s my third character, a dwarf? Or some sort of jokey bonus character?”
Venus ignored the last part of that. “We arranged for the hostess to escape under surveillance, and with a tracker on her. We think she’ll lead us to who we need. It’s better than waiting on you to finish.”
“Well excuse me, princess, but sometimes it takes a little more time for a woman to finish, especially if no one’s pushing the right buttons. I can’t seem to use my Panic Attack or my Special.”
“Oh, they use the Z button.”
“The fuck’s a Z button? I don’t have buttons. I got arms, legs, and any other body parts I want to use to beat wholesale ass.” That brought something to mind. I turned to stare at my butt. No tail, great. I didn’t have a tail in my Behemoth look, either, so at least the game was consistent like that. Not a bad ass, either, but that kind of thing is difficult to tell with this few pixels. “If I’m still in this body when I get out, want to help me find my G button?”
“No. Just, no. Ew, oh God no.”
“Glad to see you’re as tactful as ever, Venus.”
“I couldn’t help it. You’re wired into my thoughts like this.”
I shrugged and headed a screen over. Dirt fell from the ceiling and a pair of miners dropped down on me from above. I looked around for something to take out some frustration with and found a pick axe. The first one got it upside its head, then upside its crotch. The second, I kicked it into the air and let it fall on its back onto the blade. Then I grabbed its legs, put my foot between them, and pulled them off. When another pair popped up through holes in the floor, the pieces of that robot gave me a leg up on them.
After some cathartic disassembly of enemies, I asked Venus, “Still there?”
“I’m thinking of a number. It’s an account number for a black marketeer. Normally, I don’t bother, because I’m a very distinct client, but they’re handy in case you need to send a minion to pick something up for you. It occurs to me now that the broken machine that Tronned me in here could be of use. You need to find a guy named Michelangelo. Should be either at the address I’m thinking of, or linked to it. No way you could operate in Empyreal City without some familiarity with his family, though I suppose he could have switched addresses by now. That account number is absolutely good at Michelangelo’s House of Negotiable Stuff. I’ve done a lot of business with them in the past, and I’m pretty good on credit. I suspect my reputation and curiosity over how you know it will get you in. He might have sold parts used in that machine, or bought something similar from the guy who made it. Normally, sharing info about other customers is taboo, but you’re heroes. Just try not to hurt him or arrest him, if possible. Negotiate. You put him in jail, he’ll just get out and be harder to find next time.”
“You don’t want him hurt?”
“He’s done right by me in the past, at least to my somewhat warped standards. Do right by him in return and he’ll give you trustworthy info. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to beat.” I advanced to a new screen. A giant drill opened a hole in the wall behind me, then opened up. Robots spilled out and zeroed in on me.
“Why bother? It’s not solving anything and you’re just not beating it. There’s no reason you can’t rest somewhere.”
I smiled as punched a pile of rubble and a gemstone fell out. I grabbed it and tossed it at a nearby robot. I knew she’d hate the answer, but it made sense to me. “I choose to,” I told her. After a moment’s contemplation and taking a drill to the face, I added. “And even if I die again, at least I can get back to the body I started with. Who knows what the consequences will be if I end the game like this?”
“You’d be hot,” she said, quickly adding, “Ew.”
“Too late, I’m counting it!” I said. I didn’t get to celebrate it because I took another punch. I had a bunch of enemies on both sides now, due to how they can move back off screen to get behind me “Now, somebody hit my panic button!”
I felt myself freeze up, then start flipping and cartwheeling forward. Any limb not on the ground slashed out, knocking enemies away as I gained ground. It left me to the right side of the screen with all my enemies conveniently behind me. Eight of them. One of me. One extra life, and no matter what I do, the near future will almost certainly be a near disaster.
I guess the stakes don’t seem too high, but there are times in life when someone has to remember that, no matter how fucked-up things get, they must always remember to fight, even if the best they can do leads to nothing but breaking even. Those are the times when someone has to fight the most. The battles that try men’s souls. The spirit that- oh fuck it, I’m gonna rip those drills off these fuckers, take ’em behind the woodshed, and see how they enjoy a traditional game from the woods of the Appalachian mountains called “Squeal Like This’d Be Illegal If You Were Human,” but with fewer pigs.