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The first time Lucas and Tre realize they’re in Washington D.C. is when they drive within sight of the Washington Monument—the five hundred and fifty-plus foot tall obelisk poking up like a middle finger proclaiming America’s superiority to the world.
Seated in the back of a dark-colored sedan, they drive by Lincoln Memorial and soon turn into a parking ramp. Instead of going up, they head to the sublevels. After passing through a checkpoint manned by a uniformed officer, they park in a stall, sandwiched between a plain white van and a black BMW. There is a RESERVED – DO NOT PARK sign secured along the concrete wall before them.
The floor lowers, drawing them further underground. The only source of light is the ambient dashboard lights. Once they hit bottom, the driver turns on the headlights and they soon come to a set of steel double-doors.
The driver and front passenger immediately jump out, then open the back doors to let out Tre and Lucas. The air is strikingly cool. They head through the doors and down a narrow hallway until they come to a large auditorium-sized room with banks of computer screens and workstations laid out before them. Along the walls are various computerized maps, many displaying areas in the Middle East.
Four men walk up to them. Three are dressed in suits, while the fourth bears a well-decorated military uniform.
“Mr. Paxton and Mr. Simmons, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” a man with a crewcut, one of the suits, says. “My name is Rex Cornelius. I’m the Creative Manager for Mountainview Gaming. I hope you had a pleasant trip.” He extends a hand.
“Pleasant?” Lucas asks, crossing his arms. “Let’s see: we’re confronted by a couple of guys who look like they’re from Men In Black, told we have just a few minutes to pack a change of clothes before we’re thrown into a car and sped off to the airport. Then, instead of heading out to your headquarters in California, we’re flown to D.C.” He gestures all around him. “No, I’d say pleasant doesn’t even register on my radar.”
Tre also crosses his arms. “Yeah, what he said.”
Lucas removes the check from his pocket. “Thanks for the money dough. It’ll come in handy.”
Rex smirks. “Sorry for the cloak and dagger treatment, gentlemen. But given the extremely sensitive nature of the circumstances, we needed to take such precautions. All in the name of national security.”
“National security?” Lucas asks. “This is a joke, right?”
“Not in the least.” Rex turns and gestures to the other two dressed in suits. “I’d like you to meet the founders of Mountainview Gaming, Peter Chin and Lich Glasnov.”
All thoughts of their bizarre treatment over the past few hours are erased.
Now all I have left to do is meet George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and marry a Victoria’s Secret model, and my life will be complete, Lucas thinks.
“And this,” Rex continues, gesturing to the fourth, “is Major Reginald Armstrong of the Joint Chiefs.”
Lucas and Tre straighten their posture and shake hands with the high-ranking Major.
“Now, if you’ll follow us, you can meet the rest of your squadron.”
* * *
One side of the room is lined with glass, overlooking the control center. Near the front is a large screen displaying the United States Presidential Seal. There are five chairs lined up in front. Three are already occupied.
Tre and Lucas sit on the remaining empty chairs.
“Gentlemen and lady,” Rex says, standing in front of them. “Before we begin, I’d like to introduce everyone.” He points over to the left side of the row. “Miss Stacy Zutz, better known as Weaselman. She hails from Chicago, where she attends the University of Illinois with a major in psychology. Next is Todd Williamson from Seattle. You may know him as Lowblow. He’s been a manager at Starbucks for the past eighteen months, and in his spare time when he isn’t playing video games he’s writing a science fiction novel. Then we have Bruce Ulrich, known as BigGunz. He’s been the lead programmer for several Fortune 500 companies over the past twenty years, and has spent the last three in Boston.”
After introducing Tre and Lucas to the group, the lights in the room dim. Images of the war in Iraq—many far too graphic to be shown on network TV without the strictest of content warnings—flash into the screen.
“Over a year ago,” Rex says, “while putting the final touches on Shadowkill: Mideast Conquest, we were approached by Major Armstrong about an experimental project. Long story short is that the government was developing a new group of soldiers and needed highly-skilled gamers, like yourselves, to help run them.”
The doors at the back of the room open. Six soldiers, all dressed in light tan military fatigues, march towards the front of the room. They stand at attention, facing the five.
“Gentlemen and lady, let me introduce you to the real Shadowkill Squadron.”
Upon command, all six soldiers salute in perfect unity.
“When you mentioned that the government needed gamers to help run new soldiers, what did you mean?” Tre asks.
“These aren’t ordinary soldiers, Mr. Paxton,” Rex says. “They’re robots.”
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