The Labyrinth

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Chapter 5

The Truth

Nobody really understood how little time it took to Anastasia de Niez to invade the stage where people of ministry were watching the experiment. The fact was, when she passionately stormed on in a bout of rage, she was so furious that those next to her at that time made sure to leave as quickly as possible. The air smelled like gunpowder.

She threw a quick glance to the attendees, her eyes scanning the crowd until her gaze came to rest on a tall man with silver hair and glasses in the other corner of the scene. At the time, he was hunched over equipment and his eyes were running up and down the controls.

"You…" A whisper came from her mouth in a hiss as sharp as needles. Her eyes were two thin slits through which fired lightning and scorching fire. "You bastard… I'll bury you with my own hands."

She moved towards him, caught up in her fury. As she raised her hand to slap him, all the attendees stopped breathing and some surprised and horrified mouths dropped open. But, at the last moment; the second just before her hand made contact with the cheek of the man, he, without looking at her, grabbed her wrist with his right hand, twisting it ever so slightly

He turned to face her. Smiling wide, the fox-faced man pulled her so close to him that their faces were a just breath away from each other. His eyes locked with hers.

"Anastasia de Niez… We finally meet."

Steps sounded from somewhere behind and in the opening appeared a breathless Sebastian. "Please forgive her! When she's nervous she says and does things that she does not mean…"

"Interesting," The man muttered. He was still perusing Sia. "A cute girl who has faced a lot in her life and hides under a mask of apathy and sometimes anger..."

"How dare you!" Sia flushed from her anger. She pulled firmly off her hand releasing it from the grip of the man.

"Don't you think you're a bit rude?"

"I have no reason to be polite to people whom I don't know and do not trust..." Sia responded, looking at him with enmity.

The man sighed. He opened wide his arms as if to apologize for his prior behaviour. "You're right... It wasn't a very good start. I am Katsu Ito, the head of this research. You are Anastasia de Niez and the one over there is Sebastian. Well, how about now?"

"I think it's time for you to find good lawyers regardless of the government program that you run! What did you do to me? Why don't I remember a thing?"

Ito smiled wider. "I would like you to work with us. I cannot believe that we were so lucky that our first guinea pig proved bonanza. You're precious to us…"

"Precious." Sia reiterated. She lifted her eyes. Deep smile of satisfaction appeared on her lips. "I guess you cannot force me to work or to cooperate with you, right?"

The man shook his head.

"I'm sorry, but I don't think I am interested in your proposal. You know that we do not need money. Sebastian..." She said and moved to the exit.

"Aren't you interested in learning the truth?" Ito asked. "What it's all about?"

Sia stopped abruptly in her path. She looked up and her eyes came to meet the eyes of Sebastian. He looked at her pleadingly. He was desperate to know what was really happening. A sigh escaped from her lips as she spun around to face Ito.

"… Fine." She said drily. "The truth. And then I will see if I am interested in working with you..."

Ito remained silent for a few moments, as if he was trying to recollect his thoughts. He coughed.

"The Labyrinth. A game which started five years ago. It is played by over two hundred million beings across the Intergalactic Alliance. It is based on technology of full dive with a small detail that makes the difference. The game is thirty percent based on an experimental artificial intelligence program, which adds an element of surprise beyond the basic plot of the game and adapts to memories and the cultural background of a player so everything in the game is constantly changing. It all began three years ago, when various incidents started happening…"

Sia's heart began to beat faster. She felt her pupils dilate. Next to her Sebastian was slumped forward with wide eyes, unable to control his impatience to learn the rest of the story.

"Gamers began to kill people. Out of nowhere. We have multiple cases of murders from people who had just disconnected from the Labyrinth. Within three years there were more than ten thousand cases across the Earth, with victims to surpass thirty thousand…" Katsu continued calmly.

Sia shivered as she was covered in a cold sweat. Only one thing went through her mind.

'30,000 dead...'

'How did they manage to keep it a secret for so long?'

Ito reacted as if he read her thoughts. "The government of Earth panicked. Obviously something had happened during the game and people were losing their minds. Covert operations started around the world but nothing was found. Abusers, both men and women, had no history of psychological disorders, weren't taking psychotropic drugs and didn't know any of the victims. They were all good family and loyal citizens. And all of this, only on Earth. On no other planet where the game is played within the Intergalactic Alliance did anything so violent and absurd happen. After contacting the creators of the game and receiving a reply of their firm denial to stop the game, we created this section in order to send someone into the game; someone who could find the real cause behind these incidents. So this is the truth, Anastasia de Niez…"

Unable to believe what she had just heard, Sia turned her head to Sebastian. She was left dumbfounded by his reaction. He was staring at his hands with wide eyes and an expression of pure terror was strongly and clearly imprinted on his face as he breathed with difficulty.

"Sebastian…?" She asked, amazed. Sebastian looked up.

"We have to go…" The words shot out of his mouth with difficulty. "I need some air..."

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