Project: Phantasma

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XX. I Believe I Can't Die

Gab could hear conversing thoughts in his head.

No. I can’t hurt him. I just can’t. Stop it. Please. Leave me alone.

We share the same body Kim. It’s unfair if it’s only you who gets all the fun.

I don’t want to do this!

You have to thank me. You two will die together... with me.

Pantyliners. I feel pantyliners all over me, Gab thought.

Don’t ask why he knew that. He felt patches around his body being removed gently. A cold sensation touched the area where the patches were once placed on. Something was moved out of his head’s way, and he was greeted by bright lights. He was asleep on a chair with a retractable helmet like that of a salon’s, but it looked more high-tech. He’s in a large room that was all painted in white. There were cardiac monitors and other apparatus (Can I call them apparati?) connected to the white patches with white wires. The patches were being removed by people in white lab coats and red neckties. Some were with glasses. Some were holding a large board that said Congratulations, Gabriel F. Sherwood and $1,000,000.

A man in a suit that was the only black-colored thing visible in the room held out his hand. Gab took the hand and observed him. He was wearing glasses. He had a red necktie. He was Ardus Edison, the CEO of the International Robot Association and of Virtual World Corporation. He was codenamed Nocturne. “Congratulations, Mr. Sherwood.” He said as the alleged scientists all gave him a round of applause. Some confetti have been shot by the party poppers, and he was suddenly overwhelmed. He had no wounds. Just in his underwear. Mr. Edison gave him a coat, and he found some fatherly love in it.

Gab was involuntarily crying. “Congratulations for what?”

“You’re the only one who beat our virtual game called Eternal Daybreak! Everything you experienced has been recorded like a movie, and everything that happened was just in your head, only that it was in unison with other contestants. It might be hard to believe, but we risked not informing the IRL contestants that they were becoming part of our Pilot Testing, the very first functional project of Virtual Word Corporation!”

More applause. He was so happy that it was all virtual. His throat was becoming heavy with emotions, and he was laughing and crying uncontrollably. “You sick fuck! It was a horror game all along!”

Some laughter ensued. “Telling people they were becoming part of a horror game would ruin the excitement and genuine emotions, Mr. Sherwood. We took that into consideration, and have collected all the hardcore horror enthusiasts in the world. And you, Gab, are the only one who finished it.”

He stopped crying and looked around, then back through those black sunglasses of Edison. “Where’s Kim?”

Nocturne pushed the bridge of his Glasses. “She was just part of the game, that Twitch. Everyone were stuck with a Kim-esque character in their group, which was supposed to act as their twist if ever they would get close to the escape harbor level… But it seems that only you got there.”

Gab was sobbing horribly while smiling. “You… Sick fuck!!!” Some scientists gave him a glass of water. “That was cruel! I thought I just found my soulmate or some shit!”

Edison was just smiling. “I’m sorry. It just means that her programming surpassed the uncanny valley.”

“Where’s Lloyd?! Is he alive?”

“Of course he is, but the cleared ones have already been sent back to their country. You might someday meet him, of course. Your journey has been broadcasted to the whole world in a form of a series titled Project: Phantasma, edited like a reality show. You might not know but you already have your fans.” He was laughing like the thing Gab went through was no biggie.

One scientist stepped forward. “After a careful survey of emotionally stable teenagers, only 309 participants were accepted. “

“Where are my friends? Coach?”

“You’re the only one in the Philippine Team who was part of this. They never left the Philippines.”

Gab was teary-eyed but gulped another glass down. “When did-“

“There was never an International Robot League. It started in your lunchtime. You were fed with a sleeping drug, and you’ve been sent here in our Silvercrest Branch.”

“Sick. Fuck,” Gab was just laughing now.

But it all seemed so real. He was explained on how it worked, how each and every sense was stimulated by artificial factors, and was given a private tour around the Virtual World Corporation. He was promised a free plane back home, accompanied by their best pilot. But through all these logical explanations, it was overwhelmed by how he just saw people and monsters kill and get killed.

Escorted by two hulking men in black suits with an earpiece, he was subjected into various interviews, camera flashes, and noise of the press. He never felt so important and achieving in his life. But through all these evidences that everything was just a simulation, he felt empty.

The explanations and the press coverage all occurred to him like he ignored them. He couldn’t remember what happened. He answered some questions, heard people clapping, seen people swarming as guards guided him… But the only thing he was processing was how Kim wasn’t true. With an aching chest, he focused his attention back on what was currently happening.

“Mr. Sherwood, what can you say about being the only one of 309 participants who finished the newest Next-Generation Survival Horror Game, Project: Phantasma?”

Gab smiled and scratched the back of his head. “I guess playing loads of those games and movies make you desensitized a little,” He continued walking as different interview crews approached him eagerly.

“This is Katy of CNN. Gabriel, where did you get all your courage? It is surprisingly remarkable!”

“I was trained by Video Games, Katy. I was trained by video games…” Gab answered, trying to look cool.

“Do you have anything to say about your fans? Or any other Survival Horror enthusiasts? Or recommendation of this game?”

Gab smiled and squinted. He cleared his throat. “Don’t let the genre called horror be a barrier from enjoying this insanely addicting genre. You’re the one setting barriers and shit where there is in fact no barriers... And shit.”

With all the press coverage and instant stardom, Gab still was astonished by his sudden rise in fame. He felt excited about his alleged fans, hugging his mom and dad… But realized that he still can’t remember their faces. Something was terribly wrong. He isn’t aware of his background anymore. He suddenly was doubting even himself.

I know I have a father… And a mother… They were named… Named… Mr. and Mrs. Sherw- No. I have to remember something better than that… What’s happening to me???

He was given a suit that fitted him well, and shades that matched Mr. Edison. He was guided by Mr. Edison, his two guards, and a scientist towards the VWC’s private airport. Everything that happened was out of focus again. Gab could hear the plane engine as the sliding transparent door opened. A burst of air blew on top of them as they stepped outside the VWC building. He was lugging a small, silver briefcase that had money inside, and a black sling bag full of souvenirs.

“It might get lonely in this private 20-seat plane, but I assure you, you will not get bored with our female pilot. You can do absolutely anything you want with her, and you have my word.” Edison said, patting his back with a broad witty smile that was saying If You Know What I Mean. Her name is “Bianca, and there is no visible generation gap.”

Gab was smiling intensely. “And you’re saying this to me because?”

“We wouldn’t want you to be lonely. It might not be a dull ride after all. Your family and friends are already waiting for you in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Good luck, Mr. Sherwood. I am truly a fan of your bravery.”

They exchanged smiles and pushed the bridge of their black sunglasses as he boarded the plane. The pilot, even though far, nodded at him and waved as she went inside the cabin. He took the seat on the back and had a smile on his face. “Oh. My. God. Instant stardom. Instant money. It all happened too fast.”

Gab fumbles for his pockets as the pilot speaks. “We are now leaving Silvercrest, senior Sherwood. Please relax. I’m a professional pilot.” It was said in a weird, voice that was implying something. His hormones are getting fired up after remembering what the pilot looked like. She looked cute, had a near-stewardess uniform, and had a cute manner of moving. Fantasies. Fantasies everywhere. The airplane started to take off, and Gab had to close his eyes to prevent fainting. It was by far the only thing bad about riding planes, except that weird sensation in your ear.

His fantasy was stopped by something he found in his pockets, he was about to remove it from his pockets when the pilot got out of the cabin. Gab looked through the aisle and noticed her mildly long hair had curls, and was now going to meet and greet him. He smiled so wide as he crossed his legs. Some people know the reason.

Outside the window, he could see an island with a familiar darkness surrounding it. It looked so still. He looked at the pilot who was now smiling at him, that was ever so warm. He knew he felt like this before. Gab pointed at the island. “What’s that island? And what’s the dark aura there? Another one of Mr. Edison’s tricks?”

“It’s Duskfall.”

Gab’s eyes widened a little. “Really? I thought it was part of the game.”

Her voice was coated with warmth and familiarity, like she also had work as a charmer. But she didn’t answer the question. “Isn’t it awesome? The island is stuck in unknown perpetual darkness. Its time never continues. Always stuck in 3:09 pm.”

“Wait, who’s driving this?”

“Oops.”

Gab was in a state of panic. “What?!” He accidentally pulled out the thing in his pocket. They were both surprised. It was a black, horn-rimmed glasses.

“Relax, Mr. Sherwood, it’s in auto-pilot.” Even her face radiated with warmth and familiarity. She seemed arguably the same age as Gab. 17. She looked at the glasses and pushed Gab towards the chair gently with her hand on his chest. She also ran her hands around Gab’s right hand, where the glasses were, and took the glasses.

Gab’s mouth was becoming dry as he swallowed.

“So you had them all along? I thought I completely lost it. Looks like you’re always ready for your fetish,” Bianca the pilot said as she slowly wore the glasses and removed her cap.

His hormones suddenly shut down and was starting to get pumped with adrenaline. Now he knew why she had so much familiarity in voice and face.

“Did you miss me, Gab?”

Gab was trembling in his seat. “B-but Nocturne said-“

“You don’t have to believe everything he says. This isn’t a game, Gabby. It’s the way you see the world... And it always will be. As long as you still believe and long for me, I will ALWAYS be there for you.”

He was starting to break down. He had no revolver or any weapon whatsoever. He was sweating badly as he pushed her towards a back rest. It was so harsh that her back snapped as she slumped on the aisle. Gab knew he was wrong at some point.

“That was…”

Gab knelt down to her and touched her face. “Oh my God, I’m sorry, Kim! I thought…”

She coughed up blood and twitched. “UNNECESSARY.”

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