Phantasmagoria

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The Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

''Reuben...what on earth are you doing here?'' I ask my brother.

Just...how can he...be here?

''I was sent here,'' Reuben says. I can see he's starting to shake slightly, as I can see the gun in his hand is wobbling a little.

''Sent here? Who sent you?'' I ask. I can tell by the tone of my voice that I'm getting quite angry. But I don't care. I just want to know why he is here. And why he is pointing a gun at me.

''You know...it would have been fine if you just...died in the last level, then...then you wouldn't have to be here. I wouldn't have to do this,'' Reuben says. His tone of voice is slightly shaky. I know he doesn't want to do this.

''Reuben...calm down, it's OK. Just tell me who sent you here, and how you got into the game,'' I say as I edge closer to him. I take careful steps so as not to alarm him. I've dealt with situations like this in Afghanistan, but this is a far cry from that. Especially when it's my own brother with a gun half-cocked in my direction.

''Stay where you are, Nash! It's not going to work!'' Reuben shouts at me. Yeah, he knows my game plan. He knows how I am.

''Alright, alright, I won't move any more. Just...work with me here, OK, I'm a little...stumped right now. Who sent you, Ruby?'' I talk to him using the nickname I gave him when we were younger. I heard it helps in situations like this. Reuben looks at me with a strained face.

''It doesn't matter, his threats are real. I need you to get away from her, so that I can take her in,'' Reuben says. Take her in? He wants to take Diana? But...why? And for who?

''Whose threats are real?'' I ask him again. I really need to know who is pulling the strings here. Reuben's being threatened. I need to know by who.

''You know him,'' Reuben says. I...know him? I know the guy who is doing this?

''Is it...Davenport? Vaughan Davenport? Is he doing this?'' I ask him quickly. Damn that Davenport. I knew he was desperate to win the game, but I never thought he would resort to threatening my own brother.

''No, not him. Someone else,'' Reuben answers. So it's not Davenport? Then who can it be? And it's someone I know?

''He taught you...how to be...you,'' Reuben says to me. What kind of cryptic response is that? He taught me to be me? What does he mean by that...

Oh no.

No, no, no.

It can't be.

''Travis...,'' I whisper.

Travis Crispin.

My army major.

I look up at Reuben, my body heating up with...anger. I'm in complete disbelief...

''Why would he...how could he...,'' I struggle to speak. How...could he do this? Why would he do this? I can't...I don't understand. He's...my friend...he's like a father to me...

''He...he said that if I had Diana, he would leave Hannah and Jayden out of it,'' Reuben confesses.

''What?!'' I say quickly as soon as I hear my wife and son's names.

How dare he...threaten...my family!

''All he wants is Diana, that's all he said,'' Reuben says to me. He's starting to cry now. I shake my head in utter disbelief. How dare Travis...smile and shake my hand...and do this behind my back...

''That's why he...came today...he was saying that he was investing in the game...but what he really wanted...was Diana all to himself,'' I surmise. That was his purpose all along. That was his game plan. He's a wolf in sheep's clothing.

''I'm sorry, Nash, I really am,'' Reuben apologises to me. I close my eyes, not wanting to hear any thing any more.

I feel so...angry!

''It's not you who's got to be sorry, it's him,'' I say to Reuben.

''I couldn't...I didn't know how to get out of it,'' Reuben says to me. This is his way of begging for forgiveness. He doesn't need to; he's my brother. I always will forgive, no matter what he does.

''How...did you get in here? A secret back door?'' I ask him. I still don't understand how Reuben could be inside the game, let alone inside this level.

''Remember that participant...who looked like Jayden? That was...me,'' he reveals. I look up at him slowly as realisation sets in...

He was...the participant who I had thought had looked like Jayden?

Was that his plan?

Or Travis'?

''Travis wanted you to...fail, so he tried to get you to be psychologically and emotionally compromised so you would lose,'' Reuben explains. So that's what he resorted to?

What a complete and utter fool.

''How did he manage that? Did he...force Saya to do it?'' I say as I remember Saya's ability to change a person's identity.

''Yeah, he hijacked her operating capabilities so that I could be masked as someone else,'' Reuben explains further. He seems to have calmed down a bit, but I don't want to take any chances.

''Reuben...why does he want Diana?'' I ask him what must be the most important question. Reuben looks at me, and then at Diana. She's still got an angry look on her face, and is still in a state of red.

''He...wants her...for government purposes,'' he answers monotonously. He sounds like he's had life drained out of him. Government purposes?

Wait a second...

Practically all of the other contestants were working for the government. Me included. Were we all contracted for the same reason? Were we actually working...for Travis?

''But I was sent here on the government's behalf. So were some others. Why bring you in?'' I ask him. This doesn't make sense. Why bring in Reuben, when I'm here...and I've reached the end?

''Because...he knows you wouldn't do what he wants. Diana would get to you first,'' Reuben says. What does he mean? Diana would have got to me first? First for what?

''She would have...changed your mind. Look at her. She's...beautiful. She...shouldn't be tamed by the government...they would just-,'' Reuben begins to say before I hear a gunshot ring out.

He...shot me?

No...he didn't. He's...

''REUBEN!'' I scream as I see my brother slump to the floor on his knees. He's reaching for his back. That's where he was shot. As I run over to him, I'm stopped in my tracks by...

Travis Crispin.

He suddenly appears behind Reuben and looks at me with a sour face. I think of him with even sourer thoughts.

''Heh, never send a boy to do a man's job,'' I hear him remark smugly as he draws his gun back and looks at Reuben on the floor. Thank God this is a game. If my brother had been shot for real, I'm not sure what I would do.

''How could you, Travis? After everything we've been through,'' I plead with him. I shouldn't even be talking to him. I should just get rid of him.

''Well, you got to her. I knew you wouldn't be able to bring her in for me, because I know about your 'sentimental' side. So I thought I would send your brother in to ensure her capture. But seems like he's the same way too,'' Travis responds.

''If you knew all this, then why bother send me in the first place?' I question him.

''You're right; why send you in the first place? I thought if we gave you the 'better life' clause, that that would be enough for you to compete. And I know you miss it,'' he says to me.

''Miss what?'' I ask him.

''The battlefield. The action. The noise. You love the noise of destruction, Nash. It's...exciting for you. You couldn't pass up the opportunity even if you wanted to,'' Travis replies. This guy...I really want to punch him. He thinks he knows me?

This whole game...everybody has been getting inside my head.

I'm sick of it.

Sick of control.

Sick of manipulation.

Sick of power.

I need to change it.

I'm going to change it.

Now.

''Diana?'' I ask for her whilst still focusing my attention on Travis.

''Yes?'' I hear her say to me in my head.

''Could you do something for me?'' I ask her.

''Anything you wish,'' she replies.

''Can you shut down this game?''


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