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2.01

[Arc 2: Derivative]

They were fast.

Not fast, no. That wasn’t the right word.

Insane.

A few seconds after Mr. Dogsi threw his arms up in the air and yelled out the title, Ms. Vedsi ran up from behind him at full speed, throwing herself on top of his back. Before she started falling to the floor, she wrapped herself tightly around his torso with her arms and legs, coiling herself like some demented human snake.

They’d planned for that, somehow. Throughout the entire movement, Ms. Vedsi’s expression never veered off from her perfectly uninterested scowl, her showing off the same level of enthusiasm I’d have expected from a person doing their taxes. Mr. Dogsi was thin — almost repulsively so — but he didn’t even wiggle from the full force impact of another adult person latching onto him from a running start, continuing to stand straight with outstretched arms.

He said nothing and smiled as a panel opened above him and flicked down a rope that ended just in front of his chest. It all happened in less than several seconds, and he’d grabbed it and had the two of them pulled back up into the ceiling before any of us could react, an unknown force retracting the rope and our hosts along with it. The darkness of the hole in the ceiling swallowed them up whole, and it was covered a short moment later, the both of them gone.

“Holy shit.”

There were loud and muffled exclamations alike at the sheer what-the-fuckitude of what we’d just witnessed, but Caroline cut through it instantly, walking towards the center spot where Mr. Dogsi had been standing. She’d been the first to notice the small note on the floor. They’d left it behind for us.

She picked it up from the ground and gave it a glance. We watched her with bated breath.

“Check the watches. That’s all it says.”

She passed the note around, and she wasn’t lying, although I didn’t get to see it for myself. (Joyo got it sixth or so, and he ate it as soon as he did.)

At once, all went to work doing what the note told us to. As I’d already noticed, there weren’t any buttons on sides to adjust from, but the screen — still displaying a bright number twelve — did look like it might’ve been responsive to touch. I tried tapping and swiping, and just like with the panel, it responded when I tried sliding down. Someone shouted out what to do at the same time I figured it out, and we went on ahead, having gained access to a fairly simplistic interface.

There were four app-like icons for us to look through: time, players, and body information, although only one in particular stood out and seemed relevant for the time being. It was what I’d been waiting to see the whole day.

Rules.

I pressed it, chills running through my body. In one sense or another, seeing them lined like that gave me a final assurance that I’d made it. I took one last breath before reading, reminding myself not to etch them as absolute fact into my head. I’d already seen just how bendable rules could be, of course.

Into the weeds I went. 


  1. For the ninety-one day period stretching from October 1st to December 31st, all players, unless eliminated, will not be allowed to leave The Facility.
  2. Hidden throughout The Facility in varying quantities and forms is a substance known as Sludge. Sludge is an extremely potent anesthetic that has been created specifically for the game, and it will put a person to sleep in less than thirty seconds upon contact.
  3. Sludge is non-toxic, edible, impossible to overdose on, and equally functional regardless of the method of entry used. It can be ingested, drank, injected, inhaled, absorbed, or inserted into any available orifice. The size of the afflicted individual, the method of entry, and the amount used will not influence the effectiveness or amount of time before the effects of the drug take place.
  4. Sludge cannot “partially” work; it will either render a player fully unconscious or have no effect whatsoever. If at least two teaspoons make contact with the afflicted player, it will work; any less and there will be no recognizable result. Contact with that amount or any higher quantity will render a player completely unconscious for a period of exactly seven hours.
  5. For the purposes of the game, Sludge is death. Any player who has been put to sleep (hereafter referred to as having been Sludged) after the start of the game due to Sludge contact will be instantly eliminated and permanently removed from the competition.
  6. In order to win Game By Goop, a player must receive Permission to leave The Facility. Any player able to do this will become The Champion and receive a grand prize of ten million dollars.
  7. In order to gain Permission, a player must Sludge another player without being caught.
  8. Whenever a body is found, a Sludge Trial will be held to determine the murderer.
  9. After a player has been Sludged, their body will be left in place — unless moved otherwise by a player — for a period of exactly six hours. After that point, they will be removed from The Facility.
  10. If a body has still not been found after an hour, all players will be informed that a body exists somewhere in The Facility with the sounding of a Sludge Announcement Chime. Following that, if they are unable to locate the body in the five hours that remain prior to it being removed, all innocent players will be Sludged and the murderer will receive Permission without a Sludge Trial. The body will not be considered found until at least three players see it at the same time.
  11. If the body is located within the six hour grace period, a Body Discovery Chime will sound, and a Sludge Trial will be held immediately after the grace period ends. All players will have however much time is left of the six hours to investigate the crime scene and gather evidence. The faster a body is found, the more time players will be given to investigate. (For the sake of increased dramatics, players are encouraged — but not at all required — to withhold from sharing their full conclusions out loud prior to the start of the trial.)
  12. No player may be in the same room with a body when the six hour grace period ends and it is removed from the game.  (A timer will appear on a player’s watch designating the amount of time remaining whenever either chime plays in order to inform them of how long they have left.)
  13. At the Sludge Trial, all players will be given a chance to discuss the results of their investigation and vote for who they believe to be the murderer.
  14. If the majority of players vote correctly, the murderer will be Sludged and eliminated from the game, and the remaining players will be allowed to continue.
  15. If the majority of players vote incorrectly, everyone except the murderer will be Sludged, and the murderer will receive Permission.
  16. In the event of a tied vote between the murderer and an innocent player, the latter will be chosen, and the murderer shall receive Permission. Those who take risks deserve to be rewarded.
  17. A player cannot receive Permission if they have been Sludged. (Practically speaking, this means that a player cannot manufacture their own suicide, manage to successfully blame it on another, and still win.)
  18. If it ever becomes the case that ten or less players remain, some rules will be changed automatically.
  19. The game will continue until either one player successfully commits a murder, the ninety day game period ends, or until two (or less) innocent players remain after the conclusion of the last necessary Sludge Trial. If two innocent players remain at the end, they both will receive Permission (and two separate prizes of ten million dollars, which they will not be required to split). If the game ends due to the time limit running out, no one will win.
  20. Players are not allowed to sleep, even under natural circumstances, in any area of The Facility other than the bedrooms. (Players are not restricted to sleeping in their bedroom, however.)
  21. Players are not allowed to plan to split portions of their prizes, or to actually do so after the fact. Swift and severe action will be taken against those who do, including a contractual penalty larger than the prize itself.
  22. Players are not allowed to Sludge other players who are inside a bedroom.
  23. Players are not allowed to Sludge other players who are inside the communal bathrooms or The Sun Lamp Room. No Sludge may ever be brought into these areas.
  24. Every room in The Facility is under constant surveillance, with the sole exceptions of the bedrooms and the communal bathrooms, which are free of any visual or recording devices. No player may spend more than twelve consecutive hours in either of these rooms at once. (A timer will appear on a player’s watch designating the amount of time remaining whenever they enter these rooms. It may be reset simply by walking outside and walking back in.)
  25. Players are not allowed to Sludge other players after either a Sludge Announcement Chime or a Body Discovery Chime have been sounded. This restriction will last until the conclusion of the subsequent Sludge Trial.
  26. Players are not allowed to Sludge more than two others at once.
  27. Mr. Dogsi and Ms. Vedsi will never Sludge a player.
  28. Players who break any rules will be instantly eliminated without a Sludge Trial. The penalty will be applied as soon as the player breaks the rule, and all players will be informed that the person was eliminated for rule-breaking.
  29. If a player chooses to quit before the start of the eighth day, they will receive a heavy financial penalty as stipulated in their contract. Suicide by Sludge and rule violation — whether intentional or not — both qualify as quitting. (One player allowing another player to Sludge them does not, however.) Players are legally mandated to pay this financial penalty and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if any attempts are made to circumvent it after the fact.
  30. At the suggestion of a player or the behest of the gamemakers, Mr. Dogsi is empowered to make changes, clarifications, or additions to the rules whenever necessary or prudent. Players will always be directly informed of rule changes, and will never be punished retroactively for having disobeyed new rules before having come to know about them. When presented with situations not clearly established in the rules, Mr. Dogsi will use his best judgement.
  31. For further questions or desired clarifications about the rules, players are encouraged to visit The Computer Room.
  32. For laundry-related needs, players are encouraged to visit The Laundry Room. Laundry may only be done twice each day.
  33. The Facility has been designed in such a way as to encourage both creative murders and investigations. Do your best, everyone!

As we read, the room was dead quiet. Even the likes of ZB and Joyo had stopped talking in order to take it in, not one of us having any trouble recognizing just how important it was for us to completely understand what we’d been given. With so much money on the line, even the characters we’d chosen to play fell to the wayside.

We were playing to win, after all. (I hoped, anyway. Somebody who didn’t care about the rules might’ve not minded Sludging a bunch of us in a fit of passion. If he was being honest about not caring to win, Claim had an inordinate amount of power above us.)

I carefully read through it three separate times, not quite sure how to process everything all at once. It was a lot, and I had a million different questions, although some rose above others. The presence of some rules surprised me, and the absence of others I might have been expecting surprised me even more, but past that there was plenty to analysis to be had.

More than anything else, the boldness of how unoriginal they were being struck me as off-putting… not that I was going to complain about it. Considering what I’d written myself, pointing that fact out would’ve gone beyond hypocrisy; besides, in earnest, it wasn’t like I minded all that much. It was a fun concept, and not something too many people had decided to toy around with. Plus, with the chance to live it out for real…

That was something special.

Predictably, Martha was the first among us to finish, with Soso right behind her, both seeming to have barely even glanced at their watches before deciding to jump back into reality.

Other faces of note were Caroline and Corn, who seemed so utterly befuddled by the rules that it looked like they’d both just swallowed lemons. Dent and Quote also picked up on how lost their friend looked to be, and they each whispered something to him with soft concern, but he just shook his head and whispered one word back while continuing to stare at the watch. Corn’s confusion looked so profound that I wouldn’t have been that surprised to be told he was having a stroke.

“Well,” said Caroline, who sounded even more exasperated than she looked as she broke the silence. “This… we need to talk about this. Obviously, there’s not-”

“Hold up.”

We all turned to Hold, unsure of whether or not he’d been making fun of his own name. His stature allowed him to easily capture our attention, and he did not hesitate after having gotten it.

He was still smiling. A lot of the group seemed to be found of continually having long, unnatural grins, but his bordered on the uncanney valley and still refused to sit right with me. Strait’s felt very genuine, and both Joyo’s and Lu’s very rehearsed, but Hold’s expression existed in an uncomfortable middle.

The dude freaked me the fuck out.

And there I went again, judging people solely by appearances. Lovely, By. How astoundingly progressive of you.

…Man, I was kind of a bitch, huh?

“I’m aware that we’ll want to discuss all this, but for the moment, I’d suggest that we eat.”

I took another look at the clock, along with most of the others. It was 8:19.

With him having brought it up, I realized how hungry I was. Everyone else had at least been able to get some relief with the guac chips, but I hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday, and even if I hadn’t done much in the way of physical activity all day I was still ravenous.

“…That’s not a bad idea,” Dot replied, putting her hands on her stomach.

“I could go for food too.”

“We can talk about it over dinner. I’m sure they have a kitchen somewhere, right? We made all those requests for the types of food we wanted…”

I saw Joyo roll his eyes, taking a step forward.

“We got more guac chips, and if you’re still hungry after that, I think By left some Sludge on the floor under Dent’s towel. I’ll remind you all that they closed the door behind them after they came in. We’re still trapped here, and since we are, we need to talk about this. I ain’t waiting.”

Lu ignored his statement of fact — just as I’d done, not believing him — and saying nothing, skipped happily to the front of the door Mr. Dogsi and Ms. Vedsi had entered through, easily pushing it open. The same gentle flood of light that had been there earlier flooded back into the room, and Lu continued to walk ahead, ignoring us.

We exchanged a few looks before rushing to follow her, a few people scrounging up the last few bags of chips. Joyo was the last one out, and his continued pleas for us not to postpone the discussion were ignored. Our need to eat was strong enough to overwhelm even someone who was competent at convincing others to listen to them (let alone Joyo).

With our princess leading the way with about a fifteen foot advance, we slowly tailed her down a plain long hallway, eventually arriving at a moving escalator leading up. It was colored pink, and it went on for longer than any of us could see at the bottom.

Not stopping or looking back, she stepped on, riding up.

We followed.