As Benjamin Kim, Jr. tapped his phone, banging out the last few sentences of the paper that was due in ten minutes, he nearly ran into the mass of students gathered in the middle of the path leading to the philosophy department building.
“’Scuse me.” He only looked up long enough to maneuver around them, but a young woman stepped in front of him.
“Hey,” she said, shaking her poster board at him, dark ponytail whipping behind her. “Can’t you care enough about the world outside your little bubble long enough to look up from your stupid device? Do you even have enough bars to do anything?”
“Huh?” Benjamin tried moving again. “I have to get to class. Sorry.”
She moved to block him again, her cheeks pink. “How much do you think your class will matter in five years? Have you been paying attention at all? Do you see the tension we’re causing on the global stage? We need to start with bringing our troops home. Our presence is intimidation. If kids our age don’t care, who will?”
Looking past the girl for a way through the crowd, he finally noticed their signage and realized they were protesting the recent involvement of American military personnel in disaster relief overseas.
Again she tried positioning herself in his line of sight. “You can’t be bothered, can you? Like anyone else? You’re all the same! Just go to class, screw the people, who cares about the troops caught up in the military-industrial complex—”
Benjamin’s ears grew hot. “My father is one of the troops, and he’s out there helping rebuild devastated communities while you yell at people you know nothing about. Now, unless you have an obviously nonutilitarian answer to the trolley problem, I’m going to finish my paper and go to class.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know your dad was—”
The other students’ voices ate up the last of her words as Benjamin hurried the rest of the way to the philosophy building. His father was only a vague memory at this point, a military man he’d met when he was a kid. Still, not a day went by that he didn’t wonder who his father might be, what his role in the military had become, how he thought about his decisions, what led him to his chosen path.
No matter what the answers, Benjamin knew that, whatever his father was doing, he was safer for it. He had to believe it.
Tandy | Class: Veiled Archer | Level: 9
HP: 102/102 | Status: Normal
XP: 30,206 | Next Level: 45,000
Team USA stood at the gate of Skull Keep, that mighty fortress of stone and dread that had thwarted them before. The sheer size of it still made Tandy feel dizzy with insignificance.
“Ugh.” Dante had the look of interacting with his HUD. “That’s one more team ahead of us. Just entered right before we got here. Global chat sends out a notice every time another team crosses into the keep, because it’s the endgame raid. You guys really should activate chat more often.”
“We have you for that,” Ben said. “Who’s in there?”
“Korea and Russia, of course. Nigeria. Indonesia. Canada. Singapore. Turkey. India. And that list should include the United States, but of course we’re standing here like noobs.”
Tandy glanced over to Quest: The Skull King’s Crown, which had been sitting on her HUD since they originally tried raiding the keep. That Recommended Level: 9-12 underneath it cut a hole into her gut. It was hard not to lose hope and believe they’d be slaughtered. They met the minimum recommended level now, but would it be enough?
“We’re still under-leveled,” Tandy said. “Those monsters might crush us completely. Again. Not to mention the boss.”
Dante grunted in frustration. “You really think if we hold off to level, one of those other teams won’t win the game in the meantime?”
He caught himself and sighed. “Sorry. Just stressed. Listen: It’s now or never. We lose because we waited, we might as well go for a hike in the afterlife anyway.”
Tandy knew he was right about the risk they would have to take. It was either roll over and let someone else win, or at least go down swinging.
“I don’t want to lose,” Tandy said. “And we have the Ossify spell. That will help. Maybe it’ll even give us enough of an edge over the other teams.”
She said this more to convince herself than anyone else.
“Sounds like the choice is pretty clear,” Etta said. “Everyone ready?”
Tandy exhaled slowly, trying to shake off her anxiety, then looked at Ben. “Who dares, wins, right?”
He seemed surprised for a moment, then clapped her on the back. “Right. You got it. Stack formation behind Dante.”
Etta nodded once at Dante to...