The street bubbled with activity, the warm spring evening meant that everyone was outside. Some were wandering around while others were sat outside the various bars and restaurants that lined the street.
Alice licked the last few drops of her ice cream as she nudged Kim with her shoulder. “So what do you think?” she asked.
“About what?” Replied Kim, turning her head away from the guy she had been admiring.
“What next? Want to get wasted? Eat some more candy?” Asked Alice, throwing her ice cream wrapper into a trash can as she did.
“Oh right, sorry I was away with the fairies,” giggled Kim. “I really shouldn’t get wasted, I’ve got stuff to do tomorrow and I will suck doing it hungover,” she explained. “What type of candy do you have in mind?”
“I don’t know,” beamed Alice. “Cotton candy would be neat but nowhere here sells it,” she continued, showing more enthusiasm for cotton candy than Kim had shown for anything in her life.
“Um, I could look it up I guess?” Nodded Kim pulling out her phone. She started to enter the search term only for Alice to yank her arm hard.
“We’re so going there!” She shouted, pointing in front of them. Kim looked up only to see a building that looked like a grimy warehouse covered in neon signs.
“What even is this place?” Asked Kim as she walked behind Alice. She hadn’t seen this place before, but she hadn’t been to this part of town recently.
“Blissoplis Arcade,” said Alice as she looked at a flickering screen that doubled as a sign. “I’m super down for some skee ball!” Grinned Alice, looking towards Kim.
“Sure, I could play some games, I’m curious why they built a purposely grimy building,” replied Kim, looking around and spotting the entrance. “That looks like the door.”
The girls stepped through the door, only to find the entrance hall was grimier than the outside of the building. There were fraying posters everywhere, declaring various random things.
“It is an alleyway!” Gasped Alice, pulling hard on Kim’s sleeve once more.
“Wait, it is?” Asked Kim as she looked around, only to go wide-eyed. Alice was right, this hall was literally set up to look like an alleyway. The floor was made up of slabs, complete with fake drains dotted along it.
The posters and other stuff on the wall were there to make it look like you were between two buildings. It was extremely well done, even if it did make Kim question just why someone would want to build something so realistically ugly.
Before Kim could think much more, part of the wall slid open, revealing a masked person. “You with the cops?” Said the voice.
“Umm, no?” Said Kim with a shrug.
“Passes for Blissoplis are twenty dollars per head,” continued the masked person, obviously not phased by Kim’s unsure response.
“Two please!” Grinned Alice, walking forward and slipping two twenty dollar bills into the slot in front of the masked figure. The masked figure remained silent for a while before a beep rang out.
“Your payment has been accepted.” They replied firmly. “Welcome to Blissoplis, please take your passes,” they continued as two cards were ejected out of a slot on the wall.
As Alice went to grab the cards, the wall closed again, hiding the person once more. Alice walked over to Kim and passed her the card. “So what do we do with these?” Asked Alice, slowly walking over to the door, only to spot a scanner. “Oh, we scan them!”
Alice pressed her card onto the glowing scanner only for a robotic voice to crackle out of a speaker. “Pass accepted, welcome,” it said as the door slid open, revealing a massive room.
Kim and Alice gasped as they stepped inside. This place was gigantic and stunningly themed. It was set up to look almost like a futuristic dystopian city block. With several metal floors jam-packed with various arcade machines, and neon signs hanging from every wall and pillar.
“This is so awesome!” Squealed Alice, grabbing Kim by the waist. As she did this a vent behind them blasted out some steam making both girls cough a little. “It is like being in a movie!” Continued Alice between coughs.
“Yeah, it is like an eighties sci-fi film,” nodded Kim looking around. “There is a load of machines, what do you want to play first?” She asked looked around to see if anything caught her eye.
“Fighting games!” Bounced Alice, pointing to a neon sign that said “Fight Club.” Kim nodded and started to move towards it. Alice followed on behind her basically skipping the whole way. “I hope they have Queen of Fighters 98! That is my favorite game!”
As they walked through the arcade, Kim was able to admire the place more, whoever had designed this had really gone all out, there were even “windows” on the outer walls that had city scenes projected onto them, it really looked like a grimy gambling den from some cheap film.
She was also impressed by the guards that were stationed around the building. They were clad in futuristic masks and jumpsuits and each had a stun baton on their belt.
“Awesome!” Cheered Alice as she entered the area and immediately went over to a large machine. “Queen of Fighters!” She said, looking at the machine. “Oh neat, it is free to play, I guess you just pay for entry,” she said before turning to Kim. “Fight me!”
“Sure,” chuckled Kim. “But remember, I’m terrible at these games, so I’m not going to be much of a challenge.”
“I’ll go easy on you,” winked Alice, pressing the start button, moving the game onto the character select screen. Kim looked at the characters, unsure exactly who these people were.
“Wait, I have three slots?” Asked Kim as she scanned her eyes over the screen.
“Yeah, it is a tag team, with the third being an assist you can call on to help you out,” nodded Alice, quickly selecting her characters.
“Right, right,” mumbled Kim, selecting a few people at random, presuming the ones near the start of the list must be the easiest to play.
After both girls had selected their characters the screen flashed and changed to the actual fight. “Round One! Fight!” Shouted a voice from the cabinet. Instantly Alice started to furiously wiggle the joystick, her character instantly diving forward and starting to punch.
Kim tried to work out the buttons, but before she had a chance to do anything Alice’s character had started to punch her character over and over. Kim was able to get a few strikes in, but within seconds the screen declared a victory for Alice.
“I thought you were going to go easy on me!” Huffed Kim.
“Yeah, I got a little carried away,” replied Alice bashfully, her cheeks flushing a little.
“It is okay,” smiled Kim. She was going to ask if Alice wanted to play again, however, a sudden loud tone distracted her. She looked around trying to work out what was going on, only to spot that all of the guards had started to salute.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Saturns and synthetics, please welcome the Queen of Blissoplis. Gralla!” Came a semi-robotic voice over the building’s speakers.
As Alice and Kim looked up, they saw what the fuss was about. One of the doors on the very top floor had opened and a woman had stepped out, flanked by two guards in heavy armor. This woman was impossible to miss, she was clad in a long coat made of several different neon materials and her hair was both spiky and bright blue.
As the woman walked up to the balcony, several searchlights panned around the room before focusing on her. “Everyone having a good time?” She shouted, causing everyone in the arcade to cheer. “Excellent, excellent!“ responded the woman, stepping off the balcony and starting to walk around the arcade.
“Is this like a show?” Whispered Kim.
“I have no idea, but she is pretty cool,” responded Alice, transfixed by this strange woman. “She looks the part if nothing else!”
The woman continued to walk around the arcade as people slowly returned to their games. Kim continued to watch the woman, impressed by how much detail she was putting into her performance. She interacted with every guard she passed, chastising some and joking with others.
The woman walked towards Kim and Alice, only to spin on her heel and smile directly at the two girls. “Queen of Fighters?” She said with a cocky grin.
“Yeah,” smiled Alice, rubbing her arm as she did, a little unsure of how to react to this woman.
“I can’t let a Queen of Fighters player in here without fighting them at least once,” exclaimed the woman, moving towards the machine. “I love this game, but you never find players of it.”
“Oh, I’m,” stuttered Alice. “I’m not that good!”
“Tell you what, if you can beat me, then there are two Ultra-Bliss passes in it for you,” winked the woman.
Alice tried to think of a way to respond. However, a crowd of people was starting to form, obviously excited to see Gralla play someone at a game.
“Sure! I’ll do it!” Smiled Alice, getting a cheer from the crowd as she stepped up to the machine.
“Tournament player?” Smiled Gralla as she cycled through the characters.
“I’m not that good,” smiled Alice. “I’ve just played this game a lot.”
“We shall see,” nodded Gralla, pressing a few buttons to select her team as Alice did the same.
“Round One! Fight!” Shouted the machine once more. Alice and Gralla both started to hammer at the buttons, making their fighters jump around the screen, both narrowly avoiding getting hit by the other.
“Super canceling, and you’re not a tournament player?” Gasped Gralla as she quickly wrenched on the joystick.
“I worked it out as a way to beat the hard mode,” continued Alice, hammering on the buttons before pulling back on the stick, causing her character to dive out of the way seconds before an attack.
“Oh, now you’re going down!” Smiled Gralla, starting off her super attack. However, before it could make contact Alice’s second character jumped in from behind, knocking Gralla’s character into the air.
“Got to time this right,” said Alice biting softly on her lip as she pressed buttons, causing her characters to jump in and out, kicking Gralla’s character higher and higher into the air, taking off chunks off her health bar.
“Player One Wins! Knockout!” Shouted the machine as Gralla’s character fell to the floor defeated, the crowd cheering as Alice took a deep breath.
“Impressive, impressive,” smiled Gralla, starting to clap. “I’m a woman of my word, why don’t you two come with me and we’ll get your Ultra-Bliss cards.”
“Sure!” Nodded Alice, growing more confident around Gralla. It seemed like she was quite a fun girl under the costume.
Gralla beckoned them as she started to walk around the various levels of the arcade, doing a complete loop until she was back at the stairs she had originally walked down.
The two guards at the foot of the stairs looked at Kim and Alice, reaching for their stun sticks. “They are with me,” smiled Gralla, waving her hand, the guards instantly letting go of their batons. “Follow me, ladies!”
The group walked up the stairs and onto the balcony, Kim was amazed by the view from this height, this place was massive and full of people.
Gralla pulled open a door and waved the girls inside. Kim and Alice walked through the door, expecting just a normal office, however to their surprise they found that Gralla’s office was just as well themed as the rest of the building.
“Take a seat,” smiled Gralla, pointing to a couch on the far wall. “I’ll need to put some details into the system to get your passes made up.”
“Well,” started Alice as she sat down. “I’ve been meaning to ask. What is an Ultra-Bliss pass?”
Gralla looked up from her computer before giggling a little. “Oh is it your first time with us?” She asked, getting a nod from both girls. “Well, I’m sorry for not being more clear earlier.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” stuttered Alice, rubbing her arm a little.
“Let me explain,” smiled Gralla, sitting on the edge of her desk. “So normally we sell the single day passes, the Ultra-Bliss pass is like a season pass, it lasts a year and gives you free access to all the upcharge things.”
“Oh I didn’t know there were upcharges,” smiled Kim, doing anything to try and take the conversation off Alice for a few moments.
“Yeah, I wanted to do everything for one price, but it just wasn’t economically viable,” sighed Gralla. “The upcharge tends to be for very rare machines I talk collectors into letting me display for a limited period. That or very complex experimental stuff.”
“Oh!” Smiled Kim. “You run the place?”
“Run and own,” Grinned Gralla, pointing a finger at Kim.
“Wow!” Gushed Alice, obviously excited to be meeting an arcade owner. “This place is so cool, did you design it yourself as well?”
“That I did,” nodded Gralla going back to the computer and tapping a few buttons. “Let’s be honest, arcades are fun! They just died out because they were seen as sketchy places.”
“So true!” Nodded Alice. “The old one I used to go to was obviously a front for something really dodgy.”
“Why do you think that?” Asked Kim.
“Because I walked past it as the police burst in and dragged the owner out in handcuffs,” said Alice, falling into giggles.
“Sounds like a lovely place,” chuckled Gralla, pointing to the computer. “If you two could just come here and enter some details for our records.”
Kim and Alice got up and wandered over to the computer and started to enter their details. It was all the basic things companies usually asked for such as name and e-mail address. As they typed, Gralla continued to talk, not taking her eyes off Alice the entire time.
“I thought, why not combine an arcade with some theatrics? Go all out on theming, make the place look cool. And people associate arcades with the 1980s. And the 1980s had a massive boom in dystopian science fiction, so it made sense to theme the place around that concept!”
“I love it! There are so many cool details,” grinned Alice, finishing up her form. “You’ve really gone all out!”
“Why thank you,” bowed Gralla, moving to look at the computer screen. “Excellent, excellent,” she nodded. “I’ll get those printed up,” she added as she clicked the mouse a few times. “May I invite you both to have a drink with me in my personal quarters? It will be so much easier than having to track you down once the cards are done.”
Alice clammed up a little bit, unsure how to react to this offer. Kim also stayed silent for a few seconds, obviously trying to work out if this offer was one of business courtesy, personal generosity or actual friendliness.
“Sure!” Nodded Kim, realizing that if she didn’t break the silence, no one else would. That and it was only one drink, what’s the worst that could happen?
“Excellent!” Smiled Gralla, walking over to the edge of the room and opening a door that was seemingly meant to be hidden. As Alice and Kim walked into this new room they instantly realized this must actually be Gralla’s private quarters as it wasn’t themed. It looked more like a clubhouse, decked out with a load of movie posters as well as several large couches.
Alice however, was instantly distracted by an arcade machine on the one wall. “Queen of Fighters: World Heroes Perfect?!” She shouted, moving quickly over to it.
“Very well spotted, you are quite the fan!” Grinned Gralla, moving over to the machine.
“This was only sold as a conversion kit for the 2000 machines, right? The ones that didn’t sell well in the first place?” Said Alice, admiring the art on the side of the machine.
“Utterly correct! I’m impressed!” Smiled Gralla. “This is my personal one, but I have tracked down a second conversion kit so soon I’ll have a machine for the arcade,” explained Gralla.
“Awesome! I’ve never played this edition outside of emulation,” replied Alice.
“We need to change that!” Grinned Gralla before turning to Kim. “Oh by the way Kim, help yourself to anything, there is a fridge with soda and beer over there and my coffee machine is in that little kitchen area!”
“Oh, thanks!” Nodded Kim, only for her smile to suddenly fade. “Wait, I didn’t tell you my name?”
“Oops! Right, you didn’t. I saw it on your card application.” Laughed Gralla, shrugging slightly.
“Oh yes,” nodded Kim, doing her best to force a smile again. “That’s it,” she continued, feeling slightly awkward, getting up to get a can of soda.
“Talking about me being silly, I’ll be right back, I’ve yet to flip this machine over to free play as it is stupidly complex!” Laughed Gralla quickly dashing out of the room, only to return with a massive jar of quarters.
“It is like a dragon’s horde!” Giggled Alice.
“Worst thing,” replied Gralla as she put the jar down with a heavy thud. “Is that some older machines hate newer quarters, so I have to sort them by year.” She continued, pulling out a handful and slipping them into the machine.
Kim watched as Alice and Gralla played the game. She couldn’t deny that weirdness aside Gralla and Alice got on like a house on fire. They obviously had very similar interests and seemed to love each other’s company.
After a few rounds at the game, Alice came out easily on top. “You are so good at this, you need to enter tournaments! You could win a good amount of money!” Smiled Gralla.
“I’ll consider it,” nodded Alice.
“So are you just into Queen of Fighters, or do any other series interest you?” Asked Gralla, grabbing herself a can of soda and starting to drink it.
“Oh, I’m kinda into arcade history in general,” replied Alice shyly. “I think there is a lot of interesting stuff, so many forgotten machines that never really made waves nationally,” she rambled.
“Well, then I have got to show you my workshop!” Replied Gralla between sips. “I’ve got a load of random stuff in there, I just had a load of really rare machines arrive!”
“I would love that!” Nodded Alice. “But not if it is too much trouble!” She quickly added.
“Not at all, it is down in the basement, so we’ll have to use the spooky service elevator, but aside from that it will be a blast, I so rarely get to show off my collection!”
“Then I’m super down!” Smiled Alice.
“Great! Then follow me!” Grinned Gralla, walking out of the room and back into her office, only to exit through another door that led to what seemed to be a service corridor.
Kim followed on behind, still very unsure about Gralla, but happy that Alice was having a good time and had found her inner-confidence. As the group reached the end of the corridor, Kim realized that Gralla hadn’t been joking. The service elevator looked very sketchy and very old.
The elevator clunked and clicked as it moved the three girls down the building into the basement. Once they arrived, the door pulled itself open and the basement was revealed.
It wasn’t as exciting as the rest of the building, it was a very plain room with various spotlights and workbenches scattered around. There was also a load of arcade machines dotted around the room, each in a different state of disrepair.
Gralla stepped out of the elevator and went over to the one workbench and slapped a machine. “You’ve heard of Galaxy Commander?” She said, looking towards Alice.
“Is that the vector-based one? The shooter?” Alice asked, getting a nod from Gralla.
“Exactly, rare as hen’s teeth these days as the screens burn out super quickly, I’ve spent the last few months slowly rebuilding an original screen from contemporary parts.”
“That is super cool!” Grinned Alice, looking over the machine, only to look around it and blink a few times. “Hey, is that a Hexiblus machine?” Asked Alice with confusion.
“Oh yeah, that,” nodded Gralla, wandering over to the machine and rubbing it. “I’m proud of this.”
“I thought this machine was just an urban legend, didn’t they say it was a government project to brainwash anyone who played it?” Questioned Alice, looking more confused the more she looked at the machine.
“Flashing graphics would render any player into an obedient government sleeper agent,” nodded Gralla. “If it didn’t give them a seizure first!”
“Okay, this has got to be a fake right? Or was the myth based on an actual game?”
“The fact you can’t tell makes me so happy!” Giggled Gralla. “You’re right, Hexiblus was never a real game, just an urban myth. I’ve built this machine myself from scratch, I plan to use it as a publicity tool for Blissoplis!”
“This is so impressive, it even looks like it was taken from an old arcade,” gasped Alice, as she looked all around the machine, inspecting every detail. “So, what is on it then? It certainly has the parts needed to run some software.”
“I’ve actually coded up a game for it. A pretty basic space shooter designed to give out, “subliminal messages” chuckled Gralla, making large air quotes as she did.
“Planning to brainwash the populace?” Giggled Alice.
“Nah, only people who play arcade games,” laughed Gralla once more. “You will be surprised how tight the rules on subliminal messages are these days, even when doing them as a joke. I’ve had to change them several times to prevent the police getting involved.”
“Wow, there is a law against it?” Blinked Kim.
“There is a law against a lot of things,” nodded Gralla. “You tend to not realize until the police come and visit your house.”
“So what, you have to make them more obvious?” Asked Kim.
“Yeah, basically I had to drop the sub part. They are now just liminal messages or domliminal. They are there and very much want you to know it!” She said, seemingly very amused by her own joke. “Actually, I should have you two play it.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t want to be brainwashed,” teased Kim, doing her best to hide a strange feeling of dread.
“But being brainwashed is fun,” winked Gralla. “Anyhow, I’m curious if I can make a game that is both fun and sinister while looking period accurate enough to fool arcade fanatics.” She continued pulling some wires out of the back of the machine and hooking them up to what seemed to be a large battery pack.
With a spark the machine lit up, the screen flashing into life with hundreds of bright neon colors. After a few minutes, the words “Hexiblus” flashed on to the screen.
“Press the button near the coin slot to kick it off,” smiled Gralla pointing towards the flashing button.
“Right,” nodded Alice, grabbing the joystick and hitting the button. Suddenly the screen burst into life as little ship appeared in the center of the screen.
Kim watched as Alice’s ship was besieged by wave after wave of neon hexagons as well as a load of smaller ships that fired tiny projectiles towards Alice’s craft.
Kim watched as Alice moved the stick to dodge all of the different threats. Kim was actually really impressed by the game, the screen glitched now and again, with the word “Blissoplis,” appearing for a few seconds each time. Sometimes the letters would appear on the enemy ships or overwrite the characters used to display the score. It seemed as though Gralla was right, these subliminal messages were anything but subtle.
The game continued to go faster and faster, forcing Alice to react quicker as more and more hexagons and enemies flooded the screen. After a few minutes, a single bullet slipped through, causing Alice’s ship to explode. The screen glitched with a myriad of rainbow colors before returning to the title screen.
“That was pretty cool!” Smiled Alice, stepping back from the machine.
“Awesome!” Cheered Gralla, throwing up her hands. “Kim, why don’t you have a go?”
“Oh, sure,” nodded Kim, moving over to the machine. “I do warn you though, I have the hand-eye coordination of a cow on a skateboard.” She explained as she grabbed the stick and reached down to press the button, hoping she didn’t make a fool of herself during this.
However, before she could press it, Gralla interrupted. “Crap! Wait! I need to open up the vent as this machine has an overheat problem I’ve not fixed yet,” she said, opening up a panel on the side of the machine and putting her head inside it.
“It’s okay, take your time,” smiled Kim, grateful to not have to play for a few moments. She smiled as she realized that the characters from “Blissoplis” actually made up the background of the title screen, masquerading as little stars.
After a few minutes, Gralla pulled her head out of the machine. “Sorry about that,” she smiled, wiping some dust out of her hair. “I need to get on with fixing the heat issue. The part I need is on order but stuck in customs. You can play now!”
“Right,” nodded Kim, reaching down and pressing the start button. The screen burst into life again. Kim did her best to focus and dodge the incoming Hexagons.
While the flashes had been cool to watch from afar, Kim quickly realized that they made focusing on the incoming projectiles much harder. Kim was very quickly out of her depth, unlike Alice who had always seemingly been one step ahead of the patterns, Kim was flailing wildly.
She felt like she was in the field of pixel stars, trying to avoid the ever-present threat of the incoming hexagons and enemy fire. Kim’s eyes glazed over as she tried to keep track of the whole screen at once, her eyes following the shots around the screen to make sure she could get her ship out of the way.
As the game continued Kim started to realize that there was a pattern to the little ships. A wave would slide in from the right, with hexagons rolling in on the left. Then the enemy ships would glide in from the left, with the hexagons coming in to fill the gap left by the previous wave.
Kim continued to follow the pattern, her eyes sliding left and right with each wave, doing her best to dodge the little pixels as they flew towards her. After a few waves, she found herself falling into a pattern, easily sliding from left to right without much effort, in fact, she didn’t even notice the flashing anymore, she was just focused on moving her ship.
All of this was soundtracked by the little chirping noise the game made every time the player earned points. It was so faint that you couldn’t hear it unless you were the one playing, but something about it was intoxicating, hearing it made Kim smile, it was a sign she was doing well.
It was so easy for Kim to just let it play out naturally, slide left and shoot, hearing the little chirps confirm that she had done well. Then she had to slide right and do the same, letting the little chirps congratulate her once more. Kim just got lost in the pattern, her eyes sliding left and right following the waves as they came, almost becoming one with the machine, the little chirps telling her when she had done the right thing.
Kim lost track of time, just following the pattern without really thinking about it. Suddenly the screen went bright, shaking Kim from her thoughts. After a few seconds, chromatic hexagons pushed in from the outer edges of the screen, growing smaller and smaller as they headed towards the center.
“Bonus level!” Smiled Gralla.
“You are decimating me!” Cheered Alice as Kim shook her head and tried to refocus on the screen. The flickering was now much more intense, making it hard to keep track of what was going on. “Blissoplis” flashed up on the screen before the letters started to rocket down towards Kim’s little ship. Kim moved out of the way of the B, only to hear the chirp that meant she had done the correct thing.
Kim dodged the other letters as best she could, skating left and right and getting constant praise from the machine. The flashing score going higher and higher with each successful dodge. A wide smile washed over Kim’s face as the chirping grew more intense, she felt like she was doing so well! She was unbeatable! She just needed to focus and she would win everything!
Suddenly the screen went black as the machine audibly powered down. Kim kept moving the stick for a few seconds before blinking and pulling herself back to reality.
“And there is the heat issue,” sighed Gralla, shaking her head. “Sorry about that, that was the best score I’ve seen anyone get as well!” She said as she unhooked the battery pack and started to open up various parts of the machine.
Kim continued to stand in place as Gralla fiddled, she felt weird, her whole body was tingling and she felt like she had the start of a headache forming. “Are you okay?” Asked Alice, gently putting her arm around Kim. “You don’t look too good?”
“I’m fine,” said Kim, trying to not make a scene. “I think I’m just having a sugar crash.”
“Well, that sucks!” Said Gralla.
“We ate a lot of candy before coming here,” smiled Alice.
“Yeah, I hate to say this, but I think I might head home, I have to be up in the morning anyway, sorry.” Groaned Kim, rubbing her forehead gently. “You can stay if you want,” she said to Alice, not wanting to ruin her fun.
“No, I’m not going to let you wander home in this state,” Replied Alice firmly before looking at Gralla. “It has been a blast though!”
“Well, you girls are Ultra-bliss members now! So you can come back whenever!” Nodded Gralla. “Alice, mind if I text you later? I would love to show off a few of my other machines!”
“Oh, that would be awesome! I’ll get you my number,” grinned Alice, fumbling for her phone.
“I’ll just grab it off your pass,” said Gralla, going to call the service elevator again. Once the girls got back up to the office, Gralla presented them with their cards and helped them to the exit. Kim didn’t want to admit it, but she really wasn’t feeling well.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” Asked Alice as they walked up to Kim’s building. “It’s no trouble.”
“I’ll be fine,” replied Kim. “I just need to sleep, but thank you,” she said as she unlocked her door and waved at Alice. As Kim walked to her apartment she had to steady herself against the wall, it felt like the whole building was spinning.
Once she was in her apartment Kim went straight into her bedroom and pulled off her clothes before falling face first onto the bed, pulling a cover over herself and going to sleep.
But sleep wasn’t a reprieve for Kim, in her dreams she was back in that starfield, dodging hexagons and ships, sliding left and right in time with the waves, doing all she could to rack up a high score, becoming one with her little ship.
Kim gasped awake, blinking heavily. Her head was sore and she was sweating like crazy. She looked around trying to work out what was going on, only to realize her phone was beeping.
Kim rolled out of bed and started to fiddle in her jeans to try and find her phone. Once she retrieved her phone she found out that she had a text from an unknown number. As she opened it up she was presented with a short video of the Hexiblus game.
Kim blinked as she watched the ship move back and forth, left and right, dodging the bullets. The happy little chirp rang out whenever the ship successfully dodged something. Kim wanted to question why she had been sent this video, but she couldn’t take her eyes off it. Something about the video soothed her head and made the headache fade into the background. Kim could just put all her focus on the ship and ignore everything else.
Kim was so focused on the video that it took her a few seconds to realize she had been sent another video from the same number. The second video was slightly longer, it showed the little ship flying towards the Blissoplis letters and docking with them, the chirping noise sending shudders through Kim’s mind.
The last few seconds of the video were just the words “High Score” flashing up with a question mark. Kim started at it for a while, letting it loop over and over.
Kim felt a strange tingling in her brain, almost like there was something she needed to do despite not being able to exactly place what it was. She slowly wobbled to her feet and started to pull on clothes, checking the video every few seconds, trying to remember what she needed to do.
Kim pondered as she zipped up her coat. There was something she needed to do, but she just couldn’t put her finger on it. She started to walk out of her door, gazing at her phone, hoping that the video would give her the answers she was looking for.
The video continued to loop, the little ship docking on the letters. The soft chirping noise letting her know she was on the right path, that she was doing the right thing.
Kim looked up, only to see a familiar building towering up in front of her. Her phone buzzed again, displaying an audio message. Kim didn’t question it and just hit play, only to be hit with a series of the little chirps. As they pushed through the phone’s speaker Kim smiled. This is what she needed to do.
She took a few steps forward and pushed the door, only to find that it was actually open. The entrance hallway was the same as it had been earlier except this time no one opened the wall to talk. Kim just walked straight to the scanner and tapped her card, watching as the main doors opened, revealing the Hexiblus machine.
Kim walked straight towards it, grasping the stick and hitting the start button. The screen filled with colors once more as the game started up. Kim didn’t need to spend time trying to focus, instantly she fell into the rhythm. Dodging left and then right, her eyes only focused on the waves, nothing else mattered apart from getting that high score.
Kim felt totally at one with the game, each Hexagon seemed brighter and more vibrant, each chirp sounded like an orchestra playing just for her. Kim felt almost euphoric. Each addition to her score made her feel better and better.
Suddenly the hexagons pulsed in from the outside of the screen, making the whole room light up with flashing colors, Kim trembled a little as she watched them. She knew what was coming but that didn’t make it any less exciting.
The Blissoplis letters flew in from the top of the screen and Kim started to dodge them with practiced ease, no thoughts other than piloting her ship.
As Kim played the game a figure emerged from the shadows and reached into Kim’s pocket, pulling out her phone. “Not totally effective, but it did the job,” it said to itself as it fiddled with the phone.
Kim continued to dodge the letters, each little chirp of praise sending a shiver through her mind and body. After a few waves of letters, the screen started to pulse heavily. Hundreds of Blissoplis letters started to rain down from above.
Kim started to dodge the letters like she had before, only to be hit with a heavy silence. No chirp congratulating her. Her score staying stagnant.
The lack of feedback and praise shook Kim from her mindless euphoria. She was confused, why wasn’t she getting praise, she was dodging the letters like she had been told to, but yet the machine was silent.
This confusion distracted Kim just long enough for her ship to get hit by a letter. Kim gasped, only to realize her ship was still intact, a little chirp informing her she had done well. Instantly Kim knew what she had to do, she had to let the letters obliterate her.
She moved the stick quickly, getting in the way of as many letters as she could, her ship getting hit over and over as the chirp continued to ring out of the machine and echo in her mind. Kim felt great, every neuron of her brain tingled with joy,
She continued to let herself get hit by the letters as the tingling from the chirping grew more and more intense. Kim’s smile grew wider and goofier with each joyous little chirp, she was happier than she had been for years.
Suddenly the screen started to flicker and flash as the letters vanished. Kim’s ship was left floating in the empty void of space. As Kim stared at the glowing screen, there was another bright flash. Slowly the image of her ship changed, morphing into a small woman. Kim stared at it for a few moments, only to realize it looked a bit like her. However, before she could think about it more, a little pink mark appeared on the woman’s head and the letters started to fall once more.
Kim didn’t need prompting, she had to let the letters hit her, she had to let the letters smash into her and destroy her, the chirp had told her and the chirp would not steer her wrong. She pulled on the stick, moving under each letter, so happy as each one hit her and made the chirp push out of the machine’s speakers.
As she did this the flashing grew more intense, almost like she could see words hidden under the stars, but Kim knew that she couldn’t waste time reading them, she had to make sure the letters hit her, she had to get the high score.
Kim’s knees trembled as the chirping grew faster and faster as she let the letters crash into her. Kim was hardly able to contain herself as she stood drooling in front of the screen, her whole body full of bliss. Suddenly the letters stopped falling and the screen flashed once more.
The little pink blob flew off the girl’s head and went to the top of the screen. It slowly started to grow and change until it resembled a pixilated brain. As the screen flashed again more pixilated brains appeared next to the first.
Kim continued to shake, her breathing fast and ragged. She had to destroy the brains. She had to destroy her brain, it was the only way to win. She started to fire up the screen, the chirp ringing out as each brain exploded into colorful flashing hexagons.
As each brain exploded words appeared on the screen but Kim didn’t read them. Reading would only distract her from destroying the brains and getting the high score she craved.
As the final brain exploded into a rainbow of colors the screen started to flash intensely, the words becoming more and more clear until they filled the screen. “High Score! Obey Blissoplis! High Score! Obey Blissoplis!” Strobed across the monitor as the chirping noise pushed Kim’s brain to higher and higher levels of pleasure.
Kim stared at the screen, unblinking. Her whole body was trembling and covered with sweat, every inch of her skin felt like it was covered in a blissful fire.
“Yes,” whispered the figure, brushing its lips over Kim’s ear. “That’s it, you got the high score, isn’t the high score the best thing to have? To be the best?” They said, smirking a little as Kim let out a whimper.
“Now listen closely,” whispered the figure, running a finger down Kim’s neck.
Kim stepped out of her office, zipping up her jacket as she avoided people rushing to get home. She felt her phone buzzing in her pocket and quickly answered it. “Hey!”
“Kim?” Gasped Alice. “There you are! You doing okay?”
“What’s up?” Asked Kim, unsure why Alice seemed so frantic.
“I’ve been calling you all day!” Shouted Alice. “You were in such a state last night. I was worried about you.”
“Oh,” blinked Kim, trying to remember if her phone had even gone off. “I guess my phone is on the fritz, sorry,” she said gently. “I just fell into bed and then threw myself into work this morning.”
“Right, right,” said Alice taking a deep breath as she did. “As long as you are okay, I just worry about people, you know that!”
“Oh I know it,” giggled Kim before a vibration from her phone drew her attention away from the call.
Her phone declared that she had a message from an unknown number. Kim opened the message only to be met with the phrase. “Do you want the high score?”
Kim’s world instantly shrunk down until it was just that message, a desire growing inside her. She wanted that high score more than anything. “Got to go, bye.” She said as she hung up the call and started to walk.
“Kim? Kim?” Asked Alice, looking at her phone. “Weird,” she said as she shook her head. Had she done something wrong? Kim wasn’t the type to randomly hang up on people.
Suddenly Alice’s phone buzzed, shaking her out of her thoughts. “Hey Alice, its Gralla,” said the message. “I’ve got something that might interest you, you should come down to the workshop.”
Alice sighed, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to interact with people after her conversation with Kim. But she thought she should, she didn’t want to risk upsetting Gralla so soon after meeting her.
“Sure, on my way,” typed Alice, grabbing her bag and water bottle as she went to look for her keys.
Kim wandered up to the towering building, a dazed grin on her face. She was going to get that high score, it was everything she wanted. She walked into the entry hall only for the one wall to open up, revealing a secret door.
“Come here,” said Gralla, waving towards Kim. Kim jumped a little bit but started to move towards the new door. As she moved closer Kim realized that Gralla was extremely pretty. Something about her was captivating and just looking at her was making Kim feel slightly love-struck.
“Hi,” stuttered Kim, her eyes wide.
“Hey,” smirked Gralla, shutting the hidden door behind them. “What brings you here?”
“I.” Started Kim, only to bite her lip gently. “I want the high score.”
“Oh wonderful, I’ve got lots of points for you,” smiled Gralla moving close to Kim, gently kissing her on the neck.
Kim gasped, pushing back against Gralla. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she stuttered. “I’m sorry,” she added, shaking gently. Confusion and hints of fear poking through the dreamy haze that Kim was trapped in.
“Oh no,” grinned Gralla. “You are that kind of girl, you just don’t know it yet.”
“I’m not!” Protested Kim, trying to find out how to open up the wall so she could escape. “Let me out please, I’m really uncomfortable.”
“You can leave when I say you can leave,” replied Gralla sinisterly, her eyes roaming Kim’s body.
“I’ll call the police!” Screamed Kim, fiddling in her pocket. “I will not be held captive!” She added, yanking her phone out of her pocket.
“You won’t be doing that, you want the high score don’t you?” Replied Gralla with an evil grin. Kim instantly stopped moving, her mouth dropping open for a few moments as a wave of desire washed over her.
“I want the high score,” she nodded, her mind spinning with a horrific mishmash of emotions.
“Your score is so low,” said Gralla gently. Kim felt a cold shudder run through her body, the idea of not having the high score felt like being stabbed in the chest.
“But,” started Kim, unsure what she was going to say, she was just desperate to not leave a silence.
“You get points if you drop the phone,” grinned Gralla. Kim’s muscles moved on auto-pilot, instantly dropping the phone to the floor with a loud clatter. “Good, good,” smiled Gralla, pulling out a small box and pressing a button. The chirping noise from the Hexiblus machine came out of the little speaker, making Kim weak at the knees.
“Yes, points,” she groaned, the fear and confusion subsiding, her thoughts becoming refocused on her goal. The acquisition of points and the claiming of the high score.
“Come closer,” demanded Gralla, watching as Kim ran towards her. “Good good,” nodded Gralla, playing the sound again. “Stand still, let me kiss you,” commanded Gralla as she grabbed Kim’s cheeks and forcefully kissed her.
After a few seconds of kissing, Gralla pulled back, gently biting Kim on the neck as she did. “Perfect,” she laughed, playing the sound again and watching Kim squirm on the spot. “The process needs some fine tuning, but for now, it will do what I need, follow me,” she said before turning and walking off, Kim instantly following behind her.
Gralla led Kim deep into the backstage area, stopping as she entered a dressing room. “Now Kim,” chuckled Gralla. “I’ve got a job for you, a job that will get you a lot of points.”
Kim nodded, her smile growing wider, the desire for points crushing any other thought in her head. “Points,” she nodded, her voice wavering as she gazed at the blue-haired woman.
Gralla moved to an open closet at the side of the room and pulled out one of the guard uniforms. She then went to a box and reached inside and pulled out a large ball gag.
“This is simple,” she said as she moved back towards Kim with the items. “You are to act as a new guard. You will not speak, you will do exactly as I say. If done right, you will get the points. If not, your score will be so low it won’t even be on the high score table.”
Kim whimpered again, a wave of pain washing over her as she considered the horrible idea of having a low score. She quickly started to nod, desperate to do anything to avoid any more pain.
“Open your mouth,” commanded Gralla, inserting the gag into Kim’s mouth and doing up the strap. “Take off your clothes and put on the uniform,” demanded Gralla, leaning against the wall as she watched Kim quickly yank off her clothes and pull on the outfit.
Once Kim was dressed Gralla picked up the mask and slipped it over Kim’s face, totally hiding her identity and predicament. “Very good,” purred Gralla, pressing the button to give Kim another chirp of encouragement.
Once Kim had finished shuddering from the wave of pleasure Gralla started to walk, waving for Kim to follow.
Alice wandered into the building, the faint sound of metal leaking out from her headphones. She reached into her pocket to pull out her pass, only to realize she should likely tell Gralla she was there.
She pulled out her phone and quickly tapped out a generic message, only for the main door to open. “You made it!” Grinned Gralla as she dived out of the door and hugged Alice.
“Haha, yeah, I couldn’t miss this,” beamed Alice, returning the hug. “I’m super curious what you want to show me!”
“You’re going to love it!” Smiled Gralla. “Seriously, this was the weirdest find I’ve ever made!” She said, grabbing Alice by the hand and dragging her into the arcade and up into her office, Kim not far behind.
As they waited for the service elevator Gralla turned to Alice. “By the way, I meant to ask, how is Kim doing? She looked super unwell when you guys left last night.”
“Oh, she is fine, sugar crash, we went a little too hard I guess,” smiled Alice, shrugging a little. “But she was at work today, so we’ve not talked much.” Explained Alice, looking at the guard as she did.
Gralla spotted Alice gazing at the guard and smirked. “Oh don’t mind her, she is a new employee. She wanted to follow me around for a while to workshop her character.”
“Oh, that is awesome!” Nodded Alice, “What is your character like?”
“She won’t reply,” interrupted Gralla. “You know these arty types, quite the method actress, isn’t that right?” She said, nodding her head towards Kim.
Kim stared out through the mask. Part of her knew who Alice was, part of her still saw Alice as her closest friend. But that part was weak and was being smothered by the part that craved the rush of the high score more than anything else, the part that wanted to hear that chirping noise and gather points.
Kim’s head nodded automatically, picking up on the implied command in Gralla’s tone. Alice smiled and turned back to face Gralla, not realizing her friend was under the mask.
“That is pretty cool, I was more of a band kid than a theatre kid,” she said with a grin, stepping into the service elevator and heading down into the workshop.
“Oh, you’ve moved the Hexiblous machine. Has the heat sink arrived?” Asked Alice, walking over to the machine and rubbing her hand along it. Kim shuddered a little as Alice’s fingers danced over the machine, her thoughts filling with images of that little ship, shooting everything that stood before it.
“It hasn’t,” replied Gralla, shaking her head. “Still stuck in customs, I just moved it as there is better airflow over here,” she said before walking over to an odd machine that sat in the corner of the workshop.
“What is this?” Said Alice, looking over the machine. “There seem to be decals painted over decals?”
“I think,” started Gralla. “I think this is an illegal import version of SpaceBlast. It seems to have the boards for that, shoved into a machine from the region.”
“So what, a way to import parts and not pay tax on them?” Asked Alice, ducking down to look into a service panel.
“Seems like it,” nodded Gralla. “I’m so happy I’ve found it, I’ve wanted to do a bootleg and illegal clone exhibit for ages as there are some really weird machines out there.
“It does sound kinda fun,” smiled Alice pulling herself up and stepping back to stand with Gralla.
“So much in the world isn’t like it seems, under the familiar is something you would never expect,” mused Gralla, knowing that Alice had no idea about her friend only a few feet away.
“The world is weird and fun,” nodded Alice.
“But I didn’t bring you here just to look at this,” grinned Gralla, causing Kim’s heart to jump. Was this woman about to try to harm Alice? Kim felt a small rush of adrenaline, a small part of her kicking and screaming to step in, to keep Alice away from Gralla, but her body just wouldn’t respond.
“Oh?” Asked Alice, confusion in her eyes.
“I wanted a Queen of Fighters helper,” chuckled Gralla. “I need to flip the machine to free play and it takes two people!” She said, drawing a giggle out of Alice.
“Sure! I would love to help!” Nodded Alice.
Kim breathed a soft sigh of relief, only to see Gralla smirk at her mockingly. “Then let’s go, guard, escort us, quick march!” Demanded Gralla.
Kim’s body turned and started to rhythmically march towards the service elevator, each step pushing the part of Kim’s mind that understood her situation deeper and deeper down until all she could think about was points.
Alice and Gralla headed back into the Gralla’s quarters and started to work, opening up several parts of the machine as Kim watched on, unable to do anything.
Gralla hadn’t lied when she said the process took a while, and thus Kim started to zone out as the girls’ worked inside the machine, her mind’s eye filling with images of the game, of her little ship flowing left and right and shooting all of the evil brains.
A few hours later Kim was shaken out of her daze by Alice’s voice. “Bye! Your acting was awesome!” She smiled, staring into Kim’s eyes without a single hint of recognition on her face.
“Well?” Said Gralla, looking at Kim. “Salute the nice lady,” she said with a wide grin. Kim’s hand shot up to her head as Alice giggled a little bit. “Okay! I better be heading off, have a good night you two!” She said as she wandered out of the door and down the stairs.
Gralla looked at Kim before starting to laugh uproariously. “Oh poor Kim, did your friend not work out it was you?” She laughed as she lifted the mask off Kim’s face.
Kim remained still, her mind too fixated on acquiring points to even notice she was being mocked. Gralla gently ran a finger over Kim’s cheek, before pinching it firmly.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff for you to do for me tonight, but first I need to use that face,” smirked Gralla before pressing the button and letting the chirp ring out once more. “Get naked and lie on the couch. Face up.” She commanded as she pulled the gag out of Kim’s mouth.
As Kim pulled off the uniform Gralla wandered over to her desk and grabbed a box from underneath it. By the time she got back to the couch, Kim was already prepared, her glazed eyes staring at the ceiling. Gralla put the box down and pulled off her pants and underwear before straddling Kim’s face.
Gralla pressed the button and let the chirp wash over Kim’s mind. “Lick,” she commanded.
Kim groaned as she pulled herself out of bed. Her whole lower body was sore and there was a weird taste in her mouth.
She slowly sat up and tried to work out why she felt so bad. She hadn’t done anything the night before. She had just walked home from work and watched sitcom reruns until she fell asleep.
Using all of her willpower, Kim pulled herself out of bed and started to get ready for work, showering to get rid of some of the soreness and drinking a lot of coffee to try and get rid of the weird taste.
Once all that was done Kim started to slowly walk to work, doing her best to push the soreness out of her mind as she continued to drink coffee from her travel mug.
As Kim arrived in the city she saw a lot of people crowded around the lamposts that lined the street. Kim wandered over to one group only to see that the lamppost was totally covered in posters for Blissoplis.
“Fight the power! Stop the alien menace! Blissoplis Resistance!” Declared the mass of posters. Kim chuckled to herself, it was an interesting marketing tactic, and whoever had put these up must have spent ages doing it, as you could hardly see the lamppost for the posters.
“Right, yeah, I don’t know,” said a woman next to Kim. Kim turned, presuming the woman was trying to talk to her. However, Kim quickly realized that this woman was talking on her phone.
“Sure, sure,” continued the woman. “I’ll go talk to their manager as I don’t know why they think they can get away with this. These are all going to be litter within a few hours. I’ll go see if I can get an explanation,” she said before ending her call.
Kim jumped a little as the woman looked at her. She had been so focused on listening to this woman’s conversation she hadn’t realized she had been staring at her the entire time.
“Not a good morning?” Asked Kim, doing anything to try and avoid an awkward situation.
“Terrible,” sighed the woman. “You can’t just go covering street furniture in flyers without permission.”
“They have gone a bit over the top with it,” nodded Kim.
“Are you local?” Asked the woman.
“I work a few blocks away,” smiled Kim in response. “I’ve been to Blissoplis once as well.”
“I see,” nodded the woman, reaching into her suit jacket and pulling out a card. “I’m Anastasia Phillips, I work at city hall,” she explained. “I don’t suppose you saw people putting these up last night?”
Kim turned over the card in her hand before shaking her head. “Sorry, I left work at about five and then went straight home, the street was poster free then.”
“No need to apologize. It seems they went up in the night, my office was flooded with calls about these things the second we opened today, so I’m just seeing if anyone can give me any leads.”
“I guess the arcade put them up, Gralla is sort of kooky.”
“Gralla?” Asked Anastasia, raising an eyebrow.
“Gralla runs the place, or at least that is what she told me when I visited. I’m guessing it is a stage name, she is pretty theatrical,” explained Kim with a shrug.
“Right right,” nodded Anastasia. “Well, that will be helpful as I’m going to pay them a visit. Kooky or not, I wouldn’t expect a small business to violate the rules so flagrantly, but it wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Well I hope that goes well for you,” smiled Kim, noticing the time. “I really better be off, else I’ll be late.”
“Have a nice day,” smiled Anastasia, watching as Kim wandered off down the street.