Part 18: ASynchronism
Putting the same kind of recap here like I did before, but updated to reflect the path to the branch we're about to take.
Simon is on the metro train post-exams with his roommate Marco and his old childhood friend Jasmine, who he has not seen for several years. He seemingly wakes up from a nap to find himself alone with Jasmine, still inside the train but stopped at a strange station that neither of them recognize. Agnos and E are already there, and Ray, Marco, and the twins G and H soon follow. A strange masked figure appears on a screen at the station, introducing themselves as Smiley, and states that they are to take part in a death game called the Dating Game, where they must travel to different stations and attempt to find the ninth person, as their collars only go from 1-8, in order to 'solve' the game and escape.
Simon chooses to pair up with his roommate, Marco, for the first venture out into the metro network, and the two leave the train to find themselves at a station which holds a large, multi-level library. After exploring and solving the puzzle, Marco mentions that he recognizes Ray as being a teacher at the university the two attend, but doesn't know anything about the other four. All of the groups gradually return to the starting station, which they have determined to be their base of operations. Ray reveals that during their exploration, he and Jasmine found a note that implies one of the players is an outlier or traitor of some kind, causing tension between the group.
Each group enters the code they obtained while exploring into the panels beside the door, and find a lounge and bar area upstairs. After exploring the new location, A offers to mix some (non-alcoholic) drinks for the group. After discussing a recent bombing in a New York Subway, Simon finds himself lost in thought over the note Ray found. Rather than focus on who the supposed outlier is, he decided the better course of action was to try and figure out what linked everyone- why they were chosen to participate in the death game. After a fight breaks out between H and Jasmine, the group breaks up into teams once more to explore some of the other stations.
Simon and Jasmine find themselves at a lab with a strange locked room that, even after solving the lab's puzzles, remains closed off to them. Upon returning to the trains, the two talk with A and E about the lab they found, but Simon is caught off guard by Jasmine's uncharacteristic interest in him when the two find themselves alone in the lounge. After being joined by most of the others, Simon leaves to get some fresh air, and is met by A, who seems to want him to join him on a trip to one of the previous stations. Last time we were here, we agreed, but this time, we're gonna stay behind.
BGM: Ambient Strain
Jasmine's behavior weighed heavily on my mind, too. There was something a little... wrong... with her. If I stayed, perhaps something bad might happen too. Something bad might happen... such as getting into a real relationship. I was so afraid of commitment.
I scratched the side of my head in my indecision.
BGM: Agoraphobic Sloth
Well... couldn't we have a stroll here, then? If we have to decide our next teams soon, we might be better off remaining here.
I did try to disguise my lack of trust by a sensible suggestion, but I could sense that he wasn't buying it. This old man generally acted in our best interest. However, a part of me believed that was a lie. Normally, I'd have gone with him, but that little voice was too loud for me to ignore. If I went with him, I thought, I'd get roped into something I couldn't come back from.
I suppose that could work, then. Very well, let us take a walk around the lounge.
Perhaps it would have been simpler to bring him to the others. If we were surrounded by them, he probably wouldn't ask me about whatever it was he planned to do. However... Doing that would also potentially put Jasmine in peril. If it had anything to do with the station we'd just explored, I should have counted myself lucky he went for me and not her.
Then again, I didn't really know why I believed what he wanted to ask me was about the stuff we saw at the station. It was a little... odd. For some reason, I just knew. I also knew going there would lead to unsavory events. Nothing good could come out of that outcome. I decided it was better to try and pass some time doing useless stuff.
Since we've had an Active Search here already, there's no need to check the map again. That said, since Simon doesn't want to talk to A, I'm gonna look at literally everything else first and save that for last.
It's always happy hour somewhere. Though, I guess this isn't really what people call happy hour. I could barely reach the gemstones embedded in the wood. Who put a clock that high on the wall? Maybe it was to dissuade us from messing with it.
However, its name eluded me. I was sure this thing had a name.
A, do you know what this part is called?
Ah, this is the... um... this is...
He, too, was at a loss when confronted with the name of this thing.
So you don't know what it's called, I see.
No, no, I know what it's called. I just... can't remember.
He didn't know, then.
Wait, I recall! It is a 'flip-up' counter.
For all the luxury this place offered at first glance, a lot of things sure didn't work, or were outright broken here.
It looks good, doesn't it? I cleaned it up earlier. I even made sure it had a nice lavender fragrance with one of the products from under the counter.
Leaning forward, he sniffed the countertop a little. I could tell the scent was fairly light in the air even when I was about half a meter away from it.
Yeah, I guess so.
The lamps were giving off an eerie light. I didn't mess with them, and looking straight at the bulb was like looking directly at the sun: not fun, and it hurt my eyes.
There were a lot of bottles laid out in the open. It was almost scary how many kinds there were.
This just proves Simon has never set foot in a bar before despite being, like, 24.
All of these are alcoholic, right?
Indeed. That's why I didn't mess with them. Most of us can drink them here, of course, but I think we must remain levelheaded if we want to make it out of here.
He glared over at Ray. Specifically, the ones A had taken in order to mix our cocktails had been under this counter. Perhaps those would be worth investigating. If I did so, however, I would certainly not get to explore more.
Thinking about it, this meant continuing on wouldn't be an issue, as it would be inevitable that he'd keep tailing me anyway.
Interacting with the bottles progresses the story, so we'll check out the stools and talk to Agnos first.
I wondered why these seats never had anything to lean back against. I knew this was what a stool was, but why was there no back? Was it because drunks who stayed up late leaned forward onto the counter? That really couldn't be good on their backs.
I could've sat there, but I also could've not. And I chose not to.
So... how did you get to be a barista, anyway? And what's with the specific word used in this case?
Oh, I just fancy myself a nice beverage once in a while. At my age, it's difficult to find the little pleasures of life anymore. I have to take them where I can. And I do enjoy speaking well where I may. Hopefully you find this appropriate, given my advanced seniority.
And that's the end of this exploration section. Time to check out the drinks on the wall!
You won't get to open those. I tried. That's how I knew they were refrigerated. If you put your hands against the surface, you'll feel it.
I did as much, and true enough, the surface was cold. Wait... touching metal that was cold was a very bad idea! The skin could get stuck due to the ambient heat, and...
I pulled away from it. Oh yeah. You needed to have it wet, so it froze and stuck there, like a tongue. Or maybe not. I didn't know how it worked.
The bolts are too big for us to open. We'd need some serious handy tools for this...
Was there anything else you wished to take a look at, then?
Ah, yes, the other drinks. There are many, aren't there? I actually looked at all of them earlier, and none of them seem to be alcoholic down there.
Why would you have a bar, but have nothing alcoholic?
Well, if you wanted to have alcoholic drinks, there are some on the counter. However, I wouldn't trust them. They've been kept out of a fridge for what looks like months, perhaps. It's possible the fridges below are there just for show, and this is all there is.
I opened the little cupboards under the counter- the ones that weren't bolted shut. These enclosed drinks were refrigerated too. But no matter which one I opened, they all contained drinks for kids. One could argue stuff like soda wasn't for kids, and I'd be in agreement, though.
I couldn't read the labels. A lot of them were foreign languages. I could only guess what they were about based on the pictures, if there were any. So... how did Smiley get all this, anyway? Was he rich? I figured some of the drinks here were actually much older than I was. That fact was confirmed momentarily when A spoke again.
None of those doors were locked up, surprisingly enough! And what's more interesting, all of these bottles might not be alcoholic, but they are fairly old. I believe they may all be older than I am. Which is strange, because normally, you'd be worried over expiration dates, yes?
I was about to reply and agree, but when I took a look at him, he seemed even whiter than usual. His skin was pale as if he'd realized something.
BGM: Alarming Silence
Unfortunately for me, I wouldn't learn what he'd just thought about. As if the devil himself had chosen this moment to ruin everything, a scream pulled me out of my contemplation. Perhaps what he was looking at was what made him feel such fear.
The old man was already observing the situation from above the counter. I rose up too, and the sight came, grim and strange.
BGM: Anaphora Solution
Whichever this one was, she was wailing against the pink-haired girl, screaming and tearing up a storm.
The twins hadn't come back yet. How were they here? I'd have known if they'd have come back. I was waiting for it to happen. Come to think of it, where was Ray? He wasn't there. Ray and Marco weren't there, in fact.
The entire room was moving. As I watched everything in slow motion, a splitting headache ran through my head. It was freezing me on the spot. Where... was... Marco? Where was Ray...? Why were the twins here? In the span of a single moment, I realized they had been here for a while.
Somehow, my memory of Marco and Ray being here was false. The twins had returned first instead.
I finally put together that this twin was G. H was an impostor...? What was Jasmine saying? A was on the move too, but whatever he did, I didn't know as I sank back under the counter.
Let go of me! She... she assassinated her...!
I was holding my head in pain as the others tried to handle the situation. Something in me was wrong. I was still fixated on that strange moment when Ray and Marco were replaced by the twins.
Graaahh! What the fuck is this?!
BGM: Accelerated Scuffle
A small flashback enlightened me. Right, she disappeared when we went to the laboratory, didn't she? Did she... did she grab the knife back then? Why? Was it for this? Had she planned to kill H already?
I moved forward and tried to grab my friend to stop her from fighting the twin. Yet, as I reached for her, Jasmine dodged my hand and instead elbowed me in the face.
Considering the situation, I didn't care about the nicknames anymore. Jasmine slipped out of my grasp to grab the knife and, in the same movement, G kicked A in the knee, making him lose his footing just long enough for her to sprint out of his hold.
Jasmine deflected the girl running at her with her free hand, and...
The impostors! All of them will get it! Every impostor here has got to die! Ha! Haha! Hahaha! Hahahaha! Hahahahaha! Hahahahahaha!
Jasmine had stabbed him in an important place, since he seemed to have gone into shock. Moments later, I thought for sure that he had expired. All the color remaining in his face was draining away.
His breathing had already ceased the moment she stabbed him. Perhaps she'd gotten him in his lung. I wasn't sure exactly what this meant.
Just like the expiration dates for the drinks, his own had come.
Jasmine, stop! Why him? What are you...
I stopped talking when I saw her pull the knife out from the old man's body. Her gaze was unfocused. It was all over the place. Her eyes were always open and never even blinked anymore. I thought I imagined it, but I definitely saw her irises wiggling slightly. They were vibrating back and forth once in a while.
What happened to you, Jasmine...?
My inertia ended the moment she turned her head away from the old man to look elsewhere. Where...?
Despite all that Jasmine was doing, I couldn't bring myself to hate her. I didn't know what was happening to her. I twas like a demon possessed her. I just needed to destroy that demon. If I destroyed that demon... Jasmine would come back to me. Her eyes- I could tell, they weren't fine. She wasn't fine, and I needed to free her from that demon.
Two, Jasmine was lunging forward. I only had a single moment to act. I could either slam Jasmine to knock her out cold, or pull E out of her trajectory. I was about midway between both. This small hesitation was because... I didn't know if I'd hurt Jasmine doing it.
At the same time, I couldn't stand by idly when E was in danger!
Time to vote! There's no way this can go horribly wrong!