Wherein Alexei faces grave and serious danger. Also, a walrus.
In case you weren't linked here from the hub or another chunk of the story, and the scroll bar thingy above wasn't a HUGE giveaway, this is part of a series. The collapsible below will give you the long and skinny version of the previous installment(s). I recommend you read those installments instead, but hey, I'm not your boss. Do you, buddy.
Alexei Belitrov was having a strange day. Only a few hours before, he'd been laying in his bunk, reading a Harry Potter novel, when some sort of… fire… bug… thing… had torn him out of his cell (and out of this version of reality) and dumped him to die in the post-nuclear hellscape he hailed from. Not content with that, however, the creature had decided to try to kill him over the course of the hour or so he'd been stuck there.
Now, instead of simply killing him honorably, it had dumped him in the containment hangar of an inane purple walrus, leaving Alexei to fight it with no real clue as to what was going on. Luckily, he had thought to arm himself while back home.
The purple beast raised itself up and shouted. Alexei took this as an opportunity to open fire with his machine gun, and to toss a grenade beneath it. Two things happened that Alexei had no way of anticipating: as his bullets struck and the grenade detonated, the creature flashed bright red, and, as the walrus impacted the ground, Alexei was frozen in place.
Having been in a few earthquakes, and in countless artillery volleys, Alexei knew that this was far from a normal reaction to a little bit of shaking. But, try as he might, he couldn't move. As he desperately struggled to move to cover, the monstrosity before him began to shout.
"Full-auto? Grenades?!? Moe, you're using a Game Genie, aren't you?!"
"I— what?" Alexei felt himself able to move again, but, before he could, a cannon inexplicably extruded itself from the beast's mouth and pointed at him. With three dull thuds, a volley of slow-moving shells began to make their way towards Alexei. He successfully dodged the first two, but the third hit him squarely in the chest, exploding on impact.
Now, if anyone had asked Alexei for his opinion, he would have stated that such a large artillery shell would not only have killed anyone within a considerable distance of its detonation, it would have left no corpses as evidence. Fortunately for Alexei, the multiverse was not in agreement with this assessment. Instead, all that happened was Alexei being tossed to the far wall of the hangar.
"HA! That's what you get for cheating, Moe! Cheaters never win!" The creature then turned its back to Alexei, seemingly done with him for the moment.
"Fuck you, my name is not 'Moe,' it's 'Alexei!'" he screamed as he stood up.
The creature didn't seem to hear him. Alexei raised his arm and fired a short burst from his machine gun, but the creature didn't seem to have any reaction. There were no entry wounds, no red flashes. He fired another burst and a round from his shotgun ("Running low, need to reload the shotgun soon," he thought to himself) and listened as the bullets seemed to pass cleanly through the walrus, doing no damage and striking the other side of the hangar. Alexei reached into one of the ammunition packs he'd recovered in Germany and quickly reloaded the shotgun as he approached his enemy. He also noticed that the music had stopped. He couldn't help but ask aloud, "What… are… you? What is this place?"
It was at this point that Alexei recalled the signage he'd seen as he came to in the hangar. "'One step right, one step left, back and crouch, back to start, jump, and repeat.' Ok. That's how I fight this thing. I can do this."
He walked up to the yellow line, and the music began again. "Back for more, eh, cheater?!" The creature seemed intent on accusing Alexei of a crime he didn't even understand. The walrus slowly began to turn itself around counterclockwise.
"No, I'm just here to kick your ass!" Alexei had spent most of his time in combat being quiet, to avoid attracting unnecessary enemy attention, but he still had a solid grasp of smack-talk. As the walrus turned around, Alexei sidestepped to prolong its maneuver as much as possible.
"Quit swearing, Moe! This is a kid's game!" The walrus was still at a right angle to Alexei.
"Fuck you!" Alexei took the opportunity to get closer to his enemy; it didn't seem that distance would give the walrus an advantage in this fight, and Alexei wanted every chance he could get to make every bullet count. "What kind of game has people shooting at each other?!"
"It's just a video game! You should know; you're the player character!" Then, after a moment's consideration, it continued "You know, Moe, I wasn't going to say anything, but you look UUUUUGLY today! What did you do, fall in a vat of ugly?" The walrus was nearly turned about now, but Alexei still had a few seconds. He used the opportunity to toss a grenade and fire a short volley of rounds from his shotgun. "OW! Hey, you're still cheating!" The two were facing each other now, and Alexei was ready, if confused at the monster's insistence on being inane.
The cannon erupted from the behemoth's face again. It took aim, and fired twice. Alexei sidestepped to his right and dodged the projectiles easily. "Ha! You call that a weapon?" The creature fired again, three cannonballs moving towards Alexei slowly. He stepped casually back to the left. "THIS," he shouted, holding his left arm (the one bearing the 23-millimeter semi-automatic shotgun) high, "is a weapon!!" He fired two shots then stepped back and crouched. His exceptional peripheral vision let him see the single projectile pass harmlessly over his head. He stepped back into the spot he'd started from and let a ten-round burst from the machine gun loose.
The beast raised itself up again, but Alexei was ready this time. Just before it impacted, Alexei leaped forward, shouting and firing the entire time he was in the air.
The tempo on the music suddenly picked up. The beast looked at Alexei as it righted itself and roared, "NOW I'M MAD!" Three cannonballs made their way towards Alexei, faster than before. He sidestepped, running the sequence through his mind all the while. "Right, left, back and crouch, back to start, jump. Right, left, back and crouch, back to start, jump." He was nearly hit by another volley of three as he went over the steps in his mind. He stepped back and crouched, waiting for the next volley to come. He thought he only heard a single shot over the increasingly deafening sound of the music, somehow missing the second shot. As he stood, it detonated directly in front of him, tossing him outside of the yellow ring.
"WOO! I got him! Did you guys see that?! Did you guys see… that…. Oh yeah." The purple pinniped's enthusiasm for his apparent victory quickly faded when he remembered that the Emperor Penguin and all of his friends had spread out to increase their individual chances of stopping Moe, leaving himself behind.
Meanwhile, Alexei had been rendered unconscious yet another time that day. He was quickly getting tired of it. As he came to, he reached a singular resolve: He was going to punch that damn walrus in its damn nose before the day was over. He stood up, dusted himself off, allowed his Armor to begin reorienting him, and re-located the current source of his trouble. He checked both of his weapons, and charged.
As he charged, Alexei raised both his weapons and fired. As he fired, Alexei began to scream. As he began to scream, the radio Alexei had mounted to his belt began to sound off something more akin to an air raid siren than human screaming.
And as all this happened, Alexei's use of advanced weaponry finally broke the back of the metaphorical camel that was the walrus's patience. Having known better than to have turned his back a second time, he crouched in anticipation, knowing full well that "Moe," the player-character1 would be back for more soon. And, as Moe came across the threshold, the walrus was ready.
"Cheater cheater, no-game beater," he shouted as the now-familiar-to-the-reader cannon emerged from his mouth, followed by two cannons on his shoulders and a myriad of other Far North- and Navy-inspired weaponry (such as missile launchers and harpoon guns) throughout his (rather large) body. Muffled as his voice was by the cannon, the walrus still managed to say, "You know that Dr. W doesn't like people messing with her games, Moe!"
A massive volley of projectiles made its way towards Alexei, far more rapidly than the easily-dodged cannonballs of only a few moments prior. He barely dodged in time and felt the air vibrate as the projectiles whizzed past. "Fuck you, water pig! I have been through way too much shit to tolerate these games!" Both weapons were trained on the walrus and firing as a grenade sailed towards the monstrosity.
As another deadly volley began, Alexei realized that he couldn't go back to his old strategy, that he'd have to do something new. He began to run to his right, keeping both weapons aimed at his opponent. At that moment, the grenade detonated, the walrus flashed bright red, and the walrus lifted itself up. As it impacted the ground, Alexei bounded forward, barely avoiding the inexplicable paralysis the creature seemed to induce.
As Alexei tucked, rolled, and resumed his circular dance around the creature, the cannon in its mouth receded, allowing it to resume smack-talk. "Why do you look like that today, Moe?! Is it because you're a cheater?! Are all cheaters UGLY?!" The last word was accentuated by another volley of high-speed projectiles.
With every step, Alexei fired more and more bullets into it, only pausing to throw grenades or perform a running reload. The beast let out a cry and Alexei knew, knew it was his time to act. He began to run faster, as fast as his legs would carry him, running closer and closer to the beast. When he was within two meters, he rolled under the volley it fired and leapt. As he sailed towards the creature's face, he tossed a grenade. As it detonated, Alexei was within centimeters of the creature's face, both barrels firing, right arm swinging home…
Rear-Admiral Walter Warlrus2 was having a bad… well, existence. It's not easy being the first-level boss of any video game, even less so for a 16-bit children's game. Day in and day out, he'd be attacked by incompetent players who'd still manage to outsmart or out-perform him. And it wasn't for a lack of trying. He'd graduated top of his class from the Walrus War Academy and had served well in the Emperor Penguin's Navy, even playing a hand in the Emperor's kidnapping of that bratty little village "princess" and organizing the first line of defense against the player character.
Some of his best pennipeds had given their lives against the player character, this "Moe the Eskimo." And Walter Warlrus would gladly give their (and his) lives again, if he knew there was some sort of chance of beating the player character, if he knew he could win. But every single time, the player character would defeat him, or simply run away. And lately, the players were using hacks or cheats to re-skin the game — the good Admiral could only wonder why they'd do such a thing. Every day (or perhaps it was weeks? Everything seemed to blur together for the Admiral now), Moe the Eskimo would challenge him, wearing a ridiculous orange jumpsuit and moving in a pattern the Admiral simply couldn't wrap his mind around. He found it strange that the player didn't use his weapons and would instead just return the Admiral's own bombs back to him.
Today had been the last straw. Instead of a simple re-skin, the player had hacked Moe into looking like some sort of half-man, half-bug monstrosity and had given him weapons that Ms. W had specifically warned the good Admiral and his fellows about: full-auto and grenades and shotguns. This had been the perfect opportunity to test the weapons Ms. W had given Rear Admiral Walter W. Warlrus to deal with these threats but… it still wasn't good enough.
As the player-character soared through the air, past the Admiral's harpoons and missiles and torpedoes and cannonballs and everything else the Admiral could launch at him, as he soared on a collision course with the Admiral's very nose, all the Admiral could think to himself was, "I should have stayed in art school."
Alexei sat across from his commander, the infamous Colonel Vasily Gorokhov, veteran of the Winter War and the First Great Patriotic War. Between them sat a chessboard, all pieces in their starting positions.
"Sir, why did you bring me here?" At this point in his life, Alexei had been about seven years old, and had already experienced a life that very few would envy. Many of his fellows were in sick bay, having experienced negative reactions to the battle gauntlets that had been fused to their forearms only two weeks before.
"We are going to play a game. It's called 'chess.' Have you ever played chess, Sergeant Belitrov?" Alexei only shook his head. "That is a shame. As hard as life was, in the early years of the Revolution, my grandfather still took the time to teach me. He said, 'It is a gentleman's game, a game that every soldier wishing to advance in the ranks should know.' I took his lessons to heart, and now, I'm going to teach you. Tell me, Sergeant, what does this piece look like?" As he spoke, the Colonel selected a knight from the table and held it by its base.
The boy hesitated a moment before stuttering out, "A horse, sir?"
Gorokhov's focus switched from the piece to Alexei's face, a fierce light in his eyes. "That's right. It looks like a horse, but it's not called a horse. It's called a 'knight.' And it moves like this." As he spoke, he set the piece on a random square on the board and then moved it one square forward and two to its left.
"Before today is over, you'll know every move that every piece can do, and maybe you'll know enough to beat me." The Colonel's attempt at a warm smile only sent shivers down Alexei's spine.
Walter Warlrus sat in a classroom — specifically, the art room. The young penniped was 8 or so, and excited to be learning about Cubism. Around him sat his fellow bosses-in-training, including the hulking Bully Mammoth, the clique jokingly known as "Leopard Seal Team Six," and none other than the Emperor Penguin's son, Prince Penguin.
As they all waited for their instructor, a curmudgeonly Polar Bear by the name of Art Hall, young Walter was flipping through the latest batch of pictures he'd drawn, inspired by the card game he'd seen his classmates playing in the schoolyard. There was just something appealing about the silly monsters in this game, and young Walter was hooked.
Just as his imagination began to drift off, the door opened and the hulking mass of the bespectacled Mr. Hall lurched into the room. As he set his briefcase on the desk he rubbed his eyes then looked at his pupils. "All right kids, who's ready to learn about Pablo Picasso?"
Walter's flipper shot straight into the air. He'd never been more excited in his life.
When Alexei's fist made contact with the purple penniped's nose, the beast had flashed a brighter red than ever before, and then… Vanished? It was gone in a flash of light, and Alexei could only feel more perplexed than he had when the ridiculous fight had begun.
Instead of falling to the floor, Alexei simply, inexplicably levitated there a moment before slowly being returned to the floor. As he reached the floor, a booming voice surrounded him, shouting yet more inanities to add to the day's collection:
"LEVEL COMPLETE! YOU HAVE EARNED ITEM… MARK 1 TRENCH KNIFE! SAVING… SAVED! READY FOR NEXT LEVEL? Y SLASH N ?"
Alexei thought for a moment, then decided to risk speaking to the new, booming voice: "Why — ?" Before he could finish his inquiry, the voice spoke again:
"LOADING… DONE! STARTING NEW LEVEL!"
Before Alexei could voice another thought, his surroundings disappeared in a flash.