June 30; 07:00 – 49 Days Remain

Opal Espeia woke up to a blaring alarm. A blinding florescent light was cutting through her eyelids. She jerked her body up and opened her eyes, quickly adjusting her pupils to the brightness. She heard dozens of orderly footsteps to her right and turned to find thirty or so people in identical uniforms walking out of the room. She was already struggling to steady her breathing and it had only been a minute since the game started.

Breathe, Opal.

She hopped off of the uncomfortable mattress she awoke on and followed the line of other people, making sure to pay attention to the rhythm of her breathing.

She trailed them through a series of hallways before eventually arriving in some sort of enormous assembly room. There were seven exits in the room, all but one leading to hallways which looked identical to what she just finished wandering through. The seventh was behind a closed door. Apparently, plenty more uniformed people had entered this room through the other hallways.

An array of somewhere around 150 chairs were arranged in front of a metal podium. All of the people she had followed seemed to be going to sit in specific chairs, all in a particular square section of the arrangement.

Oh God. Don't tell me we have assigned seats…

She stood there aghast as she ran through her options. She could ask someone nearby where her seat was, but that would immediately risk compromising her identity. That couldn't be worth it. She could also take a random seat within the section that everyone she entered with seemed to be sitting within. It was possible that she wrongly assumed the idea that everyone had assigned seats. But that would risk a confrontation with the seat's actual owner in the case that she was right. There had to be something she could–

“Toothpicks, what are you doing over there? Get to your seat!” Her eyes abruptly focused on the source of the sound. One of the people she followed here, a raccoon, was looking straight at her and patting the seat next to them.

Toothpicks? Or did they say 26… Oh, yeah. That was the name of that fox at the far end of the stage! That must be whose body I'm in!

She suddenly realized that she had been so panicked in the past few minutes that she hadn’t even looked down at her body yet. As she began walking toward the seat next to the raccoon who addressed her, she looked down at her body. She was a grey-furred fox. There was something extremely sickening about the sensation of seeing the wrong body the second you look down.


She walked straight into somebody. She immediately began panicking as she looked up to see a scowling alligator, standing a whole foot taller than her. She opened her mouth to apologize but failed to get the words out.

“Watch where you’re going, Toothpicks.” The alligator simply brushed by her and walked to their seat with an angry look on their face. Opal sighed in exasperation as she walked the rest of the way to what she assumed was her seat, beside the raccoon. They looked at her quizzically.

“Toothpicks, are you feeling alright? You didn't catch something during your last assignment, did you?” They sounded like they were probably genuinely concerned for her. Or, for 026.

“I– Uh… I'm fine!” She recoiled slightly at the sound of her own voice. It wasn't her voice. Realistically, she should've expected that, but it was so surreal. She couldn't help reacting so strongly to the sensation of hearing somebody else’s voice through her mouth.

Needless to say, the raccoon did not look convinced.

“Uh… what's with that accent?” The raccoon smirked a bit, looking amused. It seemed they thought she was doing an accent as a joke, or something like that.

“It’s… Uh, just… practice.” She cringed internally, and probably had a pained grimace externally.

“Uh… Okay, I guess? You gotta’ pull yourself together, dude. I know the new assignment is a bit stressful sometimes, but I've never seen you acting this anxious about it. Just follow your orders, you’ll be fine.”

The raccoon turned to face the podium again as an imposing rhinoceros wearing decorated combat armor stepped up to the podium and looked over the crowd. All the seats had been occupied. Opal tried her absolute hardest to keep her attention on the man behind the podium, as everyone else seemed to be doing. He began speaking.

“Welcome back, agents. This last set was responsible for mitigating seven predicted conflicts, preventing an estimated 287 casualties. Excellent work, as expected.” He spoke in a powerful deep voice that permeated the entire room.

“You have thirty-five days for this operation, and you are expected to deliver a standard formatting progress report before 22:00 every other day, starting the day after tomorrow. I’ll be giving out your new assignments now.”

He tapped on what she assumed was a tablet atop the podium. “001 through 020, you will be executing a standard seek and destroy operation in the fourteenth district of Reden. You will be transported via stealth helicopter in dock one. You are dismissed.”

Two thirds of the people she had followed here stood up and walked out the only exit with a door in orderly fashion. She couldn't help glancing as they walked out. It didn't seem like anybody noticed. The rhino opened his mouth again

“021 through 025, you four are going to be working on operation Clipped Wing. I trust you already know what that entails. Head to dock seventeen. You're dismissed.”

Four more people nearby her stood up and exited the room. The rhino finally turned towards her.

“026, due to your excellent performance last time, you’re being trusted with another solo assignment. You're going to be infiltrating a known terrorist group as a spy in order to retrieve some sensitive information they've stolen, along with some of the group’s own intelligence. The driver will provide further instructions. Please move to dock six. You are dismissed.”

Opal nodded and stood up to head towards the exit that she saw everyone else leave through before. As she left the area, she saw the raccoon mouth ‘good luck’ at her. As soon as she passed through the exit and closed the door, she let out an exhausted sigh.

I can only keep up this act for so long. There's no way I can pretend to actually do the assignment! But I can't just… not do it. Oh god, oh god, what do I do?!

She panicked in her head as she navigated the facility. Fortunately, there were indicators pointing her towards the transport bay that she was able to follow, but the few people she passed by on the way there… she was sure they were giving her sidelong glances. It took her about five minutes to turn up at what she assumed was her destination. There was a sign by the entrance labeled ‘Transport Bay’.

Through the door was an enormous hall, with somewhere around a hundred numbered gates, each with about 25 feet between each other. She approached the gate with the ‘6’ over it, and a short hummingbird approached her, carrying a folder.

“Oh, there you are. 026, right? I’ve heard a lot about you, though I’m sure you know your own popularity. Anyways, most of what you need to know is in here, but I was instructed to read this bit to you just to make abbbso~lutely sure. Cool?”

Opal nodded her head, struggling to conceal her anxiety.

“Under no circumstances are you permitted to review the information that you’re retrieving. Please keep in mind that these terrorists are believers in a fringe conspiracy theory concerning Atlas, and nothing they say can necessarily be trusted. Alright, you got that?”

“Y-yes ma’am!” Opal’s facial muscles tightened a bit after she responded.

“Great. As usual, here’s your comms. Just hop in the trailer and we’ll leave in a moment. Knock on the window or use your comms if you need anything. My call number is 28465.”

She handed Opal an earpiece, which she proceeded to put in. Opal climbed into the trailer of some sort of transport vehicle that was inside the dock. It looked almost like a prison transport van. On one side, there was a shelf that had all sorts of first aid materials and what appeared to be some sort of snacks. On the other, there was simply a cushioned bench for her to sit on while she waited.

The hummingbird pulled the trailer gate shut. The only way she could see outside the trailer was through a little sliding window on the far wall that led to the driver’s seat. She could feel her heartbeat speeding up.

Oh my god. Oh my god what am I gonna’-

Right as she was about to succumb to her panic attack, she heard a chime in the communication device she had just put on. A sharp voice speaking in an uncharacteristically soft tone.

[“I know your predicament. State your real initials. Provide no more information than necessary.”]

Opal paused for a moment. Who was she talking to? Was it safe to say anything when she doesn’t know who could be contacting her?

“W-who are you...?” She figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

[“The real you. Second chance. Please take your time and speak carefully. State your real initials. Provide no more information than necessary.”]

Second chance? So, it's somebody who knows about the game! It must be the real 026! Why are they being so excessively vague...? Maybe this call is being monitored.

“Oscar, echo. Can you help with the predicament?” She replied after a few moments of silence. She had nothing better to do than have hope. This was her only chance to find a way out of this situation.

[“Understood. I can help. When prompted, the code is “new ego.” Stand by for further instruction.”]

Another chime. It seemed like the call was ended. Opal sighed once again.

It looks like I just might have a saving grace... God, you better actually call me again when I get there.

She laid down on the cushioned bench. She had nothing more to do than wait and anxiously await a second call.