Angela held her rifle at the ready as she edged along the wall.
She knew this place. She’d been here many times before. But never like this. She was vulnerable now. No armor. No second chances.
She saw nothing at the other end of the corridor but smoke and darkness; she heard only the low hum of machinery.
The rest of her team was dead. Dave-O, gunned down in the courtyard. Maximus, caught in the belly while trying to take cover behind a pillar. Even Terrence had been picked off by a sniper while crossing a path that zigged and zagged across a pool of chemical waste.
There was a faint jingling at her heels. She’d brought her dog into the maelstrom for moral support. Now she regretted it. He could give away her position.
“You’re too pure for this, Fluffinator,” she whispered. “War is hell.”
She could not wait anymore. She’d camped out for the enemy for what seemed like ages. Now time was running out.
Angela wasn’t sure how many of them were left. She’d taken down Fredi personally, one clean shot from a hiding place beside the stairs as the girl searched for the exit. Terrence had claimed the life of Comrade Ogilvy during a fierce firefight. Angela didn’t see it, but she heard the proud shout of “Suck it, commie!” echoing down the hall.
That left one or two. Angela doubted Scout’s combat abilities. She’d watched her LPs: pacifist runs of Undertale, prod-only games of Deus Ex. The girl was soft.
But Rico? All 125 pounds of the timid, mumbling boy had come to life here in the arena. From a safe vantage at a window, Angela had seen him dash across the courtyard, shotgun in hand, heading straight for Dave-O with the determination of a Great White.
It was Rico she was worried about.
She listened for footsteps. Maybe she’d heard them. Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe it was just the sound of her dog breathing. Maybe he stopped when she stopped and moved when she moved.
Angela knew what lay ahead: a sunken patch of floor painted in blue, surrounded by four stone pillars, all encircled by walls dotted with little hallways and alcoves in all directions. So many places for him to hide.
He was waiting for her there. And she knew that he would not budge until she entered his dominion. So on she went, inch by inch, into danger.
She kept her sights on the pillars, sure he’d leap out from behind one of them. But which one?
The dog panted at her heels. Keeping her eye on the room, Angela knelt and gave her companion one long, last headscratch.
“Go say hi,” she whispered.
Like a fat bullet, the dog raced forward into the room, navigating by odor, and zipped to a spot Angela hadn’t anticipated: a shallow alcove in the southern wall. It didn’t offer much cover and was an unlikely place to hide—which, Angela realized, was exactly why he’d chosen it.
Then came the pulse of a laser gun.
Fluffinator barked and flopped belly-up on the ground. “Revenge!” Angela screamed, rounding the corner, her rifle blazing. “Revenge!”
She caught Rico square in the chest. A blue LED lit up, signifying that he was dead.
“That’s not fair,” he said. “It’s against the rules.”
“There’s no rule that says a dog can’t play laser tag,” Angela replied.
“But your team has five. Ours just has four,” he protested.
“Our team had Fredi,” Angela said.
Comrade Ogilvy sneaked back into the hangar for just a moment to retrieve Fluffinator.
“Go away,” Angela told him. “You’re dead, loser.”
“I will safeguard Comrade Doggo until peace is restored to the galaxy,” Ogilvy promised. “Excuse me.”
Angela returned to the zig-zag room where Terrence had been taken down. She knew this place; the arena was a perfect replica of Level 1 of the first Hive. There was supposed to be a hidden chamber here with a cache of supplies.
Angela pressed an unmarked panel in the wall of the corridor. It slid open.
Then came static in her ears. Her suit flashed red. She lifted the trigger and squeezed. It didn’t work. She had been shot.
The blue-haired assassin shrugged from her seat in the corner.
“You were camping out here the whole time?” Angela asked.
“I was taking a nap,” Scout said. “You woke me up.”
The lights in the hangar winked on, signifying that the game was over.
“Great game, everybody!” Ms. Yue’s voice came over the loudspeakers. “Now let’s check out the rest of the museum.”
It was 7:30 a.m. in Tower 1 of the IG office complex, or as it was affectionately nicknamed, “the Palace.” Tower 1 had no offices devoted to the production of the games or the maintenance of the company. Instead, it was a grand shrine to all things IG, particularly Hive.
Most of the building was a museum, complete with all the essential artifacts. In a glass case on the second floor was a copy of one of the first 3½ inch floppies of Hive printed in Crunchy’s home, with the label hand-drawn by his partner Arnold Salt.
The exhibit next door was a perfect replica of Crunchy’s parents’ garage containing the original computer on which the game was programmed.
Another exhibit contained Salt’s station wagon, which the developers had driven to flea markets and parking lots to peddle their home-made games.
There was a floor built to look like the inside of a Hive, full of life-size sculptures of Bug types: Harvesters, Drones, Carpenters, Larvae, even a massive Queen surrounded by Handmaids.
The laser tag arena took up another floor.
Then there was a media room with vintage magazines praising Hive and its creators, a projector showing a continuous loop of a documentary about the making of the game, an interview with the soldier the first few games’ protagonist was modeled after, and photographs of Crunchy meeting various celebrities and dignitaries, including Elvis, Carrie Fisher, Michael Jackson, and Ronald Reagan.
Angela leaned in close to a photograph of a circa 1986 Crunchy grinning in his newly-constructed ball pit. “They took him out,” she muttered.
“Hm?” Comrade Ogilvy peered at the photograph alongside her.
“I remember this picture from a magazine,” Angela said. “It wasn’t just Crunchy. Salt was in there too. They had their arms on each others’ shoulders. But it looks like they cut him out of the frame and Photoshopped out his arm. Look.”
“Like Joseph Stalin,” Terrence said.
“Yezhov was a bitch,” Comrade Ogilvy sniffed. “He had it coming.”
“They really don’t talk about Salt at all,” Terrence said. “Just his car. Nothing else.”
“A nervous breakdown and religious conversion exhibit might freak people out,” Angela said. “Not to mention a Glenville shooting exhibit.”
Ms. Yue shepherded the group forward, to the section of the museum devoted to IG’s other properties, like Hive’s spinoff military strategy series Swarm, bullet hell shoot-em-up Starkiller, and the wildly unpopular early ‘90s FMV adventure game Galactic Diplomacy. The group did not linger there long.
“Let’s clear out before the museum opens to the public,” Ms. Yue said.
Angela yawned. “I can’t believe I’m awake right now,” she said.
No one in the group had slept much the night before, thanks to a mixture of excitement and IG’s insistence that they arrive at the Palace by 6 a.m.
There was nothing beautiful about the Palace. Penned in by a chain-link fence, its outer buildings were constructed in the standard glass box architectural style, with nothing to distinguish any individual tower from the one next to it. These eight outer buildings formed the sides and corners of a square, all connected above the ground by walkways of glass so that an IG employee could navigate the entire complex without ever having to breathe unconditioned air.
Ms. Yue took the group through one of these walkways to get to Tower 2.
Angela gazed out toward the center of the Palace complex. There across a near-empty courtyard stood a gray concrete structure that IG’s staff and fans called the Big Box. The fifteen-story cube had soft corners and slit windows of tinted glass stretching up in stripes. This place, rumored to be the testing center, was their final destination.
“That’s a lot of real estate,” Dave-O remarked, looking out at the sprawling complex. “Must cost a fortune. We’re right in the middle of Silicon Valley.”
“A lot of work goes into making Hive,” Ms. Yue said.
She brought them on a tour of the various departments devoted specifically to Hive: art, engineering, quality assurance and so on. Aside from the signs on the doors, one floor didn’t look very different from the next—just rows upon rows of beige cubicles—so Angela could not quite remember which department she’d just looked at more than a minute after she’d left it.
Tower 3 was more of the same, only it focused on IG’s other properties.
Tower 4 was the Creators’ Hub, a massive employee lounge which IG often touted as one of the benefits of working for the company. There were relaxation pods with beanbag chairs and foosball tables, a gym, a daycare center, and a massive employee cafeteria.
But Ms. Yue took them to a private dining room via an elevator that required the use of a key card. There, the group feasted on freshly-prepared food made to order. Angela had a startlingly good paella.
At the conclusion of the meal, glasses of neon green liquid were placed before them.
With a quizzical look on his face, Comrade Ogilvy asked, “Are we supposed to drink th—”
“Bug Fuel!” Maximus exclaimed.
It was one of Hive’s old merchandizing tie-ins: a citrus-flavored juice drink manufactured in the early ‘90s.
“I thought they stopped making that stuff,” Fredi remarked.
“It’s not available in stores anymore,” Ms. Yue said. “But we still serve it at the Palace.”
Terrence took a sip and grimaced. “Not as good as I remembered.”
“Tastes like liquid diabetes,” Angela said.
Ms. Yue proposed a toast. “To nostalgia,” she said.
They raised their glasses. “To nostalgia.”