Disclaimer: I only own Casey and his family. All other characters are properties of K. A. Applegate and/or the other authors who are with me in this roleplay/collabfic.

Note: This introduction is going to be pretty short, but definitely expect the subsequent chapters to be longer.

*~*~*| Prologue |*~*~*

My name is Casey.

Just Casey.

No last name.

Well… that's not actually the truth. I do have a last name. You're just not going to learn it. Because if you do, that means that either something's gone horribly wrong, or the war is finally over and humanity has won. Most likely, it's going to be the former.

So yeah, that's all you're getting from me.

I'm penning my thought down in this journal (of sorts) to help me keep my thoughts straight. And I guess, if something DOES go horribly wrong, at least the truth will be out there somewhere.

Whoa, hold up. What truth? you ask. What war is humanity involved in?

Well, strap in, because it's going to be a LONG story. One that you might find yourself wishing you never knew.

This is how it all began…

*~*~*| Chapter 1 - The Mall |*~*~*

"Come on… come on…"

BOOM!

"DAMNIT!"

A badly-timed drift and an infuriating DAYTONA AI opponent had conspired to send my car careening into the wall on the final turn of the race. I watched despairingly, cursing my luck as the car flipped ungracefully in the air mere inches from victory.

I could only grumble as I eventually limped across the finish line in 4th. The all-too-familiar "GAME OVER" waltzed across the screen in its vermilion glory, loudly proclaiming my failure to conquer the advanced racetrack.

Stupid AI. Stupid wall.

Vacating the seat for the next sucker waiting in line, I wandered the arcade for a couple more minutes while looking at all the new machines. To be honest, I wasn't feeling entirely at home at the arcade as the racing games were the only ones that could catch my attention. I would've rather been at home commanding my armies in grand battles of strategy; Heroes was one of my first purchases, and I couldn't wait to help Lord Ironfist conquer Enroth.

Unfortunately, my parents were having some of their friends over for dinner, and there was no way in hell I would be going back early to suffer through an evening of being pinched on the cheek and cooed at for being the youngest. I mean, I'm nineteen, for crying out loud, not nine! Though I guess Connor, my eldest brother, has it a little tougher – he's already done with college, and dad and mum have started asking him to bring a nice girlfriend home. And when I say "asking", I actually mean "nagging".

(They also mentioned a matchmaker, but they were probably kidding about that… I think.)

Anyway, it was just about time for me to have dinner. The trip back to suburbia would take about half an hour, so if I timed it just right, I would reach home shortly after my parents saw off their guests. I slowly drifted towards the food court, wondering if I would be seeing any familiar faces from college there.

*~*~*| Chapter 2 - The Storm |*~*~*

"The mall will be closing in ten minutes."

*KCHKCHKCHKCHKCHK-SLAM*

The sound of retailers shutting up shop for the day reverberated through the air.

Wait, I thought to myself as I wolfed down what remained of my dinner. I don't remember the mall normally closing this early...

Then again, I guess I wouldn't really know what "early" or "normal" means in the context of the mall - it's just not really a common hangout spot for me, you know? I don't usually have much of a reason to stay there - I spend most of my evenings either on my computer, going out running, curled up in bed reading, or jumping on trampolines. (Some might call that last one a bit of a strange pastime, but you have no idea how liberating it feels to just soar through the air.)

Or maybe I'd just lost track of time. I tend to do that a lot.

Yeah, that was probably it.

By now, you've probably gotten the impression that I'm kind of a loner. At the mall by myself, in the arcade by myself, eating dinner by myself… well, you wouldn't be wrong. I'm somewhat introverted and don't really have many friends, just a few close ones that I'd give my life for. I'm actually fine with that – I don't care about that many people anyway – but it does get lonely sometimes.

Narrowly avoiding the few mall cops gently chivvying people along, I headed towards the exit. I stepped out of the sliding glass entrance and was greeted by a strong gust of wind to the face, accompanied by an ominous rumble. It was definitely going to rain tonight - and if I didn't get to shelter quickly enough, I would be facing a long, wet, cold and lonely journey home on the bus.

Hey, you might ask. If the mall's that far away, why didn't you drive? Surely you can, right?

One of the downsides of having two older brothers (aside from the usual older sibling hand-me-downs) is that we tend to share many things. The car was one of those things, and Cedric (my second brother) was using it today. He was out at some college networking thing, so naturally he had first pick of whether to use the car or not. I brought up the topic of getting another car a year or two ago and got an earful for it. "Why get another car?" Ma had asked. "Just schedule around it with your brothers! Such a waste of money just to save 15 minutes… you could even plan your time better and take public transport instead; that's so much cheaper! Money doesn't grow on trees, you know!"

Well, at least the bus stop wasn't too far away. The feeder service in my neighbourhood didn't stop right at the mall, so I still had some ground to cover, but I only needed to take a left on this street and a right at the second junction afterwards to get to where I needed to be. It would take me even less time if I were to cut across the abandoned construction site.

The abandoned construction site was something of an enigma within the city. I'm not even sure anymore what the council had originally planned to build there. Some sort of new mall, I think? Or was it one of those new, green eco-office buildings? What I do remember is that a couple of years ago, there was this groundbreaking ceremony and everything, with the mayor himself presiding over the event. However, shortly after they'd built the skeleton of the first two or three floors, the project just… stopped. Stopped, as in the moving equipment just left, and the construction workers never returned. The advertising hoardings were removed, and the site was cordoned off. It was a scandal and was the talk of the town for a month or two afterwards, but nobody ever found out what happened or why. There were some allegations of corruption floating around, but nothing ever came of any investigation - if there even was one. The mayor was quietly voted out in the next election, and the new administration had simply let the growing site wither into oblivion.

The sprawling grounds were clearly suffering from neglect. The chain-link fence surrounding it had rusted points sharp enough to threaten hapless trespassers with tetanus; the building foundations were a mixture of concrete, mud and algae-infused water; the once-shiny steel beams were now a soulless gray, and the whole structure had a miasma of dismal foreboding to it. In other words, it definitely seemed like a fantastic shortcut!

I glanced up as I felt the first drop of rain land on my nose. Right, I thought. Construction site it is. I'd just have to move quickly enough to outrun any would-be assassins hidden in the dark.

As I jogged through the dilapidated entrance, I saw a loose sheet of paper wafting across the floor. I snagged one as it went by, my curiosity piqued. I was able to read the name Anna and yesterday's date written across the top in smooth, cursive script. Squinting, I also recognized some familiar symbols - hang on, didn't I finish this course just last year?

I found myself picking up several other pieces of homework for Anna along the way, marveling at how this poor girl's assignments had found their way into this aging skeleton. After a few more seconds, I heard three distinct voices ahead - two gents and a young lady. Well, I guess that's Anna up ahead, I thought. I headed over, intentionally making as much noise as I possibly could so as not to startle them into attacking me. Once I was close enough to see them, I was surprised to find out I actually recognized one of the guys, Erik, that Anna (presumably) was with.

Now, Erik's actually one of the few friends I do have (or do bother with having). He's kinda shy, but friendly once you get to know him and nice to be around. We've been studying at the same college for about a year now, and because some of our compulsory courses and electives are the same, we've crossed paths and even worked together on the same group assignments before. He's a pretty hard worker, pulls his weight in group assignments, and can keep up with me in math and science classes, which is cool. But he's not really the type of person who would go about wandering into construction sites – especially not with a group of other people… so seeing him here was rather strange.

"Erik?" I called in puzzlement. "What are you doing here?"

*~*~*| 2 |*~*~*

A/N #1: Since the roleplay/collabfic is technically fanfiction, I thought I might as well post it here and maybe get some feedback on my writing too :) I will only post the parts which are mine, unless it's something that's integral to Casey's story and the author has allowed me to post it.

A/N #2: Casey's parents are immigrants; Casey is 2nd-generation Chinese-American. I have a character sheet, but I'm going to try and practice showing, not telling.

A/N #3: This story is set in the late 1990's, so there won't be too much change from the context of the original stories.

A/N #4: Erik and Anna are /u/Shiiang and /u/Mrmrspears ' characters respectively.