The Kibohn - Chapter 4
Awaking from his twin bed with a groan, Minjun stumbled to the sink and poured himself a glass of water. His head was pounding. He had purchased some ibuprofen last night at the convenience store on his way home, and he felt a familiar wave of relief sweep over him when he saw the little orange box sitting on his couch. He made it to the couch, gulped down two of the orange pills, and sank back into the cheap blue fabric. He had just enough gas in the tank to check his email, where he was unsurprised to see the standard email from his coach, reminding him that this was his final game before this contract expired. He’d reply to that after his nap.
A Kakao message later that afternoon shook Minjun awake. His buddy Minchul was checking in to make sure he was still alive, and would be playing in the open cup this evening. Apparently Minjun had hit the soju pretty hard last night. He told Minchul that of course he’d be playing in the open cup, and thanks for checking in. His headache gone, he fired up the computer in his one-room and began his warm-up routine before the tournament started.
The open cup bounties were placed at 6:00. By 6:05, Minjun had registered for every match he was eligible for - an even mix of friendly kibohn matches, whose replays could be sold, and gaeseon matches, where the big money was. If he played against another player, he’d have to be interesting and particularly clever to earn his keep. If he was chosen to play against another meatgrinder from a conjoin, he’d be guaranteed a nice payday. All he could do was sit back and wait until the conjoins finished their bidding process and doled out the big matches of the night to the players they were most interested in facing. Luckily, his headache had subsided, and he was able to make a pot of tea and do some stretching routine before the assignments would be posted at 7:00.
Just as he hauled his increasingly creaking frame up from his final sun salutation, he heard a familiar “DING!” from the game launcher. The conjoins had finished bargaining with each other, and the cup schedule for tonight has been set. Minjun expelled his last deep breath, set his shoulders in place, and broke form to go check his notifications. Scrolling down the list, he saw a few familiar kibohn names. Minchul was playing against a barcode gaeseon, and LG’s barcoded player of the night (almost certainly Jiwon) was up against another conjoin from Lotte, the newest company to own an AI. It was likely that LG’s AI had noticed how hungover Jiwon was and placed him against an easier opponent. All data is good data, and a company like Lotte that sold a lot of alcohol and snacks was almost certainly interested in how hungover people make their choices.
As he neared the bottom of the list, Minjun finally saw his name. He’d scored a premium match, and SK Telecom had publicly bid almost 10 million credits for him to play against their gaeseon. Excellent. It would almost certainly be a humiliating loss, but Minjun was happy with the guaranteed paycheck for his efforts. In the 15 minutes before the match started, Minjun idly browsed the barcode player’s match history. SK’s players had become known lately for their new neural net implants. Other SK players were able to weigh in on the decision making of the player behind the keyboard and help him (along with the conjoin, of course) make decisions during the match. It was almost certainly going to be deemed illegal, but the technology was fairly new - and still primitive. One player last season , due to the misdirected whim of a slightly peckish teammate, ended up absentmindedly getting up from the middle of a game to go make a sandwich. The neural net tech hadn’t officially been banned, but the SK conjoin was at the top of the league this season, with its players combining for something like an 80-5 win/loss record. Minjun’s barcode opponent was 16-0, with most games lasting less than 5 minutes. Oof.
The clock ticked down and Minjun began to settle into his familiar routine. He sighed deeply, mentally preparing himself for the trademark all-out aggression of an undefeated gaeseon. The game client clicked to life, his opponent connected, and the game spoke to him once more in their shared language.
Pip. Pip. Pip. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Let your eyes roll back in your head and loosen up your jaw and tongue.
Pip. Pip. Pip. Pip. Feel your neck and shoulders melt into your ribcage. Curl your fingers and feel the tips press tight against your palms. Run your nervous energy down your legs and over your kneecaps, then allow it to slide down your shins and into the floor.
Pip. Pip. Pip. Open your eyes. Ready your fingers. Jiggle the mouse. Count through your opening moves. Exhale through your mouth. Schwoooom.
The game came to life on screen, and Minjun was already preparing to defend against the unique strategy he was certain he would face. He suspected an aggressive, early-game attack, so he began preparing his army from the very beginning of the game. His research structures would have to wait. If he made it past the five minute mark, he would upgrade his units later. For now, Minjun began to muster a massive force of low-cost units. Strategy, not pure skill, would be the watchword of the day.
As soon as they hatched from their slimy eggs, two of his scouting units raced across the map, furiously searching for his opponent’s base. The first and second locations they checked were empty. Damn. Bad luck there. A marine poked into his base on a recon mission: his enemy had already scouted him out, and would now know that he was building up an army early in the game. Minjun’s cards were now face-up on the table, and his opponent’s poker face was still fixed.
Feeling a sense of deep exasperation, Minjun sent his two scouts over to the final dark corner of the map. He’d lost the first coin flip of the match, but it wasn’t over yet. He was sure that the gaeseon he was playing (along with the hivemind of players and their conjoin) was already predicting a win with a +90% probability. Humiliating. Minjun realized that he wouldn’t be able to win in a straight-up fight now that his opponent probably already had some defensive structures built to protect himself against the early rush that he had scouted out.
Difficult problems call for unorthodox solutions though, and Minjun had a flash of inspiration as a few enemy soldiers showed up at the front door of his base. The marines would die quickly enough to the army that he was breeding at home, but he would almost certainly be overwhelmed by their quick turn-and-gun strategies. Ten marines or so could mow down just about anything in their way when the player controlling them had perfect timing. He had to do something to prevent them from finding their groove and just blowing down his base.
He clicked his scouts and sent them deep into the enemy base. They sped right by the defensive bunker that was full of armed marines, taking only a little bit of damage. Usually, Minjun would have tried to break the defensive position to ensure a stronger attack later, but he wasn’t sure there would be a “later” this game. His two scouts dove deep into the base and Minjun quickly noted how many of each building there were. He saw more marines in his future. Damn. At least he knew what strategy his opponent was going for. Silver linings.
His scouts hurried straight toward the worker units of his SK opponent. They were busily constructing some more buildings, but Minjun used some fancy footwork to make sure his scouts could quickly rip their spacesuits off. Their corpses barely had time to explode into pixels before the marines at Minjun’s front door quickly disappeared, presumably heading back home to protect their worker units from those scouts. Minjun took the opportunity to mass up a huge number of slower, but lightly-armored, four-legged bugs. As soon as the last of the scaly purple crawlers hatched, Minjun slipped them out of his base and onto a darkened hill in the far left corner of the map.
Now, he waited. He ordered his workers to construct a few research buildings back home, and ordered just one scout into the opponent’s base to try to get a look at his new strategy. The little guy exploded so quickly that Minjun didn’t even see what had killed it. Overwhelming numbers of his units were massing across the map while his little guerilla strike force patiently waited for their turn. Minjun had his workers waiting on a few defensive positions, but he could already feel the dread of knowing that his opponent’s strategy to roll over him at just the right time was a real threat.
Just as his defensive buildings finished constructing, a dot of red appeared on the minimap near his base, and Minjun knew that now was his chance to strike. As the enemy soldiers began to expertly fire in their synchronized rhythm at his base, Minjun ordered his force of lightly-armored soldiers down the hill, right into the defensive position his opponent had established in front of his base.
As his bugs crested the hill, Minjun clicked over to see what his opponent had done in the meantime. Shit. Workers were just putting the finishing touches on two more secure metal bunkers, which would certainly prevent him from getting any damage done. If he could swoop in and kill the workers in time, the bunkers would remain unfinished and he might have a chance at forcing his enemy to retreat from his front door. Then he could hang on for a few more moments to plan his next move.
The armored bugs awkwardly shuffled forward, desperate to pick off the two workers who were finishing the bunkers. However, a hail of bullets was already pouring out of the existing bunker,and his army was quickly weakening. Minjun moved his forces away from the bunker, and his opponent took the bait: he unloaded the marines from their defensive position so they could get a clear shot at the purple bugs. Minjun took the opportunity and pounced. His bugs’ wicked spear-like missiles connected with one of the marines, and it crumpled to the ground. The other three marines, however, mechanically entered their practiced firing routine. If he were playing another kibohn, this would mean that his opponent couldn’t be controlling the army that was attacking at Minjun’s base anymore, but the gaeseon was too fast, darting between his two battalions with lightning speed to control both fronts.
Minjun pressed forward, hoping against hope to prevent the three exposed marines from returning to their haven, but just as his second volley of spears went off, his army was hit with a new slew of bullets from the left side. While he had been distracted by picking off the exposed marines, the enemy workers had finished building the other two bunkers, and the gaeseon player was now completely protected against any kind of attack Minjun could muster at this time.
Minjun crashed his army straight into the bunkers, but with 12 marines pumping hot lead into his relatively weak forces, it was only a matter of seconds before his army had disintegrated. Meanwhile, the marines at Minjun’s front door had broken down all of his hastily-constructed defenses, and were converging on his worker lines. Defeat was certain. Minjun looked at the game clock, and took some consolation in seeing 07:45. At least he’d lasted longer than most. He typed out “GG” and clicked the “resign” button to award the victory to his mechanically-enhanced opponent.