writing chapter 1.7
At first it was just a barren continent full of gray rocks and gray skies. The boy and girl did some redecorating, and built up vast forested mountains, lush valleys, rich grazing lands, wet jungles, gurgling waterfalls, shallow seas. They tempered the violence of the storms and decreed that the days would be mostly sunny and mild. They started a few settlements and towns, and scattered some fisherfolk and wandering shepherds.
Having played god games before, they knew better than to compete, because putting two cities in a world meant they’d end up going to war with each other. But the cooperation couldn’t last. Where the girl saw happy animals and peaceful coexistence, the boy saw resources he could turn into industrialized city-states. So eventually they split the territory between them. The world was enormous, and they could just do-over any mistakes, so they thought.
They ranged over their territories, creating settlements on the coast, going inland to plant cities next to suitable rivers, plopping nomads down in the desert and prospectors in the mountains. Wherever the girl swept her feather, people sprang up, families and tribes and civilizations spread out. Wherever the boy touched his sword, castles appeared, fortresses, walled cities, with vast armies on the march. All this took a very long time, and was very tiring. The world was so big that by the time they crossed the continent, things had gotten problematic in the earlier settlements, and they had to go around again, tweaking the conditions and intervening in the crises.
It was much more complicated than a videogame, and much more engaging. They’d never been busier. The boy and girl hardly ever crossed paths, but they were in constant contact inside their heads, and could watch and comment on the other’s progress. It was like all the great games rolled into one, with exciting adventures and challenging battles on every level. But as the world advanced into real trouble, they tired of always having to fly out to stop the latest catastrophe. It wasn’t fun anymore. But they couldn’t rest, because there was always something horrible about to happen to their world, and the boy and girl began stressing out over every boss fight. They couldn’t just give up playing, either, because the angel put them in charge and expected results. And they still had no idea how to complete their quest.
After awhile it became a blur. It was all very significant, but they stopped being able to recall the specifics. Lots of running around doing things. At some point the boy said fuck it and began fighting everyone he met, and he won every battle because he had the angel’s sword. He grew rich and powerful, and was feared and respected. The girl, feeling somehow responsible for the boy’s attitude, bent over backward helping everyone with her similarly magical feather, and grew beloved and a little sanctimonious.
In time, his lands grew despoiled and his people sickly, and he cast his eyes on her rich and fertile lands and her happy, healthy people. He massed his armies on her borders. She waved her feather, and the weapons grew heavy, twisted out of the soldiers’ hands, and turned into trees. His soldiers disappeared into the forest, and she was left facing him. They fought, it was epic, and they ended up killing each other.
While they were dead, they could feel their bodies disintegrate, merging with the land beneath them. They felt themselves growing as big as the world, their bodies stretching out to the horizon and beyond. They felt all the creatures running around on top of them, tickling, and came to see all the players as little cells swarming around their bodies. They witnessed the progress of civilization over and over again as the eons passed and the players enacted their human dramas in life after life after life.
Then all the drama ceased, and it was quiet for ages, just the boy and girl floating without bodies. They gradually became aware of the angel, asking them if they knew the answer. They did, they just couldn’t put it into words. There weren’t any words. It was all just awareness. An infinity dawdled past.
They remorted in the stairwell of their hotel at Dragoncon, with their empty beer bottles beside them. They were still lying curled up together like they were on the roof. How did they get all the way downstairs? The girl had a headache from the kink in her neck. She checked the time on her phone. It was the next morning; there were panel discussions to attend, and she needed a shower and some coffee. She nudged the boy, who was still holding on to sleep.
Her phone beeped a new message. She didn’t recognize the sender, and showed it to the boy.
“WTF?” he wondered. “Nw qst. Make teh gema. Sord/fthr.”
The girl shook her head. “IDK. New quest. Make the game. Sword/feather. No idea. From the angel?”
“Wow. A text message from a hallucination. Cool.”
“What?” the girl said. “How annoying. That was a really meaningful vision we just had. Don’t dismiss it as a drug-induced hallucination.”
“But it was,” he said reasonably. “I agree, tho,” he continued, backing off. “It sure seemed real at the time. Maybe we can play it again sometime.”
She looked at him, wondering. “Maybe we can make it ourselves,” she said.
“Yeah. Like we can possibly program something like that.”
As they collected themselves to leave, they looked back up the stairwell toward the roof. Fifty flights. There was a tiny spot of light at the top, where the door was still propped open. The gloom was filled with sparkly motes of dust, floating down toward them. And in the next moment, a feather dropped out of the darkness and landed on the concrete floor of the stairwell. The girl bent to pick it up.
“No,” said the boy, and pulled her back. “It’s just a pigeon feather. It’s probably diseased, leave it alone.”
She scooped it up as he turned to go thru the stairwell door.
In a nearby building underground, in a computer-filled basement lit by multiple monitors, a security tech watched as the boy and girl materialized in Stairway C-8. He forwarded the clip to his superiors.