chapter 2

Read Chapter 1

***

The boy and girl were still dazed from their vision. Or hallucination. Or dream. It might have been the kink in her neck, or it might have been the drugover, but the girl felt especially horrible. She insisted on going up to their room and taking a shower, but couldn’t scrub off the pixie dust, and only felt a little better when they went down to the meeting place outside Comic Book Alley.

The boy: Josh Sterling, 27 year old white male, software engineer unemployed, resident Alpharetta area, Atlanta, GA.
The girl: Anomia Martin, 23 year old black female, Big Behemoth Inc graphic artist, resident Midtown area, Atlanta, GA.

A couple of friends came by and remarked how shaky they looked, sprawling on the floor next to them,. This morning you could see all the way across the hall, when 24 hours earlier you had to shoulder your way thru. Lots of people were in regular clothes, and some were already hauling rolly bags back to the airport.

“Well, it’s sure a slow start to the day,” their friend Fairy observed, sipping her machiatto. She had bags under her eyes and her curly red hair was frizzy and unbrushed. Her Manga costume was demented looking this morning, stains and wrinkles marring the waif look.

Fairy: Susan Delany, 34 year old white female, self-employed various, resident Little 5 Points area, Atlanta, GA. Priors.

Anomia gazed dully out at the crowd, sitting with her back to the wall, watching the legs walk by. She had a headache. She felt disoriented, like they were still in their dream, like they were dreaming they were at Dragoncon, sitting in a carpeted cave with a bunch of comic book characters, drinking coffee and feeling tired.

The boy thought, I’m kind of sad to be back here.

Do you think we could get there again? the girl wondered.

Do you think it’s real? he asked.

The girl slowly realized that she wasn’t actually speaking. She looked over at the boy. He agreed, bemused.

Anomia turned to Fairy. “Were you following that?” But Fairy hadn’t heard anything. She turned back to Josh. “You were talking to me, right?”

Josh grinned. “Just like in the game, we’re in each other’s headsets, or something.”

Fairy nodded. “You’re still fucked up from last night.” They looked at her in surprise. “Anyone could tell,” she remarked.

Anomia took a notebook out of her backpack and started writing down what she remembered of their adventures. Josh recounted the tale to Fairy and the others, describing their game and their world. How real it felt. How long it lasted. How involved they were. More friends dropped by, sitting in a group around the pair and beginning to edge into the path of the pedestrians.

“What was flying like?” someone asked.

Josh explained, sort of. “Kind of leaning into the flow, you know?” A couple of people nodded. “Pushing and being dragged along, both. It’s a funny feeling. A sort of twisting inside. Like your organs shifting.” There were some concerned looks. “But not painful at all,” he assured them. “Like holding back a reflex, I guess. Sneezing, for example.” He thought for a moment. “You sort of go along in the…the sweet spot of a wave of…emotional force?” He stopped, reaching for the words. There are no words.

But everybody knew dreams. People talked about how they flew in their dreams. Like dolphins swimming, like birds, like Superman. “After awhile,” Josh told them, “it got to the point where we didn’t even move. It was more like things coming to us. And in the end, it took no time at all.” He stopped again, at a loss.

Teleportation,” someone suggested, and people went Duh, Star Trek is real.

Anomia turned a page and began drawing a map of their gameworld. The boy kept adding bits she’d forgotten, and they argued silently about where to put the level boundaries. The angel said we could still fly, if we wanted to, she reminded him. He suddenly recalled the angel’s endless lectures while they were floating thru the universe. It all came back in a rush, and he bubbled over with everything he remembered. “The angel,” Josh began.

Fairy interrupted. “There was an angel?” she asked sharply. Others wanted to know, too.

The crowd got larger. People at the edges wanted to know all about the angel, and Josh had to start at the beginning. “This angel sprinkled pixie dust on us, I mean this disembodied hand did. We were tripping…” He stopped. “We had to think happy thoughts…” It sounded so stupid. Help, he thought, and the girl reminded him about the graffiti.

“We have pictures,” Josh announced brightly.

Anomia dug her phone out and pulled up her photo gallery. There were pictures of the hand, the message, the boy hovering over Dragoncon at night. There was the star, and the Garden. There was a very indistinct picture of the angel, all sparkly and overexposed. And the two of them standing together on the cloud, with flares around the edges – the angel must have taken that one. There was the boy with one of the tiny spinning worlds they made. There were their hybrid creatures being menaced by the T-Rex. There were a couple of photos that didn’t come out at all, and one last picture, of vast armies arrayed against each other in the high mountains, right before they killed each other.

She posted the album to her Facebook page. Her friends shared it. “We got this text message,” she said slowly, looking at it. “Maybe from the angel? It said to re-create the game.” She tweeted the message.

Josh was telling people, “Yeah, we made bunches of worlds, and they were completely real. People, civilizations, wars, all that. It was uber-Sim. Like Spore, only massively multiplayer.”

“The people we made were so cute – tiny little things,” Anomia remembered fondly. “They were purple, with big hair. They grew up and had kids and got old. They had rich, full lives.” Except for the ones we killed off, the boy mused. “I felt so responsible for them,” she said.

“Yeah, you were really angry when the angel turned it all off.” Josh turned to his friends. “You should have seen her. She stamped her feet and burst into flame, just like the angel’s sword.”

“I was, like, livid,” she admitted. “All those people, gone. All our work, everything, just like that.”

“I thought you were going to smite the angel, I really did,” Josh said admiringly. “So did he. He was impressed.” He turned to his friends. “We were in charge of them for, like, a million years. It was awesome. And we were famous and we were powerful…”

“But it was hard,” Anomia added. “We were really gods, so it was a lot of work, and we had to do everything.”

“But we really were gods,” Josh said, grinning, “and we could do anything. We had all the superpowers.”

“It was still just a videogame, right?” someone asked.

“No, it was a dream,” someone else explained.

“Yeah, how about a drug-induced hallucination,” a third person suggested.

“Whatever,” Josh agreed. “But it was real,” he insisted. “Really real.” He turned to the girl for help. Don’t we have any real proof?

Pictures and texts aren’t proof? she replied.

Josh looked embarrassed and shrugged. “I mean, what can I say? We were in kind of an altered state. You know when some tiny kid can lift up a car and get the guy out? Something happens in your brain, and all of a sudden you’ve got all sorts of abilities you never knew you had.” More nods as everyone inserted their favorite pop culture reference.

“It never got old,” Anomia said, looking around and feeling tired, “but here, being awake, it feels like something’s been amputated. Like I’m less of a person.”

“Well, we’re all feeling pretty bad this morning,” Fairy observed.

***

A bunch of people left for their 11:30 panel, and a bunch of others stopped by and sat down. Josh went to his tournament in the gaming room, but Anomia needed to rest. She felt half-stuck in their vision of the night before, as if she could roll over into it if she shut her eyes. She sat next to Fairy, wanting another cup of coffee but too lethargic to get up. Someone came by and brought her one, and a croissant. Walking thru the hamster tube to the Hilton, the boy tasted pastry and pleaded, I’m hungry too.

Somebody asked about the angel, and it was Anomia’s turn. “He’s kind of cranky,” she said, dreading talking to people. But they really wanted to know what the game was like, so she reluctantly answered. Yes, they could feel cold and heat. And hunger. Yes, they peed and shat. Sex was fantastic, much better than usual (don’t tell Josh). Injuries and dying – they tried to avoid them, cuz pain hurts like fuck.

“It was completely real; everything,” she insisted. “Real snow, real water, real rocks, real plants, real weather.” And the passage of years; the layers of life upon life, generation after generation, the vast ocean of memories and experience, it was all accessible to them; even now, in their ordinary consciousness. The boy, off fighting videogame enemies, paused to agree with her.

She wanted to explain that they’d reached a new level of understanding that changed everything, that the lessons were as clear as if they’d been written down. But the words were unfamiliar, as if her english diverged from theirs long ago. Anomia shut her eyes, and felt a familiar humming, vibrating deep inside her bones. It was a sound she’d grown used to in their gameworld, a hum that was loudest when she was flying, but was always there in the background, like crickets, like traffic.

The hum got louder. She leaned over and asked Fairy if she heard anything. Fairy touched her arm, and they both felt a vibration running down into the floor underneath. Suddenly the building was vibrating, too, and she felt queasy. Fairy removed her hand, and the feeling passed, but the hum was still there, louder than ever. She rubbed her eyes – she needed a nap.

Someone asked, “So, in your game, did you make your world from a template, or with rolls of the dice, or what?”

She sat up, yawning. “No, we built it with our hands. It was like making cotton candy. We scooped this fog stuff out of thin air and shaped it into whatever we wanted. And it was easy, because we were right at the intersection of matter and energy.” She stopped and tried again. “Surfing the point where the future turns into now. Where virtual movements cause real things to happen.” It was coming out all muddy, but the people around her didn’t look confused, they looked like they understood every word. And believed it. “We were like spiders in a web,” she said, “we could feel every movement. And when we reacted to it, we were also kind of controlling it.”

“And that’s the secret of magic in your game?” someone asked.

She thought about it. “I guess it’s magic. But not really. It’s just how the world works. Everybody’s magic, everybody can fly.” His eyes lit up. “There’s a learning curve,” she cautioned.

“Did you bring any powers back with you?” someone asked hopefully.

She thought about it. “Well, we…” We can read minds, the boy suggested. “Right, we’re still in each other’s heads from last night,” she said. “I’m talking to him now.”

“What’s he doing?” someone asked.

I’m losing, the boy replied, as his avatar was blasted. “He’s down to his last few lives,” she told them, “but at the moment his team’s ahead.” She used body english to help him jump back into action from the remorting area.

“Can you get into just anybody’s head?” someone asked.

She checked. There was only the boy, screaming at the boss he was battling. “Maybe it’s because we were together,” she started, and then fell silent and reached out with her mind…

There were other voices, other presences. She felt them all around her, individual points of energy buzzing with life. It was just like in their game. She closed her eyes and was instantly back there, listening to the thoughts of their little characters. At the same time, she was also hearing the people in the group around her. She looked deeper, and saw millions and millions of people, all playing the game, all full of serious intent. “I think I’m seeing the future. It’s like some galaxy,” she said, describing what she was seeing. “It’s much bigger than our game. You’re all in it…everybody’s playing.”

She had the sudden, utter conviction that the players’ actions were really important – vital. She saw herself in the middle, spinning and spinning, anchoring their energy. She saw the world, sparkling. “Everybody is creating the real world as they’re playing,” she whispered. Then she realized, as a bubble of energy built up in her chest, “That’s the secret. That’s why we have to make the game.”

The people around Anomia pressed in closer to hear her – she was speaking so softly – and the people behind closed in around them, touching at knees and hips and shoulders, arms around each other, heads on each other’s shoulders.

The people next to her felt it first, like the hum and buzz of a faulty streetlight. They felt it thru their butts on the floor, and thru the people they were jammed up against, and inside their heads. The feeling was like zotz on the tongue: tingly, sour, metallic. The hall grew silent, as if the sound was being absorbed within the circle. Passers-by stopped and crowded in, and a knot formed in the traffic, backing up all the way to the escalators. Movement in the hall slowed to a shuffle.

Everybody felt something. They leaned in, straining their ears to catch it, every nerve on alert, every muscle vibrating. People’s hands and feet starting tingling, genitals scrunched up, and there was a syrupy feeling on the tops of their heads. It felt nutritious; like warm sunshine running thru their veins. Nobody could say if it started inside of them, or if they were being shaken by some outside force or subaudible beat. It felt like the whole world was vibrating at one specific frequency they could all feel (not too fast and not too slow), and the more attention they paid to it, the stronger the feeling got, until several hundred people were all buzzing and snapping together.

The girl felt like she was a very small consciousness floating around in her own enormous body, small enough to fit into the palm of her own huge hand. Everything looked normal when she cracked her eyes open – she was as big as everybody else, even tho she felt tiny. It felt like everyone in the hall was breathing with her, buzzing with the same cosmic vibration. She reached out to them with her mind, and felt them focus on her, and then blend into her. Her body became vast without limit, and crowded at the same time.

The buoyant excitement in her chest slowly pulled her into the air. She felt herself straining against the people around her, like being tethered, but they bobbed up beside her as they noticed her rising, and a wave started, ring after ring of people bobbing and bouncing in the air around Anomia, the hum getting louder, the vibration deeper.

People looked down and wiggled their feet in the air. Some took pictures, but nobody panicked. It didn’t seem at all strange to be weightless, and if a reason had to be found, they could blame internal gases, or something – it didn’t matter. They were floating because they could. And communicating with each other, like an enormous chat room, even tho the hall was silent. They all remembered playing the very game the girl and boy were describing, and realized that they’d played it a million times. Everybody loved that game.

They were in the middle of reaching out to touch other minds, sweeping thru Dragoncon out into the world, and out into space, when it all came crashing to an end. Suddenly, in the midst of universal communication, the house lights went out, leaving a darkness broken only by blue cellphone lights and red exit signs.

A shock went thru the crowd like a jolt of electricity, and suddenly people snapped back into themselves, instantly thumping down onto the floor. The building trembled around them.

Maniacal laughter filled the air as a hooded figure flipped the lights back on and fled.

They looked around at one another, shaken. But hey, we were really flying, they thought.

“Let’s do it again,” somebody suggested, and they began to clamor for it, but Anomia had curled up in the middle of the crowd, groaning and shivering and wanting to be left alone. They covered her with hoodies and shawls, and sat discussing what they’d experienced, agreeing that they were pretty sure it was real, despite the asshole bit at the end.

People got up and went to their 1:00 panels, everybody buzzing with excitement, all of them calling or texting somebody else, posting pictures and clips. The boy could hear them in each other’s heads as he logged out of his game and rushed back. Strangers in the hamster tunnel smiled at him and thought, Hello.

People crowded into the hall from all corners of Dragoncon, eager to join the happening. Clumps of newcomers surrounded anybody who’d experienced the levitation, touching each other and concentrating on the humming vibration of the connection.

The crowd was so thick it was stifling. Anomia and Josh checked their pocket programs and found a vacant room nearby, and people piled into it, tweeting the change of venue. For the next few minutes, they tried to repeat the levitation or do some other spectacular thing, but the harder they tried, the more nothing happened. They could feel the energy gluing up with their efforts.

“That’s very zen,” somebody from the Silk Road track observed. “You must clear your mind.”

“Meditation,” Anomia mused.

“In the game, we just had to think about something, and it happened,” Josh complained. “It was only when we first started that we had the kind of trouble we’re having now.”

“We’re working too hard,” Anomia said. “I can feel the flow thinning. And I’m too self conscious.”

“What we need is more pixie dust,” Josh stated, rubbing his hands. “Shrooms and X for everybody.”

“Stop joking,” she said, “we’ve had our vision. We’re on a quest now. We’re supposed to make some sort of superpower edugame, not get wasted and dream about it.”

A few people left, late to their 1:00 panels, including Fairy. Some were heard grumbling, Too Newage, as they walked away.

***

Fairy took the escalator up to the next level, looking for the bathrooms. She’d noticed a funny buzzing electricity in the air around Josh and Anomia, and felt it slowly dropping off as she left. She stopped and shut her eyes, and could swear she knew the exact spot where Anomia and Josh were sitting on the level below.

Fairy ducked into the ladies’ room and gasped as she saw the long line for the stalls. She looked at her phone; she was running late. Walking down to the end, she joined several others doing the same thing, and stripped down to her underwear and Docs for a quick costume change. She pulled on medieval-type battle dress over her head, then put her flouncy red hair into a bun. She slipped on a brow ridge headpiece, then adjusted a close-cropped black wig on top of it. At the long mirror she applied bronzing liquid and scanned herself for errors. In only moments she had transformed from a Manga princess into a Klingon female. Growling at the girls jostling for mirror space, she stalked out of the bathroom and headed for the men’s room. The floor shook underneath her. bISovbejbe’DI’ tImer.

A guy bumped into her as she rounded the corner. “My kid’s taking too long,” she snapped, walking past the (much shorter) line of men who were waiting to pee. She clumped down to the handicapped stall and knocked gently. “Jimmy?” she said sweetly, bending down to child level to speak thru the door. It opened tentatively, and she slipped inside and latched it shut.

Inside was a Klingon male, standing stiffly at attention. Fairy looked him up and down and sniffed loudly. He looked straight ahead for a few moments while she inspected him more closely; then she backed off and turned away, clearing her throat. Embarrassed at his thoughtlessness and hot with a sudden rush of desire, the Klingon crumpled a teller machine envelope out of his battle dress and bowed, seeting with emotion as he cupped his hands to deliver it to her. Fairy checked the contents, twitched her skirts, and slipped the envelope into a spiked garter. Fishing a length of elastic band out of her bag, she made him sit, and secured his wrists and ankles to the commode. He sat there, twitching, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He began reciting Klingon love poetry in a low voice. With a shriek, she tore off his codpiece and stomped it into the floor.

Two Stormtroopers were standing at the urinals not watching each other pee. They stopped talking to listen to the sound. “I think I’ll go watch the robot battles for this next session,” one said after a moment.

“Yeah, that’s cool,” the other replied. “I’m going to check out costuming. There’s a foam sculpting demo, and I want to make my own helmet for next year.”

They heard a sound like someone being punched in the gut, and a resounding thump from somewhere down the row of stalls. Both of them choked off the stream and craned their necks to see. There was nothing. A deep voice intoned: “PIj QIch je ghoS ngeH bong ngeHmey Qoy yaghmey.”

“Did you hear the roof door was left open on top of the Marquis?” the first one asked, straining to finish.

The other one shook off and fastened his cup. “Maybe we should go check it out.” They clomped out of the bathroom just as a hurled toilet paper dispenser exploded against the far wall behind them. Vicious shrieks followed them out into the hall. People began to gather in front of the stall.

The sounds of the Klingon mating ritual start out loud, and quickly become piercing, as the female rages and the male ducks. You couldn’t help but notice. Howls, bangs, the sound of fingernails on the blackboard, ripping flesh. The poetry continued, tho in a somewhat strangled tone, rising sharply in pitch at one point, but mainly droning on in a deep bass. There was a pause, an extended period of scrabbling noises and low grunts, some obvious cursing in gutter Klingon, and then a complex set of cries in two voices, one of victory and one of passion, which was joined involuntarily by the Klingon voyeurs gathered outside the stall door.

Then there was silence. The waiting Klingons looked at each other, concerned. One raised his hand to knock on the door. “Are you okay in there?”

Suddenly the door burst open, smashing into the closest spectators, who fell backward against the others.

Fairy marched out of the stall, growling. “Nech nom, ghuy’cha’! QI’yaH!,” she snapped, making her way to the sink to wash her hands. She smiled apologetically at the Starship Trooper at the next sink. “The girls’ room is so crowded,” she explained, carefully scrubbing under her fingernails.

The door to the handicapped stall had swung closed behind her. It was silent inside. Cautiously, a tlhIngan yoHpeeled the door open and looked inside.

A battered Klingon warrior sat tied to the toilet, spreadeagled on the seat. His costume was ripped to shreds, there were thick red welts on his chest, and his cock and balls stretched down low over the water, wrung completely out. He had a silly grin on his face, tho. Stuck into the peak of his brow plate was a card:

Bad Fairy Services – Adult Roleplay.

Fairy crossed the hall toward the elevators. She enjoyed the air of power a Klingon costume gave her, and considered staying in character. But her next panel was an Apocalypse Now simulation, and she thought her Manga clothes would be more appropriate. Also, she was sweating under her brow ridges and wanted the wig off really badly.

She went up to her room for a quick shower, feeling great. Making people feel good was her favorite thing to do. In this case, it was catering to a special sci/fi flavor of kink, but Hoch ghot pIm ghob.

***

Back with Anomia and Josh, who were still fielding questions from friends and strangers in the audience. The room was set up for sound and video, but nothing was turned on. It was packed at the front, with people circulating at the back, and lots of coming and going in the hall outside. Josh was antsy with caffeine and no food. Anomia looked like she was coming down with something. She could hear people discussing it in her mind; some of them didn’t like her hair. She tossed her head defiantly, beads rattling in her dreads.

Someone remarked, “Okay, if it’s really true, and we can have superpowers, how in hell are you going to teach them?”

“There’re lots of methods,” Josh answered. “There’s the Jedi school, and the Bene Gesserit school, and other systems…” Then he drew a blank, and people responded from the crowd.

Hogwarts.”

“Lord of the Rings.”

“A Course in Miracles.”

“And it’s not just fictional,” Anomia pointed out. “Look at all the powers you can develop here in the real world.”

Mental exercises, suggested the voices inside their heads. Martial arts. Yoga. Tantric sex. Ritual magic. Drugs. Music and dance.

“But seriously, what about real superpowers?” someone complained. “Telekinesis, telepathy, and enhanced speed and strength, never mind the ability to heal, or drain someone else’s life-force, or warp time and space. How do you teach those?”

“The easy answer,” someone said, “is that it takes years of training and apprenticeship, whether you’re talking about Force powers or the Weirding Way or dragonriding.”

“I personally don’t want to spend a decade carting Yoda around on my back,” said someone else, standing up to leave.

“Never mind being celibate,” said a geek with pony hair.

“And I’m not doing the Gom Jabbar thing, either,” said a fearless Viking.

“Well, fine,” Josh agreed. “It wasn’t like that for us, anyway. There was nothing unpleasant about it.”

“But we can’t just sprinkle pixie dust on people,” Anomia said. “We have to show them how.”

“We should be able to do that.” Josh said, and turned to the crowd. “Who else floated up into the air with Anomia earlier?” There were lots of hands, and lots of voices. “See, the ability’s already there, people just need to develop it themselves, with willpower and self-discipline…” He trailed off. There were groans. “Okay, it’s boring,” he allowed, “but it’s the foundation of every spiritual practice there is.”

“But then we’re right back to ten year apprenticeships,” someone objected. “Players are going to want to level up to superpower status pretty quickly.”

“At any rate,” someone said, “you’re going to need something philosophical so that it all makes sense.”

“And secret teachings, as incentives.”

You could do a comic book.

Webcasts.

A fan track.

The crowd shifted because it was time for the 2:30 panels. A few people got up to leave, and their places were eagerly taken by a new crowd at the door. The internal buzz was deafening, mostly very excited, tho some left thinking the whole thing must be a racket. Secret teachings(tm), they thought. Pfff.

***

Sitting alone in the middle of the room, a nondescript girl named Caroline took notes while Anomia and Josh rambled about special powers and videogames. Things like flying, and psychic abilities, and teleporting. Some sort of essence. A so-called angel. She didn’t understand any of it, and it annoyed her, but she wrote down the important-sounding bits. She prided herself on being a hard-headed realist, and resented their devotion to fantasy. Unless you’re talking about sexual fantasy, of course.

Caroline wrote: “Energy feild created by all living beings. Surounds, penetrates, binds galaxy.”

She copied a diagram drawn by somebody from the Science track, explaining time and space as variables rather than constants. She hated math in school.

She copied most of Anomia’s map of their world from the whiteboard behind them. She hated art, too. But the girl sure was a drink of cool water for the eyes.

She listened incredulously as a bunch of costumed freaks talked about magic as if it were real. They were convinced they could walk thru walls if they tried hard enough. “Nu reality = a atitude ajustment away,” she quoted. Fucking hippies, she thought. “Learning curve,” she wrote, “teaching tool,” but she didn’t try to copy the drawing of a “4D leval diagram with gameflo vecters.”

Caroline noticed people fidgeting around her, cocking their heads like they heard something. Anomia tapped the mic, but it was off. They talked about a hum, but Caroline heard nothing.

Somebody mentioned quantum entanglement. Somebody else mentioned mystical experiences. “We’re all conected,” she wrote. “Virus thingys that make you psyckic. Force trainer mashines. Making key balls. Quantem consciesness. Everybody = superhero.”

Someone declared that there was no objective reality, someone else said you make your own reality, and she wasn’t sure who said nothing actually existed until it was observed. There was a bewildering argument between them, and Caroline spent the time fishing around in her bag for candy and checking her phone for messages.

She finally wrote, “Uncertenty = basis of reality. Observer colapses wave function. Conscious feild influenses events. Intent.”

Then someone finally spoke some sense. She scribbled his words down and circled them, because they had the weight of truth, “Observer only important very small scales. U don’t create ur own universe. Newage narcisism + quantam mechanics don’t mix.” Yeah, freaking weirdos.

Then people started getting mean to the skeptics, and insisted on airy fairy, but she heard more sense as the skeptics shot back. Caroline wrote faster. “Why no world peace if u make ur own reality? Sudo-sientific babble. Gulliver wishful-thinking.”

Somebody else got up and debunked the parlor trick they’d been calling levitation. It was really a near death experience, with the floating and the buzzing and the voices in their heads, but it wasn’t magic at all, just oxygen deprivation. She wrote, “Cascading nuro chemicals, serebral and oxia, brain cels dieing.” She hated science in school.

Then Anomia blew up at the skeptic guy. She looked really hot when she got mad, Caroline noted. Her hands went everywhere and her hair rattled, and she got all passionate about flying and real reality, and people in the audience got all excited agreeing with her.

Caroline got a little nauseous as the crowd got weird. She wanted to leave, but something held her in her seat. Anomia was yelling at the guy about oxygen starvation, and the people were taking deep breaths and blowing them out. She felt a wind in the room and kept her head down, trying to take notes while people huffed and puffed. Suddenly there was a sound that sent her stomach thru the floor. She scrambled for the exit, wondering how to spell ‘whump’ as she tried to keep her lunch down.

As Caroline was rinsing her mouth, people came into the bathroom on their way to their 4:00 panels, talking about hums and buzzes and voices in their heads. But she dismissed them as suckers and headed across the street for a therapeutic beer at the liquor store. Some people agreed that it was a bunch of hooey, tho Caroline couldn’t hear them in her head. Others uploaded their footage of Anomia with her head in flames as she cussed out the haters.

Caroline Street, 47 year old white female, [redacted] security tech I , resident East Point area, Atlanta, GA.

***

Back in the room, Josh and Anomia and the hundreds of people with them were being kicked out, and were on their way to an empty ballroom on the next floor, making a decent clot of people in a big room full of chairs. They were discussing what kind of videogame to make. The angel wanted everybody to play, so they started with a free-to-play, open source MMO that would run on all platforms. Mods would be encouraged. It would be an exploratory, emergent sandbox, role-playing, social game. An action, action-adventure, adventure, simulation, strategy game. A music, party, programming, puzzle, trivia, exergame

And it would also teach superpowers and quantum consciousness.

Someone wondered why shoot ’em ups weren’t listed, or brawlers, or even sports and racing games.

Josh confessed sheepishly that the angel warned them not to make a violent game.

“The trouble with that,” said a guy they knew as Snake, “is if you want a wide audience, you’ve got to include the most popular genres. If you ban violence then you miss three quarters of the market.”

“But violence hurts in the game we played,” Anomia protested. “You actually suffer when you get hurt.”

“You can make people go thru the motions of suffering if you like,” Snake offered. “But players get more satisfaction out of being bad.” A lot of people agreed. “If a bunch of nannies limit the opportunity for violence, players will just figure out new ways. Just look at your demographic – boys from eleven to forty who want to shoot things.”

Fairy spoke up, reminding everybody that girls now made up almost half of all gamers and that social gaming was getting really big. Snake replied that social games weren’t for serious gamers, anyway. Fairy said something ugly and Snake said worse back, then looked at his phone and left abruptly while Fairy was still spitting her drink.

Snake: Sam Smith, 27 year old white male, contract C++ programmer, resident Buckhead area, Atlanta, GA

Anomia quietly insisted that the game they played didn’t have battles or wars or competition or killing. But we killed each other in the end, the boy commented. Remember how awful that was? she retorted.

“Any violence in our game was brought in by us,” she explained to the crowd. “People built the best lives they could in the spots they loved the best, with people who made them happy. It’s the way life’s supposed to be.”

“So everything was fine until we got there and acted like stupid humans?” Josh sneered.

“And got kicked out,” she reminded him. “We got kicked out for wasting our time playing with toys when we should have been out in the world, using our abilities for the good of all.”

“The good of all,” he scoffed. “Well, I spent all my time leveling up, and you spent all your time in social gameplay, and ended up with a really low point score.”

“But scoring and winning was just a distraction. The real point was to share everything and raise everybody up.” She looked at him with annoyance. “Not to be the last man standing on a field of bones.”

In the end, they compromised. They would stick with the angel’s ideaversion, and the majority of gameplay would be peaceful. Violent play would be restricted to tutorials, arcade games and easter eggs. Josh planned to have lots of easter eggs, all very well marked.

The crowd suggested character attributes and superpowers, mostly regular abilities with “superhuman” in front of them. The basic abilities were strength, agility, intelligence, and magic, along with hunger, comfort, and fun. The godlike powers were variations on omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Then there were special interest powers, like sex, and personality dysfunctions. Somehow this turned into a heated argument about the most powerful character, with Asura backers fighting Bayonetta fans.

They stopped to decide that players should have unlimited lives. Then they decided to count karma, determined by quests as well as attitude and environment, the food they ate and the quality of their ingame relationships – some complex algorithm somebody would work out later.

And what about rules? Well, why have rules at all, except for the golden one? At this point a bunch of macho first-person shooter fans walked out grumbling to themselves about furries.

They talked about level design. They talked about game engines. They talked about animation and character design and sound production. Anomia wrote a lot of it down.

They took a show of hands to see who had experience working on videogames, and an impressive number of them had. Most of the hands went down when they asked how many had worked on a game to completion, and pretty much everybody left when they asked for volunteers to devote a couple of years of work to a project with zero budget.

They were left with a rag-tag bunch of misfits, including a guy from India named Radhu, who wandered into Dragoncon from another convention entirely. He couldn’t volunteer because he had a day job back home, but his last job was as an educational game tester, and he’d briefly ended up on the development team, and helped with normalizing the finished product for international release, so he was an expert, and they signed him up. As Anomia and Josh flagged, Radhu and Fairy charted out the entire development pipeline.

Radhu Trivedi, 25 year old Hindu male, XYZ Services call center technician, resides Bangalore, India.

They opened up the bars in the lobby, and people drifted upstairs to start partying. People stood along the balcony railings, deeply involved in discussing the physics of the various game levels. There was a small but vocal bunch standing around the lobby talking about mystery school philosophy. Anomia’s map was dissected by an excitable bunch who decided it looked just like Antarctica without ice, and this generated a Twitter feed of its own. Anomia and Josh hung out on the pool deck/smoking gauntlet, and finally agreed there were seven levels to their game, with distinct cultures and historical periods, while Fairy sat crosslegged on the ground between them, drawing it all up into a complicated, cramped little chart.

Finally, enough was enough, even tho Anomia and Josh were following all these discussions in their heads, and there were lots of people wanting talk to them in all the hotel lobbies. But they couldn’t take any more excitement. They went upstairs to their room and fell asleep on the floor next to their bed while 67 of their best friends got ready for the masquerade ball.

***

Elsewhere

That evening, in a nearby basement surveillance center, somebody wrote up a report. Security footage showed a group of approximately 150 sitting on the floor in the hallway for almost two hours, collected around a female central figure. Approximately 30 seconds of footage were considerably degraded, perhaps as a result of camera shake(?). Subsequent video segment showed a brief incendiary display apparently involving the same female, but the effects may have been due to intermittent camera malfunction. Audio recordings were unrevealing due to high ambient noise. Wireless signal sniffing captured a surge in tweets and Youtube uploads about the alleged “levitation,” with a later spike in content concerning the incendiary display. Link

***

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

…a typical American family were sitting down to Sunday dinner. Dad was just home from work, and parked himself in front of the tube with a beer, while Mom, also just home from work, was busy dishing out microwaved food in the kitchen. Sis was still out, who knows where, and Nathan, the youngest, was in his room watching internet videos.

Mom put food on the coffee table and Dad yelled for the kids. Nathan came out of his room, and Dad found fault with his appearance and made him go wash his hands, then fussed at him for getting in the way of the TV. Mom came in and sat on the couch with an armful of condiments. Dad grabbed the catsup and the salt, and reached for the remote to turn up the volume.

The Dragoncon parade was being featured on the news, and Dad was enjoying taunting all the costumed geeks marching down Peachtree Street.

Nathan had been following the con all weekend, and twisted in his seat wanting to be there. Dad thought it was all perverts and anarchists, and wouldn’t hear of his going. But he’d already had a word with Mom, and she’d said maybe they could sneak out and go together next year.

Dad grumbled about drug addicts and socialists, and isolated possible terrorists in the crowd. Nathan pointed out the numbers of superheros and warriors, and insisted that every one of them was fighting for the American way. Mom added, “Superman’s a good guy, and Batman, too, even if he’s violent. Even Ironman is patriotic…”

Dad dismissed them. “Comics are the gateway to delinquency, and we’re not glorifying disobedience in this house.” He glared at his wife. “You’re too permissive. Stop encouraging him.”

“But Dad, it’s not like that,” Nathan protested. “They’re just fans.”

“I say they’re indulgent and entitled and don’t believe in discipline and hard work.” He whacked the table with his remote for emphasis. “They’re just anti-American criminals in tights,” he insisted, and that was the end of the argument.

Fox News talked about a group of costumed people floating in the air at Dragoncon, and speculated whether it was unscheduled performance art or spooky action-at-a-distance (evidence of a satanic cult). The filmclip was grainy and shaky, and Dad scoffed and pointed out wires and camera tricks while Nathan sat and stared, ignoring him, feeling a vibration coming from beneath the floor.

“Fans are expected to spend seventy million dollars this weekend,” said the announcer, and Dad was snarky about all those kids spending their parents’ hard earned money. “Police expect half a million visitors during the weekend,” he continued, and Dad muttered darkly about how bad the traffic was already.

Then the ads were on, and Mom distracted Dad by asking him how his day went. He told Mom about his work, how Corporate was starting another round of reorganization that might reach down to Retail this time. Dad was worried about his job again, and Mom tried to assure him he would work there forever. Dad was always worried about his job, always worried about money and the bills. He and Mom fought over expenses all the time.

Nathan always tried to help by being extra thrifty – stealing cable service for his family, downloading illegal movies and software – partly to make up for his sister’s extravagant spending. Sis had an iPhone. Sis wore Abercrombie jeans with holes in them that cost 27 times more than his thriftstore pants. Sis took Dad’s credit card out of his wallet and carried it around in her back pocket. And she never got in trouble, while Nathan was always being scrutinized and questioned, and grounded, and losing privileges. It was classically unfair. But Daddy’s Precious Snowflake was willing to milk it.

Sis came in halfway thru dinner, reeking of cigarettes, which she wasn’t allowed to smoke. She pecked Dad on the cheek and sat down next to him, and he never noticed she’d been smoking, and never said a word about her being late to dinner. She picked up her plate and complained that the food was cold, glaring at Mom, so Mom got up and reheated it while Sis snuggled in closer to Dad.

“Daddy,” she simpered, “I’ve got something to show you.” She beckoned him closer, then lifted the hem of her t-shirt to reveal a raw, freshly inked tattoo above her hip. Nathan cringed, anticipating Dad’s violent reaction, but the tattoo said ‘Daddy,’ and it just about melted Daddy’s heart. She showed him a tiny heart on one side, and a tiny rose on the other. “I’ll get it colored in when it heals,” she told him, frowning. “It really hurts.” She put a hand over the spot and whined.

Daddy hugged her sympathetically and cooed babytalk at her. “I’ll tell your Mom to give you one of my pain pills,” he offered.

Nathan rolled his eyes. Tattoos were so against the rules – even makeup and temporary hair dye was against the rules – and here was Dad dipping into his drugs for her, as if she didn’t already know where the stash was.

He watched Mom bringing the plate back. Mom was angry, but said nothing as Sis talked Dad into giving her fifty dollars from his wallet.

Sis beamed at him and kissed the top of his head, then took her plate and sat on the floor in front of the TV, pecking at her food while vigorously texting.

Dad went back to criticizing the tube, finally cursing and pushing his plate away. He got Mom to bring him another beer while she was up, and sat grinding thru the channels for something to watch. He stopped at a Weather Channel special on Dragoncon, and started ranting about freaks and what’s wrong with America again.

Then Fox News entertained him for awhile with the outrage du jour, and he had a good discussion with the announcers, and scored what he thought were some good points against the talking heads.

Mom hinted that he shouldn’t have given Sis so much money when the checking account was overdrawn, and Nathan was thinking that it might be nice if Dad gave him something once in awhile.

But Sis looked at Dad and blew up. “You never want me to have anything nice,” she accused her mother. “I work very hard around here and you treat me like a maid.”

Dad came to her rescue. “You do deserve nice things, honey,” he said. “If your mother didn’t keep bouncing checks, I might even be able to get you a car someday.” They both glared at Mom, who got up and went into the kitchen to do the dishes.

Dad turned on Nathan. “How about that, Nuthin? If your sister got a car? You could wash it for her.”

“He doesn’t need a car,” Sis said. “But I really do.” She squeezed Dad’s arm. “Are you really going to buy me a car?”

“I’d like a bike,” Nathan said in a small voice. He really wanted a copy of Mists of Pandaria, but Dad’s rule was absolutely no videogames.

“You’re just going to have to steal a bike if you want one that bad,” Dad retorted. “I’m too busy paying off your mother’s debts to spare anything for you. At this rate, I’m just working to pay the interest.” He sniffed into his beer. “There’s nothing at all left over for me, and you greedy little bastards just want more.”

Nathan retreated to his room, leaving Sis to work on Dad about her cellphone bill. Dad called out, “Yeah, go to bed. I don’t want to look at you.”

Sis mouthed “Loser.”

Back in his room, Nathan pulled up a shaky video of the crowd levitating at Dragoncon. Interference sounded like a hum, and he thought he felt a vibration thru the keyboard. He was transfixed. Then he found a chatroom where people were discussing the day’s events, and stayed up until dawn.

Stan Rotenhals, 49 year old white male, AutoPartsPlus store manager, resides East Cobb area, Atlanta, GA with:
Maryann Rotenhals, 43 year old white female, DrugEmporeum pharmacy clerk,
Cindy Rotenhals, 16 year old white female, student Wheeler High passing grades,
Nathan Rotenhals, 15 year old white male, student Wheeler High gifted track.

**********

read chapter 3

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About jeanne

artist, grandma, alien

Posted on September 25, 2012, in Chapter, dragoncon, fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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