writing chapter 8.6
The demo cycled on; the screen behind their table ran thru the boys’ mashup of spooky interiors and arcade game boss fights. and bloody finales. Anomia grew agitated, and covered her mic as she leaned over to talk to Josh. He shrugged and looked down into his empty coffee mug, then went to the end of the table where the carafe was.
Anomia stewed and watched the mashup. Snake studied the audience, Fairy consulted her phone. When the mashup ended, Anomia asked an innocent question about when the boys put it together, only implying ‘without telling us.’
Josh reeled off some bullshit about how they were using artistic license to show the full range of possible player experience. “Since it’s all digital,” he explained, “it makes no difference as long as it’s in the game.”
“But it does,” she responded. “You’re giving the impression it’s a regular old videogame with violence and killing, but it’s not.” Snake did a faceplant. Josh rolled his eyes. Anomia sa them and glowered. The audience watched with wide eyes. The panel was going out as a podcast. She looked at the audience. “See, the whole thing is it’s supposed to let you experience a quantum world, let you get used to thinking and practicing the exercises you need to be able to…”
Snake stopped her. She was ruining his presentation. “That’s all very female-gestalt of you, thanks,” he said to Anomia. “Most of us are boys, tho, and we prefer a more male-centered way of reaching enlightenment. So we’re emphasizing that in our walkthru, in order to dupe our bros into doing the quantum exercises you say they need as a side effect of destroying enemies.” The audience agreed. Anomia shut up. Josh could feel her pressure rise. Snake tried to bring the discussion back under control. “As our resident Woo expert was saying in an earlier lecture over on the Silk Road, there are all kinds of ways to achieve mastery. One way is the intensely self-asorbed belly-button gazing, introspective way. Our way happens to be a more ecstatic and thrill seeking way to lose yourself.”
Josh said, “Sex drugs and rock and roll.”
The crowd cheered, and Anomia’s face grew darker. Her words might be appreciated in some quarters, but here they were an excuse for ridicule, and the boys were encouraging it. Maybe they just didn’t understand. “The key to the superpowers you seek isn’t thru mindless violence,” she insisted, interrupting Snake’s sales pitch. “The key to gaining powers is the blending of concentration and movement until you get a flow of irresistible attraction that brings it to you. You become one with the object, and it becomes part of you.”
“We all approve of sex with objects, I’m sure,” Snake joked.
The audience started chanting, “Week and X, weed and X.” Anomia fought back the tears. She looked over at Josh for support, but he was busy texting someone. She leaned over his shoulder. He was discussing a sponsorship deal, a league tournament where top players battle for cash prizes. She saw gamecon??? mentioned. “What’s going on, Josh?” she asked softly.
He looked at her, startled to find her so close, and whipped the phone away, offended to catch her snooping. “I can’t believe you would spy on me,” he whispered.
“I can’t believe you’re making sponsorship deals,” she replied fiercely. People were watching. “Something’s wrong,” she insisted. “Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Everything is perfect,” he hissed resentfully, avoiding her eyes. “Shh.” Snake was assuring the audience that if it weren’t for his leadership they’d have never stopped squabbling long enough to make the game. Fairy retorted that the boys substituted a shootemup in place of the game they intended to make. Josh and Anomia argued furiously in whispers and mental shouting matches. Anomia insisted that you can’t attain quantum without peaceful concentration, Josh argued that an orgy of sex, drugs and loud music was the perfect shortcut. Fairy accused Snake of substituting vital quantum practices with violence and competition.
Then Snake introduced Radhu as the principal designer of the game, and brought him up front to sit with the rest of the team. He came bowing and smiling and offered his hand to Fairy. She stared past him, frozen with humiliation as Snake detailed Radhu’s contribution. He stood and bowed finally as she continued to ignore him, then Snake moved a seat next to himself and ushered Radhu to the head of the table .
Josh and Anomia didn’t notice. Anomia was facing Josh, staring into his eyes silently, arguing fiercely with him inside of her head. And he was refusing to meet her eyes, moving his head this way and that to escape her stare. Finally he pushed back from the table, his phone in his hand. “Very busy, gotta go now.” Anomia stared after him in silence, screaming invective at him in her head.
Fairy was fixing to start screaming at Snake, but remembered her manners at the last moment and turned on the Southern charm instead “You think you’re special,” she said with a sweet smile and a heaving bosom. “You make it seem like you made the game with your own hands, but you’re just a marketer, a salaesman. You have no right to cheapen the game or dilute its purpose.”
“I have an obligation to save the game,” he shot back. “You’re acting like a bunch of fascists, insisting that there’s only one way to quantum consciousness. In fact,” he want on, turning to the audience, “I’m hosting a panel on the Skeptic track tonight,debating the desirability of trying to teach quantum consciousness when it’s obviously just another new age delusion.” The ushers were at the door. “And so ends another lively panel session about our game. It’s obviously going to be a bit hit. We’re signing up beta testers,” he waved a sheet of paper over the crowd’s heads as they got up to leave.
Snake could see Josh standing in the hall outside, earnestly talking to a corporate exec. His phone buzzed with a message as Josh pointed to his own phone and winked at Snake. Negotiations were starting from a half million dollar base.
Anomia and Fairy were still sitting stonelike at the table, the camera still recording their angry, resentful faces.
Kurt didn’t know about any of this public squabbling, and he was glad. The poor appearance of the game was embarrassing enough, he would become suicidal to see how childish the others were behaving. He had an uphill battle himself, trying to rise above his disappointment long enough to spread the news about his revolutionary achievement. It was maybe the most important development since the transistor, and he picked a bunch of clowns to give it to the world. So it was up to him. At least he could tell the few people who were on his level and might have a chance of grasping the enormity.
But his seminar wasn’t going very well, either. They didn’t seem to appreciate his thought processes, or follow his steps, and they asked the wrong questions and laughed at his DIY efforts, as if they wouldn’t die of envy to see the back of his Airstream. His van. He had become a little confused which was the real vehicle and which was only in his dreams.
He tired of the whole thing when they started making jokes about the kernel. Obviously they didn’t understand a thing. One guy had the nerve to ask if he had a carpal tunnel problem when he tried to show them how his wrist interface connected with the kernel.
Finally, as the room emptied and the A/V guy switched off the camera, Kurt discovered Nathan sitting in a middle row. “I thought it was great,” he said reassuringly.
Kurt shrugged and left the room thru a service entrance. Nathan followed and watched as Kurt smoked half a pack of cigarettes standing under a vent in the corridor. “I wish I’d never met that bunch,” he remarked when Nathan told him about the debacle down in the Gaming track. He’d stood at the back and worried as the tone grew ever more combative up front.
Caroline had also been at the back of the room, dressed as a bad lady, and unnoticed even by Nathan. But she wasn’t there to see his friends fail the promise of their hour and glory, she was there because she’d noticed plainclothed security types following Anomia, and wondered why. She’d felt a little jealous, actually. That’s my perp, she thought when she spotted them. They were in the back of the room, making notes and taking pictures with their phones. In fact, they were right next to Nathan, who wasn’t wearing a costume either.
Nathan looked frightened, like he needed to be somewhere else. Which he did. He needed to be home. He’d snuck out with Mom, who dropped him off as close as she could get and went grocery shopping. Nathan should have been on the subway by this point, and was trying to use whatever psychic powers he possessed to will the Marta train to arrive 20 seconds after he hit the platform and maneuvered himself to the front of the pack. But he had to wait almost 20 minutes after getting there. He’d long since caught his breath and bitterly regretted staying to talk to Kurt.
It was just that Kurt looked so despondent. He’d had no idea Kurt took it so seriously – he’d always laughed at social pressure and sneered at standards. But there he looked like the last guy chosen – a situation Nathan knew well. So Nathan had tried to cheer him up, and ended up running thru the streets, dodging cars, to get to the station.
He was late. Dad was probably home already. If only Sis was out, he could pretend to have been studying. or asleep. Or sick. But Sis was home, and Dad was home, and all Mom could do was shake her head in warning.
Dad said,” Come here, son,” as Nathan shut the front door. Sis sat next to him, grinning evilly. Nathan approached slowly, trying to suppress the urge to run, to slouch, to put his hands in his pockets, to flinch, to look away. “Your sister sent me something,” he said, with warning in his tone, “and I want you to tell me exactly what it is.”
He extended Sis’s smartphone that was showing a photo of Mom’s Dragoncon badge, lying on Mom’s bed, her full name clearly printed on the bottom. Nathan gulped. Dad had a dangerous grown in his voice. “Now you just go ahead and explain why something like this was just lying around for anyone to find. Your mother says she doesn’t know anything about it.”
Nathan looked at Mom, who’d already been roughed up over it. Her hair was a mess, her makeup was ruined. Was that mascara or did she have a black eye? He looked at Sis, who was waiting patiently for her chance to pounce, enjoying it.
Nathan tried to think. “I know you said no Dragoncon,” he said desperately , searching for an acceptable excuse, “But I thought it’d be fun to make fake badges, uh, and I left one for Mom on her bed. I meant to show it to her later…”
Dad scowled. “Can you make a Falcons ticket that good?”