writing chapter 12.2
Welcome to Carneytown,” the sign said. “Now go home,” someone had scrawled underneath. “We invite you to chose a job.” As they were reading, the wording changed from job to career to area of interest. They were evidently the first beta testers to make it all the way thru the Carnival level, and the kernel was using their responses as feedback, constantly jiggling the game to better suit the individual. The jobs were listed, starting with cleaning and maintenance, then work involving contact with the public, like tickets and information or ride operator, or concessions. Then there were park management positions like Operations, Finance and Personnel, with cute little graphics of each one.
C3l3r! thought of a warehouse full of people in cubicles doing office work, and shuddered.
Random thought a job in Administration, like Senior Vice President or CEO might be okay.
A map lit up showing Carneytown. It was laid out on the same underlying Antarctica template as the Carnival level, but the two levels were attached by a single portal at the northern end of the Transantarctic mountains. The map showed the administration buildings, workshops and storage areas, employee housing.
There were lots of gray areas on this map . Random wondered about them.
c3l3r! was listening to an Anomialike voice reminding them that they were there to go beyond classical physics, beyond the conception of a universe controlled by a three-dimensional existence.
A helpful leprechaun came up to them and informed them that they had to start with jobs in grounds maintenance because that’s where everybody started. “The grounds keeper’s shed is over there,” he said. “I know you’re wondering,” he said. “Everybody wants to be CEO.”
Then the leprechaun glitched, fizzed around the edges and wrinkled up for a moment. “You’ll be much better off in a grounds job,” he continued, stuttering. “Less to lose.” Then he turned around and moved off, kicking his heels and whistling merrily.
They weren’t really expecting new hires to show up at the grounds office. There were a bunch of alphas there, into their roles, busy having a few beers and a hand of poker. But they gave Random and c3l3r! some plastic bags and sticks, and found them caps and t-shirts and sent them off to the portal. “Go do something useful. Haha.”
So they were back in the carnival level, picking up trash. This time nobody molested them, mistaking them for alphas, probably. So they got to pick up trash and watch as the alphas victimized the betas. There seemed to be a tutorial going on, in a corner. They moved closer, but it was alphas giving other alphas the fine points of ripping off the betas.
And the betas were sitting ducks because none of them knew anything about the lessons and couldn’t begin to defend themselves.
They reported it, but nothing happened.
They went back to the grounds office. It had grown into a party, and it was too loud to ask anybody what was really going on there. All the signs and rules were set up plainly stating how things were supposed to be, but nobody paid the least attention, and the game was unrecognizable to both Random and c3l3r!.
They explored Carneytown, which was a dark and dangerous place, not at all cheery and homey the way it had looked from the clouds. It was a place where the alphas hatched dark plots against betas, where they stashed all the loot they’d taken off the newbies. Now they realized the alphas were also trying to take it from each other.
Carneytown was filled with muggings and kidnappings, extortion, torture, roving street gangs attacking anybody higher up on the food chain. They were hiring a new CEO, again, because the old was one was just assassinated. Jobs at the top were constantly open. There were always gunshots and firebombs. Park Security started a big recruiting drive. There were car chases and car crashes and rampaging lone gunmen and marauding packs.
They fled back to the Carnival level. There they watched betas being tormented, and picked up some trash. They worked their way past all the ride islands (until they ran out of trash bags), and narrowly escaped death when a whole carful of betas fell to the street from the top of the roller coaster. A group of watching alphas settled their bets, the losers moving off to gank a passing alpha couple.
Whatever physics skills they picked up went toward rigging new tools to use against the betas. They figured out a way to make hot spots in the ice, called them heated pools, and drowned all who came to get warm.
Random and c3l3r! picked up the trash, acting like NPCs. Evryplayar (Caroline) was one of the gankers. She recognized them right away, that luscious Italian stallion with the blue black hair and that snot nosed flatchested dork with him. She straightened up and struck a pose of surprise, one hand on her hips and the other on her lips. Looming over them, she cooed, “There you are, I’ve been looking all over for you. Come with me if you want to live,” she said urgently.
Random and c3l3r! looked at each other. Was Evryplayar an NPC or a real player.
“I’m real, all right,” she smiled as she pulled them by the hands (c3l3r! by the hair) and led them down a dark alley. “You have to help me,” she pleaded, turning to them and letting a tear of anxiety appear at the corner of her eye. She bit her lip. “I’m in terrible trouble.”
Random immediately softened, but c3l3r! was suspicious.
“I’m on a secret mission,” Evryplayar confessed, and “You’re in more danger than you know. I need for you to do a very small thing for me, and I promise I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.” She hugged Random’s arm.
“Why would someone be after you?” c3l3r! asked.
Evryplayar glared at her with fiery eyes. “You led them right to me,” she hissed. “You’ve got to help me. I’ve got important information. I’ve uncovered a conspiracy of global importance.”
Her huge breasts heaved in Random’s face. “I’m in,” he enthused.
C3l3r! said, “And that is? Your conspiracy?”
“They’ve invited in aliens to take over the game,” she said, looking deep into Random’s eyes. “Vampire aliens. And there’s a secret class of workers in Carneytown, miners. They’re digging tunnels. They’re using zombies.” Evryplayar and Random stood hyperventilating together, staring into each other’s eyes.
C3l3r! asked, “Who’s they?”
Evryplayar’s moist lisps were less than an inch from Random. He felt her sweet hot breath mingling with his. He felt her aura merging with his.
She ignored cl3r!. “We’re getting up an army to fight them, and I’ve got to get a report to HQ. All you have to do…”
C3l3r! looked around while Evryplayar was giving Random his quest. The sky was thick with clouds, glowing red underneath from all the fires and explosions. “There’s something wrong.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, idiot,” Evryplayar snapped, and repeated her earlier speech about vampire aliens and zombies in the same tone.
“Are you a real person?” c3l3r! asked. “Of course I’m real,” she hissed. “I’m under a lot of stress, that’s all. And you’re causing most of it right now.” She took a small poisoned blade from her bodice and flicked it at c3l3r!, but it went wide and clattered to the ground. Evryplayar sagged in defeat, starting to flicker. “I need you to do a little favor for me, save the world.” And then she died.
Caroline came back to herself with such a start that she was certain she was having a heart attack and called 911. It was a good thing she did, because tho they didn’t find any sign of heart trouble, her blood sugar was so low she was on the verge of a diabetic coma because she’d been inside the game for so long without food. Which was news to her, because she hadn’t known she was diabetic, because she would never go to a doctor.
Random and c3l3r! were left in deepest darkest Carneytown with Evryplayar’s secret. Figures appeared at the top of the alley, seeing the pair and deciding to have some fun. Desperate, Random and c3l3r! jumped into the air kicking and flapping, clawing and climbing up into the air above the alley, their attackers scrabbling at them and cursing their escape.
But they hadn’t really escaped, they couldn’t go anywhere. Both levels were becoming more violent and dangerous by the instant. They flew up near the skydome and made their way around to the northernmost point of Carneytown, way out at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was secluded, a nice little glade with a good view over the sparkling blue parking lot. The noises of mayhem and the smell of burning plastic drifted past them.
There they happened upon a leprechaun picking up trash. He seemed to be avoiding the rest of Carneytown too, glancing nervously over his shoulder and looking right and left before speaking. “Sure don’t I know why you’re here,” he said, “You’re looking for me pot of gold.”
C3l3r! asked him about treasure.
“No hidden treasure here, no,” he mused, scratching his chin under his pointing beard. “Only me pot of gold.” He handed them both a bud of strong smelling weed and had a laugh as they tucked it into their pockets.
“Thanks,” c3l3r! said. “Why is everything so strange here?”
The leprechaun looked around at the beautiful landscape. “This is only place it’s not strange,” he said. Then he whirled around and doffed his pointy hat. “What you want is something stranger,” he said. “Check out the Fun House if you know what I’m saying.” He looked over his shoulder and gave them a final piece of advice. “It’s not very nice here. Avoid dark places.” Then he ran merrily off, kicking his heels and waving his hat.
With the skills you were supposed to learn on this level, you should be able to alter the experience of your riders back on the Carnival level, to help them realize that the level they’re playing on is being influenced by other forces, and make them curious to know more about their world. How it really worked was different. Testers were learning about physics, but it was the physics of cheating. They learned sleight of hand as well as mechanics, how to be a con artist and a master manipulator. They learned cooperation, too, but it was the cohesion of the mob.
So they slunk thru scary sections and shouldered their way thru crowds. They passed Fairy, who was absorbed in her work tarting up the gaudy look of the carnival.
Finally they got thru the portal to the Fun House. One of Anomia’s only successful installations of the quantum lessons was the Fun House. Every other available lesson was ignored except where they aided cheating, but the Fun House was predicated on quantum effects. A variable gravity room, a hall where time ran backward, a room full of boxes that contained multiple universes.
In the attic they discovered a rabbit hole and a tiny door that led to a different, tiny rabbit hole, with a bottle on a table that said, “Drink me,” and a cookie on the floor that said, “Eat me.” (Unfortunately they both missed the reference. Josh would have won that bet from Anomia.)
A little experimentation led to the following discoveries. The large hole led to the next level of the game which wasn’t open yet and had a leprechaun with a spear who insisted that they were the wrong scale, and prodded them until they left. “You must be this tall to enter,” he should at them down the tunnel.
The small hole led back to the Tutorial Hall, which was now mostly empty, as testers were remorting in midair to better experience death by high velocity impact.
Random and c3l3r! approached the information booth and asked the leprechaun at the desk if they could talk to someone in charge.
The leprechaun gave a kindly wink and said,”I”ll be right with you now in a minute,” and pixellated out, morphing into a Kurtlike NPC. “Hey, kid,” xkurt said.
C3l3r! was overjoyed, and leaned over the desk to give him a big hug, but xkurt was only a projection, and c3l3r! grabbed right thru him. “You’re here in the game?” c3l3r! asked, explaining to Random that xkurt was responsible for the game and everything in it.
Random bowed and xkurt flashed a peace sign at him in return. “Are you having fun testing the game?”
C3l3r! felt embarrassed. “Not really. We don’t think it’s the kind of game you had in mind.”
xkurt shrugged. “Who am I to question the uses others put my talents to?”
C3l3r! protested. “That’s not right.”
Random spoke up. “Lots of people must have put a lot of hard work into it. Somebody needs to stop all this wrongness.” xkurt fiddled with his beard for the first time in ages, caught himself and dropped his hands, shrugging. “Nothing I can do, kid,” and morphed back into the leprechaun again, who acted like he’d never seen them before.
C3l3r! tried again. “Can I talk to Anomia?” he inquired, and the Tutorial Hall simulation came to a halt. “Please wait while your party is reached,” the leprechaun smirked. The paused action continued stopped.
C3l3r! felt Anomia’s presence, as if she were behind him. He told her about what’s they’d seen, Random filling in the details. They both felt Anomia grow heated, and agitated, and furious, without anything else changing. They felt her pause to plant a virtual kiss on the tops of thier heads, then she faded out and the Tutorial Hall went back to echoing emptily.
Anomia and xkurt appeared in the Carnival level and Carneytown and wreaked havoc among the alphas and betas, giving them a stern lecture on the meaning of the game and warning that their bad behavior would not go unpunished. Then they smote the worst offenders and threw everybody else out of the game so they could install a few safeguards and some more remedials.
Notice of xkurt’s appearance in the game went viral.