Category Archives: Nanowrimo

writing chapter 13.1

OMG it was Dragoncon again. The third one in this story. How did it creep up on them? The testing had not gone well – everything worked now but it just wasn’t the game they built. The testers and their preferences, the differences between the alphas and betas, the budding wars, (their own personal styles,) nothing was how the team wanted it and the things to bring back within parameters had ballooned and bubbled up into something monstrous. But it was Dragoncon, and they’d scheduled final testing and GoLive, and everything was waiting. They were screwed.

The boys had sponsors lined up and waiting, the girls had their schedules full of panels and workshops on quantum stuff in as many different program tracks as they could fit. They had several interviews scheduled and people kept coming up to them to share, or ask questions, or touch them. They were popular, sought after. It was unnerving. To Anomia and Josh at least. Fairy and Snake soaked it up.

They met Friday morning to stand in line for their badges together. They were all wearing their game avatar costumes, or approximations thereof. They didn’t have time to put a lot of work into their costumes. So Anomia was just wearing the long skirt and bodice of the Seekers from the third ring of the Antarctica level, and Josh wore jeans and a pair of boots and wore an eye patch as a member of the Seafaring Clan from the second ring. Fairy and Snake wore costumes of the Carnival and Carneytown levels, both master of ceremonies tuxedos and top hats, but Snake’s looked more like James Bond dinner clothes and Fairy’s more like Marlene Dietrich with a whip.

They were near the back of the line, moseying forward a step or two every minute. It was early in the day, and the air was still cool, except in the direct sun. Half the people in line were in regular street clothes, so costumes still stuck out and everybody took a look at the Quantum Antarctica costumes, lame as they were, as the line inched around the block.

Nathan saw them coming. The anticipation of their getting close enough to talk to made him lose track of what he was doing for a moment. Based on his experience at last year’s Dragoncon, he’d persuaded his boss that it would be better for the business for Nathan to run a coffee stand near the registration line, instead of being in the way while the wife and daughters finished prepping for lunch. So he’d dragged a table and two coffee urns over and set up early, and had been selling coffee since the registration office opened. His money belt was heavy and he needed to brew another pot and replenish the creamer.

By the time he’d done all that, the team was getting close enough to see clearly. It had been a very long time since they’d sat around his food court. He missed them. He missed Kurt.

He looked over at the team and noticed a new avatar costume, very professional. A real fan, probably spent several months on his costume. Look at that plumed turban. Then he realize d that it looked just like the costume his testing buddy Random wore. They’d just finished testing the week before, and he and Random had traded emails and were Facebook friends. He hadn’t mentioned coming to Dragoncon, his email provider was in India and Nathan figured they’d never meet. Now he was greeting the team members and joining them in line with profuse apologies and thanks to those in line after him.

Nathan watched him greet everyone on the team as if he knew them, bowing to Anomia and Josh, kissing Fairy’s hand and shaking Snake’s. He was being very formal, just like his character. Nathan wished he had that kind of dignity.

Out of the corner of his eye he watched as Random said something to both Fairy and Snake. Snake drew himself up while Fairy turned red. Then Random turned to Fairy, bowing low, and Fairy looked smug for a moment, but then caught Snake’s eye and began to shake with fury as Random continued to talk to her. Then everybody paused as they took a step or two closer, and Nathan could begin to hear them talking.

Josh and Anomia were in front, going over the million and one things they needed to do before GoLive. Josh was managing the final candidate testing and Anomia was still trying to finish installing her quantum lessons.

“We’ve been thru a dozen builds of the final candidate already, and testing doesn’t begin until ten,” he complained. “Like there are invisible testers in there while we’re sleeping or something.”

“I guess we’re nowhere near bug free yet?” She looked at him.

“Well, how are we supposed to lock it down if you won’t stop messing with things?” He looked away.

They moved a step.

Behind them Snake was protesting his innocence. “Fomenting rebellion among the testers? Ridiculous. I’m far too busy launching the product. It sounds more like something you’d do.”

Fairy had a screen shot of a recruitment poster she’d found in a Carneytown bathroom, calling for a strike against the cold. “Freeze Out! Alphas and Betas unite against unfair working conditions. Fuck testing until we get a raise in temperature!”

Snake was disavowing all knowledge with his hands raised in protest and surprised concern on his face. “I most certainly did not.”

Random looked stern. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to voice my concerns,” he said. “There is altogether too much violence in the game right now. I’m sorry to say it, but…”

Snake cut him off. “I notice you didn’t mind decorating all the drug dens and sex parlors,” he said to Fairy. “Isn’t it kind of hypocritical…”

Fairy cut him off. “You’ve got a nerve. I must have destroyed a hundred caches of weapons in Carneytown alone.”

They moved closer to Nathan, who was running out of cups and had to dart under the table to get more. Fairy moved to stand with Anomia and pulled up the schedule grid. Josh moved back to talk to Snake. Random hovered like a puppy. Fans came up and chattered animatedly while the line moved another step closer to Registration.

Nathan served coffee, planning a greeting for each of them as they passed. Maybe he could get them over to give them free coffee. The fans moved on and they moved a step closer. They were almost in reach. Nathan ducked under the table for more napkins and stirrers. They moved a step.

“My costuming panel is at 1:00,” Fairy said. “You’ve got Quantum Superpowers 101 on the Armory track at 10, then a quantum movement workshop on the Silk Road, that’s one level down. That’s at 11:30, and your Quantum Age panel is at 1. When are you going to eat?” Anomia didn’t respond. “I’ve got to go see if I’ve got any takers for my custom gamegear over at the Art Show. I guess I can look in on our display, too (prints of Anomia’s luscious Antarctica backgrounds). I think we should do the Dealer’s Hall for this stuff next year, don’t you?” Anomia wasn’t listening.

They took another step forward. Nathan was losing sight of Anomia. But he wasn’t looking at her now, because Fairy was getting heated, overhearing something Snake was telling Random. She turned quickly around to face them. “I did not,” she said hotly. “I haven’t done anything wrong.” She moved in aggressively. “You’ve been sabotaging this game from the beginning, and now you’ve got…” She couldn’t remember his name, “the raja here doing your dirty work.”

The raja tried to defend himself. “I have been trying to call your attention to a certain degradation in the validity of the science behind the rides and games,” he sputtered.

“The game sucks,” Josh agreed.

“Yes it does,” Snake said, talking over them. “That’s why I’ve been putting so much effort into beefing it up. Putting in more controls to counteract all this criminality.”

“You’ve been cheating,” shouted Fairy. “You’ve been sabotaging the game.”

“Saving it,” Snake clarified.

It was the same argument. Nathan had heard it before. But this time Random was in the middle, and Nathan watched them both turn on him, blaming him for sabotaging the game.

“But I was only…” Random protested, and Snake and Fairy began screaming at each other in line, in front of a few hundred people, many of them fans.

Nathan missed his chance to greet the team as they moved step by step away fro m him, arguing fiercely about who’d done the most damage. Even Josh and Anomia were bitching at each other. The last Nathan saw of them was Random’s blue feather bobbing atop his turban as he tried to explain himself.

They wouldn’t have stopped at Nathan’s booth, anyway. Josh and Anomia were sipping from coffee cups that refilled themselves. Fairy and Snake were hitting off of flasks.

Nathan glimpsed Caroline in the crowd, wearing camouflage, but wasn’t able to wave. She was following Anomia.

It got vicious out of Nathan’s earshot. Fairy decided that Random had betrayed her, and first by innuendo and then in his face, she decided that Snake and Random were gay lovers and had sold out to THEM and that she was the only one standing in the way of their destruction of the game.

Anomia and Josh got involved, trying to calm her down, but she got hysterical insisting that Snake had spent most of his time disabling links to quantum aspects and sabotaging Anomia’s work on quantum Carneytown. (Which he had.)

Then Anomia and Fairy faced down all three of the boys with their betrayal of the essence of the game. The snarling pack of sometime friends moving forward step by step to pick up their badges. Eventually an uneasy truce was formed, as they were passing a camera crew interviewing people in line for Dragoncon badges, and the discussion turned to the boys’ panels, with final candidate testing all day, and preparation for GoLive, scheduled for Sunday. Josh was doing a Paranormal track demo of his quantum abilities, Snake ws going to do another Skeptic track presentation, and both of them were going to attempt to bullshit their way thru an EFF track panel discussion. They spent the rest of their time in line trying to get Anomia to take the Science track discussion of the Quantumization of the Classical World, which none of them understood, but had sounded good way back in March when they’d signed up to do as many presentations as they could in the effort to publicize their game.

Final candidate testing went on all day and into the night. It was chaos. The kernel kept making adjustments, they kept having to restart the timer on bug free play, shit kept happening that required the kernel’s intervention.

Josh sat on the cloud level and watched the final testing. He and Anomia still couldn’t interact with the testers without turning them into zombies, so they stayed away and did what they could from a distance. Anomia was off giving lectures and panel discussions, and only checked in now and then.

They sat on the cloud level and listened to the noises assaulting their ears. The Carnival level and Carneytown had morphed from a tiny little western style winter carnival to Las Vegas engulfed by a glacier, with neon signs and glitter, banners, rock music blasting from hidden speakers, roving spotlights.

Anomia materialized dark glasses and earplugs. Nothing was going right.

The landing area next to the gift shop looked like a finish line and people cheered as the final candidates were captured while landing. Roving gangs of alphas and betas met each other in the middle of the carnival and battled until there were no more adversaries. Somehow they had weapons (Josh looked conscious when Anomia pointed out the assault rifles and rocket launchers.)

“It’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll,” Anomia remarked quietly.

Josh rubbed his hands. “It’s going to win Game of the Year,” he said excitedly.

“Not like this, it isn’t,” she said. “How are we supposed to get it back the way it’s supposed to be at this point?” She felt like crying.

He looked at her in annoyance. “What are you talking about? It’s working great. The fans love it. It’s yout own fault if the quantum crap doesn’t work. I told you it’s impossible to teach that stuff in a videogame. You should have written a book instead. (Writing Quantum Antarctica Fan Fiction – on the SFF Literature track, scheduled for Monday at 11:30 am).

They were interrupted in their sniping at each other by a band of cloudy testers, translucently running past them in the clouds. “There aren’t supposed to be testers here yet. We haven’t opened the cloud level to testing.”

Josh looked after them as the fog curled in their wake. “WTF,” he mused. “Don’t wait test in secret, no. Involve the fans,” he said sarcastically.

A bomb went off below. They looked over the edge of the cloud and saw Arkaydland on fire. They heard shouting behind them, in the mist. Josh went to investigate as Anomia watched her game fall apart.

He came rushing back aghast. “You don’t have to worry about people not getting the quantum lessons,” he said. “Whoever they are, they’ve figured out how to materialize shit on the cloud level. They’ve got a dungeon back there. All sorts of tortures. And alternative universe pits with all kinds of hells in them.”

“They’re torturing the final testers, aren’t they?” she asked bleakly.

He nodded, sitting next to her. They were the only sane beings in the game, and it felt awful. What were they going to do about this travesty?

Random had excused himself from his company’s employee award dinner, saying he had the flu and going back to his hotel.

Nathan fled for home the moment his boss ran out of food and rolled down the steel doors, and told his family he’d been throwing up, and that it might be contagious.

Caroline hobbled back to her apartment and got in the bathtub. She felt the flu coming on. Fucking disease ridden crowds.

They logged into the game anxiously, having waited all day to join the throngs of final testers and help ready the game for GoLive. They met up in the bar of the Tutorial Hall, which was now a gambling casino, but at least it still had tutorials. Evryplayar started right in picking on c3l3r! but Random talked some sense into her.

“Look around,” he said. “The place is different than in the last version.” There were armed security guards at the exits. “We need to be a team and work together. Like it says in the rules.” He indicated the instruction wall, but it had been shot out, and was pockmarked sheetrock at that point. “If we die, we meet back here, okay?”

They left quickly, but Evryplayar hadn’t learned to fly (tho she claimed to be an expert), so she fell to her death as Random and c3l3r! circled above her helplessly.

“I can’t,” c3l3r! said. “I’ll get in trouble if I make any noise.”

“I’ll be right back.” Random dived down into the water and drowned so he could meet Evryplayar in the Tutorial Hall and make sure she passed the flight tutorial. C3l3r! prepared to wait a long time, circling.

Caroline dropped her tablet when she died. The shock was so great it flew out of her hands, and she slipped under the water for a moment as she thrashed with the pain of being detached from the game. She considered calling 911 again, but by the time she got out of the bath to pick up the phone she knew she hadn’t drowned and wasn’t having a heart attack. She had a couple of pills to calm her down and warmed the water up some, then sank back into the game and met Random in the Tutorial Hall.

After a sex tutorial – Intro to Tantric Practice – Evryplayar let him drag her thru a flying lesson, and then declared she was ready to go kick some ass. She fell most of the way to Antarctica, but c3l3r! and Random were able to catch her (c3l3r! by her long golden hair), and they landed safely at the Midway, where they were corralled by a welcoming committee of Alphas.

“Welcome to the Midway,” an alpha intoned, “Your mission is to make it thru the to the next level. To do that you need to accumulate lots of points, so you’re going to go on all the rides and play all the games, and we’re going to go along with you to make sure you enjoy your stay here. There are some risks, which we’ll do our best to mitigate, and by popular demand we’ve raised your available number of lives from three to nine.”

“You must be mistaking us for final candidate testers.” They were suspicious, but Evryplayar managed to swagger around enough to convince them she’d captured these betas on the way down and was going to put them to work in the gallium arsenide mines beneath Carnetytown.

They were impressed, and let her take them away, smacking c3l3r! with her whip.

“Take me,” one of the alphas suggested hopefully. Evryplayar blew him a kiss as they turned down a branch cavern.

They used the same ruse thruout the carnival level, Evryplayar acting like an alpha on a secret mission, Random and c3l3r! acting like listless betas. Because they weren’t really hapless saves, Evryplayar won all her bets, and they were soon approached by the Carneytown recruiter, gratefully accepting and thinking they were out of danger.

They stood in front of the signboard at the portal. “Quests, it says. Not jobs,” noticed c3l3r!.

“Hmm, CEO,” Evryplayar mused, but Random and c3l3r! went thru the list and saw a couple of new categories.

“There are your vampire alien hunters, Evryplayar,” Radom said. “Looks like you were right.”

“Let’s just pick something unobtrusive and look around,” c3l3r! insisted. “We’re testing.”

“We’re trying to escape,” said Random.

“I hear someone coming,” Evryplayar said.

“Right, we’ll be corpse robbers.”

“What? HOw disgusting. Those are real corpses, please let me remind you.”

“Would you rather kill a bunch of testers instead?”

“Fuck yeah.”

“No,” Random cut in. “We’ll take the noble path and pick over what violent people have wasted.”

So they snuck in after battles and went thru the pockets of the newly dead, before their bodies faded out. It wasn’t a bad living.

“Why do we need to collect all this wealth?” c3l3r! asked at last. They looked at each other.

“Don’t the rules say something about riches?”

“I think it says something about how you can’t take it with you to the next level.”

“Oh. How do we get to the next level, anyway?”

C3l3r! remembered suddenly, “The rabbit hole. The big one.”

“Is it open yet, do you think?” So they made the perilous journey back thru the portal to the Carnival level, where armed guards blocked their way. (When Josh and Anomia kicked everyone out and fixed things the last time, they’d installed a skill test.) If they wanted to go back to a lower level, they didn’t just go thru a turnstile anymore, you had to scale your avatar to fit the level’s scale. It was a mental concentration, a dehydration and shrinking of mental spaces, a feeling of everything growing larger around you. It was easy for Random, who’d been practicing the exercises faithfully since he started working on the game. It was harder for c3l3r!, who didn’t have much body wisdom yet, even tho it was only a small change of scale: 3 inches, 20 lbs. Evryplayar flat out couldn’t do it, even when they tried to coach her.

So they left Evryplayar in the little grove ad the tip of the peninsula, where she and the leprechaun had lots of sex and did some role playing, and raced for the Fun House, which was now called the House of Horrors. Everything was different. The house itself was falling down, with peeling wallpaper and uneven floors, giant splinters in every board, missing steps and broken glass, traps and tripwires and booby traps. Adhoc explosive devices. Don’t go into the kitchen.

Except for a pile of possible torture victims in squirming body bags, the attic was empty and still had the pair of rabbit holes and the drink me items. But the bottle was getting empty, and the cookie was half eaten.

So Random went thru to check out the next level (“It’s open!”) and c3l3r! went back to the Tutorial Hall to get help.

Random put a morsel of cookie in his pocket for Evryplayar and started back to the portal.

C3l3r! ran to the information booth in the Tutorial Hall and rang and rang on the bell. “I need to talk to xkurt,” she demanded, but the leprechaun was glitchy and would only spin on his heels and click his teeth, winking kindly. Out of desperation, she tried to leave a message, but the touch screen wasn’t working and there the only pen was out of ink. So c3l3r! scratched a message into the countertop with the tip of the pen, apologized to the leprechaun and paid him with a ring she’d picked off a corpse.

Then she flew back to the Carnival level and hung there near the clouds, looking for Random of Evryplayar, watching to see when the portal was clear.

Josh and Anomia watched her hovering. “Why can’t they all do that?” Anomia complained.

“It she a final candidate tester?” Josh asked, curious to know what was happening to all his testers. They were dropping like flies.

“No, she’s a beta. She flies well.” They called her over.

C3l3r! flew up and stopped short of the edge of the cloud, looking over hher shoulder to catch sight of her friends. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said, not realizing that they didn’t know who she was. “They’re tearing the place to pieces down there. Can’t you do something? They’re killing all the final testers.”

Josh nodded sagely. “Ah,” he said. “Do you want to do some final testing?”

“No thanks, I’m already a beta tester. I hate to tell you, but they’re not learning any of the quantum lessons down there.”

Anomia sat passively, a lone tear crawling down her cheek.

“What’s wrong with you?” c3l3r! shouted. “”What’s happening?”

They remained quiet, meditative.

C23l3r! saw Random making his way to the portal and sped down to meet him. “We’re in big trouble,” she commented.

Random spied a mob with torches and pitchforks coming around the side of the administration building. “You’re becoming psychic,” he said approvingly, and led them off around the edges of Carneytown to the peninsula, where Evryplayar was asleep.

“Asleep in a game, how strange is that?” wondered c3l3r!.

Not strange at all. Caroline had done a few pain pills over the recommended amount and was snoring in the bath, her nose just above the water level, her tablet sitting on the edge of the tub, beginning to stutter and spit as drops of water condensed in its nooks and crannies.

Random lifted Evryplayar up and set her over his shoulder. C3l3r! stuffed the cookie morsel between her lips to lighten the load a little, and they took off for the portal.

There was rioting on the Midway, and black holes were opening in the streets as tunnels were brought to the surface by Carneytown miners, swallowing the hot dog and popcorn concession stands and threatening the sunglass booth.

Waiting in the shadows until a platoon of security operatives came thru mowing people down and firebombing buildings, they finally made it to the House of Horrors and walked into a firefight between alphas and betas. Both sides shot at them, and Evryplayar was wounded in the leg, which woke her up, and she had to be hauled kicking and screaming to the attic where the rabbit hole was still there.

There was just enough liquid to give Evryplayar.

‘You go,” cl3l3r! suggested.

“No, you go,” Random insisted. With some effort, he thought himself larger and grabbed Evryplayar, who was being pulled out by the invisible force. “Hurry.”

Cl3r! turned the bottle upside down, but nothing came out. So she concentrated very hard and breathed into it, where her breath condensed and formed one last drop of whatever magical elixir it was.

C3l3r! jointed them at the bottom of the large rabbit hole, where the leprechaun was spinning in circles holding his spear out like a turnstile. They squeezed thru, being several times larger than the leprechaun, and continued down the tunnel, which turned into a wormhole.

They began having to struggle against pressure, a current, what felt like invisible beings assaulting them. It was very crowded in the wormhole. The walls were pulsing, solid walls with no give in them, pushing and shoving and crushing. They stayed together and fought the pressure as a unit, arms wrapped around Evryplayar who was struggling against them.

Finally the pressure eased and the tunnel emptied out into the nothingness of the cloud level. Evryplayar continued to freak out.

“Is there a word for cloud phobia?” c3l3r! asked Random. To ease her suffering, Random sensed his way to the edge of the cloud, and they brought her to see that there was a world beyond the cloud.

Evryplayar took one look at the land so far below and panicked. Random and c3l3r! held her back, trying to talk her down. She rather enjoyed Random’s attentions, but the kid annoyed her, so she turned to c3l3ry and cut her throat with the knife from her bodice, pushing her off the edge and standing watching her fall, feeling vindicated. “I’d be fine if it weren’t for you,” she screamed.

“You’re a mess,” Random said, and sat down with his feet dangling off the edge.

Nathan shouted in his bedroom. Mom found him holding his hand to his throat, crying.

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writing chapter 12.3

When the testing first started, the team had plenty of time, and it was okay that the alpha testers only had placeholder technical displays around their visual screens. Which means that where in a normal videogame, played with a normal consciousness and viewed on a normal video screen, the technical stuff is visually displayed around the edges of the screen. But in the game, players became so entrained that they never noticed a screen, or retained all but the most basic awareness of their real body playing a videogame. Like a dream. It was real.

So the alphas didn’t have access to a lot of the information the betas had, and the beta’s more functional displays were full of glitches. The team expected this would cause trouble, but not that much.

The alphas had a big hand in finishing the game, really, with the kernel using their input to make instant changes. Anomia and Josh were too busy making sure the lessons worked, so the alphas were free to rig the game to be faster and more risky, and easier to take advantage of the betas when they came along.

They learned the lessons, the ones that worked anyway; they at least knew about the importance of the lessons, that they were supposed to be like idealized high school kids running around discovering the wonders of science like mister wizard. But they used their testing time to carve out territory for themselves, to run things.

The betas never even knew about the lessons, all they wanted to do was play, just like a bunch of kinds. They came in and ignored all the hard work of the alphas to crowd everything up and cheapen it further. There was naturally war between the two groups.

The team didn’t really expect it to cause trouble. They were testing, after all, with clear procedures and goals, and the kernal could handle it. The team didn’t pay attention to the bug reports or review the kernel’s progress because it was all happening between the game and the kernel, too fast for anyone to keep track of it. Plus they didn’t really know how to stop the kernel, or redirect it. They’d pressed play (not) and it ran by itself.

Their quantum abilities had grown during testing, now that they were in the game all the time. They could use their abilities more and more in realworld situations – materializing cups of coffee. They felt themselves to be connected to the game, like its fingers and toes. They felt their connection as if the electricity moving down the wires was part of their neuron’s system, as if their blood moved between connections in tiny chips in billions of computers. (In xkurt’s case, his existence did indeed flow thru all the electrical wires and computer connections in the world. And not.)

Everyone who tested had this feeling to a certain extent. It was a side effect of playing. Some reported it, some didn’t. The testers that didn’t take any tutorials had difficulty picking up any quantum abilities – they couldn’t materialize shit. But most of them picked up a certain strength of intention just using the gamegear to move around.

If they’d had time to think about it, they would have despaired of ever teaching the quantum essence. The two of them had it, and it was getting stronger. People who spent time around them had it, but really had to practice the exercises. But the gamegear did a lot of the work for them, so they didn’t try as hard, and didn’t learn as much. The betas, with their technical displays working, could go back to the old regular way of playing videogames and refuse to learn anything.

If they’d thought about it. Once Josh and Anomia stopped using the gamegear it became apparent, and they realized they were going to have to get everybody off their reliance on it. Someday. But they didn’t think it would cause much trouble.

They saw enough testers being serious about the exercises to satisfy them, and the testers found enough quantum shit happening to them to build up the superpower buzz among the fans. They began, some of them, to find themselves using the gamegear to move in realife. It sped them up a little bit, walking down the street, gave the act of reaching for something a little more oomph.

xkurt’s fiddling with the efficiency of the cyber universe was a bit more apparent in the realworld, when everyday events became quantized (and not).

“Sir, gravity’s different.” “Sir, DOT is reporting that the stoplights in Atlanta have synchronized over the last 24 hours.” “Sir, there’s been more unexplained activity in the Marriott. Car crashes, sir. In the lobby. And not.”

The effects were fleeting, but they were real, and they had repercussions. Occupancy was at a new low at the Marriott and they had traffic cops stationed on the surrounding blocks.

Moe freaked out. “We need a current copy of the bug database.”

“We’re trying to get it from one of our testers, sir.” From Caroline, in fact, but good luck with that.

Moe was busy covering his ass with his boss, warning that they needed to be prepared for an outburst of quantum, which were known to have unknown effects (and not).

The media got hold of the reports of the shit happening downtown, and pundits started in ridiculing the immaturity and hooliganism of Dragoncon fans for causing damage and major inconvenience to commuters and scaring tourists away, blah.

Dad saw the news and gave Nuthin hell about those idiots tearing up the city like that.

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.

writing chapter 12.1

Finally the game was almost ready for release. All the major glitches were fixed and the assets were locked in. All that was left to fix were bugs. They called up the beta testers. This time both Nathan and Radhu were selected, just because their names were on the list. They were contacted by an email form letter and downloaded the beta version of the game, then waited for their 3D gamegear to be printed and sent to them. When it came, Nathan slipped on the wristband and slapped on the nose dot and got ready to log on.

The final splash screen graphics weren’t ready, so there was a plain black placeholder with the game’s logo and Quantum Antarctica passing over their heads. Gradually the black screen developed some texture, there was a sense of movement and the flatness slowly resolved into a tunnel which he’d been traveling down for some seconds.

Meanwhile a voice – not quite Anomia’s – introduced the game. “…Not an ordinary game, exercises to help you develop superpowers. Based on ancient wisdom and real life experience, we’ll help you explore the quantum universe…”

So the tunnel thing didn’t get too boring, there were storyboard drawings of the rides, but Anomia’s intro pertained to the Antarctica level and the quantum lessons, and the current version might as well have been an entirely different game (“Maybe they should have released it separately”, Anomia said later. “Maybe we should have abandoned it altogether,” Josh replied.)

Going down the tunnel, he realized he was very small when he saw others going down the tunnel with him, being swept along by something invisible that isn’t wind and isn’t water. Then, after a long time, being aware only of movement, the feeling of his own body, the sight of others, and surrounding enclosure, he and everybody else became aware that they were standing around inside the clouds.

It was wet inside clouds, and cold. But there were endless choices of things to wear, and even the most flimsy clothing could be weatherproofed with the right quantum skill (to be announced). Nathan used his gamegear to pick handsome Arjuna hunting clothes, pants and a decorated vest, with soft leather boots. He regarded himself in a mirror. He was Nathan, as he always had been, almost 17 and still rail thin and sheltered looking. He thought the muscles larger, and developed strong biceps and a six pack.

A placeholder card came up to tell him about the avatar he’d chosen, and that he’d selected a game of adventurous quests and self mastery. Well, maybe not. Too much like what Dad would pick. He scrolled thru the avatar choices, and picked a nerdy female scholar type, with short hair and glasses. It felt more honest than going around looking like a hero. He never felt like a hero.

Radhu picked Krishna, a more lordly avatar in the same family as Nathan’s almost choice. Krishna was his favorite of all the avatars he’d designed; he’d put extra work into his clothing and accessories, and gave him a lot of aspects other avatars lacked.

Radhu met Nathan in the Tutorial Hall. All the beta testers assembled there before going on into the game. It was a very large Steampunk-themed convention floor with a stage at one end, lined with booths and tables, with overstuffed chairs scattered here and there. The wall beside the entrance held a buffet and open bar.

Testers mingled, introducing each other by their handles. Radhu introduced himself as Random. He was going to call himself Prince Random, or either Sir Random, but hesitated at the last minute and signed on as just Random, because for all Fairy or Snake thought of his efforts, he was just a random tool they could use up and throw away.

Random swept back his glistening black hair and struck a pose, offering his hand to Nathan, who’d sat for some time before entering a screen name, and finally had decided on c3l3r! He liked celery, he’d been playing with leetspeak, he’d been practicing with graffiti writing. So Nathan, (c3l3r!) took Random’s (Radhu’s) hand. Random swept up her hand to his lips and swore an eternal bond of friendship to c3l3r! (Nathan).

Testers were actually supposed to find a buddy to go thru orientation with. Some of the betas were clumping up into groups at the bar, or as couples having sex in the booths. Random and c3l3r! quickly established that they were serious game fans who took the quantum superpowers seriously and weren’t interested in how much better everything was ingame. So they left the room together and took all the tutorials which hadn’t been ready for the alphas.

The lecture on karma by an Anomialike avatar felt like Mom explaining the rules so the kids wouldn’t get hurt. “It’s all up to you, behave as you see fit, but realize that it’s all analyzed and depending on how you score, your gameplay, your circle of friends, your options and your quests can be diminished or enhanced. Your karma governs your game as much as your current gameplay. The only penalties are karmic consequences. But profile blah and health and longevity blah”

They took the physics workshop that encapsulated everything taught on the Carnival and Carneytown levels. They took the Intro to Quantum Lessons three times. They signed up for the Mystery School Camp and became Jedi Bene Gesserit Kabbalah Sufi yoga judo masters for awhile.

Then they learned to fly, starting with mental and body disciplines and working on a footloose gnostic nonchalance, a Hitchhiker’s Guide kind of attitude where it’s all too bizarre to get upset about. Flying was the first of the quantum skills – movement – they learned, and Random and c3l3r! stayed in flight school until they were nudged out the door by a leprechaun.

Back in the Tutorial Hall, they noticed that most of the testers were forgoing the various lessons and heading straight for the diving platform on the edge of the blackest space. As many as disappeared over the edge, that many remorted back into the Tutorial Hall, stopped to load up on food and alcohol, and raced over to stand in line for the edge again.

Random and c3l3r! went over and read the instruction wall, because the testers were raucous and they couldn’t hear could be Anomia saying the same instructions over the loudspeaker. Then they went to the edge of the platform and out onto the diving board and bounced a few times to test the spring, and launched themselves one after the other into the air, arms spread, heads up, chests out, flying.

Second star to the right and straight on til morning, flying around the hapless testers who were spinning endlessly thru space. Random and c3l3r! flew as if they were born with wings; such a feeling of grace and power, their desires to move instantly translated into loops and dives and climbing curls. It was like dream jetting thru space.

They were completely comfortable with their skill, and gave each other high fives as they went speeding thru the cosmos.

“We’re flying.”

“Yes, we are.”

They reached Antarctica, which was looking more and more like a theme park from far off, the surrounding ocean sparkling like a sea of parked cars beyond the gates. A sparkly blue sea of cars all around them to the horizon. Inside, a circular themepark Antarctica. The left half of the park was jammed with monster rides and pavilions, while the right side, tho obscured by lower clouds, was more bucolic, with winding paths and small scattered buildings, and cute little trailers with laundry fluttering in the wind.

Random and c3l3r! landed on the clouds that were coasting along several thousand feet above the area, and watched as one after another beta tester streaked across the sky and plunged thru the clouds into the ocean (of parked cars). Whatever, they died.

They watched the spectacle for a moment, speechless. They could see small figures moving in the themepark, so they flew down to the Midway and would have landed gently in front of the gift shop , near the food court.

Except for other beta testers – who had learned how to fly and made it to the Midway, motivated by too many painful deaths – only to be immediately pounced on by alpha testers and dragged off.

So they moved on and landed in a less vulnerable spot and ducked into an alcove between two stalactite formations. Random and c3l3r! knew something was wrong with the Carnival level.

It was cold. They changed costumes to full winter clothing, but it was still cold.

Huddling close for warmth, they pulled up the guidelines for the level and found Anomia’s hard fought-for list of rules stressing cooperation and nonviolence. There were tips on how to activate the quantum lessons she’d managed to insert, instructions on how to understand the physics principles underlying the various carnival rides and games, and suggested they ask helpful NPCs for advice – a picture of a dancing leprechaun jiggled about. The instructions had lots to say about how players were supposed to help each other. There was nothing about roving gangs of alpha testers robbing and beating up betas as they arrived.

There weren’t even supposed to be any alpha testers there. This was a different build of the game. But there they were, acting like they owned the place. They reported this to the bug database, but nothing happened.

The alphas didn’t disappear or behave any better. A group of about eight or nine testers came into view, grabbed a beta who had landed poorly and threw him thru the window of an antarctic merchandise hut. Instantly the group were thru the window looting things, leaving the beta to die broken and bleeding on top of a rack of polar hoodies.

Random and c3ll3r! were very still, willing themselves to not be the droids. Shouting came from the other direction, and the sounds of gunfire. Testers ran past their position in a panic, and they smelled burning plastic. They looked at each other in consternation.

“I think we’re in trouble,” c3l3r! said softly.

Random was moved to comfort her, but remembered his dignity and tried to think of a way out. He looked around. Smoke was roiling thru the corridor coming from Rollurkosterland. Sprinklers were raining cold water down on everybody. People stopped running by.

Random peeked out and surveyed the moderate destruction in the hall, already being mopped up by a small cleaning crew of leprechauns. “It’s okay, there’s nobody here,” he assured c3l3r!, and they approached a cleaner and asked for advice.

“Your karma determines your gameplay,” he remarked in stage Irish, stopping to twirl his pointy hat before continuing to stuff trash into a plastic garbage bag.

They approached another. “Why is everyone being so violent?” c3l3r! asked. “Why are the alpha testers still here? Why aren’t they testing?”

The leprechaun winked at her. “Sure they’re just doing their jobs they are madam. Coming back to this level to help guide beginners so they are, teach ’em what they’ve learned, like.”

“But aren’t they supposed to be helping with the quantum lessons?”

Here the leprechaun stuttered a bit, and turned back to his mopping. “Nothing you can do about the cold. Sorry sorry sorry, I’m so fucking sorry.”

“I guess we’re on our own,” Random remarked, remembering that Snake talked about making adjustments to the NPCs.

“What do we do now?” c3l3r! asked.

They thought. As beta testers, they were supposed to go on the rides and play the games, buy and consume things, win prizes, build up their scores high enough to get to the next level – Carneytown – which was apparently what the alpha testers were doing there, testing Carneytown.

(Anomia had just finished fucking with Carneytown and had just opened it to the alphas on the current build. She’d tried so hard to re-rig it as a quantum level that she broke it, and they had to back out her changes to the old, relativistic level.

So the alphas were playing at being carnival employees. But since the kernel was adapting the game to enhance everyone’s gameplay, it was not exactly the same level as before.)

Instead of selling tickets and working the concessions, alpha testers were overcharging, making imprints of the betas’ credit cards, misdirecting people for money at the information booth. Instead of customizing the rides to maximize safe thrills, they were setting the controls to kill and main betas. The Carnival level had become a lawless melee pit.

In the shadows, watching them from across the cavern, Evryplayar stood planning her move. (Caroline couldn’t spell very well, so she had chosen a screen name that disguised her in ordinariness. But then she’d gone and changed her avatar for this build.

She was now what is in the gaming community is referred to as a Fighting Fuck Toy. A hypersexual female, with huge tits and ass, wearing fuck me shoes, with hair you could hold her by and a face that said “blow job.” She had the latest hardware and could use it, and took no nonsense from anybody, but it was hard to kick ass when everyone wanted to fuck her. It guaranteed male attention, which made her role as secret agent harder to pull off, and made a joke of her screen name as well as her mission.

She approached them slowly, her hips wagging as she walked on six inch heels. “I can help you get out of here,” she offered in a sultry voice. Random puffed out his chest and tossed his lustrous mane. C3l3r! looked on, her eyes wide, her teenage hormones going crazy standing so close to such a powerful, such a statuesque sex goddess.

Evryplayar moved closer, her eyes telegraphing urgency, her voice husky with desire. “Come with me if you want to live,” she breathed. Then she turned and ran off. Spellbound, they dashed behind her, not knowing where they were going.

The cavern turned and twisted, and they thought they’d lost her and stopped at a fork in the path. The walls dripped around them. The shadows were black.

“Over here,” she whispered. They saw a movement in the shadows, and started toward her. “Stop right where you are,” she snapped. A long, elegant hand with a bright red manicure extended from the shadows. “Give me all your points,” she demanded.

Random, who practiced the buddhic precept of virtue thru compassion, handed everything over willingly. “Thank you for rescuing us,” he said. “I offer my undying support and friendship.”

Evryplayar smiled graciously and turned to c3l3r!, wiggling her shapely fingers impatiently. “Your turn,” she said, sweet as syrup.

c3l3r! shook her head slowly. “Are you helping us or robbing us?” she asked.

Evryplayar’s smile broadened, showing rather sharp teeth behind her plump, juicy lips. “Welcome to the game,” she said, smoothly.

“It’s not supposed to be like this,” Random protested. “We’re supposed to learn mechanical skills, play with the laws of physics on this level.”

“Oh don’t worry, you’ll learn all that first hand.”

“We’re supposed to be testing gameplay, but everything I’m seeing is against the rules.”

Evryplayar looked c3l3r! up and down. She’d rejected an avatar like that at the end of alpha testing because it gave her a sweet, innocent character, and Caroline was anything but naive and innocent. She hated sweet. She looked at c3l3r!’s profile. “What kind of satanic name is that?” she purred, bringing her heaving chest closer to Random.

“You pronounce it ‘Celery’,” he said helpfully.

Evryplayar stepped back. “I detest celery,” she stated, wiggling her fingers again. “Come on, pay up. We don’t have forever.”

C3l3r! glared at her and shook her head.

“Fine, fuck you,” Evryplayar said, turning to walk back in to the shadows. “Come along, boy toy,” she said to Random, who followed her into the gloom.

C3l3r! hesitated, then started after them. And fell into an endless crevasse. And died.

“Why didn’t you warn her?” Random demanded fiercely.

“There’s nothing says I’ve got to stop people from being stupid and careless,” she assured him, with a hand on his arm. He felt warm for the first time since landing. Goosebumps rose in interesting places. “Since nothing prevents you, you can and must do what you feel is right.” She sighed sadly and turned away. “Come on,” she brightened, taking him by the hand and marching off. “Let’s go test some rides, just like you wanted.”

So she took Random around to all the rides and games and stood around with other alphas, betting on their betas as they got smashed up in the bumper cars or ground to paste in the tiltawhirl or dashed into pieces on the ground beneath the roller coaster.

Random died. (Radhu’s mom thought he was jerking off and left him be.)

When c3l3r! (Nathan) died, his mom came running into the room to see what was the matter.

“What happened?” she asked, out of breath.

Nathan was crosslegged on the bed, facing the computer, his face white. “It felt like an electric shock,” he said.

Sis poked her head thru the door. “What are you yelling about?” she asked, peering around his room.

“I yelled?” He was worried. “It must have been a short.” He picked up his laptop power cord.

Sis looked dubious. “It the computer fried?”

He looked down at it, still showing the caverns of the Midway. “I don’t think so.”

“Then maybe it’s not a short,” she snapped, and left to go report to Dad that Nuthin was acting weird.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Mom asked. “You didn’t get much to eat tonight. Can I fix you a snack?” They were on reduced rations because Dad’s unemployment had run out, and the little money Mom brought home went to buy interview clothes for Dad, beer and little somethings to keep Sis’s spirits up. Of course, what could anyone know about Sis’s spirits – she was never home unless she was sleeping.

“No, Mom, I’m not hungry. I guess I’ll go back to studying now.” Mom shut the door and went back to the kitchen to finish writing out checks for Dad to sign. They were so far behind it was funny, but Mom felt so weak she just sat there and cried.

Nathan, unaware, squeezed himself back into the laptop and remorted in the Tutorial Hall. As c3l3r! made her way back to the carnival level to resume (start) testing, she noticed all sorts of lawless behavior going on around her. Everywhere, alphas were enslaving betas, running them thru games they’d made much more dangerous, and killing them off like they were experimental animals. And he saw the betas going along with their abuse, cooperating, getting the kernel to adjust conditions to allow more violence, more pain and death. It was normal to see a group of alphas clobber some passing beta and drag him into the bushes to rape and dismember.

c3l3r! went searching for Random, who’d been captured by Evryplayar again after she’d talked him into hot sex in the Tunnel of Love, and now she had him going thru the Hall of Mirrors avoiding booby traps. He was good at sensing them, and she was making money off him hand over fist.

Evryplayar was not happy to see c3l3r! and strangled her with her bare hands, propping the body up where Random would see it if he got out alive.

Nathan came back to himself again with a huge rush, like hitting a brick wall at 60 mph. He’d shouted again, involuntarily.

This time Dad slammed the door open. “What’s going on in here?” Dad yelled.

Nathan grabbed his foot, which was tingling and burning. “I’ve got a cramp in my foot,” he explained feebly.

Dad looked at him closely. “You better stop jerking off,” he warned. “I know what causes a cramp in your foot.”

Nathan lowered his eyes and mumbled, “Yes, Dad.”

He found Mom in the kitchen with her head down, asleep on top of the bills. He woke her, slipping money into her purse.

This time he put a sock in his mouth before going back into the game.

He took cold shield lessons in the Tutorial Hall. He waited on the tutorial level for Random to remort (Radhu’s mom had decided he must be sick and brewed him a turmeric and ginger drink, then stood over him while he drank it, running her hands thru this hair and wondering when he would get married to a good girl so she could relax and enjoy grandchildren.)

Random changed his avatar for an old man character, and he and c3l3r! sneaked past Evryplayar and accumulated enough points to leave for Carneytown.

This involved waiting around until a recruiter noticed their scores and came to them with job offers. “How would you lucky guests like to become part of our carnival family?”

They jumped at the chance to get out of that crazy, violent level. But first they had to take a few tests. So they answered a bunch of obvious multiple choice questions that revealed their personalities and indicated their fitness, and were asked to draw a map of the carnival level to show they’d been everywhere. Then they had an interview with the lady from Personnel, and talked about their game success and their personal goals. The Personnel lady didn’t seem to be listening. But it felt like the interview went well. Both Random and c3l3r! felt that they impressed the Personnel lady, and were not surprised to be offered a great job at a wonderful salary. They showed up at the entrance to Carneytown, presented their profiles and passed a “You Must Be This Big” sign to cross into the next level of the game.

writing chapter 11.5

Not currently having a body, xkurt didn’t have any actual senses. He had his memories and he had him, whatever that meant. His mind. (Scientists who hold that there is no mind without a brain, please stop reading if you’ve managed to get to this point. You’re trying to reduce consciousness to a side effect of a lump of flesh, and consciousness is a thing in itself. Nobody has been able to measure the life force yet, right? That thing that animates us, the spark of life. Does that mean it’s not real, it’s a side effect of having a body of a certain fitness. The senses only catch the surface, anyway, the visible, touchable (etc) things. It can’t know about anything deeper than the surface, the essence of life, the unmeasured and unseen.

Anyway, xkurt didn’t wink out when he died (maybe it was the drugs), but found himself floating in the void when he woke up dead. Without a body. No organs to sense and digest input with. But senses were so inefficient so easily fooled. And now he had only his memories. But his memory was only good for certain things (programing) and not others (what happened when). His memory was a patchwork of holes, filled if necessary with material invented to fit.

And many of his memories were linked to his emotions, which are the hardest things to recall. And he reacted emotionally to everything as a kid, and as a teenager, and a grownup. The only time he was fully focused and not all torn up inside was when he was programming. Then everything flowed. No thoughts or worries, just creativity, the power of pure thought lighting up his mind.

The feelings and thoughts were gone now that he was dead, too. No more nervous compulsion to chain smoke, no more fiddling with his beard and picking at his scalp. He didn’t have a scalp. He could focus on his xbody and recreate it in his mind if he wanted, but it gave him the jitters, made him feel allergic. He stayed in his mind, in the flow.

Since Kurt’s DNA was already functioning as part of the quantum kernel, xkurt was drawn to it as an anchor point, and made himself at home there. As a resident, xkurt enjoyed quantum privileges like being in two places at once, being able to take action at a distance, and going backward or forward in time. Whatever he wanted. It was like a dream, a lucid dream. He’d go wandering around behind the game, tinkering with this and that, and when he needed a hand to fix something, he would materialize it holding a tool.

Josh and Anomia saw him one day while they were testing. He was pixellated, and kept morlphing into that horrible giant baby thing that had pulled them to safety in the wormhole. xkurt noticed them and popped up an oversized hand to wave at them, and turned back to his work, dissolving slowly. They’d reported his appearance in the bug database, and didn’t see him after that.

xkurt was entangled with the kernel. And the kernel was running copies of itself on multiple platforms. And entangling with the brains and minds of the testers. xkurt could sense this, because even tho he didn’t have a body to sense things with, he had access to others that did. He could feel their minds, he could feel their responses while playing the game, and when they disconnected he could still feel them breathing in the back of his mind. He felt their minds synchronizing. He dreamed about them.

xkurt’s virtual neurons coursed thru other connections to the outside world. with growing access to smart devices, wifi, cable connections and power outlets. It was a weak connection, but xkurt could already see wast areas where the system performance could be enhanced, and set to work improving efficiency. That real people would be affected didn’t concern him at all, because xkurt was your typical sociopath and couldn’t give a fuck.

At this point, xkurt’s tinkering didn’t show up on Larry and Curly’s radar. And they monitored the monitors, so they should know. What did show up were reports of testers appearing in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis dressed in Dragoncon-type costumes. Playing games, messing with the elevators, leaving trash, throwing up. There was attempted murder, but the assailant and victim disappeared before Security arrived.

“Footage backs the claims. There is a lot of intermittent captures of some strange shit. What might have been interspliced footage from Dragoncon.”

“Maybe, or actors reenacting it somehow.”

“But it’s obviously cut in.”

“I disagree, nobody’s touched it.”

“The game’s in testing isn’t it? Maybe it’s the testers bleeding thru?”

“Oh come on.”

“Yeah, never mind. What do our secret testers have to say about it?”

“Um, nothing. It’s really real is all.”

“We checked thru all the foodcourt tapes of their meetings. There’s no indication of anything more than boasting and oneupmanship. Most of the outlandish claims were made by our operative, I’m afraid.”

“But he was joking.”

“Well…”

After Kurt’s death, Moe reluctantly forwarded Curly and Larry’s report to his superiors. While the report minimized the various anomalies associated with work on the game, similar reports were submitted by other offices about other anomalies.

The men at the top were worried. It was all completely impossible theoretically, but theoretical threats were useful, because the risk was negligible and the panic potential was infinite, and they prepared to use whatever some kid’s game could throw at them. They were putting together Project AntiQ to deal with whatever real threat might surface to interfere with the make-believe threat they were getting ready to unleash. It was easy to invalidate the game – the entire thing originated in a drug-fueled Draconcon prank, after all.

writing chapter 11.4

One night Mom came home to fix dinner before rushing off to her second job, quoting some wacko theory she’d probably heard from some guy. About how the super rich (one of which owned Big Behemoth Inc.) were plotting to reduce the population by some huge amount by putting contraceptives in the food. Something about Roundup and Monsanto. Whatever. He gave her the third degree over that one (list from chapter 10), and called her a slut as she walked out the door.

Dad was very complex inside. Wait and see. He modeled himself on the ideal soldier, sort of a swat team cowboy – stoic and self sufficient (PTSD, alcoholic, addicted to pain meds). Restrained (inhibited). He would never admit fear, but he was frightened of everything fearful, and vigilant and watchful (anxious and paranoid). He fed his self control with a belligerent self righteousness, and refused to admit to a fault or mistake. So he always put the blame on others, and became hostile and violent, rejecting and punishing.

So bouts of rage and violence would alternate with anxiety and depression, each leading around to the other in a twisted, stupid kind of life. Which he felt was appropriate to force onto his son, who persisted in being a balanced kind of teenager. These days Nuthin was completely normal. Dad never heard a peep from him, he never crossed anybody, did what he was told, and never asked for nothing. Sometimes Dad worried about him. Where was that teenage rebellion? He seemed lethargic, less of himself. Like he’d had too many thumps on the head.

Dad put some effort into trying to cheer the kid up. Maybe the doctor could proscribe happy pills to cure his depression. Nathan said no thanks, he was just studying so he could get into a good college.

Dad suggested a boot camp. “Basic training did wonders for my attitude. You’d sail thru.” (He hated it and was almost kicked out). “Well, why don’t we go to a game together, then?”

“That’d be great, Dad. I’ll work up a pair for the two of us, right after I’m done with this asisgment.” It was the middle of the summer. School was out. But Nathan was pretending college prep summer school so he could go to work every day. He could get tickets to an afternoon Braves game.

“Make it good seats this time. Last time I went you put me in the nosebleed seats.”

“Yeah, Dad, you don’t want to end up with a duplicate ticket, right? There’s always lots of seats in the stands. I’m just thinking of you, Dad.”

Nathan was keeping his nose down and striving to get a full scholarship to somewhere far away. Maybe he should ask the family doctor to put him on antidepressants. He could bribe Sis with them and get her to leave him alone. She was continuing to torture him with his secrets, the latest being his so called summer school. He really was doing advance credit courses, but he took them online in his bedroom at night, not out at the local technical college during the day.

Sis wasn’t afraid he’d expose her extortion. She was confident in her control of Dad. She was skipping school and hanging with gang members who’d been kicked out of school and were now professional drug dealers, regularly turning in notes from Dad. Mom was so inattentive and stressed out that she didn’t have the energy to notice. Which suited Sis. And Dad, too. Together in the living room at night, they celebrated their victory over the sad faces and dull personalities of Mom and Nuthin. Actually, Sis was practically never home now that it was summer, and that left Dad and Nathan at home alone, each in their own world – Nathan’s ambitious and secretive, Dad’s resentful and prurient. Like the celebrity home thing he was watching. Someone with too much money taking gaudy and tasteless to new heights. It never failed to make Dad feel dissatisfied with his lot, which made it all the easier to take it out on Nuthin or Mom.

He didn’t live as well as his father, Nuthin for sure would be a pauper. All that crap about how he could be rich if he worked hard enough. It was easy for rich people to say that. But the really rich didn’t actually work, did they? They paid others to do the work for them and mainly lived on stocks and their inheritance (new material). Unless he was whatshisname who built Big Behemoth with his bare hands. But he used prison labor as a model. Hiring temps because they had nowhere else to go, and working them to death. Was it always like this, with the rich eating the poor and nobody giving a fuck? Dad didn’t know history, but he suspected that it was not the steady march of progress with justice for all and an ever-growing piece of the American pie, because his piece of the pie got eaten before he could so much as taste it. He felt disposable. But that was how they were supposed to treat those others who didn’t deserve a piece of the pie. He was supposed to be one of the favorite sons.

But where did he get that idea? When did he start including himself among the rising stars? What made him think they meant him? Maybe it was the “anybody could be president” idea, because of how they were letting just anybody be president these days. Or the old rags to riches story, the celebrity lifestyle shows. Of course it could happen to him. In his dreams.

Ex Kurt did a lot of dreaming now. His life was a dream.

writing chapter 11.3

Nathan wished he could be a tester. But he was grounded forever. He had to race home from work (school) every day and stop all his extracurricular activities (work). For the months Dad was out of a job, he had to participate in family time in front of the TV, and do extra chores, and come up with more sports tickets. Worse, Nathan had to feign an interest in Dad’s interests, like sports and disaster shows. Dad didn’t watch CSI because he didn’t care about the how or why, he just wanted to see people being killed, and they never showed that. He didn’t like talk shows because he couldn’t follow the arguments. He wouldn’t watch sitcoms because they were always about strange people he didn’t like. Only in sports did anybody actually risk life and limb. His fantasy job was to be a journalist embedded with the Navy Seals.

And for awhile he had a lot of time to fantasize because he couldn’t find a job. There were no lateral moves possible. He couldn’t find another retail store to manage, he couldn’t use his experience and connections to move up to a better job in some other industry’s corporate offices. If he’d known somebody and had a business degree he might have been hired on as a consultant. But Dad didn’t tend to have contacts with people on his level, or kiss up to the higher ups in hope of promotion. He really only associated with his inferiors, the crew of workers he managed and the customers, most of whom he wouldn’t care to know any better.

His experience couldn’t get him a job at McDonald’s except as a burger flipper, and even Walmart declined to make him an offer. UPS and Kroger probably thought he was too old, because he filled out a form and never heard back from either of them. Of course he didn’t have an email address, but nobody told him he needed one. (Damn that Nuthin, he should have known, he’s got an email address.)

Which meant Dad sat in his chair drinking beer all day for a long time. Trying to make friends with his son, to talk like two adults. But the brat was always in his room studying. Dad never caught him out once. It wasn’t right for a kid to sit himself in his room like that. So what he was making straight As, that’s what he was supposed to do.

Everyone celebrated the day Dad got hired to work at Big Behemoth Inc. It was a temp job, with no benefits, no insurance (which was bad because Cobra payments were breaking them), but it was work, so he took it. He became a picker, working in an enormous half-million square foot warehouse, running as fast as he could from shelved item to conveyor belt going to the mailroom to the next shelved item maybe half a mile away.

At first he couldn’t do it. His fat old butt just couldn’t run for 10 hours straight. With Xmas coming up the load kept getting bigger, and the counselors kept yelling at him to go faster. Then the workday got longer as Xmas got closer. 11 hours. 12 hours. Bending over, reaching up, crouching down as fast as possible. No drill sergeant ever demanded this much. And still they told him what a piece of shit he was, and warned him he had to improve drastically or he’d be fired. He’d already found out that he had to say, “Sure, Boss, whatever you want, I’ll grow wings, Boss,” because if he said he was giving them all he had, they’d hear “Won’t” and find someone else. Three million orders a week. 14 hours. Five more weeks before Xmas.

Xgiving? He missed it, he had to work. Black Friday? Pulled a double. And he took so many aspirin that his stomach was soured by the end of the day. Then he went home and took twice the usual dose of real pain pills, pounded back a few beers to try and make up for lost time, and was groggy the next morning when he had to be out of the house before dawn.

He could feeling himself failing. It was too much, it was too hard, he was too old. He was cut out for a different life, not to be some tiny little cog making ten bucks an hour. And for his cog on his wheel at ten bucks, the smaller wheel it turned paid its cogs a hundred bucks an hour, and they turned a smaller wheel making a thousand bucks an hour. The cog on the smallest wheel of all made a million bucks an hour, and it turned the wheels of progress. The wheels of history, of government, of wars for profit and dominance.

The wheels that ran over guys like poor miserable Dad. But Dad sucked it up and jogged 15 miles a day on aching feet, because that was his lot in life. His real job was to provide for his family, and here he was doing it with every ounce of energy he had, 70 hours a week at half what he’d made running the parts store. He hoped somebody in Management would notice him. This motivated him for some time, fantasizing how easy it would be for him to pump up the numbers. But they told him he was no longer needed right after Xmas, along with the other 5,000 temp pickers, and he was back to sitting around drinking all day while Mom had two jobs.

Mom had found a part time job calling people who were delinquent on their students loans. The work was dispiriting because everybody had a good reason to be late on their loans. and the amount they owed was immense, and the payments were frightening. And most of them were unemployed, or worked for minimum wage in a place that didn’t require a degree.

She worried for Nathan. Bright as he was, there were so many others with greater advantages vying for any career he might choose. But at least he was going to college.

It looked like Sis was going to drift for awhile. She had no interest in going to college, she seemed to think she was destined for a fairytale life of fame and fortune. And she might well have been, except that she was allergic to work. If she could have gotten someone else to do all the hard work for her, then she could take all the glory – that was what Sis was like. Where did she get it from? Not from Mom, Nathan was more like she was. Sis got it from being Daddy’s little girl, that was the problem, and Mom couldn’t hope to counteract such an influence.

In the end, the kids would go their own ways. Mom should be thinking more of herself. She found she liked working two jobs. It kept her out of the house, which was good, and it gave her a lot of confidence to be the major, and sometimes the only breadwinner. She wouldn’t say anything to Dad (or Sis) of course, but she was proud to be supporting her family, giving Dad a break while he recouped. He’d worked hard all his life, it was her turn to shoulder the burden. Okay it was a pittance, and it was distasteful work, and nothing she wanted to do as a career. But the extra demands gave her more energy. She was more lively and interested in what went on around her.

Dad wondered if she’d found a boyfriend and increased his efforts to check up on her.

writing chapter 1.2

One by one, the testers moved to the edge of the cloud and followed after her. Like lemmings, like Icarus suicides they fell, the tiny little “Eee’s” of falling testers reaching the horrified ears of Josh and Anomia. The tiny splashes where too far away to be heard.

Josh slapped his forehead. “What idiots.”

The first testers simply pitched forward and fell, bungie jumpers without ropes. Seeing what happened to the guys in front of them, the ones further back tried using their flying skills, but ended up fluttering down like bricks in plastic bags. Eventually they had enough time to launch themselves, but descent and landing were advanced skills, and most of them ended up in the water. Which was too cold to support life without a wet suit, and they died.

Anomia and Josh looked at each other. “I guess we need to rethink this part, huh?” he said.

The kernel beefed up the tutorial. The testers tried it again. Eventually they landed at the entrance to Midway, just outside the giftshop. This is where they were supposed to familiarize themselves with Fairy’s inlaid floor map and run off to test their areas. But they headed for the foot court and gift shops instead.

Josh and Anomia found them milling about when they got down off the roof. Anomia accosted a tester and pointed him toward the map. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to find your area and go test it?” she asked.

The tester stopped and looked at her, as if thinking what to say. He stood there placidly regarding her, then followed behind her as she went to remind another tester.

Josh put a hand on her elbow after a minute. “I think you’re fucking with them,” he said.

“They obviously don’t know what to do.” She said, going up to tell another tester, who was stuffing cotton candy into his mouth.

“No, really,” he insisted. “They’re like zombies after you talk to them.”

Anomia had a gaggle of people walking in step behind her. She whispered, “Are their avatars asleep? Have I hijacked control?”

“Your energy drags them around. Maybe you short them out or something.”

“Is it the game?” They looked at each other. “Maybe it’s the gamegear slowing them down?”

“It’s creepy,” she said. looking at the inactive avatars pilling up behind her. “I don’t think we should be here.”

“Not if we want to interact with them, anyway.” So they left. Anomia had a lot of last minute tweaks still to do in Carneytown.

The first bug the testers reported was the cold.

Fukn frzin n here.

Anomia had the kernel refer them to the costume tutorial. A group of them decided they liked the cold, and stripped off. Frostbite was in for a minute.

Eventually the testers went out and found their assignments, and started testing their little bit of the game. The kernel worked with them all to find bugs, fix the bugs, test the fixes, and refine. In the process, the kernel studied the response of each tester and their little bit of the game, made slight adjustments to enhance their gameplay experience. Josh and Anomia were aware of it, of course, and decided it was okay to fit the game to the players as long as the quantum lessons got first priority.

Their first hint was the shallowness of the bug reports.

gr8 rydz. walls s/b blu. seat not comfy. music sux.

Then they noticed that the alpha testers were ignoring the quantum lessons, as if quantum was only a brand name.

The testers interacted with the kernel to change the game’s parameters and distort the teachings. They wanted more violence. They wanted to cheat. Better gameplay (more violence). Sex. They didn’t want to build a better roller coaster using classical physics, they wanted to set gravity at 25 g in the turns and squash people. They wanted real weapons. More features, more intricacy. And drugs. They wanted to get wasted in their avatars.

And the Midway became all sideshow glitz, naked booth babes in bodypaint. There was merchandise and clothing to buy, all with the big holographic Quantum Antartica logos. Acid bars and smoke shops. And bordelos. And casinos. Oddly, the casinos were the only places where the quantum lessons were being taken seriously. And the take was in Bitcoins. Physics at the service of realworld profits. Testers died.

They seemed to like dying. There was a small group that liked to jump off the clouds all day. Dying was no joke. It was not like other games where your avatar exploded or fell down or got stupid cartoon crosses in its eyes. Dying in the game fucking hurt. Like your nerves being twanged, the violent jolt of being unplugged.

Anomia and Josh shook their heads in wonder. “They’re like kamikazes,” she said disapprovingly.

“Go, dude,” Josh cheered.

“Why?” she asked.

He shrugged. “A guy thing, I don’t know.” In fact, the testers admitted that it hurt like fuck for a moment, but after a few thumps their balls started tingling, a low level buzz.

Anomia felt a growing anxiety, as the game moved quickly away from what she’d planned.

But Josh felt in charge. His quantum skills were sharp – they weren’t using the gamegear anymore. They were going around affecting things with their minds while the testers struggled. Josh felt like he owned the game. He’d spent a year of his life on it, he felt like it was made from his genes (not Kurt’s). He knew where everything was, where everything was hidden, understood all the lessons. Quantum power came so easily to him that he couldn’t understand how come the testers didn’t get it.

Anomia, on the other hand, was feeling pretty hopeless. It’d been compromise all the way, even at that point, and she was still constantly arguing for the quantum lessons, but by now everyone was sick of her carping. She was still madly tweaking quantum Carneytown, and she was running out of time.

The difference in their game styles was beginning to cause problems. She believed in discipline, he was willing to let them run wild. She was all upset by the violence in their world, how negligent they were about passing on the essence of the quantum shit the angel taught them, and he was all nonchalant about it.

Then they noticed that the alpha testers were ignoring the quantum lessons, as if quantum was only a brand name.

The testers interacted with the kernel to change the game’s parameters and distort the teachings. They wanted more violence. They wanted to cheat. Better gameplay (more violence). Sex. They didn’t want to build a better roller coaster using classical physics, they wanted to set gravity at 25 g in the turns and squash people. They wanted real weapons. More features, more intricacy. And drugs. They wanted to get wasted in their avatars.

And the Midway became all sideshow glitz, naked booth babes in bodypaint. There was merchandise and clothing to buy, all with the big holographic Quantum Antartica logos. Acid bars and smoke shops. And bordelos. And casinos. Oddly, the casinos were the only places where the quantum lessons were being taken seriously. And the take was in Bitcoins. Physics at the service of realworld profits. Testers died.

They seemed to like dying. There was a small group that liked to jump off the clouds all day. Dying was no joke. It was not like other games where your avatar exploded or fell down or got stupid cartoon crosses in its eyes. Dying in the game fucking hurt. Like your nerves being twanged, the violent jolt of being unplugged.

Anomia and Josh shook their heads in wonder. “They’re like kamikazes,” she said disapprovingly.

“Go, dude,” Josh cheered.

“Why?” she asked.

He shrugged. “A guy thing, I don’t know.” In fact, the testers admitted that it hurt like fuck for a moment, but after a few thumps their balls started tingling, a low level buzz.

Anomia felt a growing anxiety, as the game moved quickly away from what she’d planned.

But Josh felt in charge. His quantum skills were sharp – they weren’t using the gamegear anymore. They were going around affecting things with their minds while the testers struggled. Josh felt like he owned the game. He’d spent a year of his life on it, he felt like it was made from his genes (not Kurt’s). He knew where everything was, where everything was hidden, understood all the lessons. Quantum power came so easily to him that he couldn’t understand how come the testers didn’t get it.

Anomia, on the other hand, was feeling pretty hopeless. It’d been compromise all the way, even at that point, and she was still constantly arguing for the quantum lessons, but by now everyone was sick of her carping. She was still madly tweaking quantum Carneytown, and she was running out of time.

The difference in their game styles was beginning to cause problems. She believed in discipline, he was willing to let them run wild. She was all upset by the violence in their world, how negligent they were about passing on the essence of the quantum shit the angel taught them, and he was all nonchalant about it.

“But their behavior,” she complained. “Dying for the fun of it. They’re cheating at the games, and making the rides more dangerous. And they wans to buy souvenirs and junk.” Had she not noticed the betting halls and sex shops? Why, no, she hadn’t. She didn’t have time to look at things. She never noticed first the boys, then the testers trashing the carnival level. She never saw the school for criminals it was turning into. “Can’t we make them stop trying to kill each other?”

He rolled his eyes. “We’ve got a system in place to prevent antisocial behavior,” he said patiently. “You insisted on it, remember?” The boys had backed her into a corner about it. She wanted common sense play nice rules. But no. “Allow all behaviors,” they argued. “No social rules. There are so many cultures, who are we to be fundamentalists? Let karma points determine if they rise or fall.”

“But allowing all behaviors will only create conflicts, and consequences, and chain reactions. That just adds to player karma,” she argued.

“What do we know? They’ll probably want to play forever.”

She was beginning to feel the same depression she felt after Kurt died, like it wasn’t worth it. The only reason she stopped being depressed was because of little miracles that started once she quit her corporate day job and became a temp. While she was rebuilding the game she was living with daily miracles. Walking off the cliff and moving one step at a time, just never looking down, ever. Trusting the miracle. And it had gotten her this far. But now she was beginning to doubt the miracle, diving into worry and anxiety, dissatisfaction and anger. And the stream of miracles was shutting off.

Most of the team was feeling the strain. Snake had disappeared again, after Radhu noticed the effects of the changes Snake told him to make, which led to the real lessons being ignored, while quantum-brand cheats became widely available. Synthetic quantum.

So he told Fairy. Fairy’s estimation of Radhu went up a bit. She wondered what he looked like naked. Fairy contacted Anomia and Josh about Snake’s actions, and gave explicit (tho flawed) instructions to the kernel, trying to undo the damage. There’s always undo in a videogame right? But the testers loved the shift toward playability, so Anomia demanded that the games be made unplayable, and Josh insisted on going with what they had.

Snake rubbed his hands gleefully when he heard about it. Then got back to work. He was off on one of his side projects. This group of black hat hackers he infiltrated (practically started) was ripe for a critical phase, and it was time for him to go blow it up for the media. But because he finished the game himself, he felt like it was his game, and liked to keep up on his little experiments, nurturing Radhu as a weapon against Fairy, and sabotaging the game at the same time.

He felt as if he were the game’s only defender. He didn’t care about the quantum lessons, he just wanted this game to be a winner – even the money and power took a back seat to winning. To that end he installed backdoors and bombs and viruses all over the place, just in case someone tried to challenge his supremacy. Snake was a political kind of guy. He understood and studied how power worked and what gears were affected by which levers and how to pull the right one at the right time to get the result he wanted. And now was the time to slither away and do things in secret, in the dark. Wait until they missed him (whenever one of his gags went off) and then he’d walk in and save the day.

Fairy was also missing in action during Alpha testing. She was totally uninterested in reporting bugs and managing testers. Iit was beneath her talents. She turned to something where she could express her true gifts.

Issuing bug reports was way beyond Caroline’s talents, and she sucked as an alpha tester. She never opened her emails, she never got all the way thru a test, she kept having computer problems (user errors), her reports were sloppy and vague. Curly, reading her reports, suggested she should become an NSA programmer. She may have sucked as a videogame tester, but she was ex law enforcement and on a secret mission, so she figured she was doing a great job. She thought it ironic how she was undercover in her day job, and how she was undercover in her retirement.

She picked up on the criminal gameplay right away, of course, even if it was all she could to to walk in the gameworld. Wearing the avatar of a little girl, she could stand around and look stupid, licking a big lollypop, and take in all the conniving and scheming around her. She reported the presence of gangs in the game (even tho it was way too early for that). The boys in the basement ignored her reports – just another illustration of how glitchy the alpha stage was. (What did the kernel do? She was making bug reports as well. Neither recipient paid much attention, mainly because her reports made no sense. Maybe it was the pain pills.) She reported it when she materialized in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis while she was testing the Whack-A-Mole. Other testers reported similar transfer effects. The testers figured it was a side effect of the hyper-real gameplay, or a Dragoncon salute, reported it and went on.

writing chapter 11.1

After a million false starts, the game was ready to be tested by people who weren’t directly responsible for it. Fresh blood was needed to try everything the team wouldn’t think of, find all the ways to break the game, and then try to break it again after it was fixed.

The team broke the carnival levels down into ride islands and gave each area a group of testers, who would play their area thru and report any bugs. The kernel got the bug reports and fixed whatever it was, and the testers tested it again. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded. There were user errors, lots of user errors. From not knowing they were supposed to do this, and not knowing they weren’t supposed to do that. From trying to game the system to trying to kill each other. They wouldn’t follow the game objectives, they wouldn’t play all the way thru, they abandoned one quest and started up another.

And their reports were ludicrous. Illegible, bad spelling, bad grammar, little more than text speak. Very hard to be subtle and thorough when you didn’t use vowels. They even had individual definitions of a bug. For some it was a clear glitch, and they let the merely klunky areas slide. For others every little irregularity was noted and flagged urgent. Their task was to find the bugs, fix the bugs. But the testers were in touch with the kernel, and the kernel wanted to tailor the game to every player. So even as the first alpha testers came online and started to wander around, the kernel was making little alternations that nobody noticed.

Among the least qualified alpha tester was Caroline. Caroline was old enough to vaguely remember Pong, but she had no experience of modern videogames. At first she complained that the game didn’t work, then that the game crashed the tablet. After a few more tutorials, she reported that the game was broken (while she was actually watching a video demo and kept pressing the replay button).

More experienced players (everyone else) chose their avatars and mingled with other players in the Tutorial Hall. They customized their avatars, many of them using their own images and gestures like the development team had. Others wanted to be outlandishly individualistic, even abstract. Their choice of avatar placed them in a pod of players with similar attributes. They all learned the same basic skills, but each pod learned appropriate skills based on their future quests.

Caroline, her avatar a young prepubescent girl, was still having trouble with the gamegear. Then it took her forever to learn to move around and pick things up. She detested the controls, the displays, menus, folders, and resolution tools. Other, higher functions, like eating and drinking, peeing and pooping, sex – players either went for advanced tutorials or figured out on their own. Caroline was like an infant. Finally the testers were taught how to fly, given directions, and sent off to find their way to Themepark Antarctica. Even Caroline, who had to be pushed.

Josh and Anomia stood on top of the Transantarctic mountains (the roof of the Hub) and watched the first testers approach, just as the angel had watched them. They felt like new parents watching the baby’s first accomplishment (Look, he drooled!) Even tho the game was nothing like the angel’s game.

They’d scaled back the scope of the game the angel told them to make, and turned it into a violent and corrupt parody of a pop culture shopping mall. But at least they’d gotten this far. One day they’d figure out how to unlock Kurt’s rebuilt Antarctica level, restore all the quantum functionality that was frozen inside the locked down kernel, and force the game back in the direction they had intended from the beginning.

They stood around in the biting wind and stark sunlight, watching the testers getting closer and closer. There seemed to be many more of them than they’d remembered signing up.

They had developed a fine sense of the kernel at work all around them, generating and managing the simulation. They’d become entangled with it after so many months of communication with it. They decided to greet the testers the same way the angel greeted them, and flew up to the cloud level, which was anchored just under the skydome on the top surface of the clouds. From the edge of the clouds, they could see the whole amusement park beneath them, surrounded by a ring of ocean, deep blue and cold. They could see individual testers now, all kinds of customizations of the avatars they’d (Radhu’d) designed.

The testers landed around them on the clouds, with various degrees of gracefulness, and stood around the couple,

not doing or saying anything. Just looking at them. A multitude of shadowy, foggy testers in their strange looking avatars.

A little unnerved, Josh and Anomia changed scale and disappeared into the clouds, something none of the testers knew how to do yet. They materialized at scale back in the carnival level, and waited to see what the testers would do. Why were they acting so weird?

Up on the cloud level, testers were happy to have arrived at their destination, but weren’t sure what to do. They talked among themselves, but were really waiting for someone in charge to give them their next quest.

Josh and Anomia waited.

Caroline came limping along, flying with an awkward gait, flapping and kicking like she didn’t understand the principle of flying from her gut, and was trying to pull herself thru the air. She grew closer to the cloud, It looked solid, with people standing around looking stupid. She wriggled toward them, trying to slow down so she could land. But she didn’t know how to slow down, so with a scream she went tearing thru the clouds and plummeted thru the air down to the surface.

Caroline fell like a meteorite into the ocean surrounding Antarctica. And died.

writing chapter 10.6

 

Dad didn’t feel comfortable thinking outside the box. It wasn’t safe. How could you know you were right? If everyone else didn’t think like you, you must be wrong. He liked things simple. He liked to be sure. complex arguments and chains of reasoning left too much room for people to lie, to slip in a hidden agenda. That’s why he knew what he knew and no amount of reason or facts or arguments were going to change his mind.

In the same way he preferred his answers simple, he liked his emotions pure. He was a guy, damn it, and guys are supposed to be simple. Red blooded American males. He could get very worked up when the wife tried to feed him vegetables, because meat and potatoes were all anybody ever needed. Not potatoes, pasta, but he liked the old phrases, too. Red blooded American male. His dad worked in a factory, he worked in a parts store. Honest jobs, honest pay. Except of course that something had gone wrong, because it was more work than he could do, and the pay wasn’t honest, it was slavery. Robbery.

He could feel a rant coming on. He drank as much as he did because by God he had to have some fun in life. Do something for himself. All day long he worked for others. Where was his self-interest? A real man does what he wants to do, and fuck other people. Who cares what anybody else wants? Yeah. Fuck them.

Anger was another one of those things he indulged in because it was his right. He had so few rights anymore. It made him feel good to go there, unleashing his fury, his rage. It made him feel strong when everything conspired to beat him down. It made him feel like he was doing something about it, fighting back against everyone who had more than he did.

Because Dad had just been laid off. Take this job and shove it. He’d made a small wreck of the office when the new supervisor showed up with his replacement and had the nerve to ask him to show the new guy around. He went from being on top of the world (always anxiously waiting to be fired) to being disposed of with a smile, shut out of the promised land and kicked to the sidewalk, bruised and suffering. Have a nice life, huh?

But oh fuck now what? He had a few days to figure out what to do about his 401k (cash it in) and deal with things like insurance (say no to Obamacare) and signing up for unemployment (never!). He was going to have to sit the little woman down and tell her the spending spree was over. Everything was over. He felt hopeless, Despair sitting next to him on the couch, chuckling and drinking all his beer.

Despair pointed out the road for him. “You’ll survive this shock,” he assured Dad. “You’ll cut back and do without. Then something else will happen when you think you’re on your feet again. But you’ll live. Then you’ll lose that, and have to cut back again. The time will come when you wish you could afford to live under a bridge.”

“It’s not my fault. They cut my job. I game them my best years. It’s not fair. I never wanted to get laid off.” The first step on his descent into ruin.

“Doesn’t matter,” chuckled Despair. “You’re responsible for what happens to you.”

“Not like this,” Dad protested. “Not when I didn’t do anything wrong.” He was so afraid. It was somehow his fault, when he been a damned boy scout all his life. And now they just threw him away. He was so humiliated. There wasn’t enough beer in the world to lift his spirits.

He could feel the pressure building. He tried to distract himself with the TV. That usually worked to help him avoid feeling anything unpleasant. Doubtful feelings, questions. Those things led to pansy places. Red blooded guys limited their emotions to basic ones. No fear or doubt. Rage and hate for the bad guys who destroyed his future and made a world where he got laid off. Real men didn’t get laid off. Real men called on the swat ream. Real men were on the swat team. and that’s where he wanted to be. A hard drinking ladies’ man with a gun and a hair trigger.

That’s what his favorite show was about, following the swat team around. Like cops but with real blood. Somebody died every show. It was just like being there, with the screams and the shooting, hysterical women and chastened kids. His favorite part was when they shot the family dog. Else that or was it tearing up people’s houses, destroying everything they had in pursuit of criminals, dragging the family out of the house at gunpoint. He loved it when they resisted. He wanted to be there to hear the clicks of a dozen guns as the safeties went off. Who gets it first? They should have a game show.

When it was over he decided to have that talk with Mom, but first a bathroom break. On the way back to the kitchen he saw himself as a character in the show. But they were after him.

an ad for a new reality show. Whack a Badguy. Contestants have a new crisis every week, and they have to achieve full spectrum dominance over the bad guys. Infiltrate, intercept, decode, second guess and roadblock. Exploit every leak in their security (put in ad-ese). It’ll put you on the edge of your seat and make you suspicious of your neighbors. One false move on your part and the threat comes alive inside your house, as the badguy tortures and murders you and your whole family on national television. Starting with the dog and stopping when there’s no more screaming.

Who’s to say it couldn’t happen? Dad had no trouble believing in it. These days your next door neighbor could be making meth and planning terrorist attacks. Everyone should be prepared as their public duty. It was a war zone out there, and you couldn’t be too vigilant, too paranoid. Your own self interest demanded it. Fuck your neighbor. Red blooded Americans like him weren’t nice neighbors, they were protecting their castles from the guy next door. Guns, not fences, make good neighbors. Respect born of fear. Kill them if they can’t take a joke.

You might have noticed that Dad had a bunch of issues. And he was in denial about all of them. He had a completely unrecognizable image of himself that he operated on, while everyone else saw what he was hiding. He identified with the hypermasculine military model of manhood, and thought of himself as The Lone Ranger, Father Knows Best and Mister Smith Goes to Washington, when he was really more like Natural Born Killers meets Rambo.

Naturally he projected all his bad qualities on others, and schemed how to punish them for it. As reflections of himself, it was okay to treat them like objects. Mom was his body servant and housekeeper. Sis was the delight of her old man’s eye, and Nuthin was a money machine, keeping him in good quality forged sports tickets.

But now he’d probably have to scalp them, because he didn’t have a job.

He finally got around to discussing it with Mom, after dinner. It took him that long to work up a head full of beer.

Mom looked shocked, but made it clear that she didn’t think it was his fault and that she would do anything to support his position as head of the family. She was wondering where she was going to find a second job.

Nathan offered to get a job to help out.

Dad thumped his fist on the table with extra force. “No, damn it, you’re still grounded. And I resent your trying to use our predicament as an excuse to go out and get in trouble with your friends.”

He was really talking about Sis, but Nathan kept quiet. Sis was failing her classes because Nathan refused to hold up his end of the bargain (to do all her homework) after Sis weaseled around the terms of hers (not to tell Dad about Dragoncon). She still brought it up whenever she was pissed off. “I didn’t tell. He found a picture on my phone. I didn’t do anything wrong. But you welched. I should sue you.”

Dad ranted about how Mom’s most important job was to stay home and raise the children while his destiny required he provide for his family. Mom ignored him while she drew up a mental resume. Sis was playing with her phone and didn’t hear a word, and Nathan had to hold his tongue between his teeth to keep from contradicting Dad with the facts.

Anything anybody said right now would be pounced on by Dad, who would take it to mean he was a failure for losing his job. The unconscious issues would come roaring up shouting blame, humiliating him, threatening the worst.

To avoid an instant irresistible urge to commit suicide, he turned it around and put it all on someone he could hate and rage on, turn against, destroy. And there he was just waiting for someone, Mom, Nuthin, even the TV, to give him an excuse to unleash his fury. Mom and Nathan knew this, and didn’t say a word.

So Dad dredged up something else. What was he picking on now? It was irrelevant, just a pretext and they both know it. His Dragoncon transgression, now magnified into the equivalent of bombing the World Trade Center. Traitor, he called him, grounded forever for lying. He started winding himself up. Chemicals flooding into his amygdala and his hypothalamus (in the lizard part of the brain), giving strength to his aggressive impulses.

He wanted to punish, to really hurt somebody, give in to a deep seated urge to beat something to death. Only Mom’s civilizing influence stood in the way. And even there it was a toss up. Why not? The kid needed hitting, it was a normal Dad-level response to the natural provocation of Nuthin’s being a teenager, and by definition a piece of shit that still had to be fed, housed and sent to school. He wanted Nuthin humbled, humiliated. he wanted him to realize the complete disposability of people like him.

He continued abusing the boy, working himself up. The pressure and worry of losing his job and not having a fucking clue what he was going to do next made it somehow imperative that he had to be in control of everything his wife did, his kids. The only way to control his destiny was by controlling everybody around him He was close to going under financially. He was on the very edge of ruin and it was absolutely vital that everybody obey him completely, or they were heading for the black hole. Nothing could save them. And because their future was at stake, he couldn’t tolerate any dissent. This was a war against Stan Rotenhals, and he was going to go down fighting.

He started to give Nuthin a lecture on personal responsibility, so he’d be clear how much effort and sacrifice was being asked of him. Nathan snickered. Almost a cough but for the corner of his mouth and a slight roll to his eyes. Dad reached out to cuff him and Mom was instantly by his side, in the way again.

She put her face close to his and said in a calm voice, “That’s enough, Stan. Don’t hit him again.”

She had a nerve. If her voice wasn’t so shaky, he might have thought she meant it. “Don’t raise your voice against me, woman.” He whapped Nuthin’s head. “I’ll fucking hit him if I think he needs it.” He whapped the edge of Nuthin’s shoulder as the brat moved out of the way. Mom moved fully into his way, so he shoved her aside and lunged for Nuthin.

Instead of cowering, Mom and Nathan moved to the kitchen table and sat down together, their backs to teh wall. “That’s enough, Stan,” Mom said quietly, stubbornly. “No more hitting.”

“Or what?” he sneered. She looked steadily at him and said nothing. He tore at his hair. “Goddammit, you know what kind of trouble I’m in. We’ve got to keep ranks, pull together. I don’t want to hit anybody.” He felt like crying. Stuck in the boat to Hell with these idiots. He started pleading and whining. Finally when they continued to say nothing, he decided that everyone agreed to do it his way, and he toddled off for a piss.

Mom and Nathan looked at each other, having worked together to fend off another of Dad’s punishing attacks.

Nathan turned to Mom. “There would be no suffering if God granted wishes.”

Mom said, “Yes, I hope He does,” but it was tinged with resignation.

Sis was passing and heard them. “Hell no, God never listens to me.”

Kurt was listening, however. He was fond of Nathan and liked to observe what was going on in his life. The kid was still his protege, even if Kurt was dead.