Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 14: Exclusive Scoop

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Reporter Cassandra True, has been invited accompany Strephon MacKenzie to a party being held by Melchior Aesermann, wealthy owner of a computer game company. She hopes that interviewing Aesermann will be the break she needs to get a promotion.

Cassandra could not believe her luck! Not only was she finally getting her interview with Melchior Aesermann, but she was rubbing elbows with some of the most powerful people in the city! Fortunately, she thought to bring a camera with her. She tried to be discreet about her shots -- no need to push her host's generosity. On the other hand, if she came back from this party with no pictures at all her editor really would flay her the way he promised that morning after he spiked her story about the wolf attack. If you're going to write about wolf attacks, I wanna see you sprouting fur! he said; At least gimme a statement from an old gypsy! What about the naked corpse? Where's the sizzle? Well, that was just fine by her. She wanted to make a name for herself with real serious journalism, not trashy spooks and UFO garbage.

"I'm sorry to cut this short, but I really must be seeing to my other guests," Aesermann said.

"Oh, no, no! That's fine! Thank you so very much for your time!" Cassandra gushed as he turned away to chat with another group of people. She sighed. Here she thought he'd be a jerk, but he turned out to be very polite and charming.

As she fumbled with her purse to return her pocket recorder, she noticed one of the guests staring at her; the skinny pizza-faced guy in glasses wearing the tuxedo a size too large. He shuffled his feet and looked over his shoulder apprehensively. The he mustered enough courage to approach her.

"Hello, You're a reporter?"

"Yes, my name is Cassandra True. I'm with The Daily Oracle" she said.

Once again the geek glanced furtively around the room. "I'm Byron Sanders. Senior Game Designer." Cassandra blinked. He didn't look old enough to be senior anything. On the other hand computer games was a young man's field. "I created the original Virtual Hot Tub," he added with undisguised pride. Yes, she could believe that.

"Really?" Cassandra said fishing the recorder back out of her purse. "That's very interesting." This could be useful background material for her Aesermann profile.

"I suppose Mister Aesermann told you about our new virtual reality platform?"

"A little bit. It sounds exciting."

"Oh it is!" Again the apprehensive pause. Had the guy never spoken to a girl before? Cassandra remembered Virtual Hot Tub. Maybe not. "We have a working prototype. Would you be interested in seeing it?"

Now it was Cassandra's turn to look over her shoulder. She suspected that Byron was seriously overstepping his authority. If Aeserman wanted to show this gizmo to the press he would have suggested it himself. Snooping around like this was a sure way to get herself booted out of the party. On the other hand, she already had her interview; what could she lose? "Sure!"

The two slipped out of the party without raising comment. Cassandra considered telling Strephon where she was going, except that he seemed to be trapped in a conversation with the banker's wife. Poor Strephon! Cassandra made a mental note to rescue him once she come back.

Byron led her to a nest of cubicles two floors down from where the party was. He cleared off a desk in the messiest cubicle and placed a console the size of a laptop computer on it.

"Where are the helmets?" Cassandra asked. She'd played virtual reality games in arcades before; they generally required cumbersome equipment.

"This is all we need." Bryon placed a headset on her head. "This is just the prototype mind you. Eventually we'll be able to directly jack into the player's brain."


Bryon donned a second headset and booted up the game. Before Cassandra could protest, she saw the cubicle around her dissolve to be replaced by a woodland scene in bright crayon colors. Byron's clothing had also been replaced -- her own too, Cassandra realized -- by a colorful t-shirt and shorts. A group of cute fluffy bunnies with pastel-coloered fur and shimmering white wings waddled out of the forest. The bunnies joined hands in a ring around the two and began to dance and sing.

"We are featherbunnies!
We like to dance and play!
And if you rub our fluffy tails
We'll grant a wish today!"

"Hang on, hang on," Byron said. He conjured a phantom console in front of him and fiddled with it. In the middle of the second verse, the bunnies froze and large luminous letters appeared in mid-air reading "PAUSE".

"Sorry about that," Byron said. "I wanted to make sure we weren't overheard and this was the only way."

"What's going on?" Cassandra asked.

"Listen. I've got to tell someone! The world's got to know before it's too late!"

"The world's got to know what?"

"It's Aesermann! He isn't human!"

"Oooo-kay." This was starting to weird Cassandra out. "Then what is he?"

Byron became frantic. "I don't know! I think he might be an alien! Him and his people!"

"Hang on. Let's start from the beginning." Cassandra felt she could take this a lot more seriously if not for the ring of bunny rabbits with frozen attitudes of cuteness smiling at her. On the other hand, it gave the whole thing a surreal quality. She had to believe it. Either that or someone was crazy. She dearly hoped it wasn't her.

Byron took a couple breaths and calmed down. "It started about a year ago when Aesermann bought out the company and renamed it Aeser Technologies. We were already a successful game company, but he made us bigger. Then he started bringing in his own people. He said they were programmers, but none of them know a line of code; I'd stake my life on it! But every one of them is a whiz! They seem to do it instinctively! Like they just wish the computer to do what it wants!

"They're the ones who developed this new platform. Now I know programming. And I know a fair amount about hardware. But I have no idea how this works. It seems to interface directly with the player's brain to create an illusion world.

"But that's not all," he continued.  "There's something about him and all his people.  It's like they have some kind of mental powers or something.  It sounds crazy, but they do!  They know what you're feeling and they can affect your emotions and she enters your dreams so you don't know what's real anymore!"

"She?"  Cassandra asked.

Byron turned bright red.  "Lilith, Aesermann's assistant.  She... well she..."

"I get the idea."  Cassandra remembered meeting the assistant and mentally filing her as "Maneater."  The poor boy was no match for her.  With a guilty start she wondered how Strephon was faring.

Suddenly, the bunnies and the forest disappeared.  A wall of static surrounded them.  "Uh, what just happened?  Did the power go out?"

"No, if it did we'd just leave the game.  Someone must have removed the game disc.  Bollocks!"  Byron conjured up the console again, but before he could to anything, the world changed again.

Now the two stood in a small stone chamber with a vaulted cieling.  Heavy wooden doors faced them from each wall.  Cassandra realized that she now held a semi-automatic rifle.

"Bugger!"  Byron said.  "Felching heck!"

"What is it?"  Cassandra looked wildly around, fear beginning to gnaw at her.

Byron slung his own rifle over his shoulder and tapped frantically at the phantom keyboard.  "It's a virtual reality version of one of our shooter games, Nowyr 2 Run, Nowyr 2 Hyd.  It's not ready for commercial release."

Somehow that innocuous-sounding euphemism chilled her.  "How do you turn off the game?"

Byron looked up at her, a cold sweat on his face.  "It's not letting me."

The door to Cassandra's right opened and the orcs came pouring out.

Next: Smooth Operetta

1 comment:

kurt wilcken said...

Yes, having my characters trapped in a Virtual Reality World is something of a cliche, but it seemed a logical development.

"The Featherbunnies and the Magic Sp00n" is another nod to Lord Jex Featherbunny, the creator of the Dark Redemption setting. The peculiar spelling of the word "spoon"... well, that's kind of a complicated in-joke.

As I've mentioned, my wife and I made friends with Jex on a Harry Potter fansite called VH, (for "Virtual Hogworts") The VH site used an autocensor program to filter out naughty words and replace them with more innocuous ones. For example, references to the Male Anatomy were replaced by the word "wand". Sometimes this had amusing results if a totally innocuous word happened to have a naughty one embedded in it. So if I posted something about "Bertie Wooster sipping a cocktail", the word would come out "wandtail".

This was the case with the word "spoon". I was unaware that the last four letters of that word were a slang term for genitalia, but then I guess I don't get out much. The autocensor insisted on rendering the word "spoon" as "swand". So it became a VH in-joke to spell the word with zeroes instead of O's to foil the autocensor.

Which is probably more explanation than the joke deserves; but there you are.