Authors: D. Rus
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Sword & Sorcery, #Science Fiction, #adventure
Play to Live
by D. Rus
Play to Live
: The Clan
Copyright © D.Rus 2014
Cover Art © Kadziro
Editors: Irene Woodhead, Neil P. Mayhew
All Rights Reserved
rom the Analytics Department report made at the AlterWorld Corporation Emergency board meeting.
Subject: The surge of violence among the digital population.
The psychologists' reports show that after only three or four months, the digital population (later referred to as perma players) complete their adaptation period and cease to view the virtual world as a game. The memories of their past lives fade, the rich colors of their adopted environment forming an entirely new outlook. So how do the perma players see their new home? For them, it holds a wealth of virtually unlimited opportunities—a promise of an eternal life devoid of the concept of criminal punishment. In other words, it's a world of brute force in the absence of authority.
But this is only one side of the coin. Ask yourself for a moment: who are the
people who come to populate those virgin virtual lands? I would like you to turn your attention to the chart included in the report.
Unstable teenagers, troubled war veterans, handicapped persons with all kinds of disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, criminal elements a
nd escapists attempting to flee reality.
We can only wonder why the once-isolated cases of enslavement and violence have taken all this time to swell out of control. In the last three months, our Customer Service has reported over fifteen hundred documented cases of personal violence. We do understand that until the legal status
of perma players is finally recognized, all our attempts to help them will remain a gesture of good will and by no means our obligation. Following earlier instructions, we ignored most of the inquiries received from perma players, burying them in red tape. That made sense when such incidents were isolated because every such case demanded type A or A+ intervention whose consequences would be hard to predict.
Now, however, the situation careens completely out of control. The Informational Intervention Department works against the clock but still we find it increasingly difficult to influence public opinion and minimize the damage done by the independent media.
The cases involving minors are especially harmful for the image of our corporation. Technically, none of this is our fault as parental and age control functions are the responsibility of capsule manufacturers. Still, if some of the incidents were to be made public, the company's reputation and financial stability would receive an enormous blow.
In view of the above, we recommend the following measures:
To begin lobbying
for new standards of software protection as well as hardware security and physical protection of the FIVR capsules;
public opinion in favor of introducing the retina recognition login system as the basic player authentication tool. To ensure the Department of State's interest by suggesting the possibility of extending this function to cover cyberspace in its entirety;
ntroduce the Voluntary Death ability that would allow the player's transportation to a safe zone;
o stall the ratification of the law confirming perma players' legal status if, or when, it is passed;
rrange for a media campaign with the slogan
The Law is Not Retrospective!
under the pretext of shielding the digitized individuals from any financial claims of their past lives. Its real purpose would be to free the corporation from the responsibility of any repercussions involving perma players prior to the passing of the law.
J. Howards, Director of the Analytics Department
* * *
"Murderous scumbags," these were Dan's exact words as I told him the story of my imprisonment in the Forest Cats Castle. "That's it, then. No more Mr. Nice Guy."
They had thrown together an emergency meeting in th
e Small Hall of the East Castle gathering, by the looks of it, nearly all of the Vets' officer cadre. People kept coming. I could hear teleports pop open behind the open windows as new groups of personnel arrived. They had announced Code Orange—one below Red which stood for imminent military action.
In my house clothes, I looked pretty foreign within a crowd glittering with armor and artifact gear. I hadn't yet had time to do a corpse run. Another person who looked out of place was Taali. Tearful, she had refused to leave and was now sleeping by the fireplace cuddling the white Winnie the Pooh, shuddering in her sleep and clinging to the creature's silky hair. The others cast occasional glances in her direction, lowering their voices. They'd already had Cryl healed, fed and questioned
; their debriefers had picked the best of his brains. Now he was fast asleep in a guest apartment next door, recovering before a new interrogation session.
Watching Dan issue tasks to one of his assistants gave me a decent idea of the effort involved. They had to sieve through the logs line by line, copying all suspicious names, stats and locations
—going into a meditational trance as they searched every minute of their absolute memory for shreds of relevant information.
Captain Scarface, the commander of the special service company, rubbed his chin. "Looks like the world as we know it is no more. The Cats have robbed us of the illusion of freedom and immortality."
"Wipe the motherfuckers out," growled an Orc with Lieutenant's insignia on his tunic. "Obliterate them IRL!"
That was Fang, the commander of an elite rogue squad charged with the elimination of hostile wizards. He had a tendency to chain smoke and emotionalize. The pile of cigarette butts in front of him kept growing dangerously fast. Although tobacco hadn't hit the market yet, there was just about enough of it to cover the clan's needs.
"Wish it was that easy," Dan shook his head. "Most of them are permas, anyway. Getting to them is only a question of time. That's not the problem. But—we have to measure our response. Most of us have families in the real world. If we start taking the bastards out, the next day they'll be sending us pictures of our children's severed heads. Their millionaire daddies will never forgive us for mopping up their kids."
"Just don't tell me you knew nothing about it," I said. "Why did both you and Eric keep going on and on about the dangers of being a lone player?"
Now that I finally got it off my chest, I stared at the 'cloak-and-dagger' waiting for his response.
He shrugged and took a sip from his enormous coffee mug.
"There's a difference between guessing and knowing. We started noticing some funny tendencies about three months ago. Instead of growing, the influx of perma players in our area started dwindling. We received a few requests to keep an eye on some of the newbie permas. But we failed to locate them. We realized the full extent of the problem when a few of the more prominent moneybags started to disappear. There were dark slavery rumors coming from the Caliphate, the Asians and the Afros. There were a couple of Cats sightings we could connect to the sites of the newbs' disappearance. In other words, few facts but plenty of suspicions. Not that they could keep it under wraps for much longer. It's a mystery how you were the only one who broke out. How did you do it, by the way?"
I shook my head. "I don't think it would work for anyone else. Sorr
y. If I knew how to commit harakiri without a blade..."
"Shame," Dan said. He didn't sound as if he'd believed me.
Sorry, folks. Admittedly, I had my share of secrets and I chose to keep them to myself. No one had appointed Dan my father confessor. In any case, I was an atheist. Or had been. These days I was supposed to be the Fallen One's overt follower, wasn't I? I still couldn't quite get over it. Meeting a real virtual God. The mind boggles!
The door swung open. Everybody rose to greet the clan leader.
General Frag: once an ex-Afghan campaign major and commander of the 56th Assault Battalion, then a legless stump and ultimately, eighty years' worth of no bullshit. Apparently, Frag was a nickname his next door neighbors had given to the sprightly old boy who was constantly busy scurrying around the block in his wheelchair, his tunic dripping with ribbon bars. His children had turned out well. So had his grandchildren. One day with their grandfather's consent, they lay his weakening but still lucid frame into a FIVR capsule. Having been to hell and back a few times, he probably appreciated his second chance much more than I did. The clan owed its existence to his tireless energy. Now his right to life had once again been challenged. And as I studied the powerful soldier, I started to feel sorry for those who had dared step in his way.
He nodded a greeting and took his place at the head of the table. Unhurriedly, he looked over everyone, his stare pausing on me.
"So here you are, troublemaker. As if your tobacco scam wasn't enough for us to deal with," he glared at the smoking officers who hurried to stub out their cigs. "And five minutes later it's red alert, stand to!"
Dan jumped up, attempting to speak, but the General waved his explanations away. "Sit down. You don't have to defend him. Yes, it's potentially lucrative. Yes, he'd come up with some decent intel. Can't an old man grumble a little? But you, Dan, you seem to be losing your grip. These monsters have been operating right under your nose. So let's recapitulate on what we know about the Cats. Stay seated."
As Dan reported, I began to realize the sheer complexity of it all.
"The clan is rat
her young. It's limited to the Lands of Light and then only to our cluster—which means they're mainly Russians like ourselves. Three castles, the Forest Castle being their main base. I've managed to lay my hands on a members' list from a month ago. About four hundred members, two thirds of them in perma mode. Permas or not, they're not your average bunch. Everything points at the Olders being their founders."
The room hummed in disbelief. Dan raised his voice above the noise, "I have no intention of demonizing our oligarchs, but that's the impression I get. The clan counts lots of spoilt brats, rich daddies' girls and boys and their entourage. Now that I think about it, I can see that the Cats have always enjoyed the Olders' unspoken support
—backing even. It's true that the Olders like staying on the sidelines—they seem to be quite happy with being third in the financial ratings. It's very much like the Forbes list: there you won't see the true movers and shakers. No Rothschilds, no Rockefellers, no Morgans or Warburgs. Same here. But—our business sharks still need a few pairs of strong hands that can solve their business dilemmas for them. Sometimes it's hired guns or private armies, but some cases can be so sensitive that they have to turn to crime rings for help. The Cats are one such ring. To my knowledge, all the missing bankers were in disagreement with the clan's leaders. This is cause for serious concern. I'd risk the assumption that the Olders could be test-driving new brain-kill techniques. In a world inhabited by perma players, this is a knockout argument.
The General's eyes narrowed with the promise of all the things he could do to the overeager
researchers. He nodded his agreement.
The door opened a crack, letting in Aunt Sonia. She was a true to God larger-than-life Odessan mama who about two years ago had decided to see what made her granddaughter spend all her waking time in virtual reality. In those days, capsules hadn't had time limits. As Aunt Sonia discovered AlterWorld, she stumbled along a thousand-strong cooking guild and happily indulged in a protracted quest to prepare the Prince's Banquet. As you can imagine, her granddaughter came home in the morning to her granny's comatose body who since then had become General Frag's castle chef and, if rumors were to be believed, also his kindred spirit.
Aunt Sonia shuffled to the conference table. Noiselessly, she began unloading her bottomless bag, producing copious platefuls of pies and cold cuts. Their homemade smells overpowered the stench of stale tobacco. The men cheered up. Even Dan paused, sniffing the air in anticipation.
The General didn't seem to appreciate her concern. He frowned, motioning his chef away as she tried to place a personal plateful of treats in front of him. He turned his heavy stare to Dan,
bringing the conversation back on a business track. "What was that about mass newbie slave trade? Any ideas what they might need it for?"
"Most likely, just some Cats overdoing it. With all the power they suddenly enjoyed, they would have been stupid not to use it for their own financial advantage. One more thing. The moment we presented them with a claim and began mobilizing, we got a call from an Olders representative. Who then asked us not to rock the boat and try to solve the problems diplomatically at the table. Offering themselves as mediators."
"Right," the General nodded. "Send them the data on the bankers slaughtered by the Cats and watch their reaction. We will pursue the conflict. There are certain things that can't be tolerated. This is a real threat to everyone's wellbeing. Our reaction should be fast and tough enough, regardless of whatever may transpire. What will we do to them? Any suggestions?"
Dan cringed. The others perked up, buzzing. Dan raised his hand, waiting for the room to calm down, then went on,
"We've already discussed an idea or two. Starting with a real-life mirror response: eye for an eye, rape for a rape. It's harder than just smoking the motherfuckers but still quite doable. Ending with copycat brain-kill sessions. I'm not sure if it's going to work for them, though. A lot of its effect is based on self-hypnosis."