Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The Game

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 4: Confluence

Part 3

The most striking feature of the man was his mustache. Long and black and curled up at the ends, it looked like it would be right at home under the nose of a wild west villain. It completely overshadowed his mirrored shades and stars and stripes themed do-rag.

Dressed in a black, ruffled shirt and jeans, he was laughing heartily as he mugged for the camera. “Alright, crew. We’ve got our prep-work done and a I’ve showed you how to make your own chicken marsala at home. But you know that here on Cooking with Awesome, we know our audience and you at home didn’t tune in to see us saute chicken on a plain old stove-top. Oh no, we’ve got something special for my favorite dish.”

The camera pulled back to show that he was standing in front of a sleet, modern fighter plane. “Behold! The US-55 VTOL aerospace fighter.” He started walking around the craft with the camera following. “This baby is the fastest combat aircraft in the world and it carries an armament of six Helios missiles, twin military grade plasma lances—you remember those from our meatloaf episode—and…” His circuit ended just under the nose, beneath which was mounted a sinister looking piece of hardware.

“A 100mm DragonsBreath photo-synthetic mass emitter, more commonly known as a military PSM—don’t you dare call it a laser. This big, beautiful gun fires a flare of boiling photons at mach four. And that flare is so hot that it will bore through forty feet on concrete with enough energy left to cook the bad guys in their bunker.”

He gave the camera a knowing grin. “So you know our chicken’s gonna be well done.”

***

JC was staring up at a large monitor playing the ‘greatest hits’ from the previous season of Cooking with Awesome as Warrick and Tink came up beside him. “I heard that they had a casting call for a season six episode where they’re going to have psionics come in and use their powers to cook stuff.”

Warrick, his arm around Tink, glanced around. There was no one else around his friend, but as far as he could tell, they weren’t close enough to see out of the corner of his eye.

“Good peripherals.” Tink commented JC.

“Thanks.” His eyes hadn’t left the screen, where Wallace Teal, in all his moustachioed glory, was introducing the USAF officer who would explain the basics of photosynthetic mass emitters to the audience. “I saw your reflections in the screen.”

“Ooooh.” Warrick nodded along with his own realization. “Well come on, man. It’s time for Deathgate.”

“Already?”

“Yeah. Dude, you haven’t been here the whole time, have you?” Warrick glanced up at the screen.

“Maybe… but I haven’t seen the middle shows of last season! I’ve been out whenever it’s been on.”

“There’s about a thousand other things to do here and you spent two hours watching television.” Tink teased.

“The man cooked a souffle with a railgun, Tina.” JC said, completely in earnest. “I’m just a mortal man.” Nevertheless, he started walking with them.

“I never got that show.” Tink shrugged. “He cooks food with explosions?”

“And lasers and engines.” Warrick offered. “One time with reentry heat.”

“Coq au vin.” JC nodded in reflection, “That was a good episode.”

“Riveting.” She scoffed. “I love explosions, but I want them to happen for a reason. Explosions for explosion’s sake are just boring.”

“That’s why he cooks the food.” Said Warrick. “You know, it gives the show a premise.”

“And,” JC added, “It’s educational. You learn to make the meal at home, you learn how the tech he’s cooking with works, sometimes there’s history… and as a reward for all that learning, you get to see a cherry tart get baked by napalm. There’s something for everybody!”

Tink laughed and shook her head dismissively. Up ahead, she saw the giant advertising screens that marked SID’s area of the convention hall. Smiling at having her destination in sight, she cuddled herself up closer to Warrick. Their height difference meant that he was essentially reaching up to get his arm over her shoulder, so she maneuvered that arm to her waist.

“So did your dad do any voices for the new Deathgate content?”

“She’s trying to weasel out if Lord Gygaxus is coming back in this expansion.” JC returned the earlier teasing.

Warrick shrugged, which was more of a trick then he expected with Tink so close. “Sorry, hon, but with the NDA’s, he can’t even tell me. I do know that he’s playing a lot of incidentals though; elves and trolls mostly.”

A few steps and it was as if they’d stepped out of a fog of people. In the area around SID’s display area, the usual people-swarm was corralled into orderly lines; one for swag, one to meet the artists, one to get job applications, etc.

But the jewel of the convention was behind plastic barriers set waist high and monitored by a half dozen large men and women with ear pieces and indifferent expressions. Anyone not in the know would have thought the president was inside one of the six, glossy black pods, arranged in two groups of three with their backs to a central control stalk.

The six pods stood open, revealing soft looking seats and an interior covered with hexagonal panels. Everything inside was black.

“So, uh, JC; since you were watching TV the whole time, did you actually manage to sell Lisa’s ticket?” Warrick asked. He stared quizzically at the pods. There didn’t seem to be any controls, or even a helmet like he would expect in such a device.

JC nodded. “Yeah. Short dude, skinny, glasses? Had a shirt on with some crazy looking dude on it holding a huge sword with eyes on it? There was also a scary orange cat-head critter.”

Tink snapped her fingers when she recognized the reference. “Legendary Barbarian Warrior Killpretty!”

“Sure, that.” JC shrugged. “Let’s go see who we’re supposed to see to start our preview.”

***

“I… am looking at a tiny pirate, right?” Facsimile gave voice to the bare minimal version of what was on everyone’s minds.

Aside from Hope, who was putting both of her powers to good use on the near hysterical and mildly injured homeowner, the entire group had congregated around the bin wherein stood the miniscule mariner.

“I ain’t nae tiny, ye be some kind o’ horrible giants.” Captain Triplebeard complained. “Jus’ like tha other one tha bought me here.”

“Other one?” Codex asked. “You mean not the woman you just stabbed?” Laurel asked.

“Does anyone else think this is just hilarious?” Facsimile asked.

“Are ye daft?” Triplebeard exclaimed. “She a’ least looked like a person. Tha’ thing, it looks like a lemon left soggy ta rot, green an’ covered wi’ fuzz. Wi’ great, pointed ears like horns, an’ a nose like a new tarred prow.”

“At least we know what came thought now.” Chaos said, then looked to Codex. “Right?”

She shook her head.

“You’re not alone, Fax.” Hope said over the central conversation. “I mean, an itty, bitty pirate—what’s not funny about that?”

“What’s not—What’s not funny?” The irate woman jerked her newly heeled hand out of the white garbed prelate’s hands. “I’ll tell you what’s not funny: I just got stabbed by a little… a…a creature! Something unnatural. And I think it might have been poison!”

“Poison?” Hope blinked in confusion.

“Yes! I feel tired and hungry all of a sudden. I read somewhere that’s a symptom of rabies.”

“Rabies isn’t a poison…” Chaos started, but was cut off by more angry hysterics.

“And I’m seeing things! It looked like the milk on that cereal box just moved!”

Ephemeral was closest to the cardboard bin that had been toppled in the moments after the pirate’s appearance. There was indeed a cereal box there near his foot; one of those cereals that wore their lack of child-friendliness on their sleeve with a litany of age related diseases it was supposed to help fight listed right on the front. The milk was moving. Not only that, but the cereal was rippling gently up and down with the force of the pour.

“I do not think this is the result of your wound. I see it as well.” He said.

“What?” Facsimile slipped past him and went down on her hands and knees to take a closer look. “Huh. It is. Sure, but I’ve seen stuff like this on game boxes; it’s promotional.”

“And expensive.” Occult said, kneeling and picking up a box formerly home to Mother McCray’s home-style fish sticks. The cartoon representation of the elderly mother McCray was stuck in a loop of setting a platter of fishy treats on the table, picking it up again, and serving them once more.

Between them, she and Facsimile checked eight more labels before she was satisfied. “It’s all of them.” She stated. “Every picture is animated now.” She noticed the broken computer lying in the street. It’s position among the foreign sugar cane suddenly had new significance.

“Whose is that?” She asked the homeowner.

“It’s mine, so what?” Came the snippy reply. Not everyone could be grateful for heroes.

“Do you have any videos or games on there that have pirates in them?”

The woman sputtered. “Games? I am a grown woman. A professional woman. What kind of grown woman plays video games?”

Codex folded her arms. “Sixty-four percent of American women have played at least thirty hours of interactive entertainment in the past year.”

“Which is exactly what’s wrong with our—”

“I play video games.” Codex was rolling her eyes behind her helmet’s visor.

The woman was visibly cowed. “I… might have King of the Spanish Main on there.”

Codex looked to see if Occult had that, but she didn’t have to. The spellcaster, still on her knees, already had the handheld computer dedicated to the Digi-book of Reason out and was running a cross reference.

Barely a minute went by before her eyebrows rose in surprise. “Well this is new.”

“What?” Facsimile clamored to try and read over her shoulder.

Occult didn’t answer directly. “Green pelt, pointed ears, long noses… check. Eats only the sweet of the land…” Her gaze strayed to the sugar cane. “Check. Boundless tinkers and mechanist? Can’t tell from here. The power to bring reality to the unreal? Big check.”

“Occult.” Chaos said with some force in his voice. “What are we dealing with?”

She used her staff to help herself up. “From what we see here? I’d say we’re dealing with the tinker-folk. A gremlin.”

***

The pod closed over Tink and left her in darkness. Beneath her, the seat’s softness yielded almost completely to her weight, leaving her with a feeling of floating.

Of course, she realized, the core of the immersion gaming technology was a sensory deprivation chamber; allowing the only sensory input the user received was from the game itself. Now that she noticed it, it made perfect sense and was a great solution to the problem of achieving total immersion.

Before she could give this any deeper thought, the darkness around her began to lift, a dim light suffusing her world until she found herself standing in the middle of a wooded glade at noon.

Standing? It certainly felt like she was, even though she knew she was still sitting down. A quick glance down at herself revealed that the game was projecting her in-game self as a gender neutral, gray humanoid.

“Welcome to the Deathgate III Full Immersion Gaming Beta Demonstration.” A disembodied female voice said. “For this demo, you will be given a choice of premade characters representing each class/race/gender combination including a preview of the all-new Confessioner class. You will also have the option to map your facial features to that of your character. Character creation begins… now.”

***

“Nice costume, buddy.”

The accompanying slap on the back sent him stumbling through the crowded room. That was the fifth time one of these strange creatures had done him violence and none of them had made any move to press the attack.

Most of them acted like they expected him to say something back. But he was too clever for that. Responding would only open him up to more open-handed pounding.

He dodged two past another group of the creatures. They looked superficially like daoine, only shorter, with rounder ears and on the whole, worse skin and hair. Perhaps he’d found a new Path, one that had dumped him a continent away from the cane field he’d been peacefully raiding?

Maybe this was what daoine looked and dressed like in this strange, foreign land? The fact that they wore and carried metal killed that idea, especailly after he’d seen so many with metal actually embedded in their flesh, especially through the ears. What bothered him most was their garb. Some of them were dressed like other creatures, both familiar and exotic, and still more wore images of them.

Where he passed, some of those images started to move. He had to calm down or that would get worse and he would be in trouble. He’s never been in a place with so much iconography.

Nostrils twitched and he scented that wonderful thing again. No, no: he had to get to it. Absently, he reached over and grabbed some sweet smelling sticks from a nearby table and crammed them in his mouth.

It was some sort of sweet, crunchy bread, formed into sticks and covered with… he rolled the taste around in his mouth and delightful memories of a rare treat of his childhood rushed to mind. Chocolate. Real, sweet chocolate.

“Hey!” A female dressed in a white fur leotard and a headband topped by fuzzy ears leapt to her feet and pointed a fur gloved finger at him. “He didn’t pay!”

Ear lying back flat, he chewed one more time, turned, and ran. Behind him, there were angry shouts that were answered by more angry shouts. To pick up the pace, he got his hands in on the game, slapping the ground with his palms as he dropped into an all out, four-limbed run.

Around him, more pictures started to move. The furious shouts turned to ones of surprise, then screams as a loud roar made the very air shake.

He didn’t look back, but his instincts had full control of him by now and they screamed at him that they needed the wonderful machine that taunted and teased his senses all day.

A hard right turn. There was a barrier of some sort of hard, waxy stone at chest level. He leapt it and his senses went wild.

It wasn’t just scent anymore, lights danced in his eyes and electrical shocks raced across his flesh and crackled in his ears.

He didn’t remember landing, or failing to land well. There was rolling that he vaguely recalled, and a dim idea that he was lying between two colossal bugs with stingers poised high overhead to skewer him.

Then he was somewhere else.

Series Navigation<< Issue #44 – It’s Official!Issue #46 – The Juniper Chronicles >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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