Issue #45 – The Gremlin and The Game

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

Part 5

“What is it?” JC inched his way a few feet further down the slope to get a better look at the creature stuck in the tree below.

Ron squinted. “It could be a goblin if it wasn’t fuzzy like that.” He was forced to do a double take. “Are those spark plugs in its belt?”

“I’m more concerned with the pocky in its fist.” JC replied. “What the hell? Is this some kind of con Easter egg?”

“Um, guys?” Tink was still nursing the small scrape above her eye. “Do you notice something up with the interface? Like not being able to bring it up?”

“Mine’s not working either.” Jamie noticed. “A glitch?”

“There seem to be a lot of glitches going on here.” Tink nodded. “The wind, me getting hurt, no interface—that qualifies as a major system failure as far as I’m concerned.”

“So we’ll tell them once the preview’s over.” JC shrugged. “I want to see what’s going on with this weird monster.” With that, he started down the slope.

“Wait, JC.” Warrick zoomed into his path, balancing nimbly on the precarious terrain. “Think a minute: Tink got hurt. She’s bleeding, man.”

“In the game. Not in real life. Come one, the system’s not that good.” He started to go around, only to be stymied again by his temporarily diminutive friend.

“I got completely jacked up by that bear.” Warrick pointed out. “But look: no blood, not pain. Tink gets scratched by a bush, and it both hurt and bled. And what kind of sadistic game designer would make the set dressing hurt you, anyway?”

JC tried to think of an answer, but Warrick didn’t give him time. “It’s not important. The point is, something’s wrong. The game may have glitched, but it glitched big. If a branch can scrape Tink now, what happens if this thing fireballs or shanks you?”

“Oh.” The full implication of the issue at hand struck a moment later; “Oh crap. What’re we gong to do? The log out command is on the interface and we don’t have one! What if this is one of those deals where if you die in the game, you die for real?”

“We don’t know anything for sure.” Jamie stepped up, which involved half striding, half sliding down the embankment to them. “For all we know, it’s part of the demonstration of the immersion technology. A publicity stunt.”

“No company is going to market their product by proving that it can hurt you.” Tink argued from the top of the ridge. “This is definitely a glitch and we need to figure out a way to either quit or get the designers’ attention.”

From the banks of the brook, there was a sharp crack as the branch holding the strange creature gave way. The monster let loose an undulating cry as it plummeted into the soft mud below it. For a long moment, it lay there, face down as if accepting its fate.

“Is that thing okay?” Ron asked the others. He wasn’t putting much stock into their worries; after all, more realism was a good thing, wasn’t it?

His worry was unfounded. After what appeared to be a period of sulking, the creature caught the scent of something. Sniffing noisily, it slowly got to it’s knees, taking time out to gaze mournfully at the muck ruined pocky. The scent, however, proved more worrying than yet another loss of a source of delicious sugar.

Lifting it’s muddied hand to its face, it took a long whiff. Then its expression changed, ears drooping, mouth quivering. And it started bawling. “No no no no!” It whined to the sky.

“Okay, monsters definitely don’t cry.” Ron decided. “Something is definitely wrong here.”

“Yeah, welcome to five minutes ago.” Jamie said sourly. “Now what are we going to do about it? We don’t even know if anyone’s trying to help from the outside.”

***

“MPD main dispatch.” A terse female voice said into Codex’s headset. It had to contend with the wind to be heard, as at the moment, she was standing atop one of Occults pentagonal shields, which was serving as an aerial platform for herself, Hope, Ephemeral and the aforementioned spellcaster as they flew over standstill traffic toward the convention center.

The titanic reptile was only the most noticeable to their problems; there were dozens of other… things emerging from video screens up and down the Money Mile. Here a sixth scale sports car tore down the sidewalk, knocking over anyone that couldn’t get out of its way. There, a three foot termite from a pesticide commercial scaled a building. As they continued on, a two story tall man, dressed only in a pair of designer briefs started posing in the middle of the street.

“MPD Dispatch,” She replied, “this is Codex, authorization number six-eight-seven-zero, confirm my veri-code password for this week as PG5-01A.”

“Veri-code confirmed, Codex, go ahead.” replied the dispatcher.

“I have information for all responders to the situation on Central Avenue. The entities they will encounter are not a threat, repeat not a threat. They can be neutralized with non-lethal ordinance if necessary, but the damage they can do is minimal. The primary danger here is from trampling crowds and car accidents. Please advise: responders need to focus on calming the crowds and closing down Central Avenue. The Descendants and Occult will take care of the source of the disturbance.”

“Copy, Codex, relaying your communication through the proper channels. Thank you and keep up the good work.”

“That means it’s going to be another twenty minutes before the men on the street hear it, doesn’t it?” Chaos, who had been listening in on his com, asked.

“I’m hoping for fifteen. They’re familiar with me now.” Codex shrugged.

“You know,” Facsimile winged over the flying platform, never letting the giant underwear model out of her sight, “Between that guy, and the tiny pirate, this is the best Faerie critter we’ve ever run into!”

“I’ve got to agree.” Hope too was eying him appreciatively.

“That thing is probably causing accidents up and down all the crossing streets.” Chaos pointed out.

“You wouldn’t be so surly about it if it was a fifty-foot Sonja Remington.” Facsimile observed.

Occult laughed heartily at this. “She’s got you there, Chaos.”

“Can’t you dispel these things?” He said, refusing to dignify that with a response. They were passing over the model’s head, the colossus not even seeming to notice as he stared straight ahead with vacant eyes.

“I could, but it’d take forever. It’ll be better just to find the gremlin, calm him down, then send him home. Think of it like emptying a bathtub with a teacup versus pulling the drain plug.”

“Then let’s get to the convention center and pull the plug quick.” Chaos increased his speed to pull ahead of the platform.

“Hey, if we’re lucky, Alloy’ll already be there and have it all tied up.” Facsimile said.

“Yeah…” Occult said wistfully. “I just hope no one there is hurt.”

***

Minutes later, the platform touched down in front of the Market Street entrance to the Convention Center, the one that was at the same level as the main hall. The atmosphere there wasn’t exactly what Codex was expecting.

“Are people trying to get in?” She asked the others.

“You’re seeing the same thing I’m seeing then.” Chaos landed nearby.

Indeed, convention security was having a hard time holding back what looked like a couple hundred people, all trying to push past the doors. The arrival of the Descendants (plus one) provided enough of a distraction for them to force some of the automatic doors closed, but not all.

Facsimile hit the ground in a flashy, dramatic flutter of golden wings and strode directly to the rearmost portion of the crowd, most of whom were trying to get pictures of the arriving heroes.

“Oh man,” One of them said. “Are they for real, or are they here for the Sanctum Comics event?”

“Nah, that’s tomorrow.” Another replied. “They’re real.”

“No way, man, it’s all special effects. That thing they landed on looks so fake.”

Facsimile fumed. “I am too real!” To demonstrate, she absorbed her wings back into her body and used some of the mass to grow savage claws. “Now someone better explain what’s going on here.”

“I’ll tell you if you take your picture with me.”

“Someone who is not a total gobhead.” Facsimile corrected. “People might be hurt inside.”

“Yeah, because they’re stupid.” A teenager with some sort of scaly prosthesis on his face and hands stepped up. “Someone started up an awesome hologram show in there that made it look like everything came alive and people flipped.”

“Dude, some people just don’t get new tech.” A girl whose skin was covered with silver make-up shook her head. “Like how when they invented movies, people thought the train was going to run them over.”

Facsimile turned back to Occult and Codex. “Gremlin?”

“Gremlin.” Codex agreed. “Alright, everyone clear the way! What you’re all here to see isn’t a publicity stunt, it’s the side effect of an unknown entity which may be dangerous.”

“Seriously?” The scaled kid asked. “Cool. We’re gonna see a real prelate battle!” The idea swept through the crowd, along with an accompanying cheer as they made way for the heroes.

“Huh.” Chaos said to Codex as they approached the doors. “Outside, everyone’s scared. In here, they think it’s awesome.”

“And for all my vaunted superhuman intelligence, I couldn’t tell you who was better off.”

Passing among the fans, one particular comment caught Ephemeral’s attention. “Man, Sanctum couldn’t have asked for better publicity for Prelates of Mayfield. They’ve even got Occult with ’em.”

Ephemeral broke step just for a moment to turn to the speaker, a twenty something girl wearing a black shirt with a pink skull and crossbones on it. “Excuse me, did you say that there is to be a comic book about us?”

This got Facsimile’s attention as well. “A comic? About us?”

“That’s awesome!” Hope exclaimed, drawing the latest in a week’s worth of confused looks from Facsimile.

“That’s what we’re guessing.” said the portly young man who was standing with the girl. “Sanctum said they had an announcement they could only make n Mayfield, and everyone knows they pulled in Sterling Jackson to write something that’s been under wraps.”

Pure, unrestrained glee lit Facsimile’s face. “This is now officially the best day ever!”

***

“This is the worst day ever!” Tony Meadows moaned to himself as he ran through the convention hall.

After the initial shock of the collective toys, videos and holograms seemingly coming to life and the ensuing panic, someone had realized that everything that had come to life had about as much injury potential as a foam dart and was far more flimsy.

The convention had become a sort of giant, freeform roleplay as people hunted and fought their favorite game monsters or least favorite characters, led armies of stuffed animals and toy spaceships against each other, and tried in vain to strike of conversations with corporate icons.

In fact, anyone that hadn’t been hurt and taken to the medical station in the first moments of panic was having the time of their life. Except Tony.

He’d been standing near a large screen display featuring the adventures of the anime characters Haruka-chan and Asuna-chan, a pair of childlike characters with arms like flippers and giant mallets that liked to chase, smack and insult their enemies. And they viewed him as an enemy.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad if they were the three-foot nothing size they were in the show. Leaping off their big screen, they were around seven and a half feet tall each which made their comically oversized mallets that much more oversized.

Non-lethal or not, they stung when he got hit and all the while, they were shouting insults in Japanese at him.

“Urusai, Kono Bakayaro!” One of them (he couldn’t tell them from one another) shouted, bringing down her mallet in an overhanded swing.

Bracing for impact, Tony barely noticed when he ran past a vision in golden feathers.

A spike of bone jutted upward as the mallet descended, punching into it and shattering it in the same grand style as the policeman’s bullet. Facsimile swept away the black smoke issuing from it with her wings.

The cartoon mischief maker stopped cold, causing her compatriot to run into the back of her and fall over thanks to her over-sized head. For a second, she stared at her broken mallet, then promptly fell to her knees and began bawling, complete with twin geysers of tears.

“Aw man, now I feel like a jerk.” Facsimile frowned.

“They’re not real.” Chaos grunted as he hit a robotic spider the size of a dog with a blast of wind that slammed it into a support column. The impact released the shadow illusion over it, allowing the plastic toy to clatter harmlessly to the floor.

“Ooo!” Facsimile exclaimed. “That was the Sydney from Live Metal! Do you think they have Tricera-drops models yet?”

“Head in the game, Fax.” Codex chided playfully. “We still have a gremlin to find.” She consulted her scrying and followed it toward the SID display.

“I should have gone to this.” Facsimile said.

“Same here.” Occult nodded. “For a lot of reasons. I hope they don’t cancel tomorrow’s stuff so I can go.”

The group followed after Codex all the way to the SID display, now in relative shambles from the ruckus. Three men were gathered around a console behind the two rows of gaming pods with the security guards keeping any shadow illusions away. Already, there was a mound of ruffled soft toys at their feet.

The guards eyed Codex warily as she approached. She ignored them, the scrying crystal was more worrisome at the moment. “This doesn’t make sense. It says the gremlin’s right there, between these…” She looked up at the pods and their organic looking stalks. All signage available was gone by now.

“Excuse me, what are these?” She asked the nearest guard.

One of the men at the console turned around. He was a slight man, on the cusp of going bald, but considering his dull, flat hair, it was probably for the best. “Oh my god… um, Miss… Codex, you don’t want to get any closer to that.”

“Why?”

“We…um… we don’t know.” He admitted. “Right when everything got crazy, some kid in a weird costume jumped the divider there and… well he disappeared.”

“Along with the players in the pods.” Another said. He was taller than the others, which wasn’t saying much, but Codex found him handsome in a timid kind of way. “It’s weird. The pods are locked down, sealed– and still broadcasting brainwaves, but the seat sensors say no one’s inside.”

Codex gave the machines a look again, mentally changing the angle of her view in her head. “Players… oh.” She had seen this machine before, the full immersion gaming system. “Occult, a moment.”

She took the younger woman off to the side and spoke in hushed tones. “The Book says the gremlin’s power is ‘life to the lifeless’, right?”

Occult nodded.

“What if… well, the Books are written from a standpoint of what’s easier to understand. What if it’s more complex than that? I mean, static pictures only animate, but statues move and moving pictures can step off the screen.”

“I see what you’re getting at.” Occult nodded. “What if the shadow illusion is boosting the level of… well reality in the thing based on how real it seems to start.”

“Exactly. So a video can gets up and walks away. But what if you’re observing a piece of art that you can hear, feel, touch, taste and smell simultaneously?”

“How much more real can you get?” Occult asked.

“Really real.” Codex concluded. “I think that the players in those pods are now really in the game!”

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

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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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