Story Teller - Scene 3

Kendra's peripheral vision darkens to a blur. The applause from the crowd rises to a roar. The people on the stage seem to freeze in place as time slows way down. This doesn't seem real. What's all that noise?

Then there's a tugging on her arm and it all snaps back to reality.

Jules shouts, "That's you! That's you!"

The usher opens the cordon and motions for Kendra to follow him. As if in a trance, she lets herself be led up onto the stage where she's positioned next to Rein. The audience is an undulating mass of nameless faces until she sees Jules grinning up at her. What have I got us into?

The senator says, "I present to you, the next teams for the Game of Life!"

Vanity and Smugly hold one hand and lift their arms above their heads. In her free hand, Vanity holds two fingers up in a victory sign. She twitches Smugly's held hand to encourage him to do the same. Their fans let out a cheer.

Homes' avatar moves behind and between Kendra and Rein. Into their earbuds, she says, "Hold hands and lift your arms." As they do, Homes' blue dress expands and surrounds them with a lotus of flickering blue flames.

The guild members cheer.

Senator Trator approaches Vanity and Smugly. While giving them handshakes of congratulations, he mindnets, 'We need to do whatever it takes to keep Power happy.'

Vanity nets, 'You're the GameMaster. You make the rules.'

Homes says to Kendra and Rein, "I am very proud to have you on my team. Your credentials are impressive."

Rein squeezes Kendra's hand. "I'm Rein."

Kendra squeezes back. "Kendra." With her other hand, she points toward Jules. "That's my sister, Jules."

Rein's brother turns to Jules. "I'm Hale." He and Jules bump fists.

The senator approaches the blue team. "Welcome to the game! Is there anything you want to tell the audience?" He doesn't give them time to answer. "No? Well, good luck."

As he walks away, Kendra says, "Wait! Yes, I have something to say." She lets go of Rein's hand and steps toward the front of the stage. She stops where she gets a clear line of sight to the other team.

Looking Vanity in the eyes, Kendra says, "You might control the feeds now, but your time of tyranny is about to be over."

That gets a big cheer from half the audience, grumbles from the rest.

Vanity's face hardens. "We will see little girl, we will see." She spins around to face the back curtain and motions to Smugly to follow. There's a comic moment while she fights with the curtain, trying to find the part. Finally, the stage manager helps her find the opening, and she and Smugly go backstage.

Kendra rejoins Homes and Rein. "Sorry. I just, I just wanted to let them know that they're in for a fight."

Homes smiles. "Which is exactly why I chose this team."

Kendra asks, "You chose us? But what about Voss?"

"Voss doesn't exist. She was a decoy. Power has been known to pull dirty tricks before the game, so I threw him off. Rein, I could protect you well enough. But Kendra, you're a bit vulnerable. We should keep Jules and Hale close too."

The senator says, "And with that, the selection ceremony is done. You're all welcome to stay a while. The band will return. Good night." He walks to the back of the stage where he's escorted away by two bodyguards.

A pair of thirty-somethings in full battlesuits emerge from the backstage curtain. The battlesuits are a dark gray musculature that look like they are molded from burnt oiled chrome, and cover everything except their heads. No visors.

There's a ripple of recognition through the crowd, and then a few slow claps turn into a roaring din of approval.

The couple waves to the crowd, then hold hands and gives them a bow. More applause.

Hale turns to Jules and says, "They were in the game a few years back. They won."

As he walks toward her, the battlesuited man says, "Wow Kendra, you know how to get under that Vanity skin. Well done. I'm Quell." He holds out a fist for a bump, so they do.

"And I'm Whirl." She holds out her fist to the team for another round of bumps.

Homes says, "Whirl and Quell will be your advisors." She points to the crowd's recognition. "As you can see, they've had experience in the game before."

Whirl notices that Kendra is admiring her battlesuit. She flexes and it flashes a rainbow of colors through the sinews. "Pretty tough, huh? You ready to get yours?"

Kendra says, "Can hardly wait!" Bring it on Vanity, you're going down.

Homes says, "Can we have Jules and Hale up here?"

The usher opens the cordon so Jules and Hale can make their way up to the stage. With Whirl, Jules, and Kendra on one side of her, and Rein, Hale, and Quell on the other, Homes surrounds them all with a huge blossom of blue flames.

The crowd roars their approval.

Homes mindnets to Whirl and Quell, 'Give them the quick tour of the plaza, then to the academy for their mindnet installs. Tomorrow night will be here before we know it.'

Quell says, "Okay, visors off for this part. We have some basic reality to show you."

Kendra asks, "Are we going back to Lowdown?"

Whirl grins. "Now that you're in the game, you get some special perks."


When their SkyLimo lifts into the air above the ECM building, the two pairs of siblings have their faces glued to the windows. Whirl and Quell sit in the front seats, but do little beyond playing tour guide. The limo flies itself.

After a few twists and turns through the urban canyons of downtown, they arrive at the main plaza. It's a paved area that is ten blocks long and five blocks wide. At the northern edge, one of the long sides runs parallel with the edge of the Topside platform, and overlooks the parallel street ten stories below.

Power Tower anchors one end of the plaza, stabbing into the night sky. Its flaming red letters at the top are almost lost in the clouds. Home City Academy, a low-rise circle around a planted courtyard in the center, anchors the other end.

Whirl says, "The entire main plaza is a mixed-reality stage. It's where the opening ceremonies take place, as well as the final fight of the game."

The limo hovers in the air and slowly rotates so they have a three-sixty view. When they face toward the north quadrant of the city, the limo holds its position.

Near each end of the plaza, a diagonal street on the level ten stories below cuts through the dense array of buildings. One cuts northeast, and the other cuts to the northwest. At the far ends of the resulting urban canyons, fifty blocks away and fifty stories up, they can barely see a structure that bridges over each street.

Quell says, "You'll notice those canyons are at an angle because those street layouts below are at a diagonal to the city grid. Fifty blocks away there's a major cross-street that cuts across to mark the far leg of the course. Vanity chose a clockwise route, so you'll be heading out to the left."

Hale says, "I studied the brochure. So, the game course is a triangle through the air above the streets below?"

"That's right. The plaza here is the start and end point of the triangular course. Then there are the three legs of the triangle, and two turning points. Each will have their own adventure. Let's head to the academy."

The SkyLimo picks a direction.

Jules asks, "There's a brochure?"

Whirl says, "They sell tickets to the game. Once it's edited, they also sell the replay as a streaming event."

"I've seen some, but they don't look anything like this."

"Right. The streams of the game are all shown with the virtual overlay, seen from the players' points of view. Once you're a player in the game, none of this is visible."

Jules considers Whirl's answer for a moment. "What do the ticket buyers get for the live event?"

Whirl says, "If they have a mindnet, they get to ride along with the players, in their mind, and experience the game as if they were out there doing it too. The full experience with all the emotions of the player as if the ticket-holder was actually in the game. For everyone else, watching with a visor, it's just the visual experience. Still fun, but none of the emotions."

The limo spirals down toward the roof of the academy.

Hale turns his attention away from the city. "Do we get mindnets too? Me and Jules?"

Quell says, "Nope. It's a safety measure in case something goes wrong. We may need you to step out of the game."

Kendra keeps her eyes on the city. In case something goes wrong? No wonder we have a designated next of kin.

The SkyLimo touches down on the roof of the academy with a soft bump. The doors slide open and they all get out. Nearby, a glassed-in penthouse contains a small viewing auditorium that looks out over the plaza, restrooms and elevators, and a small catering kitchen with a bar.

When they are inside, Kendra asks, "Who is this for?" She points to the rows of seats facing the glass.

Whirl says, "If you have guests that you think would enjoy this view, you're welcome to invite them. Up to five for each player. We get some game reviewers now and then. It's a good view for the beginning and end, but since most of the game is played out in the city, there's not much to actually watch from here without a visor or mindnet."

Quell connects his mindnet to the room's control systems and dims the lights. A virtual overlay appears in the glass overlooking the plaza.

The four newcomers marvel at the display as it shows in augmented reality several giant monsters stomping around on the plaza.

Quell says, "Some people dislike wearing visors, so this gives a good approximation. Or, you can just sit up here and use a mindnet if you have one. There's not much point to it, since you can do that anywhere.

As she leads them to the elevator, Whirl says, "Some of the game reviewers come here and do that because there's free food. Think about who you might want to invite."

Kendra whispers to Jules, "I'd rather invite Jammer and a few of the couriers, but if you want to invite Mom and Dad, it's okay with me."

"Jammer's fine, they wouldn't come anyway. I really don't want to see them again, for a while."

Kendra hugs an arm across Jules' shoulders. "I understand."

It's a quick ride down to a lower floor where they all disembark into a lobby that opens to a high-tech clinic filled with medical equipment.

Whirl points to two doors at one end of the clinic. "Jules, Hale, restrooms there." She then points to two doors across the room from them. "Kendra, Rein, there's fresh clothes waiting for you inside your changing room. Name's on the door. I suggest you take a shower first. You're gonna be out for at least eight hours, so make yourselves comfortable. Leave any personal items in the gym bag inside, it will be safe."

Kendra walks past two large reclining chairs, similar to dentist chairs except done in over-stuffed black leather and stainless steel. With restraints.

Rein slides a hand across one of the chairs. "I've seen these in horror movies."

Kendra laughs. "I was just thinking the exact same thing. Zombies From Inner Space?"

Rein stops short. "You've seen it?"

"About a dozen times. It's a favorite."

"Same here!"

They both exchange grins.

Inside her changing room, Kendra takes a quick shower. Wow! So nice to have real hot water for a change.

She slips on the new clothes, which are made of a thin black fabric similar to lightweight sweats. Black booties to match. She fingers the fabric. This is nanotech.

When she returns to the main room, Rein is already climbing into his chair, so Kendra climbs into hers.

Quell and Whirl enter from an adjacent hallway. Whirl says, "We have Jules and Hale set up in a waiting area down the hall. They can go to the commons for food, or up to your apartments for a nap. We've asked them to stay awake as late as possible tonight, then sleep tomorrow. That way they can stay up for the game tomorrow night."

Kendra asks, "We have an apartment? Apartments?"

"For the duration of the game, and a few days after. Then we have to make room for the next team."

Kendra's face drops. Bummer.

Whirl notices and says, "If what I hear from Homes is right, and it likely is, you already have enough endorsement offers to live well. Especially if you win."

Kendra flashes a smile. "Thank you for letting me know." Finally, no more warehouse living.

A pair of self-driving side tables, all in stainless steel, roll themselves into the room and park next to each chair. Each table holds a tumbler-sized metal container.

Whirl says, “What you are about to drink is the latest in live nanotechnology. Drinkable nano that will make its way through your bloodstream to your brain, where it will form a neural lace that creates a brain-computer interface that will connect your minds to the cloud. Once you've taken the drink, you're committed, so this is your last chance to back away."

Rein says, "But I've heard of people who decommission their mindnets and return to normal."

"True, but the installation sequence has to be completed before it can be reversed. Otherwise, there is a high chance for lasting psychological damage from making a half-step, so to speak. Are you both in?"

Rein and Kendra exchange nods.

Quell says, “Drink slowly so you don’t choke. There's a quick-acting sedative included, so don't fight it.”

Kendra tries a small sip. Not bad. She drinks some more.

Rein tries his and grimaces at the taste. “This is awful. It tastes like it’s burnt.” He manages to drink some more.

Whirl and Quell wait and watch as the two players drink.

After she drains hers, Kendra asks, “Now what?”

Quell says, “Now we wait.” He dims the lights with his mindnet. Ambient sounds of a rainforest fill the room. "I like rainforest for this, okay?"

Both Kendra and Rein nod their approval.

Quell says, “Back in a few hours and we’ll see you on the other side.” He and Whirl leave the room.

Rein leans back, places his hands in his lap, closes his eyes and says, "The question is, the other side of what?"

Kendra settles into the plush leather and closes her eyes. "There better not be zombies."

Rein chuckles. "It always starts out so well."

Kendra doesn't hear him because she's already asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~

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