So here's the first installment: The Gamer, a short story written in fall 2005.
Korix stared, only half-interested, at the screen of his computer. Image after image of people in various fantastic styles of dress flickered across the monitor, one after another, each on the screen for only seconds. Each image belonged to someone– someone real, just like him– teenagers, mostly, but certainly there were adults who played the game, some even more obsessed with it than the teenagers were, probably. But Korix didn’t play. He never played any of the games that were offered– for free or for a price– on the Gaming Network. There were thousands, tens of thousands, possibly even hundreds of thousands of games on the Gaming Network, but Korix didn’t play any of them. He never played. For two reasons.
First of all, Korix was a writer, something practically unheard of these days, and that was how he liked to spend the majority of his time. Korix would spend hours in his apartment’s little living room, sitting on the lumpy couch in front of the TV. He almost never turned on the TV; he wasn’t even sure why he had one. He spent his hours on the couch with his portable computer console, typing and typing and typing, without rest, sometimes without eating, developing plotlines and characters until, more often than not, he fall asleep with the computer in his lap. It was his passion, but it didn’t quite pay the bills.
The other reason he never played the games was a little more personal to him than even his writing. Korix’s eyes darted to the computer screen, where the pictures continued to show for brief moments, one after another.
“Humans,” he muttered under his breath. “They’re all humans.” He reached out and flipped the monitor off with one of his long fingers. His hands, with their tiny palms framed by five very long, slender, almost twig-like fingers, were just one of the more obvious features of his that gave away his parentage. Rarely did a human fall in love with an Aerildan, and even rarer were the occasions that such a couple produced children. But that’s exactly what had happened with Korix’s parents. Lauren Barker had fallen in love with Xan, one of her Aerildan servants, and Korix had been the result of their union. Mostly-human features named him human-born, but the exaggerated proportions of those features– his seven-inch-long middle fingers, for example– proclaimed his Aerildan heritage as surely as if he were full-blooded instead of a half-breed.
The computer whirred softly. It was still running. Korix let it run. Why ruin a half-day’s work just because he was pissed off that his parents had managed to have him? It was pointless.
Someone knocked on the door to his apartment. He made no move to answer it. The door was unlocked; anyone who knew him would know that.
The door opened. “Richard? You here?”
Richard. Korix’s legal human name. He hated it. But he had to go by it, or he wouldn’t be considered human, no matter what his parentage. He was pretty sure if his parents had been the opposite– if he had been born to an Aerildan mother instead of a human one– that he wouldn’t count as being human in society. If he was born of an Aerildan woman, who would believe his father weren’t Aerildan, no matter how human he looked? The racial inequality made him sick.
Allen appeared in Korix’s scarcely-furnished bedroom and sat on the bed, squinting to see in the dim light. “Why are you sitting here in the dark?”
Korix flipped his computer monitor back on, bathing the room in an artificial glow as the images flickered across the screen.
Allen leaned forward and squinted at the screen. “What game are those from?”
“Night of the Master.”
“Oh. That explains why I don’t recognize them. I’ve never played it. Is the game any good?”
Korix looked at Allen slyly out of the corner of his eye. “It will be once I’m done with it.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Rich. About tampering with the games like you do. I think you should stop.”
“Eh.” Korix waved a dismissive hand at Allen, turned the dismissive wave into a stretch, and leaned back in his chair, lacing his long fingers together to support his head.
“Really, Rich. I think they’re on to you.”
Korix’s relaxed position disappeared with amazing speed. “What do you mean, ‘They’re on to me,’ Allen? Who’s on to me?”
“The Gaming Board. You know those games aren’t just there for entertainment.”
Korix ran a hand through the little hair he had on his head and leaned forward, resting his elbow on his computer desk to think. The fingers on his free hand tapped aimlessly on his leg. After a moment that seemed too short to Allen and too long, Korix sighed and looked at his friend. “I’m not stopping. If it weren’t for me, no one would play those games anyway.”
Allen shook his head. “You’re getting in over your head, Rich. They know you’re– well, not you, but someone– is hacking into their systems and changing their games. I know you enjoy the challenge, and you make the games more popular, but... those games are the way they are for a reason.”
“Allen, I’m not stopping. Games are supposed to be entertaining, not that brainwashing drivel the Gaming Board intends them for.” Out of the corner of his eye, Korix saw that the images had stopped flickering across the screen. Without a word, he was at his keyboard, inputting keystroke after keystroke onto a screen that made almost no sense to Allen.
“They’re going to find you if you keep hacking into the system like this, Rich. People have to play the games. There’s no way around it. It’s either play or get the subliminal messages they put into them the other way. No one beats the system.”
Without looking away from the keyboard or the computer monitor, Korix answered, “I’m above the system.”
Allen stood from his seat on the bed and put his hand on the keyboard. “No you’re not, Richard. No one is above the system. That’s part of what they teach you in the games, anyway. No one ever wins.”
Korix batted Allen’s hand away. “Every game I fix proves that wrong. Games I change can be beaten. It’s just a matter of time until someone realizes it. Someone will win, and then...”
“They’re going to find you. And once they find out who you are...”
Korix slammed his hands on the computer desk, upsetting a stack of papers and sending them scattering on the floor. He jumped to his feet.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it? The whole ‘I’m only half-human’ thing, isn’t it? You don’t want to see the Aerildans challenge the human government, do you? You don’t want equality! You’d rather see people like my father doomed to clean up after people like your human father until you destroy this planet like you did Earth, and then you’ll move on, leaving us to clean up the entire planet after you! That’s it, isn’t it, Allen? Admit it!”
“No! No! That’s not it at all! I’m your friend, Rich! Really! I just don’t want you to get in trouble! It has nothing to do with your fath...”
“Get out of my apartment, Allen.”
Allen quietly retreated from the apartment, closing the door behind him. Korix stood angrily by his computer for a few long minutes before storming to the door and locking it, just to make sure Allen wouldn’t come back right away. He’d come back again, probably tomorrow, and intent not to mention any of the games again for a long time. Korix wasn’t sure if he’d let Allen back in the apartment tomorrow or whenever he returned. He probably would... but not if he was still in this mood tomorrow.
Korix stood at his door for a while, just standing, leaning his forehead against the door, willing himself to calm down. He didn’t like being mad at Allen. They had been close friends since their early teens, but as they got older, they grew further and further apart. Allen’s parents were low government officials, and Allen himself was following after them. A friend like Korix– a half-breed– was not a good friend for him to have if he wanted to get anywhere in the political system. Having Korix for a son had certainly done nothing for Lauren Barker; before she had her son, she had been a promising candidate to be Mayor for this particular nameless city on the planet. But once the paternity of her child became public knowledge, her status in the government was gradually lowered. Now, she was just a clerk in some obscure office. It was better for Allen if the friendship ended. Korix decided then that he wasn’t going to let Allen back in the apartment again, for his own good.
Korix finally stepped away from the door and slumped onto his couch, rather upset with how his day had gone so far. His portable computer sat on the beaten-up old table that took up the space between the couch and the TV. Korix picked up the computer and began to write.
Allen left the apartment building feeling rather down. He paused just outside the door and looked back up towards Korix’s floor. “I tried to warn you.”
A rather compact, bitter-looking woman with sunken eyes and hair severely tortured into tight curls stood on the opposite side of the street next to a rather official-looking vehicle. Allen sullenly climbed into the vehicle behind her. The vehicle began to move, and Allen did his best to busy himself with the view out the tinted window and not feel the woman’s sharp eyes digging into him. She didn’t say a word, but he knew what she wanted to know.
“He’s not going to stop. He’s stubborn. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“Then I’m afraid we’ll have to apprehend him.”
“Just... give me more time. He’ll come to his senses. Give me a few more days! I’ll get him to stop messing with the games!”
“We can’t have this sort of interference happening with the programs. If he won’t stop by choice, we will stop him by force.”
“Just... another few days! Three! Three more days! And I’ll get him to stop.”
The woman’s gaze never wavered. Her sharp, sunken eyes bored holes into Allen’s as she seemed to scrutinize every inch of him. “You’ve already had a week, Mr. Steed. You have two days.”
The vehicle stopped, and someone opened Allen’s door for him to get out. He just stared at the woman, who met his stare unmercifully. Knowing he was beaten, Allen got out of the vehicle and watched it disappear down the road. He shook his head. “Listen to me, Rich. Listen to me.”
The rather insistent knocking woke Korix from his uneasy slumber, but he made no move to answer the door. He never did.
The doorknob turned, but the deadbolt didn’t allow the door to be opened. Korix knew who it was. He stared at the door. He was still in the mood he had been in yesterday. He closed the still-running portable computer in his lap and put it back on the beaten-up old table.
The knock came again. “Richard, I know you’re in there. Let me in. I really need to talk to you.”
Korix went into his kitchen to look for food.
The knock came again, harder. “Look, Rich. I know you don’t want to hear this, but you need to stop meddling with the games! The Gaming Board knows it’s you who’s doing it! They’re going to arrest you!”
There was a half-eaten sandwich in his refrigerator. He started eating it as he sat at his main computer. The work he had been doing on it yesterday was still up. The knocking and yelling continued as Korix
finished his sandwich and resumed the work he was doing. He tuned out the sounds made by Allen. Their friendship was over. For Allen’s good.
Korix only really noticed the sound when Allen finally gave up and stopped. The sudden silence made Korix... almost a little uncomfortable. Shaking off the odd feeling, he continued typing, entering command after command to “fix” the game he was working on at the moment. Nearly every game was the same, they just looked different. They were set in different worlds with different rules and different plots and objectives. In truth, though, they were basically variations on the same thing– the player was supposed to fight some terrible monster, evil overlord, corrupt organization, or other such threat to the safety of the world. But the games were programmed so that no matter how much a player played, no matter how strong their character got, and no matter how many players banded together to fight, the game always won. It didn’t bother Korix so much– at least it wouldn’t have bothered him so much– if any humans actually played the games. But humans couldn’t even access the Gaming Network. It had been designed as “entertainment” for the Aerildans, as a “reward” for all the hard work they did. But the hard work they did consisted of one thing– serving the humans. Aerildans were second-class citizens at best. Every one of them that Korix met was a janitor, or a maid, or some other low-level laborer who was grossly overworked and drastically underpaid.
Korix knew that the Gaming Network wasn’t really for entertainment or a reward. It was control. The Aerildans were practically forced to play the games; there was nothing else they could do in their spare time– what little spare time they had, anyway. In every game, the images of the characters were humans. The games were unbeatable... it was enough to make Korix fly into a rage. But what was worse, the Aerildans didn’t see the games for what they were. Or at least, they didn’t act on it. The humans were outnumbered by Aerildans on this planet nearly four-to-one, but no one raised a hand to overthrow the crooked human government. This was one of maybe fifty or sixty planets the humans had evacuated to when the Earth “died”– when all the resources were gone and the planet was no longer habitable. But now they were destroying the world of Korix’s people. And they were destroying the people themselves while they were at it.
His computer beeped. Someone was sending him a message. Allen, most likely. Korix sighed and opened his message window.
Rich, please don’t delete this before you read it. Look, they know it’s you. They contacted me first to see if I could get you to stop, but you wouldn’t listen to me, and now they’re really getting angry. Please, please stop. I’ve only got two more days left to convince you to stop, or... I don’t know what they’ll do to you. Please, Rich. I don’t want to lose my best friend.
Korix closed the message and shook his head. Two days. Well, he could finish Night of the Master in two days.
The computer beeped again.
We are still friends, right?
He closed the second message without replying and sighed heavily, thinking about the whole situation.
He couldn’t allow Allen to be his friend anymore, so what did he really have to lose?
The knocking came again, less insistent, but just as annoying. Korix sighed and got up from his chair. If Allen was this stubborn, he might as well let him in, even if it was just so he could throw him out again. Maybe then he’d get the idea.
Korix unbolted the door and let it swing open. A rough hand seized the front of his shirt and pulled him roughly out of his apartment. He was forcefully pressed against a wall and was only dimly aware of people rushing into his apartment. The rough hand kept his face pressed uncomfortably against the cold wall, so he couldn’t see what was going on in his apartment, but he could hear it. Whoever was in there was going through his things, but at least it didn’t sound like they were breaking anything. He waited angrily for the sound of his computer being ruined, but the sound didn’t come. He heaved a nervous sigh of relief when he heard the people leaving his apartment and going down the hall. The rough hand kept its hold on him, but now he was pulled away from the hall and pushed assertively down the hall after them. From the back, all he could see were perhaps a half dozen people– humans, of course– in dark blue and scarlet tight-fitting uniforms made of some synthetic fiber. There was no sort of identification that he could see from the back.
A dark blue and scarlet official vehicle was waiting right outside the door to the apartment complex when Korix and his captor exited the building. The uniformed people dispersed and headed off in different directions, but Korix was pushed towards the vehicle. A small group of people had gathered to see what was going on. Korix managed to pick out Allen’s chestnut-haired head near the door of the vehicle.
“Rich, I’m sorry. I tried to warn you.”
Korix turned an icy glare at him. “You said I had two more days.”
“That’s what I was told! I didn’t lie to you Rich, I swear!”
The rough-handed person began to force Korix into the vehicle. Allen was still adamantly arguing that he played no part in this apprehension when the door was closed and the vehicle started down the road. Korix sank back into the surprisingly comfortable seat and stared at the window. They were tinted completely black, so no one could see in, but he couldn’t see out, either. There was a divider between him and whoever was driving, keeping him completely alone. Glancing at the door, he noticed there were no interior handles. The vehicle– at least the back part of it, where he was seated– could only be opened from the outside.
The ride didn’t last very long. Before he knew it, the vehicle slowed to a stop, and the door was opened, letting him out. Korix had hardly gotten out of the vehicle when he was surrounded by perhaps ten of the uniformed people, who began almost immediately walking, leading/pushing him forward to... he didn’t know where.
He was in a building, he knew that much. Undecorated walls framed a small sort of a garage, though there was no door to be seen that the vehicle could have fit through. The only door he could see was a very plain door, the color of concrete, and it looked as though it had actually been made from it.
Despite its appearance, the uniformed man who seemed to be the leader of his guards opened it easily, without any sort of strain, and the door swung freely open, allowing passage into a hallway Korix could only put one word to: sterile.
The hall was not quite white, but not quite any other color, and it was brightly lit by a light source he couldn’t find. He had a fairly easy time looking around; the long neck he had inherited from his father made him tower almost two feet over his guards. There was no one else in the hallway for as far as he could see, but that wasn’t very far. The bright lights in the hall bounced off the walls– white or not, they reflected light as though they were mirrors, and it made seeing clearly a little difficult.
The hallway wasn’t nearly as long as he thought it was. He didn’t realize he was being pushed/led through a door until he was almost through it. He found himself in a colossal, silvery room filled with desks topped with the best computer terminals money could buy. People were working at the computers, their long, dexterous fingers making keystroke after keystroke; the incessant clicking made an almost technological symphony of strange white sound in the room. Lightly in the background, Korix could hear actual music playing, soothing instrumental work that did nothing to cover the clicking of the keyboards. It didn’t need to cover it, though. The clicking was soon easily and, in fact, almost automatically, tuned out by Korix’s ears.
The guards continued to lead Korix forward, down a sort of aisle in the center of the room, between the rows of desks, and Korix looked over the heads of them to see the workers. He couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping when he realized that every one of them– every single one– was Aerildan. Besides his guards, there were no humans in sight, and no half-breeds like him, either. At each computer was a full-blooded, long-featured Aerildan. Men and women– and some teenagers and children, even– worked at the computers, some with text on their screens, some with images of humans, or of landscapes, or of fantastic creatures or machinery...
“Games...” Korix whispered under his breath.
Another door opened in front of the guards, and the circle that surrounded him opened in front so he could walk in alone. Still more than a little surprised to see such a huge room filled with his father’s people, Korix entered the room alone. The door closed behind him.
This room was much smaller. It felt almost cramped compared the huge computer room. And compared to the computer room and the hallway, this room was... homey. The floor was hardwood polished to a shine, and the walls were painted a warm creamy color. A pale yellow wood desk sat atop a dark rose rug that accented the room nicely. A woman sat at the desk. An Aerildan woman.
“You must be Richard, “she said, smiling in an almost motherly fashion. “My name is Risa. Please, have a seat.”
Korix slowly sat in the big, dark rose-colored chair and looked rather suspiciously at Risa.
The Aerildan woman’s smile never wavered. “I understand you have an Aerildan name.” She held up a paper and looked over it for a moment. “Korix, correct? Would you rather I address you by that name?”
Korix couldn’t believe this was happening. But... What exactly was happening? He found himself nodding. “Yeah... I do prefer that name.”
Risa smiled. “Okay, then, Korix. Welcome to the Gaming Network. I’m sure you know what was taking place in the other room?”
He nodded slowly. “Were they the programmers?”
Her smile never so much as flickered, even as she spoke. “They are the developers, the designers, the programmers, the testers... every aspect of the games is controlled by the people you saw out there.”
“So... what do you do?”
“I oversee the production, distribution, and policing of the games on the Network.”
Korix repeated her words silently, his mouth forming the sounds in disbelief. “You...”
“Yes. I’m the Gaming Board. And you’ve been tampering with my games.”
Not surprisingly, and definitely not intentionally, Korix felt himself blushing.
“Why have you been tampering with the games, Korix?”
He hung his head, considering his answer. “The games are... repressive to my... our people. Only Aerildans play them, but their characters are always human, and the games never end. The final objectives cannot be completed. I’m... fixing them...”
“Explain how you ‘fix’ them, please.”
“Slight modifications to character design... I elongate the basic frames of the characters to make them appear more Aerildan.”
Risa jotted something onto the papers in front of her. Korix didn’t notice. “What else?”
Korix couldn’t explain his irresistible desire to tell the truth to this woman. He just couldn’t stop himself.
“It’s small changes, really. Decrease the relative difficulty level of the final boss or whatever, depending on the game, increase the abilities of the players’ characters... that’s just a modification to the percentage of ability increase at every stage of game play.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Korix still had his head down, looking blankly at the rug under his feet. “So... what happens to me now?”
Risa stood and walked to the side wall. A door camouflaged within the wall slid open, and a half-breed man entered. Rather pudgy and balding, he was in his middle years and was dressed in the same dark blue and scarlet uniform as the people who had arrested Korix. The evidence of his Aerildan half wasn’t nearly as pronounced as Korix’s was.
“Korix, this is Marshal.”
Marshal shook Korix’s trembling hand with his beefy one. “It’s an honor to meet you, Korix, is it? I’m
sorry, I’m used to hearing you referred to as Richard. I have a proposition for you.”
“An honor to meet me? What?”
Marshal didn’t seem fazed by Korix’s questions. “I’d like to offer you a development position in the Secondary Gaming Network.”
Marshal nodded. “About two years ago, a petition was brought to us. Apparently, much of the human population here is jealous of the Aerildans’ Gaming Network and want one of their own. We’ve been duplicating the servers and trying to find programmers, but we’re short on them. Humans don’t seem too interested in technology anymore, especially in making programs. We need people like you who have the ability and can program Aerildan characters.”
“Aerildan characters? Why?”
“We’re making the Secondary Gaming Network for the humans for the same reason the first one was created for the Aerildans.”
Korix was completely baffled.
Marshal seemed to pick up on that. “The Aerildans wanted to pretend to be humans. Korix, the humans want these games for the same reason: so they can pretend they’re Aerildans, at least for a little while.”
Thanks for reading! Remember, all comments are welcome! See you on September 23!