by Chris Kreuter
A young man is dying of cancer. He comes from a religious culture that rejects technology, but he chooses to help a good friend by testing her new virtual reality game. As he encounters a new reality, the game encounters a unique perspective.
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Part 5 : Turn 140
1. dRaGoN – 4,914,102
2. Anubis – 3,745,462
3. FilQway - 3,121,856
4. Nippon Ninja – 2,876,009
5. Pixie – 2,358,004
6. JimmyWu – 2,300,562
7. HerrKatzen – 2,284,512
8. Arrowdy – 1,947,431
9. Leikur Stjórnandi – 1,374,132
10. PLAYER 2242 – 1,000,003
Harey looked to the forest below, thick with trees and swarming with armored cats. HerrKatzen’s followers patrolled the territory around his Great Tower, safeguarding honored guests like Harey. It made Harey a bit dizzy, so he turned back up the ladder and climbed to the next platform.
Pixie surprised him a moment later, “Invest in wings 2242! You'd be there by now, slowpoke!”
“I don’t mind climbing.” Harey replied with a smile.
“Well better hurry, you know Mr. Kitty-pants doesn’t like waiting around.” Pixie said, fluttering away toward the large dome at the top of the tower.
Harey spent ten ore to boost his speed. He rocketed up the next ladder and up a large stone pillar shaped like a sisal scratching post. At the top Harey came to the entrance of the dome. It looked like a hundred foot tall domed litter box with no windows. A dozen more armored cats guarded its entrance. Their piercing red laser eyes and razored tails made Harey more fearful than secure.
The fat, hulking, purring avatar of HerrKatzen dominated the interior of the dome. Its gold crown reflected the light of a dozen gem-encrusted chandeliers.
“You’re late.” HerrKatzen hissed.
“Sorry. It took me longer than expected.” Harey replied.
In the shadow of HerrKatzen's tail, FilQway's dwarven avatar leaned against her battle axe. Her cartoonish weapon was three times taller than her avatar. Through the stalk of wheat in her mouth she said, “Give him a break whiskers, we ain’t been waiting long.”
“Well I’ve got gems to collect, so let's make this quick.” Pixie said.
“Are you going to get enough to keep our little gang going?” FilQway asked.
“HerrKatzen might have to take down the chandelier or two, but I might get enough. But that’s why I called this meeting.” Pixie said.
“Might get enough? Shit, you better not be wasting my time Pixie.” FilQway said.
“I'm not. In fact, I'm fairly certain I’ve figured out how we can all win the game." There was a pause for a reaction. Getting none, Pixie continued, "Now I still have to double-check my math…”
HerrKatzen interrupted, “Impossible. The game can only have a single winner.”
“It does?” Harey asked.
FilQway shrugged, “I don't know, but it's not like the game's told us for sure."
"Well I think there’s a way to ensure we could play the game forever.” Pixie said.
FilQway's laugh resounded through the dome, “Come on! This game’s awesome, but I’m a pro gamer. I’m doing this for all for my stream subs. No way I’m spending my whole life in here, you know?”
“I agree. I won’t settle for a tie.” HerrKatzen said.
“Hear me out. If we show the game our ability to play forever, I think the game will declare a draw. It makes sense that the game would reach some kind of conclusion, right?” Pixie said.
“The forums would go nuts if we pulled it off.” FilQway said.
“Sounds like a terrible plan, but let's say it's not. How would we play forever with the ante always increasing?” HerrKatzen asked.
“You all know my algorithm correctly predicts when gems appear. But we still don’t control enough forests to keep up with all four of our antes each turn.” Pixie said.
“And like I said the last time we met, it’s time to go on the offensive.” HerrKatzen said.
“I will always refuse to be a part of any violence.” Harey said.
“Come on dude, stop being such a wuss.” FilQway said.
“What’s a wuss?” Harey asked.
“Ease up Fil, he’s entitled to play how he wants.” Pixie said.
FilQway crossed her forearms, “You’re lucky we need all that wheat you’ve been farming, Mr. Nice Guy.”
“No, you’re lucky my army’s backing all of you up. All three of you would be followers if it wasn't for them.” HerrKatzen said.
“Yes, all hail your army of laser eyed Kano-Kats.” FilQway muttered.
Pixie flew into the center of the dome and shouted, “Stop it! This partnership’s worked for all us. 2242 is our farmer. FilQway owns most of the last mountains remaining in the game, HerrKatzen provides our muscle, and my gem algorithm ensures we always have enough for ante. Or at least it did until now.”
“What happened to it?” Harey asked.
“I admit it had a small flaw. It underestimated how many players started the game. I always assumed less than a hundred. But now that we have more data, the game must have started with about five hundred.”
“Four hundred eighty-two, to be exact. I finished scouting the whole map a few turns ago.” HerrKatzen said.
“Regardless, the algorithm for the rate of gem appearance is still correct, and it's still increasing. But it’s a slower increase than I thought. It's only enough to support at most four players. So if we were to co-operate, we'd be able to theoretically play forever.” Pixie said.
“But there's no guarantee the rate will stay the same.” HerrKatzen said.
“And what if Kitty gets bored and goes all SimCity on us, destroying all of us with every disaster possible?” FilQway said.
Harey raised a hand, “I don't understand all the math, but if this is possible, shouldn’t we try it?”
FilQway’s eyes narrowed, “Only if this isn't some trick, and Pixie’s building some kind of trap to eliminate us.”
HerrKatzen pointed a paw towards FilQway, “Pixie didn’t have to share her secret Fil. We'd probably all have lost by now if she didn't.”
Pixie nodded towards HerrKatzen, “Exactly. Besides, screwing you guys means hurting myself, since you wouldn’t give me any followers or territory when you died.”
“Damn right we wouldn’t.” HerrKatzen said with a sly grin.
“Now I should mention that my plan has a pretty big catch. If my math is right, the plan will only work if four or less of us control the entire map."
FilQway jumped off her axe, “So this only works if we take out all the other top players?”
Pixie grinned, “What, afraid of a challenge?”
“Hold on you two. All this is still dependent on hoping the game declares a tie. I still doubt the game's programmed for that.” HerrKatzen said.
“Even if it's not, at least it’ll be the four of us duking it out. One of us would be guaranteed to win.” Pixie said.
“The three of you can duke it out. I'm not attacking anybody.” Harey said.
“Come on 2242. You're going to have to for this plan to work anyway. And think about it, dRaGoN and Anubis have been terrorizing the game since the start. You'll be doing it for a good cause.” Pixie said.
HerrKatzen hissed, “And they’re winning because they’re willing to do what it takes.”
“Fighting isn’t the only…”
Pixie interrupted Harey, “No, the only way to play forever is if we destroy dRaGoN and Anubis and their gang of randos. That's it, plain and simple!”
“That’s suicide Pixie. Even with Puss’N Lasers here, there's no way we can beat either of those armies without having the other wipe us out.” FilQway said.
“No way I'm spreading my forces that thin.” HerrKatzen said.
Pixie blistered and flew towards the doorway, “Really? I've had enough of this. I'm better off seeing if one of those players are smart enough to appreciate my plan!”
HerrKatzen waited for Pixie to storm out of the dome. With a lazy flick of his paw he said, “Screw that noise. It was fun while it lasted. I trust you’ll see yourselves out.”
FilQway sighed, heel-kicking her axe up to her shoulder, “Well I guess that’s that. Good luck guys.”
Climbing down from the tower, Harey looked over the info bar:
WHEAT – 1,741,058
ORE – 679
GEMS – 1,154
FOLLOWERS – 92
TERRITORY – 36
He’d run out of gems in seven or eight turns. Trading in wheat and devoting all his followers to gem hunting might buy a few more. Assuming his territory wasn’t conquered by then. But Harey felt unsettled about something else, but he struggled to figure out why.
It wasn't until he returned to his territory when it dawned on him: He was on his own again. Isolated from a community. Unprepared for what would was coming.
Check out Part 6...
Follow Chris at chriskreuter.com, or on Twitter: @creativekreuter