Here’s draft 4 of chapter 76 where John learns about the augmented reality game.
This is a fun little scene where we take a break from the constant stress that we’ve been under in the John-and-the-Dogs thread (losing the sattelites, finding a strange facility, wondering if Gamma is going rogue) and instead indulge in a bit of levity revolving around an augmented reality MMORPG game. It also sets up two bits where the pay off comes way later:
- the Dogs are making money, and are on their way to being rich
- augmented reality can make other people look like anything – Hobbits, Orcs, and so on.
== 2064: Icarcus Crater, Lunar Nearside
The morning sun was low on the horizon and cast long shadows across. The oak trees were thick and dense, the way they had been for the last two days. John turned sideways to squeeze between two of them and then, after straightening again, saw that the dirt trail petered out in fallen leaves and needles just a few meters further.
He cursed and switched off the forest overlay. John squinted against the sudden glare. The sun was still low on the horizon and black shadows still stretched towards him, but the oak trees were replaced with boulders and other ejecta and the way forward seemed blocked.
Days like today – right after sunrise – were the worst of the 28 day cycle because of the glare and deep shadows, and the rapid cycling of the suit environmental system as he moved from one to the other. In another day or two the sun would be up high enough to make hiking easier. And around the same time they’d get past this debris field and the footing would be better too. He was looking forward to it – his mood would improve with out the constant irritations of the poor lighting and the rough hiking. Well, he’d still have to worry about Gamma, and how he was going to share his concerns with Mike.
Maybe the best thing to do would be to end the hike earlier, catch a ride back on the next supply ship, and discuss it in person? The Dogs would be upset – they were having the time of their lives. Maybe just a brief jaunt back, and then return to the hike? But how would be explain that to Gamma?
John blew air out of his cheeks. He had a week to decide before the next supply drop. Now, though, he needed to figure out how to get out of this maze of rocks. He switched to the navigation overlay. The blue path bifurcated again and again, each branch fainter than the last. Shit.
John took the opportunity to bench forward and touch his toes – or as close as he could come in the suit – and felt his back loosen and stretch. Standing up straight he looked around. Where were the Dogs anyway? He craned his head but didn’t see them anywh – ah, there they were. They’d taken a different parallel path and were downhill to his right. He squeezed between two boulders, started to slip on some scree, and caught himself after a short slide. Damn it. He straightened and picked a new route down the slope.
Ahead of him the Dogs apparently didn’t share his frustration with the boulders and the treacherous footing – they were running in circles, wagging their tales and seeming to be having a great time.
There were advantages to being a quadruped, it seemed. But what were they so worked up about?
John switched over to their channel.
“That’s the last of them – check the bodies for loot!”
He sighed and clicked over to the MMORPG overlay, then spent ten seconds dismissing dozens of alerts about status, health, and the need to “level up”. After they were gone he looked around – he was standing in a dripping cancerous forest, and the Dogs were replaced by short cloaked creatures with swords. John looked at them curiously then shook his head. Big feet, fur covered snouts. At their feet there were four dead creatures, lightly armored in leather, green skinned and tusked. Behind them the four mules were replaced with four ponies, loaded down with saddle bags and cargo.
John shook his head, switched back to the Pacific Northwest overlay and was just queuing up some music when Duncan pinged him.
“Hey, Duncan. What’s up?”
“Just taking a break from the game”.
“I can’t believe I’m asking this, but what exactly is it that you’re playing?”
“We’re a band of Hobbits. Well, not really – Max says that pretending to be primates is demeaning. So Rex hacked some race stats for HobDogs. Ah, and also Blue isn’t a HobDog; he’s a thousand year old shape-shifting wizard named Snorri the Grey. We’re crossing Mirkwood -”
John cut him off. “OK, I get it. So the four of you are running around fighting monsters simulated by your helmets?”
“Well, the five of us. You’re a descendant of an ancient king, but your second cousin is destined to the throne. We just killed a band of half-orcs.”
John looked at the dead bodies. “So you’re running around fighting against computer generated monsters.” He paused. “Huh.”
“They’re not computer generated. Well, I mean, SOME of the monsters are NPCs, but now that the satellites are back up, most of them are PCs.”
“Most of the monsters – and most of the allies, and the townspeople, and the elves – are player characters.”
John gave Duncan a quizzical look. “I still don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
“Most of them are played by other people.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Other people? Are you telling me that folks back at ARISTILLUS are plugged into this game?”
“A few – but mostly it’s Earth players.”
John blinked. “People on Earth are volunteering to run characters in your game?”
“Oh, no. That’d be crazy.”
John exhaled and smiled. There. Finally. At least a SMALL bit of this conversation made sense.
Duncan continued “We charge them!”
John blinked. “You – wait. You’re CHARGING people to pretend to be monsters that appear only in your helmets? On the moon?” He paused. “People PAY for that?”
“Why would we let them play for free if we can charge them?”
John made it to the bottom of the slope and caught up with the Dogs, then walked with them in silence for a few minutes. A question occurred to him. “How much?”
“How much do we charge them? I don’t know. The price fluctuates. It’s an auction.”
“Why, with all the online games back on Earth, why is anyone paying to play a game that has you four dancing around on the moon.”
“Novelty, I guess. Well, and, of course, the fact that we might actually die.”
John’s eyebrows rose. “You mean your characters might die in the game?”
John saw Duncan roll his eyes over the in-helmet camera. The gesture didn’t have quite the same effect without a human’s white sclera to accentuate the movement, but it still conveyed a meaning. “I think it’s the fact that we might actually die out here on the surface that has the fans excited.”
John digested that for a moment, then went back to an earlier question. “I understand that the price fluctuates, but – roughly – how much are you making? Should I be charging you for my guide services out here?”. John grinned at his joke.
“A few thousand -”
John’s curse or surprise meant that he didn’t hear the Duncan’s next few words.
” – per month, but we’re making most of our money off of the betting market.”
“Betting market? What are you talkin-”
“Hey, John, hang on. Max says that Snorri the Grey is about to cast a light spell and I’ve got to join in on this combat or he’s going to dock me some shares. I’ll talk later, okay?”