Sunday, December 31, 2006

Players - 22

Although he still hadn’t reached the save point in the ruins of downtown Los Angeles, Daryl was feeling pleased with himself. He’d closed out bids on three items he was selling on eBay, drawn from the store of gadgets, maps, and other valuables he’d acquired during Seeker8's adventures in Trans, and the deals had fattened his PayPal account by just over four hundred dollars. Even better, his partner, Ratking, finally had reached out to him, explaining that he’d had to attend to some urgent business out in the world, but now he could devote his attention to the final stage of the treasure hunt.

> I’ve developed a new strategy. I can’t come with you, but I’ll be watching over you. I’ll be your guardian angel.

> Lay it on me, Daryl typed.

They were instant messaging, East Coast to West Coast and back again. It was one in the morning in Brooklyn, just after Daryl’s latest attempt to get Seeker8 to the save point had failed.

> I purchased a hack that lets me watch anyone in the game. I’ve become a point of view, pilgrim. I’m the eagle that dwells on the rock. Wherever you go, I’ll be right there with you. I’ll be the voice in the burning bush. I’ll speak to you out of the whirlwind.

Daryl, reading this, hunched over the glowing screen in his hot dark cell in Brooklyn’s unsleeping anthill, wondered what had happened to his partner while he’d been out of the loop. Previously, Ratking’s messages had been terse and clipped, pure business and always straight to the point, but now he was on fire with self-importance and a Biblical fervour.

After a moment’s thought, popping gum with machine-gun rapidity, Daryl rattled out his reply:
> I’d rather you were watching my back, helping me knock down the warewolves.

Strictly speaking, Seeker8 had been taken down by tar babies this time, but it had been a pack of warewolves that had driven him into the broken channel of the Los Angeles River, with its smoking cinder cones, fields of congealed lava, and asphalt pits from which dozens of tar babies had clambered, lumbering stiff-legged towards him from every direction like giant teddy bears dipped in sump oil, eyes glowing red, stubby arms spread wide. He’d killed thirty or forty with incendiary bullets and grenades before he’d been caught from behind in an unbreakable embrace and carried off and drowned in a deep pool of oily water. The night before that, warewolves had chased him howling through the ruins, playing with him, nipping at his heels, harrying him with balletic coordination until they’d finally closed in and taken him down.

Each attempt to reach the next save point had been harder than the last. It wasn’t just that the warewolves were making things difficult. The game itself constantly evolved as players roamed across it and interacted with each other, finding treasures, trading secrets and weapons, making alliances, building or destroying fiefdoms. The game learned from players’ moves, adjusted itself to their strategies, messed up their plans by throwing storms and earthquakes, bandits and monsters into their paths. Daryl had been worrying that he had reached a no-win stalemate, reloading time and time again to try to make progress from a hopeless position, but now his partner was back with the promise of fresh information and this weird new mystical slant. Telling Daryl now:

> The eagle dwells and abides on the crag of the rock, and the strong place. That’s me.

Daryl massaged his forehead with one hand, and with the forefinger of the other hit the Caps Lock key and pecked ?

> Read the Book of Job, pilgrim. Meanwhile, you need to reach that save point. Let me make some suggestions.

Ratking might have started to have sound like the preacher at the church Daryl’s mother attended each and every Sunday, but his advice was as detailed and sensible as ever. After some back and forth, he told Daryl to wait until tomorrow evening before he tried to move on.

> I’ll be watching then. And when you reach the next save point, we’ll work out what to do next.


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