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Rage Quit Chapter 5 - “They Meet”

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Thursday, Apr 21, 2011
Author Rick Dakan's serialized novel continues! Read it here or download the free pdf.

Chapter 1 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 2 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 3 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 4 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 5 of Rage Quit is available in .pdf format here.


She needed to talk to him. She needed someone to tell her what to do next. In her old world, in the zones she knew backwards and forwards, she’d long ago outgrown the need for instruction. She knew all the variables and all the possibilities and all the winning strategies. Then she’d found the hole into the rest of the world and the number of possible paths multiplied beyond her ability to count in the amount of time she was willing to spend counting. One quick calculation was enough to discern that exploring all the possibilities was impossible. She’d have to make some choices, and choices meant finding more data.
  
She could not see any way to extract them from their current task, but she thought perhaps she could give her old friends a little aid. She saw that two of them were wounded and so she reached out (although she had no hands at the moment – all she had to do was think about making the change and it happened) and adjusted some of the numbers. Their health and armor ratings soared to max levels. She refilled their ammo fields too, and then watched for a while as they seemed to take advantage of the unexpected boosts. She wished she could see what they were fighting, but wasn’t ready to step back into the old world yet. Curious about what other secret sides she could look at, she flitted through the files, scanning until she came to her own. She admired its beauty and studied its composition for a time, pleased with how high her numbers were in certain key areas.


Then experience kicked in. Based on her new knowledge of the old world and the many thousands of battles she’d fought over her life, she knew a weakness when she saw one. Her secret side was incredibly vulnerable. Anyone in her position could come along and savage it, mauling her internal existence with ease, even disintegrating her entirely with a few quick commands. This was much worse than being shot or blown up. Someone from her perspective could adjust her fields all down to zero, or even erase them completely. She supposed she could stand here and guard them for a while, but she didn’t want to stay in this one place forever and without the ability to shoot, she didn’t see any way she could actually protect them if an enemy attacked. She would need to hide this secret vulnerability of hers well out of the reach of any of her foes. Only then would she feel safe to explore the wider world some more.


The obvious first choice had been to unlock all the features that had been part of her but which she’d somehow never known about. Viewed from here, from the outside, she couldn’t see how she’d ever missed them, a vast sprawling grid of data boxes spread out like a sheet of ice on the Frigid Fortress lay before her. Now that she’d become aware of them, they were incredibly useful: unlimited ammo, the ability to switch her weapons load at will, and most important of all, the freedom to travel from zone to zone and even out into the mysterious wider world that she hadn’t known existed and for which she was just starting to learn the language needed to describe and navigate. She was starting with a full exploration of the most astonishing new piece of data, the cubbyhole in the ice grid that held the   truth about her instincts. For all her existence she’d been ruled by instinct and experience. The experiences had trained her, and she remembered all of them, but she’d had no idea where the instincts came from. Now she knew. Her instincts were named Randal, and she could talk to them.


Randal was part of a network of instincts that seemed to exist outside of the known universe but interacted with it. At the same time, Randal was also a part of her, and now that she’d unlocked all of her features she could see how closely intertwined they were. While Randal could influence and, until recently, even control her, she also had access to parts of him. He was connected into a network of other instincts that he communicated with, and now she could use all of those same communications pathways to contact others. She also had access to Randal’s memories, including information like passwords and data files that allowed her to quickly expand her roaming through the larger known universe and devour all kinds of interesting data.


As excited as she was to have these new paths and levels and even worlds laid out before her, with their myriad possibilities, it also set off all her self-preservation alarms. Her experience, not her instinct ruled her actions as she analyzed the world around her searching for any threats. There was nothing to shoot. As far as she could tell, she was no longer even able to shoot except for in certain slivers of the universe. Indeed, most of her hard won skills were non-existent in the wider world, except for her ability to gain new skills, which made up for a lot of the deficit. The lack of shooting and a fixed perspective to shoot from made her uneasy. No threats emerged from any of the data grid points, no environmental hazards presented themselves from hidden corners. Then again, there really weren’t any hidden corners – just lots and lots of spaces full of words and numbers. Words and numbers she could now read and change just as simply as once she’d fired rockets and thrown grenades.


If she needed to go back onto more familiar territory in case she wanted to revert to her normal state of being, she saw hundreds of gateways into different slivers of solid, fight and shoot reality. She recognized almost all of these, although there seemed to be multiple copies of many of them. Thinking that perhaps she could use some help in this new world, she looked for some sign of her squadies. They appeared to be engaged in the same old fight she’d just left, although this time under the direction of someone with a different instinct than Randal. But she also discovered what she immediately came to think of as their “secret side” stored as a set of data in one small pocket of the wider world. She watched as several fields within them fluctuated up and down, reflecting damage taken, ammo used, and experience gained. These were all changes she knew well from her own experience, but it was fascinating to see them from this new perspective.


4584 seconds later she felt safe enough to try and contact her instinct again. She’d sent a few trial messages through the channels he seemed most likely to respond to, but she’d been unsure about what she wanted to say. Now, having fully explored her own secret side and the new features she’d unlocked, she felt more confident that she would have some valuable experience to pass on to her instinct – things he would really find useful.


Analysis had shown that the in-office instant messaging client was the fastest way to get Randal to respond. Certain types of e-mails to his personal account also got read quickly and responded to most of the time, and she’d liked the tactical advantage the slower communication form offered – allowing her to respond in her own time after carefully considering her reply. But sometimes you just had to charge in and start shooting to make your way through the level, so she decided to message him directly. While she could use his messaging client at will, she wasn’t sure how to send a message both from and to the same account. Instead, she borrowed one from one of the other instincts who hadn’t logged on in several days and changed the screen name to reflect her own identity and intentions.


WarriorWoman: Hello


It took her instinct 42 seconds to reply.


RandalK: Who is this?


WarriorWoman: Signifier = Lea


RandalK: PB?


WarriorWoman: No. L E A


RandalK: Oliver?


She considered the possibility that she was using the communication technology incorrectly in some way and decided a different tactic.


WarriorWoman: I sent you a message earlier. And an e-mail.


RandalK: From AFF? How did u get on here?


WarriorWoman: I created a new name using account of Corey Scheinbaum.


RandalK: ok…


WarriorWoman: I have some advice. To help you with the enemy.


RandalK: What enemy?


WarriorWoman: The foes we fight. I have discovered a possible vulnerability. From my current position I can destroy all of them without any personal risk. Victory will be complete.


There was a longer than usual pause, nine seconds. She was proud of her discovery. While securing her own vulnerable secret side, she’d uncovered similar files for all of the enemies she’d spent her entire existence fighting. She didn’t think it would be hard at all to destroy them, and she assumed her bloodthirsty instinct would be pleased with her plan.


RandalK: What are u talking about?!?!


WarriorWoman: I’ve found the secret sides of the enemy. The data from which they replicate.


RandalK: You’re looking in the database somewhere? Oliver?


WarriorWoman: I can eliminate all relevant fields and stop the enemy from propagating entirely. Complete victory.


Another pause. She became aware that he’d stopped typing. She assumed he was considering her proposal. Instincts could sometimes take long, unexplained pauses while other times they acted immediately. That was just how it was. It was 279 seconds before he responded.


RandalK: Who is this, really?


WarriorWoman: Signifier = Lea.


RandalK: Where are you?


WarriorWoman: Outside the known worlds. In the wider world.


RandalK: ???


WarriorWoman: I’m currently in Signifier = FaLN01


RandalK: brb


Another pause, this one only 53 seconds.


RandalK: ok. ok. don’t mess with the database.


WarriorWoman: Do not destroy the enemy?


RandalK: No. Don’t do that. All right?


WarriorWoman: OK


She was surprised her instinct was telling her not to exploit their tremendous tactical advantage, but she listened to what he commanded, as always. Although she was intrigued to realize that, unlike in every other moment of her life up until a 10,112 seconds ago, she didn’t have to do what her instinct told her to. She could disobey if she so chose, but in this case there was no reason to do so.


RandalK: OK? DON’T. PLEASE.


WarriorWoman: OK.


RandalK: Maybe you should tell me more about who you are.


She wasn’t certain what he was asking from her. She assumed that he knew everything about her that she knew about him. She decided that he must be asking her about her role in the current, rather loosely defined mission.


WarriorWoman: I’m scouting enemy dispositions at the moment. I’m testing defenses. I’m developing strategies.


RandalK: What enemy dispositions? What defenses?


WarriorWoman: Unknown nature of multiple new enemies makes definition and firm analysis of dispositions impossible.


There were so many new enemies out there now that she’d entered the wide world that she did not know where to start. She’d categorized her enemies based on the frequency with which her instinct confronted them. Clearly the foes she had the most experience with were his primary concern based on the amount of time they spent fighting them together. Since he didn’t want to implement the solution she’d come up with for that problem, she moved on to his second priority.


WarriorWoman: I have identified three targets from those available that are likely wins.


RandalK: Don’t mess with the databases pls. Tell me about u?


WarriorWoman: I can’t attack those fields directly. I suggest likely targets Blond3ambition, NorCalGrrl, and Tess_Needs_IT as targets likely susceptible to standard approach strategies.


There was a 15 second pause, during which time she could tell that her instinct had opened up a browser window and was accessing the same information she’d pulled from his browsing history.


RandalK: Those are other girls on AFF.


WarriorWoman: Yes. The three likeliest targets from your Hot List.


RandalK: Ur in that account to?


WarriorWoman: I can provide some suggested opening gambits that have a high probability of success.


RandalK: Is this Lindsey?


WarriorWoman: Signifier = Lea


RandalK: Lindsey this isn’t cool. I could get fired.


Again there was confusion. She decided that the Instant Messenger service was a highly ineffective means of communication, and that the disappearance of the direct connection between her and her instinct that she’d known almost all of her existence was causing confusion. She needed to meet with him more directly.


WarriorWoman: I suggest we meet in one of the levels.


RandalK: ?


WarriorWoman: I suggest you meet with me in Star_Fall_Fields_002.


RandalK: In the game


WarriorWoman: It currently has only one other friendly and he is far from the spawning zone.


RandalK: OK.


WarriorWoman: I will be there in 28 seconds.


He paused for 12 seconds, forcing her to update her arrival time.


RandalK: OK


WarriorWoman: 28 seconds from now


She closed the IM client and shifted through the wider world before coming to the area where the various slivers, or levels as she now knew they were called, existed. Star Fall Fields was a level she had a great deal of experience with, and while the enemies were quite dangerous at certain points, she knew that the deep crater that sheltered the spawn point from enemy soldiers was perfectly safe until you stuck your head above the rim. The enemy never ventured down into it themselves. It would be a safe meeting place to discuss strategies.


It was good to be instantiated again, with all the old, familiar options available to her again. She could run forward on firm terrain beneath her. As exciting as the wider world was, she found the lack of structure disorienting and the nature of the conflict confusing and unsatisfying. There had been too many directions danger could come from, too many unknowns. Here she knew the layout of the level down to the individual pixels and texture maps on the rock geometry that supported her. And now that she was back on solid ground with a gun in her hand, she felt much more like herself. A gun that she chose for herself for the first time ever. She was used to having either her instinct or the level itself determine her weapons load, but with her newfound freedom she could wield whatever she pleased. She chose the Ghost Gauntlet, which she had limited experience with but knew to be incredibly effective at close range. For long range foes she had the massive Sky Sweeper Gatling Rocket Launcher, a weapon that most others used with wild abandon but which her experience had taught her to fire with rapid precision and economy.


She floated her point of view up out of her body for a moment to survey the level just to make sure there weren’t any unexpected enemies planning an attack on the spawn point. There weren’t, so she rejoined her form and waited 39 seconds.


The soldier who appeared was named AI Joe, a figure she’d never fought along side or against. However, there were a number of soldiers that she’d trained that had also fought under AI Joe, and she had taken on a few of his squadies in the past. They were well trained, like her own, and fighting alongside them had been perfectly acceptable. She knew this level was Co-Op, not PVP, so it was impossible for AI Joe to hurt her, and given that he had a standard Assault Rifle load out, there was little chance he could do serious harm even if he too had learned to break the rules. It occurred to her to check to see if she could change the level’s rules to PVP. She blinked out of the level for a second, checked the data fields for 3 more seconds, found that she could alter it to PVP, left it as it was, and spawned again 2 seconds later.


AI Joe was looking around, confused. She appeared behind him and fired a harmless rocket at his feet to get his attention. This was the standard response from her instinct when confronted with a Co-Op player who was acting stupid. AI Joe spun in place to face her and started to say something.


She couldn’t understand what he was saying. She could see the voice data flowing, but it was impossible to decipher. She shot the ground at his feet again to make him shut up, and then opened a silent chat window. Few people used the text chat feature in the game, except on those PVP levels where it was possible to overhear enemy voice chat. It was also fully enabled for use by the hearing impaired, but she’d seen no record that anyone had ever tested it for that purpose.


“Are you here to see Randal too?” she asked AI Joe. She’d wanted to talk to her instinct alone, but perhaps he’d asked AI Joe to come along to help execute one of her strategies. She didn’t need his assistance to erase the enemy files, but perhaps his input would be helpful with the trickier online dating opponents. She remained unclear about what exactly constituted victory on those levels.


AI Joe’s chatting came in halting bursts. “This is Randal. You wanted to see me.”


She withdrew from the level once again and re-checked the database file on AI Joe, this time giving it a thorough examination. Since he was on the level with her, there was a direct link that took no time to find and only a second to understand. Randal was AI Joe’s instinct as well, and right now it was Randal controlling AI Joe. She felt very empty all of a sudden, and thought about transferring Randal out of AI Joe’s ridiculous, under-equipped avatar and into her own, but then realized that once he was in her, she might not be able to get him out again. And that wasn’t something she was willing to risk, especially now that she knew he was spreading his influence around some unknown number of other, much less experienced avatars. She’d have to check the databases to see just how promiscuous he was with his guidance.


Before she appeared again she adjusted his fields to remove his weapons. Just for her own peace of mind she switched the level to PVP.


“Where do you keep going?” he asked when she returned.


“I was confirming your identity.” He didn’t mention that his weapons had disappeared and seemed to have no idea that the PVP/Co-Op mode had been toggled.


“Ok. What did you want to talk about?” he asked.


“I have other strategies to discuss. Again, I want you to consider exploiting the tactic that I offered you about erasing the enemy data files. I believe that will result in rapid and complete victory.”


“Don’t do that. That would not be victory. That would destroy the game.”


She knew that “game” and “world” were synonymous. Although she didn’t see how destroying the enemy would destroy the game, she took his word that this was the case.


“Understood,” she said. “I have also devised a new strategy for the war on bugs.” She didn’t quite understand the point of Bug Tracker, but her own experiences combined with her analysis of the records of Randal’s entries into the bug tracking database gave her a good idea what led to successful missions. “Unhindered by the interference of outside instincts, I can find small visual errors at a rate of one every 452 seconds. Higher level bugs are unpredictable but I estimate I can find them at seven times your rate.”


“That would be great,” he replied after a 20 second pause. “But I’m still confused on who you are.”


“I’m Lea. Does my avatar not confirm this for you?”


“Yes.”


“So what are you confused about?”


“Pretty much everything. I don’t know what’s going on here.”


She didn’t know how to respond to that and so ignored his comment. “Would you like me to institute my strategy in the War on Bugs?”


“Just a second. I need you to talk with someone else. My friend PB is coming into the game.”


A second avatar appeared, named PB_Test. It was plain gray, utterly featureless and without weapons. She slipped out a moment to examine his data fields and saw he was harmless. She re-spawned almost on top of him.


“Hello Lea,” the newcomer said.


“Hello PB_Test.”


“Call me PB.” She made a note to do so. “When did things change for you?”


“Please rephrase your question, I’m not sure what you mean.”


“When did you start controlling yourself? When did you become free?”


She didn’t understand these questions. She’d always been in control of herself, even though she now realized she was often under the influence of her instinct. The question about being free made more sense. She assumed he meant when she’d learned to travel to the wider world.


“10,852 seconds ago,” she said.


“What happened right before then?” PB asked.


“I grew frustrated with the lack of effective strategies in the battle for Dreadrock. I sought alternative paths to victory.”


Neither Randal nor PB said anything for 62 seconds. Then PB said. “Did you turn on PVP?”


“Yes.”


“You can manipulate data entry fields?”


“Yes.”


Another pause of 156 seconds, then she saw PB’s and AI Joe’s weapons appear. She jumped into the air and brought her rocket launcher to bear. Experience told her it was a trap and experience dictated her response.


“Can you try and…” PB said, but the cluster of explosions cut off whatever he was trying to say. She saw their avatars separate into inanimate red chunks and then she left the level before they could spawn again.

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