“What do I do now?”
“Pick a character. Here, I always go Dryad,” the Dwarf poked a few of the buttons on the controller he was supposed to relinquish, “You get a bonus to bullet resistance, though you can’t walk through a fire.”
“Unlike elves or humans,” Variel quipped as she waved her hands about as if swatting at a fly. The only source of light in the converted gaming cubicle of doom neé nursery room flickered as the screen flipped through race options.
“That is not a Dryad,” the captain complained to her pilot who insisted on this bonding moment to break in his refurbished projector. A project he attempted himself until his wife, in a moment of pity, finished.
“Sure it is, see right there in infinitesimal text: ‘Dryad.’ It’s italic and everything,” the Dwarf started out seated in his faux fabric couch, but at Variel’s first moment of confusion leapt to her side.
“Dryads do not have flesh, and, what are those monstrous growths on its chest? A fungal infestation?”
“You never seen a set of breasts before?” A lesser man than Orn would have turned bright red as the Captain zoomed in on the very voluptuous figure of the tree people, scrutinizing what she’d previously assumed were mushrooms.
“They’re trees! They’re not some poor woman smuggling a set of jousting balls in her tattered bra while suffering a terrible case of crotch vine.” Variel pushed a few more buttons and sighed harder, “And why does it keep calling me a she?”
“All Dryads are female.”
“That’s a good way to make certain your species won’t last past the first generation unless you work some frog DNA into the pool,” Variel muttered.
“Look, they’re not real Dryads, or Orcs, or Dwarves, or Dragons. It’s fantasy stuff.”
“It’s stupid stuff.”
Orn swiped the info controller from her hands and pushed buttons quickly deciding her class, race and a mood for her character. ‘Outraged’ seemed proper. Wanting to get to the fun part of watching his Knight captain fumble through gameplay, Orn forced the plastic gun into her curled hands.
Variel lifted the gun, the weight all wrong, but she kept it pointed at the ground. A weapon was a weapon, even if it’s orange plastic and connected to some blathering pixels. Her half naked Dryad appeared in a street setting, her/his nearly naked form eclipsed by a skyscraper shadows. Judging by the bursting mountain ranges in between buildings and crimson skies it was probably a Dwarf world. “What now?”
“Try walking,” Orn motioned with squat legs marching to his own beat.
The Captain sighed and rolled her eyes, but lifted her heavy legs high and stomped down. In response, her Dryad moved forward and smashed straight into a trash can. A few green and red nondescript boxes scattered across and occasionally into the ground. Her Dryad’s reaction was to draw her weapon, an outlandish gun that would punch a hole through a Dragon’s hull. And she carried it about the streets of Dwarvenville as if it were little more than a bouquet of flowers.
“Orn…” Variel’s voice warned the Dwarf at her growing impatience. He’d begged her for nearly a week, and despite her assumptions he only wanted to embarrass her, eventually she relented.
“It’s fine, there are golem’s to clean that up. Keep going forward, towards that bright light,” the Dwarf pointed his gloved finger to their right.
“Normally you’re told to stay away from the bright light,” Variel joked even as she turned and stomped towards the quest marker direction.
“Har-de-har-har. Okay, now press X.”
“What X? The one on the ground?” Variel asked even as she and her Dryad leaned down, slamming a fist to the ground.
A set of NPCs oozed out of the ground; two Dwarves, an Ogre, led by of all things a Banshee. “We got a job we need doing? Word on the shaft is you’re somewhat competent. You up for it?”
A series of text options overtook the screen and Variel lifted the gun. She raised an eyebrow at Orn and he nodded, she was getting the hang of it. Shaking that head again, the captain fired at one of the conversation prompts for more information.
“What is this job exactly?” her Dryad asked in a voice better suited for plundering the mean streets of a night club.
“You’ll be transporting this block of MGC that conveniently fell off a transport shuttle through Orc territory,” the Banshee said, then added a strangling gurgle as if she were laughing or consuming the souls of the near dead.
“No thank you,” Variel’s Dryad said and the posse of MGC smugglers vanished into whatever portal of hell unleashed them.
Orn grabbed onto her hand and shrieked, “What in the forge are you doing?”
“They wanted me to move MGC, illegal MGC, slap-you-on-every-watchlist-in-the-galaxy MGC,” Variel explained calmly.
“I’m not about to run afoul of any law enforcements,” Variel said as if she were talking to a toddler.
“Gods, goddesses, those elven seeds, and my ancestors alloys! You…there are no law enforcements.”
“Oh, did they forget to program them in?”
“No they didn’t…!” Orn smacked himself in the forehead with his bad hand and gurgled under the black leather glove, “The entire point of the game is you do illegal stuff to build a mob empire and take over the colony.”
“A Dryad, made out of wood, wants to claim a Dwarven colony, built upon a lava range, for her own?” Variel oozed condescension.
“Yes! They switch up the setting with each incarnation,” Orn explained as if she’d just defrosted from a millennia nap. “But the race options stay the same. You’re over thinking this. Just, pick up your gun and shoot anyone you see. And accept any quest you get, except for escort missions.”
Variel fumbled with the gun, it was too small for her hand, but she spotted a man in a crisp white suit marching near her character. Taking a careless aim she popped off at his shoulder. She’d girded herself for the recoil from the gun but it was Orn that launched against her.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”
“You told me to shoot whatever I see,” Variel explained, watching the barely bleeding man in white teleport to her Dryad, his hands raised as sparks danced between the two. What an overreaction, it was barely a flesh wound.
“NOT A LEVEL 23 WIZARD!”
“What’s a wizard?”
“Like a mage but awesomer,” Orn waved her question away, his fingers covering his eyes. He’d never known anyone to survive this encounter, of course no one was ever stupid enough to try.
“So I shot some high ranking scientist? Great. The Universal Institute of Learning hires the worst goons.”
All Orn could do was eep as the Man in White launched into his “you broke the rules” diatribe.
“Fool! You turn your venom at me?! After all I have done for you? For that you shall PAY!”
A thick ice shield formed across the disturbingly pore-less face as the wizard raised his hands. The foe cackled, blathering about how he’d obliterate her Dryad into the nether region once he finished this long windup.
Variel eyed her pilot’s severe overreaction, then swung back to the man in white who was still preparing to attack. “Sod this,” and actually steadying her hand she shot through a narrow crack in the ice shield. Another round burst through the first hole straight into the bewildered wizard’s chest and, just to make certain he wasn’t going to talk about his nethers anymore, she unloaded the digital clip.
She lifted the gun up and smiled as the body slumped to the ground. Her grin fell as Orn followed the involuntary movements of the White Wizard, his own knees striking metal grating.
“You…you killed him,” his weak voice was barely audible over the fight music still blaring from the game. Even it seemed uncertain what the hell just happened. “Pop, just like that. Dead.”
“Isn’t that the point, kill lest ye be killed?” Variel never faced this much scrutiny for her decisions during her years in the military.
“Ackerman, bleeding Ackerman! Gone, before you even got past the first load screen,” Orn continued to babble to himself.
“What do I do now?”
“Don’t you understand? He was supposed to offer you a job, guide you to your empire, then just as you come to claim your throne the amazing twist when you discover he’s been planning to depose you and take all your territory. He’s the last boss, the final linchpin, the entire reason you’re even fighting!” a bit of froth dribbled down the Dwarf’s chin as he flailed about. He’d probably have wrenched a few garments if his wife didn’t have all the tools.
Variel blinked back to the screen where her Dryad was whittling something out of her own bark, then back to her raving pilot. “So…the game’s over then. That took longer than I anticipated.”
A small knock reverberated around the nursery and an Elf followed behind. Brena smiled apologetically at interrupting something possibly important and said, “I require the Captain’s assistance. The computer is insisting it has control of the galley and refuses to allow anyone entrance.”
“It didn’t actually take over the ovens did it?” Variel asked, ignoring Orn’s rising risk of hyperventilation.
“No, WEST only managed one half of the toaster, but it has been insisting we sacrifice bread in its name,” Brena turned from the captain to the Dwarf billowing enough rage even she could feel the flames, “Did I interrupt something important?”
“She…” Orn pointed at Variel as if he were about to accuse her of witchcraft, “She shot Ackerman dead!”
“Oh!” Brena clapped her hands once, “Congratulations. I did not discover the need to use our hidden nitro sources until…”
“No, no, no, she shot him point blank dead, boom, gone before they even met!”
Elven eyes turned the same utter dread and awe upon Variel who felt she should be apologizing profusely to a pile of bones transforming into a bag of gold that used to be a wizard. “He was going to kill me.”
“Well,” Brena tried to play the part of peacekeeper, her ringed hand patting Orn on the shoulder, “there are always the side quests you can accomplish. Fetching the fish monger five turbids and running afoul of that hyper-intelligent seal was fun.”
“What’s the point? There’s no mob to form, no mogul to schmooze, no gang of sirens to seduce into my employ. Without Ackerman there’s no one to pull the strings on anything. I…the game is ruined and my life is a hollow lie.”
Orn switched on his PALM, the fading screen illuminating the wall beside Variel’s Dryad who seemed to have found an iced dish to share with a small Ogre child. His stubby fingers scrolled through the menus until he connected to the Ether.
“What are you doing?” Variel asked.
“Posting about the cheat you found, duh,” Orn answered as he ruined the game for everyone else across the galaxy. Misery loves company.