As they talked, Chester pulled a gold coin out of her left ear and tossed it onto the coffee table. This activated the game Tides of War, a popular idle distraction. The coffee table was set as the boundary for the game. Its surface transformed into a grassy field of gently sloping hills and strangely gnarled trees, automatically incorporating bottles and paper plates into the landscape. Seven stone towers about the size of beer bottles rose out of the field near the edges of the table. They were different colors representing each of the seven players sitting around the table. Keen was out to lunch again.
No one paid much attention as the colored waves streaming from the towers. They swept slowly across the field toward other towers, encountering and mixing and obliterating other towers' waves along the way. Each wave contained numerous tiny warriors, so many and so small that at normal resolution the armies appeared to be almost solid colors. The battles of the waves were beautiful glowing cascades of frothing colors. Their colors merged and formed whirlpools, representing conflict. Eventually, one army or the other would prevail and continue on its way, though its color would be tainted and weakened by each battle.
Megan zoomed in to the frontline of one battle. She marveled at the intricate details of each of the warriors as they hacked and slashed at each other. She had never looked that closely before and was pleased to find that the warriors were comically rendered, though oddly realistic, dwarves of various sizes. They all had weapons- spears, swords, knives, nunchucks, and slingshots.
The winning tower would ultimately be determined by random luck, and no matter of interference by the players would have significant impact on the game's outcome. Tides of War was a glorified screensaver. With enhanced settings it was capable of deeper play, but few bothered with that when there were superior strategy games like Hyper Grind. The controls were simple. Gesturing with two fingers aimed outgoing waves, but they frequently went off path for no reason. Poking at a target with an index finger fired your tower's cannon, resulting in low-damage fireworks. The entire battlefield was often lit up by these fireworks during games, the result of fidgety players. By default, the game didn't produce sound.
It was a game no one cared about. But everyone decided to kill T anyway. There was no discussion of it, and no secret conspiracy of coordinating texts. Everyone just targeted their waves at his castle while they continued talking. The odds of this having the desired effect was low. Armies tended to interfere with each other's paths, for one thing. But T did not care that their betrayal was futile. He reversed his personal gravity and fell up to the ceiling where he stood looking down/up at the game.
T's agent Villain appeared on his shoulder. It fell into the game, landing just in front of T's tower. The chinchilla shrank as he fell until he was the volume of a pair of dice, the game's maximum volume for a player's "champion". He was small, but was monstrous relative to the dwarves in the game, which only came up to his shins. Champions were a way for players to gain more direct control over the game, traditionally using agents. They allowed better control over the direction of waves and were capable of inflicting considerable damage themselves. They were one of Tide's options that deepened the experience, making it more of a game and less of a passive experience. In other words, ruining the fun.
Villain dove into the closest enemy wave, which happened to be Saitou's. He went completely, dwarf murderingly, nuts. It was like a monster movie.
Chester sent his agent in response to Villain. Sifl the sock puppet appeared near Chess' castle and was soon rampaging across the table toward Mike's castle, crushing wave after wave under sock while awkwardly wielding a sword in its mouth. Sam dropped Tacky the octopus into the game. Tacky's 20 arms carried swords and bows and arrows. Tacky immediately began shooting at every enemy that moved. Each arrow hitting the ground killed a dozen dwarves.
Mike appeared to sit silently watching. He was actually busy talking to Kyu and Miguel. Thanks to his ear insert, phone calls no longer disturbed anyone but him. Mike had a quick chat with Kyu and Miguel regarding a few last details about the Saturday shoot and was done before anyone knew he was taking a call. He then went back to ignoring the game.
Villain intercepted Sifl and tackled him. The vicious (but cute) battle ended with Villain running from the sock puppet.
T normally wouldn't have cared about Tides of War, but he wasn't about to let a sock puppet kill his chinchilla. T reversed his gravity, holding on to the ceiling by a single foot while letting his other leg fall into a figure four shape. He hung there for a moment, swinging back and forth like a pendulum, taking aim. At the right moment he fell into the game, shrinking to half Villain's size and landing on his back. Villain reversed his flight from the sock and T threw axes at Sifl until he freaked out and ran away. T and Villain ran rampant over Chester's dwarves.
T battered Chester's dwarves with the flat of his axe. T and Villain smacked one wave so hard it turned entirely around, a rare achievement. In triumph, T licked some of the dwarf innards hanging off his axe. Marshmallow. Keen, for whatever reason, sat up in his chair to watch the game.
T, still riding his chinchilla, had slaughtered his way through Sam's army with his axe, and was ramming into Sam's tower. It wasn't doing much damage, but that wasn't the point. Tacky had wandered across the field and was now returning to Sam's Tower, but Sam knew he would be no match for Thomas.
Chester had entered a proxy into the game, controlled by her URC. She carried a mace and ran alongside her puppet Sifl, waded through Sam's troops and tackled T. Sifl and Villain went at it again while Chester and T traded blows. T switched to a longsword and had shortly cut Chester into pieces, removing her from the game for two minutes. He then helped Villain slaughter and dismember the sock puppet.
Sam, deciding to do something about T, entered the game riding Tacky and charged after Thomas. She threw a spear at his head that narrowly missed. Tacky grappled with Villain while Sam engaged in mortal combat with T.
Megan looked pensive.
Megan's proxy entered the game. She cut off her physical senses to make it easier to adjust to the game. Tides, it turned out, was terrifyingly real for proxies down in the game. Where there was fighting, which was everywhere, dwarves were brutally dismembering each other, their body parts flying in all directions. The ground was stained with blood, something she had never zoomed in enough to see. She looked up and saw everyone around the table watching the game or talking. She reeled from that surreal moment. She hadn't expected this game to be so immersive, to so quickly draw her in. She was soaking in a new, absurd reality, full of endless cycles of death and sweaty, sweaty dwarves.
Megan started running toward where Sam and T were fighting. She pulled out a mace and used it to clear a path through a wave of dwarves. They only came up to midway up her shin, but they had a way of climbing on each other to form larger obstacles. Their strikes and arrows felt like little pinches, but there were a lot of them. She got used to murdering them pretty quickly. They were ridiculous caricatures and their deaths were amusing. It was a friendly game, after all.
Sam's tower was next to hers, so it didn't take her long to get there. Sam and T were still going at it, now with their bare fists. Tacky had crushed Villain to death and though wounded by the chinchilla's bites was now shooting arrows at T. Thomas dodged the arrows amazing well considering how thoroughly Sam had bloodied him.
Tacky noticed Megan and shot two arrows at her. She managed to dive out of the first one's way, but was hit straight in the chest by the second. It sent a small, sharp pain through her chest. By itself it wouldn't have killed her, but Megan had panicked and hit her Plant's kill switch, temporarily shutting it down.
Suddenly she was purely inhabiting her physical again. Megan reflexively jerked her legs up to protect her chest from further arrows, hitting the table and knocked over Chester's virtual drink and Sam's real beer, which was luckily half-empty. Sam, still locked in combat, picked the beer up and ordered a house robot to clean up the spill, indicating it with some quick eye tracking.
Soon, Thomas had been beaten to death. He had taken a few arrows too, but it was the stark fist of Sam that had done him in.
That done, Sam went back to inhabiting her physical body. Thomas' proxy reappeared where he had died. Thomas was no longer in the game, so he couldn't interact with it or cause trouble, but he could still run around on it. He climbed up and sat on the top of Sam's tower and made himself a foot high so he could talk with people.
Tacky informed Sam that it was about time to wrap it up. She and Dexter had to get up early the next day.
Thomas jumped up from Sam's tower and returned to his full height. Keen stood up and smiled at everyone. It was friendly, but creepy.
Keen blew away like dandelions. There were hugs and goodbyes all around.
A spinning roulette wheel appeared on the table. Sam threw a ball into it and it glided around the wheel's slots labelled:
- Bullet Ballet
- Musical Number
- SD Mecha
- Wingsuit Massacre
The ball settled on Bullet Ballet. The wheel disappeared and "Bullet Ballet" floated blinking for a few seconds as it faded away. Sam and Megan stayed on the couch while everyone else jumped away from the table and spread out through the room. Mike and Dexter's proxies left their physicals sitting there.
Targets with damage percentages appeared over each proxy's chest and head. And it was on.
T pulled a Walther P38 and went gunning for Chester. T's green glowing bullets glided at human walking speed. Chester easily weaved through them while firing back with her uzi. Bullet Ballet guns were realistic in their operation and the look of their bullets, except that they had no kick, never ran out of ammo, and bullets all moved the same speed and did unrealistic relative damage. It was a friendly game, after all.
Mike and Dexter's physicals were safe by the table, since only damage to the player's primary proxy counted. Without a Plant, Mike was not quite as agile with his proxy as the others, but it still beat trying to physically run around the house dodging virtual bullets. Mike and Dexter immediately paired up and started shooting at Saitou with their handguns. Saitou, who had lost his stars in favor of a matte black body, easily dodged the bullets while going crazy with his M16. Streams of orange glowing bullets peppered the air. They were harder to dodge, but did little damage, so Mike was able to block some with his forearms.
It quickly became nearly impossible for anyone to avoid all of the bullets. The game's default setting made getting hit by bullets produce an unpleasant buzzing sensation, which Mike's haptic suit did a fair job emulating. As always, virtual sensory experiences were the player's alone to set. Hits caused penalty reactions in the proxies, a spasm and a second of slowness. Saitou felt a slight buzz as one of Dexter's hit his side, causing numerous stars hidden under his matte finish to spew into the air. He managed to stumble out of the way of further fire.
Thomas winced as one of Chester's bullets hit his thigh, producing a sensation not unlike being shot by a paintball at medium range. Thomas' impact setting produced pain at a motivational level. One of T's bullets grazed Chester's head, causing her head to splinter. To Chester, the wound produced a taste of tart raspberry.
As the living room was filled with bullets, Sam and Megan sat on the couch watching and occasionally leaned over or shifting in their seats to avoid bullets. They pulled the virtual representation of the coffee table onto its side to protect their legs. A puddle of dwarves fell to their deaths. Sam laid her proxy down on the ground behind the table while her physical body stayed on the couch, safe from the bullets passing through it.
Thomas found that his leg was wounded enough to slow him down, so he fell to the ceiling and laid flat against it. Chester sprayed the ceiling with metal death, trying to predict which direction T was going to go, but T was faster than the bullets. He propelled himself across the ceiling like it was lubed, with a combination of skillful manipulation of gravity's direction and the force from his gunfire. He fired rapidly toward his feet while changing gravity to pull toward his head and moved at a frightful speed to the other side of the room, where he assaulted Saitou, then Mike and Dexter from above. He then turned at a right angle just before hitting the wall and sped off in another direction.
Now everyone was trying to kill T, while also trying to kill everyone else. When the ceiling was too crowded with bullets T fell and stood on a wall, minimizing himself as a target into his head and shoulders. Chester tried riding on the ceiling, but found it awkward. She wondered where T had gathered such experience with gravity manipulation.
T managed to wing Mike, which stunned his proxy long enough for Saitou to put a bullet through his heart, putting him at over 80% damage. Mike proxy turned into steam and evaporated. His physical sat up in his chair and watched the battle unfold. Sam had let him keep the game layer, so he could watch. Proxies darted around the room as haphazard trails of bullets filled the air.
Mike leaned over and whispered something to Dexter's physical. Dexter's proxy slowed down with a comical flourish and caught some of Saitou's bullets.
Demons dragged Dexter's proxy down through a fiery hole in the ground. Then Dexter lead Mike to his bedroom, mindless of the carnage. Megan pulled out a pistol and used its butt to hammer a bullet away from her. It didn't work and the bullet hitting her neck produced an off-putting kissing sensation. She considered giving up by turning off the Bullet Ballet layer, but kept it on so that she could watch the battle.
T glided into the kitchen, hopping over the top of the door frame, followed quickly by Saitou and Chester.
The living room was full of holes. The coffee table, chairs and couch were destroyed. A rainbow pool of dead dwarves spread across the floor. Shredded books were scattered around the media case. The virtual posters on the walls displayed static and glitched from their gaping holes. The Neo-Kyoto wall was in even more of a shambles than it had been. The sand wall was full of smoking holes and its "gravity" was freaking out, spraying sand in all directions, causing heaps of it to gather on the floor and ceiling.
Megan and Sam watched the proxies' targets fly around the kitchen, unsure of what exactly was going on. Sam could have cheated and looked, since it was her house, but that wouldn't have been fair. While they were watching, the bullets reached jogging speed, fast enough to breach the wall between the kitchen and the living room. The living room was once again filled with bullets. Two bullets approached Megan. She leaned her proxy out of the way as the bullets passed harmlessly through her physical head and chest.
In the kitchen, T slid randomly around the ceiling, targeting mostly Chester. It became increasingly difficult to dodge the bullets and Chester was forced to take some side blows. Splinters leaked from her wounds. Saitou menaced T, hitting his extremities occasionally. Chester hit Saitou's knee, limiting his movement. That's when Saitou pulled out a flamethrower.
Saitou's variable length flame evaporated Chester and Thomas' bullets. At minimum length, it was an almost perfect shield, surrounding his body. At maximum length it was 15 feet long and still did some damage. It also set everything it touched on fire.
Chester whipped out a shotgun and began pumping away at Saitou, hoping the wide area effect would get through. While Sai was distracted by Chess, T shot a few bullets from a distance. Falling from the ceiling, T changed his gravity to fall toward a far wall at a diagonal vector. He caught some of Saitou's flame, but his trailing bullets hit Sai's shoulder and stomach. Chester hit Sai's leg, but she took flame to the face in return, leaving her at critical health.
Chester took the rest of her points and bought a grenade. She threw it behind the kitchen counter so that it rolled behind Saitou while he was still being distracted by T. It went off, unnecessarily loud, shaking the house and annihilating the refrigerator. Shrapnel pierced Saitou's back, sending his proxy into spasms on the floor. Thomas put him out of his misery. The stars in Saitou's body rapidly converged and formed black holes, ripping his body apart.
Saitou disappeared into a singularity. Thomas, shell-shocked and bloody, walked over to Chester. She was blackened and warped, her body in splinters. A communicator appeared in her hand.
Chester shimmered away. She had another party to go to anyway.
Back in the living room, Sam and Megan could see Saitou and Chester's death animations through the wall.
Sam pulled a katana out of a portal in her neck and ran to the kitchen.
The kitchen was a bullet-ridden inferno, perfect for a showdown. Thomas dropped his gun and pulled a sword out of his chest. They faced off, then went at it. Sam was better, but T was wily. He fell between the ceiling and the floor and back. He had more space to work with, and could add gravity's force to his weight with ease.
Having made little progress, Sam flipped to the ceiling with Thomas and locked their gravity.
Sam instated Bushido Blade mode, turning the kitchen ceiling into a bamboo forest.
They clashed again and again. Each time T was sure he had an advantage and each time he came away with a few more cuts. Seeing that he was as doomed as he initially thought, he tried a desperate gamble.
Thomas instated Dance Slam and the bamboo forest became a street with a large cheering crowd. T and Sam were now dressed in tasteful spandex. Their dancing would be judged by the game for funkiness and rhythm. Preset routines were not allowed.
Sam picked a heavy metal song, and their band appeared on a stage in the distance, ready to rock. T nixed it and choose a new song.
Rick Astley appeared on stage.
And they danced. In some ways, the dancing was more furious than the sword fight had been, and now there was an audience of sorts. Sam's style was hip-hop with a touch of break dancing. T's had a jazz core with a splash of rave. They both danced well, but Thomas was better and Sam grew frustrated.
The crowd went wild. They picked T up and threw him into the air. He was midair when Dance Slam changed back to Bushido Blade and he fell hard onto the forest ground. He dusted himself off and they clashed swords again. This time, T had a strength advantage. But even with that, Sam continued to whittle him down.
Meanwhile, Megan sat and figured she should leave. So she used all her points, pulled out a bazooka and fired it at her chest. For a moment, everything went black. Then she opened her eyes. Megan was hovering over a crater where the couch used to be. Her body parts were strewn around the room.
The house layer turned off and she was back on the couch. Without augmentation, the walls of the living room were empty. It was a little sad. She stood up to go.
But they were all too busy being dead or dying, so she left.
Back in Bushido Blade mode, T had one final maneuver. He feigned right and raised his sword, exposing his chest. He cut into Sam's neck as she skewered his heart. They stood like that for a moment, then staggered, slumped to the ground, and commenced dying. The forest turned back into what was left of the kitchen, which had mostly burned down.
Every part of Thomas' body was sliced up. His guts were hanging out, and he was spilling blood everywhere. It kind of hurt. He managed to limp along the ceiling into the living room before Sam exploded. Her blood and guts spread over the ceiling, then dropped to the floor, extinguishing the fire.
The fire from the kitchen had spread to the living room. No Mike in sight.
Thomas' quickly decaying body crawled over to enter Dexter's room, but it was restricted.
And then his body turned into a dozen cats which fell from the ceiling and ran off in all directions.