Living Outside
Episode 04: Crain Slain 1

This episode of Living Outside contains depictions of virtual reality violence. You have been warned.

Somewhere Outside

Megan ran through the corn field, pausing every few seconds to listen for moaning or screaming. It was night, but daylight wouldn't have helped her see anything through the crops.

She fell into a shallow ditch and then collided with some irrigation equipment. She paused there to sniff out the direction of the rotting flesh that was subtly assaulting her sense of smell. It seemed to be coming from the direction she was heading, so she took off to her right. She finally found the edge of the field, burst out into the clear, and without looking back ran full tilt toward the only shelter in sight- a large plantation house.

The front door was locked, so she used a rock to let herself in through one of the porch windows. The first thing she did inside was barricade the front door with a couch, since they usually tried to get in the front door first.

The inside of the house smelled putrid. She hastily searched the first floor and found it clear. Then she ran upstairs, and in her haste tripped over what was left of a little girl, slowly dragging itself toward the stairs. It was decayed enough that it could no longer moan, which made it stealthy. Luckily, its legs were shredded, and Megan scampered away from it with a gag and a shudder.

Megan found the unlocked upstairs rooms to be clear. She went back to the thing, which was crawling toward her. She gagged again. The smell was as authentic to that of a dead, rotting girl as could be desired. But it was the thing's mutilated and decayed face that truly disturbed her.

MeganCrap, crap, frak! Why must you be so lifelike?

She ran downstairs to the kitchen and found a heavy skillet, lugged it upstairs, and beat the child's brains out. Destroying the brains didn't stop them completely, but it rendered them severely lethargic. Making them completely inert, and thus suitable for consumption, was a more involved process.

Then an alarm reminded her of the Crain Slain concert. She was going to be late if she didn't hurry. Why did she stay at that gas station for so long? Now there was no way she could secure the house to protect her character. Something was definitely going to find her, and the thought of her poor proxy being defiled by undeath creeped her out. Plus, she would be used against the other players.

She heard scratching at the front door as she ran back to the kitchen. She grabbed a knife, checked it for sharpness, turned her discomfort setting all the way down, and stabbed herself in the neck as hard as she could. She fell on the ground and pulled the knife out. She grew weaker as her blood slowly covered the kitchen floor. Those puss buckets wouldn't be using her body as one of their necrotic puppets this time.

Chimera Field

Sam and Thomas stood in front of Chimera Field's gate, invisible to the throng of proxies and physicals streaming through them to the concert.

ThomasI'm gonna beat my record this time. I've been practicing. SamThat's fine, but you should go incognito. Remember last time? ThomasIt was fun! SamNot for everyone. ThomasSpoilsport. SamDo you remember when they had to pause the concert because of lag? ThomasIt did get a little out of hand.

Thomas switched his local public SIS from his "Thomas" to his "Guy Incognito" identity.

ThomasNo one will recognize me now. SamShould probably change your face too.

Thomas became a portly, elderly scientist in a lab coat with a white Santa Clause beard and bushy hair. The crowd would recognize him as Dr. Light, creator of Mega Man.

ThomasNow I won't cause any trouble.

T sulked as Sam patted him on the back.

SamI'm sure you'll still contribute to a riot or two.

Mike's car pulled up to the curb near the gate. Mike and Dexter got out of it and the car drove away to park, guided by Chimera Field's parking system. Mike kept an eye on the process through the car's cameras until it was safely parked. They walked up to Thomas and Sam.

ThomasHey guys! Welcome to Chimera Field!
Chimera Field FormatLarge, fenced in outdoor field with a bar and a stage. Physical capacityMore than 7000 physical bodies. Proxy capacityServer capacity capable of hosting more than a million active proxies.

Mike and Dexter, being on T's "close friends" list on his SIS, recognized him through his cunning disguise.

DexterI like the new look, Mr. Incognito. MikeYep. A disguise was a good idea. Probably Sam's. ThomasSam suggested it, yes. But I will have you know that I was going to do this anyway. I'm not daft. MikeWhatever. Try not to overdo it. Big shoot tomorrow. ThomasYeah, yeah. But if I'm called to duty, I have to go. MikeLike Crain needs another "Expert of Justice". SamOh, Mike, about tomorrow...

Sam followed Mike and Dexter through the gate, leaving T outside, practicing dance moves. A few minutes later, an ornate door frame popped up from the ground next to him. Megan walked through it and the frame dropped back into the ground.

ThomasHey Megs!

They hugged.

MeganThis is exciting! I've heard crazy things. ThomasAnd crazy things shall be delivered.

T handed her a donut as he ate one himself. She nibbled on it.

MeganWhy are you Dr. Light? ThomasI'm in disguise. There was an incident last time when some people in the stadium recognized me. Someone put up a bulletin. It really wasn't my fault! MeganI believe you.

They walked through the gate into Chimera Field. Since they had both paid the participation fee, they were given official concert proxies which automatically copied their current appearance. Physicals had to pay to get in, but proxies who hadn't paid the fee could still attend the concert. They just couldn't actively participate.

The physical Chimera Field had only two points of interest- a bar by the entrance and a stage at the Northern fence. The rest was covered in grass, with occasional bald spots. At that moment, the field was occupied by a few thousand physicals.

Most physicals there were projecting into proxies or at least had appropriate proxy overlays. There were also hundreds of thousands of proxies roaming around, inhabited by users all over the world, waiting for the concert to start.

ThomasYou look too normal. Go ahead and customize your Crain Slain proxy any way you want. Only thing that's required is that you set something on top of your head or whatever to signifies your status. A hat, hair, or even a bald scalp. MeganStatus? ThomasYeah, whose side you're on. Red for Crain, blue for Slain. You'll decide during the concert. MeganWhat exactly have I gotten myself into? ThomasOh, relax. Crain Slain is mostly a general audience thing. Kids love it. MeganKids love Hell Fray too. ThomasRight. Well, it's.... parent friendly. Everything's properly tagged for filtering.

Megan opened a window and zoomed the view around the crowd looking for accessories to steal. She decided to copy some petite flaming devil wings and a fetching, translucent, mechanized face. The skin of her face became transparent, revealing dozens of gears which moved with her face, giving the illusion that they were creating her expressions.

Megan and T followed Sam's path and found her sitting in a plush chair a hundred feet from the stage. As they walked up, the lights went on, illuminating the central stage.

ThomasIt's starting! You gonna do the concert Sam? SamI think I'm gonna chill this time. I always feel like I'm missing something when I'm active. ThomasWhat about you Megs? MeganWhat do you mean by "do the concert"? ThomasCatch the wave when it comes and find out. The Crain Slain proxy you're inhabiting is all you need. MeganYeah, what's the deal with this thing?

Megan flailed her arms.

MeganIt's kind of stiff. ThomasYou have to build it up. Don't you ever research anything? MeganI like surprises. ThomasThat is a truly dangerous statement.

The concert layer appeared 20 feet above them. Megan felt herself being drawn up into it, leaving the physical ground below. T grabbed her hand on the way up when they started to drift apart. Sam stayed behind.

ThomasStay near me so I can show you the ropes.

Once inside the layer, the physical world disappeared, leaving an enhanced virtual replica of Chimera Field. Vibrant purple grass completely covered the ground now. The clouds in the sky were gone, as well as nearby city lights, revealing an ocean of stars as clear and bright as humans had ever seen them. Megan gazed up at them and found them as comforting and awe inspiring as always.

Official concert proxies all became visible, revealing more than two hundred thousand people projecting into the virtual layer of the concert. The average proxy size was made slightly smaller relative to the field to fit the increasing number of players.

Lying side-by-side on a blanket on the physical ground, Mike and Dexter looked up at the virtual concert layer. They had chosen to share a perspective on the concert that either one could change at will. At that moment, they saw the concert perpendicular to them, so that the virtual stage, much larger than the physical stage, was straight up from them. They could watch the entire concert, from any perspective they wanted, including high above it, without having to even raise their heads.

On the virtual layer, Megan was stretching her proxy, with little success, when the ground shook so hard she had to brace herself. The grass of the West half of the field shifted from glowing purple to glowing red. A gigantic mass rose from the ground in the middle of the West half, covered by a tarp and rusty scaffolding. She opened a window to view it from above. The shape under the tarp could only be that of a giant robot. People immediately started climbing on it. A giant crane appeared, hovering hundreds of feet above the robot.

The grass of the East half of the field changed to glowing blue. A large mound of dirt emerged from the ground there, displacing hundreds of proxies. It was obscured in mist, through which Megan could make out only a large gravestone on its South side. Dark shapes flitted about underneath and around it, shining blue through the dirt.

A contagious, elated enthusiasm gripped Chimera Field, which now had the population of a medium-sized city projecting into it. Proxies wore just about every imaginable costume and style of outfit. They were dressed as demons, angels, androids, aliens, anime characters, Ataraxia Pans, and every other character from popular media or Outside game worlds that had caught their imaginations.

Supporting this event was Chimera Field's immense server capacity. Crain Slain concerts were designed to reduce the effects of lag as much as possible. Lag wasn't a problem for those simply observing the concert, but it could be for those participating in it, depending on how far they were physically from the concert.

The geographical area which could actively participate in this particular Crain Slain event was effectively all of North and South America, along with some parts of Europe and Asia. Outside of those areas, lag hurt performance when fighting other players. This didn't stop people outside the recommended area from participating and having fun. CS continuously made its way around the globe to give everyone a chance to optimally participate.

Lag would not be a problem for Megan or Thomas, both having physicals less than a few hundred miles from the concert.

Song 1
Destroy All Vampires!

An air raid siren pierced the air. Spotlights tracked a zeppelin approaching from the West. The lettering on its side said "Kobayashi Maru". Megan tried to zoom in to the compartment under the zeppelin, but it was too fuzzy to make out. The flight compartment collapsed in on itself, forming into a large, metallic sphere. The sphere released from the zeppelin over the center stage. It crashed in front of the stage and rolled to a stop, killing dozens of thrilled players who quickly regenerated. The ball sprouted spidery legs which carried it on stage. It unraveled itself across the stage, unveiling a complicated drum set and a large set of keyboards and other musical devices.

A masculine robot stood up from behind the drums and dusted himself off. He took a seat and sprouted two extra pairs of arms. A feminine green alien appeared behind the keyboards with even more arms and several hard to identify appendages.

A red-headed woman rose from the middle of the stage, to wild applause. She was wearing a leather flight suit, a bolted corset, goggles on her forehead, and whirling gears on her boots. In short, she was steampunk. She strummed a bulky chrome guitar. There was no microphone as there was no need for one. The crowd chanted "Crain".

Crain Fighting specialtyMech. Really big mech. Musical styleHeavy metal laced with 8-bit mania. AppearanceStark red hair. Mousy.

CrainHave we got any mech-heads in the audience?

The audience responded with hoots, laser noises, and loud imitations of the sound of an Excelsior class mech engine whirring to life.

Crain held one hand palm up and a rotating holographic display of a giant robot appeared above it. Inside the robot were numerous interlocking gears. One of them pulsed red.

CrainI'm gonna be a little ambitious tonight. I'll need your help developing my giant robot under the tarp over there. You guys have the schematics. Use them to activate the circuits for these Gears. Together, we're gonna build that mech and give it a name. All I know so far is that it's a Star class.

The crowd cheered with approved.

ThomasStar class means she's seriously going to war. This will get nuts. MeganI have no idea what you're talking about.
CrainAll you have to do is dance and sing along while I tell some stories. The first one is about a little girl who saw monsters consume everything she loved. So she built a 5 foot mech and paid their God Emperor a little visit. It's called 'Destroy All Vampires'!

Crain started hard. The onslaught of thrashing metal energy rolled out like a shockwave across the field, knocking over Megan and thousands of other unprepared proxies. The ground rippled with the music and the energy of the crowd, which danced and convulsed with the beat. The red glow of the West field spread a bit into the East's blue.

There was no physical band present at Chimera Field. The physical stage only contained speakers broadcasting the sounds of the virtual concert. At some venues, the virtual concert would be shown on large screen, but that was unnecessary because of the ubiquity of augmented reality gear. The few unaugmented concert goers physically at Chimera Field would miss most of the Crain Slain experience.

Megan lowered the music volume a tad. She heard the music via her plant, so the volume didn't hurt her ears, but she wanted to be able to hear other people clearly.

MeganIs this song about Drain? The little girl who basically wrecked an instance of Hell Fray by herself? ThomasYep. Many of Crain Slain's songs are based on actual game events. This is an incendiary beginning. Slain's not going to like this.

Some proxies stood and watched, but most danced along with the music. Megan noticed that the areas with the best dancers glowed the brightest red, even if they were dancing on the blue grass. She also noticed that proxy designs had been altered slightly to appear more like the character designs of Hell Fray.

MeganAre things supposed to look like Hell Fray? ThomasRight again, Megs. Crain is mixing an extract of Hell Fray with Chimera Field to match the song. Smells a bit like sulfur, too.

A multi-hooked chrome claw dropped suddenly from the crane high above into a group not that far from Megan, causing her to jump. Their screams of delight were oddly juxtaposed with their dismembered bodies. Something resembling red mercury seeped out of their bodies and was drawn into the center of the claw. The claw glowed red as it rose, moved over the giant mech, and dropped the liquid metal onto its head.

ThomasSweet. That was a tricky upgrade for this early on. MeganOK, what? ThomasDance with the music for a moment.

Megan danced and found that her proxy was loosening up and feeling warm. Her hair turned light red.

ThomasNow watch this.

Thomas danced as usual, but threw in some flourishes. His pure white hair, including his beard, slowly turned a light shade of red.

ThomasCS has a robust rhythm game component. Dancing or singing in sync with the music gives you resonance with the singer's energy. This makes both the singer's side and the dancer stronger. You might notice that Crain's music is coming not just from the stage, but from all around you. Every player who resonates with her music broadcasts it and whatever other sounds they like. All music sources sync up for each player so you don't hear any echoing. One of the advantages of a virtual concert. MeganWhat if you can't dance though? ThomasEveryone can dance! Any attempt to dance with the music, however awkward, increases your resonance. You do need to put in some amount of effort to complete a dance routine like that group that just got crushed. Those are to accelerate your resonance, help build the robot, and acquire weapons and enhancements for the final battle.

The victorious, dismembered group was already mostly regenerated and still celebrating. They had spent some time practicing their dance before the concert.

MeganDon't people just use dance ghosts? ThomasLots of people do, but they're losers. Plus, CS is constantly changing stuff up and throwing curves. The system detects if you just copy another player's dance and reduces your resonance as punishment. It's hard to cheat and get high achievements.

Smaller claws shot out from the rapidly moving crane destroying smaller groups of people and individuals and dropping their liquid power into the Star class giant robot.

MeganDoesn't getting crushed hurt? ThomasDepends on your settings. Duh. MeganAlso, what is wrong with the music? It sounds like it's missing something. ThomasCheck out the keyboard player and the drummer.

Megan zoomed in and saw that they weren't using all of their arms.

MeganLet me guess, someone has to unlock their full abilities. ThomasYep. Actually, before they lock down teleporting, wait here a moment...

Thomas teleported near to the stage to dance with a group of more than three hundred proxies doing variations on a series of weird movements. Megan would have taken it for spastic moshing, except that the rhythm of their convulsing seemed to complement the music in a hypnotic way. Thomas' fat elderly body didn't seem to hold him back. The entire group was soon glowing bright red and were soon destroyed by a large claw.

The claw dropped the group's flashing red power onto the stage. It merged with the drummer and transformed him, giving him an awesome jester's cap and extra attachments to his arms. The drummer unleashed his full skill, causing the ground to rumble and a violent wind to sweep across the field, throwing proxies around like leaves.

T's mangled corpse, guts hanging out, ported back over to Megan. It spurted blood as politely as possible while it knitted itself back together again.

ThomasSorry about the mess. MeganThat was kind of cool. ThomasOh my gods. Look at his hat!

Thomas formed one side of a portal next to his intact hand and one portal next to the side of the drummer's head. T reached through and grabbed the cap. This theft wasn't on the primary concert layer, of course, because people weren't allowed on the stage. So only he and Megan saw it happen and the drummer kept his hat. But now T had a copy, which he promptly put on his head. It turned as red as T's hair.

The giant claw hit another group on the other side of the field, and deposited their achievement in the robot. The entire giant robot flashed red. A Gear had been unlocked.

ThomasThey achieved the 'Gear Of The Slayer', and just in time. Some of the momentum to achieve a Gear is lost if it's not acquired by the end of a song and a new song starts.

With a final musical thrust, Crain stepped through a portal and was gone.

Song 2
Return Of The Revenant

The massive burial mound in the center of the East sent waves of blue pulsing through the grass, shaking the ground and beating back the West's invading red glow. A still anticipation came over the crowd. Then uncountable spiders, of every size and species, exploded from the mound's North side and streamed toward the stage, consuming every proxy in their wake down to their skeletons. The skeletons clapped as they regrew their innards and skin with exacting anatomical detail. The spiders engulfed the stage. Some burrowed underneath it while a human sized mass coalesced on stage into a man dressed in a ratty t-shirt and blood stained jeans. The crowd chanted "Slain".

Slain Fighting specialty Sword and/or sorcery. Musical style Nerd-punk. Appearance Funky blue hair. Dead and beginning to rot. Still hot as Hell.

The steampunk look of the stage remained.

SlainCrain sets a nice stage. Now let's mess that bitch up with a real horror show!

Slain tore a gaping hole into his wrist with his teeth. Blood pumped out of it and formed into a reptilian bassist.

SlainCrain's been naughty. So let's be wicked. There's a certain Old One with a taste for machinery and an undying itch for carnage. First help me invoke the 'Glyph of Alucard's Recurring Nightmare' with our song 'Return of the Revenant'. We shall summon Bath of the Abyss!

The crowd liked this announcement.

The energy of Slain's infectious punk tune, accented by his tasty nerdcore flow, swept blue energy across the field. Megan involuntarily hopped in surprise as tendrils of Slain's energy whipped at her shoes. As Slain heated up, meter wide holes formed in the ground around the fields. Colorful demons popped out of them, grabbed people and pulled them under. Megan picked up a feed from one of the victims who was dragged at breakneck speeds through a series of tunnels underground before being ejected from another hole on the other side of the field. It looked fun.

ThomasBath's a nasty one. This is going to be a good concert. MeganSo if the crowd activates enough Glyphs, it summons an Old One. What if the audience fails? ThomasThey may not get Bath, but they'll get something. Oh, check that out.

A group, smashing into and rhythmically stabbing each other, effervesced blue. Horned demons, classic and horrid, popped out of the ground underneath them and quickly ate them until only gnawed skeletons remained. The demons, now glowing bright blue, took off for the mound, rudely clawing and climbing over everyone in their way. Once atop the mound they vomiting blue ooze onto it and then burrowed back into the Earth. The blue ooze sank into the ground and on that spot appeared a holographic semicircle three times as high as a proxy.

ThomasThat's the first part of the Glyph. Two more and it's sealed to the mound. MeganSweet. So what's with this muffled backbeat I can just barely hear? ThomasIt's one of the many potential variations of this song. All CS songs have them. The audience can choose to broadcast whatever variation they like, bringing it into the concert layer for those around them to hear. The player's level of resonance determines how loud they broadcast their variations relative to the main song. Turn on variations, listen for one you like, or make your own, and put it in your resonance list. You get a custom concert whether or not anyone else picks it up. And if enough people resonate with a variation, CS typically uses it and then everyone hears it. MeganSo some of them are fan mods? What's to stop some jokers from ruining the concert with an obnoxious variation? ThomasYou can broadcast anything you like, although unless you have sufficient resonance no one will be able to hear it. Some griefers go around blaring car horns and baby cries, but few would resonate with their sound so it's drowned out by more popular mods. Also, variations get less and less intense the more they are actively filtered away by people. The system works pretty well, but occasionally you do have to deal with idiots. That's the price of freedom. But freedom is required for significant fan input. That backbeat you mentioned, for instance, is a fan mod. If you loosen up your resonance filters, you'll hear faint fan mods all around you. Most CS songs have evolved using such mods in one way or another, whether it's a bass line, alternate lyrics, or non-music stuff like the popular hell slide you see people being sucked into. MeganSo we can change songs. What else? ThomasVariations determine musical themes for the entire concert and partly determine the next song. The setlist determines the branching of the story, so the audience essentially determines everything. That's part of the reason for paying the participation fee for the concert. We can make awesome things happen, and explore CS' rather large branching event tree. The big deal is getting different endings, many of which are still unexplored. Here, add that mod and dance with it to make it stronger.

They both added the backbeat and it came in as clear to them as if it was part of the song. As they danced with the fan beat, others in their immediate area heard it coming in louder and a few picked it up and danced with it. Thomas' jester cap jingles as his large body cut loose.

MeganWe're turning blue. Should we be helping Slain? ThomasUntil there's conflict, most people help both sides as much as possible. Makes it more interesting. Besides, we're on the East side, so best to play nice with the natives.

Their dancing didn't accomplish much, as the crowd stopped carrying the fan mod. It was then that Megan realized that the music from the concert really was coming from all around her. She could hear it clearest from the center stage, but it was beginning to come more and more intensely from the surrounding sea of players who were starting to develop resonance. She could hear faint variations coming from all around, most intensely from those whose hair glowed brightest.

During an instrumental section of his song, Slain performed a quick ritual summoning a small meteorite which crashed into the midsection of Crain's mech, sending people there flying in all directions.

SlainDeath to metal monsters and their insipid inventors!
MeganWow, they really seem to hate each other. ThomasMost of the time. Wait, you know they're the same person, right? MeganReally? But they're so different. ThomasCrain and Slain are both played by Heather Crain. The drummer, keyboardist, and others are probably separate people. MeganHow mysterious. No one knows who they are? ThomasNot for sure. Even Heather's involvement for any given concert isn't ironclad. She's only been spotted geographically near CS concerts a few times, but she could orchestrate the concert from a good distance away. Since she's setting the pace and doesn't have to make split second decisions, lags not a problem for her. She's one of the few people I know that could pull off both roles by herself. Also, I haven't seen her around much since Crain Slain took off. MeganYou know her? ThomasIt's a long story.

A group of blue dancers completed a particularly gruesome and difficult "ritual" involving self-disembowelment and were consumed by demons, which vomited the last part of the needed sacrificial energy onto the mound. It formed a pentagram in the middle of the Glyph, completing it. It turned to stone, sealing it to the mound.

ThomasAlucard's Recurring Nightmare is a nice edge. Crain is definitely not going to like this. MeganBut they're the same person. ThomasYou have so much to learn.

By the end of the song the blue side of the field had extended a good deal into the West side, part of it almost touching the foot of Crain's mech. Thomas led Megan into the red. He knew what was coming next.

(Originally posted on 3/24/2011 on