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Barnaby Jones: Part II

Artwork courtesy of Bubufr

Artwork courtesy of Bubufr

II

 

Ande a Greate hearte thundered in the voide saying: “seake pater, ande alle that woulde be…. sprange forthe.”

 

 hayte and amore bothe as woeful and brighte and terrible.

 

Quantum computers computing quantum rings. That’s where it started. Experiments.

 

“It’s not virtual, it’s not just aethereal data we’re uploading-it’s matter, real physical matter- material data- and it’s coming from somewhere.”

 

Voices both thunderous and soft all started. A great sympanthy began tuning on the march on the other side of the sky. Thunderclouds rumbled softly on the acid perimeter. There was always thunder, somewhere in the steadily tangling and untangling world around them.

 

Barnabyjones flew over a writhing landscape, his eyes out-looking, his body prone in the wind. Behind and below him he heard the steady thumps of Orange’s big feet moving at a Jackhammer pace over the uneven turf. Tanto and Quint Barreled ahead on foot below him, with blinker and sparky on their flanks.  On either side of him in the air Jules and John-Wayne formed the widest points of a big “V”: pressing on towards the Red City.

 

There was gamer talk.

 

“Plan?” asked Orange

 

“We close in on Red and attack him if we can…if it gets too hairy for us we can move back and get around to help Purple and Teal….sound cool?” offered Blue.

 

“kk” said OJ.

 

They flew over a sea of listless, drifting chaos- all things appeared before them in random clusters of their own or scattered and isolated in a dispersed and limitless inventory of material data. Televisions perched stoically on mountain crags-empty lenses looking out like hollow astronauts next to confused Janissaries spat into existence by End net’s broken engine. Beds, weed wackers and glistening roman chariots sunk together in swamps with white horses and manic muppets as new oceans opened in the earth. Vehicles of all descriptions; cars, trucks, buses, atvs, scooters, three wheels, two wheels, six wheels-turbines, turbines, turbines and machines appeared too and were lying out or being used. Flowers! all plants and grasses bloomed and withered and died in the eyes of helicopters as cobras passed in the trains of small scurrying creature parades-too glutted at the ready feast  to eat the ferrets, rats, rabbits or rosey cheeked gnomes skipping under the boughs of little bansai trees in broken basins; roots rejoining the earth. Claws curling in, wings opening, gills clenching, eyes squinting tightly and then blinking, fur, scales, skin, feathers, and carapace: animals rolled in and out of existence and continued rolling along the tracks of the quantum rings-the irresistible current of the Flux.  Noise was all around-forest choruses of humms, calls, sirens, harmonies, clickings , thrummings, howlings and far off deeper noises reminiscent of whales in ocean distances. Human noises erupted too-people screaming, singing, crying, laughing and roaring! A throng passed through everything: a human flock being singed on its fringes, inevitably waiting to join the flux or be ingested by the worm or afraid of both and clinging to nothing and panicking. The sky was run through with wounds glowing every color any film or visual medium had ever presented.

 

Painted dancers came to dance in the turmoil: eyes wider, arms longer, colors more pure than those around them. Everything that had ever been dreamed, devised or written was alive and being uploaded by irrational default: orbiting into existence on the rings of the great flux. The bright colors of the new dancers were spackled all over the landscape. All these honored guests arrived and moved on as people on the hilltops looked out incredulous: recognizing all the players from the varied pantheons of human culture. This wild carnival went on for miles and miles, the calamitous bustle of matter stretching as far as the eye could see. Above it Red’s voice was carried by tangled winds:

 

“LOOK AT WHAT WE DO!” Red’s boasting transcribed itself on the all-chat too: his words lit up and faded gradually in the bottom of everyone’s vision. Barnabyjones rolled his eyes.

 

“WHAT ARE WE WORTH? NOTHING! LOOK AT THEM ALL SCRAMBLING LIKE LITTLE RATS AROUND DOWN THERE IN ALL THAT SHIT STORM!” All caps: what a jackass. Thought Barnabyjones.

 

“THEY ALL DESERVE TO HAVE THEIR HEADS CRUSHED. BE GROUND INTO IT AND TURNED INTO SOMETHING NEW. FAILED, FAILED HUMANITY FAILED AMOUNTED AND I WILL PUNISH THEM. I WILL PUNISH YOU NOOBS-FOR YOUR LACK OF VISION. YOU MAKE ME LAUGH THINKING YOU’VE GOT A CHANCE.” This was intolerable. Barnabyjones decided to say something for all the players to hear.

 

“Keep talking.” He declared in the all chat. Distract yourself.

 

Messages began to appear on the team chat channel in Barnaby’s vision.

 

“;)” appeared and faded in purple.

 

“^^” in Teal

 

and ” I really hate Red” in Orange.

 

After a brief pause. Purple chimed in on the all-chat.

 

“You’re going to choke on my bush Red.”

 

“I’LL EAT YOUR BUSH!”

 

“Not the way you expect to Red-you’re in luck if you eat that with your mouth.”

 

“Red’s a big enough asshole already.”

 

“AND I’M GOING TO SHIT ALL OVER YOU!”

 

“I LIKE CAPS TOO!” appeared in blue.

 

That ended the discussion well enough for them, it was time to save their breath for the final battle.

 

 

Barnaby’s initial good mood was infectious and they were all feeling optimistic and enthusiastic, or so it seemed to him. But The Thunderlizard had passed on above them and worried thoughts returned in his blue head. Red’s boasting was annoying, but it had become easier and easier to ignore. Orange’s minotaur bellowed into the wind as Barnaby looked out into the eastern sky’s rosey belly filled with clouds of real purple thoughts; its upper reaches already asleep in a bustling firmament of drifting material data. All of those drifting odds and ends caught in a deeper current than he could ever fathom. Barnaby looked out and hoped Teal and Purple were on their game.

 

Across an intermediate distance of seething pandemonium, Teal and Purple were moving out. Teal was almost out of units: his avatar and the last vessel of his entourage were the only remaining standards of his sacred color. Teal was a giant metal battle suit. It was clear from looking at him that Teal -A.K.A TurtleCommander- was very fond of ballistics. Some Players liked getting personal and Romantic with swords, spears and axes-not TurtleCommander. The Teal player was all about fire power. His metal body stood taller than an elephant and was heavier than two. The commander’s pneumatic left hand fastened with the strength of a hydraulic vice around a grip and trigger that controlled four rotary canons; all immerging from the same stock- waiting for Teal’s metal fingers to squeeze a silver trigger and unleash a divine wind of hot lead that would cut through flesh, metal, bone and carapace alike- splitting enemies into three places at the very least with a fury that had left behind scattered pieces of hostile all across the fantastic landscapes of Endnet. That wasn’t all either, mounted on his right shoulder was a dragon-mouthed rocket pod capable of firing heat-seeking armor piercing missiles. Gripped in the vice of his right hand was the Commander’s Flak cannon, which if unleashed at close range would magically transfigure a charging enemy into raw hamburger in a violent burst of hot shrapnel.

 

Teal had commanded a small fleet of floating turtle ships, with fierce dragon heads out-looking and topped with spike studded carapaces. These terrible ships had dominated the skies. After a violent aerial clash with Yellow’s Archangel army however, the TurtleCommander’s fleet had been reduced to one battered vessel-which he stood upon now as electro-magnetic titanium oars propelled it at full speed towards the Red City and Red himself.

 

TurtleCommander was, as many a clever a gamer had riddled out: a Korean- a young one from Busan specifically. Like a lot of Korean people he had a pension for the patriotic and the historic-and nothing combined both better than the Turtle ship. June Seo hoped his parents were watching him, nothing made him happier than returning home to them with the acclamations and prize money that came with each of his victories. He could only pray they were somewhere safe now. He’d been able to see them close the small restaurant they had operated, nearly non-stop, for twenty years to keep him fed and a modest roof over his head, to move into a comfortable full time retirement. He remembered in the years before this happy deliverance how he had done his homework to the sounds of clients roaring with mirth over a crowd of empty soju bottles.

 

June was going to school for twelve hours by the time he entered high school and that was only for public school. His parents, like so many others, also wanted him to spend extra time in academies. School was the only way his parents saw for June to improve his life and proscribed extra hours in: math, science and languages everyday-draining June’s passion for anything remotely academic.  June understood that his parents went above and beyond for him-giving up their lives to pay for him to have a better one. June loved his parents but resented them as well-for never letting him rest and pushing him so hard into this monotonous existence. He’d worked in the restaurant on sundays-his only day off- and wondered why his family couldn’t have accepted him continuing the business-it wasn’t so bad to run this restaurant, custom had been regular and in reality they didn’t need anything.

 

 

 

 

Relief from it all came on Sunday afternoons, under the Endnet sign in downtown Busan. June would scrape together what little money he could from food allowances and money he had earned from the restaurant and pay the entrance fee, enter the net and register for the next game. June’s favorite martial stories were about Yi Sun Shin: who had commanded Korea’s outnumbered navy against the japanese in the Imjin war: turning back one hundred and thirty ships Japanese ships with one tenth that number. June’s personal entourage was, not surprisingly, inspired by these stories. June had built a fleet of floating Turtle ships to lead into battle. June’s creative breath formed hulls and carapaces of space-age alloys, twenty-two photon cannons that ran up and down the port and starboard of each vessel and the iconic dragon figure heads: made of titanium with glaring diamond eyes, capable of unleashing their dragon’s breath of concentrated thermal energy in destructive beams. June had had enough breath for thirteen of these metal monstrosities.

 

His parents got mad eventually. June was developing a reputation for playing arcade machine gun shooters endlessly-when he could get near them-but Endnet undoubtedly became the favorite. He knew he should be doing homework…or something…so many damn somethings…. There were always ships to fly.

 

The Turtle ships’ spiky carapaces and thick armor made them potent juggernauts that ruled the air: but they did have one weakness: their undersides. June had had just enough breath to adjust for this-making ten ten-foot tall dragon headed, mechanical warriors wielding rotary cannons and energy lances to guard the underside of his Turtle fleet. June’s armored avatar was equipped with a powerful jetpack with enough power to lift his massive avatar into the sky, in this way he could lay down suppressive fire both above and below the advancing armada. This combination of aerial domination with a vanguard on the ground had been a winner, allowing June’s ranking to steadily rise through the divisions of players: garnering more and more followers for himself. His parents didn’t see much value in June’s End net habit and put strict limits on his usage-but it was June’s skill in the game that ended up saving their livelihood.

 

It all started when the time had come to renew the restaurant’s lease. Property value had been going up in Busan and the landlord had to nearly double the price of the yearly lease. June’s parents, who hadn’t budgeted for this, were deeply dismayed and at a loss. Not sure what else to do-June had entered a gamer’s tournament, with enough prize money on offer to pay the lease and then some. June entered it and surprising his friends and family: won the tournament.  TurtleCommander’s  navy had smashed a demonic army of copies of David Bowie (equipped and dressed to kill) like an iron fist and saved his family. From then on June developed into a professional gamer: building a better life for his family with the prize money.  He became a source of pride for his city and went on to take home bigger and bigger prizes. He enjoyed it, but also lamented in his own mind that such a frivolous habit should generate so much wealth, that an over-violent weirdo should make as much as a doctor.

 

They were all over-violent weirdos: quiet, unassuming, apathetic and perhaps touched by the darkness they had all found themselves in.

 

“THE GAME IS REAL.” Red had said in his typical capitals. This comment had just annoyed and bemused them at first -a lot of fools played the game and spouted all kinds of bullshit real hotly before dying real quickly. Red had just been another cocky shit-talking gamer up until this point.  Then the barcode player decided to start murdering spectators as quickly as he could.  This broke all the rules everyone thought were fundamental.

 

All the other players tried to stop him-even his team mates. Well, what was left of them- after team two had already been through with the entourages of Yellow and Pink…or “Salmon” as he insisted on being called. Red had made short work of both of them.

 

The remaining member of team 1 aside from barcode had been the famous and well-loved Ender’o'Macedon- Green. Red had dealt with him fast. The cry of observers boomed and shrieked on the all-chat. That act of bitter murder shocked them all. It had sent panic through End net. The scent of blood was everywhere, and not only for the scruffy game fans-every tourist watched the game or knew someone that did and understood it enough to catch the first whiffs. Every laid-back middle aged party animal, every kid skipping class, every old hippie: soldiers, bakers, tradesmen, poets, engineers and shifty financiers-every End net tourist tried to go home-only to find there was no home to go to-this was real. A colossal rift had opened and the giant wyrm called the Thunderlizard appeared shortly after amidst data weeping out of dark space- and the users all looked up at its vast belly and were terrified of its booming roar. Music poured out of it: profound, mysterious and grand.

 

Once you smelled the weeping rift that had been opened in the vivacious, jittery, and colorful zeitgeist, a new kind of terror took hold of you. End net had been A place of limitless possibility-a harmonious place people escaped to. This new realization -coupled with the onset of Red’s murderous rampage- had turned this wide open world into a violent trap, where chaos and data bustled like particles stirred up by an otherworldly heat- and all the users were shut into it. It was a death sentence… or so it seemed until it revealed itself to be nothing more than the proceeding shadow of a great bloom in understanding. All endings and beginnings were within the rings and in spin-everything turns, turned, will continue turning. The loops weren’t cut-they were closed-and alive with great quantum currents moving into and out of the darkness all at once, at speeds beyond light.  Endnet had picked up everyone and began the terrifying change. Carolina, the Purple player, Like all of them, was stuck in this sudden world doing what she had to.

 

Carolina had grown up on a farm in Argentina. Her father had been a philanthropic doctor and her mother a nurse who laughed while she hoed and thinned, seeded and planted. Carolina’s fretful father would constantly be flying around to tinker with one piece of equipment or the other while swearing about interns and woofers. Eventually she had grown up and moved to Buenos Ares to attend school-it was in the city Carolina had begun to use End net and play the game. Carolina had a passion for plants. Her avatar and entourage attested to this. Carolina from Argentina was the leafy, purple threat.

 

 

Every Player of this game in Endnet was the architect of two things:  their personal avatar and their fighting entourage. Barnabyjones had his power armor, yellow glasses and his robots, Sho his Samurai armor, kenabo and winged minotaurs and TurtleCommander his fleet of flying turtle ships-but a name came first. the funny thing about names is that you can make them up but you still choose them. You choose to have them and you have to say “chose” -like the name was out there and always had been-floating along in a stream of names around a great galactic Om. Carolina had plucked out Cosecha-Cuerpo from that river of names (Body-Harvest) it was just the sort of violent moniker to make her father snort in disgust.

 

Cosecha-Cuerpo (or C.C. as she was affectionately called) had designed an army that slithered on roots over the earth, trunks and stems swaying like riders driving snake chariots. Thin stalks and long creepers reached out and snared, clustered pods shot diamond hard thorns in all directions, long limbs tipped with reaching blades whirled like many-armed gods of destruction over shifting clearings filled with death. Strangling vines wove through the undergrowth like ouroborean anacondas reaching and constricting. Flowers, Roots and Stems, traps and snares, and acid somewhere waiting to injest the hapless all rolled with the dark-leaved thicket stampede. Carolina had created an army that was fundamentally different from most if not all others in the battle game.  The purple forest writhed and dipped with the ground as it moved. Like Birnham on to Dunsinane it marched: on to Red.

 

Carolina rode in the bows of an oak laden with heavy blades in the center of the moving wood. Carolina thought about how her father had found the game to be nothing more than senseless violence and decried her for playing too much. Her father was like that: a gentle and kind man who looked to do better in the world. Carolina understood his pacifism but like so many couldn’t resist the call of the game- it was exhilarating beyond the scope of any diversion that had come before it: and when you started to garner followers you started to feel bigger than you could have ever imagined. It was loud, isolated and toxic in some ways…but competing in that game was the greatest rush there was in Carolina’s mind. She could not kick her glorious habit-it meant too much to her in a world that made her feel small and afraid. To stand and fight is all she’d ever wanted to do: she’d stood balling all the time there was in the world into her fists and shaking with stern verdicts on countless occasions. Yes, yes her parents would come up with: “that is the time it takes for resolution-for a plant to defeat a disease, for it to sprout, grow, bloom and fruit…it’s all the same Carolina: watch and think.” and ” They’re a rude crowd Carolina, they don’t know how to be civil, you should know that.” and “you don’t pick up a gun and blow them away, even when they’re doing wrong they are fellow humans- like you and me.” “The nice boys aren’t in there wasting their time! You deserve better Carolina.”

 

Carolina had never really cared about what she deserved. She didn’t care about going to the right school, or being comfortable, she didn’t worry about pregnancy, cancer, diseases, death or cigarettes. Carolina cared about her friends, she cared about the broken hearts of the world and all its innocents. She cared about being able to see the stars on both the hot nights and the cool ones. She cared about when the rain would come and when it would go, about the eggplants tucked behind her parents’ greenhouse. Carolina cared about a lot of things: so much that sometimes letting go was next to impossible and when you can’t let go of a sword you’re in for trouble. Carolina was known to have a wicked tongue when prodded enough. Carolina cared about honesty. And to be honest with herself there were days she hated herself for going into the game. Wasting so much of her time that would be better spent helping things grow or harvesting the turgid fruits of her farm and all her life: school, friends, work, family- how much from all these had she lost? How many great roses that had ever drifted before her nose on the wrist or lapel of circumstance had she passed up? These flowers in her life’s garden, their beauty unadmired, tugged at her heart-strings; but deep inside the game, a different flower bloomed, a black rose- glorious and terrifying: a lady of a dark wood that could roll in on you and roll on out without anyone and in victory forgot all sorrow.

 

Cosecha-Cuerpo resembled a human in dark, skin-tight armor -to a degree- but the resemblance ended with three pairs of broad spines spreading from her back like stunted wings, decreasing in size as they approached the small of her back, and her head.  Cosecha-Cuerpo’s head was a dark helmet grown like a tree into the shape of a twisted crown. The dark, living wood that formed her avatar could grow and extend itself like a plant-wrapping, grasping, lifting, splitting and whipping like a lethal switch. Cosecha-Cuerpo’s suit could also sprout flowers capable of spewing corrosive juices, and fruits that would explode when hurled amidst her foes. Versatile and dynamic Cosecha-Cuerpo was a gamer to be feared.

 

Everything came back to growing things with Carolina-the beauty of plants. They endured and overwhelmed. They were magnificent slow time portraits of life itself-irrepressible and absurd as flowers blooming to breed more flowers and spread-beautiful as flowers blooming for more flowers to bloom. Leaves and stems acting as patient pillars for all the small motions: the comers and goers in the air, the soil and the water. Leaves like smooth palms guiding energy like an old man practicing kung-fu.

 

Plants had been her whole life, Carolina herself was a seed planted in happier years by her mother and father. Carolina couldn’t blame them for hoping for better times and better things from mankind. But everywhere she looked windows were closing and going silent and dark and more and more hapless people in stinking clothes wound up wandering bereft of all things in the streets, and the toxic atomic structure of garbage was being spread by careless hands who’s owners remained distracted by the intangible goals of an alien entity. This world where greed ran rough shod over everything, a horrible ignorant juggernaut of want   Carolina was a stubborn pessimist, though she was quiet about it, never raucous and brash like certain hairy Canadian idiots in their undergrad and wanderlust years-but just as alive, just as filled with fire. All the Sap and Chlorophyll of the dark forest was Carolina’s fire: her breath: The dark wood took shape around it and now surged forward to the Red city and the final decisive battle.

 

The players closed in on the enemy on both fronts, the shifting landscape below them starting to fill with panicked users fleeing the wanton slaughter being perpetrated by Red’s entourage. Screams snatched up by the wind rose to Barnabyjones’ ears. He peered into the distance: there they were. The units of Red’s entourage were surging outwards from the Red city, spreading wanton mayhem as they went. A writhing pack of grotesque monstrosities dragged their bellies over the accumulating detritus of material data and lashed out with twisted claws and monstrous jaws, bony red plates shivering along their obscene lengths. These Red creatures resembled humans twisted into the shapes of salamanders sprouting long hideous tails. Barnabyjones and Sho prepared to do battle with the loathsome creatures: redoubling the speed of their supra-human charge to meet the monsters head on. As they charged Barnaby called out to the fleeing users:

 

“We’re here to help! Get behind us!”

 

The stream of refugees parted like water for Barnaby’s charging robots and Sho’s massive frame as Barnabyjones, John-Wayne, Jules and Sho’s minotaur closed in on Barcode’s monstrosities from the air. Sho’s Kenabo drew first blood as the orange player leapt into the air above and ahead of Tanto and Quint and brought the massive weapon down on the leading salamander: crushing it’s spine and ribcage against a carpet of curios. The great club immediately swung out to the side to smash the skull and snap the neck of another salamander that was lunging towards the massive samurai. Tanto and Quint joined in; power-shields on mechanical arms crashing against gruesome carapace and foiling the wicked swings and bites of the ghastly beasts as the painted robots retaliated with lethal swipes of their blue energy blades. Blinker and Sparky circumvented vicious charges with precise teleportation and fired into the exposed flanks of the wicked red beasts. Sho’s minotaur arrived like an angel of death, one massive hoof stamping down on the head of a salamander as its orange axe, flying in a perfect arch, cleaved off a swiping arm. Barnaby, John-Wayne and Jules picked their targets and fired-puncturing red flesh and unleashing the stink of seared meat into the air. Before long the Salamander pack was in bloody pieces, the physical code of their disfigured corpses disintegrating into the air and joining the flux. Barnaby and Sho let out shouts of victory and prepared to continue the charge.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Suck it noob.”

 

Meanwhile, on Teal and Purple’s front  the salamanders had fled from the shadow of TurtleCommander’s airship and Cosecha-Cuerpo’s dark forest. Both Players were to experienced to give chase: picking off what they could with clouds of whistling thorns, jets of botanical acid, torrents of auto-cannon fire, successions of missiles and sweeping heat beams. They braced themselves now at the sight of a dark, screeching cloud billowing in from the red city and stinking up the incoming wind-it was about to get real for June and Carolina.

II

Ande a Greate hearte thundered in the voide saying: “seake pater, ande alle that woulde be…. sprange forthe.”

hayte and amore bothe as woeful and brighte and terrible.

Quantum computers computing quantum rings. That’s where it started. Experiments.

“It’s not virtual, it’s not just aethereal data we’re uploading-it’s matter, real physical matter- material data- and it’s coming from somewhere.”

Voices both thunderous and soft all started. A great sympanthy began tuning on the march on the other side of the sky. Thunderclouds rumbled softly on the acid perimeter. There was always thunder, somewhere in the steadily tangling and untangling world around them.

Barnabyjones flew over a writhing landscape, his eyes out-looking, his body prone in the wind. Behind and below him he heard the steady thumps of Orange’s big feet moving at a Jackhammer pace over the uneven turf. Tanto and Quint Barreled ahead on foot below him, with blinker and sparky on their flanks. On either side of him in the air Jules and John-Wayne formed the widest points of a big “V”: pressing on towards the Red City.

There was gamer talk.

“Plan?” asked Orange

“We close in on Red and attack him if we can…if it gets too hairy for us we can move back and get around to help Purple and Teal….sound cool?” offered Blue.

“kk” said OJ.

They flew over a sea of listless, drifting chaos- all things appeared before them in random clusters of their own or scattered and isolated in a dispersed and limitless inventory of material data. Televisions perched stoically on mountain crags-empty lenses looking out like hollow astronauts next to confused Janissaries spat into existence by End net’s broken engine. Beds, weed wackers and glistening roman chariots sunk together in swamps with white horses and manic muppets as new oceans opened in the earth. Vehicles of all descriptions; cars, trucks, buses, atvs, scooters, three wheels, two wheels, six wheels-turbines, turbines, turbines and machines appeared too and were lying out or being used. Flowers! all plants and grasses bloomed and withered and died in the eyes of helicopters as cobras passed in the trains of small scurrying creature parades-too glutted at the ready feast to eat the ferrets, rats, rabbits or rosey cheeked gnomes skipping under the boughs of little bansai trees in broken basins; roots rejoining the earth. Claws curling in, wings opening, gills clenching, eyes squinting tightly and then blinking, fur, scales, skin, feathers, and carapace: animals rolled in and out of existence and continued rolling along the tracks of the quantum rings-the irresistible current of the Flux. Noise was all around-forest choruses of humms, calls, sirens, harmonies, clickings , thrummings, howlings and far off deeper noises reminiscent of whales in ocean distances. Human noises erupted too-people screaming, singing, crying, laughing and roaring! A throng passed through everything: a human flock being singed on its fringes, inevitably waiting to join the flux or be ingested by the worm or afraid of both and clinging to nothing and panicking. The sky was run through with wounds glowing every color any film or visual medium had ever presented.

Painted dancers came to dance in the turmoil: eyes wider, arms longer, colors more pure than those around them. Everything that had ever been dreamed, devised or written was alive and being uploaded by irrational default: orbiting into existence on the rings of the great flux. The bright colors of the new dancers were spackled all over the landscape. All these honored guests arrived and moved on as people on the hilltops looked out incredulous: recognizing all the players from the varied pantheons of human culture. This wild carnival went on for miles and miles, the calamitous bustle of matter stretching as far as the eye could see. Above it Red’s voice was carried by tangled winds:

“LOOK AT WHAT WE DO!” Red’s boasting transcribed itself on the all-chat too: his words lit up and faded gradually in the bottom of everyone’s vision. Barnabyjones rolled his eyes.

“WHAT ARE WE WORTH? NOTHING! LOOK AT THEM ALL SCRAMBLING LIKE LITTLE RATS AROUND DOWN THERE IN ALL THAT SHIT STORM!” All caps: what a jackass. Thought Barnabyjones.

“THEY ALL DESERVE TO HAVE THEIR HEADS CRUSHED. BE GROUND INTO IT AND TURNED INTO SOMETHING NEW. FAILED, FAILED HUMANITY FAILED AMOUNTED AND I WILL PUNISH THEM. I WILL PUNISH YOU NOOBS-FOR YOUR LACK OF VISION. YOU MAKE ME LAUGH THINKING YOU’VE GOT A CHANCE.” This was intolerable. Barnabyjones decided to say something for all the players to hear.

“Keep talking.” He declared in the all chat. Distract yourself.

Messages began to appear on the team chat channel in Barnaby’s vision.

“;)” appeared and faded in purple.

“^^” in Teal

and ” I really hate Red” in Orange.

After a brief pause. Purple chimed in on the all-chat.

“You’re going to choke on my bush Red.”

“I’LL EAT YOUR BUSH!”

“Not the way you expect to Red-you’re in luck if you eat that with your mouth.”

“Red’s a big enough asshole already.”

“AND I’M GOING TO SHIT ALL OVER YOU!”

“I LIKE CAPS TOO!” appeared in blue.

That ended the discussion well enough for them, it was time to save their breath for the final battle.

Barnaby’s initial good mood was infectious and they were all feeling optimistic and enthusiastic, or so it seemed to him. But The Thunderlizard had passed on above them and worried thoughts returned in his blue head. Red’s boasting was annoying, but it had become easier and easier to ignore. Orange’s minotaur bellowed into the wind as Barnaby looked out into the eastern sky’s rosey belly filled with clouds of real purple thoughts; its upper reaches already asleep in a bustling firmament of drifting material data. All of those drifting odds and ends caught in a deeper current than he could ever fathom. Barnaby looked out and hoped Teal and Purple were on their game.

Across an intermediate distance of seething pandemonium, Teal and Purple were moving out. Teal was almost out of units: his avatar and the last vessel of his entourage were the only remaining standards of his sacred color. Teal was a giant metal battle suit. It was clear from looking at him that Teal -A.K.A TurtleCommander- was very fond of ballistics. Some Players liked getting personal and Romantic with swords, spears and axes-not TurtleCommander. The Teal player was all about fire power. His metal body stood taller than an elephant and was heavier than two. The commander’s pneumatic left hand fastened with the strength of a hydraulic vice around a grip and trigger that controlled four rotary canons; all immerging from the same stock- waiting for Teal’s metal fingers to squeeze a silver trigger and unleash a divine wind of hot lead that would cut through flesh, metal, bone and carapace alike- splitting enemies into three places at the very least with a fury that had left behind scattered pieces of hostile all across the fantastic landscapes of Endnet. That wasn’t all either, mounted on his right shoulder was a dragon-mouthed rocket pod capable of firing heat-seeking armor piercing missiles. Gripped in the vice of his right hand was the Commander’s Flak cannon, which if unleashed at close range would magically transfigure a charging enemy into raw hamburger in a violent burst of hot shrapnel.

Teal had commanded a small fleet of floating turtle ships, with fierce dragon heads out-looking and topped with spike studded carapaces. These terrible ships had dominated the skies. After a violent aerial clash with Yellow’s Archangel army however, the TurtleCommander’s fleet had been reduced to one battered vessel-which he stood upon now as electro-magnetic titanium oars propelled it at full speed towards the Red City and Red himself.

TurtleCommander was, as many a clever a gamer had riddled out: a Korean- a young one from Busan specifically. Like a lot of Korean people he had a pension for the patriotic and the historic-and nothing combined both better than the Turtle ship. June Seo hoped his parents were watching him, nothing made him happier than returning home to them with the acclamations and prize money that came with each of his victories. He could only pray they were somewhere safe now. He’d been able to see them close the small restaurant they had operated, nearly non-stop, for twenty years to keep him fed and a modest roof over his head, to move into a comfortable full time retirement. He remembered in the years before this happy deliverance how he had done his homework to the sounds of clients roaring with mirth over a crowd of empty soju bottles.

June was going to school for twelve hours by the time he entered high school and that was only for public school. His parents, like so many others, also wanted him to spend extra time in academies. School was the only way his parents saw for June to improve his life and proscribed extra hours in: math, science and languages everyday-draining June’s passion for anything remotely academic. June understood that his parents went above and beyond for him-giving up their lives to pay for him to have a better one. June loved his parents but resented them as well-for never letting him rest and pushing him so hard into this monotonous existence. He’d worked in the restaurant on sundays-his only day off- and wondered why his family couldn’t have accepted him continuing the business-it wasn’t so bad to run this restaurant, custom had been regular and in reality they didn’t need anything.

Relief from it all came on Sunday afternoons, under the Endnet sign in downtown Busan. June would scrape together what little money he could from food allowances and money he had earned from the restaurant and pay the entrance fee, enter the net and register for the next game. June’s favorite martial stories were about Yi Sun Shin: who had commanded Korea’s outnumbered navy against the japanese in the Imjin war: turning back one hundred and thirty ships Japanese ships with one tenth that number. June’s personal entourage was, not surprisingly, inspired by these stories. June had built a fleet of floating Turtle ships to lead into battle. June’s creative breath formed hulls and carapaces of space-age alloys, twenty-two photon cannons that ran up and down the port and starboard of each vessel and the iconic dragon figure heads: made of titanium with glaring diamond eyes, capable of unleashing their dragon’s breath of concentrated thermal energy in destructive beams. June had had enough breath for thirteen of these metal monstrosities.

His parents got mad eventually. June was developing a reputation for playing arcade machine gun shooters endlessly-when he could get near them-but Endnet undoubtedly became the favorite. He knew he should be doing homework…or something…so many damn somethings…. There were always ships to fly.

The Turtle ships’ spiky carapaces and thick armor made them potent juggernauts that ruled the air: but they did have one weakness: their undersides. June had had just enough breath to adjust for this-making ten ten-foot tall dragon headed, mechanical warriors wielding rotary cannons and energy lances to guard the underside of his Turtle fleet. June’s armored avatar was equipped with a powerful jetpack with enough power to lift his massive avatar into the sky, in this way he could lay down suppressive fire both above and below the advancing armada. This combination of aerial domination with a vanguard on the ground had been a winner, allowing June’s ranking to steadily rise through the divisions of players: garnering more and more followers for himself. His parents didn’t see much value in June’s End net habit and put strict limits on his usage-but it was June’s skill in the game that ended up saving their livelihood.

It all started when the time had come to renew the restaurant’s lease. Property value had been going up in Busan and the landlord had to nearly double the price of the yearly lease. June’s parents, who hadn’t budgeted for this, were deeply dismayed and at a loss. Not sure what else to do-June had entered a gamer’s tournament, with enough prize money on offer to pay the lease and then some. June entered it and surprising his friends and family: won the tournament. TurtleCommander’s navy had smashed a demonic army of copies of David Bowie (equipped and dressed to kill) like an iron fist and saved his family. From then on June developed into a professional gamer: building a better life for his family with the prize money. He became a source of pride for his city and went on to take home bigger and bigger prizes. He enjoyed it, but also lamented in his own mind that such a frivolous habit should generate so much wealth, that an over-violent weirdo should make as much as a doctor.

They were all over-violent weirdos: quiet, unassuming, apathetic and perhaps touched by the darkness they had all found themselves in.

“THE GAME IS REAL.” Red had said in his typical capitals. This comment had just annoyed and bemused them at first -a lot of fools played the game and spouted all kinds of bullshit real hotly before dying real quickly. Red had just been another cocky shit-talking gamer up until this point. Then the barcode player decided to start murdering spectators as quickly as he could. This broke all the rules everyone thought were fundamental.

All the other players tried to stop him-even his team mates. Well, what was left of them- after team two had already been through with the entourages of Yellow and Pink…or “Salmon” as he insisted on being called. Red had made short work of both of them.

The remaining member of team 1 aside from barcode had been the famous and well-loved Ender’o'Macedon- Green. Red had dealt with him fast. The cry of observers boomed and shrieked on the all-chat. That act of bitter murder shocked them all. It had sent panic through End net. The scent of blood was everywhere, and not only for the scruffy game fans-every tourist watched the game or knew someone that did and understood it enough to catch the first whiffs. Every laid-back middle aged party animal, every kid skipping class, every old hippie: soldiers, bakers, tradesmen, poets, engineers and shifty financiers-every End net tourist tried to go home-only to find there was no home to go to-this was real. A colossal rift had opened and the giant wyrm called the Thunderlizard appeared shortly after amidst data weeping out of dark space- and the users all looked up at its vast belly and were terrified of its booming roar. Music poured out of it: profound, mysterious and grand.

Once you smelled the weeping rift that had been opened in the vivacious, jittery, and colorful zeitgeist, a new kind of terror took hold of you. End net had been A place of limitless possibility-a harmonious place people escaped to. This new realization -coupled with the onset of Red’s murderous rampage- had turned this wide open world into a violent trap, where chaos and data bustled like particles stirred up by an otherworldly heat- and all the users were shut into it. It was a death sentence… or so it seemed until it revealed itself to be nothing more than the proceeding shadow of a great bloom in understanding. All endings and beginnings were within the rings and in spin-everything turns, turned, will continue turning. The loops weren’t cut-they were closed-and alive with great quantum currents moving into and out of the darkness all at once, at speeds beyond light. Endnet had picked up everyone and began the terrifying change. Carolina, the Purple player, Like all of them, was stuck in this sudden world doing what she had to.

Carolina had grown up on a farm in Argentina. Her father had been a philanthropic doctor and her mother a nurse who laughed while she hoed and thinned, seeded and planted. Carolina’s fretful father would constantly be flying around to tinker with one piece of equipment or the other while swearing about interns and woofers. Eventually she had grown up and moved to Buenos Ares to attend school-it was in the city Carolina had begun to use End net and play the game. Carolina had a passion for plants. Her avatar and entourage attested to this. Carolina from Argentina was the leafy, purple threat.

Every Player of this game in Endnet was the architect of two things: their personal avatar and their fighting entourage. Barnabyjones had his power armor, yellow glasses and his robots, Sho his Samurai armor, kenabo and winged minotaurs and TurtleCommander his fleet of flying turtle ships-but a name came first. the funny thing about names is that you can make them up but you still choose them. You choose to have them and you have to say “chose” -like the name was out there and always had been-floating along in a stream of names around a great galactic Om. Carolina had plucked out Cosecha-Cuerpo from that river of names (Body-Harvest) it was just the sort of violent moniker to make her father snort in disgust.

Cosecha-Cuerpo (or C.C. as she was affectionately called) had designed an army that slithered on roots over the earth, trunks and stems swaying like riders driving snake chariots. Thin stalks and long creepers reached out and snared, clustered pods shot diamond hard thorns in all directions, long limbs tipped with reaching blades whirled like many-armed gods of destruction over shifting clearings filled with death. Strangling vines wove through the undergrowth like ouroborean anacondas reaching and constricting. Flowers, Roots and Stems, traps and snares, and acid somewhere waiting to injest the hapless all rolled with the dark-leaved thicket stampede. Carolina had created an army that was fundamentally different from most if not all others in the battle game. The purple forest writhed and dipped with the ground as it moved. Like Birnham on to Dunsinane it marched: on to Red.

Carolina rode in the bows of an oak laden with heavy blades in the center of the moving wood. Carolina thought about how her father had found the game to be nothing more than senseless violence and decried her for playing too much. Her father was like that: a gentle and kind man who looked to do better in the world. Carolina understood his pacifism but like so many couldn’t resist the call of the game- it was exhilarating beyond the scope of any diversion that had come before it: and when you started to garner followers you started to feel bigger than you could have ever imagined. It was loud, isolated and toxic in some ways…but competing in that game was the greatest rush there was in Carolina’s mind. She could not kick her glorious habit-it meant too much to her in a world that made her feel small and afraid. To stand and fight is all she’d ever wanted to do: she’d stood balling all the time there was in the world into her fists and shaking with stern verdicts on countless occasions. Yes, yes her parents would come up with: “that is the time it takes for resolution-for a plant to defeat a disease, for it to sprout, grow, bloom and fruit…it’s all the same Carolina: watch and think.” and ” They’re a rude crowd Carolina, they don’t know how to be civil, you should know that.” and “you don’t pick up a gun and blow them away, even when they’re doing wrong they are fellow humans- like you and me.” “The nice boys aren’t in there wasting their time! You deserve better Carolina.”

Carolina had never really cared about what she deserved. She didn’t care about going to the right school, or being comfortable, she didn’t worry about pregnancy, cancer, diseases, death or cigarettes. Carolina cared about her friends, she cared about the broken hearts of the world and all its innocents. She cared about being able to see the stars on both the hot nights and the cool ones. She cared about when the rain would come and when it would go, about the eggplants tucked behind her parents’ greenhouse. Carolina cared about a lot of things: so much that sometimes letting go was next to impossible and when you can’t let go of a sword you’re in for trouble. Carolina was known to have a wicked tongue when prodded enough. Carolina cared about honesty. And to be honest with herself there were days she hated herself for going into the game. Wasting so much of her time that would be better spent helping things grow or harvesting the turgid fruits of her farm and all her life: school, friends, work, family- how much from all these had she lost? How many great roses that had ever drifted before her nose on the wrist or lapel of circumstance had she passed up? These flowers in her life’s garden, their beauty unadmired, tugged at her heart-strings; but deep inside the game, a different flower bloomed, a black rose- glorious and terrifying: a lady of a dark wood that could roll in on you and roll on out without anyone and in victory forgot all sorrow.

Cosecha-Cuerpo resembled a human in dark, skin-tight armor -to a degree- but the resemblance ended with three pairs of broad spines spreading from her back like stunted wings, decreasing in size as they approached the small of her back, and her head. Cosecha-Cuerpo’s head was a dark helmet grown like a tree into the shape of a twisted crown. The dark, living wood that formed her avatar could grow and extend itself like a plant-wrapping, grasping, lifting, splitting and whipping like a lethal switch. Cosecha-Cuerpo’s suit could also sprout flowers capable of spewing corrosive juices, and fruits that would explode when hurled amidst her foes. Versatile and dynamic Cosecha-Cuerpo was a gamer to be feared.

Everything came back to growing things with Carolina-the beauty of plants. They endured and overwhelmed. They were magnificent slow time portraits of life itself-irrepressible and absurd as flowers blooming to breed more flowers and spread-beautiful as flowers blooming for more flowers to bloom. Leaves and stems acting as patient pillars for all the small motions: the comers and goers in the air, the soil and the water. Leaves like smooth palms guiding energy like an old man practicing kung-fu.

Plants had been her whole life, Carolina herself was a seed planted in happier years by her mother and father. Carolina couldn’t blame them for hoping for better times and better things from mankind. But everywhere she looked windows were closing and going silent and dark and more and more hapless people in stinking clothes wound up wandering bereft of all things in the streets, and the toxic atomic structure of garbage was being spread by careless hands who’s owners remained distracted by the intangible goals of an alien entity. This world where greed ran rough shod over everything, a horrible ignorant juggernaut of want Carolina was a stubborn pessimist, though she was quiet about it, never raucous and brash like certain hairy Canadian idiots in their undergrad and wanderlust years-but just as alive, just as filled with fire. All the Sap and Chlorophyll of the dark forest was Carolina’s fire: her breath: The dark wood took shape around it and now surged forward to the Red city and the final decisive battle.

The players closed in on the enemy on both fronts, the shifting landscape below them starting to fill with panicked users fleeing the wanton slaughter being perpetrated by Red’s entourage. Screams snatched up by the wind rose to Barnabyjones’ ears. He peered into the distance: there they were. The units of Red’s entourage were surging outwards from the Red city, spreading wanton mayhem as they went. A writhing pack of grotesque monstrosities dragged their bellies over the accumulating detritus of material data and lashed out with twisted claws and monstrous jaws, bony red plates shivering along their obscene lengths. These Red creatures resembled humans twisted into the shapes of salamanders sprouting long hideous tails. Barnabyjones and Sho prepared to do battle with the loathsome creatures: redoubling the speed of their supra-human charge to meet the monsters head on. As they charged Barnaby called out to the fleeing users:

“We’re here to help! Get behind us!”

The stream of refugees parted like water for Barnaby’s charging robots and Sho’s massive frame as Barnabyjones, John-Wayne, Jules and Sho’s minotaur closed in on Barcode’s monstrosities from the air. Sho’s Kenabo drew first blood as the orange player leapt into the air above and ahead of Tanto and Quint and brought the massive weapon down on the leading salamander: crushing it’s spine and ribcage against a carpet of curios. The great club immediately swung out to the side to smash the skull and snap the neck of another salamander that was lunging towards the massive samurai. Tanto and Quint joined in; power-shields on mechanical arms crashing against gruesome carapace and foiling the wicked swings and bites of the ghastly beasts as the painted robots retaliated with lethal swipes of their blue energy blades. Blinker and Sparky circumvented vicious charges with precise teleportation and fired into the exposed flanks of the wicked red beasts. Sho’s minotaur arrived like an angel of death, one massive hoof stamping down on the head of a salamander as its orange axe, flying in a perfect arch, cleaved off a swiping arm. Barnaby, John-Wayne and Jules picked their targets and fired-puncturing red flesh and unleashing the stink of seared meat into the air. Before long the Salamander pack was in bloody pieces, the physical code of their disfigured corpses disintegrating into the air and joining the flux. Barnaby and Sho let out shouts of victory and prepared to continue the charge.

“Yes.”

“Suck it noob.”

Meanwhile, on Teal and Purple’s front the salamanders had fled from the shadow of TurtleCommander’s airship and Cosecha-Cuerpo’s dark forest. Both Players were to experienced to give chase: picking off what they could with clouds of whistling thorns, jets of botanical acid, torrents of auto-cannon fire, successions of missiles and sweeping heat beams. They braced themselves now at the sight of a dark, screeching cloud billowing in from the red city and stinking up the incoming wind-it was about to get real for June and Carolina.