Game Alive: A Science Fiction Adventure Novel

Game Alive: A Novel


Trip Ellington

Copyright © 2015 by Trip Ellington

Cover by Cover photography Licensed and © CanStockPhoto / frenta, Nejron, kentoh





Ellington Marketing, LLC



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author except where permitted by law.


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Game Alive: A Novel
Chapter 1

“Jake! Come on, you’ll be late for school!”

His mother’s disembodied voice echoed strangely about the otherwise empty common room of the inn, bouncing off the bare stone walls. Jake groaned.

“Just a minute, Mom!” he called, loudly enough to be heard outside the VR room. “Let me just start up the compiler.”

He tapped the corner of the semi-visible screen hovering in front of him and the development software’s main menu appeared in the air before him. He selected the
Compile All
option and watched in satisfaction as the medieval inn was replaced with a large, hovering timer bar that slowly began filling in left to right. Grabbing up his school bag on the way out, Jake left the virtual reality room and nearly collided with his mom’s latest boyfriend, Gerald, as he burst into the hall.

“Take it easy, son,” the big man said, gripping Jake by the shoulder to keep him from falling flat out on his face. “You’re going to break something running around like that.”

“Sorry,” muttered Jake, not really meaning it. “Mom said we were late.”

late,” retorted Gerald, sounding irritated. Releasing Jake, he crossed his arms over his broad chest. “If you didn’t spend every waking minute screwing around in VR, you might be ready on time for a change.”

“Sorry,” Jake said again, letting some of his own irritation into the word. He pushed past Gerald, who turned to watch him with a heavy frown as Jake ran through the door outside. His mother was already in the transport, her Visi-Office obscuring her tired eyes. Jake hopped into the seat beside her and tossed his bag at his feet.

“Sorry,” said Jake a third time. “I didn’t see what time it was.”

“Start saved route ‘morning routine,’” his mother told the vehicle, ignoring Jake’s apology for the meantime. A green light flashed to life on the forward control panel and the car backed itself out of the driveway. When they were on their way, Jake’s mother turned to him with a frown mirroring Gerald’s. “And just what were you doing this time?”

“Finishing up the inn,” Jake told her, pride seeping into his voice. “I want to start putting in the NPCs after school today.”

“What’s an en-pee-ceez?” his mother asked, confusion replacing her impatience.

“N-P-C.” Jake shook his head, exasperated. “Non-Player Character. You know, the fake people in the VR programs.”

“That’s right,” she said. “You’ve told me that before.”

“Only about a million times.” Jake smiled as he said it, hoping to take some of the sting out. His mother wasn’t all bad. It was just Gerald. Gerald, who was always yelling that he spent too much time in the VR room. Gerald, who was always telling him to get a real life. Gerald, who thought he got to act like Jake’s dad just because he’d been dating Jake’s mom for a few months.

Unaware of her son’s train of thought, Jake’s mother chuckled. “Anyway,” she said, “I was starting to think I’d have to get Gerald to take you to school today. I have to meet with the Cairo office in forty minutes, and I was almost late because of
young man.”

Jake started to protest, but his mother had already turned her attention back to the transparent, wrap-around of her Visi-Office. “Load message,‘Reply final bid,’” she instructed the device.

Jake turned away and gazed out the window. The identical houses with their identical lawns, each one picture-perfect and painstakingly manicured, flashed by as the transport zoomed along toward the school. His mother often mentioned how much she liked the neatness and uniformity of Leiner Hills, but Jake didn’t feel the same way about it. It was too bland. It was like a game designer had just copy-pasted the same cell over and over again. It was boring and stupid.

A glass and granite building loomed ahead and Jake saw the streams of students pouring into it as his mother’s transport relinquished control to the buried guide sensors, effortlessly entering the flow of auto-piloted vehicles as it approached the drop-off zone. It pulled smoothly and silently up to the curb, and Jake’s door slid open automatically.

“Bye, Mom,” he said.

“Have a nice day, sweetie,” his mother replied, but Jake could tell she was paying more attention to her Visi-Office. He climbed out onto the sidewalk, the door already sliding closed behind him and the transport quietly zooming away before he had taken more than two steps.

Jake turned reluctantly toward the school building, wishing he could just skip ahead to the final bell. Then he could get back home and get back to work designing the newest addition to Xaloria. Biology class didn’t stand a chance when competing with Jake’s fully customized virtual world. The new village, Everheart, needed just a few more details before he would consider it perfect.

A punch on his arm brought Jake out of his musings. “Why so glum, Sport? It’s just another gorgeous day at Leiner Hills Middle School!”

“Yeah, sure.” Jake shoved his friend Des back, grinning in spite of himself. “And what could be better than foreign language studies on a day like this?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” interrupted a new voice. The two boys looked up to see their friend Kari approaching, carrying an armload of digital textbook tablets. “How about…
” Kari rolled her eyes and added, “And it’s only Tuesday.”

Jake fell into step with his two friends, and before they had gone far his proud grin had returned. “Hey, guys, guess what? Everheart will finally be ready by this weekend!”

“Great,” Kari said without enthusiasm, walking through the sliding auto-door and into the school’s main hall. “You’ve been working on that module for a month.”

“Twenty-six days,” Jake corrected her, and he didn’t see Des silently mocking him behind his shoulder. “You guys don’t understand. This one’s the best so far. I even figured how to build in non-linear quest lines, so the story turns out differently depending on what choices you make.” He nodded in self-satisfaction, extremely proud of his accomplishment. “It’s pretty darn good, even if I do say so myself.”

Des pounded Jake on the back, laughing. “Well, I’m glad,” he said. “Maybe now you can take a break from Xaloria and come join us on the lacrosse field. You know it isn’t any fun with just the two of us.”

Jake pulled a disgusted face. “I hate that program,” he told Des. “You know I’m rotten at it. Besides, nobody’s played real lacrosse in almost a hundred years.”

“And they’ve been fighting dragons and evil wizards all that time, I take it?” prodded Des sarcastically.

be fun to be a princess,” Kari mused, already moving past the two bickering boys. “I’m tired of getting all sweaty and running around all the time. I’d rather live in a castle and have a couple servants following me around, waiting for me to tell them what to do.”

“Oh, sure you would,” mocked Des.

The three reached their lockers. Jake pulled out his Visi-Classroom and held it to the uplink built into his locker door. A yellow light blinked steadily while the device uploaded his completed work and updated his school account with the day’s to-do list. After a few seconds, the yellow light flashed green once and went dark.

Des stopped at Jake’s locker on his way to class. “The lacrosse program rocks!” he insisted. “Just think about it, okay?” he added when Jake shook his head. “You can be on my team, what about that?”

“He always makes me play for the other side,” Kari said, sticking out her tongue as she passed the two boys on and continued down the hallway.

“Maybe,” said Jake with a shrug. He didn’t want to play VR lacrosse, but he knew Des wasn’t going to let up. But just wait until his friends saw what he’d built in Xaloria! “Anyway, see you in math.”

Leaving Des behind, Jake hurried to catch up with Kari. He was glad he shared first period Ancient History with her, instead of Basic Physics II with Des. Jake didn’t get to spend much time around her without Des hanging around, and more and more lately he’d found himself wanting more time with her.

Plus, Ancient History meant Ms. Johns’class. She’d been Jake’s history teacher for the past three years, and she liked to start every day with a historical quote. She said it was a good way to wake up sleepy brains and get them fired up for learning. As Jake settled into his kiosk – only two desks away from Kari, though it seemed an endless gulf – he slipped his Visi-Classroom over his eyes. The morning’s quote shimmered into visibility right before his eyes, hanging in mid-air.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

--Philip K. Dick, late 1900s

The message hovered for a few seconds before fading slowly away to be replaced by a list of daily reminders: turn in extra credit work in language studies, find and return lost PE shorts, pep rally tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Once he’d finished reviewing his memos, Jake removed his personal Visi-Classroom to join the rest of the class in the communal VR classroom.

Unlike some of the more old-fashioned faculty, Ms. Johns kept her VR setup current to her lesson plan. The pristine marble walls of yesterday had been replaced with crumbling stones beneath a cloud-studded sky. Jake’s skin prickled in response to the artificial weather, humid with a briny taste to the air. Ms. Johns’s smart skirt and cord-knit sweater shimmered and changed until it appeared she wore a white robe draped across one shoulder – a toga, she called it.

“Yesterday,” the teacher began, “we discussed the heyday of the ancient Roman Empire and compared it to the rise of some other major civilizations in more recent times. Today we’re going to talk about the fall of that same great Empire, and some of the historical figures responsible for it. Let’s see if we can find any similarities in the failures as well.”

Jake listened attentively as Ms. Johns began discussing the problems that led to ancient Rome’s demise. He’d always enjoyed her classes the most. Ms. Johns had a way of making history come to life right before the students’eyes, and she had given him plenty of ideas for programming his own virtual world. He’d built an entire continent based on her lectures about ancient Egypt, complete with three sandstone pyramids and a replica of the Great Sphinx. He wished he could have seen the real ones before they were destroyed in the last great war, but at least he could still stand beside them in Xaloria. Ms. Johns had been so impressed by his work, she allowed him to interface his home set-up with the school’s much more powerful VR systems.

Jake had used the extra computing power to write his first interactive game, a working Pharaoh storyline. Players could work their way up through the political structure, and if they were clever and resilient they might one day become Pharaoh. Ms. Johns uploaded the module to the Open Network as a permanent portal in the school’s VR net.

“Very nice work,” she’d told him approvingly at the time. “Keep it up, and you just may have a future in VR design.”

Now that was an idea! Jake wanted to be able to design his own worlds, his own VR games. Never mind the ones you could download from the Open Net, like Des’s stupid lacrosse game, or that other one Des liked so much; the one where players competed as rival jewel thieves. Those games were silly. They were one-dimensional, and if you didn’t follow the script perfectly then you lost every time. Jake wanted to create something better than that.

So he had worked at it, and Xaloria was the result. It had grown tremendously since he had first recreated a slice of ancient Egypt. Jake’s programming skills had improved along with it. He felt almost embarrassed when he looked back at the NPCs in the Egyptian model – hard-coded dialog, rigidly defined travel routes, fixed and repetitive behaviors – they were ridiculous to him now.

His newer modules took full advantage of the latest advancements in artificial intelligence – AI – and the NPCs in his newest creation, Everheart, seemed so lifelike it was uncanny. What was more, they
– they made friends and enemies, built homes and business, started families, and even moved out of town and into other modules. Every time Jake ran the program, something changed. Life in Xaloria continued on even when he wasn’t there and was so much more interesting than Leiner Hills.

“Alright, class,” said Ms. Johns, finishing up her lecture and interrupting Jake’s distracted thoughts. “Put on your Visi-Classrooms so we can review the study notes for today.”

Jake dutifully put on the transparent, wrap-around goggles and entered his personal classroom. He followed along as the teacher reviewed the items he’d need to remember for the test. He added a few notes of his own to the outline, tapping out the words on his kiosk touchscreen. Though his notes were inspired by Ms. Johns’lecture, they did not necessarily have anything to do with the upcoming test:
Give Queen Prista pet that she can ask for political advice. Add public baths in Reba. Make a coliseum at Indigo Fjord and let NPCs decide whether loser lives or dies.

Jake clicked busily away until Kari tapped him on the shoulder, startling him.

“Time to go, brainiac,” she said. “Didn’t you hear the tone?”

“Just a second,” Jake said, finishing up a final note before closing down his interface. “Okay, okay. I’m ready.”

He followed Kari into the hall and they started toward second period, chatting about the corruption that dragged ancient Rome to its demise. Jake felt strangely excited to be talking to his friend like this, even though he found it hard to keep up with what she was saying. Maybe he should have paid more attention to Ms. Johns’lecture. At least he would have another chance this period. Jake and Kari had all three morning periods together.

Des met them at the door into Language Studies, a faraway, distracted look in his eyes.

“Earth to Des,” said Kari, laughing. “Figured out how to launch a rabbit into space yet?”

“Soon,” said Des unconvincingly, shaking his head. Jake knew his friend had probably been daydreaming about that lacrosse simulation all through class. “What about you?” Des turned it around on them. “Can you rebuild the Great Civilization?”

“Nope,” admitted Kari, but then she turned a beaming look on Jake. “But

“Uhm, yeah,” said Jake, feeling his face heat up for some reason. Maybe there was something wrong with the school thermostat. “Yeah, sure. Xaloria’s really grown, you know. It’s turning into its own Great Civilization. You should log in with me tonight.”

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