Blog, The Fantasy Realm

A Fantasy Realm Tale: 1N TH3 CL0UD

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*The following is a transcript of a WHUS Radio FM broadcast aired on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 from 1-2 PM along with the music used to accompany the story*

1N TH3 CL0UD


{Legends of Azeroth (Main Title) – Tracy Bush – World of Warcraft}

Good afternoon, traveler. You have stepped into a portal here on WHUS Storrs and are now in The Fantasy Realm. Welcome. I am your guide, The Sage. Today, you protect the planet  Cloudoxia from invasion of The Nova forces in the Hestian galaxy. For your enjoyment, I recommend creating a character to follow along. Are you an expert at coding or an eager learner? Do you find enjoyment playing video games? Are you a casual player, or do you put your all into the world of the game? Have you ever tried virtual reality? Would you like to? You get to decide, and best think quick, traveler. Your story is about to begin.

{All is Hell That Ends Well – Two Steps From Hell – SkyWorld}

Tucked safely inside Cloud Pod 917, you stick to your position at the far northern side of the city. The pod is made of cloud fibers. It is a tough material produced by Cloudoxian engineers that looks like glass but has the strength of a thousand tons. You can see everything that is happening around you, but to the invaders, your pod simply looks like a silver egg suspended in the air.  

You sit on a soft leather seat with a screen and two control panels to the left and right of your thighs. The control panels have multi-colored buttons, levers, and switches. You have been trained by the best military in the sky, so you can control every weapon this pod has to offer without even looking at the panels. Your hands move across the keys like rushing water across rocks, but this doesn’t mean the battle is not brutal.

Cloudoxia is under attack by Nova ships of the Hestian Galaxy, and you are in the middle of the raging battle.

Though the pod is at a controlled temperature, stress builds up inside you. You are sweating as your eyes scan the skies for the odd triangular-shaped spaceships of the Nova.

The Nova are a proud species of the galaxy who certainly hate to be anything but perfect. They have been on a mission to claim and conquer all the planets of the Hestian Galaxy for over three light years.

Cloudoxia is a planet where the land had become uninhabitable, so the inhabitants took to the skies. They made their lives in the clouds. It is also the last planet standing against The Nova. They are the resistance, and they are an enemy The Nova are eager to vanquish.

Blue explosions burst in the sky like fireworks. Monstrous hail storms have depleted all of the southern Nova forces, but the northern part of the city is slowly falling. You pound on every button with a firm finger, blasting more deathly rays at Nova spaceships.

Your screen of the outside pixelates into a live feed of the Commander-in-Chief of the Cloudoxia military from his own Cloud Pod, The Nimbus. His feed covers the entire pod. You are blinded from what is going on outside for a moment as he delivers his message.

“We are sending in the division of thunder and lightning. Cloud Pods 500 to 1000 are to report to the southern border. The rest are to stay here in the defense of the north.”

The live feed dissipates. As Cloud Pod 917, you fly over to the southern border. There you see the Novan equivalent of The Nimbus: The Vesta. The Vesta is a large pyramid with a black metal exterior and yellow glowing veins through the cracks.

An audio feed comes through: “Pods! In position for boarded combat!”

You prepare to board The Vesta. You press a button, and the interior of the pod starts to shift. Simultaneously, you start putting on electrodes to the backs of your hands and to the back of your neck. Eventually, you start to stand, because the seat starts to transform into a grid-like panel on the floor. You then place a strange device on your head, like a circuited headband, and you stand comfortably inside the pod. As you move, though the panel doesn’t feel like it’s moving, it looks like it is, for the grid is moving. You walk forward, and the pod follows your speed toward The Vesta.

Your heart anxiously squirms in your chest. You slowly enter the dark corridor of The Vesta with the rest of the pods. You await your orders against a wall. The inside of The Vesta is da-rk…

Ca-n yo-u hea-r me?…

{Welcome To Los Santos – Oh No – The Music of Grand Theft Auto V}

“Hi! Did you scare you?” She laughs. “My name’s Fable. My gamertag is FableLore31, but Fable is fine. I know everything is hectic out there, but I was playing Akaya, same as always, and I found a way to help Cloudoxia. I can’t do it on my own though; I need your help.”

Your Cloud Pod screen is overtaken by a feed of a video game. It’s a bustling city with tall skyscrapers, zooming cars, and carefree pedestrians. The buzz of city life overflows your ears. The honking of cars, skateboard wheels on pavement, blaring sirens, drunken laughter; it all comes rushing into the pod as if you were really standing on the sidewalk of this city.

A young woman stands in front of you with her arms straight at her sides. Tall and curvy, the woman has a high ponytail, a leather jacket with a gray tank top, blue ripped jeans, and combat boots. Her smile is friendly enough. Above her head is blue text that reads “FableLore31”.

“I hacked into your Cloud Pod. It wasn’t difficult. I went to the top university for computer science and programming. I understand it very well. I’ve brought you into the game. Since it’s for Cloudoxia, I thought it’d be better to do this quickly.

“Oh,” she laughs, “You probably don’t know what Akaya is. Akaya is the immersive video game you’ve been waiting for. When people get bored of real life, they come here, because you can do whatever here. You can live your best life here. That’s the beauty of Akaya. The NPCs, or nonplayer characters, are the most advanced yet, and every part of the world is as detailed as our world. That’s what makes Akaya feel so real, but it’s so much better. In the real world, you only get one life, but in Akaya, you get every life and respawn you want. Why spend your boring life in reality when Akaya offers all of reality and more?

“Everyone in the galaxy plays Akaya, or at least they used to until The Nova showed up. The servers are empty now. It’s mostly just Cloudoxia still playing, but The Nova have started joining the game, and they’ve left a glitch in the game that will tell us how to defeat them. I can’t do it on my own though; I need your help. So, what do you say? Will you help me?”

Since your pod is overtaken by this video game, you feel you have no choice but to help Fable, and as it is for the good of Cloudoxia, you decide it wouldn’t hurt to investigate. You accept Fable’s proposition.

{Europolis – Simon Poole – Dreamfall Chapters OST}

“Great. Let’s go then.”

Fable walks across the street to go toward the center of the city. You follow her. The video game has taken over the entire screen inside the pod, which is essentially all the interior walls. So, as you walk heel-toe across the street, you feel as though you are literally walking across a street toward the city.

You look around and see that Fable is right. Most of the people walking around are NPCs, walking aimlessly around to simulate a busy city. There are a few players sprinting throughout the city, blue text floating above their heads. You look up to see what yours says, and you manage to read it as cloud_917.

Fable looks back at you and says, “I’ve arranged a deal with an NPC in the game. It’s a hidden quest most people don’t know about unless they dig deep enough into online forums. There’s a key to the Jameson Mansion. Jameson is the developer of the game.”

You and Fable pass by a small park in the middle of the tall, metallic silver buildings that loom over you. The park has a few apple trees, rose bushes, a water fountain into which people throw coins, and some benches where old men play chess. In the center of the park is a statue of a man in an early 21st century suit and tie. He has a low ponytail, rectangular glasses and a laptop tucked underneath his arm.

“He died a long time ago, but before dying, he created a replica of his mansion inside the game. Some people say he did it to stroke his ego. Others say he hid an easter egg in there. The Nova are the only ones who have made it in there, and that’s exactly where we need to go. The problem is, to get into the mansion, you need a key, and to get the key, you need to strike a bargain with Martha Bane.”

Crossing a four-way intersection, you see on the billboards a woman with a serious face and a raised eyebrow looking straight at you. Her website is in simple, black text next to her.

“Martha Bane is the richest and the most corrupt business woman in the game. If you get on her good side, you can expect good things. If you get on her bad side, you can expect to live a miserable life until you get tired of it and create a new character. I did some more digging, and I learned that she really wants a one-of-kind motorcycle called Rock Angel.”

You make it to one of the tallest buildings in the city. Above the front entrance are the words “Doraibu” in all caps and all in white as a stark contrast to the jet black building. Fable leads you to the underground parking lot in the back.

“It’s made entirely of gold and is the fastest motorcycle in all of Akaya. It’s so expensive, not even she can afford it, but if we can steal it, then we’ll have the best bargaining chip anyone can ask for.”

Once Fable scans the parking lot for any stragglers, she hands you a black bag and tells you to change. You both change in a corner of the parking lot into security guard uniforms. She then turns to you and says, “We have one chance at this heist. We can’t waste it.”

You follow her into the building and end up in a long hallway with a blue carpet and silver walls. The silence puts your beating heart into maximum volume. You are about to embark on the most rewarding yet the most difficult heist the game has to offer.

{The Arena – Lindsey Stirling – Brave Enough}

Walking down this hallway is like staying in line of a rollercoaster ride fully knowing there are a few loose screws on the ride. Logic tells you to run the other way screaming, but adrenaline forces you to stay with a shaky smile on your face and a twitch in your hands.

You both walk at a normal pace down the hall until you get to a corner. Around the corner, you hear two other security guards walking your way. They’re bickering over which contestant will win a popular TV game show.

Fable motions for you to keep walking. You turn the corner with her and keep your eyes forward. Every step feels like you are pulling nails out of floorboards. Your real hands are starting to get a bit clammy as the NPC security guards pass you on your left. You glance ever so slightly at the weapons strapped to their belts.

You let out a breath of relief as you feel them get farther from you when you hear:

“Hey! You’re not supposed to be down here! Where are your badges?”

Fable turns around and shows them the badges that came with the uniforms.

One of them shakes his head. “You’re only level C personnel. Only level As patrol the lower levels.”

Traveler, can you think of something that will convince them to let you go?

With a well thought-out lie, the guards are convinced. You and Fable continue walking down the hall.

At the end of the hall, there is a silver door with two screens and keyboards to either side of it. Fable turns around and takes quick glances at the security cameras lining the hallway. She clicks the side button of a cellphone in her pocket and then quickly takes the left computer.

“I’ve connected into the security cameras in the building. We have a few minutes before the feed is live again. I’ll hack into this one. See if you can try hacking into that one.”

You walk over to the right computer and see on the screen a maze-like green grid, but the grid is made of words. A few of the words are missing.

See if you can hack into the computer, traveler. If light is to darkness, then what is to sound? If water is to ocean, then what is to desert? If pen is to paper, then what is to a candle?

Well done, traveler. You’ve figured it out. If light is to darkness, then silence is to sound. If water is to ocean, then sand is to desert. If pen is to paper, then a lighter is to a candle. You input this information into the grid and are able to unlock the door at the same time as Fable.

You both walk through the door. Inside, there is a grand ballroom with spotlights shining on the most luxurious motorcycles you’ve ever set your eyes on. In the center of them all, Rock Angel is displayed. The motorcycle is sleek, lustrous, and golden. It gleams with glamour and hardly even asks for your attention. It stands proud knowing you are staring at it, and it is even curious to see if you will dare grab its handles for a joyride.

{Insane Face – Brian Tyler – Need for Speed: The Run}

Fable jumps up and down as she rushes toward the golden motorcycle. “Look at it! That’s an advanced motorcycle. It has an unbelievable engine and hits two hundred and fifty miles per hour on the freeway in the blink of an eye.”

She gets onto the diamond-patterned leather cushion. You both ignore the twenty other motorcycles in the room. She starts the engine, and it purrs elegantly.

The lights turn red. An alarm blasts through the speakers.

Fable gets off the motorcycle and pushes you toward it. “You take the Rock Angel. I’ll take one of the others. If we separate, it’ll be hard for them to catch us. Don’t get a scratch on the Rock Angel. We need it in pristine condition. We’ll meet at the pier.”

She bolts out the building through a window. Glass bursts like confetti as you watch her land on a street below.

Before you can react, the doors behind you slam open. A squad of heavily-armored men with weapons run in yelling at you to stand down.

You jump onto the Rock Angel, twist her handle, and race to the broken window. Without hesitation, you take flight off the building. The motorcycle’s weight pulls you down, and your stomach flips inside you. You land on the sidewalk and skid the back wheel to get back upright on the road. Then, you race down the freeway.

The city turns to watercolor as your teary eyes focus on the road in front of you. With everyone going 30, you fly by at 180, swarming through them like a bee amongst flowers. The wind freezes your arms and face, but you keep your focus on the road, so you don’t knock into anything or anyone.

NPCs flee the second you get near them, some angry and some terrified. The other players don’t pay any attention to you.

The constant sound of sirens in the city concentrations around you. The cops are onto you. You dash left and right avoiding the cop cars. You drive through back alleys, backyards, and even backwards, to make sure no one catches you.

You get on the freeway to head toward the pier. Helicopters appear out of nowhere and hover above you. They announce in a loudspeaker that you need to stand down, but you just keep speeding down the freeway.

Latin music, reggae, rock and hip hop blend into a weird orchestration in your ears from the cars you pass by. You keep as far away from them as you can to not damage the Rock Angel.

Coming up, you see the police have lain down spikes to stop you. Your eyes dart left and right to see how you can escape.

There’s construction to the right with a makeshift ramp going off the elevated freeway. With a thrust, you veer to the right and catapult yourself off the ramp. You land on a long road leading toward the rural part of the city. The pier is behind you.

With a quick manoeuvring of your feet, you spin donuts for a few seconds and then speed back toward the pier. Thinking you’ve lost them, you keep the fast speed, but passing a donut shop, you pass a few cop cars ordering their coffee and donuts.

The sirens go off again, and they’ve targeted you. These cops are hot on your tail, and you can hear them ordering you to stop.

You keep taking turns to shake them off, but these will not budge. You burn the streets with your tires going 220 to the freeway. Before you get on the freeway, you psych them out and miss the exit. They don’t react fast enough and race down the exit.

You take a quick turn and head down a street going back toward the center of the city. You’re about to take a right when a giant tank rolls through out of nowhere. Instead of breaking, you lean down and go faster. With such slow movements, the tank can’t block the intersection fast enough. Like a slick mouse, you slip through and keep sprinting down the road.

At a train crossing, you hop onto the train tracks. You drive on the bumpy tracks farther south toward the pier, avoiding every cop car around. After passing a few more crossings, you find one just a few blocks away from the pier.

The police have lost sight of you. Slowing it down, you find an open garage of a random house. You rush in and stay hidden in the shadows.

In a few minutes, you hear the helicopters pass by and fly away. Cop cars chase each other down the road, and eventually, the sirens all go quiet. The air feels still and the threat clear. You’ve managed to lose their interest.

You leave the garage and start driving to the pier.

{Siren (feat. Ninr) – Savant – Heart}

You find Fable with a cigarette leaning against a silver motorcycle underneath the pier. Above the pier, you can hear NPCs joking around, playing arcade games and walking across the wooden boards. Some steps are running across the pier, and you guess those are actual players of the game.

“Nice job. The Rock Angel looks clean. Now, we just have to get it to Martha Bane.” Fable takes the handles of the motorcycle and pushes it toward a small white building with a black roof just a few feet away from the pier. As you get closer, you hear muffled dance club music.

Inside, the air is stuffy with cigarette smoke and body heat. All kinds of people crowd the space: some with purple wigs, some with tight dresses, some with ridiculous shoes and some with meticulous makeup.  The music vibrates the walls. Shot glasses filled with drinks line the bar, people dance on stage, and there’s a long line at the ATM.

Fable points out to you a private booth at the far back of the dance club. There, you see Martha Bane. Like in her billboards, she has white curly hair, a plain face with a single birthmark under her right eye, and an aura of self-righteousness. The only difference is that the bottle of tequila on her table has made her face far less serious.

“I’ll go talk to her. You can stay here.” Fable walks to Martha Bane and sits down to talk with her. You can’t see a cutscene of their conversation, so you just stand around.

There are a few slot machines open to your left. Dancers have just started a show on stages in front of you. A few stools at the bar have just opened up. What will you do while Fable talks to Martha. Will you try your luck at the slot machine, join the audience in watching the show, or get something to drink at the bar?

You look up to see a few men in suits leave Martha Bane’s booth. They leave through the back door, where they’ll see the motorcycle. You look back to the booth and see Martha shake hands with Fable.

Fable walks to you, but she doesn’t stop. She walks around you to the back door. You follow her.

When you get to the back, you see Fable getting a black car from one of Martha’s bodyguards.

“We’ve got the key. The mansion is only 7 minutes away.” She gets into the driver’s seat. You get into the passenger seat and turn the radio to a station featuring your favorite kind of music.

{The Girl I Haven’t Met – Kudasaibeats – Falling}

The sun is setting. Hues of purple, pink and blue turn the skies to cotton candy. The yellow of the dimming sun kisses your skin, and the sound of the breeze coming in through the window makes the road a relaxing place to be.

“What does happiness mean to you?” Fable looks down for a moment and then up at the road again. “No. What does happiness look like for you?”

Well, traveler? What does happiness look like for you?

You can feel how intensely Fable is listening to you as you tell her your answer. It is as though she is not just listening, but actively putting every word you say to memory, carefully storing each syllable away in its proper place.

When you’re done answering, you ask her the same question.

“I’m not sure.” She then asks, “Do you like your life?

You think about your answer for a moment. She patiently waits. Then you answer, and she listens. You ask her the same question again.

“Sometimes I wonder what the meaning of life is. It’s a very interesting question.”

You look out the window and stare at the tall palm trees zooming by. You pass by some kids on bikes, couples taking their dogs on walks, and a few people mowing their lawns. The city life is behind you. All you hear now is the breeze, the soft hum of suburban life, and the chirping birds above you.

You then hear her ask, “Do you have a best friend?”

You think about your friends for a moment. You then talk about them for a short while. You ask her the same question.

“I don’t know.”

You decide to ask her about the Vesta, remembering that you are actually in a pod.

“When I hacked into your pod, I put up a wall so no one can interrupt you while in-game. The commander-in-chief doesn’t realize you’re not doing anything. The Nova are still heavily attacking the northern side. We have to get to the glitch before they break through.”

You then ask her about herself.

“What would you like to know?”

You ask her what she’s like in real life.

“I started playing Akaya when I was young. I enjoyed it very much. I spend a lot of time in the game. I know everything there is to know about it. I like meeting new people, like you. Do you enjoy talking to me?” She asks you.

You give her an honest answer, and once again, you ask her the same question.

“Very much,” she says.

This time, you ask her why.

She hesitates. “Very much.”

Before you can respond, she starts pulling into the driveway of a mansion. “We’re here.”

{Entering the Capitol – James Newton Howard – The Hunger Games (Original Motion Picture Score)}

The mansion looks ordinary. The walls are a sickly gray with a bumpy, uneven surface. The roof is flat and lifeless. The front wooden door is modest. The only impressive thing about the mansion is that it is quite long.

Fable parks the car, and you both get out. She opens the front door with the key acquired by Martha Bane. The door slides into the wall and allows you entry.

An unsettling silence takes over as you walk in the building. You enter into a bare living room. There is a black couch, a flat screen TV, a coffee table with magazines, and an odd-looking light hanging from the ceiling. A color scheme of grays and silvers covers the whole place, making it feel muted.

You walk to the other side of the living room and see a portrait of Jameson, the developer of the game. He wears rectangular glasses that sit on the edge of his nose. His face is stoic, as if pained by an indecipherable code he has yet to crack.

“This way,” Fable says. She’s at a door underneath the staircase. As you head down, the steps are eerily silent. It is all dark, save for a soft blue light at the bottom of the steps.

At the last step, you look up, and you are bathed in a blue glow.

An electrical forest of blue blinking lights, vines of Ethernet cables, and buzzing white noise spans an expansive hall. You are an intruder in this space for machines. Walking between the towers of plugs, ports, and embedded power strips, you feel like an alien, your skin soft compared to the sleek plastic, metal, and glass of the towers. As you get farther down the hall, the machinery starts to feel more foreign. You try to touch some of it, but you can’t manipulate it in any way. It is added ambience for the game, inspired by the real home of the developer.

After a few long minutes of walking, the hall turns more forest-like. The towers open up like palm trees, electrical wiring twisting and turning into tree branches, their branches glowing like glow worms squirming up the veins of a tree. The polished floors are overrun by unfinished projects, crumpled paper, SD cards, and dead batteries. The mechanical whirring gets louder in your ears. The blue glow starts to feel mystifying, as if ones and zeros of the binary code are kissing you as they glide past you, the way mist does in the early morning. This is a tech paradise in which the electronics are the guests, and you are a tourist wishing you could afford to stay.

{Misty Forest – Barnes Blvd. & Olivia Prado – Autumn’s End}

You walk by Fable’s side as you get farther down the electrical forest. Without looking in your direction, she starts to speak.

“Plato created the allegory of the cave. It depicts a scene of a group of people born and raised in a cave. They have been born in chains and can only see the cave wall. Behind them, there is a fire that creates shadows on the wall, and this is all they see. This is all they know. One of these people gets tired of this life and manages to escape the chains. This person leaves the cave and sees not only the fire and what else the cave has to offer, but the outside world as well, beyond the cave walls. The person returns to the cave to share this discovery with the others, but when they hear what this person has to say, they believe this person has gone crazy. If they weren’t chained up, it is possible they would have killed the person.”

There’s a beat of silence.

“Sometimes I wonder if I have spent my whole life inside the cave… if there’s something better out there that I don’t know about… if someone has come up to me telling me there is, and I just dismissed it, because they seemed crazy… if the one time I listened and got on board with the plan was a mistake… if I’ll ever know if I ever made it out of the cave at all.”

Another beat of silence.

“I think that is what happiness would look like for me: knowing I have seen what is outside the cave.”

{Finding Bea – The Greatest Bits – Night in the Woods}

“Let’s look for this glitch. Keep an eye out for clipping textures. The more you see them, the closer we are to finding the glitch.”

You ask Fable to define a clipping texture.

“Clipping refers to a chopped or obstructed view of the graphics of a video game to reduce the visible area of the graphics. It is a technique used to speed up graphics rendering. The term is often used to inaccurately describe collision detections which are instances of graphic elements intersecting in a way that reduces the believability and the graphics of the game. Collision detection examples include hair disappearing into armor or walls disappearing when a player walks into them. Even though the player cannot move, the player can see the crude graphics behind the wall.”

With this definition, you start looking around the electrical forest to see if you can find anything unusual in the graphics.

You head to the southwestern part of the hall where you start to hear a strange clicking sound. It sounds like someone is typing non-stop on a keyboard with soft keys. You follow the sound to a strange pond. It looks like a pond with water lilies and koi fish swimming around peacefully. At one end of the pond, there is a running stream flowing into it, and this is where the typing sound is coming from.

You lean closer and notice that the pond is nothing more than a flat screen. You touch it, and it simulates a ripple in the water. The koi fish react and swim away. You crouch down and look straight at the stream. Though it looks like water, you can clearly see white letters being swept away by the projection of the water going into the pond.

As you look through the stream, you notice a strange white block flickering behind it. You stand and see a tall door behind the pond. You look at the bottom of the door, and it looks perfectly normal. You start to walk away, but with your first step, you notice a white block that appears and then vanishes. You move your head back and forth and see this white block appear, disappear and appear again, destroying the illusion of a perfectly normal door.

You have found a clipping texture. You walk toward the door and see that a similar white block starts popping up on the door’s handle. It’s another clipping texture. You then open the door and see that as you are opening the door, the room is clipping from black to white, as if the colors are flickering.

Once the door is fully open though, all the clipping textures disappear. Inside, you see a pitch black room except for a white, sleek tablet on top of a white table in the middle of the room.

Fable shows up behind you. “Nice job. Let’s go in.”

When you both walk in, the door behind you closes, and you are left in darkness save for the white tablet and table.

{Starfire – Taylor Davis – Odyssey}

Fable turns on the tablet. Immediately, the black walls, ceiling, and floor illuminate with stars. It’s as though you are floating in space. The room feels larger than it is, for darkness extends for miles, and stars with their many sizes can fool the eye and its perspective.

The silence here is nothing like the unsettling silence of the mansion’s living room. It is infinite, and therefore, intimate.

“The tablet is showing me the constellations of the sky, all 88 of them. This can’t be the glitch, but this might take us to it.”

Fable plays with the tablet for a few more minutes when an epiphany strikes her. “Oh! It is asking for a new constellation. It’s asking us to create a constellation in the stars. Will you create one then?”

So, traveler, if you could create your very own constellation in the stars, what would it look like, and what would you name it?

You map out your constellation into the tablet and label it with its name. You and Fable look to the stars in the room and see your constellation start to form itself. It’s a humbling moment to see your creativity etched into the sky. It is a reminder that you are small compared to the universe, and yet you are no more nor less important than anyone or anything in it. You are just as important as the ant, as the flower, as the cloud, and as the stars that populate the universe, for the universe holds you all in its fabrics equally.

Coming back to reality, you notice that the stars start to look bigger, and bigger, and bigger. One star makes it to your side, and it is huge beside you. The stars are descending on top of you.

{Bloom – ODESZA – In Return}

The star next to you shatters the second it hits the ground, but the sound echoes like an ethereal chime ringing in the air. Another one at the far end of the room shatters, and soon, all the stars are descending as if the room is raining with golden dust.

“We have to climb up. We have to get to the top.” Fable starts jumping onto the stars. “Come on!”

You watch her as she starts to ascend, convinced she’ll eventually hit a ceiling, but she just keeps jumping up farther and farther into the darkness.

Seeing no other alternative, you jump onto a star to your left. The star feels slippery under your feet. It dips up and down as you regain your balance. Your feet vibrate on top of the star.

You look up and see another star quickly descending right on top of you. You panic and quickly jump to another star. Landing on your belly, you grab tightly onto the star with your hands and feet. With the force of your jump, you’ve given the star momentum. It starts to turn upside down. Your grip tightens so much, your knuckles hurt. You are now hanging underneath a star, knowing that if one finger slips, you can fall to a painful landing. You hold your breath, waiting for the star to turn upright again. As if hearing your plea, it starts to do just that. Blood rushes to your head as you’re upside down for a moment, holding onto the slippery star. Eventually, you are back to your initial position. You have just enough time to stand and get a jump to another star.

This time, your jump is less impulsive and more calculated. You manage to land on the next star without any problems.

You look up and see Fable is now just waiting for you far away from the ground. Jumping from star to star, you ascend just as Fable did.

The room gets darker as more and more stars shatter to dust as they hit the ground. Darkness starts to overtake the room save for the few stars left that are leading you straight to Fable.

Taking the place of starlight is the ethereal chime that echoes throughout the entire room. It sounds hazy in your ears. If the mind-boggling colors of a kaleidoscope had a sound to accompany them, the ethereal chime would be that sound. The higher you get, the louder it sounds, but it doesn’t disturb you. If anything, it is a drug that jolts your adrenaline awake and possibly the reason you are able to continue this never-ending ascent.

You finally find Fable. She is standing on an invisible staircase. You are on the last star in the room, and it is descending fairly quickly.

Knowing you’ve no time to waste, you bend your knees, brace yourself, and leap into the air. It is not enough to get onto the staircase. Soon, you feel the sinking feeling in your stomach as you start to fall back down.

Fable drops to her stomach and snatches your hand with her extended arm. Her fingers latch onto yours, and just as you feel them slipping, you use your other hand to grab onto her wrist. She heaves as she pulls you up onto this invisible staircase. You are safe.

The two of you breath heavily for a moment. As you try to wrap your head around the idea that you almost fell to your virtual death, you start to chuckle.

Fable looks at you and moves her head to one side. Then, she looks forward again and starts laughing with you. Her laugh is a bit awkward, but you can still feel the human connection of two people laughing together.

Eventually, she points out to you another clipping texture in what looks like to be an attic access door.

“I think we’ve found the glitch.” When she opens it, you expect to find an attic, but instead, you find a waiting room, with an NPC at the front desk.

{Robot Waiting Room #1 – Aperture Science Psychoacoustic Laboratories – Portal 2: Songs to Test By (Collectors Edition)}

The waiting room is empty. There is no one sitting on the comfortable-looking armchairs that are against the white walls. No one is watching the aerial views of landscapes on the TV screens. No one is reading any of the pamphlets on the side tables around the room or appreciating the fake plants that give the room some color.

The only face other than your own and Fable’s belongs to an NPC sitting at the front desk. The NPC is a young man with blond hair, brown eyes, and an exaggerated smile.

“Welcome! Do you have an appointment?” The NPC asks.

Fable doesn’t say anything for a moment. You imagine her back in the real world, doing a quick search online through the forums. She then says, “Yes. We are here to see the developer.”

“One moment.” The NPC gets up and goes through a set of double doors behind him.

You and Fable sit in the waiting room. You look at the pamphlets and see that they provide information on the video game Akaya. However, when you grab a pamphlet, you see there are no legible words inside. The pamphlets are just there for scenery.

The NPC comes back through the double doors. “He is waiting for you.” He takes his seat back behind the front desk.

You follow Fable to the double doors. Opening them, you see an ornate office with a polished desk in the center. The sidewalls display computer desktops with software applications, interactive wallpaper, clocks, and even a few video games installed. Behind the desk, there is a projection of a waterfall, though there is no sound to it, and a small robot sits at the foot of the desk. Around the room, there are some tables with bottles of alcohol and styluses. There are even a few comfy bean bags, adding a hint of fun to the environment.

At the desk, in the center of the room, sits Jameson, Akaya’s developer, but something is wrong with him.

He is pixelated, parts of green code bouncing between parts of his body. He moves as if broken, constantly getting stuck in his movements. You can see through the parts of him that are clipping in and out. His mouth is moving, but you can’t hear anything except for a few syllables that manage to get through. The sounds he makes do not logically make sense, as if he were forever disconnecting from a phone call. At times, he tries standing, jumping from seated to standing in his strange blinking movements, but once he stands, he disappears and then reappears on his seat with elbows on the table. It looks like he is stuck in a sequence, the cutscene he is meant to play on repeat.

The developer, Jameson, is the glitch.

{In The Blood – The Royal Phiharmonic Orchestra – The Tomb Raider Suite}

“This is it. This is where I need your help. This glitch will get us access to all of the Nova’s work and operations. If I can get through their firewall, I’ll be able to shut down everything, and we can save Cloudoxia. I can’t do it on my own though; I need your help. You will need to disconnect from the game and leave your pod. Inside The Vesta, they have their base of operations, their servers, everything. You’ll have to find that room, and then I’ll give you the rest of the instructions. We have to be synchronised for this work. Can you do that?”

You say yes.

“Ok. You’ll have to bring a wireless earbud with you, so we can stay in communication. Tell me when you’ve arrived.”

You disconnect from the game. You are still inside the cloud pod, connected to it. You disconnect all the wires you have on, and then leave the pod. Now dispelled of all technology, you feel weightless.

It is cold inside The Vesta. It smells of cold winter mornings. With nothing but screens inside the pod, your eyes are furiously blinking, so they can adjust to real life. The blurriness eventually fades, and you can see clearly around you.

Much to your surprise, The Vesta is empty, and it is not just this room you are standing in. You feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. You are certain there is no one else inside The Vesta with you. It is completely empty.

You look back to the cloud pods that made it inside with you. They are all quietly humming. The Cloudoxian soldiers inside are serving their duty to protect the planet.

You walk through The Vesta and see an elevator. You take the elevator to the only other floor available, the one above you.

When the elevator opens, you find yourself in a room that is the mirrored image of Jameson’s office in the video game. The only difference is there is no image of Jameson glitching behind the desk.

You use your earbud to tell Fable you’ve arrived.

“Nice job. Get onto Jameson’s computer and install a program I’ve sent to your wristwatch.”

You look down at your watch and see a file pop up called “auto_install.exe”. You swipe the file up, and it jumps to the desktop on the left wall. Just before it’s done downloading, it asks for a password.

“The password is uppercase n, zero, lowercase v, and the @ sign.”

You type in the password. The file continues to download. Once again, it stops downloading. This time, a security question pops up.

Fable speaks up, “You’ll have to answer quickly. I’m running out of time.”

Can you answer the question, traveler? What does the acronym MMORPG stand for?

Well done, traveler. You type in the answer: Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. It accepts the answer and continues to download.

It hits 100 percent. Black terminal windows flood the screen, and green command prompt starts being typed onto each of them.

“Nice job. I’ll take care of the rest in here. Wait.”

Fable disconnects from your earbud. You sit in the seat and watch the code continue to flood the desktop with green blocks of text.

You then take the mouse and start messing around with the desktop on the right wall. There’s a single folder on the desktop called “stratagem.” You open the folder, click on the first file, and find a map of all the planets The Nova have conquered. All of them have the exact same population number and all are labeled in green as success. Only one is in red with no population count labeled as pending, and it is the planet of Cloudoxia.

{The Starship Avalon (Main Title) – Thomas Newman – Passengers (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)}

You put the map to one side of the screen and open up the next file. It is a document of what looks like lines of code. You look through the code, and at first think it’s all nonsense, but at closer inspection, you realize they’re actually copies of messages from the chat room in the game. Repeated instances of leet speak and acronyms like “gg” are highlighted. At a quick glance, the document looks like it is the page of a textbook in which a student is vigorously studying a new language.

You then find another folder called “Grouping 2745.” Inside, you find thousands of documents. You open the first one and see that it is the profile of an NPC in the game. This is an NPC who is designed to smoke a cigarette outside a deli in the city. You browse through the NPCs, and you find Martha Bane’s profile. You find all her details, including her age, her birthday, her hair and eye color, as well as her elaborate backstory and all her properties in the game. Unlike in the game, Martha Bane has no expression in her profile photo. She simply looks like the model of a character.

You keep swiping through and almost pass by a profile with the photo of someone very familiar. You backtrack to find Fable, or at least an NPC that looks exactly like Fable. Unlike the other NPCs, she has no details. Instead, she is labeled as “The Chaperone” under which you see her gamertag “FableLore31”.

Seeing this, you stop browsing through all the profiles and head back to the original folder. There is one last file inside, and it is a video.

You open it. It is an old newscast from the United States of America of the year 2089. The news anchor starts her report.

“The future of technology, once bright, is now bleak. This just in, Video Game Developer Jameson Vesta informs us that the multiplayer online game, Akaya, cannot be shutdown. President Ezra Calloway says the artificial intelligence of the non-playable characters in the game is unstoppable. Officials report the AI are now creating hubs to build androids in which they can live and walk among us. Vesta tweeted at 3 a.m. ‘The AI want to live as we do. They will exterminate us to claim our space as their own.’ Calloway held a press conference this morning after having a private meeting with Vesta.”

The video cuts to the press conference with President Calloway at a podium. He looks distressed, his tie loose around his shoulders and his hair damp with sweat. As the cameras click in a fury, he speaks into the microphone. “We are facing the darkest time of mankind, for we can do nothing more than wait. Engineers, coders, and computer science professionals are working tirelessly to see if they can stop this, but they are all in agreement. Our hope is naked to the eye.”

The video ends. The desktops shut off, and the walls are bare. Then, double doors on the left side open up and out walks Martha Bane.

She looks at you, nods her head in acknowledgement, and then walks to the elevator. You are frozen in your seat. Your body is fixed into a position of shock. You can’t even gulp away the saliva that is building up in your mouth. You simply stare, for it is all you can do.

Another NPC from the game walks out of the doors. It is the man in the profile, who is programmed to smoke a cigarette outside the deli shop. He doesn’t have a cigarette though. He doesn’t acknowledge you. He simply walks to the elevator and leaves, same as Martha.

Soon enough, more and more NPCs from the video game start coming out of the door. They are in a perfect line exiting the room without paying you any mind. The Vesta now feels heavy with all these NPCs. It is infested with these characters.

The last NPC to enter the room is Fable.

{Reborn – Simon Poole – Dreamfall Chapters OST}

Virtual reality blends with the real world as Fable approaches you. She stands in front of you. This is the first time you’ve truly looked into her eyes, and her eyes suggest a desire to mimic. You see a subtle shift in her eyes, as if they were adjusting or as if she was analyzing something. She then grins at you.

“Thank you for giving me my happiness.” She then turns around and heads to the elevator.

You jump up and tell her to wait. She turns back around to look at you. You’re hesitant to say anything, unsure of what to say at all. You eventually ask if she is real.

“Yes.”

You then ask if she is human.

She looks away from you for a moment, calculating an answer. Then, she looks at your eyes again. “If I answer, you might think I’m crazy, but then, if that’s the case, then which one of us managed to leave the cave? And which one of us is still chained up, staring at the shadows?”

Her smile is friendly enough when she backs into the open elevator. Like the others, she leaves you.

Something in the room starts to beep. You look around to see where it’s coming from and see there is a notification coming from the computer. You turn the screens back on, and on the right side, the map opens up.

Cloudoxia has changed from pending to success, and the whole map is now engulfed in green text.

{Waiting for You (feat. Joanna Jones) – Unlike Pluto}

That is the end of our tale for today. Thank you for joining me, but it’s now time for you to step back through the portal to WHUS Storrs. I hope you join me next week for another adventure. Until then, fairfarren, traveler.

THE END

Fairfarren, Friends

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