How had the evening digressed this far? No, don’t tell me, I know. Because I lectured Daniel about the drugs, I felt like I should indulge him when he suggested we play a game after dinner.
First off, I must confess I am not a game player. I am probably the only Captain of a star traveling vessel that is not. All of my friends and acquaintances play them to pass time on long journeys. The closest I get to a game is an occasional round or two of CU and, even at that card game-of-chance, I usually loss. That is the reason I do not play. I never get it. I never win. Besides, Daniel built me five incredible AIs who keep me company. I would much rather look over fashions on the web with Cassie and pick out a new wardrobe, virtual or not, or have a great intellectual conversation with Horus, or even repair something with Sam then I would to waste time playing a vid game. But hey, that’s me. And I admit I am a bit strange.
When I play a game with Daniel, I usually don’t play. I watch. If I did play, the game would be very short. In the gaming world Daniel is Daniel the Destroyer and he is lethal. He is the high point champion in many of the most complex games out there on the NET. He has played ever since I’ve known him. He tells me he has played all his life. His dad was a computer whiz kid, so Daniel grew up around the machines. His whole life has been the inner workings of the mechanical mind.
“You playing Matt again?” I could recognize Matt’s husky voice over the monitor. Daniel and Milestone had been playing for years. I dragged myself out of the conform chair to go feign interest. After all, Daniel did treat me to a lovely meal – out for a change, and gave me that incredible display of Muldavian chocolates, I suppose the least I could do was show some interest.
“Yes,” Daniel confirmed. His mike was closed so Matt couldn’t hear us on the other end. “Watch this. He doesn’t know there are Tuldavian Swamp Lizards in the floor of the cave this time.”
As I watched Matt ran in the cave entrance with a kid under his arm. His avatar had always been a hunk of a man, one I am sure women who played games with enjoyed, but Wow, he had beefed the thing up even more and put about four inches on his height.
“He’s improved his avatar and I didn’t think there was room for improvement,” I commented. I almost had to wipe the drool from my chin and it wasn’t from the chocolate I was chewing.
“Yeah, he rebuilt him a few months ago. Thought it would help him win…Watch…Watch…” Daniel chirped excitedly.
As I watched Matt sat the kid down and turned toward the far wall. A door shimmered into view.
“This doesn’t look right,” the avatar said.
“It was full of volcanic cones last time,” Daniel explained.
“Did Matt take a different route this time?” I knew very little about the games, but I did know they changed based on the level you were on and the route you took. They were meant to be a challenge type of entertainment. Me, I just got bored going around collecting clues and fighting aliens. I usually liked the aliens I met in person.
Daniel leaned back in his gaming chair and it conformed comfortably to his frame. “Be quiet and watch! This will be over in a minute.”
At this point Matt started to cross the cavern floor. Within a few steps the floor turned to a sticky, gooey sludge and I caught the sight of the humped back of a Tuldavian Swamp Lizard as it dove under the mud. So did Matt. He froze in his tracks.
“What the F…” his exclaimed. He obviously had not seen this coming.
Daniel pressed the panel on his chair arm to activate his mike.
Matt started to cautiously move forward when we all heard Daniel’s avatar, The Destroyer, wickedly laugh behind him. Daniel was actually laughing into his mike, which distorted it into The Destroyer’s diabolical guffaw.
Milestone turned to see Daniel holding the child by the arm. Matt took only two steps back toward Daniel before he fell into a Tuldavian Swamp Lizard trap up to his waist. We all heard the audible crunch of bone and saw the agony on Matt’s face as the beast below chomped through skin and bone to take him off from the waist down.
Daniel switched off his mike. “Look at his face,” Daniel pointed out. “The new interFACE facial recognition program I built into the system is great!”
Matt was in agony on the screen.
“It picks up on the player’s real facial expression on the other end. Damn! Matt really gets into his games,” Daniel said with a chuckle.
The screen went into a fireworks display which exploded into a sign that read GAME OVER!
“Frak! Daniel!” Matt snarled the curse over the com link. “What the hell?”
Daniel switched the mike back on. “Great beating you again, Matt,” he said, rubbing it in. “We’ll have to do it again some time.”
“Daniel? Are you messing with the program?” Matt asked. They were both talking over the screen repeatedly flashing GAME OVER! Neither had turned on their monitors to talk face-to-face. That was often the way of Gamers. They liked to keep their identity separate from their Avatar. They liked being their avatar. Though I doubted Matt liked being his right now. “Tell me the truth. You’ve been tweaking the game on your end, right?”
Daniel and Matt were both programmers. They knew that much about each other, but tweaking the game while in play was cheating. If you were the programmer, you built a version, you played it and then once everyone conquered that version, you built another.
“Don’t be a sore loser, Matt,” Daniel said. “You entered the tunnel differently this time. Maybe that changed the game. I certainly wouldn’t.”
“Daniel…” Matt started, but Daniel interrupted him.
“Got to go, 3su is here and I promised her a video. You know how she hates gaming. Destroyer, Out!”
Daniel switched off his mike. “System reset and Down,” Daniel commanded and the monitor went blank. Daniel pushed the monitor back on its arm so he could exit the game chair.
“You haven’t been messing with the game program have you?” I asked. It wasn’t like Daniel to cheat, but then Daniel hadn’t been Daniel for almost a year now.
“I may have tweaked it a bit.” Daniel picked up his mug and drained it of the last drop of the third Sunset he had tonight. I got him to ditch the drugs, but the alcohol was still running freely.
“Daniel, that’s cheating,” I stated the obvious. “You don’t have to cheat. You’re the best already.”
“I am not cheating. I am improving the game. It would have been boring and over in a couple of weeks if we had played it the way SICOR wrote it. This way we have been at it for months.” He got up and headed toward the bar for another drink. He was listing a bit to starboard. He didn’t need another drink.
I trailed after him and caught his arm. “Daniel?” I turned him around. “But, Matt always loses, right?”
“Sure,” Daniel confirmed. “I’m the one tweaking the program. You think I’d make myself lose?” He graced me with a drunken grin.
This was not my Daniel. This was the second reality check this evening. My Daniel never would have cheated. He was a masterful programmer and knew he could win if he reprogrammed the game, but he never did because it was a challenge to out think it. This was not how my Daniel would have operated. How long had he been shoving Matt’s nose in the dirt?