Episode 9 - Simulation Demonstration
Lightning, pure and directed, descended from the cloud of electricity that made up Tyberius Kirricort's strongest current creature in play. Infused with the power of Action Bolt, giving it instant understanding of the situation, and the clouds brought by Fair Wind, the Jet Paradox was a sight to behold.
Yet only the two men sitting in the large study of the ranch house, father and son, could 'see' it. Their game was picking up the pace truly now. Gene Kirricort's last play had left his War Dragon exhausted, and as the lightning bore down on Balamar, Ruler of the Skies, Gene realized that though he might now stand a very real chance of losing the duel, even this could make him winner of the argument.
Balamar roared and slowly fell from the sky, crashing lifeless into the valley as the Elemental Warmage Rainboa swirled forward to engulf and shock the Tailwind Scarab that had been hovering near Balamar. It fell with much less noise, but fell nevertheless. Tyberius ended his turn.
“That's your answer, then?” Gene scowled, drawing his card, “People rise up and 'charge in' and the response is to swiftly defeat them with violence?”
“Er... no, that's not exactly what I meant t--”
“But it is exactly what you did, Dad. And you know what happens when you do that to people? More keep coming. Call Mammoth Trumpeter.”
Again, the herald call echoed through the mountain pass, and Gene played the card that the Mammoth's effect let him search, immediately, further proving his point. Amir Landau, King of Pirates. His father groaned as Gene glanced over the opposing Tempo count, then took another Balamar, and a Brave Hessus J, from his deck as well.
“You are missing the point, son,” Tyberius smiled, playing a Legann Band, a second Jet Paradox, and another Fleeting Force, “The greatest developments in humanity come from conflict. Warfare. Pain and suffering. What if you could just simulate all that? Fleeting Force. Jet Paradox, attack!”
Gene cringed, as the lightning bolt struck the valley floor, tearing into it as if a massive blade had been thrust into the earth, and plowing its way forward up the incline where Gene's consciousness was centered. A second discharge followed, in the wake of the first, and both exploded against his protective Grid within seconds of each other.
“See now, Dad? Do you get it now? This isn't a game!”
Tyberius laughed aloud, “On the contrary, Gene, this is exactly a game. That's how I made it! You're the one that doesn't see it. You can simulate every part of it. The exhilaration, the fear and triumph, the apprehension and critical thought! Rainboa, attack!”
The Luminaire's sweeping lasers moved in much the same way as the lightning had, though with more precision, and the last flickers of Gene's Grid shimmered. Both men knew, even without any marker or token to indicate the status of the actual number, that this was the last of it. Tyberius did not hesitate, commanding his Ahrival to deliver the penultimate strike.
“Too well,” Iris Memoria pressed back, in answer, “But while you are seeing this as a wonderful exhibition of mind over matter, there are children out there who wish to play a game that may soon be endangered by what we've made.”
“The point is that it wouldn't be real danger. It would all be in their minds and they could learn to deal with it without ending up in the hospital or worse.”
“And why exactly are you so sure that they won't? How realistic does an experience in the mind have to be before it causes serious lasting damage to that mind?!”
The Ruler of the Skies roared as it made an appearance yet again, and a beam of moonlight from Gene's Lunar Projection caused another Victoria Gale to appear in the conflict, and the Sprite's whirling winds sent a Jet Paradox off into the distance where it could have no effect on the current clash for a time. Gene risked it, and put his full power behind the imagery and effect, pressing in on his father's perceptions as his second War Dragon, another Genesis, appeared, and the projection of Victoria Gale allowed Genesis to incinerate even the energy based form of the Elemental Warmage Rainboa. Tyberius Kirricort bit his lip and grimaced, without even being aware of himself. Even with his lesser practice, Gene could still apply heavy pressure.
“To you this is a cute, fancy show, right?” Iris Memoria urged, as the Genesis that had been there before now moved to attack. The Legann Band moved to block it, facing the heat of the War Dragon, but Gene's mind dominated the imagery now. Rather than simply allowing the battle to play out between the creatures as it 'should', he put the intent of the attack into the shared perception between himself and his parent. Genesis struggled, roaring with a rage that seemed nearly murderous, to actually reach and hurt the form that represented Tyberius, forcing the Griffon to chase it and attempt to strike it down at every turn. This was only succeeded when Genesis was a few 'steps' away from the shimmering grid, and only then did Genesis bite into the Legann Band and self destruct. Tyberius' face took on an expression of confusion and horror as the odor of seared flesh assailed his mind.
“What if one of the players doesn't want it to be cute?”
One of the Mammoth Trumpeters now sounded its own call of rage and charged. Tyberius almost forgot his tactics, for a moment, with the creature bearing down on him, but managed to hold his ground, even as enraged tusks crashed into his grid, threatening to gore 'him'. The Trumpeter kept this up for longer than he expected, almost in a frenzy to get to him, before finally tiring and stomping away.
“What if there are people out there whose minds are far stronger than their opponents?”
The first Victoria Gale, the 'real' one, now made her move. One of his favorite creature designs, and one of the ones he took the most pride in having made, was now hovering above Tyberius' form summoning a tornado from the clouds above. When the Sprite 'threw' the tip of the funnel cloud downward, from her outstretched hands, Tyberius understood why 'gentle' and 'cute' did not always apply, even to a Sprite. Howling malevolent wind threatened to dislodge him from his spot entirely, ripping up the ground just as his Jet Paradox's attack had done to his son.
“Do you know how clashes like this end? When that sort of thing doesn't hit your safe little barrier, but comes straight for you?”
Amir Landau made his move now, dashing through the air as if he owned it, cutlass ready. This time, Gene's attacking creature met opposition. Gene's Steadfast Aviator moved to intercept, but the Sky Pirate crashed blade into shield and sent the Hawkman sprawling aside with an air burst infused kick before making another attempt to reach Tyberius.
In that moment, the elder Kirricort realized that he lost his faith in the keyword 'Blocker'. The Hawkman somehow, yet again, managed to get in the Pirate's way, though, and continued to block, slowly tiring in the face of the stronger creature, until Amir Landau finally managed to stab the cutlass' tip into its body. The Aviator discarded its shield, grabbing both the blade and the Pirate's hand, and discharged a massive burst of electricity from its failing body, to finally stop the advance of the vicious attacker.
“Can you feel it? Does it feel like a simulation to you?!”
The second Mammoth Trumpeter charged as the first had, but the feeling this time was different, for the old man. He could see his own grid defense failing, distorting inward under thrusts of tusk. It took all of his focus to force himself to believe that it would not, and could not, simply give out before the Mammoth's stamina did. Only then did Tyberius realize that even believing this was exhausting him, directly. Surely enough, the Mammoth wandered off and collapsed, leaving the older man confused. He could still in fact feel as if flickers of his Grid still existed, though he knew that technically the value, in terms of gameplay, was zero.
“What do you think you will feel now?”
The statement was accompanied by Balamar's most menacing roar, and despite all his effort to convince himself, some part of Tyberius truly feared death by incineration, then. Balamar moved, but was intercepted by the Jet Paradox that had not been blown out of the conflict. The Sparkball engulfed and electrocuted Balamar, but the Ruler of the Skies did not seem deterred directly. The War Dragon did stop flying forward, but Tyberius could feel that this was no stunned assailant. Some other plan was at work.
Balamar inhaled deeply, then a stream of plasma fire proceeded from its mouth down at Tyberius. The old man flinched and cowered, instinctually, momentarily wondering if he had somehow forgotten the actual power rating of Jet Paradox. The Sparkball's energy now formed a funnel that caused the fire to pass relatively harmlessly over Tyberius' head, but at the moment he regained his composure to look up, Balamar flapped strongly, a thermal wave expanding outward and ripping most of Jet Paradox's form apart.
Balamar dived a bit more, then sucked in air again. Tyberius could feel Simur's presence now directing what happened next, commanding the Jet Paradox to use the opening to enter Balamar's body and stop the War Dragon from the inside. The Sparkball complied, sacrificing itself, funneling into Balamar's lungs through mouth and nostrils. Just as the War Dragon was about to finish it, its body convulsed strongly, and it let out a choked sound of agony before simply stopping, and falling from the sky, crashing into the valley floor.
“End turn,” Gene said calmly, as if none of it had even surprised him.
Tyberius reached out to draw his card, though it was unnecessary, and noted his hand was trembling. His efforts to stop this failed, even as he made the physical action that denoted his Ahrival's attack. The Hawkman's strike, despite piercing Gene's mental representation of himself, did not carry the intensity of the younger Kirricort's attacks, allowing Gene to shrug it off in a few deep breaths, and extend his hand to shake his father's, with the offered words, “Good game.”
Tyberius smacked the outstretched hand.
“Don't sass me, boy, you did all of that on purpose!”
“Would you have understood what I was telling you if I hadn't?”
Tyberius groaned, “I suppose not, but trying to kill your father is a bit much, you know.”
“It's only a game,” Gene said dryly, gathering together the cards he had used.
“You don't have to be cheeky about it, I got your point,” the old man scoffed, “I'm just thinking now. It isn't like we can just recall the game, and even if I don't make more, the third set was released about two weeks ago, wasn't it? You didn't even use any cards from that set. So I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do about it.”
Gene helped his father stand, knowing full well that the prior experience would make the man wobbly on his feet. Tyberius accepted this, quickly realizing the limitation that his mental duress had placed on him.
“That's what I came to discuss,” Gene said, “There's something you're not telling me. There's no way you could have been naïve enough to think that something like what I just did couldn't happen. What are you really planning?”
“What... are you talking about? Of course I didn't know it felt like that! It's a children's game, Gene! What kind of man do you think I am?!”
Gene sighed, and let Iris Memoria's resonance reassure his father that he had not meant to speak ill of him.
“I believe that you didn't know that. I also believe that you had some other plan that you were okay with because you convinced yourself no one was going to get hurt. Now you know the truth, so I need to. Tell me what you're actually up to.”
Tyberius fell silent as they left the room, and shrugged off Gene's support a few steps later, standing up straight, before answering simply, “No.”
“What!? What do you mean 'no'? You just saw wh--”
“And that's exactly why I can't tell you what it is I was thinking about.. what it was I was planning. Because you will try to handle it and you can't. Leave it to me. Only I can stop what I started, this time. Stay out of it.”
Gene stopped in the hallway, slack-jawed with disbelief, before managing to stutter, “Dad are you serious? What can you do that I can't do? I have the data, I have the manpower, I can handle whatever it is you set off!”
“I have the data too, Gene. And you know as well as I that everyone in the company that passes on orders listens to me still just as much as you. All you have to do is not issue any contradicting instructions. The less people actually know what I've done, the better. It gets more dangerous if you have to fix it. You'd be constantly holding meetings and updating people and sending information around. The secrecy alone would make people suspicious. No one will be watching me like that. Let me do it my way.”
“Can't you at least tell me, then?” Gene hissed, lowering his voice as they started down the stairs, “You can't possibly distrust me that much.”
“Why can't you just accept that sometimes it's better to just not know? You've been like this since you were little, and it's always ended badly, don't you remember?” Tyberius sighed.
Gene cringed, remembering one of the incidents his father referred to, and let his own insistence fade. As frustrating as it was, there were times when the old man made sense.
“Promise me that you'll explain this to me the moment it slips out of your control,” Iris insisted, addressing Simur. The telepathic communication served two purposes now. The first, to keep the topic of discussion from the ears of the two staff members awaiting them at the bottom of the stairwell. The second, to allow Gene to assess the honesty of the reaction.
“I absolutely promise. This is, as you said...” at this point the King of the Air's expression took on a resonance akin to a sigh, “Not a game.”
Satisfied with this answer, Gene turned his attention to the smiling woman at the bottom of the stairs, and she immediately inquired as to what he would like to drink with his dinner.
It was just before five in the afternoon when the limousine pulled out of the KC ranch and Gene pressed the button to raise the soundproof glass between himself and the driver.
“Napping, sir?” a confused Gregor asked, causing Gene to release the button for a moment before it could cut off anything Gregor would say, completely, “I can turn off the music if you prefer.”
“Nothing like that, Gregor. Just a short confidential call. Leave it on, I rather like it.”
Gene pressed the button again and let the glass go all the way up, stifling the sounds of jazz that emanated from the driver's side of the sound system. He flicked out his phone and called Suzanne Marshall, mentally hoping that she was no longer at the office. The phone rang five times before the voice on the other end greeted him.
“I'm on my way home, is it important?” was her 'salutation'.
“Just filling you in on the outcome, it's better that you are headed home. As I expected, my father is up to something, but he didn't 'show his hand'. In fact, he specifically told me to stay out of it, even after I made everything as clear as possible to him.”
“Didn't 'show his hand', eh?” Suzanne chuckled, appreciating the joke, and now countering with one of her own, “You should have taken me along, then.”
“One would think so, 'Madame',” Gene laughed, continuing the humor chain, “But he's quite capable, any probing you could have done, Simur would have seen right through instantly.”
“Simur? So, he's--”
“Yes. Fully aware and apparently had lots of time to practice somehow. Whatever he's up to, it's serious enough that he won't tell even me, which he claims is to minimize information leaks. Worse yet, I think he's serious. Bad news, I know.”
The voice on the other end was silent for a bit, before continuing with a tone that mirrored his, “I have some of that for you, too, unfortunately. Seems the 'Rumor Mill' has ground out some fairly accurate information on a player that is going around intimidating and somewhat harming others, mentally, with their ability.”
“Already?” Gene sighed, opening his bag in case he needed his Miero rather than just the Keynote phone he was using, to get whatever information Suzanne was almost surely about to send. Like clockwork, the device came on to show one new message from 'Sharley'. He opened it, finding a small output from the data crunching program they had dubbed the 'Rumor Mill', and an image.
“You recognize that card?” Suzanne asked, aware that Gene was now viewing the message.
“Black Carpet,” he read off the image, instinctively nodding despite the fact that he was conversing by phone, while staring at the glowing red eyes of the Grand Serpent creature, “Vaguely remember it. Given the cost and rarity I probably haven't seen it played much.”
“The rumors don't make it clear what the player with that avatar actually does, all we know so far is that they definitely do have Black Carpet as avatar and their opponents are usually left notably terrified of encountering them again. Most won't talk about it... or can't bring themselves to.”
“So it's beginning already,” Gene sighed, already beginning to imagine what sort of horrors the gigantic black constrictor could impose on an unprepared mind.
“This is more likely to be a bit of a 'freak event',” Suzanne reassured, “Not even Arielle can overwhelm people the way they claim this person can.”
“Yes, perhaps, but Nina is a lot less intimidating than this thing,” Gene sighed, “Even someone who is just a match for that girl could probably do a lot more damage with this avatar. We don't know enough about this.”
“And that's precisely why I'm going to investigate the rumors personally,” Suzanne stated, “We can't afford to send regular observers, for too many reasons. There's some other rumors in the same area that I need to check out, too. Apparently this whole 'spooked by Gravity avatar' thing is a bit more widespread than just our mysterious 'wielder of the Black Carpet'.”
“Well, if it helps, I upgraded my father's systems to run Relativity, so I can hurry the R&D staff to get a more easily concealed monitoring device ready for you,” he said, his lips pressing together in a thin line, the way they often did when a new problem was occupying his mind, “I don't like this. It's getting out of our control too quickly already.”
Suzanne did not respond, leaving Gene in silence for a minute or two. He barely noticed, his attention completely absorbed by reading through the links in the message, which led to other, less concrete reports from the Rumor Mill. Only when Suzanne finally said 'anything else?' did his attention snap back to the fact that he was actually still in the call.
“Oh, um... no. Enjoy your evening. Sorry to hear you'll have to travel again so soon. Hopefully this won't become a regular thing.”
Suzanne agreed and ended the call. Gene sighed, extending his hand to lower the glass again. The jazz sound swept away the terse silence he had become blanketed in, prompting him to relax and remind himself that this was no more difficult to handle than a complicated business deal. Even if it was more dangerous.
“Bad news, sir?” Gregor asked tentatively.
“Lots, Gregor, lots,” Gene laughed.
“Sorry for prying, then, you seemed kind of tense through the dinner, so I was worried.”
Gene noted that he was about to extend Iris' influence to telepathically 'nudge' Gregor away from worry, and stopped himself. This realization brought another discomfiting thought. If he had not suppressed it, he would have just used the ability that Chaos Fractal had given him to directly influence the mind of a person who had never even played the game.
“And I didn't even think for a moment that it wouldn't have worked,” Iris shimmered, contemplative. Gene now was the one to reassure his 'other half', but found it to be somewhat unnecessary. The pattern of thought within him that manifested as Iris Memoria felt no guilt at the idea of what it had almost done.
“It is natural for us to want to soothe people, just as you have just done, as if you and I were not the same being. I even felt the 'slight push' that prompts me to do it, just now, and only ignored it because it was so clear that I would be reassuring myself. But... if we do this, what do the gravity ones do?”
Gene pushed the thought out of his mind for the time being, lest he begin to imagine the terror of the Black Carpet again. Furthermore, he made a more direct decision about whether or not he would let himself affect Gregor.
“I'm just not a fan of secrets, you know what I mean?” Gene laughed now, letting the inner Luminaire do its thing, extending his psionic influence toward the other man in the vehicle.
“That's one of the things everyone knows about you, sir, you're probably the most honest businessman in the world. I hope whatever you are keeping secret doesn't bother you for long.”
“I hope so too.”