As an aside before we continue… This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here. It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words. It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft. The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around. File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.
If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…
Sarah found herself with eleven others she didn’t recognise. Badges coloured red and blue indicated managers and programmers, if memory served. One other journalist looking very nervous.
“I’ve never done one of these ghost walks,” he said, sidling up to her.
“I have, but it was years ago. A few jump moments but nothing lastingly scary. I’m Sarah, by the way.”
“Arthur. PC Pro. You?”
“Telegraph, technology department.’
Arthur smiled, shook her hand. He was about six feet tall, dressed casually for the warm evening in chinos and a light silk shirt. Black hair, tanned, a friendly face. Sarah liked him. ‘Were you at last year’s conference?’
“No, I didn’t get that pleasure. You?”
The group was getting restless, milling around outside a curtain drawn across a side-street off the Royal Mile just below St Giles’ Cathedral. Noises from behind the curtain suggested something was happening.
“Yep, fascinating stuff, really. Kinda hard to explain some of it but the potential for gaming is just immense! Never mind this ‘your body is the controller’ lark we’ve got at the moment, this would take it to a whole new level! And the training possibilities! Putting troops directly into the environment they’re going to be deployed into!”
“Space exploration was going to be my take on it. Allowing astronauts to train for complex repair operations without the expense of sending them in to orbit first.”
One of the programmers caught the thread of their conversation and started running with it.
“Nah,” he said, “it’s definitely the future of gaming. First person shooter? Total-immersion Doom? What about Tomb Raider?”
“Sheesh! Can you imagine having to do all those jumps and all that running yourself?”
“Yeah, but then you’ve got it combining full-body workouts with your gaming experience! Obesity will be a thing of the past!”
“Could you get it to assist you? Lower difficultly levels have you being helped along by a full-body-wrapped forcefield! How cool would that be?”
Sarah and Arthur let them carry on. It was always fun to seed an idea into their minds. They were like magpies, latching on to the new and shiny!
The conversation dried up as a billow of smoke wafted out from under the red velvet curtain. It twitched once or twice and then was pulled open revealing a rotund man in a circus ringmaster costume.
“Good evening, unfortunates,” he declaimed, several passing tourists turning to see what the noise was about. “You have all been chosen.” Special emphasis on the last word. “My name is Pepper, my assistant, Ghost, will be joining us shortly. If you would all care to take a leap of faith and follow me?” He turned on his heel, striding a few steps into the alley.
Sarah turned to Arthur as the programmers filed into the alley behind Pepper.
“Right. We’re playing spot the musical reference. I’m calling Arena, along with their albums Immortal? and Pepper’s Ghost. He’s using lyrics from Chosen.”
Arthur gave her a blank look. It didn’t suit his friendly face so she took pity on him.
“Arena? Prog rock band from the nineties? Still making albums? let me guess, you’re a Michael Buble type, no?” Arthur nodded. “Right. I’ve got their back catalogue on my phone, find me tomorrow and we’ll get you educated.”
They were the last two to enter the alley, the curtain swung closed as they stepped in and were plunged into darkness.