Title: Egypt Underground
Characters: Thoth, Sekhet, Bast, Isis, Mut, Min, Apis, Anuket… Most of the Egyptian pantheon
Warnings: Protagonists are … honourable thieves.
Notes: Written in the winter of 1998, this predates The Matrix, but when the movie came out, I gave up dev, because it was just close enough to be called a cheap knock-off.
The boy called Thoth jacked in to GroundLine, an illegal system of com-lines which operated parasitically off the Imperial communications network. He twitched almost imperceptibly as his mind reeled from the connection; GroundLine was always harder on its users than the standard lines.
As his mind adjusted to the simulated environment, he began to make out the forms of other DeviTechs, the hackers who created GroundLine. As far as he knew, GroundLine was the only sim in which the word "up" had no meaning. Flights of stairs jutted from every surface, and even though he had been with the group since the idea’s conception, he was never sure which way was "right side up". He liked it that way. Thoth remembered the news he was bearing, and his excitement grew.
"Bast!" He called into the entry hall, "Bast, I found an in!"
A slim woman with feline features and sleek black fur slipped noiselesly out from under a relatively sideways flight of stone steps, where she’d obviously been enjoying a private conversation. She smiled at Thoth and executed a pirouette on the wall to the boy’s left.
"I knew you could do it, Thoth; you’ve always made magic."
They laughed. Everyone knew magic was the word for a bug in a Game’s physics package. It tended to mean that players who found it could walk on water, pull firebreathing dragons out of nether orifices, and do other generally improbable things. Thoth was the best magic seeker among the DeviTechs.
Thoth and Bast had been friends since they were younglings. Thoth had studied to be a Game Maker, but his obsession with magic precluded his getting a job with the Imperium. Bast had wanted to be a dancer and was first committed to a Game when she developed a degenerative bone disease. Since then, she had only ever jacked out between Games to spend time with Thoth and his DeviTech friends in GroundLine. Between the two of them, they had collected more arcane knowledge about the Games and the specific magics of each one than any ten SysOps with Imperial posts.
Now, they had decided to test their theories of magic on a new Game that had passed beta testing and administrative cocking about and was about to be opened to interested research facilities. If it went over well, more funding for the projects the Game was designed for would be acquired by selling characters to the public. It was the way all games were made and released, and the DeviTechs were going to quietly buy in at the research level. Thoth had found a way in.
********************************End Part One********************************
Thoth sat at a sim of Seshat, his own terminal, inside GroundLine, gazing at a rotating globe on the screen. The DeviTechs crowded closer. This was the map of EarthGame, and everyone wanted a hand in deciding on a site. Civilizations created by Game Makers and Administrators, who spent many months inGame developing them from the most primitive tribes to moderate towns and cities, were marked in green and labelled in black on the turning background of brown and blue.
"Somewhere likely to be attacked…" Sekhet speculated aloud, rubbing the gold fur behind one ear. Sekhet was Bast’s sister and was best known for her skill in games of strategy. She constanly studied the ancient arts of war.
"I want wide open spaces to walk across…some kind of vast expanse." Min stretched as he spoke, nearly knocking over a standing lamp. The others shuddered; having all been raised in the cities of the Imperium, the only vastness they had encountered was the depth of their own agoraphobia. Perhaps because of his great size, Min had developed a craving for space instead; an agoraphilia.
"Water!" cried the twins. Apis and Anuket, while seperate in the realm of GroundLine, were actually inseperable siamese twins, joined at the back of the head. They were kept in a suspension tank at the University and had developed a preference for amphibious environs. OutGame, as in here, they were hermaphroditic.
Thoth spoke: "I can fill all those specifications with almost any of these options. Give me something more specific. We have to upload our bid soon!"
Uploading the bid would not actually deplete any of their funds since Mut, the scavenger, and Isis, the resident infopirate, —a combination no one expected— had worked a little routing magic that would dump a meaningless number through several corporate fronts into the accounts of the Game Makers. Mut was bald, fat, and ugly, but she had a talent for ruining people with the information in their garbage. She also stank of the filth she sorted. No one thought that Isis would agree to work with her, Isis being the sissy princess she is. But, Isis, to her credit, put down her nailpolish and pulled up another seat to her voice activated dressing-table terminal and got fairly aggressive with some Imperial servers.
"Suggest things! Quickly!" Thoth was nervously ranting, sweating all the while.
"Somewhere warm!" Bast spat.
"Cuts it in half…" muttered Thoth, still watching the screen intently.
"With good clay." Khnum ran his hands thoughtfully over the empty air in the shape of his next work of art. Khnum would have been gay if his sculpture didn’t occupy his every fantasy.
"And nice sunrises." Anhur added, sparkling at Khnum. An aspiring painter, Anhur was flaming gay, and fond of warm colours…and Khnum.
"I want…" Sokar and Nefertum began arrogantly, but they were cut off by Thoth.
"Egypt!" he shouted, "Egypt! Mut, give me the codes!! The codes!"
His hands trembled with the excitement of a new kind of hack; a magic created by his friends. Mut croaked out the alphanumeric sequences, and Thoth entered them swiftly and nervously. Then he pressed transmit.
… The DeviTechs pressed even closer together and the air reeked of fear and anticipation. No one doubted Mut and Isis, but if the codes were deemed invalid they were all doomed to a long life in a prison planet Game. Two months of realtime at least.
…They waited. Suddenly, the screen went black. Thoth wailed and the other DeviTechs gasped. This was it. The end. Royally screwed by Her Majesty’s Royal Imperium. This was the really real one, the final curtain, a fate worse than death…
Then Seshat rebooted. The screen came alive with a message welcoming them to EarthGame and offering options for character design (only offered to research teams and Administrators). The room sighed as the DeviTechs realised they hadn’t dared to breathe in several minutes. They looked at Seshat and Thoth and then at each other. No one spoke. Finally, grabbing one twin under each arm, Min let out a trimphant laugh, and the others started cheering. Thoth had really gotten them in. And they had _character creation_.