By Cory Doctorow
Public Domain Books
The BFG10K simplified things quite a lot. Find the cottage, aim the BFG10K, fire it, whim-wham, no more cottage. They started with five bolts for it – one BFG10K bolt was made up of 20 regular BFG bolts, each costing a small fortune in gold – and used them all up on the first three targets. After returning it to the armory and grabbing a couple of BFGs (amazing how puny the BFG seemed after just a couple hours’ campaigning with a really big gun!) they set out for number four.
“I met a guy after the last campaign,” Anda said. “One of the noobs in the cottage. He said he was a union organizer.”
“Oh, you met Raymond, huh?”
“You knew about him?”
“I met him too. He’s been turning up everywhere. What a creep.”
“So you knew about the noobs in the cottages?”
“Um. Well, yeah, I figured it out mostly on my own and then Raymond told me a little more.”
“And you’re fine with depriving little kids of their wages?”
“Anda,” Lucy said, her voice brittle. “You like gaming, right, it’s important to you?”
“Yeah, ’course it is.”
“How important? Is it something you do for fun, just a hobby you waste a little time on? Are you just into it casually, or are you committed to it?”
“I’m committed to it, Lucy, you know that.” God, without the game, what was there? PE class? Stupid Acanthosis Nigricans and, someday, insulin jabs every morning? “I love the game, Lucy. It’s where my friends are.”
“I know that. That’s why you’re my right-hand woman, why I want you at my side when I go on a mission. We’re bad-ass, you and me, as bad-ass as they come, and we got that way through discipline and hard work and really caring about the game, right?”
“Yes, right, but –”
“You’ve met Liza the Organiza, right?”
“Yes, she came by my school.”
“Mine too. She asked me to look out for you because of what she saw in you that day.”
“Liza the Organiza goes to Ohio?”
“Idaho. Yes – all across the U.S. They put her on the tube and everything. She’s amazing, and she cares about the game, too – that’s what makes us all Fahrenheits: we’re committed to each other, to teamwork, and to fair play.”
Anda had heard these words – lifted from the Fahrenheit mission statement – many times, but now they made her swell a little with pride.
“So these people in Mexico or wherever, what are they doing? They’re earning their living by exploiting the game. You and me, we would never trade cash for gold, or buy a character or a weapon on eBay – it’s cheating. You get gold and weapons through hard work and hard play. But those Mexicans spend all day, every day, crafting stuff to turn into gold to sell off on the exchange. That’s where it comes from – that’s where the crappy players get their gold from! That’s how rich noobs can buy their way into the game that we had to play hard to get into.
“So we burn them out. If we keep burning the factories down, they’ll shut them down and those kids’ll find something else to do for a living and the game will be better. If no one does that, our work will just get cheaper and cheaper: the game will get less and less fun, too.
“These people don’t care about the game. To them, it’s just a place to suck a buck out of. They’re not players, they’re leeches, here to suck all the fun out.”
They had come upon the cottage now, the fourth one, having exterminated four different sniper-nests on the way.
“Are you in, Anda? Are you here to play, or are you so worried about these leeches on the other side of the world that you want out?”
“I’m in, Sarge,” Anda said. She armed the BFGs and pointed them at the cottage.
“Boo-yah!” Lucy said. Her character notched an arrow.
> Hello, Kali
“Oh, Christ, he’s back,” Lucy said. Raymond’s avatar had snuck up behind them.
> Look at these
he said, and his character set something down on the ground and backed away. Anda edged up on them.
“Come on, it’s probably a booby-trap, we’ve got work to do,” Lucy said.
They were photo-objects. She picked them up and then examined them. The first showed ranked little girls, fifty or more, in clean and simple t-shirts, skinny as anything, sitting at generic white-box PCs, hands on the keyboards. They were hollow-eyed and grim, and none of them older than she.
The next showed a shantytown, shacks made of corrugated aluminum and trash, muddy trails between them, spraypainted graffiti, rude boys loitering, rubbish and carrier bags blowing.
The next showed the inside of a shanty, three little girls and a little boy sitting together on a battered sofa, their mother serving them something white and indistinct on plastic plates. Their smiles were heartbreaking and brave.
> That’s who you’re about to deprive of a day’s wages
“Oh, hell, no,” Lucy said. “Not again. I killed him last time and I said I’d do it again if he ever tried to show me photos. That’s it, he’s dead.” Her character turned towards him, putting away her bow and drawing a short sword. Raymond’s character backed away quickly.
“Lucy, don’t,” Anda said. She interposed her avatar between Lucy’s and Raymond. “Don’t do it. He deserves to have a say.” She thought of old American TV shows, the kinds you saw between the Bollywood movies on telly. “It’s a free country, right?”
“God damn it, Anda, what is wrong with you? Did you come here to play the game, or to screw around with this pervert dork?”
> what do you want from me raymond?
> Don’t kill them – let them have their wages. Go play somewhere else
> They’re leeches
> they’re wrecking the game economy and they’re providing a gold-for-cash supply that lets rich assholes buy their way in. They don’t care about the game and neither do you
> If they don’t play the game, they don’t eat. I think that means that they care about the game as much as you do. You’re being paid cash to kill them, yes? So you need to play for your money, too. I think that makes you and them the same, a little the same.
> go screw yourself
Lucy typed. Anda edged her character away from Lucy’s. Raymond’s character was so far away now that his texting came out in tiny type, almost too small to read. Lucy drew her bow again and nocked an arrow.
“Lucy, DON’T!” Anda cried. Her hands moved of their own volition and her character followed, clobbering Lucy barehanded so that her avatar reeled and dropped its bow.
“You BITCH!” Lucy said. She drew her sword.
“I’m sorry, Lucy,” Anda said, stepping back out of range. “But I don’t want you to hurt him. I want to hear him out.”
Lucy’s avatar came on fast, and there was a click as the voicelink dropped. Anda typed onehanded while she drew her own sword.
> dont lucy come on talk2me
Lucy slashed at her twice and she needed both hands to defend herself or she would have been beheaded. Anda blew out through her nose and counterattacked, fingers pounding the keyboard. Lucy had more experience points than she did, but she was a better player, and she knew it. She hacked away at Lucy driving her back and back, back down the road they’d marched together.
Abruptly, Lucy broke and ran, and Anda thought she was going away and decided to let her go, no harm no foul, but then she saw that Lucy wasn’t running away, she was running towards the BFGs, armed and primed.
“Bloody hell,” she breathed, as a BFG swung around to point at her. Her fingers flew. She cast the fireball at Lucy in the same instant that she cast her shield spell. Lucy loosed the bolt at her a moment before the fireball engulfed her, cooking her down to ash, and the bolt collided with the shield and drove Anda back, high into the air, and the shield spell wore off before she hit ground, costing her half her health and inventory, which scattered around her. She tested her voicelink.
There was no reply.
> I’m very sorry you and your friend quarrelled.
She felt numb and unreal. There were rules for Fahrenheits, lots of rules, and the penalties for breaking them varied, but the penalty for attacking a fellow Fahrenheit was – she couldn’t think the word, she closed her eyes, but there it was in big glowing letters: EXPULSION.
But Lucy had started it, right? It wasn’t her fault.
But who would believe her?
She opened her eyes. Her vision swam through incipient tears. Her heart was thudding in her ears.
> The enemy isn’t your fellow player. It’s not the players guarding the fabrica, it’s not the girls working there. The people who are working to destroy the game are the people who pay you and the people who pay the girls in the fabrica, who are the same people. You’re being paid by rival factory owners, you know that? THEY are the ones who care nothing for the game. My girls care about the game. You care about the game. Your common enemy is the people who want to destroy the game and who destroy the lives of these girls.
“Whassamatter, you fat little cow? Is your game making you cwy?” She jerked as if slapped. The chav who was speaking to her hadn’t been in the Baang when she arrived, and he had mean, close-set eyes and a football jersey and though he wasn’t any older than she, he looked mean, and angry, and his smile was sadistic and crazy.
“Piss off,” she said, mustering her braveness.
“You wobbling tub of guts, don’t you DARE speak to me that way,” he said, shouting right in her ear. The Baang fell silent and everyone looked at her. The Pakistani who ran the Baang was on his phone, no doubt calling the coppers, and that meant that her parents would discover where she’d been and then –
“I’m talking to you, girl,” he said. “You disgusting lump of suet – Christ, it makes me wanta puke to look at you. You ever had a boyfriend? How’d he shag you – did he roll yer in flour and look for the wet spot?”
She reeled back, then stood. She drew her arm back and slapped him, as hard as she could. The boys in the Baang laughed and went whoooooo! He purpled and balled his fists and she backed away from him. The imprint of her fingers stood out on his cheek.
He bridged the distance between them with a quick step and punched her, in the belly, and the air whooshed out of her and she fell into another player, who pushed her away, so she ended up slumped against the wall, crying.
The mean boy was there, right in front of her, and she could smell the chili crisps on his breath. “You disgusting whore –” he began and she kneed him square in the nadgers, hard as she could, and he screamed like a little girl and fell backwards. She picked up her schoolbag and ran for the door, her chest heaving, her face streaked with tears.
“Anda, dear, there’s a phone call for you.”
Her eyes stung. She’d been lying in her darkened bedroom for hours now, snuffling and trying not to cry, trying not to look at the empty desk where her PC used to live.
Her da’s voice was soft and caring, but after the silence of her room, it sounded like a rusting hinge.
She opened her eyes. He was holding a cordless phone, sillhouetted against the open doorway.
“Who is it?”
“Someone from your game, I think,” he said. He handed her the phone.
“Hullo chicken.” It had been a year since she’d heard that voice, but she recognised it instantly.
Anda’s skin seemed to shrink over her bones. This was it: expelled. Her heart felt like it was beating once per second, time slowed to a crawl.
“Can you tell me what happened today?”
She did, stumbling over the details, back-tracking and stuttering. She couldn’t remember, exactly – did Lucy move on Raymond and Anda asked her to stop and then Lucy attacked her? Had Anda attacked Lucy first? It was all a jumble. She should have saved a screenmovie and taken it with her, but she couldn’t have taken anything with her, she’d run out –
“I see. Well it sounds like you’ve gotten yourself into quite a pile of poo, haven’t you, my girl?”
“I guess so,” Anda said. Then, because she knew that she was as good as expelled, she said, “I don’t think it’s right to kill them, those girls. All right?”
“Ah,” Liza said. “Well, funny you should mention that. I happen to agree. Those girls need our help more than any of the girls anywhere in the game. The Fahrenheits’ strength is that we are cooperative – it’s another way that we’re better than the boys. We care. I’m proud that you took a stand when you did – glad I found out about this business.”
“You’re not going to expel me?”
“No, chicken, I’m not going to expel you. I think you did the right thing –”
That meant that Lucy would be expelled. Fahrenheit had killed Fahrenheit – something had to be done. The rules had to be enforced. Anda swallowed hard.
“If you expel Lucy, I’ll quit,” she said, quickly, before she lost her nerve.
Liza laughed. “Oh, chicken, you’re a brave thing, aren’t you? No one’s being expelled, fear not. But I wanta talk to this Raymond of yours.”