Interlude 1: The Simworld Scripting Derby

(A Loose Circuit Prequel)

SQUEAKY BATTLECRIES FILLED THE AIR as axe-wielding popcorn goblins tumbled from the surrounding seed pods. Fluffy white petals surrounded their little yellow heads, and each stood as tall as a large dog. Had they not been innately homicidal, the little suckers might have been cute.

As Sonne readied her ten-foot-tall bunnymech for inevitable battle, Kate alighted on the bunnymech’s big shoulderpad. Kate flexed her death metal fairy wings, loaded one last round of feather bullets, and tossed her broken stiletto heels at the goblins. That would show them!

“Plan?” Sonne shouted.

Kate waved at their adoring public. “Our plan blew up with your rocketskates, dear! Have you got any other tricks left?”

Sonne slammed her bunnymech’s armored fists together. “I suppose we could just punch them to death.”

“Brilliant!” Kate leaned toward the goblin horde like a ship’s busty figurehead, shading her dark eyes with a downturned hand. “Still, don’t you wish we’d gone with the flamethrowers?”

* * *

ONE WHOLE WEEK EARLIER

“DO IT,” KATE SAID. “You know you want to do it.”

“I don’t want to do it.” Sonne spared a glance for her big sister, barhopping compatriot, and literal pain in the ass. “Find someone else. Someone artsy.”

“Balderdash!” Kate sipped a glass of spring water her Personal Brain Assistant told her was fine wine, then toasted their tiny apartment. “There’s no one I know half so artsy as you!”

“I can’t take time off work.”

“It’s one day!”

“I hate public appearances.”

“We’ll dominate everyone!”

“We’ll wander into a crusher trap and become a late night meme.” Sonne twisted in her low-slung ergochair and found Kate dangerously close to tipping off their ratty old couch. “Besides, I’ve got work.”

“Who cares about autocars?” Kate’s light-brown skin had an intoxicated glow, which meant she had set her PBA to very, very drunk. “Follow your passion!”

“Passion doesn’t pay anything.” Sonne turned back to her projected autocar model and thumped one wheel, sending the whole model spinning. “I’ve got two days to get four more variants done, and this redesign is killing me.”

“Then come kill people with me instead!” Kate hopped up, walked over, and poked Sonne’s tattooed arm. “Better to murder than be murdered, I always say!”

“No,” Sonne said.

“I’ll pick up your rent for this month. Hell, I’ll contract you to work for me! That’s fair, right?”

Despite the stubborn logic infesting her brain, Sonne was tempted. She needed this soul-sucking job because she needed money. If she didn’t need money, would she still need this soul-sucking job?

Winning the SSD — the Simworld Scripting Derby — would net her enough money to pay off her student loans and even open her own art studio, after splitting the grand prize with Kate. The only people standing in their way would be forty-eight merciless competitors willing to walk over their own mothers for the prize. Every SSD to date had been a virtual bloodbath.

Sonne still didn’t know how Kate had snagged one of the coveted twenty-five play slots. She had either bribed someone at SimuCorp for early access, or been overclocking her PBA when sign-ups opened. Even so, Kate couldn’t participate without a partner, and Sonne could be a good partner.

“If I consider this,” Sonne said. “If!” she added, as Kate bounced up and down. “What would you need me to do?”

“What you do best! Make us look fabulous!”

Sonne grinned, even with her PBA set to stone cold sober. It would be ridiculously fun to design some off-the-wall Sim avatars, and models for Kate’s ludicrous weapons. It would be fun to shoot simulated people in the face.

Yet her deadline for her new autocar designs was two days away, and Sonne had nothing. What would Cadillac do if she failed to turn in new variants? Could she even get another job?

“Here’s a plan.” Kate settled on the arm of Sonne’s ergochair, which almost tipped them over. “Up me your last ten redesigns. I’ll randomize new ones using their similarities as data points, and generate ten variants by tomorrow morning. Those drones at Cadillac will never know the difference!”

“Fine.” Sonne was done rearranging triangles on this stupid autocar. She shook her chair instead. “Off.”

Kate survived without injuries.

* * *

THEY PASSED THE NEXT FOUR DAYS immersed in a stream of dynamically-generated chiptunes and chocolate-flavored nutrient bars. Kate scripted maliciousness as Sonne modeled every asset that excited her. They dove into the Sim over and over, trying on avatar after avatar and firing ridiculous weapons.

They discarded Kate’s boomerang heels very early — neither liked how they looked when they kicked those off, like can-can girls — and Sonne modeled a shredder disk instead, an evil Frisbee with a razor edge. Once Kate added some recall scripting and a buzzsaw noise, it was perfect.

At some point between yesterday’s Chinese noodles and today’s cappuccino-flavored protein waffles, Kate suggested building a flamethrower, but Sonne vetoed that right away. Fire terrified her, even in a simulation. Discs were enough.

The hardest part was getting Kate to settle on an avatar. She insisted on trying on slutty angel avatars for half a day, despite Sonne’s protestations that underdressed angels were stupidly overdone. While Kate was all in favor of using sexy avatars to generate extra viewstream hits, Sonne preferred to draw attention with flash and snarkiness.

Eventually, Sonne modeled her sister a customized death metal fairy body, with mechanized wingtips that shot feather bullets. As for the sexiness level, Sonne wasn’t going to tell Kate how to present herself. That was Kate’s decision.

Sonne’s own avatar began as a lady in a mechsuit, but she spruced that up by replacing the mech’s feet with rocketskates, attaching a shoulder-mounted grappling hook, and adding hot pink bunny ears half as tall as the suit itself. All operated on Kate’s fiendishly clever scripting.

After that, all that remained was to allocate the standard number of attribute points between locomotion, speed, armor, attack power, and fuel. Sonne let Kate handle the tweaking. Every participant in the SSD had the same number of points to spend, but they could spend those points on any attribute.

They finished with one day left to test, yet their avatars moved flawlessly. Kate’s death metal fairy was agile, quick, and deadly, while Sonne’s ten-foot-tall bunnymech made a perfect tank. They might actually have a chance to win this contest!

Or at least not humiliate themselves.

* * *

“CONTESTANTS AND VIEWERS! Watchers and warriors! Welcome to the twenty-fourth annual Simworld Scripting Derby!”

The SimuCorp announcer’s boxing ring voice boomed from open sky. Sonne’s bright pink bunnymech and Kate’s death metal fairy stood inside a paddock of towering walls, blocking their view of everything but the brilliant blue sky. They weren’t really here, of course — the Sim was just data flowing in and out of their Personal Brain Assistants — but this world felt real, and that meant every impact and scrape would feel real, too.

No contestant could yet see the gauntlet between them and the goal line, or where the other contestants waited in the pleasurebox: an isolated area of the Sim set aside for this competition. Theirs would be a mad dash around unknown obstacles, flying projectiles, and exploding avatars. Sonne didn’t know how many of them would survive.

Clever scripting and a healthy reaction time mattered in the SSD, of course, but ninety percent of success was surviving the first chaotic minutes of combat. The Simworld gamemasters — GMs — were ruthless, and always unleashed something horrible when the competition began. The first few minutes of each year’s SSD had come to be known as “The Culling.”

Last year, the GMs turned every flower on the playing field into a touch-ignited explosive. The year before that, anyone wearing metallic armor got sucked into a floating magnetic shredder. Kate had scripted a breakaway handle into the left arm of Sonne’s bunnymech, just in case.

Sonne checked their viewcount again — still zero — and huffed. All her hard work to make them into sexified badasses, and not a single competition viewer was watching their stream. That was more than a little disheartening.

There must be some Simworld favorites elsewhere hogging the viewcount, probably the Scelero Sisters, or that Finnish jerkoff SuperHat. A few celebrities a year always snagged the Viewer’s Choice slots. Unless she and Kate performed impressively enough to poach viewers from other streams, they were sunk.

Winning the SSD wasn’t simply a matter of clever scripting. Sometimes multiple contestants made it past the final goal line, and then both judges and viewers chose the grand prize winner based on artistic merit. The winners had to dominate this contest, and they had to look spectacular while doing so.

“Contestants!” the announcer boomed. “On your marks!”

“We’re gonna’ be awesome!~” Kate singsonged, her dulcet voice tinny in Sonne’s ear-mic. “Remember, not until I say go.”

“I still think this’ll get us derezzed,” Sonne said. They had decided to wait once the gates dropped and evaluate the situation, instead of dashing out blind.

“That’s why it’ll work! No one’s dumb enough to try it!”

Sonne thumped her forehead against her bunnymech’s faceplate.

“Get set!” the announcer shouted. “Go!”

The walls of the paddock dropped. Kate launched airborne with the high-pitched whine of wing engines. Sonne saw grassy hills and spiky trees that then exploded into a colorful cacophony of demon tengu, two-legged chickenmechs, and a gaggle of underdressed angels. There was even a rainbow unicorn.

Sadly, that gorgeous steed was among the first to fall, shredded in a pumpkin-bombing by a jetpack samurai. As Kate landed on the shoulderpad of Sonne’s ten-foot-tall bunnymech, Sonne felt a pang of professional envy. She’d never animate a unicorn that galloped as gracefully as that.

Sonne risked a glance behind them and found a tsunami of scissors rushing their paddock from the rear. The Simworld GMs had summoned that wave to derez anyone who hesitated. The message was clear, the threat apparent. Skate, or die.

“Ready!” Kate bellowed. “Set!” She snapped one arm out in a dramatic pointing gesture, even though their viewstream remained empty. “Launch!”

Sonne fired her rocketskates and sped into the carnage.

(Read the full story in Simulation Disorder, along with 16 other stories, releasing on December 15, 2018!)

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