Diane Duane Omnitopia Dawn: Omnitopia #1

ISBN 13: 9780756406783

Omnitopia Dawn: Omnitopia #1

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9780756406783: Omnitopia Dawn: Omnitopia #1

Created by Dev Logan, Omnitopia is the most popular and successful massive multiplayer online game ever. But now as Dev is about to roll out a major new expansion to Omnitopia, there are people preparing to play a different game-one that is meant to strike at the heart of Omnitopia and bring the entire system crashing down.

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About the Author:

Diane Duane is the author of a score of novels of science fiction and fantasy, among them the New York Times hardcover bestsellers, Spock's World and Dark Mirror, as well as the very popular Wizard Fantasy series, and a second Spider-Man hardcover novel entitled The Lizard Sanction. She is hard at work on a third Spidey novel, The Octopus Agenda. Duane lives with her husband, Peter Morwood--with whom she has written five novels, including the New York Times bestseller, The Romulan Way--in a beautiful valley in rural Ireland.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

Rik Maliani stepped out of nothingness into the narrow cobbled confines of Troker’s Lane, overhung on each side by ancient half-timbered houses . . . and as his second step went squish, he realized he’d just put his left foot down right in the middle of a turd.

He stood there for a moment looking down at his booted foot and the unsavory dinner-plate-sized object he’d stepped into. It was blue. Rik stood on one foot, lifted the other one up and looked over his cloaked shoulder at the sole of it, sniffed. He immediately caught the unmistakable acrid whiff of griffin poop. Rik shook his head and smiled, impressed for about the hundredth time this week. Technology, he thought. Don’t you love it when it works!

He went over to the curbstone in front of the nearest shuttered house and used it to scrape the griffin crap off, or at least as much of it as he could see in this light. Above Rik, between the raggedy-edged, mossy tiles of the hanging roofs, only a strip of indigo blue showed, for it was coming on toward evening in the City. The usual town smells floated through the air: roasting meat, rotting garbage, frying fish, woodsmoke, perfume, the multispecies sweat that the perfume couldn’t cover . . . and, of course, ordure. The droppings of various animals, fabulous and otherwise, were something you just couldn‘t help but notice here, especially once you had the right hardware. In the face of numerous complaints about the problem, and the ever increasing traffic, the City had redoubled its claims that it was going to do something about the problem soon. But as for the magicians that the City kept hiring to do the job . . .

As he scraped the last of the stuff off his boot, Rik glanced up and around at the oriel windows of the old inward-leaning buildings, just to make sure that somebody wasn’t about to enrich his game experience—and the crap quotient of the laneway—by emptying a chamber pot over his head. The word on the City newsfeeds had it that the present administration just couldn’t keep wizards on the payroll long enough right now. But maybe this was understandable, since no magician worth his or her spells would waste time on a sanitation job when wizardry could be much better employed—and better paid—on one or another of the big campaigns that was running now. A huge and bloody war had just broken out in the TwoMoons Macrocosm (now that the necessary threshold number of Moonies had finally responded to their invitations). Over in Pandora they’d just had a coup, and the deposed queen in question was busy recruiting an army as fast as she could. Dasheth Prime and LongAgo Three were also in the middle of rebellions or battles between major game guilds. And those were merely the “conflicted” game worlds Rik could think of off the top of his head: there might be ten or twenty others, Macrocosms he hadn’t been following, that were either actively rumbling or getting ready to. With business so brisk and prospects so positive for a smart war wizard or combat mage, odds were even that Omnitopia City was going to have to find other ways to handle its garbage management besides magical ones. And since no one with a brain would willingly spend valuable game time picking up street crap by hand, Rik felt sure that until out-universe matters calmed down a little, the ordure was going to stay right where it was.

But none of these matters were really issues for Rik right now. And anyway, at the moment he wasn’t Rik; he was Arnulf the Manyfaced, a paramage member of the Human League organization MediMages Without Frontiers, and he was on his way to Meruvelt to spend a little bit of hard-earned game gold on some new magian equipment in that Macrocosm, and to socialize with some folks he knew who also played and fought and healed there.

With his boot now cleaned to his satisfaction, Arnulf turned and strolled upward along the lane toward the light of the nearest cresset, which was stuck into a wattle-and-daub wall some twenty yards or so farther along. Up there, at the corner where Troker’s Lane crossed the only slightly broader Shade Street, Arnulf paused and leaned against the wall for a moment, enjoying the feedback from the new RealFeel synesthetic sensory input system he’d finally been able to afford. His wife Angela had protested a little at first about how much money he’d spent on it, but he’d taken some time to explain to her—not entirely untruthfully—how having it would actually make it quicker and easier for him to play the game effectively. When she understood the difference it would make, Angela had rolled her eyes at Rik, not particularly fooled by the spin he was putting on it. But she’d also stopped complaining.

Rik considered himself lucky that Angela genuinely didn’t seem to mind all the time he spent in Omnitopia. It probably helped a lot that he brought home a little money from the game every month via his crafting of custom tools and accessories for other players who were interested in the medical side of magery. He thought Angela realized, too, that in Omnitopia he was able to do the socializing that the double shifts he frequently worked for the country’s second-biggest parcel carrier didn’t leave him any other time for. I really do have it better than a lot of people, Arnulf thought, running a hand down the knotted, splintery surface of the half-timbering at the corner of the buildings that fronted on Shade Street. It was going to be a long time before he was bored by the fact that he could now actually feel the wood, smell the scents programmed into the air, even taste the virtual food. Though admittedly sometimes the tastes were a little weird, as that feature was very new and the game warned you when you added on the Extra Helping module that “your flavors may vary.” Rik didn’t understand the mechanism that allowed him to receive touch and taste and smell information via his optic nerves—but, frankly, he didn’t care. Omnitopia had been like another home to him for years. Now that he had the new hardware interface broken in, Omnitopia felt physically real as well as just looking that way—and as long as there were no long-term effects from the software spoofing his brain by way of his eyes, that was fine by him.

Arnulf glanced up and down Shade Street. It was empty, a little unusual for this time of day; but then it was getting on toward dinnertime in Omnitopia City, and a lot of transiting gamers in this part of town, historically more residential than commercial, would be heading for the pubs and taverns and cookshops, preparing to do a little business, make a little trouble, or just sit down and have a good time with their fellow Omnitopians. Arnulf considered the possibility of going down to Uncle George’s Flat Patty Place at the far end of Shade Street, or maybe Prince Dave Bongo’s over in Halflight, on the off chance that he might meet somebody there who would send a little more business his way. Uncle George’s in particular was well known as a place where medimages, midwives, herb doctors, and others interested in Arnulf’s trade hung out before heading outworld. But no, he thought then. I want to get my hands on that new magia kit. And those league robes with the new sigils for the campaign next month—I’ve been talking about them for days. If I don’t bring them home today, Angela’s going to start giving me grief for being indecisive, or wasting time . . .

Arnulf let out an amused breath and continued on down Troker’s Lane, now widening into Hook Street as it headed toward the center of town. This landscape was one into which Angela had never set foot: his wife was no gamer. But this had never been an issue between them, and she was happy enough to let him indulge his otherworldly life . . . while still very much functioning as the knot in Rik’s balloon. He was always full of fantasies, but she was full of more than enough practicality to balance him; she probably worked more double shifts than he did so that the two of them could keep food on the table for their three kids, and for the dog and cat and the bird and the hamsters and whatever other livestock might turn up in the company of their insatiably pet-loving children. Sure, sometimes Angela would come into the little spare room that functioned as their game room while Rik was online, and she’d give him that look from under her eyebrows that seemed to say, you do know what I’m doing for you, don’t you? But that was all she did, and all she needed to do. The knowledge that he needed to do right by Angela in return for her understanding kept Rik grounded. And it kept him aware that, even here, he needed to have the family’s interests at heart—at least some of the time. He was also allowed to enjoy himself.

So he turned his attention back to doing that, making his way past the lantern-hung shops and stalls of Little Cheaping Street and continuing on through the pens and cages of the beast-market of Welladay Square, now shut down for the day, toward the town center. Omnitopia City had grown rather peculiarly, in fits and starts, and in this part of town, one of the oldest, the peculiarities were obvious. Probably why I like it so much . . . As Arnulf walked on, the architecture of the houses and shops around him shifted abruptly from muck-plastered Pythonesque Retro Feudal to sandstone-arcaded Mitteleuropean to prefab neo-Tudor to bleak Sixties revisionist to suburban stuccoed strip mall. Buildings in styles that in the real world had existed separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles—if they’d actually existed at all—had sprung up here in little groups and ghettos, as if huddling close for company, or else they hunched down or speared up singly and with apparent unconcern right next door to one another. This haphazard but enthusiastic arrangement went right back to the time before the City had grown itself an actual government. The earliest gamers exploiting the site, finding no controls yet in place, had thrown the buildings up to their own tastes, with great speed and utter lack of concern about the general look and feel of any given neighborhood. As a result, this part of the city looked like the creation of someone who had visited Disneyland while on crack and then the Mall of America while on acid, and afterward had attempted to synchronize their styles.

But to Arnulf’s mind, this architectural form of ADD just added to the neighborhood’s charm. It physically reminded you that once upon a time, this place had been nothing but a small rough rocky island off the coast of Himardell, itself probably the least interesting minor continent in all of old Telekil. It had been the sort of place no one bothered journeying to, a useless scrap of territory that no Elf or Man or even Gnarth could have been bothered to get into a fight over, because there was nothing to fight over. Elich Island had been nothing but a houseless rock in the sea, straggly around the edges with seaweed, streaked with bird droppings, and worthy of no attention whatsoever.

But then everything had changed.

As Arnulf walked, the streets got broader, and people began to pass him. Every kind of person, every kind of character you could imagine, and a lot that you couldn’t, became more and more frequent as you approached the town center: Dwarrows wearing three-piece suits and carrying Armani ax-cases; strolling, elegant Elves burdened with swords and spears and shopping bags; Men in every kind of human dress; holidaying Gnarths in Hawaiian shirts and fanny packs, pointing cameras at everything and ignoring the uneasy sidelong glances of the humans and other species; pack unicorns, hedge-dragons, and basilisks in mirrorshades; half-beasts and werebeasts and hunting cats and wolven—creatures familiar and creatures unimaginably strange, all making their way purposefully toward or away from the center of the City, like blood entering or leaving a hidden heart. Finding the buzz contagious, Arnulf quickened his pace as he crossed the boundary into Third Quarter. Here the street in front of him opened out even further, the cobbles gave way to fine set stone, and the houses on either side started to look more like Italianate palazzos than anything else, with ornate gilded ironwork and stained glass windows. Here and there an old blunt fieldstone tower or other feature of someone’s stubbornly unredeveloped unreal estate still broke through the surrounding glossy veneer of wealth and success, suggesting that it was still location, location, location that really mattered, not the fancy trappings of the nouveau riche. And indeed, if you had managed to pick up a piece of property in this part of Elich Island when the city was building, then you could truly be said to be successful. Especially just here, right by the most famous reminder of the Change.

Arnulf came out at the bottom of Quarterlight Street into the Plaza of Exploration, its smooth-paved expanse brightly lit by torches and magelight-powered spots. There it was, at the center of it all, surrounded by a many-spouted ornamental fountain with stray dogs drinking out of it, and a hungover waterdragon lying on its back under one of the spouts: the great bronze statue of Lahirien the Excessively Far-Traveled. As he crossed toward it, Arnulf wondered how much of the story about her, or the player who ran her, was true. Is she just some kind of marketing ploy, something the game designers made up? Yet at the same time, even back then, there had been gamers so obsessive that they’d spent all their time using their avatars to visit every single part of Telekil that could be visited by a gamer. Even now, there were lots of people more interested in exploring a given world than in playing in it. It wasn‘t a mind-set Arnulf understood—himself—he was all for the prewar intrigue, the battle, and the après-fight camaraderie. But it made sense that it would have been one of those more abstract-minded players who, by sheer doggedness, would have eventually discovered the island’s secret.

And if she is real, did they ever give her a bonus for that, I wonder? Arnulf thought as he paused for a moment, halfway across the plaza, to gaze up at the statue. It portrayed a slender young woman, her long hair tied back, her cloak streaming away from her shoulders in the prevailing westerly wind, as she gazed thoughtfully out over what in those days would have been an extremely inhospitable strait of the Himardell Sea. Behind her on the great bronze pedestal were replicas of both the coracle in which she had sailed here, and of a rather seasick-looking cow—a reminder of the time when Elich Island’s only useful resources had been its tiny scrap of summer grazing and enough seaweed to keep a shore-based farmer’s cow alive through the winter. Once such resources had been precious in this barren, overlooked part of Telekil. But that was a long time ago, Arnulf thought. And who even thinks that much about Telekil anymore? All around the pedestal of the statue ran an inscription that now graced many a commemorative menhir across the hundred and twenty-one Macrocosms, the words set into the stone in letters of water-greened bronze:
TO THE EVERLASTING GLORY OF
LAHIRIEN THE EXCESSIVELY FAR-TRAVELED,
KNOWN IN THE SO-CALLED
REAL WORLD AS
MALLORY LYNN REAVES

And under that, in smaller letters, the wise words of the great Discoverer of the Way to th...

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