Of The Arcade
Of The Arcade
They say that when television was new in Ahbon (created by the scientist Dr. Darrol O’Licht during one of his lunch breaks) it was incredibly popular. It was a hit!
Over the mountains and into the caves, through gorges and across seas it was shipped into the far reaches of Ahbon - millennia ago when the world was still whole, of course. But the invention was unstable and hadn’t been properly tested. One side effect of the first version of the television can be shown through a tale that goes something like this:
‘Once upon a time there was a small boy who was addicted to television. Not just the typical lazybones, good-for-nothing couch potato - he was like, a real addict. You get me? And he sat way too close to the screen! Faaaaar too close, so close that he started seeing tiny faces in the individual pixels, which nobody was supposed to ever see. Soon, his eyes started to turn square, like rectangles! But he kept watching the individual pixels change colour… Soon, his entire head had become square, and little antenna started sprouting from above his eyes, and the television was also suffering some effects. It had sprouted a little pair of legs. Not a week later, the boy’s parents came home from vacation to find two (what could only be described as) dudes slumped lazily on a sofa, and each had a television for a head and spoke in unintelligible nonsense words. They had become TV/person hybrids and were exact copies of each other.’
It was after this incident that Professor Eigengrau improved upon Dr. O’ Licht’s earlier work, creating a safe, well-tested, more convenient and all-round better version of the TV called the flatscreen, without all the cathode rays and whatnot.
As for the television people? Well, as a single consciousness they underwent mitosis several times and went to work in hotels all over Ahbon - which was now a lot smaller, as it is today.
Toven had brought with him quite the sum of money - roughly sixteen starpieces (≛) which was equivalent to eight thousand starfragments (⋆). This was Toven’s pocket money life savings, as he didn’t exactly have much to spend it on having not left the millhouse in years.
Ink suggested that he stop taking huge wads of cash out of his shirt pocket when paying for things and in fact move the money somewhere more secure after receiving some rather untrustworthy looks from strangers - strangers that indeed lived up to the name.
They were all so strange in their own odd ways - most were humanoid, some were not, some were a strange mix of humanoid and household appliance, some had fur, some had exoskeletons, some were made from water and had come to pray to the sea - which was where their deceased naturally ended up after decomposing or ‘loosing form’ - and a couple were sentient transparent prisms that tumbled across the wood, making no other noise.
There were carnival games and rides, food stalls with lots of fried treats, loud, pulsing music that could be felt through the ground like a heartbeat, laughter, screams; the Pier was a place like none Ink had ever seen. He was simultaneously amazed and terrified by it. So many people in such a small area, and Coda and Toven had already tried explaining what the Ferris wheel was (which the Reaper still didn’t quite get the point of) but what in the bloody flesh wounds was that over there!?
“What in the soiled boots of Hades is that over there!?” he said. It looked like some sort of floating, screeching, open-topped bus. ’Course, Ink had never seen a bus before.
“That’s a COASTER.” Coda said with passion. She didn’t remember the last time she had been on a roller-coaster, but that made it all the better; she could experience it for the first time again.
“It’s a ro-rollercoaster!” Said Toven with a bright tone. “You ride in it. I th-think they’re sup-supposed to be fun!”
“What. The big screaming metal sky-snake?”
Toven nodded and fed Parallax a chunk of Buggy Bumper candyfloss. (Robert Baby Buggy Bumpers was once a construction worker long ago who worked on the subway line that runs through Atlantis. Why the candyfloss is named after him remains a complete and utter mystery, but there must be some reason for it, I’m sure.)
Suddenly Ink was standing in what appeared to be a line of people cueing up to ‘ride’ as it was said, this strange, terrifying and downright inefficient mode of transport. Ink, as he gloomily waited in line, pondered as to why this contraption existed. He knew what a train was, for there used to be one in the Dimmer which was referenced in a history book he had read, but this thing seemed only to twist around itself and the pier multiple times, and meet back where it started. Did it provide its passengers with some kind of pleasant effect? Or perhaps a (very) short tour of the pier, which included showing passengers what the top of the boat houses looked like, what the underside of the pier itself looked like, what it felt like to get uncomfortable close to the ocean at breakneck speed, and what a bird sees when gliding over the pier… upside down.
Well as it turns out, Ink to this day still does not see the appeal.
The line shrank in segments - like the magazine of a people-filled pez-dispenser whose occupants, instead of being consumed, were sacrificed to the metal sky-bus of terror - and soon the trio got their turn to ride. Parallax tried to keep up, and was doing a very good job of it too ’til the coaster brought him to a steely halt on one of the metal support beams. it made a sound like a rusted gong.
Ink slumped out of the carriage and lay on the cold ground for a couple minutes. Never again, he pledged to himself.
Next was the arcade, which blew the smithereens of the Reaper’s mind even further into ruin. Technology never seen nor heard of before; great screens lining two of four walls with buttons and control levers that did things on the screen that Ink could only assume was magic. They all had flashy titles across the top, for example: ‘Star Intruder’, ‘Stack-man’, ‘Paper Guy’, ‘Breakfree’, and not to forget, ‘Aural the Mach-Velocity Ferret’. In addition to these, there were air hockey tables, a stiff looking wizard in a glass box that told people what the future held for them if you gave him a coin, a mini basketball game, a hammer strength test game and more than a few ways to gamble one’s life away. Toven would rather not spend his money on the latter - his money, a fraction of which he had converted into quarter-starfragment pieces via a stone-faced man behind a glass. He passed the stuttering boy out two handfuls of coins, which he split amongst his new friends.
Ink examined the statistics of each computerised fighter carefully, almost too carefully as the stranger beside him tapped his foot impatiently.
“Dude!” Said a tall kid with the cap and curled hair down below their shoulders, “Pick a darn character already, I’m gonna trash you anyway, nerd!” The stranger was waiting for Ink to pick a character in the two-player fighting game called ‘Sidewalk Brawler’ that Coda had already played and beaten Ink several times at. He just didn’t quite understand the mechanics of it yet. Now the Hero was on Ink’s side against the stranger - as was Toven (who was ok at video games really, but lost every time he played because he didn’t want his opponents to feel bad). They cheered him on as he picked a red character who was five foot eleven, had a blood type of A and weighed roughly two hundred and fifty-four ponds. Surely this couldn’t be the case, thought Ink, because the man was in reality no bigger than one’s hand and was completely two-dimensional.
Anyways Ink got absolutely trashed, but the encouragement from his pals was nice.
“Get thumped, freak!” Said the stranger in triumph. They weren’t a very polite stranger.
It was Coda’s turn to challenge this sucker, and challenge she did. Coda, whilst never having played this particular game (of course she wouldn’t have remembered, but this game actually didn’t exist yet where she was from) was in fact rather good at this. In fact, she won all three rounds against the curly-haired jackass who ended up kicking and denting the arcade machine and leaving with a contumelious “Bag your face, blotch boy!”
To which the Hero responded with a disrespectful hand gesture, that glowed red and sparked with satisfaction. Parallax glowered as best he could at the departing dirtbag.
What a brat.
This was Ink’s first experience with the typical schoolyard bullying, and he didn’t know quite what had just happened.
“Hey, T-man wants a game of air hockey. You down with it?”
“I think I need to the bathroom right now, actually. Is there one nearby?” Ink had been informed about bathrooms back in the millhouse and was quite pleased they existed. He had heard of them before, but the bathrooms in the Dimmer weren’t anything like the ones here in Ahbon.
“Y-yyeah.” Said Toven, “J-just walk that www-way and keep look-king left and you should find them.” He pointed shore-wise.
“Thank you, Toven.”
Before the Reaper left, he stacked the rest of his coins on top of Parallax’s snout - which already happened to have coins balanced messily about it - and left, out into the busy wooden street above the black waves with silver linings. He took a while trying to remember Toven’s two-minute introductory course in lavatory mechanics (eventually he figured the contraption out and was done in the bathroom) and headed down a flight of rickety stairs to the beach, and he walked… and walked.
Back at the arcade, the others were doing battle on the air hockey table; flying saucer shaped strikers in their hands, and a sad puck that had had quite enough - this was the most torment it had seen in a while. Between getting its plastic face smashed against the sides of the table it dreamed of grassy fields and refreshing breezes and skies full of starry wonder. It would much rather have been a lawn bowl. Not a jack, though.
-No, never a jack - it thought, and got its face smashed again into the back of Toven’s goal.
He picked it up with ivory fingers and played again.
The little red LED screen above the air hockey table read ‘63/0’, but Toven was determined to at least get one score against the Hero and her glowing hand that darted across the table and loudly swiped the puck straight into the back of his goal.
“CLACK” said the table.
“Say, Ink’s taking his time, huh?” Said Coda, as the score now somehow said ‘67/0’ without Toven ever remembering putting the puck back on the table.
“Y-Yeah.” Toven agreed. It had been a while since he had left for sure. Perhaps he was simply revising the fundamentals of Toven’s two-minute course in lavatory mechanics, or perhaps it was just a rather challenging number two. Either way, Toven was doing a very good job at losing the air hockey game, and that fact didn’t seem to want to change any time soon.
Their game went on, and Toven could hardly survive a few seconds each try. Soon though, when the score was over a hundred/nil, he started to last longer against the Hero, who tended to be good at just about everything. The puck saw more and more volleys back and forth before coming to rest, still in the same goal.
“Jeez dude, we’ve been here for years.” Coda stated, “And Greensleeves still ain’t back!”
“CLACK” said the table.
“D’y- do y-you think we should go check on-on him?”
“I dunno, you think we should?” She turned her back on Toven, propping her elbows on the table, “He left his startbits or whatever you call ’em on my dog’s head.”
Suddenly, Toven’s brain waves went into hyperdrive, fluctuating on frequencies higher than ever. He put the puck on the table and slammed the striker into the side of the side of the table.
She spun around, expecting to hit a puck that never came, only striking the wall.
Then, Toven putt the puck for real, past Coda’s defense and right into the slot on the other side of the hole-ridden plastic pitch.
He looked to the screen - ‘242/1’ It said.
Ink drew a circle in the sand, which he hadn’t actually done in a while - an old habit of his that he couldn’t remember giving up. Though he supposed, the dirt where he lived had gotten too sludgy over the years.
He lay there in the circle and opened his sketchbook. The low light levels didn’t faze him, but he didn’t really feel up to it at the moment so it was set aside. Crossing his arms in front of him, he buried his head into his robe - all Ink wanted was peace and quiet to process the events of the past day.
It all didn’t make much sense still, where he was, why he was here, etcetera, etcetera. Even though he knew his life had just changed and become infinitely better, the sheer overwhelming sensation had him down. He cried into his robe and tried to suppress scenes from dreary memories.
It was cold. Ink was used to it. The waves lapped up on the shore - now that was something he had never experienced before. Just that simple little thing was enough to mystify him, and whilst beautiful it still gave him a mild headache and nausea when he looked to the great body of water beyond.
Finally though, a place where he could rest for a while. He pulled up his hood and closed his eyes, and dozed off into strange and nonsensical nightmares.
It didn’t last long; he was awoken with a sandy boot in the side of his ribcage.
“Ouch.” He said.
“You’re on me treasure.” Stated the gangly green man, that was not good at a pirate impression at all.
“Me treasure, arr.”
Ink sighed and rolled over, “What treasure?”
“It be the one underneath you, ‘O’ marks the spot, so it is said.” The man pointed to his eyepatch. He in fact had two but relied on his artificially heightened sense of smell to get around. Treasure has a rather metallic smell to it. Good treasure, that is, at least the ones that come in big chests with sturdy metal hinges. “I have an eyepatch, and that means I am now responsible for collecting thee treasure.” he said with a stupid grin on his face.
Ink nodded, “I see.”
It was about time Ink headed back to the pier anyway, and so he did, leaving the man to his treasure. He didn’t even have a shovel, but his webbed hands seemed to do the trick.
On the way back, Ink heard his name called up ahead.
“There’s that airhead!” exclaimed Coda.
He continued walking, and they met halfway on the periwinkle shore.
“Toven’s looking for you back in the-”
“Sorry.” Ink murmured.
“It’s cool. Here’s your coins.” She gave him back his quarter-starfragment pieces. “So what’s eating yah?”
“Mh.” He replied, “Nothing. It’s just an awful lot to take in.”
Coda nodded, “Yeah, I’ll bet. You really haven’t lived, have you?”
“Mh.” He sulked.
“I’m kinda confused too, you know. I don’t think I’m from around here.”
They climbed the wooden stairs that led back to the pier the was quietening for the evening.
“No,” Said Ink, who hadn’t considered that Coda might be going through something similar, “I wouldn’t have thought so.” He half-consciously reached out and scratched Parallax underneath his jaw, and his frown softened a little.
Dogs are good for the soul.
The pair traversed the sodden planks o’ wood and met up with their stuttery albino friend (that’s Toven) who went with them to the stalls to restock on food and drink, which included more than enough Creature™ Energy. Ink watched as Toven folded the little cloth around the impossible amount of foodstuffs, cool keychain souvenirs and a small plush robot that they had won, and asked, “How?”
It was simple, really, and the boy explained this to him: It was actually slight-of-hand, but it was not Toven who was performing it. Mulberry, being the hoarder that she is breathes life into old cloth rags (creating life, by the way, is the hardest form of magic anyone can ever wish to learn) and teaches them how to do magic tricks. In particular, tricks involving making things disappear and reappear later. Since rags don’t have bones and thus can never learn real magic, it is just plain old slight-of-hand.
And ‘Parallax’ had apparently bought Coda a bag with ‘his own share of coins’; a cheap but handy red one with the brand name ‘Flamewheels’ written on the back in fiery text.
Then it was time to leave the pier and go back to the town to settle down for the night, for it was late, and the next day would be a big one. Spirits were high - even Ink’s was higher than usual. Adventure was calling, to either beckoning them to glory or to warn them to stay the hell away and walk swiftly in the other direction and never look back.
Tomorrow would be a great, fantastic day for all. Unless some big horrible catastrophic disaster struck, now that would be unfortunate!