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The hotel room was ordinary considering where and what she was. The bed had a mint on it, the wall had a poster from her favorite anime series (Revolution Wrench, about a colonial American gadgeteer) and the desk held a sheaf of tourist pamphlets. She leafed through these. Ultimate water park. Dinosaur adventures. Earn your degree! Robot operators wanted. Kinky's Brothel. Pip thought back to the time she went to Disneyland in Toyko, where there were all kinds of ridiculous Western culture compressed into a sort of cartoon singularity. It was awesome.

So this was a virtual world, huh? She studied her hands and looked in the bathroom mirror. Nothing had changed that she could see. Then she noticed that the bathroom literally just had a shower, sink and towels. That was jarring; if she was a digital ghost then presumably this world didn't model normal biology. She blushed and stripped off her clothes to find that she still had everything.

Pip dressed again and went to the curtain that lined one wall. She swept it aside. Beyond her window was a vast cavern, speared through the center by a shining white tower that had a town around its base. Creatures flew through the stone-bound sky. A light flashed on a high-tech building that dangled like a stalactite from high above.

Words flickered across her vision, saying You have discovered Ivory Tower: Home of the University of Talespace. She shook her head and the words lingered, then rippled away.

"Game interface stuff," she said. She'd spent some happy hours at gaming, but had never been the type of geek who could click a thousand times a minute to command a space army.

She flopped onto the bed, overwhelmed, then sat bolt upright on remembering the comment about being deleted if she slept. On closer inspection, there was a note tucked next to the pillow-mint assuring her that she wasn't subject to deletion anymore. The designers had thought of everything. Or, they'd been through similar worries from other people. The griffin had said that uploading had existed for a few years now.

So, she was twenty years behind at everything. If she was going to live in Talespace, then she needed to start by learning the rules. Fortunately, there was a pamphlet about that too. The simple paper was flexible in her hands. It said:

Welcome home! This file is meant for new uploaders but may have been customized for you personally. Here's what you most need to know about how this world works.

Death: You can suffer minor wounds that go away at the end of a scene, or major wounds that linger. Take too many minors and they become a major; take majors and you'll get an increasing chance of death. You'll revive after death at your last save point, so no worries about being permanently killed in here. There are also special status effects to discover, good and bad.

Interface: See the diagram for how to call up your interface with a gesture and phrase. You can learn to do this without the hocus-pocus.

Skills: You gain recognized skills by doing things. Once you have five skills, you'll start earning special perks that apply whenever the associated skill is listed in your top five. Think about which abilities you want to focus on, because you'll never be good at everything!

Money: Collect coins and other resources. If you earn money back Earthside (a.k.a. "in the real world"), it's subject to a form of taxation. But yes, by all means, try to earn money out there so that we can afford to keep the computers running and bring more people in.

Worlds: Your starting area is Ivory Tower. This place is a hub connected to other worlds with different specific rules about magic, technology, &c. You might want to visit the Newcomer Fair held in the Tower itself to decide where to live. As an uploader you'll be able to come and go between worlds with little trouble, but specialized skills like magic might be useless in some places.

Friends: You'll have more fun if you can make some friends! Get out there and explore.

Help: The main AI of Thousand Tales is available for consultation for your first few days. Write her name to get her attention, or request support from the Knights of Talespace. Counseling is also available from a variety of religious and secular support groups; just ask if you need a full directory. Have fun!

Fun, fun, fun, thought Pip, bemused by the thought of spending her days chasing magic powers instead of doing science. She could, if she wanted to, since apparently she'd had her way paid for.

It sounded like the first thing to do was to visit the Newcomer Fair. Pip left her hotel room, found that there was no lock, and headed for the elevator. The buttons said "Your Floor," "Lobby", and "Adventure". She needed to get her bearings, so she went to the lobby instead of finding out what the other button did.

The hotel lobby was opulent, full of marble and plants. An orc manned the check-in desk and two robots were playing a card game. Signs overhead advertised a buffet and something about teleporters. Pip stared at the people for a moment but forced herself to keep walking, out the door.

Outside, if you could call a giant cave outdoors, there was a faint chilly wind. Pip stood just outside a blue stone cliff that had the hotel built into it. The Ivory Tower was maybe a mile away across bare ground and past some low buildings in a mishmash of styles. It was nowhere on Earth, certainly. She laughed at herself; had she really still doubted where she was? The question now was what to do about it.

Along the empty land, between the hotel's cluster of buildings and the Tower's central town, an ugly waist-high goblin jumped out at her and brandished a club. "Gimme gimme money!"

Pip jumped backward and her heart suddenly raced. "I haven't got any."

"You lie! I beat out of you!" It charged and swung its club.

She didn't even have a save point yet. What happened if she didn't have one? Pip panicked and fled past the creature.

It kept pace with its long loping strides. "You stop, human!" It was gaining on her.

An arrow sailed past Pip and thudded into the goblin's neck, felling it in a single blow. Pip skidded to a stop in front of an archer in a brown-and-green Chinese robe. She glanced back at the dead goblin and again at her rescuer. "Thanks."

The archer bowed. "Happy to help a newcomer."

Oh, great, another do-gooder boy. "How did you know?"

"It says so on your nametag." He pointed to the space above her head.

She didn't see anything there. Oh, of course. She tried making the gesture and saying the nonsense word from the instructions, aiming it at herself. A character sheet appeared, listing her basic stats.

Susumu Sakamoto
Account type: Uploader
Mind: Tier-III
Body: Human
Main Skills: None
Save Point: None
Note: Newcomer. Say hello!
Class: None

Here was the game that this world would play with her: a set of blanks to be filled in by adapting her actions to someone else's ideas of how to classify them. The rules she'd read so far felt constraining.

The archer said, "My name is Sheng."

He seemed to be waiting for her to be super grateful. She offered her hand and said, "Susumu."

He shook it. "Heading for the Newcomer Fair, I take it? I can travel with you."

"I'm fine. But thanks for the shooting." She started walking again.

"Are you sure?"

"I've got a new mentor coming, thanks."

Sheng sighed and wandered off. Pip was glad not to be in any more debt. She'd have to learn to fight if there were random monsters here.

The Tower was even more impressive when she'd reached the base of it and stared up, up, up. Balconies and lights marked more stories overhead than she could count. A robot spider was climbing in the distance. She got the impression of a long white road she could run along. She shook off vertigo and looked toward the grand entrance doors.

The Tower's ground floor was a big round lounge ringed with a spiral staircase. At the center a blue crystal hovered, bigger than she was. "What is that?" she asked a passing elf.

"Save point."

Pip approached it. Its light created a rippling glow around it like sunlight seen through water. "So what do I do, touch this?" She poked the thing and it ringed. Save point set, said the ghostly words of the game's interface along her vision.

Nearby, a video screen listed names like a set of airline flights. The latest entry read, "DEATH. Sky Diver got hailed too literally."

She headed upstairs. The second floor was another open, high-ceilinged room with stark white walls, lit by glowing crystals. This one was a bazaar of tents, market stalls, and a hollow tree. Every stand had people tending it. At least they were presumably people, though some were small dragons or robots or animals. In a world like this there was no telling what kind of mind was behind each pair of eyes.

"You there," said a dwarf. "Come and see." His tent was a steam-driven inventor's workshop full of brass, glass and gears.

Pip said, "You're selling this stuff?" Some of the mad-science hardware on display didn't look like it'd work in the real world.

"Aye, lass, but mainly to established players."

"But this is a Newcomer Fair."

"Right, and it's largely for recruitment. I represent Her Majesty's World Conquest Ventures, of Threespace." He pointed to a complicated business-card dispenser. "Join up with us and you can use gear like this stuff, and even build your own spaceship." A model of a space ironclad sat on a table. A poster made it clear that the Threespace area wasn't all steampunk-styled.

Pip's eyes widened at the prospect of getting to fly starships in a world more vivid than any VR pod. It was surprising that this fair's goal was as much about getting her to join some faction or other as about handing out starter equipment.

She decided not to gush about space and to play it cool instead, seeing what other groups might offer. "I'm going to look around."

There was a guild of seafaring explorers charting a land called the Endless Isles, with sailing ships and the power to reshape islands "like in one of those survival games your parents probably played."

For Pip those games had been recent. (Minecraft, Terraria, Space Engineers and so on.) "I've played those," she said, feeling old. Then she asked the tattooed pirate chick behind the recruiters' table, "Do you have a startup package for new players?"

"No, but it's easy to get your first weapons and armor on Central Island."

Pip nodded and excused herself. What else was there?

She passed a table where a bright red pony with cartoonish eyes was reading a book. Behind her was a banner for "Hoofland" and two hovering screens showing a deer and a unicorn on various adventures. Kind of neat, but too cute to take seriously as a place to live.

A griffin lay on a cushion at the booth for "Midgard, Land of Epics." There were bits of half a dozen cultures on display, suggesting that Midgard included theme-park versions of Japan and Rome and Egypt. The display of swords and spellbooks was elaborate enough to fill a good chunk of the indoor fairground. The effect was spoiled somewhat by the presence of a carnival stand offering fried dough.

The scent of hot cooking oil was the first thing she'd smelled in this world. Curious now, Pip approached and blinked at the finely dressed elven chef who was at work there. She would've expected more elegant food from an elf.

"Here you go!" said the cook, pushing a paper plate of steaming, tangled dough along the counter.

Pip took it and gave a long sniff, then coughed as white powder went up her nose. Calories probably don't exist here. And actually, people can probably do drugs here with no harm. She tore off a piece and ate it.

The cook said, "How is it? We're still collecting data."

"A little gritty, but good. Data for what?"

"The Great Taste Project! Smell and taste have never worked right, but we're close to releasing a proper mind upgrade to fix that. This here is an experimental preview that doesn't require mental changes."

Pip looked down at her plate and this time understood it as a neuroscience experiment. "So I could eat ten plates of this and not get sick or full or fat?"

"You have a simulated stomach capacity unless you did something to turn that off. Some of us have been here for years eating ghost food. I bet there'll be a crazy food-orgy the day the upgrade is finally out."

Pip thanked the elf and walked away, finally noticing a message in her vision in powder white letters: You have gained a new status effect: White-Handed. Indeed her hands were stained with sugar, but she couldn't seem to wipe them off on her clothes; she left white marks on them to no benefit.

"So wait a minute," she said aloud. "There's an arbitrary 'curse' on the food just to make it awkward?"

The griffin who was tending part of the Midgard booth grinned around a sharp beak, and said, "Because humans don't want everything to be easy."

Pip thoughtlessly tried brushing her sticky hands against her shorts again and only powdered the cloth worse. "Another griffin. I'm getting used to seeing magical creatures everywhere."

"You could become one yourself if you like!"

"How does that work?" she said. It made sense that transformation was possible in this world for all players, not just the greeter. For her! She was just a piece of software now, a thought that gnawed at her until she shoved it aside.

"Find or buy golden crystals called deltite, and get someone to transform you. Some people here including us Midgard reps can do that, but if you haven't got deltite yet there'll be some kind of quest requirement." The griffin tilted its head and peered at her. "You seem a little unusual for a newcomer. Are you at home poking at a computer screen, or here?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it does. To be here means you play our game very differently, full time."

Pip was a little unnerved as she looked around Midgard's portion of the fairground room. A centaur in a Greek-styled pavilion was demonstrating blacksmithing, and a squirrel lady hustled customers into a shop made from a hollow oak tree and apparently full of magic and clothes. The people weren't clearly labeled as uploaders or regular human players. Doing the interface gesture to look at their stats brought up only basic info like, in the squirrel's case:

Class: Ranger
Faction Flag: Great Oak

Not much to go on. Maybe there was a spell or something to get more info.

So, Pip was faced with an embarrassment of riches. The most obvious thing to do was to pick one of these worlds or explore more of Ivory Tower and its cavern town, presumably looking into the university that was said to be here. She could go to the ocean adventure of the Endless Isles, or the conglomerate of locations and styles that Midgard seemed to be, or to Threespace for high-tech exploration, or... nah, not Hoofland. But there were other matters to figure out too, like whether to try turning into something, what sort of weaponry or other powers to go for, how to develop some officially recognized skills, and the meta-game questions like how to earn real money and what had happened in the last 20 years. Were there other unfrozen people?

Supposedly she had a mentor coming, but the game seemed to be waiting for her to make some decisions. The intro pamphlet had offered another way to get help, but Pip was missing basic information about that.

Pip turned toward a part-raccoon woman who was browsing the fair, dressed like a pirate. "Excuse me. I'm new here. The instructions say I can call on the AI by name to make contact, but I don't know what its name is. Is it just 'The Lady of Games'?"

The pirate lady was stunned. "That's... how... How do you not know that?!"

Pip sighed. I'm officially the most ignorant person in this world. Time to start fixing that. But how?
This story is part of my "Thousand Tales" story setting, on Amazon! I suggest starting with "The Digital Coyote", , or the free story collection "Extra Lives",… .

This is the rest of what currently exists for the story. I would be interested in expanding this into a short book similar to "Reconnection", if I could find an interesting plot for it. My thoughts so far:
-I have no idea why "Crafter's Passion" is way more successful than "Liberation Game", but have to suspect it's for the silly reason that it has a romantic word in the title!
-Since other books deal heavily with real-world topics, this one could focus on in-game stuff, with Pip reasoning that other people are dealing with the "how do we protect the virtual world" problem. I could also crank up the LitRPG stuff by developing her specific powers.
-Things we know about her so far: "reverse otaku", misandrist, has missed the last 20 years of history, and has a mysterious patron (as in Dickens' "Great Expectations"). I would need to decide on the patron as part of the main plot.
-Originally I planned to post this one chapter at a time on a site called "Royal Road" and have people suggest how to proceed, but I'm not sure I want to do that now. I could certainly use input though.
-Where to go within Talespace? I'm thinking space, because it's an underused part of the setting.
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Jabberwock29a Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2018
Well as I can't seam to edit my last post hear is a new one.
This one came to me after rereading it for a third time and picking up on last line of this installment "Pip sighed. I'm officially the most ignorant person in this world. Time to start fixing that. But how?"  You could send her to carbon Hive only to have her kick the thing over (perhaps after a portal like misadventure) and drag Misha and his ilk out in to normal Tailspace life, because I know that their is a big difference between loving your work and having fun.
Jabberwock29a Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2018
Though we don't really know much about Pip like what kind of degree she has, though based on her "Science conquers all," statement I suspect it is one of the hard sciences.  As for where to go maybe start he out in three space only for her to find out that it is to easy so she moves to diamond space and then may be on to the second rocket to the asteroid mining project, or if you want to avoid the real world there is the Hundredfold Wonder. 
FoxOTCW Featured By Owner Edited May 24, 2018
Thanks for posting this! I think the elements of missing decades of history and having a mysterious patron have a lot of potential.

Liberation Game just came out, so it might take some time for even regular readers to notice it. You've been extremely extremely productive over the past few years.
Also I think Crafter's Passion has one of your better covers. It's eye catching. The cover for LG is easy to overlook and I don't think it compels clicks quite as well as some of the others.
KSchnee Featured By Owner May 28, 2018  Professional Writer
I ended up replacing the LG cover. The numbers have improved noticeably, though it's still far from the territory CP reached at its peak.
FoxOTCW Featured By Owner May 29, 2018
People really do judge a thing by its thumbnail.
Jabberwock29a Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2018
Sad but true, the problem is there are so many books to look through that you would get no were if you tried to read every description.
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Submitted on
May 23, 2018