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Mar 28, 2023 2:08 AM

Marlene is having a rough night. (Well, technically, day.) First she lies in bed for an hour consumed with stress-fantasies of getting fired, because at work today (last night) she yelled at someone for picking out a replacement screw by holding it up to the old one and visually comparing them, and now all her coworkers hate her. Then she has a nightmare about dropping a flat blue box into a hydraulic reservoir, followed by all her teeth and a handful of screws of subtly different sizes. She wakes up anxious and gasping for air (once she asked a doctor if she had sleep apnea, and she doesn't; this is apparently just a thing that happens to her) and discovers that she forgot to take off her DIY North Paw before bed and now her leg hurts. It's not even noon - she should take some more melatonin and go back to sleep - but there's another blue box in her face and now she's wide awake.

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System Initializing

Integration beginning. Please stand by for: 3 hours 32 minutes

Caution: Non-Integrated machinery will begin to fail as Integration continues. Please avoid operating heavy machinery during this time. All sapients are being restored to a minimum baseline level of health for the Tutorial. Please disconnect any life-support machinery or prosthetics to avoid side effects. A choice of Classes will be available depending on your personal experiences and aptitudes upon completion of Integration and the beginning of the Tutorial. Take this time to prepare wisely.

As she stares, 3 hours 32 minutes becomes 3 hours, 31 minutes.

Her phone has several texts and alerts; One from her work, saying to come in NOW, they're having problems with the planes. One from the Albany Police Department asking people to stay calm in tastelessly bland language. A bunch of half panicked half sarcastic gabbing from various internet communities. 'Apocalypse now?' or 'Time to use my mastery of the dodge roll'. Someone in a DIY group has penned a fairly lengthy speech about how everyone should get off the grid and go into the wild because the cities are going to be full of looting and anarchy, they have a bugout bag, right, doesn't everyone?


So it's the apocalypse, huh. Okay. She can handle her life becoming an RPG, it didn't feel quite real before anyway.

If all the "non-integrated" machinery is going to break then she's not going back to work! And now she doesn't have to see her coworkers ever again. (She'll miss some of them, but this way is less embarrassing.)

Hopefully simple analog electronics will survive?

She says goodbye to her internet friends. She doesn't have any local meatspace friends, but if she drives out north to her favorite rural boardgame store she might be able join with some handy nerds she can work with...

Is it worth taking the seats out of her car to reduce the weight and save on gas? The car itself is going to break before she runs out, but the remainder will be useful for starting fires. Probably not worth the delay, though, if those final minutes can be used to move the car to a good location before it dies - it will still be a shelter after it's no longer transportation.

She'll need to grow food. She has some potatoes and an heirloom tomato. And an apple, but the seeds in that won't grow as well without grafting onto a rootstock. Wow, the commercial farmers are going to be screwed if they can't get new seeds. Big Agriculture might have literally doomed humanity with their seeds that are good for only a single generation.

On that topic, though, historically a huge amount of human effort went into providing food. If this is a game that someone has imposed on the world, and they want there to be a sporting chance of surviving, despite the quests and monsters and PvP that will make this even harder than it was historically, there are probably going to be magic farming powers. She was already going to pack everything edible; now she makes a note to save a bit of all her vegetables, including the broccoli and bananas and olives in brine, in case they can be grown.

She drives north with:

  • Aforesaid vegetables and fruit.
  • A ten-pound bag of "macaroni product" (it was cheap on Amazon).
  • Cans, mostly beans.
  • A can opener.
  • Rice.
  • Bread.
  • Salt.
  • Water.
  • Cheddar cheese (perishable, eat first).
  • A paring knife.
  • A cutting board.
  • A pot.
  • Electronics equipment and supplies.
  • Rope.
  • Medicine: melatonin, her stimulant (prescribed for ADHD, which she legitimately has; vital for working nights since caffeine makes her sleepy), estradiol (she's really glad she had an orchiectomy), ordinary pain and cold relief, some old strong painkillers from her surgery (she didn't touch them then because she was afraid of getting addicted).
  • Clothes and blankets, even the stupid rainbow Lockheed Martin diversity one.
  • Plastic bags and containers, with no particular use in mind but plastic is a miracle they won't have anymore.
  • Books, for starting fires.

The traffic is pretty horrible. Lots of people are heading every which way. There's ambulances and fire trucks about. There's a couple of wrecks that nobody seems to be doing anything about. No planes in the sky... Though it all clears up fairly quick as she gets out of the city.

Her cell service cuts out at 2 hours 55 minutes remaining. Her car still seems to be running fine, though.


When Marlene was young, she read about the bystander effect, and promised herself that she would always be the person to take action. So, she slows down passing by each unattended wreck, and if there appear to be survivors she calls 911 to report it.

When her phone stops making calls, it's a harder question. Time is very short and she does not actually care about these random people. Not caring is a very different thing from the hesitation of the bystander effect, so she does not feel that her promise obligates her to stop and help.

If there's another wreck, she'll stop for maybe a minute to see if there's anything easy she can do. If not, or if she's going to be saddled with a whining troublemaker, she's prepared to leave them to die.


The third wreck she sees has an apparent survivor. A guy, young, jeans and a nice shirt and a bomber jacket, bloodstains down one leg, head in his hands leaning on the mashed metal of his car. The other car is not in evidence- Must have drawn off. Her calls to 911 don't go through. 'The emergency calling system is experiencing unusually high loads, please wait'.


She pulls over. "Hey, want a ride? I'm going at least as far as Glens Falls. Any other people or cargo?"

She puts her paring knife in her left pocket and gets out, offering him her right hand if he needs help walking, her left hand relaxed at her side.


 "No, no... Glens Falls? No, I need to- Dammit, actually what I need is to get somewhere safe, isn't it. Can't help anyone if I'm dead." He takes a deep breath. "Hello. I'm Omar. I need to get down to Albany sooner or later but nobody else is stopping to help and I can't just stay here, so. Just let me grab my bag, and thank you!"


"Marlene. Is your leg okay? Sit in the front." Where she can keep an eye on him. "The back is a mess. What's in your bag?"


He winces and grabs the bag, sitting by the rear tire. "It's my travel bag, so uh, laptop and chargers but I dumped it, just clothes and toiletries and I stuffed all the food that was handy in. And my sister's asthma medication. Which she needs, her last refill is only good for another three days."

He'll sit in the front.


Hm. Wincing because his leg is hurt, or because he didn't like her asking about it?

"Ah, is your sister in Albany, then? You can hop out any time you like and go south. Once cars stop working, unless there's a way to make a car 'integrated', I think travel is going to be hard." And if his sister needs medicine to live, she's not going to make it anyway, but she knows better than to say that aloud to him. She's going to taper off her estradiol, and it's going to suck, but at least she won't die of it.

Wait. "There was a box that said everyone is going to be 'restored to a minimum baseline level of health' - she'll be fine.

What do you do, um, what did you do before the end of the world?"


"I'm not sure I believe it. And even if I do I'd better level up and go protect her then, right? I'm just an HVAC tech, I can't deal with this shit. The monsters would eat me alive. Sorry if I'm venting too much, god."


"It's fine, vent all you like." And if his venting slips farther into whining, she'll learn something.

"Whose blood is on your leg?" She's afraid that this is a trap where he's pretending to be hurt and is going to attack her. She sits in the car, left hand near her knife and keys hidden in her other pocket.


"Oh, that's mine. I got torn up a bit in the crash, see this rip?" He taps just above his knee, where the shiny surface of a bandage is visible. "I didn't think to change, I just pulled them back on. Sorry for the mess."


Okay, that's an acceptable response. "Don't worry about it. Do you have more of those bandages?"

She gets back on the road.

"I used to be an aircraft mechanic." Shrug. "Any hobbies? I do some electronics, like this strip of motors" she holds up her arm "that translates sounds that are too high and low pitched for me to hear. It's still working so far but I don't know if that will last."


"...That's really cool, honestly. Makes me think 'cyberpunk'. I did stage magic for a bit. Wasn't great at it."


"Awesome! Maybe you'll get to be a wizard, if this game has magic!

Hm. Even if HVAC equipment stops working, maybe you'll get a class that uses your experience metaphorically? Temperature and ventilation will still be important."


"So, here's what I'm thinking, going away from the city. There's already not enough housing for everyone, and some of it is going to be unfit because of monsters or whatever, so there's going to be even less housing. Oh actually, maybe it will be safer to live in crowded arrangements? Hm.

Anyway, I also don't want to go back to Albany because I expect it will be overrun by, well, warlords. I don't read a lot of litRPGs, but it seems obvious that people who are good at doing whatever gets you to level up will then get better at doing that thing, in a winner-takes-all way, in contrast to current inequality, which, at least partially, takes generations to build up. I'm assuming that you level by killing monsters or otherwise being a big dramatic Player Character, who everyone else will be relying on for protection.

I don't want to be stuck as someone's serf.

Now, you might think that a city will have lots of people who can protect a group, and you can switch between them, so they'll have to compete to attract people by treating them well. But I dunno, I can imagine them being more like gangs, where absolute loyalty is expected.

So, I'm planning to go to a board game store I like in Glens Falls, to meet up with nerds like me who wish everyone could just get along without playing politics, who also think this store is a good Schelling Point. I realize that it seems more dangerous, to be more isolated! But I think that if there's one top monster killer and one healer and one farmer and so on, and we're all dependent on each other because there's nothing around, that will prevent a single person from having absolute power over us all. If there's half a dozen people who are all vital, their balance of power at least stands a chance of being somewhat about trustworthiness and competence.

Of course, this game might not be intended to be fair or to have familiar tropes. Maybe you level by writing poetry, while killing a monster just gets you a dead monster and safety for another hour. Maybe this is a natural phenomenon that is going to kill everyone before tomorrow. Maybe this is some kind of purgatory and we'll be judged on our morals afterward and everything else doesn't matter.

I don't know, I've been rambling a while, any thoughts?"


Her passenger goes fairly quiet and thoughtful, brooding on the trouble ahead. He does agree that people tend to be bastards at the best of times, and if there are ways for someone to make themselves be in charge, they will take them.

"But like, part of the problem is people can't be fucked to be engaged in politics, right, it's a headache and feels like you're not even accomplishing anything when you have to worry about your job and the rent money and shit. It's easy to go with the flow. People are gonna want to have stuff that makes sense even now. Follow a cop or a mayor or something."


Well that's because the two-party system and its consequences disenfranchise just about everyone and destroy hope and all sense of civic duty. She expects that people will form small close-knit groups, which is stupid because those people are going to get into arguments later and then what? but hopefully those groups will at least be collected into villages that are recognizably socialist or anarcho-capitalist or anything better than monarchy. (To be precise, she objects to incompetent monarchy. If there was a reliable way to choose a good ruler and all their successors, that would be fine.)

She can rant about this the whole rest of the trip!


Omar agrees with her that the whole political system is bullshit!

They don't encounter any more trouble that actually stops them- But seeing several of the nearby stores, particularly a Home Depot that some people are gathering and organizing at.

"Thanks for the lift, I just don't think I'd quite fit in at a game store, you know? And I want to see if I can find this guy I kind of know. I can give you some cash if you want, for the ride. Or like, some food, that's probably worth more here and now."


Marlene is happy to accept some food.

Now, the game store!


The game store is occupied by an argument about politics! Currently, they're favoring an informal sort of socialist arrangement where disputes are handled by anonymous randomly-chosen juries. They'll give card sleeves to everyone, most of them empty, some containing ballots with torn edges, so the same process simultaneously chooses the jury and gives them the means to vote. They still haven't decided on a protocol for choosing what options go on the ballots.


Acceptable. Anything to do while her car is still working?


Trade with the Home Depot group. Check out the auto parts store and the other three(!) hardware stores nearby for materials and weapons, or to trade with groups occupying them. Consider relocating if they're available? There's a Joann Fabric - check them out too.


All three of the hardware stores are too close to the forest, in her opinion.

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