Where the Stars are Strange

Only a Game

2. Where is the Switch?

I came to lying on my back under a tree.

Cool, I thought. The tree looks real. It really looks like a tree. Not at all like one of those trick glasses, which project the 3D-pictures in Imax-cinemas. And the ground is hard! I sat up. A gnarled root had been poking my back. I stretched out my hand and felt – wood, root, and bark.

This felt real! This really, really felt real!

I stared around, utterly astonished. I was sitting a few feet to the side of a muddy road, under an oak tree. The countryside was hills and clumps of trees, hedges; everything was very green and lush with spring. The sky above me was blue as can be, and the air was crisp and clean.Birds were singing, and a bee was buzzing across my line of vision.

This was amazing!

What did they do to my brain that this felt real like this? Really real?
Full of wonder I touched the ground and the grass next to me. It felt like earth and grass. I dug my fingers into the earth and brought them up again to smell them. It smelt like humid, fertile earth. And my fingers were dirty, my nails black from the soil.

Wow!

Then I remembered who I was supposed to be in this game and craned my head to look at myself.

Cool!

I was wearing clothes like the Aragorn in the movies, trousers, tunic, and jacket, everything suitably faded and worn, in soft dark green colours. I felt comfortable and at home in the clothes, almost as if I had really been wearing them for a long time. What else?

A dagger and oh, cool beyond cool, a sword, a real sword! I got it out of its sheath and admired it. It was a sword with a one and a half grip, that is to say, it was light enough to be wielded by a woman in one hand, but the grip was broad enough to be held in both hands, giving the strike additional strength. I felt excitement spread through me.

Even if none of the programmed persons worked, just walking about this beautiful country in this crazy attire was good fun.

Then I noticed a kind of grey backpack lying two feet away from me in the grass. More stuff!

I grinned at myself. This is like birthday!

I was amazed to feel the texture of the cloth and shook my head again and again. This really, truly felt real. I sniffed at the cloth. It smelt slightly musty. Really real.

Let's see what's in there.

On top of the pack was a sleeping bag made of a thick woollen blanket. Inside there was a bundle of provisions, some bread and cheese, three apples, a bottle of water made from a strange leathery material, a tinder box and flint (thank you little brother for towing me along to your live action role playing games), a map, two pairs of socks and underwear, a spare shirt, several strips of linen (at first I could not figure out what they were meant to be, then my hand went automatically to my left upper arm – the Implanon was still there; even if the hours of the game lasted for months in this artificial world, I would not have to deal with those flimsy strips to take care of personal hygiene… and anyway, why did they programme stupid stuff like that? Bad enough to have to put up with in the real world – who would want this kind of thing in a game?), and the last thing I found:
a small black box.

When I opened the box, it revealed a red button. On the black plastic below the red button were four letters in white: "Stop."

I inhaled sharply. I had forgotten to ask how to stop the game if I had had enough. Here was the answer. I closed the box and carefully put it back to the very bottom of the pack.

Then I put everything else back into the pack. One of the apples I kept. I sat there in the sunshine, which did not exist, under a tree, which did not exist, and looked at an apple, which did not exist, either.

Can you eat apples, which don't exist?

The apple looked exactly like an apple ought to look, green and clean, with enticing spots of red. Oh, Eve! I took a bite. The illusion of an apple tasted like an apple should taste, fresh, and slightly sour, tart, all the things an apple should taste like.

How the hell had they kept this brilliant invention quiet?

Then I remembered about the story. I had chosen to be a Dúnadan.
I should be at Bree. Why wasn't I?

I thought about my reaction to waking under a tree, which looked like a tree, getting all my stuff out of my pack and exclaiming at everything. If the people and creatures of the story were as well programmed as the things, I would have looked very weird to them… and they would be programmed to react to my actions. That was probably the reason for putting me under a tree next to a road. Now all I had to do was to find out in which direction Bree was and go there.

I got out the map and stepped on to the road, looking round. This was either the Greenway or the Great East Road. I strained my eyes. Was that smoke to the South? It certainly looked like that. Then I was probably some miles north of Bree on the Greenway. I folded up the map and got my pack ready. I patted my sword and smiled at myself. Jarro, the ranger from the North.
Didn't that sound cool?

I was walking along in the sunshine, marvelling at the countryside, the warmth of the sun, the feeling of the road under my feet. This felt almost more real than my real life!

After I had been walking for about an hour or two, I could not really say as my watch had not come with me into the game, I could discern wall-like structures and the silhouettes of buildings to the South-East of the road. The Greenway, I had been right. And this was Bree.

Half an hour later I was at the North-Gate.

I knocked against it. Would they speak English? Or Westron? And how would I know?
"Who are you and what do you want in Bree?" Came a gruff voice from behind the gates.
This certainly sounded like English.
I felt like giggling madly. There are people in this game, and they sound just like real people!
"My name's Jarro and I am a ranger from the North," I said and felt like a little girl playing Indians and cowboys. "I want to go to the Prancing Pony. A friend is waiting for me there."

The gate opened, revealing a tall, if slightly pot-bellied man in a grubby uniform, a spear in his left hand. He looked me up and down, his gaze stopping at the sword. Then he nodded at me and stepped aside to admit me to the town of Bree.

Inside the town walls, the road went on in a south-eastern direction. To my right there were some green meadows with cows and sheep and goats on them, three or four children busy watching the animals. To my left a hill was rising, with houses and round mounds with windows scattered upon its slopes. Bree-hill, I thought. And the mounds, which looked like big molehills had to be in fact hobbit-holes.

Those computer freaks had to have spent years programming this!
About 2,000 feet from the gate a large house was set back from the street to the left. It was built into the hill, several stories high, with stables and barns set around it. A sign was swaying in the wind above its door, a sign with a white, rearing horse on it and black, bold letters sloping down the back of the horse. The Prancing Pony.
I smiled, full of excitement.

Let the game begin, I thought, and entered the inn.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: JunoMagic

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 10/15/06

Original Post: 10/13/04

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