In this week's story, End of the World, a gamer tries to keep her system out of the network
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came from more of a random thought about how people can find different meanings in the same statement.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 37 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is End of the World
If you’re a long-time listener, you know I like to begin with a reminder of how this podcast works: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then I share that story with you.
If you’re a first-time listener, you still might not be sure what to expect. That’s okay, I’m never sure what to expect either! That’s the fun of free writing!
Today’s prompt sort of came out of the blue. In the form of an REM song that randomly popped into my head. You know the one… Sorry, if it’s now stuck in your head. At least it’s a good song!
Onto the story:
End of the World
Prisma didn’t think anyone knew about her standalone game. It was disconnected from the rest of the network, running a program she’d customized herself. Whenever possible, she would sneak off to play in private, relishing the secrecy of it.
That wasn’t her only game, of course. She did have another one running in the network. She had to, for the sake of appearances. Not playing the game was unheard of—especially at her age—and her classmates already judged her for not spending enough time in the network.
Strictly speaking, Prisma didn’t have to keep her solo game secret. There were other gamers with standalone systems, and they were vocal about them. They bragged about their heady triumphs and laughed over their epic fails. They invited others to watch.
After a while, usually around level 20, they’d get bored with their standalone adventure and connect their games to the network. That was an exciting time for most of Prisma’s classmates. They loved watching solo games merge into the network.
The tiny people in those made-up worlds were excited, scared, and shocked to find out they weren’t alone in their own simulations. Sometimes they’d connect to compatible societies right off. More often, they’d have to overcome the challenges of diversity. If they could.
For Prisma, those dramatic world connections had lost their thrill. They were the same stories playing out over and over again, with shallow differences that didn’t make the outcomes any less predictable. Prisma was more interested in what could happen if a made-up world stayed outside the network.
In the solo game she’d created, people of her world had only themselves to contend with. Sometimes they got along and worked to make their world a better place, often they didn’t. The longer her game ran, the more tenuous that balance became.
That’s not to say that Prisma never interfered in her solo world. Nudging events along was part of running a game. It was simply more interesting when Prisma had sole control.
In the network, her worlds had to interact with whatever situations other creators introduced into the shared game. In her standalone environment, she alone could choose whether to allow large-scale disasters, like floods or tornados. She could zoom into any of the billions of individual stories and make quiet changes—big or small—to see how they would ripple across a community.
Running a standalone game, with no audience, gave Prisma time to let her ideas play out for as long as she’d like. She’d once left a group of travelers wandering in a desert, where it rained just enough bread to keep them going, for years. Another time, she’d placed a red and white dragon in a lake beneath a castle to protect a boy from sacrifice.
Those fantastic interventions were much earlier in the game, of course. Way back in the first 10 levels, when the people weren’t questioning events around them as closely.
As her world leveled up, its people learned more and more about how the game itself worked. It amused Prisma to see them stumble from one discovery to the next. She tried to stay out of their science as much as possible, letting them make sense of the rules of their world. She was fascinated by the tools they created to explore not only their own world but the surrounding cosmos.
That was something that rarely happened in the network. Creators of nearby worlds were all too happy to give their people whatever they needed to connect to the wider network. Even standalone games were spurred on with gifts the sped their development.
Furthermore, when people in connected simulations began to figure out too much about the game, her friends—the creators of those worlds—would typically shift the rules. Common practice said the game was more exciting when the people were kept guessing.
Prisma wasn’t interested in common practice. As her world developed, she became more interested in how its people would progress through the levels if she began to keep her interference hidden.
It was fascinating for her to see how many generations continued to search for her after she’d stepped back from obvious interaction. But she fought the urge to make her presence known and spent many hours happily watching her world develop on its own.
“There you are!”
Prisma startled, sending a flash of haphazard pink light across her world’s clear blue sky.
“Blaze?” She quivered in surprise to see her classmate hovering beside her.
“What are you doing way out here?”
Blaze looked around the vast stretch of space. Prisma’s small, blue-green planet spun in a solar system with seven uninhabited planets. Beyond that, neighboring systems also held planets with no signs of life. The network was nowhere in sight.
“I… uh…” Prisma stammered, feeling her energy shift from pink to green before fading to a warm yellow-orange.
“You have a solo game?” Blaze sounded excited as he zoomed in on her unprotected world. “Whoa! It’s at level 97? With no other connections?”
“Yeah, I wanted to see…”
Prisma started to explain, but Blaze wasn’t listening. He was busy taking in the details of her world. A diagnostic box appeared above the planet, and Prisma hoped it wasn’t picked up by any of her people’s primitive space scanners.
“No way!” Blaze glowed with excitement. “You have 7, no, almost 8 billion people on your world!”
“Yes, they’ve expanded well…”
Prisma trailed off again, watching Blaze zoom in and out of her world. In moments, he’d witnessed 100 or so individual stories and gotten a brief assessment of the world’s history and recent technology.
“This is so cool!” Blaze complimented, completely oblivious to Prisma’s distress at his presence.
“When are you bringing it in-network?” He asked hopefully. “Gonna see if you can get it up to level 100, first?”
“Well…” Prisma shimmered with anger and regret. Now that Blaze knew about her solo game, she’d never be able to keep it secret.
“Oh, wait—” Blaze dimmed as he scanned through more diagnostics. “They’re nearing some end of the world events. Look at those ice caps! And that’s a nasty virus.”
“Uh, yeah…” Prisma dimmed as well, then brightened, wondering if she could trick Blaze into keeping her secret. “It’s better though. Once it ends, I can focus on my in-network worlds.”
“You’re gonna let it go?” Blaze flashed orange. “After 97 levels?”
“I know,” Prisma agreed, channeling a blue sheen. “But it’s too late to bring it in-network now.
“I guess,” Blaze zoomed out from the world, a ripple of red and purple energy shuddering through him. “It’d just contaminate the network. Be a mess to clean up.”
“Uh-huh,” Prisma flashed a genuine blue before forcing herself back to a healthy pink.
“You should end it quick,” Blaze advised brightly. “Let’s throw some rocks at them!”
Prisma trembled, remembering the time in level 1 when she had sent an asteroid crashing into the world, just to see what would happen, and she’d ended up wiping out some of the most interesting creatures she’d ever created.
“No,” she decided. “We’ve seen that before.”
“Got a better idea?” Blaze studied the surrounding system, eyeing the sun dangerously.
“Well…” Prisma settled her energy and took a chance. “I do wonder what would happen if I just left it here. Totally alone.”
“Huh,” Blaze glowed. “That could be a cool experiment. No interventions, just a game running on auto. Do you think they’d survive?”
“Only one way to find out…” Prisma suggested, containing her hopeful energy. “But we’d have to keep it secret.”
“For sure,” Blaze sparkled with possibility. “We’ll never keep the others away if they knew about this. So… leave it here and check back in a few levels? Nothing in between. Deal?”
“Deal.” Prisma shifted from green to pink, pleased that she’d found a way to let her world continue, even if she had to stay away.
As they skimmed through the stars, trekking toward the distant network, Prisma wondered if her game could survive without her or if it would be the end of its world.
Only time would tell.
Thanks for joining me today. If you enjoy these short story breaks, you can also learn more about me and my books on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can connect with me on social media or offer your support through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]