The Restoration Gameby Ken MacLeod
There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know—she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up games company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for… See more details below
There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know—she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up games company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for the job: a game inspired by The Krassniad, an epic folk tale concocted by Lucy’s mother, Amanda, who studied there in the 1980s. Lucy knows Amanda is a spook. She knows her great-grandmother Eugenie also visited the country in the 1930s and met the man who originally collected Krassnian folklore, and who perished in Stalin’s terror. As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family’s past, the darker secrets of Krassnia’s past—and hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in The Restoration Game.
Combining international intrigue with cutting-edge philosophical speculation, romance with adventure, and online gaming with real-life consequences, this book delivers as science fiction and as a sharp take on our present world from the viewpoint of a complex, engaging heroine who has to fight her way through a maze of political and family manipulation to take control of her own life.
"In this brash, odd tour-de-force, he succeeds partly by taking chances many authors would balk at and partly by virtue of some solid craftsmanship. The Restoration Game is the first Ken MacLeod novel I’ve read. It won’t be the last."
-Green Man Review
"This is a writer at the peak of his powers."
- Prometheus Books
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THE RESTORATION GAME
By KEN MACLEOD
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2011 Ken MacLeod
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePAGING LUCY STONE
I was just out of Arrivals and eyeballing the Remarkables above the Queenstown terminal roof when the PA system called my name.
"Paging Lucy Stone ... Passenger Lucy Stone, just off Flight NZ03 from Auckland, please go to the Airport Information desk."
I stopped dead. My rolling case, in accordance with Newton's first law of motion, kept rolling and collided painfully with my calf muscles. It then rebounded (third law), toppled over (second law), and made me stumble (Murphy's law). As I squatted to recover the case I wondered wildly what I'd done wrong. My passport was in date, my card hadn't coughed at the ridiculously cheap internal flight ticket, and I didn't have any drugs or weapons (apart from the Leatherman Juice ladylike, natch) or animal or plant matter. Could it have been the shower gel? New Zealand's a war-on-terror state but didn't, as far as I knew, share the British and American exploding shampoo bottle and nitroglycerine-in-the-Evian paranoia du jour.
Speaking of paranoia, it didn't so much as flit across my mind that this might have anything to do with the Other Thing. I'd put two oceans between me and the Other Thing.
There was a ball of nickel-iron bigger than the moon between me and the Other Thing. There was a whole planet between me and the Other Thing. No, the Other Thing was definitely partitioned off elsewhere on the hard disk of my spinning mind as I rocked the case back on its wheels and stood up.
Another name and my name sounded across the parking lot, from different loudspeakers like an echo: "Alexander Hamilton ... message for Lucy Stone ... Alexander Hamilton ..."
I straightened, clear in a swift conviction of what was going on. Alec Hamilton. Love of my life had stood me up. So much for the hair down and the pretty skirt. I scrunchied a severe ponytail and marched, case on its leash, back through the sliding doors and over to the Information desk.
"Hi," I said, slapping down my open passport. "Lucy Stone. There's a message for me?"
Black eyebrows arched to a black hairline; slate-grey uniform shoulders shrugged. Over the top of the desk I could see her graphite-pencil skirt. Neat, neat. Maori stewardess, cuter than me.
"Oh yay," she said. An opal oval fingernail swivelled a scrap of paper. "Ms. Stone. For you."
I stared down at it, read it, then picked it up, holding hard on my hand's tremor.
"Thank you," I managed to say, from a dry mouth.
She bestowed me a smile and I gave her a rictus back. I turned around and walked out again, knees shaky as a newborn lamb's. I sat down on a bench facing the parking lot and the not-Remarkable mountain straight ahead. I looked down at the paper again. NZ Airlines headed notepaper with a message in a careful hand that belied the words:
Please tell Lucy Stone that Alexander Hamilton has been unavoidably detained with friends from the East.
That, and a telephone number.
The pretty skirt's lap was vibrating like a drum. I clutched my knees. The shaking spread to my elbows. Coming here and finding Alec had been for me an idea of escape. It had been in a different world entirely from all that other stuff. Alec had been in a different world. He'd known nothing, nothing at all, of my other life. I'd thought I'd been shielding him from it. I had been shielding me. All the partitions in my mind went down. The Other Thing was not on the other side of the world. It had followed me. It was here, and it was coming for me through Alec.
There is no such place as Krassnia. If you were to draw it on a map, right where the borders of Russia, Abkhazia, and Georgia meet, and then fill it in, you'd need a fifth colour. On the other hand, Krassnia is a real place. I know, because I've been there; heck, I was born there. It has an official name, for the day when everyone's embassy recognises it (they won't): the Former Soviet Autonomous Region of Krassnia. FSARK. Look familiar? It should. Walk down any high street in Europe and you'll see these letters in black lowercase: fsark; on red plastic shopping bags, distributed free by the million in a rare fit of marketing nous by the Popular Department Store. All that the Store (Krasnorglav) needs to do now is get people to actually put its wares in the bags; which, since its bestselling lines are pirated CDs and Chinese and Vietnamese fakes of big-name luxury brands, could prove tricky. (There's also the fact that the bags themselves were the result of an accidental five extra zeroes in an order placed with the recently privatised plastics factory, KrasNorPlasKom.)
More about Krassnia later. For now, you only need to remember two things. First, you won't find it on the map, except on very detailed old maps of the SU and maps made by the Krassnian Ministry of Information (Kraskomfakt). Second, I was there when I was very young, and I've been back. Oh yes, I've been back. But when Amanda called, I hadn't been back. Except in dreams. The dreams mattered, as it turned out.
Home, late. Me on the sofa, laptop on my knees. Thai takeaway half eaten, remainder fit only for the fridge and the microwave if tomorrow was the same as today. Cherry smoothie likewise congealing. I was test-playing the raw version of the gory first-person slicer (Dark Britannia, sword and sorcery, barbarian-Arthurian grail quest with Roman-legionary revenants and Pictish zombies) that we hoped would make our fortune, and ticking boxes and noting glitches when the Skype icon winked. The caller ID was Mom.
I saved the action midchop (blue skin splits! green blood splatters!) and opened the speaker.
"Oh hello, Lucy. Everything's all right."
(Amanda always says that. I appreciate it.)
"I'm fine too."
"It's late where you are."
"It was you who phoned, Mom."
"Oh! Yes. Well." She made one of her us-girls-together noises, which I think is achieved by a light, throaty laugh while rubbing the phone through the hair behind her ear. It's usually a bad sign. "Do you remember Krassnia?"
"Of course I do. We left when I was what? Seven?"
"Seven, yes. So it was. But do you remember the language?"
"I'm not sure."
"Do you ever dream that you're there?"
I stared at the screen as if the Eye of Sauron had just opened and closed on it. "What?"
I closed my eyes, leaned back on the sofa, and thought about it. "Yes, I suppose I do."
I leaned closer again. "Well Mom, yeah, I don't pay much attention to dreams, but as it happens, yes, whenever my unconscious or my brain's offline processing—or whatever it's supposed to be these days—wants me to dream about dark valleys or endless mountain slopes or long corridors where something really scary and official is waiting for me and I've missed my appointment and ... yes, I guess I do go back there."
"Great!" she said. "And what language do you dream all that in?"
"I don't ... Wait. Russian, I think."
I blinked hard. Amanda not being an early adopter, of video or anything else, the gesture was of course wasted.
"It's a goddamn dialect, Mom!"
"Language!" she chided, ambiguously. "Anyway, not to worry. You'll pick it up again in no time."
"Why," I asked, "would I want to pick it up?"
"I want you to write—is that the word?—a game scenario in it. Written in Krassnian and based on Krassnian legends. You know, like in The Krassniad."
The Krassniad is Amanda's one and only commercial success. After she'd completed her PhD ("Myth, Memory and Ideology in the Krassnian Autonomous Region: An Investigation") and failed to get it published even as an academic book, she'd had the bright idea of doing for Krassnia what James MacPherson had done for Scotland a couple of centuries earlier with the poems of Ossian. She'd taken the raw material of her notes: snatches of poetry still mumbled from the gap-toothed gobs of mountain bards who claimed to have been born in the reign of Tsar Alexander II; such fragments of illuminated manuscript as remained in Krasnod's Museum of the Peoples and in the two Orthodox monasteries that hadn't been turned into Houses of Atheism; and in the one surviving copy of Life and Legends of the Krasnar, compiled in the 1920s by Krassnia's leading Bolshevik ethnologist (shot in 1937)—all that and more she'd cobbled together and "freely translated" into English as ancient lays, into even what you might call a national epic, which was instantly banned in Krassnia (even in English, even under democracy) and enjoyed a brief vogue with the Mind, Body, Spirit crowd for its ancient wisdom and shamanic spirituality and among Hell's Angels and gaming geek-boys for the sword fights and the sex bits.
"You mean that hasn't been done already?" I asked.
(Not the most cogent of questions, but the one at the top of the stack.)
"No, it hasn't," said Amanda, sounding exasperated. "The book's out of print in the US, and it's still banned in Krassnia, not that that makes much difference these days.... Anyway, nobody outside of Krassnia is interested in writing a game for it—the market's too small—and nobody inside of Krassnia is interested in anything but Western and Japanese games. So whoever developed it would have that market all to themselves."
The cat ambled in, stretched himself onto the coffee table, and nosed at the foil containers. I swatted him away. He glared at me from under the stereo.
"Amarket you've just said isn't big enough. The game wouldn't break even."
"I happen to know it would," Amanda said.
I recognised that tone. It wasn't one that expected to be questioned.
"If you say so," I said. "But who would actually develop it?"
"That company you work for," she said. "Digital ... Fist, yeah?"
"Digital Damage Productions," I corrected, abstractedly. "The fist is the logo."
Then I caught up with myself. "But we're just starting! Why not—?"
"Go to one of the big-name companies? You know why not."
I did, too. "OK," I said. "I can see that. But—"
"Look, Lucy, give me a minute to explain how this is gonna work. You told me ages ago that Digital ... whatever was working on some kind of dark fantasy fighting game, yeah? Heroes with swords, craggy landscape, gloomy ruins, spectres and slime, right?"
"Yeah," I said. "Dark Britannia."
"Right!" she said. "All you'd have to do is change the landscape map, tweak the costumes, plug in Krassnian dialogue and prompts, rename and rejig your demons and dwarfs and so forth, and there you have it, tah-dah!—Dark Krassnia!"
Now this was actually not a bad idea, and one very much along the lines that Sean Garrett, the PTB (Pony-Tailed Boss), founder and genius and hard taskmaster of DDP, had been thinking aloud about for months. Aloud is more or less how he does all his thinking, and you can occasionally interrupt this stream or rather torrent of consciousness and break it up into something that could from a distance be mistaken for a conversation (another word for which—here's a clue, Sean—is dialogue) and one component of such sequences that you could have drag-and-dropped into more or less any of his recent rants and rambles was: You know, when this thing takes off we can franchise it out for local adaptation in every fucking country in the world that has a Dark Age heroic mythology and you know what countries that leaves out? Only the ones that are still in the fucking Dark Ages! Ha ha ha!
"That's by no means all," I said. "And I don't see us doing it while we still don't have Dark Britannia done and dusted. When do you need it?"
"Middle of June," she said.
"Four months? No way!"
"It can be as quick and dirty as you like," Amanda said. "We're not talking a flagship release here. Digital could even claim it had been pirated. Come to think of it, that's probably ... hmm ..."
"The money would have to be good," I said. "If I'm going to pitch it to the lads."
"Fifty thousand on agreement, hundred thousand on delivery."
Oh well. Still in not-to-be-sneezed-at territory, for a company as small as ours.
"I think I can make that fly," I said.
"Oh, don't you try selling this to the team," said Amanda. "My people will talk to your people, OK?"
A couple of questions will have occurred to you. One: how is this lady professor of cultural anthropology or whatever going to come up with a hundred and fifty thousand dollars? Two: what does she want with a multiplayer online role-playing game in Krassnian in the first place?
They occur to you, but they didn't occur to me.
The only question that occurred to me was: hmm, so what's behind the CIA's sudden interest in Krassnia?
I already knew the answers to the other two, because I already knew my mother was a spook.
Not that it hadn't been a bit traumatic finding out, at the age of thirteen, right in the middle of my rebellious, weed-smoking, body-piercing, diary-keeping, two-fingers-down-the-throat puking, hormone-churned huff at the world. If this scene was in a movie they'd need to cast a different actress, who'd be in the credits as Teenage Lucy, and rummage up a roomful of late-nineties kipple. So you imagine me sitting on my bed, chin on knees poking through the cultivated distress of my jeans, leaning on a big batik cushion and facing a Kurt Cobain poster on the wall opposite. The Cranberries are messing with my head through earphones the size of earmuffs. I'm reading a thick Guy Gavriel Kay paperback. Scene set? Good. Enter Amanda, after a token knock.
I scowled at her and saw her lips move. I stuck a thumb in the book and reached around the back of my head and prised away Dolores's dolorous lyrics.
"There's something I've been meaning to tell you," Amanda said, looking awkward.
"I know," I said. "Don't smoke. Do my homework. Use a condom. Eric isn't my father."
Wow, that one worked. I could see her flinch. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. But I was cruel then.
"That isn't ..." she said.
"That wasn't ..." she added.
"How do you know?" she got her act together enough to ask.
"Mom, I'm not stupid," I said.
She didn't inquire further on that point. She came and sat down on the only other seating in the room, an old beanbag opposite the bed, sinking so far that I had to lean forward to see her face.
"What I've been meaning to tell you," she said, "is, um ... it's about Krassnia. We had some good times there, didn't we?"
"Yes, Mom, I had a very happy childhood there. Until you took us away from it."
She winced again. "It wasn't my choice. The place looked like it was about to blow. All US citizens were advised to leave."
"And nothing happened."
(Apart from the scariest day of my life, which rather undercut my point, but Amanda ignored that opening.)
"We didn't know that then," she said. "Anyway"—she chopped with her hand, looking impatient—"that's all beside the point. I'm not going to let you rake all that up again. This is about something that really does concern you. It's about what I was doing in Krassnia in the first place."
She leaned back farther into the beanbag, as if to make sure that if I were to make some sudden movement, she would be out of range.
"Kind of," she said. "Um, well. My research wasn't just for my thesis, and it wasn't just about, you know, all that ancient stuff. I was sending a lot of it to, well, someone at the US embassy in Moscow. Someone who sent it all back to, um, to Langley, Virginia."
"You were a CIA agent?" I shrieked.
"The correct term is 'asset,'" she quibbled. "But, yes, that's about the size of it."
The implications weren't really sinking in yet.
"Why are you telling me now?" I asked.
"I've been exposed," she said. "A guy at Langley has been arrested for working for the Russians, and for the Soviets before that, and he's confessed. He gave the Agency a list of the people he exposed."
"And your name's on the list?"
Amanda nodded. "Uh-uh. None of this is public, OK?"
"So why are you tellingme?" I demanded. "AmI on it? Are you in danger?"
"No," she said. "People I worked with, yeah . . ." She chewed her lip, looking up to a corner of the ceiling, and sighed. "Some of them have been arrested already."
"But Krassnia broke away, didn't it? Why should they care about anyone's spying on the Soviet Union?"
Excerpted from THE RESTORATION GAME by KEN MACLEOD Copyright © 2011 by Ken MacLeod. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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