Where the Stars are Strange

Only a Game

1. A New Experience of Computer Games

Once again I had lost my job. If had only kept my mouth shut. If I only had managed to keep my thoughts to myself. Just this once.

But I was always blurting out exactly what I thought at exactly the wrong moment and with exacty the wrong audience.
It had not been a good idea to tell my boss that I thought they were ignoring new research on purpose because the results would not sit well with the politicians, who had paid for this job.
It had been that one time too many that I had spoken my mind.
And now I was back at looking over the job advertisements in the newspapers.

Trouble was that the consulting agency I had been working with, was one of the biggest and most well-known in London. Perhaps I should move. Go to the USA. Or drown myself.

Perhaps I would take a holiday first.
I liked the sound of the word.
Sun and fun.

Then I recalled my financial situation. Although my flat was tiny, the rent was not.
Living in London came at a price.
I sighed.
No holiday.

But no job in my line of work, either.

I was almost ready to close the paper and kick it into the basket, when an ad caught my eye.

"Betatest the new dimension of computer games! Have you ever dreamed of leaving this world? Did you ever want to join up with the crew of the Enterprise? Did you ever want to travel through Middle Earth at the side of Legolas? Here's the opportunity to do so! And you even get paid for it! Call 900-277-833."

There were some details about the offer in fine print, stating that only healthy people with no heart problems and no pregnant women need apply and that the testing would take place on a Saturday, taking most of the day, ten to twelve hours. The pay was handsome for only ten or twelve hours.

I did not particularly care for Star Trek. But fooling around with some elves and hobbits on a computer for a day did not sound bad. Not bad at all!

"A new dimension of gaming" – I sincerely doubted the truth of this line. But, well, they had to make a living, too.
Saturday… I checked my time planner… no, no plans for Saturday.

Thank you, Mike, for breaking up with me in time for me losing my job.
He could not have known that.
He probably had seen it coming.
He had told me to get over my childish rebellions. "Accept the world as it is, Jarro. Try to grow up! I am sick of your ranting, I am sick of you never just living with things the way they are."
I had said "Never."
And he had walked out on me.
When I had returned from my job the next day, his things were gone and his key was in an envelop in the letterbox.

So. No plans for Saturday.
I took up the phone.

They told me that they needed indeed another woman for their game of "The Lord of the Rings" and could I be there at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning.

I said I would be on time, and that was that.


I took one look at the strange helmet and the couches and the monitors and laughed out loud.

"You are trying to make fun of me, right?"
The thin computer freak was looking at me with eyebrows raised in a frown. "No. No fun. This is the break through in gaming. We have worked closely together with neurologists and have been able to expand on the very newest discoveries about the chemistry and the workings of the human brain. This is the real thing. A real world to experience for the gamer!"
His eyes blazed with the gleam of a fanatic.

I still did not believe him. "You've got to be kidding! You really mean to tell me, that if I put on this thing and lie down on this couch that I will be warped into Middle Earth? For real? You do know that there have been several Hollywood horror movies about this idea of computer games? And several famous science fiction books?"

He looked at me with a hint of anger in his eyes. But his voice remained quite pleasant, when he responded. "I am aware of that fact. Companies all over the world have been trying to get this working, really working for years. And we have finally done it. 'New Dimensions' has done it. It works and it will be cheap enough for the mass market."
He paused and frowned at me. "You realize that it is a real honour to test this new product? And I think we pay very well on top of this honour!"

I shrugged. "Okay, okay – I am still not convinced, but I will give it ago, as you said, Mr. Smith, you pay very well." And what is another wasted Saturday in a lilfe full of wasted Saturdays? And how could anybody go on living with the surname "Smith" after the Matrix?

I conjured a smile on my face and turned my attention to Mr. Smith. "Well, then, Mr. Smith. Would you explain to me how this is supposed to work?"

A smile appeared on the clean shaven face of the computer guru.
"But of course. It is quite simple, actually. First we chose a character to your liking and feed it into the programme. Then you put the neural helmet on your lovely head and get yourself comfortable and I start up the program. We will wire you to some machines to observe how your brain and your heart responds to the stimulus of the program and there will be a doctor around to monitor everything. I assure you, there is no risk involved! We only need the data to satisfy the government. When the game is finished, you will return to this reality, having enjoyed a day of fun and relaxation."
He positively beamed at me.

I frowned. "Did you use the visuals of the movies? Or do they look like figures from a cartoon? And – wait – what's with the time? If it's real time, to experience "The Lord of the Rings" you would have to keep me wired to your PC for weeks, no, months!"

His smile turned beatifical.
"Oh, no", he murmured. "The brain is so easily deceived. Minutes turning into hours and even weeks, hours into months and years. Why – according to our research you could live a life time in a day!"

I stared at him, still not convinced. But the doctor with his mob of curly brown hair and his easy smile, who had been introduced to me earlier as "Jim Watkins", had been following our conversation and reassured me about this really being the case.

"Don't worry, Ms McCourt. I will take good care of you." He winked at me.

Perhaps it would turn out not to be wasted Saturday after all? I winked back at him and was rewarded with a broad grin.

"Well, Ms McCourt," the computerman interrupted. "What kind of character would you like to be? A woman or a man? A hobbit? A dwarf? An elf? We have several options, joining the story at different points. But how the story goes on from then is entirely up to you. This is the first computer game that is open to every decision you make! The most complex simulation available in the world." His voice was full of pride.

"Let me show you the characters we have developed for this round of testing. Or we could develop a new character, especially for you!"

It took me an hour to settle on a character. In the end I decided to join the story at Bree, becoming a young female Dùnadan with not very much experience, but some knowledge of sword fighting and elvish languages and other useful things. Though I did not understand how they would get this kind of information into my brain. There's a reason I did not study medicine like my father had wanted me to.

I liked the idea of being a ranger.
I loved hiking and I had – in real life – done some mock fighting with wooden swords in one or two live action role playing games my brother had talked me into. I knew "The Lord of the Rings" by heart, and I had spent the last winter annoying Mike trying to learn Quenya and Sindarin. Mike had not really understood my love for all those things fantastical and mythical.

A female Dúnadan… that sounded quite believable to my mind. I would go with them to Rivendell, meet Elrond – here my heart gave a little flop – and if the game was as boring and unrealistic as I expected it to be, I could get out of it then. And go home for a rerun of the movies.

"O.K.", I said. "I will be this female Dúnadan. Do I get to keep my own name? I don't know if my brain would like being called 'Mary-Sue' or something like that."
At this the nice doctor laughed out loud, but the computer freak just stared at me. This just goes to tell you about computer guys… no sense of fun and no fantasy at all. But I would bet you anything that the nice doctor knew about fan fiction.
He winked at me again.
My, my, he really seemed to be a nice chap…

The computer guy was tugging at my elbow. "Ms McCourt? Are you ready?"
I turned to Mr. Smith. "If you could point out the Ladies' Rooms to me, I'll be back in a moment."
He did.
Washing my hands I was looking at my reflection in the mirror. The funny ways life sometimes takes… I thought. Then I smiled at my reflection. I would get this gaming stuff over as quickly as I could, which should not pose any problem and then ask Mr Watkins out to dinner. Things were definitely looking up.


The helmet and its metal connections to the skin of my head felt somewhat cold and uncomfortable. The wiring of my heart and blood pressure were not exactly cozy, either.
I reminded myself that I was getting paid for this.
I put the visor down in front of my eyes and lay back on the couch.

"Are you ready?" Mr Smith asked.
"As ready as I will ever be," I joked. Then I remembered to ask if they were going to use the soundtracks, too. But I could not move my lips, I felt as if was falling into a quicksand made of soft cotton. It felt exactly like being given an anaesthetic for surgery.

Everything went black.

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Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this chapter.


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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