Well, there IS a way to get your dead character’s lost items back, but … well, it ain’t pretty.

The engineer was as round as a man could get, his cheeky face blossoming into a thick black beard, his hair (clean but uncombed) flowing over his skull like a halo. He sat across from Ivan at Starbucks, his chai iced tea enveloped by a meaty hand attached to hairy, Popeye-like forearms. The engineer slurped his tea, quietly. Ivan could hardly contain his anxiousness: this rolly-polly man was his last hope.

“Sure, I was contracted to do some of the server architecture for that online RPG you’re talkin’ about. It’s a great game. Robust, too. Players can do some crazy things.” He paused to guzzle another mouthful of his tea. “Just last year I heard a group of players got together to playerkill some wizard 36 times in 24 hours. They found his body in the shattered remains of an online wedding and the only items he had left over were a partially mummified rat skull, a loincloth, and his own severed ear. Yes sir, it’s quite a game.”

Ivan was more than familiar with the pain of losing items when one’s character died. “I understand that,” he murmured, his patience growing thin. “But there’s got to be some loopholes. Some back doors. Some way.” Ivan looked up at a spinning ceiling fan, his eyes fighting back tears. “My 65th level chaotic-evil cleric had everything a necromancing child-slaver could want in the world, but when that Seraph Angel lightning-bolted me I died and dropped the staff of twisted oblivion.”

The engineer leaned back in his chair, nodding sympathetically. “That’s a bad beat,” he agreed.

“Now, I’m just a has-been. A two-bit zombie-gooser. It took me months of camping and illegal online auctions to get that staff, and it was discontinued because it threw off the game balance, so I’ll never get another.” Ivan lunged across the table. “There’s got to be a way to reset my character!”

The engineer was torn between a sense of duty and the love of a challenge. All computer programmers are, at some level, hackers who like to test and torment systems. “When did your character die?” he asked.

“Monday Night,” Ivan answered, recalling the horrendous death and the electric blue flash that accompanied it.

The big man across from him nodded, clicking his teeth. He spoke, realizing he was saying too much, but with a knowing pride he couldn’t suppress. “Individual characters are backed up dynamically every night at midnight, BUT,” he continued, flicking off the lid of his iced tea and sliding an ice cube into his mouth. “The server as a whole, database and all, isn’t backed up until Sunday night at 4AM.”

“That’s the weekly maintenance, when they shut it down for twenty minutes?”

“Precisely,” the engineer continued, crunching ice in his teeth as he spoke. “They shut ‘er down, then dump the whole database into a tape backup: characters, items, locations, housing, creatures, game state, you name it.”

“So last Sunday’s backup still has my character on it? With the staff? And my unmolested zombie harem and child-eating dogs?”

“Yaaa-up. But, it would take a colossal server crash to force them to go to the weekly backup. A full-blown database failure. Complete crash. The kind of stuff that hasn’t happened since beta.”

Ivan clenched his fists, excitedly. “Crash the game and get my character back! I see! Tell me how!”

The engineer set his tea back down and shook his head. “Oh, I couldn’t tell you that,” he said. “Professional interests. If they traced it back to me, well, I wouldn’t get any more contract work … ever. No no, I couldn’t tell you.”

That’s what the engineer’s mouth said. But his eyes, they told a different story. His eyes were eager. His brain was transparent. Gears were twitching inside his head… he knew something. Perhaps a little pet theory he’d love for someone to try out. He was dying to tell his story.

Ivan looked cautiously around the coffee house. A waitress, a coffee jerk. An old guy in the corner, face hidden by the newspaper. With an air of a secret agent Ivan withdrew a bundle from his pocket and set it on the table with a clink.

It was a set of car keys.

The engineer’s eyes flicked down to the keys, then up at Ivan.

*       *       *

“‘68 Pontiac Ventura!” the engineer breathed, caressing the wood-grained steering wheel. The speedometer, lipped by the cracked and sun-worn dashboard, was nearly a foot wide and went up to 120. A disco ball hung from the rear-view mirror. Sheepskin covered the seats. The engineer spotted the slot on the dashboard and gasped. “Is that…”

“Eight Track.”

“Sweet Christmas!” he cried out. The disco ball cast red and purple lights dancing across the engineer’s face, which rapidly swelled, blushing red.

“Complete and utter server crash. Database … meltdown…” whispered Ivan, leaning into the window. “Catastrophic … software … failure… Tell me! Tell me how!”

The engineer’s eyes darted out the windows, scanning the parking lot. A bead of sweat trickled along his brow. His eyes fell, briefly, on the 8-track tape player. Finally he turned to Ivan, licked his lips, and rattled in a harsh whisper:

“You didn’t hear this from me, mate, but whenever a sorcerer summons a dragon it’s tracked as an object in an array on that particular zone. An 8-bit integer array, numbered dragon.inst[0] through dragon.inst[255].”

Ivan’s eyes lit up, and he hurriedly pulled out a notepad, fumbling with the pages. “What? Slow down dude, english, brother, ENGLISH!”

The engineer cracked his knuckles on the steering wheel. If Ivan had the mind of a programmer or a QA guy he’d have already figured it out. The big man hissed impatiently: “There’s space on the database to track 256 dragons, dragon 0 through dragon 255. Not normally a problem, right? There’s no situation where more than a couple of dragons would be summoned in the same zone at the same time anyways, right? But just supposing, you know, what if they did? That 257th dragon, he’d have no place to go. The server would just write that object right into another array, or onto some other part of the game database, God only knows. Bad data would get overwritten, then read in elsewhere, written to other parts of the database – complete chaos. Probably send the server to its knees within a couple of cycles.” Suddenly the engineer turned the key, gunning the engine of the Ventura. “You know too much,” he said, flicking into reverse. Ivan barely had his head out of the window before the monster of a car roared back, squealed its tires, then rumbled off in a visible cloud of exhaust. Sparks flew from the muffler as it careened over a distant speed bump.

Ivan blinked in disbelief. Then he stared back down at the chicken-like pencil scribblings on his notepad.

“257 dragons -> same time” it said. “Before Sunday.”

Ivan scratched in a few more words. “257 sorcerers” he wrote. He tapped his pencil. “Get them drunk?” he added.

He nodded in the bright sunlight. “I can do this,” he said aloud, standing alone in the parking lot. “I can do this.”

[To Be Continued….]


Victim Pic Small

By the time he finished the long walk home, Ivan had already concocted a scheme.


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